Business as Usual for the Myanmar Military

“During the current ceasefire agreement and ongoing peace talks between the KNU and Burmese Government, the Mutraw District KNU and local villagers reject all proposed mega development projects until a genuine peace agreement is in place. Despite this clear stance, the Burma Army has pressed forward with the military road construction, provoking numerous clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) – the KNU’s armed wing.”

Salween Peace Park

Despite the anxieties and concerns of local people due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military is forging ahead with its military offensives, and coercive state-building practices, regardless of who gets in the way. Extrajudicial killings and military attacks are a violent and urgent fear for ethnic communities who are already vulnerable to the coronavirus, as the tragic murder of Karen community leader, Saw Thet Mee proves. Meanwhile the government’s decision to block local ethnic media outlets who report on such violations only shows the complicity of the government in the military’s atrocities.

Karen community forest leader, Saw Thet Mee, was murdered by a Myanmar military soldier on 31 March, 2020 as he was returning home after collecting food. This is not the first time and likely not the last. Earlier in March of this year, Saw Maw Aye Than, a forest ranger was also shot and killed while travelling to conduct a wildlife patrol. In April 2018, another leader within the Karen community – land and environmental activist, Saw O Moo – was murdered by Myanmar military soldiers. The particular area that these men were killed – Mutraw District in Kawthoolei – is significant. Breaking terms of the ceasefire, the Myanmar military is pushing ahead with road construction in the area that they claim to be for local development. The reality, however, is that it is a form of militarization that opens up previously inaccessible Karen National Union (KNU) territory. A statement by the local community-led forest conservation and peace initiative, the Salween Peace Park, explains the reasoning, “During the current ceasefire agreement and ongoing peace talks between the KNU and Burmese Government, the Mutraw District KNU and local villagers reject all proposed mega development projects until a genuine peace agreement is in place. Despite this clear stance, the Burma Army has pressed forward with the military road construction, provoking numerous clashes with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) – the KNU’s armed wing.”

Lessons from the Myanmar military’s attempts to extend their reach into indigenous territory in the form of violence and damaging extractive and development initiatives, can be learned from Kachin State. The ceasefire-period between 1994 and 2011 saw a massive rise in resource extraction, rent-seeking, environmental destruction, co-option of local elites and the subjugation of grassroots calls for self-determination, ethnic equality and a federal democracy in favour of a crony capitalism that benefitted a few elites from the Myanmar military and the Kachin business community. This ceasefire capitalism proved to be inherently unsustainable as renewed and protracted conflict eventually broke out in 2011 and has continued until this day, displacing over 100,000 people and facilitating an uncountable litany of human rights violations, mostly perpetrated by the Myanmar military. These violations amounted to what the UN-Mandated Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar found were crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“The Burma Army have no right to sell off a vast tract of contested Karen territory to foreign speculators before a peace accord has been reached and a new federal constitution actualized, granting local communities rights to decide over their own lands and resources.”

Karen Peace Support Network

The Shwe Kokko city project in Karen State is an example of the type of economic development that the Myanmar military is pursuing that resembles the ceasefire capitalism of the Kachin ceasefire period. A massive project near the Thailand border on indigenous Karen land is in effect a new Chinese city, built by Chinese investors, construction firms and labour, which will include hotels, casinos, restaurants, and villas. The area will become a mecca for online gambling. The territory is controlled by the Karen Border Guard Force, an armed group which was subordinated under the military structure of the Myanmar military in 2010 in exchange for economic benefits. Local civil society and community-based organizations are vehemently opposed to the project, the selling of local people’s land, the gambling and criminality it will bring, and the distinct lack of benefit for local people. A recent report by the Karen Peace Support Network expressed how “The Burma Army have no right to sell off a vast tract of contested Karen territory to foreign speculators before a peace accord has been reached and a new federal constitution actualized, granting local communities rights to decide over their own lands and resources.” Reminiscent of the corruption and rent-seeking that characterized the Kachin ceasefire and undermined prospects for peace, it is no wonder that indigenous communities oppose the Shwe Kokko project, as well as any other Myanmar military-led ‘development’ project such as the road-building in Mutraw District.

“At a time when everyone needs to work together to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the government of Burma and the Burma Army seem to see the global focus on the pandemic as an opportunity to step up their agenda of repression, especially against ethnic people.”

Karen Peace Support Network

The Myanmar military is ploughing ahead with business as usual, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ignoring calls from ethnic armed organizations such as the Restoration Council for Shan State, the Chin National Front, the Brotherhood Alliance, Karenni National Progressive Party and the KNU, as well as from UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guturres, for a unilateral ceasefire, the Myanmar military’s offensives in Rakhine State against the AA are causing untold misery to local civilians. The calls by the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to protect political minorities and indigenous peoples have also gone unheeded. Its longer term vision of statebuilding through violent coercion and crony capitalism, as Karen State is seeing, is also being ramped up. As the statement by the Karen Peace Support Network denouncing the murder of Saw Thet Mee expresses, “At a time when everyone needs to work together to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the government of Burma and the Burma Army seem to see the global focus on the pandemic as an opportunity to step up their agenda of repression, especially against ethnic people.” Amidst the crises in their respective home countries, the call from Ambassadors to Myanmar from 18 countries who comprise the primary donors for Myanmar’s transition to democracy issued on 23 March, 2020 is welcomed, but a clear message must be sent to the Myanmar military to stop “business as usual” and declare a nationwide ceasefire as an essential first step to fight this pandemic and save the lives of the people.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.


Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

COVID-19 (ကိုရိုနာဗိုင်းရပ်စ်) ကပ်ရောဂါကာလအတွင်း အရှေ့တောင်အာရှနိုင်ငံများတွင် လူ့အခွင့်အရေးကို ကာကွယ်စောင့်ရှောက်နိုင်ကြရေးအတွက် စစ်ပွဲများအားလုံး အပစ်အခတ်ရပ်စဲကြပါရန် ကုလသမဂ္ဂအထွေထွေ အတွင်းရေးမှူးချုပ်က အာဆီယံအဖွဲ့ဝင် အစိုးရများကို တိုက်တွန်းချက်အပေါ် အရပ်ဘက်ပြည်သူ အဖွဲ့အစည်းများ၏ ပူးတွဲကြေညာချက်

By 370 Myanmar Civil Society Organizations

Southeast Asian States Should Heed Call for Global Ceasefire, Ensure Conflict Sensitivity and Human Rights in Responding to COVID19 Crisis

By 428 Organizations and 7 Individuals

Myanmar: Immediately Lift Ban on Ethnic News Websites

By ARTICLE 19

Myanmar: Displacement Camps Are COVID-19 Tinderboxes

By Human Rights Watch

Editor Wrongfully Charged: Counter-Terrorism Law Threatens Press Freedom, Freedom of Information

By Human Rights Watch

Reduce Prison Populations to Limit COVID-19: Immediately Release Political Prisoners, Pretrial Detainees, High Health Risks

By Human Rights Watch

Karen Human Rights Group’s Statement on COVID-19 and Blocking of Ethnic News Websites

By Karen Human Rights Group

Burma Army Kills Karen Community Leader Shopping for Food

By Karen Peace Support Network

Updated briefer on Water Contamination linked to Cement Factory and Unjustified Charges against Environmental Activist

By Karen Rivers Watch

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံသတင်းမီဒီယာကောင်စီ သတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၁၁/၂၀၂၀)

By Myanmar Press Council

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံသတင်းမီဒီယာကောင်စီ သတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက်(၁၂/၂၀၂၀)

By Myanmar Press Council

Rohingya Leaders Statement On Coronavirus Crisis

By Rohingya Leaders

As the World Struggles with COVID 19, the Burma Army Continues to Kill Karen Civilians with Impunity in the Salween Peace Park

By Salween Peace Park

Statement on the Impact of Covid-19 on Refugees and Conflict-Affected Communities

By The Border Consortium

reports

Reports

Waters & Forbidden Prayers

By Karen Rivers Watch


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”

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