Myanmar: The Changing Scene (AUDIO)

Clashes this summer along Myanmar's northern and eastern borders between the country's army and Kachin rebels shattered a 17-year ceasefire in one of the world's longest-running civil wars. They were the worst clashes since 2009, leaving 20 dead and thousands displaced.

The fighting was the culmination of months of heightened tensions that began after November elections, and ended only when China, which has significant economic interests in Myanmar and a stake in ensuring stability along the border, stepped in. Whether the army's provocation was just a local fight or part of a larger strategic move against ethnic groups remains unclear, as does the future of the country.

Previously a straight military government, Myanmar's new government is now ostensibly under civilian leadership, providing an opportunity for collaboration with western countries. However, the elections were neither free nor fair and kept the existing regime's Union Solidarity and Development Party in power. With top-ranking members of parliament drawn from the party's ranks and one quarter of its seats reserved for the military, there is little room for opposition voices.

Nevertheless, there have been positive developments since the election. Two top military leaders stepped down, opening up key posts. Ethnic groups now have a small say at the local level, allowing more space for political activity and criticism.

Previously, discussion of subjects such as political prisoners and slow registration of NGOs were taboo, but since the election the government has at least acknowledged these issues. The government has slightly eased censorship of the press, and NGOs in certain fields -- such as environmentalism, health and rural development -- have been given more room.

One of the new government's goals is to try to improve the livelihoods of its rural poor in the long-term, which dovetails with Western countries' trend toward increasing development aid. Aid workers can now work with ethnic and subnational groups in ceasefire areas, and help them accomplish their goals without further violence.

I spoke with Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group's South East Asia Project Director, about the current situation in Myanmar. Listen to our conversation below.