Since Burma became independent after World War II the Burmese (Myanmar) government has never really controlled the Karen area along the Thai border The Burmese army has fought a prolonged civil war with Karen National Union (KNU), founded in 1949. Some Karen fighters fought for the British against the Japanese in World War II.

The Karen conflict is considered by many analysts to be the longest-running civil war in the world. Decades of sporadic government campaigns have driven hundreds of thousands of Karen and other refugees into neighboring Thailand, where at least 150,000 live in official camps and an estimated 1.5 million dwell illegally. Humanitarian groups such as the Free Burma Rangers regularly report attacks in Karen villages by the military regime carrying out counterinsurgency operations.

According to Human Rights Watch: “Hundreds of thousands, according to expert estimates, have died in a conflict largely hidden from the international spotlight. However, human rights groups have documented continuing killings, rapes, forced relocations and burning of villages as the military seeks to control areas of Myanmar regarded as sympathetic to the Karen National Union and other insurgent groups. These incidents are denied by the junta.

The Karens are divided. The Karen National Union (KNU) and Karen revolutionary military groups have traditionally been dominated by hill Karens and educated Christian delta Karens. The splinter Democratic Karen Buddhist group broke from the KNU in 1995.

The Karen army insurgency is relatively well armed and formidable. Insurgents practice with fake guns near their outposts on the Thai border. The Myanmar army has long been cautious to set foot in Karen-held territory.

Damir Sagolj of Reuters wrote: “ Critics also say the regime is trying to forcibly recruit rebel fighters for an army-run border patrol force. They say Myanmar's army is seeking to neutralize the Karen and other ethnic minorities, in part to seize rich natural resources for logging and mining, a crucial revenue source for the impoverished country. Many of the ethnic groups, including predominantly Christian Karens, do not trust the military and its ethnic Burman leaders who they have long resented and feel they have nothing to gain by taking part in the electoral process. If they disarm and surrender hard-won autonomy, they could lose control over lucrative trade in natural resources and, in some cases, in opium and methamphetamines. [Source: Damir Sagolj, Reuters, January 7, 2010]

Free Burma Rangers, a Christian group that helps refugees inside Myanmar

Karen National Union (KNU)

The Karen National Union (KNU) is a political group that has fought for secession from the state since Myanmar was granted independence from Britain in 1948. The group contains guerrilla fighters as well as politicians. Its military wing is the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The KNU was created at the end of World War II to promote Karen autonomy and independence. The KNU insurgency has been at war with the Burmese (Myanmar) government since 1949. It has joined a coalition with other ethnic groups to fight the government regime. For a long time the KNU was Myanmar's largest guerrilla group. Once in control of large swaths of the Thai-Myanmar border, the KNU has seen its territory shrink to virtually nothing since the capture of its stronghold of Manerplaw in 1995.

As of January 2001, the KNU was reduced to 2,000 or 3,000 fighters. They had a verbal cease-fire agreement with the Myanmar government and was negotiating with them while government forces were attacking KNU positions near the Thai border. At that time the KNU drew little attention from the international community, their military capability was dwindling, their refugee population was growing, and Thailand, their traditional protector and home for the refugees, was becoming increasingly weary of the Karen struggle.

Anna Sussman of CNN wrote: The KNU's military, a ragtag group of soldiers who often wield World War II weaponry, has come under criticism, accused of recruiting child soldiers and carrying on what many have called an unwinnable war in civilian-occupied territory. The KNU has denied using child soldiers. But during the past decade, their troop numbers have dwindled from 20,000 to a mere 4,000, David Taw, a KNU spokesman said. The KNU has suffered huge losses as members tire of war and resettle in places such as Europe and the United States, he said. The group also still suffers from crippling infighting and another splinter group, a faction commonly called the Karen National Union Peace Council, recently broke ranks to sign a peace agreement with the government of Myanmar-- like many other groups. [Source: Anna Sussman, CNN, March 30, 2008 =]

Mahn Sha, a KNU leader slain in 2008, said that the KNU had the support and backing of the villagers who are caught in the middle of this conflict. "The military regime might have big numbers, but they don't have the support of the people," he said, claiming that for every KNU soldier there are at least 25 government soldiers. "We can protect them because we have their support," he said. =

In the early 2000s, the leader of the KNU was Secretary General Ba Thein. He replaced general Bi Mya who led the group for 25years. Ba Thein is regarded as more pragmatic and more willing to make comprised that the stubborn Bi Mya.

Bo Mya, Longtime Leader of the Karen National Union

Gen. Bo Mya was the leader of the Karen National Union (KNU) for a long time. Associated Press reported: “Over the years, Bo Mya essentially became the face of the movement, leading its fighters in the jungles of Myanmar. A barrel-chested man, anti-communist and fervently Christian, Bo Mya inspired fear in friends and enemies and refused over the years to compromise over his dreams of greater rights for the Karen in Myanmar. "I understand that a revolution means opposing the wrong and constructing the right thing," he said in Irrawaddy, "Our revolution is one that must fight against evil and all the wrongs. We must never go against the masses of the country." [Source: Associated Press, December 25, 2006 +]

Bo Mya was born Jan. 20, 1927, in Htee Mu Khee village, the 10th of 12 children. As a teenager, he fought with the Allies against the Japanese in World War II and later joined the struggle for autonomy in 1947 when he was a policeman under British rule. As the fight dragged on, Bo Mya survived numerous assassination attempts and defections from the group. With the organization splintering badly in the 1990s, he stepped down as military commander after the rebels lost their stronghold at Manerplaw -- a fortified jungle camp that was a hub of the Karen empire in the jungle at the Thai-Myanmar border. +

Bo Mya was forced out of the top leadership position of the group in 2000 after a disastrous terrorist raid on a Thai hospital by a Karen splinter group, during which 10 rebels were killed by Thai commandos to free hundreds of hostages. Still, Bo Mya remained a key member of the resistance, even heading a Karen delegation in an unsuccessful attempt in 2004 to sign a peace agreement with the military government. +

Bo Mya died at the age of 79 in December 2006 in western Thailand near the Myanmar border."This is the big loss for the Karen and all Myanmar ethnic fighters," said Mahn Sha, the group's general secretary. "Gen. Bo Mya has led the fight of the Karen for more than five decades." +

Karen National Union Leader Killed

Pa Doh Mahn Sha, the secretary-general of the Karen National Union (KNU), was killed in February 2008. Three weeks before his death he said, "Our struggle is to protect ourselves from the military regime. They always attack our villages, burn down our villages, burn our food supplies. We want to stop fighting but we have no choice."

CNN reported: “Mahn Sha was shot and killed at his home in Thailand on February 14, a KNU official said. During one of the last interviews Mahn Sha granted to international journalists, he posed in front of the Karen national flag hanging in his living room, and talked about the future of the Karen people and the KNU's fight for autonomy. He said the KNU's fighters would continue to battle the military junta in self-defense. "Our struggle is the same struggle as the monks who protested in September, the same struggle as [pro-democracy activist] Aung San Suu Kyi," he said. "Only in a different form, ours is a violent struggle, and we cannot give up until we have won." [Source: Anna Sussman, CNN, March 30, 2008 ++]

The 64-year-old Mahn Sha was shot and killed in Mae Sot, Thailand, just across the border from Myanmar, a KNU official said. As Thai police investigate his killing, speculation has varied on how the Karen leader was killed. There have been suggestions the killing may have been the result of internal differences within the rebel group. But some Karen blame Myanmar's military junta. The killing came just days after Myanmar announced plans for a referendum on a new constitution. ++

Mahn Sha was the KNU's third in command, but widely respected as the group's acting leader, said KNU Foreign Affairs spokesperson David Taw. His death is viewed by many as a major setback for the already struggling resistance movement. "Mahn Sha [was] the strong guiding light," said Oscar Baaye, an ethnic Karen from the United States who was living with Mahn Sha prior to the rebel leader's death. Mahn Sha had been described as a skilled mediator between different Karen factions, as well as other ethnic groups in the region and those working for democracy in Myanmar. ++

"Mahn Sha's assassination was a blow to the entire democracy process," said Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy magazine. "A lot of people saw him as a potential figure to work on national reconciliation. He was able to connect the Karen struggle to the bigger picture," he said. "He built bridges between all groups, that was one of his strengths," said Phil Thornton, author of Restless Souls, who has been reporting on the Karen for seven years and lives in Mae Sot. Young Karen, in particular, said they felt inspired by Mahn Sha's approach to the democracy movement in Myanmar. "He had a very clear vision of our struggle," said Nicky Zaw, who attended Mahn Sha's funeral. ++

Prior to his death, Mahn Sha had just returned from a Karen Unity Seminar, in which Karen from around the world gathered at a secret headquarters in Myanmar to discuss the future of their movement and their people. While KNU leaders have been clear that they will continue their battle against Myanmar's military regime, they say the loss of Mahn Sha was a huge blow for the movement. At Mahn Sha's funeral, more than 1,000 mourners gathered in the jungle inside Myanmar, including representatives from nearly every regional ethnic group and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. ++

Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)

The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) is a military group that has fought for secession from the state since Myanmar was granted independence from Britain in 1948. Its political wing is the Karen National Union (KNU). Time magazine described the group as “a seasoned militia of about 10,000, armed with aging assault rifles.”

According to Human Rights Watch: “The Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) continues to be in armed conflict with the [Myanmar military regime], and has a very extensive area of operations extending from Karen state and Pegu (Bago) division in the north to Tenasserim (Taninthayi) division in the south. Major General Isaac, a senior KNLA officer, estimates its fighting strength to be 3,500 to 4,000 troops, though he says there are about 7,000 listed on the official KNLA register. Regarding recruitment policies, he explained to Human Rights Watch, "It was already decided at our Twelfth Congress in 2000 that the minimum age [for recruitment] should change from 15 to 18." [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007]

On the military regimes struggle with the KNLA, Time reported: Although the military has long fought the Karen National Liberation Army it has mostly seemed content to stage small, periodic sieges against mountain strongholds in Karen state's northwest. These sieges have typically taken place only during Southeast Asia's dry seasons.

Kenichi Okumura wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “In January 2001, after a difficult journey by car, boat and on foot, a Japanese man named Yuzo Uda was guided to one of the headquarters of the Karen National Liberation Army in Karen State. The KNLA faced financial difficulties, and the people were tired of the long struggle. Uda interviewed Bo Kyaw, a young brigade commander of the KNLA. A quiet man of the same age as Uda, Bo Kyaw was at a loss for how to get the Karen people out of the deadlock. He said he had never really been happy during his 16 years of fighting, adding that the military would destroy the KNLA if they laid down their weapons. While later covering Karen people who had been internally displaced within Myanmar, Uda only had boiled frog on rice to eat as he journeyed several days to their camp. The people were desperate and only wanted to cultivate their own soil and live peaceful lives.[Source: Kenichi Okumura, Yomiuri Shimbun, February 26, 2010]

KNLA and KNU and Child Soldiers

Human Right Watch reported: “In 2002, however, Human Rights Watch found that there were a significant number of child soldiers in the KNLA and probably in its militia wing, the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO). As a result of this and of the KNLA's inclusion on the U.N. secretary-general's list of groups using child soldiers, in 2003 the Karen National Union (KNU, the political organization controlling the KNLA) issued "very clear instructions" to the army not to accept any recruits under 18. Human Rights Watch has obtained Karen-language copies of two subsequent orders sent to brigade and special battalion commanders from KNLA general headquarters in July and December 2006 respectively, both clearly stating that no recruits under 18 should be accepted, with the July order adding that "anyone disobeying this order will face appropriate action in accordance with army regulations." According to KNU General Secretary Pado Mahn Sha, "If any brigade has even one or two underage soldiers we will take action. We have ordered brigade commanders to watch their battalions and not to allow any underage soldiers, which means under 18." [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 =]

“On March 4, 2007, KNU President Saw Ba Thin Sein signed a Deed of Commitment condemning the recruitment and use of soldiers under 18 and declaring that the KNLA would not do so and would permit outside monitoring to verify compliance; the wording is identical to that quoted above from the Deed of Commitment signed by the Karenni Army.[244] Though asserting that officers disobeying orders would be punished in accordance with "Army regulations," Major General Isaac admits that there are no specific provisions yet in the regulations about disciplining those who accept child recruits. "We have the Army Act, but there is nothing in it about this yet. We just keep sending out reminders [to officers]." Recognizing this as a procedural weakness, Major General Isaac promised that at the next KNU congress in 2008 he would recommend adding to the Army Act provisions for punishing child recruiters and methodologies for demobilizing child soldiers. =

“In practice the KNLA's policies on child soldiers are undermined by its conscription policy, which allows one son from each family to be conscripted, provided they have several sons and are not heavily dependent on the son to be conscripted. In recent years this policy has only been sporadically implemented-and not at all in some regions-due to shortages of weapons, ammunition, and resources, but when enforced it often results in children being put forward by families to fill recruiting quotas. A Karen health worker from western Karen state explained that in his area, "In each house, if you have two sons then one has to go. If you only have one son they don't take him. Starting in 2007 they said they'd do this once every three years. One goes for three years, then if he comes back his brother has to go." If the boy required is under 18, "Then they'll ask if he's willing to go or not, but the parents must also be willing. The parents might negotiate to let him finish school first but promise to send him after that." The interviewee said that the KNLA in his area has far fewer child soldiers than previously, and that officers are now more flexible about conscription: "Now if people say they want to keep going to school and they're under 18, the KNLA doesn't force them to join." =

“When children are brought forward to fill recruitment quotas, KNU General Secretary Pado Mahn Sha admits that "some officers still make mistakes."[248] Human Rights Watch learned of several cases of child volunteers being rejected by the KNLA and either returned to their families or sent to schools. However, several independent witnesses told Human Rights Watch that within the past two years they have seen KNLA child soldiers in camps, manning checkpoints, and on operations, particularly in remoter areas of operation far from headquarters, though generally in much smaller numbers than in the past. With such a widespread area of operations and a chain of command weakened by problems of communications and mobility, the KNLA appears to be having difficulty imposing its policies on distant officers, and may be hesitant to alienate those officers by threatening disciplinary procedures. =

“In the KNDO militia, child soldier policies are even more difficult to monitor. A KNU representative in northern Karen state told Human Rights Watch that there are no longer any child soldiers in the full-time KNLA in his region, but that there are still some children bearing arms in the KNDO because these people are put forward by the villages, recruited by local village tract officials, and rotated every few months or a year. Though his district leaders have warned the village tract officials not to accept children, it still occurs. Overall, evidence indicates that the KNU and KNLA have taken action to end the use of child soldiers, and as a result the number of child soldiers among their forces is declining, but the problem is likely to persist until field officers can be better educated and monitored. =

Pro- Military Karen Groups: Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and KNU-KNLA Peace Council

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) operates in central Karen state, sharing power with the Myanmar military regime in some areas and regularly engaging in combat with the KNLA. Official troop strength figures are not available, though it is thought to have several thousand soldiers. The group relies on both voluntary recruitment and local conscription programs to maintain its troop numbers. The DKBA has sided with Myanmar military since defecting from the Karen National Union in 1995. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 =]

The KNU-KNLA Peace Council is a small group that broke away from the KNLA's Seventh Brigade in central KarenState in January 2007 and made peace with the SPDC. The group soon began recruiting to increase its numbers in order to establish control over the Toh Kaw Ko area near the Salween river, where it had established its headquarters. Initially, recruiting concentrated on villages in the Toh Kaw Ko area and on Mae La refugee camp in Thailand, but the group has now reportedly sent recruiting teams as far afield as Toungoo, the Irrawaddy delta, and Karen-populated Insein township on the outskirts of Rangoon. KNLA sources claim the group is trying to form eight battalions, and that in Toh Kaw Ko area each village has been ordered to provide three to five recruits or pay the extremely high sum of 20,000 Thai baht in lieu of each recruit. =

Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and KNU-KNLA Peace Council and Their Child Soldiers

“According to the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), an independent human rights monitoring organization, they were told on May 21 by KNU-KNLA Peace Council (PC) officer Bah Soh Gay that children under 18 were welcome to join the armed group but could leave whenever they wished.[278] However, KHRG gathered evidence claiming that nine boys under 18 had been forcibly or coercively recruited and were not allowed to leave afterwards. Human Rights Watch was able to confirm the stories of two of these boys by interviewing them after they escaped. [Source: Human Rights Watch, Sold to Be Soldiers, October 31, 2007 =]

“Thirteen-year-old Saw Toh Say, a refugee at Mae La camp, crossed the border to visit Tee Nuh Hta village a few times after the KNU-KNLA PC controlled it, and was eventually conscripted. The third time [late February] I went with Saw L. [age 14, full name withheld] and when I arrived there people asked me to stay there. Then they told me to put on a military uniform and forced us to stand sentry. The two of us had to stand sentry every night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. They told us to take a gun so I took an AR [a small assault rifle] and Saw L. also took an AR. At the end of sentry duty we gave them to the people who replaced us. They said two truckloads of guns were coming for us. Each of us got two Cambodian camouflage uniforms and 500 baht. My uniform was too big. I had to use a belt. I had to stay there two-and-a-half months. After one night Chit Kwin told me to register my name. Commander Ler Mu registered us. When I registered, I was 12 years old. T. registered as 15 years old, and H. registered his age as eight or nine. =

“At Tee Nuh Hta "there were many children, over 30. Some were younger than me and some were older than me. People ordered them to stand sentry and sometimes gave them training." He had to stand sentry each night for two to four hours; five soldiers shared three guns. His only training consisted of being given a loaded assault rifle and sent down behind the latrine to fire off practice rounds. He says the AK47 rifle was too heavy for him so he chose an AR (a smaller, lighter weapon) and 120 cartridges. No one told him what battalion he was in. They were warned not to go outside the village because of landmines, but one adult did and hit a tripwire; he was killed and the person with him was wounded. Saw Toh Say says later he asked to go home and commander Ler Mu wouldn't let him go if his parents didn't come; later, however, other lower-ranking officers allowed him to leave when his relatives came. =

“Saw Wah, age 16, says he saw "about 10 or 20" boys younger than himself at KNU-KNLA PC leader Htay Maung's camp on the Moei riverbank awaiting transfer to Toh Kaw Ko when he was coerced into joining in March. After two or three days there he says he was given a gun and uniform. When he got to Toh Kaw Ko, he saw 40 to 50 recruits under 18, of whom he thought 10 or 20 were under 15. In his "battalion" of 50 troops there were 10 to 20 under 18 and three under 15, some of them volunteers and some forcibly recruited. At Toh Kaw Ko the recruits weren't doing any fighting, just hanging around, doing sentry duty, and the youngest were put to work making charcoal. A sergeant threatened them that if they went back to the refugee camp, the refugees would "slit their throats" as traitors, so most didn't dare leave. =

“Like many newly formed armed groups, the KNU-KNLA PC appears to want to keep these soldiers to create an appearance of high numbers, in order to obtain more resources from the SPDC and political leverage. With its ongoing attempts to expand its recruiting to other regions, the number of child soldiers is likely to increase, and if the group is deployed to actively fight the KNLA these child soldiers may be deployed in combat roles. Developments in this group should therefore be closely monitored.” =

As for the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), “Though their written orders notifying villages of recruit quotas sometimes specify that recruits should not be children, the group does not reject children if they are sent in fulfillment of those quotas. A junior DKBA officer from the Dawna mountain region told Human Rights Watch. Some really want to join, but others are conscripted. Each village tract [local administrative group of five to 20 villages] has to send 10 people each time-this can be once a year or more often. People have to go for a year, then they can go home and the DKBA conscripts more. People have to take turns sending a recruit, so some parents send boys under 18. They need to fulfill this obligation. If they don't fulfill it, the DKBA can make lots of trouble for them. They don't accept crazy or sick people, but if you're normal you have to go whether you're under 18 or over 18. They don't care how old you are. This policy began in 2006. =

“He stated that even if some of the conscripts decide after a year to remain in the DKBA, the village tract must provide 10 more the next year, regardless; because of this, "annual conscription is very hard on the villagers."The officer estimated that 10 percent of DKBA forces are children if all regions are considered, but doubts that there are many under age 15. He believes that the DKBA is gradually increasing in numbers. =

“A health worker based further west in Karen state told Human Rights Watch, "Last year DKBA soldiers came into my village and I saw many young soldiers about 14 or 15 carrying weapons-[DKBA Colonel] Chit Thu's men, based at Ko Taw Law near Myawaddy." He reported that they recruit in Baw Kyo Leh area of southern Papun district, and that families who do not send a recruit when their turn comes have to pay 200,000 kyat. "They come and say, 'For each person you give the KNU [political organization controlling the KNLA-see above], you must give us one person. The villagers didn't give the recruits, though some probably volunteered and some may have given money." =

“The DKBA officer explained that a one-year tour of duty for a conscript begins with a month of training, followed by frontline duty, and the year ends with a brief refresher training, possibly with the idea that the person can be called back if needed. Child soldiers receive the "same treatment. There's no differentiation between those under 18 and those over 18, they're treated the same. For one year." The officer continued, "If you're lucky you survive, if not you're shot dead. Most of the conscripts leave after one year, because it's very hard. Then the village tract has to send 10 people again, even if some of the previous conscripts decided to stay. The demand is always the same." Given the prevalence of child soldiers within the DKBA and the group's apparent disregard for the right of children not to be recruited, the DKBA should be considered for inclusion on the U.N. secretary-general's list of groups using child soldiers. =

Offensives Against the Karen Insurgency

The Burmese military launched an offensive against the Karen National Union in 1984. Karen rebels were smashed but not defeated in January 1995 by Burmese forces armed with newly-acquired Chinese weapons who overran the Karen stronghold in Manerplaw, forcing KNU fighters in relatively small enclaves..

Describing the tactics used by Myanmar military against Karen insurgents in the 1990s, Pascal Khoo Thwe wrote in “From the Land of Green Ghosts,” "People who were obviously civilians began emerging from the jungle into the clearing in which the [Karen] headquarters stood. They came out in pairs, chained together and clearly in a state of abject terror. They were civilian porters, kidnapped like the others we had seen and forced to carry munitions and walk ahead of the troops through minefields ... The first pair stumbled on to a landmine. There was a huge explosion, the dull boom of which echoed through the jungle ... severed body parts - hands, eyes, legs - of the sacrificial victims flew instantly into the air mingled with a cloud of dust. But the chain that bound them was unbroken, so their trunks collapsed on to the ground with a hollow thud, while arms, feet and fingers were scattered among the bushes." [Source: From the Land of Green by Pascal Khoo Thwe]

In February 1997, the Burmese military launched an offensive with 100,000 troops in an effort to shut down the KNU. Tens of thousands of Karen were displaced. An unknown number died. Ethnic Karen fighters and 15,000 Karen refugees fled to Thailand. There were less than 1,500 fighters in 1997. One human rights activist told Time, “The villagers suffered terribly. There were many massacres and gang rapes.”

After the offensive the KNU remained alive but weakened. It only had an estimated 5,000 fighters in 2000. Many of the people they were supposed to help were in Thai refugee camps. The KNU was helped by two small groups: the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors and the All Burma Student Democratic Front.

Karen Struggle Intensifies in 2006 as Military Regime Opens New Capital and Plans Dams

The fighting between Myanmar’s military regime and the Karens was especially fierce in 2006, with Human Rights Watch saying a yearlong offensive displaced 27,000 civilians and killed dozens more. An offensive by the Myanmar military regime began November 2005 and was initially concentrated in the Toungoo and Nyaunglebin districts of Karen State, but by April 2006 it expanded into the Papun district where people had already been displaced. The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution denouncing human rights violations in Myanmar -- particularly atrocities in a campaign to suppress an insurgency among the Karen minority.

Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post, “Burma's military leaders... are attempting to build a broad security cordon around their new capital near the inland city of Pyinmana, located only a few miles from the border of Karen state. The result has been an extraordinary use of force to clear out existing villages in the area. Economic development appears to be another motivation for the offensive, according to observers. Burma, a country that was once one of Southeast Asia's richest nations and is now among its poorest, has sought to create revenue by signing a deal with Thailand to build multiple dams on the picturesque Salween River, which runs through Karen state. As the Burmese military attempts to exert its control over the river, it has moved into other Karen strongholds. [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post November 17, 2006 <>]

"The new capital and the dam projects have become an incredibly destructive pretext for the Burmese military to take control of Karen state using indiscriminate force," said Jack Dunford, executive director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a U.S.-funded relief group based in Bangkok. "I fear this may be the beginning of the end there." <>

Fighting typically increases in the dry season, which lasts until May, as troops take advantage of the weather to advance their positions. “In the past the the military mostly limited its attacks “to stage small, periodic sieges against mountain strongholds during Southeast Asia's dry seasons. But this year, the government's campaign has extended through the rainy season and assumed far larger dimensions, appearing to be a final assault aimed at smashing the resistance. Over the past 10 months, sources familiar with Burmese military actions say, its forces have pushed into major Karen strongholds, building 12 new permanent army bases. <>

See Salween Dams

Myanmar Offensive in 2006 Uproots 11,000 Karen Civilians

Denis D. Gray of Associated Press wrote: “Myanmar troops waging their biggest military offensive in almost a decade have uprooted more than 11,000 ethnic minority civilians in a campaign punctuated by torture, killings and the burning of villages, according to reports from inside the country and Thailand. The campaign by government troops in eastern Myanmar to suppress a decades-old insurgency among the Karen people began in November. But it has intensified in the past month, according to reports from the Free Burma Rangers, a group of Westerners and ethnic minority volunteers who provide aid to displaced people in the country formerly known as Burma. [Source: Denis D. Gray, Associated Press, April 27, 2006 ><]

“Scores of villages have been abandoned and their inhabitants forced to flee into jungles. Some 11,000 people have fled their homes due to the onslaught, the Free Burma Rangers said. About 1,500 refugees have fled across the border to Thailand, and aid officials fear others will follow in coming months to swell the more than 140,000 already in Thai refugee camps. Jack Dunford, executive director of the key frontier aid agency Thailand Burma Border Consortium, confirmed the influx, saying the refugees from Myanmar's Karen State have arrived with "stories of increased (junta) troop activity, widespread destruction of villages and crops, and human rights abuses." ><

“The military-run government has denied any human rights violations against ethnic minority groups, including the Karen, which it blames for recent bombings. "There is no offensive against the Karen National Union but security measures have been taken and cleaning-up operations are being conducted in some areas where (KNU) terrorists are believed to be hiding," Information Minister Brig. Gen. Kyaw Hsan told reporters in the former capital of Yangon earlier this month, referring to the main Karen rebel group. ><

“Analysts say the scale of the recent attacks is the largest since a major offensive against the Karen in 1997. "They don't want the KNU near their new capital," said KNU General-Secretary Mahnshar Laphan, echoing some analysts who say the military is trying to secure the hinterland east of Pyinmana, which was recently established as the new capital. ><

“In one incident described in a recent Free Burma Rangers report, Myanmar soldiers killed Saw Maw Keh as he was carrying his 80-year-old mother up a steep hillside in western Karen State earlier this month. The two were gunned down at point-blank range by soldiers waiting at the top of a ridge near their village, which was being abandoned in the face of an attack. His 9-year-old daughter also was shot but survived. Nearby, a still unidentified villager was found with one of his eyes gouged out and his nose cut off, one of several incidents of torture that the group has documented with graphic photographs and video. ><

“The group says the military is trying to separate the civilians from the guerrillas, destroying villages and food stocks to deprive the insurgents of any local support. After residents flee, the areas are mined to prevent return of the villagers who seek shelter in remote, inhospitable regions or flee to refugee camps along the Thai border, it says. ><

Myanmar Army Attacks on Karen Villagers

Reporting from Camp Eituta in Myanmar, Anthony Faiola wrote in the Washington Post, “In a burgeoning encampment here on Burma's eastern frontier, Hay Nay Tha, a 30-year-old mother of three, awakens in the darkness most nights to the sound of her children's screams. "They keep having nightmares about our journey here," she said. That journey, Hay recalled, began when she was four months pregnant and government soldiers torched her village and forced local farmers off their land. It ended four weeks later, after her husband died of malaria en route to this camp. She and her children arrived here this summer dehydrated and exhausted. Hay soon went into early labor with a stillborn son. "To be honest," the copper-skinned woman said, shyly gazing down at her hands, "I am having nightmares, too." [Source: Anthony Faiola, Washington Post November 17, 2006 ^]

“Nightmares of all kinds are rife in this camp, where new clusters of villagers arrive almost daily, a consequence of Burma's largest military offensive against its own people in more than a decade, according to aid groups and Western diplomats. The offensive has targeted minorities such as Hay, a member of the restive Karen ethnic group, which has long maintained a measure of autonomy. According to estimates by relief groups, Burmese forces have burned down more than 200 civilian villages here in Karen state, destroyed crops and placed land mines along key jungle passages to prevent refugees from returning to their home villages. Dozens of people have died, and at least 20,000 civilians have been displaced over the past eight to 10 months. ^

"What is now going on in Burma are crimes against humanity," said Sunai Phasuk, head Burma consultant for New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The military government has significantly stepped up their systemic policy of violence against the ethnic Karen with this offensive. We're talking about a mounting disaster." On a recent day at the camp, a foreign journalist with a video camera approached an ethnic Karen man and a smiling 2-year-old girl sitting on straw mats in their hut. Suddenly, the girl began screaming uncontrollably. "She thinks it's a gun," said her father, Saw Say Nay, pointing to the video camera. ^

“Saw, a farmer, fled here with his family of four. Like many displaced Karen, they had been living in hiding in the jungle since the summer, when Burmese troops began constructing a base near their village of Sayztaing Gyi, about 40 miles from the new capital. "They were going village by village, forcing men and women into labor," he said. "Then they started burning villages, so we packed what we could and escaped into the jungle. From the trees, we saw them set our homes on fire. They burned our crops. They left us with nothing." Thin and languid from malaria, Saw said he found out there was no going back after one villager tried to return, only to lose his leg when he stepped on a freshly laid land mine. "We don't know what to do," he said. "My heart wants to go back, but I know it is not safe for my family. I don't know if we can go to Thailand. I don't know if they will accept us. So we are here. We have nowhere else to go." ^

Myanmar Military Steps 2006 Attack on the Karen

In 2006, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar troops, who have already driven an estimated 15,000 Karen villagers from their homes, are marshaling at least 27 battalions to widen their offensive against the ethnic minority, a Karen group said. The Karen Human Rights Group said the troops were poised to destroy hundreds of villages in the Papun hills of eastern Myanmar, which would lead to another mass displacement of civilians. "This is not an offensive against Karen resistance forces, and there has been very little combat,'' the activist group said Tuesday. "These are attacks against undefended villages with the objective of flushing villagers out of the hills to bring them under direct military control so they can be used to support the (army) with food and forced labor.'' [Source: AP, May 16, 2006 >>]

“Myanmar's ruling military has acknowledged that its army is waging an offensive, calling the action a necessary move to suppress bombings and other attacks by anti-government guerrillas from the Karen National Union. The junta, which rarely comments on military activities, was apparently responding to growing international criticism that the offensive has uprooted thousands of ethnic Karen civilians and is causing a humanitarian crisis due to their lack of shelter and food. >>

“Operations were now spreading into Papun district where more than 1,000 people have already been displaced. "The only combat which has occurred is when Karen Army forces try to keep (junta) troops away from killing displaced villagers in their hiding places,'' the statement said. It estimated that some 4,000 to 5,000 troops were preparing to launch a major push in Papun. >>

“Attacks in the district began to escalate in April 2006. "Several villages have already been burned, rice supplies systematically destroyed, and villagers shot on sight,'' it said. A number interviewed last week by The Associated Press inside Myanmar confirmed widespread earlier reports of executions, looting and torching of villages by the Myanmar troops. >>

See Karen Refugees

Fighting Involving the Karens in 2007

In April 2007, Associated Press reported: “ The pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) launched attacks against the Karen National Union rebels on Saturday, said Police Lt Col Thawal Patanachareon, field commander of Thailand’s border patrol police. Thawal said the DKBA fired several mortar shells into mobile Karen National Union camps. “More than 50 mortar shells hit three KNU camps, where about 80 KNU fighters were based,” Thawal said. The offensive prompted at least 250 Karen civilians, mostly women and children, to flee into Thailand early Sunday via the Moie river to seek refuge in Mae Ramat district, about 400 kilometers northwest of Bangkok, he said. Mae Ramat’s district chief, Pantip Chantindong, said the refugees would likely return home when the latest fighting ends. [Source: AP, April 9, 2007]

In June 2007, Associated Press reported: Insurgents ambushed two buses in eastern Myanmar, leaving 27 people dead and 11 wounded, state-run media reported Monday. Karen rebels claimed responsibility for one of the attacks. The New Light of Myanmar newspaper, which serves as a mouthpiece for the military government, said the insurgents “are trying to undermine national stability, community peace and the rule of law,” but it didn’t identify the militants behind the attack. The newspaper said insurgents attacked a passenger bus using a bomb and small arms fire in the eastern Karen state on Thursday, killing 10 passengers including a Buddhist monk, and wounding three others. The bus was heading for Thingannyinaung town in Karen, which is also known as Kayin State, it said. A spokesman for the Karen National Union claimed responsibility for the attack, but insisted it targeted a pickup truck full of pro-government Democratic Karen Buddhist Army paramilitary soldiers, not civilians. [Source: AP, June 27, 2007 <<]

“That was us. It was a pickup truck full of DKBA soldiers,” KNU Information Officer David Tharckabaw told The Associated Press. A spokesman for Commander Motelone of the DKBA backed up Tharckabaw’s claim, saying the truck first hit a landmine then came under attack from the Karen rebels. The DKBA representative, who sought anonymity because he does not have the authority to speak to media, said eight DKBA soldiers, a Buddhist monk and a civilian died in the ambush. <<

“The newspaper also reported on a bus attack in the eastern Kayah state. It said insurgents ambushed the bus, killing 17 civilian passengers and wounding eight more, somewhere between Loikaw, the state capital, and Mawchi town. Tharckabaw said the KNU does not operate in that area, and that he knew nothing about the reported ambush. Motelone’s spokesman said the second ambush described in the newspaper took place a month before. Myanmar experts often doubt the accuracy of reports by state-run media.” <<

Fighting Involving the Karens in 2009 and 2010

On fighting that took place in Karen areas in 2009, Damir Sagolj of Reuters wrote: “Thousands fled into Thailand in June 2009 when the army clashed with the Karen National Union (KNU). Aid workers say the number of refugees from the former Burma has slowed in late 2009 but the situation is delicate, with continued low-intensity fighting between KNU rebels and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), aligned with the military. According to his sources, KNU troops ambushed a regime battalion on December 16, killing a tactical commander and 14 solders and wounding 17. Three days later, two government soldiers were killed and four wounded in clashes in a rebel-held area controlled by the KNU's sixth brigade. [Source: Damir Sagolj, Reuters, January 7, 2010 /\]

“The fighting, they say, suggests little progress in resolving one of the world's longest-running insurgencies, raising the prospect of more instability and more refugees. It also underscores the fragility of the government's ceasefire agreements with more than a dozen armed ethnic groups. "Up here there is fighting every week," said David Eubank, a relief worker in Myanmar's northern Karen State and director of the Free Burma Rangers, He said there were no large-scale offensives yet but that Myanmar's military was re-supplying its camps. “Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, said forces loyal to the government were also building up supplies after deadly clashes. "The regime's troops in Karen State are gathering food and other supplies," he said. /\

In November 2010, AFP reported: “Rebel troops clashed with government soldiers in a town in eastern Myanmar after rare elections, leaving three civilians dead and causing thousands to flee across the Thai border, officials said. Eleven more people were injured when heavy weapons fire from ethnic rebels hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, said an official in the military-ruled country who did not want to be named. There was no information on any troop casualties on either side. A Thai military official on the border said one rocket propelled grenade landed on the Thai side in Mae Sot, injuring several people. Mae Sot district chief Kittisak Tomornsak said about 7,000 people had fled across the border from Myanmar, while Thailand had evacuated people from along the river in the area. “The fighting now is over,” he said. [Source: AFP, November 8, 2010 \/]

“ Tensions soared on polling day in November 2010 when Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) ethnic rebels occupied Myawaddy town in Karen state, sparking a state army counter-attack and a mass exodus of civilians into Thailand. Subsequent sporadic fighting at several points along the border, with state troops conducting a major build-up in the area, has caused continued displacement. "Sadly, so far neither side in the recent fighting has shown much regard for the civilians caught in the crossfire," Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch said, adding that they suffered from indiscriminate shelling and rights abuses such as forced labour. [Source: AFP, December 5, 2010]

“Myanmar’s own checkpoint on the other side of the river has been shut for several months, although many migrants cross the porous border illegally. Thailand-based general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), Zipporah Sein said skirmishes broke out between up to 300 Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) soldiers and the government army. “We don’t know definitely but I think last night the army sent over more troops, they negotiated and the DKBA retreated but this morning they were blocked by army trucks and then it started,” she said. She said the fighting was contained in the town but added that if it spilled into surrounding areas, up to 500 DKBA troops and 900 KNU soldiers could join the battle. \/

“The week before the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an exile media organisation, reported that six armed groups in Myanmar’s troubled ethnic minority areas had agreed to help each other fight back if attacked by government forces. The clash followed an armed demonstration by the rebels over the election as well as attempts to force ethnic minority troops to join a border guard force — which would put them under state control. The exact circumstances were unclear. Local DKBA commander Na Kham Mwe told the exile news website Irrawaddy that government troops opened fire first. “More and more troops are being sent by the Burmese government. It seems they don’t want to negotiate,” he said, using Myanmar’s former name...Observers say the state’s determination to crush ethnic rebels appeared to have increased as elections loomed. The Myanmar authorities scrapped voting in swathes of ethnic-minority areas, citing security concerns. \/

Logging, Human Rights and Funding the Karen Insurgency

According to report an interview with a village chief in Mergui/Tavoy District by Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG): “The 40-year-old G--- village head, Saw K---, who described abusive practices perpetrated by the Tatmadaw in his village throughout the previous four year period, including forced labour, arbitrary taxation in the form of both goods and money, and obstructions to humanitarian relief, specifically medical care availability and education support. Saw K--- also discussed development projects and land confiscation that has occurred in the area, including one oil palm company that came to deforest 700 acres of land next to G--- village in order to plant oil palm trees, as well as the arrival of a Malaysian logging company, neither of which provided any compensation to villagers for the land that was confiscated. However, the Malaysian logging company did provide enough wood, iron nails and roofing material for one school in the village, and promised the villagers that it would provide additional support later. Saw K--- raised other concerns regarding the food security, health care and difficulties with providing education for children in the village. In order to address these issues, Saw K--- explained that villagers have met with the Ler Mu Lah Township leaders to solve land confiscation problems, but some G--- villagers have had to give up their land, including a full nursery of betel nut plantations, based on the company’s claim that the plantations were illegally maintained." [Source: Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), July 18, 2012]

The article “Kawthoolei and Teak: Karen Forest Management on the Thai-Burmese Border” described how the “The Karen State of Kawthoolei has been heavily dependent on teak extraction to fund the Karen National Union struggle against the Burmese military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Raymond Bryant explores the social and economic structure of Kawthoolei, and the way in which resource extraction was more than simply a source of revenue it was also an integral part of the assertion of Karen sovereignty..." [Source: Raymond Bryant, "Watershed" Vol.3 No.1 July - October 1997m June 3, 2003]

Peace Efforts with the Karen

A Karen delegation was close to signing a peace agreement with Myanmar’s military government in 2004 but those talks fell apart after Gen. Khin Nyunt, one of Myanmar’s top three leaders, was purged and replaced by a more hard-line general. Associated Press reported: “One of the few unchallenged accomplishments of Myanmar's military junta -- securing peace with the country's armed ethnic rebel groups -- may be in jeopardy after Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt lost his job. A delegation of Karen ethnic guerrillas — among the last rebel groups that has not signed a cease-fire with the government — returned to their jungle bases from a peace mission to Myanmar's capital, staying only two days for what were supposed to be week-long talks. The interruption came after Khin Nyunt, architect of 17 ceasefires reached with ethnic separatists, was abruptly ousted and replaced with Lt. Gen. Soe Win, who is associated with a more hard-line army faction disinclined to compromise with its opponents. [Source: AP, October 22, 2004 ^^]

``The generals are clinging to a military solution, we believe that once they settle their internal affairs, the military will launch more offensives on the ethnic nationalities,'' said, Khur Hsen. spokeswoman for the Shan State Army. They sacked Khin Nyunt because Khin Nyunt pushed for democracy and national reconciliation with ethnic minorities.'' The Karen National Union — the only major group that hadn't signed a full cease-fire agreement at that time — entered into peace talks in 2003. Its 16-member delegation arrived in Yangon for a third round of formal talks just as Khin Nyunt was being ousted. The group said nothing untoward occurred during their abbreviated talks, denying reports they had been held under house arrest in the Myanmar capital. ``We understood their elders were busy because of sudden (political) changes, and they asked us to meet again next time but the date has not been fixed yet,'' said David Htaw, the group's foreign affairs chief and head of the delegation. ^^

In April 2009, Associated Press reported: “Myanmar confirmed that it had made peace with a splinter group of Karen rebels. Government spokesman Ye Htut told The Associated Press that Saw Nay Soe Mya, the son of a late Karen leader, his 71 followers and 88 of their family members turned themselves in to authorities in Htokawko village. They will be allowed to keep their weapons, he said. The peace deal is unlikely to end fighting between Karen rebels and the government since his group represents such a small number of fighters. The Myanmar army launched a major offensive in eastern Karen state in 2005. It has also successfully enticed elements of the KNU to the bargaining table as part of a campaign to split up the group. In 2007, the government announced that a splinter group led by Brig. Gen. Htein Maung had agreed to a peace deal. [Source: AP, April 6, 2009]

Myanmar Government and Karen Rebels Sign Ceasefire

In January 2012, Myanmar's government and Karen National Union (KNU) signed a ceasefire, raising hopes of an end to one of the world's longest-running civil conflicts. Hla Hla Htay of AFP wrote: “In the latest of Myanmar's tentative attempts at reform, a delegation of ministers from the capital Naypyidaw and senior members of the Karen National Union (KNU) signed the pact in Hpa-an, capital of war-torn eastern Karen state. KNU spokesman David Htaw said the group would now choose a representative to hold further talks with the central government within 45 days of the preliminary pact, which he said was "based on trust". "Our duty just started. We have many things to do," he told reporters, adding that the government had shown "real benevolence". Railways minister Aung Min, among those who signed the ceasefire, declared the day a "victory of 60 million people" -- referring to the whole population of Myanmar. [Source: Hla Hla Htay, AFP, January 12, 2012 ~~]

News of the ceasefire was greeted warily by Karen Communities Worldwide, which represents Karen who have fled the eastern region of Myanmar. "A ceasefire alone tackles the symptoms, not the causes. There must also be political dialogue for a permanent political solution," a statement said, accusing the government of still attacking and killing in Karen villages. Myanmar expert Renaud Egreteau, at the University of Hong Kong, also warned that previous attempts at lasting peace had failed and called for all Karen splinter groups to be included in further necessary talks. ~~

Karen Leader Released for Peace Talks Six Days After Being Give a Life Sentence

Phado Man Nyein Maung is a senior political figure in the Karen National Union (KNU). In March 2012, Myanmar's president Thein Sein ordered his release from jail to allow him to join peace talks just six days after he was sentenced to life imprisonment for high treason. After he was freed from the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon he was taken to the new capital, Naypyitaw, to meet senior government officials. "I heard the peace talks between the KNU and the government will resume in the first week of April and Phado Man Nyein Maung is expected to take part in it," Kyi Myint, his lawyer, told Reuters.[Source: Reuters March 19, 2012 ***]

Reuters reported: “Phado Man Nyein Maung, 70, was convicted on March 13 under Myanmar's Illegal Association Act for his involvement in a long-running rebellion and was expected to serve at least 20 years in prison. His release comes amid dialogue between Myanmar's civilian government and more than a dozen separatist groups in pursuit of "everlasting peace" after decades of fighting in the ethnically diverse, resource-rich country. Phado Man Nyein Maung has been jailed at least two occasions under former military regimes. ***

“His release comes amid dialogue between Myanmar's civilian government and more than a dozen separatist groups in pursuit of "everlasting peace" after decades of fighting in the ethnically diverse, resource-rich country. The KNU is expected to be the first group to reach the second stage of the process and political talks, which could involve some form of decentralisation, are expected to start in April. Parliamentary by-elections will also be held in April. ***

Myanmar President Holds Landmark Talks with Karen Rebels

In April 2012, Reuters reported: “Myanmar's president had a landmark meeting with one of the country's biggest ethnic rebel groups, a mediator said, marking one of the biggest steps taken by a government seeking "everlasting peace" after decades of hostilities. Thein Sein told a visiting delegation of the Karen National Union (KNU) that his government viewed the rebels as brothers rather than enemy with whom the army had fought since 1949. The meeting in the capital Naypyitaw was the first time the reform-minded president had met rebel leaders since he issued a call for dialogue in August 2011, embarking on a three-phase peace process with more than a dozen groups aimed at bringing them into Myanmar's new political system. [Source: Reuters, April 07, 2012]

"The president explained his change of attitude towards ethnic armed groups," a mediator who attended the meeting told Reuters, "He told them he considered ethnic armed groups as enemies when he was a soldier but after becoming president, he considers them as ethnic brethren." Government negotiators started political talks with the KNU, marking the beginning of second stage of the process, which is expected to focus on how the groups can enter national politics while maintaining some kind of self-governance at regional level. Two state negotiating groups have reached ceasefire agreements - stage one - with about a dozen armies or ethnic-based political groups so far. The mediator attending Thein Sein's meeting said the 66-year-old president had indicated the constitution could be amended to give all groups political representation.

Doubts by Karen Leaders About the Myanmar Government’s Promises of Peace

In March 2012, Saw Yan Naing wrote in The Irrawaddy: Land disputes and a history of false promises mean that ethnic Karen leaders and human rights groups are questioning the government’s sincerity when it talks of a “permanent peace” with the rebels. At a Karen National Union (KNU) base on the bank of the Salween River, Lt-Col Maw Wah said the current position of the Burmese government differs only cosmetically in many ways from previous calls for the rebels to “surrender.” [Source: Saw Yan Naing. The Irrawaddy| Tuesday, March 12, 2013]

Earlier manifestations of Myanmar’s military regime initially called for surrender then ordered the KNU to hand over its arms then changed the language slightly, calling for the Karen to “exchange its arms for peace.” Now the government speaks of a “permanent peace” with the ethnic Karen rebels. There is no talk of surrender, but Maw Wah thinks the government’s goal is the same. “This time, they don’t fight us using military means. They want a ceasefire, to open liaison offices, plan for development projects and businesses. But it is their attempt to defeat us in a soft way,” Maw Wah said.

The KNU, which has been fighting the central government for almost 65 years, signed a peace accord with the government on Jan. 12, 2012. But the facts on the ground have not significantly improved since the agreement was signed, according to Maw Wah, who said the state has failed to meet its pledges, such as the removal of government troops from KNU areas. Instead troops have been busy rebuilding army bases and re-supplying its forces in Karen State, Maw Wah said.

Government Tries to Seduce Karen Rebels with Investment While It Confiscates Land

Saw Yan Naing wrote in The Irrawaddy: “Some observers believe the government is trying to seduce rebel leaders with the perks of investment projects in Karen State in the hope they will disarm. Aung Min, the top negotiator in the peace process between the rebels and the government, has said in the past that if the government can enrich ethnic leaders they will lose interest in the fighting.” [Source: Saw Yan Naing. The Irrawaddy| Tuesday, March 12, 2013]

But the issue of investment in Karen State is one of the motivating factors behind a continued struggle. Land confiscations and evictions are likely to increase as investment in Karen State grows. Civilians in Karen State report a lack of consultation prior to commercial projects being undertaken in their villages, according to a report released last week by the Karen Human Rights Group. Many claim their land has been expropriated to make way for construction projects, mines, farms and dams. A report by the Farmland Investigation Commission reported that it had received 565 complaints between late July 2012 and January across the country alleging the military had forcibly confiscated almost 100,000 hectares of land in that period.

The KNU leadership has been accused of siding with the government in development and business issues and of a lack of transparency in its affairs. Poe Tha Mya, a military medic who served with the KNU’s military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, said: “I think they [the KNU leaders] will try their best. But the plan of our enemy [the government] is very clever and systematic. “If you are not carefully aware of it, you will be in their pocket.” He added that the government seemed to be attempting to buy time to encourage the ethnic armed groups to cooperate with their investment plan for the region. “They [the government] has already said that there can be only one armed force in a nation,” said Poe Tha Mya, adding that he agreed with the principle, but only if the government is democratic and fair.

Saw Daw Lay Mu, a leading KNU central committee member, said that there are a lot of pending issues—including a “code of conduct”—that need to be discussed by the KNU and the government peace delegation. “The situation is uncertain. We are now only under the agreement of the ceasefire. They [government peace delegates] have to submit the code of conduct to the higher officials and we will keep discussing it again after they approve it. So far, things are uncertain as we haven’t discussed about it in detail,” Daw Lay Mu said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia, edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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