Kachin abuses undermine Burma’s reform claims – The Irrawaddy



KIA soldier recovers from landmine injury at KIA military hospital near Laiza (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

BANGKOK—Since a 1994 ceasefire between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down last June, Kachin civilians have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of the Burmese government forces, including extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, forced displacement and the denial of humanitarian aid, says New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

More than 70,000 Kachin villagers have been driven from their homes by fighting in the resource-rich northern Burmese state, and on-off peace talks between the two sides have to date failed to yield a ceasefire. HRW says that both the Burmese army and the KIA are laying landmines and deploying child soldiers—sometimes as young as 14—to the front line.

“Both parties are using anti-personnel mines, both are using child soldiers,” says Matthew Smith, the lead researcher of the HRW report, Untold Miseries: Wartime Abuses and Forced Displacement in Kachin State, which documents over 100 interviews with those involved in and affected by the fighting.

“The KIA has inadequately mapped where it lays the mines,” adds Smith, disclosing that the Kachin rebels say around 40 of their troops have been killed by the militia’s own mines.

But the bulk of the documented abuses have been carried out by the Burmese army, or Tatmadaw, despite looming by-elections and regular updates about proposed political and economic reforms in Burma.

One Kachin man interviewed by HRW – who was forced to work as a porter by the Burmese army – said that he witnessed the abduction and repeated rape and sexual abuse of two Kachin women by Burmese soldiers. Other accounts from teenage boys describe their torture at the hands of soldiers, while HRW says it has documented cases of three Kachin civilians murdered by Burmese army soldiers.

HRW’s Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson says that the Burmese government is preventing aid from reaching those affected by the fighting inside KIA-held territory. Accounts given to The Irrawaddy by Kachin NGOs and aid workers recently indicate that the relief operation—to support more than 40,000 displaced people inside KIA-held territory and another 7,000 -10,000 refugees in China—is underfunded and under-resourced.

With the monsoon season approaching, the relief effort needs to be stepped-up, says HRW. Kachin aid workers told HRW that many shelters are inadequate or are deteriorating after months of use since the fighting began.

HRW acknowledges that the Burmese government has undertaken reforms—such as an easing of press censorship and the release of prominent political prisoners. A draft new media law is being discussed in Rangoon at present, while the Burmese government is proposing changes to long-strangled foreign investment codes and in areas of infrastructure such as telecommunications.

However army abuses in Kachin state continue, says HRW. “The kind of things you encounter in this report, you could have anticipated 2, 5, 10 years ago, in other reports about other ethnic areas of Burma,” Robertson said. “We have not seen a significant change in how the Burmese army operates on the ground.”

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