Karen Refugees in Canada Raise Concerns Over State Counselor’s Visit 

By Saw Yan Naing 6 June 2017

Ethnic Karen refugees in Canada released an open letter on the arrival of Burma’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, raising concerns over the militarization in Karen State while the Union government pushes ahead with the peace process.

The Karen Community of Canada (KCC), an organization representing ethnic Karen refugees from Burma, said in the statement on Monday that it was concerned that this visit would be a “feel-good celebration,” ignoring ongoing militarization and human rights abuses in ethnic areas, which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has done “virtually nothing to alleviate.”

The Karen community organization also urged Canadian government officials to pay attention to the suffering of ethnic minorities under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

“We urge you, as our elected representatives in Canada, to heed the cries of Karen and other ethnic people in Burma, who continue to suffer under military occupation,” read the statement.

The Karen refugee community also urged Canadian government officials to ask Daw Aung San Suu Kyi some tough questions including how her government plans to ensure a safe return for Burmese refugees in Thailand and how her government will respond to refugees’ calls for the withdrawal of Burma Army troops in Karen State.

Last month, internally displaced people in Karen State held a protest calling for the withdrawal of Burma Army units near their villages so that they could return home safely.

Although the Karen armed group the Karen National Union (KNU) signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement with the previous government in 2012, the Burma Army has reinforced its bases and built additional ones in the region, according to the statement.

The Karen community in Canada is also upset with KNU vice chairman Padoh Kwe Htoo Win who is visiting Canada on a federalism study tour but is not meeting with Karen refugee communities due to a “tight schedule.”

Slone Phan, chairman of the KCC in Canada, asserted the group’s disappointment with the KNU vice chairman for failing to visit the community.

Although the vice chairman did not meet the Karen community, he and other ethnic leaders did visit Niagara Falls.

The KCC also said they were concerned over a meeting between Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and Canadian Ambassador Karen MacArthur last January, where they discussed potential Canadian investment in hydropower projects that fuel ongoing war, displacement, and human rights abuses in Burma.

“This general [Min Aung Hlaing] and his army are responsible for obstructing peace and conducting campaigns of terror against Karen and other ethnic communities, so we are dismayed that Ambassador MacArthur would discuss cooperating with him,” read the statement.

The Karen Community of Canada (KCC) is an umbrella organization that represents Karen people across Canada, promoting Karen culture, human rights and democracy.