The Karen National Union (KNU) has begun building houses to accommodate troops set to return to Burma after the signing of a nationwide ceasefire, which is expected to be achieved late this year.
Around 100 low cost-houses are being prepared by the KNU, as one of Burma’s largest ethnic armed groups prepares for peace.
Maj Saw Mozatt of the KNU’s 7th Brigade said that construction began in April on new homes in the KNU-held territories of Maw Pho Ke and Mae Tharee villages, and is now 70 percent complete.
“We are building 100 homes – 50 each in Maw Pho Ke and Mae Tharee villages – for our returning members if the ceasefire is reached – these are not intended for the refugees but we would also like to provide homes for them if possible,” said Saw Mozatt.
“We are planning to build more homes in the next dry season.”
According to the KNU, funding for the projects has come from the Ministry of Border Affairs, which has provided five million kyat (USD$5,000) for the construction of each home. The KNU has pledged that living spaces will be provided for free to returning families and job opportunities will be also created.
“We received funding for the project via the Ministry of Border Affairs – five million kyat for each house, Saw Mozatt said, we have been told that a Japanese organisation has provided some of the funds.”
It is unclear whether Saw Mozatt was directly referring to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), who in October 2013 released a report outlining resettlement projects for Karen refugees returning to Burma from camps across the Thai border. The controversial plan was slammed by local advocates for a plan that would recruit returning refugees as cheap labour for the construction and operation of several proposed Special Economic Zones.
JICA proposed that the Burmese government take advantage of a recent minimum wage increase in Thailand to attract labour-intensive jobs across the border. JICA estimates that 200,000 jobs could be created in the Burmese towns of Myawaddy and Hpa-an, to be filled by resettling refugees returning home across the border from refugee camps and the area surrounding the Thai town of Mae Sot.
In spite of the optimism shown by the KNU in planning for the retirement of their soldiers, the European Burma Network (EBN) released a statement on Tuesday raising concerns as to robustness of the peace accords.
“Reforms in Burma, including the peace process, have not progressed to a degree where it is safe for refugees to return, the EBN statement reads. “Even where ceasefires have been signed, full codes of conduct for the ceasefires have not been agreed. The Burmese Army is increasing, rather than decreasing, its presence in ethnic states.
“Human rights violations by the Burmese Army and associated forces, although reduced in some areas, are still taking place. Political dialogue which could lead to a lasting peace has still not begun, and there is little prospect of genuine dialogue starting in the foreseeable future,” read the statement.