Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

8 September – 14 September: Karen Civil Society Rallies Around Japan’s Harmful Plans for Eastern Burma

September 16, 2014

13 September 2014 Photo By KwekaluJapan’s lofty development plans for eastern Burma were very publicly rejected by the Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) at a press conference in Rangoon, citing lack of consultation with communities and the potential for such plans to fuel conflict.

Based on a blueprint for extensive development projects produced by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the overseas development arm of the Japanese government, 28 Karen civil society organizations that form the KPSN, released a report to outline their concerns and recommendations. JICA’s blueprint, in which its main goal is to support the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), contains four main components; economic corridors, free trade zones and industrial estates, industrial clusters, and urban development. The Japanese government has been working closely with both the Union level and State level Burmese Government in the development of this plan.

For Karen civil society, however, there are many concerns, as outlined in the report released on 9 September. Although the blueprint aims to “promote peace through development,” JICA has not conducted a conflict analysis on what is an extremely complicated and fragile context. In fact the plans could serve to exacerbate conflict by facilitating land confiscation, one of the loci of tension in the ceasefire process. Also, improving transport and road access to areas traditionally held by ethnic armed groups such as the Karen National Union (KNU), allows easy access for Burma Army soldiers to the heart of Karen areas. We must not forget the abusive nature of the Burma Army that has been terrorizing civilians for decades and continues to do so, despite a ceasefire in place. Will exposing more communities, who are already vulnerable to abuses, to the unreformed Burma Army really aid peace?

In addition, JICA’s blueprint sees the potential of the region to provide market access and foreign investment, especially with their plan of having refugees return to provide a cheap labor pool. The blueprint seems to be focused on poverty, and therefore, sees industrial development as the solution to the ongoing conflict. However, as stated in KPSN’s report, the “refugees and Internally Displaced Persons fled attacks by the Burmese military and the burning of over 3,000 villages; they did not flee ‘poverty’.” Therefore, until and unless safety and security in Burma can be guaranteed, repatriation will lead to further suffering for refugees who have already experienced persecution and human rights abuses.

A third concern is the lack of consultations with the communities affected. Indeed as the KPSN report points out, JICA “appears to be making development plan for the people of Karen and Mon states, not with them.” Most consultations have taken place in Naypyidaw, while refugees, who are intended to be the main beneficiary of this blueprint, have not been consulted at all. Furthermore, by meeting predominantly with government officials and leaders of armed groups, this limits the participation of women in this process.

KPSN also points out the difficulties in promoting the capacity of the State Governments who are mostly not recognized as legitimate by Karen and Mon communities, while many of the government departments involved in these development plans are also heavily implicated in the conflict. Thus, this blueprint serves to take sides, and strengthen one party over another. The report also flags issues over the economic underpinnings of the blueprint, for example the lack of analysis on the effects of migration or from previous development attempts. Lastly, the report highlights environmental concerns such as the impact of hydropower dams and the lack of a strategic environmental assessment.

The release of this report is timely and important. The fate of Burma’s refugees is something that many in positions of power and money are currently talking about but very few are actually talking to refugees and incorporating their concerns into decision-making. This is why we join the KPSN’s calls for meaningful consultations with affected communities and to ensure it does not negatively impact the peace process. As Saw Paul Sein Twa, one of the coordinators of the KPSN stated,  “JICA is ignoring the people it is claiming it wants to help and could end up actually hurting them rather than helping them.” We, therefore urge JICA to read thoroughly the KPSN report, to engage with this network, and to incorporate their recommendations into any future plans it has for Karen State.

News Highlights

As democracy activist Htin Kyaw’s prison term is extended to more than a decade despite calls from international human rights groups for his immediate and unconditional release, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners expose how the number of political prisoners is rising throughout the year due to authorities charging protesters for demonstrating without permission

Inside Burma

Members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team demands formation of a “joint committee for union peace negotiation” to oversee political dialogue following the ceasefire, a committee that would include President Thein Sein

Union Solidarity and Development Party’s spokesman rejects reports that Burma’s ruling party was involved in cancelling by-elections, but said that he believes the decision to cancel polling was “sensible”

Dr. Khin San Yi, Burma’s Union Minister of Education, says all children of Burma will receive education in 2015

Following Karen National Union’s (KNU) temporary suspension of its membership of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), Burma’s ethnic Karen community urge KNU to reconcile with UNFC, in a bid to keep plans to attain federalism in Burma

Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) officially denounce the rumor that Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) requested military ties with KIO, a rumor that began after a YouTube video, showing a conversation between RSO representatives and KIO Colonel Jame Lum Daum, had spread over the weekend

Leaders of the Restoration Council of Shan State and Pa-O National Liberation Organization meet to resolve territorial dispute in a peaceful manner

UN Assistant Secretary-General and Asia Regional Director for the United Nations Development Program concludes a three-day trip to Arakan State, visiting camps for internally displaced people and meeting with Arakanese leaders and Sittwe-based Rohingya community members during his first official visit to Burma since he was appointed one year ago. Meanwhile the curfew in Sittwe, Arakan State is lifted as authorities claim the tension has eased, and a new memorandum of understanding between Médecins Sans Frontières and the Burma Government may pave the way for the aid group’s return to Arakan State


Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who currently leads the military government, may choose Burma as his destination for his first official visit abroad, after receiving a visit from Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Burma Army in July where they discussed various issues including the repatriation of refugees from Thailand-Burma border

Amid the reports of widespread abuses against migrant domestic workers in Asia, Burma temporarily suspends work permits for its women working as maids in Singapore

Workers from Burma may be allowed to legally work in border areas without passports as Thai labor authorities design new regulations for migrant workers


Burma Government urges US Congress to not block any bills that restrict military cooperation between the two countries amidst a proposal by American lawmakers to restrict funding to Burma that involves education and training peacekeeping operations for Burma soldiers

Burma to implement a subregional action plan for the year 2014-18 in collaboration with members of ASEAN countries and China to speed up its effort to crack down on human trafficking

The Ministry of Public Security says Chinese police have confiscated 85.2 kg of heroin trafficked from Burma and arrested ten suspects in the case


Myanmar enters mortal combat against corruption
By Naing Ko Ko
The Nation

Burma’s President Thein Sein in the Hague At Last
By Mark Farmaner
The Huffington Post

Latest from the Blog

Unity Must Prevail
By Burma Partnership


In front of the University for Computer Studies in Rangoon, the University Students Union launches an awareness campaign regarding the weakness of the controversial National Educational Bill which they claim creates excessive restrictions on the formation of student unions and centralizes Burma’s education system

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar: Authorities must End ‘Relentless Persecution’ of Activist
By Amnesty International

Joint Submission on the Proposed World Bank Group’s Country Partnership Framework (CPF) in Myanmar
By Civil Society Organizations

New Report: Japan – Burma Plan Could Fuel Conflict in Ethnic Areas
By Karen Peace Support Network

Namkham Farmers’ Protest Highlights Urgent Need for Moratorium on Resource Extraction During Peace Process
By Shan Community Based Organisations


Critique of Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Blueprint for Development in Southeastern Burma/Myanmar
By Karen Peace Support Network

This post is in: Weekly Highlights