New Karen leadership’s stars rest on peace process outcome

That was the conclusion given to SHAN by a veteran Karen fighter, who was re-elected to the 45 member Central Committee of the Karen National Union (KNU) last December despite his long standing relationship with the so-called “hardliners,” most of whom were voted out by the 3 week congress held near the Thai-Burmese border.

The congress, held every 4 years, was a “very democratic and fair” affair, according to him. “But this was the first time such a polarized election for the central committee was held,” he said. “In previous congresses, election was based more on experience and capacity than on ideological stance.”

By contrast, the 2012 congress was clearly a struggle between those leaders who believe that ceasefire and peace negotiations should be carried out swiftly and boldly, and those who want a slower, cautious approach. (He refused to use the labels “pragmatists” and “hardliners” as designated by some members and supporters.)
The Big 5 of KNU (Photo:

“Only people seen as very competent and not too closely attached to the previous leadership (what he terms the cautious ones), clearly independent or neutral were elected,” he said.

Out of the present “Big 5” elected:

Gen Mutu Saypoe            President
Zipporah Sein                  Vice President
Saw Kwe Htoo Win         General Secretary
Saw Thaw Thi Bwe          Joint Secretary (1)
Mahn Mahn Mahn           Joint Secretary (2)
only Zipporah Sein has been identified with the previous leadership.

“The new leadership will be judged for its performance (in the peace process),” he replied to SHAN’s query. “Everyone knows the ceasefire is only a preliminary step to prepare for political negotiations. There is still a lot of struggles ahead.”

The source is a firm believer that at least until a lasting political settlement is reached, the Karens have to preserve both its political and military establishments. “A process where we are not allowed to strengthen our military as a counter balance to the Tatmadaw’s steady build up is the principal danger to the peace process,” he told SHAN. “Our leaders must be aware of such dangers.”

The key to a lasting political settlement, he maintains, is the review of the 2008 constitution and the acceptance of the federal system.

Unlike other Karen leaders, he does not place particular emphasis on what is known as the Burmese sincerity. “In politics, you don’t think about sincerity,” he said. “You only think about your ability to fend for yourself. Rights and freedom are not given because they are just causes, but because those in power are obliged to concede them out of necessity.”


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