KNU Still Wants Talks with Military to Settle Standoff After Meeting Postponed

By Nyein Nyein 3 April 2018

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Karen National Union (KNU) said it will keep trying to negotiate with the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, to end a recent standoff after the Tatmadaw postponed a scheduled meeting last week.

The KNU sent its military affairs negotiation team to the meeting, which was recommended by the Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee (JMC), but pulled it back after the Tatmadaw refused to attend, said KNU General Secretary Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo. He said the Tatmadaw called it off because the commander of the KNU’s Brigade 5, stationed in the area of the standoff, had not been invited.

In a statement released on Monday, the KNU said the commander was not a member of its negotiation team and that a Brigade 5 major who had been sent to the meeting was.

The negotiation team was formed in 2016 to deal with military disputes but has yet to have any formal talks with the Tatmadaw, Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo said.

The seven-member team is led by Brigadier General Saw Eh Kulu Thein of the KNU’s Brigade 3. He who is also vice chairman of the Bago Regional JMC.

The latest fighting began in early March when the Tatmadaw moved into an area of Karen State claimed by Brigade 5 to rebuild an old road. Some 2,000 ethnic Karen have fled the fighting.

The KNU has asked the Tatmadaw to withdraw so that they can return home, and Karen community elders wrote to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for help last week.

“The standoff goes on, but both sides are trying to keep their troops from further engagement,” Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo said.

“It is important that both sides’ military delegations discuss the issue,” he added.

On the JMC’s Facebook page, Major General Myat Kyaw, commander of the Tatmadaw’s Southern Command and chair of the Bago Region JMC, was quoted on Saturday as saying that the standoff was “just a misunderstanding because the Tatmadaw is rebuilding the road started in 2008 for administrative purposes only, not for military operations, and there was no deployment on the hills along the road.”

The KNU says it cannot allow the roadwork and that the Tatmadaw should only enter the area with prior permission.

“It should not be continued while the KNU and the government are at the stage of building trust,” said Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo.

The Tatmadaw usually says that all disputes with ethnic armed groups should be settled by the JMC. The KNU says the JMC lacks the authority to make the necessary decisions because it is mandated only to monitor and verify ceasefires.