The sentencing of Karen National Union leader, Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung, to a life sentence has the potential to derail government peace talks. KNU officials claim they were given assurances by government representatives that Mahn Nyein Maung would be freed as part of the ceasefire discussions.
The Karen National Union leader Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung was sentenced to life plus three years on March 13th at a court inside Burma notorious Insein Prison.
Speaking to Karen News, Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung’s lawyer, U Kyi Myint said his client was sentenced under Article 17/1 and 122/1 by the acting judge, U Hla Win at 12 pm on March 13.
“Article 17/1 is three years and 122/1 is life. They combined the sentences. He was sentenced at about 12 pm by U Hla Win, judge of court in Northern Insein district.”
The KNU had been led to believe at the recent ceasefire talks that the government would release Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung as an act of goodwill towards building trust in the current peace process. Now many observers are concerned the jailing and the severity of Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung sentence and as his lawyer, U Kyi Myint, points out that it will have a negative impact on the peace building process.
“The government claims they are trying to build peace and they have signed preliminary agreement with the KNU. During this peace building time, the government by harshly sentencing a senior leader of the KNU – I think there will be consequences that will hurt the peace process.”
U Kyi Myint says Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung still has the right to appeal within 60 days.
Naw Wah, Mahn Nyein Maung’s wife, told Karen News that the news of the severe sentence given to her husband had deeply saddened her.
“I am upset. He (Mahn Nyein Maung) is not young now. I want him to be freed. I also want the KNU and the government to discuss his release when they hold their talks. If they can get him released, our family will be very happy.”
Major Saw Hla Ngwe, joint secretary of the KNU, said the sentencing Mahn Nyein Maung at this time is not a positive action by the government. Major Saw Hla Ngwe said that the sentencing and jailing of Padoh Mahn Nyein Maung raises lots of questions about the government’s commitment to the peace process.
“They [government] said that they wouldn’t bring him [Mahn Nyein Maung] to court. If they can’t even keep their promise with this case, how will they keep their promises on political and military issues or other national reconciliation related issues?”
Major Saw Hla Ngwe said that even though the government is talking ceasefires, at the same time the government is sending more troops, supplies including munitions and food to their soldiers in KNU controlled areas. Major Saw Hla Ngwe said government troops are still committing human right violations and if they continue like this, national reconciliation might be step too far.
Khu Oo Reh, secretary of Karenni National Progressive Party said that the government sentencing Mahn Nyein Muang to a life sentence was by far too harsh.
“While the government is trying to build peace with ethnic nationalities, they should have compromised. Not only with Padoh Mahn Nyeing Maung case, but with all other political prisoner, the government and the President should use their power to a grant amnesty or at the very least reduce the sentences.”
Government representatives, led by Railway Minister U Aung Min, promised to release Mahn Nyein Maung at the ceasefire meeting with a KNU delegation on January 12 in Hpa-an Town.
The KNPP’s leader, Khu Oo Reh, warns that if the government keeps doing what they want and ignore what the KNU want, the current KNU and government negotiation process could stop.
Padoh Mahn Nyeing Maung is a central executive member of the KNU and also a member of the ethnic alliance, Untied Nationalities Federal Council that has 12 ethnic armed groups as its members. Chinese immigration officials in Kunming arrested Mahn Nyein Maung on July 2011 while he was traveling on a Burmese passport. He was deported him back to Burma in August, where he has been held in jail for document forgery.
He was charged with article 468 and immigration act 13/1 sentenced to 6 months. He was later charged again under articles 17/1 (connection with an illegal organization) and 122/1 – high treason.
In 1967, Padoh Mahn Nyein Mung was jailed and charged with political related crimes and sent to Ko Koe Kyun detention camp – a notorious island in southern Burma in the Andaman Sea. Padoh Mahn Nyein Mung escaped with two other prisoners by crossing the sea in a small boat but he was later arrested again. He has written and published a book about his experiences – Against the storm, crossing the sea – under his pen name of Ye Baw Shoune.