Burma must end campaign against Christian ethnic group

February 16, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia, Persecution

“I heard gunfire when the government troops entered our village so my mother and I fled. My mother slipped and fell but she told me to keep on running. I hid in the corn plantation. Then I heard the voice of my mother so I ran to her. But I found my mother shot dead. I relied on my mother alone as my father passed away when I was a child. But I have no parents now, so I have no idea how to survive in the future”

Frightened and exhausted, Kachin people at a refugee campBurma, February 14, 2013: The tragic story of 14-year-old Brang Shaung is sadly not a unique one in Kachin state, where for over 18 months now the Burmese army has been ruthlessly attacking the predominantly Christian ethnic people. Children have been killed, women raped and people tortured in the conflict. Over 100,000 people have been displaced and around 200 villages destroyed.

While world leaders have been praising Burma’s democratic progress over the last year or so, little has been said about the gross human rights violations being perpetrated by the military against innocent Kachin civilians.

But, in a welcome development, some voices are finally starting to speak out about the situation. An Early Day Motion was brought by Valerie Vaz, MP for Walsall South, in the British House of Commons on 14 January. It condemned the military’s offensive against the ethnic Kachin and called on Burma to stop attacks immediately. But this important and timely statement was signed by only 20 of the 650 British MPs.

In a separate move, members of the European Parliament wrote to Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, on 16 January urging the EU to call for the immediate end to human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities in Burma.

Focusing on the violence in Kachin state, the 14 MEPs called on the Burmese army to withdraw from the territory immediately.

They added:

Current reforms have not yet extended to freedom of religion or belief, which will be key to long-term peace and stability in the country, given the intersection between ethnicity and religion for several of Burma’s minority groups.

Non-Burman ethnic groups, such as the Chin, Kachin and Karen, are mainly Christian. They have long suffered discrimination and abuse on the dual basis of their ethnicity and their religion. Buddhism is the de facto state religion, and these groups have resisted the often violent attempts by the military to force them to assimilate; their territories have consequently often been ravaged by conflict.

Over 100,000 Kachin people have been displacedThe army launched its latest offensive in Kachin state in June 2011, breaking a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Violence has been intensifying over recent weeks, with the military using aerial bombardment to support thousands of ground troops. Analysts have said that air power has never before been used in this way in campaigns against ethnic groups; it indicates a significant increase in army aggression.

a ceasefire announced by Burma’s president, Thein Sein, to take effect from 19 January was ignored by the military. Troops have targeted Laiza, where KIO’s headquarters is based, taking on 26 January the last major stronghold protecting the site.

There have since been some positive developments. Peace talks between the Kachin and the Burmese government began last week with further discussions due to take place before the end of the month. It will however be extremely difficult for them to thrash out an agreement given the history of hostility; eleven previous rounds of negotiation have ended without a solution.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi indicated on Tuesday (12 February) that she is willing to mediate peace talks between the government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The celebrated champion of democracy has been sharply criticised by rights groups for her silence on the abuse of the country’s ethnic groups. Regarding the conflict in Kachin state, they say that she has failed to use her international stature to raise awareness of the situation and thus help put an end to the violence.

The government has now agreed to allow the United Nations to deliver humanitarian aid to displaced Kachin villagers after barring access to Kachin-controlled territory for several months, leaving the people in a desperate plight.

The international community must now capitalise on these positive steps and heed the calls of the British and European politicians to apply pressure on Burma to end this atrocious campaign once and for all.

– barnabas edit

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