Another Armed KNU Group Defects to the Junta

Seventy-one Karen rebels led by Nay Soe Mya, the son of the late KNU leader, Gen Saw Bo Mya, defected along with 88 family members to the Burmese military government on March 30, according to the state-backed The New Light of Myanmar.

“Concerned officials, and the local people, extended a warm welcome to Saw Nay Soe Mya and his party who returned to the legal fold,” the newspaper said on Saturday.The splinter group joins another KNU splinter group, the KNU/ KNLA Peace Council, led by Bo Mya’s relative, Htay Maung [also know as Htain Maung], in Htokawko Village in Karen State. Htay Maung split from the KNU and “returned to the legal fold” in early 2007. The state-run media did not use the term peace agreement or ceasefire agreement in describing the action of Saw Nay Soe Mya and his followers. Analysts said it may indicate the group is of minor importance to the military government. The group joined the government on March 30, according to the newspaper. KNU soldiers hold their weapons while standing guard at their base in Karen State. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nay Soe Mya is the youngest son of Bo Mya. He leads some of the KNU’s most elite troops. He met with members of the military government in Naypyidaw twice in late 2008 and again early this year.

At the time, KNU officials described the trips to Naypyidaw as personal rather than on official KNU business.

“His trips were not authorized by the KNU leadership. But we all acted very softly out of respect for his father,” David Taw, a KNU executive committee member, told The Irrawaddy recently.

Following the defection of Nay Soe Mya, the Burmese army and its ally, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), occupied a KNU area along the Thai-Burmese border.

Unlike other ethnic ceasefire groups, the Karen rebel ceasefires with the Burmese junta have been made up of small KNU units defecting individually. First, units of KNU troops, whose soldiers shared the Buddhist religion, split from the Christian-dominated KNU in 2005, and later formed the DKBA, which is now an enemy of the KNU.

The splintering of Karen Buddhist troops from the KNU led to the downfall of its well-established headquarters unit in Manerplaw, which was a significant event in the KNU’s history. From 1995 to 2007, three KNU splinter groups that made separate peace agreements with the military regime.

After losing Manerplaw, the KNU changed its military strategy. Since 1995, the Karen insurgents have used guerrilla warfare tactics rather than defending a fixed KNU position.

Experts on Burma’s ethnic affairs say that Manerplaw’s collapse was because of the military junta’s strong psychological warfare machine as well as the division between the Buddhist and Christian elements within the KNU.

David Taw said current concern over the strength of the KNU goes back to the issue of religious divisions, military tactics and a fragmented leadership.

In the past, KNU leaders provided special favors to elite troops and their families and sometimes acted without institutional agreement in the KNU. Later, with weakness in the leadership ranks, the KNU found itself in jeopardy of losing its dominance as the main armed opposition group, which has challenged the military government for more than 60 years. .

“Although the KNU organization wanted to take action against the rebels, we could not. They were backed by powerful people,” David Taw told The Irrawaddy. “It’s these old problems that now threaten the KNU.”

Ten days before the defection of Nay Soe Mya, the secretary-1 of the military junta, Gen Tin Aung Myint Oo, visited villages in areas controlled by the KNU/KNLA Peace Council and DKBA.

During a meeting with Htay Maung, the chairman of the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, Tin Aung Myint Oo said the “peace door is always open to remaining groups,” referring to insurgents who wanted to sign ceasefire agreements with the junta.

The KNU has participated in several peace talks with the Burmese regime in the past. KNU leaders said the talks failed because the junta was not sincere in negotiations.

In early 2004, Bo Mya, then deputy chairman of the KNU, flew to Rangoon to talk with Burmese Prime Minister and spy chief Gen Khin Nyunt. According to KNU sources, Burmese officials attempted to persuade Bo Mya personally rather than consult the KNU leaders as a group.

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