A delegation of Karen National Union (KNU) leaders expressed optimism about Burma’s prospects for peace following their first-ever meetings over the weekend with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.
Following the meeting with Thein Sein on Saturday, the KNU leaders said they had constructive talks with the president. They added that Thein Sein had spoken of the possibility of removing the KNU from the list of unlawful associations, as the group had requested.
“We learned that President U Thein Sein is a person who really wants peace,” Naw Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the KNU, told reporters in Naypyidaw after meeting with the President.
The KNU leaders also expressed their positive view on the internal peace and reform process and their desire to participate in the process until success is achieved.
Regarding their meeting with Suu Kyi on Sunday, Zipporah Sein said the KNU representatives were able to exchange views about the peace process with Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) colleagues and hoped to cooperate with the opposition leader in the near future.
At a meeting with a Burmese government peace delegation led by Railways Minister Aung Min on Friday, the KNU focused on six points, including the need for a nationwide ceasefire and an end to various human rights abuses to ensure the people’s “freedom from fear.”
The KNU has also opened two liaison offices in Pegu and Tenasserim divisions to enable better communication with Burmese governments in the future.
Aung Min told reporters in Rangoon that the two sides are planning to open additional liaison offices in the future.
Immigration Minister Khin Yi told reporters at Sedona Hotel in Rangoon that the government wants to implement the entire peace process through to the end.
“We want to go to a complete process. In our peace process, we want to include a demining project and resettlement program for internally displaced persons and refugees,” he said.
He also said that the KNU’s status as an unlawful association would be changed at an appropriate time, and that it had been imposed under different circumstances.
Naw May Oo Mudraw, a spokesperson for the KNU peace delegation, said that some representatives from both the KNU and the Burmese government visited a local village in Kyaukgyi Township in Pegu Division to learn more about the needs of civilians who had been displaced by decades of conflict between the two sides.
She said about 3,000 residents greeted the KNU peace delegation as they traveled to Kyaukgyi, where one of the KNU’s new liaison offices is located.
She added that the KNU was welcomed by Karen and other ethnic people wherever they traveled within government-controlled territory.
“We got great support not only from Karen people but also from other ethnic people who have suffered from war. They seem to have a great deal of hope that our peace process will succeed and that it will improve their lives,” said Naw May Oo Mudraw.
The KNU delegation also shared its strategy for the peace process with Suu Kyi. The group has been engaging in negotiations with the Burmese government since late last year.
Suu Kyi said she welcomed the peace process, adding that achieving peace within Burma is one of the NLD’s top priorities as it prepares to go to Parliament for the first time later this month following a landslide victory in by-elections on April 1.
The KNU has agreed to continue holding peace talks with the Burmese government. The KNU peace delegation is expected to return to the group’s base on the Thai-Burmese border on April 11.
The KNU signed a ceasefire agreement with the government’s peace negotiation team in the Karen State capital of Pa-an on Jan. 12. The current discussions form the second round of peace talks aimed at cementing an understanding between the two parties.
Founded in 1947, the KNU is the oldest ethnic armed group in Burma and has been fighting against the central government for greater autonomy since 1949, when it formed its military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army.