INTERVIEW: ‘If there is unity, victory will come sooner than we expect’

Karenni activist Neineh Plo says cooperation is key to removing Myanmar’s junta and forming a democratic union.
By Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA Burmese
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INTERVIEW: ‘If there is unity, victory will come sooner than we expect’ The 'resistance movement, in a way, has brought people together against a common enemy, which is the military dictatorship,' says Neineh Plo, an ethnic Karenni activist from eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state.
Screenshot from RFA video

Neineh Plo is an ethnic Karenni activist working with the Coordination Team for Emergency Relief (Karenni) in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state, situated along the country’s border with Thailand. A former spokesperson for the Karenni National Progressive Party who worked with the deposed National League for Democracy government on Myanmar’s peace process, he recently joined four Karenni organizations in publishing a report documenting war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by junta forces in Kayah state and surrounding areas between May 2021 and September 2022.

Earlier this month, Neineh Plo visited Washington, D.C. and met with U.S. officials, lawmakers, NGOs and U.N. agencies to discuss the report’s findings and how the international community can help hold the junta accountable for its rights violations in Myanmar. During his visit, he spoke with Nay Rein Kyaw of RFA’s Burmese Service about promoting cooperation between Myanmar’s resistance groups in the pursuit of removing the country’s military dictatorship and establishing a federal democratic union.

The following interview has been edited for clarity:

RFA: First of all, thank you for visiting RFA. We have three questions. The first question is, what were your first impressions during your trip to the United States?

Neineh Plo: Well, my first impression during this trip is that the U.S. enjoys freedom of expression. It is freedom of expression that makes programming like RFA’s possible. And it is with this freedom that we enable the voices of the oppressed to be heard by the international community. When these voices are heard, the international community can take action to help liberate them within the societies that oppress them, such as Burma. So, I really appreciate the fact that people have the freedom to express themselves … as that is something we don't have in Burma right now. Burma is under a military dictatorship and all kinds of free speech are banned … so you only hear from the military dictatorship what they want to tell the people. I want to tell the world the concerns of the oppressed people.

RFA: The world is watching the situation in Burma every day. Can you discuss the achievements of the resistance movement within the past two years [since the coup]?

Neineh Plo: Since the military coup two years ago … the people have suffered a lot. More than 1.5 million people are currently displaced internally in the country. But at the same time, we have many young people seeing this injustice and joining the resistance movement, whether it is armed resistance or other forms. And also, we see other people from Burma who were not aware of the plight of ethnic people in the country. Now they have become aware of the oppression that ethnic people have been facing at the hands of the military dictatorship – discrimination, lack of rights in the country. So this resistance movement, in a way, has brought people together against a common enemy, which is the military dictatorship, and then to work together and fight against this dictatorship – to remove it once and for all – and then bring about a new system to this country through the establishment of a federal democratic union.

RFA: So you are seeing more unity in Burma, right?

Neineh Plo: Yes. Now it is the kind of unity that we had not seen before the coup. Before the coup, it was mostly the ethnic groups who were fighting for equality, democracy, self-determination and federalism. Since the coup, we and other groups from Burma have had the opportunity to work with ethnic groups on a common principle, which is a federal democratic union.

But there's a lot more work to do. We are not there yet, but at least we have started this conversation and have worked together on this issue. It is not something that we are all in agreement about ... But at least we have a common understanding on the future of the country, which is that unless we can establish a federal democratic union, we won't be able to make progress. So, I think that is a big achievement.

Sadly, the military dictatorship is still in place and we need to remove them and bring people back home [who have fled since the coup]. And the people of Burma cannot do it alone. We need the international community’s help to remove this military dictatorship, to bring about a regime change in the country, so that we can enjoy sustainable peace.

Unity and international support

RFA: The people of Burma and the international community would like to know whether this movement can win and when that might happen. What is your opinion?

Neineh Plo: First, we need to build unity among all these groups … We have a lot of ethnic resistance organizations, the [shadow] National Unity Government, and the [anti-junta] People’s Defense Force [paramilitary groups], as well as many civil society organizations. All of these groups have to be able to come together and have a single vision ... which is the establishment of a federal democratic union for the future of Burma. With that kind of unity, we will be able to address many different things on the ground.

We also need international support. International support can come in many ways. Currently, we need immediate humanitarian support, and then we will also need international support to hold the military accountable [for its atrocities]. We also need international support to cut supplies to the military and disable the whole military apparatus in the country and eventually remove the military from politics. The people of Burma cannot do it alone – we need coordinated international support, otherwise it will not be effective.

RFA: Do you see a timeframe for victory?

Neineh Plo: I don't want to make a prediction, as I'm not in a position to do so, but if there is unity among the people of Burma and the international community, and if we can build momentum, victory will come sooner than we expect.


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