A Karen community-based organization says the Norway Peace Initiative process to help achieve a long-lasting peace in Burma may be fueling added tensions in the region. A fundamental issue, he said, is the lack of trust between the ethnic groups and the government.
Saw Paul said some people continue to question how a top-down approach will benefit the poor and powerless in Burma.
“They approach only the government and the parties involved in the conflict,” he said.
“It is a lack of parallel discussion and participation…they exclude the involvement of civil society – their aid money and program is top down, and goes to the military-linked elite,” he was quoted as saying.
He said information about the Norwegian plan for peace was only obtained from a leaked document.
On May 30 in Chaing Mai, the Norwegian government defended its plan and efforts, saying its peace initiative would channel aid into conflict-affected regions in Burma despite criticism that it risks coercing ethnic and civil society groups into joining the plan.
Norway’s Deputy Foreign Secretary Torgeir Larsen tried to counter activists and NGO concerns that the multi-million dollar plan could upset the fragile peace process in eastern Burma.
“Moving from a cease-fire to real peace is what we are aiming at,” said Larsen. “It’s a delicate and long-term process and this is the first phase. It’s about testing out the way.”
Sources close to the Karen National Union (KNU) also said the Norwegian-led peace initiative had only approached a few KNU leaders about their plan.
Saw Htoo Klee of The Karen Office of Relief and Development (Kord) told Karen News, “They [KNU leaders] told us that the issue is political so they cannot carry out consultations with related community groups.”
Saw Htoo Klee said his organization does not know the whole process of the internally displaced people resettlement program supported by the Norwegians.
“The process should not go like this. The related groups need to know the process, all related sectors need to be included,” he said.
Saw Paul said he was worried that the Norwegian group’s plan might parallel the group’s experience in Sri Lanka, where, he said, “They used humanitarian aid to support the peace process but because of a lack of transparency, their program became politicized. When the government carried out programs in the Tamil Tiger areas, the Tamil leaders became suspicious that the government was using aid to extend their power…both sides lost trust and the conflict restarted again.”
“In the Sri Lanka lesson, they start development programs after the cease-fire without solving the core political issues. It did not lead to peace but incited further war,” he said.
“We need the peace building process to have transparency, with formal consultations [with] community based organizations, KNU leaders and other ethnic groups to reach a common decision for the peace building process,” he said. “It is important for the local sectors to design their own peace process and then be supported.”
Community-based organizations agree that the political peacemaking process must go forward, but he said humanitarian aid should not be allowed to become a block to the political process.