KNU Rejects Military’s Claims It Extorts Civilians, Denies Launching Attacks

By Nyein Nyein 28 January 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—The Karen National Union (KNU) has denied allegations by the Myanmar military that it is extorting money from civilians, and rejected the Army’s characterization of clashes between it and government troops as an effort to expand its area of control. Separately, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) issued its own rebuttal of the military’s recent claims against EAOs, saying it did not accept the terms of the military’s four-month truce.

The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) included its complaints against the KNU in a statement released Friday in which it accused ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) of burdening the public by continuing to recruit and extort civilians and expand their territories. In addition to the KNU, it mentioned all of the EAOs based in northeast Myanmar, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army, Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army North, Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army South and Pa-Oh National Liberation Organization. It accused them of destabilizing the region and violating the terms of the truce.

It said these activities were occurring not only within the five military commands covered by the military’s four-month truce in the north and northeast, but also in three commands close to KNU-controlled areas in the south.

Specifically, the Tatmadaw said the KNU was extorting money from civilians in areas under the military’s Southeast and Coastal Commands, and had launched mine attacks against vehicles carrying government troops under the Southern Command, near an area controlled by the KNU’s Brigade No. 5 last week. The Tatmadaw urged the KNU to strictly follow the principles of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

Separately, KIO leader General Gun Maw responded to the Tatmadaw’s claims in an open letter to all EAOs published on Sunday. He urged any EAOs that agreed to the terms of the Tatmadaw’s truce to abide by it, but added, “For the KIO, we agree with nothing [proposed by the government or Tatmadaw], even after our last informal talks with the NRPC on Jan. 21. We [only] agreed to hold further talks.”

The KNU released a statement on Saturday saying that the organization was fighting for equality and self-determination, and had long enjoyed the support of its people. It said the group obtains financial “support from the public in the areas [it] controls in accordance with set regulations to manage the security and development of the people in their areas.”

Thus, the KNU said, “The Tatmadaw’s accusation of extortion against the KNU is a violation of Article 5 (b) and (f) under Chapter 3” of the NCA. Article 5 (b) prohibits signatories from assaulting or insulting each other either directly or indirectly. Article 5 (f) requires signatories to refrain from aggressive propaganda and false or defamatory statements or speech that could undermine the dignity of the organizations.

The group suggested that more thorough discussions were needed to reach a common understanding of the NCA’s principles, in order to avoid further allegations and finger pointing. It said Article 25 (a) of the NCA clearly allows the EAOs to implement security and development arrangements in their respective ceasefire areas, and says these will have to be implemented through further negotiations between the signatories. The KNU has pushed for those negotiations to be held, but the Tatmadaw and the government have declined to do so, citing the need to discuss demarcation issues.

The KNU said the anti-vehicle mine attacks were the result of a failure to hold negotiations to avoid further military engagements, despite the fact that the KNU has proposed negotiations on troop deployments in the area since September 2012.

KNU general secretary Padoh Saw Tadoh Moo said in remarks posted on the group’s Facebook page that the current clashes were due to troops on both sides engaging in movements without providing prior notification.

He said, “We think troops in these areas are concerned whenever the other side crosses a set boundary, and it leads to clashes. We must resolve this issue. It arises because we have different interpretations of the NCA and are not yet able to hold talks on avoiding troop engagements.”

The KNU general secretary said the group welcomed the Tatmadaw’s formation of a Negotiation Team and said it would meet the team soon, following the commemoration on Jan. 31 of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Karen revolutionary movement.

The KNU announced a temporary withdrawal from the formal peace process in October last year, but has held informal talks with the government’s Peace Commission twice since then, in November 2018 and mid-JanuaryAt the most recent talks, it agreed to hold further meetings with government and military leaders.