Karen rebels cautious on peace talks

The Karen National Liberation Army has said it will only negotiate with the Burmese government if it accepts that armed groups will no longer hold talks individually but as part of a wider alliance. It follows a recent approach by security officials in Karen state tasked with kick-starting dialogue with the rebels.

Naypyidaw has been busy attempting to court the myriad rebel groups in the country’s periphery, many of whom have seen fighting escalate in recent months.

The war against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) however goes back six decades, and mistrust of government overtures is deep-seated.

A nominal alliance of groups, including the KNLA and the Kachin Independence Army, was formed last year under the banner of United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC).

“We do want to have a ceasefire and peace as well as to solve the problems via political means,” said Major Saw Hla Ngwe, joint-secretary 1 of the KNLA’s political wing, the Karen National Union.

“But because we work as a group, we will only hold discussions as the UNFC and not as one group. And we would like to discuss directly with the central government.”

The offer of talks from Karen state’s Security and Border Affairs minister, Colonel Aung Lwin, pre-empted a recent trip by President Thein Sein’s political advisor, Nay Zin Latt, toIndonesia. Billed as a ‘study’ visit, the delegation sought to get to grips withIndonesia’s transition from military rule and cessation of conflicts with ethnic minority groups – something the new Burmese government has pledged as a goal.

The fighting in recent months, particular against the KIA inBurma’s north, has taken on a sometimes brutal front, with multiple rapes of Kachin women by Burmese soldiers reported.

Observers have questioned whether the armed groups will accept offers of peace from the government in light of the nature of the fighting, although most say they are ostensibly looking for an end to hostilities.

Major Saw Hla Ngwe was sceptical of the tactics being used by the central government to negotiate an end to fighting. Historically the government has favoured talks with individual groups, rather than alliances.

“It is their policy to hold talks separately with individual groups. They would talk to groups separately and then play political and military games – we know this based on our past experiences,” he said.

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