KNU leaders are democratically elected. Find out more here.

The Karen National Union (KNU) is a democratic organisation supporting peace, democracy, and human rights in a federal Burma. It is estimated that there are approximately 7 million Karen people in Burma. The Karen National Union is the leading political organisation representing the aspirations of the Karen people. The KNU was founded in 1947, its predecessor organisations date back to 1881.

The Karen people of Burma had suffered centuries of oppression under Burmese kings. Karen people could be executed simply for being able to read. The situation of the Karen improved during British colonial rule. During World War II the Karen sided with the British and American forces against the Japanese. The Burmese Independence Army sided with the Japanese invaders, though later they switched sides. This only increased the hostility of many Burmans against the Karen people.

Karen people feared that if they were left in Burma once the country was granted independence they would face severe repression, and so asked for their own independent state (The KNU dropped its demand for an independent state in 1976) where they could be safe. Unforntunately the British did not keep their word, and left the Karen in Burma. The new Burmese government also refused to accept Karen demands for an independent state.

In January 1949 attacks against Karen escalated, including mortar bombing of Karen townships and increasing communal violence. Karen political leaders were arrested and their offices raided, The Karen were forced to take up arms to defend themselves. Since 1947 the Karen National Union has led the Karen people in their struggle for freedom and human rights.

We follow the four principles of Saw Ba U Gyi, founder and President of the Karen Nation Union, who was killed by the Burmese Army in 1950.

1. For us, Surrender is out of the question;

2. We shall retain our arms;

3. The recognition of the Karen State must be complete;

4. We shall decide our own destiny.

A more detailed history of the Karen National Union will follow soon.


Many brave Karen have given their lives in our struggle for freeedom. Find out more about them here.

Karen National Union