From November 2 to 4, Kawthoolei Land Seminar attended by over 370 participants representing 53 Karen organizations was held in Law Khee Lah, Hpa-an District, in Karen Nation Union (KNU) controlled area.
The gathering headed by KNU Central Land Committee, Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) and Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) issued a joint statement at the end of the seminar accusing the government of abusing the ceasefire process to take advantage of investment opportunities with little regard for potential consequences to the environment or the local population, according to the Karen Information Center (KIC) report.
The report said that some members of the KNU and civil society groups have long contended that under the current arrangement, the 2012 ceasefire is only a guise for the plunder of resources in ethnic nationalities territories.
The joint statement pointed out that the current 2012 Land Law, Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law, Special Economic Zone Investment Law are threatening the livelihood of the people, which involved extraction of natural resources, planting a single type of crop on hundred thousand acres of land and big massive building projects leading to expansion of Myanmar government administrative power, including the negative impact on the society and deterioration of the environment.
In response to this, the Border Affairs Minister General Myo Min Naung of Karen State sent protest letters to the KNU headquarters and KNU liaison offices.
“Regarding the joint statement the main points (of the protest letter) said that it is not acceptable because it tarnished the government’s dignity, in addition to negatively affecting the government’s administration system,” explained Saw Alex, a committee member of the Kawthoolei Land Seminar.
Other than that the Border Affairs Minister responded that the KNU is breaching the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which said: “Avoid hostile propaganda, defamatory, untruthful or derogatory statements, both within and outside the country.”
Karen and government position
According to the interview with the KIC on November 17, KNU Central Land Committee member Padho Mahn Mahn said that the KNU started formulation of Land Law in 1974 with the basic protection on the inheritance of the ancestors for the Karen people.
In 2005, the KNU reviewed the law, followed by 2015 innovation under the basic principle of “The land belongs to the people”. Accordingly there are four main aims involved in this innovation. They are:
Padho Mahn Mahn said the KNU considered the ownership of land and its usage. But the government only emphasized the right to make use of the land and not the entitlement of the ownership.
He elaborated further: “The case is that land belongs to the state (naing gyan daw). According to the definition, we need to think what is naing gyan daw. When we look at the 2008 constitution as the state is holder of administrative apparatus, we could say we are not he same.”
Concerning the protest of Border Affairs Minister, Padho Mahn Mahn said that it is now open for discussion on land issue and adjustment could be made between the KNU and the government. And as the NCA is not comprehensive enough to solve the policy differences between the government and the KNU, negotiation and adjustment would become necessary.
Meanwhile, Saw Hla Myint, a member of the Karen State Parliament and Chairperson of the committee responsible for receiving the complaint letters told Karen News that “among the 54 complaint letters, about 90% of them were on land issues. There were about 10% on electricity and other smaller issues.”
Saw Hla Myint said that the “complaint letters on land issues included confiscation of land by government departments like livestock breeding zones or confiscation of land by the army,” according to the November 16 report of KIC.
During the transitional period between the signing of ceasefire and the peace process negotiation phase, dubbed as “Tasks to be implemented during the interim period” in the NCA just vaguely mentioned that the Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) as signatories to the agreement have been responsible in their relevant capacities, for development and security in their respective areas and should continue to do so.
It is also true that the NCA-based peace process would gather inputs from two assigned forums of national-level political dialogues and five discussion issues – politics, social economy, security and management of land and natural resources, from the whole country.
And seen from this point of view, the Karen organizations under the leadership of the KNU might be making known their position regarding the problematic of land ownership and land use, which it said is at the heart of the problem in the formulation of the Land Law and related matters.
In sum, the grievances of the Karens could be remedied if the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law that benefits the big investors is scrapped; land confiscations mostly by the military and corporate are repealed; and customary law that is integrated in the KNU’s Land Law is accepted.
Furthermore, the KNU during the transition period, before the amendment of the Military-drafted constitution including the land law could take place, wanted the government to recognize the existing laws of the EAOs, according to Padho Mahn Mahn.
For now, it is not quite clear, whether the problem arising from this ongoing land issue and continued piling up of the cases during this interim phase could be resolved or leave them pending for unforeseeable period is anybody’s guess.
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