March 19, 2007

Introduction: P'doh Kweh Htoo

SAW KWEH HTOO: A Profile of a Political Life

By – Paw Taw Oo

Known to be one of the most pragmatic leaders within the leadership, Kweh Htoo, a leading members of Karen National Union peace negotiation team in 2004, became the Governor of KNU’s Mergui/Tavoy District in 1990 and has been serving as a member of KNU’s CentralStanding Committee ever since. He accompanied Gen. Bo Mya to Rangoon on the historic trip made by the KNU leaders in January 2004 and remains active in the efforts ever since. [Click here to read Kweh Htoo's most recent analysis - in Karen - on KNU-led Karen resistance movement.]

Prior to joining the Karen resistance movement in 1974, Kweh Htoo studied economics at the Rangoon University but did not realize his educational dream due to the government’s closure of the university in response to a student movement known in Burma’s history as the “U Thant Crisis”.

At one point, Kweh Htoo found himself at odd with Gen. Bo Mya during the chaotic period immediately after the fall of Manerplaw, the long time KNU Headquarters. But, his constructive and yet critical review on Karen resistance movement earned him respects from many of his colleagues, including Saw David Taw, Chief of KNU’s foreign affairs, and Htoo Htoo Lay, one of the Group’s two Joint General Secretaries. “We as the organization need to evolve around the ever-changing circumstances,” once said Kweh Htoo. Among younger, emerging Karen political activists, he is regarded as one of the most progressive, who is well attuned to the changing regional political dynamics. “Our revolution needs new blood, new ideas, and new thinking.”

Despite his popularity in the southern district, Kweh Htoo is not without his critics in Karen politics. Some in the top KNU leadership feel that he has pushed for change within the organization much harder than the leadership can take.

At the advance of the overwhelmingly stronger Burmese troops to his area in 1997, he was able to display a skillful leadership in handling the orderly relocation of hundreds of thousands of Karen villagers from the previously KNU-controlled territory to the refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border. Kweh Htoo won the heart of his people by maintaining close touch with the grassroots community though out the most difficult time. He basically managed to have kept the chaotic situation under control.

He traveled several times to Geneva and London during 1997 and 2002 to inform the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, key British Parliamentary members as well as the Foreign Office, and the London based non-governmental organizations of the deteriorating human right situation and the urgently needed humanitarian assistance for internally displaced Karen people in Burma. While he understands the importance of international pressure, Kweh Htoo places a high priority on being close to his suffering people. Despite his busy schedule, he makes efforts to spend time in the Karen territory, travels from village to village in his district, urging his people to preserve high political alertness. He likes meeting and listening to what the ordinary people have to say. “He feels our pains,” once commented a villager.

He may be lesser known in Burma’s broader national politics, but Kweh Htoo, for many Karens, is a trusted leader with a progressive-mind, who does not compromise his people’s need with a place for his own in the national politics. Such, indeed, is a rare trait of leadership. Among grassroots Karen communities, he is considered one of the best hopes for the new wave of Karen resistance movement.

Kweh Htoo, the devote father of six, is married to Naw Sar Rah. Aside from politics, he retains keen interest in Karen language, literature, history and traditional music.


Anonymous said...

thats a great profile of a great leader..really appreciate that and love to read more about our great current leader. may i request if anyone knows anything good thing about the former 7th Brigade commander, Gen Htin Maung?..i would like to know more about him. I'm sure he once was a great leader.

Asia Observer said...

Thank you for writing a very interesting portrait article!