The Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI) in Burma, better known as the Norwegian Initiative, is not creating a plan to return Burmese refugees living in camps in Thailand to Burma, Charles Petrie, the head of the MPSI, said this week during a meeting in Chiang Mai.
Speaking at a meeting with representatives of ethnic organizations, he said, “Neither does the MPSI have a mandate to move them back. You need an international agreement to do that,” according to a report on the Shan Herald website on Thursday.
The MPSI has been at the center of a controversy regarding its role and policies in working with ethnic groups and the government to end decades of conflict in northern and eastern Burma.
The international community has begun planning and implementing a range of peace fund initiatives, including Norway's Myanmar Peace Support Initiative and the World Bank's Community Driven Development Program using its State and Peace-Building Fund. Norway and the World Bank have also joined the European Union, United Kingdom, the United Nations and Australia to form the Peace Donor Support Group with the objective of catalyzing peace-building and development.
Ethnic groups and civil society organizations are concerned that these peace funds and initiatives have the potential to undermine a comprehensive nationwide peace process and engender more harm to local communities than good.
Many ethnic refugees now living in border camps in Thailand have expressed reservations about returning to Burma at this time.
Various groups have been conducting surveys of refugees about their willingness to return to Burma, a move that is supported by the government’s peacemaking delegation, according to reports. Some border aid groups have said they are conducting preliminary studies on how to repatriate Burmese refugees at some point in the future
Currently, MPSI is planning a pilot project for Shan internally displaced persons (IDPs), Petrie said, similar to one done for Karen IDPs in Kyaukkyi in May.
“I met Lt-Gen Yawdserk (leader of the Shan State Army-South) three weeks ago,” he said. “We had agreed to carry out an assessment of Shan IDPs along the border first.”
Petrie said that no refugees would be forced to move back and no resistance movement would be forced to sign cease-fire agreements by the MPSI.
“War is difficult, but peace is sometimes even more difficult,” he said. “It brings a lot of mistrust and tensions. Every movement needs time to find peace.”
Norwegian officials and the MPSI have been criticized by various Burmese ethnic groups and alliances for not conducting transparent policies, and for a lack of inclusion of civil society groups in the peacemaking process.
The MPSI team has been assisting ethnic group that have concluded cease-fire pacts with the government to set up and maintain liaison offices.