Karen Major General Nerdah Bo Mya: ‘The Government Is Playing the Game’
Original Post By: Burma Link |
Nerdah Bo Mya is a Major General and the Chief of Staff of the Karen National Defence Organization (KNDO), which was founded in 1947 to protect the Karen people and territory, and is under its mother organisation Karen National Union (KNU). Nerdah Bo Mya, 48, was born near Manerplaw—the former headquarters of the KNU as well as other ethnic nationalities and the pro–democracy movement—as the son of the late General Bo Mya who was the President of the KNU from 1976 to 2000. After being educated in Thailand and in the US, where Nerdah Bo Mya spent six years studying a Liberal Arts degree at a university in California, the young graduate turned away from a future in the US and soon returned to the Thailand-Burma border. For over 20 years, he has fought for “freedom, democracy, and humanity,” against what is undoubtedly one of the most brutal military regimes in the world. This dedicated and empathetic “rebel” leader emphasizes that it is not just the Karen people but a whole nation of 60 million people who are still suffering and need to be freed. Although the international community has enjoyed what some call a honeymoon with the Burmese government since the country started opening up in 2011, according to Nerdah Bo Mya, the government is still not showing signs of sincerity in peace talks nor genuine willingness to change. “The government is playing the game,” he says, and the international community too often indirectly participating in ongoing atrocities. In this exclusive interview with Burma Link, Nerdah Bo Mya talks about the struggle, the current state of the ceasefire and the peace process, the role of the international community, and how to build a prosperous Burma for the future generations.
Q: Why did you join the KNDO and the Karen struggle?
I joined the Karen struggle because I want my people to be free. I want democracy, and also, we are fighting, struggling for our Karen identity, and self-determination.
Q: How would you describe the current situation in Karen areas?
The current situation right now, it’s quiet. It’s been quiet for two and a half years already, close to three years. But at the same time, human rights violations are still going on. It’s been quiet because we signed the, we call the ceasefire negotiations, with the Burmese government. But, the reason why we’re having ceasefire negotiations with the government is first of all we want to stop fighting, and then after [we] stop fighting then we will have political discussion. After political discussion, if we will come to like a mutual agreement, after that hopefully we will have peace in Burma.
Q: The KNU signed the preliminary ceasefire with the government in January 2012. How has that ceasefire benefited the Karen people or the Karen struggle?
When you look at everything on the surface, it seems like everything is OK, because it’s quiet. But at the same time the Burmese [military] are taking advantage of the situation, and they’re moving their troops in and sending supplies, and rebuilding their outposts, in our territories. So on the other hand, what they really want is to occupy our territories, and what we want is, we want to preserve our identity. So we are going opposite ways.
Q: Where is the peace process now?
I think with this government, it’s not easy, because their strategy is totally different. Their strategy is to wipe out all the ethnic groups, and to call all the ethnic groups to stay under them, to renounce their [ethnic] armed troops. But they [the government] try to manipulate and strategise and play the game, so that people will misunderstand the whole process. But deep down inside, they have no heart for negotiations for peace process, for peace negotiations, so called peace negotiations.
I want to tell the people that the ceasefire situation right now is useless. We cannot trust the government, the government is not sincere for peace talks. They just want to lie to get money, get rid of all the ethnic groups, committing more crimes, committing genocide against the ethnic people. That’s all they want. The mentality is that they don’t change, they just take out their uniforms and inside the same thing. They, you know, they’re not changing at all. Actually, they’re just playing the game. I want to also warn the international community that if they want to invest in Burma they have to talk and listen to many sides before they invest or put money into business in Burma. Otherwise they’re just indirectly killing innocent people. Because the Burmese government is a murderer.
Q: The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents 16 ethnic armed groups, and the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UWPC) agreed on the draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) on March 31st. What is your view on this? Is this a significant step towards nationwide ceasefire?
NCCT and UPWC agreed on the draft NCA, but is not working. It is just a political game. Who wants this? The Burmese government wants this so badly just to show to the world that there is peace in Burma. In reality the Burmese government wants us to surrender. Ceasefire with military regime is meaningless. Nothing will be productive under this government.
Q: Do you think the government is willing to discuss the political goals of the Karen and the other ethnic people?
No I don’t think so. The government is playing the game, and trying to manipulate the Karen people and trying to use different groups. In the old days they used to divide and rule, divide and conquer. They’re still using that these days. And then, I don’t think they’re sincere for peace negotiations anyway.
Q: How do you see the current conflict situation in northern Burma? Is it related to the Karen struggle?
It’s related to the Karen struggle because under this military regime we’re all facing the same situation. All the ethnic groups they want to preserve their identities, because they have their own history, they want to preserve it. They want to preserve their culture. And it has been forbidden by the government, [for] many many years. That’s why [there is] the conflict, we still have this kind of conflict, and fighting, between the Burmese government and the ethnic groups.
Q: Much of the ethnic armed opposition is united under the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), which suffered a severe blow when the KNU temporarily suspended their membership in August 2014. What is your view on this? Do you think the ethnic groups should fight as one united front?
I don’t really agree on that one [KNU suspending the UNFC membership], because one way or another we have to rely on each other, because we are on the same boat fighting, trying to achieve the same goal and same objective.
We are trying [for unity], we’re trying hard so that we can cooperate and fight, unitedly, at the same time. But also we are facing some difficulties because people have different points of view, but we’re working very hard so that we can, hopefully not too long, we can come to a point where we can all agree and we can work together closely.
Q: There was one recent attempt towards closer cooperation between the Karen groups with the formation of the Kawthoolei Armed Forces (KAF). What is the current status of the KAF?
Kawthoolei Armed Forces is to unite all the Karen armed groups to stay under one administration, under one umbrella. It means under Kawthoolei Armed Forces we have DKBA (Democratic Karen Benevolent Army), we have [KNU-KNLA] Peace Council, we have KNLA, we have KNDO. Even though they have different badges, but [they] must be under one umbrella administration. And this is what we’re trying to do.
Whether you are DKBA, people can call Kawthoolei Army, KNLA Kawthoolei Army, because our country is called Kawthoolei. The armed forces should be called Kawthoolei Army. So they all agreed on this. So we realised that OK if all the groups agree on this, then we can, it will be much easier for us to put them under one umbrella and one administration. One constitution, so that we have only one army in the Karen State, protecting the Karen territory.
Q: In January 2013 the KNU signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment to protect civilians in conflict. Why was it signed and what does it mean to the KNU?
We want to make a better change for our nation, so we have to show example to the Burmese government before they sign it. So, we signed it, even though we are struggling for peace and democracy, and they [the Burmese military] outnumber us. Actually we should use up all our strength that we have so that we can counter their military offensive, but on the other hand we want to show them that we are human beings, you know, ‘you cannot really use women and children and people under aged to fight with us, so even though you don’t sign, we sign it.’ So that now we only have voluntary soldiers, and all of them over 18.
Q: How can the international community help the Karen people and the struggle?
The international community, about the struggle in Burma, they have to be participate into it, because it’s not a struggle about freedom only, but for democracy, humanity, and 60 million people need to be freed. Not only ethnic [nationalities] struggle for ethnic rights, we’re talking about 60 million people, they’re human beings, they shouldn’t be under this kind of government. This brutal government is not really thinking about the people and they’re not supporting the people. They shouldn’t be running the country.
International community should realise that they [the government] should respect the rights of human beings, rights of the Burmese people. When they invest without talking with the people, it means they’re violating human rights. So they have to, before they invest, make sure people in Burma have the rights of freedom of expression, freedom to live as a human being, and free from all kinds of atrocities. And then they can invest. But first of all you can’t really invest and deal with a few people, you know, exchanging benefits and forget about 60 million people.
Q: What would you like to say to the Burmese military?
I want to tell them that now we’re living in the same situation, we’re living in the same country. And we cannot really hate each other, trying to eliminate one another. We should work together, we should think about the future of Burma… They [the government] should be more open-minded and think about the future, think about the coming up generations, how are they going to run the country.
And so [it is] time for us to reconsider what we have in our minds, and what [will be] the future of Burma, and how can we live, how can we work together, how can we develop our country, how can we prosper together. They have to think positively rather than try to dominate and control and kill people and they think that they can use force to win and to gain victory.
Q: What would you like to say to the people of Burma?
We’re very strong in our determination. We’re not tired of struggling for freedom for 60 million people. People should realise that preserving our culture is very valuable and people need to have mutual respect towards one another and love one another, care for one another. And this is where we can build a peaceful Burma, and prosperous Burma in the future. Because I’ve been fighting the Burmese regime for 20 years already, but I fight because I love my people. Not because I hate the Burmese people. I realise that this is not an appropriate thing, for only a handful of people trying to control 60 million people, and they’re holding [onto] their power there. I want them to be out and the people will be free. This is want I want, democratic Burma, federation Burma, freedom for Burma.
Q: What is your vision for Burma in the future?
In the future, I think that this government cannot go on for long. One way or another they have to let it go. But through bloodshed or through peaceful means, we have to, we will see. But they cannot go on this way, people cannot stand it. When you have nothing, nowhere to go, then you will stand up and fight for your rights.
We need a free democratic government. And where our people can enjoy equality, equal rights, and enjoy the basic value of being a human being, [and having] human rights.
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