Prominent Karen National Union (KNU) leader David Htaw died on Sunday evening aged 64 in Rangoon’s military hospital less than two weeks after being dismissed by the KNU for alleged collusion with the government.
The former KNU justice department chief is understood to have been suffering from chronic lung disease, diabetes and liver failure.
He travelled to Rangoon for treatment shortly after a controversial trip to the Karen state capital Hpa-an in late September, where a team of allegedly “unauthorised” KNU delegates opened a liaison office in collaboration with the Burmese government.
David Htaw was subsequently dismissed by the KNU’s central leadership, along with Welfare Department chief Roger Khin and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Commander-in-Chief Mutu Say Poe over allegations of misconduct.
David Htaw initially received treatment at the Shwegondaing Specialist Centre in Rangoon and was later transferred to the Defence Services General Hospital in Mingaladon township where he died.
“He fell very ill and went to Rangoon for treatment but apparently only 17% of his lungs were [functioning] and he passed,” said the KNU’s Central Committee member Thamein Htun.
His body was flown back to the KNU’s headquarters in [KNLA] Brigade-7 territory in Thaybayhta, Karen state on Sunday.
While David Htaw’s final weeks were mired in controversy, the leader spent decades in the service of the KNU and was seen by insiders as diplomatic and open to compromise.
“He has completed his pledge to serve the Karen people until death,” said Kawthoolei Lahpoe, joint secretary 1 of the Klo Htoo Baw – the political wing of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army.
“We hope he will rest in authentic peace after fighting for the Karen’s freedom that will also be respected by the Burmese government.”
David Htaw was instrumental in the signing of the historic ceasefire deal between the government and the KNU in January, although General Secretary Zipporah Sein later claimed he was not authorised to sign the agreement.
“As a member of the ENC [Ethnic Nationalities Council] David Htaw was one of the main Karen interlocutors with the international community and gained the respect of many diplomats who met him,” said Burma Campaign UK’s director Mark Farmaner.
David Htaw was born in Rangoon’s Insein township on 10 March 1948. He graduated from Rangoon University with a Bachelors of Art in history. He served in the KNLA’s Brigade-7 from 1978-79 and later worked at the KNU’s central headquarters with the group’s communication, foreign affairs and justice departments. He is survived by wife Naw Jin Jar, two daughters and two sons.
–Naw Noreen and David Stout contributed reporting.