By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer Tue Jan 31, 6:25 PM ET
NEW MANERPLAW, Myanmar - Karen insurgents, marking nearly six decades of fighting, said Tuesday there was little chance Myanmar’s military rulers would come to the negotiating table and end their bloody campaign against the ethnic minorities.
Peace talks between the rebels and military junta were in "limbo," with even less hope of a ceasefire under the current hardline regime than when the two sides last met in 2004, said Col. Ner Dah Mya, a spokesman for the world’s longest running insurgency.
The insurgency erupted 57 years ago, shortly after Myanmar, then known as Burma, gained independence from Great Britain. Other ethnic minorities later also took up arms, demanding autonomy from the central government.
Hundreds of thousands, according to expert estimates, have died in a conflict largely hidden from the international spotlight. However, human rights groups have documented continuing killings, rapes, forced relocations and burning of villages as the military seeks to control areas of Myanmar regarded as sympathetic to the Karen National Union and other insurgent groups. These atrocities are denied by the junta.
"While there is no opportunity to find answers politically through dialogue, we have to carry on the war of revolutionary resistance for our very existence and survival," said KNU President Ba Thin Sein in a speech read for him at the Karen Revolutionary Day ceremonies.
Ringed by morning mists, hundreds of helmeted, white-gloved soldiers paraded on a soccer field at this KNU headquarters just across the Moei River, which marks the frontier with Thailand. Celebratory rifle fire echoed through the encampment nestled in a valley protected by jungled limestone cliffs.
The Karen once controlled large swaths of the Thai-Myanmar border but their territory shrank to virtually nothing following the capture of their stronghold of Manerplaw in 1995. Ner Dah Mya said the KNU had been able to secure more outposts along the border in the past two years and that purchase of weapons had become easier.
"The Thais are very flexible these days. They have always been friendly to us and they know the Burmese are not trustworthy," he said.
But he said the prospects for an end to the bloodshed were dim. The current junta leaders, he said, were more hardline and less flexible than Gen. Khin Nyunt, who masterminded 17 cease-fire pacts with rebel groups before he was ousted by hardline generals just as the last KNU-junta talks were taking place in October 2004.
"We have already gone through the blackest days of our history but we carry on, we continue," Ner Dah Mya said, in describing what the KNU calls "the long march of the Karen revolution."
Several survivors of the march were present at the ceremony, including Defense Minister Bo Mya, who fought with the Allies against the Japanese in World War II as a member of the legendary Force 136. As many who joined the Karen uprising, he had hoped the British would keep their promise of pressing for some autonomy for the ethnic minorities when independence was granted in 1948.
The bemedalled, 78-year-old warrior, who took to the jungles 57 years ago, was brought onto the field in a wheelchair, his speech slurred by a stroke, his right hand trembling.