"Every Karen must be involved in political destiny"
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Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Interview

"Every Karen must be involved in political destiny"


By Saw Ba Thin Sein Thursday, June 1, 2000


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KNU Chairman Padoe Saw Ba Thin Sein Interview.

Saw Ba Thin Sein, 73, became chairman of the Karen National Union [KNU] in January this year replacing Gen Bo Mya who led Burma’s oldest insurgency group for almost twenty-five years. Born in 1927 in Henzada and later educated at the American Baptist Mission Karen High School, Ba Thin, unlike his predecessor, is soft-spoken, more civilian looking and at ease with the press. This is not so surprising, as Ba Thin served as head of the educational department from the 1970s to 1980s. He later became general secretary and Prime Minister of the KNU. Irrawaddy editor Aung Zaw spoke with him recently on the Thai-Burma border.

Question: What is the current political situation in Karen State?

Answer: Since the SPDC is refusing to have a political and peaceful settlement and is always demanding us to return to the legal fold, it isn’t possible for us. Returning to the legal fold means surrender. So the political questions for all the ethnic nationalities can’t be settled by returning to the legal fold from what we understand. We always demand that we should meet and have a dialogue whatever the case may be. If it is critical dialogue, we don’t mind because the civil war has been going on for fifty years already. To have reconciliation or to reach an agreement will take time. We would like the international community to be aware of this situation and put all possible pressure on the SPDC to come to the negotiating table and reach a peaceful political settlement. But we will have to try, endeavor with the support and understanding of the democratic forces as well as international community so that we may be able to settle it peacefully.

Q: Being President of the KNU, do you feel under pressure or are you busier than when you served in your previous position? What are your challenges?

A: I stated that even from the very beginning I would like to have an even lighter duty, perhaps not the general secretary (previous position), but maybe some other position because I’m old enough at my age to give assistance and offer advice, but I don’t want to shoulder these heavy duties. But as they elected me, I told them that, yes, since you elected me I will serve as chairman but only with all your support and understanding can we do that. Because from the very beginning the struggle of the Karen people is the struggle of the entire people. One man, one party, or one group cannot lead the struggle and win. Every Karen must be involved in political destiny.

Q: Recent press reports in regional papers and magazines mentioned that after you were elected, there were secret talks between you and the SPDC in Burma.

A: We haven’t had any secret meetings with the SPDC. However, we do have a contact point regarding negotiations, and whenever they want to talk with us, they send representatives.

They [peace brokers] can come and meet us. We met with Khun Myat once and Mah Gay Gyi from Rangoon. They would like us to meet with the leaders of the SPDC. We told them very frankly that the negotiations broke down on account of the ultimatum of the SPDC that we must return to the legal fold. This is the point on which we can’t agree.



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