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Damming at gunpoint(English Version)

Political context of the

Political context of the dams in Karen State The Karen are an ethnic nationality of Burma, with an estimated population of seven million, comprising 13 percent of Burma’s total population of about 52 million. The majority of Karens live in Karen State, Pegu Division, Tenasserim Division, and in the delta region. The Karen traditionally have an agrarian lifestyle. During the British colonial period, many Karen converted to Christianity and many were educated in the British education system. The Karen movement for autonomy started after World War I. After World War II, the movement gained momentum, and in 1949, just after Burma gained independence in 1948, the Karen entered into civil war for greater autonomy under the leadership of the Karen National Union. After it was outlawed by the Rangoon government at the beginning of 1949, the KNU retreated from the Rangoon outskirts and was able to set up its administration in most of Eastern Karen State, along the Thai-Burma border. This circumstance was also exploited by the Thai military for its counterinsurgency policies during the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, where the KNU were used by Thailand as a “buffer” against its ideological adversary, the Burmese socialist-oriented regime under General Newin. The KNU was able to support itself economically by operating custom points along the Thai-Burma border, through which flowed Thai goods for Burma’s unofficial market 8 . 8 Between the 60s and 80s unofficial border trade boomed as goods from neighboring countries (especially Thailand) flowed through custom points under the control of ethnic resistance groups, headed for the huge black market that operated in the shadows of Burma’s socialist economy. 17

18 DAMMING AT GUNPOINT The Thai “buffer policy” came to an end after 1988. A group of influential Thai military personnel led by Thailand’s Army Chief, Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyud, visited Burma at the end of 1988. The regime started to sell logging and fisheries concessions to Thai companies. The visit also boosted the regime with confidence to further welcome more multinational corporations such as the US oil company Unocal and the French oil company Total to invest in exporting its natural resources and to cooperate in bringing down the insurgent armed groups such as the Mons and Karens in the area. “In May 1989 Lieutenant-General Than Shwe, the commander of the Burmese Army, visited Thailand and told Deputy Prime Minister Prapath Limphapandu that Burma wanted to clear the border area as soon as possible for ‘security reasons and for the mutual benefit of bilateral trade.” Global Witness, A Conflict of Interest, October 2003 Since the areas of logging concessions that had been granted to Thai companies during 1989-1992 lay in the territories of the KNU and New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Burmese army carried out major offensives against the strongholds of KNU and NMSP in order to take control of the area. In the case of the NMSP, it reached a ceasefire agreement in 1995. The offensives led to a flood of refugees from Karen State to Thailand. Currently there are about 120,000 thousand refugees in Thai camps who have fled from Karen State.

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