By BosNewsLife News Center
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife) -- Predominantly Christian Karen villagers were believed to be on the run Tuesday, February 21, amid reports that Burma's government forces launched a new offensive against them.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a religious rights group investigating the situation, told BosNewsLife it had learned of that Karen villagers in Taungoo district were killed, and others detained and used for forced labor.
CSW, quoting the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People, said the problems escalated February 15 when "the mutilated body of an unidentified person was found in the Bla Khi area" of Burma, a country the military government calls Myanmar.
"The victim's throat had been slit and left hand cut off, in an area where the Burma Army had been operating," added CSW, which also advises British politicians and other policy makers.
It claimed that between February 8 and February 14, "at least 135 people were taken from Kaw Thay Der, Kaw Law Kar, Ku Thay Der and Sar Bar Law Khi villages for forced labor."
In addition on "February 6, three men were reportedly arrested from Pau Pa and Yer Loe villages, and on February 14, Burma's Infantry Battalion 35 arrested a further five men from Pau Pa. Reports have also been received of looting and extortion," CSW said, citing sources in the region.
Three Karenni families fleeing for their lives from the Burma Army were interviewed by the Free Burma Rangers, a group of aid workers helping people made homeless in war zones. "The Burmese army and their helpers ... were on their way to kill me," one unidentified refugee was quoted as saying by the rangers.
"They had already killed one of my friends and cut off his head ... At that time they captured me and three others from our village ... as well as three from other villages. We were gathered together from ten surrounding villages for a prayer meeting when the Burma Army forces appeared and captured some of us."
The refugee said the families "were tied up, beaten, punched then we were given electric shocks to our body. They struck us with rifle butts and one of them used a pistol to beat us."
In addition "one man's jaw was broken, one man's skull was broken and for me I was not able to endure the torture. They did this to us one by one. One of us was then forced to go with the soldiers and my friend ... was killed. I may have been killed just as my friend was but I managed to escape ... I do not want to take revenge. I am just a villager, I will move away from them."
There are also reports of rape being used as a weapon and some women were gang raped to death, refugees and other sources say.
Children have also been singled out for massacres, a BosNewsLife team learned in Burma and Thailand recently.
"We receive reports on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis of continuing crimes against humanity in Burma. The attacks are sickening - not only the use of forced labor, but rape, killings, beheadings and the grotesque mutilation of bodies," CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife.
Fears of worsening conditions are echoed by other groups.
The 2004 ouster of Gen. Khin Nyunt, who negotiated cease-fires with 17 insurgent groups, reinforced hard-liners within the junta and "resulted in increasing hostility directed at ethnic minority groups," US-based Human Rights Watch claimed in its 2006 report.
One of the most known, although outnumbered, rebel group is the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), which has ruled Burma without a constitution or legislature since 1988 after suppressing nationwide anti-military protests. Most Karens are of Christian descent, although there is also a significant Buddhist population.
"The government hates the Christians and is trying to use the different religious groups to attack each other," said Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International (CFI), which supports Christians in Burma.
There are up to 1.5 million internal refugees, many cowering in bleak hovels deep inside malarial jungles or on bitterly cold mountainsides, human rights groups, estimates CFI.
The violence has reportedly accelerated exodus to neighboring countries, including more than 400,000 to Thailand, where thousands arrive each month, The Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted the Burma Border Consortium, the main refugee aid group, as saying.
The organization said the has destroyed some 3,000 villages and displaced 80,000 people a year in most recent times. Since 1999, the United States has designated Burma, as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly "severe violations of religious freedom."
The SPDC government has denied wrongdoing and accused Westerners and "internal destructive elements" of spreading "fabrications."
Like previous governments in the country, the generals claim they have a sacred obligation to hold the nation of 43 million together and stamp out "separatist rebellions" among its 135 officially recognized races. Thomas suggested this was a bad excuse for violence.
"For far too long the world has failed to pay enough attention to the ongoing atrocities in Burma. The United Nations Security Council, the Association of South-East Asian Nations and others in the international community must make it a priority to bring an end to the genocidal dictatorship in Burma this year," the CSW official said. (With BosNewsLife and other reports from Burma and Thailand and BosNewsLife Research).
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