On Karen armed forced day this week, one ethnic armed group leader sounded a cautionary note, instructing soldiers to recall that a ceasefire is not the same as peace, while urging them to remain “alert”.
“The ceasefire is a political game,” said Lieutenant General Saw Baw Kyaw Heh, speaking at an event commemorating the 68th Karen Armed Forces ((Kawthoolei Army) Day on July 5.
He said all soldiers must stay alert in case of a ceasefire breakdown, or in case the peace process stagnates. He also warned of an as yet “uncertain” outcome.
“We don’t know when it might end, or what challenges might arise because of it. We have been discussing [peace] for four or five years, but we haven’t achieved any of our ideal political outcomes,” he said. “The situation in our land and the Myanmar army’s plans over the past four or five years are quite obvious. That’s why soldiers must remain alert.”
He added that all Karen groups are responsible for ensuring national security.
In a separate message delivered at the ceremony, the chief of staff of the Karen National Union – the political wing of the KNLA – General Saw Johnny, also delivered a warning shot. He said soldiers must remember that Kayin (Karen) State is still in limbo and reiterated that the state has not yet achieved peace.
The KNLA/KNU is among the eight signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) and also holds a bilateral ceasefire with the government. Hardline factions within the group had lobbied for boycotting the NCA until political aims such as ethnic autonomy were secured.
KNU Vice Chair P’doh Saw Kwel Htoo Win and Joint Secretary P’doh Saw Hla Tun also delivered remarks at the July 5 event, which was attended by over 300 people including leaders from the KNU, Karen youth groups, allied groups and local residents.
“The [Kawthoolei] Army has to protect against enemies who are coming to invade and bully us. We would be bullied and tortured by the military dictators like in the past if this Kawthoolei Army didn’t exit. We will always need this army,” said Mann Ah Than, a Kayin State resident who attended the ceremony.
The Karen Armed Forces Day has been observed on July 5 every year since 1956, when the KNU held its second national congress and established its constitution.