Myanmar’s oldest and most powerful ethnic armed organization, the Karen National Union (KNU), has resumed its congress to elect a new central executive committee after a two-year delay.
The 17th congress was postponed for over two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the military coup. A virtual congress opened in late February but stalled. The congress resumed on Monday.
A KNU source confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the congress was being held but declined to give details.
The first day of the congress on Monday was attended by all the leaders from KNU’s seven districts and seven brigades. However, since then leaders from KNU Brigade 2 and Brigade 5 have been absent for reasons not yet known, the source said.
“The congress will continue because the quorum can be met without Brigades 2 and 5,” he told The Irrawaddy.
KNU Brigade 5 leaders also failed to attend the virtual congress in February.
In an exclusive interview with The Irrawaddy earlier this month, KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Taw Nee said: “We have been holding [the congress] since February, and it is not yet finished. There are difficulties, so we are discussing and negotiating within our group. We are also negotiating with civil society organizations and holding talks with [KNU] districts that have problems.”
Junta forces have used infantry, air and artillery strikes in areas controlled by KNU Brigades 1, 3, 5 and 6, displacing 365,187 residents, according to the KNU human rights and research department’s December report.
Meanwhile, some KNU leaders are accused of having ties to Chinese criminal gangs. Global Karen Solidarity for Change, a group of 68 Karen civil society organizations, has called on the entire KNU central executive committee to resign over their alleged involvement in the so-called KK Park new city project, in a KNU Brigade 6-controlled area in the north of Myawaddy Township near the Thai border. The Chinese-owned KK Park has become notorious as a hub for human trafficking, prostitution, and online scams.
The KNU is also riven with factions. Saw Nerdah Mya, the former chief of a KNU armed wing, the Karen National Defense Organization, broke away and established the Kaw Thoo Lei Army in July last year.
The KNU’s chairman General Saw Mutu Say Poe is now 90, and recently received treatment for high blood pressure in Thailand.
Political observers say the new leadership that will emerge from the ongoing KNU congress will have a crucial impact on the country’s Spring Revolution against the Myanmar military. The Irrawaddy’s calls to Padoh Saw Taw Nee went unanswered.
The KNU held its 16th congress in 2017. The congress takes place every four years.