RANGOON — A Karen activist has accused the chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) of failing to act transparently in overseeing the ethnic armed group’s handling of Burma’s peace process.
“There is no transparency regarding their doings in the peace process and there is not even collaboration among the leadership. We want them to have transparency and sincerity in working for peace,” said Susanna Hla Hla Soe, director of the Karen Women’s Action Group (KWAG).
Twenty-five Karen civil society groups gathered for a three-day conference last week at an area controlled by KNU Brigade 7 in Hpa-an district, bringing together 240 Karen civil society leaders including prominent religious and political figures.
Gen. Mutu Say Poe, the chairman of the KNU, was among the attendees on the first day, Wednesday, but the rebel general did not inform conference participants before leaving early, according to Susanna Hla Hla Soe.
“They skipped [the rest of] our meeting and they did not tell us anything about the reason for skipping the meeting,” she said, adding that the unexplained departure had undermined the conference’s aim, which was to encourage a variety of Karen voices to brainstorm how best to move the peace process forward in Karen State.
“We asked their CEC [Central Executive Committee] about where they had gone, but they did not even inform the CEC about it. It seems to us that only the chairman and his close aides are working for peace. This is not only one time, he has done it other times,” she said, referring to past instances in which Mutu Say Poe had failed to effectively communicate with other CEC members.
She said she accepted that civil society groups would not be privy to some information amid ongoing negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire accord, but the KWAG leader added that a more inclusive approach was needed.
“We would all love to have peace and we support our leaders in pursuit of it, but we want all CEC members to participate in it. We want to suggest this,” said Susanna Hla Hla Soe.
The KNU signed a bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2012, and is part of the 16-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), which is negotiating with Naypyidaw over the terms of a proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement that has proven elusive.
The KWAG director also questioned the KNU leader’s decision to join a separate Rangoon workshop on Saturday, which was attended by a pair of Karen ethnic armed groups that splintered from the KNU, a Shan rebel group and some 20 political parties. In participating, the KNU chairman was creating “too many roads” to peace, she said.
“We civil society groups, we want our KNU to go along with the NCCT. … Our KNU should not create more roads for the peace process, because the NCCT is already there for our ethnic groups. We even worry that people will get confused about what they are doing,” she said.
The KNU leadership further ran the risk of appearing out of touch with the Karen people, Susanna Hla Hla Soe warned.
“There could be a problem if they do not listen to our civil society voices in the future … If they are acting like the military dictatorship, they will not be elected when there is the next [KNU] congress and election because power comes from the hands of the people. This is a very real possibility,” she said.