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Ongoing Conflict Continues to Engender Human Rights Abuses with no End in Sight

By Burma Partnership  •  October 10, 2011

While the attention of the international community remains on developments in Naypyidaw, armed conflict between the Burma Army and ethnic resistance groups continues in Karen, Shan and Kachin States, largely outside the view of the international community. As part of these conflicts Thein Sein’s government has been targeting civilians for attacks that likely constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes. On Friday 7 October the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) released a report entitled Burma’s Covered up War: Atrocities Against the Kachin People. The report describes the atrocities, including rape, torture, forced portering, murder and the use of human shields, committed by the regime and its army in the four months since the regime launched its attack on the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), breaking a seventeen year ceasefire.

In a press conference releasing the report Hkawng Seng Pan, a spokesperson for KWAT, summed up the issue clearly when she stated “You can see clearly how the government of Burma is working; the Army is fighting and killing ethnic people while Thein Sein is speaking about human rights to a Parliament full of generals and former military officers.” KWAT has insisted that it is unacceptable for the international community to simply “wait and see” while the Kachin people are suffering arguing that “wait and see is a death sentence for us.” The group calls on the international community to take concrete measures, including the establishment by the United Nations of a Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes in Burma and the provision of sufficient humanitarian assistance to the more than 25,000 men, women and children displaced by the regime’s abuses.

As of yet, little progress has been made towards reaching a ceasefire to end the conflicts in ethnic areas, including Kachin State. While the regime recently stopped pushing its demand that all ethnic armed groups convert themselves to border guard forces, an important prerequisite for reaching a peace agreement, it has continued its divide and rule approach, offering only to enter into separate talks with individual groups.

The Shan State Army- South has agreed to accept the regime’s offer to enter into peace talks but other ethnic resistance groups continue to resist piecemeal negotiations and instead insist that the regime negotiate with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) towards reaching a nationwide ceasefire. Speaking of negotiations between the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Mon State Government, Nai Hong Sar Pon Khaing, a NMSP foreign affairs official, stated that “[w]e proposed that the government announce a nationwide cease-fire and to hold a dialogue with the UNFC to solve political problems. Our party did not demand any other things separately.” Similarly, Karen National Union General Secretary Zipporah Sein told the Irrawaddy that “individual meetings with ethnic armed groups could create divisions between the groups” and stated that “political conflicts should be solved with all ethnic groups.”

On 7 October UNFC General-Secretary Nai Han Thar stated that he believed that if China would step in to mediate between the regime and the UNFC, this could help facilitate peace in the country. Regardless of whether China is willing to play this role, it is of paramount importance that the regime recognizes that the only way to bring peace to the country is through a nationwide ceasefire. Therefore, Burma’s regime must engage in a genuine and inclusive dialogue. Only then can true change be considered to be underway in Burma.

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