Deforestation has been trending upward in the Tanintharyi region of southern Myanmar, with the area losing 6 percent of its tree cover in 14 years. Mines and new roads are among the threats to its forest. A committee formed by a community in Tanintharyi is working to preserve the remaining forest of the Kamoethway river valley. The organization – Rays of Kamoethway Indigenous People and Nature – has established nine different conservation zones in the region. But members say another conservation project established by Myanmar’s government and funded by oil and gas companies is threatening the community and its conservation efforts. U Ye Aung spent most of his adult life in a war zone. For over 60 years his village of Kalaikyi served as the frontline in one of Myanmar’s longest running civil wars. During the conflict, villagers from the Kamoethway river valley were subjected to forced labor, arbitrary killing, looting and extortion at the hands of the Myanmar military and Karen separatists. The fighting was finally brought to an end in 2012 after a preliminary ceasefire was signed between the Myanmar government and Karen National Union. “It brought me great relief as I was finally able to live out the rest of my years in peace,” said U Ye Aung, now aged 55. That was until the bulldozers arrived in Kalaikyi to clear land for a new highway that would stretch 138 kilometers (86 miles) from the Special Economic Zone in Myanmar’s southernmost city of Dawei to the Thai border at Phu Nam Ron. “We were so angry because we had no control over the situation” U Ye Aung said. He told Mongabay he lost almost all of his betel forests and “was really scared because I am old and those betel nut farms were supposed to be my pension.” The road was designed by private company Italian-Thai Development PCL and supported by Myanmar’s old military regime. Construction stopped in 2013 after Italian-Thai Development fell into financial difficulty. All that remains of the two-lane highway is a muddy scar, severing Kalaikyi and the Kamoethway river valley. However, the new government has just reaffirmed its commitment to the Dawei Special Economic Zone and, with funding from Japan, road construction is expected to continue. Other development projects have followed in their footsteps. In 2012, mining company UMG entered the valley and began exploration for minerals before being evicted by the community. “Once we were afraid of bullets, now we are afraid of outsiders destroying our natural resources and cultural heritage,” U Ye Aung said. Community members unite for conservation Under constant threat of land grabs and eviction, the Kamoethway community formed a village committee dedicated to environmental conservation. This organization, Rays of Kamoethway Indigenous People and Nature (RKIPN), has now become a leading example of community-based conservation in Myanmar. They say their success proves that indigenous people can effectively manage their own natural resources without government or foreign intervention. “We started the RKIPN because we did not want our natural resources – our land, water and forests – to be lost or destroyed by these outside forces who kept coming onto our land,” said RKIPN chairman U Saw Kho.