Kyauk Kyi pilot project into new phase

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The Myanmar Peace Support Initiative’s first pilot project is moving forward.

23.04.2014 | Jo Straube (Text and photos)

  • After the ceasefire we can work in our own villages and we do have some schools and health care, but not for all of us yet.

We are at a meeting in Kan Par Ni village within Kyauk Kyi Township, an area controlled by KNU and not the Myanmar government. The man talking is one of 33 villagers that have walked 3-4 hours from seven different villages in the Kwee Lah Tract to a meeting about the Kyauk Kyi pilot project, which is implemented by the Committee for Karen Internally Displaced People (CIDKP - relief wing of the Karen National Union, ethnic armed group), with assistance from the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA).

Every one of the villagers at this meeting fled from their villages in the mid-1970s, when the government army took harsh measures to crush KNU forces, since then most have been refugees in their own country, moving between different hiding places in the jungle.

– It was not enough rice for everyone; we only had one meal a day, and no medicine in the jungle. So many died by diarrhea and malaria, Gay Nay Htoo after the meeting when I ask about the time of civil war.

After moving an uncountable number of times hiding in the jungle, he and two thirds of his village has now moved back to settle.

For most of them this is the first time they meet the MPSI team and have the opportunity to ask questions directly. Travelling around freely is not something they are used to. Though that they are allowed to travel freely and they feel much safer is one of the things the 33 villagers at the meeting reports has changed since the ceasefire started, only five of them had visited the government-controlled areas.

– Some of us have now moved back to our own villages, not but not everyone as some still fear the peace process may halt. In our village the government soldiers are still there. They don’t do any harm, but we would feel safer if they are not there, says another at the meeting.

Though most of the villagers want to return, it is not easy. One already returned to his village and at the moment rebuilding his house and work the soil says:

– It is like a new place, some land has stones and is not fertile, and some land is now seized by the military.

This meeting, the first out of three village meetings for the MPSI team on this consultation trip, is situated next to a dam built in 2009, displacing seven villages in its wake. The second village meeting took place in Yan Myo Aung, a relocation village built on farmland seized by the army from a neighboring village. Now two years into the ceasefire the villagers of Yan Myo Aung worry about this competing claim on the land. MPSI consultant Ashley South notes that solving land grabbing issues will be an important part of consolidating the peace.

– Land grabbing is so common and takes place in so many different ways. This is an issue, which must be addressed in the peace process.

MPSI (Myanmar Peace Support Initiative) was started two years ago when President U Thein Sein, asked Norway to lead international support to the peace process in Myanmar. The first pilot project in Kyauk Kyi was the first project in the framework of the MPSI.

In January 2012 the KNU agreed a ceasefire with the Myanmar government, confirmed in April that year. In April 2012, MPSI supported the CIDKP (relief wing of the KNU) to undertake a needs assessment and implement a pilot project in Keh Der village tract, near Mu The, 20 miles west of Kyauk Kyi town in Myanmar’s Eastern Bago Region.

The aim of the pilot project was to build trust and confidence in - and test - the ceasefire and emerging peace process, by providing assistance to 12 small Karen IDP villages. The main element of testing the peace process was to see whether CIDKP (which had previously been illegal in Myanmar) would be able to implement this project, operating out of government-controlled areas.

Phase 1 of the Kyauk Kyi pilot project also provided opportunities for MPSI to facilitate trust and confidence-building meetings, bringing together IDPs, KNU and Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA, armed wing of the KNU), and Myanmar government and Army officials.

Phase 2 of the Kyauk Kyi pilot project commenced in January 2014, with funding from the Norwegian and Australian governments. Phase 2 focused more on livelihoods assistance, including further inputs in Keh Der village tract, plus three new sites: Qui Lah, an area of seven Karen IDP villages, where five of the villages are located in KNU-controlled area and two villages are in government-controlled areas close to Kyauk Kyi town, to which government forces had forcibly relocated Karen IDPs, during the period of armed conflict.

The mission visited the three new pilot project sites, and also had meetings with Myanmar government and Army officials, KNU personnel, displaced people from all four sites, and Kyauk Kyi-based CBOs.