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Three Roadmaps of Saw Ba U Gyi and Future Kaw Thoo Lei



Saw Nay Htoo Moo

Saw Ba U Gyi was one of our initial founders of Karen national armed revolution. During his time as president of Karen National Union, he laid out three ways of our resistance to successfully gaining independence: armed struggle, political dialogue and international intervention. In this essay I will examine, analyse and argue three roadmaps of Saw Ba Oo Gyi. I will discuss the weakness and strength of three roadmaps and give assumption for future strategies to lead us to independent Kaw Thoo Lei. I will compare circumstances of our armed struggle and other states that being granted independence from their former governments and/or colonial rulers that fitting our current circumstance to gain independent state. I will give assumptions what strategies will be best to adopt either armed struggles, negotiation or international intervention. I will conclude by summarising all three roadmaps and future strategies. 

Armed struggle is the main dynamism of our revolution throughout seven decades. As our revolution has been taking longer, leaders, soldiers and civilians are exhausted and our patriotic spirit of gaining KawThooLei weakened. We have seen split in our armed forces through out our revolutionary journey. As our Karen National Liberation Army and Karen National Defence Organisation have fought to defend our Karen civilians’ possessions, lands, properties, security and so on, Karen people have dealt with oppression, atrocity, brutality of Burmese army throughout their lives for generations. Consequently, they did not have a chance to study education and thus most of Karen people have basic education even among our KNU/KNLA’s leaders. As a result, they cannot decide what rights and wrongs are in politics. Accordingly, when it comes to dealing with Burmese government and military leaders for negotiating political problems, they can be easily manipulated and always follow by split and dissection. One of other weaknesses is that many of KNU’s leaders are corrupted thus, instead of its revenue that comes from taxation, organisational businesses and donations should go to fund KNU go to the opportunist leaders’ families, businesses, and personal profits. The divided and/or short-sighted political and ideological views of Karen people and KNU/KNLA leaders also weaken our ambition. Due to these weaknesses, KNU leadership cannot be changed to elect new educated political and military leaders. 

However, we have received widespread support from Karen people around the world; controlled large parts of territory; held KNU/KNLA’s revenues and supports from international community as we are a just armed resistance. As we still have many good leaders, devoted soldiers and supportive Karen civilians, we can carry on our struggle until present. Armed struggle is the main trajectory of three roadmaps that will bring us to independence along with negotiation and international intervention. The most fear of Burmese military government is armed resistance thus, they adopt “divide and rule policy” to dissolve our KNLA/KNDO yet they were unsuccessful. By gaining independence, we need to be militarily prepared and learn from our ethnic friends such as UWSA and AA and how new states around the world gained independence from their former repressive governments. 

One of successful seceded states, South Sudan, is a good lesson to learn. As it had comprehensive military might, government had to compromise to launch peace dialogue. South Sudan rebels and North Sudan government signed a “Comprehensive Peace Agreement” in 2005. As South Sudanese require independence other than autonomy, they voted for referendum and declared independence in 9th July 2011. As a result, armed struggle is the most effective roadmap of three. When we are on the armed struggle, Burmese military always try to manipulate us by holding peace talk and political negotiation.  

The negotiation will succeed when we have full Karen civilians support, military strength and willingness of government to solve political problems. Some new states gained independence through political dialogue. According to Adam, 2014 (The Washington Post), new states such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia seceded peacefully in 1993 as government was willing to grant them independence. However, most of the declared independent states went through bloody wars before their existence. In contrast of those peaceful existing nations, if we don’t have military might and willingness of Burmese army to solve ethnic conflict, we will fall in the same trap that of armed Tamil Tiger group dissolved after failure of peace agreement. 

As Sri Lankan case study revealed, government was not willing to solve political problem, but only for its domination, so does Burmese government. What they want are to receive funds from Norway and European countries, foreign investments to come in and sanctions to be eased. Norway doesn’t have power to bring all warring parties to solve problems instead, becoming a pawn of peace mediator. The current peace process is similar to Sri Lanka’s as Burmese government is unwilling to solve political problems by political means. 

After cautiously analysing KNU’s current peace talk since 2010, no significant changes take place while fighting still occurs elsewhere and generates insecurity for civilians in many forms. On the other hand, Burmese government tries to manipulate KNU and its people by practising former colonial divide and rule policy such as pro-NCA and anti-NCA factions. This shows that Burmese government and army pursue to Burmanise all ethnic nationalities under their controls. During the negotiation process, regional and international major powers play a major role in the hope of peaceful resolution. They set up conflict resolution plan for Myanmar’s ethnic armed conflict while there are many obstacles in practical implementation. 

There is an international institution that has veto power to intervene if required when it comes to the crisis and conflict. It is the United Nations Security Council made up of five permanent members (USA, Russia, China, France and the UK) and 10 non-permanent members are elected to serve for two-year terms. If one of the permanent members vetos and also seven of 10 non-permanent Members vote against a draft decision, a resolution will fail. As a result, international intervention will work when regional and global power states do not have their national interests in case of a nation’s armed conflicts. Accordingly, countries such as East Timor (2002) and Kosovo (2008) declared independence through international intervention as there were no vetos from UNSC permanent members. 

In contrast, international intervention for Karen is dysfunctional as each UNSC permanent member prioritises its national interests. China and Russia are the long-time friends of Burmese military government, thus it is important for them not to lose a best counterpart to the Wests. They will defend Burmese military’s crimes at all cost. China states that crimes, atrocities and potential genocide committed by Burmese military against ethnic nationalities are Myanmar’s internal matters, thus no country can interfere. The UNSCs cannot take any action against Burma due to veto from Russia and China. 

We can learn another lesson from our neighbour. Although KNU helped Thailand to fight against communists along Mae Kyaw and Mae Klaw rivers, it did not hesitate to restrict KNU’s movement after falling of Mar Ner Plaw and all of 7 brigades between 1994-97. As a result, if we hope for international intervention, we will never achieve independence from repressive Burmese government that we have hoped for. As these three roadmaps cannot completely lead us to independence, we have to adopt new strategies. We are now living in interconnected world, and it is now time to adapt in new world order and grip all incoming opportunities. 

After analysing three roadmaps, they are still useful and I come up with some strategies. We have to continue our armed struggle, negotiation and use international intervention with flexible approaches. To be able to establish KawThooLei, we should adopt multiple or flexible KNU’s foreign and diplomatic policy; generate new educated leadership; acquiring comprehensive defence resources; elimination of corruption; improving social services, health and education. 

KNU has upheld Western democratic norms and foundational principles of international institutions that international community can accept it as a prodemocratic revolutionary armed organisation. We are on the right tract that practising Western democratic values such as liberalism in line with international laws. However, when it comes to international relations and diplomacy, we have to embrace flexible strategies, not a permanent one as adopted by previous KNU’s administration e.g. extreme belief that Wests are our saviour. Looking through history since WWII, Karen people fought alongside British colonial rulers against Japanese invasion and Burmese nationalists. After WWII, the anti-Japanese Karen militias demanded independent state when decolonization was in progress and a 1945 British White Paper determined not to compromise in granting Karen self-determination (Murphy, 2013). Karen people continue to seek external recognition, validation and financial and military support specifically to U.K. and U.S. Instead of helping KNU, UK‘s Attlee’s Labour government assisted Ne Win with 10,000 rifles and a Commonwealth loan of 350,000,000 rupees (worth some US $3,600,000,000 in 2010 value) to aid Burma in the fight against KNU to retain Barman nationalist power (Murphy, 2013). This shows that we cannot rely solely on the Wests. We have to seek friends that can meet our interest even from our political ideological adversaries. Vietnam is a good lesson to learn. After War between United States and Vietnam, Vietnam fought a war with China over its invasion of Cambodia. Then they improved their relationship. However, after it has territorial dispute with China in South China Seas, it distances itself from China and improves its relationship with the West and other U.S.’s reginal democratic allies such as India. AA and UWSA are also our admirers as they have adopted wisely military, economic, diplomatic and patriotic strategies. 

Our first priority is building-up our defence system to have stable controlled territory, whether through black market as long as it benefits our Karen national interests. At the same time, KNU should found an annual leadership program—one to three months long—to train and recruit new leaders. The trainers and professors have to be internationally recognised qualified educators. In the program, it should include Karen revolutionary history, international politics and laws, political ideology and so on. We should invite and encourage overseas Karen college and university students to get involved in this program as they already acquire western universal education. They will only require patriotic spirit so that they are willing to come back and contribute to Karen’s cause. Gradually, the changes of KNU’s leadership will commence. When we have educated KNU’s administration, they are competent to unify the splitting Karen armed groups under one command. KNU should initiate a “corruption commission” to crack down on corruption, so that funds and revenue will come back to KawThooLei’s government. Subsequently, in KawThooLei’s administration areas, we can do community development including social services, health and wellbeing, education, and other local developments. Once all those discussed policies are well established, we can declare independent Kawthoolei. 


In conclusion, as we understand, Saw Ba U Gyi once adopted three roadmaps and four principles for independent KawThooLei, not for democratic Burma, federation and confederation. Those of current national constitutional systems in Burma do not meet the circumstances of Karen people as we have totally different lands, languages, cultures, belief and ways of life. Looking back from history, Karen and Barmar cannot coexist together, thus secession is the best solution. As discussed in the essay, three roadmaps have to be combined together with some future strategies. Observing through our revolutionary experience, armed struggle is the most effective factor as if we don’t have arms, our enemies do not respect and care our demand. Meanwhile having comprehensive armed force will bring Burmese military and government to the political negotiation. We have to critically study and analyse the mindsight and mentality of Burmese government and military whether it is their willingness or manipulation for the current peace talk. Accordingly, we have to utilise intervention of superpowers as a tool with flexible tactics for the best of our Karen national interests. By adopting flexible policies, we will acquire comprehensive national-building necessities and preparedness, then whether Burmese government and military are willing to grant or not, we can declare independent Kawthoolei.