Karenni governing council offers political alternative to junta control

The Karenni State Interim Executive Council aims to foster a ‘bottom-up governance model’ through the revolutionary period and in a future federal union

With the exception of the junta-controlled urban capital of Loikaw, Karenni (Kayah) State is dominated by resistance forces, in both the armed movement and in governance. 

On June 12, the Karenni State Interim Executive Council (IEC) was introduced to its 350,000-strong public as carrying out the region’s administrative duties and providing public services in defiance of the coup regime, through a future political transition, and as part of a future federal union. 

“We are diligently working through this transitional period to the government level. In other words, we will implement this so that we can step up as the government of Karenni,” IEC joint secretary Khu Plu Reh explained.

The IEC, chaired by Khu Oo Reh—who also heads the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), a longstanding ethnic armed organisation—is steered by the Karenni State Consultative Council, which was formed two months after Myanmar’s February 2021 military coup. It has approved the Karenni State Interim Plan: the constitution in use in the region by the anti-junta bodies at the time of reporting.

Karenni State IEC members, pictured from left: Banyar Khun Aung, Secretary 2; Khun Bedu, Vice Chairperson; Khu Oo Reh, Chairperson; Khu Plu Reh, General Secretary; Zu Padonmar, Secretary 1; and Maw Poe Myar, Treasurer (Karenni State IEC)

Khu Plu Reh said that the charter is focussed on obtaining recognition for Karenni State within a federal democracy—not independence, which was a widely held political ambition historically and particularly through the 1990s. 

“Rather than establishing a separate country, I would like to say that we are taking the position of participating as a member state of a federal democratic union,” he told Myanmar Now. 

Many consider Karenni territory as reaching beyond the current state boundaries and into southern Shan State’s Moebye and Pekhon, which have large ethnic Karenni populations. The IEC defines the region as having four districts, one of which includes these areas. 

As of early August, the first departments formed under the IEC have been dedicated to children and women’s affairs, defence, education, health, human rights, humanitarian relief and the judiciary, with more expected to follow. 

“We have to negotiate with different forces to implement our administration in a practical sense,” Khu Plu Reh said. “When coordinating with these groups, it will take time to build mutual understanding in order to determine how to develop this administrative system.”

A police station in Mese town of Karenni State is seen after a raid by resistance forces on July 5 (Myanmar Now)

The extent of the IEC’s ties to the National Unity Government (NUG), which emerged after the coup as a cabinet formed by ousted elected lawmakers and leaders, are not known, but the entities are believed to engage in regular discussions. 

An August 9 report by Karenni State-based Kantarawaddy Times quoted IEC Secretary 2 Banyar Khun Aung describing how communication between the Council and the NUG’s human rights ministry regarding future prosecution of the junta had already begun. 

“The NUG has taken the lead in this process, and we are collaborating with them in the prosecution against the military council at an international court. We have compiled data and documents pertaining to the human rights abuses committed by the military council in our Karenni State,” he told the media outlet. 

Regarding its local function, general secretary Khu Plu Reh noted that the IEC would need to reach the village and ward levels to reflect a “bottom-up governance model,” starting in Karenni resistance strongholds and expanding outward. 

He described the interim council as facing several challenges in this endeavour, ranging from a lack of human resources, technology and finances to the perpetration of daily airstrikes by the Myanmar military, which are intensified when the junta cannot penetrate an area through ground offensives.

“We may also have a lot of challenges in addressing the panic and concern of the public due to the airstrikes and heavy artillery fire [by the regime],” he explained.

In a press conference outlining the launch of the IEC, its vice chair Khun Bedu—also chair of the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF), a prominent armed group—said that the council was prioritising coordination with various resistance bodies operating across the state. 

“Organising and uniting the scattered administration, troops and revolutionary forces is the main mission and goal of the IEC,” he explained. 

Like IEC, the KNDF also operates under the Karenni State Consultative Council. Formed in May 2021, the force has approximately 7,000 fighters in more than 20 battalions under six divisions positioned across Karenni territory; is considered one of the most powerful guerrilla forces borne in the state during the post-coup period. 

Members of Karenni-based resistance forces pictured in early 2022 (Photo: Khun Hla Nyan / Myanmar Now) 

“The KNDF is likely to become the Karenni State government’s army and the Karenni State Police is likely to become the state government’s police force,” Khun Bedu said, referring to the KSP, a 300-officer police operation also under the Consultative Council. 

Aung San Myint, Secretary 2 of ethnic armed organisation KNPP, said that it was not too early for armed forces to begin considering the unification under a future Karenni State Army, but, until then, widespread resistance was required.

“After the end of the revolutionary period, the army of the state in the federal democratic union will need to be a more comprehensive one,” he explained. “When the military dictatorship is over, we have to undergo some form of defence reunification.”

“Our political direction is that we must have weapons in our hands until we can build a federal democratic union,” he added. 

Related Articles

Back to top button