KNU, Karen splinter group to talk reunion
IN response to a statement earlier this month from the Karen National Union imploring an offshoot of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army to rejoin the KNU ranks, leaders of the two groups plan to meet.
“The date isn’t confirmed yet but the meeting will be held in Hpa-an, the capital city of Kayin [State], for the purpose of officially [discussing the proposal],” said Ko Kyaw Kyaw, a peace negotiator for the Karen splinter faction.
On October 4, the KNU reached out to his group, which had clashed several times with a joint contingent of Tatmadaw and Border Guard Force soldiers the month prior. KNU leaders at the time, and again this week, said they hoped that bringing the splinter faction under the KNU banner would improve prospects for peace in the region.
The KNU is one of eight non-state armed groups to have signed last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement.
KNU joint secretary No 2 Pado Mahn Mahn confirmed the planned meeting, saying, “The call to reunify is for peace in Kayin State by [bringing the splinter group into] the KNU fold.”
The KNU entreaty early this month came with a condition: that the splinter group – with a strength of about 100 men – disavow a statement it made on January 16. That statement effectively announced the faction’s formation as an independent actor among Myanmar’s myriad ethnic armed groups. The faction has taken to calling itself the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.
Ko Kyaw Kyaw said no decision on reuniting would be made until after the Hpa-an meeting. “Some negotiation will take place at the meeting,” he said.
In addition to being motivated by a desire to improve peace prospects, the KNU has said its invitation is in keeping with the goal of a committee formed in 2013 to unite the various Karen armed factions under one banner.
Karen youth leader Saw Tun Tun said, “We want Karen armed groups united. We want Karen political parties united. Unity is the only way to move quickly toward our aim to build the federal democratic Union that all Karen people desire. We welcome the meeting.”
Kayin State has seen relative calm this month compared with September’s clashes in Hlaingbwe township, but Ko Kyaw Kyaw said the DKBA splinter faction had clashed with BGF troops at Myaing Gyi Ngu and Kaung Mu Nar villages earlier this week. He said it was not a major altercation.
The fighting last month led thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
Saw Thar Boe of Karen Rivers Watch offered his support for the KNU proposal but said peace would require more than just the joining of Karen factions.
“As long as mega-projects are being implemented in the ethnic areas, there will be offensives by the military and the BGF, which is supported by the military,” he said.