By Saw Bo Mya, Gen
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
The Irrawaddy spoke to deputy chairman of the KNU, Gen Saw Bo Mya, 76, about Rangoon’s latest political gestures and the future of the Karen struggle.
After almost 55 years of resistance, the Karen National Union (KNU) is Southeast Asia’s oldest insurgent group. The Irrawaddy spoke to deputy chairman of the KNU, Gen Saw Bo Mya, 76, about Rangoon’s latest political gestures and the future of the Karen struggle.
Question: What is your assessment of Burma’s newly appointed prime minister, Gen Khin Nyunt, and his road map?
Answer: I think Gen Khin Nyunt was appointed prime minister of Burma because he is a good liar and keeps telling lies to the international community. In regard to his road map, we see there is no trace of democracy. It is meaningless for the KNU, the other ethnic groups and the people of Burma who long for peace and democracy. It has been drafted by the military to prolong their time in power.
Q: According to reports, the government has been telling ceasefire groups that it will continue to work with ethnic groups, but not with Aung San Suu Kyi. Will the Karen National Union (KNU) join the National Convention if Suu Kyi does not take part?
A: We want to know why Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is being barred from the National Convention. The KNU will definitely not join the National Convention because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been excluded. The KNU will take part in the National Convention when the process fully and sincerely guarantees the democratic rights of the people of Burma.
Q: As the daughter of independence hero Aung San, should Aung San Suu Kyi have a role in politics?
A: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should continue to play a vital role as she is trusted and fully supported by the people of Burma. She should continue her struggle until peace and democracy is restored in Burma.
Q: Thailand is now pushing the Shan State Army (SSA) back into Burma. Is Thailand putting similar pressure on the KNU? Are there still plans to resume ceasefire talks with Rangoon?
A: The Thai army is not forcing out the KNU like it has been doing to the SSA. The Thai army has always been interested in acting as a mediator between the KNU and the military regime, however, almost every time the initiative was flatly rejected by the regime.
A few years ago, I met with a representative from the Rangoon junta, Col Kyaw Thein, and asked if we could meet again in a third country in the presence of observers from either the US or Thailand. He did not agree and kept telling me that ours is an internal problem and this problem should be solved quietly among ourselves inside Burma. He also told me he never considers Thailand or the US their tutor. In regard to talks on a ceasefire, the KNU always opens the door for such talks. That is part of our policy.
Q: What kind of role should the Thai government play in Burma’s crisis?
A: The Thai government should call on the military regime to begin the process of national reconciliation and restore peace and democracy in Burma. I personally feel that the Thai government should not do any business with Rangoon while this civil war drags on.
Q: The latest Landmine Monitor Report says the KNU and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) defends its use of landmines because of the need to protect internally displaced Karen from attacks by the Burma Army. Can you explain this further? Are you still using landmines?
A: The landmines that we use for self-defense are handmade and last for only a few months. However, the mines used by government troops on the frontline are very powerful and last for several years, especially the ones from China. Government troops often lay mines around villages, paddy fields, and on roads connecting villages which endangers villagers and their livestock. Moreover, it is general practice to lay discarded mines near camps without warning villagers. The worst part is that any person who steps on a government mine has to pay a fine of 500 to 1,000 kyat (900 kyat = US $1).
Q: Do you still have support from Karen people? Some human rights groups have alleged that the KNU uses child soldiers? How do you recruit new soldiers for the KNLA?
A: Yes, we still have the full support of our Karen people. The KNLA does not have child soldiers. However in a few cases, where parents and other family members of a child were murdered, and the child has wanted to take revenge on the government, children have joined the KNLA. The recruitment of new soldiers is entirely voluntary.
Q: How does the KNU support itself financially?
A: The civil war has dragged on for the last five decades and the KNU has never received any kind of assistance from anywhere. We are a self-supported organization and I firmly believe that with the blessing of our God Almighty, we will carry on our struggle until our goal is achieved.
Q: Many analysts say that Burma’s ethnic insurgency is on its last legs. Do you agree?
A: I strongly disagree.
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