Amid Reforms in Burma, Killing of Christian Civilians Continues

Amid Reforms in Burma, Killing of Christian Civilians Continues

Photo: Internally Displaced People camp in northern Burma (A. Kirchof, UNHCR)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (Morning Star News) – Days before Burmese president Thein Sein was reportedly nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last week, a report revealed his government troops had killed and raped dozens of civilians and burned hundreds of churches and homes.

At war with rebels in predominantly Christian Kachin state, government troops killed at least nine civilians and wounded more than a dozen others in mortar attacks in the northern state of Burma (also known as Myanmar) from September 2012 to February, according to a report by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT).

The actual number of civilian casualties is much higher, said Chiang Mai-based Kachin activist La Nu Nan.

“When I visited the Kachin state recently, I was told about 200 civilians had been killed, out of which about 40 were children,” he told Morning Star News, adding that the war has displaced about 100,000 civilians.

The report served as a sobering reminder of abuses even after the long-time military regime’s moves toward democracy and the release of hundreds of political prisoners. Released three days after President Sein began his Europe trip on Feb. 25, the KWAT report shows that Burma Army artillery unit 372 on Jan. 29 fired mortars at the town of Mayan, 24 miles south of the state’s capital of Myitkyina. Shells fell on three houses and killed a woman, identified as Labram Lu, and her 9-year-old son. Three others, including a two-year-old boy and a 95-year-old man, were injured.

The report adds that the troops later claimed the attack was launched after some drunken Burmese soldiers fired gunshots, which were mistaken as firing by Kachin rebels. Locally, however, it is known that the rebels do not have any presence in the area. Officials offered 300,000 kyat (US$340) as compensation to the bereaved family.

On Jan. 16, Burmese troops stationed at the Byuhakone base fired mortars at Mawwan Kachin Baptist Church in Hpakant town, according to the report. While the church building was damaged, no one was injured as all the congregants had left the building after prayers.

On Jan. 14, government soldiers fired mortars at Hkachyang Block 4 residential area of Laiza, a town bordering China and a Kachin rebel stronghold. A shell landed outside a house where several displaced people were warming themselves in front of a fire. A 46-year-old man, Nhkum Bawk Naw, was killed immediately, while a 76-year-old assistant pastor, Malang Yaw, was injured and died soon after reaching a hospital. Four others were seriously injured, including two girls ages 2 and 10.

A 15-year-old boy, Doi San Awng, who was trying to help the injured people after the incident, was struck by another shell and died.

On Jan. 6, about 300 Burmese troops came and burned numerous houses in Namsanyang town on the Myitkyina-Bhamo road. At least 296 of the 520 houses were destroyed.

On Dec. 27, government troops at the Hang Gai hill near Laja-yang, west of Laiza, fired mortars at a watermelon plantation near Dung Hkung village while farmers were at work. A 42-year-old man, Maji Tu Ja, was killed, and three others were seriously injured. On Nov. 2, Burmese troops at Hpakant Byuhakone base fired shells at Tahtechaung village, causing the death of two civilians and injuring an elderly man and two boys.

On Oct. 15, government soldiers fired shells at a rebel camp in Chipwi Township, which was housing 600 displaced people. A 7-year-old boy, Bawm Hkaw, son of an assistant pastor, was hit in the thigh. On Sept. 13, Burma army fired shells at areas on the outskirts of Hpakant town. One shell fell near a government school in Mawwangyi, causing the death of a 13-year-old schoolgirl, Seng Ja Ing, and injuring eight other students who were returning home.

Rapes, Sexual Assaults

KWAT also reported that at least 66 churches have been burned down and 64 women and girls raped or sexually abused by Burmese troops since June 2011, when the government broke a 17-year-old ceasefire with the Kachin rebels.

On Nov. 1, a mother of four was gang-raped by Burmese soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 13 in her home in Hkasan village on the Kamaing-Mogaung road, the KWAT report says, giving the latest example of a sexual assault.

Earlier, on May 1, troops from Light Infantry Battalion 347 and Infantry Battalion 118 gang-raped a 48-year-old woman inside a church in Luk Pi village in Chipwi township, KWAT reported. About 10 soldiers beat her with rifle butts, stabbed her with knives, stripped her naked and gang-raped her over a period of three days.

“The Burma Army’s repeated authorization of artillery fire into areas populated by civilians, as well as deliberate torching of villages and IDP [Internally Displaced People] settlements, represent serious breaches of international humanitarian law, and are likely to amount to war crimes,” the report concludes, urging the international community to “strongly condemn these crimes, and to pressure the Burmese government to immediately end its policy of military aggression.”

Religious Freedom

The Kachin rebels are among seven major resistance groups that have sought greater autonomy for more than five decades. All but the Kachins have signed a ceasefire agreement with the federal government in recent months.

“Our struggle is mainly about religious rights,” Nu Nan said, adding if the Kachin people had no military, they wouldn’t be allowed to freely practice their religion by the federal government, which is dominated by Buddhists from the majority Burman ethnic group.

Nu Nan explained that the Kachin Independence Organization, and its military wing Kachin Independence Army, were created after the government of Prime Minister U Nu passed the State Religion Bill in a joint session of Parliament, making Buddhism the state religion, in 1961.

Before the formation of the Union of Burma in 1948, British rulers administered “Burma Proper” – where the Burman people lived – and “Frontier Areas,” where non-Burman ethnic groups lived, separately.

The Kachin leaders, however, agreed to join the Union, based on the 1947 Panglong Agreement, which was led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, who was the head of the interim government. The agreement allowed a great deal of autonomy and the right to secede to the frontier states.

But with the killing of Gen. Aung San and several of his cabinet members by his rivals, the agreement was forgotten. It has not been honored to this day.

c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.

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Publication date: March 15, 2013