Smuggled pictures of refugees expose extent of human rights abuses in Burma

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The British government has been accused of failing the pro-democracy movement in Burma after fresh evidence emerged of the ruling junta's crackdown on the National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Details were also published of 127 pro-democracy activists who have died or disappeared in custody after alleged torture and ill-treatment in forced labour camps. There are more than 1,000 political prisoners in Burma.

Photographs that have been smuggled out show a nine-year old girl who has been shot in the side and a child who was severely burned in an attack on a refugee camp. The evidence of human rights abuses came as the United Nation's under-secretary general for political affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, was preparing a report on his meeting with Ms Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.

Pressure was growing last night for the UN Security Council to take action and force the junta to negotiate democratic change.

However, it was reported that, while supporting calls for UN action, Britain has provided no financial assistance to the five main pro-democracy organisations in Burma for the past three years. The Government has also failed to provide assistance for the Karen tribespeople, who have been under attack by the Burmese army. The Government did, however, spend £120,000 of public money to fund scientific surveys of bats near the region where some of the worst repression is occurring.

"The bat survey demonstrates that the Government's policies are skewed," Mark Farmaner, of Burma Campaign UK, said. "It's impossible to understand the Government's priorities. It's outrageous that the British government, in effect, leaves Burmese children to die in the jungle while prioritising bats.

"The Government has been a vocal critic of the regime but we need more than words, we need policies and action and right now we have neither."

A Foreign Office spokesman denied the accusations that Britain was ignoring the plight of oppressed Burmese last night and said the UK's ambassador had an annual discretionary fund of £110,000 for civil society projects in the country.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 90 activists had died in prisons, eight in interrogation centres, four in labour camps and 10 after being released. Another 15 disappeared while in custody.

One of the most recent deaths listed in the report was Khin Maung Aung, 38, who died on 11 January while serving a 10-year sentence for writing a letter asking the military rulers to understand the country's problems. He was said to have suffered from heart disease, malaria and other ailments, but was refused access to a hospital.

Another, Aung Hlaing Win, 30, was reportedly arrested without a warrant in a Yangon restaurant on 1 May last year and, a week later, his family was told he had died of a heart attack.

However, four medical officers who examined his body found 24 external wounds, three fractured ribs and bruising around his throat and trachea. According to the report, his family was offered money to remain silent, which they refused to accept.

"In Burma's interrogation centres, prisons and labour camps, torture is widespread," the report said. "The authorities inflict physical, psychological and sexual abuse to a degree causing severe and unrelenting suffering."

The regime has denied allegations of human rights abuses. "There is no policy or any instruction to torture political prisoners or any prisoner at all," a senior official from the Information Ministry said. "There could have been cases of prison deaths but most of them died of the diseases they had before being imprisoned. Prisoners undergo medical check-ups and authorities give medical attention whenever required."

The junta has also cracked down on the Karen tribespeople on the Thai-Burmese border. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, has called on the army to stop the attacks, which have "led to the forcible displacement of thousands of ethnic minority villagers", he said.

Human Rights Watch has documented reports of troops looting and burning homes and planting anti-personnel landmines in civilian areas to terrorise the local population. In some cases, villagers were ordered to leave their homes or face execution.

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