KNU 16th Congress – The Final Stage

The current 16th Karen National Union (KNU) Congress entered its final stage from the first week of April, 2017. Election of new leadership that will take office for the next four years start tomorrow, on April 6.

During the previous weeks, representatives debated several issues before an agreement and understanding could be reached. These issues include the Burma Army’s militarization of Karen State and changes made to the KNU’s constitution.

In the first week of the Congress, leaders of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) brought up the militarization and the ongoing advancements of the Burma Army into KNLA areas that are a threat to the current ceasefire agreement and peace process.

General Saw Kler Doh, a representative from KNU’s Brigade 5, told Karen News that the Burma Army has not altered its stance regarding its military tactics, and further commented that current peace process is not going as how the ethnic group want.

“The peace process that has been taking place is not taking into account the needs of the ethnic groups, and they are being pushed to accept the direction of the government. As for us who fought for equality and self-determination, we need to analyse our work and draw up a future plan that reflects our goals.”

General Saw Baw Kyaw Hae, Vice Chief of Staff of the KNLA, remarked the need to analyze the activities of Burma’s military in order to clearly understand their objectives.

“For the KNLA, it is important to put in context and analyze the activities of the Burma Army. The role of the military is to protect and uphold the 2008 constitution and at the same time to continue the peace process. Thus, it is important for us to analyze all the past, present and future activities of the Burma Army for all our leaders to know and understand, in order for us to lay down the right plan for the future.”

Concerning the ceasefire agreement, one area of weakness that was brought up was the lack of preparation and clarity in the political discussions. General Saw Kler Doh told Karen News, “From my point of view, our leaders who are in dialogue with the government, need to make clear points. The conditions and activities prior to the ceasefire agreement need to stay the same during the ceasefire agreement. It is not the time for the government to advance their administration in our areas. After we both negotiate the right conditions for a genuine federalism and accept the respective rules and policies, we can come to an agreement to work together with a federal government, and live in our respective states.”

The General Secretary of the KNU, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win, mentioned similar issues but was confident to overcome these challenges, “Firstly, we never had a ceasefire nor discussed politics while we were in a 60-year-long revolution. Most of us who fought during the revolution were only trained in military tactics, not in political matters. However, this isn’t a weakness that can’t be overcome. We can definitely overcome it as we have the knowledge and the people to work together with.”

In revising the KNU constitution to reflect the changing political situation in Burma, Saw Kanae Mi from the International Karen Organization told Karen News that satisfaction was expressed due to the active and open discussion of the constitution, which did not happen in previous Congresses.

During this situation of change, KNU leaders acknowledged the lack of capacity needed to fill the new positions for each department, but Padoh Kwe Htoo Win stated his confidence in recruiting more people, as the political changes have seen an increased number of people willing to participate and engage politically. One major change made was the increase in the number of standing committee members from 45 to 55, Padoh Kwe Htoo Win told Karen News.

“Now, since the situation has changed and we have more work to do, we need more committee members. We will also try to have 30 % of women in this committee. Moreover, we set the minimum number of women participation down to the district and township level.”

Padoh Kwe Htoo Win further remarked that this is not a new path for the KNU, and the need to be prepared for the upcoming challenges.

“The KNU has a certain mindset. There are political and ethnic obstacles that we have to solve. We have to be prepared with specific goals.”

Election of new leadership is scheduled to take place tomorrow. The KNU 16th Congress started on March 14, 2017 at Lay Wah in Pa-an District, Karen State.

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