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KNU rejects Union Day commitment

Karen National Union Chairman, Mutu Say Poe, has been criticised by the KNU for signing a Union Day commitment with the government. Here he addresses NCCT delegates in Laiza on Friday, 25 July 2014. (PHOTO: DVB)

The Karen National Union (KNU) has denounced the signing of a “deed of commitment” by two of its representatives with the government in Naypyidaw last week.

In a statement released on Monday, the group say that the two signatories from the KNU, Chairman Mutu Say Poe and Secretary Saw Kwe Htoo Win, were not acting in accordance with the group’s standing committee.

Representatives from over 50 political parties and four armed groups signed the “deed of commitment for peace and national reconciliation” with the government on Union Day. There were 13 armed groups in attendance at the celebrations in Burma’s capital on 12 February.

Members of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, the Karen National Union-Peace Council and the Shan State Army-South were also signatories to the deed.

The Deputy Chair of the KNU, Zipporah Sein, told DVB that at a meeting earlier this month, the standing committee had agreed to send representatives to attend the celebrations. However, she said, it was also agreed that any agreement signed with the government should be acceptable not only to the KNU, but also to other ethnic armed groups.

Nine of the 13 armed groups attending the Union Day event refused to sign the deed.

“We made no decision to sign anything. It is concerning that only two ethnicities were represented by the armed groups who signed the agreement, while everyone else refused. This could lead to misunderstandings with other ethnic groups,” said Zipporah Sein.

“We believe that bringing about a ceasefire and political dialogue should be a united effort between various ethnic armed groups – not just one or two. This turn of events may be detrimental to this effort,” she added.

Mutu Say Poe and Saw Kwe Htoo Win could not be reached for comment.

Zipporah Sein has also said that governmental attempts to single out individual armed groups for separate deals, as opposed to working on a single ceasefire pact with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), could lead to misunderstandings amongst ethnic armed groups.

The NCCT is a collective of representatives of all armed ethnic groups involved in ceasefire negotiation, and was formed by the Union Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of armed groups, in 2013.

The commitment signed on 12 February includes five points of agreement, including: to prioritise the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement; to find political rather than military solutions to the country’s issues; and to swiftly facilitate political dialogue that is inclusive to all.

There have been factional tensions in the KNU in recent years, with allies of Zipporah Sein and Mutu Say Poe favouring different paces of ceasefire negotiation with the government. Mutu Say Poe appears to be prepared for a speedier resolution to the issue, and walked out of a UNFC meeting last year, reportedly angered by the cautious approach of the group.

The KNU subsequently resigned from the UNFC, but remained a member of the NCCT.