CHIANG MAI, Thailand — At the request of the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), Thai authorities on Wednesday shut down a launch event for a new report warning of a humanitarian crisis in Karen State and detailing ongoing human right abuses against local people there by the Tatmadaw.
The Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) had planned to launch its report, “The Nightmare Returns: Karen Hopes for Peace and Stability Dashed by Burma Army Actions,” at an event in Chiang Mai. The event was to include a documentary film screening, photo exhibition and two panel discussions in order to raise support for more than 2,400 Karen who have been displaced by the resumption last month of operations by the Myanmar military in northern Mutraw (Papun) district of Karen State.
In March, the Tatmadaw deployed large numbers of troops in Luthaw Township to rebuild an old road linking the Kay Pu and Ler Mu Plaw areas. The deployment has sparked dozens of clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), since March 4. On April 5, a local indigenous Karen community leader was shot dead by Tatmadaw troops on suspicion of being a KNLA soldier. Both the KNU and the Tatmadaw are signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), under which both sides agreed not to deploy more troops.
The KPSN originally planned to hold the launch event for the report at Chiang Mai University (CMU)’s Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) building. However, it was informed on Tuesday that the CMU had canceled its booking at the venue. The event was moved, but had to be canceled on Wednesday morning when police showed up at the second venue.
CMU was asked to reconsider hosting the event by the commander of Thailand’s 3rd Army based in Phitsanulok, who received a letter from the Myanmar military attaché, Brigadier-General Khin Zaw, earlier this week, according to RCSD director Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaput.
Dr. Chayan told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the center agreed to the request, which was passed on by the head of the CMU. The RCSD and KPSN made plans for the event to be held at another venue, but that was eventually also blocked by the Thai police.
This is the first time an RCSD-hosted event has been blocked by officials, said Dr. Chayan, who described the move as an “intervention against academic freedom.” He said the discussion was to center on the refugees’ future, and military-related issues were not the focus.
During periods of tension in Myanmar between signatories of the NCA, the Myanmar military tends to demand that the activities of Thailand-based Myanmar rights groups be suppressed. In July last year a Shan coalition, the Committee for Shan State Unity, was forced to call off a meeting in Chiang Mai by Thai authorities, apparently at the request of the Myanmar military.
KPSN spokesman Saw Soe Doh said the group’s aim was “to raise public awareness about the IDPs’ [internally displaced persons’] suffering” as a result of the Myanmar Army entering the areas in Luthaw Township without a prior agreement with the KNU.
KPSN has documented cases of 2,417 people from 12 villages who were forced to flee the latest military clashes. Another 400 or so from another four villages are preparing to flee, it said. The displacement experienced by villagers in Mutraw (Papun) is not a new phenomenon, according to the KPSN. This is the fourth time this group of people alone has faced forced relocation. (In addition to March of this year, previous exoduses occurred in 1992-93, 1995-97 and 2005-08).
In a field interview conducted by KPSN included in the report, an elderly woman named Naw Pwe says, “We don’t want the Burmese soldiers to come here and build this military road… We just want them to let us live in peace.”
Another IDP, Saw Pyo Say from Htee Bway Kee village, is quoted as saying in the report: “We don’t want our children to face the nightmare, and the situation that we have faced. We want a better life for them, whichever life they choose, we want them to have a better life than we have. Whether they get an education or stay here on the farm, we want them to able to live in peace and not have to flee like we have.”
The KPSN accuses the Myanmar Army of violating the NCA, to which both the Tatmadaw and the KNU are signatories, by crossing a boundary set by the KNU and deemed off-limits to both armed groups. According to the KPSN, the Tatmadaw has deployed eight battalions in areas controlled by the KNLA’s Brigade 5.
“As the [Tatmadaw] is showing no sign of withdrawing from their offensive positions, these Karen IDPs are now facing the specter of protracted displacement, and severe food and physical insecurity,” the KPSN said in a statement released Wednesday.