Will the Karen Go Solo on Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire?

Will the Karen Go Solo on the Nationwide Ceasefire?

Nai Hong Sar, in a white shirt, prepares for a UNFC meeting on Monday in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

Nai Hong Sar, in a white shirt, prepares for a UNFC meeting on Monday in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A threat by the Karen National Union (KNU) to withdraw from a major ethnic alliance has raised concerns that the Karen rebels will move ahead to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord with the government before other armed groups are ready.

On Monday morning, a faction of the KNU led by its chairman, Saw Mutu Say Poe, announced that the KNU would temporarily suspend its membership in the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of 12 ethnic groups. Another faction led by the KNU’s deputy chairman, Naw Zipporah Sein, quickly followed up with its own announcement, saying it had no desire to follow suit. Now both sides are talking to see if they can reach an agreement.

The rift came as a shock to other ethnic groups in the UNFC, who have expressed concerns that their own negotiations with Burma’s government may be affected by the recent developments.

Inside sources in the UNFC speculate that the KNU chairman and his followers might try to sign the nationwide ceasefire accord, perhaps as early as this month. The sources, requesting anonymity, said they believed the KNU chairman wanted to withdraw from the UNFC because other UNFC member groups were not yet ready to sign. Even the KNU’s deputy chairman and her followers are not yet ready to sign, KNU sources say.

KNU general-secretary Kwe Htoo Win explained the chairman’s reasons for leaving the UNFC. “Some of their policies and decisions don’t match with our policy. Our circumstances are different, even though we have a common interest,” he said. He added that the chair group of the UNFC, the Kachin Independence Organization, tended to dominate the alliance.

A well-informed KNU source—who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media—said it was clear that the strategies of the KNU and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), were heading in different directions. He speculated that disagreements could even lead to a coup by the KNLA.

Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh, deputy commander-in-chief of the KNLA, wants to move cautiously with the peace process. “It is too early to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement,” he said, adding that he worried that some KNU leaders would do so quickly and without proper consultation.

UNFC leaders are also requesting more time. “It is not that we don’t want to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement,” Nai Hong Sar, general-secretary of the UNFC, told The Irrawaddy. “We want to sign it, for sure. But we want to sign it later, after we reach a political settlement.”

Before suspending the KNU’s membership, Mutu Say Poe called for greater freedom to act apart from the UNFC. In a proposal submitted during the ongoing UNFC congress in Chiang Mai, Thailand, he said the KNU should have the authority to make decisions about its own affairs. “The destiny of the Karen will be created by the Karen,” the proposal said.

The proposal also criticized a constitution that is being written by the UNFC as unrepresentative of all members, drawing comparisons with the undemocratic 2008 Constitution by the Burmese government. It also accused the UNFC of creating too much bureaucratic red tape.

Some UNFC members predict that the KNU will not be the only ethnic group to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement alone. They believe other groups that do not belong to the UNFC, including the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), will likely also sign the agreement individually.

They predict that if the government can secure signatures from these three groups, which each have strong militaries, while opening the door for other ethnic groups to sign later, it might be enough to please the international community without actually appeasing all ethnic groups.


6 Responses to Will the Karen Go Solo on the Nationwide Ceasefire?

  1. For some time, there have been reports of some UNFC leaders willing to take a soft stand and walk the road of ‘reconciliation’, as we have found from the various reporting from Laiza conference. This is another ploy of KNU, almost like ASSK’s soft stand on the Tatmadaw. Whether this is good for all may be a big question for many. But if we look at the moment, we find battle weary and aging leadership, the pains of the suffering humanity in refugee camps, displaced people from burnt down villages. Besides the pseudo-democratic Naypyidaw has also been raising clandestine deals to bring the ethnic leaders under its hood. Well, there are hundreds of guesses. But one thing is certain: Naypyidaw will at least maneuver the ceasefire, quicker rather than later.

  2. “The destiny of the Karen will be created by the only handful Karen and filthy rich leaders in KNU.”

    They have owned enormous property in Thailand and want to own in Burma. Many honest oppressed Karen people are just the subjects in their hands.They are just warlords like those in Afghanistan. Before attaining democracy, we the Karen needs to eliminate the entrenched Warlordism in Karen organizations.

    The nominal democratic Burmese government is happy that its “divide and rule” method is working.

    No Brainer Even six-month-old can easily understand it.

    Phoe Kwar

  3. Their habit is once again coming back.

  4. I think if the government is genuinely concerned about the peace process and the unity of all the people, it should advise these factions, namely, the KNU, RCSS and UWSA, to come to the round-table political talks,
    That would mean that the political dialogue must come before the cease-fire talks, seeing the disagreement between the ethnic groups. The ethnic groups must be united if they are to win the federal union.
    The genuineness of the political will of the government is suspect.
    It cannot be trusted unless it shows its will and real concern for real and durable peace in pursuit of proper socioeconomic development of the nation.

  5. United we stand,divided we fall. Some ethnic leaders have been bought by the government. A very effective divide and rule.

  6. Sorry,Together we will servive,Divided we will lost !

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