CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Military activity linked to competition over resources and commercial development is hampering the return and resettlement of displaced persons and refugees near the Thai-Burma border, according to aid coordination agency The Border Consortium (TBC).
In a statement made on Thursday by TBC, an NGO that has facilitated aid to refugees and displaced persons around the border for the last 30 years, prospects of a return home for those displaced by ethnic conflicts remain limited, despite the negotiation of at least 16 ceasefires between non-state armed groups and the Burmese government since 2011.
“We have only seen small scale and tentative return of refugees from Thailand, and this survey suggests that the overall number of internally displaced persons has not reduced significantly either,” said TBC executive director Sally Thompson in the statement.
“Efforts to prepare for the return and resettlement of displaced persons have been thwarted by ongoing militarization and insecurity.”
Duncan McArthur, partnership director of TBC, told The Irrawaddy that community leaders of conflict-hit areas don’t believe that current ceasefire agreements are sustainable.
“During the ceasefire, we have recognized a significant reduction in fighting. But the ongoing militarization is not helping to build confidence in the peace process,” said McArthur.
According to TBC, while there has been a reduction in fighting between the government and ethnic armed groups, there has been an increased military presence in some ethnic states as a result of resource extraction and commercial development.
McArthur said that ongoing commercial development in ethnic regions led to competition between the Burmese military and ethnic rebel groups to secure resource-rich parts of the country, leading to widespread land confiscations.
A consultation hosted by TBC, attended by international donors, representatives of nongovernmental organizations and ethnic community-based organizations, took place in Chiang Mai this week.
Representatives from conflict-affected communities were wary of the current peace process, saying that the ceasefire had only brought about a temporary reduction in armed conflict.
Consultation participants identified demarcation of troops, demilitarization, and peace monitoring mechanisms as key priorities for a sustainable peace, and were pessimistic about the prospects for durable ceasefire agreements while the military maintained a large presence in ethnic regions.
The ethnic rights group Karen Rivers Watch (KRW) released a statement on Friday saying that recent fighting between the government and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) had displaced more than 2,000 villagers near the planned site for the Hatgyi hydropower dam on Karen State’s Salween River.
“Villagers and Karen resistance leaders in the area believe they are being attacked to make way for the Hatgyi Dam,” said KRW spokesperson Saw Tha Phoe in the statement.
The group also urged world leaders to pressure Burma’s government to halt military offensives and pursue genuine peace as they arrive in Naypyidaw for the East Asia Summit and Asean meetings next week, warning that the peace process was in jeopardy.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday warned that Burma’s political reforms have been stalled since early last year, and that the US government has been too optimistic about the pace of reforms started under President Thein Sein’s administration. She called on the US government to “seriously think” about the lack of democratic progress in Burma.
The statement released by TBC was based on research conducted by eleven civil society organizations, which interviewed community leaders in more than 220 village tracts in conflict-affected regions of Burma.