KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

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KAREN HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP COMMENTARY

Published date:
Wednesday, February 23, 1994

There has been a lot of attention given to the Karen National Union's recent statement that they are willing to hold talks with SLORC on their own. Despite the fact that the SLORC continues to refuse the most basic requirements to make these talks a reality, such as a neutral venue with foreign observers, many people worldwide are assuming that the talks will occur regardless, and that the SLORC has suddenly miraculously transformed into a responsible entity that wants peace and development. Many people also assume that with "peace talks" in the works, the SLORC must have stopped its human rights abuses. After all, that's what any sane regime would do.

An Independent Report by the Karen Human Rights Group

 

There has been a lot of attention given to the Karen National Union's recent statement that they are willing to hold talks with SLORC on their own. Despite the fact that the SLORC continues to refuse the most basic requirements to make these talks a reality, such as a neutral venue with foreign observers, many people worldwide are assuming that the talks will occur regardless, and that the SLORC has suddenly miraculously transformed into a responsible entity that wants peace and development. Many people also assume that with "peace talks" in the works, the SLORC must have stopped its human rights abuses. After all, that's what any sane regime would do.

But not the SLORC. And those who are inclined to think otherwise should remember the saying, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." Anyone who believes that the SLORC's recent "peace" initiatives are sincere should remember past SLORC promises, like free and fair elections, a speedy transfer of power, the complete end of offensive action against the ethnic peoples, and the promises to abide by the Geneva Conventions and the International Declaration on Rights of the Child, among other signed documents now lying tattered, torn and ignored in Rangoon. The current approach some are taking, of increasingly trying to appease and befriend the SLORC because although it is illegitimate, it definitely appears to be entrenched, bears frightening similarity to the appeasement and befriending of Hitler by European nations during the 1930's. Like the SLORC, Hitler signed countless declarations of peace and was always full of talk about "peaceful solutions", and the European countries continued to accept these while ignoring his actions on the ground at a time when they could have stopped him. We all know the price they paid. This is not to say that the SLORC is about to invade the rest of Asia; but there is always a price to be paid for appeasing a gang of thugs, be they Nazis or Burmese Generals. Sadly, it is the innocent people of Burma who pay the heaviest price, now and in the future.

Some Non-Government Organizations are right now eyeing the lucrative aid opportunities being offered them in the SLORC's Burma, despite the fact that the SLORC makes sure that all aid ends up with the army instead of the people, and despite the fact that by going in at this extremely delicate political moment they could well upset the entire national political balance in favour of SLORC. The message to them from every opposition group in Manerplaw would be, "If you really intend to do this foolish thing, then please, at least hold off until after this year."

Armed clashes are continuing, and the SLORC has not stopped nor even slowed down its systematic human rights atrocities [see the KNU report "Continuing SLORC Human Rights Abuses in Karen State", 8/2/94] In many areas, they have even increased; partly as a "threat" to the KNU and an attempt to weaken their bargaining position by terrorizing civilians away from them and dumping thousands more displaced people into their areas to drain their resources, and partly because as the SLORC becomes increasingly confident that a "ceasefire" is imminent they are stepping up slavery for army "development" projects in all areas. This will continue to happen, even in the event of a ceasefire. As just one example, horrifying stories are now emerging from the Ye-Tavoy railway, now being built by thousands of enslaved families in southern Burma. For more examples, see the enclosed reports.

The SLORC's latest tool for extortion, threats and arrests is the Union Solidarity Development Association (USDA) [see SLORC Activities in Nyaunglebin District, 22/2/94, and SLORC Activities in Toungoo District, 23/2/94]. It appears to be an attempt to resurrect the old mass organisation of the BSPP (Burma Socialist Programme Party) as another tactic in SLORC's desperate struggle to gain some visible form of legitimacy. It is quickly becoming the case that only USDA members are allowed a chance at jobs or places in university. Farmers are being told that they will only be allowed to farm their land if they join, while if they don't join some of their land will be confiscated. Students who don't join are threatened with failure, drivers with losing their licences, and workers with losing their jobs. Former members of the National League for Democracy, the party which won the 1990 elections, are being specifically terrorized into joining. When the SLORC held mass USDA rallies nationwide on January 22, troops everywhere extorted money for the rally from everyone and threatened them with arrest or fines if they didn't attend. After the rally, the SLORC media announced that rallies were organised in 26 main towns of Burma and were attended by several million people, who "unanimously supported" the 6 principles and 106 rules as laid down by the National Convention. This suggests that the USDA may be used as a tool by SLORC to avoid a referendum after their National Convention rubber-stamps the SLORC constitution. It could also be used as a tool to fix a future election for SLORC, by decreeing that by joining USDA, all members have already expressed their support for SLORC party candidates and need not vote. But all of that lies in the future. For now the simple fact is that the SLORC is still cooking up more ways to worsen the misery and destitution of the people of Burma, and ever more of them are being forced to flee for their lives and those of their families. Despite all the fancy speeches, the tiger has not yet become a vegetarian. Nothing has improved.