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Burma’s army raped, tortured and killed civilians in ethnic minority conflict zones last year, Human Rights Watch said Sunday, despite the government’s recent political reforms.
Bloody battles have raged since June in Kachin state in the far north, marring the progress of a new regime that has surprised observers with a series of positive reforms in the isolated nation.
“The Burmese military continues to violate international humanitarian law through the use of anti-personnel landmines, extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, beatings, and pillaging of property,” HRW said.
Its report on the country — part of a worldwide review of human rights in 2011 — also said sexual violence against women and girls “remains a serious problem”, while the army “continues to actively recruit and use child soldiers”.
Ethnic minority rebels were also accused of abuses, including using landmines near civilian areas. HRW said over 50,000 civilians had been internally displaced by fighting in Kachin state, which shattered a 17-year ceasefire, while around 500,000 people were internally displaced due to conflict in the country’s eastern border areas last year.
Burma’s government, still largely dominated by former junta generals, has reached peace deals with Shan and Karen rebels in eastern states in recent weeks as part of efforts to end civil war that has gripped parts of Burma since independence in 1948.
In December, a presidential order was issued for the military to cease attacks against guerrillas from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), but it failed to stop heavy fighting in the region, according to the rebels.
On Friday, Burmese state media reported that the government and Kachin rebels had agreed to hold further ceasefire negotiations.
Resolution of the conflicts is a demand of Western nations which impose sanctions on the regime.
The government has made progress on other key areas including holding talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been allowed to stand in an April by-election, and released hundreds of political prisoners.