Thursday, April 08, 2010

Burma: "Everyone runs when the soldiers come. . . .They'll shoot anyone"

By Lynette Lee Corporal - IPS

Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

Displaced Children Getting Traumatised - Report

BANGKOK, Apr 8, 2010 (IPS) - "Our village was attacked many times. (The Burmese military) would come and take whatever they wanted from the village. Anything they don't want, they'd burn," said 19-year-old K K, recalling his experiences six years ago in the country’s southern Karen state.

"Everyone runs when the soldiers come. . . .They'll shoot anyone," added K K, whose name was kept confidential by the non-profit Partners Relief & Development (PRD), which along with the humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers (FBR) documented cases like his in a new report on Burma’s children affected by conflict.

Launched here on Wednesday, the report, entitled 'Displaced Children: Human Rights and International Crimes Against Burma's Internally Displaced Children', takes a look at the lives of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Burma.

"They (children) saw serious attacks to human dignity, of their loved ones being killed in front of them, and they themselves being threatened or injured," said FBR deputy director Monkey, who said he preferred to be called by his nickname for security purposes.

The FBR, which operates clandestinely within Burma’s conflict areas, has trained over 130 multi-ethnic relief teams and has conducted more than 400 missions, each of which worked with more than 2,000 people. It says it now has 52 full-time teams from 10 different ethnic groups operating in Burma.

The organisation's work began in 1997 when large-scale military offensives in Karen state displaced more than 100,000 villagers.

Apart from medical missions, FBR provides educational and spiritual assistance as well as food and other materials to internally displaced communities.

There could be up to three million IDPs in Burma, which is ruled by the military-ruled State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and has been facing unrest and resistance from a mix of ethnic groups. Data gathered by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) since 2002 places the number of displaced children at 990,000, or 30 percent of the IDP population.

The FBR report conducted 82 in-depth interviews with IDPs and ex-IDPs from June to December 2009. Interviewees included adults and children from the conflict-ridden ethnic states of Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan. These states have been involved in decades-long conflict with the junta, which has been accused of ethnic cleansing operations.

There are three kinds of displacement in Burma — conflict-induced, development-induced, and economic repression and human rights violations, says PRD chief executive officer Steve Gumaer.

Conflict-induced displacement happens when ethnic minorities are forced to leave behind their homes and crops, which are often destroyed by soldiers, into heavily guarded relocation sites. Landmines are also planted in said villages to prevent residents from coming back.

The junta's development projects, such as dams or roads, have also forced villagers out of their homes. The report said that Burma's plans to build four large-scale dams along the Salween River "threaten to displace more than 533,000 civilians".

The report likewise discussed human rights violations, including killings, torture, arrests and illegal detention, sexual violence, forced labour of ethnic minorities, as well as inadequate food and water and poor sanitation.

Burma has no policy on displaced children, although it has a 1993 Child Law. Yet, said PRD lawyer Amanda Carroll, "there has been enforcement of these laws, and in many instances, there were violations of said laws, by the military".

"The children's immediate needs are safety, food, health and education," Monkey said in an interview with IPS.

The 41-year-old FBR leader himself has been displaced twice from his hometown in Karenni state. "The military attacked our area and we had to move in 1989 and then in 1996," said Monkey, who is responsible for training FBR's video and camera crew. A Christian, he and his family live in a refugee camp in the Thai-Burma border.

Gumaer says the children’s psychological well-being also needs to be looked after, adding that "we do acute trauma intervention in the district levels."

Many of the children orphaned in the conflict are sent to 10 of the PRD’s homes in eight refugee camps at the Thai border. "Some finish school, others are relocated with family members or reunited with their community," he added.

Monkey says drawing out traumatised children and having them talk freely is a challenge. "We play and sing with them, give them gifts and try to find ways for them to tell us their stories," he said.

"It's a slow process. They have such fear of strangers and adults. There was one orphan boy that I met in one of my missions. First, he told me his parents died of sickness. Then the second time, he told me his parents died of snakebite. The third time, he told me the truth, that his parents were killed by soldiers," recalled Monkey.

"Our mission is to give hope to the people of Burma," he said. "Personally, I just know I have to keep doing what I can to help."

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