“The Karen National Union’s (KNU) Withdrawal from Official Myanmar Peace Negotiations and the State of the Peace Process” by Su-Ann Oh

2019/3, 11 January 2019

On 3 January, the Karen National Union (KNU) declared that it would be withdrawing from the formal peace process, marking a definitive declaration of its dissatisfaction with the peace negotiations. This comes on the back of the KNU’s hiatus in attending formal meetings at the end of October last year which ended in mid-November. The reason given for the withdrawal in October was that the KNU needed time for further internal discussions because of differences in opinion with the government.

This most recent withdrawal comes on the back of mounting concerns of the KNU over the formal peace talks: that the conditions for political dialogue have not been established, that the talks have drifted from the principles of equality, self-determination, democracy and federalism and that priorities have shifted away from effectively implementing the issues agreed in the national ceasefire agreement text. For the time being, the KNU prefers to find a solution through informal meetings with the Myanmar government and military officials.

This development represents a step back for a peace process that has stagnated. Despite the Myanmar government having persuaded two more armed groups to sign the national ceasefire agreement in 2018, the formal peace talks have come to an impasse because the Myanmar military insists that without a pledge of non-secession from the ethnic armed organizations, there would be no talks on increased autonomy and self-determination for the ethnic armed organizations.

The KNU’s withdrawal also has implications for the other signatories of the national ceasefire agreement. As the process has been built on communication and collaboration amongst the signatories, the other signatories may encounter pacing and sequencing concerns, particularly since the KNU is one of the more influential groups in southeast Myanmar. In addition, factionalism within the KNU makes a settled policy line within the organisation nearly as difficult as reaching an agreement with the army and the government.

Dr Su-Ann Oh is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.

The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission.