Burmese guerrillas vow fight to the end

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The Independent Online
Bangkok - Burmese troops were yesterday poised to attack the final stronghold of Karen separatist guerrillas, prompting hundreds of villagers to flee into Thailand.

Sporadic rifle fire has been heard near the Kawmoora mountain camp of the Karen National Union (KNU) since Saturday.Government troops were reportedly preparing for a fresh offensive after successfully storming the headquarters of the KNU and Burma's self-declared opposition alliance at Manerplaw on Friday.

That attack drove hundreds of KNU fighters into the northern jungle, but not before they set Manerplaw ablaze. The rebels traded in their uniforms, dressing as villagers to blend in with other refugees. They were believed to have regrouped in the hills 90 miles to the north.

The KNU and the military regime in Rangoon had been moving towards a truce. But after a rift last month between the rebel group's Christian leadership and Buddhist factions within the movement the government took the opportunity of pushing a military advantage.

By mid-December the Burmese army had begun shelling Karen-held territory south of Manerplaw.

On 20 January it launched its largest assault since unilaterally declaring a ceasefire with the rebels two years ago, and forced KNU troops back on three fronts, largely with the help of Buddhist KNU defectors.

As Rangoon troops moved into Manerplaw yesterday, opposition groups issued a joint statement berating the junta for "contradicting its own declaration" that "it intends to bring about ceasefires with various ethnic minority groups.

"We will continue our struggle to finish the military dictatorship from Burma," the groups said in a statement on Saturday.The US government and the London-based Article 19 human-rights group have called on the junta to halt its attacks on rebel forces.