Key discussions on the division of territory in Karen state will soon take place between government officials and the opposition Karen National Union (KNU) following tentative steps taken last week towards peace in the war-torn state.
A delegation of KNU officials who on Thursday signed an historic ceasefire deal with the government returned to their base in the Thai border town of Mae Sot yesterday. There they debriefed senior officials on what is being hailed as the most significant move towards a truce in more than six decades of fighting.
“Both sides agreed on the 11 conditions proposed by us and the four proposed by them [government] – it’s not exactly a formal ceasefire agreement yet but only an tentative one based on principles. We still have to discuss the division of territories and so on,” said Saw Thamein Htun from the group’s Central Committee.
The carving up of Karen state will likely be a painstaking task, given a history of shifting territories and the government’s desire to secure areas rich in natural energy potential, particularly hydropower. What may also play a factor is the discovery last week of Burma’s largest gold deposit, much of which lies in Karen state.
The positioning of troops will also be a concern of both sides. Karen army territory is scattered across the eastern state, with troops active as far south as Tenasserim division where they have been resisting the construction of the Tavoy industrial complex. Pockets of territory also lie unnervingly close to areas controlled by the Burmese.
“The [Burmese army] has to work out whether to keep their troops in [the Karen towns of] Hpa-an or Kawkareit and they must tell us where their units are positioned,” Saw Thamein Htun said.
“They must draw out regulations to prevent conflict in the future and direct their soldiers to follow these regulations. Also, we have to work out whom to appoint to sit in the liaison offices [as agreed in the ceasefire] and when we are satisfied with the every condition, we will sign the formal agreement.”
He said the deal made on 12 January could still be withdrawn until further agreements are signed. There is a window of 45 days for both sides to make additional demands.
Meanwhile, KNU spokesperson David Htaw told DVB that leading KNU member Mahn Nyein Maung, who was detained in Rangoon’s Insein prison after being deported to Burma from China in July last year, could be released last week.
A renewed push for peace in Kachin state in Burma’s north is also underway. Delegations from the Kachin Independence Army and the government are due to meet for talks in the Chinese border town of Ruili on Wednesday, although they were still awaiting permission from China.
Since June last year, when a Burmese army offensive against the KIA brought to an end a 17-year ceasefire, the intensity of fighting has reached levels unprecedented in Burma’s recent history. La Nan, spokesperson for the KIA, was however quick to dampen expectations of an immediate result from Wednesday’s talks.
“We don’t want to emphasise the ceasefire too much but would like to focus more on implementing a path for political dialogue. If we can go through political talks smoothly, step by step, then we may not even need to sign an agreement for a ceasefire – things may even work out by themselves,” he said.