Karen National Union
||This article needs attention from an expert on the subject. (February 2009)|
Seal of the Karen National Union
|Formation||5 February 1947|
Law Khee Lar
Manerplaw (until 1995)
|Saw Mutu Sae Poe|
|Naw Zipporrah Sein|
|Saw Kwe Htoo Win|
|Affiliations||Karen National Liberation Army
Karen National Defence Organisation
The Karen National Union (Burmese: ကရင် အမျိုးသား အစည်းအရုံး; abbreviated KNU) is a political organisation with an armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) that represents the Karen people of Burma. It operates in mountainous eastern Burma, and has underground networks in other areas of Burma where Karen people live as a minority group. In the Karen language, this area is called Kawthoolei. Some of the Karen, led primarily by the Karen National Union (KNU), have waged a war against the central government since early 1949. The aim of the KNU at first was independence. Since 1976 the armed group has called for a federal system rather than an independent Karen State.
In January 2012, Burma's military-backed civilian government signed a ceasefire deal with the KNU in Hpa-an, the capital of eastern Kayin State. Aung Min, the Railway Minister, and General Mutu Sae Poe of the KNU led the peace talks.
The KNU was dominated for three decades by its longtime leader Bo Mya, who was president from 1976–2000. The KNU was for many years able to fund its activities by controlling black market trade across the border with Thailand, and through local taxation. After the failed 8888 Uprising of the Burmese people in 1988, the Burmese military government turned to China for help in consolidating its power. Various economic concessions were offered to China in exchange for weapons. The Burmese Army was massively expanded and began to offer deals to groups fighting the government. The groups were offered the choice of co-operating with the military junta or being destroyed.
In 1994, a group of Buddhist soldiers in the KNLA, citing discrimination by the KNU's overwhelmingly Christian leadership against the Buddhist Karen majority, broke away and established the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). They were led by a monk widely thought to be an agent of the Burmese dictatorship. The DKBA quickly agreed to a ceasefire with the Burmese army and was granted business concessions at the expense of their former KNU overlords. The KNU and DKBA have since been in regular fighting, with the DKBA actively supported by the Burmese army.
The KNU's effectiveness was severely diminished after the fall of its headquarters at Manerplaw, near the Thai border, in 1995.
Since then, the KNU and KNLA continued to fight the Burma state military (Tatmadaw) by forming guerrilla units and basing themselves in temporary jungle camps on the Thai-Burmese border. Following its principle of no surrender, the KNU continued despite a precarious state of existence. Nonetheless, their fight continues to garner the sympathy of people around the world since the KNU has been fighting for the Karen people, one of the many ethnic nationalities of Burma that are experiencing ethnic cleansing under the military regime's Four Cuts campaigns (Pyat Lay Pyat), a strategy where intelligence, finances, food and recruits are eliminated through a scorched-earth policy.
Several attempts have been made to conclude a form of peace with Burma's military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but with little success. The 2004 peace talks yielded only an informal ceasefire which the regime used to reinforce their frontline troops. Analysts realised this was a ruse, and sure enough, offensives against KNU held areas have resumed in earnest.
The Karen conflict is the longest internal war in the world, having been waged since 31 January 1949. The KNU wants a political settlement and supports a federal Burma.
In March 2012, a senior political leader of KNU, Phado Mahn Nyein Maung, was found guilty of high treason under the Illegal Association Act, for his involvement with the Karen rebellion and sentenced to 20 years. He was freed soon afterward and sent back to Thailand.
The Karen National Union leadership is a democratically elected body with individuals elected at a four-yearly congress. The KNU Congress is recognised as the KNU’s supreme legislative body and it is here that the President, Vice-President, General Secretary, Joint Secretaries 1 and 2 and the Central Executive Committee (CEC), the Central Standing Committees (CSC) and candidate members are elected. The seven KNU districts are responsible for electing their own District Chairmans and District Standing Committee leaders every two years. As the District Chairmans and Brigade Commanders are elected at local levels, they are automatically appointed as Central Standing Committee Members. The District Chairmans and Brigade Commanders together with nominated District Standing Committee Members attend the KNU congresses. In addition, elected Central Standing Committee members would provide the ministers for 14 Departments including Culture, Defence, Education, Forestry, Foreign Affairs, Health and Mining. The CEC is made up of 11 members that are responsible for the day-to-day running of the KNU. The CSC meets annually, however when issues arise that either directly affect the KNU policies and/or the existence of the KNU organisation, the CEC will call a CSC Emergency Meeting.
Additionally the Foreign Affairs Department appoints KNU representatives. These representatives are based among the Karen communities who support KNU political goals and objectives in their respective countries.
Incumbent leaders as of 2012:
- President: General Saw Mutu Sae Poe
- Vice-President: Naw Zipporah Sein
- Secretary General: Saw Kwe Htoo Win
KNU 9th congress held in September 1974
KNU 11th congress.
KNU 12th congress.
The 13th KNU congress was held from 12 to 16 December.
The 14th KNU congress was held from 6 to 20 Oct It was held on KNU-controlled territory
On 2 November 2010, the Karen National Union became members of an alliance which includes: the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF), Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Shan State Army North (SSA-N). 
The Karen National Union held its 15th Congress at Lay Wah, 7 Brigade, on 26 November 2012. This congress heralded in a pivotal moment in the resistance group’s history as it occurred at a time of political in-fighting in relation to how best to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government.
From 30 October to 2 November 2013, an unprecedented meeting took place at the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters in Laiza. For the first time, representatives of 17 armed ethnic opposition groups were able to meet in Burma with the consent of the Government.
This Laiza conference finally resulted in the formation of a 13-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) and the signing of an ‘11-Point Common Position of Ethnic Resistance Organisations on Nationwide Ceasefire’ or Laiza agreement. The NCCT is a working team made up of all the ethnic armed organisations. Their mandate is to take responsibility on writing the nationwide ceasefire document based on mutual understanding between the different armed groups so far. However, at the Law Khee Lah Conference it was agreed that NCCT has the mandate to discuss and change the document technically, except at policy level. Once the final document is ready, the respective ethnic organisation leaders can decide and discuss with the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) on the nationwide ceasefire.
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- Armed-groups: KNU
- KNU homepage
- Revolution Reviewed: The Karens' Struggle for Right to Self-determination and Hope for the Future Saw Kapi, 26 February 2006, retrieved on 2006-11-30
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- Karen Heritage Karen History and Culture Preservation Society
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- Karen Martyrs' Day Marked by Calls for Unity Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy, 13 August 2008
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