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Rights Group Accuses Burma's Generals of Abuses


A U.S. human rights and environmental group accuses Burma's military government of forcing ethnic Karen out of their homes, to take over valuable mining and logging areas. Ron Corben in Bangkok reports.

EarthRights International's new report says Burma's military demands money, labor and goods from villages in the country's northeast, and confiscates village land to gain access to lucrative resources.

Chana Muang, EarthRights International director for Southeast Asia, says there are fears that as Burma's military expands its control of resource-rich areas, there will be more rights abuses.

"We are focusing on human rights and the environmental impact that is happening inside Burma, when the business is going on in the ethnic minority areas. And more and more people are suffering from the human rights and the environmental situation," said Chana Muang.

Last year, the government began an offensive against the Karen minority group in the northeast, ending an informal ceasefire with the Karen rebels.

EarthRights accuses the army of hunting down villagers in the mountains, shooting them on sight and destroying their food supplies.

The report supports earlier information by refugee aid organizations of food shortages after the military destroyed farms.

Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, says the military forced people out for economic reasons.

"These military offensives are calculated not just to oppress, kill, rape, torture amongst the Karen people and other ethnic groups, but also to allow the military regime and their friends to exploit the entire area in terms of their natural resources," she said.

Burma's government is building a dam in the region, and is allowing companies to mine and log the mountains. According to many experts on Burma, the government uses profits from mining and logging concessions to fund its operations.

The report calls on the government to grant more rights to civilians over land they occupy, to replace outdated environmental laws and to strengthen the National Commission for Environmental Affairs.

It also seeks a ban against companies that use ecologically damaging methods to extract resources. EarthRights also says the United Nations should strengthen existing resolutions against Burma.

But Burma's military, in power for the past 40 years, has long resisted international calls for change, and criticism of its human rights policies. The United States, European Union and other countries have imposed economic sanctions on Burma because of its rights abuses and failure to allow democratic reforms.

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