‘Peace Park’ intends to turn battlefield into refuge
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-