Burma Army Burns Christian Karen Villages, Satellite Images Show

Monday, October 1, 2007

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife) -- The United Nations envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in the country Saturday, September 29, to urge the junta to end its violent crackdown on those opposing the regime, a day after satellite images confirmed that government-backed forces massively burn villages of predominantly Christian Karens.

However as Gambari headed for the new administrative capital, Naypyidaw, to talks with military leaders, Singapore's Foreign Minister, George Yeo, warned in New York that he and other diplomats fear he will not accomplish much.

Burmese officials admitted that this week alone at least 10 people, including a Japanese journalist, were killed in Rangoon by security forces suppressing pro-democracy demonstrations, but dissidents and human rights groups said the death toll may be as high as 200.

Government soldiers in Rangoon, also called Yangon, and Mandalay reportedly raided and cordoned off Buddhist monasteries, and detained monks accused of instigating the demonstrations against 45 years of military rule. And, satellite images revealed an ongoing offensive outside Rangoon, against ethnic minority Karen villages, where many Christians live.


Unveiling images taken months before the military's latest crackdown on dissent, the Washington-based American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) said destroyed settlements are visible in the high-definition photographs taken by satellites zooming in on the secretive state since late April.

In Karen areas of eastern Burma, the group used three commercial satellites to focus on 31 "attack sites," AAAS project director Lars Bromley told reporters. The images also confirm previous reports on attacks against Karen villagers by Christian media, including BosNewsLife, and Christian rights investigators.

"We found evidence of 18 villages that essentially disappeared," Bromley said. "We got reporting in late April that a set of villages in Karen State had been burned. We were actually able to identify burn scars on the ground -- square-shaped burn scars the size of


3,000 villages have reportedly been destroyed by the military rulers, with 1.5 million refugees living along the country's borders. Christian rights groups estimate there are over one million Internally Displaced People within Burma, and over 150,000 refugees in Thailand. The crackdown on Karens and other predominantly Christian minorities has been linked to the junta's objection to Christianity, which it views as a threat to its ideology and powerbase.

A satellite pictures taken in 2006, showed foundations and fence lines with all the structures gone, where a village had stood two years earlier. The area photographed was the site of a reported military raid on Karen villagers accused by the regime of supporting KNLA rebels. "We saw quite extensive evidence of possible forced relocation," Bromley told reporters.

The Burmese military has also been fighting several rebel groups, including the Karen NationalLiberation Army (KNLA), which seeks more autonomy and rights for Karens and whose leadership supports detained democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, BosNewsLife established.


In published remarks, the Policy Director for the United States Campaign for Burma activist group, Aung Din, said his organization would use the satellite evidence to pressure the Burmese government to end the violent crackdown against Karens and pro-democracy protestors.

"We are trying to send a message to the military junta that we are watching from the sky ... We are warning them not to continue" the violence, said Aung Din, policy director of the Washington-based US Campaign for Burma in published remarks. "By showing this evidence ... we are expecting that we can persuade China" to join international opposition to the junta's crackdown, he added.

China and Russia have so far blocked UN Security Council resolutions aimed at condemning Burma's junta.

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