Karen National Union
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The Karen National Union (Burmese: ကရင် အမျိုးသား အစည်းအရုံး; abbreviated KNU) is a political organisation with an armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), that claims to represent the Karen people of Myanmar (Burma). It operates in mountainous eastern Myanmar, and has underground networks in other areas of Myanmar where Karen people live as a minority group. In the Karen language, this area is called Kawthoolei. Some of the Karen, led primarily by the Karen National Union (KNU), have waged a war against the central government since early 1949. The aim of the KNU at first was independence. Since 1976 the armed group has called for a federal system rather than an independent Karen State.
|Chairman||Saw Mutu Say Poe|
|Secretary-General||Padoh Ta Doh Moo|
|Spokesperson||Padoh Saw Kwel Htoo Win|
Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo
Padoh Saw Hla Tun
|Vice President||Padoh Kwe Htoo Win|
|Founded||5 February 1947|
Law Khee Lar
Manerplaw (until 1995)
|Armed wing||KNLA, KNDO|
|Slogan||"Give me liberty or death."|
|Anthem||"Dear Our People"|
In January 2012, Myanmar's military-backed civilian government signed a ceasefire deal with the KNU in Hpa-an, the capital of eastern Kayin State. Aung Min, the Railway Minister, and General Mutu Sae Poe of the KNU led the peace talks.
The leadership of the KNU was dominated for three decades by longtime president Bo Mya from 1976 to 2000. For many years, the KNU was able to fund its activities by controlling black market trade across the border with Thailand, and through local taxation. After the failed 8888 Uprising of the Burmese people in 1988, the Burmese military government turned to China for help in consolidating its power. Various economic concessions were offered to China in exchange for weapons. The Burmese Army was massively expanded and began to offer deals to groups fighting the government. The groups were offered the choice of co-operating with the military junta or being destroyed.
In 1994, a group of Buddhist soldiers in the KNLA, citing discrimination by the KNU's overwhelmingly Christian leadership against the Buddhist Karen majority, broke away and established the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). They were led by a monk. The DKBA quickly agreed to a ceasefire with the Burmese army and was granted business concessions at the expense of their former KNU overlords. The KNU and DKBA have since been in regular fighting, with the DKBA actively supported by the Burmese army.
The KNU's effectiveness was severely diminished after its headquarters were captured in the Fall of Manerplaw, near the Thai border, in 1995.
Several attempts have been made to conclude a form of peace with Burma's military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but with little success. The 2004 peace talks yielded only an informal ceasefire which the regime used to reinforce their frontline troops. Analysts realised this was a ruse, and sure enough, offensives against KNU held areas have resumed in earnest.
The Karen conflict is the longest internal war in the world, having been waged since 31 January 1949. The KNU wants a political settlement and supports a federal Burma.
In March 2012, a senior political leader of KNU, Phado Mahn Nyein Maung, was found guilty of high treason under the Illegal Association Act, for his involvement with the Karen rebellion and sentenced to 20 years. He was freed soon afterward and sent back to Thailand.
The Karen National Union leadership is a democratically elected body with individuals elected at a four-yearly congress. The KNU Congress is recognised as the KNU’s supreme legislative body and it is here that the President, Vice-President, General Secretary, Joint Secretaries 1 and 2 and the Central Executive Committee (CEC), the Central Standing Committees (CSC) and candidate members are elected. The seven KNU districts are responsible for electing their own District Chairmans and District Standing Committee leaders every two years. As the District Chairmans and Brigade Commanders are elected at local levels, they are automatically appointed as Central Standing Committee Members. The District Chairmans and Brigade Commanders together with nominated District Standing Committee Members attend the KNU congresses. In addition, elected Central Standing Committee members would provide the ministers for 14 Departments including Culture, Defence, Education, Forestry, Foreign Affairs, Health and Mining. The CEC is made up of 11 members that are responsible for the day-to-day running of the KNU. The CSC meets annually, however when issues arise that either directly affect the KNU policies and/or the existence of the KNU organisation, the CEC will call a CSC Emergency Meeting.
Additionally the Foreign Affairs Department appoints KNU representatives. These representatives are based among the Karen communities who support KNU political goals and objectives in their respective countries.
The incumbent leaders elected at the 15th KNU Congress are:
Central Executive Committee
- Chairperson: General Saw Mutu Say Poe
- Vice-Chairperson: P'doh Kwe Htoo Win
- General Secretary: P'doh Ta Doh Moo
- First Secretary: P'doh Saw Hser Bweh
- Second Secretary: P'doh Saw Hla Tun
- Other CEC members: General Saw Johny, P'doh Saw Th'mein Tun, P'doh Naw Dah Dah, P'doh Mahn Nyein Maung, P'doh Saw Roger Khin
- Head of the Agriculture Department: P'doh Saw Lay Say
- Head of the Alliance Affairs Department: P'doh Mahn Nyne Maung
- Head of the Breeding and Fishery Department: P'doh Saw Mya Maung
- Head of the Defense Department: Lt. Col. Saw Roger Khin
- Head of the Education and Culture Department: P'doh Saw Lah Say
- Head of the Finance and Revenue Department: P'doh Saw Thaw Thi
- Head of the Forestry Department: P'doh Mahn Ba Tun
- Head of the Foreign Affairs Department: P'doh Saw Tony
- Head of the Health and Welfare Department: P'doh Saw Eh Kalu Shwe Oo
- Head of the Interior and Religion Department: P'doh Saw Ah Toe
- Head of the Organisation and Information Department: P'doh Saw Hla Tun
- Head of the Justice Department: P'doh Naw Myne Poe
- Head of the Mining Department: P'doh Saw Ker Ler
- Head of the Transportation and Communication Department: P'doh Saw Kawkasar Nay Soe
Prior to the 2000sEdit
On 2 November 2010, the Karen National Union became a member of an alliance which included the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Chin National Front (CNF), the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Shan State Army North (SSA-N).
The Karen National Union held its 15th congress at Lay Wah on 26 November 2012. This meeting was held at a pivotal moment in the KNU's history, as it occurred at a time of political in-fighting in regards to how the KNU should negotiate a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government.
From 30 October to 2 November 2013, an unprecedented meeting took place at the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters in Laiza. For the first time, representatives of 17 armed ethnic opposition groups were able to meet in Myanmar with the consent of the government. The conference resulted in the formation of a 13-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) and the signing of an "11-Point Common Position of Ethnic Resistance Organisations on Nationwide Ceasefire" or the Laiza Agreement. The NCCT's current mandate was to take responsibility on writing the nationwide ceasefire document based on mutual understanding between the different armed groups in the NCCT. However, at the Law Khee Lah Conference it was agreed that the NCCT had the mandate to discuss and change the document technically, except at policy level. When the final document was ready, the respective ethnic organisation leaders decided and discussed with the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) on the nationwide ceasefire.
In September 2016, KNLA fighters began clashing with members of the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the armed wing of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), in the Tanintharyi Region. Both the KNU and NMSP were signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) at the time of the fighting. A temporary bilateral truce was reached between the two groups on 14 March 2018.
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