Leaders of the ethnic Karen in eastern Burma, who have been fighting for autonomy from the country’s military dictatorship since 1949, say the recent election results and government policies put the regime on a collision course with failure.
The statement was issued after the KNU’s 14th annual congress.
The KNU said that while it’s thankful for the release from house arrest of pro-democracy advocate and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the fraudulent November elections show that the military regime – which calls itself the State Peace and Development Council, the SPDC – has no intention of moving towards a democratic Burma.
The KNU said the 2008 constitution paves the way for an unproductive government, and “instead of resolving the problems faced by Burma, it would create more insecurity and conflicts, especially in the political and military fields.”
KNU Vice President David Tharckabaw said his leadership’s desire for democratic reform is as strong as ever, but they’re willing to try a “tripartite dialogue” first.
He said the talks must include all of the parties: the ethnic groups, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy and the military dictatorship.
The goals of the ethnic Karen are clear, he said.
“Through the talks we hope to accomplish national reconciliation and the removal of the military dictatorship,” said Tharckabaw. “We want the soldiers to return to the barracks in a genuine democracy and a federal system.”
An extended interview with Tharckabaw can be heard below:
Burma analyst Roland Watson, president of the group Dictator Watch, says the KNU’s effort to have a three-party dialogue is the obvious first step to resolving the nation’s major conflicts.
He explained the background behind the call for tripartite talks.
Suu Kyi has been calling for negotiation and dialogue since 1990, when her party convincingly won the first national election since 1960, and she became Burma’s acknowledged democratic leader. The military regime overturned the results, however, and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest. She was released six days after the widely discredited Nov. 7 election, the first since 1990.
Watson said the ethnic groups are concerned because “though she’s absolutely fearless,” she’s also a member of the majority Burmese population.
“Many of the NLD leaders are Burmese, and some of them were in the military, going back to the post World War II period. This would mean it’s Burmese talking to Burmese,” he said.
An extended interview with Watson can be heard below:
The ethnic groups, he explained, fear that they won’t have an advocate for their rights.
“So the ethnic groups, they started saying the real solution to the problems is dialogue, but it has to be a dialogue with all the stakeholders,” Watson said.
The recently issued KNU Central Standing Committee statement, he said, is a carefully worded document that says the KNU is not putting it’s entire hope behind negotiations with the military regime.
“What the wording says is, ‘We’re going to fight. We’ve been fighting for a while now, we have completely justifiable reasons to fight. They’re slaughtering our people, and we want democracy too,” Watson stated.
“It’s not in the statement, but I think the Karen would be happy to fight with other like-minded parties, like the DKBA (the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army),” he explained.
Tharckabaw affirmed that the Karen National Union will not hesitate to fight if it needs to.
“We will carry on the fight if there’s no dialogue, but the fight will be a way to apply pressure on the military regime,” he said.
Tharckabaw added that the KNU is strong enough to carry out its objectives.
“We have managed for 61 years, and we can carry on the fight in the future as well. We don’t have to capture cities and towns, we have to rely on methods of attrition. Of course, in that case we may have to abandon a lot of areas, and we have to let the enemy inside our territories, you know, in guerilla tactics,” Tharckabaw said.
“We can carry on. We don’t need a large-member army. In addition, we have other ethnic groups to carry on the armed struggle,” he added.
Watson said that if the ethnic groups unified and formed one army, they could have a profound impact on the Burmese regime.
“They want to establish a federal army to oppose the Tatmadaw, the Burma Army. If they could establish a federal army and fight against the Tatmadaw now they could almost certainly cause the Tatmadaw to collapse,” Watson observed.
Additional comments from Watson can be heard below:
“There are so many soldiers in the Burma Army that don’t want to fight,” he said. “They’re not being paid. Many of the soldiers were forced to join the army. The Burma Army is known to have the highest number of child soldiers in the world.”
However, Watson said that some of the other ethnic groups will fight only if the Burma Army attacks them.
But the Dictator Watch president said it’s not likely that the Burma Army will go after all of the ethnic territories.
“For all of the statements and all of the posturing of the Burmese army, with them moving battalions here and there, it’s very unlikely that it will happen,” he said.
“If the Tatmadaw went after the Kachin, if it went after the United Wa State Army, or the KNLA in a concerted fashion, it would suffer major losses,” Watson explained.
“Hundreds of soldiers would be killed and at that time, hundreds of soldiers would say, ‘What are we doing?’ Let’s just join Aung San Suu Kyi and have a democratic Burma,” he said.
He noted that the dry season is approaching in Burma when most of the offensives have taken place historically.
“Even with all this,” he said, “I think it’s unlikely there will be major hostilities break out, because (Burmese military leader) Than Shwe would have too much to risk.”