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A New Dawn for the Karen People or More Repression and Refugees

December 28, 2015 The Karen People

Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a shocking four-fifths majority of contested seats in the lower house of Parliament in Myanmar's general election which would enable her to choose the next president. However, the NLD has been there before, as they won in 1990 and the military refused to cede control. Aung San Suu Kyi was subsequently subjected to house arrest for many years. The author and Joey happened to be present when Aung San Suu Kyi was first released from house arrest in 1995 - an auspicious day. In any event, as the military is guaranteed 25% of seats in Parliament and the threshold to change the constitution is in excess of 75%, the military, or Tatmadaw, will likely be a force well into the future.

Accordingly, at this juncture, it is far from clear that the Karen National Defense Organization will discontinue its war against the Tatmadaw that goes back to 1949, making it the longest internal guerilla war in history. It is poignant that the insurrection followed the assassination of Aung San, the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1949. Aung San founded the Union of Burma and facilitated the creation of a sovereign state from the former British colonial rule in 1949.

Major General Nerdah Bo Mya, head of the Karen National Defense Organization recently congratulated the NLD for its victory and reminded them that the rights of ethnic people are equally as important as democracy. Therefore, it is apparent that the resolution of the existing repression of ethnic minorities is less than certain though there is hope.

The flag of the Karen National Union is shown below. The rising sun was meant to give a bright light to the Karen people and erase fear. Let us hope it represents the new dawn for them.

The founder and Chairman of the Karen National Union, Pado Ba Thin Sein, passed away at age 82 on May 22, 2008. He is the father of a friend of the author, Drucie Ba Thin. Pado Ba Thin Sein was also Chairman of the Ethnic Nationalities Council of Union of Burma and long active to bring about a peaceful solution to the political conflict in Burma through a negotiated settlement. Most of the many ethnic minorities have their own guerrilla armies that have also been at war with the Tatmadaw. Pado Ba Thin Sein is shown below wearing a white suit in an image with President Jimmy Carter.

The author and Joey never had the opportunity to meet Pado Ba Thin Sein but did have an interesting lunch in Bangkok once with Pado Saw David Taw, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the KNU, a protégé of Drucie's father.

It is kind of strange to meet and discuss refugee issues with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a competitive state within a state that represents a major trade partner of Thailand and the source of much of the natural gas that keeps the lights on in Bangkok.

Drucie Ba Thin and a close friend of the author, Myrna Ann Adkins, are shown below in traditional Karen apparel. Myrna Ann, as the head of the Spring Institute, played a major role in the training and acculturation of a multitude of different immigrants and ethnic groups into the United States. Myrna Ann was one of those who pioneered the concept of acculturation whereby each immigrant would bring its culture into our society while learning that of ours. In other words, they are not homogenized into our culture, but they learn to function and be contributors to our society without sacrificing their own distinct heritage. By the way, the Irish celebrate Saint Patrick's Day while those of us of Anglican background join them for a pint of Guinness.

Drucie has taken Myrna Ann's concepts to a new level with her fellow Karen. It is her heartfelt cause and, believe me, do not get in her way. Her effort will continue long into the future until the Tatmadaw learn to play nice with her fellow countrymen in Myanmar. A vast number of Karen refugees remain in confined camps on the Thai border with Myanmar. Drucie, your father would be very proud of you, as is this author.

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