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Shans’ loyal Karen

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Col Chit Swe’s most outstanding attribute was his loyalty to the late Shan resistance leader Gen Gawn Zerng aka Mo Heng (1926-1991) whom he had served with since 1967, and the Shan cause for freedom that began in 1958.

He was born a Karen in Thaton on 25 July 1938. He studied until high school, attended government sponsored mass education course and arrived in Shan State around 1959 as a teacher.

Being from Thaton, whose last king Manuha was believed to be a PaO, he spoke Karen as well as PaO and chose the PaO dominated Kawng Khae aka Loi Khae in Loilem township in Shan State South to work.

Naturally, when the PaOs in Loi Khae took up arms, he joined the movement. However, when the group he was with welcomed the cross border offensive by the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) on New Year’s Day 1968, Chit Swe, an anti-communist, who was then a representative at the mobile HQ of Gawn Zerng, another anti-communist, decided that his destiny was with the latter.

Since then Chit Swe had served Gawn Zerng, who was only 12 years older, like a son to a father, as a security officer, as treasurer and as his personal aide. He wasn’t quite popular with many other officers, as he was almost fanatically protective of his boss.

Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those who often got into trouble with him. In fact, I still remember him presenting me with a tailored unitform in 1971, when I first arrived on the Thai border where the rebel headquarters had been set up since 1959.

After Gawn Zerng’s death, he accepted an advisory post with Gawn Zerng’s successor Yawd Serk, who later established the Restoration Council of Shan State / Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA). All his sons, 3 of them, are active members of the SSA.

Last month, after being told of his illness, I visited him at the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) at Chiangmai’s Suan Dok Hospital to pay my respect to him, as I thought, for the last time.

To my surprise, he greeted me with a question that had noting to do with his deteriorating health condition. “How is the ceasefire going? I keep hearing there has been an awful lot of violations. I often told the Chairman (Yawd Serk) these people cannot be trusted, not even for one second.”

As a result, I stayed with him for more than half an hour, until the intensely cold  air-conditioned room forced me to take leave of him. He was suffering from high blood pressure, heart and kidney. “Please ask (Col) Soe Soe (from Karen National Union) and (Col) Hkun Okker (PaO National Liberation Organization) to notify my relatives, just in case I fail to get across this mountain,” were the last words he said as I left.

On Sunday morning, I was told he died at 21:00 on the previous night in Chiangmai.

Col Chit Swe came from a long line of Karens who had served in Shan State for the cause of freedom: Special, Tamu Hsi, Tarkeley, Hla Khin aka Keng Hserng, Saw Pha Mu and others.

You can criticize them in any other things about them. But there is one thing you can never deny: These Karens are loyal.

Short bio-data

Parents                 : U Chan Tha, Daw Saw Phya
Date of Birth          : 14th Waning Moon of Wazo, Burmese Era 1300, 25 July 1938
Place of Birth        : Kayinlay Seik, Thaton township
Marital status        : Married to Nang Hswe Ing (3 sons, 1 daughter)
Date of joining the resistance: 12 January 1960
Date of passing away           : 13 October 2012

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