In Myanmar, Natural Resources Are Key to Conflict Resolution

August 9, 2013

As Myanmar transitions to peace after years of internal conflict, WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper, who visited the country earlier this year, writes on the importance of balancing development with natural resource conservation efforts.

One of the world's longest running conflicts came to an end last year when the Karen National Union (KNU) signed a ceasefire agreement with the newly elected government of Myanmar. The agreement came after a bloody, six-decade struggle for independence. The ethnic Karen population, long persecuted by the nation's former military regime, inhabits a landscape in the Thaninthayi region along Myanmar's southeast border with Thailand that is rich in natural capital.

The transboundary forests along that border hold some of the region's greatest biodiversity, including what are believed to be its best remaining populations of tigers and elephants. These forests are also home to more than a million people who depend on the region's vast ecological resources, both inland and along the adjacent coastline on the Andaman Sea. The cessation of hostilities has opened up previously inaccessible areas and thus increased pressure on these natural assets.

Earlier this year in Myanmar, I spoke to a variety of conservation colleagues, government officials, and diplomats from across the globe. Then more recently I was fortunate to meet President Thein Sein on his May visit to Washington, D.C.. Time and again, all addressed the seemingly intractable challenge of transitioning to peace after years of internal conflict. It returned me to a time when I was involved in peace negotiations in my home country, Colombia, and the realization that reconciliation and access to natural resources are intimately linked.


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