Naypyidaw Vows to End Armed Conflict: EU Officials

Monday, 12 September 2011 19:58
The Burmese government has vowed to pursue an end to its decades-long armed conflicts with ethnic groups, and has said it will allow for the voluntary repatriation of war refugees, and for international aid groups to be given access to disaster and conflict zones, according to EU officials speaking at a press conference in Bangkok on Sunday.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva told reporters that Burma’s Border Affairs Minister Lt-General Thein Htay said in Naypyidaw that his government will pursue peace with ethnic armed groups.

“The minister of border affairs strongly believed there must be peace, and it can be achieved by fair treatment to ethnic minorities through development opportunities for them,” the veteran Bulgarian diplomat said.

She said that Thein Htay had informed her that the repatriation of about 140,000 war refugees—mostly ethnic Karen—from Thailand must be done on a voluntary basis. She said that the Burmese authorities had spoken to their Thai counterparts about opening up job opportunities for the refugees if or when they return.

However, Saw Robert Htwe, the chairman of the Karen Refugee Committee, told The Irrawaddy that the refugees’ safety must be prioritized and that food assistance must be provided to the refugees for at least three years by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other concerned humanitarian aid agencies if the repatriation comes to reality.

“The refugees should return home only when it is safe,” he said. “Unless it is safe for them, they should not be repatriated.”

David Lipman, the European ambassador to Thailand and Burma who accompanied Georgieva on her trip to Burma, said that Thein Htay hoped to begin peace talks with the ethnic groups soon. Thein Htay said that the government said it is committed to peace, and he hopes that within the next few months they will have serious negotiations to that end, according to Lipman.

Naw Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the rebel Karen National Union (KNU), however, said that even thought the government states that it wants to hold peace talks with ethnic armed groups, it still had not issued a response to the United Nationalities Federal Council, the country’s paramount alliance of ethnic armed groups, since they wrote to the government calling for peace talks.

Even though the government agreed to form a “peace committee” last month to meditate between Naypyidaw and the ethnic armed groups, the Burmese army continues to launch military offensives in ethnic areas, she said.

She cautioned the EU officials not to trust what the government says, but to “look behind the scenes” to see what is really happening.

“They should look at what really happens on the ground in ethnic areas with regard to issues such as human rights abuses,” she said, adding that Naypyidaw only spoke in conciliatory or peaceful terms when it wanted to portray a good image in front of the international community. Continue reading “Naypyidaw Vows to End Armed Conflict: EU Officials”

In Two Villages, Residents Fear Extrajudicial Killings

September 12, 2011

HURFOM,Kawkareik Township: Following the breakout of renewed fighting in Karen State, Burmese government troops are engaging in extrajudicial killings of those they accuse of being members of rebel armed groups.  In documenting these human rights abuses, HURFOM found that safety and survival are the main concern of locals.

According to residents and local military observers, the government Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) No. 346, based in Lae-khaw village, Myawaddy Township, Kawkareik District, Karen State, interrogated and executed a villager who they accused of being an informant for the Karen National Union (KNU) and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). The villager, who could not speak Burmese, was arrested and then beaten and killed. According to local sources, the man was innocent and no evidence was given to justify the government troops’ actions.

The strength of LIB No.346 is over 50 men, composing separate columns. The column led by Major Zaw Minn Hteik, is the one responsible for killing the Lae-khaw villager, according to Saw Ka-lo, 46, a resident in the nearby village of Ah-zin on the Haung Tha Yaw River bank. Speaking to HURFOM, he described finding the villager’s body in his village:

Later on, I found out that that’s the villager came from Lae-khaw village. At first, I thought he was from Azin village. Even though I was not acquainted with him, I remembered his face as I had seen him often. He’s just an ordinary villager, working as a local farmer. His body had lots of injuries, and was found near the waterfront located in the western side of Azin village. It appeared that he was beaten to death. Near the corpse were footprints of the soldiers’ boots, sticks they used to beat him, and a shirt stained with blood.

According to a Lae-khaw resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, the villager who was killed by the LIB No. 346 is Saw Par Ka law Poe, 39, from Lae-khaw village.

A local cattle farmer from Lae-khaw village reported that on August 19th at 11 AM he saw Saw Par Ka law Poe arrested and taken away by column No.1 of LIB No.346, led by Major Zaw Minn Hteik.

According to Saw Kaloh, an Azin villager, the body of Saw Par Ka-law Poe was found in the morning of the next day at the edge of the Haung Tha Yaw River bank. He told HURFOM that Saw Par Ka-law Poe could understand some Burmese, but did not speak it. And, like many of the other villagers, he had been afraid of the fighting, especially the military operations of the government troops. After seeing his body, Saw Kaloh remarked, “It looked like he had been badly beaten before he died because his entire body was injured.”

Saw Kaloh said now residents of Azin and Lae-khaw are afraid to go outside their villages. They venture out for only the most essential tasks, and they don’t stay long. “No one would go if they did not have any matters to take care of. Everyone is struggling to work for a living,” he explained.

However, he added, “There would be no such safety in this area if the Burmese troops were still active here. Although we could leave for safer places, we do not want to go. This is because those places are not familiar to us: there are no job opportunities for us to work for our survival there. And we would have to leave our home villages.”

According to a farmer in his 60s from Azin village, government troops have arrested and beaten villagers in every area where fighting has occurred. They often interrogate the accused villagers about their connections to rebel groups and beat them, sometimes to the point of death. To his memory, five men in villages in the Way-lay region have already been killed by government troops for being suspected rebels. Like Saw Kaloh, he told HURFOM that villagers are afraid to go to work for fear of being arrested:

I’ve heard the burst of gun fire in this area since I was young child. But, because it had usually been controlled by Karen armed groups, the situation was not as bad as now. Now, because there is fighting between government troops and Karen armed groups almost every day, the strains on our daily lives are more severe. Villagers are also afraid of getting arrested and beaten by Burmese soldiers. And, since every villager is aware that an arrest could lead to their death, it affects their livelihood [because they are afraid to go to work]. The villagers do not want to go outside the village even while they go hungry if the Burmese troops are stationed nearby.

According the latest documents gathered by HURFOM reporters, the family and relatives of the most recent murder victim, Saw Par Ka-law Poe, reported this case to the local KNU office and to the local authorities of the township administration and requested them to provide social protections for their living and security.