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Burma's Shan Seek Dialogue With Rangoon - 2002-04-18

The Shan State Army, which has been fighting Burma's military government for greater autonomy, is now seeking to open dialogue with Rangoon. The bid for talks comes amid reported efforts by Burma to crack down on the illegal drug trade.

The Shan may ask an international mediator to help open talks with Burma's military government.

Shan State Army spokesman Khur Hsen, however, denies Thai media reports the Shan want Thai Defense Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh to act as mediator. But Khur Hsen said the Shan would welcome assistance from anyone in the international community in getting talks started. The Shan, the Karen National Union and the Karenni National Progressive Party are the only remaining ethnic groups in Burma that have not reached cease-fire agreements with Rangoon. The country has a long history of ethnic insurgencies, but many have been resolved or crushed in the past decade.

The Shan move toward reconciliation comes ahead of a visit to Thailand next week by General Muang Aye, Burma's second-highest ranking official.

In meetings with Thai officials, he will discuss narcotics trafficking across the two countries' border.

The border area linking Burma, Thailand and Laos is known as the Golden Triangle because of its vast production of opium and heroin. The region also is the source of methamphetamines smuggled into Thailand.

Recent reports have warned of an impending crackdown by Rangoon against methamphetamine producers. International narcotics agency reports say the Wa ethnic group in Burma controls one of the largest trafficking operations in the region.

The Shan people have said they are not involved in the drug trade, although Rangoon says the Shan State Army runs a large narcotics operation.