Thein Sein Calls KNU Leaders to the Capital

By Saw Yan Naing 3 January 2013

Top leaders from the Karen National Union (KNU) traveled to Naypyidaw for a meeting with President Thein Sein on Thursday, according to KNU headquarters.

The five-member group was led by the KNU’s new chairman, Mutu Say Poe, who was elected during the organization’s recent congress. He was accompanied by Kwe Htoo Win, the newly elected general secretary, as well as joint secretary Mahn Mahn and other leading members Mahn Nyein Maung and Saw Hla Htun.

The group went to the capital at Thein Sein’s request and will reportedly stay for two days, according to KNU sources. The peacemaking program will be on their agenda, the sources said.

The KNU, a political organization of ethnic Karen people in Burma’s southeastern Karen State, has been meeting with government peace negotiators after agreeing to a ceasefire with the government last year, following a decades-long war for greater autonomy and basic rights.

Former KNU leaders went to meet Thein Sein in Naypyidaw last year.

Missing from the group’s male-led delegation this week is KNU vice chairwoman Zipporah Sein.

KNU sources say the organization’s leaders are still beset with internal conflicts about whether to take a hard or soft approach during peace talks, though the group claims to have settled its differences.

Some KNU top officials said they would keep a close watch on newly elected KNU leaders, perhaps suggesting a formal division into two factions if the new leaders focused too heavily on business projects and development rather than a political settlement.

“The KNU leadership is now in a shaky condition,” one informed source said. “Some [leaders] are already in the government’s pocket.”

Gen Saw Johnny, commander-in-chief of the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), said the delegation in Naypyidaw would probably discuss the peacemaking program.

Reports are circulating that government troops are preparing for an offensive against the KNLA’s Brigade 5 in northern Karen State, after the brigade banned them from conducting gold mining and other businesses in rebel-held territory.

The KNLA’s Brigade 5 is the strongest of the armed group’s seven brigades, with an estimated 1,500 troops. It is led by Lt-Gen Baw Kyaw Heh, who is now deputy commander-in-chief of the KNLA.

Baw Kyaw Heh is a well-respected commander who has expressed doubts about the peacemaking process, and some observers have described him as a hardliner.