Sunday, 2023 October 1

[Tuning In] Prize-winning Myanmarese activist Paul Sein Twa on a park for peace

Paul Sein Twa was born in a small and peaceful village along the estuary of Salween river, surrounded by lush forest and streams in Myanmar’s Karen State, which is also a hotbed of illegal log trade, driven by surging commercial interest and demand for timber. At the age of nine, however, he was forced to flee his village because of the civil war between the Karen National Union and the Burmese government army. He ended up growing up in a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border. After witnessing how excessive logging and agribusinesses destroyed his homeland, the indigenous activist decided to start a grassroots movement dedicated to improving the livelihood security and to deal with the challenges and threats to Karen cultures and autonomy in the Karen state of Myanmar, an area where bears harrowing witness to the 70-year fight for autonomy of the Karen people.

Sein Twa established Salween Peace Park in 2018, which, located on the country’s eastern frontier bordering Thailand, spans across 5,485 square kilometers (1.4 million acres) of the Salween River Basin. He recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize 2020 for Asia, dubbed the “Green Nobel Prize”, in recognition of his efforts to conserve the natural habitat and push for political change.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Paul Sein Twa won the Goldman Environmental Prize 2020 for Asia for his efforts to conserve the natural habitat and push for political change. Source: Salween Peace Park Facebook Page.
KrAsia (Kr): As the Founder of Salween Peace Park, what does nature mean to you, and what did your childhood look like?

Paul Sein Twa: I grew up along the Salween River. When I was around nine to ten years old, I had to flee my own village due to the Civil War and conflict between the Karen National Union (KNU) and Burmese Government. And then in 1989 and the early 1990s, the Burmese government had granted many logging concessions to Thai companies, especially along the Salween River, which caused flooding and many landslides in 1992. Also, I am an indigenous person, and our people have a very close relationship with nature and our environment. And the teaching we always had to follow was to take care of our nature. Our main principle is to live together in harmony with our environment.

Kr: Through witnessing all these changes that have happened to your homeland over the years, what was your mission when starting Salween Peace Park?

Paul Sein Twa: In the early 2000s, the government had plans to develop a cascade of hydropower dams on the Salween River, which would flood our territory. This was a big threat to our survival as indigenous people, as we could be displaced from our territory forever.

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