More than 200 villagers whose homes were bulldozed by the Burmese military in Rangoon Division in February have been blocked from traveling to rebel-controlled territory where an ethnic Karen armed group has offered them land.
After they were evicted from military-owned land in Hlegu Township, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) offered the ethnic Karen former residents of Thameegalay village a place to stay.
But on Wednesday, as the villagers were making their way in cars and trucks toward the DKBA’s area, they were blocked at the border of Karen and Mon states, villagers and officials told The Irrawaddy.
One of the villagers, Win Soe, said by telephone from near Durinseik village, where the group had been stopped, that about 50 border police and government army troops blocked their way and told them to stay put.
“We are still at a border checkpoint at Donethami bridge. We’ve been here more than two hours,” Win Soe told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday afternoon. The villagers were told they were only being stopped while authorities attempted to negotiate with the DKBA, but they feared they will be stranded at least overnight. The situation had not changed at about 5:30 pm.
Hpa-an District Administrator Ye Naing insisted the villagers were not being detained, but said their journey had to be delayed while Karen State officials attempt to discuss the move of the villagers with DKBA leader Maj. San Aung.
“The Karen State government asks the DKBA for negotiations, for the sake of the displaced villagers’ future,” he said, adding that the rebel leadership had declined to travel from Durinseik village to the Karen State capital of Hpa-an to discuss the issue.
“They said the government must come to them if they want to discuss. Therefore, we are in a dispute,” Ye Naing said, adding that hoped-for return of tens of thousands of Karen displaced over the Thai border during years of civil war complicated land issues in Karen State.
“If they relocate the displaced people without consulting with the state government and local groups, land problems could arise. Therefore, we want to talk first. Then, the relocation can happen.”
Win Soe said 79 households from the Thameegalay, Innpatee and Pawkali villages in Rangoon Division left their temporary shelter at Aungtheikhti monastery in Pegu Division—where they had been living with the support of the DKBA since February—at 5:30 am. Their destination was a village in Myawaddy Township, Karen State, where the DKBA has promised to provide each household with a 40-by-60-feet plot of land.
Despite the hold-up, he said he was still hopeful about the move to DKBA territory.
“We have nothing left from our old villages, so we are ready to confront any challenges ahead at our new home,” Win Soe said.
“Maj. San Aung will provide us short-term basic assistance while we build our own houses as well as help looking for jobs for us.”