Aging KNU Chairman to Step Down

By Saw Yan Naing 27 November 2012

RANGOON—Amid recent criticism of the aging leadership of the Karen National Union (KNU), Chairman Gen Tamla Baw, 93, announced that he would quit in order to make way for a new, younger leader.

The new KNU chairman is yet to be decided, but will be tasked with guiding the rebel group during the ongoing peace talks with the Burmese government.

Tamla Baw made his announcement at the opening ceremony of the KNU’s 15th congress in Lay Wah area in Hlaing Bwe Township on Monday. “I will take a break for rest. It is important to elect the right person in the right place in the upcoming election,” he told the conference.

The KNU congress was attended by all representatives from seven brigades and seven districts including leaders from its military wing, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The congress is set to continue for two weeks with new leaders elected on the final day.

It still remains unclear who is going to succeed Tamla Baw, but KNLA commander Gen Mutu Say Poe is seen as a strong favorite who might gain the position by majority vote, according to sources within the KNU.

Another candidate is the KNU’s current General-Secretary Zipporah Sein, who is a daughter of Tamla Baw. She is believed to be favored by members who are in the KNU’s hardline faction.

The candidates are believed to have ties to different factions within the Karen rebels. Gen Mutu Say Poe is said to have support from KNLA Brigades 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7, while Zipporah Sein is supported by Brigades 2, 5 and the majority of the KNU’s central committee.

The KNU is one of the major ethnic armed groups in Burma and has fought a civil war for autonomy for more than 60 years.

Recently, rifts have appeared within its leadership over the peace deal that the group is negotiating with a government delegation led by the President Office’s Minister Aung Min. The KNU signed an initial ceasefire-agreement with the government on Jan. 12, 2012.

Following internal disagreements, the KNU dismissed three leaders on Oct. 2 for violating the organization’s protocol—opening a liaison office in the Karen capital Pa-an without informing other KNU central committee members.

Since then, two dismissed members, military chief Gen Mutu Say Poe and the head of the social welfare department, Roger Khin, were reinstated. The third, former head of the justice department David Htaw, passed away recently and has yet to be replaced.

During a meeting between the KNU and Karen civil society groups in Rangoon last week, the CSOs had urged the KNU to unite and allow younger members within its leadership.

However, sources within the KNU leadership said that internal problems within the leadership remain. The KNU reportedly also had disagreements over the choice of a venue for its congress. Each of the candidates for the KNU presidency had wanted to stage the congress in a place where its supporting faction held most control.

The Zipporah Sein faction demanded to hold the congress in Brigade 5 areas, but the Mutu Say Poe faction wanted to hold it in the Brigade 7 region. With majority support it was finally decided to hold the congress in Pa-an district, where Brigade 7 is based and where Gen Mutu Say Poe enjoys strong support.