A third round of peace talks between the Burmese government and Karen National Union (KNU) have been postponed after the Naypyidaw representatives claimed they were too busy to attend.
The government gave no explicit reason why the meeting, due to take place in the Karen State capital Pa-an on Monday, had to be put off, said a KNU spokesman. Both sides agreed to further talks during a preliminary meeting in Myawaddy Township on Aug. 5.
“They did not inform us that they postponed the meeting,” Naw May-Oo Mutraw told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “We called them after we heard rumors about the postponement from someone else. They only told us when we called them. But they did not give any reason why and just said they are busy.”
She added that the KNU leadership was very disappointed and even worried about the future implementation of the ceasefire process upon hearing the news.
The KNU planned to discuss a code of conduct and troop withdrawals with the government peace delegation led by Raliways Minister Aung Min, who also acts as Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator, during the three-day meeting. The code of conduct is intended to set out regulations for both sides’ troops when entering enemy territory or dealing with each other.
A statement released by the KNU said that the successful implementation of the ceasefire will depend on the willingness and good faith of both parties. Therefore, the KNU called upon the government to move forward with negotiations in a way that will build confidence and trust.
When asked by The Irrawaddy about the current postponement, KNU Vice-Chairman David Takapaw said, “We found there are two groups divided within the government with only one wanting to have peace, and the other group wanting to use force.”
As long as the army wanted to use force and kept attacking ethnic armed groups, there was no way to have peace in the country, he added.
However, a source close to the government peace team said that the talks were postponed to allow more time to review the code of conduct proposed by the KNU and related troop withdrawal. He also said that further talks were due to take place on Sept. 1.
The issue of troop withdrawals will be a major challenge for peace talks between the government and KNU, according to observers, as the Burmese armed forces will be reluctant to withdraw from frontline positions.
A similar situation seems to have entrenched the Kachin State conflict where fighting continues to take place daily. The Kachin Independence Organization has demanded that government troops withdraw from rebel-controlled areas before signing a ceasefire, and so an agreement has still not been reached despite several rounds of talks.
Naw May-Oo Mutraw said, “It is fair to bring this first to the discussion table as it is needed to secure and guarantee security for our people’s lives.” David Takapaw said that government troops were “invaders” and agreed that to arrange their withdrawal from KNU-controlled areas was vital.
The KNU is one of Burma’s biggest ethnic armed groups which has been fighting the Burmese government for greater autonomy for 63 years. The group first signed a peace agreement with President Thein Sein’s reformist administration on Jan. 12.
The government has signed ceasefires with 11 major ethnic armed groups in recent months, but sporadic clashes still break out with Shan rebels in northeast Burma despite a truce also being agreed in January.
KNU Chairman Tamla Baw released a statement to commemorate Karen martyrs’ day on Aug. 12 which highlighted the fragile nature of the current situation and the need for a real political dialogue with the government.