Download After the historic by-election win by Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, now comes a historic ceasefire.
Last week, the Karen National Union signed a pact with the Burmese government, raising hope of a permanent end to one of the world’s oldest civil conflicts.
Burma’s civil war has been going on for more than six decades, since independence in 1948.
A dozen major ethnic groups have fought against the government – including the Karen.
The Karen is the third biggest ethnic group in Burma.
Nay Thwin takes a closer look at the peace talks.
Witnessed by local journalists and observers, the Karen National Union or KNU delegation and government ministers signed the ceasefire pact in Rangoon in front of journalists and observers.
Sitting next to the KNU General Secretary, government chief negotiator and Railways Minister Aung Min said the talks went well.
“We can say that the ceasefire has now started. A political dialogue has also begun. This conflict is a disease, which started 63 years ago. Every Burmese government since then tried to cure this disease; unfortunately the medicine did not match the disease. We tried to find new medicine during many unsuccessful attempts to meet the needs of our ethnic people. Now it seems the medicine is right for the disease, because now we are at the negotiation table and holding friendly discussions.”
Naw Zipporah Sein is the KNU’s general secretary. After the peace deal was signed, her delegation also met the country’s President.
“When we met with the President, we observed that he has a genuine commitment for the peace in the country and he is trying his best to achieve that.”
The KNU represents Burma’s Karen ethnic people, which make up around seven percent of the country’s total population.
There are many more rebel groups among other ethnic communities – but the KNU is the strongest and oldest. It claims to have an army of 14,000 men, and controls much of the territory along the Thai-Burma border.
Last January, the government signed a ceasefire deal with another faction of the KNU. But fighting continued and the deal failed.
This new pact also sets the scene to establish a more permanent peace.
The two sides agreed on 13 points, including a code of conduct to protect civilians, and to help refugees and people displaced inside the country – IDPs – to return home.
Over the past two decades, about 100,000 Karen refugees have fled to refugee camps along the border.
Aung Min outlined the government’s plan.
“IDPs left their homes because their villages had no security. So first of all the security must be put in place in the villages. If that happens the IDPs will return home. It is not possible to force them to return home without security. Now a small number of them are returning. We have responsible for their resettlement, food, jobs, and other needs.”
At the start of the conflict the KNU aimed for independence, but since 1976 they have called for an autonomous territory within a federal system.
A senior member of government’s peace delegation, Minister for Industry U Soe Thein says the peace process may take time and will be difficult, but it should continue moving forward.
“We all are brothers. Our government has no desire to exploit the peace process for political gain. This long civil war must end. The commitment to peace is very important - it must be sincere, not just lip-service but heartily. The people in this meeting will only live for another 10 or 15 years, but we have to consider future generations, including babies born today and babies still in their mothers’ wombs.”
But the KNU is still on the government’s list of illegal organisations – labelled as a ‘terrorist group’.
In the past they were accused over several bomb blasts in urban areas.
Naw Zipporah Sein again.
“Regarding the fact that the KNU has been labelled as an illegal organisation, this can be damaging and make our people fearful over the implementation of the peace process. When we met the President, we raised this issue for him to consider. The President promised that he will take action on this issue as soon as possible.”
The peace talks also discussed the possibilities of a nationwide ceasefire. Several other groups have already signed ceasefires with the government.
President U Thein Sein agreed that it is important to ensure peace for the whole country.
And KNU has two liaison offices in the cities of Burma – while the headquarter stays in the midst of Burma jungle.
The offices are aimed to ensure a better communication with Burmese governments in the future.
Two days after the agreement was signed, the KNU held its first-ever meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence.
Suu Kyi praised the peace deal.
“The ceasefire is the first phase, the very first step. National peace is impossible without a ceasefire. When it is consolidated, the next step of peace will follow.”