Thursday, February 16, 2012

Remember Rambo IV?

The one that took part in Burma?

Some good news on that front...
The uneasy birth of a ceasefire, Feb 17, 2012, by Tony Cliff;

KAREN STATE, Myanmar - A column of porters recently prepared to cross a dirt road in a bamboo forest across a narrow valley of Myanmar's eastern Karen (or Kayin) State. The guerrillas in charge of security from the rebel Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), removed their landmines and cautiously assumed position when a scout suddenly stopped and raised his arm.

"Burmese are coming," he whispered, referring to Myanmar's ruling Burman ethnic group whom the Karen have fought against for autonomy for over six decades. The head of a government army patrol, usually consisting of 50 to 100 soldiers, slowly progressed down the road. The Karens stepped back into the

Back on the road, government soldiers spotted the KNU guerrilla ducking in the brush. "Don't shoot and we won't shoot you," a government soldier shouts out. (This writer was hiding in the bush a mere 20 meters from the road but was asked by the KNU not to go ahead "in order not to complicate matters". The following description of events is derived from personal observation, quotes of those involved and a short video made by Karen soldiers.)

A few Karen stepped onto the road to meet the group of about 15 Myanmar soldiers. They were on their way to Ler Mu Plaw, a camp a few hours to the east, to transport a landmine victim they were carrying in a hammock. With long hair, disheveled uniforms and carrying rattan baskets rather than standard army-issued backpacks, some of them looked more like tramps than members of a redoubtable army.

On this day, however, tensions were tempered as both sides lowered their guns and smiled. Then the conversation between the long-time adversaries took a surreal turn. "Do you eat well?" asked a Myanmar government soldier. "We don't eat very well. We have only rice and fish paste, no curry." Both sides then confirmed that they were under orders not to engage in fighting.

"You should go back to your village and start farming again," said another Myanmar soldier to the Karens. "We cannot do that as long as you have not left," replied a KNU insurgent. "You have to leave your camps within a month, after that we will shoot you. Ah ah ... I was just kidding," said the insurgent. Then a smiling Myanmar soldier extended his hand to one of the Karens and vigorously shook it: "Thank you, we have to go now."

This incident, which lasted only a few minutes, would have been unthinkable only a fortnight ago. These battlefield enemies have been fighting for 63 years and in the past such a chance encounter would have inevitably resulted in a firefight.

Still, reports of the symbolic handshake did not sit well with KNU leadership based in the Thai town of Mae Sot on the Myanmar-Thailand border. A day after reports of the incident circulated, a new central order was sent to field officers: "No contact of this kind any more. Only members of the negotiating group are allowed to meet Burmese representatives."

Well, it's a start.

They were fighting for decades, the land is liberally strewn with mines, a cripple is a common sight, but this is one small glimmer of hope for normalcy for both the Karens and Burmese.

63 years is a long time to murder each other over nothing.

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