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Myanmar Rebels Reject Peace Call

YANGON, Myanmar, Aug. 22 (UPI) — Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups have rejected the government’s call to enter individual peace talks as a divide-and-rule tactic, an expatriate newspaper reported.

The government newspaper New Light of Myanmar said the offer of peace talks is an “olive branch” to rebel groups fighting for more regional autonomy. The article urged the leadership of each group to contact the local or state government with a view to starting negotiations.

But members of the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella organization of the rebel groups, said negotiations must take place between the regime and the UNFC, the Irrawaddy news Web site said.

“The government offer is contrary to our demand,” Maj. Saw Hla Ngwe, a senior leader of the Karen National Union, said. “We want peace talks to include all ethnic armed groups, but the government is only offering to to talk with each group separately.”

The UNFC, formed this year, includes the other main ethnic armed groups — the Kachin Independence Organization, the New Mon State Party and the Karenni National Progressive Party.

La Nan, a leader of the Kachin Independence Organization, said negotiations must involve all ethnic armed groups.

Nai Hang Thar, a senior figure in the New Mon State Party and secretary of the UNFC, said only group talks are acceptable, “Otherwise, we will only waste time and energy.”

For around 20 years the government and several rebel groups have had ad hoc cease-fires that amount to a modus vivendi in some areas but which, from time to time, break down in sporadic armed conflicts near remote rural towns.

However, part of the government’s latest offer is dependent on the armed groups handing in weapons, which is unacceptable to many rebel leaders.

“If we go in accordance with the government’s offer, it means we will have to disarm. We don’t accept the offer. We aren’t going to talk with them,” said Maj. Sai Lao Hseng, a spokesman for the Shan State Army-South, which never had a cease-fire arrangement.

The latest attempt by the government to quell regional armed resistance to its central rule comes at the same time as overtures to political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past 20 years in detention, met with one of Myanmar’s former senior junta leaders, President Thein Sein, in the presidential palace in Naypyitaw.

She was attending an economic forum and Myanmar media carried many pictures of her smiling with senior ministers and Sein.

The high-level meeting between Suu Kyi and Sein came a week after she met with Labor Minister U Aung Kyi to examine ways to improve the country’s economy.

Critics said the meetings are an attempt to gain international legitimacy for a government elected in February but which is heavily weighted in favor of the military.

Sein led the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the general election. It comprised mainly retired military officers who resigned their posts to join the party and run as civilians.

Not unexpectedly, the USDP won a huge majority in the general elections.

Also, one-quarter of seats in Parliament were reserved for military appointments.

Absent from the election held in November was Suu Kyi, winner of the last national elections in 1990 and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Her National League for Democracy party, which won the 1990 contest, didn’t register as a political party because Suu Kyi remained under house arrest.

Myanmar’s armed rebel groups urged people to boycott the election.

In November, during voting, clashes between the army and rebels in Karen state left several dozen people dead and sent thousands fleeing into Thailand, independent Myanmar sources said at the time.

Displaced people number in the thousands in Myanmar’s more remote areas, aid and relief agencies say.

Kachin state’s refugees who are camped along parts of Myanmar’s border with China will soon suffer food shortages because the government allegedly blocks food aid, an Irrawaddy report said.

The Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand estimates the number of refugees at the border, including in the city of Laiza, is around 20,000. More than 3,000 have taken refuge in the Kachin capital Myitkyina and the nearby town of Waimaw.

Non-government organizations and relief agencies such as World Food Program and the International Committee for the Red Cross are prohibited from supplying aid to the Kachin refugees, a KWAT report said.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

Since 1907, United Press International (UPI) has been a leading provider of critical information to media outlets, businesses, governments and researchers worldwide.

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