KNU Leader Accused By Karen Groups Of Legitimizing Government’s Use of Force, Land Confiscation and Displacement

In an open letter to the Karen National Union Chairperson General Mutu Sae Poe, on Saturday 29 August 2015, a coalition of international based Karen groups accused the KNU leader that by attending the Burma government’s opening ceremony of the Asian Highway as a ‘special guest’ he would be adding a veneer that would allow the government to ignore recent human rights violations.

The International Karen Organization (IKO) said in its open letter that it is “deeply troubled to learn that you were invited as a special guest of the quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein to the opening ceremony of the Asian Highway 1 (AH1) from Myawaddy to Kawkareik on 30 August.”

The IKO claimed that the “opening ceremony is only made possible by the Thein Sein government’s massive military offensive against the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) last month that displaced more than 1,000 civilians during a time of supposed peace-building.”

The IKO said that General Mutu’s support for the Asia Highway opening would play “right into the hands of the government’s classic divide and conquer tactics, sabotaging the unity of Karen armed groups, and wrecking the Karen people’s aspiration for peace and self-determination.”

The IKO advised the KNU leader to “take a firm stand against the Thein Sein government’s ongoing campaign to control Karen lands, territory, and natural resources through militarized development. Following and sticking to your commitment “to pursue a political fight without spilling a single drop of blood,” you must boycott the opening ceremony of this blood-highway.”

Human rights groups have documented human rights violations, land confiscation, unchecked natural resource extraction, forced labor, militarization, and violence associated with the construction of the Asian Highway in Karen State.

The IKO pointed out in its open letter to General Mutu that the Highway had been “delayed because of armed conflict, the project was revived in a secret deal after the 2012 preliminary bilateral ceasefire agreement by a small group of the KNU leaders and the Thein Sein government.”

IKO claim that the new section linking Myawaddy to Kawkareik “was completed non-transparently with funding from the Thai government, while the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) support the whole AH1.”

The IKO open letter warned and echoed concerns made by critics of the government’s moves to sign a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with ethnic armed groups. The open letter states that, “this project follows the same pattern seen again and again in Burma, where temporary ceasefire agreements are used to extend the military led Thein Sein government control over ethnic nationalities territories through development projects and militarization.”

The IKO letter warns that the, “billions of dollars of trade revenues that will be brought by the Asian Highway will only enrich companies in Thailand while reinforcing military rule in Burma. Without guarantees for benefit sharing, the project will leave the Karen people hopelessly caught in the middle with nothing.”

The IKO letter admitted that “road projects have the potential to bring benefits for rural communities in Karen State, but only if implemented in a democratic and transparent manner, and after a full peace agreement is reached, control and benefit sharing guaranteed through political dialogue, and a decentralized federal union achieved.”

The IKO warned General Mutu that if he attended the opening of the “Asian Highway project in its current form, you are ignoring the will and wellbeing of the Karen people.”

The International Karen Organization in its open letter listed eight recommendations to General Mutu and the KNU leadership. Karen News have published them in full to avoid accusations of ‘misrepresentation.

“1.Boycott the government’s upcoming Asian Highway opening ceremony.

2. Take a firm stand against the government’s campaign to control Karen territory through militarized development.

3.In the current peace process, secure guarantees for the control, good governance, and benefit sharing of the Asian Highway through political dialogue.

4.In the current peace process, secure recognition of local people’s right to control and manage their own land and natural resources, including recognition of KNU land titles by the government.

5. Publicly disclose all information related to the highway project, including construction contracts, financial payments, an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA).

6.Engage in meaningful discussions with Karen civil society and other Karen armed groups to design a governance plan for the Asian Highway based on the priorities of local people, and to conduct a Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA) of AH1 and related road construction in Karen State.

7. Prioritize achieving genuine peace and a democratic federal union before large-scale development.

8.Truly represent the political objectives of all Karen people.”

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