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Civilians against the military: The secret war in Burma

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Myanmar, once known as Burma, has opened up to the rest of the world after years of secrecy during a slow process of social and political reform. With increased openness is the fact of an ugly, secret war being waged against Kachin civilians who have been driven from their ancestral lands.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - More than 75,000 ethnic Kachin civilians have been driven from their homes. The Burmese army is accused by various human rights group of intentionally attacking civilian areas. There is widespread evidence of torture, rape, forced conscription and summary executions. Both civilians and government forces employ child soldiers and continue to sow the ground with land mines.

Human Rights Watch reports that at least 10,000 additional Kachin refugees are stranded in makeshift camps across the border in China. Authorities continue to refuse to grant the United Nations and relief agencies access. Thousands have reportedly been forced back across the border and into harm's way.

Since Thein Sein's government came into power last year, authorities have freed hundreds of prisoners, eased media censorship and reached agreements with other ethnic minority rebel groups. The West has eagerly responded, with the European Union suspending most of its sanctions. The U.S. has likewise declared the country open and appointed its first ambassador in 22 years.

Voices of caution are now being heard. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in June, Suu Kyi warned against "blind faith" in Burma's trajectory, asserting that ethnic tensions like those in Kachin state must be eased for the country to find its footing.

Burma watchers are concerned that ongoing rights abuses against the Kachin and other ethnic minorities could be further marginalized. "The international euphoria about the reform in Burma is definitely premature, especially with the crimes against humanity we're seeing in Kachin state," Matthew Smith, a field investigator with Human Rights Watch says.

Kachin Independence Army guerillas have fought the Burmese military on and off for decades in their bid for greater political rights and control over lands. More importantly, Chinese-funded hydropower projects brokered during the ceasefire period are being built on this land.

While other rebel movements in Karen and Chin states have inked deals with the government, KIA officials insist the Burmese used the truce as a cover to broker multi-billion dollar energy deals with China without their input. The current fighting was touched off when the Burmese Army advanced on KIA outposts near the Taping River.

"The main reason this war goes on is that Burma is trying to solve our differences by force, not dialogue. Even though we are not in a good position, it is compulsory for us to fight for our rights," Gen. Sumlat Gun Maw, the KIA's vice chief of staff says.

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