Environmental Group Demands Military Not ‘Instigate Conflict’ Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Burma Environmental Working Group (BEWG) has issued a statement demanding that the Burmese military end its ongoing offensives across the country and halt the seizure of farmland.

“There are ongoing clashes. The army has blocked roads, so farmers cannot go out to work on their farmland. The army has confiscated farmland in Rakhine State. The army has prosecuted farmers. The government is preparing to sign foreign investment agreements in Rakhine State and other ethnic regions,” Khun Oo, who is working with the BEWG, told NMG.

BEWG released its statement on May 5 saying that the military “must stop instigating armed conflicts” in Chin, Karen, Rakhine and Shan states, so that energy could be re-focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The group also opposed the Union government moving forward with controversial mega development projects and natural resource extraction plans during the public health crisis.

“We need to stop the extraction of natural resources amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If the government cannot resolve land disputes and IDP [internally displaced persons] issues, as well as if it continues to oppress ethnic people, I think peace is a bit far off for our country,” Khun Oo said.

The BEWG spokesperson also cited restrictions on freedom of expression and media, and blocks on internet access during the pandemic as harmful to the country. He criticized the lack of support for people out of work, as well.

If military budgets were reduced, more funds could be dedicated to fighting COVID-19, Khun Oo said, recommending that the government form a committee of ethnic leaders, civil society organizations, media representative, economic experts, and intellectuals in order to plan a more inclusive virus response.

On May 6, the Ethnic Health Committee also released a statement calling for an end to military offensives and in order to fight coronavirus.

“The problem is the civil war. The army must stop its military operations in ethnic regions. If they cannot call a ceasefire, I think it will be impossible to fight the COVID-19 pandemic across the country. I want to say that army needs to stop military operation in ethnic regions,” Ethnic Health Committee spokesperson Saw Nay Htoo told NMG.