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Thailand Offers to Mediate Burmese Talks

An offer by Thailand to act as an intermediary between Burma's military government and the ethnic-Karen armed group the Karen National Union is being cautiously welcomed by the rebels and rights activists. Analysts have raised doubts of a complete cease-fire unless Burma's military government modifies the constitution before 2010 national elections.

Thailand's offer to mediate talks between Burma's military and the Karen National Union was made by Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, during an official visit to Burma.

A spokesperson for the Forum for a Democratic Burma, Soe Aung, says Thailand needs to look at questions linked to the constitution and human rights in Burma.

"If the Thai Foreign Minister is really willing to help, they have look at the root cause of the problem which is the ongoing human rights violations of the military regime and ignoring the people's call for democracy and freedom," he said.

The Karen National Union has been fighting for autonomy for five decades. A short ceasefire was reached between Burma's military and the rebels following talks in 2004, but fighting has resumed.

More than 100,000 Burmese refugees, including Karen, are living in camps in Thailand.

Spokesperson Debbie Stothardt of the rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, says Thailand should not use a peace agreement as a pretext to force refugees back to Burma.

"It is in Thailand's interests to try and be a go-between and negotiate something but we also would like the Thai authorities to do it in a very fair and principled manner, and not use this as an excuse to indiscriminately push back people who have been trying to flee the military oppression in Burma," she said.

The Karen National Union and political and rights activists also want the military to revise the constitution that was adopted last year. They say the constitution entrenches the military in power and excludes participation by ethnic and pro-democracy groups such as the National League for Democracy.

The constitution is part of the military government's so-called "road map to democracy" that includes general elections in 2010.

Soe Aung says the main issue remains the military government's support for democracy.

"If there is no constitution that guarantees the rights of the people, this constitution is not going anywhere because it lacks the people's participation, the people's representatives, like the NLD and the ethnic groups," he said.

Since 1998 the Karen National Union is reported to have held talks with the military government on four occasions, the last in 2006.