Fri, Jun 10, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar army `targets civilians'

ECONOMIC MOTIVATION Human Rights Watch contends that the Myanmar army is forcibly displacing many ethnic Karen villagers and committing human rights abuses

AFP , BANGKOK

A group of unidentified ethnic Karen refugees gather at an undisclosed jungle camp in Northern Karen State of Myanmar on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

Myanmar's army continues to target civilians while fighting ethnic Karen rebels, with extrajudicial killings and forcible displacements of some people up to 100 times in their lives, Human Rights Watch said yesterday.

Sexual violence, forced labor and looting of villages are common practice for an "unreformed and unaccountable" Myanmar army, US-based Human Rights Watch said in a new report.

Yangon also keeps conscripting villages, including children, despite repeated denials, the report said.

"The government still allows the Burmese army to kill and drive people out of their villages with complete impunity," Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement, using the military-ruled country's former name.

"While the world has rightly condemned the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi and the lack of democracy, it needs also to focus on the Burmese army's brutal displacement of the Karen and other ethnic minorities."

The human rights group interviewed 46 ethnic Karen for their 70-page report. The 46 Karen together said they were displaced more than 1,000 times in their lives, five of them more than 100 times each.

"Serious economic motivations" were behind forced displacement, Adams said yesterday.

"In many parts of eastern Burma which are resource-rich, it's very clear that there is no military objective in targetting civilians and targeting villagers, but there is an economic objective," he said.

Policymakers assume the best practice for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) is to let them return home, while international standards say the choice about returning should be up to the individual involved, Adams said.

"But it's an empty choice for many Burmese IDPs because there is no home to go to because their houses have been destroyed, their villages have been occupied and their land taken away permanently," he said.

Ethnic Karen leaders say some 200,000 Karen have been displaced by decades of fighting.

The ruling junta and the Karen rebels called a halt to five decades of fighting with an informal pact in December 2003, but have never signed a formal ceasefire deal.

The Karen National Union is the largest of a handful of rebel groups still resisting Yangon's rule.

The junta estimates there are 7,000 rebels in the group which is fighting one of the world's longest insurgencies.

When people are forcibly relocated, it's often to military-government run "relocation sites" near military bases across the country, including 100 in Karen areas whose total population was at least 125,000 people, the report said.

"People living in relocation centers are liable to various -- official and unofficial -- taxes, and are also often subject to extensive bouts of forced labor on state-sponsored projects, such as roads," it said.

"Such depredations leave families with little time and human resources to devote to their own survival.

"In some cases, the amount of labor demanded is so great as to occupy entire families full-time."

HRW supports sanctions against Myanmar by the US and EU, Adams said, adding conditions there would improve if Thailand, India and China took a tougher stance against the junta.

"All roads to change in Burma, to the support of internally displaced persons, run through these three countries," Adams said.

Even if the Myanmar military continues its behavior towards Karen and other ethnic minorities, India and Thailand could help by allowing international agencies to deliver aid and help with employment for people living in the border areas, Adams added.

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