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Burma Accused of Genocide in Border Region

Two human rights groups have issued a report accusing the Burmese military government of gross human rights violations and genocide against ethnic groups in the Burma-Thailand border region.

A delegation from the two groups visited the border area earlier this month, and reports that it found members of the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups displaced from their villages and forced to perform manual labor for the Burmese government.

The deputy speaker of the British House of Lords, Caroline Cox, was a member of the delegation. "I'm afraid what we found is not good news at all. And the so-called State Peace and Development Council, the SPDC regime, is continuing its policy of gross violation of human rights.They're still using villagers for forced labor, as porters in very harsh conditions," she said. "They are still using [them] as human minesweepers. They are still forced to be displaced from their villages and then putting mines so they can't go back."

Ms. Cox says hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Karen, Karenni and Shan people continue to live in the jungle in appalling conditions without proper food, shelter and medical care.

She was a member of the delegation sent jointly by the two human rights groups, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust and Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The team concluded that the Burmese government's actions against the ethnic groups amount to genocide.

According to U.S. Committee for Refugees, there are at least 600,000 internally displaced people in Burma, and perhaps as many as a million. That would be more than two per cent of the population. And Ms. Cox says the number is increasing.

"And just very recently there have been attacks on the Karenni villages and an estimated over 4,700 Karen people have been displaced in recent weeks," she said. "So I think the situation is one that there is not only no cause for complacency but it is actually an escalating crisis. And with one million internally displaced in Burma the international community, I think, cannot afford this to happen without much more effective pressure, and some kind of appropriate measures to call the SPDC to account."

Burmese officials declined to comment on the human rights groups' report. But the military government has denied that there are any displaced people in the country, and has rejected repeated allegations of widespread human rights violations.

Still, Laurie Dawson of the Free Burma Rangers, a group that works with displaced people in Burma, says the problem needs immediate attention.

"Several reasons. One is that there is no assistance to people in that situation, who are having to flee their homes but cannot come out and are not considered to be refugees," she said. "They are still within the country of Burma. Yet they're caught in a situation, where it is very difficult to get assistance to them. Another is to offer an opportunity for people within Burma to help each other."

Ms. Cox of the House of Lords wants more foreign help for Burma's internally displaced people, whom she calls IDPs. "Well, I think the international community should put very much greater pressure on the SPDC to allow unrestricted access to these IDPs, both by humanitarian aid organizations and by independent human rights monitors," she said. "The fact that they're not allowed into those areas suggests that the SPDC has something it wants to hide."

Ms. Cox is calling on the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to put greater pressure on the Burmese government to open up the country, so that aid groups can do their jobs. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Paulo Pinheiro, and several human rights organizations, have regularly called on Burma to end the systematic forced displacement of the ethnic groups, and to let the international community investigate and provide assistance.