This Situation Update describes the situation in Dwe Lo Township, Mu Traw District during the period between August and October 2020. It describes how the local villagers are dealing with the COVID-19 situation, the new prevention measures that they need to follow, and the livelihood difficulties they face as a result of the pandemic. Travel restrictions have increased due to a local case of COVID-19, however, villagers have been able to continue education for their children. Political parties have been campaigning in some areas as part of the 2020 general election. Fighting also broke out due to Tatmadaw activities in restricted areas, which raises concern on the part of local villagers.
This situation update is about the situation in Dwe Lo Township, Mu Traw District from August 4th 2020 to October 9th 2020. The main issues are related to the 2020 election, Tatmadaw activities, livelihood difficulties, COVID-19 and education.
2020 general election
There are five parties running in the 2020 elections in Mu Traw District. They are:
1) USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) led by U Soe Myint Oo (600 members)
2) NLD (National League for Democracy)
3) UDP (Hnin Si Party) led by U Myint Kyaw or Za Kone Zon Sung
4) UDP (Union Democratic Party) led by U Ra Shwe Mahn
5) KNDP (Karen National Democratic Party)
The parties mentioned above have been visiting the local areas and doing campaigning. UDP (Hnin Si) party told the local villagers that if they win the election, they will work for the local villagers to have a better situation [development, economy, stability] than in Singapore [which was previously less developed than Myanmar, but is now doing better than Myanmar]. KNDP said that they will help the Karen people know [their culture and history] and understand themselves [build understanding amongst themselves], and [will ensure that] Karen people [are able to] decide their own destiny. Those parties campaigned in Hsaw Klee Loh, Hker Hkoh, Pweh Pah and places near Hpapun Road.
In August 2020, some farmers had not finished growing [and harvesting] their paddy plants yet. Those who had finished were not happy because their paddy plants died due to drought, even though the paddy [initially] sprouted well. The plants did not have enough water to grow after they sprouted. There was some water left in the farms and irrigation channel, but the water in the irrigation channel was at the bottom [was very low], and could not reach the farms. By September, the paddy plants' leaves were turning sallow. Certain places in the following village tracts did not get enough rain: Htee Th'Daw Hta, Meh Pree, Kyaw Pah, Day Wah village tracts in Bu Tho Township and Lay Moh Hta, K'Ter Tee, Htee Th'Bluh Hta, Ma Htaw, Nah Koe Hkee, Hkoo Thoo Hta, Waw Muh, Meh Thuh Hta village tracts in Dwe Lo Township. The local villagers are now worried that they will face a rice shortage.
In August 2020, a Tatmadaw battalion under Military Operations Command (MOC) #8, which is based in Dwe Lo Township, Mu Traw District, did not follow the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) Code of Conduct and trespassed into restricted areas. As a result, fighting broke out on August 28th 2020 between this Tatmadaw battalion from K'Ser Ther Pler army camp, led by Captain Thu Rain Aung, and Karen National Liberal Army (KNLA) Brigade #5, Battalion #102, Company #3. The fighting happened at the foot of K'Ser Ther Pler Mountain in the local villagers' farms. The local villagers worry that they will face travel and livelihood difficulties if the fighting continues to break out.
On March 17th 2020, healthcare workers from the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) from Mu Traw District provided awareness training to the local villagers on how to protect themselves and [instructed them] to wash their hands at least 4 times a day and for at least 20 seconds per time. Restrictions were placed on gatherings and meetings, and participants must stay 3 feet [0.9 metres] away from each other. The quarterly meeting of the district administrators was held from December 16th to 18th 2020, and although it normally lasts four days, this time it wrapped up within two and a half days. The discussion focused on the Salween Peace Park.
Villagers were instructed to return to their township by March 18th 2020 because travel restrictions and the banning of public gatherings had started to take place. Screening checkpoints were also established to check for COVID-19. Before the screening checkpoints were established, the district administrator, leaders and healthcare workers made an announcement to let the villagers know. They told the villagers to be prepared and make sure they have enough food supplies to last three months. Some villagers have experienced food problems [shortages] so the leaders have allowed them access to [buying] food two days a week, on Mondays and Fridays only.
In September 2020, one person from K'Ma Maung Town tested positive for COVID-19; three other households found nothing [were tested but the results were negative]. The Myanmar Police Force (MPF) is monitoring them because they are not allowed to go to public areas or crowded areas. Because of this local COVID-19 case, the screening checkpoints started to get more restrictive on September 20th 2020. Nevertheless, no new screening checkpoints have been set up.
The screening checkpoint at Nya Bweh Day village, Htee Th'Blu Hta village tract was moved to a location between Htee Th'Blu Hta village and the top of K'Pee Road. The T'Dwee Hkoh screening checkpoint is still in Ma Htaw village. Anyone who comes back from outside of Mu Traw district has to go into quarantine for 21 days. There are two quarantine sites; one is next to T'Dwee Hkoh clinic in Ma Htaw village tract and the other is next to Wah Tho Klah clinic in Htee Th'Blut Hta village tract.
The KDHW and local district healthcare workers set up a screening checkpoint for COVID-19 but the Myanmar government does not approve of it and they do whatever they want [government officials and soldiers are refusing to have their temperature checked when they pass through]. Although one person tested positive in September 2020, there is no other sign of the virus spreading. Three families are in quarantine and are being watched by the MPF so that they do not circulate in public. The local villagers are afraid that the virus will spread and that there will be a [full] ban on travelling, which will cause them to starve.
The schools in the villages mentioned above are operating without any problems [without curriculum changes, but are following COVID-19 prevention measures].
Policies/decisions made by the KNU to curb the spread of COVID-19 (September 20th 2020)
1. People who come back from outside of Mu Traw District have to quarantine for 21 days.
2. Parents should not ask their children (students or those who have gone to work in other places [other districts or countries]) to come back from these other areas.
3. There will be a one-month travel restriction [ban] due to COVID-19.
4. Two more screening checkpoints will be set up in K'Pee Hkee and Htee Th'Blu Hta villages.
5. Meetings and schools can go on as usual. If the students are sick, get a fever or a cold, the guardians/teachers must contact the relevant leaders/responsible persons.
6. People who are working for NGOs [and CBOs/CSOs] have to follow the procedures/policies (do their work and go to their workplace directly). They should not stop or take extra time on their way in.
7. Every COVID-19 checkpoint has to carefully check travel letters. People who do not have a travel letter or a specific reason for travelling are not allowed to travel at all.
8. If people who come back from work or other places outside the district do not follow the local policies, the village leaders have to inform the security guards right away. The security guard leaders will take action immediately.
Composition of the [KNU] COVID-19 prevention committee in Htee Th'Blu Hta village
Two Quarantine Sites
Htee Th'Blut Hta village tract, near Wah Tho Klah clinic.
Ma Htaw village tract, near T'Dwee Hkoh clinic.
There is no [COVID-19] committee in Ma Htaw village itself [because the quarantine site is in the larger village tract].
In the previous situation update (from May to July 2020), the virus had not yet reached K'Ma Maung Town. But it has now reached areas in Mu Traw District so the healthcare workers and the district leaders are taking more restrictive actions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The local villagers are also afraid that this virus will spread around them and that there will be increased restrictions on their travel, along with school closures that will create delays for the students.
Again, in looking at the previous reporting period, there were no problems with the paddy plants. Now the paddy plants and the leaves are becoming sallow and dying.
There have also been issues with Tatmadaw soldiers not following the terms of the NCA. The local villagers worry that if conflict increases, they will face many problems.