Friday, May 8, 2009

Rights violations along 180-mile gas pipeline shocking, ongoing, says new report

Mon Son and Blai Mon - IMNA

“Pervasive human rights abuses” are occurring along an extensive overland pipeline in southern Burma, says a report released by a rights group yesterday. Rape, summary execution, forced labor and other abuses are the deliberate, predictable result of the pipeline, says the group, as is the confiscation of almost 15,000 acres of land.

The report, released by the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), deals with the government-owned Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay pipeline, which branches off the Yadana gas project in Tenasserim Division. The Yadana project has received intense international criticism for its role in rights abuses; the consortium of international energy companies who control it have been sued in 3 countries, with one investor pulling out.

According to HURFOM, abuses along the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay pipeline are comparable in type, though not in scale, to those documented in relation to the Yadana project; at 183-miles, the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay pipeline is more than four times longer than the 40-mile Yadana project.

HURFOM organizes abuses documented in the report into two broad categories. In the first, the group argues that a threefold increase in Burmese army deployments to the area since is “fundamentally due” to the pipeline.

“The predictable result of deploying large numbers of soldiers and encouraging them to extract what they can from the countryside, without oversight,” says the group, is a “raft of abuses.” According to the group, these include: 12,000 acres of land confiscation for barracks and army agriculture projects, forced labor, 62 incidents of rape and the commandeering of food and property.

In the second category, abuses along the pipeline are also a “deliberate, calculated part of the pipeline security effort” in which “battalions seeking to protect the pipeline from insurgents do so largely by targeting civilians.” According to HURFOM, this has entailed travel restrictions, forced relocation, and 68 incidents of torture and summary execution involving more than 600 victims.

Also related to pipeline security, HURFOM says it has confirmed that residents of more than 40 villages – including children as young as 12 – are required to work as forced laborers maintaining and guarding the pipeline. More than 2,400 acres of land, meanwhile, have been confiscated to ensure the pipeline’s route can be easily patrolled.

Making clear just how “ongoing” the abuses really are, a press release distributed to mark the report’s publication notes that, in just the last week, HURFOM has documented the summary execution of one villager and the burning of 36 homes. “In both cases,” says the release, “the army committed the abuses less than a mile from the pipeline.”

On the other side of Burma, meanwhile, construction of another pipeline is just beginning: in late March, Burma and China agreed to transport gas from the Shwe gas fields 1,200 miles overland to southwestern China.

Win Aung, coordinator of the Shwe Gas Movement, which opposes the project, says abuses like those documented by HURFOM have already begun. “The number of army battalions have already increased in the area,” Win Aung told IMNA today. “Human rights violations happened when the government started this project – and they are still happening.”

“They have not started building the pipeline yet. But they have to make the way clear for the pipeline – so villagers have to work as forced laborers clearing brush and digging.” These abuses are just the beginning, says Win Aung.

“According to what I see in the HURFOM report, these kinds of human rights violations – forced labor, torture, etc. – will happen in the Shwe Gas area. And the Shwe Gas pipeline is much longer than the pipeline to Kanbauk.”

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