Ethnic bloc hopeful of KNU return

Ethnic bloc hopeful of KNU return

A leader of Burma’s main ethnic bloc, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), said its members are hopeful that the Karen National Union (KNU) will rejoin the group after their sudden withdrawal earlier this week.

“The main reason they revoked their membership was that they had an issue with the structure of the UNFC,” the group’s Vice-Chairman One Nai Hongsa told DVB on Wednesday. “I hope that they will come back and not leave the UNFC.”

KNU Chairman Mutu Say Poe walked out of a UNFC conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Sunday, before the group officially withdrew from the bloc. The KNU was reportedly dissatisfied with the UNFC leadership and power structure, which they claim is too hierarchical and favours certain ethnic groups such as the Kachin Independence Organisation and the New Mon State Party. 

The KNU, a member of the UNFC since it was founded in 2011, submitted a proposal to alter the group’s power structure, which KNU Gen-Sec Padoh Saw Khwe Htoo Win referred to as “a top-down structure where we are expected to hand over our fate to the leadership”.

The core suggestion was a decentralisation of the UNFC’s decision-making body; the KNU recommended creating a political leading body with three to five secretaries and programme committees, as opposed to having a few very powerful chairmen.

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“Most of the members would like to keep the structure as before,” said Nai Hongsa, explaining that most of the UNFC’s member groups think that the KNU proposal could weaken the bloc and cause unnecessary delays in decision-making.

The UNFC said that by the close of their seven-day congress, they had elected 42 council members and 12 central executive committee members, each to carry out two-year terms. Two leadership positions — one vice-chairman seat and a central committee member seat — have been held for KNU representatives, should they choose to rejoin.

The KNU said that they will convene within the coming weeks to decide whether or not they will remain in the UNFC, adding that their temporary suspension of membership will not damage the country’s peace process and that they have no intention of signing onto an early, independent peace accord without the other ethnic groups.

General secretary of the UNFC, Khu Oo Reh, assured DVB that “the KNU is always welcome to come back as a UNFC member.”

The UNFC was created in 2011 as the most recent incarnation of an ethnic coalition aiming to establish federalism in Burma.

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