The Karen National Union (KNU) was founded in 1947 and its armed wings, the Karen National Liberation Army and Karen National Defense Organization, are fighting Myanmar’s junta in Karen and Mon states and Bago and Tanintharyi regions.
After the February 2021 coup, the KNU has given military training to activists who want to fight the regime and has fought alongside resistance groups.
By August, the KNU said it had been involved in around 6,356 clashes with junta forces, killing 5,125 regime troops and its allies and injuring an estimated 4,174 soldiers while losing 137 resistance fighters.
The KNU is working with the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), a coalition of political groups opposing the junta, and the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) to establish a federal union.
Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the head of KNU’s Foreign Affairs Department, recently talked to The Irrawaddy about the potential for increased attacks by the junta in the forthcoming dry season.
Will junta attacks increase in the dry season?
Last year the junta said it would defeat us within four months. It launched heavy offensives in 2021 and this year to defeat the resistance.
It launched a major offensive in early 2022. However, these junta troops are totally different from what we have seen before.
They know they cannot defeat the resistance groups attacking from every side. We hope they will attack again in the dry season.
But these troops cannot fight any longer. The defections increase daily while many others are captured. We are not trembling in fear at the prospect of junta offensives. We know the condition of the troops.
Can the revolution succeed?
It is difficult to assess how successful the revolution is. We experienced the 1988 uprisings. Then the political parties and people were not ready for a revolution. But things have changed.
Without being persuaded, our people are determined to back the revolution. No major political parties say the revolution is wrong.
The international community and observers thought the junta would win after a year. We have disproved those assessments after more than a year of fighting.
Initially, it was challenging to deal with so many resistance groups. But there have been many developments and we have tried hard to organize and link the groups. It is also hard to assess the success of the revolution but we keep trying to improve.
What are the differences from 1988?
There are many ethnicities in the country and the Bamar majority did not back resistance in previous years.
In 1988 a majority of the population believed the junta’s propaganda as there was little unbiased information. Now everyone, especially younger people and students, knows the truth, partly because of the internet. They can quickly disprove the propaganda. People are determined to fight against the junta’s lies.
In 1988 the political parties were not determined to fight. They believed the regime when it promised an election and the revolution failed.
Now we hear nothing from people who said revolution was wrong in the past. This is clear and very important. It is very dangerous if leading, influential groups say armed resistance is wrong. It can undermine the revolution.
Another difference from 1988 is the civil disobedient movement among government staff and protests by activists despite the dangers.
The spirit of junta soldiers is totally different. They are weak and disappointed with the defeats. They swear at their leaders during the fighting.
The junta cannot break up our revolution.
Recently the NUG and Special Advisory Council for Myanmar declared that more than half of the country is in resistance hands. Do you agree?
The assessments seem accurate. The junta cannot control areas of Karen State that were controlled by the central government before the coup. The education, health and administrative services did not listen to the regime. All teachers have joined the CDM. We now control these areas. That’s just our state.
Clashes have spread across Magwe and Sagaing regions, which are Bamar-majority areas, since the coup.
Sagaing, which had no experience of rebellion, has reported the second-highest number of clashes, after Karen State, which has had nearly 6,000 clashes.
The junta’s administration has broken down in many areas due to the resistance and it ended a long time ago in Kachin State and the Wa region.
Can the revolution end during the dry season?
It will not be finished but it will definitely improve. Many sectors are cooperating. The NUCC and NUG will have to coordinate over economic affairs and international sanctions against the regime.
Militarily, many separate groups are operating while seeing the regime as the common enemy. Our revolution will definitely develop during the dry season but it is too early to say when it will achieve victory.
We must break junta offensives and we have to rebuild before we can trample the regime forces throughout the country. How much we can achieve mainly depends on how much we struggle and unite.
What political changes can we expect?
The junta has failed to gain international recognition and appoint a United Nations ambassador. Now the junta is trying to stop the NUG having a representative at the UN. We will always lead the junta in international affairs.
The junta tries to be recognized as an official government and holds mock peace talks with some armed groups. Groups without proper policies are meeting [junta leader] Min Aung Hlaing. We have contempt for his peace process. It will never happen.
The junta promises an election in August next year, although there will only be one or two voters. We trust in our people and no they won’t vote. The game is over. We hope for genuine political change in 2023.
Tell us more about the revolution
Our people are in crisis in their daily lives. The junta wants to become the official government but it has no features of a proper government.
So our people suffer. But we must overcome the problems. To get something sweet, we have to get through something tough. No matter how hard it is, we will push ahead. We will stand with the people. There is no reason to fail. Stay strong, everyone. Keep struggling. Let’s smash military dictatorships forever.