The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has yet again found itself in the midst of controversy with the Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN), a coalition of 28 Karen civil society organisations, publicly rejecting their development proposal plans, in Rangoon on 9 September.
The Japanese International Cooperation Agency is consulting the Burmese government on the development of several industrial parks, dams and agricultural plantations in Mon and Karen states.
In February, JICA received flak for suggesting that refugees returning to Burma from Thai displacement camps could potentially provide low cost labour.
Gathering in Rangoon on Tuesday, the KPSN accused JICA of preying on the vulnerable. Alex Shwe from KPSN said that “these huge projects neglect the voice of the people and add a lot of confusion to the peace process.” Pointing at the ambiguity that surrounds the project he further added that, “there is no clear way for people to complain or demand compensation. There are practical problems for us. That is why we are demanding that mega investment projects be stopped until conflicts are solved.”
Two of the dam projects proposed by JICA lie in areas claimed by the Karen National Union and designated by the armed group as nature conservation zones. As a result there has been a hardening of resistance to the economic project, as environmental protectionism blurs with political partisanship.
Earlier In June, the first phase of the JICA project was scrutinised for turning a blind eye towards its own social and environmental guidelines, by failing to improve the living conditions of people displaced by JICA supported projects.
KPSN insisted that after 60 years of civil war, which has forced as many as 130,000 refugees across the border into Thailand, Karen people should be the beneficiaries of development. The activists say the Karen are being systematically cut out of the planning process.
Susanna Hla Hla Soe said that by opposing the proposals of JICA, they were not opposed to development. “We only want sustainable development. The Karen people have been suffering for 60 years. They have the right to the profits of these projects,” she said.
Over the course of this year, JICA has toured all 17 areas affected by the project, conducting surveys. JICA issued a statement saying that their plans entail resettlement of the displaced people and pledged to improve their standard of living.
JICA has not provided a time frame or numbers for the repatriation of refugees and say they will reach out to armed groups as they push ahead with the projects.