Nearly half a million displaced inside Burma

Mar 9, 2009 (DVB), The past year has seen a continuation in forced displacement of people in Burma as a result of conflict and human rights abuses, a recent report has found.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre's report, released on 5 March, found that an estimated 66,000 people from ethnic minority communities in eastern Burma were forced to become displaced in 2008.

The situation was most acute in Karen state, where 100,000 internally displaced persons in total reside as a result of the Burmese military's continued offensive against ethnic insurgent groups. These are also the areas where humanitarian access is highly restricted.

Other reasons for displacement, including within urban areas, included measures such as forced labour and land confiscation, often in the context of state-sponsored development initiatives, the report stated.

"[Such practices] drive down incomes to the point that people have no choice but to leave their homes," it said, quoting the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma.

The report pointed out that the Burmese government, whilst being the biggest perpetrator of forced displacement, is not solely responsible.

Groups such as the Karen National Union have an interest in controlling, or maintaining, civilian ethnic populations as a source of legitimacy, and a source of food, intelligence and manpower, it said.

"On this basis they bear some responsibility for the plight of civilians in areas where they operate."

Overall, the report found that, as of October 2008, 451,000 people were internally displaced in the rural areas of eastern Burma, although it warned that the figure was conservative given the lack of information about regions elsewhere in the country.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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