2014 – A Critical Year For Karen People

As the 2013 draws to an end and as 2014 is heralded in a number of issues remain critical for the Karen people.

Rations cuts were introduced in the nine refugee camps along the Thai Burma border. Repatriation of refugees is on the agenda but many international humanitarian organizations insists it is still unsafe to send refugees back to their homeland until food security, land and landmines related issues are worked out.

The 500,000 estimated displaced people in Eastern Burma are also in a similar situation to the refugees on the Thai Burma border. Migrant workers from Burma are still waiting for Thailand to sort out its National Verification system. Unscrupulous employers and officials in neighboring countries are still exploiting undocumented workers from Burma without fear of complaint from the Burma government. The Burma government has to do more to protect its citizens working in neighboring countries.

Peace talks between the ethnic armed groups and the Burma government have delivered little for the people. Land confiscation is still a massive problem for rural communities and the government’s Investigative Commission has proven to be little more than a toothless watchdog. The Freedom of Association legislation is still in place making the Karen National Union an illegal organization and those civil society groups working with it in breach of the draconian law.

The proposed national elections in 2015 will be a challenge for the ethnic people. Political organizations and parties representing ethnic people will have to start their campaigning in 2014 if they are to have any chance of success in the 2015 polls.

A number of younger Karen leaders emerged with strong opinions on how the peace talks should deliver more for their people. These include Naw K’nyaw Paw, the Secretary of the Karen Women Organization, the Salween Institute’s Saw Kapi and Saw Greh Moo, the Karen environmentalist Paul Sein Twa, the Karen National Liberation Army’s General Baw Kyaw Heh and General Nerdah Bo Mya , the Mae Tao Clinic founder, Dr Cynthia Maung and the campaign manager of the UK Burma Campaign, Zoya Phan.

The Karen people over the last year have voiced their concerns that the peace talks with the Karen National Union and the government of Burma have delivered little in the ways of citizen rights for them. The Karen people are concerned at the fortification and reinforcement of Burma Army positions in and around civilian populations. The people have told Karen News that they want to see in 2014 their confiscated land returned to them, landmines cleared from agricultural and village land, roads and schools resourced, so-called development projects stopped from polluting their water resources and destroying their land and access to quality health care made available.

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