KNPP Official: Burmese Military Is Expanding in Karenni State

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KNPP central committee member Khu Nyae Reh speaks on the challenges of peace negotiations with the government and military.


KNPP central committee member Khu Nyae Reh

The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) has been involved in negotiations with Burma’s government around the possible signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement, with six meetings over the last year that have yet to lead to a breakthrough.

The last such meeting between the Peace Commission, the Karenni State government and KNPP officials was held in Loikaw’s Famous Hotel on May 6.

Kantarawaddy Times spoke to KNPP central committee member Khu Nyae Reh about the status of the peace process and the situation on the ground in Karenni (Kayah) State.

Some MPs have urged KNPP to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement. What is the KNPP’s position on this?

We won’t sign the bilateral ceasefire agreement if we don’t get what we have demanded. We already signed state- and Union-level ceasefire agreements. We have demanded that these ceasefire agreements be implemented. We agreed to hold monthly regular meetings with the state government. Actually, we could only meet six times since last year. Decision makers from the Kayah State government didn’t attend the meetings. The Kayah State police commander was the highest ranking officer who attended the meetings. Sometimes when we discussed something, they could not make a decision about it, but they told us that they would report it to the next level up. Therefore, monthly regular meetings didn’t produce many positive results. Our regular meetings have stopped.

What did you want to demand in these meetings?  

It depends on trust: we haven’t signed the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement]. There are clashes between the army and NCA signatory EAOs [ethnic armed organizations]—for instance, between the KNU [Karen National Union] and the army. The government and EAOs have interpreted different meanings of the facts included in the NCA. For example: the task of JMC [Joint Monitoring Committee] is to negotiate the problems on both sides. But representatives of the army take the highest positions in the JMC. Therefore, when clashes occur, the army and EAOs blame each other and point fingers at each other. The JMC doesn’t negotiate between the two sides, but blames one side.

In what circumstances would you sign the NCA?

I cannot tell you specifics. What I can say is that some EAOs already signed the NCA and some EAOs haven’t signed the NCA—for example, the Northern Alliance group. We are still analyzing the situation. I cannot tell you when we are going to sign the NCA.

What is the military situation right now between the KNPP and government forces?

We want peace in our state. Our people also want to have peace in our state. We haven’t talked with the army in an official or formal meeting, but we have had informal talks with army and keep each other informed to avoid clashes. In the past, we had clashes in the Nang Kit area in Hpasawng Township because they failed to inform us.

Has the Burma Army carried out any expansion activities in Kayah State?

The army has expanded in Kayah State. We will discuss this issue when we meet the army’s representative again. The army declared a four-month unilateral ceasefire in December 2018. We signed the state- and Union-level ceasefire agreements in 2012. [The army] sent soldiers to the frontline because they were worried about their soldiers running away. They set up temporary military camps in Demoso, Hpasawng, and the Mese areas. Villagers are also worried about military camps near their villages. According to the army, these camps are temporary. They didn’t expand their manpower but they have expanded [their presence] in many places. All battalions are operating under the Loikaw Regional Operation Command (ROC).

The army has confiscated a lot of farmland from Kayah State farmers. Where does the KNPP stand on this?

Regarding land disputes, we have been very upset to hear about this. It is difficult for us to get involved in land issues or legal affairs. If we get involved from the farmers’ side, the farmers could face charges under Article 17(1) [of the Unlawful Association Act] because our organization is still considered an illegal organization.

What can the KNPP do to solve this problem? Is there any plan in place?

We have a land policy. According to our land policy, people can own land through the country’s official law as well as through customary law. For example, there will be a land management committee in a certain village. Villagers used to own their land in accordance with customary law. If the village land management committee recommends a certain person as the owner of land, the person is the owner of that farmland, according to our customary law. We have our own land law but we have yet to use it on the ground level.

Has the issue of the Gen Aung San statue in Loikaw affected the peace process?

We can say that it has had both a positive and negative impact. If you think optimistically, it didn’t affect he peace process. These youth [who protested the statue] are our Karenni youth, so something was bound to happen.

We have heard that the KNPP and the government will meet for peace talks. When will that take place?

Actually, we were going to meet on June 13-14. The government and the army’s officials were busy on these days. We postponed the meeting. This month, our leaders are also traveling abroad. So we have a plan to meet in Naypyidaw in July. If we are going to meet Gen Yar Pyae’s Tatmadaw Peace Negotiation Team for issues involving military affairs, we will meet in Naypyidaw.

What is the KNPP planning to discuss?

We will have a meeting in our organization before we meet the government or the army. In general, we are going to discuss regional development, education and healthcare issues with the NRPC [National Reconciliation and Peace Center] but we will discuss military affairs with the army.

What do you want to say about the current peace process?

What I see is that there are two sides such as the government and army. They seem to have different ideas and views on the peace process. I think both the government army must have a true commitment to implementing the peace process. If they have a true commitment, we will have genuine peace restored in our country. If they have different ideas and views, I don’t think we will get peace in the short term.

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