Karen Community Leaders Call for Transparency on Business Deals Amid Peace Talks

By Saw Yan Naing 4 June 2013

More than 150 representatives from 40 Karen community organizations in Burma and overseas have called for transparency and accountability in economic, development projects that have been signed amid on-going peace talks between the government and Karen rebels.

The representatives, including community leaders from civil society groups, made the call after they concluded a five-day seminar on May 31. The seminar was organized by the Karen National Unity Seminar Organizing Committee and held from May 27 to 31 in an area of Karen State, Burma, not controlled by the Burmese government.

In a statement on May 31, they called for “transparency and accountability in matters related to economic, development and investment activities as it is imperative that local communities benefit from those projects.”

“We are still in the process of achieving durable ceasefire, mining and mega-development projects that are potentially destructive to the environment and peace process; and, to widely distribute and educate the public about the economic policies of KNU,” the statement read.

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, a spokesperson for the Karen National Unity Seminar Organizing Committee, said: “The KNU told us about their business policy. It is quite positive. It included businesses that don’t harm local communities, but benefit the communities. And ideas emerging from the middle-class business people.”

“We urged them to publicly explain their position to Karen civilians before making a final decision. We ask both the KNU and the Burmese government,” Susanna said.

She added that the Karen representatives also called on the KNU to talk to the public whenever they want to sign big business deals, such as for power plants and dams, which might damage the livelihoods of local civilians.

She said some business projects, for an example a dam on Thaut Yin Ka River in Taungoo District, Pegu Division, which flooded villages and displaced civilians, were damaging to local communities.

“We only find out about the projects after they’re already having a negative impact on civilians. We don’t want such incidents to happen in the future,” she added.

Recently, KNU leaders were accused of not being transparent after they were granted 120 car licenses by the Burmese government. The scandal came amid ongoing peace negotiations, a gesture seen by critics as bribery.

The seminar participants pushed for a political participation, encouraging both the government and the KNU to establish a timeframe for the peace process, which they say should include economic and land issues.

Meanwhile, the participants also raised concerns over the significant drop in cross-border humanitarian assistance which is provided to needy communities in Karen areas and called on the international community to continue its cross-border aid until real peace is achieved.

The representatives also called on the Burmese government, the KNU and Karen community-based organizations to collaboratively work on eliminating widespread drug addiction and gambling problems in Karen state.