KNU Seeks Help to Gain Legal Status

By Saw Yan Naing 5 April 2012

The Karen National Union (KNU) has sought support from civil society leaders in the Karen State capital Pa-an to help the group gain legal status, according to local sources.

The KNU, the oldest ethic rebel group in Burma, is officially considered an illegal organization by the Naypyidaw government.

Nang Khin Htwe Myint, the chairwoman of the Pa-an branch of the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that KNU leaders have asked for ideas and suggestions from civil community groups to assist their bid to operate legally.

“They urged Karen community leaders [in Pa-an] to help them to be able to survive as a legal organization,” said Nang Khin Htwe Myint who attended a meeting between KNU peace representatives and civil society groups on Thursday.

“We suggested for them to open an office in Pa-an so that we can communicate with them very closely,” she added. “They said that they are already trying to open one.”

“The Karen civil society community wants us to be a legal organization,” said Naw May Oo Mutraw, a spokeswoman for the KNU peace delegation. “We submitted it to the government and they said they are considering our proposal.”

“As they [Karen civilians] want to officially communicate with the KNU, we asked them to demand it from the government as they have their own rights,” she added.

The KNU leaders, however, did not disclose any details of their political agenda or whether they intended to get involved in mainstream Burmese politics. The peace delegation also met with local religious leaders and the state-level government in Pa-an before leaving for Rangoon.

On Wednesday, the KNU, led by Secretary-General Zipporah Sein, and Burmese government peace negotiators, led by Railways Minister Aung Min, discussed details related to ceasefires such as codes of conduct for troops from both sides, ceasefire monitoring mechanisms and the opening of liaison offices during a meeting at the Zwegabin Hotel in Pa-an.

Nang Khin Htwe Myint revealed that KNU leaders are also going to tell Burmese MP-elect Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the NLD, about their negotiations with the government when they meet the Nobel laureate in Rangoon.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she is ready to help achieve peace in ethnic minority areas, so we are going to learn what plans she has. And we will tell her about our peace talks process and see how we can cooperate together in the future,” said Naw May Oo Mutraw.

“We are happy with the talks [in Pa-an], but we haven’t reached any result. We hope for positive scenario,” she added.

Alan Saw Oo, a Karen politician who works for the Rangoon-based Karen People’s Party, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the KNU peace delegation is due to arrive in the former capital on Thursday evening and will stay at the Sedona Hotel. A welcome dinner will be hosted there which will be attended by Rangoon-based Karen community leaders, foreign ambassadors and diplomats.

Peace talks will then continue on Friday with a press conference held at the hotel in the evening. On Saturday, the KNU delegation plans to meet with more Karen civil society representatives, and then talks with Suu Kyi are arranged for Sunday. The group is then scheduled to return to their base on the Thai-Burmese border on April 11.

The KNU signed a ceasefire agreement with the government’s peace negotiation team in Pa-an on Jan. 12, and so the current discussions form the second round of peace talks aimed at cementing an understanding  between the two parties.

Founded in 1947, the KNU is the oldest ethnic armed group in Burma and has been fighting against central government for greater autonomy since 1949, when it formed its military wing the Karen National Liberation Army.