By Ray Fleming

IT was at first difficult to believe the reports coming out of Burma (Myanmar) after elections there a year ago to the effect that there had been a regime change from the hard-line military governments in power since 1963 to a more liberal administration. The first indication the reports might be true was the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the country's National League for Democracy, from long house arrest. During their recent visits Hillary Clinton and William Hague have made clear to the new government what further reforms are necessary to end the West's economic sanctions.

One of their conditions was for the release of the hundreds of political prisoners held in Burma's jails and it seems to have been answered already in part this week by the freeing of several prominent activists, among them Min Ko Naign who led a student uprising for the restoration of democracy in 1988. Then came news of a cease fire in hostilities between the Burmese army and guerrillas of the Karen people which began as long ago as 1949 when the Karen began their fight for independence.

It all seems almost too good to be true -- and may be if China, Burma's powerful neighbour, decides to intervene. For the moment, though, the West is right to maintain the closest possible constructive relations with Burma's new regime.

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