04/10/2006, 00.00
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More than 700 ethnic Karen forced out of their villages

Myanmar's army destroys predominantly Christian Karen villages. Those who could reach Ko Kay village; many want to go to refugee camps in Thailand.

Ko Kay (AsiaNews) – Myanmar's military junta has launched a new wave of attacks against the country's ethnic minorities, targeting especially ethnic Karen and predominantly Christian Karen villages.

"In Burma [now Myanmar] this time of year is known locally as the 'killing season' and this year is no exception," according to the Christian Freedom International (CFI), an organisation that provides food and medical assistance and helps Myanmar's persecuted ethnic minorities. "During the dry season soldiers can move more easily in the dense jungles of Burma, and this year the military junta has stepped up its genocidal attacks on the Karen."

Saw Aro, 50, is a soldier with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), a vastly outnumbered militia that has been fighting for survival of the Karen people since World War II.

Aro told CFI that over 700 displaced men, women, and children recently arrived in Ko Kay village. "They came from Toungoo and Nyaunglebin districts," he said. "The Burmese Army recently brought in 10 battalions with some 1,500 new soldiers from Yangon (ex. Rangoon) [. . . who] are making big problems.

"When the new soldiers arrived [. . .], they spread around the area and tried to find Karen villages. If they saw the villagers, they tried to capture and persecute them. So, people living there did not dare face the Burmese army. They fled their villages and are hiding in the mountainside and jungle in safe places to save their lives."

Mr Aro explained that "before the refugees arrived in Ko Kay village they had to face many terrible things. They had to walk for ten days [. . . without] security, food, and medicine. Burmese soldiers tried to block them and laid landmines. But in this difficult situation they got through day by day with some Karen soldiers who knew the way and led them".

In Ko Kay the displaced villagers are facing shortages. "There is not enough food and medicine right now for the villagers. It is a major problem," Aro said.

"Mostly though, they do not want to go back to their villages. Some people said: 'If they can stay in Ko Kay they will'; others want to cross the border line and live in the refugee camps in Thailand".

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