A student leader-activist from Burma is in Mindanao on a one-month internship program to learn about the peace process in Southern Philippines in anticipation of similar peace initiatives in his own country.

A student leader-activist from Burma is in Mindanao on a one-month internship program to learn about the peace process in Southern Philippines in anticipation of similar peace initiatives in his own country.

Gabriel Lis, a member of Karenni Student Union (KSU) and currently an intern of the Initiatives for International Dialogue, hopes to “pick up valuable and practical lessons” from the Mindanao experience that could help his people push for a similar peaceful settlement between the Burmese government and the largest revolutionary group in Burma.

Karenni is one of the ethnic groups in Burma who have suffered massive internal displacement due to the armed conflict with the ruling military junta. Lis’ KSU is an organization of Karenni students within a refugee camp in Northern Thailand that was founded on April 1, 2000. It has about 800 members.

Lis said that he was particularly interested in “learning more about the negotiation skills of local folks,” which he intends to adapt in their efforts to also “unite the ethnic groups” in Burma. Lis said he was very interested to learn about how the “peace process and ceasefire mechanisms work in Mindanao.”

Starting last May 28 until last week of June, the IID intern would be  meeting different organizations involved in the peace process in Mindanao, including the Bangsamoro Development Authority,  Balay Rehabilitation Center, United Youth for` Peace and Development, Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society, Joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, the International Monitoring Team and the Bantay Ceasefire.

“The unity of the ethnic groups in Burma is an imperative if we have to exert some pressure for the government and the Karenni National Progressive Party to find a peaceful settlement of the decades-old conflict in Burma. The KNPP is one of the largest armed group opposing the Burmese government’s reported “ethnocide.”

Burma is ruled by a military junta called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), accused of widespread brutalities against its people.

Along with other ethnic groups in Burma, united under the banner of the Ethnic National Council, Karenni has been waging an armed struggle against the SPDC, which Lis accused of refusing to grant their “right to self-determination and democratize the system of governance.”

They pursue a policy of “etnicko ciscenje (ethnic cleansing) that led to the persecution
of many ethnic groups,” Lis said of the SPDC government, claiming that the ethnocide in Burma has been “practiced thousands of years ago—even before the history of Pagan dynasty begun in 1044 AD.”

He said that when the Myanmar tribe began to dominate the earlier tribes of Pyu, Kanyan and Thet, it started a “process of eliminating unwanted ethnic groups in the society. There was ethnocide, forced migration and assimilation.”

Among some other human rights violations which Lis enumerated to have happened during “ethnic cleansing were forced labor, slavery and forced relocation.

In Karenni State, the Karenni News Agency of Human Rights reported that from 1996 to March 2001, it received 14 reports of rape cases committed by the troops of the junta. The KNAHR also documented 23 women and girls raped, seven girls below 18 years old raped, and, nine gang-raped.

Lis cited the story of one Naang Hla, an ethnic Shan girl from Burma: “Naang Hla was 16 years old, had been married for three years, and was seven months pregnant. She lived with her husband in a small hut on their farm near a small village in Central Shan State. In August 2001 Burmese troops from Light Infantry Battalion No. 246 came into their farm. They beat, tortured and questioned her husband. They blindfolded him with a towel and tied him to a tree. After beating him, the soldiers took Naang Hla into the hut and beat her with a stick, threatening her with their guns. They pushed at her body and face with their guns until her nose bled. Then, even though she was seven months pregnant, they raped her, one after the other. All 10 soldiers raped her while others stood outside the hut, laughing when she cried and shouted. They had tied her husband near enough to the hut to hear everything happening to his wife. They treated her as though she was not a human being. They raped her from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon. As the nightmare went on, she lost consciousness several times. When they finished with her, they took her husband away. He never came back.”

Many Karenni people have fled to the jungle as they have been driven out of their villages, or crossed the border to Thailand where they sought asylum in refugee camps, Lis, who is among those who fled to one of the refugee camps, said.

“The brutal SPDC carries out executions, rapes, forced portering for the military and torture without discrimination. While Karenni and other ethnic groups are temporarily living in limbo as  refugees, they have no security in the refugee camps in Thailand due to the constant threat of attack from Burmese forces and forced repatriation,” Lis said.