The KNU Central Executive Committee member discusses the Tatmadaw, a federal army and the hope of finally achieving peace for his people.

U Mann Nyein Maung. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)U Mann Nyein Maung. (Boothee/The Myanmar Times)

In Senior General Min Aung Hlaing speeches, he always calls ethnic armed groups “rebels”. Do these words impact the peace process?

They [Tatmadaw] have been talking like this regularly for 60 years. Maybe their lips have become stuck on these words, and their thinking also. But what I would like to say is that after we agreed on a ceasefire with the government, KNU members have been honestly striving to end civil war and make peace.

The ceasefire process has lasted over two years now, and its benefit is that our Karen people are now living peacefully in our land. That is very good. We are trying to be fair in this situation, and we are also determined to achieve peace.

Are there differences among Karen armed forces concerning ceasefire policy?

There aren’t many discrepancies between the three Karen armed forces concerning the ceasefire policy. The reason is that at the Law Khee Lar conference there have been equal opinions on signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement.

Is it true that the deputy commander of bridge No 5 has different opinions from headquarters concerning peace?

Yes. In an interview with the media, he said that he did not trust the peacemaking program being carried out by U Aung Min and his colleagues.

But we do believe the government and therefore we are working for a ceasefire.

To us, U Aung Min is a leader representing the government, and he is also vice chair of the Union National Peace Working Committee, so he is taking responsibility. Our relationship with him is closely connected. He is cooperative, negotiable, positive-minded, trustworthy and kind.

Will you accept a federal army?

I imagine that this affair cannot be accepted by the state as well as the Tatmadaw for the time being.

Another thing is that there will be different opinions in separately ruling one’s areas – that is, A is to rule A’s territory while B is to rule B’s territory. Territorial ruling authority will be solved slowly and will take much time. It depends upon how much one’s reliability is built up, and how much one’s compassion is shown.

In principle, the federal army is agreed upon. A federal union must have a federal army. But I think we have to take time to organise a federal army in our country.

There has been a lot of conflict for 30 years between the government and various ethnic groups. It can’t be easy to re-organise like this today in a country that has had a civil war for more than 60 years.

There needs to be reliability across the process. It needs a political process. As for a reliable process, though, we can’t even make a nationwide ceasefire now. We can’t even sign an agreement. We haven’t even held political dialogue and we haven’t solved any political problem.

In a situation like this, I think that to organise a federal army is not a good model for the existing situation. It’s a “bullets-in-arms” situation still, and the triggers can be pulled any time. A “bullets-out-and-solve” situation hasn’t been reached yet.

Let us say we have three rifles each from the Karen, Kachin and other ethnic armed forces. Then what will be the outcome? I believe that if we organise a consolidated ethnic army today, another civil war could break out. Therefore in principle it is accepted but practically it can’t be done.

Can the government and ethnic armed groups sign a deal this year?

I don’t think so, because many attempts are being made during the negotiation. I’m not included in negotiation groups, also known as the NCCT [Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Committee]. But when I ask them they reply that there are many things to be done and that they cannot go forward.

What is the reason for the KNU, an armed force, to negotiate with the government? Are you better off?

I think this is a characteristic of our Karen people. They are honest and accept matters with trust and sincerity. The commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw told the KNU’s leader that the KNU’s soldiers are obedient and well-disciplined. He acknowledges this fact. This is the perspective and opinion of the highest-ranking leader who has been in conflict with us all the time.

What will it take to combine all Karen armed forces?

Regarding the consolidation of Karen armed forces, meetings have been held three times. At least they have agreed to avoid any armed conflict against one another, and are also trying to achieve unity in the future.

Are you satisfied with the activities of the Karen state government?

Looking at the performance of the state government, we find it satisfactory but not fully so. The reason is that I think Karen State should be under the administration of the Karen people.

What’s the KNU’s position on amending the constitution?

When it is time to amend the constitution, and if KNU is invited, the amendment will be from section 1 through to the last section. Article 435 is also to be amended. The 2008 Constitution was not written by all the ethnic groups. It is not on behalf of the whole people. It is not written according to the real situation. It has to be amended in many parts.