Myanmar’s oldest rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU), was founded in 1947. Its armed wings, the Karen National Liberation Army and Karen National Defense Organization, are fighting the junta in Karen and Mon states and Bago and Tanintharyi regions.
Since the regime slaughtered hundreds of peaceful anti-coup demonstrators nationwide in 2021, the KNU has given military training and armed several thousand activists to fight the junta.
The KNU has revived its military campaign alongside newly formed resistance groups, including several people’s defense forces.
It says has engaged the regime more than 7,000 times, killing an estimated 5,500 regime troops and injuring around 5,000. It has reported hundreds of resistance deaths.
This month the KNU has stepped up raids on military headquarters and junta offices.
Meanwhile, it is working with the National Unity Consultative Council, a political coalition opposing the junta, and the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) to establish a federal union.
The KNU’s communications chief Padoh Saw Taw Nee recently told The Irrawaddy about his hopes for 2023.
Ethnic armed organizations [EAOs] and the NUG vowed in New Year’s speeches to uproot the dictatorship. What are the KNU’s plans for 2023?
Following the coup, we displayed our clear resistance while some groups didn’t. But other groups still refuse to accept the regime in many ways.
We have no other option but to fight.
It becomes more clear with time that there is no alternative.
We are happy that other EAOs vowed in their New Year’s speeches to uproot the regime. This is welcome.
We have been openly fighting the regime.
We have engaged in more than 7,000 clashes over two years. We can’t de-escalate our revolution.
We must keep going until we win and increase efforts across military and political spheres.
What improvements can you report?
As we became used to the guerrilla tactics, there were ambushes, sniper attacks and some raids occupying junta outposts.
Now we are conducting more urban raids, like in Kawkareik.
This shows our growing confidence. We raided a military headquarters. We have never done this before. We raided three battalions at the same time. We could not do that before.
More raids like that will follow as our revolution grows in every sector.
How have you managed to conduct raids like that?
This regime and its predecessors have prepared poorly for many years. For the first time, we are receiving international support and broad domestic backing. In the past, the Bamar majority stayed away from politics and did not help.
Now people have become one flesh and blood as junta atrocities occur across the country. That is why our revolution has strengthened quickly.
Fighting is not the only way to demolish military institutions that have monopolized power for 70 years.
The institutions must be broken.
Many soldiers have joined us and there are many others inside the military who secretly support the people’s revolution in many ways.
This revolution is very different from previous movements.
We hear attacks in upper Myanmar were led by the KNU. Have you expanded beyond your traditional territory?
The dictatorship must be uprooted across the country, not just in our state. We have plans to connect with other resistance groups. There will be more joint operations.
The junta is using more airstrikes. How can you defend yourselves?
The terrorist regime is now committing unacceptable airstrikes on civilian targets. The junta is committing war crimes.
It shows the regime’s desperation.
We lack air-defense weapons so we must be aware of the threat from the air.
The terrorist junta regards both resistance forces and civilians as their enemy so we all must be alert all the time. We all need to dig bunkers.
We hope the international community will provide air-defense weapons. We are asking other countries to cut off supplies of aviation fuel for the regime.
We need anti-aircraft weapons and they need to arrive soon.
Will junta atrocities increase?
We can’t estimate how many more atrocities the junta will carry out.
[Junta leader] Min Aung Hlaing targets civilians as he has no choice. He regards the people as his enemy and he believes his enemies will be defeated if the people are destroyed.
We cannot predict how much more we will lose. We will never step away from the fight. Victory gets closer with every atrocity.
Freedom does not come for free.
Do you have a policy on the junta’s election plans?
Min Aung Hlaing has no room politically. He has failed to gain international recognition.
As a final attempt to win legitimacy, he will hold an illegal election. At that point, we will fight openly. We totally reject his fake general election.
The people must fight. No one will collaborate in his election and he won’t be able to raise his head if he can’t implement it. That is why his election must be defeated.
Does the KNU have an action plan against the election?
We announced at our public meeting on November 11 that we would oppose the junta’s election. There were Karen political parties at the meeting. This is a serious matter. Those who fail to follow our policy must be held accountable.
How much control does the KNU have in its territory?
Following the coup, the junta totally lost all administrative mechanisms in our territory.
The junta’s administrators struggle to survive in the towns.
Due to the civil disobedience movement of government employees, the regime cannot run rural schools and hospitals.
The junta can only respond militarily.
We need to consider our plans for governing after the revolution.
Has the revolution been successful?
It is hard to say how successful we have been. We can do many things politically, diplomatically and economically against the regime that we have never done in the past. We only have to strengthen our military connectivity with other groups.
Do you have a message for the people?
We have to keep pushing our revolution forward. We must remember that you get nothing for free.
Freedom comes with great difficulty and costs.
Rather than asking when we will succeed, we must think deeply about how we can all contribute to the revolution.
If we work hard together, we will succeed quickly.
I am very pleased with the people’s contribution and thank them.
We are pleased with the continuous support from our people amid suffering and crises. We will keep trying hard.