Karen, Mon armies make stab at peace

The opposition Karen National Union is due to meet with high-level government officials this week following the formation of a committee aimed at negotiating an end to one of the world’s most protracted conflicts.

Also engaged in talks with Naypyidaw is the New Mon State Party (NMSP), which hosted government representatives yesterday at its headquarters in the eastern Burmese state.

Both rebel groups have been fighting the Burmese army but a concerted push for a cessation appears underway. A member of the Karen National Union (KNU) said the group’s leadership had formed a Peacemaking Committee last week with KNU deputy chairman David Takabaw as the committee chairman.

It will meet with a high-level government delegation, including Railway Minister Aung Min, within a few days. The two sides held preliminary talks on 9 October in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

A number of ethnic armies who have been approached by the government in recent months had until recently stated that negotiations would only take place as part of the umbrella group of rebel forces known as United Nationalities Federal Council.

That alliance however appears to be dissipating: the KNU has already struck out on its own, and the NMSP says it is ready to follow suit.

“It seems like the policy is changing,” said Nai Kaung Yut, a former colonel with the NMSP who is on its peace-brokering committee. He said also that Karen officials had chosen to negotiate directly with Naypyidaw instead of the usual route through Karen state government officials.

The flurry of talks follows hot on the heels of a ceasefire between the government and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) on 6 November.

The two sides had been embroiled in a bitter conflict since DKBA troops attacked government positions in Myawaddy on 7 November last year, the day of Burma’s first elections in 20 years.

Troops had defected from the pro-government faction of the DKBA in August last year after leader Na Kham Mwe refused to transform into a Naypyidaw-controlled Border Guard Force. Similar refusals among other ethnic armies inBurma, including the NMSP, have sparked widespread fighting this year.

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