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Karen leaders vow to press govt on ethnic conflicts

A group of leaders from the Karen National Union (KNU) left for Naypidaw on Thursday for a two-day meeting with President Thein Sein, where they say they will press the government on the escalating Kachin conflict.

The KNU delegation, led by its new chairman, General Mutu Say Poe, was personally invited by President Thein Sein, who is keen to meet the organisation’s newly appointed leadership. Although it is not a formal peace meeting, the organisation has pledged to raise deep-rooted ethnic disputes, including the ongoing crisis in Northern Burma.

“We will raise an issue regarding military offensives – especially the one in Kachin State being stepped up – and we will also discuss how to facilitate a meaningful peace process and political dialogue,” said joint-secretary-2 Mahn Mahn, who is travelling with the delegation.

He is accompanied by the organisation’s new secretary-general Saw Kwe Htoo Win and central executive committee members Mahn Nyein Maung and Saw Hla Htun. DVB understands that vice-chairwoman Zipporah Sein is unwell and therefore did not travel with them.

At its recent congress, the KNU elected a number of new leaders, including Mutu Say Poe, who analysts have described as a pragmatist interested in closer collaboration with Naypidaw. Mutu Say Poe’s appointment came less than three months after he was infamously ousted from the party for opening an unauthorised liaison office in Hpa-an with the government.

Sources in the KNU say that the organisation is still split over how to approach peace negotiations with the government and his appointment has raised fresh concern among the grassroots.

“Some worry that the new leadership might move too quickly,” K’nyaw Paw from the Karen Women’s Organisation told DVB. “It worries people on the ground because even though the Burmese government is talking about peace, they haven’t really committed themselves. Many people at the community level don’t really trust that the government is committed to lasting peace.”

Many are concerned that the government wants to exploit disagreements within the party leadership by forging closer relationships with Mutu Say Poe and his allies. The KNU reportedly agreed on a step-by-step peace plan at last year’s congress, but it will still need to be executed by its new leadership.

“We worry that the Burmese government is always trying to persuade the leaders to move quickly,” adds K’nyaw Paw. “Like now, President Thein Sein is already inviting the leaders to meet with him, so we worry that they are not sincere.”

“On the one hand they are intensely attacking the Kachin people, but on the other hand they want to show that their peace process is working by having a good relationship with the Karen people.”

The KNU is one of the oldest ethnic armed groups in Burma and has fought the government for self-determination for over 60 years. In January last year, the group signed a historic ceasefire agreement with Naypidaw, but the region continues to be deeply volatile, with reports of intermittent clashes and ongoing human rights violations.

– Naw Noreen contributed reporting


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