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Myanmar holds new peace talks with ethnic rebels

08 april 2012, 18:26
General Mutu Saipo (R) of the Karen National Union (KNU) shakes hands with Myanmar government official Colonel Tin Win (L) during a break in peace talks. ©AFP
General Mutu Saipo (R) of the Karen National Union (KNU) shakes hands with Myanmar government official Colonel Tin Win (L) during a break in peace talks. ©AFP
Myanmar on Friday held its highest level peace talks so far with rebels from war-torn Karen state following a tentative ceasefire agreement inked earlier this year, AFP reports.

Delegates from the political and armed wings of the Karen National Union (KNU) met government officials as part of discussions marking the latest efforts aimed at ending one of the world's longest-running civil conflicts.

Immigration Minister Khin Yi told reporters on Thursday night that preliminary negotiations in Hpa-an, capital of Karen in the east of Myanmar, had covered codes of conduct for troops on both sides.

"We want peace. They also want it. So it will be a success," he said.

Myanmar considers the KNU, whose leadership is based in Thailand, to be an illegal organisation. Its armed wing has been waging Myanmar's oldest insurgency, battling the government since 1949.

Myanmar's government signed a ceasefire deal with the group in January as part of reformist moves that have also led to the holding of a by-election on Sunday that was swept by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party.

The KNU delegation plans to meet the democracy icon on Sunday in what will be Suu Kyi's first important discussions as an elected politician.

KNU spokeswoman May Oo Mutraw said the group was keen to assess the "attitude and commitment" of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party to reconciliation efforts.

"Her belief, sacrifices and leading role are very important for Myanmar," she said of the Nobel laureate, who is largely well-regarded in minority areas, but is also seen as a member of the ethnic Burman elite.

Civil war has gripped parts of the country since its independence in 1948, and an end to the conflicts, as well as alleged human rights abuses involving government troops, is a key demand of the international community.

Vast numbers of villagers in Karen state, scene of Myanmar's oldest insurgency, have been forced to flee and tens of thousands of these refugees live in camps across the border in Thailand.

While the government has inked ceasefires with a number of rebel groups, ongoing fighting in northern Kachin state, which has displaced tens of thousands of people, has cast a shadow over the peace efforts.

Authorities postponed the by-elections in three constituencies in the state, citing security concerns, and rights groups have claimed serious abuses continue in the area.

May Oo Mutraw said the KNU had lobbied the government to work harder on ending the Kachin conflict.

"It's easy to start war but difficult to build peace, especially lasting peace," she said.

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