Karen National Union Under Pressure Over Crime Hub

By The Irrawaddy 28 February 2023

Karen organizations are asking about the Karen National Union’s (KNU) involvement in a Chinese project in Myawaddy, Karen State, on the Thai border, which has become a hub of human trafficking and online scams for Southeast Asia.

The so-called new city project known as KK Park is near the village of Maw Hto Talay in an area controlled by the KNU Brigade 6 in the north of Myawaddy. Victims from Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Hong Kong and elsewhere lured by offers of high-paying jobs were forced to engage in online scams and subjected to torture inside the prison-like park, according to escapees.

KK Park on Google Earth

Padoh Saw Roger Khin, the head of KNU’s defense department and central executive committee member, attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the new city project in February 2020. The fraud hub has thrived since the 2021 coup.

Twenty-three Karen organizations around the world have jointly called for an investigation into the involvement of KNU leaders in the Huanya project in which Chinese gangs are believed to be involved. The alleged involvement of KNU leaders harms the reputation and prestige of the group while Karen people are fighting for self-determination and the world’s recognition of its revolution.

“Illegal projects should not have grown rapidly to this scale without consent from Myanmar’s generals and top KNU leaders,” said the statement.

The park is involved in online casinos, human trafficking, prostitution and drugs and unscrupulous tycoons from around the world are investing in the park to launder dirty money, said the Karen groups’ statement.

Karen organizations called on the KNU’s Central Executive Committee to resign for failing to take action against some leaders involved in the project.

Chinese-backed projects along the Moei River. / Nikkei Asia

The KNU on February 26 denied its involvement in any illegal project, saying it does not tolerate any criminal activities, including gambling and financial services.

“The KNU believes any gambling that arrives on Karen soil will only create severe social problems and increase crime. The KNU wants eradication of gambling linked to criminal activity in Karen State,” said the statement.

The KNU also said Padoh Saw Roger Khin only represented a group of landlords when Hong Kong-based Trans-Asia International Group, a subsidiary of Huanya International Holding Group, signed a land-lease agreement with Myanmar’s Mulaei Alin Co.

Mulaei Alin Co resigned from the project in 2022 and another company from Myanmar, Trust Star Co Ltd, filled the vacancy around the end of 2022, said the KNU.

The KNU did not say if it will allow the project to continue. It also did not provide details about the lease and tax.

Myawaddy is also home to the China-backed Shwe Kokko new city project, involving Karen State Border Guard Force. And another project, Saixigang Industrial Zone, is also being built beside the Moei River on the Thai border.

Those projects are backed by Chinese criminal gangs wanted for crimes around the world, according to the United States Institute of Peace. Regional governments are concerned that the area has become the hub of cross-border crime, involving human trafficking, money laundering, online casinos and scams.