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UN envoy discusses refugee repatriation issues in Karen State

UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee (2nd right) talks with members of Karen civic groups on 16 July 2017. (PHOTO: DVB)

Karen civil society organisations met with UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee on Sunday in Karen State capital Hpa-an where they highlighted human rights issues and other matters relating to the repatriation of refugees in the region.

“We spoke about political reforms and human rights issues,” said Saw Kyaw Swar, a secretary of the Karen Affairs Committee. “In terms of political reforms, the incumbent government has allowed some businesses to operate in Karen State whereas the former administration rarely allowed such opportunities.

“We [Karen CSOs] highlighted our concerns regarding refugee repatriation. We are worried that the return of thousands of refugees will be chaotic. We advocate a systematic process whereby refugees can return to their homes of their own free will and with dignity.”

He added: “The Karen State government has not prepared anything to cater for those coming back from Thailand, so we want to urge them to undertake all the necessary measures.”

One of the CSO representatives at the meeting was Saw Tha Boe from Save the Salween Network. Speaking to DVB yesterday, he said, “Our group reported its concerns over the dam project that is being planned on the Salween River.

“Many local villagers were displaced due to the dam site, and those displaced families need assistance in terms of healthcare and aid. The government needs to tackle these issues.”

Environmental concerns were echoed by activist Dr. Yuzana Win, who said, “I raised several land and environmental issues, especially the proposed coal plant in Karen State. However we only reported from our side; Ms Lee did not respond during the meeting.”

Among other issues that were raised during the UN envoy’s meeting with CSOs and a prior engagement with Karen State MPs were: Karen literature; healthcare; education; culture; women rights and violence; rule of law; land and natural resources; security; the status of regional development projects; land confiscation and compensation; anti-corruption measures; and the ability of the state government to intervene in mega projects.

Lee has not yet made any comment about her meetings in Karen State. Her 12-day trip to Burma will conclude on 21 July.

Additional reporting by Ye Min Kaung.