Displaced villagers in transit to DKBA territory held by Karen State officials

Displaced villagers in transit to DKBA territory held by Karen State officials

More than 200 villagers displaced from Rangoon’s Hlegu Township in February are stuck in limbo at the border between Karen and Mon states as of Wednesday afternoon.

After accepting an offer to resettle on lands controlled by the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), trucks carrying the homeless villagers were intercepted by Hpa-an district authorities and subsequently held near the Karen State capital.

“We were stopped on the Donthami Bridge at the border between Karen and Mon states by officials insisting we must talk with them for bringing in the villagers without negotiation with the local authorities beforehand,” said Colonel San Aung of the DKBA.

Speaking by phone from the scene, San Aung told DVB  the authorities recommended leaving the villagers at the border while their DKBA escorts negotiated their access with Karen State’s Border and Security Affairs Minister at a different location.

“The villagers pleaded with us not to leave them behind – we are still with them at the moment,” he said on Wednesday afternoon.

Trucks carrying the villagers were en route from Pegu Division’s Aung Theikdi monastery to Kyeikkhet village in Myawaddy, near the Thailand-Burma border. Hundreds sought shelter in the monastery after being evicted from five villages in Rangoon Division.

The villages in question were evacuated and demolished by government forces in early February, after deeming the lands to be illegally occupied. The origins of the villages are disputed, but displaced villagers claim that the military-owned land has been occupied since 1998.

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A lower house representative for Hlegu Township, Phyo Min Thein, told DVB that much of the land was in fact privately owned, and was distributed to settlers in 2012.

The government identified the residents as squatters, and ordered their eviction – under threat of imprisonment – on 4 February 2014. Hundreds of displaced fled to neighbouring Pegu Division for temporary shelter, and many set up camp in Aung Theikdi monastery where they have faced multiple eviction threats.

On Tuesday DVB received reports that Pegu Division’s Irrigation Department issued an order to relocate the monastery, under the pretext that the four-acre compound is located within the premises of the Alaini Reservoir.

The DKBA offered land and assistance to the displaced shortly after their arrival in Pegu, which they initially refused. Some have expressed a belief that the DKBA’s resettlement plan was an attempt to conscript the villagers into military service.

DKBA Captain Saw Win Zaw adamantly denied allegation that his organisation had ulterior motives. “Word has been spreading around that we plan to recruit them to fight for us, but we have no intention to do that. Our help is purely on humanitarian grounds,” he said.

As hope began to fade that the government would provide an acceptable solution to those left homeless, 202 people agreed to accept the DKBA’s offer. “It’s not that we’re happy to go there, but there’s no other choice,” said Myo Min Tun, from Thameelay village. “We would like to have our homes back, but the authorities haven’t given us a clear answer to date. The monsoon is drawing near, so we decided to accept the help we could get.”

At time of writing, the villagers are still being held in transit.
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