Burma (MNN) — Less than a week after Burma agreed to a ceasefire with the Karen National Union, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has moved to upgrade relations with the nation.
The move follows a ceasefire, but more directly, the release of hundreds of political prisoners. The U.S. and other Western nations have included these stipulations, among others, in the past for Burma relations to improve.
The ceasefire agreement made on January 12 could bring an end to one of the world's longest-running civil wars. The Karen people have been at the wrong end of an ethnic cleansing for over 60 years.
Since the ceasefire was declared, the Burmese government still seems dedicated to their commitment. But the International Mission Board reports that some Christians are still skeptical and calling for prayer.
"If it lasts, this could be a huge step forward," Mitch Igo, a Christian worker based in Southeast Asia, told IMB. "It could create positive stability."
But Hans Peter, another Christian worker familiar with the region, noted, "I hope what we are hearing is true," he said. "The ethnic groups have been down this road before, only to be betrayed."
Given the depth of hatred and bitterness between the Karen and the government, overcoming their long-standing rivalry will take more than a political agreement, reports IMB.
"An entire generation of Burmese and Karen have grown up fighting each other," Igo said. "There is such deep mistrust that it may take another generation to smooth out. Lasting peace will only be found in Christ."
Igo and Peter both added that real change does seem to be taking place in the country since the March 2011 elections–Burma's first "free" elections in 20 years. The new government has recognized the political party of freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, sought to improve relations with Western governments, and moved to negotiate an end to conflicts with other ethnic rebel groups in addition to the Karen.
In spite of mixed reports on the status of religious freedom since the election, Igo hopes the ceasefire will allow Christian workers access to areas previously closed due to fighting.
Peter hopes these changes are a signal that the ceasefire is "the real deal."
For now, IMB workers urge Christians to pray. Pray that the ceasefire will result in lasting peace and stability within the region. Pray that Burmese and Karen ethnic groups will forgive each other for past atrocities and learn to work together.
Pray also that Christian workers will gain greater access to closed areas as a result of increased openness by the government. And pray that Karen Christians will take a lead role in sharing the Gospel with other ethnic groups.