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The opposition Karen National Union says it is concerned about any foreign investment in Karen state that may sweep in if it signs a ceasefire with the government, but denies there has been a split within its senior ranks over the rush to broker peace in the region.
The group yesterday released a four-stage plan for negotiations with Naypyidaw during a press conference at its 7th Brigade base in eastern Karen state that includes “preliminary” and “durable” ceasefire stages, and ends in “political participation”. It warns that “ceasefires alone will be insufficient to bring about … lasting peace”.
The event was seen as a bid by the KNU’s leadership to clarify its position after conflicting reports over the signing of a peace deal with the government in January. However the two figures believed to be at loggerheads over what happened in the meeting last month – David Tharkabaw and David Htaw – the latter of whom is thought to be keen on pushing ahead with a quick deal, were not present.
Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the KNU, said there had been “no split” over the speed at which the group should push ahead with agreeing to a ceasefire, but conceded there are “different ideas and strategies” at play.
In an interview with DVB, she also expressed fear that any end to the six decade-long war could be exploited by business opportunists keen to cement a stake in the region, which is rich in hydropower and mining. Investors will be eyeing with particular interest the apparent discovery of Southeast Asia’s largest goldmine, which Zipporah Sein said encroaches on KNU territory.
“If development projects are set up in KNU areas and if the military sends more troops for security then there will be more human rights violations,” she warned. “That is why we only want to see development when there is peace and stability.”
She said however that there had not been any substantial discussion within the group over how to ensure post-conflict investment does not harm civilians. The Burmese regime’s energy and infrastructural ventures have historically been accompanied by heavy militarisation and large-scale displacement of civilians.
Zipporah Sein continued that “mega projects should wait until peace and stability”, but there is a fear that while the conflict itself may soon end in Karen state, the by-products of the government’s hunger for natural resources there could prolong the abuses suffered for decades by its inhabitants.