Truce with Ethnic Rebels Gives Junta
Larry Jagan, Mizzima News via IPS
January 29, 2004
An official ceasefire agreement between Burma's military
leaders and rebels with the Karen National Union (KNU), which
may only be weeks away, promises to give Rangoon a key publicity
BANGKOK, Jan 29 (IPS) - After all, the KNU is the largest
and most significant ethnic group that has been waging a guerrilla
war - for 55 years now -- against the military government.
Rangoon, for its part, has long been anxious to negotiate
ceasefire agreements with rebel groups.
The KNU and the Burmese regime are planning to meet again
in the next few weeks probably in Pa'an, the capital of northern
Karen state, which borders Thailand. A formal peace agreement
may be agreed at that meeting.
The turning point in peace negotiations came in mid-January,
when the KNU military leader Gen Bo Mya went to Rangoon and
agreed in principle to a peace deal with Burmese Prime Minister
Gen Khin Nyunt. ''But there'll have to be many more meetings
before there is a formal arrangement,'' said the Karen spokesman
David Taw, after returning to Bangkok on Jan. 22.
Until now the Karen rebels have been labelled bandits and
terrorists, but Prime Minister Khin Nyunt even hosted a birthday
party for Gen Bo Mya in Rangoon.
Resolving the ethnic rebellions has been a crucial part of
the military government's claim to legitimacy. It is also
a central part of Khin Nyunt's plans for ''national reconciliation''
- as the regime describes its proposed political reform.
''Peace talks between Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and General
Bo Mya clearly show that the Burmese leaders are pushing ahead
with their process of national reconciliation,'' said Thai
Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai after meeting the Karen
leader on his return to Bangkok.
''It shows that Khin Nyunt is seriously moving forward with
his road map,'' he added in an interview.
The Burmese government is keen that all ethnic groups, which
have a long history of chafing at Rangoon's rule, should participate
in the National Convention due to be reconvened later this
year to draw up a new constitution. This is the first step
in the prime minister's seven-stage road map to democracy.
For the KNU's part, the ceasefire may well be a recognition
of the toll that war has taken. Its headquarters fell nearly
a decade ago and it no longer has the same support from the
Thai military, which had been keen to see it form a buffer
zone with Burma.
More than 120,000 Karen live in camps along the Thai border
and some 200,000 are believed to be internally displaced,
driven away by what dissidents and human rights activists
say are military campaigns by Rangoon's armed forces.
If the KNU enters into a peace pact, the handful of other
ethnic rebel groups still fighting are likely to follow.
The Karenni (the Karenni National Progressive Party or KNPP)
and the Chin (Chin National Front or CNF) are already discussing
a truce with Rangoon through intermediaries.
More than 20 ethnic rebel groups and factions already have
ceasefire agreements with Rangoon. The first were negotiated
in 1989, including one with the Wa (United Wa State Party)
which has the most powerful military wing with over 20,000
armed troops under its command.
All these peace deals are informal arrangements with no signed
However, rebels with the Kachin ethnic group, the Kachin
Independence Organisation or KIO were an exception and signed
a formal ceasefire agreement with the local military commander
after they successfully negotiated their truce in 1994.
For years the issue of a possible ceasefire agreement with
Burma's generals has cause division and resentment within
There has been intermittent contact between the two sides
for the past 10 years. Prior to the latest initiative, the
last real talks between the two sides took place in 1996.
But communication channels have remained open between Gen
Khin Nyunt as the military intelligence chief and Gen Bo Mya.
For instance, the Burmese leader has continued to regularly
send a bottle of special Burmese fish sauce only available
in Rangoon to the Karen military leader, say Burmese military
In recent months, Gen Bo Mya has seized the initiative. He
sent a personal delegation to Rangoon in mid-December to explore
a possible ceasefire. At the time this was not well received
within the KNU, especially among t the political wing of the
organisation and some senior Karen military commanders.
But in the last few weeks, the Karen have united behind the
initiative and agreed a strategy for continued talks with
the Burmese regime.
Their priorities are the negotiation of a ceasefire agreement,
setting up a process of monitoring infringements of the truce,
and deciding how to deal with the 'internally displaced people'
in Karen state that number more than quarter of a million
people, according to aid workers along the Thai-Burma border.
The Burmese government has already informally invited the
KNU to participate in the national convention. However, Taw
said, ''The KNU will only decide on that after a formal agreement
on a ceasefire.''
For Prime Minister Gen Khin Nyunt, getting the Karen involved
in the National Convention would be crucial. All the other
ceasefire groups have already pledged their willingness to
participate. But most of these groups have privately urged
the regime to include the ethnic groups still waging armed
struggle, especially the Karen, and declare a nationwide ceasefire.
It would seem that this may have helped motivate Gen Khin
Nyunt's latest overtures to the KNU, though the Thai government
has also been urging Rangoon to resolve the remaining conflicts,
particularly with the KNU.
But as Khin Nyunt tries to ensure that all the ethnic groups
participate in the National Convention, the date of its reconvening
may be further delayed.
''It will start some time in 2004,'' is what the military
intelligence officer in charge of preparations would tell
the visiting Karen delegation. That runs counter to previous
hints from Burma's Foreign Minister Win Aung that it should
begin its deliberations in the first few months of this year.
''The National Convention will start soon,'' said Surakiart,
''now that the Karen are on board''. (END/2004)