Myanmar Coup Leader Snubbed by Karen Rebel Leader Over Killing Protesters

By The Irrawaddy 26 March 2021

Myanmar’s oldest and most prominent ethnic armed organization, the Karen National Union (KNU), is refusing to meet with the country’s coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hliang unless his troops stop killing civilians and grant freedom to all detainees arrested following the coup.

KNU leader Padoh Saw Mutu Say Poe says the group will meet the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) leader only when the Tatmadaw implements its demands, reflecting the wishes of people in Myanmar, according to the letter in response to the military dated March 22. Last week the military invited the KNU to hold further talks on the peace-building process.

Prior to the February military takeover, the KNU chairman was known for his warm relations with the country’s military. The rebel group signed a ceasefire deal with the Tatmadaw in 2012 and was a signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in late 2015.

The conditions set by the Karen armed group are likely to push Min Aung Hlaing into a corner. His troops have been struggling to cope with nationwide popular resistance. Since February, more than 270 people have been killed by regime forces across the country.

In the country’s north, an ethnic Kachin armed group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has taken over the military’s strategic outposts and resumed fighting, expressing opposition to the Tatmadaw’s deadly assaults on protesters.

Making matters more complicated, despite its leadership’s peace deal with the military, some KNU troops, like Brigade 5, have never stopped armed engagement with the military.

In his reply, Padoh Saw Mutu Say Poe said the KNU found it “totally unacceptable for the soldiers and police [to engage in a military-style] action, intimidating, attacking and killing peaceful protesters nationwide.”

“Such events have damaged our country’s reputation, and caused great pain and suffering for our people,” the response read.

The KNU urged the military to withdraw riot police squads and troops deployed against the anti-coup protesters, to withdraw troops deployed in the ceasefire areas, to declare a nationwide ceasefire and implement it, and to end its active engagement in politics.

It also urged the military to accept international mediation and a transfer of power to a National Unity Government, a goal set by the ousted National League for Democracy government shortly before last year’s November election.

The group calls for the release of detainees held since the military seized power on Feb. 1 and the dropping of charges against them. Among those detained are the country’s President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Few ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), including the KNU, have publicly denounced the military coup.  However, public pressure has been mounting on the EAOs to shun work with the military and stand with the people. Myanmar has more than 20 EAOs that have held ceasefires talks with the civilian governments in the past nine years.

Following the coup, the military regime formed its new peace negotiation committees on Feb. 17. The central one is dubbed the National Solidarity and Peace-making Central Committee (NSPCC). The peace-making and peace negotiation committees under the central committee are reaching out to the EAOs, including the KNU, in an effort to maintain ceasefires and achieve peace. It also extended its truce until the end of March.

The KNU and some other EAOs have also rejected the regime’s invitation to attend the Armed Forces Day on Saturday, March 27. KNU said they “will only attend ceremonies that reflect dignity, humanity, justice and freedom for all.”

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