KNDO commander rejects KNU suspension of his duties

Commander of the Karen National Defence Organization (KNDO) Maj-Gen Saw Nerdah Mya said on Sunday that he would not leave his position, despite being ordered to do so by the Karen National Union (KNU).

On July 8, the KNU’s defence department announced that Nerdah Mya and his lieutenant, Saw Ba Wah, had been suspended for an undesignated period of time following the May 31 murder of 25 men who were in KNDO custody in Karen State. 

A Karen language video of Nerdah Mya rejecting the KNU’s decision was posted on the KNDO’s social media pages on Sunday, with the general vowing to continue to fight the Myanmar military. 

“We have to keep doing what we need to do. We’re not scared. We will stand together with the civilians in the fight for Karen State’s independence and peace,” he said in the video.

On June 14 the military council-run Myawaddy news outlet alleged that around 30 KNDO troops under the leadership of Saw Ba Wah kidnapped 47 construction workers from the Oh Ho stream bridge worksite along the Kane Lay-Maw Khee highway in Myawaddy District on May 31.

The report said that the detainees included 31 men, six women and 10 children.

According to the coup council, 22 hostages, including all the women and children and some men, were released on June 1 and 9 respectively, but the KNDO continued to hold 25 men. 

On June 11 and 12, the junta’s troops said they found the bodies of the 25 men killed with their hands tied behind their backs in Myawaddy’s Waw Lay area. 

Bodies shown in the junta-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, believed to belong to the 25 men killed in KNDO custody

The Myanmar military’s southeastern commander reported the incident to the KNU headquarters the following day.

The KNDO is one of the KNU’s two armed wings, the other being the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

In photos released by the military, the deceased men were wearing camouflage pants, but the military maintains that they were civilians. 

The KNDO stated that the men were junta soldiers disguised as construction workers, and claimed to have confiscated their badges, which revealed their ranks. 

The KNU’s central executive committee announced on June 16 that the organisation would investigate the allegations against the KNDO.

All calls from Myanmar Now to the KNU authorities on the issue had gone unanswered at the time of reporting.

KNU Vice Chairperson Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win told the Karen State-based KIC media that Nerdah Mya’s suspension was in line with KNU regulations.

“We have to follow the rules of human rights. The respective authorities would have to carry out an investigation and report on it according to the rules of our organisation. You have to understand that we are doing everything according to protocol,” he said. 

In the KIC broadcast, it was revealed that the KNU held an emergency meeting in which it was decided that Nerdah Mya would be suspended after failing to respond to a summons by the KNU’s central executive committee to discuss the allegations against him. 

The KNDO commander will retain his military rank despite the suspension, Saw Kwe Htoo Win said, adding that appropriate action would be taken according to the judiciary decision following the KNU’s investigation. 

The KNU’s primary armed wing, the KNLA, was engaged in several battles against the junta’s troops following the February 1 coup. Many of the clashes took place in the KNLA’s Brigade 5 territory, in Karen State’s Mutraw (Hpapun) District. 

At least 20 civilians were killed in the military’s airstrikes on KNU territory, and tens of thousands of villagers displaced. 

The KNDO fought alongside Brigade 5 troops during this period, and a Karen Border Guard Force (BGF) fought in support of the junta. 

Four Karen armed forces—the KNLA, the BGF, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Party, and the KNLA-Peace Council—subsequently held a meeting at the KNU headquarters to address growing conflict between the groups. 

Prior to the coup, the KNU was a 2015 signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the military, but fighting persisted. 

KNU chair Gen Saw Mutu Say Poe and KNLA commander Gen Saw Johnny have claimed that they would uphold the protocols of the NCA in the post-coup landscape. 

Some KNU and KNLA authorities have dismissed their sentiments as reflective of the leaders’ own leanings, rather than representing an organisational stance.

Even before the coup, fighting had intensified between the Myanmar military and the KNLA as recently as January in Kyaukkyi Township in the Karen forces’ Brigade 3 territory in eastern Bago Region. The battles were largely attributed to the paving of a road by the military through KNU territory.

The military has claimed that the road was for “regional development.” The Karen forces said it was a violation of the NCA. 

In December 2020, villagers in neighbouring Mutraw District protested the Myanmar army’s “trespassing” into areas restricted by the KNU and accused the military of sending troop reinforcements to these areas, surveying the land, and carrying out construction on a road to be used in future military operations on their land. 

Karen civil society organisations have repeatedly accused the military of violating the NCA by sending troops to KNU-controlled areas and building new bases and outposts there, both of which are prohibited in Chapter 3 of the agreement. 

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