65 years of Karen Liberation Day: Seeing the fighting situation through KNU’s Vice Commander’s eyes

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At once, there were about 200 soldiers marched onto the field and encouraged the music loudly. The children and adults were standing while watching the ceremonial parades. Everyone was silent and paying attention to their brave soldiers with an admiring look. It’s a moment that happened with smile and joy.

 

On 31 January 2014, Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) organized a military parade as a part of the reminiscent of 65 years anniversary of Karen Liberation Day and National Day at the 5th Brigade territory, Depunu Village, Mutraw District, Karen state. There were some leaders and seniors of Karen National Union (KNU) and KNLA with their strong participating, such as Mrs. Zipporah Sein, the Vice President, Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae, the KNLA’s Vice Chief of Staff and representatives of various ethnic armed groups. Crowded by over 10,000 of Karen people from Thailand and some cities in Burma, as well as Karen people from far countries, such as USA and Australia travelled to join the ceremony, the atmosphere going bustling throughout the three days of the event.

 

Travelling from Thailand to the Depunu village is also quite difficult. We went by boat upstream, from Ban Mae Sam Lab port (Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son Province) to the Salween River, it took approximately 4 hours. Then we got off the boat at the port of Mae Nuethar. If you walk like most locals people, it takes you half a day. But fortunately, the 5th Brigade had sent a car to pick us up by a Kubota tractor that was converted into front and rear seats. It traverses peaks and across the water and creeks. It took approximately 4 hours.

 

Land of Depunu is known as fertile surrounded by mountains and Yun Salin River flowing through its center. By the headwaters, there are some beautiful waterfalls and sacred of Karen people it’s hard to reach for the outsiders.

The parade to commemorate the saga of Karen began at 7:30 am by the host reported and read a letter of congratulations of organizations, including giving the welcome speeches of dignitaries who were attending the ceremony.

 

“People, do not trust completely that we would have peace as the Burmese government is telling, because the negotiations is not in progress. We need to create a common understanding further for our ultimate goal and ideology what we want our people to live together happily in freedom. During 65 years, we have passed many difficulties. We must be patient, even if it takes longer,” said Zipporah Sein, the Vice President of KNU.

 

However, the most prominent person of this event is Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae, the former commander of the 5th Brigade and president of the military parade this tme.

 

Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae, 53 years old, is admired and encouraged by Karen people. His widespread acceptance is rising day by day. He had been nominated to the position of commander in chief but he decided to step aside for Gen. Saw Johnny who was a senior military. The various parties strongly believe that within 1-2 years, after retirement of Gen. Johnny, he would be appointed to the highest position in KNLA.

 

Among the volatile situation in the various ethnic groups after the Burmese government opens the country and offers the peace talks, it causes a rift of opinion within the various ethnic fighters groups. KNU are suffering such as problems as well. More than one year prior, Gen. Mutu Say Poe was staggered out of the Commander in Chief because of the violating regulations on opening liaison office of KNU at Pa-an city without permission. After that, in the general assembly, he was chosen to serve as Chairman of KNU while Zipporah Sein was transferred from the Secretary to Vice Chairman of KNU and Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae was promoted from the 5th Brigade commander to deputy commander in chief, with Gen. Johnny is the Commander in Chief.

 

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At the conclusion of the ceremony, the parade commemorates the heroic Karen; group of young women dressed in white and marched to give flowers to the soldiers. This is a warm gesture while many people took photos with soldiers.

When the parade finished and VIP guests returned, Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae permitted the team of journalists from Transborder News to have a special interview at his private place. He said that combat situations between KNLA and the Burmese military, so far, there have not been any sign of a cease-fire. We must be always ready to defend our self. While the spy reported that the Burmese troops are preparing to invade KNLA. If they come, the fighting will definitely break out.

 

“The Burmese government does not always give clear details about the cease-fire. They just tell the outside world about the peace talks. They don’t withdraw the troops who settle down in Karen state but sent more force to the area in 10 locations. So, how can we trust them? On the previous day, the Burmese truck carrying supplies was bombed. We’ve told them how far they could come but they did not believe us. They took another route secretly, so it was a blast. But other night misunderstand that we attacked them. In spite of the fact, they were invading us. “, Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae reflects the facts that occurred.

 

Currently, the sound of gunfire and explosions in the various ethnic forces area or even in the area of Karen State, in charge of other brigade was reduced. But in the silence, he fears more troubles.

 

“I was worried I know the future is very dangerous if they allow the Burmese military come everywhere in our area. While the ceasefire talk makes no progress and not signed yet. If they really want peace, they need to take their soldiers away from our area. Because we can take care of our people, but Burmese tries to send the soldiers to station along the Salween River in Karen Stat, claiming to protect the country from Thailand. But we never had any trouble with Thailand. We never fight with Thai soldiers. Only Burmese that should get out of our area.”

 

According to the military power structure of KNLA, the whole area was divided into 7 Brigades in 7 districts, but few of them remain committed to fight with Burmese military. While the rest have been abolished by benefits and fatigue after a long time battle or even comply with Burmese government after negotiation. But the main force who still continues their resistance is the 5th Brigade.

 

“Actually, from the division 1-7, we have the same goal is that we have to make people truly live in peace and freedom. Whether the rule is in any form, it is a federal or whatever, but we must have freedom in ourselves. We want the world to know that Karen is an independent state” Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae describes the ideological struggle.

 

Not only military strength that cause the recognition and popularity of Gen. Baw Kyaw Hae among Karen people, but also his determination, never be influenced by benefits. This makes better image comparing to a lot of leaders who take advantage of an opportunity for their pocket when Burma open its door. In spite of rich in timber and minerals in the 5th Brigade territory, as well as a mega project to build Hat Gyi Dam on the Salween River invested by Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT)in the area, he closes the door to capitalists.

 

“We will not allow building a dam here. It will have impact on many people. Also there is a wildlife sanctuary in the area. If the dam were built, all the wildlife and forest will be depleted. EGAT have asked for our permission to explore the area. We replied that we can discuss about it but only between Thai and Karen government. Don’t let Burmese be involved. This is our homeland.”

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What to inspire the Gen. A. Baw Kyaw Hae much in the moment is there are more juvenile and young people voluntary enlisted in the 5th Brigade.

 

“I believe that new military want accuracy. We should be an example. For the people who see only the personal benefits, we have to limit their role.”

 

When asked if there is any fear or feeling desolated because the area is surrounded by capital and Burmese military, he replied without thinking that “I’m not afraid if we die in our area. It is gratifying. Some another people may not know but here we know it well”

This is the declaration the Karen have heard before.

 

While the other countries in the world are keeping their eyes on Myanmar and choose to believe that peace has occurred in this country. On the other hand, the area between Thailand and Karenni state, troops of 5th Brigade of KNLA and Burmese soldiers still fight hard.

 

The strength of the 5th Brigade shown in the parade as well as the ongoing of gunfire in the area are the sign warning that “Peace” in Myanmar doesn’t gain by persuasive words or it would happen in the short time.

 

Translated from  “65 ปีวันอิสรภาพกระเหรี่ยง มองสถานการณ์สู้รบผ่านพล.อ.บอจ่อ แฮ รองผบ.สส.เคเอ็นยู”
by Passakorn Jamlongrach 

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