Recent political changes in Burma by the government suggest it is slowly moving away from the military dictatorship that controlled the country for more than 60-years. However, while the Burma Army continues to forcibly displace and abuse villagers in ethnic areas, skepticism and concern about the government’s motives remain. Ethnic and political opposition groups have spoken out against the government’s ‘peace talks’ as a ploy to destroy ethnic unity and a tactic to convince the international community to lift sanctions and invest in Burma.
In spite of the skepticism ‘peace talks’ with the ethnic armed groups have been timetabled. The Karen National Union – the government’s staunchest opponents – has been fighting against the military regime that dominated Burma for more than 60 years. Now the KNU will officially meet with the Burma government for ‘peace talks’ on 12th January, in the Pa-an Town, the capital of Karen State. Karen News reporter, SAW BLACKTOWN, interviewed Karen people living in five refugee camps along the Thai Burma border for their views on the forthcoming ‘peace talks’ between the KNU and the Burma government – he found among the people many different points of views, but most said they wanted a genuine and long lasting peace.
“As long as it is not to surrender and it is not against the benefit of Karen people, the peace talks are a good start. Hopefully, it will lessen our sufferings and loss of life – that would lead to better lives for our people. I agree with our leaders and I am supportive of it.” — Saw Mo Shay, 24, health worker from Mae La Camp
“If we don’t go in at the time the door is opening, we will be blamed that we don’t want peace. Our leaders have been struggling for over 60 years now and I think they will be well prepared in entering through this peace door. I believe our Karen leaders will talk for all the Karen people about what we want. However, we have to acknowledge that there will be some differences [between the government and KNU] and finding the common ground to those differences, will take more rounds of talks. There were peace talks before, but it didn’t turn out well. This time, we don’t know what will happen, but there is an opportunity, we have to take it.” — Saw Wah Htee, a camp leader from Umphiem Camp
“I don’t really know anything about the peace talks, but if they [KNU] make peace with the Burma government for the benefit of the people, then it is good. I’ve never known peace, but I think it will be good enough for me to have enough food for my family and to live happily.” — Naw Moo Moo, 36, housewife, from Mae La Camp
“I think it is still just a game, I don’t expect any concrete result in the end. Even though there is an agreement come out of this peace talk, it won’t be a lasting or properly signed agreement. Then, you break the agreement or I break the agreement and the fighting will start again. I believe that the Burma government is not sincere; they only do it for a show to international community. Thein Sein is being praised now but he is just an actor, the puppet’s strings are still pulled by Burma army generals.” — Saw Wah, 36, worker with a community-based-organization, Mae Ra Ma Luang Refugee Camp
“In my understanding a ceasefire agreement is the first and essential step of any peace negotiation process. A ceasefire agreement should be in place before any further political discussions take place. This is a good time and good opportunity for Karen leaders to enter into peace talks and bring positive changes for Karen people, otherwise we will have to struggle for another 60-years.” —-Pu Kwekabaw, 65, retired community leader from Mae La Camp
“I think peace talks now are good. To be positive, there is new government in Burma and they may also try to do good for the country, I think there will be some changes. The peace talk must be headed by a high level delegation with equal mandates and decision-making [powers]. It won’t work if one side appoints delegates with lower level of decision-making that always has to report back to higher officials. I think the Burma government may also feel some responsibility to bring changes since there have been many high level diplomatic engagement with the United States, ASEAN and regional leaders.” —Ta Per Hser, 29, youth leader from Nu Po Camp
“Meeting face-to-face and talking peace is a good sign as a first step between the two warring parties, better than opposing and fighting each other. Looking back into the past, decades of civil war brought no benefits for either side – only lots of losses. Karen people and the people of Burma are caught between this political instability and we are all tired now. It’s time to bring peace to the country. If these peace talks are successful, many people from Burma will be happy and have the chance to live a happy life.”—Saw Taw Taw, 45, schoolteacher from Umphiem Camp
“If they it is genuine peace talks, it is good. If we continue fighting, many [more] lives will be lost, including the innocent. But we don’t know for sure what the attitude of the Burma government is. Is the Burma government sincere with these peace talks? Can we believe in them? I think we have to be careful.” —Naw Htee Siree, 30, former teacher trainer from Mae La Camp
“Making peace is good – stop fighting and bringing peace to the country is a good thing. We hope it will be successful and we have been praying for it. In the Bible, it says blessed are the peacemakers. We also want to be able to go back to our own country. Living in other people’s country is burden for the host – we understand that. If the peace talk is successful, we are happy. God doesn’t like people killing each other but He wants love and harmony.”— Tee Moe, 53, religious leader from Mae La Camp
“The peace talks are good and I hope they [KNU and government] will come to an agreement that will lead to bringing lasting peace to the country. Then, we who live in refugee camps will be able to return home. This is what we have been hoping for – to go back to our homeland.” — Naw Chawpoepi, 25, CBO worker from Nu Po Camp