Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Amnesty warns Burma minorities face growing repression

Chin woman, refugee camp, Malaysia 2007
The Chin people are one of several ethnic groups to have fled persecution

Burma's ethnic minorities are vulnerable to increased repression ahead of elections in the country later this year, a rights group has warned.

Amnesty International said minority groups were important for the political opposition of the country.

But it said their role had not been sufficiently recognised, as international attention tended to focus on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Burmese junta has previously denied repressing ethnic groups.

It says it will hold elections - the first in 20 years - at some point this year but no date has yet been set.

Amnesty said Burma's ethnic minorities - up to 40% of the population - had played "an important but seldom acknowledged role" in the opposition movement.

But it said they faced surveillance, harassment and discrimination when trying to carry out legitimate political activities.

Benjamin Zawacki from the group told the BBC it was "almost inevitable" that, in the run up to the elections, the world's media and organisations would look to Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD).

"The ethnic minorities states are simply beyond the spotlight that's typically placed on Myanmar [Burma]," he said.

"So it's that much easier for the regime to persecute and to repress ethnic minority activists simply because they feel they can do so without a great deal of attention, much less accountability for those abuses," he said.


Amnesty urged the Asian regional organisation the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and China to help ensure that Burma's people could participate openly in the political process.

Any resolution of the country's deeply troubling human rights record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the country's large population of ethnic minorities
Benjamin Zawacki
Amnesty International

The call comes as a UN envoy for human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is visiting Rakhine state in the north-west of the country, home to the ethnic Rohingya people.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, have fled the country - many to neighbouring Bangladesh - claiming abuse and oppression.

Amnesty says the Rohingya are suffering under the junta after they led a 2007 uprising that was bloodily suppressed with the loss of at least 31 lives.

Some members of Burma's many ethnic groups are waging decades-long armed uprisings along the country's eastern border, claiming neglect and mistreatment.

Others have become political activists in opposition to the junta's rule.

Mr Zawacki said the government had responded to such activism in "a heavy-handed manner", raising fears of great repression before the elections.

"Any resolution of the country's deeply troubling human rights record has to take into account the rights and aspirations of the country's large population of ethnic minorities," he said in a statement.

Amnesty said it had conducted interviews for its report with 700 activists from the seven largest minorities, including the Rakhine, Shan, Kachin and Chin, over a two-year period from August 2007.

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