Burma Christian Persecution Rampant Despite 'Flickers of Hope' in Clinton's Visit

Despite top U.S. officials praising Burma's recent improvements to the country's longstanding human rights abuses, the situation appears to be worsening for many in the southern Asian nation.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a trip to the country this week, meeting with government officials and Burma's famous democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who publicly praised the Obama Administration's "careful and calibrated" work with the nation.

Suu Kyi also recently applauded the efforts of Burmese officials saying she "deeply believed that the president (of Burma) also wants change."

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But, as the world's attention was focused on the high-profile meetings in the nation's capital and largest cities, rampant atrocities were simultaneously being carried out against many of the ethnic minorities in outlying areas, including the heavily Christian area of Kachin State.

More than 32,000 refugees continue to go without basic supplies like food and water in the northern state, according to Doi Pyi Sa, chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization’s IDP and Refugee Relief Committee.

The Kachin News Group reports that Burmese soldiers burned down more than a dozen homes in Kachin State on Wednesday, in a military campaign that increasingly targets civilians in ethnic and religious minority states.

Several Kachin organizations signed a letter to Clinton, urging her to address the ongoing atrocities in an attempt to foster genuine change in Burma, rather than solely reiterating rhetoric already used in speeches from the two nation's capitals.

It is unclear if the situation in Kachin State was address when Clinton met privately with Burma President Thein Sein.

Clinton was also urged by Physicians for Human Rights to address the dire situation in Kachin State.

"The Burmese army forced Kachin civilians to guide combat units and walk in front of army columns to trigger landmines," the group wrote in a statement.

The group also reported instances of the Bumese military stealing food and supplies from villages in Kachin State and firing automatic weapons directly into villages.

"This report sheds an important light on the brutal violations suffered every day by the people of Kachin State," said Shirley Seng, spokesperson for Kachin Women's Association of Thailand. "While the rest of the world applauds Burma for 'flickers of progress' the ethnic minorities of Burma continue to endure human rights violations as they wait for true change."

The latest documented abuses and swelling refugee camp populations are just the newest attacks since the Burmese government began ratcheting up its attacks on Kachin State in June.

Attacks by the military and government officials on Christian residents have become commonplace in recent months.

Recently, the country's military has attacked churches, beating parishioners and arresting religious leaders. In October, the government began requiring residents in Kachin State to submit a written request at least 15 days in advance prior to reading the Bible or praying.

Christians also have been forbidden to build new churches, had religious symbols, such as crosses, removed by the military and food and homes confiscated by officials, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Burma -- largely for religious intolerance and other abuses -- shares a place on the U.S. State Department's Countries of Particular Concern list with China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan.

The large scale abuses are well chronicled by human rights and religious freedom watchdog groups.

"These findings come at a crucial moment as the international community is considering increased engagement with Burma in response to its perceived progress toward democracy," Richard Sollom, Physicians for Human Rights' deputy director, said in a statement. "As the Kachin and other groups continue to endure heinous human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese army, the government’s rhetoric must begin to translate into human rights for all of the people of Burma."

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