Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


February 17, 2013

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Note: This first appeared in the Irrawaddy today as a comment on their article, 5 Years On, KNU Leader's Chilling Murder Still a Mystery.

There are turning points in a nation's history, and many times they are not only not clear; they are missed completely. The death of ethnic leader Padoh Mahn Sha five years ago was an example of one such turning point. It was not only a tragedy for the Karen, it was a disaster for all of Burma.

At the time there was already a split in the KNU, following the decline and ultimately the death of long-time leader General Bo Mya. This created a power vacuum, between individuals who wanted to stick to the organization's policy to defend the Karen people, and others who had grown tired of waiting for the Karen Revolution to succeed, including in this group people who had become corrupted and who were making business deals with regime officers. Mahn Sha was a strong and principled leader, dedicated to the Revolution's goals, and destined for the top role of Chairman.

His death provided an opening for the opportunists, and ultimately, at last year's Karen Congress, they took over. Without additional action from Aung San Suu Kyi, though, this would have only marked a turning point for the Karen. At the time of Mahn Sha's assassination, she was still holding strong to the goal of real freedom for Burma, and her opposition to ending the sanctions.

But, Suu Kyi subsequently turned. She abandoned her positions, reversed course, and became an opportunist as well. So, the lead figure in Burma now backed making a deal with the generals, and which deal would not require them to give up power and permit real democracy. Karen and other ethnic opportunists then jumped on this, as the chance they had been waiting for for years, to end their own struggles in exchange for personal gain.

A precursor for all of this was another event, of which few people are even aware. "Pro-democracy" funder OSI had a conference in Washington, D.C. in October 2004, titled Managing Economic Transitions: The Role of Global Institutions and Lessons for Burma/Myanmar. I attended this conference. It's main point was that the time had come to start developing Burma, democracy be damned. Big money interests were also tired of waiting. The conference actually had as its agenda initiating the development, but a curious thing happened. Ethnic nationality participants made their voices heard, in no uncertain terms. Development would have to wait until real freedom for their peoples - for all of Burma - was achieved.

This remained the status quo until Suu Kyi changed. Of note, she has never properly explained her decision. Then, the broader significance of Mahn Sha's assassination became clear. Without it, he would have been leading the KNU. I can't say how he would have reacted to Suu Kyi's volte-face, but he certainly would never have abandoned the KNU's goals, much less permitted the Burma Army to totally militarize Karen State, as is now happening under the opportunists. The ethnic flank would have remained intact, and developments in the country, certainly corporate exploitation in ethnic areas, would have proceeded much more slowly, if at all.

Interestingly, another key participant at the 2004 conference was Harn Yawnghwe, of EBO. At the behest of his European funders, he has been one of the strongest proponents of development. It was under his influence that many of the ethnic opportunists rallied over more conservative voices, and signed ceasefires.

So, Suu Kyi surrendered, and Harn Yawnghwe finally could pursue his objective that the ethnic nationalities do the same, without the strong hand of Padoh Mahn Sha to counter his treachery. You'll note that he and the Karen opportunists were with Aung Min at the KIO meeting in China.