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Despite oppressing the Karen and bird flu, Myanmar remains upbeat and befriends North Korea and Russia

Updated On: Apr 14, 2006

The junta is at it again. According to rebel and non-governmental groups, Myanmar's military regime is oppressing ethnic minority villagers to secure areas around Pyinmana. Karen National Union (KNU) spokesman, Colonel Nerdah Mya, says that more than 100 Karen people were killed while thousands were displaced when villages and crops were torched. This new wave of human rights violations could cause a potential refugee situation. Col. Nerdah said, “They are using thousands of troops to clean up the area… They kill, they rape, they loot, they burn ... so people have to flee. If you are Karen, they will attack you. They are pushing the Karen out of Burma." “The Burmese military are trying to plan for the security of Pyinmana,” said a spokesman for. “They have extended their troops in the surrounding area.” The Free Burma Rangers, a volunteer group supporting the Karen, and the Backpack Health Workers, a volunteer group who offer medical services in areas where the Karen are based, attested, “Villagers have been captured, shot, killed and beheaded in western Karen state, in the Toungoo district ... more than 2,000 are in hiding and 1,000 others have fled to the Thailand border in March and April.” However, Myanmar's Information Minister, Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, denied this, saying that although there had been fighting, this was only “in response to Karen ‘saboteurs’ committing ‘atrocities’, the AFP reported. With regard to bird flu, there are conflicting reports. He Changchui, the FAO's regional representative, said, “The situation there was more serious than we imagined… Up to now, there are over 100 outbreaks.” Since confirming the outbreak of bird flu in the Mandalay and Sagaing regions mid-March, there has been the culling of some 500,000 chickens and quails at more than 400 farms. However, the AP reported He as saying “Myanmar didn't have the means, including diagnostic equipment and protective gear, to adequately cope with the spread of the disease” while poor public awareness hampered the efficacy of stopping the H5N1 virus from spreading. Contrast this with internal reports. The national paper, the New Light of Myanmar has reported that “no bird flu virus has been discovered”. It also said that the restriction on Mandalay and Sagaing will be lifted by the end of April if no spread of the avian virus is discovered. Internal matters seem not to worry the junta. In external relations, Myanmar is now proffering friendship to another international pariah, North Korea. Ties were cut off after the 1983 “Rangoon” bombing in which North Korean agents killed 17 South Korean officials. Incidentally, both countries have tried to restore ties by exchanging diplomatic and military officials when North Korea took part for the first in the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2000, diplomatic sources said. Besides friendship with the Asian giants, China and India, General Maung Aye in a recent visit to Moscow appealed to Russia in case of exigencies. He said, “Myanmar wishes to strengthen ‘the friendly relations between our governments, peoples and armed forces… We have rubber, gas and oil, and there are opportunities for cooperation in production.” This suits Russian President Putin’s policy of allying with small states that wish to stand up to US hegemony. The Asia Times reported Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov as telling the media, “We view relations with Myanmar as a priority of Russian foreign policy in Southeast Asia,” after meeting General Maung Aye on April 3. Foreign Minister Mikhail Lavrov also met Myanmese Foreign Minister, Nyan Win, saying that “Russia prioritizes interaction with Myanmar in combat against international terrorism, crime and drug-trafficking.” Sources: Myanmar's killing fields? (Today/AFP, 12 April 06) Myanmar launches offensive against minority (Today/AP, 10 April 06) Myanmar agrees to restore ties with North Korea (The Star/ Reuters, 10 April 2006) From Myanmar to Russia with love (Asia Times Online, 11 April 2006) Bird flu under control in Myanmar: official (Washington Post/ AP, 13 April 2006) FAO: Myanmar bird flu more serious than initially thought (AP/ China Post, 11 April 2006)