Less than a month ago, the international community saw Myanmar take a major step in its efforts toward democratisation and reform when it signed a cease-fire with the Karen rebel group. Today, Karen figures deny that an actual cease-fire was signed, and say that the January meeting had only resulted in an agreement to meet again at the end of February to discuss the conditions of a ceasefire.
The Karen rebels, an army of several thousand, were largely unhappy with the ceasefire agreement. They see it as a ‘sellout’ and worry that they have been cheated in the arrangements. David Tharckabaw, vice president of the Karen National Union and chief of its foreign affairs section. Since the sentiment among the Karen is quite negative, the delegation will move ahead more carefully with the ‘fragile’ ceasefire. In January, the delegation was supposedly under high pressure to sign an agreement, which some charge was used by the Myanmar government as publicity for the international community.
This recent defiant stance by the Karen may threaten the Myanmar government’s efforts to pull decades of civil conflicts to a close. Recently, Kachin rebels have clashed with the military at the border with China, but tentative ceasefires have been inked with rebels in eastern Karen and Shan. Minority groups make up about a third of Myanmar’s population, and the Karen are the most prominent among them.
While the international community is hopeful about the prospects of reconciliation between the Myanmar government and the rebels, the Karen themselves are pessimistic about the ceasefire, and remain defiant about the government. There is a perception among the Karen that the Myanmar military wants to eliminate them, and the central government is still seen as the enemy of the Karen.
The Karen delegation has submitted a list of 11 demands, including a call for a ceasefire that encompasses all the ethnic groups. The Karen say they will honor the agreement to meet again at the end of February, despite pessimism about the reaching of a true peace deal.
Report: Myanmar's Karen rebels say ceasefire 'fragile' [AFP, 4 February 2012]
Report: Rebels deny deal with Myanmar government [UPI.com, 4 February 2012]
Report: In Myanmar, Karen Rebels Deny Signing a Cease-Fire [New York Times, 4 February 2012]