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Karen leaders meet with Thai foreign minister

Apr 10, 2009 (DVB), Leaders of Burma's principal armed opposition group met with the Thai foreign minister on Monday to discuss human rights abuses and the possibility of reconciliation with Burma's ruling junta.

The Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya flew to Burma at the end of March to meet with senior officials of the ruling State Peace and Development Council.

Thailand currently holds the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and have agreed to facilitate talks between the SPDC and opposition group the Karen National Union on the request of Burma's prime minister Thein Sein.

"We managed to discuss the fact that the SPDC has been carrying out human rights abuses in Karen state and that their dam constructions are hurting local people a lot," said KNU Secretary General Zipporah Sein, after the meeting in Bangkok.

"On this matter, the Thai FM said that he will meet with [Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand] and study their research and hold discussions."

EGAT have signed a deal with the Burmese government to build five dams on the Salween river, which runs through eastern Karen state. The electricity generated by the dam will be pumped into Thailand.

Environmental and human rights groups have said however that the plans for the dam have not taken into account the volatile nature of Karen state, and have expressed fears over forced relocation of villages and militarization of the area.

The KNU Vice Chairman David Takabaw said that the meeting also discussed the potential for reconciliation with the government, using Thailand as a facilitator for talks.

"We have to push the SPDC along the right path, but the KNU will talk on the basis of our laid down policy," he said.

"We have to try not to get ourselves tied down and at the same time, not to be deceived by the enemy."

The KNU has had five previous meetings with the Burmese government but talks broke down in 2005 after government insisted on making the KNU enter its ‘legal fold’.

Clashes have broken out over the last two weeks between SPDC troops and the KNU's armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army.

"It seems that they want to fight while they talk, and talk while they fight," said Takabaw.

"And there is also the matter of them enticing and ripping away our grassroots," he added.

Last month the son of a former KNU leader joined a pro-government splinter group.

With three Karen splinter groups now allied to the ruling State Peace and Development Council, some Burmese military analysts have speculated that the recent attack by Burmese troops could be due to information supplied by the defectors.

Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw


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