Karen Armed Groups to Form United ‘Kawthoolei Armed Forces,’ but Questions Remain

A statement released by members of the different Karen armed groups laid out plans for the major Karen armed organisations to form a united Karen force, the Kawthoolei Armed Forces (KAF).

The statement spoke on behalf of the four major Karen armed organisations, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council.

The agreement was co-signed by General Baw Kyaw Heh, the KNLA’s Vice-Chief of Staff, General Ner Dah Mya, Chief of KNDO, General Saw Lah Pwe, DKBA’s Chief of Staff and Colonel Saw Tiger, Tactical Commander for KNU/KNLA – PC’s border security and development tactical command.

General Ner Dah Mya, Chief of the KNDO, also acts as a spokesperson for the KAF, spoke to Karen News about the statement.

“At the moment, there are so many Karen armed groups and in the future it would be good if we are under one group – the KAF. We have had a lot of discussion among our groups. We reached an agreement to go under the umbrella of the KAF. Having many groups does not look good in the eye of international community.”

The statement cited recent attacks by government forces as a reason was reached to unite.

“The Burma military troops have been intimidating, disarming and attacking, on flimsy excuses, the ethnic armed organizations, which have signed ceasefire agreement with the government, and arresting the personnel of the ethnic armed organizations and the innocent civilians, on a wide scale,” the KAF statement said.

“For that reason, in order to be able to protect the long suffering people, we have to reunify the Karen national armed resistance forces.”

The KAF statement made a sweeping pledge to follow the four principles of Karen national hero and former head of the KNU, Saw Ba U Gyi, but failed to go into specific details left many questions unanswered. Some questions include who would lead the KAF, what chain of command would be put in place to control the different member organisations, if the KAF had the full backing of each organisation, and what political organisation, if any, they would represent. At the time of writing, Karen News was waiting for responses to these questions.

Gen. Der Nah Mya admitted that although the groups had agreed to go together militarily, it has yet to reach agreement on who will take the political lead and added that there was need for further discussion on among the groups.

Following the KAF statement, the KNU’s Defence Department, that comprises both the KNLA and KNDO, put out a statement on October 14, reaffirming that both organisations still come under the political leadership of the KNU.

The Karen armed force reunification agreement co-signed by KNLA’s Vice Chief of Staff and the KNDO’s Chief was solely out of their individual consent, the KNU said.

The KNU’s Defence Department statement also said that according to its policy laid down in its 15th Congress, the KNU is working toward the reunification of Karen armed forces and the KNLA’s Chief of Staff – General Saw Johnny – is leading the implementation of the reunification.

Similarly, the headqaurters of the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council issued a statement on October 14, sacking Colonel Saw Tiger from its organization. The statement claimed that Tactical Commander Colonel Saw Eh Kaw Htoo, also known as Saw Tiger, had repeatedly broken military rules and failed to follow orders from headquarters.

Members of the KAF have fought each other in the past as bitter foes. The DKBA fought with the KNU/KNLA for more than a decade following a split in 1995, when it joined the government side. A large portion of the government led Border Guard Force (BGF) currently fighting in Karen State against the DKBA are also ethnic Karen.

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