Army using civilians as minesweepers

Apr 22, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese army has been using civilians to act as minesweepers, forcing them to walk in front of bulldozers and troop patrols in order that neither army equipment nor personnel is damaged, claims a report.

Villagers from Play Hsa Lo, in northern Karen state, were forced by the army on 2 April to both carry food and sweep the area for mines as the army encroached on Karen rebel territory, said a Free Burma Rangers' report released on Monday.

According to Thauwa A Ta, from Free Burma Rangers, the use of villagers as minesweepers happens on a regular basis.

"If the Burmese army is trying to move something they don't want the resistance to destroy, for example a bulldozer to build roads, they often put people in front of it, usually about 30 or so, to clear the area of landmines and to step on them if there are any," he said.

Villagers are also being used by the army to act as human shields against the Karen rebel groups, hoping that their presence would keep opposition groups from attacking patrols, said the report.

The report also listed another case of human minesweeping in the Maw Thay Der area, also in northern Karen state.

People from three different villages in Tantabin township were forced to walk in front of patrolling troops. Afterwards they had to register with the army and move to a relocation site.

In a separate incident last month, army personnel arrested three villagers in an effort to withdraw their support of Karen resistance groups, said the report. The three were tied up during the day and kept in a pit at night.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith

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