updated 2/24/2010 8:06:10 PM ET 2010-02-25T01:06:10

Myanmar troops have gang-raped, murdered and even crucified Karen women, or those in their charge, who took on the roles of village chiefs in hopes they would be less likely abused than traditional male leaders, a Karen group said Thursday.

The atrocities, which also include beheadings, torture, forced prostitution and slave labor, are often committed as the troops attempt to root out a 60-year-old insurgency by guerrillas of the Karen ethnic minority, the Karen Women Organization said in a report.

Although the United Nations and other organizations have documented similar atrocities against Myanmar's ethnic minorities, the government has consistently denied allegations of human rights abuses, saying its troops are only engaged in anti-terrorist operations.

The report said that the trend for Karen women to assume community leadership "has put women further into the front line of human rights abuses being committed by the Burma Army and their allies." Myanmar is also known as Burma.

"I was not happy being village chief. It is similar to digging my own grave," Daw Way Way, a 51-year-old woman who led her community for five years, was quoted as saying. Like a third of the 95 women interviewed for the report, Daw Way Way said she was tortured by soldiers during her tenure.

The abuse often reportedly occurred as soldiers questioned villagers about their suspected ties to insurgents of the Karen National Union.

"Some of the villagers were arrested whilst working on their farms, they were tied up, crucified and finally had their throats cut," said Naw Pee Sit, another village chief who was beaten after being accused of such connections.

'Mine sweepers'
Naw Chaw Chaw Kyi, who served as chief for five years because nobody else wanted the job, said the military in her village forced several people into a hole, covered it with earth up to their necks and them stomped on them.

"Then they took out the villagers and beat them and brutally tortured villagers for a month and after that they killed them," she said.

"Gender-based violence," ranging from rape of girls to forced labor and grueling interrogations for pregnant and nursing mothers, was especially widespread, the report said.

"When I was village chief and was forced to be a porter, they tied me up with ropes at night and pulled me from this side to the other side. I could not endure the torture any more and they raped me," said Naw Htu Pit. Other women, the report said, were used as "mine sweepers," walking ahead of soldiers into mine-strewn areas.

'Unsung heroes'
The women chiefs, the report said, were often caught between government troops who punished them on suspicion that they were supporting the guerrillas and insurgents who accused them of serving as officials of the regime.

"These women are unsung heroes," said Blooming Night Zan, a member of the organization based along the Thai-Myanmar border, where some 140,000 Karen, Shan and Karenni ethnic minority groups from Myanmar have sought refuge.

The Thai Burma Border Consortium, a key aid provider for the refugees, says that nearly 500,000 people have been displaced from their homes in eastern Myanmar during operations by the military against the die-hard insurgents.

The report, titled "Walking Amongst Sharp Knives," was compiled between 2005 and 2009. It said that a third of the women interviewed were still serving as village chiefs.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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