More damning evidence of oppression

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The Independent Online

But there is a danger that, in focusing so heavily on the plight of Ms Suu Kyi and her followers, other crimes by the Burmese regime are being neglected. And the most egregious of these is the systematic persecution of Burma's ethnic minority tribes. Yesterday, Guy Horton, a human rights researcher, held a meeting with British MPs to discuss how to begin legal proceedings against Burma's leaders for the crime of genocide.

Over the past seven years, Mr Horton has made numerous clandestine trips into the Burmese jungle to collect evidence of attacks on ethnic minorities. He has video footage of villages being burned down and the mass slaughter of farm animals. He has collected testimony of murder and rape. It is a compelling body of evidence of the crimes that the regime has committed in Burma's most inaccessible regions.

Some argue that it would be counterproductive for the international community to accuse the Burmese regime of full-blown genocide, and stress that the best way to undermine the regime is to support domestic democrats. But it would be inexcusable if a blind eye was turned to the evidence Mr Horton has collected, which strongly suggests that the Burmese regime is implementing a policy of "Burmanisation" against the Karen, Shan and Karenni minorities. It should be noted that such a policy would be consistent with the widespread allegations of rape.

There is scope under the 1948 UN convention on genocide to bring a case against the Burmese regime. Of course, the chances of such a prosecution toppling the Burmese junta on its own are remote. But such a charge can exert real pressure – as witnessed by the experience of the former Republic of Yugoslavia and Rwanda. And it has the potential to destabilise Burma's generals in other ways. It could make the country's neighbours such as India and Thailand think twice before doing business with the regime. It could also provide the impetus for the European Union to tighten up its own flimsy sanctions. Any initiative that turns up the heat on the murderous Burmese junta is to be seized upon without delay.