The Salween Peace Park under fire by the murderous Myanmar military
The Burmese military coup of February 1st 2021 has brought many challenges to communities across the country. Widespread protests for freedom and democracy have been met by indiscriminate arrests and police violence, and armed clashes have erupted across the country between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) and various actors. For the people of the Salween Peace Park (SPP), the coup has once again brought war to our precious Kawthoolei. Since March 27th the Tatmadaw have launched a series of coordinated military actions against communities inside the SPP. Several waves of airstrikes, and the shelling of villages and agricultural areas have driven many of the SPP’s families from their homes with an estimated 70,000 individuals are currently displaced. These attacks have been combined with increased militarization, and a significant increase in the number of Tatmadaw troops inside and around the SPP area.
Along the banks of the Salween River, and inside the SPP’s deep forests, communities have sought shelter from the Tatmadaw’s violence. Many have been cut off from their ancestral territories, livelihoods, and kinship networks. Coordinated efforts by the Salween Peace Park Governing Committee, in partnership with local government and Karen Civil Society, have provided access to food, shelter, and clean water for many displaced families, but there remains a dire need for more support as the crisis continues to unfold. The Delta variant of the coronavirus has also brought greatly increased risks to local communities. Indigenous Karen communities showed great resilience during the first wave of the pandemic, using their indigenous knowledge and Tar Wor Hee ritual lockdowns to keep communities safe while maintaining sustainable livelihoods. The current conflict, though, has prevented some displaced communities from using these tactics to combat the Delta variant. This, coupled with people from Central Burma seeking safe-haven from Tatmadaw crackdowns in Karen territories, has greatly increased the dangers of the pandemic, and cases of Covid-19 have started to climb among the SPP’s indigenous communities.
Despite these challenges, the SPP’s indigenous Karen remain strong. Generations of Karen stewardship have allowed communities to seek sanctuary and subsistence in their territories of life. Using their indigenous knowledge many communities have been able to show resilience in the face of renewed conflict. This has been supplemented by long running community projects, including 34 community forests, 60 rice banks located in safe areas of their ancestral Kaw territories, and 19 fish conservation zones that have contributed to healthy ecosystems that support their subsistence needs. Communities have also performed traditional Tarpoper Domer ceremonies to protect themselves from Tatmadaw attacks and the coronavirus pandemic. The Salween Peace Park General Assembly has played an invaluable role in supporting throughout the crisis. Members have worked with local leaders and Karen Civil Society in the delivery of humanitarian aid, and have contributed significantly to the safety of communities by providing information and news updates.
The Tatmadaw must cease their attacks and remove all their forces and military bases from the Karen ancestral lands. The international community must not recognize, support, or work with the military Junta government but form partnerships with Karen Civil Society and Karen governing bodies to provide aid to communities in need. These partnerships must be built upon flexibility, mutual respect, and understanding. Peace will return to Kawthoolei and the indigenous Karen communities will again steward their ancestral territories of life as they have done for generations. Currently, however, the Karen communities and Salween Peace Park still face a terrible crisis. While their indigenous knowledge and strong territories of life have endowed them with unshakable resilience… they still need all the help that can be offered. If you able to help, please visit: https://kesan.asia/