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The Karen National Union kicked off its 16th Congress in Karen State on Tuesday, with the influential ethnic armed group set to appoint a revamped leadership.
The event is being held at the KNU’s Lawkheela headquarters, joined by delegations of the seven brigades of the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and representatives from other Karen armed groups, Karen communities across Burma and overseas, civil society groups and political parties.
At this year’s congress, the KNU is expected to appoint a new chair and executive committee members as well as permanent executive members.
On Tuesday, the group’s current chairman Mutu Say Poe said the KNU was continuing its decades-long endeavour to bring democracy and federalism to Burma. The chairman urged all Karen people to contribute where they can to reach that goal.
“It is essential that all Karen people contribute where they can to achieve our goal. Recently, we were able to start a regional level political dialogue with Karen political parties and civil society organisations including environmental groups to discuss the ultimate aims of the Karen people — this was the first time in over 60 years that Karen people had come together in unity to set out our political ambitions,” he said during his opening speech, delivered in the Karen language.
“We have yet to reach our political goals and we cannot stop our movement until we do.”
It was not clear as the congress convened whether Mutu Say Poe would seek another term as KNU chairman.
The KNU Congress is held once every four years, usually around November and December. The congress getting underway this week was supposed to take place late last year but was delayed due to scheduling concerns in relation to the government-led Union Peace Conference and subsequent “national-level” regional political dialogues.
The KNU was one of eight non-state armed groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government in October 2015, and is considered to be one of the most influential of the signatories.