Ethnic Issues

Myanmar’s Oldest Armed Group the KNU Elects New Chairman

By The Irrawaddy 3 May 2023

Myanmar’s oldest ethnic armed organization the Karen National Union (KNU) elected Padoh Kwe Htoo Win as its new chair on Tuesday. He was formerly vice-chairman.

The KNU’s first congress in four years started on April 24 as a hybrid meeting. Padoh Kwe Htoo Win succeeded 91-year-old General Mutu Say Poe as the 10th chairman of the KNU. The general was barred from standing for re-election under the KNU’s charter.

The KNU’s new 45-member standing committee was elected on Monday. Other key positions including the vice-chairman, general secretary, two secretaries and chief justice were scheduled to be elected on Wednesday, according to a KNU source.

Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, an alumnus of Yangon’s University of Economics, served as the KNU Brigade 4 chairman from 1990 to 2012. He was elected general secretary of the KNU at the 15th congress. The KNU holds a congress every four years to elect new leadership.

As the KNU general secretary, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win attended the signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement between U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and the KNU in October 2015. He was elected KNU vice-chairman at the organization’s 16th congress in 2017.

KNU Brigade 2, and KNU Brigade 5 didn’t participate in the voting to choose the new chairman and didn’t put up any candidates to stand for the position.

Officials of KNU Brigade 5 had suggested that the congress should be held only after a probe into allegations that some KNU leaders are involved in the China-backed KK Park in Karen State’s Myawaddy Township, close to the Myanmar-Thailand border, which has become notorious as a hub of human trafficking and online scams since the 2021 coup.

However, the KNU central executive committee continued with the congress, although it has named five senior members who are allegedly involved in the operation of KK Park.

Some Karen political observers alleged that Padoh Kwe Htoo Win might be involved in the so-called new city project, although he is not on the list issued by the central executive committee.

A Karen political observer who asked for anonymity said: “What we are concerned about is that [KNU] leaders who gave the approval for the [KK Park] project might be re-elected to the new leadership. If that happens, they won’t do anything to probe the allegations. It will cause a lot of complications to the relationship between KNU Brigade 5 and the KNU central body. If brigades no longer have trust in the leadership of the central body, it can cause other problems.”

In February, 68 Karen organizations from around the world sent an open letter to the KNU, calling for the entire central executive committee to resign for failing to punish certain KNU leaders who are involved in the KK Park project.

The KNU’s administration is made up of 14 departments including defense, home affairs, justice and forestry. It has three armed wings: the Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Defense Organization, and Karen National Police Force.