Friday, June 12, 2009

The Spirit of Manerplaw

The Irrawaddy News

Fast on the heels of the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi comes the SPDC's offensive against the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Karen people. Unfortunately, these are calculated acts by the regime against the forces for democracy and ethnic liberation. Quite simply, the regime hates Suu Kyi and the regime hates the KNU. For the Burmese junta, these are the enemies: these forces of reconciliation, these forces for reconciliation.

The KNU is one of the key partners in the future national reconciliation process for Burma because of its long history of determination to heal ethnic divisions, be inclusive and its consistency in pursuing freedom, rights and equality. Sidelining the KNU in the process toward a new Burma will not benefit any community in Burma.

If the regime were truly committed to free and fair elections and to positive change in Burma, it would be consulting with the KNU and would have brought them on board from the very beginning. Instead the regime systematically attacks the Karen villages.

These recent political moves by the Burmese generals—specifically the trial of NLD leader Suu Kyi and the brutal offensive against the KNU and innocent Karen people—reflect their will to exclude anyone who could bring reconciliation and peace to Burma. The generals do not want dialogue partners; they only want to normalize their rule through the military-devised “seven step plan” or “road map.”

The suffering of the Karen people in recent years cannot be easily forgotten; but the Karen leaders have been wise, they have fought the military, not the Burman race.

The chronic nature of the situation in ethnic areas—where people have lost their lives in armed conflict, lost their homes and livelihoods, been used for forced labor and where military men have systematically raped ethnic women—has fueled racial hatred among the general population of ethnic nationalities over the past decades.

The KNU, through numerous political initiatives, has worked toward the elimination of racial hatred and xenophobia. Fifteen years ago, the KNU headquarters at Manerplaw was home to various ethnic nationalities, including the majority Burmans. It was home to urban students of the All Burma Students Democratic Front. It was home to the elected MPs. It was home to Burma's political parties. Manerplaw and Gen Bo Mya were the epicenter of the most recent national reconciliation initiatives of the democratic and ethnic movements.

In my opinion, currently popular ideas about federalism were hatched at the KNU jungle headquarters by Karen elders during this period. The KNU still stands firmly behind the principles of national reconciliation which they set up together with other ethnic and democratic leaders.

The fall of Manerplaw was a great blow, not only to the KNU but to all the ethnic nationalities of Burma. People of all ethnicities expressed their outrage and sadness at the time, but continued to support the ideals that the KNU continues to represent to this day—a united, federal Burma with a place for all ethnic nationalities.

By imprisoning Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders, the regime is trying to decapitate the democratic movement. With its ongoing offensives against the Karen people and the KNU, the regime wishes to paralyze the democratic movement.

The KNU has been and remains the backbone of the democratic movement. When it is attacked it is the responsibility of us all to do everything in our power to protect our Karen brothers and sisters.

As the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently noted: “For too long the world has failed to act in the fact of these intolerable injustices.”

We must not wait any longer to act on behalf of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, on behalf of the Karen people and the KNU, and ultimately on behalf of democracy and freedom in Burma.

Aung Moe Zaw is chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, a Burmese opposition group based in exile.

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