Kachin women want Myanmar sanctions renewed | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.03.2013
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Kachin women want Myanmar sanctions renewed

Fighting in Myanmar's Kachin state continues despite recent peace talks. A Thailand-based rights group continues to document civilian deaths and calls on the international community to help resolve the conflict.

International sanctions against Myanmar should be re-imposed due to the ongoing ethnic conflicts in the country, according to a support group for Kachin women.

The Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (KWAT) has also demanded an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the country's northernmost state.

The call comes amid reports of continued fighting between government soldiers and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) despite last week's latest round of peace talks.

Civilians targeted

In its recent report "State Terror in the Kachin Hills," KWAT documented the deaths or wounding of dozens of civilians between September 2012 and February this year.

According to the group, areas populated by civilians were repeatedly targeted by Myanmar troops, including refugee camps for those displaced by the fighting.

KWAT said its findings amount to serious breaches of international humanitarian law.

"They're not really targeting their enemy, The Kachin (Independence) Army. They're shelling and using aircraft where civilians are staying. This is directly violating the Geneva Convention Article 3," KWAT spokeswoman Julia Marip told DW.

"They can fight anywhere they want but [they should not] target civilians and burn down their houses."

Local buildings apparently set on fire during conflict in Kachin region of Myanmar, 8. Januar 2013; (Copyright: KWAT)

The Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (KWAT) continues to document ongoing violence

The second Kachin conflict erupted in June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire between the Myanmar government and the Kachin broke down. The uprising is one of several ethnic battles that have been reignited since the end of decades of military rule two years ago.

The internal strife in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is the longest ongoing war in the world with other tensions involving Karen, Karenni, Shan and Rohingha minorities.

"Crimes against humanity and war crimes are happening not only in Kachin state but also in the other ethnic areas as well, so we really urge the United Nations to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate," said Marip.

In Kachin alone, more than 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. KWAT estimates that 364 villages have been wholly or partially abandoned over the past 19 months.

But Myanmar officials have denied that troops were targeting civilians. In January, a spokesman for President Thein Sein blamed the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for the killings.

Fierce battles continue

Over the weekend, Kachinland News reported that fighting had broken out again between Myanmar forces and the KIA in recent days. It reportedly took place in neighboring Shan state.

Additional government troops have been sent to Kachin in recent days, according to the Myanmar Times, which quoted an internal UN memo describing how soldiers in trucks had taken advantage of a large aid convoy to take new positions.

The website Irrawaddy reported that an aid truck belonging to the Japanese charity Nippon Foundation had been blocked several times from delivering vital supplies to the area, which Marip said had left refugees desperately short.

"Humanitarian assistance is very much needed in the China-Burma border, especially in the KIA-controlled area because the Burmese government is still placing restrictions on UN agencies and international NGOs. They cannot operate freely to provide assistance in those areas," said Marip.

Peace talks between Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Organization took place in China last week. A statement released shortly thereafter was vague but said talks would continue in early April.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar to find a way to broker a lasting ceasefire with Kachin separatists and called on the parties to "redouble their efforts."

A Myanmar government soldier stands guard on Balaminhtin bridge over the Irrawaddy River near the city of Myitkyina in the north of the country after months of renewed fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, February 22, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS/Strinter)

The report says Myanmar's military has targeted civilians

KWAT has called for recently suspended US and EU sanctions to be re-imposed. The group has also requested third party involvement in peace negotiations.

International monitors needed

Political Analyst Dr. Decha Tangseefa from Thailand's Thammasat University agreed that the international community should get more involved.

"This international monitoring team would comprise the main actors like the UN and ASEAN as well as members of civil society internationally. But one thing, the core monitoring team must not comprise stakeholders or conflict parties. If you wanted to send a monitoring team to Kachin, Burma and China could not be in the core group."

Tangseefa was convinced Myanmar's leaders had taken advantage of a thawing in international relations to quash its armed ethnic communities. Despite the sweeping changes of the past two years, the government is still dominated by the military.

"You have the international community pouring in money both in terms of foreign investment and foreign aid," Tangseefa said.

"The US government granted a couple of hundred millions of dollars, other countries followed suit; and I'm very concerned that the money that is pouring into the country as foreign aid/foreign investment, some of it may have been used to crush these ethnic nationalities - these dissenting voices - so all of this is very alarming."

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