Myanmar officials meet with Karen rebels in Yangon
Apr 6, 2012, 5:50 GMT
Yangon - The Myanmar government and leaders of the country's Karen insurgency on Friday held comprehensive peace talks in Yangon to broadly address the problems of the ethnic minority rebel group.
The talks between the government side and the Karen National Union (KNU) covered the need for: ceasefires in all the ethnic minority conflict areas; an end to forced labour and extortion by the army; and the resolution of land conflicts, sources said.
'Today's meeting was not just about ceasefires,' said KNU general secretary Zipporah Sein. 'We have focused on how to resettle and rebuild Karen communities in Karen state.'
Tens of thousands of Karen civilians have been displaced by fighting between government troops and the rebels in Karen state over the past two decades.
A joint statement was expected to be issued Friday night. Zipporah and her delegation were scheduled to meet with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday.
Suu Kyi and 42 members of her National League for Democracy party won parliamentary seats in a by-election Sunday. The democracy champion is expected to play a role in ongoing peace talks with Myanmar's numerous insurgencies.
The KNU has been fighting for semi-autonomous rule in the state of Karen since 1949.
The government delegation was headed by Railways Minister Aung Min, who signed an initial ceasefire with the Karen National Army, the armed wing of the KNU, in January in Pa-an, the capital of Karen state.
Talks between the KNU and the government resumed Wednesday in Pa-an before being shifted to Yangon, Myanmar's commercial capital, for the first time on Friday.
The administrative capital was moved to Naypyitaw, 350 kilometres north of Yangon, in 2005.
Since January, Myanmar's government has signed ceasefires with 10 of the country's 11 ethnic minority insurgencies. However, it has failed to reach an agreement with the Kachin Independence Organization.
Fighting has been raging in the northern state of Kachin since June, displacing as many as 60,000 civilians.
Achieving peace with ethnic minority groups is one of the conditions the West has set for lifting economic sanctions on Myanmar.
The sanctions were imposed because of the country's poor human rights record, including the abuse of minority groups that make up more than 30 per cent of the population.
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