Burma Christian Villagers Flee After Execution Humanitarian Aid Worker

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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife) -- The whereabouts of several predominantly Christian Karenni villagers in Burma were unknown Saturday, May 5, after government backed forces reportedly executed a humanitarian aid worker in Burma's Karenni State.

Christian human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has contacts in the region, told BosNewsLife that Saw Lee Reh Kyaw of the 'Free Burma Rangers' relief team was "executed by the Burmese army" last month.

Lee Reh was killed April 10 after he was captured "two days earlier while providing humanitarian assistance to villagers in Karenni State," CSW said in a statement. He was apparently taken by Burmese troops who attacked Ha Lee Ku village, killing one soldier of the pro-democracy Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) group.

Two others, the headman and secretary of the village, were also detained, "although their whereabouts remain unknown," CSW added. "The tragic and brutal death of Saw Lee Reh Kyaw, who was providing much needed assistance to the Karenni people, illustrates the brutality of the Burmese regime," said CSW National Director Stuart Windsor.

ONGOING CRACKDOWN

It came amid reports of an ongoing crackdown on villagers of the Karenni and Karen ethnic groups with a large Christian population. CSW said it has established that in the Karen State region, three army battalions "burned down four villages" on April 22, killing at least one villager as he tried to escape. "More than one thousand people fled the villages and are now in hiding," CSW explained.

The latest violence came after a month of smaller attacks against villagers in northern KarenState, during which five people were killed and a nurse was shot and severely wounded, CSW claimed. "Their [the Burmese army's] total disregard for the lives and needs of the Burmese people is horrifying," stressed CSW's Windsor.

"The international community, and particularly Burma’s neighboring governments, must send a clear signal to the ruling military junta that these violations of human rights cannot be tolerated," he added.

Last year, Burma's army launched what human rights watchers described as "its worst offensive" against civilians in Karen State in almost a decade.

THOUSANDS DISPLACED

Over 27,000 civilians were displaced in Karen State last year, and several thousand have been displaced so far in 2007, according to CSW estimates. In 2006, over 86,000 villagers were allegedly displaced in eastern Burma as a whole. Since 1996, more than 3,000 villages in eastern Burma were reportedly destroyed by Burmese troops and over one million people internally displaced.

Besides attacks against predominantly Christian communities Karen and Karenni, troops have also attacked Shan, Mon, Chin, Kachin, Arakan and Rohingya groups, according to Christian rights investigators.

The attacks by troops of the current military regime, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), have been linked to fear among the ruling generals to lose their power base. Burmese officials have denied wrongdoing saying they are trying to create stability in Burma, which they call Myanmar.

However the Burmese leadership has so far refused to release pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi who Karen Christians and other minorities say they could accept as the country's leader.

ROUTINE CHECKUP

On Saturday, May 5, a party spokesman said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate was visited by her doctor and an eye specialist for a routine check-up Thursday, May 3. "She is in good condition," said Lwin, a spokesman of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, the National League for Democracy. The 61-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been under house arrest at her lakeside home in Yangon for most of the past 17 years.

Apart from her live-in maid, Aung San Suu Kyi is allowed no contact with the outside world, except for around once-a-month visits from her doctor, Tin Myo Win. When the military regime granted a rare meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and a senior United Nations envoy in November, the opposition leader reportedly told the visiting diplomat, Ibrahim Gambari, that she would like to receive more medical care.

Burma's ailing Prime Minister Soe Win also received medical care, in a Singapore hospital,
before returning to Rangoon this week, news reports said. While authorities have insisted that Soe Win is in "good health" and was merely in Singapore for at least seven weeks for "medical checks", dissidents and exiles reportedly believe he is suffering from leukemia

Analysts say however that even if Soe Win, considered to be a hardliner, is replaced it would have little effect on the government controlled by junta leader Than Shwe. The SPDC has governed Burma without a constitution or legislature since 1988 following a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. (With BosNewsLife reporting from Burma and BosNewsLife Research).

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