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Southeast Asia

 

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Southeast Asia

 

Child sacrifice practised by the Burmese army

7 August 2008

Benighted, forgotten Burma has many tragic curiosities, such as a monetary system prescribed by astrologers, and a treatment of ethnic regions which embraces not only slavery, but what some Hague jurists now describe as genocide.


However nothing is so sadly idiosyncratic of Burma and its superstition-riddled regime as stories, circulating the region for the last five years, of its Army sacrificing children alive beneath the foundations of pagodas.
 
These alleged practices - which date back to the old Burmese kings - were for many too sensational to credit. However the accounts of a woman of 44 named Nang Khi, and others from her now-vanished village, appear to make them all too plausible. The group was discovered recently by a Western aid organisation at a remote encampment in eastern Burma.
 
Loi Tailang, five hours' walk from the Thai border in Burma's Shan State, serves as headquarters for the rebel Shan State Army. It is also a refuge for thousands of ethnic Shans - including Nang Khi - whose villages have been razed by the Burma Army.
 
On October 5, 1999 at her village of Nam Khat in southern Shan State, Nang Khi's five-year-old daughter, Nang Sap, vanished from outside her home. Searches of the district failed to find the girl, and she was eventually presumed to have drowned in a nearby river.
 
By 2000, the girl's mother had relocated to Loi Tailang, where she met a fellow refugee - a woman from the village of Ho Mong, near her own - to whom she told the story of her vanished daughter. The woman's response horrified her.
 
"That woman showed me a photograph," Nang Khi said, weeping. "She asked me, 'Is that your child?' I was shocked when I saw the picture, because it was my daughter. The woman said she saw my lost child in the weaving center in Ho Mong, and took her picture there. The woman said that at that time the Burma Army was kidnapping children in order to sacrifice them alive in the foundation of a new pagoda they were building at Ho Mong. This was something that happened in other areas of Shan State."
 
"This was an established practice in Burma in past centuries," says Norwegian anthropologist Dirk Jaansen, who lives in northern Thailand near Shan State. "It was to appease bad spirits."
 
The Free Burma Rangers is a Thailand-based aid organisation whose teams recently discovered Nang Khi, and other villagers who claim to have witnessed the abduction of her daughter, and other Shan children. A relief worker from the FBR agrees the abductions and alleged sacrifies are to appease spirits - but he thinks the Army has other motives as well.
 
"This is a kind of crushing of the Shan religion," he said. "But if you can capture a person from the physical world, take them to a spiritual place and kill them, it empowers the Army too. Thus it goes beyond just a symbolic crushing of the Shan - they believe it gives them real spiritual power as well."
 
The Free Burma Rangers, which ferries medical and food supplies throughout Shan State, has documented numerous accounts of the alleged human sacrifice at the Ho Mong pagoda. The consensus is that a total of three children and six adults were buried alive there by the Burma Army. The "Victory and Peaceful Country" (Theng Di Aung Be Niang Aye) Pagoda is now under 24-hour guard by the Army, and cannot be appproached.
 
Amid tears and wailing, Nang Khi concluded her story. The woman who had photographed her daughter told her the soldiers holding Nang Sap had injected her with drugs several times, before putting her in a bag and carrying her away.
 
"Later, one night at midnight," Nang Khi related, "she had found three children, still alive, who were thrown into a big hole under the foundation on which the new pagoda was to be built. The woman said that my child was one of the three kids who were buried alive there. She told me she could not remember the date of the death of the children. I told the woman that if she could bring my child back to me, I would give her as much money as much as she asked for. She said she could do nothing."


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