Karen Revolutionary Leader and Peacemaker with Myanmar Government Dies

By Lawi Weng 4 May 2020

A Karen revolutionary leader, Major General Saw Htay Maung, died aged 93 at his headquarters in Kawkareik Township, Karen State, on May 3. His funeral will be held on May 5 at his headquarters in Toh Kaw Koe village, according to his family.

An ethnic Karen, he was born in Pauk Kyaw village, Thar Paung, Ayeyarwady Region, in 1927. He served in the First Karen Rifles before the formation of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in 1949.

He established Karen National Union (KNU)/Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council on Feb. 11 after a split from the KNU in 2007. His armed group signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) along with the KNU and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army in October 2015 with the Myanmar government. He was a leading Karen military leader who fought for freedom through armed revolution, but he did not live to see freedom for his people.

Colonel Saw Kyaw Nyunt from the KNU/KNLA Peace Council told The Irrawaddy that Maj-Gen Saw Htay Maung was a courageous soldier who bravely attacked his enemy as commander of the KNLA Brigade 7.

“He had great fighting experience and knew how to manage an operation,” said Col Saw Kyaw Nyunt.

The colonel praised his commander’s equal treatment of all ranks and his honesty.

Maj-Gen Saw Htay Maung served on the central committee of the KNU and with Brigade 7 from 1970. He represented the KNLA along with the head of the KNU, General Saw Bo Mya, during the first peace talks with Myanmar’s military regime in Yangon in 2004.

He had great respect for Gen Saw Bo Mya, according to a KNU leader, Padoh Saw Th’mein Tun.

Gen Saw Bo Mya before he died in 2006 reportedly told Maj-Gen Saw Htay Maung to continue to negotiate with the regime for peace.

But the message to continue political negotiations was misinterpreted with Maj-Gen Saw Htay Maung thinking he was being told to cooperate with the regime by disarming [a claim denied by the KNLA Peace Council since 2007], Padoh Saw Th’mein Tun added.

“He did not fully understand politics and he misunderstood General Mya’s message,” said Padoh Saw Th’mein Tun.

The military regime also managed to divide the KNLA, he added.

Maj-Gen Saw Htay Maung came from the military wing of the KNLA and did not trust in politics to solve Karen problems.

“Those who deal in politics lack courage and do not dare fight. We have to fight. Unless we fight, our enemy will give us nothing,” Padoh Saw Th’mein Tun quoted Maj Gen Htay Maung saying.

He was reportedly not interested in politics and banned its discussion in his brigade headquarters, saying it was useless.

“I never dared to talk about politics at his headquarters. Some of his informants even tried to listen to us when we discussed politics. He was a fighter and only had experience of fighting. It was sad to see how he disarmed first, before the politicians,” said Padoh Saw Th’mein Tun.

“He would never discuss politics but would have long discussions about military tactics,” he said.

A power struggle within the KNLA followed the death of Gen Saw Bo Mya, leading to Maj Gen Htay Maung’s split from the KNU.

He supported the NCA after witnessing the suffering of Karen communities because of ongoing warfare.

“It was good to have political negotiations to solve armed conflict instead of using force and he was supportive of the peace process,” said Col Saw Kyaw Nyunt.

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