Hundreds flee homes in eastern Burma

Nov 2, 2009 (DVB), Military offensives by the Burmese army against a Karen opposition group have caused "hundreds" of civilians to flee their homes in the past fortnight, a senior Karen official said.

Burmese troops have also been using Karen civilians as army porters, according to Karen National Union (KNU) joint secretary, Saw Hla Ngwe.

"Hundreds of locals have been displaced since the third week of October. Their farms, left unattended, have gone to waste," he said.

There has been an increase in troop activity in Moe Oo and other townships under KNU control, he added.

The news follows a report released last week by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) that warned of increasing security threats in Karen state.

The destruction of some 3,500 villages by the Burmese army and proxy Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) since 1996 was comparable to Darfur, the report said, "and has been recognised as the strongest single indicator of crimes against humanity in eastern Burma".

The report also said that around 75,000 people in eastern Burma had been forced to flee their homes in the past year, while more than half a million remain internally displaced.

The Thai government is also said to be concerned about a possible increase in Burmese refugees crossing the border to escape fighting as the government prepares for elections next year. The Washington-based Refugees International (RI) warned last month that Thailand faces a "wave of refugees" prior to the elections.

In June this year around 5,000 Karen refugees crossed into Thailand to escape fighting, although many have since returned.

The conflict between the Burmese government and the KNU has stretched over six decades, and is thought to be one of the world's longest running.

The DKBA, which split from the KNU in 1995, is alleged to be vying for control of Karen state in lieu of creating a black market trade zone.

Reporting by Thurein Soe

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