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Internally displaced persons increase along Thai-Burma border

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by Solomon

New Delhi - Another 500 ethnic Karen in eastern Burma were displaced in October alone, in the wake of fresh fire fights between rebel groups and Burmese Army soldiers, a Committee working for the displaced said.

The Committee for the Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP), a group helping displaced persons along the Thai-Burmese border, said more than 500 Karen villagers were forced to flee their homes as a result of fresh clashes.

Sporadic skirmishes had been going on throughout the past month between troops of the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) and the joint forces of the Karen splinter group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Burmese Army soldiers, KNU officials said.

Iris, coordinator of the CIDKP, said the displaced persons are now roaming the jungles along the Thai-Burma border without any help and are afraid to return home.

"They [displaced people] are wandering along the border on the Burmese side. They have nowhere to go, because the Burmese Army has burnt their food stocks and their houses," Iris said.

She said the internally displaced persons, dare not cross the border to Thailand because they will not be accepted by the Thai authorities.

"We don't know the reason why they [Burmese soldiers] are attacking civilians but it may be possible that the junta has accused the villagers of having a nexus with the Karen National Union," Iris suggested.

The KNU, an armed Karen rebel group, has been fighting the Burmese government for nearly half a century. Lately, the KNU faced severe and persistent attacks by a joint force of the splinter group DKBA and the Burmese Army.

Last week, the KNU lost one of its outposts in Khalelawse to the joint DKBA and Burmese Army after a two-day onslaught.

David Takapaw, the Vice Chairman of KNU, said only a few Karen villagers are left in the KNU controlled areas, as most of them have fled to Thailand for fear of attacks launched by the junta's army and the DKBA.

He added that the Karen people living in the areas of control of Burmese troops face severe human rights violations including being used as forced labour, and are forced to pay excessive taxes.

"We have heard that there will be yet another stronger offensive launched against us by the joint forces [junta's army and DKBA]," said Takapaw.

Meanwhile, a Christian NGO based in London has voiced strong concern over the ongoing attacks and the forcible displacement of hundreds of Karen villagers. It has called for immediate cessation of hostilities among the armed groups.

The Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), in statement released on Tuesday said it has received reports that at least 250 Karen villagers have been forcibly evicted from their homes in eastern Burma in late October.

The group condemned the Burmese troops and soldiers of the DKBA for continuing attacks on the KNU that leads innocent villagers to flee for their lives leaving their homes.

The CSW strongly condemns these killings and the forcible displacement of so many innocent Karen villagers, the statement said.

Earlier in September, the Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a group of eleven NGOs helping over 140,000 Burmese refugees in nine camps along the Thai-Burmese border, in a rare report said, at least 66,000 people have been displaced in the past one year - 2007-2008.