Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


12 July 2004

Dictator Watch has interviewed David Tharckabaw, Head of the Karen National Union Information Department, about the status of the ceasefire - and the related negotiations - with Burma's military dictatorship, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

For the ceasefire itself, the conditions on the ground, the Burma Army is still systematically committing Acts of War. These include the use of forced labor, theft and extortion, the burning of villages, rape, and murder.

The Burma Army is also building new camps and reinforcing its outposts, and stockpiling supplies for its frontline troops. Roadbuilding and other "development" activities, including non-sustainable logging and mining, which use forced labor from forced relocation camps, continue as well. The SPDC say these developments are part of its national plan.

They are actually designed to marginalize the Karen (and the other ethnic nationalities including the Karenni and Shan), making them dispossessed in their own homeland. Further, the Burma Army has recently started probing KNU positions, searching for caches of food and ammunition, and burning off fields.

Since the establishment of a verbal ceasefire last December, there have been regular clashes. For the period December through the end of May, there were 240 armed clashes. The Burma Army has also redirected some of its troops from Karen areas and escalated its acts of war elsewhere, notably in Karenni State.

Regarding the negotiations, for the Karen, and the rest of the people of Burma, the best agreement would be a nation-wide cessation of conflict with the Burma Army withdrawing to its major bases in the cities and towns. This should be accompanied by the implementation of an international monitoring mechanism - a multilateral or United Nations peacekeeping force. The generals of the SPDC are not willing to accept this. The KNU therefore called for the SPDC to withdraw to the towns and cities and behind major roads in the areas with significant Karen populations, including Karen State and Tenasserim Division. This would create a substantial demarcation of forces - for which the KNU also want an independent monitoring mechanism - and establish large areas in which the local population would be free of abuse. The SPDC also rejected this.

The KNU submitted this position, for a demarcation of forces, at the first talks in December and again at the second meeting in March. The SPDC refused both times. Instead, they are demanding a "ceasefire in place," with no change of troop locations, and which they are already using to expand and reinforce their own units.

The SPDC demanded that the negotiations be held inside Burma. The KNU believe that an agreement can best be achieved in a neutral territory - in another country - and with a transparent process including international mediation. The SPDC rejected this. At the first negotiation session they also refused to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. They are positioning themselves as the "legitimate government" of Burma, and believe that such a document would undermine this stance. This is also why they rejected an international mediator: they are unwilling to cede any control.

The SPDC want to know the location of KNU units, and demanded the end of recruiting and training. They are also demanding control over repatriated refugees and internally displaced persons - that such individuals must move to SPDC holding centers.

The KNU is negotiating for concrete terms to achieve a true and verifiable ceasefire, rather than a limited non-aggression pact. This is the only way to obtain an agreement that the SPDC cannot manipulate to its own advantage, and which will free the local population from attacks and other abuses by the Burma Army.

Regarding the SPDC's National Convention, the KNU was not invited, nor did they ask to attend. Had they been invited, they would have said no. They understand that the National Convention is stage-managed and that it has a foregone conclusion, that the SPDC will never yield power to the people of Burma.