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Behind the ceasefires

                                BEHIND THE CEASEFIRE
                                By-Saw Thu Wah
                                Typed by-Saw Nelson Ku

Source: Burma Issue-September 1996

Peace talks sound good to many people...Peace must come together with Justice.

The Karen Nation Union(KNU), Burma's largest ethnic rebel group, held their
third set of cease fire negations with the Burmese military regime (SLORC)
on July 28, 1996. Despite these animated talks, the four-decades-old
conflict over the right of ethnic self-determination remains in a political
stalemate. During the last dialogue, the issues of unequal status, a
positional approach rather than pursuing common interests, and a lack of
commitment  to the process were the key inhibiting factors to finding a
solution to the political conflict.

Following cease fires between Slorc and fifteen of the allied armed ethnic
groups, most of whom were members of National Democratic Front (NDF), the
KNU has been facing strong military pressure from the SLORC. Subsequently
the SLORC launched massive military campaigns against the KNU in order to
take military and political advantage of the situation. The split between
Buddhist Karen faction, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Organisation (KKBO)
and the Christian dominated KNU at the end of 1994, gave the SLORC and
additional advantage. The DKBO affiliation with the SLORC gave the military
the political pressure needed to take the KNU's Jungle headquarter of
Marnerplaw, along with some other strategic areas.
The rapid growth of this internal military pressure pushed the KNU to
reluctantly enter cease fire dialogue with the SLORC despite being at a
distinct disadvantage in the negotiations. This reluctance was further
acerbated by previous experience in negations with the Burmese government in
1949, 1960, and 1963. All of these negotiations end in failure because of
the Burmese government's uncompromising demand for the unconditional
surrender of the KNU. A preliminary delegation composed of twelve members
left for Rangoon on December 12, 1995 to initiate the first in latest round
of ceasefire talks.  In this meeting, SLORC insisted that the KNU follow the
same procedures that were used with ceasefire agreements with other ethnic
groups: first agree to a "ceasefire" and second to co-operate in a "local
development program" . SLORC did not express any interest in discussing the
ethnic issues, which the KNU asserts are at the heart of the conflict.

On February 15,1996, the KNU and SLORC held a second round of talks in
Rangoon. Both sides agreed to keep all information about the talks
confidential until a final agreement was reached. However, the international
media reported that the KNU presented an agenda of twelve items for
discussion.  Several key items submitted by the KNU were 1: a call for SLORC
to officially announce a nation-wide ceasefire, 2: a halt to all military
activities including road construction in the KNU' operative area, 3: the
immediate end to all human rights abuse by the Burmese army, and 4: allowing
the United Nations to monitor any ceasefire. SLORC accepted none of these
key items and continued to insist  on a total surrender instead.

The third round of ceasefire talks  was held on July 28, 1996. This time the
KNU proposed to SLORC that a tripartite dialogue between KNU, SLORC, and the
National League for Democracy (NLD) be held thirty days after cease-fire
agreement to discuss important political issues. SLORC again turned down the
proposal and requested that the KNU propose agenda items relevant for
discussion by the two sides only. SLORC reminded the KNU that it would only
dialogue with KNU alone and maintained its position to talk on the issues of
cease-fire and local development programs, while refusing any further
dialogue on political issues. As a justification for this, the SLORC stated
that since they are a non-elected military government, they have no rights
to discuss political issues. Yet the SLORC made a political demand that the
KNU promise to abandon their armed struggle and return to the legal fold.

Tactically, SLORC's continuing massive military reinforcements on the ground
was a clear signal to the KNU that they had no options except a ceasefire
and co-operation in local development. The KNU views SLORC's development
program with much suspicion, feeling that it is designed to neutralise the
masses through offering them benefits from the development program. These
suspicions could be well founded. Lt. Gen. Khin Nyut, chief of the military
intelligence of the SLORC, is in charge of the local development program.
His plan to construct roads in the development program is a tremendous
threat to the KNU, as these roads  could be used for military purposes in
case a ceasefire broke down. The SLORC further insisted that after a
ceasefire the KNU's troop must stay within limited-designated areas and stop
new recruitment and taxation in its operative areas. The KNU sees this as
SLORC's strategic attempt to cut them off from the political and material
support of their people. However, as an alternative way for the KNU to
support its troops, the SLORC offered to allow them to run businesses such
as mining, logging and trade.

Peace talks sound good to many people, including the international
community. However, peace does not only imply an end to armed fighting.
Peace must come together with justice. But the balance of power for equal
dialogue is a key point for this to be possible. The collective voice of the
ethnic groups is essential in balancing power with SLORC for truly open
dialogue. Despite the fact that fifteen armed ethnic groups have already
accepted ceasefires, the  group still have time to create a common voice in
dealing with SLORC.

Reunification of all the ethnic groups, in fact, will be necessary to
counter SLORC's new strategy of "Cut and Clear" At the same time, the
acceleration of international pressure while also help build the ethnic
status in dialogue with the SLORC. The ethnic groups should no longer agree
to SLORC's gag order during negotiations and release all information about
peace talks to the mass media as a way of drawing in support for their
strategy to bring peace to Burma. The ethnic groups also need to prepare a
clear strategy and process to deal with, not only current issues, but also a
system level.  And last of all, presenting interests rather than positions
will be a pro-active plan in dealing with SLORC and placing them more at a
disadvantageous position.

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