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The creation of a peace park protecting endangered animals and the natural environment of Mutraw District in Karen State was proposed this week.
Around 300 local leaders, ethnic soldiers and activists gathered at Day Punoh district office in Karen State for a four-day conference to discuss plans for creating the Salween Peace Park, an indigenous-run protected area.
Paul Twra, the director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), said the talks were a success, with members of the community voicing their support for the proposed peace park.
“We are building on existing practices of the local people, their culture and values of maintaining their livelihood in the forest and the right to manage their own natural resources,” he told DVB on Friday.
Mutraw District is home to a number of endangered species, including tigers, gibbons and wild cattle, which the local people want to protect.
The heavily forested district on the border of Thailand and Burma also contains the Salween River, one of the region’s last largely free-flowing rivers. Paul Twra says locals favour the proposed peace park and object to the approved Hatgyi dam, which is situated near at least 41 Karen indigenous villages, as most people living in the area earn their living from farming and fishing in the river.
“We oppose the dam but the government is trying to go forward with plans. The actual building of the dam will take years to start but what could happen is the making of new roads and this could lead to deforestation,” he said.
The previous military government signed the dam approval in 2002 without the consultation of the Karen community. However, Paul Twra says the last environmental impact assessment has been declared invalid and the new government is asking for a new assessment.
KESAN hopes the introduction of the Salween Peace Park will also stop logging concessions in the area, which cause irreparable damage to wildlife and the environment.
Paul Twra says that at the recent conference, people also expressed concerns about security, as Burmese government forces still maintain camps in the area. “If they [the Burmese military] leave, we can go back and farm the land.”
The Salween Peace Park proposal is currently being discussed in consultation with the community, a process that will lead to a constitution and operating principles for the park.