Burma Army attacks in Shan State undermine Govt’s claims of human rights reform

Burma’s military has renewed offensives in Shan State this month, leading to displacement of civilians and has occupied a Buddhist temple, turning it into a military base, say local rights group.

As Burma’s military attacked the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) last week, a Buddhist temple found itself in the middle of the conflict zone.

On June 23, the Army sent reconnaissance planes over the area surrounding the Buddhist temple, located in the village of Wan Warb, 30 kilometres northwest of the SSA-N headquarters located at Wan Hai. Later the same day, at least 100 soldiers from Burma’s Light Infantry Battalions 525 and 569 launched an artillery attack on the village, using 60mm and 79mm mortars – damaging the Buddhist temple, seven houses and injuring four villagers. Villagers say an 90-year-old woman died of shock when shells hit her house.

Around 30 monks and novices and about 150 villagers fled the artillery attack, it is alleged Burma Army soldiers looted the temple, residents’ houses, stealing food, money and valuables. The soldiers are now using the temple as a military command post.

On the same day that government troops were shelling the Wan Warb Temple, President Thein Sein’s Office issued a statement blaming TIME magazine for “damaging the image of Buddhism.”

Two days later, on June 25, Burmese officers summoned village headmen from nearby villages to the temple and questioned them about Shan troop movements in the area, one of the men was detained for two days interrogated and beaten.

“If President Thein Sein cares about protecting Buddhism, why is he letting his troops shell and desecrate Shan temples?” said Tzarm Noan, coordinator of the Shan Human Rights Foundation.

Tzarm Noan claims that President Thein is careful in his selection of what Buddhism he is prepared to defend.

“Thein Sein’s claims to respect religion are as hollow as his claims to promote peace.”

The attacks are the latest in a series of operations in recent months by the Burma Army to encircle and cut off the Wan Hai headquarters of the SSA-N, a direct violation of a ceasefire agreement signed in January 2012.

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