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The BurmaNet News: November 13, 199

Subject: The BurmaNet News: November 13, 1998

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 "Appropriate Information Technologies, Practical Strategies"

The BurmaNet News: November 13, 1998
Issue #1138

Noted in Passing: "The conflict and the government's policy in dealing with
it has caused probably the worst, and least documented, human-rights abuses
currently in Asia." - see JANE'S: BURMA'S CEASEFIRE AGREEMENTS ... 


1 November, 1998 by Bruce Hawke 

[BurmaNet Editor's Note: As this is a rather lengthy article, it has
appeared in BurmaNet in installments.  Today's issue carries the third and
final part of the article.] 

**Bruce Hawke visits Shan State, Burma, where the Burmese Army is stifling
all opposition with a campaign of ethnic cleansing.**. 

The Campaign Against the Shan

A brutal if low-intensity war of attrition is being waged by the Burmese
government against the only sizeable minority army in Shan State not to
have not signed a peace agreement. The conflict and the government's policy
in dealing with it has caused probably the worst, and least documented,
human-rights abuses currently in Asia.

Refugees from the fighting arriving at the Thai border recount harrowing
stories of forced labour, forced relocation to rural squatter camps,
conscription for portering, gang rape and mass murder, all at the hands of
Burmese Army troops. The catalyst for the atrocities can be traced back to
early 1996.

In January 1996, Khun Sa officially surrendered to the Burmese government.
A large contingent of his army refused to surrender and became the SURA led
by Major Yord Serk, and has been fighting Burmese forces in southern Shan
State ever since. It claims 4,000 men, and operates deep into Shan State.
The two other ethnic Shan armies operating in Shan State, the SSA and the
Shan State National Army (SSNA) have both signed ceasefires with Rangoon.
The SSNA were previously part of Khun Sa's MTA, mutinied in 1994 and made
peace with the government.

In late 1996, discouraged by Burmese Army-inflicted human-rights abuses and
serious procurement and financial problems, the SURA attempted to negotiate
a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government. Yord Serk sent several
letters to Senior General Than Shwe, the prime minister of Burma, appealing
for dialogue, but received no reply. In fact, the Burmese government warned
the other two ethnic Shan groups not to contact or assist the SURA.
However, in September 1997, the leaders of the three Shan armies met at the
Shan State Army headquarters Seng Kaeo, near Hsipaw, and signed an
agreement to merge as the Shan State Army, hoping to be able to negotiate a
ceasefire agreement under the SSA'a umbrella.

The Burmese government refused to acknowledge the union. Sao Sai Naung,
head of the SSA at Hsipaw and of the recently formed tripartite SSA went to
Rangoon in a failed attempt to negotiate for the SURA faction. The renamed
Burmese government junta, The State Peace and Development Council has
reiterated its intention to crush the SURA.

Since March 1996, the Burmese government has forcibly relocated over 1,400
villages throughout 7,000 square miles (approximately 18,400 square km) of
southern and central Shan State. The number of people affected by the
relocations is estimated to be in excess of 300,000. The villagers have
been herded into rural slums in a strategic hamlet-type policy aimed at
cutting off supplies and support for the SURA.

At least 80,000 have come to Thailand as unofficial and unrecognised
refugees, according to the Shan Human Rights Foundation. This is in
addition to the 400,000-500,000 economic refugees from Shan State that are
already in the country. They receive a less than warm welcome from Thai
authorities, who are beset with economic problems and are trying to keep
relations with Rangoon on an even keel. The refugees from the fighting can
be relatively easily discerned from the economic migrants because they
arrive at the border in family groups while the latter arrive mainly as
groups of young men.

The depopulated area in Shan State has become a free-fire zone. Shan
villagers sneaking back to tend their crops are routinely shot on sight by
Burmese troops. As both the government forces and the SURA have stepped up
their campaigns since the beginning of 1997, some of the re-located
villagers have been forced to move a second time. Since the beginning of
1997, the Burmese Army has increased the size of the depopulated free-fire
zone by 2,000 square miles to 7,000, and it now covers most of southern
Shan State.

Since the beginning of 1997 there has been a sharp increase in reported
atrocities on the part of Burmese government soldiers, who appear to have
been given a carte blanche by Rangoon to do anything deemed necessary to
control the spread of the SURA. The carte blanche, in addition the usual
forced portering, includes the mass rapings and killings of Shan villagers,
even well outside the free-fire zone. According to eye-witnesses who have
visited some of the relocation sites, they more closely resemble
concentration camps than strategic hamlets. An 1800 to 0600 curfew is often
brutally enforced. The relocated villagers, cut off from their fields, are
often forced to either beg or move to look for waged employment. There is
serious malnutrition among many at the relocation sites. There have also
been several documented cases where Burmese Army troops have shelled and
killed civilians inside relocation sites in retribution for battlefield
losses against the SURA.

The Shan Human Rights Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO)
working with refugees on the Thai border and internally dislocated
villagers inside Burma, has confirmed and documented 664 extrajudicial
killings of Shan villagers during 1997, including the designations of the
battalions responsible. Although the list is by no means complete, some
murders are not reported and others cannot be verified and are left out of
the compiled figures, it provides a guide as to which units were
responsible for the worst atrocities.

Most of the eastern command battalions and some northeastern and golden
triangle command units have engaged in  extra-judicial killings. A handful
of battalions stand out in the scale and brutality of their abuses.

The worst offenders are from the eastern command based in Tanggyi which
maintains a degree of relative autonomy, rather than from the 55th Light
Infantry Division (LID) based at Aung Ban, which takes its orders directly
from the War Office in Rangoon. This suggests the killings were not ordered
by Rangoon as a matter of policy, but that the War Office is turning a
blind eye in the interests of wiping out the Shan resistance.

The worst offender was the Light Infantry Battalion 524 (LIB524) based at
Kwan Heng, with 193 killings of civilians, including the massacre of almost
an entire village during July 1997, which left 96 dead.

Second, and the most consistently brutal over the year was Infantry
Battalion 246 (IB246), also based at Kwan Heng, with 157 documented
killings of villagers in 28 incidents. Troops of the LIB515 based at Le
Char was documented as killing 66 civilians, while the LIB 332 based at
Ming Peng, has been documented as responsible for the deaths of 41. There
were two mass murders in July 1997 which left no known survivors, one with
26 victims and another with 17 dead, which occurred in areas where the
LIB524 and the LIB516 (based in Nam Sam) operate.

The abuses have been largely - though not entirely - one sided, perpetrated
by Burmese government troops on Shan villagers. In early June 1997, SURA
troops massacred 25 ethnic Burman settlers at Pha Lang, east of Kun Hing.
The Burmese Army responded with an orgy of rape and murder of Shans in the
area. In all 215 Shan civilians were documented as killed in a joint
operation which included troops from the IB246, the LIB513, LIB516, and
LIB524 and lasted four weeks. Many were tortured before being executed, 43
were beheaded and left on the side of the road as a warning to others.
Figures for the first six months of 1998 are as yet incomplete, but
anecdotal evidence suggests the scale and brutality of the abuses has if
anything increased.

Documented mass murders by units with no previous record of such activities
in areas formerly not subject to slaughter, suggest the Shan State commands
are widening the net, both to wipe out the SURA, and to intimidate the
rump-SSA and SNA. In early May, the Hsipaw-based IB22 of the northeast
command massacred 36 villagers, near Nam-Zarng. The victims all had valid
permits to be in the area. There have been documented mass-killings of
civilians by three Golden Triangle command battalions to June of this year
by the Mine Tong-based IB65 (15 killed), the Mine Sert-based LIB333 (28
killed), in addition to mass killings by eastern command units and numerous
smaller-scale killings by troops from all three commands and the War
Office-controlled 55th LID.

The extent of the dislocation of villagers and the brutality the military
displays in dealing with civilians, including the rapes and massacres of
children, has led many Shan leaders to suspect that Rangoon is
intentionally depopulating Shan State. Author and Burma specialist Bertil
Linter described the abuses as "a policy of ethnic cleansing." There has
been an increase in the number of ethnic-Burman civilian settlers in Shan
State over the past two years, according to residents of Shan State, but as
yet there does not appear to be any centrally co-ordinated migration to the

Bruce Hawke is a freelance journalist based in Bangkok.


12 November, 1998 


Aung San Suu Kyi has said that the Burmese military government is

RANGOON - The opposition party led by Nobel Peace Prize winner harassing
members and forcing local offices to close.

Official newspapers meanwhile reported yesterday that the local office of
the National League for Democracy in Bilin, eastern Burma, had closed and
all its members had resigned. The papers claimed the opposition members
took the action of "their own free will".

Local NLD offices appear to be the latest targets in the clash of wills
between the military which has ruled Burma since 1962, and the beleaguered
opposition led by Suu Kyi.

The party said in a statement on Monday that the government has detained a
total of 920 members since May, when the NLD made known it intended to
convene a parliament elected in 1990 but was never allowed by the military
to meet.

The NLD overwhelmingly won those elections, but the military held on to
power. The government has constantly pressured elected NLD legislators to
resign the posts and leave the party.

Those detained since May include 184 of the elected NLD legislators - about
half, the party said. Only three - one who is very old, another who is ill
and a third who has been out of touch with party headquarters for some time
- have been freed, the party said.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council issued a statement yesterday
saying that 27 detainees who were described as having been "invited for the
exchange of views" returned home in the past week.

According to the official press, the Bilin township NLD office closed on
Monday and the entire 21-member executive committee resigned. The
newspapers claimed that members had "no desire to continue to take part in
the NLD party activities".

Since last Friday, official newspapers have also reported the dissolution
of two other NLD township offices in western and southeastern Burma and the
resignation of opposition members in Kachin State in the north.

The NLD said on Monday that local authorities "are forcing party members
and elected representatives to resign and to dissolve township organising

The NLD has urged the chairman of the ruling council of generals, Sen Gen
Than Shwe to stop the harassment. 


12 November, 1998

BANGKOK, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Myanmar and Cambodia could face AIDS epidemics
of "Africa-like" proportions unless effective programmes are implemented to
stem the disease, UNICEF's director for East Asia and the Pacific said on

Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia have the highest rates of AIDS and HIV
infection in the region, Kul Gautam told Reuters.  "Thailand, although it
has the largest number of cases in Southeast Asia also has the most
imaginative, effective and innovative programmes," he said.  "Cambodia and
Myanmar on the other hand have serious problems but do not yet have serious

Gautam spoke at a conference on child development in Bangkok where UNICEF
presented statistics from a U.N. report showing that by 1997, nearly 50,000
children had been orphaned by AIDS in Thailand, nearly 15,000 in Myanmar
and about 8,000 in Cambodia. "In the coming years, HIV aids is going to be
a problem everywhere," Gautam said. "No country is immune, but Cambodia and
Myanmar are going to require particular attention.

"If we do not act and act firmly and decisively and in an ambitious manner,
I fear in a few years time we may have the problem of HIV/AIDS taking on
Africa-like proportions in these countries."  According to U.N. data,
Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand all show a "very high" level of HIV
infection -- between 1.01 and 2.4 percent of the adult population. This
compares with countries like Laos or China with prevalances of 0.01 to 0.06

Guatam said it was difficult to determine the exact extent of the disease.
"Part of the problem of not doing enough is not even knowing how serious
the problem is," he said.

He said in Myanmar, and to some extent Vietnam, intravenous drug use is a
bigger cause of infection than sexual contact.  Northern Myanmar's Shan
State is the world's biggest single source of heroin and drug users in the
country frequency resort to needles shares by multiple users. Increasingly,
HIV in both countries was being transmitted from mother to child, either
during pregnancy or during breast feeding, Gualam said.

"I think in Thailand, the government has acknowledged and has confronted
the problem, but I think in Myanmar and Cambodia there is not sufficient
acknowledgement or sufficient action.  "Cambodia has just come out of so
many years of war and revolution and trouble but Mynamar is some ways has
been a bit of a period of denial.   "I think they are slowly beginning to
acknowledge the problem, but I think their actions are not yet commensurate
with the gravity of the problem," he said. 


10 November, 1998 

WASHINGTON, Nov 10 (AFP) - As UN delegates begin their annual study of
human rights in Myanmar, a leading human rights group is urging pressure on
the junta to free dissidents and lift curbs on civil liberties.

"After three months of escalating tensions and constant security pressures,
the human rights situation remains grim and the political situation remains
deadlocked," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

The New York-based organization called for UN member states to urge the
ruling State Peace and Development Council to "immediately and
unconditionally" free its critics and ease restrictions on freedom of
expression, association, and assembly.

Human Rights Watch cited the arrest since August of more than 200 members
of the opposition National League for Democracy and hundreds of others
suspected of backing the party.

"While over 100 have been released, 544 NLD members were still in detention
as of early November by the government's own count," Human Rights Watch said.

As it now does annually, the UN human rights committee this week took up a
resolution condemning human rights violations in Myanmar, formerly Burma.
The UN General Assembly was expected to approve the measure again.

Earlier Tuesday, Myanmar's government reacted angrily to last month's human
rights report to the United Nations by special rapporteur Rajsoomer Lallah,
calling it insulting and highly biased.

"To flippantly imply that the Myanmar armed forces is committing human
rights violations as a matter of policy is an affront which will not be
tolerated by the Myanmar people, for it constitutes an insult to the whole
nation," Myanmar's UN envoy Pe Thein Tin said.

Lallah's report spoke of routine and widespread human rights abuses under
Myanmar's military government, including the use of forced labour, summary
executions, rape, and torture.

The rapporteur voiced serious concern about the "virtual blockade" of
opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in her compound, "about her continued
vilification and the inability of her party to organize normal political
meetings and functions."

Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for
Democracy party to a landslide victory in 1990 elections but the junta has
refused to recognise the result.

Hundreds of the junta's critics have been detained since Aung San Suu Kyi
demanded in August that the junta convene the parliament elected in 1990.
Military leaders have run Myanmar since 1962.


12 November, 1998 

BANGKOK, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Less than a third of all children in military
ruled Myanmar now complete primary school, one of the lowest percentages in
the world, the regional director of the U.N. Children's Fund said on Thursday.

"Primary school coverage in Myanmar has plummeted to one of the lowest
levels in this region and one of the lowest levels in the world," Kul
Guatam, UNICEF director for East Asia and the Pacific, told Reuters. He was
speaking on the sidelines of a conference on children and development.

Until the military seized power in Myanmar in 1962 the country enjoyed one
of the best literacy records in the region.

"Primary school completion rates are now about 27 percent, which is very
low," Gautam said, adding that this compared with an average rate of about
81 percent in Vietnam.  "Myanmar right after its independence (in 1948) did
a very good job in its education and in literacy. They were one of the more
successful countries," he said.  "In basic education there has been this
deterioration that worries us greatly."

Guatam said UNICEF was also very concerned about higher education in
Myanmar, where schools and colleges have been kept closed by the government
for most of the decade since troops crushed a student-led uprising for

He said that unlike university level, the problem at primary level was more
one of neglect than deliberate policy, although the lack of teacher
training had the effect of discouraging school attendance.

He said two successful UNICEF projects in Myanmar had shown what was
possible.  "It's not only a financial problem," he said. "In areas in which
we are involved the coverage is not 27 percent, it's in the 70s," he said.
"So what this shows is that it's possible to improve and one of our
messages to the government and to others is please replicate these working