Padoh Saw Hla Tun, KNU joint secretary said they have to be careful – armed soldiers taking part in peaceful protests could provide a justification for violent response from the military.
“We have to be careful confronting arms with arms. Civilians could be targeted. We are involved in negotiations for people to be allowed to protest and to able to exercise their freedom of expression.”
Armed Karen soldiers seen among marching anti-coup protestors in the Kawkareik Township in central Karen State and shared on social media suggested Karen soldiers are providing security for protestors. There were also media reports, citing the social media posts, that the KNU soldiers were protecting protestors.
Padoh Saw Hla Tun, spoke to Karen News, to clarified the KNU’s position on its soldiers providing security for the protesting crowds.
“We have put out our official position statement and we stand firm on that. We support the people protesting against the military coup and we offer our help. However, as the KNU is an organization with policies and principles, we will not provide armed protection for the civilians who are protecting peacefully.”
Padoh Saw Hla Tun repeated he is concerned a show of arms could give the military an excuse to escalate violence towards the peaceful protesters.
On February 16, 2021, local villagers from around Kawkreik Town, gathered to march to the town and Karen soldiers provided security along the way. The photo circulating on social media was from that event. The villagers were from KNU controlled areas.
Padoh Saw Maw Htoo, the KNU’s Kawkareik Township, chairperson, said they have responsibility to protect people living in their control areas.
“It’s our duty to provide security for our people in our areas. Of course, we’re at the side of the people – if something happen, we will take swift action.”
On February 16, thousands of anti-coup protestors marched towards Kawkareik Town and security forces under the control of the military coup blocked them from entering the town. There was a standoff for a few hours before protestors decided on a new route to continue their protest.