Friday, May 16, 2014

Despite ceasefire, army seizes land and tortures citizens in southeast Myanmar - report

May 14, Reuters - The Myanmar army continues to commit rights abuses - seizing land and detaining and torturing citizens - in the country’s southeast, more than two years after the government and the region’s ethnic rebels signed a historic ceasefire agreement that brought an end to the world’s longest-running insurgency, a new report said.

Previously reported abuses in the area – such as forced labour, restrictions on movement and attacks against civilians – have decreased significantly since the Karen National Union (KNU) and the government agreed upon the ceasefire in January 2012. However, civilians accused of supporting the insurgents are still arbitrarily detained and tortured, and arbitrary taxation by all armed groups continues, according to Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) report released on Tuesday.

New abuses related to increased militarisation and resource management, such as the confiscation of land, have also emerged, KHRG said in its report, based on hundreds of interviews and documents over the past two years.

Since the 2012 ceasefire, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, has continued to reinforce its military positions, which has undermined local trust in the ceasefire process, KHRG said.

“The continuation of high levels of militarisation, as well as sporadic skirmishes between Tatmadaw and (ethnic armed groups), have caused villagers to feel that their personal security is threatened, and to doubt that the ceasefire is sustainable,” the report said.

It also said there has been an increase in the sale of drugs by the Tatmadaw Border Guard Forces, which is aligned with the Myanmar army, contributing to rising drug use among the youth.

In addition, while all armed groups have stopped planting new anti-personnel mines, residual contamination after more than six decades of hostilities continues to cause death and injury, KHRG said.

The report urged the Myanmar government to hold any soldiers who violate human rights accountable and all armed groups to demilitarise - reduce troops, army bases, checkpoints and weapons - in former conflict areas.

The government of Myanmar had been at war for more than half a century with various ethnic groups living in its border regions, but since 2011 - when a quasi-civilian government took office, ending five decades of iron-fisted military rule – it has started peace negotiations with the ethnic armed groups.

The government and ethnic groups around the country announced on April 8 that they had agreed upon a first draft of a nationwide ceasefire accord.

In the north, however, fighting resumed between the Tatmadaw and Kachin Independence Army in late April, forcing thousands of people to flee, including an estimated 1,000 children. For many, this is the second or third time that they have been displaced in the past year.