KNU Vice Chairman’s ‘Tight Schedule’ Upsets Karen Community in Canada

By Saw Yan Naing 5 June 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Members of the ethnic Karen community in Canada—most of whom are refugees from the civil war in Burma—are disappointed the Karen National Union (KNU) vice chairman Padoh Kwe Htoo Win will not visit them on his tour of the country, according to an activist.

Padoh Kwe Htoo Win and other leaders of ethnic armed organizations, such as Lian Sakong of the Chin National Front, Khun Myint Tun of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization, and Sai Leng of the Restoration Council of Shan State are touring Canada from June 3 to June 10 to study its federal system.

Hsa Moo, a Karen activist who works with the Karen community in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, told The Irrawaddy the community wants to hear the KNU vice chairman clarify the group’s stance on Burma’s on-going peace process.

“The Karen community in Canada feel [Padoh Kwe Htoo Win] does not have time for them. They want to hear from him and know about the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in particular—about what the benefits of the NCA are for the Karen people,” she said.

She added that the community would like an assurance of the safety of refugees on the Thai-Burma border who she claimed are under pressure to return their homes in Burma despite the militarization of the KNU-controlled territories in Karen State. The community wants to know how the KNU and Burma government plan to safely repatriate the refugees, she added.

Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be in the country from June 5 to June 9 to meet Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other officials before traveling to Sweden.

Burma’s ethnic communities in Canada, including the Karen, plan to hold a peaceful demonstration in Toronto on June 9 while the State Counselor visits the city.

“They will ask for rights for ethnic minorities,” said Hsa Moo, adding that the ethnic groups will also question Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s plans for refugee repatriation.

The protesters will raise concerns about militarization in Karen State and growing pressure on Burmese refugees in Thailand to return home because of cuts in humanitarian aid, according to the activist.

The EAO leaders plan to visit the cities of Toronto, Ottawa, and Quebec. In a letter written by the KNU vice chairman’s assistant and seen by The Irrawaddy, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said he could not meet the Karen refugees in Canada because of a “tight schedule,” but that the EAO leaders were “open to a visit and small discussion.”

“You might also hear that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is coming to Canada and her government members will be joining this study trip,” read the letter. “However, she has her own schedule and I don’t want to speculate if she will be traveling with the team or not.”