25 percent of Shan families forcibly relocated

Oct 27, 2009 (DVB), More than a quarter of families in Burma's northeastern Shan state were forcibly relocated in the past year, while nine percent of families had at least one member injured by a landmine, a US health academic said.

A further 24 percent of families had one member taken by Burmese troops for forced labour, according to Professor Chris Beyrer, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The findings were reported to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee during a testimony on US policy to Burma last week.

While much of the rhetoric surrounding the policy shift has focused on Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma's 2,100 political prisoners, Beyrer said that attacks on ethnic nationalities in the Karen and Shan states "are the second major cause for concern in Burma today".

Attacks by Burmese troops in Shan state, Burma's largest state with a population of nearly five million, had been particularly intense, with 39 villages targeted and 10,000 villagers forcibly displaced as "part of a systematic and widespread scorched earth campaign".

The findings of investigations into landmine injuries in Shan state were among the highest rates ever documented, he said.

Burma's state expenditure on healthcare is amongst the lowest in the world. Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) estimates that $US0.70 per capita per year, or 0.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), is channeled into the health sector.

The volatile Shan state, which borders China, was the scene of heavy fighting in August and September between government troops and an armed ethnic group from the Kokang region.

The fighting, which erupted following rising tension over the government's proposals to transform ethnic armies into border guard militias, forced some 37,000 refugees into China.

Beyrer said that the attacks on ethnic groups were part of the government's preparation for the 2010 elections.

"The junta is creating new humanitarian emergencies with its current campaign for political control of ethnic areas and destabilizing its border regions with China," he said.

"Burmese refugees continue to flee not only into China, but to Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Malaysia, making this a truly regional concern."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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