Contact: Roland Watson, roland@dictatorwatch.org


January 13, 2013

Please forward and post.

Note: This is a follow-up to last week's statement - Treachery in the Karen National Union.

Dictator Watch has received additional information about the dirty tricks at the recent KNU Congress, by which the current leaders were unseated and new leaders installed. The organization's policy, which remains the same on paper, has in reality been reversed.

There were three elections at the Congress, two to select the Central Committee members, and one, by the new CC members, to choose the top leaders. The Central Committee votes were overseen by a seven person Election Commission, headed by Pastor Robert Htwe from the Karen Refugee Committee.

In the first vote, Congress participants chose 45 candidate CC members. In the second, from the candidates, they picked 31 members.

Both votes were done the same day, with the second in the late afternoon. After the vote, many participants took a break, for dinner.

Some young Karen people, who were observing the Congress, were suspicious of Robert Htwe's neutrality. They stayed behind to videotape the counting of the ballots. Robert Htwe counted the ballots by himself. He sat so that no one could see the actual ballots, and then read out the names supposedly chosen on them. No one else observed the names, and there was no independent check.

According to the results that he announced, the prior leaders were purged: Expelled from the Central Committee. After everyone returned from dinner and learned this, there was a call for a recount. Robert Htwe then said that he had already burned the ballots. Even though by then it was late, he immediately left the Congress for the long drive back to Mae Sariang. There were then calls for a completely new vote, to which all the other election commissioners agreed, but with him gone it was impossible. The next day the new top leaders were selected from the new Central Committee members, thereby completing the coup.

What happened at the Congress illustrates the deep divide in the KNU. Companies owned by cronies of Burma's dictatorship are mining various minerals in the KNU's 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th Brigade areas. The cronies have made handsome payments to the brigade and associated district leaders to permit the mines. Leaders in the 2nd and 5th Brigades are refusing to allow mining and even prospecting in their areas. The new top leaders support the mining and other economic development.

This means throwing caution to the wind, and the effective reversal of long-standing KNU policy. The mines are destroying the security for local Karen villagers, as the mining companies construct new roads. These in turn greatly enhance the Burma Army's communications, and ability to move troops and supplies. Under the new policy, mining in these areas will expand even more.

The people and rank and file KNLA soldiers are opposed to the policy change. The people will suffer, and only a few individuals - the KNU leaders - will benefit.

On a personal note, I got involved in the Burma pro-democracy movement in 1994 through the Karen cause, and have backed the KNU and KNLA ever since, even though I haven't always agreed with their strategy. I am still a friend of the Karen people, but given the purge and coup that was perpetrated at the Congress, and the new pro-development policy, I believe the organization is now fundamentally corrupted, and does not speak for the people. The KNU is no longer the "mother" or "umbrella" Karen organization.

The outcome of the Congress was heavily influenced by regime negotiator Aung Min, and the Norwegian government, which backs him and the dictatorship's "Myanmar Peace Center." Together with former KNU leader Htoo Htoo Lay, they aggressively worked to expel the old leadership, who advocated the continued defense of the Karen people, and great caution both for economic development and refugee repatriation.

The similarly Norwegian-led multi-million dollar "Peace Fund," which is directed by former U.N. official Charles Petrie, was established to help IDPs and returning refugees. Robert Htwe, as head of KRC, will have a major role in distributing the funds. He is holding a workshop this week, which will consider how repatriated refugees can be used for contract farming and other economic development projects. KNU policy has always been that the refugees, and only when they could do so safely, should be able to return to their homes.

Robert Htwe and the other top KNU leaders are imposing the new policy to force the refugees back, and not to their homes. There will no doubt be opportunities for them to expropriate some of the Peace Fund money.

All of this is a disaster for the Karen people. The KNU's leaders have surrendered and are following the enemy's orders, for personal gain. Needless to say, Karen people, KNLA soldiers, and Karen civil society organizations both inside and outside Burma, should aggressively oppose this.

The coup in the KNU impacts more than the Karen. The new leaders just met Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. This was incredibly unseemly, given his major offensive underway against their ethnic brothers, the Kachin. The new leaders are not only betraying the Karen people, but the other ethnic nationalities as well; Indeed, all of Burma.