Some 2,000 ethnic Palaung villagers have been displaced from their homes in northern Shan State since March 2011, and some 1,000 still remain in makeshift camps, according to a report by the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO).
The report, released on November 7, accuses the Burmese army of a range of gross human rights violations committed against Palaung civilians, including forced portering, looting, torture, killing and sexual violence, as it launches offensives against local ethnic armies.
“Burmese troops have been launching offensives to crush the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Shan State Army – North (SSA-N) to secure control of strategic trading and investment areas on the Chinese border, particularly the route of China’s trans-Burma oil and gas pipelines,” the PWO report said.
The renewed military activity has forced many Palaung villagers to flee their homes. Many have taken refuge in three relief camps set up for internally displaced persons (IDPs) while others have crossed the border into China.
PWO noted that many of those who have become IDPs over the past 18 or 19 months are women as most of their menfolk had already fled to avoid military conscription.
“The ratio of women to men of working age in the IDP camps is 4:1,” the report stated. “Women, including pregnant mothers, had to walk up to a week through the jungle to reach the camps, carrying their children and possessions, and avoiding Burmese army patrols and landmines. Elderly people were left behind.”
The PWO said it interviewed 15 women who were pregnant when they fled their homes. One undertook a three-day journey barefoot while another, a 17-year-old, had a miscarriage when she arrived at the IDP settlement.
PWO said that little aid has filtered into the camps, which are located in remote, mountainous areas. A lack of fresh water and medicines is also a concern.
The Palaung IDPs have for the most part relied on the generosity of local villagers. Some have begun planting corn and rice, but there is little wage labor in these isolated areas, the report said.
“The main diet of the IDPs is rice and corn, supplemented with bamboo shoots or other wild vegetables collected from the forests. Even salt is a luxury,” the report added.
Meanwhile, another Palaung NGO, the Ta’ang Students and Youth Organization (TSYO), released a report on November 7 titled “Pipeline Nightmare,” which explained that, in addition to the military conflict in the region, the gravity of the situation is exacerbated by the construction of the China-backed Shwe Gas pipeline.
The report said that the pipeline project, which cuts through the heart of Palaung territory, has brought increased military presence, resulting in forced labor and human rights abuses. The TSYO accuses the Burmese army of colluding with the pipeline investors to confiscate local residents’ land as they prepare a path for the oil and gas pipelines.