KNU Chief: Myanmar Junta Must Change Before Talks Can Start

By The Irrawaddy 12 August 2021

Karen National Union (KNU) leader General Saw Mutu Sae Poe said dialogue will be fruitless unless Myanmar’s military regime has the political will, three months after he publicly supported talks with the junta.

“So long as there is no political will for dialogue to resolve the problems, it is impossible to place our hope in dialogue,” said the general in his address to 71st Karen Martyrs’ Day on Thursday.

The death of Karen revolutionary leader Saw Ba U Gyi, who was murdered by Myanmar’s military on Aug. 12, 1950, is commemorated annually. Saw Ba U Gyi founded the KNU, one of Myanmar’s prominent ethnic armed groups.

Mutu Sae Poe called the Feb. 1 coup a major setback and terror, atrocities and killings have followed despite KNU calls for a peaceful solution. “For that reason, we have to act in defense of our land and the lives and homes of our people while keeping the door open for dialogue,” he said in his address.

A senior member of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the KNU, which has been fighting the regime, said Mutu Sae Poe’s statement is already out of date.

“It appears that he has only dimly realized now that dialogue no longer works,” he said.

In May, the KNU chairman urged stakeholders to hold negotiations to solve Myanmar’s crisis, prompting huge criticism, including from the Karen community. He said the KNU would continue negotiations and uphold the principles of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

The statement came after Myanmar’s military launched airstrikes on civilians from late March to early May in retaliation for attacks on military outposts by KNLA Brigade 5.

Political analyst U Tin Maung Than, who is in the US, said political will is important because dialogue cannot be completed in one sitting.

“There will be huge challenges if there is no political will. It is a game the two sides are playing in ASEAN. We’ll see which side can take the most out of it,” he said.

He said the KNU still wants dialogue, given Mutu Sae Poe’s speech. “If you reject dialogue, you will suffer because you will be viewed by the international community as being rigid. You will be at a disadvantage before the game starts,” said U Tin Maung Than.

A political analyst based in Myanmar, who did not want to be named, said the KNU chairman has changed his tone because his call in May for dialogue with the regime drew criticism.

At the time, some KNU leaders backed Mutu Sae Poe’s statement. KNLA’s Brigade 5, which has fighting the military regime, however, told The Irrawaddy that it viewed the general’s statement as his personal opinion and not an order, saying that it would continue to fight.

“He said he would stick to the NCA, but others think the NCA is no longer practical. So there are pressures on him, especially from inside the KNU,” said the Yangon-based analyst.

Myanmar’s crisis has reached a stage beyond which dialogue can solve, he said. “The military council’s persecution continues today and there has been armed resistance across the country. The military council has no will for dialogue and democratic forces do not pin their hopes on it. Fighting will continue,” he said.

Myanmar’s military and ethnic armed organizations, including NCA signatories, have not been able to hold official peace talks since the February coup. NCA signatories have only been able to meet online due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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