Criticizing the Burmese government and Buddhist extremists in Burma for the pathetic conditions of camps for Internally Displaced Persons belonging to the Rohingya and Kachin ethnic communities, the UN Special Rapporteur to Burma Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana, addressing a press conference on Saturday, compared the refugee camps to prisons, Burmese media reported. The camps are located in the Rakhine state of Burma which house over a 100000 Rohingya IDPs, who were displaced in last year’s ethnic violence, and in the Kachin state in North Burma, where Kachin rebels have been fighting for regional autonomy. Peace talks between the Kachin rebels and Burma have been on since early this February. The current Burmese government ruled by President Thein Sein, a former military commander, is considered by some analysts to be a moderate, pro-reform and pro-US regime.
Quoting UN official Mr. Quintana from the press conference on Saturday, the Burmese news site The Irrawaddy reported “while the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed.”
“While I welcome the peace talks, I am concerned about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army.”
“Furthermore, the ongoing large military presence which remains beyond the reach of accountability mechanisms, means that serious human rights violations are continuing there [in Kachin state],” the Irrawaddy further cited him as saying.
Mr. Quintana had also expressed concern over the plight of the Rohingya displaced persons. Thousands were reported to have been killed in what many claim as a state sponsored violence against the Rohingyas last year.
As for the Kachin areas, a 17 year old ceasefire between the Kachin rebels and Burma broke down in June 2011. The conflict had resulted in the displacement of over a 100000 civilians and the Burmese state had been accused of using systematic torture, rape and mass murder.
The Kachin rebels, largely under the command of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its armed wing the Kachin Independence Army, had agreed to reduce hostilities in the Kachin state after a ceasefire meeting in China.
The KIO had great control over the Kachin state and region’s resources from the time of its formation in 1961 to the early 90s.
A ceasefire between the Kachin rebels and Burma had been agreed upon in 1994, after a Buremese army offensive, but observers note that this agreement did not address any of the structural causes of the conflict.
While a more ‘moderate’, ‘pro-reform’ central government in Burma was expected to deliver better, recent events show that the Kachin conflict, as with other conflicts, have only been reignited.
Even opposition leader the Nobel laureate Aung Saan Suu Kyi, widely considered as a liberal democrat, has not addressed the Kachin issue with the seriousness it deserves and has completely shied away from taking up the plight of Rohingyas, critics note.