KNU in Bid to Reunite Karen Splinter Groups

By Kyal Pyar 18 March 2013

The Karen National Union (KNU), one of the oldest ethnic armed groups in Burma struggling for a greater autonomy, said it has formed a committee to focus on the reunification of all Karen armed forces.

According to KNU sources, the “Committee for Reunification of Separated Karen Armed Groups” was formed after the recent KNU Central Committee meeting held in late February and chaired by Maj-Gen Saw Johnny, the commander-in-chief of the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Naw Zipporah Sein, the vice-chairman of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy that although the KNU has used the term “reunification,” it does not know exactly how the complicated process will evolve.

“We have to work on different levels whether those splinter groups will be reunited under the KNU banner or working together with the KNU as a coalition,” said the KNU vice-chairman. “Most of them seem to accept the KNU’s policies and stance.”

Apart from the KNU, there are a number of Karen armed groups operating in Karen State including the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), KNU/KNLA Peace Council, the Border Guard Force (BGF) and Karen Peace Force (KPF).

Naw Zipporah Sein said even though the groups were separated from the KNU and hold different political goals, they all have the same key objective as the KNU: equality and self-determination for all of the Karen people. Due to the division and territorial demarcation between Karen armed groups, local people have suffered leading to the recent decision to push to unite the paramilitaries, she said.

In the past, the KNU reportedly formed a similar committee but failed to bring all breakaway groups together. However, according to Saw Johnny, the current committee formed will prioritize Karen national issues and avoid the details of troop deployment.

“We all are Karen people so we must be united in the moment of truth,” said the KNLA commander-in-chief, adding that those groups were fighting with the KNU in the past.

The DKBA split from the KNU in 1994 and stood on its own for 16 years. In 2010, the DKBA faction led by Col Saw Chit Thu agreed to operate under the control of the government army and transformed itself into a border guard force with three battalions. Another faction led by Brig Gen Saw Lah Pwe, however, continued to fight as the DKBA.

Naw Zipporah Sein said it will be “difficult” to reunite with troops led by Col Chit Thu, because they are now under government command.

In a statement released after its first conference, the DKBA said it considers the KNU its mother organization.

The KNU/KNLA Peace Council was founded in 2007 by Maj-Gen Htein Maung, the former commander of the KNU’s Brigade No. 7. The KPF, led by Saw Thamu Hel, was formed in February 1997, after it split from the KNU Sixth Brigade.