KNU scorns junta invitation to peace talks following Karen State military onslaught 

The Karen National Union (KNU) is among multiple ethnic armed organisations (EAO) that has rejected a Myanmar military invitation to peace talks, saying that they have no intention of negotiating with the junta. 

On Sunday, the military council announced that they had extended the invite to all EAOs in the country, including both signatories and non-signatories to the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which, amid continued military assaults nationwide, has been widely considered void. 

KNU spokesperson Padoh Saw Taw Nee told Myanmar Now that his organisation had no faith in negotiations with the junta, which he said had repeatedly violated the NCA. 

“We have no reason to talk with the military council and it is time we said goodbye to the NCA,” he said. 

“At the very least, we don’t trust them. We are getting our guns ready with our finger on the trigger. We will pull the trigger once they open their mouths about peace.” 

Fighting between the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and the Myanmar army intensified after the military staged a coup in February last year, with severe battles breaking out in KNU-controlled territory. 

Clashes escalated in December when the junta’s armed forces entered the Lay Kay Kaw area of Karen State’s Myawaddy District to arrest anti-dictatorship protesters and parliamentarians that had sought KNU protection. 

The military attacked Lay Kay Kaw from both land and air, forcing thousands of residents and already displaced persons to flee to Thailand.

Army invitations to peace talks come amid growing international pressure and resistance posed internally by EAOs and guerrilla forces including the People’s Defence Force (PDF), which fights under the banner of the elected National Unity Government (NUG) and the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). 

The junta has declared the PDF, NUG and CRPH terrorist organisations, accusing them in military-run media of committing atrocities that have been widely attributed to the Myanmar army. 

Khaing Thukha, the spokesperson for the Arakan Army (AA), told Myanmar Now on Monday that the military council’s offer of peace talks was likely insincere. 

“They’ve been launching offensives in Rakhine State, which was initially in a stable condition. On the other hand, they’re talking about peace? It makes it hard for us to trust them,” he said.

Years of clashes between the military and the AA paused ahead of the 2020 general election, but recently resumed in northern Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township earlier this month.  

The AA had not discussed the military’s offer with other EAOs with which it is allied, Khaing Thukha said, referring to the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. 

Political analyst Than Soe Naing also dismissed the junta’s invitation as “superficial,” and would not likely be met with a positive response. 

“They are basically holding a peace offer in one hand and guns in the other. Their invitation is not legitimate or trustworthy. No one in the international community and no ethnic armed organisation believes in it. It’s just superficial and that offer is just hollow,” he commented.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt, the associate secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said that the military council should have provided tangible offers of peace in the invitation, if that was what they had intended.

“They need to give more specific and legitimate promises. They need to specify when exactly they will withdraw from the country’s politics. We can’t have a meaningful conversation without any solid facts,” he told Myanmar Now. 

The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) chairperson N’Ban La said in a speech on Saturday, Kachin Revolution Day, that EAOs opposed to the junta should work with the NUG. The junta’s invitation to peace talks excludes groups it has declared as terrorist organisations, such as the NUG, making it implausible that the KIO would consider attending. 

The KNU’s Padoh Saw Taw Nee maintains that the only way forward for the country is through the military’s withdrawal from politics.

“Our path is clear. We need to abolish the dictatorship whether they like it or not. The military must withdraw from the country’s politics and do its own job,” he said.

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