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Karen Villagers Still Fleeing Post-Election Attacks By Burmese Army

By Burma Campaign UK  •  November 28, 2010

On the same day UN Burma envoy Vijay Nambiar visited Rangoon, the Burmese Army fired mortar bombs at a civilian village in Karen State, breaking international law.

Thousands of ethnic Karen have fled a new Burmese Army military offensive in Karen State, along the Thailand Burma border, in the past two weeks. The fighting began on 8th November with the Burmese Army attacking a faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which had refused to become part of the Burmese Army, as required under the Generals’ new constitution for Burma. While international attention moved on following Myawaddy Town being completely taken over by the Burmese Army, the attacks have continued along the border, forcing thousands to flee.

On Saturday 27th November more than 200 villagers had to run for their lives when the Burmese Army fired mortars into Palu village without any warning. Palu village is in Kawt K’Rate Township, Doo Pla Ya district. They fled to Mae Ko Kay village, Mae Sot area, Tak Province, Thailand. One male village named Saw Tun Shwe, aged 30, was wounded. (Pictures of villagers fleeing available.)

The Burmese Army is attacking villages in areas thought to be under the control of the DKBA faction refusing to become a Border Guard Force under the control of the Burmese Army. Firing mortars at a civilian village without warning is in breach of the Geneva Conventions, constituting a war crime. The UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has repeatedly called for a UN investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.

Burma Campaign UK today called on the United Nations to start urgent discussions with the Burmese dictatorship to end all military operations in the country, and instead engage in dialogue with ethnic groups and Burma’s democracy movement.

Under Burma’s new constitution, armed ethnic groups which have been on ceasefire for many years have to place themselves under the control of the Burmese Army, as Border Guard Forces. However, the new Constitution grants none of the rights, protection and autonomy for which the groups took up arms in the first place, and so most major armed groups have rejected the demand. The dictatorship has threatened them with military force if they refuse.

In response, many armed ethnic groups, those on ceasefire and not on ceasefire, have formed a new military alliance. Some, such as the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Army, claim to have up to 55,000 standing and reserve soldiers between them. They say they will not fight unless attacked.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which split from the Karen National Union in 1994, had been seen as being a close ally of the dictatorship. However, it split itself over the demand to become a Border Guard Force under the Burmese Army, with a faction led Saw Lah Bwe, nickname Na Khan Mwe.

When the attacks began on 8th November Burma Campaign UK warned it could be just the first example of many such attacks against armed ethnic groups, creating a major humanitarian and human rights crisis. Burma Campaign UK has repeatedly called on the international community to take steps to prevent such a crisis, but no action has been taken.

“If the Burmese Army were mortar bombing civilians in Rangoon there would be international outrage,” said Zoya Phan, International Coordinator at Burma Campaign UK. “When it happens in Karen State and other ethnic states it is ignored. It is welcome that UN Envoy Vijay Nambiar has visited Burma so swiftly after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and we understand that the process of getting dialogue going will be long and difficult, and the UN will need our full support. However, there must be a sense of urgency about what is happening in ethnic areas right now, it is already a crisis, and it is likely to escalate. It is still not too late to prevent a greater crisis happening”

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This post is in: Press Release

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