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Red Cross Investigates Rape Allegations in Burma's Shan Area - 2002-11-05

By government invitation, a Red Cross delegation has gone to the northeastern Shan area in Burma to investigate reports that the Burmese army has used rape as a weapon of war against Shan rebels in the area.

A government statement said the delegation left Saturday to investigate the rape allegations and the human rights situation in the area. The Burmese government denies the rape allegations.

Last month while on a visit to Burma, United Nations special representative to the Secretary General, Paolo Sergio Pinheiro, urged the government to allow a Red Cross team to fully investigate conflict areas. Mr. Pinheiro decided against a visit to the Shan state saying he did not have enough time to conduct a thorough investigation.

The rape allegations came to light after two Thailand-based Shan women's groups published reports in May documenting hundreds of cases of rape against Shan and Burmese women. The report drew international outrage.

Aung Zaw, editor of the on-line Burma news magazine Irrawaddy, said he felt it was doubtful the Red Cross team would be able to fully investigate the human rights situation in the Shan State.

"The investigators, if they go there they might be able to meet and talk to villagers, but the villagers will already be told, will be threatened by the officials not to cooperate with the ICRC or just to give the official line," he said.

Burma has a dismal human rights track record and has been ruled by the military for more than four decades.

The government is known to use forced labor and children in the army. It has been under international pressure to respect human rights and many Western nations have placed economic sanctions against the country.

Mr. Aung Zuw said the military government is allowing the Red Cross to conduct the investigation in order to win friends within the international community. "The government wants to show that they really care (about) the international image and also to show that they comply with the UN mandate," he said. Rangoon has come under criticism recently after UNICEF released a report last month saying it was using possibly as many as 70,000 child soldiers in the national army.