Caught in the crossfire

By MELANIE KEYTE 15 June 2015  

A small and isolated community in Chin State have suffered human rights abuses and been forced to flee their homes due to recent outbreaks of fighting in the state’s south, the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) has reported.

“This is yet another case where ordinary civilians, this time Khumi Chin indigenous people, bear the brunt of armed conflict in Burma and suffer human rights violations,” said CHRO’s Advocacy Director Rachel Fleming in a statement on 15 June.

The village of Pyin So, one-and-a-half hours’ boat ride to the town of Paletwa, is home to 62 households of ethnic Khumi people. The area is one of the poorest in Burma and, CHRO says, is heavily militarised, with 20 Burmese army positions in Paletwa Township alone.

The CHRO paper says that more than 350 people have abandoned their homes due to abuses such as the recruitment of minors, arbitrary detention, physical abuse, forced labour, abduction and the use of landmines.

Pointing to the Burmese army and the Arakan Army (AA) as the primary perpetrators of human rights violations, CHRO has called on the international community to act.

“Without international scrutiny, such abuses go unheeded,” Fleming said, speaking to DVB on Monday.

“In order to ensure human rights abuses cease altogether, impunity must end. Such abuses should be properly investigated by an independent, impartial body and perpetrators must be held to account in open civilian court,” she said.

Detailed in the CHRO report are accounts of the ill-treatment villagers have suffered since fighting erupted between ethnic armed groups, including the AA and the Arakan Liberation Party (the armed faction of which is the Arakan Liberation Army), and government forces, commonly known as the Tatmadaw.

Schoolboys Nay Lah Htun and Win Naing, aged 15 and 17 respectively, told CHRO that a Tatmadaw officer had attempted to forcibly conscript them, along with their 21-year-old friend Eing Gar Aung, into the Burmese army. The officer reportedly told the youngsters that he would teach them to drive a car and use a computer, skills which would earn the boys a well-paid job outside the village. When it became apparent that they had been tricked, the three young men tried to run away, but were chased down by the officer and ransoms were demanded from their families. The two minors were later released, but the 21-year-old is still missing.

Khumi people also reported abuse from the AA, with eight men relating to CHRO an incident where they had been detained, then physically abused, by members of the ethnic armed organisation as punishment for supposedly permitting the Tatmadaw to stay in the village. All of the men managed to escape uninjured after fighting broke out with government troops.

Since late May, over 350 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have fled Pyin So, seeking refuge in the village of Laung Tin where they now face shortages of food and medicine, according to the NGO.

“The IDPs had to cross two densely forested mountain ranges on foot, via jungle trails,” Fleming said. “[They] urgently need food provisions, as their supplies will run out by the end of this month. They also need medical care, medicines and construction materials.”

CHRO’s brief also addresses mounting pressure facing the displaced community, of whom 141 are minors, with authorities urging them to go back to their village despite all the dangers which remain there. Local Tatmadaw commanders, ministers from the Chin State government and township officials have reportedly told the Khumi to return to their homes or else face expulsion from their lands.

Fleming said these kind of threats violate the rights of the IDPs, and that their welfare is the primary responsibility of the state.

“We believe that the Burma army and the authorities, including the Chin State government, are more concerned about their reputation than about protecting the rights of the IDPs. The IDPs in Paletwa are a clear reminder that conflict is still going on in Chin State, which is embarrassing to the Burma army and the Chin State government,” she said.

A bilateral ceasefire was signed between the Chin National Front and the government in 2012, however, conflict between the AA and the Tatmadaw continues in the state’s south.

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