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Wednesday, June 30, 1999 Published at 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Burma denies ethnic repression

Protests against the Burmese Government continue outside its borders

The Burmese military government has rejected accusations by the human rights organisation, Amnesty International, of systematic repression of certain ethnic minorities.

Amnesty's Donna Guest and Burma's Dr Kyaw Win dispute over the report's findings
A government statement said Amnesty's research was flawed, and was based on the evidence of those who sympathised with what it called terrorist groups.

The government also denied that the Burmese military was involved in forcing people to work and in relocating people from ethnic minorities.

In a damning report, Amnesty accused Burmese soldiers of killing dozens of unarmed civilians from the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic groups, which are fighting for greater autonomy.

It accused authorities of forcing hundreds to work as unpaid labourers and that the situation has deteriorated since Burma's admission to the Asean regional grouping in 1997.

Amnesty's research is based on interviews conducted in Thailand earlier in 1999 with refugees who said they had personally witnessed Burmese solders kill dozens of people, mainly unarmed farmers.

Civilian suffering

According to Amnesty, most interviewees said they had been used as unpaid labour by the military, and had been forced to relocate from their traditional lands.

Most of the human rights abuses reported by Amnesty result from Burmese army operations, but Amnesty says civilians, and not insurgents, have suffered most.

The Burmese Ambassador to London, Dr Kyaw Win, rejected the accusation, saying that villagers are relocated to protect them from armed insurgents.

Burma now accuses Amnesty of participating in a smear campaign mounted by what it calls ethnic terrorists.

The human rights group has called on the Burmese Government to investigate reports of torture, forced labour and extrajudicial killings and bring those responsible to justice.

Abuses documented

Hopes that the admission of Burma to Asean would encourage the government to improve its human rights record have proved false, and Amnesty called on Asean to come up with a new strategy to deal with the Burmese authorities.

Amnesty also reported evidence of the torture and extrajudicial killing of unarmed civilians by ethnic insurgents on Burmese and Thai territory.

The BBC's Clare Doyle says these human rights abuses have been widely documented in the past by various international agencies.

Earlier this month, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) barred Burma from all its activities because of its record on forced labour.

But Dr Kyaw Win said: "Many of these agencies are supporters of these terrorists."

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