Karen Anger Over KNU Meeting With Myanmar Regime-Allied Militia

By The Irrawaddy 14 March 2023

A recent meeting between senior leaders of the Myanmar junta-affiliated Karen State Border Guard Force (BGF) and the anti-regime Karen National Union (KNU) has been condemned by Global Karen Solidarity for Change (GKSC), a group of 68 Karen civil society organizations.

Four Karen armed organizations and some 500 local residents met on Friday in Tharu Kyo Village in Karen State’s Hpa-an District. As well as the KNU and the BGF, also present were the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army-PC (KNU/KNLA-PC) and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).

Karen leaders at the public consultation on March 10, 2023 in Tharu Kyo village. /Nawtayar Media

DKBA, KNU/KNLA-PC and the BGF are all splinter groups of the KNU. The BGF is under the control of the Myanmar military, while the DKBA and KNU/KNLA-PC are signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and are currently engaged in talks with the military regime led by Min Aung Hlaing.

Present at the meeting were KNU chairman General Saw Mutu Say Poe, KNU Brigade 7 commander Brigadier-General Saw Phaw Doh, KNU central executive committee member Padoh Saw Thamein Tun and KNU defense department head Padoh Saw Roger Khin, according to Nawtayar News, the media mouthpiece of the KNU/KNLA-PC.

BGF leader Brig-Gen Saw Chit Thu, KNU/KNLA-PC leader Dr. Naw Kapaw Htoo and DKBA leader Brig-Gen Saw Hsan Aung were also at the meeting.

The Irrawaddy’s calls to KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Taw Nee went unanswered.

On March 9, the KNU motorcade driving to the meeting came under a mine attack by unknown assailants while traveling between Hlaingbwe and Paingkyone. Some vehicles were damaged, but the KNU leaders escaped unhurt.

Some locals present at the meeting asked about the potential for a merger between the four Karen armed groups, and also asked about their plans to handle worsening gambling and drug problems in Karen State. Leaders of the four Karen groups did not give clear answers to the questions, said Colonel Saw Kyaw Nyunt, the spokesperson for the KNU/KNLA-PC.

Saw Thu Kabee, the spokesperson of the GKSC, said that despite frequent talks since 2012 on a potential merger the four Karen armed groups have not yet reached any consensus.

“There has been no tangible agreement so far. So the reason why they continue to meet has become a big question to us. Considering the fact that the BGF has been attacking many territories of KNU brigades alongside the junta, it is quite meaningless to hold a dialogue on reunification,” he said.

There is also anger over the fact that BGF leader Saw Chit Thu is presiding over the Shwe Kokko new town project in Karen’s Myawaddy Township, which has become notorious as a hub for gambling and criminal gangs from China.

“KNU leaders meeting with such controversial figures and posing for photos with them, while not giving any specific promises to the people, will only tarnish the KNU’s political image,” said the GKSC spokesperson.

There have also been calls for the KNU leadership to resign over the crime-ridden so-called new city project of KK Park, near the village of Maw Hto Talay in an area controlled by the KNU’s Brigade 6 in the north of Myawaddy Township.

KK Park has become a hub for human trafficking and online scams. Victims have been lured from Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia by offers of high-paying jobs, but have been forced to take part in online scams and subjected to torture inside the prison-like park, according to people who have managed to escape.

Last November, a public consultation on the potential reunification of the four Karen armed organizations was held for the first time in a village in the KNU Brigade 7-held Hlaingbwe Township.