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The Karen National Union (KNU) today dismissed three senior rebel leaders for opening an unauthorised liaison office with the Burmese government in the state capital Hpa-an.
Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) Commander-in-Chief Mutu Say Poe and central executive committee members David Htaw and Roger Khin all faced the axe on Thursday over allegations of organisational misconduct, according to local sources.
While the KNU has yet to issue a formal statement, it is the strongest indication yet of a split within its senior ranks since inking a tentative peace deal with the Burmese government in January.
A group led by General Mutu Say Poe opened the contested office in Hpa-an last week, days after the KNU’s Supreme Headquarters released a statement insisting it did “not have any knowledge” of their plans and emphasised that the KNLA is a branch of the KNU.
Senior figures from Burma’s Union parliament, including Ethnic Affairs Minister Aung Min, who is currently leading the government’s peace negotiations with armed groups, were also in attendance.
“The KNU has firmly resolved to achieve genuine peace by resolving the political problems by political means. In order to achieve that end, the KNU has laid down a program to conduct negotiations progressively and systematically,” said the statement.
General Mutu Say Poe told DVB that he heard the news of his dismissal while in Rangoon, but was unwilling to comment further.
Mutu Say Poe and David Htaw, key players in the KNU’s early peace negotiations, including the historic January ceasefire deal, have previously faced internal criticisms for moving too quickly. General Secretary Zipporah Sein told the New York Times shortly after the agreement that their peace delegation were “not authorised” to sign a deal. She has since taken the lead of negotiations.
The KNU has met twice more with the government’s peace delegation to discuss troop positioning, a mutual code of conduct and the opening of liaison offices, of which three have officially been established.
The European Karen Network (EKN) today accused the regime of employing “divide and rule tactics against the Karen”, which “raise serious questions about the Burmese government’s sincerity in its peace negotiations”.
“It is not the first time that they have tried to split the KNU, that is their tactic. They have been using it for a long time,” EKN spokesperson Htoo Ku Hsar Say told DVB. “They allow this group to open a liaison office without the approval of the KNU’s central committee. They are responsible for that.”
The EKN also expressed concern over the impact of the Norwegian-led Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI), which is designed to support the fragile peace process, including the establishment of liaison offices. The initiative has already faced accusations of lacking transparency, excluding community voices and moving too quickly.
“We are concerned about the role of some individuals working for the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative with regards to the unauthorised liaison office,” said EKN in a statement. “Peace funds may undermine the peace that they are supposed to be supporting.”
Htoo Ku Hsar Say called on the MPSI to publish all details of their meetings and conversations relating to the unauthorised liaison office. “Our main message is there must be transparency. We as citizens of Burma know nothing about the peace process.”
The MPSI could not be reached for comment.