Karen group clarifies election stance

Oct 6, 2009 (DVB), Burma's elections next year are not a sign of progress towards democratization, according to a prominent ethnic opposition group who said that repression will continue beyond 2010.

The Karen National Union (KNU) made the statement in reaction to a letter sent by the umbrella Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC) to US senator Jim Webb, suggesting that elections might herald change in Burma.

"It is, our hope that the new government will be more open to negotiating a political solution with the ethnic groups that are still engaged in armed struggle," the ENC letter said, adding that it would "support eligible ethnic groups in running for office in the 2010 elections".

Critics of the Burmese government have said however that the elections are likely to be a farce, with the 2008 constitution appearing to guarantee continuation of military rule.

The KNU today responded with a statement repeating its calls to the international community not to endorse the elections, claiming that they "will not result in any improvement of the human rights and humanitarian situation".

"Before the elections there must be freedom to campaign, and there must be freedom of the press, and there must election monitoring by international NGOs and organizations," said KNU spokesperson David Thakabaw.

While the ENC letter echoed Thakabaw's comments, it appeared ultimately to support participation in the elections.

"[ENC] thinking has become very reactionary," Thakabaw said. "They think if they boycott the elections, the ethnic groups will become very sidelined or isolated.

"But if democratic and ethnic groups boycott the elections, then the [government] will become sidelined. Nobody will accept the election results."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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