In an exclusive interview with Karen News, General Baw Kyaw Heh, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and is its second highest commander explained his concerns about the current peace building process with the government and why he thinks the recent ceasefire focus is now on business and not on peace.
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh, a former Karen Special Forces officer is highly regarded by his soldiers as a tough but disciplined military commander. Gen Baw Kyaw Heh is the former head of the KNLA’s Brigade 5 and is renown within the Karen community as a ‘cleanskin’ – someone without the baggage of having conflicting business interests. Karen villagers in Mutraw District spoke highly to Karen News of General Baw Kyaw Heh’s commitment to their security and wellbeing. General Baw Kyaw Heh’s denied to Karen News that his position on the ceasefire with the government is too harsh.
“I would like to say that everyone wants peace. I want peace. There is no joy to be taken from making war and fighting each other. People claim I don’t want peace and I am hardliner. I am not a hardliner, I
want peace and I try to find the best and most acceptable way that we can build peace together. I am determined to support and to achieve the right peace process that will benefit my people.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh points out that the KNU and the government, despite the two years since the signing of the ceasefire, that it is still only at the preliminary stage.
“We agreed that we would discuss a ceasefire as the first step. The second step is how we are going to implement the ceasefire. We have talked on several occasions to try to develop a ceasefire code of conduct. The third step has to be political dialogue. The final stage will be to discuss the development process.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh hit back at his critics within the KNU who claim his tough stance is destabilizing.
“People claim I am a hardliner and I am not following the plan – this is because the process is not going as planned. If we are to achieve a sustainable ceasefire we have to discuss it. But the [ceasefire] discussions have been stopped and business development and other issues have taken over the agenda. At the same time the government is expanding their administration areas – overlapping with our administration territory. And the government is taking advantage [of the ceasefire] by carrying out its military activities and by preparing its military.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh stresses that now is not the time for businesses or developers to be pushing their investments in Karen State.
“Businesses want to come to our areas, but we ask them not to as this not the time, it is still too early. First we need to create a sustainable situation. Because of this issue some people claim I am hardliner and not cooperative. I am concern about these issues, because if we don’t have rights that are guaranteed and if we let any business or any developer in, we will not be able to control them. If
we cannot manage these issues systematically it will create problems for us in the future.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh said the international community in its haste to accept the ‘new’ Burma it did not take the time to properly understand the ceasefire conditions.
“The whole world knows we made a ceasefire with the Burmese government, but they only know the surface appearance. On January 12, 2012, we only agreed with the government that we [KNU} would hold talks for a ceasefire. Both sides agreed to discuss about its military affairs, the repositioning of Burma Army troops in our controlled areas, trust building in relation to military affairs, how we would implement the ceasefire and when we would start the political dialogue necessary for peace. But the international community understood that we reached a ceasefire agreement and soon after the Burmese government started to implement their business development plan. The government also started using the term that we have returned to its ‘legal fold’.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh points out that the government has benefitted by the ceasefire talks by reinforcing its military presence in Karen State.
“For over a year now the Burma Army has taken advantage [of the ceasefire], they continued to transported their military supplies, rotate their troops, modify and fortify all of their bases. They also
built and repaired their helipads. In Mutraw district alone, since the cease-fire, the Burma Army has created 14 new military bases.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh said that the KNU has to be ultra vigilant at this time as he fears the government will use any excuse to accuse the Karen of breaking the ceasefire.
“Now we have to be careful as they will try to blame us that we broke the ceasefire or that we don’t’ want the ceasefire to work. The government will try to create misunderstandings, for example, we told
them that in some areas their soldiers should not travel [without prior permission], but they did not listen, this is provocative. We have since learned that soldiers were actually ordered by their [Burma
army] command to go to all the places that we warned them not to travel to. This was done to provoke our troops so they could blame us [KNLA] for breaking the ceasefire. Now the Burma Army is increasing
its military activities in different regions.”
Gen Baw Kyaw Heh told Karen News that the government should obey the conditions of the ceasefire agreement and talk to the KNU prior to sending its soldiers into Karen communities.
“The government should discuss military affairs thoroughly with us, and lay down its plan in order for the ceasefire to be on track. The government should remove some of its frontline military camps in an
effort to create more trust with us. They [government] should not increase the size or troop number of its military bases or fortify its frontline military camps in our controlled areas. This will demonstrate that they are not preparing for future military activities. They should show their sincerity for peace building, and
show how we can co-exist within a joint administration. These are the issues that they should be working hard on in these early stages.”