Karen National Union (KNU) officials issued a statement opposing local or foreign investment in eastern Burma and urged Thai authorities to abandon any plans for the repatriation of tens of thousands of Karen refugees living in camps along the border.
KNU officials met for three days last month for a unity conference at an undisclosed location in eastern Burma. Representatives from Karen state and Karen communities abroad attended workshops to discuss recent political developments and how the KNU should respond.
The statement, posed on the KNU Website, asked the Thai government and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to continue giving temporary shelter to more than 140,000 refugees from eastern Burma, who fled persecution at home and have been living in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border.
Saw Kanae Me, a spokesperson for the Karen unity seminar organizing committee, said development projects in eastern Burma were unacceptable in view of the Burmese military’s ongoing armed oppression of ethnic minorities in the area.
“This is simply an attempt to legitimize [the new government], since the government has destroyed our lands in Karen state to build dams and initiate other projects. No one would willingly accept this stab in the back,” he said.
“It is not that we do not want development, but it is totally unacceptable by a government that lies to the international community about the way they govern the country.”
Last month’s seminar, which ran from May 24 to 27, also addressed the issue of repatriation of Burmese refugees, Saw Kanae Me said.
“There are laws protecting refugees from being forcibly removed or repatriated.”
Saw Winston Taw, a Karen representative from the United Kingdom who attended the seminar, said it was his first time participating in the unity workshop.
“There were hard debates to achieve common goals, so it was very interesting and I’ve gained so much general knowledge about the experiences of the Karen revolution.”
Another representative from inside Burma who asked not to be named said the workshop provided a much-needed platform for Karen people to work together to shape a vision for the future of their homeland.
“It was encouraging and satisfying to see all the representatives, speaking from their different points of view. Enduring so many difficulties, they came together to discuss unity and other issues. The workshop has given me an opportunity to see clearly our political and national aims. Unfortunately, inside Burma there is no opportunity to act on these objectives.”
Saw Hla Tun, chairman of the organizing committee for the workshop, said he was pleased to see the level of participation.
“It was encouraging to see so many Karen representatives from abroad and from districts throughout Karen state come together to seek solutions to our many challenges.”
Some 117 representatives from 41 local and international Karen community groups attended the workshop, including students and political analysts.