Ethnic minorities in northern Burma are suffering massive human rights abuses at the hands of government troops due to foreign-backed investment projects, according to a new report.
Catalyst for Conflict, by the Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO), accuses Burmese government troops of being paid to protect Chinese mega projects and inflicting executions, beatings, forced labor and extortion on local people as a consequence.
Oil and gas pipelines as well as hydropower dams have been the subject of a huge public outcry, and so Burmese government soldiers are apparently being employed as mercenary security guards by the companies concerned.
In March, two villagers coming back from fishing near a Chinese dam site were interrogated and killed by patrolling Burmese soldiers, claims the TSYO report.
“Foreign investors are cold-bloodedly fuelling war in Burma,” said Mai Khroue Dang of the TSYO. “All mega projects should be suspended until Burmese troops withdraw and political dialogue leads to a meaningful resolution of conflict.”
The group details how the military expansion is directly linked to securing Chinese mega projects, and how Chinese firms are paying 5,000 kyat (US $6) per day to Burmese soldiers from local battalions for security around pipelines which will carry oil and gas to China.
Control over natural resources and abuses by the government troops have been core grievances in both Kachin and Shan states where conflicts erupted last year. In July, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) was formed and has since launched several attacks against Burmese troops patrolling in Ta’ang areas.
“Fierce battles have broken out in areas that have not seen fighting for over 20 years,” said the report. “Soldiers from the Burma Army have moved from their main bases to live in villages and now regularly patrol local areas, increasing abuses against local populations including killings, beatings, forced labor, and extortion.”
Since December 2011, more than 1,000 men, women and children have become internally displaced, sheltering in Nam Kham and Mantong, while many others have also fled to China to escape the war, claims the TSYO.
A historic peace deal was signed between the Shan State Army and Burmese government last weekend which also aims to wipe out narcotics from the region by 2015, but fighting has nevertheless been reported from the area this week.
The Ta’ang, also known as Palaung, is an ethnic group numbering around one million living in the hills of Burma’s Shan State and China’s southern Yunnan Province.