‘Peace Park’ in­tends to turn bat­tle­field into refuge

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

The Sal­ween Peace Park in Myan­mar’s Kayin State aims to turn a for­mer bat­tle­field into a na­tional park where wildlife will be pro­tected. This was the stated in­tent as 300 lo­cal lead­ers, eth­nic sol­diers and ac­tivists gath­ered May 23-26 for a con­sul­ta­tion in the re­mote moun­tain­ous corner of Mu­traw in Kayin or Karen state.

They call it the Sal­ween Peace Park, said to be the first of its kind in the world.

“For­eign con­ser­va­tion­ists are amazed that more than 20 kinds of preda­tors like tigers and clouded leop­ards sur­vive here. They say, ‘but it’s not pro­tected as a na­tional park’. I tell them, it is the way of life of the Karen peo­ple that pro­tects these species and their habi­tats. If you make it into a na­tional park like in Thai­land or Burma, the an­i­mals will all be gone,” said Saw Blaw Htoo, leader of the bio­di­ver­sity pro­gramme of the Karen En­vi­ron­men­tal and So­cial Ac­tion Net­work (KESAN), the eth­nic Karen or­ga­ni­za­tion help­ing to ini­ti­ate the Sal­ween Peace Park.

This ini­tia­tive for a novel kind of pro­tected area is sup­ported by the Karen Na­tional Union (KNU) in Mu­traw Dis­trict of Kayin State, an eth­nic gov­ern­ment that has fought for decades against the Myan­mar Army.

Mu­traw, also known as Pa­pun, is a heav­ily forested area along the bor­der be­tween Burma and Thai­land. Through this land flows the Sal­ween River, the long­est un­dammed river in East Asia and the refuge of some of Asia’s last in­dige­nous peo­ples and en­dan­gered species. It is also the home to the long­est run­ning civil war on Earth, now in its fourth year of a frag­ile cease­fire.

Ac­cord­ing to KESAN, the ques­tion the 300 peo­ple rep­re­sent­ing 23 vil­lage tracts from three town­ships, meet­ing in this re­mote KNU strong­hold, were ask­ing was an am­bi­tious one: Can peace be achieved and sus­tained? Can wildlife be pro­tected? Can eth­nic cul­tures be pre­served? Can these things be done when the op­po­site is true for much of the world?

Lt. Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh, vice chief of staff of the Karen Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army, the armed wing of the KNU, was up­beat. “With the Sal­ween Peace Park, we can sur­vive as a na­tion,” he said at the gath­er­ing.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Myan-

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