Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org

1 September 2004

Dictator Watch has interviewed David Tharckabaw, head of the Karen National Union Information Department, about the status of the ceasefire negotiations between the KNU and Burma's military regime, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

In recent days the government of East Timor has offered to provide a neutral venue for the negotiations. This offer was conveyed by Jose Ramos-Horta, Foreign Minister of East Timor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Mr. Ramos-Horta said that East Timor would be pleased to serve as a neutral, humble and disinterested party to facilitate the talks.

The ceasefire talks began last December, at which time a gentleman's agreement to suspend hostilities was reached. However, since then over three hundred clashes have occurred. The Burma Army also continues to commit widespread human rights violations against the Karen people.

Because of this, the KNU believe that the immediate negotiation objective must be to agree upon ways and means to establish a systematic ceasefire, such that the clashes and human rights abuses come to an end.

The generals of the SPDC have been intransigent. There has been no progress in the discussions towards achieving this goal. The SPDC are also proceeding with their "Roadmap," and have stated that the participation of the KNU, and the National League for Democracy, is unnecessary. It is now clear that the SPDC have no intention of relinquishing military control, nor of allowing Burma to become a democracy.

The ceasefire negotiations are presently at a standstill, because the SPDC are insisting that all meetings be held inside Burma, in areas they control. They have rejected out-of-hand the idea of a neutral venue. Their negotiation positions, on all issues, have been hard-line and inflexible.

The Karen do not feel free and secure meeting in SPDC territory. The regime has not made a general declaration of amnesty, hence Karen leaders could be arrested at any time. Karen leaders have also been assassinated in the past.

Having a neutral venue, with international mediation, is to everyone's benefit - including the SPDC. It will help ensure that any agreement that is reached is transparent and accountable.

The Karen have been exploring prospective neutral venues, to which the East Timorese have responded with their gracious offer. East Timor is well-suited to host the negotiation. The country is non-aligned, and it is also close geographically - which will simplify travel arrangements. The negotiations will also benefit from East Timor's recent and direct experience in international conflict resolution.

The KNU are now asking the SPDC to reconsider their position on the venue, and to agree to conduct future negotiation sessions in East Timor.

The KNU further would like to make it clear - to the international community - that having a ceasefire agreement is not equivalent to peace. Any formal ceasefire must be followed by political dialogue - the Karen support a tripartite dialogue - to achieve a just settlement in Burma. And, the terms of this settlement must then be successfully implemented. Only then will Burma be at peace, and only then can such things as refugee repatriation and economic development legitimately commence.

October update: After numerous internal meetings and meetings with facilitators sent by the SPDC, the KNU decided to send another negotiation team into Burma. This delegation went to Rangoon, only to arrive for the purge of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. They were told that the negotiations could not be held at this time, and the party returned safely to the Thai border.