BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Myanmar government troops are still fighting Kachin rebels and ethnic groups are suffering persistent human rights abuses in areas affected by the controversial Shwe Gas and Oil Pipeline, problems ignored by those praising the government’s reforms, a report by a Palaung youth group said on Wednesday.
Almost 3,000 members of the Palaung (locally known as Ta’ang) ethnic group living in the northwest of Shan State in eastern Myanmar have been displaced by the clashes along the pipeline between the army and the Kachin rebels who are supported by Palaung rebels, the report said.
"Those refugees have no support, no shelter, and the U.N. doesn't know about them," said Lway Aye Nang of the Ta’ang Students and Youth Organisation (TSYO) – which published the report – and the Palaung Women’s Organisation (PWO).
"They are in urgent need of help now and the season is entering winter,” she said, appealing to international aid agencies to help those newly displaced.
Foreign governments must keep pressing the Myanmar authorities on the continuing human rights abuses in the country and should not hold back for fear of harming the reform process, she said.
Fighting between government troops and the Kachin broke out in northern Myanmar in June 2011 and aid groups say around 75,000 people have been displaced since then.
The twin 2,800-km pipelines, due to start operating in 2013, will carry natural gas from Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal offshore reserves and oil shipped from Africa and the Middle East to southwest China. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), both state owned, are leading the project.
Pipeline construction has resulted in land confiscation, forced labour, heightened drug use and security concerns for women and girls, in addition to fighting and displacement, the TSYO report said.
The government has deployed an additional 20 battalions – about 6,000 soldiers – to increase pressure on armed ethnic groups and provide security for the pipelines, which run northeast from the coast in Rakhine state to China through central Myanmar and Shan State, it said..
One rights group has said the project will provide Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in the world, with revenues of around $29 billion over the next 30 years.
REFORMS ABSENT IN ETHNIC AREAS
Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein, who took office in March 2011, surprised observers by freeing hundreds of dissidents, loosening restrictions on the political opposition and abolishing pre-publication censorship, reforms which led to an easing of Western sanctions.
The government also said it intended to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) to regulate an industry that has so far been opaque and has been accused of rampant corrupt practices.
Nang said the widely praise democratic reforms “have not been reflected in the ethnic areas.”
People living along the pipeline route have had their land confiscated, sometimes without prior consultation, and compensation has tended to be inadequate, the report said.
“The distribution of compensation for loss of land, property and livelihood has been inconsistent, unfair and had no thought or planning for the future of those affected,” it said. There has been an increase in the use of forced labour, with people in some areas “forced to work on a continual basis and without receiving any payment.”
The report said there had been many cases of sexual harassment and intimidation of local women by both Myanmar soldiers and Chinese workers brought in to work on the pipeline.
Drug use has soared with the arrival of Chinese workers, with drugs “openly sold in the towns and villages without any intervention from government authorities,” the report said.
“The Burma army has no respect for human rights. They continue to act the same (as before),” said the TSYO’s Nang.
She urged world leaders to continue to press Myanmar’s authorities on rights issues.
“We don't see world leaders talking about human rights atrocities that are still going on in the country any more… because (they) don't want to harm the reform process,” she said.
“Everyone is praising the government, President Thein Sein… but at the same time we need to continue raising this issue so we can improve the situation,” she added.