Myanmar rebels say military operations could end peace talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 17, 2014 5:04 AM

By Jared Ferrie

YANGON (Reuters) - Peace talks between Myanmar's military and ethnic minority insurgents may collapse if the army scales up operations in rebel-controlled areas, an organization representing rebel groups said on Friday.

Various rebels groups have battled the central government in Myanmar since shortly after its independence in 1948. While the government has struck ceasefires with almost all factions, clashes occasionally flare up.

Over the past couple of weeks, fighting has broken out in Karen state in the east, on the border with Thailand, and in Shan state to the north, on the frontier with China. A standoff between rebels and the military was reported in Kachin state, which also borders China.

A representative of a coalition of rebel groups told Reuters the fighting could scupper peace negotiations that the government hopes will result in a national ceasefire agreement before a general election next year.

"If military operations continue for a few more weeks or months that could encourage all the armed groups to go back to war again," said Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, which represents 11 rebel groups.

The latest round of peace talks between the semi-civilian government, which took over in 2011 after nearly 50 years of military rule, and the guerrilla factions ended on Sept. 27 without agreement.

Most of the rebel groups have been battling for greater autonomy under a federal system but the military, which still wields much power, has long stressed the need for strong, centralized government, as set down in a 2008 military-drafted constitution.

Khu Oo Reh accused the army of launching attacks in order to pressure the rebel groups into accepting the constitution.

But he said the groups would not agree, as they want to remove clauses that grant the military political powers and make amendments to create a federal system.

Domestic media and human rights groups have reported casualties on both sides, as well as among civilians, in the clashes in Shan and Karen states, but numbers are impossible to verify independently because access to conflict areas is tightly restricted.

Myanmar military and government officials were not available for comment.

About 280 people fled over the border into Thailand to escape fighting in Karen state during the past week but have since returned to Myanmar, said Somchai Hathayayanti, governor of Thailand's Tak province.

"There is still sporadic fighting across the border, but we have kept border check-points open," he said.

The situation was tense in a jade-mining area around the Kachin state town of Hpakant where residents said they feared clashes between the military and the Kachin Independence Army.

The military, which took control of the town and jade mines in 1994, told the rebels to get out of a base in a nearby village and ordered civilians to leave the area, media reported.

(Additional reporting by Min Zayar Oo in YANGON and Amy Lefevre in BANGKOK; Editing by Robert Birsel)