The Burmese army is sending more troops into Karen state despite signing an initial ceasefire agreement with rebels last month, according to the Karen National Union (KNU).
David Tarkabaw, deputy chairman of the KNU, accused the Burmese army of setting up hundreds of military outposts inside the group’s territory in the east of Karen state and prohibiting local civilians from going near them.
“After the initial ceasefire agreement, we allowed them to deliver supplies [to Burmese Army units in KNU territory]. And now they’ve set up around 200 outposts in the area and restricted locals from going within a 2,000 yard radius of an outpost or 500 yards from a road. This is making the locals uncomfortable – making it look like we have surrendered,” he warned.
These developments are likely to anger critics, who have voiced concerns over the speed and management of the Karen ceasefire negotiations. Reports suggest simmering discontentment both within the KNU and among grassroots organisations.
Earlier this month, KNU general secretary Zipporah Sein told the New York Times that the negotiating team was not even authorised to sign a ceasefire deal. The Karen Women’s Organization has complained that women have been excluded from the negotiations.
Tarkabaw has previously warned that the ceasefire agreement constitutes a “treacherous offer” by the Burmese government to secure access to natural resources in Karen state.
Delegations between the KNU and the government met in Karen State’s capital town Hpa-an on 12 January where they signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement. In the meeting, the KNU presented an 11 point proposal including for a nationwide ceasefire, end to forced labour, extortion and rehabilitation of civilian lives.
Tarkabaw said a follow up meeting with the government is planned at the end of this month. “We need to discuss again – there was no conditions in the [initial] ceasefire agreement apart from letting them deliver supplies… they agreed to our proposals ‘in principle’ and that is called double-dealing.”
“They have set up conditions for a ceasefire while promising what they would do. The fighting in Kachin State needs to stop and also the human rights violations, otherwise we cannot rest assured that the ceasefire will last. We want monitors such as the international community to closely observe the ceasefire with proper procedures,” he added.
The KNU said there has been fighting between its brigades and the Burmese army despite the ceasefire. Eye-witness reports by the NGO Free Burma Rangers (FBR) also suggest that human rights abuses, including several incidents of violence against civilians and pillaging of food supplies, have continued since January.
Human rights abuses and militarisation are but some of the contentious issues that still need to be addressed in the coming rounds of talks between the government and the KNU, along with development plans, political self-determination and the controversial 2008 constitution.