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Myanmar's rights abuses create health crisis in border area

Deutsche Presse Agentur
Published: Thursday September 7, 2006

Bangkok- Years of rampant human rights abuses have created a humanitarian crisis in eastern Myanmar (Burma), bordering Thailand, on a par with other disasters zones seen only in Africa, the first epidemiological survey on Myanmar's conflict areas revealed on Thursday. Chronic Emergency, the first ever survey of health conditions in eastern Myanmar, where the government is waging a "Four Cuts" campaign against rebel groups such as the Karen, Mon and Shan, found that mortality rates, disease and malnutrition were far higher than elsewhere.

"The mortality rates are not Burma's, which are already the highest in Asia, but more like those of Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, Sierra Leone and other disaster zones," said Voravit Suwannvanichkij, a researcher from John Hopkins University who helped compile the survey, the first effort to gather health data in areas bordering Thailand.

Infant mortality in the area was found to be 91 to every 1,000 births, compared with Myanmar's national average of 76 per 1,000 and Thailand's 18 per 1,000. Child mortality for under-5-year-olds was 221 per 1,000, compared with Myanmar's average of 106 per 1,000 and Thailand's 21 per 1,000.

"One out of every twelve women in this area may lose her life around the time of childbirth, deaths that are largely preventable," said the survey report.

By far the biggest killer in the area was malaria, which infects 12 per cent of the population, giving rise to increasing incidents of drug resistant forms of the disease.

The survey, aimed at demonstrating the correlation between human rights abuses and declining health in a population, was conducted by the Back Pack Health Workers, voluntary mobile health units that have been operating in eastern Myanmar since 1998.

Of the 2,000 households surveyed, a third had suffered from forced labour, 10 per cent from forced displacement and a quarter had had their food confiscated or destroyed by the Myanmar military.

Based of data gathered, families forced to flee their homelands were 2.4 times more likely to have a child die, while those who had had their food destroyed were 50 per cent more likely to suffer a death in the household.

The survey bore testimony to the success of Myanmar military's "Four Cuts" policy, of cutting off the rebel areas from food, funds, recruits and information.

But Jon Ungphakorn, an outgoing Thai senator, said the survey's revelations would hopefully lead to future diplomatic failures for the regime.

"What we need is for the Thai government to start taking the situation seriously," said Senator Jon. "The present government, and past ones, tended to put their heads in the sand and ignore the siutation."

Jon called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to consider dropping Myanmar from its ranks, or suspending its membership, and ending the grouping's dubious policy of "non intervention" in one another's affairs.

"The whole issue of non-intervention is not working and not viable where there are human rights violation taking place and its affecting the entire region," said Jon.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

© 2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur