Norwegian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Torgeir Larsen, was in Myanmar last week with the regional military commander, Karen National Union officials and Kayin internally displaced people in Kyaukkyi township, Bago Region to strengthen ‘Peace Initiative’ project.
The role of a recently established Norwegian government ‘peace initiative’ will be defined by progress on political dialogue between the government and armed ethnic groups, Norway’s deputy foreign minister told The Myanmar Times last week.
The initiative was established in recent months to support ceasefires between the government and ethnic armies through dialogue, aid coordination and ‘quick impact assistance’ to areas of the country opening up as a result of the agreements.
A US$5 million pilot project in Kyaukkyi township, Bago Region, is focused primarily on resettling Karen internally displaced people (IDPs), providing farming equipment and food, and clearing land mines.
Mr. Torgeir Larsen said the initiative was established at the request of the government, while the pilot project also had the support of the Karen National Union (KNU).
The peace initiative is headed up by Mr. Charles Petrie, a former United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator who was forced to leave Myanmar in 2007 after issuing a statement critical of the government.
Mr. Petrie said talks have already begun on projects in Chin and Mon states and the government had indicated it would support expansion into Shan and Kachin states when those conflicts had stabilised.
In the longer term, the initiative aims to prepare the regions for normal development actors, including the UN agencies and non-government organisations. By surveying the needs of IDPs, it can also help to coordinate later assistance programs.
In its support for the initiative, the Myanmar government appears to be taking a different approach to the ceasefires agreed in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The benefits of those agreements between military and ethnic leaders for the most failed to permeate down to grassroots communities, weakening the broader peace process.
But the initiative has proved controversial with Thailand-based organisations, particularly given the Norwegian government’s decision to cut funding to border-based NGOs earlier this year. In an attempt to allay some of these concerns, Mr Larsen visited Chiang Mai on May 30 to discuss the initiative with the organisations.
While a political settlement between the government and KNU could be years off, Mr Larsen said he had been impressed by the will of both sides to ‘move forward’.