Why Is the KNU Ready to Abandon the PPST?

By Lawi Weng 31 May 2019

The Karen National Union’s (KNU) proposal to form a Peace Process Consultative Meeting (PPCM) will collapse the current peace process in Myanmar, some peace observers believe.

The KNU proposed forming a PPCM at a meeting of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Chiang Mai on May 14. Such a meeting would bring together all members of the Federal Political Negotiation Consultative Committee (FPNCC)—a large political bloc of powerful EAOs based in the north of the country—strengthening their position in political negotiations with the Myanmar military and government. But some observers feel the KNU would be better served by continuing to work through the Peace Process Steering Team (PPST).

Khun Okkar, for one—a leader from the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), which is a PPST member—told The Irrawaddy recently that the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and peace process will be destroyed if the KNU form a PPCM.

But the KNU reportedly believes the PPST does not have the capacity to successfully negotiate with the Myanmar military and sees no other alternatives to overcoming the current deadlock in peace talks.

Several PPST members oppose the KNU circumventing the Steering Team—the organization officially recognized by the Myanmar military—by creating a PPCM. Smaller armed groups, who do not have the forces to fight the Myanmar military on their own, are particularly opposed to the idea. Worried that the move could collapse the peace process entirely, they urged the KNU to continue with the current negotiations. They fear a collapse would leave them ill-prepared and facing battle.

The Myanmar military does not want to see ethnic armed groups united into a single force—a long-standing position of theirs.

For instance, the EAOs that comprise the Northern Alliance—a bloc of FPNCC members that includes the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA)—were members of the United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of opposition groups, until the Myanmar military announced it would no longer negotiate with the AA, TNLA and MNDAA.

If such experiences suggest anything, it is that any attempt by the KNU to bring all EAOs together is going to provoke reactions from the Myanmar military, who are unlikely to negotiate on such terms. So why would the KNU try this?

The KNU has been a very active participant in the peace process and a key player among EAOs. They signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar military in 2012, and even State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi thanked KNU leaders for cooperating and actively working with her government toward peace.

That means that, between 2012 and 2019, the KNU has had seven years to prepare their troops for battle. While the KNU continued to fight through political means after the ceasefire, they readied themselves to fight by other means, too. They’re not worried about the peace process collapsing; they’re able to fight.

Income from dark mining operations in areas under their control have generated good income, particularly for the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Brigade 6, in the Three Pagodas Pass area near the Thai-Myanmar border, where up to a hundred cars transport zinc across the border every day, to be sold in the town of Kyainseikgyi in Kayin State. The KNU also mines gold in areas controlled by KNLA Brigade 4. All of this income funds their fighting forces.

Speaking off the record, some EAO leaders said that while the KNU can play politics, they are also ready to fight.

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