The Irrawaddy

Tatmadaw Agrees to Halt Contentious Road Project in Karen State

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – The Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, agreed to postpone the rebuilding of an old road and to halt military deployments in the Ler Mu Plaw area of Papun district, Karen State, following a meeting between the Army chief and Karen National Union leaders in Yangon on Thursday.

Army chief Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing met a KNU delegation led by its chairman, Padoh Saw Mutu Sae Poe, who was accompanied by commander-in-chief General Saw Jonny, political and military affair adviser Colonel Saw Htoo Htoo Lay and other senior leaders.

The agreement came more than two months after Tatmadaw troop movements in the area caused an escalation of tensions and the displacement of more than 2,400 villagers in Ler Mu Plaw in Luthaw Township.

“During our meeting, we discussed further plans for the peace process,” read the post on the Facebook page of Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday afternoon. “The Tatmadaw will temporarily postpone the reconstruction of the Khay Pu to Ler Mu Plaw Road, in response to the KNU’s concerns. And the locals in the area can stay in their homes without having to worry and can move freely.”

KNU vice-chairman Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that as the Tatmadaw’s troop deployments were for road construction, and the road plan had been postponed, the troops must return to their original posts.

The meeting with the Army chief was held “to resolve the current armed conflict” between the army and the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which has resulted in villagers being displaced, the vice-chairman said.

The KNU has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the road rebuilding and numerous clashes have happened between the KNLA’s Brigade 5, which controls the area, and Myanmar army troops since it began on Mar. 4. Fearing more troop deployments, many locals have fled their homes.

Apart from the current violence, the KNU said the road project had undermined trust-building between the two sides.

Despite the Tatmadaw’s labeling of the agreement as a “temporary postponement,” Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said “We both agreed that the Tatmadaw’s road works could not proceed until the KNU agreed to the plan and locals gave their consent.”

Thursday’s meeting did not cover the killing of a civilian, Saw O Moo, who was shot dead on suspicion of being a KNLA soldier in April 5. But the KNU vice-chairman said that “this case would have to be solved step by step.”

He added the two sides would continue to hold talks at the state/regional level between the KNU’s military affairs negotiation team and the head of the Southern Command “for detailed discussions on the military affairs.”