KNU Signs Forestry Memorandum with WWF

By Saw Yan Naing 9 November 2016

Burma’s oldest ethnic armed group, the Karen National Union (KNU), has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Wide Fund for Nature Myanmar (WWF) to protect forests in KNU-controlled territories.

“The objective is to protect and restore forests and wildlife in KNU areas,” Padoh Mahn Ba Tun, head of the KNU’s Forestry Department, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Employees of the KNU’s forestry department will work together with the WWF in training and conducting research.

“They [WWF] will bring academics, researchers and will provide technical and financial support to us,” said Mahn Ba Tun.

He said that even though there has been deforestation in some KNU-controlled areas due to logging and hunting, it is not as bad as in other parts of Burma.

“Karen people traditionally love to take care of forests—they are our lives. We restore them as we have to rely on forestry during our resistance struggle,” said Mahn Ba Tun, adding that there is no official figure on deforestation in the area available.

Saw Paul Sein Twa, director of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, however, told The Irrawaddy that there were concerns as the WWF—and all other International NGOs (INGOs)—have to operate in accordance with government policy and oversight.

“It is worrisome because the Naypyidaw government may influence the WWF’s work on the ground,” said Paul Sein Twa. He said that signing the MoU may authorize central government to manage Karen State’s forests.

“We worry about a centralized system because a government approach might be different from the traditional indigenous Karen way of protecting forests,” he added.

The MoU is the first of its kind between between the KNU and an INGO, although other INGOs including Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Flora and Fauna International (FFI) have been conducting research on wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Karen State.

Logging in KNU-controlled territories including in Pegu and Tenasserim divisions and the Salween River region began in Burma’s colonial era.

In the 1990s, teak logging was established in KNU-controlled territories on the Salween River on the border with Thailand and minor illegal logging continues.