State-run oil and rubber plantations are blocking displaced Karen villagers from returning to their original land.
Since the ceasefire between the Karen National Union and the Burma government in 2012 dispossessed villagers in the Tanintharyi region have begun to return to their former villagers.
P’doh Saw Eh Kaw, chairman of Ler Mu Lah township, spoke to Karen News about the issue.
“More and more villagers are asking us to help resettle them to their old villages that they were forcibly forced out of after 1997. It is very difficult for many of these villagers as their villages are now palm oil and rubber plantation. The issue is going to be very difficult to solve.”
P’doh Saw Eh Kaw said that if they villagers cannot return to their former homes the ceasefire will mean nothing to them.
“If they cannot go back to their villages it will mean thousands of Karen villagers will have to remain in forced relocation sites without enough space and live in poverty. For them the ceasefire and peace building does not bring any improvement ftoor their lives.”
Karen villages in the Tanintharyi region were forcibly relocated by government troops after 1997. Most of the villagers were relocated to rice-field along the Dawei-Myeik car road and the Myeik-Kawthaung car road.
The Border Consortium (TBC), estimates that in eastern Burma, that there are over 70,000 internally displaced people in the Tanintharyi region.
P’doh Saw Eh Kaw said, after the villagers were forcibly relocated the Burma military regime gave concessions to companies to cultivate palm oil in the area – many are located in the abandon Karen villages and the villagers farmland.
Forest Trends found that by the middle of 2013, the government had given companies a total of 5.2 million acres in plantation concessions. More than 60% of the concessions were granted in Kachin State and in the Tenasserim Division.
P’doh Saw Eh Kaw said the villagers were caught in a hard place.
“Villages in the Myeik area – Nga Ya Aye, Tu Byaw, Ber Baw Lor and others, are seeking the help of the KNU to resettle them to their villages. But in their abandon villages, companies like Asia World, Yuzana, Htoo and others have already taken over their land and are running palm oil plantations.”
P’doh Saw Eh Kaw admitted the KNU were finding it difficult to help the villagers.
“Right now we cannot solve the problem, but we are concerned about the issues, and are trying to bring the issue to our district leaders to help these villagers.”
Saw Po Ya from Tu Byaw village spoke to Karen News.
“We have been living in forced relocation sites for generations. We have more families but we have space to live in. How can our lives improve in these forced relocation camps? We want to return to our village, but our village is now full of palm oil plantations. A few villagers have started to return and to try to build huts under the palm oil trees. We will continue to struggle for our land.”