Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ethnic Burmese among world’s ‘most threatened’

(DVB)–Nine ethnic groups in Burma have been ranked fifth on a table measuring groups of people throughout the world deemed to be most under threat of genocide, mass killing and other systematic violent repression.

Burma’s myriad ethnic groups, thought to number 137 in total, have long been marginalized by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, which is made up predominantly of the Burman group, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of Burma’s population.

The conflict between government forces and the ethnic opposition Karen National Union (KNU), which appears to be nearing an end, is thought to be the world’s longest running, and has forced 140,000 Karen into refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

Burma stands out in the Peoples Under Threat 2009 table, compiled by Minority Rights Group International (MRGI), as being one of only three countries in the top ten where Islam is not the dominant religion.

It is the threat of conflict in Muslim countries, in the context of Western countries tackling Islamic extremism, that dominates the top of the table.

Burma also takes a surprisingly high place given that, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan and, to an extent Pakistan, who rank second, fourth and sixth respectively, Burma faces no external interference.

Several prominent authorities on Burma, including British MPs, senior judges and a former advisor to the International Criminal Court, have said that state-sanctioned human rights abuses in Burma could now warrant charges of war crimes.

An Early Day Motion put forward by over 60 British MPs in May urged the UN to act on the campaign of ethnic cleansing that the ruling State Peace and Development Council is carrying out against ethnic nationalities.

The plight of Burma’s ethnic population was thrown into the spotlight earlier this year when around 1000 Rohingya refugees washed up in boats on Thailand’s shores, only to be towed back out to sea and set adrift by Thai authorities.

The Rohingya, who are a minority Muslim population, are not recognized by the Burmese government and suffer frequent discrimination due to their lack of legal status.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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