2021 Peace, Security and Conflict Other

Liberation Conservation: The Salween Peace Park and the Politics of Possessing the Earth in Southeast Myanmar

Tomas Cole

In Southeast Myanmar a protracted armed conflict has dragged on for over 70 years. This DDB depicts the struggles of indigenous people and environmental activists to transform a war-torn area into an indigenously run protected zone, the Salween Peace Park.

The report was presented during the seminar Listening to Locals in Peacebuilding – Experiences from Bosnia, Myanmar and International Peacebuilding Partnerships.

Main findings

  • These highlands might be best grasped as existing spaces of autonomy, while this autonomy is based on deep interdependencies.
  • Human sovereignty and politics at large in these highlands is principally concerned with asymmetrical negotiations with the spectral owners of the earth and with maneuvering into more “desirable forms” of dependence.


  • In the current political climate, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and a return to “normal” will do little to ameliorate the growing potential of a return to all out civil war.
  • As such, development practitioners and Swedish development assistance should push for a comprehensive overhaul of the 2008 constitution, and the series of liberal land laws (such as the Vacant Fallow and Virgin Land Law and Farmland Law) and investment laws drafted by the former government as fundamental to any future peace progress.
  • Moreover, while it is encouraging that Sweden has imposed targeted sanctions on the Myanmar Military, it is important that these diplomatic acts do not stop here.
  • As such, in tandem with targeted sanctions, it is essential, that Sweden continues to increase its support to civil society, especially in the borderlands areas, such as through the Burma Relief.

Tomas Cole is a researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University. He defended his dissertation Possessed Earth: Ownership and Power in the Salween Peace Park of Southeast Myanmar in December 2020. His research interests include indigenous movements and sovereignty, human-environment relations, and disability studies.