The leader of one of the biggest ethnic groups fighting Myanmar's military government was killed at his home in this border town Thursday, police said.
Karen National Union General Secretary Mahn Sha, 64, was shot by two men, possibly as the result of differences within the rebel group, Thai police Col. Pasawat Tangjui said. No one has claimed responsibility.
Mahn Sha's death came at a politically sensitive time, less than a week after Myanmar's government announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution in May and a general election in 2010. The plans have been denounced by opponents as a sham meant to perpetuate military rule.
"We lost, not only for the KNU, but all the democracy struggle for Burma, a very qualified man. He was a key person, the engine of the KNU," said Zin Linn, a spokesman for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, an exile group. Burma is the name preferred to Myanmar by the military's opponents.
The KNU is one of more than a dozen armed ethnic groups that for decades have sought greater autonomy from Myanmar's government.
Since 1988, many other groups have signed formal cease-fires with the military, but the Karen group has not.
Most of the group's senior leaders live in Thailand, but most of its bases are just over the border in Myanmar. The military continues to carry out counterinsurgency operations in Karen areas, displacing thousands of civilians every year, many of whom end up joining thousands of their countrymen in refugee camps in Thailand.