Burmese rebels at bay

London (Reuter) - Burmese forces appear poised to seize the last bastion of opposition to the military junta, human-rights groups say. Article 19 is gravely concerned about the Karen ethnic minority after a big attack in the Manerplaw region by th e State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc).

Burmese forces had seized key Karen outputs along a 30-mile front on the Thai border in preparation for a final assault on Manerplaw, which is also a liaison base for other minority groups opposed to the government, the statement said.

Karen sources in Bangkok said thousands of troops were involved in what appeared to be a three-pronged offensive launched last week. "The Slorc has been shelling Manerplaw every minute in the past few days." More than 3,000 Karen civilians and wounded soldiers have taken refuge on the Thai side of the border. There were no details of casualties. Another rebel group which has agreed to stop fighting, the Kachin Independence Organisation, (KIO), called for a halt to the bloodshed. The KIO, with 12 other factions, signed a pact after Slorc declared a unilateral ceasefire two years ago.

The Karen, the strongest of the rebels still fighting the government, were about to start negotiating peace with Rangoon but talks were delayed by a mutiny within their own ranks.