Tatmadaw Using Ceasefire to Gain Upper Hand, KNLA Deputy Chief Says

By Lawi Weng 24 April 2018

Ethnic Karen need to adapt to new threats from the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw), according to the deputy chief of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), who accused the Tatmadaw of violating the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

In an interview with the Karen Information Center, General Baw Kyaw Heh said the Myanmar Army had exploited the ceasefire in order to infiltrate areas under the control of the KNLA’s Brigade 5.

“I want to urge our ethnic Karen to look back to our past, our history, our identity, and our political experiences. We need to change our ideology. We need to prepare and bravely confront what we have to face. There are challenges we can avoid, but there are those we cannot. If we act, we will definitely secure our rights,” the general said.

Under the terms of the NCA, signatories agree not to reinforce troops, create new battalions, engage in major troop movements, or transport supplies to battalions.

However, Gen Baw Kyaw Heh said, the Tatmadaw had not only done these things, but had in fact deployed and moved more troops since the agreement was signed.

“They have quite clearly taken advantage of the ceasefire as part of their effort to move into our areas of control. Some people may think their movements are normal, but it is the opposite. To me, it is easy to see the moves they have made since the ceasefire,” he said.

He said the Tatmadaw had launched an operation against the KNLA’s Brigade 5. This was not a conventional operation, he said, adding that the Tatmadaw had a plan to attack the KNLA and he was concerned about this.

The aim of the NCA, Gen Baw Kyaw Heh said, was to build trust between the KNLA and the Myanmar Army by avoiding clashes and confining their troops to their bases. But it now appeared that these were empty words, and that the Tatmadaw was just pursuing its own military agenda, he said.

“Whether we have a ceasefire or not, they just act according to their plan. They have a preset agenda,” he said.

Military tensions remain high between the KNLA’s Brigade 5 and the Tatmadaw, following repeated clashes recently. About 2,000 Karen IDP have fled villages in Brigade 5-controlled areas.

The last round of proposed peace talks between the KNLA and the Tatmadaw collapsed when the latter’s condition that the commander of Brigade 5 join the talks was not met.

The Karen National Union, the political wing of the KNLA, has been an active participant in the peace process, working with the National League for Democracy-led government and the Myanmar Army. The KNU was also a leader among the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in signing the NCA and working to advance the peace process. So why did the Tatmadaw now want to make problems for the KNLA, as a signatory to the NCA, peace process observers asked.

EAOs have lost trust in the Myanmar Army, according to the observers, many of who now believe the process has stalled amid Tatmadaw offensives against the Kachin, Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Karen, and other armed groups.

“The EAOs have lost trust in the [Tatmadaw]. They have tense relations with the army. It seems the army is looking to get the upper hand in terms of military power amid the tension,” said Maung Maung Soe, a Yangon-based ethnic affairs analyst.

However, neither the EAOs nor the Tatmadaw seek to abandon the peace process entirely, Maung Maung Soe said, adding that some of the EAOs still plan to attend the upcoming Panglong peace conference.

“It is important that peaceful solutions can be found at this conference. If not, the peace process will be set back,” he said.