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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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Marwaan Macan-Markar
Terraviva United Nations
9 November 2008

An onslaught by Burmese troops in the eastern part of the military-ruled country, running for three years now, is laying the junta open to charge of 'crimes against humanity'. This new charge adds to a growing list of human rights violations that the South-east Asian nation's ruling military regime is being slammed for, including the use of rape as a weapon of war in military campaigns in areas that are home to the country's ethnic minorities. The country has been under the grip of successive juntas since a 1962 military coup. Eyewitness accounts from civilians fleeing the territory under attack reveal a grim picture of the 'tatmadaw', as the Burmese military is called, targeting unarmed men, women and children in a ''widespread and systematic way,'' say human rights and humanitarian groups. An increasing number of refugees have been crossing over to northern Thailand from among the Karen ethnic community, the second largest ethnic group in Burma, or Myanmar. Many of them live in the mountainous Karen State, the territory where South-east Asia's longest --and largely ignored -- separatist conflict is being waged between Burmese troops and the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).
''Myanmar's troops are overtly targeting civilians; they are actively avoiding KNU military installations. That is why we are describing the attacks as 'crimes against humanity','' says Benjamin Zawacki, South-east Asia researcher for Amnesty International (AI), the global rights lobby. ''The violations are widespread and systematic.''

''This campaign started in November 2005 and has escalated. They did not even stop during the annual monsoon period (from May to October), which was not the case before,'' he explained during an IPS interview. ''There has been a shift in strategy and intensity. It is no more a dry season offensive.''

The military campaign is the largest and the longest sustained drive in a decade. ''The Burmese army is rotating soldiers every six months and they have penetrated areas deep in the Karen area,'' David Tharckabaw, vice president of the KNU, said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location. ''Nothing is being spared. They are even destroying fruit plantations like mangosteen.''

The list of abuse document by AI, and corroborated by other humanitarian groups, include villagers being beaten and stabbed to death, being shot by the 'tatmadaw' ''without any warning'' and being tortured and subsequently killed. Karen civilians have also reportedly been subjected to forced labour, disappearances and their rice harvest being burned down. ()


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