CHIANG MAI, Thailand — An indigenous Karen man from Ler Mu Plaw village in Karen State’s Papun district was shot dead by the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) on Thursday afternoon, according to local villagers and aid groups.
Fighting between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Tatmadaw has flared recently in the Ler Mu Plaw area, despite both sides being signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Amid a persistent military standoff, some 2,300 villagers who were earlier forced to flee the area dare not to go back to their homes, as they claim the Tatmadaw has taken control of their villages.
Saw O Moo, 42, a community leader and father of seven, was reportedly shot dead while on his way home on April 5. He was driving a motorbike when he came under fire. A friend who was riding on the back of the motorcycle managed to flee the attack and survived, said a member of the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network, citing local villagers.
“The villagers returned to the scene on April 6 and saw both the body and the motorbike, but were unable to approach them as [the villagers]came under fire,” said Saw Soe Doh, a spokesman for the Mutraw (Papun) Emergency Assistance Team.
He said villagers went back to the area again on Saturday and Sunday but could not retrieve the body, as soldiers were stationed nearby.
“Atee [Uncle] Saw O Moo was a good person,” Saw Soe Doh told The Irrawaddy, adding that the slain man was a leader of the Mutraw (or Papun) indigenous Karen community and an advocate for indigenous Karen rights, including land and forest governance as well as peace for the Mutraw people.
The Mutraw Emergency Assistance Team was formed by members of a Karen community organization and other local groups on March 12 to help villagers displaced from the Ler Mu Plaw area, following fighting between the KNLA and Tatmadaw in early March. The clashes were triggered by the Tatmadaw’s deployment of troops to the area.
The team has been providing medicine, food and shelter for IDPs. Saw O Moo worked for the team, providing peer support to villagers.
“We want his body back,” Saw Soe Doh said. Villagers and relief workers are convinced he is the shooting victim, as he never returned home and would never get lost in the area, they say.
In a statement, the Mutraw Emergency Assistance Team urged President U Win Myint and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi “to take immediate measures to protect the displaced villagers and ensure the safety of our humanitarian workers.”
Their statement reads: “The murder of an innocent humanitarian aid worker by the Burmese Army seriously violates not only human rights but also the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).”
The Karen National Union, the political wing of the KNLA, said the Tatmadaw should halt its project to rebuild an old road that was abandoned in 2008 until trust can be restored between the two sides.
Karen civil society groups said the Tatmadaw breached the ceasefire pact by moving troops across agreed ceasefire boundaries. As a consequence, they say, some 2,300 local villagers have been displaced.