8. Rights of Ethnic Minorities


"Far from being a marginal or remote borderland question, Burma’s troubled history has repeatedly demonstrated that ethnic rights and conflict resolution are at the centre of challenges facing the country today. Not only do minority peoples make up an estimated third of the population, but it is in ethnic minority areas that many of the most acute political and humanitarian crises exist. This, in turn, has fuelled the debilitating cycle of conflict, militarization and economic malaise that has long needed to be addressed if Burma is ever to progress as a modern nation state."

(Source: Smith, Martin, Burma (Myanmar): The Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002)

8.1 Background

Burma is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, with over 135 different ethnic groups, and its population speaking over 100 different languages and dialects. Ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples are believed to represent approximately one-third of the state’s 52 million inhabitants, which includes an estimated population of 2 million Chinese and Indian. The major ethnic groups include: Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni (or Kayah), Mon, Rakhine (or Arakan), and Shan and are predominately located in the border areas. Because of Burma’s location, it has acted as a historic buffer between the neighboring powers of China, India, and Siam (Thailand). Over the past 2,000 years, many ethnic groups have migrated across Burma. The impressive and unique diversity found in Burma has been a source of conflict throughout Burma’s history and in the more recent attempts to create a democratic nation state. Throughout its entire existence as an independent state Burma has experienced a complex set of conflicts between the central government and ethnic minority groups. More than half a century of civil war has caused immense suffering and devastation for Burma and its people. A series of ceasefires between the SPDC and armed ethnic opposition groups since the late 1980s have brought relief in some areas but no real solutions and fighting continues. The government’s determination to preserve a unified state remains the main justification for military rule, and armed conflict is a root cause of ongoing human rights abuses and a deepening humanitarian crisis in ethnic minority areas. (Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, ICG, 7 May 2003).

Before the British annexed the territory of Burma, as a province of British India, the people inhabiting the land were ruled by various separate kingdoms and local tribal leaders. The kingdoms in the central Irrawaddy plains made successive attempts at pushing the boundaries of their territories further into the hills but the geography of the land served to isolate those in the hills from those in the plains. Before Burma achieved independence in 1948, there had been no political integration of the minority national territories with the Burman areas. The non-Burman indigenous nationalities in Burma were politically autonomous before and during the time of British colonial rule. Under colonial rule, ethnic differences became further amplified through the system of government in which Burma was administered as two separate territories: ‘Ministerial Burma’, areas predominately Burman, and the ‘Frontier Areas’, where ethnic minorities lived.

In Ministerial Burma, the traditional monarchy was abolished and a form of parliamentary home rule was introduced. For the most part, the frontier areas were left under the local authority of their traditional headmen and chiefs. Ethnic minorities, principally the Chin, Kachin, and Karen, were preferred for recruitment into the colonial army and the natural resources of minority areas were the most heavily exploited with little investment in return. This divide and conquer strategy not only created divisions and resentments which carry on until this day, but it ultimately set the peoples of Burma on different paths of political and economic development. (Source: Smith, Martin, Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002)

The Burman majority has always held the roots of anti-colonial sentiment, while after early resistance, many of the hill peoples were more welcoming to the British than the Burmans. Like the Burmans, plains or valley-dwelling minority groups, notably the Mon and Shan, have languages with long and rich written traditions. With British annexation, Christian missionaries promoted education and the transcription of minority languages into writing for the hill peoples, galvanizing a sense of modern ethnic or national identity among peoples that previously had been scattered or politically disparate. Cultural and political organizations swiftly followed, the most important of which, the Karen National Association (KNA), was formed in 1881. Such new influences and institutions, however, created a sense of unease among many Burman nationalists who regarded Christianity, like Indian and Chinese immigration, as a divisive element in the British arsenal of ‘three Ms’: missionaries, merchants and military (Source: Smith, Martin, Burma(Myanmar): The Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002).

During the Second World War, Burman nationalist forces aligned with the Japanese Imperial Army were involved in a series of bloody clashes with ethnic minority groups who stayed loyal to the British. They later turned against the Japanese and cooperated with the returning British army. However, atrocities committed during the early months of the Japanese campaign, particularly in Karen communities in the delta, left deep-seated enmity among many ethnic nationalists that remain today. (Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Report, ICG, 7 May 2002).

From 1945 to 1948, a new state structure had to be developed in order for Burma to become independent. General Aung San, the Burman independence leader, stated: "In my opinion it will not be feasible to set up a unitary state. We must set up a Union with properly regulated provisions to safeguard the rights of the national minorities." Independent Burma was created on the understanding that it would be a federal union. The separate political rights of the minority national areas were recognized in the January 1947 agreement between General Aung San and the British Prime Minister Attlee. The rights of the ethnic national groups were also recognized in the February 1947 Panglong Agreement between Burman leaders and other national groups, in the commission of inquiry on the frontier areas, and in the independence constitution of 1948. Each of these fundamental political and legal documents recognized rights of self-determination of the indigenous nationalities. The 1948 constitution gave each nationality representation in a Chamber of Nationalities at the national level. The constitution specifically only recognized four states for the Karen, Karenni, Shan, and Kachin. Only the Shan and Karenni were granted the right to separate after 10 years. For other groups, territory was not provided for in the constitution. Many groups felt that the constitution did not grant equal rights and representation to the ethnic groups which to increased tensions and numerous armed resistances which, in the case of the Karen, began as early as 1949. The present constitution of Burma, enacted in 1974 under General Ne Win, gives no autonomy to the ethnic nationalities. Under the SPDC, there is no respect for minority languages, cultures, or political aspirations. The Government’s response to the minority nationalities is purely militarized. In spite of this reality, Burma still claims to be a "union", and the anniversary of the Panglong Agreement has been celebrated every year since 1962 as "Union Day" (Source: Smith, Martin, Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002)

The Panglong Agreement, between General Aung San and Chin, Kachin, and Shan leaders, is the closest that the minority ethnic groups and the majority Burmans have ever come to having a successful and peaceful union and is often considered the starting point for future negotiations. The challenge to create a sense and structure of national unity in the new Union from peoples that had formerly been administered separately, while still respecting their rights to ethnic autonomy, was first attempted here. However, the Karen –which constituted one of the largest minorities –boycotted these negotiations, believing that the British would grant them an independent state, and there were strong critics also among other ethnic groups. The agreement is also important because it, in many respects, is what led to independence a year later. Respected Shan resistance member and scholar, Dr. Chao Tzang Yawngwe, has noted, "The Panglong Accord and its principles or the Panglong spirit is at the very heart of our past, present, and future. The Panglong vision, shared by all non-Burman leaders and by General Aung San, was to establish a democratic, federal Union, based on federalism, the equality of states, and their self-determination." In the final agreement of 12 February 1947, ‘full autonomy in internal administration’ (Article 5) and the enjoyment of democratic ‘rights and privileges’ (Article 7) were guaranteed for the Frontier Areas, and hence some ethnic minority peoples. No one state was envisioned as being the mother-state (Pyi-Ma), superior to or above other states. The Panglong spirit is critical to future attempts at building the nation because it provides a solid and historical basis for democracy, peace, and real people’s power" (Source: "An Evening with Dr Chao Tzang Yawngwe", Kao-Wao News,16-20 February 2002).

2.2 Ethnic Politics, Nationalism, Armed Resistance, and Cease-fire Groups

Ethnic minorities or Non- Burman people make up one third of the population of Burma and occupy approximately half the land area of the country. The population of Burma is estimated to be 50 million people, therefore there are nearly 20 million ethnic minorities living on 55% of the land area or 371,000 sq kms. Burmans make up 60% of the population. Ethnic minorities are thought of as such because they are disenfranchised from full citizenship. The term "ethnic nationalities" is often used to refer to non-Burmans because of the varied and strong ethnic identities within the country.

The ruling military regime regards the ethnic minority groups with intense suspicion because of their lack of unity throughout the history of Burma. The ethnic minority groups have felt the loss of political and economic power even more acutely than the majority population as both the SPDC government and military are overwhelmingly Burman in make-up and are widely perceived as a foreign force in ethnic minrotiy areas. Ethnic minority groups are economically marginalized while their social, cultural, and religious rights are suppressed. Ethnic minorities consider themselves discriminated against and have openly accused the SPDC of a deliberate policy of "Burmanization". While many ethnic groups originally fought for independence, today almost all have accepted the Union of Myanmar as a fact and merely seek increased local authority and equality within a new federal state structure. The military government, however, still suspects them of scheming to split the country and sees this as justification for its repressive, often brutal policies in minority areas. (Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, International Crisis Group, 7 May 2003)

Non-Burman armed ethnic groups have been fighting the military government and their army, called the Tatmadaw, to varying degrees for more than 50 years. Scores of opposition groups have formed, split, reunited, and dissolved at various times over the years. While most ethnic minority armies have been fighting the SPDC army, some at times have cooperated with it against other groups, or they have fought each other over territory or other resources. In 1976 minority nationalists formed an alliance called the National Democratic Front (NDF). NDF continues to seek a political solution to the national question in Burma, and seeks a federal union with equality and self-representation for the nationalities. As stated at their 1987 congress, the political goal of a federal union is envisioned as, "Each republic government is to have full power of self-government, while the central government shall exercise the power defense, foreign affairs, finance and monetary affairs, post and telecommunications, airways, waterways, railway communication, and federal judiciary." (Source: Center for World Indigenous Studies).

The group had originally called for a ceasefire in Burma only if all ethnic armies agreed to it, but since its formation groups—including the New Mon State Party (NMDP) and the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO)—have brokered ceasefire deals with the ruling military junta. Although the military junta has signed cease-fires with individual ethnic groups, seven ethnic groups, who remain members of the NDF have not agreed to ceasefire deals and continue to fight against the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). NDF members include: The Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Chin National Front (CNF), Karen National Union (KNU), the Lahu Democratic Front (LDF), the Palaung Liberation Front (PLF), Pa-O Liberation Organization (PLO), Wa National Organization (WNO). Since 1989, the NDF has formed the nucleus of a new grouping, the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB), which includes majority Burman opposition groups as well. The NDF has called on the SPDC to hold tripartite dialogue and to declare a nationwide ceasefire, but the SPDC has so far refused. (Source: Irrawaddy)

The armed struggle underwent a brief revival in the aftermath of the 1988 uprising and 1990 election when thousands of Burman activists fled to the jungle bases of ethnic armed opposition groups, raising expectations for the emergence of a more powerful, truly national alliance. By then, however, the ceasefire movement was already underway, which was soon to include most of the major ethnic nationalist armies and undercut any prospects of a serious armed challenge to the central government. The ceasefire policy, initiated by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) secretary-one, Lt-General Khin Nyunt, has had profound affects on the armed opposition’s resistance struggle. Ceasefires have included agreements to end fighting, but with no political details. Under truces reached, ceasefire forces are allowed to maintain their weapons and territories – and join political discussions– until a new constitution is introduced. Originally many ethnic leaders were encouraged by the 1990 elections and the ceasefires spread to include even more parties, including the Kachin, Mon, Palaung, Pa-o and Shan members of the NDF. By 2002, over 15 ethnic forces had peace, though not political-agreements, around the country. (Source: Smith, Martin, Burma (Myanmar): The Time For Change, Minority Rights Group International, May 2002)

In non-ceasefire areas, especially in the Chin, Karen, Karenni and Shan borderlands, there are still clashes and intensive government operations. From the mid-1990s, the situation of the armed resistance groups was steadily undermined, as a series of splinter groups broke away to make their own cease-fires. The 1995 defections of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and Shan State National Army (SSNA) were particular blows to Karen and Shan forces. The ceasefire movement and the decline of its individual members, seriously diminished the NDF’s military strength. In 2002, the only groups continuing armed struggle that have significant military strength are the KNU, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and the Shan State Army South (SSA South). These three groups have formed a new military alliance, including also some smaller groups, but their aims are largely defensive.(Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, ICG, 7 May 2003).

The SPDC military government has responded to any ethnic group’s demands of self-determination with counter-insurgency military operations. All demands for political autonomy have been rejected as illegitimate. The special councils and ministries that existed during the parliamentary era for the ethnic states were abolished. The SPDC military has engaged in relentless counter-insurgency operations in areas controlled by the ethnic nationalist armies since the mid-1960s. Borrowing from American military tactics during the Vietnam War, a strategy known as the "Four Cuts" has been employed. It aims at cutting off the rebels from the four main links of food, funds, intelligence, and recruits between them and local villagers. While the program has been extremely effective in paralyzing the various insurgency groups, the general population in ethnic areas has suffered gravely because of it. Millions of people have lost their homes and livelihood as numerous villages were forcibly relocated and food and crops destroyed. Scores of other civilians have been killed. Since 1996 alone, more than one million people have reportedly been displaced by the forced relocation program launched by the SPDC in Karen, Karenni (Kayah) and Shan states. While hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries such as Thailand, some are living in hiding within their own country. A human rights group working with British Parliament, Jubilee Campaign stated, "Altogether over 648,000 Karen, Karenni and Shan people have been internally displaced inside Burma by the Burmese military. Many of them are hiding in the jungle with no food or medicine and are killed on sight by Burmese troops." (Source: SHAN)

Since 1988, most ethnic minority organizations have expressed support for democracy, seeing it as chance to gain a voice in national politics and press for a redress of their long-standing grievances. But few leaders of the dominant ethnic militant groups regard democracy as an end in itself. Their main concern is to secure local political and administrative authority, further development of their regions, and enjoy the right to maintain and practice their language, culture and religion without constraints. The strength of ethnic minority organizations traditionally has been measured in military terms. The shift in national politics since 1988 and subsequent ceasefires, however, has transferred the main struggle from the battlefield to the political and administrative arena. The primary challenge for ethnic minority organizations today is to build political and organizational capacity – individually, and collectively – to ensure that they are not left out of negotiations about the future of Burma and can continue to represent the interests of their communities. They also need to help rebuild their war-torn communities and economies, in order to reestablish a sense of normalcy and confidence in the future. (Source: Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics, ICG, 7 May 2003).

8.3 Need for Tripartite Political Dialogue

In October 2000, national reconciliation talks commenced seemingly working towards democracy in Burma. Ethnic minority groups have not been party to these talks that have been held between democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). In 2002, while there were hopes that the talks would move from "confidence building" to more the substantial issue of democratic reform, ethnic minorities insisted that their voices be heard as well. International rights groups also called on the SPDC and the democratic opposition to broaden their dialogue to include at minimum the concerns of ethnic minorities. Pro-democracy parties representing eight major ethnic groups assembled an informal coalition known as the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), with the objective of forming an alliance to prepare for eventual tripartite talks. The UNA regularly meets to discuss issues like: participation in bipartite dialogue between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rangoon military junta, the needs of the ethnic nationalities, how to solve political problems, literature and culture of the various nationalities, and the right to map their own destinies. Of the eight member groups, seven parties won seats at the Multiparty General Elections held in 1990. (Source: "Ethnic Groups Form a Political Alliance", Democratic Voice of Burma, 5 August 2002)

All the member parties except the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) were later deregistered after the 1990 election, in which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a sweeping victory. As a result, only the SNLD is able to engage in political activities at present.

Although the NLD won a sweeping victory in the 1990 elections, some ethnic groups claim that those elections were not truly representative of the population of Burma because most hill tribe members did not vote. The UNA met with UN envoy Razali Ismail on 4 August 2002 and asked him to help the deregistered parties win reinstatement believing that it is important for the various parties get reinstated if they are to take advantage of the military’s promise to give all political parties more freedom of movement in the future. On 19 October 2002 the UNA also met with the UN Special Rapporteur to Burma, Mr. Pinheiro to discuss human rights abuses affecting the various ethnic groups.(Source: "UN Special Envoy Meets Representatives of Burmese Ethnic Groups", Democratic Voice of Burma, 19 October 2002)

In October of 2002 in a measure to give more representation to ethnic minorities, the Burmese Opposition parliament, expanded to include representatives from the Mon, Shan, and Zomi ethnicities. The military reacted harshly to what it considers an illegal organization and detained dozens of would be members of the opposition legislature. (Source: "Burma Oppositions Parliament Expands with New Members Representing Mon, Shan, and Zomi Ethnicities", Democratic Voice of Burma, 25 October 2002)

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has also acknowledged the need for minorities to be involved in drafting a future for Burma. "The important thing is to bring them to the negotiating table for an amicable solution," she said several weeks after her release from house arrest on 6 May 2002, at an event attended by Shan, Mon, Chin, and Arakanese leaders. On 21 November 2002, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi publicly apologized for the weak efforts by the country’s Burman majority in fostering national unity among ethnic races. Suu Kyi made the remarks while addressing more than 2,000 supporters during a one-hour speech marking the reopening of the National League for Democracy’s (NLD) Taunggyi office, in Shan State. She made the apology as a Burman, and said it was necessary for all nationalities in Burma to participate together in the country’s reconciliation process. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has continually called for the need for tripartite dialogue in Burma since she was released from 19 months of house arrest. (Source: Moe, Kyaw Zwa, "Opposition Leader Apologizes to Ethnic Groups", Irrawaddy, November 2002)

While her trips across the country to minority regions have turned up thousands of supporters who testify to her wide appeal, she has many challenges ahead if she is to engage ethnic minorities fully in the process of nation building. The United Nationalities Alliance also faces challenges of including both the various cease-fire groups and the armed ethnic groups in negotiation with Rangoon. (Source: AFP)

The political agendas of the National League for Democracy and the various ethnic parties have historically been quite different. Many ethnic minorities in Burma are concerned that their decades-old struggle against the Rangoon government is now being eclipsed by the more visible ethnic Burman pro-democracy forces. Both Karen and Shan leaders have expressed the view that Aung San Sui Kyi’s release from house arrest this year has had no affect on the political situation of the ethnic groups. Karen National Union leader General Bo Mya, who is also president of both the Democratic Alliance of Burma, an alliance of ethnic groups and pro-democracy activists, and the National Council of the Union of Burma, which also includes the NLD, said looting, killing and gang rapes still continue as part of the SPDC’s "ethnic cleansing" efforts. There is growing concern that while the international community is aware of the concerns of the pro-democracy opposition, international lobbying efforts have forgotten to include other human rights violations such as arbitrary killing and rape, which disproportionately affect the ethnic minorities. There are complaints that Burmans dominate the opposition movement, and there is resentment that Burmans get more international assistance than minority ethnic groups. (Source: "Ethnic Groups Fear Being Sidelined in Struggle for Democracy", UN Wire, 5 August 2002)

Although it appears that most ethnic minority groups support pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, they also distrust some other leaders of the opposition National League for Democracy because of past ties to the army. Many Burmans in the pro-democracy movement feel the same way. General Shwe Hser, president of the National Democratic Front (NDF), described Suu Kyi as the only NLD leader the ethnic groups can trust. Other NLD leaders, he said, were generals and have the blood of ethnic minorities on their hands. Suu Kyi has said she envisions a federalist nation, although not one in which individual states could secede. Suu Kyi is generally seen as a positive force in the building of a federation and many are encouraged by the fact that since she was educated in the West she has seen federations work. Unlike her mostly nationalist party members, she may have the proper experience to bring about open negotiations that respect the rights and concerns of all the various parties in Burma. General Bo Mya described Suu Kyi as very important to the struggle for democracy in Burma and said most ethnic groups will benefit if she becomes Burma’s leader. At the same time, he said, Suu Kyi, cannot do much alone. (Source: "Ethnic Groups Fear Being Sidelined in Struggle for Democracy", UN Wire, 5 August 2002)

Others reservations reflect that ethnic groups may not believe that the NLD represents them. Some suggest that while Suu Kyi has respect because of her father Aung San, an independence hero who was assassinated in 1947, she may not know what is on the minds of non-Burman ethnic groups. At the same time, talks will have to proceed among the government, NLD, and ethnic opposition for lasting peace to occur, as the SPDC knows well how to play the two components of the opposition against each other. It is clear that the ethnic group support for the pro-democracy forces — including provision of most of the opposition’s military muscle — depends on whether the groups believe they will have a real role in a new Burma. (Source: "Ethnic Groups Fear Being Sidelined in Struggle for Democracy", UN Wire, 5 August 2002)

8.4 SPDC Campaigns of Abuse Against Minority Villagers

The economic ruin faced by Burma is reflected in the armed forces. 40% of the national budget is spent on the military. Even though there is no foreign threat, the government commonly does not provide sufficient wages or supplies to its inflated personnel. The SPDC military, or Tatmadaw forces, often reside in ethnic areas and demand support from the poor civilian population. When civilians simply cannot afford to give provisions of food or livestock, even after threats and intimidation, they are robbed of everything they own by the armed forces. Food, livestock, and personal possessions are all taken. Rape and use of villagers for forced labor as porters for the military troops without compensation is wide spread. People who are taken for forced labor are also used as human mine sweeps in the ethnic areas. Members of various ethnic groups are subject to theft, re-location, forced labor, rape, torture, and murder at the hands of the Tatmadaw forces. This strategy makes it easy for the SPDC to maintain so many troops, while also effectively terrorizing many citizens at the same time. These highly vulnerable citizens are left caught in the crossfire between the armed insurgent groups and the military, with nowhere to hide.

Many of the worst violations in the country in 2002 were reported against civilians living in minority regions, especially in Karen and Shan States. In March, fighting flared up along the Thai-Burmese borders, when Karen rebels reportedly attacked army outposts. According to the Democratic Voice of Burma, 5,000 people were displaced by Burmese soldiers in Dooplaya district in Karen State alone, between April and June of 2002. Moreover, during the same period, six villages were burned, six schools destroyed, five churches burned, and at least fifteen villagers murdered. In May 2002, the Burmese Tatmadaw and Buddhist Karen allies attacked Christian Karen villages, hospitals, and schools. Burmese soldiers executed villagers suspected of sympathizing with the rebels, and in several instances also executed Karen families caught while attempting to flee forced relocation. Townships in Shan State, such as Loi Kha and Loi Kawwan, were closed off by the Burmese military to outside visitors, amidst reports of forced relocation, forced labor, torture, rape, and extrajudicial killings. Refugees reported massacres in Shan State in September 2002. Thousands of Karen and Shan refugees fled across the borders to Thailand. (Source: Human Rights Watch World Report) (For more information on specific abuses see relevant chapter.)

8.5 Abuse of Ethnic Minorities by Cease-fire Groups

Although the ceasefire deals reached between the Burmese army and several ethnic armed resistance groups during the last decade are claimed by the ruling Burmese military junta to be one of their major achievements in their ‘peace’ efforts, in reality many local ethnic communities in the ceasefire areas are being faced with even more difficult living conditions than before. In order to promote their own ethnic culture in ceasefire areas, some ceasefire groups have committed actions that have infringed on the cultural rights of other local ethnic peoples. This ethnic nationalism is creating further divisions and resentment among various ethnic groups, and destroying any possibility of harmonious co-existence within the communities. (Source: SHRF)

Human Rights Violations Committed by the DKBA

In late 1994, complaints by Buddhist soldiers over discrimination by the predominantly Christian Karen National Union (KNU) leadership erupted into open conflict, and a few hundred soldiers broke away to form the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). The armed splinter organization subsequently surrendered to the SPDC military regime and accepted material support and control over parts of Karen State in return for help fight against KNU strongholds. This divide and conquer strategy led to the fall of Manerplaw, the KNU’s General Headquarters, in January 1995 and of all remaining KNU base areas along the Thai border in a second major offensive in 1997. The DKBA’s main bases are located in the Pa-an Township, with other bases in Townships in both Karen and Mon States, such as Kawkareik, Kya-inn-seikyi, Three-Pagoda-Pass, and Kyaikmayaw. Sporadic fighting continues today between KNU and DKBA troops. After the SPDC occupied KNU strongholds, they ceased to provide monetary or food assistance to the DKBA.

Without financial support the DKBA was unable to feed its soldiers or obtain more recruits. The SPDC encouraged them to do their own business, and as former KNU members their familiarity with border areas has enabled them to conduct sizeable trade via the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border in eastern Burma. Some of this trade includes the trafficking of drugs, as the SPDC gives members of the DKBA ‘special privileges’, making them free from punishment of crimes. Other privileges accorded to DKBA members include freedom from forced labor and tax payment to the SPDC. As the DKBA does not currently have any major military operations against the KNU, the soldiers are used primarily to protect the organization’s businesses. The DKBA has also undertaken various contracts from the SPDC for the implementation of development projects, especially road construction, in Karen State.

As an armed organization, the DKBA has mimicked many of the human rights abuses committed by the Burmese Army against both Mon and Karen villagers. In most of such development projects the DKBA conscripts forced labor, using hundreds of civilians to contribute unpaid labor. Additionally, like the Burmese Army, they have conscripted forced labor in order to construct military barracks and to work on the DKBA’s rice-farms and fruit and rubber plantations. The DKBA also collects taxes from civilians, is involved in gambling and robbery activities, and the general abuse of power and discrimination against civilians. (Source: HURFOM)

In late 2001, there were religious clashes between Muslims and Buddhist monks in Pegu, Prome, and some Townships in Rangoon, the capital of Burma. The clashes originated from anti-Muslim sentiment among the Buddhist monks after the September 11 attack in US. This sentiment has also infected members of the DKBA, as the organization is based on Buddhism. Many of the DKBA’s members have anti-Muslim sentiment and have accused Muslim civilians of being part of political groups, religious extremists, and terrorists. When DKBA soldiers come upon Muslims in villages, farms, or the jungle it is common practice for the soldiers to beat them. The torture of Muslims is also often committed by DKBA commanders and soldiers. For instance, on 12 February 2002, when DKBA troops led by Maj. Nga Kywe launched the military patrol in western part of Kya-inn-seikyi Township, they rarested a 50-year-old Muslim farmer. During their interrogation they tortured him in order to discover his involvement in politics. Although the man replied he was simply a farmer and had never been involved in politics, they slapped, beat, and kicked him. He was seriously injured as a result of the torture, and had to be brought to the town hospital for treatment.(Please see chapter on freedom of religion and belief for more information)(Source: HURFOM)

The DKBA claims that they are representing the Buddhist Karen people and that their activities should only benefit their own ethnic people. As a result, the members of the DKBA are widely involved in discrimination, especially against ethnic Mon people. In the conscription of forced labour, DKBA commanders select Mon villages and order the village headmen to send villagers to contribute unpaid labour, while at the same time not requiring Karen villagers to contribute labour. Similarly, in early 2002 it was reported that when the DKBA decided to collect tax from fishermen who fished along Gyaing River, they only selected Mon fishermen to pay the tax. (Source: HURFOM)

It is also widely believed that the DKBA has been involved in human trafficking to Thailand for many years. In their plans to monopolize the trade in human trafficking into Thailand, they intimidated, threatened and oppressed their competition of Mon traffickers. When they could not abuse traffickers, they made problems for the parents and relatives of the human traffickers instead. On 27 February 2002 a group of DKBA soldiers led by Lt. Maung Hla Nge went to Port-gyi-gone village, Kawkareik Township, and arrested and tortured a 60-year-old Mon woman. DKBA soldiers arrested her with the accusation that her son was a trafficker of migrant workers into Thailand, and had failed to successfully send some Karen workers that were relatives of DKBA soldiers. As her son had left home many months ago, she knew nothing of her son’s work. Still the soldiers accused her son of stealing the money charged to the Karen workers, and tried to force her to pay. When she refused she was severely tortured. Afterwards her relatives had to pay a 700,000 kyat ransom for her release. (Source: HURFOM)

In rural areas where DKBA troops took bases, the Mon, Karen and other ethnic people faced not only oppression by SPDC authorities and military, but they also suffered from violations of human rights committed by DKBA. The SPDC’s support of the DKBA is an attempt to create further divisions among ethnic people. Reasoning that if there are many conflicts within the ethnic nationality groups, any attempts to gain rights of self-determination by the various ethnic nationalities in Burma will fail. Whenever the international community asks the regime for national reconciliation, with the inclusion of ethnic representatives in tri-partite negotiations, the regime can refuse by pointing to the divisions among ethnic peoples. The militia DKBA is therefore merely a tool in the political games of the SPDC. (Source: Mon Forum)

Cultural Persecution of Shan by the Pa-O Ceasefire Group in Tawng-gi (Taunggyi)

Since the ceasefire deal between the SPDC and a Pa-O armed group a few years ago, local Shan communities in the area under the Pa-O ceasefire group’s control have been complaining about cultural persecution, especially concerning the ancient Buddhist holy site "Kaad Ku" in Tawng-gi township. "Kaad Ku" is a famous historical site where thousands of pagodas have been built over the past two thousand years. It is one of the main tourist attractions in Southern Shan State, where tourists and pilgrims from all over Burma and abroad come to visit every year. Local Shan communities have complained that the inscriptions in Shan script on many of the ancient structures at the holy site are being removed and destroyed by members of the Pa-O ceasefire group in the area, with tacit approval from the SPDC authorities. The Shan inscriptions are being replaced with ones in Pa-O script. Those who have tried to put up new Shan inscriptions or signs have been intimidated. The Shan see this as an attempt to destroy the cultural evidence which points to the fact that Shan people, since ancient times, have been living in the area and have been involved in the building and maintaining of the holy site.

In December 2001, when a monk from Singapore, who was invited by the Pa-O ceasefire group, donated 72 million kyat for the repair and maintenance of "Kaad Ku", the event was marked by the construction of 4 stone-pillar monuments at the four corners of the site. The pillars each had four sides with inscriptions in Chinese, Pa-O, Burmese, and English, without a line in Shan. The justification was given by the Pa-O ceasefire group that only those who had donated hundreds of thousands of kyat in a single installment would be honored with an inscription in their language. Thus, one side went to the main donor, the Chinese monk from Singapore, the second to the leader of the Pa-O ceasefire group who donated 3,000,000 kyat, the third was taken by the 1st Secretary of SPDC, Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt, who donated 2,000,000 kyat, and the last side was in English script was for the expected foreign tourists. Since the stone-pillar monuments will serve as proof for the future generations as to whom the major donors of the holy site were, all the credit will go only to those recorded on the pillars. The Shan’s effort at maintaining the site, who have long been regular donors, will not be recognized thus threatening their legitimacy in the area.

Furthermore, Shan villagers from the Shan villages in the surrounding areas of "Kaad Ku" holy site are often banned from wearing Shan attire and advertising in the Shan language. The Shan members of the committee that looks after the holy site are required to wear Pa-O dress. The feelings of the local Shan are clearly expressed with one Shan villager’s statement: "The fact that we do not have rich people among us who could donate hundreds of thousands in one single installment is because we have been continuously donating what we have earned during our life times. Our ancestors had been doing that since ancient times, generation after generation, down to our time. I feel as if all our efforts have been ignored and our cultural heritage destroyed". (Source: SHRF May 2002)

8.6 Obstruction and Interference of Holidays and Other Cultural Events/ Denial of Cultural Expression and Identity

Mon National Day Celebrations

The New Mon State Party (NMSP) held restricted ceremonies in southern part of Burma in 2002 to mark their 55th anniversary of Mon National Day. Burma’s military government had earlier prohibited celebrations planned for Rangoon and the Mon State capital of Moulmein, according to party members. One ceremony was held in Pha-Lan, in Ye Township, and a smaller gathering attended by both Mon officials and local Burmese military officials took place in Peyathosu, near Thailand’s Three Pagoda Pass. "The authorities in Rangoon only allowed us to gather in the compound of a Mon monastery," said a member of the Mon Independent News. NMSP Chairman Nai Shwe Kyin urged the Mon to unite and fight for ethnic rights during his annual national day speech. The 89-year-old party leader also said that the NMSP had issued an official statement regarding inclusion in the ongoing reconciliation talks in Rangoon. (Source: "Mon National Day Celebrated", Irrawaddy Online, 1 March 2002)

Obstruction of Shan New Year Celebrations

This year Shan in Muse and Lashio were told that their New Year celebrations would not be permitted to be held, as they coincided with a visit to the northern Shan State by Daw Khin Win Shwe, Gen Khin Nyunt’s wife. Nevertheless, after foreign radio stations reported the news, the authorities were persuaded to change their mind. The wife of Rangoon’s number three man in the SPDC also unexpectedly cut short her visit to the Shan State when ex-dictator Ne Win died suddenly, in order to return home on the same day. (Source: SHAN)

Burma’s Ethnic Groups Banned from Union Day Celebrations

In February 2002, the Burma’s ruling military government banned ethnic political parties from participating in the nation’s Union Day ceremonies. Union Day is a celebrated yearly in Burma to mark the signing of the historic Panglong Agreement between twenty-one representatives from Burma’s ethnic minorities and independence leader General Aung San during Burma’s push for independence. The SPDC claimed that the groups did not notify authorities early enough regarding their planned celebrations, according to ethnic leaders in Rangoon. The government said that the groups had to inform them at least two weeks in advance in order to hold any ceremonies. Khun Htun Oo, chairman of the Shan National League for Democracy said, "We don’t understand why they did this. We already sent invitations to embassies, political parties, and other guests, but we had to cancel everything." He also noted, "Union Day is supposed to unite Burmans and ethnic minorities, without our participation, what is the meaning of ‘union’?" The military regime cerebrates Union Day every year but does not invite ethnic politicians or opposition party members. The government, however, requires some ethnic groups to provide traditional dance and food at their ceremonies. While claiming to build national solidarity, it is clear that these events are simply paying ‘lip-service’. (Source: Htein, Win,"Burma’s Ethnic Groups Banned from Celebrations", Irrawaddy, 11 February 2002 )

Burmese Junta Extort Toll for Celebrating the New Year in Arakan State

The Burmese military collected illegal tolls for the New Year celebration, popularly known as the Water Festival, from all businesses and farms in Arakan State during April 2002. Although last year’s festivities were cancelled because of Buddhist - Muslim race riots, this year the junta ordered eighteen townships to participate, including the Paletwa township of western Chin State, in a grand Maha Thaung-gran celebration to be held in the capital of the state at Sittwe. The government departments in the townships had been issued orders by the SPDC for compulsory participation in the grand festivities at their own cost. The Sittwe Township Peace and Development Council issued orders to each of the owners of saw mills in the township to give five hundred cubic feet of saw timber for erecting stages in the town in order to celebrate Thaung-gran. The poor owners of saw mills, who could not afford to pay the illegal toll, faced closure of their saw mills as well as other legal actions.

The Arakan Thaung-gran, or traditional New Year, is a unique celebration with much of its festivities and traditional ceremonies vastly differing from those in Burma proper or even Thailand. Since the military juntas have been at the helm of Burma, each year the celebration of the traditional Arakanese festival has been discouraged. Instead, the military junta has urged the celebration of the Burmese traditional New Year (called Thingyan in Burmese), by the general Arakanese public. This year the junta has instead directed all of their administrative councils across the state to attend the Arakan Maha Thaungran, including those from inaccessible and remote areas. According to a high government official, this year’s decision to hold the festivities in a grand gala ceremony had been taken in order to divert people’s attention from the suspicious activities going on in Rangoon between the junta and their predecessor, Ne Win. (Source: Narinjara)

8.7 Discrimination in Education

Children belonging to ethnic minorities living in rural areas are especially at risk of being denied access to adequate education. They are relegated to substandard educational facilities, poorer quality of instruction, fewer teaching materials, and fewer opportunities for higher education than the rest of the population. According to Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights, a 2002 report released by Images Asia, "Of the 750,000 children who drop out of primary school each year, 630,000 are rural students. Government figures show that 84% of the annual drop-outs from primary school are in rural areas, with the lowest enrollment for the primary level age group in eastern Shan, Karen, and Arakan States." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002). In rural ethnic areas, where a large percentage of the people are mobile, as labor migrants driven by poverty or internally displaced, most children miss out on opportunities of education. Nationwide school coverage is low in general, but especially in rural and ethnic areas. Many villages have never had a school, and others that have a primary school do not go beyond the 4th standard.

Political unrest has profoundly affected access to education in Burma. In areas of armed conflict, primary, middle, and high schools closed repeatedly because of fighting or forced relocation. Karen and Karenni children in particular, both in past and present, have been denied education because of civil war in their areas. In some areas close to borders that have seen fighting for decades, instability prevents government schools from opening at all. Some opposition groups have opened their own schools, but they are critically under-resourced. Often they have no books and are staffed by volunteer teachers who have not even passed the ten standard themselves. In Karen State there are several hundred schools maintained by the KNU, but the teachers are often paid no salary at all and sometimes the villagers cannot even afford to supply them with rice because of their own dire economic circumstances. Some other ethnic opposition groups continue to operate schools in remote rural areas under ceasefires, but they are still plagued by problems arising from the lack of funding and resources.

Schools, besides lacking the basic teaching materials and supplies, are often used as a place to enculturate students who are forced to undergo the process of "Burmaization" at school. Not only are students forced to learn and speak in Burmese, but they are also forced to perform Buddhist worship. One teacher has said, "There are various religions among the students. Before the class begins, the authorities force all the children to worship in the Buddhist way. It is difficult for Muslim students. They don’t want to do it, but they are forced to." (Source: Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength: Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002). (See chapter on health and education for more information about education)

Discrimination in Education against the Mon people

Though ethnic groups have their own primary languages, Burmese language is the sole language of instruction in all state schools. Even in ethnic areas, primary and secondary state schools do not offer any instruction in the local ethnic minority language, even as a second language. The New State Mon Party (NMSP) has built Mon National Schools in various parts of Mon State, in order to provide instruction in the Mon language. The curriculum has been provided by the Mon National Education Committee and is sponsored by the NMSP. The Mon Education Department has established schools in most of the villages in the Ye Township over the past 25 years. After losses in NMSP territory to the SPDC, the regime has gradually taken over such schools, forcing the teachers to instruct only in the Burmese language, and further implementing the SPDC’s assimilation policy.

The Establishment of Mon National School Barred

In March 2002, the Committee for the Establishment of a National School in Morkanin Village, Ye Township, planned to build a primary school with community support. In order to do so, two Mon monasteries in the village had originally donated a space of land in 2000. This land was later confiscated by Brigadier Gen. Thiha Thura Sit Maung, the former Commander-in-Chief of Southeast Military Command based in Moulmein, Mon State. After his death in a helicopter crash, the Committee for the Establishment of a National School again began plans to build the school, assuming they would be able to do so. However, they were barred from building the school by the Village Peace and Development Council Chairman. (Source:HURFOM)

Teaching of Mon Language Barred in School in Ye Township

In mid-July 2002, after the rebuilding of a primary school in a Mon village in southern part of Ye Township, the nearest SPDC’s LIB No. 587 commander ordered that the Mon language must cease being taught at the school. The commander threatened punishment for both teachers and the village headman if the Mon language was taught as a subject in the school. According to the village headman, the battalion commander first ordered the headmen to collect money from the villagers in May to re-build the new primary school, as the old school, a Mon National School, was in a ruined condition. Many houses had to pay 5000-10000 kyat in order to raise enough funds to pay for the project. The monks from the village monastery donated some wooden lumbers and poles for building. Most of the villagers believed that after the school was built, they would be able to teach the Mon language again, as they had done so for many years. In the last schooling year, Kun-doo village primary school taught both Mon and Burmese languages, and both the students and their parents were happy with this arrangement. They were surprised and upset upon learning that the Mon language could no longer be taught at their school. "If someone would like to teach Mon language, they can teach in forest in where nobody hear", said the SPDC commander. However, out of fear of retribution by the authorities, the villagers were forced to remain silent. (Source: HURFOM)

8.8 Land Confiscation and Burman Resettlement

Confiscation of Land in Northern Arakan State for Burmese Junta’s Model Villages with Special VIP Privileges for Residents

The SPDC has established ‘model villages’ in the northern part of Arakan State for the rehabilitation of ethnic Burmans. There are now more than thirty such model villages in the three townships, which are occupied by settlers brought in from Burma proper. The land has usually come from areas confiscated from the original village inhabitants. The residents of the villages are released hardcore criminals, HIV patients, drug addicts, homeless, and retired armed forces personnel. Most of the settlers have been brought to the area with enticements of a better life, while some have been forcibly brought. Shortly after the settlement programs were initiated a few years ago, many of the new settlers were given land, cattle, one year’s foodstuff, homes and other necessary amenities such as generators and television sets. Though the Burmese junta has given all of the necessary land and homes to the Burman resettlers, many find life harsh and boring here compared to Burma proper and have run off back to their original homes.

In order to resettle ethnic Burmans in so-called ‘model villages’, the State Peace and Development Council has been confiscating privately owned land from Rakhine and Rohingya residents in the border townships of Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung of Arakan (Rakhine) State, in the western part of Burma. On 1 April 2002, Mayaka Township Peace and Development Council Chairman of Maungdaw, Captain Hla Paw and his group called upon U Thein Tun, the leader of Payrung model village. They surveyed 135 acres of hilly area owned by local neighboring villagers. Afterwards the group confiscated the land and distributed it among the residents of Payrung model village.

Residents of the model villages are given special advantages and privileges including food rations, TVs, health clinics, and government-run schools, which are a far cry from the conditions in the traditional non-Burma villages nearby. Besides teaching materials in the schools, students are given free books and school uniforms. As SPDC officials regularly pay visits to these model villages, the township authority is always careful to meet the needs of the model village residents, who enjoy special VIP treatment in comparison to their poor neighbors. The differential in treatment of citizens has caused growing resentment among the original inhabitants of the township. The establishment of Na-a-fa model villages in the area has also raised concern because of the consequential rise in both crime rates and the spread of HIV among the local population. This resettlement of the Burman population is seen as a threat to the ethnic balance of the area. (Source: "Confiscation of Land for Burmese Junta’s Model Villages", Narinjara, 16 April 2002)

Resettling of Burmans and Discrimination Against the Shan People in Shan State

Since 1996, more than a million people have been displaced by the forced relocation program launched by Rangoon in the Karen, Karenni (Kayah) and Shan states. Hundreds of thousands have also fled to neighboring Thailand. However, whereas there are refugee camps for those coming from Karen and Karenni states, there are no facilities whatsoever for the Shan. This has resulted in the Shan working as cheap illegal laborers, who are often exploited by their Thai employers, in order to survive. The military continued to forcibly relocate minority villages in Shan State during 2002, especially in areas where ethnic activists and rebels were active, and in areas targeted for the development of international tourism. The U.S. State Department’s 2002 country report on human rights in Burma estimated that forced relocations had produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, with as many as one million internally displaced persons within the country. (Source: SHRF)

Burmans Being Resettled in Southern Shan State

A village in southern Shan State, whose residents were relocated by the Burmese military during the 1996 - 98 forced relocation campaign, had recently been opened for resettlement to arrivals from Burma proper in September 2002. The village Nayok, comprised of 47 households, used to be a thriving hamlet and was known for its delicious loganberries. According to former occupants, half of whom have already fled to Thailand, there are 22 houses, 5 two-storied and 17 one-storied, all built entirely of teakwood. "I couldn’t bear to stay there and watch outlanders living in my home while my family had to struggle each day just to survive, so we decided to leave," said a former native of Nayok Village, Nawng-hee Tract, Kengtawng Township. "When the Kengtawng urbanization project was announced two years ago, we went back to apply for permission to return to our homes but were rejected," added another. "The trouble with us Shan is that most of us don’t have any official document to show we own the place, because we were never given any since the days of Zaofahs (Shan ruling princes)." (Source: SHRF)

Kengtawng, (formerly part of Mongnai Township, but named a separate township in August) is a historic area huddled up against five townships, namely: Namzarng, Kunhing, Mongnai, Langkher and Mongpan and was the center of mass forced relocations in 1996-98. By September 2002, it had become a place bustling with resettlers from Burma proper. Kengtawng had been slated for the resettlement of 3,000 families coming up from lowland Burma. So far about 500 have already resettled there. The area is also known for its lucrative teakwood forests. Asia World, owned by Law Hsinghan, and Shan State South, owned by Mahaja, are two of the firms that have been granted logging concessions in the area by Rangoon. (Source: SHRF)

Rangoon’s massive eviction program had uprooted inhabitants of other villages as well. The forced relocation program had taken place in 11 townships and had put 1,478 villages and 55,957 households on the run, according to the Shan Human Rights Foundation. According to one witness, "3-4 trucks arrive each day to unload Burmese civilians in Nawnghee and Tonghoong tracts, escorted by Burmese soldiers. They’ve been filling up the homes and fields vacated by the Shan who have been relocated elsewhere over the last five years. Some of them are even trying to seize occupied residences and domains." (Source: SHRF)


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