Ceasefire brings changes for ethnic villagers, both good and bad

An independent human rights organisation has reported that the ceasefire between the government and the Karen national union has brought respite for villagers caught in the 60-year conflict.

In the ten months since a preliminary ceasefire agreement was reached between representatives of the Government of Burma and the Karen National Union (KNU), local communities have seen a marked decrease in conflict, but remain wary about the intentions of Burma’s military-backed government.

The Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) has reported that local communities in Eastern Burma have seen a marked decrease in conflict with the Burma Army.
In Papun District villagers describe seeing long-abandoned fields renewed and now under cultivation, while in Pa’an and Nyaunglebin, villagers noted that they have been able to travel and work in their fields more freely than before the ceasefire.

“We can work properly,” One 40-year-old villager from Ler Doh Tonwship said, “I can work on my hill farm… and I can travel freely.” The man, whose identity was suppressed for security reasons, also hoped that unlike previous ceasefires, peace in Eastern Burma would prove lasting “We hope that the fighting will not happen again.”

Villagers also describe decreased demands for forced labour, and encounters with Burma Army soldiers [Tatmadaw] who have sought to cooperate with villagers. They also claim that the ceasefire has made them less fearful and given them more confidence to assert their rights and engage with armed soldiers.

Local communities have voiced concerns that elements of the Burma Army won’t honour the ceasefire negotiations. According to the KHRG, human rights abuses related to continued militarisation, unilateral resource extraction and externally imposed development “might increase given new opportunities for access inside the last frontier where big money can be made.”

Serious concerns remain. Villagers continue to note sporadic incidences of violence committed by the Burma Army, including cases of locals being shot at on-sight, and there continues to be cases of force labour, land confiscation, development-induced displacement and force relocation, as the area opens up to investment.

KHRG’s report found that decades of conflict and human rights abuses have left a huge trust deficit on both sides, “I don’t believe in the ceasefire because in our area, I don’t see the two armed groups sit and drink tea together…” One village elder from Pa’an district said. “The situation is like two bulls that look at each other before they start fighting. For our villagers, we can breathe a little before they start fighting. If they fight each other, we will have to face the same thing as in the past.”

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