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Shan culture in Burma being ‘erased’

Nov 17, 2009 (DVB), International coverage of state-backed human rights abuses in Burma does not adequately address the subtler forms of abuse that are beginning to erode and distort ethnic cultures, a Shan group has warned.

The Burmese military government is replacing ethnic Shan culture with its "own homogenized and artificially imposed 'Myanmar culture'", say the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN), in a report released today.

The volatile Shan state in northeastern Burma is the country's largest state and home to an estimated six million people.

Low-intensity conflict has eaten away at the region for more than half a century as armed ethnic groups fight for autonomy against the military government. It is also the country's main drugs producing region, and thus heavily militarized.

The report, 'Forbidden Glimpses of Shan State', warns that tourists visiting the region are forbidden from seeing areas that "may soon be lost forever due to the regime's development plans, funded by Thai and Chinese investors".

Oil and gas pipelines that are being developed from Burma's western Arakan state to China's southern Yunnan province will slice through Shan state, which in August and September was the scene of heavy fighting between an armed Kokang group and the Burmese army.

"The military junta is subtly destroying our cultural heritage in Shan state, such as historical pagodas and palaces, by building dams and gas pipelines," said Ying Harn Fah, spokesperson for SWAN.

Moreover, "Shan State's beautiful forests, hills and rivers are fast being ravaged and polluted by unbridled resource exploitation by the regime and its cronies", it says.

The report states that around 150 army battalions are stationed in Shan state, who regularly confiscate farms, extort and tax villagers, and used locals as "free labour".

It also claims that between 1996 and 1998, more than 300,000 Shan villagers "were forced at gunpoint from their homes and lands in an anti-insurgency operation" by the Burmese army.

A United States' health academic, Professor Chris Beyrer, told the US House Foreign Affairs Committee during a testimony on US policy to Burma last month that 25 percent of Shan families had been forcibly relocated in the past year alone.

The report also highlights the plight of political prisoners being held in remote prisons in Shan state who "will never be physically seen by tourists but their presence should be a constant reminder to us all of the cruel reality of repression in Shan State and the rest of Burma today".

Reporting by Naw Noreen


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