RANGOON — The Karen State Government has denied the Karen National Union (KNU) permission to hold a workshop outlining their land policy to residents of the state capital of Hpa-an, according to local sources.
Zaw Lwin Oo, director within the office of the Karen State government, told The Irrawaddy that his administration has their own land policy, so they did not grant the ethnic Karen political entity license to hold a workshop on the same topic. Declining to comment further, he referred The Irrawaddy to a statement issued by the state government on July 15.
The statement affirmed that, “only the government can have a land policy and procedure…therefore our state government can not give permission to hold workshop [on the issue] when asked by the KNU.”
The KNU had planned to hold a workshop on July 17 in Hpa-an at a Buddhist monastery for the purpose of raising awareness on their approach to land rights. Links to descriptions of the KNU’s land policy can be found on the news section of The Border Consortium’s website.
On behalf of the KNU, the Karen Unity and Peace Committee (KUPC) sent a letter to the Karen State Government on July 8 requresting permission to hold the workshop. KUPC reportedly pointed out that a variety of ethnic Karen civil society groups were to be in attendance.
Saw Kyaw Zwa, a KUPC senior member, speculated whether the rejection was based on the way in which the government was approached for permission. “The KNU did not ask [the state government] themselves, but instead, let the KUPC do it. I think this was a mistake,” he explained.
“If KNU had said in the letter that the workshop will give awareness to the people about the land policy of [both] the KNU and the government, this might have helped to get permission,” Saw Kyaw Zwa added.
Land tenure rights have been described as a top priority of the civilian-led National League for Democracy government, which took office earlier this year. Seizures of land—by the former military regime, as well as private and military-backed business enterprises—has long been a pressing concern throughout Burma.
The KNU was one of eight non-state armed organizations to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement with representatives from the Burmese government in 2015; civil war between the Burma Army and ethnic Karen armed groups began in the region shortly after Burma’s 1948 independence from Britain. In the decades of conflict that followed, tens of thousands of Karen were displaced and forced to abandon their ancestral lands, making the return of their farms a major concern in the country’s ongoing peace process.