Myanmar guerrilla chief warns of pre-poll war

BANGKOK: The head of Myanmar’s largest guerrilla army warned today that the risk of armed conflict between powerful ethnic minority groups and the military regime is at its highest level in more than two decades as contentious national elections loom on the horizon.

The junta has been in negotiations with semiautonomous minorities for months as

it attempts to bring them

under its control before holding elections later this year.

But with talks deadlocked, most of the groups have stepped up military preparations in the event of a

renewed conflict, which would likely envelop vast regions of the country and probably spark a mass refugee exodus.

“(There is the) greatest possibility of renewed conflict between large, ceasefire armed groups and (the military regime) in over two decades,” said Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the Karen National Union, which has been fighting the central government for more than 60 years.

The Karen joined more than 150 activist groups today in urging the international community to denounce the elections and refuse to recognise the results. They say the vote is a sham designed to perpetuate military rule.

The junta has tenuous control of many parts of the country where minority groups are strongest. It has reached ceasefire agreements with 17 ethnic minority rebel groups since 1989 - though not the Karen - and most have been allowed to keep their weapons and

maintain some autonomy

over their regions.

But in the lead-up to the election, the date of which has yet to be announced, the junta has asked the groups to turn their armed forces into a border guard force under virtual Myanmar military leadership. Most have refused.

There is concern the military could try to force the issue.

Myanmar Embassy in India defaced

New Delhi: Scores of protesters from Myanmar hurled rocks and insults at their country’s embassy in the Indian capital on Saturday in a show of disdain for upcoming elections called by the nation’s military rulers.

The New Delhi-based protesters sprayed anti-junta slogans on the embassy’s outer wall, smashed its nameplate, defaced posters of Myanmar’s military

leader and padlocked the gate and doused it with red paint before being taken away by police.

A spokesman for the Burmese Pro-Democracy Movement in India, which organised the protest, said police had detained 68 people, though they were likely to be released later today.

This year’s elections in Myanmar, also known as Burma, are part of the ruling junta’s long-announced “roadmap to democracy,” which critics deride as a sham designed to cement the military’s power. A military-backed constitution

was approved by a national referendum last May, but the opposition charges that the vote was unfair.

Recently released election laws prevent democracy leader and Nobel Peace

Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from taking part in the vote because she was convicted of violating her house arrest. Suu Kyi — whose party won the last election in 1990 but was stopped from taking power by the military - has been jailed or under

detention for 14 of the

past 20 years. A date for this year’s election in Myanmar has yet to be set.