EVEN a glimmer of light is noteworthy in the dense political darkness of Burma. That country's military rulers have released 19 political prisoners and have allowed the husband of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to visit her. The junta also said it would hold a promised conference later in the year to draft guidelines for a democratic constitution.
These actions, particularly some easing of the isolation of Aung San Suu Kyi, have to be welcomed. After nearly three years of house arrest, the eloquent champion of democratic reform in Burma, winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, was finally able to see her English husband and their two sons.
What brought Burma's autocrats to even a slight loosening of their repression? International pressures, from neighbors in the region as well as governments and human rights monitors in the West. The Thais, Filipinos, and others find the regime in Rangoon an embarassment. The treatment of Burmese Muslims, resulting in large refugee flows into Bangladesh, angered Indonesia and Malaysia.
And Japan, Burma's biggest aid donors, have likely been pressuring China - which supports the coup leaders - to nudge Burma's rulers toward change.
It may be too much to hope that the small steps taken by the brutal leaders in Rangoon will be followed by other, more meaningful changes of policy. For now, they may have done the minimum needed to quiet critics.
But the critics won't be quieted. Burma's people showed in elections last year what their desires are. They want a free country, and they want the type of leadership exemplified by Aung San Suu Kyi. Their cause, and hers, remains prominent on the world's human rights agenda.