Thousands Of Burma Christians Hiding In Jungle Amid Military Crackdown

Monday, December 11, 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife) -- Thousands of people belonging to the predominantly Christian Karen as well as Karenni and Shan ethnic groups were hiding in Burma's jungle areas Saturday, December 9, as government forces continued their largest offensive in a decade, killing at least dozens of people in recent months, several sources told BosNewsLife.

UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a major advocacy group, said it has returned from a fact-finding visit to the Thai-Burmese border, "with fresh evidence of gross violations of human rights perpetrated by Burma ’s military regime against the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic groups."

CSW visited Internally Displaced People inside Karen and Shan States in eastern Burma and said it heard "first-hand testimony of forced labor, torture, looting and the destruction of villages, crops and livestock."

Some 3,000 Burmese are trekking through Karen state to flee army attacks and search for food, Human Rights Watch said earlier. The New York-based group said it had received reports that more than 200 civilians had arrived at camps close to the Thai border after walking for 17 days while 3,000 others were moving toward border settlements in Burma, which the military government calls Myanmar.


"The Burmese military attacks villages, uses civilians for forced labor and steals their food and money, forcing people to flee," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

CSW said it established that the offensive particularly affects four northern districts in Karen State – Toungoo, Nyaunglebin, Papun and Thaton districts. Delegates of CSW visited Internally Displaced People who fled these areas to a camp near the border with Thailand .

CSW’s Advocacy Officer, Benedict Rogers, said, “The situation is dire. Almost 70 people had arrived in the camp the day we were there We heard that 400 came the next day. People are pouring in each day, rising from 2,000 to 3,000 within just a few weeks."

Rogers added that there "are not enough medicines or food for them all. But those who reach the camp are the lucky ones compared with those who are in hiding in the jungle, on the run, hunted by the Burmese army.” The outgunned Karen National Liberation Army, an ethnic
militia, has been involved in guerrilla warfare since the end of World War Two in an unsuccessful quest for an independent homeland, or at least autonomy, and to protect villages.


In the past year, a campaign conducted by the ruling military government, known as the he State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), displaced 27,000 villagers, with at least 45 civilians killed by government forces in Karen alone, Human Rights Watch said. The Free Burma Rangers, a relief group working in the conflict areas, said at least 50 people were killed. One man, Saw They Shur, was burned alive in his home at Play Hta village near Hoki, in Toungoo District on November 1, several Christian rights investigators reported.

"When the SPDC sees people, they don’t arrest them anymore. They shoot," one man allegedly told CSW. "They kill even children and babies." Another man, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CSW how he had been jailed, and beaten so severely that he lost his sight in one eye.

He had been subjected to water torture, electric shocks to his genitals and covered with red ants. "They come hunting people. Whatever they see in the jungle, they steal, burn and destroy. They steal pots, clothes, everything from people’s homes. I dare not return to my village. There is no hope, no place for me for the future," he was quoted as saying.

Across the country this year, over 82,000 people have been forced to flee the violence and 232 villages have been destroyed, Human Rights Watch said in a separate report.


Since 1996, an estimated 3,077 villages have been destroyed by the army and more than 1 million people uprooted from their homes, some 500,000 of them living along the Thai border. But that figure probably underestimates the true numbers since some areas are too
dangerous to survey, the rights group said.

At the United Nations, US Ambassador John Bolton wants to introduce a UN Security Council resolution in the coming weeks demanding Burma's military government to stop flooding the region with refugees escaping its repressive policies, Reuters news agency reported from New York. Russia and China have reportedly objected to the measure, frustrating US diplomats and human rights workers.

"It is time for the United Nations Security Council to pass a binding resolution on Burma , requiring the regime to release all political prisoners, open up the country to unhindered access for humanitarian aid, cease its violations of human rights and engage in meaningful dialogue with the democracy groups and ethnic nationalities,” said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

"Each time a team returns from a fact-finding visit to Burma , without fail they come back with new stories of the continuing horrific human rights violations committed by the dictators. The evidence of atrocities – torture, forced labor, religious persecution, rape, destruction
of villages, killings – is piling up," Thomas told BosNewsLife.

Burma has been ruled by the SPDC, led by Senior General Than Shwe, since 1992 after it invalidated the country's first democratic elections in three decades. The ballot was won by the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, who has been placed under house arrest by the military government.

The SPDC has often described reports of persecution as "propaganda" and parts of a US-led attempt to rule the region. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from the region).

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