06/11/2009, 00.00
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Thousands of civilians flee fighting between the army and Karen rebels

More than 6,000 people find refuge in Thailand to escape the violence. Army shells across the border into Thailand, recruits civilians as porters and minesweepers. A United Nations delegation travels to the border to monitor the situation. Military offensive is tied to ongoing trial against Aung San Suu Kyi.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The war between Myanmar’s military and Karen rebels in the country’s eastern region is escalating, causing thousands of residents to flee. Shelling by the army is hitting across the border in Thai territory. The army is also using civilians as porters or forcing them to walk in front of soldiers as minesweepers. The situation is such that the United Nations has sent a team to monitor what is happening.

The offensive by the Myanmar military, backed by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DBKA) against the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU), began last 2 June. This has resulted in more than 6,000 civilians, mostly women and children, fleeing across the border into Thailand.

Local sources have reported that a crowded refugee camp in Ler Per Har was shelled. They also said that the pro-junta DBKA was forcibly recruiting villagers to act as army porters or minesweepers, walking in front of troop patrols.

A KNLA officer confirmed that three artillery shells fired by the Myanmar army landed in Mae Thari village in Thailand with no reported injuries.

For some Burma watchers this offensive is aimed at diverting international attention away from the ongoing trial against Burmese pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has always insisted that national unity must be based on recognising each ethnic group’s role in Burma’s nation-building.

Other sources suggest instead that the ruling military junta is actually using Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial to divert attention from the border fighting so as to give the army a free rein against minorities.

Because of the worsening situation the United Nations recently sent a delegation to five different border areas where thousands of refugees have found some shelter.

For several decades the Karen State has seen war between the central government, controlled by ethnic Burmese who are Myanmar’s main ethnic group, and the local Karen population, who represent 7 per cent of the country’s 47 million people.

The Karen began their struggle on 31 January 1949, a date remembered as Karen Revolution Day. Since then more than half a million Karen have become refugees.

Unlike the rest of Myanmar, which is largely Buddhist, the Karen include large numbers of Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

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