02/15/2008, 00.00
THAILAND - MYANMAR

Leader of Burma’s biggest rebel group killed

Mahn Sha, head of the National Karen Union, was shot to death last night at his home in Thailand. Suspicions on the authors of the attack: hit men for the junta or members of the separatist Karen Buddhists group. The leader had recently warned of an increase in violence in the wake of the announcement of a May referendum in Burma.

Mae Sot (AsiaNews) – Burmese media carried no news of last night’s killing of the leader of the Karen National Union (KNU), the biggest ethnic group to battle the military regime, at his home in Mae Sot, in Thailand. “Newspapers and TV have not reported the event – Yangon sources tell Asia News– people only found out through reports on the opposition radio station which is broadcast from abroad”.

KNU secretary general, Mahn Sha, was shot last night by two men who arrived at his house in a pick up.  So far there have been no claims of responsibility for the assassination and suspicions abound on whom was behind the order.  Most point to hit men hired by the military junta, while others have not ruled out the possibility that is a settling of scores within the group itself.  This is the hypothesis that Thai police are following in their investigations.  “From initial inquiries - reports colonel Pasawat, Mahn Sha – it has emerged that the hit men were themselves Karen, and after having spoken to eyewitnesses we believe that this is an internal issue within the Karen National Union.  Despite this we will pursue our investigations”.  The majority of the movements past leaders live in political exile in Thailand.

Even Mahn Shan’s son, Hse Hse, also a member of the rebel movement has pointed to the secessionist movement of Karen Buddhists who signed a cease-fire with the government in the mid ‘90’s.  “It bears the hall marks of the Dkba and Burmese soldiers”, said Hse Hse in reference to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

Mahn Sha, 64, took commando f the organisation in 2000, substituting Bo Mya, who was ill at the time and then died 2006. In a recent interview he commented on the regime’s announcement of a Constitutional referendum in May forecasting an increase in violence.  “Everyone is terrorised by the possibility that the military may have spread a list of names to be eliminated in Thailand”, he had warned.

Karen live in the eastern area of former Burma, on the border with Thailand, and have been fighting for over 60 years to for self determination and recognition of their identity. According to Thailand Burma Border Consortium, in 2007 alone over 76 thousand Karen were forced to flee their homes, while at least 167 villages were destroyed.

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