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The funeral of Gen. Saw Tamla Baw, a highly respected Karen leader and elder statesmen of the independence movement, was held on Monday and attended by more than 1,000 people from the Karen National Union (KNU) and various ethnic armed groups.
Tamla Baw, 94, passed away on 26 June. A well-respected revolutionary, he was the former leader of the KNU before he retired in 2012 after leading an armed struggle against the Burmese military government since 1949.
Sasha Htoo Waw, joint chief of staff of the KNU’s military wing, said that the funeral began at 9:30am at its Thay Bay Hta military headquarters. Karen refugees from camps in Thailand along the Karen State border were in attendance, as well as representatives from ethnic armed groups, including the Shan State Army South, the Arakan Liberation Party, and the United Nationalities Alliance, an armed group coalition.
“First, the KNU leaders read out an obituary and honorary statements about the deceased, and then funeral rites were heard. Then his body was carried to the gravesite in a military procession,” Sasha Htoo Waw said.
He added that the legendary revolutionary will be remembered for his role in uniting various ethnic armed groups in their resistance against the Burmese military rulers.
“He will be remember for his work to bring about unity among various armed groups and the KNU,” Sasha Htoo Waw told DVB. “For example, he defused tensions with the [All Burma Students’ Democratic Front] when they first joined the revolution.”
“For the new generation, there is a lot to learn from him.”
The Burmese government’s chief negotiator during peace talks, Aung Min, sent a letter of condolences to Zipporah Sein, daughter of Tamla Baw, on behalf of the government on Friday.
“We are saddened to hear that your father, General Saw Tamla Baw, passed away on 26 June, 2014,” a letter signed by Aung Min said. “The passing for General Saw Tamla Baw, who solemnly served his duties as the Karen National Union chairman and commander-in-chief of the Karen National Liberation Army, was not only a huge loss for the family, but also for the KNU.”
The European Karen Network – an organisation that brings together Karen people and refugees in Europe — also sent their condolences to the KNU and the general’s friends and families.
“The passing of General Saw Tamla Baw is a great loss for the Karen people and the whole of Burma,” a statement from the Network said. “He was a strong and fearless leader who dedicated his life to the struggle for self-determination, democracy and freedom, not just for the Karen, but all the people in Burma.”
“General Saw Tamla Baw did not live to see peace and freedom for his people. But his spirit of hope and peace will remain with us, and the struggle for self-determination, freedom, equalities and democracy will continue,” it said.