Burma Christian Persecution: Rhetoric and Violence Intensifies Days Before Clinton's Visit

Senior U.S. government officials have praised Burma's recent efforts to reform and reduce human rights abuses, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares to visit the country Wednesday.

But large swaths of the population appear to be absent from any official efforts by Burmese officials – including the largely Christian minority population in Kachin State.

Burmese officials and representatives from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) are slated to meet Tuesday for peace talks that come just one day before Clinton's visit.

But ethnic and religious minorities expressed grave concerns over the Burmese governments recent claims it could "annihilate" the KIO in one day.

"Both the president and his information minister, U Kyaw Hsan, have already used the words 'annihilate' or 'wipe out' in the context of defeating the KIO," KIO Joint-secretary La Nan told the Irrawaddy, a publication that reports on Asian news.

The rhetoric used by Burmese officials against Kachin State organizations and residents is typical of human rights abuses in the country, according to David Scott Mathieson, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who specializes in Burma.

"Although reforms are taking place, [the government hasn't made] improvements to the human rights situation," Mathieson told the Irrawaddy. "The government is just pretending to talk to armed ethnic groups while abuses against civilians in conflict zones are still ongoing. It has not improved at all,” he added.

More than 30,000 people have been displaced in Kachin State since fighting intensified between the KIA and Burma's military 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.

Despite the ratcheting up of persecution against the country's Christian minority on the north, U.S. officials have praised Burma’s reform efforts.

"After years of darkness we’ve seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks," U.S. President Barack Obama recently said.

It is unclear how progress is measured with regards to Burma's human rights abuses.

Last November, after elections, Burmese officials began releasing political prisoners from jail and began working with opposition leaders.

Despite the showy efforts in Naypyidaw, the capital, and Rangoon, the largest city, Burmese officials are still blamed for violence in ethnic regions.

Burmese officials met with KIO leaders in June and August. Despite the talks, violence has continued to plague the northern state.

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.

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