Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI): Kyauk Kyi Pilot Project in Bago Region

The Kyauk Kyi Pilot Project in Bago Region

Last updated: 09/10/2012 // The Kyauk Kyi Pilot Project is the first pilot project that has been initiated under the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI). The aims of the pilot project, in line with the aims of MPSI, are to provide much needed assistance to conflict-affected IDPs, to support trust building and dialogue at a local level in order to increase confidence in the ceasefire, and to expand humanitarian space in this area.

Based on consultation with the KNU and the Myanmar Government, the project is focused on the Ker Der Village Tract, a remote area in the jungle twenty miles east of Kyauk Kyi on the road to the Thai Border in eastern Bago division. The project activities are in the area adjacent to Mu The village, involving a population of 1585 internally displaced people (224 households). The population is Karen, and predominantly animist. Since 1975, armed conflict has forced communities to flee into more remote and hilly areas. In most cases, villagers previously cultivated irrigated rice fields in villages on the plains and closer to road. Since being displaced, they have been cultivating mostly swidden (slash-&-burn) rice in the hills.

Keh Der Village Tract is in an area that has been administered by the KNU, but constitutes the front-line in this area, between the Myanmar Army and KNU/KNLA (3rd Brigade) positions. Therefore it is a very symbolic location in terms of the peace process. In addition, the geography of the area and the fact that it was considered a ‘black area’ has meant that limited emergency relief support has been provided to communities in the past.

Following six months of consultations and information sharing with the Myanmar Government, the KNU and civil society organisations, and after training arranged by Norwegian research organization, FAFO, and MPSI,  a needs assessment was carried out in the area by the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP—the humanitarian arm  of the KNU). The assessment consisted of focus group discussions and interviews conducted in the field by CIDKP staff and was followed up by a field visit by MPSI international staff. Through this assessment, the communities expressed their desire first and foremost for peace and security. The assessment also revealed that 75% of villages wanted to return to their original land where there is more flat farmland suitable for irrigated rice cultivation. Some people were already beginning to move back and forth between their temporary and original villages to begin to cultivate their land, but they still had security concerns. The assessment also showed that in order to resume their lives normally, they would need short-term food assistance and basic household items, which are necessary while they plant their fields and wait for the first harvest. For the longer term, the assessment showed the need for tools, seeds, agricultural equipment, and help with repairing infrastructure necessary for agriculture, such as canals and local paths. In the past communities have received some mine education, however, the assessment process also demonstrated that in order for communities to move freely and to safely return to their land, areas that are mined would need to be identified, demarcated and eventually  de-mined.

To date, three principle organizations have been involved in this pilot. CIDKP and with support from KORD (Karen Office for Relief and Development) have been the implementing organizations and have been carrying out the delivery of assistance. They have been receiving capacity support from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). There have also been preliminary discussions with the government and KNU with regard to the possibility of NPA carrying out a non-technical mine survey in the area. (NPA is a specialist in this kind of activity). The International Labor Organization (ILO) has also been involved and has carried out an initial assessment of the small-scale infrastructure needs in the area which are likely to include an irrigation canal and local paths. The ILO model of working provides an opportunity to strengthen local capacity, increase local participation and support a rights based approach to resettlement and rehabilitation.

While the Kyauk Kyi pilot project is relatively small in scale in terms of target population and budget (1st Phase $150,000), it represents a significant break from the past and offers an opportunity to build trust and confidence among the key stakeholders of the ceasefire in very practical ways. The project is particularly significant because of the role of CIDKP, which had previously been restricted to cross-border relief operations, but with the pilot project is operating with the knowledge and agreement of the Myanmar authorities.

For the IDP communities, the space that has been created by the ceasefire and through the MPSI project has allowed them to voice their needs and receive some much needed support. Despite heavy rains and hence difficulties for transport, 224 families or 1,585 people have received assistance. As of September 2012, the CIDKP had distributed 517 bags of rice to the villagers. Over the next few months, it is anticipated that a more comprehensive set of basic supplies (food, mosquito nets, cooking utensils etc.) will be delivered.

Through this project humanitarian space has been tentatively but successfully opened up. The Myanmar government has allowed international organizations such as Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the ILO into the area to conduct needs assessments and consultations, and to plan aid programs. Similarly, the government has also accepted CIDKP as a legitimate implementing partner in the project. They are now able to set up a monitoring office in Kyauk Kyi and a bank account.

In addition, the MPSI has helped bring together the various stakeholders affected by conflict to discuss the project. This intervention has provided the space and opportunity to build trust and dialogue between: the displaced villagers themselves, the Myanmar government and military and the KNU/KNDO (local armed wing of the KNU). At one such meeting, the villagers told a visiting government Minister that they felt intimidated by the army’s questioning when they had to travel through Myanmar government-controlled territory. While the minister was initially defensive, after listening carefully to the Karen villagers, he came to understand how they could perceive the questioning as frightening, and issued direct orders to a Colonel at the meeting for his troops to minimize such questioning in the future. On another occasion, a leader of the internally-displaced villagers asked a Region Minister, “Can you guarantee that you will not burn our villages down in the future?” The Minister replied that they would not burn the Karens’ villages down again, but that he also understood that it was difficult for them to believe him. He went on to say that his presence at the meeting was a symbol of the new Myanmar government’s willingness to make peace, and that with time, they would all build trust in each other. Importantly, the communities and implementing organizations have also noted the reduction in human rights violations since the ceasefire came into effect.

For the international community the Kyauk Kyi Pilot has also provided a channel to demonstrate political support for the peace process. To date, the pilot has been funded by the Norwegian Government and the Australian Government. It has offered an opportunity to gain important understanding of the context, the needs, and the sensitivities of engaging in conflict-affected areas.

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