Faction goes to peace talks with Burma, the Bangkok Post reports. Rifts have emerged within the Karen National Union (KNU) which could affect border security. The conflicts have surfaced a little more than a month after the death of its former leader Bo Mya on Dec 24, said a KNU officer. If the friction within the KNU continues to widen, it could stall the ongoing peace process between the KNU and the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Burma’s military junta, the officer said, adding that fresh armed clashes were likely between the two sides along the Thai-Burmese border.

Border trade would suffer as a result. The value of cross-border trade at Tak’s Mae Sot district has peaked to 12 billion baht during the past two years.

Gen Bo Mya was a skilled negotiator who had initiated truce talks with former Burmese prime minister Gen Khin Nyunt, now serving a jail sentence for corruption, in late 2004 in Rangoon. Gen Bo Mya died at the age of 79 at a private hospital in Mae Sot district from natural causes.

Signs of a split in the KNU ranks first appeared when the commander of KNU’s 7th Brigade Maj-Gen Htay Maung led a delegation to undertake a peace dialogue with Burma’s military government on Jan 3, the KNU officer said.

According to an officer of the 7th Brigade, the Burmese military government has agreed to withdraw its troops from non-strategic areas in Karen state, but will keep troops in other key locations. ”However, the 7th Brigade delegation acted purely on its own accord and did not represent the KNU’s Central Committee. It seems that the Burmese are plotting to divide and rule us. I don’t believe they would really pull out,” the KNU officer said.

The KNU’s central committee made it clear at a meeting on Thursday that they had not endorsed the dialogue and also condemned it as going against the KNU’s interests.

KNU secretary-general Mahn Sha said the latest negotiations were initiated by Maj-Gen Htay Maung and the delegation was not appointed by the committee. ”They (the delegates) are willing to go along with the SPDC so that they could get an opportunity to expand their businesses in Burma.

”This would not be in the best interests of the KNU,” said Mahn Sha, though he insisted the KNU has not abandoned peace talks with Rangoon. The talks, however, must be pursued on an equal footing, he said.

The KNU was the first among Burma’s nationalities to rebel against the central government following the country’s independence in 1948 from Britain. It is one of the last armed groups that continues to actively oppose the military junta, prompting annual offensives in Karen state that have driven an estimated 140,000 civilian refugees to border camps.