Friday, January 16, 2004

Friday, January 16, 2004

From The Times
January 16, 2004
Burma rebel chief comes out of jungle to talk peace


General flies to Rangoon seeking release of junta opponents in return for laying down arms
By Andrew Drummond


AFTER fighting the Burmese military junta for more than 55 years, General Bo Mya, leader of the Karen National Union (KNU), the last large rebel group fighting the Government, yesterday touched down in Rangoon ready to give up the freedom struggle.


The general, who fought for the British against the Japanese in the Second World War, says he will call off the struggle if the junta meets several conditions including the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy leader, as well as U Tin Oo, its vice-chairman, and other political prisoners.


Daw Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, is under house arrest for the third time since 1988, which the Goverment claims is protective custody.
Despite his weakened military position, General Mya is also demanding that the junta call a national ceasefire against all rebel groups, follow United Nations resolutions on the return to democracy and hold serious talks not only with Daw Suu Kyi but other figures in the democracy movement.
 
Other Burmese rebel tribes including the Kachin, Wa, and Mon have already signed peace deals with the junta.


The 77-year-old former member of Special Operations Executive's Force 136, who under British officers carried out acts of sabotage behind Japanese lines in Burma, flew into the Burmese capital from Bangkok as a guest of General Than Shwe, chairman of Burma's State Peace and Development Council.
 
For more than 55 years in the liberated state of Kawthoolei in eastern Burma, the part of the country occupied and administrated by the minority KNU, General Mya has led his jungle rebels, officered by British-trained former Force 136 men, against the 200,000-strong Burmese Army.


For decades it was a guerrilla war like that fought successfully against the Japanese, but some years ago fixed front lines were established and Karen rebels and Burmese troops faced each other in trenches at some points less than 200 yards apart.


The KNU runs its own government with ministries of war, education and commerce.
 
The general claims that there are eight to ten million Karens scattered throughout Burma who he has struggled to weld into a single nation.
 
More than 100,000 Burmese refugees, mostly Karen, have fled to Thailand over the years to escape what they say is an ethnic cleansing campaign by the junta.
 
Yesterday General Mya, whose army has now been reduced to just 3,000-4,000 from 209,000 in its heyday, left aboard a Burmese flight from Bangkok with a political representative from the KNU and two divisional commanders from the Karen National Liberation Army.


A spokesman for the KNU said: 'The general has been guaranteed return safe passage and will return to his base near the Thai border in four to five days to report back to the KNU council.'

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