KNU Peace Talks with Govt Next Week

By Lawi Weng 29 August 2012

New dates have been set for a third round of peace talks between the Burmese government and Karen National Union (KNU) following the postponement of their scheduled meeting on Monday.

Both sides have now agreed to meet on Sept. 3-4 in the Karen State capital Pa-an, according to a statement released by the KNU. Negotiations will focus on guaranteeing the safety of civilian, the relocation of troops and a draft code of conduct which has already been submitted to Naypyidaw for consideration.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, KNU General-Secretary Zipporah Sein, who is going to lead the peace talks on behalf of the rebels, said, “There are many people who hide in the jungle as they are afraid of the army based in their village. We wanted them to come back to their villages and settle back to their normal livelihoods again.

“But in order to let them come back, troops from the government must withdraw first.”

Thousands of Karen civilians have fled from their homes due to a 63-year conflict between the Burmese government and KNU. Many have taken refuge at displacement camps running along the mountainous Thai-Burmese border while others remain hiding in temporary jungle shelters.

The KNU has already asked the Burmese government to withdraw its troops although the group admitted that not all battalions would have to depart insurgent-controlled areas as long as they do not pose a threat to the public.

Aung Min, a minister at the President’s Office and Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator, will lead the government delegation to meet the KNU in Pa-an on Monday. Observers say that Aung Min may be able to achieve a breakthrough with the Karen rebels as he has negotiated many ceasefires over past months.

May Oo Mutraw, a spokesperson for the KNU, said that her Karen people do not have freedom and must live in fear as many government battalions are based in their villages. “We want our people to get guaranteed security and we will emphasis this issue during the meeting,” she said.

May Oo Mutraw explained that the meeting was not only to negotiate a stable ceasefire but also to fulfill the long-term desires of ordinary Karen people.

The KNU statement said that achieving a lasting peace after decades of armed conflicts and political disputes will only be possible through the participation and support of all concerned parties and stakeholders.

The KNU is one of Burma’s biggest ethnic armed groups which has been fighting the Burmese government for greater autonomy for more than six decades. 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.