Since the start of 2020, the Burma Army has deployed over 2,000 troops, and fired hundreds of mortar shells to try and push through a strategic road into the northern Karen district of Mutraw, despite its existing ceasefire with the Karen National Union. Hundreds of villagers have fled to hide in the jungle, and thousands more are preparing to flee. Villagers have been tortured, shot at indiscriminately and killed.
Burma Army claims that the road is being built for “development” are patently false. If completed, the road will provide a vital motorized transport route into northern Mutraw, enabling year-round deployment of troops, ammunitions and supplies from the Southern Regional Command at Toungoo.
The Burma Army is clearly intent on expanding control of Mutraw, which is under the KNU’s 5th Brigade and is a key Karen stronghold, located strategically between the KNU’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 7th Brigades, in Thaton, Toungoo, Nyaunglebin, and Pa-an, respectively.
The forested mountain terrain of Mutraw is also the KNU area where the Burmese government has the least control. Most of its 80,000 population are subsistence farmers, who live in close harmony with their natural environment, managing their lands according to centuries-old customary laws. The KNU’s Mutraw administration runs autonomous education, health and judicial systems, and in December 2018, local Karen communities set up their own protected park area — the 5,485 square-kilometer Salween Peace Park, an initiative hailed globally for its indigenous stewardship.
Protected forests in the peace park are now being felled and set alight by Burma Army troops seeking to secure the road building area.
Local Mutraw communities know very well the real intent of the Burma Army’s new roads, and have held public demonstrations against them. On January 15, about 1,000 villagers gathered near the road building area to protest the planned construction.
KPSN’s earlier report “The Nightmare Returns” documented the Burma Army’s March 2018 offensive in Mutraw, when 1,500 troops from eight battalions were deployed to try and build the same road they are seeking to push through today. At that time 2,400 villagers were displaced, mainly around the planned road-building area, and local community leader Saw O Moo was shot and killed.
The renewed offensive this year, deploying at least thirteen battalions and full artillery power in northern Mutraw, while reinforcing troops and launching attacks in southern Mutraw, shows that the Burma Army is determined to penetrate into Mutraw at all costs, in flagrant contempt of existing ceasefire agreements. Meanwhile, military authorities are preventing the KNU from holding public consultations about the peace process.
Particularly during this time, when Burma should be using all available resources to prevent the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus, it is senseless to be spending huge amounts of money on an offensive that is sabotaging the peace process – and causing fresh displacement that will increase vulnerability to disease.
KPSN therefore makes the following urgent demands:
To the Burmese government and the Burma Army:
- To immediately stop all road construction in Mutraw
- To stop all offensive military operations, including drone surveillance, and pull back troops from Karen areas
- To allow the KNU to hold public consultations about the peace process without restriction
To the international community
- To call publicly for the Burma Army to stop its military offensive in Mutraw
- To stop business as usual with Burma, and exert diplomatic and economic pressure for an end to Burma Army offensives throughout the country, so that inclusive dialogue towards a new federal constitution can begin
- To stop investing in and funding development, infrastructure and resource extraction projects in Karen areas through the Burmese government. Such projects should only be considered when there is lasting peace, and power is devolved under a new federal constitution, giving local communities the right to decide on their own development
- To provide humanitarian aid cross-border to displaced communities in eastern Burma
- To resume adequate levels of humanitarian aid to refugees in camps on the Thai-Burma border