Govt Officials Close Down Karen Groups’ Conference on Development Impacts

Government officials have stopped a Karen community group from holding a conference to discuss the impact of development projects on local communities.

Youth Circle (YC), a civil society group working on youth and social issues had planned to release the findings of a report at a three-day conference it had organized in Hpa-an, Karen State last week.

State government officials stopped the conference on Friday, 25 Septmeber, the second day of the event. The event was attended by village representatives, Karen armed groups, community-based-organizations, civil society groups, and other relevant agencies to discuss and consider the findings in its report.

The Youth Circle report is about the impact of development projects upon the socio-economic situation of local people. The organizer said its intention was to bring together all sides, including villagers, to allow an exchange of views on development projects and what could be done better in the future.

The report detailed case studies on a number of development projects that included an irrigation dam and cement factory that were both government development projects.

Youth Circle said that government officials had summoned them after the first day and ordered them not to continue with the conference.

Saw Tun Tun, a Youth Circle organizer said that the government had cited a number of reasons for stopping the conference. These included Youth Circle’s unregistered legal status, its unclear type of organization, holding a conference without permission, not following correct procedure, requesting permission in a letter sent direct to the Chief Minister that byepassed township level authorities, not requesting permission to hold a peaceful assembly, inviting foreigners, undermining stability and peace of the country and stirring up riots by discussing the government’s irrigation dam and cement factory.

Speaking to Karen News, Saw Tun Tun said.

“We submitted a request letter to get permission to hold this event three times. We also sent a invitation letter [to the government] to attend this event. We were ordered on September 24 by the Chief Minister not to continue. On the second day, they [government] told us the reasons why they stopped it.”

Saw Tun Tun said that in addition to stopping the event, the authorities also pressured the owner of the conference hall to stop the event.

The conference was attended by as many as 200 people including representatives from the Karen National Union, Karen State based companies, lawyers, civil society organizations, Asia Development Bank and villagers who had lost lands to the irrigation dam and the cement factory.

Saw Plah Htoo, a villager from Naung K’myaing village who had lost his farm to the irrigation dam told Karen News that the event was his opportunity to make his voice heard.

“I have come on behalf of our villagers. We wanted to know what would be done to our flooded farms [caused by the irrigation dam]. Since the event was stopped, I can no longer ask questions, express my views and my feelings.”

Karen News, was unable to get comments, from government official at township level, why the had stopped the conference.

Youth Circle’s report was the result of more than a year’s research work on the impacts of development projects in Karen State that included the Ye Bote Irrigation dam in Hlaingbwe Township, the Myaing Kalay Cement factory, rubber plantations in Kawkareik and new roads being built in Kyain Seikgyi.

Youth Circle said its brief report and findings was intended to open discussions at the conference with all the relevant stakeholders.

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