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UN envoy condemns Kachin rights abuses

Arbitrary arrests and torture continue, he says

UN envoy condemns Kachin rights abuses
A Kachin refugee woman with her child in a temporary camp in Nan Kham, Shan State
Daniel Wynn, Yangon

February 18, 2013

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Serious human rights violations are still taking place in restive Kachin State in northern Myanmar, a top United Nations human rights envoy to the country said over the weekend.

Expressing concerns about the recent heavy fighting between government forces and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) forces, Tomas Ojea Quintana blamed the violations on the large military presence there. he described the situation as beyond the reach of accountability mechanisms.

“I am concerned about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army,” Quintana told reporters during a press conference at Yangon International airport on Saturday.

Currently, a fragile peace prevails in Kachin State after both sides agreed to de-escalate the fighting during Chinese-mediated peace talks on February 4, in the Chinese border town of Ruili.

The current offensive by government troops, which began in December last year, has seen the deployment of jet aircraft and attack helicopters that have pounded targets in and around Laiza.

During Quintana's five-day visit to Myanmar, he asked both the government and the KIA to include community-based organizations in future discussions about the consequences of the ongoing conflict.

He further urged the government to speed up the process of granting humanitarian relief to refugees in conflict zones.

Yesterday, Myanmar authorities allowed a UN humanitarian convoy into Hpakant, a jade-mining area where fierce fighting took place recently, the UN humanitarian coordinator announced in a press release. 

The UN estimates that more than 80,000 people have been displaced across Kachin and northern Shan states since the beginning of June 2011, when fighting ended a 17-year ceasefire. 

According to government officials and rebels, the fighting has dramatically subsided following the negotiations in China.

“There has been no more deadly fighting, though there were confrontations in some townships in Kachin state,” said KIA spokesman La Nan. 

Despite the lull in fighting, Myanmar’s lower house speaker Thura Shwe Mann said lsat week that by-elections in Mogaung and Hpakant townships that were postponed last year will be further delayed.

In an effort to hasten the peace process, a Myanmar government-led peace committee will meet with several armed ethnic groups, including KIA officials, on Wednesday in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

In a speech on February 12 marking the country’s commemoration of Union Day, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi offered to participate in future government-KIA peace talks.

But the KIA has rejected her offer, saying it would be "contentious” for an MP to help mediate the situation. 

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