The Karen National Union (KNU)’s 7th Brigade announced earlier this week that they have started an export, import business along with a tourism company in a bid to channel additional revenue into the group after decades of civil war.
Managing director of the Moe Ko San Travel & Tours Company Limited and Trading Company Limited Saw Moses said the enterprises aimed to provide the KNU 7th Brigade’s members and their families with more funds.
“We are looking to compete in the international business market in the future and see that it would be impossible to do that individually,” said Saw Moses, according to a report published by the Karen Information Centre.
“We needed to form a company to get into the market so we tried to make this happen.”
According to Saw Moses, the group hopes to begin importing vehicles, mechanised agricultural equipment, construction materials and fuel into Karen state, but made not mention of what products or resources they were hoping to export.
“The company was registered in Naypyidaw and granted approval by the government for an export and import business on 4 May and for tour services on 8 June,” said Saw Moses.
After fighting a bitter conflict with the Burmese government for more than 60 years, the KNU inked a historic ceasefire agreement with Thein Sein’s government on 12 January 2012.
The KNU’s is the first ceasefire group to officially register commercial enterprises with Naypyidaw since the country’s quasi-civilian government kicked off a nascent reform period more than two years ago.
Saw Moses said the group would continue to monitor the ongoing peace process between the KNU and state-backed negotiators and are waiting until the government unveils tangible political reforms before expanding their business operations.
However, civil society groups have warned that entering into commercial enterprises during the fragile ceasefire peace process could undermine armed groups’ political goals.
“I see it as kind of dangerous if it’s not going well, it can also create a conflict of interest,” said Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN)’s Director Paul Sein Twa.
The director cited the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)’s commercial deals as a key factor that led to the splintering of the group after they were ordered to join state-backed militias in 2010.
“When the DKBA had been ordered to transform into a BGF (Border Guard Force), you can see that most of the leaders who had good business deals agreed to the proposal,” said Paul Sein Twa.
“When we have a lot of interest in business, if you oppose the government’s proposal it can be hard to sacrifice your business.”
According to a report published by Eleven Media Group on Monday, several Karen armed groups have recently met to discuss investing in future commercial ventures, including mining, construction and tourism, in the war-torn state.