The Irrawaddy

KNU says UPC should be postponed until differences on security sector clarified

KNLA soldiers at a military parade.

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The Karen National Union agrees with the position of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, that the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference should be postponed until differences over the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement between the government, Myanmar Army, and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) are resolved.

KNU Secretary Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo told The Irrawaddy that both the political and military branches of the Karen revolutionary group had agreed to this stand, as clarification of the security sector issues is needed before progress can be made in other areas.

The concerns of the EAOs arose after a representative of the Myanmar Army, or Tatmadaw, said in a November joint review meeting that security sector re-integration was the same thing as the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process, an interpretation that the EAOs could not accept.

“During our NCA text drafting, the then nationwide ceasefire coordination team [NCCT] and the former Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) agreed to overhaul the security sector re-integration topic as it is broad and it would take more time than we had,” Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo said.

“So basically, we would have to discuss this topic thoroughly after the NCA was signed. Now the Tatmadaw has offered an interpretation that security sector re-integration is the same as DDR. So we have to reflect on this,” he said.

The KNU chairman has maintained a regular relationship with Army commander-in-chief Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing over the past five years and they met most recently on Nov.20, 2017.

The KNU secretary said his senior leaders (chairman Gen. Saw Mutu Sae Poe and vice chairman Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win) had talked about security affairs and shared their recommendations during the meeting.

“Our vice chairman suggested the army chief not yet use any of the expressions, either DDR or security sector reforms (SSR); until both sides have thoroughly shared their opinions on the terms and definitions,” he said.

The KNU said the hurried convening of the 21st Panglong peace conferences had also led them to reconsider their participation.

“We accept the UPC as always, but we don’t want to face a similar experience in the future, given that the last UPC dragged on just to show that it was held,” he said.

The principles in the first part of the Union accord signed at the May 2017 UPC are too shallow and broad, with many from the 2008 military-backed Constitution, thus the KNU secretary said questions remain as to whether the process should continue like that.

Another concern is the Tatmadaw’s obstruction of the public consultations and prior consultations for the Shan national-level political dialogue (ND) in December 2017, which led the Restoration Council of Shan State to suspend the Shan ND in Langkho (Linkhay). Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo reiterated that the importance of holding public consultations had been agreed with the government in advance.

In order to overcome these hurdles, the eight EAO leaders have been discussing approaches to solve these issues in Thailand this week.