The Longest Fight
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, August 14, 2018
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The Longest Fight


By Shah Paung and Harry Priestley/Pu Bo Mya Plaw, Karen State MARCH, 2006 - VOLUME 14 NO.3


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After 57 years of fighting for independence from the Burmese, the Karen National Union is beset by internal divisions, a lack of resources and an aging leadership

 

When Gen Bo Mya arrived at a ceremony marking 57 years of the Karen people’s fight against Burmese rule, a crowd soon formed. Having joined the revolution as a humble corporal at its birth in 1949 and risen through the ranks right to the very top, Bo Myanow 79 and in failing health is very much the face of the Karen movement.

 

 

 

Lauded by some as the father of the Karen movement, dismissed by others as a bloodthirsty butcher, Bo Mya’s impact on what is generally recognized as the world’s longest active civil war is beyond question.

 

With his son, Col Ner Dah Mya, holding a microphone to his lips, Bo Mya addressed the hundreds who had traveled to the remote jungle camp of Pu Bo Mya Plaw (also known as Mu Aye Pu) near the Thai border. His voice wavered and he lost his train of thought on several occasions, but the message was the same as ever: “We must never surrender our homeland.”

 

The struggle for autonomy is getting harder, though. While the troops who marched across the parade ground wore immaculate battledress uniforms, their weapons were old and their numbers few. It appeared not so much a display of military might as a show of defiance.

 

“We don’t need men, we need equipment,” says Ner Dah Mya, speaking after the ceremony. “If we had 50,000 weapons, tomorrow we would have 50,000 soldiers.”

 

Despite his almost robotic insistence that politics and military—the Karen National Union and its military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army—have to work together to achieve Karen dreams of independence, when Ner Dah Mya lets his guard down, he is very much his father’s son: a military man.

 

“If we had bullets and weapons we could get rid of this regime,” he says. “We can never solve this problem at the [negotiating] table, everybody knows that. They [Burma’s military government] only listen to you when you have guns. If you are only strong in politics and nobody is fighting in the front line, then it is like a bird singing in a tree—nothing happens.”

 

KNU general-secretary Mahn Sha, the diplomatic face of the KNU, recognizes the need for a strong military but has a more conciliatory, long-term approach.



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