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Library Internal Displacement in Eastern Burma, 2006 Survey

Internal Displacement in Eastern Burma, 2006 Survey

Internal Displacement in Eastern Burma, 2006 Survey

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Date of publication
October 2006
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“Both tragedy and hope are reflected in this fifth annual survey of internal displacement in eastern Burma. The tragedy is that such systematic and widespread violations of human rights and humanitarian law continue to occur with national impunity and a largely ineffective international response. Yet it is the ongoing commitment and courage of ethnic community-based organisations to support grassroots coping strategies and document the impacts of conflict, violence and abuse which inspires hope for the future of Burma. The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) has been collaborating with ethnic community-based organisations to document the scale, distribution and characteristics of internal displacement since 2002. Collectively, these surveys have aimed to raise awareness about vulnerability in eastern Burma and inform the development of humanitarian protection strategies. Recognising that conditions for the internally displaced are always changing, this year's survey attempted to update population estimates and assess trends across different areas in more detail with higher resolution maps. TBBC and the participating community-based organisations designed the surveys collaboratively by drawing from the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Although there were some changes for the sake of clarity, the questionnaire was similar to those used in previous years to facilitate trend analysis. Quantitative field surveys of the scale and distribution of internal displacement and the impacts of militarization and development have been based on interviews with key informants in 38 townships between June and August 2006. This has been complemented with qualitative field assessments about the causes and impacts of displacement which have been documented by community based organisations on an ongoing basis throughout the year. TBBC has previously reported that the Burmese Army has approximately doubled the deployment of battalions across eastern Burma since 1995. This survey has identified 204 infantry and light infantry battalions currently in eastern Burma, which represents approximately 40% of the government's frontline troops nation-wide. Such militarisation has facilitated the State Peace and Development Council's (SPDC's) counter-insurgency strategy which targets civilians in contravention of international humanitarian law. Accounts of such crimes against humanity have been documented by community based organisations in this report as contributing to conflict-induced displacement. State-sponsored development projects have done little to alleviate poverty in Burma, but have been significant causes of human rights abuses and displacement during the past year. The energy sector is Burma's largest recipient of foreign direct investment, but this report associates the gas pipeline in Mon State with forced labour, travel restrictions, and harassment. Similarly, proposed hydro-electric dams along the Salween River are linked with incidents of forced relocations, forced labour and the logging of community forests. Meanwhile commercial agriculture, and in particular the national development initiative to cultivate castor oil plants to produce bio-diesel, is reported to have induced widespread land confiscation, the imposition of procurement quotas and forced labour for the cultivation of seedlings. During the past year alone, this survey estimates that 82,000 people were forced to leave their homes as a result of, or in order to avoid, the effects of armed conflict and human rights abuses. These estimates are consistent with the annual average rate of displacement in eastern Burma since 2002, and reflect the SPDC's disregard for their responsibility to protect Burmese citizens from harm. While the distribution of forced migration during the past year was widespread, the most significant concentration was in northern Karen State and eastern Pegu Division. Counter-insurgency operations are reported to have killed at least 39 civilians and displaced over 27,000 others in this area during the past year. While the majority of people displaced during the past year fled in small groups, 232 entire villages were destroyed, forcibly relocated or otherwise abandoned. When combined with the findings of previous field surveys, 3,077 separate incidents of village destruction, relocation or abandonment have been documented in eastern Burma since 1996. Over a million people are understood to have been displaced from their homes in eastern Burma during this time. This reflects the cumulative impact of the Burmese Army's expanded presence and forced relocation campaign targeting civilians in contested areas. Some of these villages may have since been re-established, and indeed this survey has identified 155 villages that were at least partly repopulated during the past year. However, the sustainability of return and resettlement is restricted not only by livelihood constraints but also by the lack of official authorisation. Indeed, attempts to re-establish over 100 villages in previous years have already been thwarted by harassment leading to further rounds of displacement. The total number of internally displaced persons who have been forced or obliged to leave their homes and have not been able to return or resettle and reintegrate into society as of November 2006 is estimated to be at least 500,000 people. This population is comprised of approximately 287,000 people currently in the temporary settlements of ceasefire areas administered by ethnic nationalities, while 95,000 civilians are estimated to be hiding from the SPDC in areas most affected by military skirmishes and approximately 118,000 villagers have followed SPDC eviction orders and moved into designated relocation sites. These are conservative estimates for eastern Burma as it has not been possible to survey urban areas nor mixed administration areas. Overall this represents a decrease of approximately 40,000 internally displaced persons since October 2005. This is due to a decrease of 53,000 people in the estimates for ceasefire areas. Population movements have been recorded out of areas administered by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) due to lack of livelihood opportunities. Estimates in other ceasefire areas of Shan and Karenni states have also decreased, reflecting how the areas administered by non state actors have effectively been reduced by the expansion of SPDC control. While many of these villagers may remain internally displaced, it has not been possible to track their current status. Conversely, the number of people in relocation sites has increased by approximately 10,000 people. This is partly a result of broader survey reach in Tenasserim Division and partly due to new incidents of forced relocation in Shan State. However, a significant decrease has been recorded in Mon state, where restrictions on resettlement away from relocation sites have eased. Rather than reflecting increased freedom, this illustrates that as villagers in surrounding areas become resigned to complying with Burmese Army orders, the government's perceived need for relocation sites becomes redundant. While the overall estimates for people in hiding sites increased only slightly, there has been a significant increase in northern Karen State and eastern Pegu Division where approximately 55,000 villagers are currently hiding from government forces. This represents an increase of approximately 14,000 people since last year, and suggests that half of those displaced in the past year were previously living with the tacit approval of local SPDC authorities in mixed administration areas. These local arrangements offered little protection when the Southern and South Eastern Military Commands coordinated patrols by over 40 battalions to search for civilian settlements and destroy their means of survival...

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