Security threats in eastern Burma 'increasing'

Oct 30, 2009 (DVB), The fallout from conflict in eastern Burma is likely to deteriorate in the coming year as greater militarization causes further unrest in the region, an aid agency said.

The Thai government has expressed concern about an exodus of Burmese across the border in the run-up to elections next year, while a humanitarian organization warned last month that Thailand faces a "wave of refugees".

The prediction was reinforced yesterday with the release of a statement by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) that said that conflict in eastern Burma was not being given due attention.

"After 25 years of responding to the consequences of conflict in eastern Burma, it is tragic to see the causes remain unaddressed and the situation is likely to further deteriorate during the next twelve months," said TBBC executive director, Jack Dunford.

"A recent influx of refugees into Thailand and monitoring reports from internally displaced communities indicate that violence and abuse in eastern Burma are increasing."

Government pressure on ceasefire groups to transform into border guards prior to the elections is a key reason for the unrest and further uprooting of internally displaced persons (IDPs), said Duncan McArthur, emergency relief coordinator at TBBC.

"Of the numbers of IDPs in eastern Burma, around half of them are in ceasefire areas," he said. "If the tension with the ceasefire groups escalates, it's going to make those IDPs in ceasefire areas a lot more vulnerable than they have been previously."

More than 3,500 villages and "hiding sites" have been forcibly relocated or destroyed since 1996, according to TBBC. Around 120 communities were affected between August 2008 and July 2009 alone.

It warns that the situation regarding village relocation is "comparable to the situation in Darfur and has been recognised as the strongest single indicator of crimes against humanity in eastern Burma".

A report released in July by a panel of leading international jurists also alleged that human rights atrocities in Burma that are comparable to both Darfur and the former Yugoslavia were being underreported.

"[The situation] hasn't had the same political support from the UN security council in regards to Burma, and eastern Burma in particular," said McArthur.

In June around 5000 Karen civilians fled into Thialand to escape fighting between the government and opposition Karen National Union (KNU), while an offensive against an ethnic Kokang army in northeastern Shan state forced some 37,000 into China.

"The breakdown of 20 year old ceasefire agreements reflects how the Burmese junta's 'road map to democracy' offers no political settlement for the ethnic minority groups," said the statement, adding that there is an "urgent need to address ethnic grievances".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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