CHIANG MAI, Thailand — In a clear sign of division within ethnic armed organization the Karen National Union (KNU), a faction of leaders seen as “hardliners” dubious of the government’s peace process lost in the KNU’s recent election—despite reportedly trying to negotiate with the larger consensus.
The leaders who were not re-elected to the KNU’s central standing committee (CSC) included former vice chairperson Naw Zipporah Sein, former joint secretaries Padoh Mahn Mahn and Saw Thaw Thee Bwe, and Gen Saw Baw Kyaw Heh, second in command of the KNU’s armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
On the other hand, chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe was re-elected and will lead the organization for the next four years. Praised for his pragmatism but criticized for leading with a lack of transparency, the chairman has built a relationship the Burma Army’s key players, including its chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
The cracks between the two KNU factions began to show in 2012 when Saw Mutu Say Poe signed a ceasefire agreement with the previous government. Naw Zipporah Sein then led an abortive attempt to dismiss Saw Mutu Say Poe, creating camps that some observers now describe as “KNU A” and “KNU B.”
One source within the KNU who attended the organization’s recent congress told The Irrawaddy that Naw Zipporah Sein’s faction tried to negotiate with the other side before the election, in order to bring representatives from each of the two sides into the leadership. However, the bigger faction allegedly rejected the overture.
“We tried to negotiate, but they didn’t accept the idea,” said the source, who asked for anonymity. “So, it was sort of like we were finished with each other.”
When Naw Zipporah Sein’s faction suggested increasing the number of members in the CSC by 10 to a total of 55, the 217 representatives of the KNU who attended the congress voted in favor of the idea...
Saw Yan Naing