Karen village leaders call on Suu Kyi to defend them from military incursions

Karen villagers protest to demand an end to military road construction and clashes in their vicinity. Photo: Karen Peace Support Network

The leaders of two village tracts in Myanmar’s Kayin (Karen) State released a letter yesterday calling on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to use her influence to end military incursions into their territory.

Clashes broke out earlier this month between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Defense Services) and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) over the Tatmadaw’s attempts to build a road through the village tracts of Ler Mu Plaw and Kay Pu. The fighting has displaced nearly 2,300 villagers since March 4, according to local leaders.

“The Tatmadaw’s military roads in our homeland are a source of great fear for us, since they facilitate the movement of troops and the transport of heavy weapons. We are often in danger of being shot by Tatmadaw soldiers near these roads,” the letter reads, pointing out that villagers have been shot at by Tatmadaw soldiers at least four times since Feb. 27.

“Furthermore, the Tatmadaw’s plan to construct a military operation road threatens to permanently displace up from our ancestral lands and villages, pushing us into poverty and food insecurity,” the letter continues. “We are indigenous people, and we have a deep spiritual connection to our ancestral lands. The Tatmadaw’s planned military road would desecrate our sacred mountains, forests, and graveyards.”

The village tract leaders call on Suu Kyi to press the Tatmadaw for the withdrawal of troops from the village tracts, the end of road construction in the area, the dismantling on 17 military bases in Hpapun District, and the recognition of indigenous rights by supporting community-driven development.

The Karen National Union (KNU) – the political wing of the KNLA – signed a ceasefire with the Tatmadaw in 2012 and was an original party to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), signed by the Tatmadaw and eight insurgent groups in 2015. The Karen leaders say the Tatmadaw’s failure to withdraw from Karen areas and its fortification of existing bases in those areas defy those agreements.

The KNU, usually seen as a strong government ally in the peace process, also criticized the Tatmadaw over the recent clashes earlier this month. The group accused the Tatmadaw of escalating tensions by building the road and of violating the NCA.

The KNU statement said: “We call upon the Tatmadaw to cease its military activities as a way of demonstrating trust building. In practice, to withdraw the Military Operations Commands and the battalions under them, which have been sent in for road building, and to guarantee security for the Internally Displaced Karen people, seeking refuge away from fighting, to return to their homes.”

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