End in sight for Burma's 63-year old insurgency

Government meets with Karen guerrilla leaders to end conflict and persuade the West to lift sanctions

Negotiators from the Burmese government and an ethnic guerrilla force have hammered out a ceasefire agreement to bring an end to what may be the world's longest-running conflict – an insurgency that has raged for 63 years.

A Burmese government minister and a 19-member delegation of the Karen National Union (KNU) yesterday reached a deal on some, if not all, of a slew of issues that have kept the two sides involved in a bloody and often brutal war.

However, there were differing reports as to whether the deal agreed in the Karen state capital of Pa-an constituted anything more than an initial pact.  The government’s chief envoy, its  railways minister Aung Min, told reporters that a “cease-fire agreement has been signed.”  But soon afterwards, a senior KNU official, Saw David Thrac Kabaw, said that no agreement had been reached and claimed such a deal could only be signed by the Burmese president, Thein Sein.

For Thein Sein and Burma’s nominally civilian government, flush with the flurry of diplomatic attention it has received in recent months with visits from the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the British Foreign Secretary William Hague, the issue of agreeing a ceasefire with various ethnic rebel armies has taken on a fresh urgency.

Several visitors, Mr Hague among them, have made clear that ending the ethnic conflicts is one of the requirements before Western sanctions against the Burmese authorities can be lifted.

“The risk is that we assume it’s all done and forget that this is only part way through,” Mr Hague said during his visit. “It’s very important that we do not relax the pressure prematurely.”

In recent months, the country’s government has held discussions with several rebel groups in an effort to forge new agreements, including the Shan, Karenni, Chin and Kachin. However, these negotiations have had differing levels of success.

In the case of the Kachin, activists say the Burmese army continues to launch intense operations despite a purported order from the centre that such action should halt. Just this week, a spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said a build-up of Burmese troops was ongoing.

The Karen group has been fighting for greater autonomy for more than 60 years, in a guerrilla campaign in the country’s east that dates back to before Burma’s independence in 1948.

During World War II, many Karen fighters were persuaded to join British troops in operations against Japanese forces with the promise they would win independence once the fighting was completed. But the agreement was ignored once the war ended.

Confronted by the advances of Burmese troops, who have used torture and rape as part of their operations, tens of thousands of Karen have fled into neighbouring Thailand. Today, they live in camps dotted along the Thai-Burmese border, with no legal rights in Thailand.

Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the KNU, told The Independent she believed a ceasefire had been agreed but that she had not yet received full details from the delegation.

“We are hopeful this will be the first step towards political dialogue. We can agree only if the Burmese army stops its operations against ethnic people,” she said.

Peace talks between the Karen and the Burmese authorities have been held on six earlier occasions, without securing a durable agreement.

Bertil Lintner, a regional analyst, said: “The question is, even if there is a ceasefire, how long will it last.”

Meanwhile, in a separate development, there was speculation that the government could free a number of political detainees today after Burmese state media reported that the authorities will begin releasing 651 prisoners under a new presidential pardon.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Production / Manufacturing Operative

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading garage door manufacturer are curr...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software / Solution Sales

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a thri...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific