The level of hostilities and forced displacement has been dramatically reduced in ethnic Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon communities in eastern and southeastern Burma following a series of ceasefire deals between the Burmese government and several ethnic armed groups, according to the leading aid agency at the Thai-Burmese border.
The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) issued a statement on Wednesday saying that, based on its annual survey, approximately 10,000 people in the region were forced from their homes during the past year, which compares to an average of 75,000 people displaced yearly over the previous decade.
The TBBC’s executive director, Jack Dunford, said he is optimistic about the possibility of forging a sustainable solution, but conscious that there are many obstacles still to come.
“The challenge of transforming preliminary ceasefire agreements into a substantive peace process is immense, but this is the best chance we have ever had to create the conditions necessary to support voluntary and dignified return in safety,” he said in a statement.
TBBC estimates that there are about 400,000 internally displaced persons, or IDPs, in southeastern Burma, mostly in mountainous and rural regions. But the recent figures “reflect a hope” that displacement in southeastern Burma will end, said TBBC.
TBBC pointed out, however, that armed conflict continues in Kachin State, and that the ongoing communal violence in western Burma proves that the country still has a long way to go.
Saw Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development, which provides assistance to the IDPs in Karen State, agreed that hostilities in eastern and southeastern Burma including Pegu and Tenasserim Divisions have all but halted since the ceasefire agreements were signed. He also noted that many displaced villagers have returned to their homes, albeit tentatively.
He said that the situation remains uneasy in Kachin State, northern Burma, as hostilities continue to flare between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has caused the displacement of some 90,000 people.
The KIA held talks on Tuesday with a government delegation led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min. However, no ceasefire was agreed. Naypyidaw has promised the KIA that it will engage in political dialogue with the main bloc of ethnic groups in the near future, Kachin sources said.
Based on poverty assessments by the TBBC’s community-based partners, the report said that 59 percent of households in rural communities of southeastern Burma are impoverished, with the indicators particularly severe in northern Karen areas where there have been allegations of widespread and systematic human rights violations.
Since late last year, the Burmese government has reached ceasefire agreements with several major ethnic armed groups, including the Karen, Karenni, Shan, Mon and Chin armies.