This month of September marks five months since Saw O Moo, an unarmed civilian villager and Indigenous community leader who was killed by Burma army on April 5, 2018. However, the Burma Army has yet to return his body to his family or tell his family the location of his body.
September 1st being Saw O Moo’s birthday, his wife, children, relatives and siblings held a memorial ceremony for him at his native village of Ler Mu Plaw, in Luthaw Township, Mutraw District, Karen State.
Saw O Moo was shot and killed not long after the more than 2,000 Burma Army soldiers arrived in northern Mutraw (Hpapun) District in March 2018 to build a military road through the local villagers’ lands, violating the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and provoking clashes with Karen National Liberation Army soldiers. The Burma army advancing in the area resulted to more than 3,000 villagers fled to the forest.
The memorial ceremony was held according to Karen traditional rituals, with the elders offering prayers. Many local villagers who loved Saw O Moo attended the ceremony. A public rest shelter has been built in Saw O Moo’s memory at the side of the road where he was ambushed and shot by the Burma Army soldiers.
Attendees at the memorial ceremony also discussed how to respond to the challenges ahead. Although the rainy season has forced the Burma Army to temporarily stop road construction, local villagers are worried that more attacks will occur when the rainy season is over. Many villagers remain in hiding in the forest, not daring to return to their villages. Adding to villagers’ distress, the heavy rain since late July, caused severe flooding that has wiped out many of their rice fields, destroying the year’s harvest.
The villagers of Mutraw District want and desperately need peace. Yet the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement has not brought peace to Mutraw. As Mutraw KNU leaders noted earlier this year, the Burmese military invasion of Mutraw has not ended as the military tries to force through an unwanted military road: “…the gun shots may cease, but the war continues”. Now the gun shots have returned- On August 31st – 1st September in neighboring Dwe Lo Township, the Burma Army launched an offensive and displaced more than 200 Kan Nyi Naung villagers, who are now taking refuge at Myaing Gyi Ng IDP temporary shelter.
Those who attended Saw O Moo’s memorial service put forward suggestions to KNU leaders for resolving the difficult situation they must face:
1. Press for an immediate end to Burma Army offensives and the withdrawal of Burma Army troops from our lands and villages.
2. Call upon the Burma Army to immediately cease all road construction activities in our area.
3. Advocate for withdrawal of the 17 previously-identified Burma Army camps in Mutraw (Hpapun) district which are close to villagers’ lands and threaten our lives, livelihoods, and internationally-recognized rights as Indigenous peoples to freely practice our spiritual traditions.
4. Urge the Burma Army to respect and acknowledge our rights as Indigenous people to decide our own futures and engage in community-driven development that is compatible with our needs, our vision for peace, and our cultural values.
5. Stop the killing of Karen Indigenous people. Not one more!
*Hsa Moo is an activist for indigenous people and environmental rights, who is working with Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN).