Burma ends one of world’s longest running insurgencies after peace deal with Karen rebels

“The people have experienced the horrors of war a long time. I’m sure
they’ll be very glad to hear this news. I hope they’ll be able to fully
enjoy the sweet taste of peace this time.”

The KNU has been fighting Burmese forces practically since independence from
Britain in 1948. Its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)
has mounted a damaging war of attrition on Burmese forces along the Burma
Thai border.

More than 100,000 Karen languish in border camps in Thailand that have become
large permanent townships. Thailand has increase pressured on the Burmese
and Karen to reach a deal so that the camps can be closed and the refugees
returned home.

“This is the bloodiest part of the Burmese civil war, so to reach a deal
with the Karen is very significant,” said Benedict Rogers, a Burma
expert at Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “Previous ceasefires have
been used by the army to reinforce their presence in Karen area, so we will
be looking for troop reductions to follow from this.”

International interest in the struggles of Burma’s minorities – just under
half the population does not belong to the Burman ethnicity – has been one
of the main drivers of its isolation.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, welcomed the deal.

“It has been a longstanding goal of the international community to see a
ceasefire, and indeed it was one of the key issues on which I urged the
Burmese government to make progress during my visit last week when I also
met with Karen representatives,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s main opposition leader, has said that progress in
nationwide peace talks should be a benchmark for judging the regime’s
reformist credentials. The opposition leader, who will stand in elections
for the first time since the 1989 general election, has not yet endorsed
calls on her western allies to drop sanctions but has said she has faith in
the military backed government’s reform agenda.

“This is an incredibly significant moment,” Jim Della-Giacoma,
southeast Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group. “It
could be a tipping point and lead other major armed groups that have not yet
signed ceasefires with the government to do so.”

However other ethnic conflicts continue to rage, including an offensive
against Kachin fighters on the Chinese border.

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