KNU Postpones Upcoming Congress

By Saw Yan Naing 10 November 2016

The Karen National Union (KNU) decided on Thursday morning to postpone its 16th Congress until around March next year, reliable sources within the organization told The Irrawaddy.

The congress—which elects new members of the KNU’s Central Standing Committee—takes place every four years and was slated to commence on Nov. 21.

“Some leaders wanted to postpone [the congress] while others wanted to hold it,” said a participant of a Central Standing Committee meeting in KNU headquarters in Hpa-an District’s Lay Wah on Thursday, on the condition of anonymity.

“It is no problem. If we postpone, it won’t be for long—probably until March next year,” he said.

Another KNU source confirmed that the congress will be postponed for between three and six months due to the current political situation.

The sources told The Irrawaddy that those in favor of postponing the congress were worried that electing new leaders—who do not have established relationships with the government and the Burma Army—would disrupt the peace process.

There are also different approaches to the peace process among the KNU leadership. The majority led by KNU’s chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe favor a speedy peace process without consolidating the KNU’s ceasefire agreements.

Other leaders—including vice-chairwoman Naw Zipporah Sein—however, want to first consolidate the ceasefire agreement and then move forward cautiously with the peace process.

Some commentators have suggested that the current leadership wish to cling to power to maintain their approach.

The participant of Thursday’s meeting who spoke to The Irrawaddy downplayed this concern and said that “there won’t be a big change or a total U-turn in the peace process under a new or old KNU leadership.”

Karen civil society organizations have voiced concern over any postponement of the congress, saying it is against democratic practices.

The KNU signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the previous Burmese government in 2012 and a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015. It participated in the Union Peace Conference, also known as the 21st Century Panglong Conference, in late August this year.

Founded in 1947, the KNU is Burma’s oldest ethnic armed organization fighting for autonomy and is one of eight ethnic armed organizations to sign the NCA with the previous government.