Australian MP Pledged to Support Karen Resistance: KNDO Commander

By Saw Yan Naing & Sean Gleeson 5 February 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Australian MP Luke Simpkins, who last month made a covert visit into eastern Burma, has conveyed his support to Karen ethnic armed groups and spoken against continuing human rights violations in the country.

Australia’s Fairfax newspaper group reported on Tuesday that Simpkins made an unauthorized crossing into Burma from the Thai border town of Mae Sot in order to attend the Jan. 31 celebrations of Karen Resistance Day, the anniversary of the 1949 commencement of the Karen independence struggle against Burmese rule.

Simpkins travelled to a base of the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO), one of the military wings of the Karen National Union, at the invitation of Maj-Gen Ner Dah Mya.

“[Mr. Simpkins] recognized that there are still human rights abuses in ethnic regions in Burma,” Ner Dah Mya told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “He supports our resistance movement and said that our struggle is the right thing to do. We stand for our people, and he encouraged us.”

Simpkins presented an Australian flag to the KNDO chief during the ceremony. Speaking to Fairfax on his return to Thailand, the MP justified the use of arms by ethnic groups in their pursuit of a political settlement with the Burmese government, and said he would be reporting on the situation to the Australian Foreign Minister.

The KNDO commander was hopeful that the MP would help influence the Australian government’s foreign policy on Burma.

“As he is a member of parliament in Australia, he has official authority to speak out. And I hope he can explain to his government the situation on the ground when he arrives back in Australia,” Ner Dah Mya. “We are still struggling for our fundamental rights. It is not easy to succeed in our objective without support from the international community. We need support for our demands of equal rights, self-determination, and autonomy.”

Simpkins is a member of the Liberal Party of Australia, the senior partner of the incumbent Coalition government. Before his election to parliament in 2007, he was an officer of the Australian Federal Police and spent 15 years in the army, retiring with the rank of Major.

He has raised human rights issues in Burma several times over the course of his political career, according to the Australian parliamentary Hansard. In 2008, Simpkins used an adjournment debate to denounce the State Peace and Development Council and the continuing house arrest of National League for Democracy chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi.

In recent years, Simpkins has described conditions at refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border to advocate the Liberal Party’s refugee resettlement policies, highlight the human rights abuses facing ethnic minorities in Burma, and question the sincerity of the political and economic reforms initiated by President Thein Sein.

The politician joins the ranks of several other Australians to have become enthralled by the Karen cause. Professor Des Ball, a security expert from the Australian National University, has instructed KNLA in insurgency techniques since the beginning of the last decade. Former Special Air Service soldier David Everett joined the Karen rebellion in 1986, before returning to Perth and committing a spate of armed robberies in the hopes of raising funds for the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Everett was ultimately apprehended and jailed for 11 years.

Aung San Suu Kyi made her first visit to Australia last year, a country which is home to a significant Burmese diaspora. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that over 20,000 people claim Burma as their country of birth, and Burmese nationals were the third highest recipients of Australian humanitarian visas in 2012-13, according to Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Sean Gleeson contributed reporting from Rangoon.