Ongoing military operations by the Burma Army and government militia against DKBA forces are a threat to the peace process, Karen military leaders and community organisations warn.
Karen Rivers Watch have blamed the Hat Gyi dam project in Karen State as igniting the latest armed clashes, which have seen thousands of local civilians displaced and fierce running gun battles.
Naw Hsa Moo, a spokeperson for the KRW told Karen News that many people unaware of the reason behind the recent conflict.
“If you look at the map, you can see that the army offensives are about the Hatgyi dam. They’re trying to use force to clear the area so the dam can begin. We’re trying to warn people about this. If the Burmese people knew, they would not support it. But it seems like no one knows what’s really going on in Karen State.”
“Villagers told Karen Rivers Watch… that the Border Guard Force (BGF) and Burma Army told them to leave their villages near Hat Gyi Dam,” Karen Rivers Watch said in a statement.
According to Karen National Liberation Army sources, there are “strong indications” that government forces are using the armed clashes to expand its territorial control around the Hat Gyi dam site.
“In order to implement the plan for Hat Gyi Dam, the Burmese and BGF must have full control of the road and the surrounding areas,” General Baw Kyaw Heh, the KNLA’s second-in-command, said.
Karen Rivers Watch has expressed concerns over the Hat Gyi dam, warning that the China-Thai backed project will flood large areas and disrupt local livelihoods now dependent upon the free-flowing Salween River.
Construction has already led to considerable displacement for villagers. In September, more than 5,000 villagers living near the Hat Gyi dam site were forced from their homes.
Naw Hsa Moo said that with most of the electricity generated from the dam planned to be sold to neighbouring country, there is less likely that the dam will bring any benefit for local villagers.
“If 90 percent of the electricity from the Hatgyi dam is sold to Thailand, it doesn’t help the energy crisis in Burma. The dam will harm the people and environment of Karen State,…and there will be only more fighting, more problems. We’re not against development, we’re against destruction for no good reason.”
“The central government’s claimed ‘benefits of hydropower development’ will not reach the people of the Salween River basin, or even the people of Burma,” Saw Tha Poe, coordinator for Karen Rivers Watch, said, “The land and people of a democratic Burma should not have to suffer for the sake of a few big companies and shopping malls.”
The leadership of the Karen National Union (KNU) which oversees the KNLA, have all agreed to oppose any large development projects in Karen State until a “stable peace” has been reached with the Burmese Government.