No fighting, but Karen villagers still scared…

Burma Army troops and convoy in Muthey in advance into Karen State 22 January 2012 (Photo-FBR)

Since October 26, Karen National Union representatives and members of community-based-groups have attended the KNU 15th Congress to vote in a new executive, department heads and the central standing committee. Karen News spoke to two KNU representatives attending the Congress about the changes that the ceasefire in Karen State has brought.

Saw Klo Mutraw is an officer with the Karen National Liberation Army’s fifth Brigade and told Karen News that the ceasefire has been both good and bad.

“The change is that it is good for us is less restriction. People have more freedom of movement and they have less fear than before. For local people it is easier for them to travel and work on their farms.”

Saw Klo Muthraw pointed out that there are new item to worry about.

“There are more things that make us worry. After the ceasefire agreement, we notice that the Burma Army and its administration have been building up more influence in our areas in two major ways, one is through military and the other is through their administration.”

Saw Klo Mutraw said the fighting has stopped, but villagers are still worried about the continued presence of the Burma Army.

“Although we don’t hear sounds of guns or fighting they [Burma Army] are making preparations and their frontline bases stronger. We told them [Burma Army] not to make more camps, but they strengthen them in several ways. Firstly, they increase the number of their camp by building new camps and secondly, they are making their camps stronger. Previously, the camps were built with wood but now they are building them with concrete and metal.”

Saw Klo Muthraw said as an army office the ceasefire has brought new challenges.

“In terms of administration, we face more problems. In Papun District, the government appointed a District officer. Since then, they make strong moves and have more activities. The District officer comes in and does a lot of documentations. They collect lists of the local population, farmlands, schools – it’s as if what is ours will become theirs. We feel like they are systematically taking advantages of the situation to have influence over us in both military and administration.”

Naw Eh Ka M’Ler Taw is the head of the Karen Women’s Organisation in Doo Tha Htu and told Karen News that for civilians there has been little done to improve their life.

“There is little on the ground that has improve the life for villagers. There is nothing else being done to make their life better. People just work and live the way they used to – there is no special support given to make a better life for local communities.

Naw Eh Ka M’Ler Taw said there have been signs of investment coming into Karen areas.

“In terms of economy, companies are coming into our area and as I see it they are having control, our local people are not very experience with this – they are ordinary farmers and daily laborers. The companies have expertise, so they will monopolize the local businesses and our villagers will become their workers.”

Naw Eh Ka M’Ler Taw said the KNU and the government have to do more to ensure Karen villagers feel secure.

“We understand that the peace talks are not concrete yet, but step-by-step we want them [KNU and the Government] to discuss about the relocation of the [Burma] army camps. Military camps that are close to villages such as Tatpaung Camp, if should be relocated somewhere else. Local villagers, even though it is in the ceasefire period – villagers still have fear as the camps are still there.”

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