US Urges Burma to Stop Violence in Kachin State

source from Irrawaddy news, 27 June 2011

WASHINGTON — Expressing strong concern at the ongoing violence in Kachin State, the US has urged the new Burmese government to immediately put an end to hostilities in the region.

“We’re quite concerned about the ongoing violence in northern Kachin and other regions of the country. We are calling for halts to the hostilities,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“We urge all appropriate authorities to ensure, in line with international standards, adequate support, safety, and protection for those persons fleeing conflict along Burma’s borders,” Nuland said in a statement later.

This recent violence underscores the need for an inclusive dialogue between the government of Burma and opposition and ethnic minority groups to begin a process of genuine national reconciliation, she said.

Nuland said the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) began fighting on June 9 and have continued over the past three weeks.

The US is particularly concerned by the reports of human rights abuses in the area, including reports of casualties, rape and displacement of thousands of local residents. “There have also been reports of clashes in Karen and Shan states,” she said.

Last week, Chris Beyrer, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights, said at a congressional briefing that after the fighting broke out in the Kachin State after a 17-year ceasefire, some 10,000 civilians are reported to have fled. “Burmese military forces are reported to be using rape as a weapon of war,” he alleged.

“The Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand has reported at least 18 Kachin women and girls have been raped by soldiers since June 9. Four were killed after being raped,” he said.

“The news of clashes in Burma’s Kachin [State] between government troops and ethnic minorities, which has been the heaviest fighting in 17 years, adds further evidence to the argument that the situation in Burma has not changed,” said Congressman Donald Manzullo.

Meanwhile, the US is consulting its close allies and member countries of the United Nations on the issue of the UN establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity by the Burmese military junta.

“The United States is committed to seeking accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred in Burma by working to establish an international Commission of Inquiry,” Nuland said.

“We are consulting closely with our friends, allies, and other partners at the United Nations,” Nuland said in response to a question over the weekend.

Last week, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in a rare video testimony before a congressional committee, urged the US to support in the establishment of investigations by the United Nations into the alleged human rights violations in Burma.

“I would simply like to use this occasion to request that you do whatever you can to help us implement the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution, because that will open up the real road to democracy for all of us,” she said.

Testifying before the same congressional committee, Beyrer said he also supported calls for a CoI to investigate crimes against humanity in Burma. “The treatment of political prisoners in detention in Burma should be part of this Commission of Inquiry, for that, too, may represent crimes against humanity,” Beyrer said in his appearance before the committee last week.

“The UN Special Rapporteur Quintana has called for that; so has the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Commission, Eileen Donahoe, and so has Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton,” he said.

“But the US really needs to exercise vigorous leadership on this effort, and the State Department I think really, really needs to carry the water on this. And this effort could be led by recently appointed special representative and policy coordinator for Burma, Derek Mitchell, and we really look forward to his confirmation and leadership in this effort,” he said.

Mitchell will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing later this week.

It is understood that countries like China have been opposing the move to establish a CoI. The US and several other countries, besides human rights organizations and pro-democracy leaders from Burma, have been urging the world body to establish such a commission.

“I would like to request you to do whatever you can to ensure that the requests and demands of the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution are met as broadly, as sincerely and as quickly as possible by the present government of Burma,” Suu Kyi said in her video message.

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