Burma: Exile groups highlight ethnic plight
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||22 March 2012|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, Burma: Exile groups highlight ethnic plight, 22 March 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f705d12c.html [accessed 26 July 2014]|
Foreign powers are asked not to ignore the plight of ethnic groups in their talks with Burma's government.
Kachin children at a refugee camp in Myitsone, northern Burma, Feb. 26, 2012. AFP
Exile groups called on the international community Thursday to push the Burmese government to enter into a political dialogue with ethnic groups before any lifting of long-running sanctions after April 1 elections.
They said that the U.S., E.U. and other foreign powers should not use the upcoming by-elections as a basis for lifting sanctions, pointing out that the situation in Burmese ethnic states might have worsened since President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government was established a year ago after decades of harsh military rule.
"For many ethnic people in Burma, things have not gotten better. In many cases it has gotten worse," said Myra Dahgaypaw, campaigns coordinator for U.S. Campaign for Burma (USCB).
She spoke after a petition signed by about 5,000 ethnic refugees from Burma now resettled in the United States was handed to U.S. Special Envoy Derek Mitchell urging him to pressure the Burmese government "to stop committing widespread and systematic human rights abuses against ethnic people."
Dahgaypaw, USCB Executive Director Aung Din and President of the Kachin National Organization U.S.A. Gum San Maung handed the petition to Mitchell, the U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma, in Washington.
The petition from the resettled refugees said, "As people from ethnic nationalities in Burma who have been subject to severe atrocities, we are grieved that the rights of people continue to be abused, especially while the international community asserts that positive change is happening."
They said they were particularly concerned that "while the main focus of international diplomatic efforts has been on some limited reforms affecting central Burma and the upcoming by-election for a small numbers of seats in the parliament, insufficient attention is being paid to developments in ethnic states."
They claimed that "widespread human rights abuses" including forced labor, arbitrary detention and torture, extrajudicial killings, destruction of villages, property theft, rape and forced relocation were still occurring in those states.
The petition charged that Burmese troops were using ceasefires that had been forged by the new administration to beef up the military by transporting rations and ammunition to the frontline bases located in ethnic minority areas.
Mitchell assured the group that he would broach the issues raised by the refugees with Burmese authorities during his next trip to the country, Aung Din told RFA.
"He said he is very much concerned over the plight of the ethnic minority and that he had raised the issue several times with the Burmese government," Aung Din said.
Human Rights Watch reported this week that renewed fighting in Burma's northern Kachin State has increased in severity and that some 75,000 ethnic Kachin have been displaced and desperately needed aid.
It further reported that the Burmese Army has burned villages, forcibly conscripted child soldiers, tortured civilians, and pillaged properties.
The petition also called on the international community to "pressure the Burmese regime to enter into political dialogue" with ethnic groups.
Human Rights Watch wanted greater priority for the inclusion of ethnic representatives, including those not in parliament, in such a dialogue, "instead of forcing them to join in the current political system before a political settlement is reached."
"There can be no long-term peace and security in Burma without the inclusion of ethnic representatives in the dialogue process," it said.
Many of the ethnic armed groups fighting Burma's military also commit atrocities, though their abuses have not been as well-documented as those of the Burmese army, Human Rights Watch had said.
Foreign powers have indicated to the Burmese government that some sanctions could be lifted if by-elections in 48 constituencies on April 1 were free and fair. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is participating in the elections and has complained of electoral fraud.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Khin May Zaw.