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Lenya National Park (proposed) on Karen indigenous lands, Tanintharyi region, Myanmar


Plans to extend conservation zones in Tanintharyi region are currently made. The Lenya National Park located in the Tenasserim Hills in the South of Tanintharyi is one of a series of National Parks planned to be established over the coming years. However, a coalition of seven civil society groups, who call themselves the Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (CAT) have expressed severe concerns over the further expansion of top-down conservation zones, because they would threaten the rights of indigenous people and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the area [1]. Founded in 2014, the group has evaluated the development and potential impacts of the Lenya National Park. After two years of research, they released a report in early 2018, entitled “Our Forest, Our Life” [see 1] that received wide press coverage [e.g. 2,3,4].

The Lenya National park was first proposed in 2002 to conserve the endemic and critically endangered Gurney’s Pitta bird. A proposal to further extend the protected area to the north followed in 2004. Altogether the proposed Lenya National Park, including the extension zone, would cover about 284,000 ha (see Project Details below, and 1,5). For years, the plans did not advance further, and the government continued to grant industrial plantations and logging concessions within the designated area [5]. However, efforts to establish the park have recently increased with the involvement of big conservation organizations such as Flora & Fauna International (FFI) and the support of international agencies such as IUCN [1,6]. While the civil society alliance CAT emphasizes the need to maintain and protect the unique habitats and species in Tanintharyi region - a global biodiversity hotspot - the report argues that the top-down, centralized approach to conservation of the Lenya Forest, pursued by the Myanmar government and FFI, “poses a high risk for indigenous Karen communities” [1, page 18]. 

The Lenya National Park is located within the ancestral territory of indigenous Karen communities, called Tanawthari in Karen language [1]. According to the report, the proposal dismisses the role of indigenous people in maintaining biodiversity. Furthermore, it has been set up without the free prior informant consent (FPIC) of local communities who would be directly affected [1]. Despite several visits of FFI to the area, most of the villagers remain unaware of the project, states the report, “they only explained vaguely about forest conservation without informing the community on plans to establish the park and the implications this may have for them“ [1, page 21]. The civil society groups fear potential human rights violation through the establishment of the park as Karen communities could be evicted and disposed from their ancestral lands without having obtained FPIC [1]. 

About 25 villages, located in the peripheries of the park, would lose access to important forest livelihood resources, including medical herbs, vegetables, and many other forest products. At least a further 13 villages, home to 2,470 people, are located inside or directly at the border of the Park, of which 9 are predominantly Karen villages. They have their agricultural lands located inside the proposed park and have lived from shifting cultivation, betelnut orchards and fruit gardens for generations. Some of the villages were formally established no less than 200 years ago [1].

During the civil war and armed conflict that hit the region heavily during the 1980s and 1990s, several villages were severely impacted and destroyed. Consequently, many people fled into the jungle or to neighbouring Thailand [1]. Following the 2012 ceasefire agreement, these IDPs begun to return to their original villages, however, they will not be able to do so once the area is turned into a conservation enclosure, argues the civil society alliance. According to their report, the establishment of conservation areas in post-conflict zones denies the IDPs their right to return home and undermines the terms of the ‘interim arrangements’ of the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) [1]. 

Mobilizations against the Lenya National Park have emerged and are led by the CAT alliance who insists the plans “must not go forward without the Free Prior Informed Consent of the local people” [1]. To secure prospects for future peace, the civil society groups demand that all large-scale protected area plans must be halted, until ”a comprehensive peace deal is signed, laws and policies respect customary tenure rights, and the right of return to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees has been guaranteed” [1, page 5]. 

Roughly about 80% of the world’s biodiversity lies in indigenous territories [7] and many studies suggest that a key way to protect it is by securing indigenous people’s tenure claims [see e.g. 8,9]. Instead of a top-down large-scale conservation approach driven by international conservation organizations, groups call for a conservation approach centred and led by indigenous people and their cultural practices that have maintained biodiversity for centuries (see proposed alternatives, below). 

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Lenya National Park (proposed) on Karen indigenous lands, Tanintharyi region, Myanmar
State or province:Tanintharyi
Location of conflict:Pyi Gi Man Daing sub.township, Bokpyin Township, Kawthaung District
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Establishment of reserves/national parks
Specific commodities:Land
Ecosystem Services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

According to the report released by CAT [1], the Lenya National Park proposed in 2002 covers an area of 436,480 acres (ca. 177,000 ha). The extension proposed in 2004 covers an additional 265,600 acres (ca. 107,000 ha). Altogether, the proposed Lenya National Park would cover 702,080 acres (ca. 284,000 ha) [1, see also 5]. Currently, the plans have not been further developed and the governmental protection level is only partial (for example tree logging and large plantation concessions were granted by the government in the area) [5]. The Lenya National Park is classified by IUCN as a category II park [5].

The aim is to establish large parts of the Lenya forest areas as Protected Area (PA), which are exclusionary zones, designated under the 1994 Protection of Wildlife and Conservation of Natural Areas Law. According to the law, local communities have no access rights to protected areas. While some buffer zones are foreseen in the plans that would allow for some subsistence resource uses, they are rarely implemented in practice, states the report, and often remain ambiguous. People caught conducting traditional subsistence activities within protected areas would have to face fines or are arrested [see 1].

Currently there is only one protected area in Tanintharyi region, the Tanintharyi Nature Reserve (170,000 ha). Adding the Lenya National Park and the Tanintharyi National Park would cover an additional area of 1,3 million acres (ca. 526,000 ha) [1]. Further plans for a “Tanintharyi Nature Corridor connecting these areas would occupy a total of 2.5 million acres, constituting almost a quarter of all land in Tanintharyi region” [1].

Clear funding sources and investment size is unknown. According to a leaflet by Flora & Fauna International (FFI) and IUCN, 1-15 million EUR were provided by IUCN to “secure the Tanintharyi-Lenya-Forest Corridor for tiger numbers to recover and grow” [6]. The proposed Lenya National Park and the extension zone are part of this wildlife corridor [6].

Project area:284,000 ha (Lenya National Park plus extension zone
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectunknown
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:at least 2,470 people directly affected
Start of the conflict:2002
Relevant government actors:Nature, Wildlife and Conservation Division (NWCD), which is a division of the Forest department. The forest department is part of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (MONREC)
and others
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN )
Flora & Fauna International (FFI) (FFI) from United Kingdom - Project leader
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (CAT), an alliance of seven civil society groups: Tenasserim River & Indigenous People Networks (TRIP NET)
Community Sustainable Livelihood and Development (CSLD)
Tarkapaw Youth Group (TKP)
Candle Light (CL)
Southern Youth (SY)
Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN)
Tanintharyi Friends (TF)
and others

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Karen indigenous communities
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsPotential biodiversity loss due to loss of indigenous land use practices that are relevant for biodiversity [see 7,8,9]
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsInternally displaced people (IDPs) will be unable to return to their homelands


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Instead of the current centralized conservation model that fails to protect the rights of indigenous, the groups call for conservation alternatives led by indigenous communities themselves: “An Indigenous Community Conservation Area in Kamoethway and plans to establish the Salween Peace Park are examples of this alternative model that promotes a people-centered approach to conservation, supporting local people and institutions to strengthen traditional methods of forest protection. This bottom-up model of community-led conservation is proving extremely successful both in Tanintharyi and other parts of the globe, signalling an important paradigm shift for conservation. Within this model indigenous communities can be recognized as the owners, managers and protectors of resources with positive results for both human rights and biodiversity conservation” [1, page 6].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Currently, the plans for the Lenya Park would pose significant risk on Karen communities and entail a loss of indigenous practices and culture

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

The Pinheiro Principles - Housing and property restitution in the context of the return of refugees and internally displaced persons

2012 Environmental Conservation Law

2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law,%20Fallow%20.....%20Land%20Law.pdf

1992 Forest Law

1994 Protection of Wildlife and Conservation Natural Areas Law

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (2018) "Our Forest, Our Life: Protected Areas in Tanintharyi Region Must Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples".

[5] Istituto Oikos and BANCA (2011) Myanmar Protected Areas: Context, Current Status and Challenges.

[7] Sobrevila, Claudia, 2008. "The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation - The Natural but Often Forgotten Partners" The World Bank, Washington DC, US

[8] Padoch, C., & Pinedo-Vasquez, M. (2010). Saving Slash-and-Burn to Save Biodiversity. Biotropica, 42(5), 550–552.

[9] Eduardo Brondizio, François-Michel Le Tourneau. (2016). Environmental governance for all. Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 352 (6291), pp.1272-1273

[2] Frontier Myanmar, 21 February 2018. "Tanintharyi locals say national park conservation plan threatening livelihoods" (accessed online 23.05.2018)

[3] MITV 21 February 2018. "“OUR FOREST, OUR LIFE”: REPORT LAUNCHED FOR THE RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE" . (accessed online 23.05.2018).

[4] Reuters, 21 February 2018 "Myanmar parks could stop thousands of Karen refugees returning home" (accessed online 23.05.2018)

[6] Flora & Fauna International Leaflet on the establishment of the Tanintharyi-Lenya Forest Corridor. (accessed online 23.05.2018)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

RFA News on the Proposed Lenya National Park in Tanintharyi Region (Youtube, Burmese)

Meta information

Contributor:EJatlas Southeast Asia Team ("at"
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:3464



Cover of the civil society report

Source: Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (2018) "Our Forest, Our Life: Protected Areas in Tanintharyi Region Must Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples".

Map of proposed Wildlife Corridor, including the Lenya National Park and Extension zone


Villages in and at the border of the Lenya National Park

Source: Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (2018) "Our Forest, Our Life: Protected Areas in Tanintharyi Region Must Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples".

Karen villager walking to his orchard in the Proposed Lenya National Park

Source: Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari (2018) "Our Forest, Our Life: Protected Areas in Tanintharyi Region Must Respect the Rights of Indigenous Peoples".

Report launch in Yangon

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