On the occasion of Karen Martyrs’ Day on Friday, the chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU)—whose military wing is Burma’s longest running ethnic armed organization—reminded the group that military preparations must still be carried out amid ongoing political negotiations.
Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the KNU, said in a statement that while KNU leaders are negotiating political issues through peaceful means, military leaders must remain prepared in the case of an attack by the Burma Army.
“In order to protect ourselves from the attacks of military bullies, there must still be preparations while we attempt to solve political problems peacefully,” said Mutu Say Poe.
“Because we are a liberated nationality, it is our duty to protect our people from danger. Nothing can stop us,” he said.
Friday is the 66th anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day, the day when the charismatic Karen leader Saw Ba U Gyi and his comrades were killed by the Burma Army in a remote village in Kawkareik Township.
The event is celebrated every year on August 12 by Karen people both inside and outside of Burma, to commemorate the fallen leaders and soldiers of an armed struggle that began more than six decades ago.
Mutu Say Poe said that leaders and soldiers had sacrificed their lives for the Karen people to be liberated from oppressors and able to live in peace and with dignity. Despite decades of conflict, the chairman stressed that the rights Karen people and other ethnic minorities have not yet been realized.
“Karen people, as well as other ethnic minorities, do not fully receive the rights of freedom, equality and self-determination in accordance with the law. These basic rights need to be granted in the Constitution. It is necessary to achieve these rights in political negotiations,” he added.
In attempting to achieve its objectives during ongoing political negotiations, the chairman noted that the KNU faces challenges regarding unity, cooperation and leadership.
“KNU leaders and members, along with Karen people, should build unity in an effort to achieve the expectations and goals that our martyrs sacrificed for,” he said in a statement.
The KNU signed a ceasefire agreement with the previous quasi-civilian government in 2012 and was one of the eight ethnic armed groups that signed last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
The KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), is one of the longest-running armed organizations in Southeast Asia, and has been struggling for autonomy since 1949. Karen Martyrs’ Day is remembered by Karen people around the world as one of the key events in their long struggle for autonomy.
Born in 1905 in a village in the Irrawaddy Division, Ba U Gyi studied and practiced law in England for several years before returning to Burma and becoming involved in the Karen Central Organization in 1942. He became a cabinet minister in the Burmese government, led by the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League, in 1946.
He was later involved in the Battle of Insein—a conflict predominantly between Karen rebels and the Burmese government that lasted more than 100 days.
Ba U Gyi laid down four principles that the KNU still use as guidelines for armed struggle today. Those principles are: surrender is out of the question; the Karen State must be recognized; we shall retain our arms; and we shall decide our own political destiny.