A leader of the Karen National Liberation Army has called for continuing the fight for ethnic autonomy, but through peaceful, political means.
Speaking on the 67th anniversary of Karen National Martyrs’ Day, General Saw Johnny said Karen autonomy has not yet been realized, and the sacrifice made by Karen martyrs has not yet been fulfilled, but he added that violence was not the way to achieve these goals.
“Although we have fought with arms for over 60 years, we still haven’t achieved the expectations desired by the majority. That’s why we are trying to find the solution to fulfil the desire of the entire Karen people without any more bloodshed,” the KNLA’s chief of staff said during a speech at the Karen National Union (KNU) Division 7’s headquarters on August 12.
He added that the KNU’s first chair, Saw Ba U Gyi, and other martyrs sacrificed their lives to free the Karen people from oppression and to make the world recognize the Karen people as a race with its own state and rights.
The KNU designated August 12 Karen Martyrs’ Day in memory of Saw Ba U Gyi and Major General Sai Kay, who were killed on August 12, 1950.
The 67th anniversary of Karen Martyrs’ Day was commemorated in Kayin State, Mon State, Yangon Region and Tanintharyi Region, as well as by Karen people living abroad.
Over 1,000 people attended the Division 7 headquarters ceremony, including KNU leaders, representatives of the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, officers from the Kayin State Border Guard Force and members of the public.
In addition to speeches by Gen Saw Johnny and the KNU’s vice chair P’doh Saw Kwel Htoo Win, gifts were given to the families of fallen martyrs and a military parade was held.
“I’m proud to learn about the Karen martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their country and their people. We will strive to achieve self-determination, which was the hope of the martyrs,” said Mann Thein, a student from the KNU’s Karen New Generation School who attended the ceremony.
The KNU signed a preliminary ceasefire with the government in January 2012 and signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement along with seven other ethnic armed organizations on October 15, 2015. Members of the KNU have been actively encouraging other ethnic armed groups to join the political negotiations by signing the NCA.
A two-year-old child and her mother were among the four people injured by artillery shells during an August 13 skirmish in Namkham township, northern Shan State, according to a local resident.
The Tatmadaw and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army exchanged fire near Kawng Wein Village around 5:30am amid escalating violence between the two sides in Shan State.
“We heard the firing of the artillery shells from the [Tatmadaw’s Light Infantry Division Battalion 88] LID-88 base at the town entrance in 10 or 15-minute intervals from 6am to 8am,” said a resident of Namkham who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“Three family members including a woman and a two-and-a-half-year-old child were injured. Another person was also injured.”
The injured residents were taken to the Namkham General Hospital for treatment. One man is in critical condition.
“A piece of the shell went inside a man’s chest. He also received two injuries on his ribcage. He hasn’t been operated on yet,” the local source said.
The Tatmadaw had not released any information about the fighting as of the afternoon of August 14, but the TNLA confirmed the August 13 clash.
“The skirmish broke out in Kawng Wein Village, Namkham township from 5:30am to 8am after the Tatmadaw entered the area where we were active,” said Major Mai Aik Kyaw, an information officer for the TNLA.
Fighting escalated between the Tatmadaw and the TNLA in early August. At least eight skirmishes have recently occurred in northern Shan State, driving hundreds of civilians from their homes to seek shelter in monasteries and more central cities and towns unlikely to end up in the crossfire.
Namtu town is calling for donations of food and essential supplies to help support the influx of over 200 displaced Palaung residents who arrived without so much as blankets. Manton town has been closed off by road blockages, with civilians there reporting that the Tatmadaw has been detaining ethnic Kachin and Palaung civilians.
The ongoing conflict between has grown more heated since the emergence of a new association of ethnic armed groups fighting in Shan and Kachin states, called the Northern Alliance. The alliance has disavowed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement – the pact the government and the Tatmadaw have pressed as the sole route to political negotiation and forging peace.