Friday, April 10, 2009

The Junta Woos the KNU


The inclusion of the Karen National Union (KNU) in the 2010 national election appears to be a key motive behind the proposed cease-fire talks between the rebel group and the Burmese junta, according to analysts.

The date of the meeting, possible to be held in Thailand, has not been decided.

The KNU agreed on Monday to meet with junta representatives to discuss a possible ceasefire, following a meeting with Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who passed on a message to KNU leaders from Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein.

The KNU has been under pressure from Thailand in recent months to move some of its command operations from Thai soil, and in addition, the rebel group has experienced defections within its army in recent weeks.

The KNU, in its 60-year history, has never signed a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese government.

For the 2010 election to be accepted as legitimate in world opinion, it is important for the junta to be able to claim the election was “inclusive” and all key ethnic groups and opposition parties participated, said Nyo Ohn Myint of the National League for Democracy (Liberated-Area).

“I think ‘inclusive’ is a very important word for the junta,” said Nyo Ohn Myint.

Many ethnic ceasefire groups are likely to form political parties and run candidates in the general election.

Htay Aung, a Burmese researcher with the exile-based Network for Democracy and Development, said that Thein Sein was clever to ask Kasit to mediate in the talks with the KNU.

Recently, Thein Sein sent a signal to the rebels, saying the door to peace talks was “always open.”

The Burmese regime does not need to ask for the help of a third party if it wants to meet with armed groups such as the KNU and the Karenni National Progressive Party, he noted.

Last month, the Royal Thai government also proposed to the KNPP that it act as an intermediary between the junta and the Karenni Army and its political wing, the KNPP.

Some observers expressed caution and skepticism about the proposed negotiations.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst on the Sino-Burma border, said he doubted the offer by the Burmese government will be constructive, noting that Burmese troops were attacking KNU military bases while at the same time saying they wanted to talk with KNU leaders.

“They [the Burmese regime] only thinks about how to exploit the talks politically. In fact, they don’t want to make peace, but just to show the international community that they are making an effort,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

On Monday, Burmese troops and soldiers from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which broke away from the KNU, attacked KNLA Battalion 201 while KNU leaders met with the foreign minister Kasit in Bangkok.

Analysts said that at this time in the KNU’s history, when it is considered to be very weak, it may be to its benefit to conduct smart, strategic negotiations with the junta, no matter the eventual outcome.

Important concessions might be won, they note, because at this moment KNU bargaining power may be stronger than in the future.

“It’s a political game. So, it is important for the KNU to win the game,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

Source: Irrawaddy News

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