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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must press the Burmese government on ongoing violations by its troops in the country’s border regions when she arrives tomorrow for the most senior-level US visit to Burma in more than half a century, an alliance of ethnic parties has stated.
Clinton is tipped to meet with Burmese government officials and the National League for Democracy during her two days in the country. The US has praised the slew of reforms enacted by the new government since March, but various observers have warned that state-sanctioned human rights violations persist.
A letter destined for Clinton was penned yesterday by the 12-member United Nationalities Alliance, which urges the Secretary of State not to be distracted by the ‘political’ face of recent progress in Burma.
It says that in the border regions, where ethnic armies continue to battle government forces, “women including teenagers and [the elderly] were raped, villages were burnt down, destroyed and ransacked … [and] villagers were forced to serve as porters”.
It spotlights the ongoing and grisly by-products of conflicts that have flared in the past year, resulting in tens of thousands of refugees, but which still receive little international attention.
The letter also calls on Clinton to push for the release of Burma’s estimated 1,700 political prisoners, an issue seen as a key obstacle to the west dropping sanctions on the country.
Among the signatories were the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, the Zomi National Congress and the Mon National Democratic Front party, all of whom competed in the 1990 elections.
“All armed conflicts must stop immediately,” the letter continued, urging peace talks between the government and armed groups. “Those peace negotiations must be proper, responsible, systematic and transparent by both sides.”
The details of Clinton’s visit have been kept vague, although she is likely to meet with the somewhat reclusive President Thein Sein, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday before she flies out.
It follows three visits by US envoy Derek Mitchell since September, with Washington seeking to gauge the extent of reforms, likely in a bid to build stronger ties with Burma as it looks to stem China’s influence in the country.
Much of the rhetoric coming out of Washington in the build up to the trip has praised the political reforms, which have included amendments to laws criminalising trade unions and peaceful protest, and urged a wholesale political prisoner amnesty.
Little space however has been dedicated to analysing the violence against ethnic minorities, despite it being an equally crucial component of Burma’s political malaise.
Sai Lek, spokesperson of the SNLD, said: “Mainly, we aim to make Mrs Clinton and her delegation aware during their visit that the developments occurring in Burma are not as obvious as everyone is saying, and that there aren’t any concrete changes yet.”