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A Shan civil society group is planning to conduct a region-wide survey to expose human rights violations they say Kachin rebels have committed against ethnic Shans during the civil conflict in northern Burma.
The Shan Ethnic Affairs Organisation (SEAO), which represents Shan communities in Kachin, told DVB the group plans to survey 800 villages to uncover abuses against the Red Shan ethnic group, a minority living in the region.
Locals say that both Kachin rebels and government forces, who have clashed in the northern state for over two years, have carried out mass atrocities against the Shan minority including extortion, forced recruitment, rape and torture.
“The KIA [Kachin Independence Army] has abducted Shan villagers they come across [for forced recruitment] – sometimes taking almost entire villages,” said Sai Tin Myint, an executive member of SEAO.
“They punished and executed those who tried to defect, especially in the past when there was no government process to accept [rebel] deserters,” he said referring to a new scheme offering protection to former rebel fighters.
In the past, most rebel defectors would have been forced to return to their home villages, where they could easily be identified and re-captured.
“In the last year, a 15-year-old teenager was abducted by the KIA and his parents are still unable to learn his whereabouts today,” said Sai Tin Myint.
He added that Red Shans, the name for ethnic Shans living in Kachin state, have been subjected to serious violations for the past 50 years. But they have not been able to speak out until Burma embarked on its democratic reform programme under President Thein Sein’s government.
“We aim to accurately expose human rights violations committed by any armed group in the region against our population,” said Sai Tin Myint.
“The Shan people in the region have been subjected to arrest, extortion and rape by armed groups operating in the region but we have never been able to complain – when we reached out to the KIO [Kachin Independence Organisation], the Burmese army would punish us for making contact with the rebels.”
It follows numerous media reports of Shan civilians being forced to work as porters or fighters for the KIA, although the rebels have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Sai Tin Myint said the completed survey will be submitted to the International Human Rights Commission, adding that they have already compiled over 100 case studies from Myitkyina, Mohnyin, Mogaung, Hpakant, Bhamo and Mansi townships. But he said it has been difficult to verify evidence and many witnesses are too afraid to come forward for fear of retribution by armed groups, so it is not clear when the research will be completed.
In March 2012, a major report by Human Rights Watch implicated the Burmese army in mass abuses against civilians in Kachin state, while the KIA was accused of using child soldiers and anti-personnel land mines. But to date no comprehensive study has been carried out implicating rebels in mass atrocities on the scale described by SEAO.
The group met with the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomás Quintana, in August last year and US ambassador Derek Mitchell in October, to discuss their concerns.
Ethnic Shans are estimated to make up around a quarter of the population, or around 300,000 people, in Kachin state. The Kachin conflict has forcing some 100,000 civilians, including many ethnic Shans, from their homes.