The ethnic rebel Karen National Union (KNU) will hold its 15th congress at Brigade 7′s Lay Wah area in Pa-an District on Monday after an internal dispute over the venue and date for the meeting was resolved.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Maj Hla Ngwe, the joint-secretary 1 of the KNU, said, “The majority voted for the Brigade 7 area in Pa-an District to hold the 15th congress but both options were good venues for meeting.”
The group’s other faction is led by General-Secretary Zipporah Sein and wanted the congress to be held in Papun District.
The KNU concluded its three-week-long Central Standing Committee (CSC) on Tuesday, which was also held in Brigade 7 territory where the Nov. 26 congress to appoint new leadership will be held. This venue is where the Gen Mutu Say Poe, chief of the KNU’s Karen National Liberation Army military wing, enjoys strong support.
Mutu Say Poe regained his current position as military chief after he and two other group leaders, Roger Khin and the recently deceased David Htaw, were dismissed by the central committee on Oct. 20 for violating the organization’s protocol—opening a liaison office in the Karen State capital Pa-an without informing other central committee members.
Tuesday’s meeting was an evaluation of CSC work over the past four years. Members examined weaknesses regarding the internal dispute and set future plans for party work, peace talks and political activities.
“We tried to rebuild mutual understanding amongst members after the recent disagreements within the party,” said Hla Ngwe.
KNU Joint-Secretary 2 Dawt Lay Mu met with Karen civil society organizations in Rangoon on Tuesday to explain about the peace process to the local community. The party congress could apparently take more than two weeks depending on the issues raised by those present.
The KNU is one of the strongest ethnic armed groups in Burma and has fought a civil war for greater autonomy for more than 60 years. It signed a ceasefire agreement with a government peace delegation led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min in Pa-an on Jan. 12.
Because of the timing of the congress, further peace talks between the two sides will have to wait until next year, claims Hla Ngwe.
The peace process will continue on its present track despite the new KNU leadership as policies will be maintained, he said, adding that the only foreseen personnel changes would arise from ill-health and those who have chosen to relinquish their positions.
Regarding the peace talks, Hla Ngwe said that the KNU stands by its call for political dialogue outside of parliamentary discussions, whereas the government wants all ethnic armed groups to form political parties and enter the legislature through elections before engaging in such dialogue.
Despite this fundamental disagreement, Hla Ngwe said that the KNU supports the government’s efforts towards national reconciliation.