Scorched earth victims ordered to rebuild houses

Aug 28, 2009 (DVB), Villagers in Burma's central Shan state whose houses were razed in the junta's latest scorched earth campaign this month have been ordered by the army to rebuild their property.

Some 500 hundred houses were burnt down by the Burmese army near Laihka town in Shan state between 27 July and 1 August, uprooting around 10,000 civilians.

Sein Kyi, deputy editor of the Shan Herald Agency for News, said that army officials in the area recently ordered those who fled to return to their villages and rebuild their homes.

"They also shot video and picture footage of the villages being rebuilt to make it look like the army was actually helping the villagers."

He said the villages were burnt down by army soldiers together with troops from a splinter group of the opposition Shan State Army, known as the Brigade 758.

"Now the army officials are telling villagers it was the Brigade 758 who burnt down their houses, despite warning [the brigade] not to," he said.

"But actually, it was the [government] troops who burnt down the villages and the Brigade 758 was only accompanying them."

The order to rebuild the villages follows a press conference held two weeks ago in Bangkok by Shan right groups, who reported that around 40 villages have been targeted in the campaign.

According to the groups, it is the single largest forced relocation in Shan state since a campaign from 1996 to 1998 saw the uprooting of 300,000 villagers, many of whom fled to Thailand.

Some aid materials, brought to the displaced by sympathisers in nearby towns and villages, were reportedly intercepted by the army on August 7.

Sein Kyi said that the materials were recently distributed to the villagers under the army battalion's name.

Much of the scorched earth campaign has focused on Laikha township, where over 100 villagers, including women, have been arrested and tortured, and three have died. Many of these were displaced by the previous campaign.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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