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Discussion on the cons and pros of Saw Ba U Gyi, founder of the Karen National Union and modern Karen armed revolution three ways for the Karen struggle for freedom and autonomy and the most possible and suitable way.


Saw Moe Min Win

Seventy-two years ago, on 4th January 1948, independence was brought to Burma and the fate of the Karen people had changed. The higher standard of education, living, freedom and development that the Karen people had enjoyed, came into an end, as Karen people started to engage in the longest civil war. Many Karen villages, houses and schools were burnt down. Many innocent Karen men, women, and children were beaten, arrested, shot, jailed, starved, and killed. And many had fled to refugee camps, in search of safety and security, as well as moved to third countries, for a better life and future. This demonstrated that the cost of the fight for freedom and autonomy is high. The Karen troops had fought honorably and heroically since the beginning of the Revolution. But as the Karen revolution had become a long, and difficult journey, many separations occurred. Some stayed and fought, some got tired, and some became a part of Burma army. Despite the cruelty, separation, and many challenges that they had experienced, the revolutionary spirit of Karen people have not yet disappeared. The basic ways, that the founding father of the modern Karen armed revolution, Saw Ba U Gyi had said to the Karen leaders, are still remaining in their heart. According to Saw Ba U Gyi, there are three ways for the Karen struggle for freedom and autonomy to succeed. First, the armed struggle, second, political dialogues and a negotiated settlement with the Burmese government, and third, international intervention and arrangement on the Karen people’s behalf. The three ways that he had said are required for the Karen leaders and public to have an open discussion and debate. Hence, this essay first discusses the cons and pros of these three ways, and which one is the most possible and suitable for the Karen people, based on the current political situations of Myanmar, and Kaw Thoo Lei. 

        Firstly, the armed struggle for the Karen has been more than seven decades, and the cons of the armed struggle are that, millions of lives had been taken down, including innocent Karen children, men, women, and soldiers, commanders and leaders. They have sacrificed their lives to protect the land, villages, property and freedom of Karen people. However, when there is a war, both sides have to suffer. No matter Karen or Burmese. And as a result, war should not be the first priority for Karen people, and it should always be the last resort. Although both parties had fought battles after battles, the political problems had not been solved. After the NCA was signed, the fighting was reduced, but if, the war occurs again in the future, the level of destruction will even be greater, as the arms from both sides has become more advanced. The confrontation will lead to fear, and create a suspicion for both sides, which will hurt the peace process. Despite armed struggle can be leading to many great destruction, there are still some pros of armed struggle. Throughout history, the human civilization is filled with war, enslavement and discrimination. Powerful kingdoms were fighting each other because of their hunger of natural resources, gold, territorial control, domination and the building of states or nations. The Karen people have tried to avoid the cruelty of war by living in the land and place where the power of the king or military dictatorship couldn’t fully reach. However, troubles found its’ way into the land of Karen people, and at this time, the land that is known as Kaw Thoo Lei is the only that remains as a beautiful and green land, where Karen people can hope for freedom, peace and autonomy. Lots of lives had been lost for this hope, including the founding father of the Karen revolution, but the freedom and autonomy that they want in the Kaw Thoo Lei land still has not achieved. Hence, this land must be maintained by all means, and the Karen revolution must continue. Although the NCA was signed and the fighting has decreased and stopped, the oppression, military expansion and establishment of new military outposts, are still continuing in Karen state. Recently, there was a confrontation between the different armed groups in the Karen state, because of territorial disputes, road expansions and mega development projects. In this very simple sense, a strong military of the Karen should and must be maintained, for the protection of Karen public life, property and peace. 

        Secondly, the cons of the political dialogue and negotiation are that, Karen people will not get fully what they deserve, and that the other party may trick them. When we look back at history, the other party had tricked Karen leaders in different times. As both parties have different interests, political negotiations will be long. The trust building between Karen and Burmese military will be much harder, as the armed conflicts had produced the seeds of hate, fear and mistrust. At some painful historical events, the killings between the Burmese and Karen villagers are brutal and evil. During the seven decades of civil war, the killing between both sides had fueled the energy of hate, fear and mistrust. Hence, the political dialogue and negotiation is hard to be successful. At current situation, even the NCA is signed and political dialogues have been carried out sometimes, what happens in the ground level is still in a vulnerable situation. Although the military expansion, road buildings in dispute territories, and killing of the innocent people are not allowed in the NCA, road constructions, and establishment of new military outposts, are being continued. The recent killing of innocent Karen woman by the two Burmese soldiers, created the risk of new armed clashes, mistrust and hate. Despite the mistrust between both parties, the NCA signing did reduced the fighting and confrontation, and so, the pros of this historical agreement are that, it creates an environment, where the Karen leaders and Burmese military leaders are willing to meet each other on the table, to solve the political problem, and that there might be some hope for progress. One of the basic principles of NCA’s chapter one is that, “Reach a negotiated settlement to end protracted armed conflict in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, secure a nationwide ceasefire as a first step to end armed conflict and establish a new political culture of resolving political conflicts through political dialogue instead of force of arms”. This principle indicates that both sides are trying to solve the political conflict in a peaceful way for the first time, as they begin to notice that killing each other does not solve any problem. There are people who criticize that, the NCA is not working, but, compare to the seven decades of the armed struggle, the very simple fact is that, many lives have been saved. And due to the ceased fire, local Karen people can travel freely, do their living, or start a business, compare to the past. I’ve noticed that there is an emerging of a market system, by the local Karen people, which is really good. If Karen farmers can sell their products in markets, it will be really good for their families. Moreover, many NGOs have begun to do public awareness, such as the peace process, human rights, environmental protection, and democracy. And the Karen people are beginning to aware more about these topics, which is really good for the future of themselves, and Karen state. This is an important step for the Karen struggle from freedom and autonomy to succeed. Promoting the human rights, rule of law, peace process and educating the Karen young people are the most important things that should be doing. Most importantly to note, this can be done only when there is peace in Karen state.     
        Thirdly, the international arrangement on the Karen people’s behalf is vital, but they have the difficulty to arrange as the sovereignty is concerned. By looking at the United Nations example, China and Russia have always protected Myanmar. When the US, UK and the international communities put the agenda to condemn and put sanction on the Burma army because of human rights abuse, they have veto it. In the core issue such as democracy, freedom and human rights, the international intervention cannot fully intervene. Moreover, even the West have put sanction on Burmese army for many decades, it is still strong. However, the pros of the international intervention are that, it puts Myanmar back on the attention of international communities, and the Burma military may not act recklessly as in the past. As social media has become very strong, the world can see the injustice, human right abuse and violence, committed by the Burma military. Last week ago, the killing of a Karen woman by two Burmese soldiers in Papun District, had been condemned by many Karen organizations and communities, both in the Karen state and abroad. This shows how the international communities play the most important role in helping the Karen people, whether on the issue of human rights, justice, rule of law or other issues. 

        Finally, Karen people must rethink about the three ways Saw Ba U Gyi had said. Based on the nature of Myanmar politics, Karen leaders will need to make adaptation. In the past, armed struggles had been the vital way because of the circumstance it faces. Currently, the most suitable way to apply is, the political dialogues and a negotiated settlement with the Burmese government. In Myanmar, it has been too long that both parties tried to solve the problems with fights and nothing had ever changed, though countless of life were lost. When we look back at few examples of the successful social movements in history, such as the Gandhi’s campaign against British rule to bring the independence from India or Dr.King’s campaign to end the white and black discrimination, the successes were not as a result of outside world intervention or armed struggle, but were the result of the local people’s awakening. Hence, the awakening of local Karen people in Karen state is extremely important. Some Karen may say that, we need to continue fighting, but when there is less knowledge on politics, it will not be an easy fight. 
        To conclude, the Karen struggle for freedom and autonomy will be long and difficult. Even armed struggle has been more than seven decades; there is still no peace or freedom. In fact, they led to more wars, violence and mistrust. And as there is a limitation for international intervention, it also is not the best way. And so, the only closest, and possible way at the moment is, the political negotiation and dialogue. And for it to work better, the young Karen people must be interested in local, national and world politics, as well as participation in politics. The Karen should understand that their fate is link to many other fates as long as there is the existence of diversity in Karen state. Moreover, the local Karen people must be awake in politics, as their participation in politics, such as voting and giving thoughtful criticism to their leaders, are important for the Karen leaders in decision making. In order to be awake in politics, the majority of local Karen people must be educated, and it is the duty of Karen people all over the world to help each other. And again, all the Karen people, men and women, young and old, soldiers, commanders, and leaders, must understand that, the whole interest of the Karen people, is more important than that of a few people or a specific group. And for the three ways that Saw Ba U Gyi has said, the Karen generation must choose and decide, which way works better.