KNU, Govt Hold Informal Talks on Military Matters

By The Irrawaddy 13 June 2013

Representatives from the Karen National Union (KNU) have met with Burmese government officials, holding unofficial talks at a village in Myawaddy Township about military affairs including the repositioning of troops and a “code of conduct” governing the two sides’ interactions.

Saw Thamin Htun, a leading member of the KNU, said a delegation from the KNU’s central committee unofficially discussed the military matters with government officials during a traditional Karen ceremony in Myawaddy earlier this week.

“The KNU talked about troop repositioning and a code of conduct for the ceasefire that both sides [KNU and the government army] have to obey. They also asked for a timeframe for meeting with President U Thein Sein,” Thamin Htun said.

There are about 300 government military encampments in total positioned in KNU-controlled areas, from Tavoy District in Tanessarim Division to Papun District in Karen State’s north. The KNU plans to ask the Burmese government to withdraw 100 of the 300 camps, which are mostly deployed in villages abandoned by Karen villagers.

Some Karen military leaders in attendance said this week’s discussion produced no tangible results. They accused the government officials of being uninterested in what the KNU was asking for regarding military affairs.

The KNU have held three rounds of official peace talks with a government peace delegation led by Aung Min, a minister at the President’s Office. The two sides signed a ceasefire agreement on Jan. 12, 2012.

Despite the formal and informal discussions over the last 15 months, the parties have yet to achieve an agreement on government troop withdrawal from KNU-controlled territories.

KNU leaders also told the government officials this week that the Karen people and Burma observers inside and outside the country who follow ethnic peace deals were awaiting the next formal talks—when military affairs will likely top the agenda—with interest. Observers see the code of conduct and military repositioning as key to a lasting KNU-government peace accord.

The KNU plans to hold official talks to discuss the ceasefire code of conduct and government troop repositioning later this month. However, the KNU’s technical peace team said that was largely dependent on whether the government would agree to formal talks focused on military affairs.

A code of conduct was initially proposed by the KNU last year. The government delegation at that time agreed to the proposal in principle, but said it would need to get final approval from Thein Sein and the chief of Burma’s armed forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, before implementing the rules.

Among the points agreed in the draft code of conduct, both government and Karen troops would be able to travel and transport rations along routes agreed to by both parties. Another major point would prohibit the Burmese army from ordering the construction of any more roads in KNU-controlled areas.

The KNU is one of the oldest ethnic armed groups in Burma, fighting against the Burmese government for autonomy for more than six decades. After signing the ceasefire agreement in January of last year, the KNU opened six liaison offices in and around Karen State to handle disputes that might arise between the two parties.