Na Kham Mwe: "we will pay with our lives"

On the occasion of Karen Martyrs day, DVB caught up with the leading dissenting voice against the Burmese military government’s Border Guard Force (BGF).

After most commanders in the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) accepted the controversial BGF which will see ethnic armies assimilated into the SPDC fold, one colonel refused the deal which would be a death knell to the DKBA and seemingly their dream of Karen autonomy, despite promises to the contrary from the SPDC when they joined them in 1994; his name is Colonel Na Kham Mwe a.k.a. Saw Hla Bwe.

Here he scuppers rumours that he will rejoin his former comrades in the Karen National Union (KNU) who the DKBA split from in 1994 yet describes the cynical reasoning of most of the DKBA commanders and strikes a defiant note on the anniversary of the death of the great Karen fighter and leader, Saw Ba U Gyi, who was killed by Burmese forces 60 years ago today:

Why are you against the BGF transformation?

Because it is not a genuine BGF. The transformation will give us legitimacy, however we cannot look for just our own self-advantage – there is no positive outcome or freedom for the people and the Buddhist religion. We are the people’s army and we were born from the people. For this life, I look forward to just working for philanthropy.

What do you mean by ‘philanthropy’?

Freedom and benefit.

We have learnt that all the other DKBA brigades have agreed to the BGF transformation. What is your view on them?

They [other DKBA commanders] have prioritised their own self-interest. They already had so much wealth and so many possessions, yet they agreed to the BGF transformation as they looked for more self-benefit and advantages.

What is the fate of those who transformed?

They are no longer DKBA. They are now BGF units that follow orders [of the Burmese Army] and carry no authority by themselves. However, the transformation is good for their own self-interest.

We heard the DKBA flags in the brigades that transformed are being replaced with Tattmadaw [Burmese army] flags. Can you confirm this?

That is correct. The DKBA flags and the Sasana [Buddhist] flags are being taken down at their checkpoints and replaced with the military flags. This makes it obvious even to children how very little freedom and authority is given to them.

What do you do next? Will you still stand as the DKBA or re-join the KNU?

We will just stick with the DKBA – to serve and protect the people and the Sasana. We will never betray that.

You were part of the DKBA since it was formed in 1994. What was the initial aim?

To protect our people’s lives, prosperity and the Sasana.

And how close are you to that goal after 15 years?

It turned out that most [DKBA members] were just looking for self-profit rather than to follow the direction set by the Sayadaw [Thuzana, influential Karen Buddhist monk revered by the DKBA] to serve the livelihood, freedom and benefit of the people and the development of Buddhism.

What did the Burmese Army offer for the BGF agreement?

They offered to pay our [brigade] 20 million Kyat per month and business deals and advantages plus a house and a car for me.

What will you do when the Burmese Army attacks you?

We will not attack them first. Sayadaw told us to love all creatures not only just people. It’s easy for us to fight but we don’t want to kill. But we will have no choice but to fight back when they attack us.

What will you do the Burmese Army turns the now-BGF DKBA forces against you?

Then we will pay with our lives to protect our people and the Sasana.

What is Sayadaw’s view on the BGF?

He wishes to see unity among all people. He doesn’t like what has happened but there is nothing he can do.

What developments have there been in economy, livelihood and security, in DKBA territories over the past 15 years?

Better roads and communication, and more business freedom. There are a lot of developments.

What kind of damage or impact do you think will be inflicted to these developments if there is fighting due to your defiance on the BGF plan?

There will still be a lot of damage and suffering inflicted upon the livelihood of the people if we transform. We would rather die fighting than see our people suffer.

Is there any chance you will re-join the KNU?

We will not re-join the KNU however; our [Karen] blood will tell when time comes. Our goal is not only focused on Karen people but the people of all ethnicity in the Union.

What do you want to say to the Karen people and the people of Burma regarding your decision with the BGF transformation?

I want to tell them that we have made a truthful stand by all people of Burma. I’m not afraid to die in this life but I am afraid to see the people in suffering – this is the whole reason for my stance.

Any message from you for the Karen people on the Karen Martyrs’ Day?

This is about our people and the freedom. Keep the honesty and look for the good of many but not only for self-prosperity, as Saw Ba U Gyi’s [KNU founder] ideology espoused.

Any message to former DKBA comrades?

I would like to tell them to balance out rights and wrongs in the path they are taking, and to re-think carefully and focus on the good of the people.

Any message for the senior general Than Shwe and other SPDC leaders?

Don’t look only for the good of oneself and one’s family but look for the good of the whole country and the people and do honest work to bring about peace and justice.

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