A Karen National Union delegation who met with government officials today for ceasefire talks talks say they have reached an agreement for a truce in the volatile eastern state.
A reporter in the Karen town of Hpa-an said both sides had agreed to a four-point ceasefire. “There are four points: the ceasefire itself, as well as opening of liaison offices, freedom to move around in the region without weapons, and to follow up with more talks”.
It becomes the strongest signal yet that peace may finally come to a region devastated by the world’s longest-running civil war, although deep scepticism still remains. The KNU’s vice-chairman, David Thakabaw, told DVB earlier today: “Our past experience dealing with the government has always been tricky. They’re not very honest – they say good words but today is just like before [when talks broke down].”
The 19-strong delegation will travel to the Eastern Regional Military Command headquarters in the nearby Mon state capital of Moulmein this evening to discuss “military matters”.
The Karen refused to join a ceasefire process in the mid-1990s that saw many of the country’s armed ethnic groups agree to truces, many in exchange for business concessions from the government. This included the Kachin Independence Army in Burma’s north, but that deal broke down in June last year and fighting has since engulfed large parts of the northern state.
The KNU enjoys widespread support among the state’s population, much of which has been subject to decades of debased treatment at the hands of Burmese troops. Thackabaw said that Karen people were wary of what the outcome of a ceasefire might mean for the state.
“A quick ceasefire now would be tantamount to surrender – that’s what the people are worried about,” he said. “We will be very cautious and look at the problem from all angles.”
The KNU has also demanded that the Burmese army end attack against ethnic minorities across the country, although it is unclear if this formed part of the deal today.
In addition to the conflict, the government has neglected development in eastern Burma, where poverty levels outstrip those in urban areas and where more than 500,000 people are classed as internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Karen officials told DVB prior to leaving yesterday that they would press the government to prioritise development there.
Additional reporting by Francis Wade