KNU Elects Military Chief as New Chairman

By Saw Yan Naing 21 December 2012

The Karen National Union (KNU) has elected military chief Gen Mutu Say Poe, who is believed to be a pragmatist keen on engagement with central government, as its new chairman to lead the group.

Zipporah Sein, who had been general-secretary, was elected as vice-chairwoman. The KNU has been holding its 15th congress in the Lay Wah area of Hlaing Bwe Township, southern Karen State, since Nov. 26.

Mutu Say Poe replaced outgoing KNU Chairman Tamla Baw, who voluntarily stepped down on Nov. 26, while Zipporah Sein has taken over from David Takapaw.

Karen sources in the Thai town of Mae Sot, Tak Province, by the Burmese border said that the negotiation process between the KNU and government will likely accelerate as Mutu Say Poe is a pragmatic leader keen to build move forward with cementing peace.

Similarly, sources close to the government suggest that Naypyidaw officials will be relieved by the appointment as Mutu Say Poe is seen as someone President Thein Sein’s reformist administration can work with.

Mutu Say Poe enjoys supported from the KNU’s military wing, Karen National Liberation Army’s Brigades 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7, while Zipporah Sein is supported by Brigades 2, 5 and the majority of the KNU’s central committee.

Hla Ngwe, who served as the KNU’s joint-secretary 1, has been replaced by Thaw Thee Bwe. Kwe Htoo Win, formerly chairman of Mergui-Dawei District, Tenasserim Division for the KNU, has now become the group’s new general-secretary.

The 1947-founded KNU is one of the major ethnic armed groups in Burma and has fought a civil war for greater autonomy against the Burmese government for more than 60 years.

Recently, rifts have appeared within its leadership over the peace deal that the group is negotiating with a government delegation led by the President Office’s Minister Aung Min. The KNU signed an initial ceasefire agreement with the government on Jan. 12, 2012.

Following internal disagreements, the KNU dismissed three leaders including Mutu Say Poe on Oct. 2 for violating the organization’s protocol—opening a liaison office in the Karen capital Pa-an without informing other KNU central committee members.

However, the two dismissed members, Mutu Say Poe and Roger Khin, head of the social welfare department at the time, were later reinstated. The third displaced member, former head of the justice department David Htaw, passed away recently and has yet to be replaced.