KNU to Burma Army: Stop Fighting Us So We Can All Fight Coronavirus

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Karen National Union (KNU) has demanded that the Burmese government and military declare a nationwide ceasefire in order to effectively fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The declaration came on March 26. At the time of reporting, the government had reported only 10 official cases of the COVID-19 virus in the country, a number that has been widely questioned by medical professionals, who fear the infections are much higher.

Ethnic armed organizations including the KNU are initiating coronavirus awareness campaigns in the areas under their control. KNU general secretary Padoh Saw Ta Doh Moo spoke to NMG about these efforts, the health risks faced by internally displaced persons (IDPs), and the opportunity now available to rewrite policy that is not promoting peace, human security and reconciliation.

Please tell us about the KNU’s campaign to prevent coronavirus. What does it involve?

We are especially carryout out our awareness campaign in remote villages along the border area, in our control area. We talk to people about social isolation, social distancing, and self-isolation. If people return home from outside, people must wash their hands. We have explained what the rules and regulations of the WHO [World Health Organization] are. Our medics advocate to our people to follow the rules and regulations of the WHO.

What is the situation regarding coronavirus infection in areas under the KNU’s control?

Currently, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in our area. Therefore, in our area, we have imposed restrictions on traveling and social distancing. People should not travel place to place unless there is an emergency. We have imposed these restrictions as a protective measure in our area.

Can people pass through border checkpoints into the KNU’s territory?

Large numbers of people do not normally pass into our area. Our medics are doing advocacy especially in villages in areas under the control of the KNU’s brigades 4, 6 and 7 that border other areas. Our medics are explaining to people how to live on alert.

KNU released a statement calling for a nationwide ceasefire. Can you explain why?

We need to show humanity during this outbreak. We need to cooperate amongst ourselves to protect against this coronavirus pandemic. The UN secretary general also called for an end to armed conflict for cooperation in fighting against this epidemic. It would be good if we could use our strength to fight this epidemic.

We can see that IDPs only have basic healthcare and social care. If the coronavirus spreads into IDP communities, it will be really difficult to control. There are IDPs in Karen, northern Shan and Rakhine states. If the government and army declare an unrestricted nationwide ceasefire, fighting would stop and people would not need to run. It would be good for our society if we could use this to fight against this epidemic.

Do you want other armed organizations to declare a ceasefire?

What I understand is that if the government and army declare a nationwide ceasefire, other ethnic armed organizations are ready to stop fighting. If there are no offensives, I think fighting would automatically stop. That’s why we have called for it. If the government and army declare a nationwide ceasefire, we can focus on fighting this epidemic, and our people won’t have to flee. From a political perspective, it would support national reconciliation and in other ways, the peace process.

The government recently declared the Arakan Army an unlawful association. Do you think there will be more clashes occurring in Rakhine State now? What is the KNU’s perspective?

Actually, it’s a political problem. Political problems must be solved through political means. So we need a concrete peace policy, which can cover the whole country. If we don’t have a concrete policy to solve political problems and if we try to use excessive forces to solve political problems, it will not be good for any of us in the long term. Coronavirus has rapidly infected people throughout the world. If this virus infects IDPs, many people will suffer—I cannot imagine it. I feel very worried about it.

Is there anything else you want to add about the coronavirus and the ongoing fighting in the country?

People draw up policy, so people can cancel it, too. We have to consider genuine peace and national reconciliation for the future of our country. If they can set up policies based on genuine peace and national reconciliation, I think our country will have a brighter future. Therefore, we want to urge both the government and army leaders to consider drawing up policies based on genuine peace and national reconciliation.