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Rights Group Accuses Burma of Targeting, Abusing Civilians

In this photo released by Free Burma Rangers, a group of unidentified ethnic Karen refugees gather to be photographed at an undisclosed jungle camp in Northern Karen State in Burma
Human Rights Watch, a U.S.-based group, reports that hundreds of thousands of people in Burma have been displaced due to the targeting of ethnic minorities by the Burmese army.

The report says the situation is worst in Eastern Burma, where, since 2002, about 100,000 members of the Karen minority have been displaced.

The Karen National Union has fought for five decades for greater autonomy from the central government. The group reached a ceasefire agreement with Khin Nyunt, the Burmese prime minister who was deposed last year, but the report says the army continues to carry out sporadic attacks against the Karen.

Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said the government still allows the army to kill and drive people out of their villages with impunity. He says Human Rights Watch came across many stories of abuse while compiling its report. "We have people telling us stories about summary executions, the targeting of young men in villages, the forced relocation of entire villages ... sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and ... very easily available reports of forced labor," he said.

The report estimates that since late 2002, about 240 villages in Eastern Burma have been destroyed, relocated or abandoned, and says 84,000 displaced persons are living in zones of ongoing armed conflict. It says as many as 145,000 are living in refugee camps along the Thai border, and another two-million Burmese have fled into Thailand to look for work.

Mr. Adams said Rangoon benefits from support and trade with Thailand, China and India. He said Thailand's support, in particular, is helping to delay democratic reform in Burma. "There will be no basic improvement in the political situation [or] human rights situation in Burma until the Thai Government and the Thai Army change their policy and consistently support reform efforts, democratization efforts and the protection of human rights," he said.

Mr. Adams also accused the Thai authorities of harassing Burmese activists living in Thailand. He said three pro-democracy activists due to attend a news conference stayed away because of fears of reprisals by the Thai authorities.

Thailand also came under criticism in a report by the rights group Amnesty International. Amnesty said Wednesday that Burmese migrant workers in Thailand suffer abuses including arbitrary arrest, and called for Thailand to protect them from mistreatment.

Donna Guest, a researcher on Southeast Asia at Amnesty International's base in London, said "immigration police and local police who, on a regular basis, shake down Burmese migrant workers for money. And if [the workers] protest their lack of rights, the employers - in collusion with the police - will get them our of their jobs and then they will be deported."

The Amnesty report calls for the Thai Government to ensure that all workers in Thailand enjoy basic labor rights, including adequate wages, reasonable working hours, and safe and healthy working conditions.