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Last Thursday, the government of Myanmar and ethnic Karen rebels signed a cease-fire agreement, effectively ending their 60-year conflict. However, many members of the international community remain skeptical as just two months ago, Human Rights Watch reported,

Fighting in Karen State flared on election day on November 7, 2010. Conflict between government forces and ethnic Karen insurgents has displaced more than 10,000 civilians . . . All parties to the conflict make widespread use of anti-personnel landmines. Abuses by the Burmese army in Karen State since November 2010 include forced labor, targeting of civilians, attacks on livelihoods, and the longstanding practice of using convict porters . . . prisoners were used as “human shields” to trigger landmines, draw fire during ambushes, or protect soldiers. Injured porters were left to die, and many were summarily executed for failing to carry heavy loads of munitions and supplies. Many of these abuses are war crimes under international humanitarian law.

Because of these grave violations, and given the fact that this is the sixth such cease-fire agreement to be signed between these two groups, Karen Communities Worldwide is calling on the government to engage in dialogue beyond the cease-fire in order to solve the conflict’s underlying political problems. Specifically, they are requesting:

  • A nationwide cease-fire
  • Dialogue for a political solution that guarantees ethnic rights and culture.
  • Stop military actions in ethnic areas
  • Stop human rights violations
  • Free all political prisoners, including ethnic leader Mahn Nyein Maung
The government says it is negotiating peace pacts with the other major ethnic rebel groups — the Chin, the Mon, the Kachin and the Kayah — with a goal of achieving a lasting  peace with them in the next three to four years. Professor Kanbawza Win posits that these various ethnic groups are fighting for their individual rights while simultaneously being unified in their struggle for national democracy. A major hurdle in fulfilling this ambition is the issue of political prisoners; though 130 were released on Friday, according to Amnesty International and as indicated above, “more than a thousand political prisoners may remain behind bars, many of whom are prisoners of conscience.”
Photo: euronews.net
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Burma’s government this week continued its campaign against ethnic-based forces, with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) claiming its headquarters in Shan State had fallen. The KIA commander in Shan State said Burmese government forces took control of the base on September 27, but that Kachin operations remained in other parts of the state.

Burma News International reported that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Shan State, numbering some 20,000, were thought to be hiding in civilian homes that may be subject to government investigation. It quoted the KIA as claiming that there were over 5,000 villages and 250,000 civilians living in northern Shan State, which became a war zone on September 24 when the Burmese government launched its current offensive.

Unlike refugees in Kachin State in northeastern Burma, who are receiving support from churches, NGOs, and Kachin communities abroad, the people in northern Shan have received no outside assistance. On September 27 the Irrawaddy quoted the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a relief agency on the border between the two states, as claiming, “Since 1997, the Burmese regime has destroyed more than 3,000 villages and displaced over half-a-million civilians in eastern Burma.”

Numerous resolutions by the UN General Assembly, including Resolution 16/24 in April, have called on the Burmese government to improve its human rights record. Organizations and governments—including Human Rights Watch, Burma Campaign UK, the United States, and Canada—support the establishment of a UN Security Council Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

Despite recent developments, the International Crisis Group, in a briefing last week, argued that the reform process championed by the newly elected president, Thein Sein, was making progress, noting: “Military legislators have . . . supported an opposition motion in the lower house calling on the president to grant a general amnesty for political prisoners.” And Voice of America published an article in May saying that ASEAN was convinced enough of the country’s new direction that it is considering giving Burma the ASEAN chairmanship in 2014.

Photo: irawaddy.org

* The government of Chad refused to execute international arrest warrants for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir upon his visit to the country today. Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, and Chad, as a state party to the ICC, is obligated by international law to arrest him. Chad’s government maintains that an internal African Union agreement allows them to ignore the warrants.

* Nine former Salvadoran soldiers and military officials wanted for crimes they allegedly committed during El Salvador‘s civil war are fighting extradition to Spain. They are accused of being involved in the killings of six Spanish Jesuit priests and two other civilians in 1989.

* Calls by Burma’s vice president for renewed peace talks between the government and ethnic rebels are being met with skepticism from some rebel groups. The joint-secretary of one such group, the Kachin Independence Organization, believes that the calls are likely just propaganda in response to international pressure. Ceasefire agreements between a number of armed ethnic groups and the Burmese government broke down recently, leading to fresh fighting.

 * The United Nations Security Council issued a statement expressing “grave concern” over the worsening economic and humanitarian situation in Yemen. They requested that all parties within the country, including al-Qaeda and the government, allow the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

Photos (from top): mtholyoke.edu, sfgate.com, philippinenewsdaily.com

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