Accessibility links

Rights Group Calls for Targeted Aid to Burma's Minority Groups  - 2004-09-10

A well-known risk analysis group has recommended targeted assistance to Burma's ethnic minority regions as a way of alleviating the poverty that has resulted from years of violence and war. But human rights activists question whether such a plan can work.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) says international developmental and humanitarian aid should be earmarked specifically for ethnic minority groups that live along Burma's borders. It also says international aid groups should have more freedom to operate in the minority areas.

In a report released Thursday, the ICG said many of Burma's minorities living along the borders are suffering from years of war and neglect, and need urgent assistance.

Several of the minority groups have reached cease-fire agreements with Rangoon after decades of fighting for greater independence, but are still suffering the after-effects of the long-lasting violence.

However, the Burmese government faces tough international economic sanctions over its failure to make significant headway on political reform.

It has refused to allow the major opposition party, the National League for Democracy, to play a meaningful role in national politics, and continues to keep the party's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest despite widespread international calls for her release.

The ICG said that given the political stalemate in Burma, and with the resulting drop in aid, international assistance should be allowed to by-pass the central government and go directly to the border regions.

But human rights activists question whether such a plan is feasible. Debbie Stothardt, spokeswoman for the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, doubts the military government would grant international donors easy access.

"It would be very interesting to see if the military regime is prepared to allow free access to the areas controlled by the various [minority] groups in order to deliver aid and whether they are prepared to do so in an open and accountable manner," said Debbie Stothardt.

Ms. Stothardt says the real humanitarian problem in the minority regions is continuing military action by the government, and if this was halted there would be less need for outside aid.

"If the military regime stops military hostilities against ethnic people, that will already alleviate the humanitarian problems in those regions," she said.

Some targeted aid of the type the International Crisis Group recommends is already flowing into Burma. Japan, the United States and Australia have been providing funds to minority groups for crop substitution programs to reduce the cultivation of opium.