The Karen Armed forces have moved a step closer towards unification following a meeting between leaders from three major Karen armed groups.
In a meeting in Myawaddy Township on Tuesday the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC) agreed in principle to unite their military forces into one coherent group.
Colonel Saw Roger Khin, officer in charge of the KNLA defense department told Mizzima, “There are more than three groups if we count all groups. All Karen armed forces are included. But yesterday only three groups were able to attend. We can conclude that all groups have agreed to form as one group in principle. The leading role is given to the KNU”.
The Colonel added that although an agreement has been reached, “the reality is that it still remains impossible for all of the subordinate ground forces to join under the one banner of the KNU. They will still be with their own military camp within their areas of control”.
The three militant groups were united as the KNU until 1994 when the organization splintered after disagreements over negotiations with the government.
The DKBA seceded from KNU in 1994. And KNU/KNLA-PC also seceded from KNU after the disagreement in the first set of negotiations between the KNU and the Government.
The KNU/KNLA-PC then followed suit and split from the KNU and signed a ceasefire agreement with the government.
The meeting at Myawaddy was led by Chief of Staff, General Saw Johnny from the KNU and attended by Brigadier General Kyaw Thet from the DKBA and from the KNU/ KNLA– PC, Saw Yin Nu.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) have confirmed to Mizzima that a battle between their forces and the Myanmar army broke out on Tuesday and that the situation remains tense.
A KIO spokesman said that hostilities flared when government troops advanced on KIO 4th Division positions and a TNLA encampment in northern Shan State.
Kachin Battalion Commander Zaw Saing told Mizzima that government forces attacked them with heavy artillery.
He said the fighting took place near Phai Kaung in Pang Seng Township, Mone Goe Region, which is within KIO Battalion 36’s area of responsibility.
Zaw Saing said that an exchange of fire recommenced on Wednesday, but to date no one has been killed. However, local residents told Mizzima that between three and five government soldiers perished in the battle.
Calling the Myanmar army’s maneuver a “potential obstacle to peace,” the Kachin commander said, “I think it is not right to allow troops to wander around in between the front-lines. We sighted no government columns on previous days. They suddenly appeared yesterday [Tuesday].”
Capt. Mine Bhone Kyaw, the general-secretary of the Palaung army, a close ally of the Kachin rebels, said that the battle lasted about an hour and involved about 700 soldiers from the government forces’ 506 battalion.
On Tuesday, the same day that Myanmar President Thein Sein told an audience in London that “guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years," a ceasefire was broken between the Mon army and Myanmar’s government forces.
According to Capt. Ta Mot Chen, the Myeik District Regional Commander of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), a short battle erupted between the NMSP and government forces battalion 581 on the morning of July 16.
It was the first reported outbreak of violence between the two sides since a ceasefire was signed 18 years ago.
The Mon captain said the skirmish only lasted a few minutes. However he confirmed that two NMSP soldiers were killed and that he believed the Myanmar army also suffered casualties.
Ta Mot Chan accused the Myanmar forces of initiating the hostilities, saying they opened fire on the two Mon soldiers who were on sentry duty.
A 1995 ceasefire agreement between the two sides was annulled in 2010 when the Mons refused to join the government’s Border Guard Force initiative. However, new terms were renegotiated in February 2012 and a fresh ceasefire agreement was made.
Both the Wa and Myanmar armies have pulled back from their front line positions and the situation remains stable following negotiations on July 12, according to Sam Khun, the head of the external relations for the United Wa State Army (UWSA).
“To the best of my knowledge, both armies withdrew all troops from their previous encampments on July 13,” he told Mizzima.
The move came a day after the UWSA had met government representatives led by Thein Zaw, the vice-chairman of the Union Peace Making Committee, in Kyaing Tone Township in Shan State.
Both sides also agreed to a 5-point plan aimed at continuing dialogue toward a peace process.
The Union Government and Wa Special Region (2) also agreed to cooperate in implementing a regional drug eradication policy.
The UWSA, the largest of all Myanmar’s ethnic militias, signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in September 2011.
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88 Generation Students representative Ko Mya Aye said that his group discussed several political points when it met with the ethnic alliance, United Nationalities Federal Council(UNFC), on Sunday.
“It’s impossible for our country to achieve peace solely through signing ceasefires,” he told Mizzima. “The peace process will not move forward if we only focus on a military truce. During our discussions we collectively agreed that an accurate ‘road map’ must be laid out involving continuous political dialogue.”
Ko Mya Aye said that he was satisfied with the discussions and that it was an honor to meet with the ethnic group leaders in the current climate of Myanmar politics.
“In my opinion, we all are walking on the same path,” he said.
Sunday’s meeting in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, was attended by Lt-Gen. N’Ban La, the vice-chairman of the Kachin Independence Organisation, who is also chairman of the UNFC.
Meanwhile, plans are being laid to commemorate the 25thanniversary of the 8-8-88 peoples’ uprising for democracy in 1988. A three-day event will be held—on August 6, 7 and 8—at the Myanmar Convention Center in Yangon. Various seminars and talks involving the peace process and national reconciliation are slated to be discussed.
The 88 Generation Students’ group said it has invited representatives of the UNFC to the event, although it appears unlikely they will attend, according to UNFC spokesperson Naing Han Thar.
Campaigners for the draft proposal widely known in Myanmar as the ‘Interfaith Marriage Law’ have launched a petition in Yangon to collect the signatures of supporters.
The controversial draft law sets out to restrict Buddhist women in the country from marrying men of different faiths.
The campaign was launched on July 9 in North Okkalapa Township where proponents in trucks used loudspeakers to convey their ideals and played nationalistic music as they drove through the streets. Sermons by nationalist monk U Wirathu were also played.
Copies of the draft law were distributed, and Buddhist residents were encouraged to sign the petition.
“I signed after I read the proposal,” said a trishaw driver. “Most of the people in our neighborhood signed it too.”
Similar gatherings took place in Mingaladon, Hlaingtharyar and Ein Sein townships. Organizers went door to door to collect signatures and several township officers and firefighters were on hand to give assistance, said residents.
“The petition was all about supporting the Interfaith Marriage Law and organizers requested that we all sign it,” said Ma May Thazin from Mingaladon. “Most people just signed out of a fear of offending.”
She said that she refused to sign the petition because “a proposal submitted by Buddhist monks cannot be considered a law.” She also criticized the proposal for focusing only on Buddhist women but not on men.
It was reported to Mizzima that similar petitions were also circulated outside the former capital in Mandalay, Taunggyi, Kalaw, Aungpan, Heho and Nyaungshwe.
The draft law was proposed at a June 12 press conference by Buddhist monks at the Saykeindarama Monastery in Hmawbi.
Ko Soe Wunna ,a member of a Buddhist youth funeral service organization, said that in North Okkalapa a total of 22,000 signatures had been collected, and that all the petitions would be presented to U Wirathu when he visits Yangon on July 19.