KNU Plans Ceasefire Meetings With Govt, Criticizes Other Rebel Groups

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 18 February 2015

RANGOON — Karen National Union (KNU) leaders said they plan to hold bilateral meetings with the Burmese government and army in order to improve ceasefire conditions in Karen State.

They said the move entailed distancing the KNU from the alliance of ethnic armed groups involved in the faltering nationwide ceasefire process, indicating a widening rift between Burma’s oldest rebel group and other ethnic armies.

“At the end of this month, we and high-ranking and middle-ranking generals from the Burma Army with decision-making powers will start the discussions,” Ta Mu Lar, secretary of the KNU chairman, told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that the group had agreed with the government on the outline of the agenda for the meetings.

KNU leaders said they hoped to ask the Burma Army to gradually draw down its troop deployments and outposts in Karen State in order to ease living conditions and transport for local ethnic Karen communities, a move they said that could help build up trust between the Karen and the government.

KNU Chairman Mutu Say Poe explained the initiative to the Karen community in Rangoon on Monday and said the rebel group was resorting to bilateral ceasefire negotiations as the nationwide ceasefire negotiations between the government and 16 ethnic groups represented by the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) had produced no results in past months.

“We, the KNU, are moving to a bloodless battlefield as we become to understand that there is no end in sight for solving political conflicts on the battleground. Political problems must be solved with political means. Only then, they can be resolved,” he said.

Mutu Say Poe went on to criticize the NCCT and accused some of the ethnic groups of obstructing progress on the nationwide ceasefire by issuing demands, such as calling for the formation of a federal army, that were unnecessarily complicating negotiations with the government and Burma Army.

The NCCT includes the KNU, but also other powerful groups such as the Kachin Independence Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. The latter are involved in heavy fighting with the Burma Army in northern Burma, which has flared up in recent months after nationwide ceasefire talks stalled because differences over fundamental issues, such as political autonomy and federalism, could not be bridged.

Different ethnic groups have voiced distrust over the government intentions, but the KNU has been keen to maintain its relatively good relationship with Naypyidaw and the army. As a result, differences between leaders of the KNU and other ethnic groups have publicly come to the fore in recent months.

On Feb. 12, Union Day, President Thein Sein presented ethnic leaders with a pledge reaffirming support for the nationwide ceasefire. Leaders of the KNU, the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and a small Karen splinter group, alongside the Shan State Army-South, signed the statement. All other NCCT groups declined, saying they felt it lacked specific details on the government’s commitments to the peace process.

Despite the KNU’s good relations with Naypyidaw the group has failed to secure a code of conduct with the Burma Army since it signed a ceasefire, while there have also been reports of increasing militarization in Karen State.

A report released on Wednesday by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) said, “Following the January 2012 ceasefire, villagers have consistently reported to KHRG that Burma/Myanmar Tatmadaw soldiers have moved with greater ease and frequency throughout KHRG’s research areas in southeastern Burma/Myanmar, causing feelings of insecurity and anxiety among villagers.

“KHRG has received information regarding various aspects of ongoing militarization, including the Tatmadaw repairing and constructing roads for military use, resupplying their camps with ammunition and food, and strengthening and repairing camps.”