Update from Conflict Zones

Some people might think Burma never gets cold, but in Northern Burma where conflict continues to rage, winter can really take it’s toll. In the jungle mountains of Kachin state, soldiers of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) work to hold off the attacks of Burma’s Army. Despite President Thein Sein calls for the army to stop offensives, there is little sign on the ground that he has any power over the military.

Life is getting harder for the 36,000+ displaced people in Kachin areas. After six months of fighting, the UN has finally been able to go in and do one drop off of supplies, but more is needed. It is worrisome also that Chinese authorities are threatening to close down sixteen temporary refugee camps within its borders where approximately 16,000 people are currently residing. [Read Backpack Health Workers Team most recent Situation Update] The refugees in Kachin state are afraid to return home, not just because of fighting, but because of abuses being committed by Burma Army troops. There are numerous reports of the military using forced labor, rape, taking civilian property and burning down churches and homes.

The photographer Ryan Libre accompanied the KIA to the frontlines last week and captured evidence of burned homes. In one of the villages, a civilian told him what had happened “[The Burmese battalion] came to deliver supplies to [a nearby] outpost when they encountered the KIA. Upon retreating slowly, they shot up the church in our village … and set two houses on fire… They were firing their guns constantly as they retreated past the village but there were no KIA [soldiers] chasing them down into the village. They [Burmese troops] were just being unruly.” [as reported in DVB]

Moreover, Karen Human Rights Group released a report last week that is an analysis and compilation of 1,270 oral testimonies of civilians in eastern Burma. The first-hand accounts of people in Karen state show that “Over the last 12 months, villagers in rural eastern Burma continued to raise concerns of ongoing human rights abuses consistent with trends identified over the last 20 years.” The report particularly points out the importance of local voices, and when assessing change in Burma, the perspectives of people in rural conflict areas must be taken into account.

These issues must not be forgotten in all the discussions about reform taking place in Burma.

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