KNLA 4th Brigade soldiers on parrade at Martyr's Day

Talk of Peace Marks 61st Karen Martyrs’ Day

Karen people gathered in the US, UK, Norway, Sweden, Asia, Canada and Ireland and in jungle bases back in their homeland on 12th August, to commemorate their 61st Martyr’s Day. Saw Ehna reports from Karen State.

In a jungle base in Southern Burma, 400 supporters from the Karen National Union’s Mergui-Tavoy District office commemorated the 61st Karen Martyrs’ Day with a military salute for their fallen leaders and comrades.

Saw Kwe Htoo Win, the KNU, Mergui-Tavoy District chairman addressed the people.

“We remember and honor our fallen president Saw Ba Oo Gyi, our leaders, our soldiers and our people who have sacrificed their lives for the Karen people. Their hope was that the Karen people would be freed from oppression, freed as a nation, and have the right to progress themselves like other nations. We who remain will fulfill our martyrs’ hopes.”

The KNU has been fighting against the Burmese military regime for 62 years, the world’s longest running civil war. The initial aim of the KNU was independence, but since 1976 it has called for a federal union.

Karen Martyrs’ Day marked the death of its first leader, Saw Ba Oo Gyi, who was killed by the Burma Army in 1950. Since its inception Martyrs Day has also remembered all the other Karen men and women who gave their lives for the Karen cause.

The KNU’s Saw Kwe Htoo Win said even though Karen people were tired of fighting for so many years it was important to keep striving.

“It has been a long time. It has been hard on our Karen people, our members, our leaders, we are tired, but we remain firm in our struggle. We are not giving up our hope.”

A recent development was a call from pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to broker peace talks between Burma’s ethnic groups and the government.

The KNU, along with the other major ethic groups welcomed and supported Suu Kyi call for Burma’s newly elected President Thein Sein, and the leaders of the ethnic armed groups – Kachin Independence Organization, the New Mon State Party, the Shan State Army the KNU – to hold peace talks to end the conflict in Burma.
Saw Kwe Htoo Win said.

“I believe the KNU supporting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for peace talks is good, it is a pressing need. The 62 years of civil conflict proves Burma’s problems cannot be solved by armed conflict. The KNU’s position is to seek a political solution. We hope that the ruling government will accept her offer.”

Since November 2010 when Burma held its first national elections in 20-years, conflict between the major ethnic ceasefire groups and the Burma Army has broken out in Karen Shan and Kachin States.

The Karen struggle has been boosted by an alliance with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army fighters, who until recently were closely aligned with the Burma Army. The DKBA split after the Burma Army attempted to disarm and dismantle ethnic ceasefire groups. The Burma Army’s intention was to reduce their size and reform the groups as a Border Guard Force and bring them under the strict control and command of the Burma Army.

Col. Saw Ler Pwe, who refused to accept the conditions set by the Border Guard Force, led the breakaway DKBA faction. He was later joined by 1,000 troops led by Major Saw Beeh and at the time of writing the Karen soldiers are fighting together against the Burma Army.

Saw Kwe Htoo Win says the KNU and its members need to analyses the current political situation in Burma, need to update their tactics and adapt political positions to meet the changes. He says it is not easy as the KNU has members with different points of view.

“It is a challenge for our organization, it’s a challenge for all Karen people, we have to keep analysing our organization, our people, our struggle and the world situation correctly. If we don’t it will be difficult to achieve our political objectives.”

Saw Kwe Htoo Win, is regarded by many Karen as a pragmatic and a reformist leader and he is the newly elected chairman of the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC).

“To the outside world, Burma may appeared to have undergone a political change, but inside there was there no change. We need to continue our struggle, we have to cooperate with other ethnic groups and organization inside and outside the country despite our different aims in order to achieve victory.”

Saw Kwe Htoo Win said it is important ethnic people worked together.
“We will struggle together. We have to respect and recognized our differences. We have to respect each other with dignity.”

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