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The 70th Karen Martyr’s Day Essay Competition



Ar Kee

On August 12th of 1950, an influential Karen leader was gunned down by the Burmese militia. The Burmese military perceived him as a threat to their political agenda because of his courageous nature. As a lawyer, he recognized that Karen people were deprived of justice in their own land. The British had not given the Karen people their promised independence. After countless peaceful appeals with the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League and Great Britain, he was unsuccessful. Their rejection became the source of his leadership in the armed rebellion group known as the Karen National Liberation Army in 1949. A year later, his assassination took place sparking the current ongoing civil war between the Burmese military and the Karen army. Every Karen that lived through the past seven decades recognizes his name, Saw Ba U Gyi. In fact, ever since his passing Karen honor his heroic acts with a national holiday known as Martyr Day. To Karen people, his legacy includes the three strategic ways to end the Karen struggle for freedom and independence. They are - addressing the armed struggle, engaging in political dialogue to negotiate a settlement with the Burmese government, and seeking international intervention for arrangements on behalf of the Karen people. The pros and cons of these three strategies will be evaluated to identify which is most effective in achieving Karen freedom and autonomy. 
    For seven decades, Karen people relied on Karen soldiers to protect and defend their rightful land against the Burmese regime. This armed struggle in opposition to the Burmese army resulted in numerous casualties. In addition, many Karen were forced out of their homes while helplessly watching their entire village burned to the ground. Some were lucky enough to resettle to developed countries around the world while others are still running in the dense jungle for a chance at survival. In ending the armed struggle between Karen and Burmese military Karen could live peacefully in their home land without having to think about being killed. There are several ways in which Karen people can end the armed struggle. A possible solution is strengthening their military presence by forming alliances with other ethnicities in Burma who are experiencing similar issues. As the saying goes - united we stand, divided we fall. Aid from Karen around the world whether it be monetary or in leadership training, should be considered.           There are many Karen living in developed countries that have enlisted in their designated country’s military. It’s safe to assume that they’ve been through extensive training and with this knowledge, it would be beneficial to travel back to their native land and share it with the Karen military. This would be on a voluntary basis coordinated by a trusted leader in the Karen army alongside with another leader in the developed country. In terms of monetary donations from Karen around the world, all donations should be centralized into one hub based on the country it’s coming from. From there, it should be sent to the military to purchase weapons and to support its soldiers. Pictures of Karen soldiers have surfaced where all they had to eat was white rice on a banana leaf. While it’s important to have the right infrastructures, it’s also important to maintain the health of Karen soldiers. This goal can be furthered by Karen health volunteers from around the world. Strengthening the military is complex; however, with co-operations and determination, it’s achievable. With that being said, the cons of this ambitious solution is mainly time. It would take some time to persuade Karen people to trust this solution. However, with the right leadership and careful planning, it’s beyond achievable. Already, the Karen army is staying strong even with the lack of resources available to them. With the help of their neighboring ethnicities and Karen around the world, they would only be stronger. 
The second strategy put forth by Saw Ba U Gyi is political dialogue and a negotiated settlement with the Burmese government. While this strategy may seem favorable by many, the fact still remains that it’s not going to happen overnight. The positive side of political dialogue is that it won’t involve killings and tortious acts. If negotiating is a success, then the Burmese government and Karen leaders can put their differences aside and just live harmoniously in their territories. The outcome may sound favorable but the negative aspect of this lies in the uncertainty that the Burmese government will honor the ceasefire once they’ve signed it. There are many examples where Karen leaders signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government while the Burmese army continued attacks on Karen people. The Karen have put their guards down, with faith that their enemy will honor their agreements. According to BBC News, in 2012 officials told BBC that the Burmese government and Karen leaders began ceasefire negotiations. Come 2015, BBC attended the ceasefire signing ceremony between the Karen along with seven other ethnicities. In an interview, one of those leaders stated that he is committed to negotiating for peace whether or not the Burmese government is sincere. 
The following year, president Barack Obama lifted some of the sanctions that were imposed in 1977 to keep the Burmese junta from becoming too powerful. He lifted the sanctions because he believed that progress was made in Burma in regards to respect for basic human rights. Two years after the sanctions were lifted, an article from The Nation Thailand pointed out that the Burmese military had not been honoring the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) because they invaded the Karen National Union (KNU) controlled territories. If evaluated closely, it’s a mere political move by the Burmese government to gain international trusts for their benefit. The media has been in favor of the Burmese government but behind closed doors, the Burmese army still commit crimes against many ethnic groups living in Burma (Myanmar). Not too long ago, the Burmese military attacked a Karen village forcing many Karen out of their homes. A woman by the name of Naw Mu Naw was recently murdered by two Burmese soldiers in Northern Karen State. With this evidence, it’s arguable that the Burmese government does not intend to or is sincere about making peace with the Karen people anytime soon. Perhaps if leadership changes within the Burmese government that stands for human rights rather than hungering for power, then faith in Burma can be restored. 
International intervention and arrangements on the Karen People’s behalf being the third strategy should be prioritized the least. One of the positive outcomes of this strategy is that Karen fight for freedom will be acknowledged internationally. This recognition that comes from the international sector promotes empathy which can result to provision of aid for the Karen. However the aid may not be credible since the initial recipient of the aid is the Burmese government. With that being said, the aid gets passed down through various officials of the government where there is a plausible existence and prominence act of corruption. As a result, there may be little to no left aid left for Karen people. According to Gharib, some US officials cite corruption as one of the biggest reasons to stop aid to the developing countries. There’s no doubt that corruption doesn’t exist especially aid that are specifically for the opposition group. International attention can also provide direct support to Karen communities in providing immigration opportunities to countries like the US and Canada. Despite the nations of the world’s awareness of the current situation in Burma, it is still prevailing. 
The conflict between Karen and the Burmese military is deep rooted in a sense that the root of the problem must be eliminated. A conflict from a different county is the least another country focuses on, unless there is a political interest or connection amongst two countries. International and foreign aid is great but it is not fixing the root cause. This leads to the negative aspect of international intervention. Each year, Karen organizations across the US, Canada, Australia and etc - conduct protests to bring more awareness for Karen people. While this may be a great opportunity, Karen people coming from different parts of the countries may take a flight or drive in order to attend these protests. In one protest alone there were roughly ten thousand Karen in front of the white house in Washington D.C. The collective or overall amount of those expenses could actually be a potential source of funding for the Karen military. It is important to know various ways in getting the attention of the government for call to action without having to spend so much resources. With this third strategy, Karen people can also urge the British government to intervene somehow since this is partially their fault. However, this will probably take a lot of time and resources to get them on board. After all, they’ve already granted Burma independence. The last thing they would want to have on their plate is chaos with the Burmese government. 
In conclusion, the most effective strategy laid out by the late Saw Ba U Gyi is ending the armed struggle. Realistically, strengthening the Karen army is the best chance of ending the armed struggle through the acquisition of the Burmese military. This can be done by joining hands with Karen neighboring ethnicities who are facing similar issues. Unification can be difficult but the shared similarities will give Karen army a competitive advantage when negotiating with other ethnic groups. In addition to joining arms with neighboring ethnic groups; funds, trainings, and health workers from Karen living in developed countries should be arranged to assist Karen army. Achieving the Burmese military acquisition will not only benefit the various ethnic groups but it also serves as a gift to the many future generations to come. While the other two strategies have their positive effects, both comes with negative consequences. In negotiating with the Burmese government, it is positive that Karen people can aim for their peace with the Burmese government however trust is plays a tremendous role. Karen leaders successfully negotiated peace with the Burmese government by signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). The Burmese government did not honor the agreement, thus making the NCA ineffective. In the past, Saw Ba U Gyi, himself, had attempted this and it was unsuccessful. It is beyond belief how a government can alter their decision overnight. With the final strategy, international interventions are already up and running to provide aid to Karen people. This is a safe haven or buffer against the Burmese regime rather than a strategy to gain Karen people’s independence and autonomy. To end the atrocities committed by the Burmese military, it would take direct political interventions. Saw Ba U Gyi was the leader of the Karen Armed Rebellion group and there is a good reason why. The reason being that he tried the other two strategies and failed by peacefully negotiating with the Burmese government and seeking international intervention from the British government. As he was attempting to end the armed struggle, unfortunately he didn’t live to see it through. It is up to the current and future Karen generations to carry out his legacy.