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Situation updates
(November 2012)

Maps for each of the areas described below are available in the map room

Shan State
Kayah/Karenni State
Northern Kayin/Karen areas
Central Karen/Kayin State
Southern Mon areas
Tenasserim/Tanintharyi region

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Shan State

A series of ceasefire agreements with various armed groups have raised hopes for peace amongst local communities in Southern Shan State. The peace initiative started in September 2011 when the Government withdrew its demand that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) transform into a Border Guard Force. Renewing the ceasefire agreement diffused the possibility of armed conflict, re-established liaison offices and reporting mechanisms for troop movements and opened the way for political negotiations in the future.

A similar agreement was negotiated between the Government and the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) at the end of January 2012. Tatmadaw offensives targeting SSPP/SSA areas had broken a 22 year old ceasefire in March 2011, and resulted in the displacement of over 30,000 civilians. However, buoyed by the release from detention of their leader General Hso Ten and other leading Shan politicians including Khun Htun Oo, the SSPP/SSA agreed to a truce when the demand to transform into a Border Guard Force under Tatmadaw command was repealed.

The Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) entered into a series of talks with the Government. Apart from the four basic issues included in the UWSA, NDAA and SSPP/SSA agreements, the RCSS/SSA and the Government also agreed in principle to co-operate on a range of other issues. These include the eradication of illicit drugs, economic development projects, the resettlement of RCSS/SSA families, prisoner of war release, public consultations, and access to humanitarian assistance, amongst others.

However, the RCSS/SSA and SSPP/SSA agreements appear fragile and have been broken repeatedly in subsequent months. The RCSS/SSA have reported around 30 skirmishes with Tatmadaw forces since a nominal ceasefire was agreed in principle at the beginning of December 2011. Similarly, Tatmadaw offensives continue to target SSPP/SSA bases and indiscriminate heavy artillery attacks as well as counter-insurgency strategies targeting civilians have resulted in significant displacement in Kehsi/Kyethi and Monghsu Townships during the past year. Both RCSS/SSA and SSPP/SSA have reported these violations of the ceasefire agreement to Naypidaw, but the capacity of the Government to exercise authority over the Tatmadaw appears limited.

Livelihood opportunities for ordinary villagers in Shan State remain limited. While there has been some improvement in freedom of movement in RCSS/SSA and UWSA areas, travel to fields and markets continues to be restricted by Tatmadaw operations in SSPP/SSA areas. Forced labour to carry weapons, ammunition and food for remote Tatmadaw and militia camps is an ongoing and widespread imposition. The possibility of peace is also attracting business investors and with them the threat of land confiscation by local militia or authorities.

For internally displaced persons in camps adjacent to the Thailand border, the insecurity has been exacerbated by cuts in food rations due to TBC funding shortages. Villagers attempting to supplement their diet by cultivating crops inadvertently increased tensions in May 2012 as UWSA interpreted this as RCSS/SSA attempting to gain additional territory.

[Rev: Nov12]

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Kayah/Karenni State

After establishing a state-level ceasefire agreement in March 2012, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) submitted a 20 point position paper for the Union government’s consideration. The Union Government agreed in principle to 14 of the points in May, with the remaining contentious issues primarily relating relating to the demarcation and separation of troops and large scale development projects. Nevertheless, local communities as well as other Karenni political parties have welcomed the KNPP engagement in this peace process. Promises by KNPP that it will not focus on business but rather the well-being of the Karenni people have been appreciated and liaison offices have been opened in Loikaw, Shadaw and Hpasawng.

There remain 14 Tatmadaw battalions permanently based in Kayah State, 6 roving battalions from neighbouring Shan State plus 1 special battalion for the security of Ywa-thit dam. With the cessation of hostilities, these troops have increased the frequency and duration of visits into nearby villages. Security regulations previously required off-duty soldiers remain in the barracks between 4.00pm and 9.00am, but many communities have reported soldiers now staying in villages well into the night. This interaction might help build trust, but the increased troop presence has also increased anxieties.

One of the controversial issues debated during the peace negotiations has been construction of a military training school on more than 3,000 acres which were confiscated by the Tatmadaw in Hpruso Township. A joint assessment team was formed with nine representatives from government and two KNPP members to consult with local communities. However, findings reflected the lack of balance in the survey team and were rejected by KNPP, who have proposed to form an independent group for another survey.

Construction of the Ywa Thit hydro-electric dam along the Salween River is another contentious issue that was raised during the ceasefire talks. The Government’s negotiators have reassured that preliminary feasibility assessments will be followed by independent environmental and human rights impact assessments, and that KNPP can observe and inspect every step of the process. However, monitoring attempts by Karenni civil society organisations have subsequently been obstructed. Villagers have expressed concerns that land has already been appropriated to construct housing for engineers and that the Tatmadaw’s LIB#423 has already deployed troops to secure the area.

Restrictions on movement remains a frustration for villagers, with 22 Tatmadaw and police checkpoints still stopping vehicles along the Loikaw-Mawchi car road. Checkpoints at all entrances into towns demand fees from arriving traffic. The Tatmadaw has directly funded the reconstruction of the Taungoo-Mawchi road and started surveying in June 2012. However, this survey is being resisted by KNPP troops who argue that the forced labour and land confiscation associated with the project will represent a greater burden than the potential benefits of trade for villagers in the areas.

The State government had planned to build a cement factory near Loikaw which would result in the confiscation of more than 7,000 acres of civilians’ lands. However, after villagers protested the government committed to moving the cement factory elsewhere, even though the gravel will still be accessed from the original fields. While the threat to livelihoods remains, this is also an indicator that civil society is feeling more empowered and that local government is becoming more accountable.

The government has expanded mining concessions for ceasefire parties beyond Mawchi and into different areas of Kayah state. Since 2010, a business concession with the Kayaw ceasefire group (KNPDP) to mine for antimony in Hoya area of Pruso township has damaged about 50 acres of agricultural lands belonging to local villagers. The Kayan New Land Party (KNLP) and Karenni Nationalities Peoples’ Liberation Front (KNPLF) have also expanded a concession for antimony mining in Loikaw township since 2010 which has resulted in damage to 60 acres of agricultural land.

[Rev: Nov12]

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Northern Kayin/Karen areas

The Karen National Union’s (KNU’s) negotiations with the Government during 2012 have included an agreement in principle to a nation-wide ceasefire and the progressive realisation of peace. A thirteen point preliminary agreement in April covered a range of political, military and human rights issues, while a Draft Code of Conduct for military personnel was also agreed in principle during September. Skirmishes have decreased significantly as a result but the area remains heavily militarised. After decades of conflict there remain significant doubts amongst the civilian population as to whether the rapid reforms will lead to a sustainable peace.

In the upland areas of northern Karen State and Eastern Bago Region, the ceasefire period has been characterised by the resupply of rations and the redeployment of troops by the Tatmadaw to frontline army camps. This has been facilitated by new reporting mechanisms for troop movements with the KNU, however it has had the unintended effect of enabling the Tatmadaw to stockpile supplies and reinforce their outposts to be stronger than ever before.

While there have not been any military offensives, skirmishes have continued on a regular basis between KNU and Government troops, including Border Guard Forces. This has primarily been the result of troop movements occurring without prior notice to the other armed group. However, upland villagers are not necessarily privy to any of this information and so remain afraid to leave their huts and travel to their fields whenever there are Tatmadaw troop movements. Apart from the fear of being caught in the crossfire, villagers habitually avoid troops whenever possible to mitigate against the possibility of extortion or the confiscation of food and property.

However, the ceasefire period has generally enabled farmers greater access to their hillside rice fields as there has been a significant decrease in roving troop patrols to search for, and destroy, civilian settlements assumed to be aiding the armed opposition. This has enabled some villagers to move closer to better agricultural land or to cultivate their crops and protect them from pests without having to run away for fear of being detected and alleged to be rebel sympathisers. Travel between lowland markets and the uplands has also become easier as there are less suspicions and interrogations at checkpoints. This has facilitated greater trade and social interaction between communities which have long been divided by conflict.

Neither upland nor lowland villagers have dared to return to live in their original village as the situation is still fragile and trust still needs to be regained. However, many upland villagers have returned to check on their fields and some have constructed small bamboo huts, while keeping their family and main shelter deeper in the forest away from harm. There have even been some household leaders who have returned from the refugee and IDP camps along the Thailand border to assess the impact of the ceasefire agreement on security conditions in their ancestral homelands.

In lowland areas where the government’s administration is more established, there has not been any significant change in the frequency or severity of human rights abuses. Villagers are still subject to the usual arbitrary taxes and extortion, while forced labour continues to be used to fortify army camps and repair roads. Whenever Tatmadaw troops need to transport rations by foot to outposts, the surrounding villagers are also expected to contribute their labour. These deprivations and rampant land grabbing by small-scale mining operations have exacerbated the lack of food security and chronic poverty which is the legacy of protracted conflict.

[Rev: Nov12]

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Central Karen/Kayin state

Apart from the KNU and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), which has transformed into a Border Guard Force under Tatmadaw command, there are two smaller armed groups which also have some influence in central Karen State. While the Karen Peace Council (led by a former KNU 7th Brigade Commander) is insignificant in military terms, the Kloh Htoo Baw Karen Organisation’s (formerly DKBA 5th brigade) refusal to form a Border Guard Force had previously led to an intensification of armed conflict after the 2010 elections.

Kloh Htoo Baw and the Karen Peace Council re-negotiated ceasefire agreements with the Government in December 2011 and January 2012 respectively. Both ceasefire agreements cover the government’s basic ceasefire principles, while Kloh Htoo Baw has also committed to combatting the illicit drug trade and the Karen Peace Council has reportedly secured business concessions.

The Government’s ceasefire agreements with KNU and Kloh Htoo Baw have led to a decrease in artillery attacks on civilians and related human rights abuses such as the destruction of property in contested areas. However, other abuses such as forced labor, land confiscation and arbitrary taxation are ongoing, especially in areas close to development projects and in contested areas where multiple armed groups claim authority over the civilian population.

Given the relative calm, approximately 27,000 civilians started trying to return to their villages in Myawaddy and Kyain Seikgyi Townships during 2012. While many of these people returned after briefly being displaced into Thailand during the post-election violence, the number of internally displaced persons in surrounding areas also decreased. However, the sustainability of this return and resettlement remains in doubt due to concerns about security and livelihood opportunities.

The government is preparing for the resettlement of displaced persons by building infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and clinics to establish sub-township centers in Myawaddy and Hlaingbwe Townships. Ironically, these projects have led to land confiscation and the imposition of forced labour which have undermined local livelihoods. Construction repairs and the resupply of military rations for Tatmadaw and Border Guard Force camps have fortified the Armed Forces and raised suspicions amongst local villagers.

While private land ownership is not legally recognised in Myanmar, competition for land utilisation rights has escalated in central Karen State during the current ceasefire period. An increase in the demand, demarcation and sale of vacant land has been especially significant in Hlaingbwe Township. The purchase of rights to rural lands in Karen State by urban residents from other States and Regions could lead to disputes in the future between the migrant and local populations.

There has been a concerted effort by the Government to improve access to citizenship by issuing Citizen Scrutiny Cards, which are commonly known as National Verification Cards or pink cards, to rural communities. While these pink cards confer full citizenship rights and require supporting documentation, a green card providing naturalised citizenship has been provided for civilians with only the village leader’s recommendation. This distinction between documentation and status has caused some confusion for local villagers.

[Rev: Nov12]

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Southern Mon areas

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) first signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government in 1994, and tried unsuccessfully to promote constitutional and political reform through the National Convention until 2008. Communications broke down in April 2010 after the NMSP refused to transform into a Border Guard Force and forfeit their status as a political party, although the situation did not deteriorate into outright armed conflict. Negotiations during the past year led to the renewal of the ceasefire agreement at the state-level and a commitment from the Government to negotiate ceasefire agreements with all non-state armed groups before the end of 2012 so that inclusive political dialogue can commence at the Union level.

The 1994 ceasefire agreement induced the repatriation of over 10,000 refugees from Thailand into resettlement sites within the heartland of the designated NMSP ceasefire areas. However, in the absence of a political solution and human rights promotion, these refugees became internally displaced persons who could not access international protection from Thailand nor international assistance from Yangon. As abuses in government controlled areas continued, the displaced population in southern Mon ceasefire areas swelled as villagers fled to seek nominal protection by the NMSP. It is not surprising then that the renewal of the ceasefire agreement has not yet had any significant impact on the protection and livelihoods of villages in 2012.

The Tatmadaw has not separated its troops from the ceasefire areas, and is still utilising the existence of a small Mon splinter group as a justification for ongoing incursions into NMSP areas of Ye and Yebyu Townships. In turn, the fortification of outposts continues to be accompanied with forced labour to repair army barracks and extortion or confiscation of food and property to subsidise troops. Given competing claims for territory, the counter-insurgency rhetoric continues to be the rationale for restricting villagers’ access to fields, plantations and markets even in NMSP ceasefire areas.

Even though the Mon are traditionally low land paddy farmers, the ceasefire areas do not provide sufficient fertile soil and so the majority of rice farmers practice shifting cultivation on hillsides. Some of the more established families have cash crops like cashew nut and betel nut palms, but these require five or six years of investment before any benefits can be accrued. Most families are dependent on seasonal labour on rubber and palm oil plantations for daily wages from businesses based in Moulmein and elsewhere in Mon State.

[Rev: Nov12]

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Tenasserim/Tanintharyi Region

After the ceasefire agreement was negotiated between the Government and the KNU in January 2012, artillery attacks on civilians in contested areas and military activities to seize control the region essentially stopped. However, the Tatmadaw did not withdraw any troops, nor abandon any outposts along the borderline. Troop rotations and the resupply of military rations to outposts along the borderline has continued.

Villagers have generally welcomed the ceasefire and political reforms. Human rights abuses targeting civilians to undermine the armed opposition, as well as the prevalence of forced labour, have generally decreased. Villagers have more freedom of movement and can travel without asking permission, or being stopped and questioned by military authorities. Civilians even appear to have more courage in submitting complaints about mismanagement by the administration. However, villagers do not generally trust the Government nor the Tatmadaw, and there is a widespread perception that the ceasefire is just a means for international legitimacy and commercial profit. Over 70,000 villagers remain internally displaced in relocation sites or hiding in remote forests at the end of 2012.

Livelihoods are still being undermined by the Tatmadaw’s confiscation of property and livestock. Land is not only confiscated to subsidise the troops’ rations, but also for sale to private companies connected to former and current high-ranking Tatmadaw authorities. After the ceasefire agreement, and upon the recommendation of relevant Regional authorities, the central government granted huge tracts of land for private rubber and palm plantations as well as logging and mining concessions. Many foreign companies subsequently approached KNU for permission to conduct their business even though social and environmental impact assessments had not been considered.

The business climate is not without risk however. The Ital-Thai Development (ITD) Company’s plan to conduct a preliminary soil survey along the Tanintharyi River from the border in Dawei to Yebyu Township was obstructed by heavy and continuing rain. ITD have also reportedly suspended construction of the railway, oil and gas pipelines and electricity transmission tower along the Trans-Border Corridor due to finance constraints.

However, surveys for the construction of Dawei Deep Sea Port and the Industrial Estate continued in Yebyu Township. There are also plans to establish two more industrial estates in Tanintharyi Region near the border at Teekee/MinThe Mee Kee on ITD's trans-border corridor link, and at MawTaung on the road to Mergui/Myeik. These industrial estates are attracting investors from multiple sectors, although the broader impacts on the distribution of wealth remain unclear.

From this perspective, questions remain about the links between the Government’s economic growth model and poverty alleviation. Access to basic public goods, such as health, education, electricity and communication remain limited. Regardless of being a resource-rich region, the majority of people in the region continue to be impoverished.

[Rev: Nov12]

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