Unity or disunity – are Karen groups joining forces?

Unity or disunity – are Karen groups joining forces?

A statement purporting to be jointly signed by all the major Karen armed groups claims that the Karen National Union (KNU) has agreed to reunify forces with old foes the Karen Peace Council (KPC) and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) in the face of intimidation and attacks by the Burmese army.

Dated 13 October and supposedly signed by representatives of the KNU, KPC, DKBA and Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO), the joint statement says the respective groups have “unanimously reunified as the Kawthoolei Armed Forces, or KAF”.

“The Burma military (Tatmadaw) troops have been intimidating, disarming and attacking, on flimsy excuses, the ethnic armed organisations, which have signed ceasefire agreement[s] with the government, and arresting the personnel of the ethnic armed organisations and the innocent civilians, on a wide scale,” the statement read.

“Though the peace process has been going on for over three years, instead of achieving the expected progress, we plainly see that the Burma Army has been doing trust-wrecking activities.”

The newly formed KAF said it will “carry on the struggle in cooperation with forces at home and abroad, until the emergence of lasting peace and a democratic federal union, and the achievement of victory.”

The joint-statement appeared to carry the signatures of the vice commander-in-chief and commander-in-chief of the KNU armed wings Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and KNDO, respectively, although no names were specified. The DKBA’s commander-in-chief Maj-Gen Saw La Bwe and KPC strategic commander Col Tiger are listed as co-signatories.

DVB has been unable to confirm if the statement is endorsed by all leadership arms of the armed groups mentioned.

The KNU has shown cracks in its leadership in recent months; at a meeting of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) on 31 August, delegates were stunned when several KNU representatives, led by Commander-in-chief Mutu Say Poe, walked out of the conference, complaining about the lack of independence for each party within the ethnic bloc.

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The following day, KNU Vice-chairperson Naw Zipporah Sein – who had also attended the summit, but who did not join the KNU faction that walked out – wrote to the UNFC apologising for the group’s behaviour and promised that the KNU will resolve the issues among themselves.

Speaking to DVB on Tuesday, Zipporah Sein said the KNU is implementing a policy to reunify all Karen ethnic armed groups that was laid down at its 15th congress, but refused to comment any further.

“The KNU congress laid out a policy to reunify all Karen armed groups, and that policy is being implemented,” she said.

However, KPC [also referred to as: KNU/KNLA-Peace Council] senior commander Saw Naga Lay said the group did not acknowledge the statement and that it did not reflect the opinion of their leadership.

“We do not know who posted this statement on the internet – we have never floated such an idea, and did not approve anything like that,” he said.

On 28 May, various Karen militias formed a committee to negotiate a potential unification of Karen armed groups.

Col Nerdah Mya, commander-in-chief of the KNDO, said the issue of the KAF statement will be discussed at the committee’s upcoming meeting.

“Whether DKBA or Peace Council or KNLA – it is necessary for all of us to have a unified Kawthoolei Army,” he said. “We believe that there should ultimately be only one Karen army.

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