Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Karen – Terrorist

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Karen, Terrorism; terrorist


Relates to terrorist

Despite constant accusations in the Burmese media that the Karen National Union is a terrorist and insurgent organisation, the Karen have no distinct word to refer to the common concept of ‘terrorism.’  Instead they use the English term, frequently denying counter- allegations of similar tactics made against them. The Burmese press recently reported that:

… KNU insurgents having links with the outskirts of Toungoo and Nyaung-laybin areas, have been sending sabotage teams to inner parts of towns, villages, motor roads and railroads and committing terrorist acts including blasting of bombs again and again to harm the lives and property of the people.[1]

Such allegations are not new and were made against the KNU after a number of bomb attacks in Rangoon in 2005. The KNU were quick to respond, and stated that:

The KNU is not an organisation relying on terrorism and violence. It is a political organization which has been leading the revolutionary resistance of the Karen people with correct and political goals.

…[T]he unfounded allegation against the KNU by the SPDC  is a wicked plot by it to make the KNU appears as a terrorist organisation in the domestic and international arenas and we forcefully denounce it.[2]

In the earlier stages of the Karen revolution, especially in the 1950s and 60s, a number of acts by the Karen armed forces would easily have fitted in to today’s common notion of terrorism, including the indiscriminate bombings of trains, robberies, kidnappings and hijackings. However, due to a massive Burma army campaign launched in the mid-seventies, the Karen found themselves forced out of the delta and into the hills where there was less opportunity for the Karen National Union to directly target Burmese infrastructure.

While a number of incidents perpetrated by the Karen National Liberation Army would easily fall into the Western concept of terrorism, the extreme pejorative connotations of this term are such that no the KNLA would never use this label to describe ist own actions. Nonetheless,  there appears to be no separate Karen word to describe the actions undertaken by the KNLA against the Burmese regime. Instead, Karen attempt to shift the ground upon which perceptions are contested. In doing so, they seek to leverage alternative narratives to forge competiting identities as freedom fighters, as defenders of their land against external aggression.[3]




[1] New Light of Myanmar 11/06/06

[2] KNU Statement on Bomb Attacks in Rangoon City 8/5/05

[3] Yoko Kuroiwa and Maykel Verkuyten, ‘Naratives and the Constitution of a Comon Identity: The Karen in Burma,’ Identities, vol.15, no.4, (2008), pp.403-404


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