The Karen National Union said it had grave doubts that the Burma government’s recent declaration to European officials that it was wanted peace with ethnic groups was a blatant attempt to please the international community.
Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, recently returned from Burma after a two-day humanitarian visit told reporters in Bangkok earlier this week that the new Burmese government promised peace and job opportunities for refugees who voluntarily returned home.
Georgieva was referring to her discussions with Burma’s Border Affairs Minister Lt-General Thein Htay and other ministers from the Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs held in Naypyidaw last week.
“The minister of border affairs strongly believed there must be peace, and it can be achieved by fair treatment to ethnic minorities through development opportunities for them.”
In response to the government’s peace promise, Naw Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the KNU said.
“They [government] are only paying lip service to please the international vistors. In practical terms, there is nothing, no offers of serious dialogue and no terms of reference. so far there is nothing to act on.”
Ms Sein said the government has not even acknowledge the letter from the United Nationalities Federal Council asking for peace and for a political solution to be found.
“President Thein Sein has not responded to the letter from the United Nationalities Federal Council’s to him for peace talks and seeking a political solution. This shows a lack of respect for ethnic people. Talk is cheap and once more is designed to fool the international community.”
The UNFC sent an open letter to Burma President Thein Sein on August 15, urging his government to start peace talk with UNFC. So far the government has not acknowledge the ethnic representative organisation.
The UNFC is an umbrella organization consisting of ethnic political and armed groups that include Mon, Shan, Karenni, Chin, Arakanese, Karen, Kachin and Pa-O.
Ms Sein said that the KNU is waiting for any representative from the government to approach them for peace talks after it was reported in the state-controlled media that the government had appointed influential individuals and religious Karen leaders to approach the KNU.
“We’re still waiting but so far no group has contacted the KNU, but while we wait the Burma Army continues to plan more attacks against the Karen.”
Ms Sein said the KNU’s position on peace negotiations with the government are that they must be through UNFC.
“But we welcome the government individually meeting with the KNU to hear their proposals. We are open to genuine peace talks, but officially.”
The European ambassador to Thailand and Burma, David Lipman, who accompanied Ms Georgieva was reported as saying that Minister Thein Htay said he soon hoped to begin peace talks with ethnic groups.
“He said that the government is committed to peace and he hopes that within the next few months that they will have serious negotiations to that end.”
Minister Thein Htay in his meeting with Ms Georgieva, assured her that the repatriation of refugees must be done on a voluntary basis.
Thein Htay said his offer to take back refugees is not linked to the recent finishing of a Thai authority survey to gauge refugee position on voluntarily returning to Burma.
In August, the governor of Tak Province Mr Samart Loifah, directed refugee committee members to conduct questionnaire survey with refugee populations to determine three categories – 1) who will return to Burma, 2) who will remain in refugee camp and 3) who will be resettle to third countries.
Saw Wah Htee, the camp leader from Umphiem Mai spoke to Karen News.
“Most refugees would like to resettle to third countries. They will remain in the refugee camp to see whether they can resettle. Because of the lack of peace nobody would like to return to Burma now.”
Saw Wah Htee said 3,990 refugees from Umphiem Mai are applying to resettle while 9,241 refugees choose to remain in the refugee camp.
Secretary of Nu Po refugee camp, Saw Thoolei Doh Soe, said.
“The people who want to resettle are around 50 percent, and another 40 percent want to still remain as refugees can. Not even one percent of people want to go back to Burma now.”
According to the European Commission, Ms Georgieva’s visit to Burma was to discuss with the government to allow the international community to have more access for humanitarian assistance to its disaster and conflict affected populations and for the EU to pursue high-level political dialogue with Burma’s new government.
Commissioner Georgieva also met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and with the EU humanitarian partners in Rangoon