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Myanmar army accused of rape, torture: HRW

20 march 2012, 13:21
Myanmar army. ©REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang
Myanmar army. ©REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang
Myanmar troops have committed serious rights abuses against civilians in an offensive against ethnic rebels that has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, AFP reports citing Human Rights Watch.

The army launched operations in June 2011 against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in an area of Kachin state surrounding a controversial Chinese-backed mega-dam project, shattering a 17-year ceasefire.

Since then, Human Rights Watch said at least 75,000 people had fled their homes and were in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter in the mountainous far north of the country formerly known as Burma.

In its report titled "Untold Miseries: Wartime Abuses and Forced Displacement in Burma's Kachin State," villagers tell of soldiers attacking their communities, looting homes and torturing and raping civilians.

One man who was forced to work as an army porter for three weeks said he had witnessed repeated rapes.

"At that place, on that night, those two women had to sleep with all the officers... They all raped them... I couldn't count them all. They all raped them. They were doing it in front of us," he said.

Others recounted being threatened by soldiers following mortar attacks on their villages.

"They said that we villagers are KIA, and that the KIA are villagers, and that's why they shot at us. The Burmese soldiers said for us not to cross a certain area or they'll shoot us," a 40-year-old Kachin woman told the New York-based rights group.

The report also detailed abuses by rebel fighters, with both sides accused of using child soldiers and landmines.

Since the resumption of hostilities, the rights group said some 45,000 had fled to KIA-controlled areas near the Chinese border and another 10,000 escaped into China, with most living in improvised camps. Some 20,000 fled to government-controlled areas.

Human Rights Watch accused the government of blocking humanitarian aid, saying it had allowed UN agencies to visit KIA-controlled areas just once, in early December. It said the rebels had also refused aid deliveries.

"The Burmese army is committing unchecked abuses in Kachin state while the government blocks humanitarian aid to those most in need," the group's deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson said in a statement.

"Both the army and Kachin rebels need to act to prevent a bad situation for civilians from getting even worse."

The new government, which took power last year ending five decades of military rule, has signed peace deals with rebel groups in an effort to end a civil war that has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence in 1948.

An end to the conflicts and alleged rights abuses by troops is a key demand of Western nations which have imposed sanctions on the regime.

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