Karen leaders, Burma govt meet in Thailand

Fresh negotiations between government officials and members of the Karen National Union took place along the Thai border yesterday as Naypyidaw appears to be making another stab a peace with warring ethnic armies.

The spokesperson of the KNU, David Htaw, told DVB that yesterday’s meeting in Mae Sot was “unofficial”, but provisional discussions had paved the way for another round of talks in January.

It is the third time the two sides have met since a new government came to power in March. The conflict between the Burmese government and the armed wing of the KNU, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), began in 1949 and is the world’s longest-running.

The negotiations yesterday follow reports from Kachin state in the north that government officials have requested another round of talks with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), following several unsuccessful attempts to broker a truce since fighting began there in June.

A letter sent to the army outlined the formation of a new government committee specifically tasked with seeking an end to fighting in Kachin state that has displaced up to 50,000 civilians.

But despite various signs that the government wishes to see the conflict end, including an order from President Thein Sein that troops stop offensives against the KIA, fighting continues.

The location of the talks yesterday with the KNU points to the ongoing role of Thailand in the 60-year conflict, which has long used border-based groups like the KNLA and the Shan State Army as a buffer between Thailand and its traditional enemy, the Burmese army.

But the recent visit to Burma by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and increased Thai investments in energy and infrastructure projects, such as the Tavoy port, that demand a stable frontier region, suggest that policy towards anti-Naypyidaw groups may soon change.

This issue is believed to be behind last year’s closure of a key trading point linking Mae Sot to the Burmese town of Myawaddy. The governor of Thailand’s Tak province, Samart Loifah, said that the Burmese government’s decision to close the Friendship Bridge stemmed from perceptions in Naypyidaw that Thailand was allowing groups like the KNU to shelter in its territory.

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