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Amnesty International Warns of Increased Repression of Burma's Minorities Before Election


Rights group Amnesty International says it fears Burma's military government plans to step up efforts to suppress ethnic minorities before this year's elections.

The Amnesty International report, released Tuesday, warns that as Burma heads toward elections later this year, the military government is preparing to target ethnic minorities with new violence and threats.

"As the Myanmar government prepares, ostensibly at least to pit its own candidates against the opposition in the coming election, Amnesty International is concerned that the repression of ethnic minority opponents will continue and even intensify," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's expert on Burma.

The election will be the first since 1990 when the opposition, National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. But the military never recognized the vote, and began suppressing the opposition.

Burma has more than 130 ethnic minorities. The report's focus is on the Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Karen and the Mon.

The report says violence has increased against minority activists who opposed the 2008 constitution and referendum, which the government says won 90 percent of the popular vote. Among the abuses they face are arbitrary arrests, torture and murder.

"In Malaysia, Chin and Karen Christians described religious discrimination, while in Bangladesh a Buddhist nun explained how soldiers had killed her friend. Four Kachin girls, each less than 18 years old, were raped for singing songs celebrating their ethnic Kachin culture. An ethnic Mon boy was shot by an army captain who accused him of talking to the exile Mon media," said Zawacki.

The report's release comes as the United Nations special representative on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is on a five-day visit to Burma to assess the military's progress on human rights ahead of the elections. On Tuesday he traveled to Rakhine state, home to the minority Rohingya.

Just before his visit, the military released NLD vice-chairman U Tin Oo after six years of house arrest. But on Tuesday a Burmese court sentenced four women activists to hard labor after convicting them of offering Buddhist monks alms that included religious literature.

Rights groups say the government holds over 2,000 political prisoners. Amnesty International fears the actual number may be much higher.

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