General Baw Kyaw Heh: Ethnic Groups Have to Stay Strong and United

In an exclusive Interview with Karen News, General Baw Kyaw Heh, Vice Chief-of-Staff of the Karen National Liberation Army, question the potential of Burma’s new government to wrestle power from the country’s military elite.

General Baw Kyaw Heh, the Vice Chief-of-Staff of the Karen National Liberation Army told Karen News that ethnic people had placed their faith in Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League of Democracy to deliver real political change in Burma.

“People hope that the new government will be a good change for all the ethnic nationalities in Burma. That is why they voted for them [the NLD].”

General Baw Kyaw said that winning government was the first step, now will come the hard part, turning the massive ballot win into positive political change.

“Aung San SuKyi won the election, but she cannot change everything as she would want to. She wants to change the Constitution but she cannot change it. It is very difficult for her to do what she wants – we can only have hope from her. They [the NLD] have to implement the will of the civilians because the civilians supported voted for] them. The will of the civilians and ours [Karen] are the same, so now we will have a better chance.”

General Baw Kyaw said 60-plus years of military dictatorship will take time to undo.

“It is not going to be easy for the new government [to make changes]. The old government systematically planned everything for 20 years, such as structuring its military governance step-by-step, right down to the village level, and their policy of one blood, one voice and one order has taken root. They have firmly planted it.”

General Baw Kyaw told Karen News that the military will plan on conceding just minimum changes to keep people confused that real changes are happening.

“I think the Burma military government will only transfer limited power [NLD] to make it look good on the surface. They will not give [complete] power that enables the new government to do as it wants. They will power transfer to a certain level in order to calm the condemnation or complaints, but they will keep the important power in their hands. Maybe if Aung San Su Kyi’s government and the people struggle harder for more changes, then they will slowly and gradually give up power little-by-little.”

General Baw Kyaw said that despite the difficulties confronting Suu Kyi and the NLD he still retain some hope.

“We do not have much hope that we will get our rights from this new government. But we are not without hope, we have a little bit of hope and we will have to fight for it. What I am saying is that the old government cannot keep a strong grip on the power like before. If they do, the situation could be worse than that in 1988 [uprising]. So, the old government will have to loosen its grip on power slowly, bit-by-bit and. They will have to try to adjust themselves [to changing situation]. They have to try, and we have to try [to make changes]. The old government can’t stand strong as it did in the past, they will have to make changes. This does not mean that Aung San Suu Kyi has no chance, she does.

For us, we do not lose our goal, we still have hope. If we look at this struggle, all the three sides [the KNU, the old and new government] have to do their duties, only then we will have change.”

General Baw Kyaw confirmed to Karen News that he was willing to cooperate with the newly elected government.

“We have to think of how we can cooperate with the new [NLD] government, I think we have to cooperate with all of them.”

General Baw Kyaw was quick to point out that the ethnic groups have to remain strong and united as it was their best chance to win a share of the political power.

“We also have to think about cooperation with the ethnic groups that did not sign the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement] – how to be strong in politics and prevent our defense from getting weaken while we are having political dialogue. Otherwise, we will not be respected. We have to understand each other, work together hand-in-hand on a military front as well as cooperate with each other politically to have the same united voice at the dialogue table. We have to think of those who have been left behind, even though we have progressed. We must march forward together with unity – many heads are better than just one. We cannot act separately. We cannot act separately like we did under the old government. We have to think of how to take our opportunity with this new government.”

General Baw Kyaw said that despite the election win the new government would have to wary of the influence of ‘power brokers’ from the military backed previous U Thein Sein led government.

“The new government still has to work together with people from the old government. We also have to think of how to deal with a government that mixes with the old and the new politicians. We have to be careful and go forward step-by-step and be well prepared.”

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