Rare Photos Document Burma Regime’s Abuses (click to view PDF)

For Immediate Release
June 30th, 2004
Contact: (202) 223-0300

ON EVE OF ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM AND TRAVEL BY POWELL AND ANNAN, DAMAGING PHOTOS REVEAL JUNTA’S ABUSES

(Washington, DC) Today, the US Campaign for Burma released a set of extremely rare photos (embedded on this page) taken inside Burma on June 28th that document an estimated 230 Burmese men, women, and children–including infants–fleeing from troops of the military regime that controls the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The photos are an extraordinary window into a systematic and brutal campaign against Burma’s ethnic nationalities that has left between 600,000 and 1 million people internally displaced and has forced between 1 and 2 million people to flee to neighboring countries.

The images were recorded as Burma’s military has launched an international charm offensive aimed at justifying detention of 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, and just days before Indonesia hosts the ASEAN Regional Forum, a meeting of foreign ministers from Southeast Asian nations that will be attended by US Secretary of State Colin Powell. It also comes two weeks before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan visits neighboring Bangkok.

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 “This regime’s abuses are forcing innocent, defenseless children into the jungle,” said Stephen Dun, a board member of US Campaign for Burma. “Asian, American, and UN leaders, including Indonesia’s President Megawati Sukarnoputri, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan must quickly condemn these abuses, and demand that these families be allowed to return to their homes in peace.”

The photos show civilians fleeing regime troops in the Karenni State. They fled from the town of Paho on Nat Thaung Mountain, which is located approximately 50 miles from the Thailand-Burma border and due west of Thailand’s second-largest city, Chiang Mai.

Forced to collect their belongings as quickly as possible as regime troops approached, the villagers grabbed what they could and fled. At this time, they are scattered, hiding in the jungle and living under trees. Since it is presently the rainy season in Burma, it is not known how long they can survive without assistance.

The approach by regime troops follows major attacks in the same vicinity in January 2004, during which the regime attacked several villages, forcing an estimated 5,000 people from their homes.

When the regime’s soldiers approach villagers, local residents generally flee their homes out of a well-founded fear of rape, forced labor, or murder committed by the regime’s troops. Reports from credible non-governmental organizations and the US State Department have documented the regime’s use of rape as a weapon of war, similar to what took place in Bosnia in the mid-1990s. The International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, has effectively sanctioned Burma’s military regime for its use of forced labor, the first time the organization has taken such measures in its 83-year history.

The onslaught by the regime’s troops is presumably aimed at relocating villages to central locations, away from border areas and closer to the Burmese regime’s military bases. From these locations, villagers are forced to provide labor for the regime’s infrastructure projects.

The regime’s move in Paho follows a pattern of consistent, low intensity warfare carried out in areas of ethnic nationalities. In spite of countless reports published by credible NGOs, international human rights organizations, and US and UN agencies, the low intensity nature of the attacks, coupled with a lack of access to the region (no journalists have traveled there), make the abuses “invisible”.

Nongovernmental organizations based in Thailand estimate that between 600,000 and 1 million peoples have been forced from their homes and live in the jungle as internally displaced people. An additional 1-2 million people have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Thailand, where only a fraction are permitted to stay in refugee camps. Even though international donors provide funding for refugee camps based along the Thailand-Burma border, almost no aid is provided for defenseless civilians trapped inside Burma.

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