By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
YANGON, BURMA (BosNewslife)– Burma was under pressure Sunday, June 30, to halt violence against the predominantly Christian Kachin minority after at least two civilians were reportedly killed by government troops.
Rights group Christian Solarity Worldwide (CSW) identified one of those killed as Zahkung Lum Hkawng, 45, who it said was “tortured, beaten and shot dead by the Burmese Army” in the Asian country’s Northern Shan State on June 14.
The attack shortly after the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed an accord aimed at ending hostilities between the two sides.
CSW investigators said that Lum Hkawng’s ordeal began as he was taking his turn as security guard for his village, Nawng Hen, when Burmese troops entered the area, demanding that the village head provide a guide for them.
Lum Hkawng was allegedly forced to accompany the troops to Mung Ya Hka Zup village where they clashed with the Kachin independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of KIO.
“The Burmese Army troops accused Lum Hkawng of deliberately leading them into an ambush. They beat and tortured the victim and before shooting him dead,” added CSW investigators who visited Burma.
On the same day, an unnamed villager was reportedly killed by the Burmese Army at a road between Nan Gat and Ying La villages.
“A group of villagers from Nawng Hen who went to retrieve the victim’s body were stopped by Burmese Army troops at Nan Gat village and told that they were not allowed to go any further. The same afternoon another round of fighting took place between Burmese troops and the KIA, giving the neighbors the opportunity to take the victim’s body back to his remaining family members, including his elderly mother, wife, and six children,” CSW said in a statement.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group has condemned the “killing of these two civilians by Burmese troops.”
He said CSW had urged the army “to take seriously its commitment to the de-escalation of the conflict and encourage all parties involved in the conflict to work towards the cessation of hostilities and a lasting peace agreement.”
The Burmese Army and KIO are engaged in ongoing talks to resolve a two-year conflict between government forces and Kachin rebels fighting for more rights in the nation, which was ruled till recently by the military.
There was no immediate known official response to the latest claims about the killed Kachin civilians. However, Burma’s military has acknowledged launching airstrikes against ethnic Kachin rebels in the north and announced it captured a hilltop post from where the insurgents had attacked government supply convoys.
Earlier this year, state television contradicted government claims that the military was not carrying out offensive air attacks on the Kachin, raising questions about how much control the elected government of reformist President Thein Sein has over the army.
On May 30 the two sides reached a seven-point agreement in which they reportedly agreed to “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities”.
Yet, villagers in the area claim there are daily reinforcements of Burmese troops, prompting fears that deadly incidents will multiply.
Human rights investigators stress there is an urgent need to end the conflict, which has resulted in the displacement of at least 100,000 civilians as well as “numerous human rights violations”.
Following a four-week fact-finding visit to Burma earlier this year, CSW reported testimonies of internally displaced Kachin people who said they had experienced “horrific physical, psychological and sexual torture.”
CSW’s report welcomed signs of political change in the country, but highlighted “many very grave challenges and concerns, particularly in respect to the protection of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief”.
The Kachin are one of Burma’s largest Christian minorities, according to experts. “Though once again difficult to assess, it is generally thought that between two-thirds and 90 per cent of Kachin are Christians, with others following animist practices of Buddhists,” said watchdog Minority Rights Group International.
News of the tensions came as Malaysia urged Myanmar, as Burma is also known, to take stronger action to prevent persecution of Muslims and bring the perpetrators to justice. Sunday’s statement was seen by observers as the latest sign that the inter communal violence is straining ties in Southeast Asia.
Thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma to escape the violence and worsening living conditions, many of them making their way by boat or overland to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Anti-Muslim violence in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar erupted in western Rakhine State last year and has spread into the central heartlands and areas near the old capital, Yangon.
There have been questions raised as to why Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate and heroine of Burma’s democracy struggle, has remained mainly silent about the attacks against religious minorities.
Commentators have suggested that Suu Kyi, who herself has refused media requests for months, wants to win the presidential election in 2015 without alienating the mass of voters—overwhelmingly Buddhists, and of her own Burman ethnicity—on whose support she will depend.
She is also taking care not to fall out with the ex-generals and serving soldiers by whom she is surrounded in Parliament.
“Burma’s transition from military tyranny to democracy is only half accomplished. She needs these still-powerful men to be sure that they can trust her if she herself obtains power,” The Daily Beast website commented recently.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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