Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


March 8, 2017

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A disturbing report has been released by the Karen Information Center about the KNU Congress, which is being held next week. The Congress this year is to have significant overseas representation, from organizations for the huge number of Karen people who have fled Karen State and other areas of Burma. At the last KNU Congress, an agreement was reached whereby these organizations would be able to attend and they would also be able to vote. The KNU Executive Committee, under the control of Chairman Mutu Say Poe and General Secretary Kwe Htoo Win, however, has decided that this agreement will not be honored. The international organizations will be represented at the Congress, but they can't vote.

The reason for the about-face is obvious. This Congress will be a showdown between the Mutu clique and other Karen leaders who oppose his appeasement policy with the military regime. It is well known that international Karen also mistrust the clique. They have an independent perspective on the overall picture both in Burma and for the Karen. For the KNU top leadership, they (and of course also countless Karen still inside Burma) have learned the truth about many different things:

- That Mutu and Kwe Htoo only gained power through electoral fraud at the last Congress.

- That they signed a preliminary ceasefire with the regime, even though they were expressly forbidden from doing so, and also that now - years later - nothing has even been done to implement its agreement.

- But, that during this period the Burma Army greatly expanded its bases in Karen State.

- That the clique has focused on personal business opportunities and interests, and ignored the exploitation of Karen villagers including through land thefts.

- That it has had many secret meetings with the top generals of the dictatorship, including Than Shwe, and that what happened in these meetings has never been made public.

- And that Mutu and Kwe Htoo have aligned completely with Aung San Suu Kyi, even though she has shown no respect for ethnic nationality interests, and which by doing so fractured ethnic unity.

In summary, international Karen want a return to loyalty to the Karen Revolution and Saw Ba U Gyi's Four Principles. Therefore, they are likely to vote against the clique, hence Mutu's actions in the Executive Committee to deny them their right.

This fiasco, though, does raise the question of who should properly be entitled to vote on the leadership. Said another way, what type of organization is the KNU?

The KNU, together with the KNLA and KNDO, is the revolutionary organization for the Karen people. Its goals are to win peace, freedom and self-determination. As such, defense issues have always taken precedence.

This situation has changed. Even though protecting the people against the murderous military dictatorship remains the paramount concern, the KNU/KNLA/KNDO is no longer only a revolutionary organization. Through seven decades of struggle it has earned such an important position that it is effectively the overall Karen political organization as well.

As such, it should be democratic, to accurately reflect the Karen people's desires. And, in principle, it is. Ordinary KNU members elect committees at the village level which in turn elect village tract, township and district officials. These representatives along with KNLA officers and other officials then serve as the voting Congress delegates. But, as the international Karen have argued, they too should be represented (and also Karen outside of the State). And, the top leadership should be responsive to Karen concerns, such as the land thefts and the struggles of IDPs and refugees. But, for the last four years, under Mutu and Kwe Htoo, they have not been responsive. Instead, they have focused solely on their own selfish interests, for wealth and power, even though in many cases this actually hurt the Karen.

It is probably too late to change the voting structure at the Congress. Therefore, the international participants, and other Karen Civil Society Organizations, must be given an open forum to present their positions; and, the delegates who will vote must take these positions into account.

The KNU is the Karen political organization. Therefore, the votes at the Congress must be free and fair, and they must truly represent the entire people. The Karen have an opportunity to attain an adherence to democratic principles that has not yet been achieved anywhere in Burma. The ethnic group that the Burman rulers have historically disparaged the most can lead the way in implementing real democracy for the country.