05/17/2006, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Junta acknowledges military operations against Karen minority

For the military, the offensive is needed to fight the Karen National Union, the armed rebel group fighting for Karen independence.

Thabyenyunt (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Myanmar's ruling military junta has acknowledged that its army is waging an offensive against the ethnic Karen minority, calling the action a necessary move against anti-government guerrillas.

"Troops have been carrying out clearing-up operations in areas where hardcore KNU members are believed to be hiding," Information Minister Kyaw Hsan said. The minister, who is a brigadier-general, and other top officials of the military government as well as members of the foreign diplomatic community went to a remote eastern part of the country, in Karen territory, where the KNU or Karen National Union has been fighting for autonomy for nearly six decades.

"We have to launch military offensives against the KNU because since early this year, the KNU stepped up its destructive acts, such as exploding a series of bombs and laying mines on rail lines," Kyaw said.

The trip was apparently arranged to counter growing international criticism against the government. Myanmar's government has in fact been accused of persecuting its Karen minority. According to some reports, in the recent offensive the army has uprooted more than 11,000 members of the ethnic minority, forcing them to flee their homes and leaving them without food and shelter.

In the wake of these events, human rights groups, British lawmakers, US congressmen, the European Union have called for the United Nations Security Council to act. Human rights activists have organised demonstrations in different cities around the world, from Geneva to New Delhi, to protest against what is happening

Myanmar's junta has however rejected the charges, calling them pure propaganda. "By giving the limelight to the fabricated stories of refugees, they [the junta's critics] intend to accuse Myanmar of becoming a threat to the region, in order to instigate the UN Security Council to take action against Myanmar," Brigadier-General Kyaw said.

Instead, he alleged that the "so-called refugees" were actually hardcore members of the KNU or their families as well Karen civilians forcibly driven out from their homes by the KNU to prevent them from helping government forces.

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