The Karen State government has refused to allow a group of villagers, evicted from their homes by the Burmese military in February, to move to rebel-held territory, leaving them stranded.
Two hundred ethnic Karen villagers from Thameegalay and nearby villages in Rangoon Division were being taken by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) to new homes offered to them by the armed group in Myawaddy Township when their progress was halted by state officials Wednesday at Dureinseik village.
The state-run Myanmar Alin newspaper claimed Friday that the move to the border region could lead to health, social or livelihood problems, and said the Karen State government would send them back to Rangoon.
But Myo Min Htun, one of the villagers from Inpatee village, told The Irrawaddy that the vehicles rented for the journey had already returned to Rangoon on Thursday. The villagers were now staying at a monastery in Kawkareik Township, he said.
“We don’t want to go back as there are neither homes nor workplaces for us in our village [in Rangoon],” said Myo Min Htun, who has two children. “We are now looking for jobs at the local rubber plantation fields in nearby villages [in Karen State].”
A few families had already returned to Rangoon however, he added.
Karen State Chief Minister Zaw Min told The Irrawaddy the state authorities were blocking the villagers from traveling to Myawaddy Township for their own safety.
“At the place they would be settled there is still a risk of landmines,” he said. “There is also a risk of human trafficking as the place is on the border and we don’t want their situation to be any worse than it is now.”
He also said the hot weather at the moment meant it was a bad time for the villagers to attempt to relocate.
“The DKBA’s [leader Maj.] San Aung has agreed to send the displaced people back to their place [a monastery in Pegu Division]. But he requested to let the villagers visit pagodas in the [Karen] state first,” he said.
The displaced villagers have been sheltering, with DKBA support, at the Aungtheikhti monastery in Pegu Division after the authorities bulldozed their homes, which were on land claimed by the military.
Additional reporting by Kyaw Hsu Mon from Myawaddy, Karen State.