'When the Guns Stop, the Talks Can Begin'

‘When the Guns Stop, the Talks Can Begin’

KNU General Secretary Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, right of center, stands behind Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, as he shakes hands with KNU Chairman Gen Mutu Say Poe in Naypyidaw on Jan. 6, 2013. (Photo: Myawaddy Facebook page)

Last week, a Karen National Union (KNU) delegation led by the ethnic armed group’s new chairman, Gen Mutu Say Poe, traveled to Naypyidaw to meet President Thein Sein and the commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. KNU General Secretary Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win, was also a part of the delegation. On Thursday, he spoke to The Irrawaddy‘s Nyein Nyein by telephone to discuss his views on the high-level meetings held on Jan. 5-6, and on Burma’s ongoing peace process.

What did your delegation say when you met Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces] Commander-in-Chief Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw last Sunday?

We told him that the escalation of fighting in Kachin State damages not only the dignity of the state and the Tatmadaw, but also public trust. They said that the Tatmadaw is working to defend national and public security. They said that Kachin troops have been threatening public servants and attacking convoys carrying supplies to a government army base near Laiza. To this we reiterated that the ongoing fighting in Kachin State would be an obstacle to the national peace-building initiated by the government.

What was the government’s attitude to the peace-building and ceasefire process? Were they pragmatic?

Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s words were in accordance with the government’s policy on the peace process. But we still need to learn about the situation on the ground [in Kachin State]. Only those who are actually there really know what is going on. But what we want to see is a ceasefire, and for both sides to negotiate.

Do you think the peace process can continue moving forward successfully this year?

We can’t say that we have complete peace yet—all we have is an agreement to stop fighting. The main problem is political. If we can’t reach a political agreement, there won’t be any lasting peace. As we start the year, there is still fighting in Kachin State, so we still have a long way to go. If there were a nationwide ceasefire, the peace process would be better, as we could then begin to engage in political talks. There are ceasefires in place in some ethnic areas, but in Kachin State and Shan State, the fighting continues. When the guns stop, the political talks can begin. I think that could happen by the end of the year, but I’m not so sure. The Kachin issue affects all ethnic affairs, so it very much depends on the situation there.

Kachin civil society groups and others, including the United Nationalities Federal Council [UNFC], have also called for the fighting to end. The KNU and the Kachin Independence Organization [KIO] are both members of the UNFC. What is your advice to the KIO?

We want both sides to stop. They need to stop at whatever position they are in. And then they should meet again and find a solution to the problem. If they want to proceed to a political dialogue, that’s what they have to do. The best solution is to stop shooting and meet for political talks.

The KIA says that it can’t return to the negotiating table right now because the government army has stepped up its offensive against them since the end of last year. So what is your advice to the Burmese government about what it could do to end the conflict?

We talked about this when we met. There cannot be peace just with the Karen—all other ethnic groups must also be part of the process. Our ceasefire will only be meaningful when we have built peace throughout the nation. We will keep repeating this whenever we meet in the future. To achieve real peace, the gunfire must stop and all the ethnic groups can begin a political dialogue. But we can’t reach that stage yet because the fighting is continuing in Kachin State.

Judging from the photo of your meeting by Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, it seems that the KNU delegation received a very warm welcome. How did you feel about it? Was this a positive sign for the peace process?

Being friendly can make it easier to speak more openly. We have communicated with the government many times [since January 2012], so we have built up our friendship and can talk openly. We now have overcome the past situation, when we did not want to face each other, but just fought. A closer relationship enables us to share our views more easily. It is a good sign. This new friendship doesn’t mean that we have abandoned our beliefs. But through this friendship, we can say what we want.

When will formal peace talks between the KNU and the government resume?

We just completed our congress and are still busy assigning people to different tasks within our organization, so I think the talks may resume around the end of February or at the beginning of March. We also discussed this during our recent trip. We said we want to move forward from our last meeting, which was in September last year.

Is there change in the KNU’s policy on the peace talks?

No. We will just move forward in accordance with the peace policy we have already set. There is a need for a strong ceasefire agreement, and then we can move on to political talks. But the KNU can’t engage in political talks alone. They must be inclusive of all all parties in the conflicts. Unless the fighting with other groups ends, we cannot go forward.

Will you attend this year’s Karen New Year celebrations inside Burma?

In the past, the KNU was not able to join the celebrations. But this year, some of our members have been invited to events being held in Rangoon, Pantanaw, Kyaukgyi [in Pegu Division] and even Dawei [in Tenasserim Division]. Some leaders will also attend these festivals in Karen State. I will join the celebrations in nearby towns, as every towns and villages is organizing some events. But I haven’t made any specific plans yet.


18 Responses to ‘When the Guns Stop, the Talks Can Begin’

  1. The tone is good. Burmese military must withdraw from Kachin front. Then, start political dialogue with UNFC which represents the whole ethnics of the Union of Burma. There is nothing which the Burmese government cannot offer the ethnics are asking. Why can’t the Burmese junta promise them with federal Union? The attitude and willingness to build the genuine democratic Union depends on the Burmese people. So far the ethnics are enthusiastic to see this kind of Union which will be very good to the Burmans. When the Union is flourish, the name Burma will be respected by the whole world, not ethnic. The name of the Union will still be Burma or Myanmar, not ethnics’ names. Even Chinese are jealous when they see changes in Burma.

    • Simple Lion King.

      Short of the Kachin who had learned a bitter lesson are still doing so, the other armed groups all over the country have no interest whatsoever in that “Federal” thingy any more. All it is now is business, business, business, and how much cut they can get out at these deals called “Peace Talks” which are in fact “Piece Talks” – who gets which piece. That is all. Since Aung San Suu Kyi led the way of the treachery ( smart move), there now every where are rise of the factions with no principles. Uniform religion for all now is money. Oh, sorry! money plus high talk (called BS) of hypocrites.

    • Dear Lion King
      Let use Burma because it only means the highest population of bama. In future, it should be union of ethnics and bama . By doing so, the bama army will not bully all ethnics who have a equal position in the Burma country, promised by General Aung San. Because of the equality and autonomy in all ethnics in Panglong agreement, General Aung San was assassinated by bama u saw, his relative. How it is shame on those bama. Chinese might be jealous if Burma reach the real democracy earlier than China. However, Chinese people are more richer and richer in the world to become a future giant in every aspects. At least, Taiwanese Chinese take proud of their full democracy in their country. Communist Chinese government repeats the same song that it does not want to interfere Burma affair. Therefore, all ethnics should request China to be involved in this peace and political dialogue because China has huge investment in Burma. Than shwe is playing the game with US and China. Min Aung laing ( than shwe puppet , relies on 2008 Nargic) is lair and he is also the responsible war criminal. Min aung laing is telling about the self-defense ( although bama army invasion), dignity of rapist Bama army and public trust ( nobody trust than shwe, his puppets). All high ranking bama officers think Nargic 2008 will protect their lives in future. They will know it is wrong very soon. World war 2 criminals are still punishable for justice until now after the life long search from the people around the world. People will not spare their lives of high ranking bama military thugs. In future , the bama war criminals can not be escaped from people because of high technological ages for lifelong capturing those criminals.

  2. Cheer KNU G secretary’s concern on Kachin as well as all ethnics for the remark of “when the guns stop, the talks can begin” it means the unity, people power and people war. Do not rely on anybody except all ethnic themselves. it is the only mean to conquer than shwe to gain real panglong agreement. It might be the best chance and time for you to unity to fight for your right. Make a good start or base for the best future and do not let bama military thugs to manipulate you all.

  3. I wonder if the KNU leaders will follow the peace process that were laid, which is to go step by step to make sure everything is in control and everything is going smooth and benefit for the entire Karen and even other ethnic people. I worry that they will rush and they did before. There should be “WIN WIN” result not “WIN LOOSE” result in the discussion.

  4. Burmese junta could probably agree on the Federal States,I think.But cannot allow multi-armies inside one country. Thats the main problem.”Cannot stay 18 Lions in One cave”. “When the guns stop,the Talk can Begin”,right,ofcourse. But have to go back to the guns,in the end.

    • Buy some shoes for your leaders first before you think about armies in the Union because federal Union will have only one defense ministry. KNU leaders look in the picture about to play tennis or golf.

  5. To KNU,

    The end never justifies the mean!!! Please remember that people are not stupid, they are watching you!!!

  6. George Than Setkyar Heine

    “They said that the Tatmadaw is working to defend national and public security. They said that Kachin troops have been threatening public servants and attacking convoys carrying supplies to a government army base near Laiza”.
    That DOESN’T ADD UP AT ALL man!
    Simply BULL TALK on the part of China chosen C-in-C of the Burma Army I say.
    The communists in Beijing should give him lessons (how to work) on their calculating gadgets we call PAY THEE in Burma.
    KIA attacked Min Aung Hlaing’s supply convoys because he is reinforcing the government bases/troops going on their assaults on Laiza of course as worldwide known as well today.
    None of which doesn’t have anything to do with national nor public security as well I say.
    “There cannot be peace just with the Karen—all other ethnic groups must also be part of the process. Our ceasefire will only be meaningful when we have built peace throughout the nation. We will keep repeating this whenever we meet in the future. To achieve real peace, the gunfire must stop and all the ethnic groups can begin a political dialogue. But we can’t reach that stage yet because the fighting is continuing in Kachin State”
    Truly said as well chief!
    Another way to put it and straight: WITHDRAWAL of ALL BURMESE FORCES OUT OF Kachin State and ALL ETHNIC LANDS is PIVOTAL, VITAL and NON-NEGOTIABLE not to mention the FIRST STEP for THAT MATTER (achieve real peace in Burma) man.
    When SHOOTING STOPS then PEACE NEGOTIATIONS CAN CONTINUE of course unlike today in Kachin land, where Min Aung Hlaing is BOMBING, STRAFING and KILLING the Kachin people while YELLING for CEASEFIRE on the one hand.
    Hence, STOP SHOOTING and START TALKING Idiot!
    “A closer relationship enables us to share our views more easily. It is a good sign. This new friendship doesn’t mean that we have abandoned our beliefs. But through this friendship, we can say what we want”.
    Of course I agree with that statement to a certain extent of course.
    However, Mutu Say Poe should be well aware of the fact Min Aung Hlaing’s SMILE HIDES AN OGRE MUG lest he fails to note I say.
    The Chinese proxy Commander in Chief of Burma Army has INVITED Mutu Say Poe because he wants to MAKE A DEAL with the Karen leader specifically in regard/respect to DAWEI SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE project which lies in the jurisdiction of the KNU chief I bet.
    In case the DEAL GOES THROUGH on Min Aung Hlaing’s TERMS of course then PEACE WILL COME to Karen State and FATTEN the WALLETS of the CRONIES in turn the GENERALS’ at the Naypyidaw as well no doubt.
    On the other side of the coin: KNU will BEAR the BRUNT of Min Aung Hlaing’s WRATH in the SAME VEIN as KIA today in case Mutu Say Poe REFUSES to PLAY BALL with Than Shwe’s GENERAL trust me.
    “But the KNU can’t engage in political talks alone. They must be inclusive of all parties in the conflicts. Unless the fighting with other groups ends, we cannot go forward”.
    That’s as BLUNT as THEY COME from a Karen known for his STRAIGHT FORWARDNESS and SIMPLICITY as we ALL KNOW in BURMA of course.
    Of course Min Aung Hlaing has NO CHOICE other than GETTING the UNITED NATIONALITIES FEDERAL COUNCIL (UNFC) on BOARD for ANY/EVERY TALK for CEASEFIRE/PEACE in case he is HONEST or SINCERE for that matter I say.
    And I take my hat off to Mutu Say Poe for putting the picture in perspective and shooting straight in this matter as well.
    Of course the Karen chief has COTTONED ON TO the GAME Than Shwe or rather Chinese picked GENERAL is PLAYING at the moment: an ARCHAIC PLOY – DIVIDE and CONQUER/RULE – long employed by the British colonialists of yore any bets?
    Let me add/ paint a little more colour and make it a bigger picture as well for that matter if you don’t mind.
    WHY DON’T MIN AUNG HLAING INVITE GUNN MAW and his KIA to Naypyidaw for a CHANGE and TALK THINGS OVER in a more CIVILIZED and TRANSPARENT WAY and for the BETTER as well like he DID with Mutu Say Poe and his people instead of BEATING the HELL out of the KIA like today?

  7. Politics without principles is one of the greatest social sins said Mahatma Gandhi. KIA had a ceasefire and did business with the Burmese generals for 17 years thus ignoring the voices of helpless Burmese people. Do you truly think that KIa leaders believe in Panlong agreement and that they are working for the liberation of the Kachin people? far from it. When they were doing business with the Burmese generals and with China, KIA had built their headquarters into a modern city of Laiza and the Burmese generals built the 5 billion dollar brand new capital city for themselves. What have KIA leadres done for the Kachin people in the past 60 years? let me tell you one thing. KIA leaders are as selfish and as ruthless as the power hungry Burmese generals. Wake up and face the reality. KIA is fighting with the Burmese generals , not fot Human Rights but for money!!!

    • It was not the KIO’s problem because the cunning junta, especially Khin Nyunt, was so good in cheating. KIO got cheated and they are determined now not to get cheated again. This time, the Union is on fire.

  8. Why do karen leaders have to go back to the guns? Where is the logic? These leaders those who have been fighting for the past 60 years have come to see that fightinmg among us is not going to bring any peace to any part of the country and it doesn’t benefit anyone. karen leadres are smart because by doing this at least karen people will benefit from all of these changes. We ave to be watchful of the Burmese generals but at the same time we must give them the benefit of doubt as well. We are all 50/50. No race or no person is perfect is 100% good. If we give a lot of understanding and make room for the generals . they will change at last, for the good. Nothibng is permanenet in life so as no individual. Burmese people must really want democracy and must practice in order to have a democractic society. We must change our mind sets as well.

    • The past 60 years, the Karen leaders were idiots. Because they were fighting for nothing. Right, Thamain Pone? That was what you meant. The Karen leaders were smart then and smart now. As long as the ethnic people do not receive the same freedom, rights and self-determination, they will be always subordinate to the Burmese. Do you want to see in Burma? I do not know you are a Kala or Chinese or Karen or Bama or an animal or etc., no matter what you are, as long as you are a citizen, you are entitled to have the rights like anybody else. So far, the ethnics are treated like secondary citizens. This is not right. Even Kala and Chinese who are citizens of Burma must receive the same rights as the Burmese. What else do you want to know?

  9. Come on! KIA genrals are not children and that’s why they used to work with the Burmese generals for 17 years, trading with China and sharing the profits greedily.

  10. ” Kayin Myo hay Doh Bama”.

  11. Let me explain this to you. KIA or KNU don’t have the 100$% mandate from thier own people because how come there are ethnic representatives at the Union Parliament representing different ethnic groups. If you are saying that the dominant group bama rules, most of the political prisoners in prisons are mostly Bamas. If these rebel groups are strongly supported by their own people, they should have gained independence in the past 60 years. You can call me an animal but I am Bama and we Burmese are not rude and evil people. let me tell you one thing. Burma is sandwiched by 3 most populous countries. If you give the same rights to Tayokes and kalars, Burma will be gone. Got it!!!

  12. it is a sad and scary scenario for every ethnic group except burman if what you said is true that 100% of burman support burman brutality.

    most political prisoners are burman because they protested against the military rule.

    the rebel group couldn’t gain independence because burman military financed by the country’s revenues through legal and illegal trades outnumbered the ethnic militias in both weapons and soldiers. it is quite interesting and shameful for burman military that they can’t still win the unjust war even with superiority in weaponry and infantry waging on for 60+ years. This should explain their ability, or lack there of, to efficiently run a country. Despite totaling 2/3 of the population, it is also quite shameful that they can’t produce a leader all the ethnic groups can look up to and can lean on during urgent times.

    Again, Tayokes and Kalars comprise of a small percentage of Burmese population, but they run majority of economic activities. So, burmen don’t seem to be taking advantage of being between two most populous countries in the world, rather they are being taken advantage of, and their way to release the built-up anger from being dog-ridden by both Tayoke and Kalars is bullying smaller guys living in the mountains.

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