To mark the International Day of Peace, Karen News spoke to members of the Karen community about the importance of peace.
Following six decades of conflict, the Karen National Union entered into a preliminary ceasefire with the Burmese government in 2012. But a lasting peace deal remains elusive and sporadic clashes between KNU and government forces have continued, with the most recent skirmish occurring on September 9.
Naw Paw Gay Khu, a coordinator with Karen Community Based Organizations (KCBO) told Karen News how she had never known peace.
“We have never seen peace in our lifetimes. We lived in Karen State and we had to flee conflict…the fighting, killing, burning of our houses and we saw our families shot dead. We can say that it was happening every day. We hope that this World Peace Day will help bring peace for our Karen people, for Burma and for the whole world. We wish that the, crying and killing, that is happening all over the world today, will stop.”
Padoh Dot Lay Mu, Chief Judge of the Karen National Union, voiced his concerns over how the word peace was often used too lightly and that hard work was needed to get it.
“The peace that I want is a genuine peace. Not a temporary peace, but a lasting one. We do not want peace that the Burma Army gives us only to find out it is a temporary peace and then they oppress us again. We want genuine peace. Our political objectives, regarding ethnic equality and self-determination are very important if we are to have genuine peace. We also want to establish our Karen country or Karen State, all our people will have democracy and we will establish a federal country. These are our political goals moving towards peace.”
Naw Dah Dah, social affair coordinator of the Karen Women Organization said that traveling was easier since the preliminary ceasefire signed in 2012, and was hopeful for a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
“Our leaders have been in peace talks with the Burma government since 2012. We can see the result of the peace agreement. Now, it is easier to travel than before when there was conflict. After our ethnic leaders talked to the government many times; we heard that there will be nationwide ceasefire. And we are happy. We hope that we have peace in the whole country.”
“We Had to Become Jungle People”
Padoh Saw Dot Lay Mu recalled the hardships caused by the government military offensives in Karen State in the recent past.
“Peace is a very important thing for our Karen people because over the last 60 years, our people have suffered oppression of the Burmese government from generation to generation. There was no development in our country, we had to flee and become jungle people and we did not have the chance to study our own language or culture. Our children had many difficulties – we could not develop and flourish in peace. Our people had to survive on hill field farming in different places, and our children did not have the chance to study.”
Padoh Saw Dot Lay Mu said he looked forward to a time when the Karen people could live and develop without fear of oppression.
“Many of us had to go to Thailand because we could not live in our country. We were refugees. Even today there are still many difficulties. We want to have peace. So that the internally displaced people in Burma will have the chance to go back and live in their villages, establish their schools and work for their future. And also there will be a time for the refugees in the camps to go back and live in their country and work for their livelihoods, re-establish their places and schools. Then the children will have the chance to study – this is very important for our people.”
The Border Consortium (TBC), a non-government organization that works with refugees on the Thai Burma border and internally displaced people in Eastern Burma, estimated that more than 3,700 villages were destroyed during Burma Army offensives in Eastern Burma in the last 30 years. TBC also estimate that more than 400,000 people were internally displaced by the conflict with hundreds of thousands more becoming refugees in neighboring Thailand.
“We Need Justice”
Naw Dah Dah said a lasting peace required all of the ethnic minority groups to work together.
“People working together for genuine peace, not only Karen, but all the ethnicity in Burma working with integrity, with one heart – then we will get peace. We will get peace only if we are working together in the future. “We need justice. There must be no fighting, no killing and no injustices. And also there must be no tyranny in our country.
We hope and believe that there will be peace if we do not have those things then the civilians can work peacefully without any threat, and they will establish unity and peace, then our country will have peace and we can look to the future.”