February 1, 1994

The ethnic and democratic opposition headquarters, Manerplaw, fell to the Burmese army on the 26th of January, marking the beginning of a serious offensive by the armed forces of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) against the Karen ethnic group. Intense shelling has forced many thousands of refugees across the border into Thailand, where conditions are uncertain. We commend Thailand for their humanitarian policy of receiving refugees from Burma until it is safe for them to return, but we are concerned that conditions for refugees will deteriorate further while the offensive continues.

The attack represents a clear reversal of Burmese Government policy since they declared a unilateral ceasefire in 1992 which they claimed was in order to facilitate ceasefire agreements with ethnic groups. The Senior Minister for Tourism , Lieutenant General Kyaw Ba, confirmed the attack on Monday, and indicated that it would continue until “all insurgents will be eliminated”.There are grave concerns for the safety and future of the civilians living in these areas, especially large numbers who are currently being forced into portering for the army.

This offensive comes at a time when the Burmese Government has repeatedly stated its intent to resolve its difficulties with the ethnic opposition, and the detained Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, through peaceful negotiations. In recent months, Western Governments have begun a dialogue with the Burmese Junta in the belief that this approach would be more successful than a purely isolationist policy, in bringing about real changes in Burma. However, despite continued assurances that the Burmese government are ready to engage in dialogue their sincerity must now be called into question.

The Burma Action Group is gravely concerned about the current situation and calls on the international community to take urgent steps to stop this crisis. While the US and other governments have been quick to condemn the SLORC, the British government have still made no official statement, despite the Foreign Secretary’s assurances in September 1994 that the British Government are “strongly critical of the human rights abuses by SLORC”. The Burma Action Group calls on the British Government to take immediate steps to condemn the SLORC offensive.

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