Today we met with the Free Burma Rangers (FBR), who work to deliver medical and humanitarian aid in the conflict ‘black zones’ inside Burma. The black zones are areas in Burma where there is a strong ethnic resistance. The black zones are free-fire areas, where the Burmese Army can shoot anyone they come across, and individuals, villages and food supplies are considered targets.
FBR provide aid to Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs), forced to flee the Burmese Army. There are currently more than 60 FBR teams working inside Burma to assist IDPs. The teams are comprised of people from different ethnic groups who provide medical support, shelter, food, clothing and educational materials. They also document and report human rights violations.
Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. The conflict against ethnic minorities has also been one of the longest in recent history, beginning almost immediately after independence from Britain in 1948. The Panglong Agreement of 1947 is an important historical event in understanding the conflict. It was negotiated by General Aung San (who is Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) and outlined the rights of minority States under the Union of Burma. It also gave the Shan and Karenni people the option to secede after a decade of independence. General Aung San was assassinated in 1947, and the constitutional guarantees were not upheld. Ethnic conflict has displaced millions of people. As one of the FBR representatives explained, war injuries are often minimal among victims, but people live in latent paralysis during war, they can’t rice-farm or trade, receive a basic education or health care.
FBR was founded in 1997 by a former US Army Special Forces member, David Eubank, who saw the need for medical aid for people who were internally displaced by the conflict. FBR are a Christian based organisation. While established by a foreigner the FBR approach is about empowering, training and building the capacity of local people to deliver assistance. The FBR has set up a medical training program in the Karen State which has been initially staffed by Western trained medical professionals but is being turned over to local staff to provide training and administration. The training aims to prepare beginning medics to provide simple health care using limited resources. They have also set up an early warning system to help villagers escape Burma Army attack through distribution of radio kits.
The FBR web site has a lot of information about their work and you can also access some of their human rights reports. Their human rights reporting is extremely valuable in assisting campaign groups around their world in advocating for human rights and democracy in Burma, as it gets out information to the international community which otherwise may not be told. For this blog post, I wanted to include a quote from one of their reports which highlights what the FBR and other groups we have met here are working towards. The quote is from a grandmother from the Karenni State which is in Eastern Burma, whose village had been attacked four times over six years but has refused to leave. She said that “we have a right to stay in our own homes and farms, as we always have. We don’t need the dictators’ army to control us. We want to be free.”