KNU Rebels ‘Will Not Turn Back on Peace Process’

By Zarni Mann 7 January 2013

RANGOON—The new Karen National Union leadership said on Monday that it was committed to building up trust with the Burmese government in order to make the peace process a success, adding that its recent meeting with President Thein Sein marked another step towards this goal.

“We are still suspicious of each other, but this is due to the long years of fighting… However, on our part we are trying our best to build up [mutual] trust, as trust is very important in peace talks,” said Mahn Nyein Maung, an executive member of the KNU’s central committee.

“We will try our best to struggle for peace and will not turn back on the peace process,” he said, adding that during the 60-year conflict “many people have died and many suffered the consequences of civil war… we don’t want any more suffering.”

The KNU leaders were speaking at a press conference in Rangoon, where they had met with representatives of Rangoon’s Karen community.

On Friday, the KNU leaders met President Thein Sein, who had invited the new leadership to Naypyidaw. KNU General Secretary Kwe Htoo Win said the meeting had been a formal occasion to introduce the new Karen leadership. The old leadership had met with Thein Sein last year.

In December, a KNU congress elected Mutu Say Poe as chairman, Gen Saw Johnny as military chief and Kwe Htoo Win as general secretary. The three are regarded as pragmatic and have good relations with the government’s peace team.

Kwe Htoo Win said the KNU was satisfied with the progress under the current peace process, which began following the signing of a cease-fire in January 2012. Ethnic Karen rebels have fought a decades-long armed struggle to demand greater autonomy and basic rights.

Kwe Htoo Win said the KNU raised a number of points with Thein Sein, such as its concerns over the escalating conflict in Kachin State, where government forces have recently launched airstrikes on Kachin rebels.

“If there is still war in Kachin State this relates to the peace process with the Karens too,” he said, adding that a comprehensive peace agreement involving all ethnic groups was required. “If we really want countrywide cease-fires and peace, we should talk and negotiate with every group. Only a cease-fire with one side will not work,” Kwe Htoo Win said.

The KNU general secretary said the group would neither accept the 2008 military-drafted Constitution and has no intention to transition into a political party until the Constitution is amended. The KNU also wants to be accepted as a legal organization while remaining political prisoners should be released, he added.

The President’s Office said on its website on Saturday that Thein Sein and the KNU leadership had discussed “the continuation of peace talks, the cease-fire, liaison offices and regional development tasks.”

The president was “committed to bringing about lasting peace during his term, expressing his confidence that the KNU would share the same stance,” according to the statement, which noted the KNU’s concern over the Kachin conflict.

The statement made particular mention of the need to bring foreign investment and development projects to Burma’s ethnic regions in order to create jobs, once peace was achieved.

(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)