Myanmar officials have held the highest level peace talks so far with separatist rebels from war-torn Karen state following a tentative ceasefire agreement earlier this year.
Delegates from the political and armed wings of the Karen National Union (KNU) met government officials on Friday as part of discussions marking the latest efforts aimed at ending one of the world’s longest-running civil conflicts.
Khin Yi, Myanmar’s immigration minister, told reporters on Thursday night that preliminary negotiations in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen in the east of Myanmar, had covered codes of conduct for troops on both sides.
“We want peace. They also want it. So it will be a success,” he said.
Myanmar considers the KNU, whose leadership is based in Thailand, to be an illegal organisation.
Its armed wing has been battling the government since 1949, one year after the country then known as Burma became independent in 1948.
Myanmar’s government signed a ceasefire deal with the group in January as part of reformist moves that have also led to the holding of by-elections on Sunday that saw opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi elected to parliament.
Karen delegation to meet Suu Kyi
A KNU delegation plans to meet the democracy icon on Sunday in what will be Suu Kyi’s first important discussions as an elected politician.
KNU spokeswoman May Oo Mutraw said the group was keen to assess the “attitude and commitment” of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party to reconciliation efforts.
“Her belief, sacrifices and leading role are very important for Myanmar,” she said of the Nobel laureate, who is largely well-regarded in minority areas, but is also seen as a member of the Burmese ethnic elite.
Vast numbers of villagers in Karen state have fled the conflict, with tens of thousands living as refugees across the border in Thailand.
While the government has signed ceasefires with a number of rebel groups, ongoing fighting in northern Kachin state, has cast a shadow over the peace efforts.
Authorities postponed the by-elections in three constituencies in the state, citing security concerns, and rights groups have claimed serious abuses continue in the area.
May Oo Mutraw said the KNU had lobbied the government to work harder on ending the Kachin conflict.
“It’s easy to start war but difficult to build peace, especially lasting peace,” she said.