The Australian Government is deeply concerned by the continuing offensive against forces of the Karn Natioal Union (KNU) and the fall of the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans, said on his return to Australia today. The Government regards these developments as a blow to the process of reconciliation in Myanmar.
Since 1992, there have been some indications of progress in negotiations between other insurgent groups and the government in Yangon, some of which resulted in ceasefire arrangements, and discussions were continuing. As a result, the level of military activity had been greatly scaled down and there were prospects for a negotiated end to most of the insurgencies. The offensive against the Karens - while due in part to divisions within Karen ranks - has been a retrograde step. Military offensives will not resolve the essential political differences between the Myanmar government and groups opposed to its policies.
Manerplaw had a significance beyond its role as a Karen base: it was also the seat of many opposition groups and student activists who had taken refuge there after the crushing of the democracy movement in 1988. While the Myanmar government professed a belief in dialogue with its political opponents, the continuing detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the offensive against Manerplaw cast serious doubt on the government's intention.
The Australian Government continues to believe ths of national reconciliation is in the interests of all political and ethnic groups in Myanmar. Such a process should allow Myanmar to rejoin the political and economic mainstream of the region and the wider international community. Australia therefore call on the Myanmar authorities to cease all military action in the Manerplaw area and to negotiate a complete military and political settlement with the KNU and other groups in the area.
The fact that the fighting at Manerplaw has led to a renewed flow of displaced people across the Myanmar-Thailand border is also of great concern. Thailand has a good record of sheltering previous waves of Myanmar border-crossers and Australia hopes that this humanitarian policy will continue.