Karen National Union

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Karen National Union

ကညီ ဒီကလုၤ စၢဖှိၣ်ကရၢ
ChairmanSaw Mutu Say Poe
Secretary-GeneralPadoh Ta Doh Moo
SpokespersonPadoh Saw Kwel Htoo Win
Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo
Padoh Saw Hla Tun
Vice PresidentPadoh Kwe Htoo Win
Founded5 February 1947 (1947-02-05)
HeadquartersLay Wah
Law Khee Lar
Manerplaw (until 1995)
Armed wingKNLA, KNDO


ReligionChristianity (majority)
Buddhism (minority)
Slogan"Give me liberty or death."[1]
Anthem"Dear Our People"
Party flag
Flag of the Karen National Union.svg

The Karen National Union (Burmese: ကရင် အမျိုးသား အစည်းအရုံး; abbreviated KNU) is a political organisation with an armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), that claims to represent the Karen people of Myanmar (Burma). It operates in mountainous eastern Myanmar, and has underground networks in other areas of Myanmar where Karen people live as a minority group. In the Karen language, this area is called Kawthoolei. Some of the Karen, led primarily by the Karen National Union (KNU), have waged a war against the central government since early 1949. The aim of the KNU at first was independence. Since 1976 the armed group has called for a federal system rather than an independent Karen State.

In January 2012, Myanmar's military-backed civilian government signed a ceasefire deal with the KNU in Hpa-an, the capital of eastern Kayin State. Aung Min, the Railway Minister, and General Mutu Sae Poe of the KNU led the peace talks.[2]


The leadership of the KNU was dominated for three decades by longtime president Bo Mya from 1976 to 2000. For many years, the KNU was able to fund its activities by controlling black market trade across the border with Thailand, and through local taxation[citation needed]. After the failed 8888 Uprising of the Burmese people in 1988, the Burmese military government turned to China for help in consolidating its power. Various economic concessions were offered to China in exchange for weapons. The Burmese Army was massively expanded and began to offer deals to groups fighting the government. The groups were offered the choice of co-operating with the military junta or being destroyed.

In 1994, a group of Buddhist soldiers in the KNLA, citing discrimination by the KNU's overwhelmingly Christian leadership against the Buddhist Karen majority, broke away and established the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). They were led by a monk.[citation needed] The DKBA quickly agreed to a ceasefire with the Burmese army and was granted business concessions at the expense of their former KNU overlords. The KNU and DKBA have since been in regular fighting, with the DKBA actively supported by the Burmese army.

The KNU's effectiveness was severely diminished after its headquarters were captured in the Fall of Manerplaw, near the Thai border, in 1995.

Padoh Mahn Sha La Phan, the secretary-general of the union was shot dead in his home in Mae Sot, Thailand, on 14 February 2008, possibly by soldiers of the DKBA.[3][4][5]

Several attempts have been made to conclude a form of peace with Burma's military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), but with little success. The 2004 peace talks yielded only an informal ceasefire which the regime used to reinforce their frontline troops. Analysts realised this was a ruse, and sure enough, offensives against KNU held areas have resumed in earnest.[citation needed]

The Karen conflict is the longest internal war in the world, having been waged since 31 January 1949.[6] The KNU wants a political settlement and supports a federal Burma.

In March 2012, a senior political leader of KNU, Phado Mahn Nyein Maung, was found guilty of high treason under the Illegal Association Act, for his involvement with the Karen rebellion and sentenced to 20 years.[7] He was freed soon afterward and sent back to Thailand.[8]


The Karen National Union leadership is a democratically elected body with individuals elected at a four-yearly congress.[citation needed] The KNU Congress is recognised as the KNU’s supreme legislative body and it is here that the President, Vice-President, General Secretary, Joint Secretaries 1 and 2 and the Central Executive Committee (CEC), the Central Standing Committees (CSC) and candidate members are elected.[citation needed] The seven KNU districts are responsible for electing their own District Chairmans and District Standing Committee leaders every two years. As the District Chairmans and Brigade Commanders are elected at local levels, they are automatically appointed as Central Standing Committee Members. The District Chairmans and Brigade Commanders together with nominated District Standing Committee Members attend the KNU congresses. In addition, elected Central Standing Committee members would provide the ministers for 14 Departments including Culture, Defence, Education, Forestry, Foreign Affairs, Health and Mining. The CEC is made up of 11 members that are responsible for the day-to-day running of the KNU. The CSC meets annually, however when issues arise that either directly affect the KNU policies and/or the existence of the KNU organisation, the CEC will call a CSC Emergency Meeting.[9]

Additionally the Foreign Affairs Department appoints KNU representatives. These representatives are based among the Karen communities who support KNU political goals and objectives in their respective countries.

The incumbent leaders elected at the 15th KNU Congress are:[10]

Central Executive Committee

  • Chairperson: General Saw Mutu Say Poe
  • Vice-Chairperson: P'doh Kwe Htoo Win
  • General Secretary: P'doh Ta Doh Moo
  • First Secretary: P'doh Saw Hser Bweh
  • Second Secretary: P'doh Saw Hla Tun
  • Other CEC members: General Saw Johny, P'doh Saw Th'mein Tun, P'doh Naw Dah Dah, P'doh Mahn Nyein Maung, P'doh Saw Roger Khin

Department heads:

  • Head of the Agriculture Department: P'doh Saw Lay Say
  • Head of the Alliance Affairs Department: P'doh Mahn Nyne Maung
  • Head of the Breeding and Fishery Department: P'doh Saw Mya Maung
  • Head of the Defense Department: Lt. Col. Saw Roger Khin
  • Head of the Education and Culture Department: P'doh Saw Lah Say
  • Head of the Finance and Revenue Department: P'doh Saw Thaw Thi
  • Head of the Forestry Department: P'doh Mahn Ba Tun
  • Head of the Foreign Affairs Department: P'doh Saw Tony
  • Head of the Health and Welfare Department: P'doh Saw Eh Kalu Shwe Oo
  • Head of the Interior and Religion Department: P'doh Saw Ah Toe
  • Head of the Organisation and Information Department: P'doh Saw Hla Tun
  • Head of the Justice Department: P'doh Naw Myne Poe
  • Head of the Mining Department: P'doh Saw Ker Ler
  • Head of the Transportation and Communication Department: P'doh Saw Kawkasar Nay Soe


Prior to the 2000s[edit]

The 9th KNU congress was held in September 1974,[11] and the 11th KNU congress was held in 1995.[12]


The 12th KNU congress was held in 2000,[12] the 13th KNU congress was held from 12 to 16 December 2005,[13] and the 14th KNU congress was held from 6 to 20 October 2008.[13]

In 2009, the KNU's fighting force was reduced to around 3000 to 5000 soldiers,[14] and on 25 June 2009 the KNLA's Brigade 7 headquarters was overrun.[15]


On 2 November 2010, the Karen National Union became a member of an alliance which included the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), the Chin National Front (CNF), the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Shan State Army North (SSA-N).[16]

The Karen National Union held its 15th congress at Lay Wah on 26 November 2012. This meeting was held at a pivotal moment in the KNU's history, as it occurred at a time of political in-fighting in regards to how the KNU should negotiate a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government.[citation needed]

From 30 October to 2 November 2013, an unprecedented meeting took place at the Kachin Independence Organisation headquarters in Laiza. For the first time, representatives of 17 armed ethnic opposition groups were able to meet in Myanmar with the consent of the government.[citation needed] The conference resulted in the formation of a 13-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) and the signing of an "11-Point Common Position of Ethnic Resistance Organisations on Nationwide Ceasefire" or the Laiza Agreement. The NCCT's current mandate was to take responsibility on writing the nationwide ceasefire document based on mutual understanding between the different armed groups in the NCCT. However, at the Law Khee Lah Conference it was agreed that the NCCT had the mandate to discuss and change the document technically, except at policy level. When the final document was ready, the respective ethnic organisation leaders decided and discussed with the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) on the nationwide ceasefire.[17]

On 15 October 2015, the KNU signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government of Myanmar, along with several other insurgent groups.[18]

In September 2016, KNLA fighters began clashing with members of the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA), the armed wing of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), in the Tanintharyi Region. Both the KNU and NMSP were signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) at the time of the fighting. A temporary bilateral truce was reached between the two groups on 14 March 2018.[19]


  1. ^ "The Politics of Pressure: KNLA". www.ibiblio.org. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Burma government signs ceasefire with Karen rebels". BBC News. 12 January 2012.
  3. ^ Radnofsky, Louise (14 February 2008). "Burmese rebel leader shot dead". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 February 2008.
  4. ^ "Burmese rebel leader is shot dead". BBC News. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 8 March 2008.
  5. ^ Radnofsky, Louise (14 February 2008). "Burmese rebel leader shot dead". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 8 March 2008.
  6. ^ "Burma's Longest War: Anatomy of the Karen Conflict". Tni.org. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  7. ^ "Myanmar court jails ethnic rebel leader for high treason". Daily Times. 14 March 2012. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  8. ^ "Burma frees ethnic Karen rebel leader". BBC News. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  9. ^ http://www.knuhq.org
  10. ^ "KNU | Myanmar Peace Monitor". mmpeacemonitor.org. Myanmar Peace Monitor. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  11. ^ "1970s Struggle for Identity". Burmalibrary.org. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  12. ^ a b "Interview with Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan". Burmadigest.info. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  13. ^ a b "KNU holds its 14th congress". Dvb.no. 16 December 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  14. ^ "The Times March 24, 2009 Burma: world's longest war nears its end". The Times. UK. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  15. ^ "KNU Headquarters Overrun: Now What?". Irrawaddy.org. Archived from the original on 2 March 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  16. ^ "Armed ethnic groups denied vote form historic alliance". Mizzima.com. 3 November 2010. Archived from the original on 14 January 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  17. ^ "The Peace Process". Karen National Union. Archived from the original on 6 May 2014. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
  18. ^ "Myanmar signs ceasefire with eight armed groups". Reuters. 14 October 2015. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  19. ^ "KNU and NMSP agree to temporary ceasefire". The Myanmar Times. 14 March 2018. Retrieved 28 March 2018.

External links[edit]