What If the Violence Is Not the Only Answer?
Naw Khu Hser Wah
Until this current year, 2020, Karen people who love peace, honesty have been struggling for their freedom. A number of Karen freedom fighters have sacrificed their lives during this longest civil war with Myanmar a. k. a. Burma/ Burmese government military since 1949. After 70 years of standing and fighting for freedom, Karen leaders have opened up their mind to achieve the desired freedom and autonomy according to different modern concepts. There are three major strategies to free Karen people from the injustice which are: 1) armed struggle, 2) political dialogue for a negotiated settlement with the Burmese government, and 3) international intervention or arrangement for the Karen people. All these facts have positive and negative impacts therefore it is very critical to critically evaluate them. This essay will discuss both positive and negative effects of three strategies. It will also identify benefits related to welcoming international relations.
For many years, innocent ordinary Karen People have been killed, tortured, raped for decades while the many countries in other parts of the world are valued and human dignity and rights are respected. The founder, leader and father of Karen National Union (KNU), Saw Ba U Gyi was the very first president of KNU. His four principles are still held as the guiding principles of the revolution of KNU which are: “1. Surrender is out of the question, 2. The recognition of the Karen State must be complete, 3. We shall retain our arms, and 4. We shall decide our own political destiny”. The armed conflict is the first approach that Karen people started their armed movement against the Myanmar government. Karen is a beautiful and peaceful ethnicity. When Myanmar was under control of the British colonization, Karen people were much admired for their honesty and many Karen youths had opportunity to study in foreign countries. Karen educated young people were hired in the high positions. It was the beginning of the crucial reason for Burmese people to hate Karen. A clash between Karen and Burmese led to a long civil war. Saw Ba U Gyi, one of educated people sacrificed his whole life for Karen ethnicity. He set up four principles to shape the future of the Karen people. Unfortunately, he was assassinated by the Burmese Army on August 12, 1950. After retaining his four famous principles for 70years, Karen freedom fighters are still moving forward for achievement.
Even though it is his vision to fight for freedom, negative impact always follows there. The Myanmar government targets to attack Karen and even their lands, farms, places and everything belongs to Karen people since the revolution has started. People from Karen state have to leave their places because of the heinous acts of Burmese forces. The Myanmar army (Tatmadaw) shot the people, destroyed houses and burnt down the village. The fortune of the Karen villagers had changed as they had to flee to Thai-Myanmar border.
The Myanmar Tatmadaw has been practicing ethnic cleansing on Karen ethnicity for decades. Throughout the history, Karen people have been persecuted and committed murder by the Myanmar soldiers. A recent incident which happened on July 16, 2020 was an illustration of murder. A Karen woman named Naw Mu Naw, from Poe Lo Hta village was shot by two Tatmadaw soldiers, and they stole the jewelry from the death woman. Similar cases happen to Karen people every day, but the news is covered by the Myanmar government media in different ways. The Myanmar army assaults on the Karen ethnicity, including rape, forced labour, robbery, killing and repeated displacement. Until the current day, the armed conflict between Karen and Myanmar does not seem to be drawn up. Thus, the 70 years of revolution became the longest civil war in Myanmar. Though it is a long-lasting revolution for Karen people, the dream of freedom and autonomy sadly have not achieved yet. Using the armed force to protect the rights and to the achieve these goals occurs the risks of heavy casualties, and makes the situation worse. Therefore, using armed movement against Tamadaw to fulfill the dream of Karen people would lead negatively to be weak.
The second strategy to complete the goals is negotiation. Peace is a concept of relationship between two different perspectives to be able to resolve their conflicts without violence so that they can work together to improve the quality of their lives. Some Karen people have desire to find justice through ceasefire because many innocent lives have been sacrificed. They are deeply disappointed with the bloody conflicts. Reaching for the dream peacefully tends to be a gentle strategy. However, the negotiated settlement with the Burmese government is an imponderable problem at present. The government offered Karen National Union to have a peaceful agreement through negotiation after the death of Saw Ba U Gyi. Commander Bo Lin Tin was invited to Yongon to talk about the political peaceful process and killed by Myanmar agents on his way to the meeting in September 1965. The Myanmar government said that it was about peace, but they started breaking the promise. The government repeatedly ignored to resolve the conflict peacefully and continued to attack the Karen people along Thai-Myanmar border until this present time. Though some Karen leaders attended nationwide ceasefire agreement since the death of Bo Lin Tin, the peace agreement is definitely distrustful. For example, Karen demanded for their own independent state after the withdrawal of the British. However, dishonesty and mistrust of the government ignored the demand of the Karen People.
In late 1990s, the Karen split up into many different armed groups. KNU became considerably weak after that. Peace talks were held again between KNU General Bo Mya and Myanmar General Khin Nynut in 2004. The effort to get peace was unsuccessful because of the expulsion of General Khin Nyunt from the government. Two more ceasefire talks were held in 2005, but the new government under the leadership of General Than Shwe was not obviously interested in peace talk. In 2006, the Karen leader General Bo Mya died and Padoh Mahn Sha, who was a General Secretary of the KNU, took over General Bo Mya's position. Padoh Mahn Sha was a significant person for the political relations and the reorganisation of the KNU. However, he was assassinated at his house on February 14, 2008 by two Myanmar agents. On October 15, 2015, the Karen National Union signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Myanmar government, along with other different ethnic armed groups. Nevertheless, in March 2018, violating the peace agreement, the Myanmar government sent hundreds of their soldiers to Karen state to build a road connecting two military bases. As a result, armed clashes erupted between the KNU and Tatmadaw in the Ler Mu Plaw area of Papoon district. Consequently, about 2,000 Karen people were displaced by the fighting. Several incidents and cases happened repeatedly after the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. It is obvious that several attempts for negotiated ceasefire cannot be trusted and never get to the point. Therefore, negotiation for peace and settlement negatively effects on the Karen people.
The third aspect for achieving the freedom is international intervention for Karen ethnic groups. It is a modern approach to reach the destination of Karen. International arrangement can be defined as an action of internationally involving between two difficult situations in order to improve it getting better. International intervention in states can be found in several forms such as military, economic, political and many others. These interventions are likely to be problematic in practice especially to operate among the Karen ethnic group. There are many experiences of interventions failed in their procedure. International intervention can have both risks of casualty and prevent from massive loss of life. However, this essay focuses on the evidences that clearly provide positive outcomes which can be very helpful for Karen. Still holding the principles of Saw Ba U Gyi and working with the NCA for 70 years, the Karen people have lost their right, dignity, culture, lives, time and possession. Thus, it would be the best approach to call for the intervention to resolve the conflict of Karen.
The final strategy for Karen people to use is the international intervention and arrangements. There are positive and negative outcomes to this approach. The United Nations (UN) and other major member countries have their own policies on how to and when to intervene in a country. It is a very skeptical issue for a country to intervene with other countries. One of the successful interventions was in East Timor in 1999. There was a mass violence in Indonesia between the Indonesian military and civilians. The Australian-led international army for East Timor intervened between the army and civilians. This interventionist strategy successfully suppressed the situation. It had protected the people and was able to rebuild the peaceful nation. Another positive aspect of intervention is overcoming the violence and saving thousands of lives in East Timor. The Indonesian army started a violent abuse and deported more than a hundred thousands of civilians to West Timor, and five to six hundred thousands of people were displaced. Some of them were killed and a number of civilians suffered from disease and majority of them starved to death due to being cut off from food and water supplies. The Australian-led army involved as an intervention and saved thousands of lives again. The force had brought the violence to the end. In addition, Gaddafi was a Libya leader of military officers against his King Idris in 1969. The income of Gaddafi became higher and higher then rises up to the fifth highest in Africa. As a consequence of neglect everything except for his own profit, the domestic political repress swiftly increased. The rebel anti-Gaddafi forces formed the National Transitional Council on February 27, 2011. With the support of the rebel, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces intervened on 21 March 2011. The Gaddafi group was overthrown and Libya was declared as a capital.
Moreover, the current issue that is happening in Rakine state, Myanmar is the most significant fact to be proved for the positive support of the interventionist policies. Rohingya is a minority of Muslim from Rakine state. Tatmadaw entered into their villages and burned the houses. The Rohingya were tortured and killed. Some were burned and buried. The Myanmar army violates and the international law and human rights. The army committed the crimes and they blamed on Rohingya. However, the evidences of committing the crimes were investigated by the United Nations-backed Fact-Finding Mission. Hence, the Myanmar government is under the pressure for international justice for its Human Rights violations against the Rohingya as a result of intervention arrangement.
Among the three strategies, the international intervention and arrangements seem to have positive outcomes even though it would be unethical to intervene other countries. However, the international pressure and arrangements are ethical, and will not be conflicted with one country’s policies to forcefully intervene. Violence is never the answer for conflict resolution. As mentioned above, because of the violent armed struggled many lives were killed. In today’s modern world, technologies have improved in many different ways. The international media is one of the way that Karen people can used to exposed the Myanmar government’s hideous wrong doings in the countries. This way, as a member of the UN, Myanmar will be pressured to do things in favour of all other minority groups in Myanmar. Most importantly, Karen leaders also always have to be attentive to the potential armed conflicts that might happen in the future and be always ready to defend their people and land.
All in all, after 70 years of armed struggle, Karen leaders need to always find other different non-violent ways to achieve their goals for Karen people. Rather than dividing within their own people, they should be united even though they may have different opinion. The unity of the leaders will give Karen people hope and trust in them, and the international community will be willing to help Karen people to pressure the Myanmar Government to act in more humane ways towards its owns people living in its country.