Hopes for the Return of Displaced Communities Frustrated as Burma’s Internal Conflicts Rage On

An international aid agency has warned that ongoing instability in Burma is blocking prospects for a sustainable peace and the repatriation of communities displaced by conflict.

The Border Consortium (TBC), which delivers aid to Burmese refugees in Thailand and internally displaced people in Burma, said that peace efforts were “stumbling,” leaving conflict-affected communities in the dark.

There has been a general reduction in fighting in Burma since the switch to a nominally civilian government in 2011, but settlement has not been reached on de-militarization – conflict continues in Shan, Kachin and more recently, Karen State.

Ms Sally Thompson, TBC’s Executive Director, said that people were afraid to return home with conflict still ongoing in the country’s ethnic states.

“We have only seen small scale and tentative return of refugees from Thailand, and this survey suggests that the overall number of internally displaced persons has not reduced significantly either,” Ms Thompson said, adding, “Efforts to prepare for the return and resettlement of displaced persons have been thwarted by ongoing militarisation and insecurity.”

The statement comes as Fortify Rights, a human rights organisation, produced evidence of the Burma Army targeting, torturing and killing civilians in ethnic states.

Referring to the conflict in Kachin State, Fortify Rights said that the Burma Army was shelling and razing civilian homes, attacking camps full of internally displaced civilians, and shooting at civilians with small arms. “In some cases, soldiers committed extrajudicial killings,” the Fortify Rights statement said.

Matthew Smith, head of FR, warned that ethnic communities were in the firing lines. “Entire communities remain under attack. The government’s denial of wartime abuses and the international community’s soft-stepping has gone on for too long,” Mr. Smith said, “If the government genuinely wants peace in ethnic states, it must end and rectify attacks on civilians and other abuses.”

TBC said that one of the government’s top priorities should be to withdraw soldiers from areas of current conflict and establish ceasefire monitors.

Ms Thompson said that while huge issues remained unsolved, communities continued to suffer. “Structural issues like security sector reform and land rights need to be addressed in an inclusive national dialogue. In addition, strengthening ethnic policing and judicial capacities could reinforce community protection strategies and help prevent the reoccurrence of crimes and abuse,” she said.

The warnings from both TBC and Fortify Rights comes shortly after recent fighting in Burma’s Karen State between the Karen Democratic Benevolent Army and the Burma Army in September and October, shattering a shaky peace first established in January 2012 when a ceasefire was negotiated between the ethnic Karen armed groups and the government.

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