Burma: Military targeting civilians in Kachin State

A rights group is demanding the release of four ethnic Kachin women believed to be held captive as sex slaves by the Burma Army.

The Chiang Mai-based Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) says it is "gravely concerned" for the lives of the four women.

Escaped porters who fled from an outpost near the Chinese border with Kachin State told the group the four women were being forced to cook and clean for battalion soldiers, then gang-raped during the evening.

KWAT is demanding that foreign envoys step in to demand that the women be released.

"Silence about the Burma Army's blatant systematic sexual violence is placing the lives of all women and girls in the conflict zones at risk," KWAT coordinator Moon Nay Li said in a statement.

The claim is the latest in a line of human rights abuses that critics allege the Burmese military has committed in its multi-front battle against armed ethnic militias. In Kachin State, a 17-year ceasefire between the regime and the Kachin Independence Army collapsed earlier this year. The clashes were sparked by a dispute over land around a controversial hydropower project--part of a growing trend that has seen Burma's quest to develop its natural resources cause conflict in ethnic areas.

KWAT says the number of civilians displaced by the fighting this year is approaching 30,000. Many have fled to isolated makeshift camps along the border area.

In October, a KWAT report documented a series of atrocities the Burma Army allegedly committed against civilians. The report used interviews with civilians to document killings, torture and sexual violence.

"In one incident, a girl was raped and killed in front of her parents," KWAT deputy coordinator Ah Noh said in an interview.

Critics say the Burma Army is deliberately targeting civilians in its ongoing battle with armed ethnic militias.

The October report came as Burma released more than 200 political prisoners from its jails--critics say there were at least 2,000 political dissidents behind bars before the release. While the issue of prisoner release has become a benchmark by which Burma's commitment to reforms is judged, rights groups like KWAT say any assessment must be made with an eye to the ongoing abuses by Burma's military.

"The international community should not be so satisfied with the release of a few prisoners, when there is increased fighting," Ah Noh said.
"We want the international community to pressure the regime to end impunity for the Burma Army."

Photo: Mu Bum military outpost along the border between Kachin State and China, where a human rights group alleges that a Burma Army battalion is holding four Kachin women as sex slaves. (KWAT)

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Date: 07/11/2011





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