June 21, 2005

Confronting the Realities

Confronting the Realities: KNU Weighs Strategic Options for Burma's Political Deadlock

By Saw Kapi

MIZZIMA - March 19, 2004— Speculations abound within Burma's democratic forces and the international community in response to the proposal of the State Peace and Development Council, one of the longest-lasting military regimes in the world. The SPDC offers its seven-step road map that calls for the resumption of National Convention as its first step. Last week, the junta quietly sent its representative, Col. San Bwint, to the Thai-Burmese border to persuade the Karens to come back to the "legal fold" and to take part in the proposed process. Along with Col. San Bwint came U Khun Mya (a well-known Kachin ceasefire broker) and Rev. Saw Margay Gyi. Margay Gyi is the general secretary of the Bible Society - Burma, who is known for his cordial relationship with Prime Minister Khin Nyunt. Meanwhile, some Karen academics and> businessmen in Rangoon are eager to persuade the KNU to give serious consideration to PM Khin Nyunt's "road map" and to seize whatever opportunities there might be contained in the offer. Although the SPDC's intention toward the KNU remains unclear, it is obvious to the opposition forces that PM is strategetically approaching both cease-fire and non-cease-fire armed resistance groups to push for his seven-step initiative. Khin Nyunt is beefed up by supports from China and neighboring countries such as Thailand.

The KNU leadership needs to adopt a multi-prong approach that goes beyond usual closed-circle meetings among themselves. The rank and file of Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of KNU and other key democratic allies need to be informed strategically on time on the development of the situation. Keeping the international community and media organizations in the loop and seeking assistance from the Karen Diaspora in particular could be considered as part of a broader strategy.

The KNU has for the most part strived to find a more enduring solution to Burma's political problem by working with other nationalities and Burmese pro-democracy opposition groups. At the moment, the KNU seems to take a step further and explore the PM Khin Nyunt's seven-step political roadmap. A team of delegates including Maj. Ner Dah Mya, the commander of the KNLA's battalion 201 and son of KNU Vice Chairman Gen. Saw Bo Mya, and Lt. Col. Paw Doh of KNLA's Special Battalion 101, reportedly met with Col. San Bwint, the SPDC representative. Soon, a five-member KNU team also flew into Yangon on Wednesday evening. The five-member team that flew to Yangon apparently did not include Maj. Ner Dah Mya. The delegation is meeting with high-ranking SPDC officials including PM Khin Nyunt. Sources from the KNU stated, however, that the team has not been given any authority by the KNU Central Committee to cut any deal. According to these sources, the team was authorized only to find out various proposed options of solving Burma's political problem. The fact that Gen. Bo Mya himself has orchestrated this move makes it more interesting. The KNU team, which consists mainly of junior KNLA commanders, raises some questions on the seriousness of the meeting. Nevertheless, the move indicates KNU's noteworthy but unusual approach. This type of engagement cannot, however, be considered a policy change, because the KNU's official position has always emphasized its willingness to discuss political issues with SPDC. Whether the KNU will be invited to attend the National Convention or not remains a matter of speculation. The KNU may accept the invitation as an opportunity to resolve political deadlock with the SPDC, but the KNU will surely take into consideration the NLD's official position regarding the convention.

Burma's current ethnic problems should be examined in larger regional context, given the recent surging interest and involvement of the Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai in Burmese internal politics. Some senior Thai officials are reportedly persuading the KNU for a ceasefire agreement with the SPDC. The Bangkok Post reports that Thailand will host an international meeting to discuss Burma’s proposed "road map" toward democratic transition in Bangkok this month. According to the report, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra confirmed Thailand was expecting representatives from up to 10 countries to attend the forum which is due to be held on December 15. As Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yeu has effectively retired and Prime Minister Mahathia Mohammad of Malaysia is soon to leave his office, it seems that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is keen on asserting Thai political influence over the Southeast Asian regional matters. Both Shinawatra and Sathirathai see the attempts to resolve Burma's political deadlock as a stepping stone for addressing larger regional issues. Both see the need to tame the rogue Burmese regime and both understand that solving the Burma's problem and/or keeping it at a manageable level would benefit their country politically and economically. Foreign policies, in the end, are a product of both national interests and personal ambitions.

On the one hand, the KNU must strategically consider its options to get out of the current political deadlock and find the best possible solution for the Karen people and Burma. But it would be foolhardy, on the other hand, to deal with the SPDC as if it was a completely unified entity with all the good intentions for the country. Some raised concerns that if the pro-democracy opposition groups, including the National League for Democracy and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, choose to reject PM Khin Nyunt's seven-step road map, it will strengthen the position of hardliners within the SPDC. Ethnic national armed resistance groups have limited options, as it is evident from the fifty plus years of resistance against successive military regimes. Of particular concern is the Karens, whose destiny should not be solely at the mercy of the SPDC. For a regime that has relied on the policy of suppression for decades, sincerity has not been a significant concern and, presumably, is not of high importance. It is up to the KNU and other democratic forces to continue struggling with a knowledge that politics is dynamic, and that any political outcomes will depend on their ability to strike a strategic deal at the right time with their opponents.

Edward W. Said, the late world-renowned Palestinian intellectual who passed away recently in New York in exile, once observed that "Look at situation as contingent, not as inevitable, look at them as the result of a series of historical choices made by men and women, as facts of society made by human beings . . . “ It is imperative that the KNU leadership makes the right choices amidst the crossroads of its resistance history, for their decisions will have long-term consequences on both the Karens as a people and Burma as a nation.

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