Rival armed Karen groups hold rare talks

Oct 20, 2009 (DVB), Two major armed Karen groups who were engaged in fierce fighting earlier this year have held talks for the first time since 1994, according to sources close to the groups.

The talks follow a letter sent last month by an influential monk to both the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) and pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) urging a cessation to conflict in the region.

The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that KNU officials from Karen state's Duplaya district and their counterparts from the DKBA have been in talks since 16 October, although specific details of the discussions are unknown.

The DKBA officials have been led by their patron monk, U Thuzana, who wrote a letter urging both sides to "take lessons from past consequences".

The two sides should "achieve reunion and cooperation by the time of [Karen] New Year", in December, he said.

The DKBA was formed in 1994 from an armed faction that split from the KNU, allegedly citing religious persecution by the predominantly Christian Karen group.

Troops from the DKBA played a key supporting role during a government army offensive against the KNU earlier this year, which forced around 4,000 Karen civilians into neighbouring Thailand.

A report released last week by the Karen Human Rights Group said that the conflict was a major contributing factor to what it now calls a "severe" food crisis in Karen state.

An official from the DKBA told DVB last week that it had moved one step closer towards transforming itself into a border guard force.

The Burmese government has been urging all ceasefire groups to transform and re-enter what it calls the "legal fold", prior to elections scheduled for next year.

Many have so far refused, although the DKBA last week presented a list to the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) detailing battalions that would become border guards.

Reporting by DVB

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