CHIANG MAI, Thailand – Karen National Union (KNU) chairman General Saw Mutu Say Poe warned his ethnic compatriots to be careful when participating in political negotiations, saying dialogue was not only more effective but also more dangerous than armed conflict.
The Karen leader made the comments in a written statement distributed to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Karen National Revolutionary Resistance.
He reminded his community that the resistance movement emerged in 1949 after the Karen people and their political activities “were oppressed and violated by force of arms” under the AFPFL (Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League). He recalled that the Karen leaders’ efforts at peaceful political struggle were not recognized and destroyed by repressive means. Thus, he said, the resistance had been necessary in order for the Karen people “to thrive as a nationality like the others, with equality and freedom and equal development.”
Karen National Revolutionary Resistance Day is observed every Jan. 31. On Wednesday, the KNU’s brigades each held commemorations involving their soldiers and residents of the areas under their control. The biggest of these events was held in the area controlled by KNU Brigade No. 5 in Karen State’s Phapon Township, according to KNU general secretary Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo.
“All the Karen people indeed must remember, respect and honor the anniversary of the Karen National Revolutionary Resistance like this always in the annals of history of the Karen people,” the KNU chairman’s statement reads.
After more than six decades of civil war and fighting with the Myanmar Army, the KNU joined ceasefire talks in 2012. That same year it agreed to bilateral ceasefires with the state and then the Union governments, before becoming a signatory to the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
The KNU chairman said the organization had signed the NCA as there is “absolutely no requirement for laying down arms” and it allows the stakeholders to work “for establishing long-lasting and durable peace.”
He added that the NCA represented “the establishment of a new political culture” in which political conflicts are resolved through negotiations and by peaceful means through consultations with every stakeholder.
The KNU remains committed to the resolution of political problems by political means, and negotiating under the NCA “is the most appropriate way” to reach the goal of building a democratic federal union, Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo told The Irrawaddy.
He said, “We may use different approaches to reach our goals as we now are in this ceasefire period and [engaged in the] peace process. It is a long-term process, and we must move forward to achieve it, as we have carried on our struggle for generations.”
The general secretary said the NCA was “a strong and appropriate approach” and a necessary step on the path toward political dialogue, despite public anxiety over its implementation.
He reiterated the need to build mutual trust between stakeholders and extend areas of compromise and negotiation.
“We understand that it may not be easy to reach a common understanding, as we have different perspectives on ideology, federalism and democracy. But we will only achieve it through trust and commitment to negotiation. Success is never achieved easily, especially in political talks,” Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo said.
The KNU has held limited consultations with its people to hear their views. During the KNU’s Central Standing Committee meeting last week (Jan. 23-27), the KNU discussed recent developments involving the NCA’s implementation, of which public consultations, national level dialogues, the Joint Monitoring Committee and interim period issues are all components. It also discussed the upcoming Third Session of the 21st-Century Panglong Peace Conference.
Public consultations prior to the next session of the 21st-Century Panglong conference have yet to be officially conducted in Karen areas, however, after the Tatmadaw blocked similar consultations prior to the Shan national dialogue.