By LAWI WENG
The Karen National Union’s deputy chairman, David Takapaw, has welcomed Thailand’s offer to mediate talks between the KNU and the Burmese regime, but said they would have to be held outside Burma.
“We are always ready for peace talks,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “But we will not attend any talks in Burma at this time. Talks must be held in another country.”
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who met Burmese government leaders in Naypyidaw at the weekend, said he would approach the KNU in the hope of getting talks started. It was in Thailand’s interest for peace to reign in Burma, he said.
Thai army officials recently asked Karen rebel leaders living in the Thai border town of Mae Sot to return to KNU-controlled areas of Karen State. The rebels belong to the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
Burmese researcher Aung Thu Nyein said the Thai government’s efforts to help bring about peace talks between the Burmese regime and the KNU would increase pressure on KNU leaders who live in Thailand.
“Thailand needs border stability for trade with the Burmese regime,” he said. “From an economic point of view, this might put more pressure on the KNU leaders to talk to the regime.”
The KNU has engaged in peace talks with the Burmese regime four times since the present regime took power in 1988.
The late chairman of the KNU, Gen Saw Bo Mya, held peace talks with regime leaders in Rangoon in 2005, two years before his death. Contacts have been at a standstill since then.
Takapaw said whenever the KNU talked to the regime “they always insist that we give up our arms and return to the ‘legal fold.’ But how we can agree to live under a regime that isn’t the official government?”
Takapaw said that if the KNU agreed to talks on Burmese territory the Burmese negotiators would have the upper hand. “Such a meeting wouldn’t be on equal terms,” he said.
The KNU has been in conflict with the Burmese army for more than 50 years. It turned to guerrilla tactics after regime forces overran its headquarters in 1995.
Burmese army offensives have been accompanied by the destruction of Karen villages, displacement of local populations, the killing of civilians and other serious human rights abuses. More than 100,000 Karen villagers have sought refuge in camps along the Thai-Burmese border.