ISSN 2330-717X

Burma: High Hopes For Karen Peace Talks


Karen leaders are cautiously optimistic about the possibility of peace after more than 60 years of fighting Burmese security forces as they prepare for meetings with the government on 10 January.

A Karen “peace committee” – formed in November – has arranged a two-day meeting in the state’s Pa Ang District for what is hoped will lead to a permanent end to the armed conflict that began in 1949 and has left the civilian population devastated by decades of instability.

“The talks are the very first step in negotiations for a ceasefire,” Karen National Union (KNU) vice-president Saw David Thakabaw told IRIN.

“We have to begin with a ceasefire and then proceed to negotiations, with political dialogue taking place later.”

The Karen, a largely Christian community in eastern and southern Myanmar, have effectively been at war with Myanmar’s central government since the country gained independence from the UK.

Federal system

The KNU seeks a genuine federal system giving Myanmar’s individual ethnic states greater autonomy.

In 2011, the KNU joined an umbrella alliance of ethnic parties and groups – including the Mon, Shan, Karenni, Chin, and Kachin people – to form the United Nationalities Federal Council in an effort to bring unified strength to the negotiating table.

“It’s been very difficult in the past. We’ve met five times already with the successive regimes in power and now it will be the sixth time. We hope this time will be different because of the changes in the geo-political situation,” said Saw David Thakabaw.

The news comes as Myanmar’s nominally civilian government appears more open to international dialogue following the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last November and UK foreign minister William Hague in January.

“We think now is an ideal time to open talks to reform the political problems during the negotiations,” explained KNU general-secretary Zipporah Sein. “But we will not sign a ceasefire for peace unless there is a guarantee that it will lead to political dialogue and long-lasting peace.

“One of the main problems is the security for the civilian population because many of them are still living in IDP [internally displaced persons] areas and they cannot go back to their villages.

“Despite the talks, the Burmese are still sending supplies and troops into the area and we are afraid that they will use their military power against us again,” said Zipporah Sein.

According to the Thai Burmese Border Consortium (TBBC), an umbrella group of NGOs working along the border to supply aid to 10 refugee camps – at least 112,000 people were forced to leave their homes in southeast Myanmar between August 2010 and July 2011.

These rates are the highest in a decade, underlining the escalation in fighting since the 2010 elections.

And while many of the displaced have returned home, others have moved to refugee camps; about 20,000 live in makeshift camps inside Karen state, the TBBC reported.

Cultural issues

“The education of the Karen and other ethnic groups has been destroyed over the years so we need the right to an education for our next generation, especially to learn our culture, our history and our language,” said Saw Mort, spokesperson for the Karen Student Network Group.

Karen Women’s Organization spokesperson Knaw Paw stressed the need for women’s issues to be addressed in the peace process but said that initially, what was most important was basic human rights for civilians caught up in the conflict.

“The people in the camps listen to the radio and they know about what’s happening in the capital but I think the majority of them are still struggling with their hardships and just trying to carry on with their lives and survive,” Knaw Paw says.

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IRIN is an independent, non-profit media organization. IRIN delivers unique, authoritative and independent reporting from the frontlines of crises to inspire and mobilise a more effective humanitarian response.

One thought on “Burma: High Hopes For Karen Peace Talks

  • January 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Burma Democratisation Strategy 2012 >>> Burma must work without wavering to restore democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Burma must establish the independent judiciary system so as to put a full stop on corruption, abuse of power, anyone staying above the law and anyone buying justice in Burma. We have to work our utmost to establish independent and impartial judiciary system in Burma. Burma must make sure to never allow manipulating laws which criminalize freedom of thought, expression, association, assembly and movement. Burma must ensure amending laws which legitimize arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, inhumane interrogation, torture, arresting without warrant, charge or trial. Burma must work to achieve the ever lasting peace, unity in harmony and equality in diversity in Burma. Equally important is to review the controversial 2008 constitution which gives absolute power to military commander in chief which is still major concern for people of Burma. Burma must prioritise alleviating poverty, unemployment, inflation, illiteracy and major diseases. At the same time, Burma must work hard to end the economics monopoly and cronyism in Burma. Burma needs financial and technological assistance from international community so as to address the immediate needs of the people and in the process of rebuilding Burma. Burma must work to flourish Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). Burma must work to flourish freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, independent media and right to access freedom of information. Burma must empower every citizen with education which is the best investment for future of Burma while ensure supporting welfares of teachers, and education standard in Burma. Burma must build the society of tolerance. To meet that end Burma must work to prosper the culture of dialogue, research, reasoning, question mark, freedom from fear, boosting self-confident and nurturing positive attitude. Education starts at home and we truly believe that it is the essential part of the nation building process to educate families with parenting skills, child development and nurturing children. Burma must work to promote monastery education and support the welfare of the Buddhist monks. Burma must work to ensure promoting religious freedom in Burma while Burma must have a commission which oversee the protection and promotion of (ethnics) minority rights. Burma must educate defence forces with values of professionalism and humanity. Burma must work improving health and social care system which must be affordable and accessible to all the citizens. Burma must improve agricultural system and must emphasise working on the development of villages and border areas. Burma must work to embrace urbanization. Burma must promote sustainable tourism while encouraging citizens to travel so as to promote understanding between different societies. Burma must gradually build industrialised economy and the process of gradual economic reforms must be initiated right now. Burmese must welcome investment. Economic growth is essential for the well being of our people. We must build the infrastructures needed to industrialize Burma. Energy is an essential for development. Burma must work to ensure providing sufficient electricity and gas for all the citizens of Burma. Burma must protect environment for our future generations. We must work to protect the waters, lakes, streams and rivers not to be polluted. Burma must protect forests, biodiversity and natural resources. Burma must work to gradually end excessive irresponsible logging and cutting forests. Burma must increase efforts to afforestation while Burma must work to gradually ban exporting teaks, logs and raw wood. Burma must alleviate corruption. The worst form of corruption is corruption of immigration control personnel. Burma must secure borders to deter and detect illegal immigrants’ intrusions into Burma since population affect us all. Burma must ensure the fiscal stability. Burma must set up the feasible tax, banking and monetary policy. Burma must have the strategic national planning and budget distribution commission so as to distribute spending and future strategic planning. We also need gradual reforms in systems of government which would increase responsibility, accountability and transparency. This will be simultaneous and gradual process and from time to time we must re-evaluate our reform process so as to have the best possible results. Burma must be working to decentralise her administration mechanisms and people must have the right to voice their concerns on every aspect of democratisation process. These will be on top of Burma Democratisation agenda. However, we accept the fact that this reform process will take time. We would like to thank the millions people around the world who helped us to make Burma to be the free democratic society. Let us stand united overcoming all challenges. (Burma Democratic Concern (BDC)


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