Interview: KNLA Out of Patience with NCA – Demands Government and Military Takes Civilian Concerns for the Removal of Troop and Army Bases Seriously

The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement was flawed from its inception and its critics point out in five years it has produced nothing but frustration. Against this backdrop of constant failure, the Karen National Liberation Army has voiced its dissatisfaction about the NCA in an official statement.

On December 1, 2020, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union issued a statement expressing its impatience with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement inability to get anything done, especially military related matters.

In an exclusive interview with Brigadier General Tamala Thaw, the KNLA G1, explains why it was necessary to release a statement.

Q- Can you tell us what made the KNLA issue a statement?
A – Even though we have signed the NCA, there has been no implementation, particularly, of the NCA Chapter 3 and Article 25 of Chapter 6. None of these issues – ceasefire areas, deployment of troops, the common definition of some terms used in the NCA, and the avoidance of using the public spaces mentioned in the NCA as military outposts or encampments – these have never been discussed.
The lack of discussion of the interim period in the NCA Article 25 of Chapter 6 has led to a decline in trust. In the bilateral meeting of KNU and the Myanmar government in 2012, there was a KNLA proposal for the relocation of military bases from civilian areas and troop routes to be moved. We have been waiting for this to happen for more than eight years now, but so far no action has been taken, so it leaves us in a state of despair. This has been seen as giving the military a huge advantage in the ground – trust has now been further eroded.

Q – What are key issue stated in Chapter 3, Chapter 4 and Chapter 6 of Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)?
A – The military issues are included in Chapter 3, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) issues are included in Chapter 4 and the Interim Period issues are included in NCA Article 25 of Chapter 6.

Q – What has the JMC achieved since the signing of the NCA on October 15, 2015?
A – The JMC is supposed to mean joint monitoring. But in reality, it is like an institution. The Karen National Union considers the JMC as a Monitoring committee. But it seems that the Tatmadaw is using JMC as a Military Committee. The role of local civilian monitoring, including the CBO/CSO, to carry out the actual monitoring work is fading. Besides, the KNU feels that it is just a one-sided complaint mechanism that cannot carry out effective monitoring without any clearly set guidelines. The KNU wants the JMC to be reformed.

Q – The KNLA statement points out, rather than reducing its soldiers in ceasefire areas, the Burma Army has expanded its forces. Could you explain more about that?
A – In some places, Tatmadaw (Burma Army) increased their camps and its forces. For example, the forces under 8th Military Operations Command (MOC-8) in Thoo Mwe Hta of Manerplaw areas has almost doubled in size. Before the ceasefire there were only about 120 front-line troops in each [Burma Army] battalion – now there are around 200 soldiers in each battalion. As the number of forces increase, so does the number of military camps.

Q – The KNLA statement also warns that if the Tatmadaw does not comply with the set rules, the KNLA would take actions for its security, does this mean fighting will resume?
A – The statement did not say that fighting would resume. Skirmishes are normal while the ceasefire agreement is not strong. The KNU is trying to strengthen the ceasefire. It is imperative to establish a ceasefire area as mentioned in the provision of the NCA. There must be no troop movements for territorial control. With the withdrawal of military bases in civilian areas, there is no reason for fighting and if this is followed, the trust of the Karen people will improve and the ceasefire will be strengthened.

Q –Is it the KNLA’s call for all military bases/camps in villages to be withdrawn by the end of 2020 achievable?

A – As we are soldiers, we no longer speak indirectly. We have to say exactly what we want. But negotiation will have to take place.

Q – What were the recent developments regarding further negotiations?
A – On February 19, 2020, the meeting between the KNU and the Tatmadaw agreed on the discussion format of Chapter (3) and Chapter (4) of NCA, the 4 steps of discussion and the bilateral meeting. The discussion format of the Chapter (3) and Chapter (4) of the NCA was agreed in the meeting between the NRPC and the Ceasefire Strengthening Negotiation Team of EAOs, which was held on June 22, 2020. It now only needs to have timeframes and the actual implementation scheduled. There are still issues that need to be negotiated with the government. On November 22, 2020, the Vice-Chairperson of KNU wrote a letter to the chairman of the Tatmadaw’s Peace Negotiation committee, Lt. Gen. Yar Pyae about the implementation of the agreements.

Q – In the meantime, there are still armed clashes in Karen state. What can the KNLA do to help civilians live a life free of physical and emotional fear?
A – The main thing is to have the ceasefire strengthened. Then, it needs to prove to the civilian that the ceasefire is strong. No civilians want a military base near them. For example, on July 16, 2020, two soldiers from LIB 409 under MOC-8 stationed at Hla Gun Pyo (Kho Thwee Hta) shot and killed Naw Mu Naw from Poe Lo Hta Village, and they also stole her earrings and necklace. The civilians in this areas have called for the withdrawal of military bases near their villages.
During the preliminary ceasefire between the government and the KNU, the KNLA called for the relocation of military bases so civilian would not be intimidated.

Q – Finally, even though the statement is addressed to the current government and the new government, it also focuses on the military, and for the government to have a better peace process?
A – The peace process is led by the government. Therefore, the government cannot claim the ceasefire is not relevant to them. In the past, the government considered themselves only relevant and interested in the political process, and the military to the ceasefire process. This meant there was a gap between the processes – the government needs to be involved in the whole peace process if it is to have a chance of working.

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