Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Shan Women’s Action Network (Swan) and the Shan Human Rights Foundation have accused the Burmese army of committing acts of rape during their recent offensive in Shan state. The rapes occurred during the Burmese army’s campaign against the Shan State Army North (SSA-N North), according to the two groups.
A statement issued on Thursday by Swan said the rapes occurred as recently as July 5 when troops from Light Infantry Battalion 513 entered a village located near the SSA North rebel headquarters and looted livestock. Troops then proceeded to rape a 12-year-old girl in front of her mother. The mother was physically assaulted when she tried to intervene.
Swan reported that three other villagers were also raped in the same village that day, including a 50-year-old widow, a women who is nine months pregnant and another women who was assaulted just outside the village “beaten, stripped naked and raped in a farm hut.” According to Swan, she was later found naked in the jungle by her fellow villagers.
Swan and the Shan Human Rights Foundation said that many other rapes have occurred over the last few months in the vicinity of the area where the Burmese army is fighting the SSA North. The human rights activists reported that on June 2 five soldiers from Infantry Battalion 9 gang raped a 35-year-old disabled women in Wan Nar Karng village. According to Swan the soldiers threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
Swan said that Burmese soldiers raped women in other villages in March, April and June in areas also in the vicinity of the fighting between the SSA North and the regime. This included a March 21 incident in Nam Lao village where troops from Light Infantry Battalion 291 and Infantry Battalion 33 beat and gang raped a 30-year-old woman who died as a result of her injuries.
A spokesperson for Swan, Ying Charm Hom, told Mizzima that the assault on the Shan villagers is a direct result of the central government’s policy that gives the army carte blanche to use force against civilians. Ying Charm Hom told Mizzima that “soldiers are given the power to do whatever they want in ethnic areas like steal food, rape women or kill villagers.”
The Swan spokesperson noted that the SSA North territory and the villages where the rapes have occurred are situated close to the projected route of the oil and gas pipeline project. The pipeline project that is already under construction will send oil and gas from the Arakanese coast near Bangladesh to China’s Yunnan Province by going through a large area of Shan State. The firms behind the project include Burma’s state-owned oil firm MOGE, Korea’s Daewoo and China’s CNPC.
Although the exact pipeline route is not known, reports indicate that territory controlled by both the SSA North and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) lie in the path of the pipeline. Both organizations have had their territory attacked this year after the Burmese government scrapped long-term cease-fire agreements with them.
Ying Charm Hom said that Swan wants the international community and the UN “to take seriously the crimes committed by soldiers against women in Burma.” She called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his Burma envoy Vijay Nambiar to implement a UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights abuses and war crimes committed in ethnic areas like Shan State and neighbouring Kachin State where the Burmese army has also been accused of raping women during a recent offensive against the KIO.
Swan and one of its lead spokespersons, Charm Tong, made headlines around the world in 2002 when the Thailand-based group released a detailed report about the Burmese army’s use of sexual violence in Shan State called “License to Rape.” The report which led to Charm Tong having a one-hour meeting with then President George Bush in the White House so infuriated the Burmese regime it produced a counter report titled “License to Lie.”
The Burmese regime’s counter report claimed that the army never rapes women and that Charm Tong and her colleagues fabricated the rape cases to sully the reputation of Burma.