Agence France Presse

Mae Sot, January 31:

Myanmar’s largest ethnic rebel group said today it was prepared to renew its war against the ruling military if Yangon does not resume stalled peace talks.

Karen National Union (KNU) army commander Mutu demanded a resumption of talks that were cancelled last October after the sudden ousting of prime minister Khin Nyunt, who was vital in bringing several other ethnic groups under the junta umbrella.

“If Myanmar wants peace, a time-frame should be set up for the next round of talks. They should not buy another year of time,” Mutu told reporters along the border near Thailand’s Ta Song Yang district.

“If they don’t to want to negotiate and want to fight, we are ready,” he added. Mutu, who replaced the ailing General Bo Mya as head of the KNU’s military wing last December, was speaking at a commemoration of the KNU taking up arms more than 50 years ago. Bo Mya was at the ceremony in a wheelchair.KNU is the largest of a handful of rebel groups still resisting Yangon’s rule, and the junta estimates it has 7,000 members.

In August, the two sides reached a “gentleman’s agreement” to extend an open-ended ceasefire agreed to in December 2003. Former premier Khin Nyunt was seen as responsible for persuading 17 ethnic groups opposed to the military regime to sign ceasefire agreements. His removal sparked concerns that the military would take a tougher stance against ethnic groups who make up about a third of Myanmar’s 50 million population. KNU secretary general Pado Mahn Shah said the rebels understood there were tensions in Myanmar, which is adapting to new prime minister Soe Win, but that should not rule out establishing a timeframe for talks. He said the junta should also consider releasing political prisoners including national opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.