Burma Link | June 15, 2016
Nerdah Bo Mya was born in a small Karen village in a KNU (Karen National Union) controlled area near Manerplaw—the former headquarters of the KNU and the pro–democracy movement—as the son of the late General Bo Mya who was the President of the KNU from 1976 to 2000. After being educated in Thailand and in the USA, the young graduate’s short visit to the Thailand-Burma border turned into a life-long mission, as Nerdah witnessed the 1994 Karen split from the KNU in what he describes as ‘the blackest day’ of their history. Nerdah realised that he had to stay and do something for his people who otherwise ‘will not survive.’ He started working for KNU foreign affairs, meeting with diplomats and politicians, spreading international awareness about the Karen struggle for freedom and equality. A few years later he became a battalion commander and fought in the front lines against the Burmese army, painfully witnessing many of this comrades killed and wounded in the battle fields. After two decades of indescribable hardship and unwavering dedication for the cause, Nerdah is now the Major General and the Chief of Staff of the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO). This empathetic “rebel” leader emphasises that it is not just the Karen people but the whole nation of 60 million people who are still suffering and need to be freed.
General Nerdah’s story is published in Burma Link’s book “Lives on the Line: Voices for Change from the Thailand-Burma Border.”
Manerplaw: “My father set up the headquarters for the Karen people”
I remember when I was a child. I grew up near the border area, close to Manerplaw, the old [KNU] headquarters. I grew up in Htoo Wah Lu village, a very small village. We had only few houses near by our house and we played together with some of the kids that we were growing up with. We were staying together like one big family, even though we had different houses.
We grew up in a KNU controlled area. My father set up a small school for us, like primary school. The school had Karen curriculum, all mostly Karen curriculum. Then later on, my father, because the community was enlarging, he set up a high school. We called it Karen State high school. We didn’t really actually know about the political problems or the fighting, because the community where we were brought up was very peaceful and our neighbors were mostly Karen people.
Then I heard about the fighting, the political problems, and then the refugees started moving into Thailand. And then I realised that Karen people are not recognised and we need to gain back our freedom. They started talking about these things and every Friday the KNU leaders would come to our school and talk about the political situation, the military situation, and the refugees. So we listened and we learned, and I realised then, ‘we’ve got a problem.’
When I was about to finish high school, there was big fighting and then my father set up the headquarters for the Karen people. It was called Manerplaw at that time. He was looking for the place and then he took my hand and showed me around, and he said he is ‘going to set up the headquarters for the Karen people.’ So he set up the headquarters, and he moved back and forth from the village to the headquarters.
Some text has been omitted here and is available in the full story.[…] I had to go through these kinds of things, quite often, when I was a battalion commander, when there was fighting. Going through all kinds of hardship, it makes you really sad. But overall freedom is the most important thing for our Karen people, and this is something we have to go through. You can’t really avoid it. Of course you have to give your life, you have to give your, some parts of the body, your sweat, your blood. But without freedom we are just a slave, so freedom is more important than anything. I joined the Karen struggle because I want my people to be free. I want democracy.
Nerdah’s struggle to help his people: “If you die with honor and you die as a free man it’s better than to die as a slave”
In 1994 I started working for the Karen people. The end of 1994 the DKBA problem started. They split away from the KNU and there was, I think, the blackest day of our history. We had to go through a lot of hardship and suffering and all kinds of pressure from all sides, from the Thai side, also from internal conflict and… It was very difficult for us and I thought many times, ‘how could we survive?’ >>> Read the full story on Lives on the Line