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Crackdown Continues on Karen Minority in Burma


While the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Burma has grabbed the world's attention in recent weeks, the country's military government is continuing its often forgotten war against ethnic minorities in the country. A missionary working with refugees from the Karen minority group says the Burmese army is killing and raping villagers and forcing them to flee their homes. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

While some ethnic-rebel groups in Burma have signed cease-fire agreements with the military, the Karen National Liberation Army continues an armed insurgency that started six decades ago.

Shane Abrahams is a missionary working with Karen refugees at the Thai-Burmese border. He says their fight has little chance of success.

"There is [are] less than 4,000 Karen soldiers against - the Burmese army is now 500,000. "All that military force is basically used against the ethnic minorities."

Speaking to journalists in Hong Kong, Abrahams said it is the civilian population that suffers most from the army's crackdown in eastern Burma, where the Karen minority lives.

"In the Karen state you hear terrible stories of how they are targeting the population there," he said. "Their tactics of choice include rape, extortion, murder, forced relocation, forced labor."

Abrahams says many have no choice but to flee from government-controlled areas and live in jungle camps without access to sanitation, clean water or education for children. He says there are an estimated one million internally displaced people in eastern Burma.

Other Karen refugees live in camps in Thailand along the border with Burma. Abrahams says while the camps are relatively safe, limited employment opportunities and boredom drive some refugees to alcohol abuse and even suicide.

Abrahams is not sure if the situation for the Karen and other ethnic minorities in Burma would improve should the military government collapse.

"Right now in the world we have an excellent example of what happens when a totalitarian regime collapses overnight and there are ethnic tensions in the country - look what is happening in Iraq," he said. "That could just as easily happen here."

Abrahams says all ethnic minorities, including the Karen, and some opposition politicians hope for a future Burma that is a federalized country in which minorities have their own, autonomous homelands.

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