Displaced Villagers Defy Govt, Resettle in Karen Rebel Territory

By Lawi Weng 10 April 2014

RANGOON — About 160 villagers who were forcibly evicted from their homes on the outskirts of Rangoon have been resettled in rebel-held territory in eastern Karen State in recent days, despite earlier attempts by local authorities to prevent the group from relocating there.

Col San Aung, a commander in the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), said the displaced families had moved to a village called Kyauk Khet, located in a DKBA-controlled part of Karen State near the border town of Myawaddy.

“We are building bamboo houses for them. We could build three to four houses a day. We offer them [dried] leaves for the roofs of their houses and bamboo for the structure of the houses. We used bulldozers to clear the ground,” he told The Irrawaddy by phone on Thursday.

San Aung said the DKBA, together with a small ethnic Arakanese rebel group and Karen activists had donated 100 bags of rice, clothes and medicine to the group, adding that medical staff from Dr. Cynthia Maung’s Mae Tao Clinic, located at Mae La refugee camp in nearby Thailand, had come to provide free medical care for the new arrivals.

“There were some donors. They donated to the people what they can. Yesterday, Dr Cynthia’s clinic donated medical treatment to the people,” the commander said.

In February, about 200 ethnic Karen villagers from Thameegalay, Innpatee and Pawkali villages in Hlegu Township, Rangoon Division, were evicted and their homes were bulldozed by local authorities, which claimed that the impoverished families had been illegally occupying military-owned land.

Soon after, DKBA commanders invited the group to move to their area of control where each family could receive a 40-by-60-feet plot of farmland and a simple home—an offer that the villagers accepted. The families temporarily moved to Aungtheikhti monastery in Pegu Division before travelling on to Myawaddy Township last week.

However, when the group attempted to travel there Karen State authorities blocked their way on the grounds that the DKBA-area would supposedly be unsafe to live. State-run media ran an article claiming that the group would face livelihood, social and health problems if they moved there.

The villagers, who were supported during their travel by the DKBA and Karen activists, then turned back and temporarily stayed at a Buddhist monastery in Karen State’s Kawkareik Township. About 40 people decided to abort their attempt to resettle in DKBA area.

In recent days, the remaining villagers and the DKBA defied the Karen State authorities and the group reportedly snuck into rebel-held territory.

DKBA commander San Aung said that the government’s objections had not stopped his rebel group from helping the displaced families.

“We are fighting for freedom through armed struggle for those who are oppressed. We need to help these victims as they were oppressed,” he said, before adding, “By helping these victims, it does not mean that we are competing with the government.”

Karen human rights activist and political parties helped the families during their trip from Rangoon to Karen State, according to Naw Ohn Hla, an ethnic Karen activist from Rangoon.

She said the government had failed in its obligations to take care of the impoverished, displaced families, adding that the group had the right to travel to DKBA-controlled area in order to seek a better life.

“This is shameful for the government, as they abandoned the people after destroyed their properties,” Naw Ohn Hla said.