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29 November – 5 December: Civilians in Danger as Election-Related Armed Conflict Continues in Eastern Burma

December 6, 2010

Since Burma’s fraudulent elections on 7 November, Thailand has seen the largest influx of civilians from Burma fleeing into the country in more than a decade. On 8 November alone, 25,000 civilians fled from fighting in the town of Myawaddy and another 10,000 crossed from Three Pagoda Pass. In the weeks following the initial outbreak of violence, the armed conflict, along with flows of fleeing civilians, has continued. The volatile situation illustrates the damage done by the SPDC’s authoritarian process to entrench military rule through their “Roadmap to Democracy” and their failure to facilitate genuine national reconciliation. Just as democratization in Burma requires global support, a collective, international effort is needed to ensure the protection of civilians under threat in Eastern Burma.

Burma’s ethnic nationalities have voiced overwhelming opposition to the State Peace and Development Council’s (SPDC) roadmap, including the unilaterally drafted 2008 Constitution, which facilitates centralized control over ethnic states and fails to provide the equality ethnic nationality communities have sought for decades. To create the single national army called for in the Constitution, the SPDC has attempted to bring together all armed ethnic ceasefire groups into a single Border Guard Force under SPDC Army command. While the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) agreed to the proposal as a whole, the 5th Brigade has refused, leading to the armed conflict that has flared up in recent weeks.

On 8 November, heavy fighting took place between the DKBA 5th Brigade and SPDC soldiers in Myawaddy, Karen State. More than 25,000 civilians fled into Mae Sot, Thailand, and the surrounding area. Three civilians from Burma were reported to have been killed and more than twenty injured. At least 10,000 civilians reportedly fled when fighting flared up in and around Three Pagodas Pass, with many taking refuge in Thailand. Fighting that reportedly killed a girl and injured others also occurred in Waw Lay village between Myawaddy and Three Pagodas Pass, causing some 2,500 villagers to flee to Thailand. On 27 and 28 November, at least 1,000 civilians from Palu village fled to Thailand; between 3 and 5 December, another 1,129 people crossed the border into Mae Sot District. Fighting continued today near both Myawaddy and Waw Lay. As of today, the Forum of Burma’s Community Based Organizations (FCOB) estimates that 3,600 civilians are seeking refuge in Thailand, with more than 2,000 others displaced along the border inside Burma.

Since the conflict erupted, civilians in areas of Karen State opposite Thailand’s Kanchanaburi and Tak Provinces have moved daily back and forth across the border in response to fighting, troop movements, the threat of attacks, and pressure to return from authorities in Thailand. According to a report by Human Rights Watch on 4 December,

“Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, but under customary international law the Thai government has an obligation of nonrefoulement (non-return) of persons to places where their life or freedom is at risk. International law also obliges Thailand to allow asylum seekers access to Thai territory to seek asylum.”

There have also been reports that in addition to encouraging civilians to return to Burma before it is determined safe for them to do so, the Thai Army has also blocked people from entering Thailand to escape fighting.

Civilians in Eastern Burma are facing constant threats to their security and livelihoods, with continued armed conflict likely and escalation a real possibility. Community-based organizations in Thailand and international NGOs have been providing assistance to people fleeing fighting. However, without durable solutions to the crises that expose them to danger, these men, women, elderly, and children will continue to live in peril.

The SPDC’s creation of a military-dominated civilian government and lack of regard for the grievances of Burma’s ethnic nationalities has already brought bloodshed. The recent escalation of hostilities in Eastern Burma points to the need for genuine national reconciliation that has the participation and support of the people, especially Burma’s ethnic groups.

Until then, civilians caught in the crossfire along the Thai-Burma border deserve the full attention and abilities of Thai government and the international community in guaranteeing their safety and survival.

News Highlights

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi calls on Thailand to support migrants and refugees from Burma staying in the country

NLD drafts report documenting election fraud

Inside Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi meets with family members of political prisoners; delivers National Day speech at NLD headquarters, repeating call for national reconciliation

Ethnic leaders indicate they will defy reported new laws restricting speech in parliament

Censorship board suspends nine journals for reporting on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release

Election Commission brokers talks between USDP and winning Rakhine Nationalities Development Party in Arakan State

Authorities in Arakan State resume collecting household family lists, charging fees for the documentation which had been given free in the lead up to the elections

Police torture protester who demands release of political prisoners during visit to Arakan State by Prime Minister Thein Sein

Karen National Union (KNU) Vice Chairman David Takapaw urges SPDC Army to withdraw from KNU-controlled areas and cease fighting

Joint DKBA and KNLA forces kill thirty SPDC soldiers in ambush

SPDC troops kill one KNU-KNLA Peace Council fighter, arrest six in Myawaddy Township, Karen State

Karen Peace Front secretly hands over weapons to SPDC battalion in Three Pagoda Pass

SPDC plans to set up two more artillery units in southern Shan State between Shan State Army North and United Wa State Army bases

SPDC officers in Shan State threaten local residents after soldiers mistakenly shoot a local villager

SPDC authorities close Lajayawng border crossing between China and Kachin State, erect checkpoints on highways in the area; tighten security in Myitkyina as pressure increases on ceasefire groups

Authorities tighten security measures around internet cafes in Yangon

Consumers return to petrol black market in the face of supply shortfalls

Regional

Burma, Laos, and Cambodia may be passing on ASEAN information to China, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable

International

During two-day visit, UN envoy Vijay Nambiar tells SPDC officials to address election criticism ‘as transparently as possible’

UN Security Council removes Burma from this month’s agenda

New Zealand returns to using ‘Burma,’ signaling a refusal to recognize the current regime’s legitimacy

Foreign Policy magazine names Daw Aung San Suu Kyi one of Top 100 Global Thinkers

Leaked diplomatic cables show French President Nicholas Sarkozy ‘considered French disinvestment’ from Burma

Belgian ambassador meets with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, expresses support for pro democracy forces, calls for release of all political prisoners

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights