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Burmese military rape and murder women from mainly Christian ethnic group

Country/Region: Myanmar, Burma, South and East Asia

Women from a mainly Christian ethnic group are being raped and murdered by the Burmese military as government forces intensify their offensive in Kachin State.

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Human rights activists are reporting an increased incidence of rape against Kachin women since the government broke a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation, which controls the territory, by attacking ethnic forces in June.

The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), which has been documenting incidents, reported 18 cases of gang rape over an eight day period in June shortly after fighting broke out between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army. Four of the victims were killed after being raped.

KWAT said that in one village, soldiers caught three families who had not managed to flee in time; six women and girls were gang-raped, and seven small children killed.

IRIN, the news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said on 26 September that the number of reported rapes to date that month was 37 in areas where government troops are active.

David Scott Mathieson, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said:

The use of sexual violence is one of the most serious within a whole litany of abuses that include forced labour, torture and ill-treatment and extra-judicial execution.

Escalating crisis

More than 25,000 people are now believed to have been displaced by the fighting as the Burmese army repeatedly attacks Kachin villages.

Most internally displaced persons are living in temporary bamboo shelters with plastic sheet roofing at makeshift camps on the Chinese border. They are surviving on a small amount of rice a day as Kachin aid groups are running out of means to help them. Crowded living conditions, poor sanitation and lack of clean water have led to illness and the death of a number of children. At one site, 2,000 people are sharing ten toilets.

Over 90 per cent of the 1.2 million Kachins are Christian. Most Christians in Burma are members of non-Burman ethnic minorities; they are frequently targeted by the military, partly for their ethnicity and partly for their faith.

A Kachin leader said:

They want to wipe out our ethnic group and force us to become Buddhists like them, speak like them and become one of them.

The military has been pushing into other border areas including Shan and Karen. Many analysts believe that they want to access and control areas that are rich in energy resources to supply neighbouring China with electricity.

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