Burma fighters resort to mines

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The Independent Online
BURMA'S MINORITY Karen community, which has experienced a history of oppression at the hands of the military regime in Rangoon, is now facing two lethal hazards.

For the first time in the decades-long war for a Karen state, both sides have started laying land-mines. In addition, Burmese government forces are reported to have started destroying rice crops to starve out the regime's most powerful military opponent, the Karen National Union (KNU).

While the armed wings of most other Burmese ethnic groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the military regime, the Karen has maintained its resistance, operating in the south of the country around the border with Thailand.

The introduction of land-mines risks pushing Burma in the direction of Cambodia, where the legacy of the civil war is seen almost every day as villagers are killed by land-mines. At the height of the Cambodian fighting, land-mines killed and maimed thousands of civilians.

International observers on the Thai-Burmese border say both the Burmese and Karen forces are using land-mines in the fight to gain territory in southern Burma. The military know where the mines are laid, but civilians do not.

The laying of the mines coincides with the start of the dry season, which is when most military offensives are launched.

Burmese dissidents in Bangkok, capital of neighbouring Thailand, report that government soldiers burnt paddy fields near Tavoy in southern Burma at the beginning of this month to deny the KNU access to rice crops.

Zaw Min, a spokesman for the All Burma Students' Democratic Front in Bangkok, said the destruction occurred just before the villagers were expected to harvest their crops.

"This will have an enormous effect on the villagers because they have no means of supporting themselves other than their crops," he said.

Ethnic minority villagers in the Burmese border areas have suffered a long history of being displaced and attacked. The Karen is Burma's biggest ethnic minority. Others, including Shan and Mon civilians, have been attacked by the Burmese army for supporting separatist armies before they signed the ceasefire agreements in Rangoon.

Stories of rape and slavery inflicted on the ethnic minorities keep surfacing, although the Burmese government claims to have pacified most of the border regions.