Telegraph : New evidence backs claims of genocide in Burma

New evidence backs claims of genocide in Burma
By Mike Thomson in Rangoon (Filed: 05/03/2006)
URL: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/03/05/wburma05.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/03/05/ixworld.html

Fresh evidence has emerged that Burma’s military government, which seized
power in 1962 and has since waged a brutal war against rebel ethnic groups,
has been carrying out acts of genocide against its own people.

There have been allegations that in the past decade, soldiers have burnt to
the ground as many as 3,000 villages and raped, looted or killed many of
their inhabitants. Now, a Thai intelligence officer has uncovered what he
believes is proof that these were systematic atrocities ordered by the
state.

The middle-aged officer, who asked to be identified only as Thau, has spent
several years studying intercepted Burmese military communications and
analysing material found at the scene of horrific incidents inside Burma.

It was during recent searches of the bodies of Burmese soldiers killed by
rebels that the evidence was discovered. “We found some leaflets on the
corpse of a Burmese officer,” he said. “They said that the minority Shan
people are the enemy and have to be destroyed.”

When asked whether this referred to Shan or simply Shan fighters, he
replied: “It’s the Shan race. That’s happened with other races, too.”

Shan state, which lies just inside Burma’s border with Thailand, has seen
some of the most brutal battles between rebel fighters and Burmese
government soldiers.

Beheadings by troops of the State Peace and Development Council - the
official title of Burma’s ruling military junta - are common. So too are
beatings, the use of forced labour and rape. Growing use of amphetamines
among Burma’s 400,000-strong army is fuelling this violence.

David Matheson, a narcotics expert from the Australian National University
who is based in Thailand, said researchers had concluded that many troops
went into battle high on amphetamines. “When they come across dead Burmese
soldiers, they find methamphetamine tablets on most of them if not all of
them, particularly in the Shan state,” he said.

The brutality of the attacks is evident in video footage, taken by members
of the evangelical Christian missionary group the Free Burma Rangers, of the
burning of villages. The organisation is one of the few to travel deep into
the Eastern Burmese forest region where an estimated 500,000 people have
been driven from their homes by the military.

The video shows young men, armed with AK47s, setting fire to bamboo homes as
residents flee in terror.

The Rangoon government of Gen Than Shwe seems content with the status quo.
Its biggest opponent, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning leader of
the National League for Democracy, remains under house arrest.

Her party’s landslide election victory in 1990 has never been recognised by
the government, which continues to hold more than 1,100 political prisoners.
The junta has been gaining ground in its long-running war with rebel ethnic
minority groups such as the Karen, Shan and Karenni. These groups, who are
trying to win autonomy from Rangoon, have had to adopt guerilla warfare
after sustaining heavy losses.

The Karen’s commander, Gen Mu Tu See, is not in any mood to give up the
fight against the nation’s military Junta. “To stop the war is to
surrender,” he said. “The atrocities will go on because these people are not
for democracy.”

But does a man who has seen so many of his people die and his army dwindle
really believe that his military campaign has been a success? With a weary
smile he replies: “It’s a draw. Nobody is winning and nobody will win.”

In Rangoon, grinding poverty is accompanied by a lack of political freedom.
Locals emerging from a cinema were too petrified to discuss their lives or
give their names. However, two students described how they had spent 15
years in jail for speaking out in favour of democracy. One claimed he was
forced to act like a dog, moving on all fours and “barking” when wardens
called his name.

Severe restrictions are being placed on foreign aid agencies, including a
proposed new requirement that they employ only people offered to them by the
government.

Charles Petrie, the United Nations resident co-ordinator in Burma, said
implementation of this would lead to an exodus of aid organisations because
of their “inability to function”.

As ever, it is the ordinary people who suffer most. At a refugee camp at Mae
Sot, a Thai border town, a young Burmese man called Salwa, who lost a leg
after stepping on a mine as he fled his home, described how his parents had
urged him to run for his life when soldiers arrived.

“They are old and couldn’t keep up with us,” he said. “We wanted to stop and
help them but there was no time. When I returned, I found their bodies.”

. Mike Thomson’s reports on life in Burma will be broadcast on Radio 4’s
Today programme at 7.30am from Monday to Friday this week.