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Zoya Phan: My People Still on the Run in Eastern Burma

June 14, 2009

Zoya Phan

The U.S Government and United Nations have remained silent about a new military offensive in Karen State, Burma, which has forced around 6,000 people to flee their homes.

At the beginning of June the Burmese army and its allies, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) began a new attack in Karen State, Burma. Attacks on my people are nothing new, and sadly, neither is the silence from the UN.

For sixty years the Karen have been under attack by the central government. These attacks escalated when an even more brutal dictatorship took power in September 1988, following a pro-democracy uprising in which thousands were killed when troops opened fire. In the past 15 years more than 3,300 villages in Eastern Burma have been destroyed. Half a million are internally displaced, and almost 150,000 live in refugee camps on the Thailand Burma border. Tens of thousands of people have been used as slave labor by the Burmese army, many used as human minesweepers, forced to walk in front of army columns as they keep no record of where they lay mines. Rape is used as a weapon of war by the regime; women taken as slaves can expect to be raped by soldiers every night, even girls as young as five. Extortion, torture, mutilations–the list of abuses goes on and on.

Tens of thousands of people have been used as slave labor by the Burmese army, many used as human minesweepers, forced to walk in front of army columns as they keep no record of where they lay mines.”

The dictatorship tries to justify its action by saying it is a counter-insurgency operation, and that the Karen are fighting for an independent state, and want to break up Burma. It simply isn’t true. Karen people want a Federal Burma, we stopped campaigning for our own state as long ago as 1976. In a grand offensive in 2006, the Burmese army added days to their journey by avoiding bases of the Karen National Liberation Army on their way to attack defenseless villages. The United Nations has confirmed this, accusing the generals of breaching the Geneva Conventions.

Now thousands more of my people are fleeing for their lives. I know the fear, and the sadness of leaving everything you know behind, carrying just a few possessions, and not knowing if you will ever go home again. I went through the same thing when I was 14 and the Burmese Army attacked my village.

The fact that 14 years later the same thing is still going on, and nothing is being done to stop it, fills me with anger and despair.

Last week, the European Union broke the years of silence and called for an end to the attacks in Eastern Burma. I suppose half the battle is trying to get people to take notice of what is going on, but the lack of concrete action, and silence from the rest of the world, is still frustrating.

The time for a global arms embargo against Burma is long overdue. There should also be a UN commission of inquiry into the crimes against humanity being committed in Eastern Burma. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon must also demand an immediate ceasefire when he visits Burma in July.

When I arrived in Thailand as a refugee I thought the international community would come to our aid and stop the attacks on our people. I was wrong. I know the new refugees in Thailand will be thinking the same thing. I hope that this time, they won’t be wrong.

Zoya Phan.jpgZoya Phan is international co-ordinator at Burma Campaign UK. Her autobiography Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West, has been published in the UK and Canada. It will be published in April as ‘Undaunted’ in the USA .

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