04/12/2006, 00.00
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Burmese regime steps up bloody crackdown around new capital

Ethnic minorities are targeted in the violence, especially ethnic Karen people. The military have killed, destroyed crops, raped and committed other serious violations to force people to leave their homes.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) –The military regime has launched a bloody military offensive against ethnic minorities to wrest full control of the area around the new capital, according to rebels and anti-government groups in Myanmar.

Colonel Nerdah Mya, spokesman of the Karen National Union, said the army had killed more than 100 ethnic Karen people. They also forced thousands of people to flee their homes and burned villages and crops. He said: "The military junta moved thousands of troops from Rangoon (Yangon) to the new capital Pyinmana. They kill, they rape, they loot, and they burn everything, so people have to flee. If you are Karen, they will attack you. They are pushing the Karen out of Burma."

The KNU is one of the major groups fighting against Yangon. Col. Myu said the Karen have more than 10,000 men ready to take up the resistance struggle. The military junta has reached a truce with another 17 armed groups of ethnic minorities.

"The Burmese military, trying to plan for the security of the area, have done more forced relocations. They shoot people," said a spokesman for the Backpack Health Workers, a volunteer group who offer medical services in the Karen area.

"Villagers have been captured, shot, killed and beheaded in Western Karen State, Toungoo district, resulting in over 2,000 in hiding and 1,000 who have already fled to the Thailand," added the Free Burma Rangers, a volunteer group supporting the Karen. The group has published an article to denounce the army action on the internet, complete with photos.

Myanmar's Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan confirmed Sunday that there had been clashes with ethnic minorities, but said this was because of Karen "saboteurs" committing "atrocities". He added: "But we have kept open the door for peace."

Sally Thompson, deputy head of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium group, said 1,300 Karen had arrived in Thailand's refugee camps since the army offensive started in the dry season. She said the refugees told how military troops had burnt their villages, destroyed their crops, taken their livestock and tried to push them into forced labour.

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