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Feb 16, 2010 (AFP) A leading rights group Tuesday called on Burma’s military government to end repression of ethnic minority groups ahead of polls this year, as a UN envoy visits the country for talks on human rights.
Amnesty International accused the regime of arresting, jailing, torturing and killing minority activists in a bid to crush dissent, in a report released in Bangkok Tuesday after what the organisation said was two years of research.
Burma is made up of several ethnic groups, with some waging decades-long armed uprisings along the country’s eastern border claiming neglect and mistreatment.
Others have become political activists in opposition to the junta’s iron-fisted rule.
"The government has responded to this activism in a heavy-handed manner, raising fears that repression will intensify before the elections," said Benjamin Zawacki, Burma researcher for London-based Amnesty.
The junta has promised to hold elections before the end of 2010 but has not set a date. Critics say the polls, the first since 1990, are a sham that is designed to tighten the regime’s hold on power.
"Any resolution of the country’s deeply troubling human rights record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the country’s large population of ethnic minorities," he added.
Amnesty said it conducted interviews for its report with 700 activists from the seven largest minorities, including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin, and Chin, covering a two-year period from August 2007.
The report was released on the second day of UN rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana’s visit to Burma and as he headed to Rakhine state near Burma’s border with Bangladesh where large numbers of ethnic Rohingya claim repression.
The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) won the last polls 20 years ago but was never allowed to take power and party leaders have yet to decide whether they should take part in the elections.
NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest after being detained for most of the past two decades.
More than 2,100 political prisoners, including many from ethnic minorities, languish in Burma’s jails, according to Amnesty and UN figures.