We continue to stand in solidarity with our three dedicated Burmese Prize winners—Ka Hsaw Wa (1999), Myint Zaw (2015), and Paul Sein Twa (2020)—and support their ongoing work to bring peace, democracy, and environmental conservation to Myanmar. We condemn the military crackdown on the Burmese people and urge the international community to listen to these grassroots leaders. Please read this update from Prize winner Paul Sein Twa on the profound challenges in Myanmar since the coup and his efforts to protect the newly established Salween Peace Park.
31 March, 2021
The events of the last few days that have taken place in the communities of the Salween Peace Park have been horrific. We have been in touch with leaders and community members during and after the fighter jets have flown over, released bombs and fired automatic weapons at villager’s homes and schools. The latest reports that we have received from persons on the ground estimate that more than 10,000 villagers have fled from their homes and hiding in the jungle/ in hand-dug trenches and bunkers, and around 3,000 villagers have attempted to find refuge in Thailand across the Salween River.
We were deeply concerned when we read a number of news reports about the start of the air strikes on 27 March, which stated that the Burmese Army actions were in retaliation for a KNLA attack on their camp earlier in the day. It is correct that the KNLA did retake that camp, but this was an act of defense, as that same camp had been launching mortars at villages nearby during the previous weeks, causing villagers to flee for the lives and hide in the jungle. This and more of the background leading up to the attacks on the Karen villagers can be found in the March 30 Mutraw Communiqué, which we are attaching with this message.
We have been touched by the huge number of communications we have received since the events of last weekend from concerned friends and even many strangers around the world. There has been an outpouring of concerns for our safety and offers to assist in whatever way possible. This has included many requests from within Burma to send personal donations to help the IDPs and from Thai citizens reaching out after seeing the villagers fleeing attacks arriving to the Thai side of the Salween and subsequently being pushed back into Karen State. For these sentiments and showing of solidarity, we are very grateful.
With the fluidity of the situation and the constant flyovers/ bombing from Burma Army jets, it is difficult to respond to these requests, but Karen civil society organizations have been coordinating around the clock to assess the situation of the refugees/ IDPs and provide emergency support whenever and wherever possible. This coordination effort is being done by all the Karen organizations under the umbrella of the Karen Peace Support Network, which has put together two large proposals for emergency funds to support IDPs in Karen State. We have received some funds already for these proposals, but the total amount received so far is still only a small fraction of the total amount of the proposals.
Regarding KESAN’s work, we have temporarily suspended all of our regular field operations in order to ensure we are not putting any of our staff or community members at greater risks. By ‘regular field operations’, we mean the day-to-day work for existing projects. Field staff that are based inside are now needed for emergency responses.
Although not working in the field, our office-based team has been overwhelmed with phone calls and communications throughout the day and night from both the refugees/ IDPs inside/ at the border; media contacts wanting updated information, and from concerned family members and friends outside of Karen State who are worried about the safety of their loved ones. During this emergency time, it is crucial to keep communication and coordination lines open and ensuring accurate and timely information is shared in order to protect those running, hiding and seeking shelter from the Burma Army attacks. We also have been working non-stop to coordinate funds, draft proposals and coordinate relief efforts for the IDPs who remain inside Karen State.
In closing, we would to encourage those who are in positions of influence to share the news of what is happening inside Karen State and appeal for an immediate intervention to stop these crimes against innocent villagers. The fact that this is happening in the Salween Peace Park- which was founded in order to break the cycle of violence and war that has been plaguing its inhabitants for more than 70 years- should raise even more alarm and a response from those in positions of power. These peace-loving villagers are the very people who have dared to try to find a new path and new way forward for peace and an end to destructive warfare.
Paul Sein Twa
About the author:
Indigenous leader Paul Sein Twa spent his childhood in a refugee camp, the result of decades-long conflict in his native Myanmar. Seeking to preserve the environment and Karen culture, Paul led his people to establish a 1.35-million-acre peace park in the Salween River basin in 2018, a major victory for peace and conservation in Myanmar. He is the co-founder of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) and president of the Salween Peace Park. Paul won the Goldman Prize for Asia in 2020.