Thursday, April 30, 2009

Myanmar cyclone survivors stuck in makeshift huts

Source: Reuters Foundation

KUNGYANGONE, Myanmar, Relief Web (Reuters) - A year after Cyclone Nargis blasted his home in Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta, Pyae Aye sees little hope of replacing the threadbare tarpaulin over his head with a new roof.

The 10 ft by 12 ft (3.0 by 3.7 metre) hut where the rice farmer lives with his two young sons is unbearably hot and began leaking when the first monsoon rains arrived in early April.

"We lost everything and we just can't afford to repair the house yet," said Pyae Aye, who like thousands of survivors of the cyclone that killed nearly 140,000 people, has struggled to rebuild his modest home.

Aid groups estimate at least 500,000 survivors, including 200,000 children, are living in makeshift shelters cobbled together with bamboo poles and fraying tarpaulin, primarily due to a lack of money.

Normally, natural materials such as thatch from palm trees and shrubs provide cheap, relatively cool and rainproof roofing.

But the May 2-3 cyclone destroyed most of the trees and 375,000 homes, according to government estimates.

A year on, only 17,000 new homes have been built, according to U.N. estimates, while another 200,000 have been repaired by their owners.

With the full might of the monsoon season only weeks away, tens of thousands face the prospect of spending another year living in "extremely vulnerable shelter", said David Evans, acting head of the U.N. housing agency UN-HABITAT.

"If they haven't been able to help themselves in the last 11 months, it's not likely they're going to be able to help themselves now, and so far we haven't managed to reach them," Evans said.


Nearly all Nargis survivors received some form of emergency shelter after the storm, including those few allowed into the junta's "model villages" after the generals were criticised for their slow response to the disaster.

But a year on, donor funding for housing has met only 4 percent of the U.N. target.

Donors are giving money for education, health care and food, but they consider housing and infrastructure the government's responsibility, said Andrew Kirkwood, country director of aid agency Save The Children.

"While we would like to see the government spending more on public services, it's completely unjust that the international community does not pick up their part of the responsibility," he said.

Aid groups are trying to fill the gap before the monsoon rains drench the delta, the rice bowl of the former Burma.

The Red Cross plans to hand out tarpaulins in May and June to 30,000 families in the delta, and CARE Myanmar says it will spend close to $2 million on aid for shelter until next June.

UN-HABITAT has appealed for $10 million to provide temporary roofing materials "we needed yesterday", Evans said.

"If it isn't agreed in the next couple of weeks, then we totally miss this last window of opportunity before the severe wind and rain arrives," he said.

Evans also defended his agency's advocacy of $500-$700 homes, which some critics consider too expensive. They are made with traditionals materials but use modern techniques for flooring and foundations to make them more resistant to disasters.

Even with unlimited funds, he said similar rebuilding efforts after the 2004 Asian Tsunami took four years to complete.

But that did not seem to impress Myint Thein, a farmer in the devastated Labutta area, who rebuilt his home on stilts "with whatever we could find".

"If it gets blown away, it gets blown away," he said. "Besides, if there is another storm like Nargis, we won't survive again anyway." (Editing by Darren Schuettler and Bill Tarrant)

READ MORE---> Myanmar cyclone survivors stuck in makeshift huts...

Australia to give Tk 3cr to UNHCR for Rohingyas

Dhaka, Apr 30 (—Australia will provide Aus $700,000 or around Tk 3.15 crore to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the construction of refugee camps for Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar.

A press release of the Australian High Commission in Dhaka said Thursday the funds will be used to construct improved shelters for 492 Rohingya families as part of UNHCR's ongoing shelter replacement project.

Australia earlier this month announced Aus $3.2 million humanitarian funds for the Rohingya people living in Burma's northern Rakhine State.

"This reflects Australia's commitment to a permanent solution to the Rohingya issue," the statement quoted Australian high commissioner to Bangladesh Justin Lee as saying.

"Australia's funding to UNHCR will provide better living conditions including more space, privacy and protection to around 3000 refugees, until a durable solution can be found", he said.

The UNHCR also welcomed the assistance.

"Australia's commitment to the refugee program in Bangladesh, especially by funding new shelters, has already resulted in improvements in the health and protection of the refugees," UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh, Pia Prytz Phiri said in the statement.

"This additional funding will ensure that over 80 percent of all shelter needs are met in both camps," she said.

Bangladesh has been hosting over 28,000 Rohingya refugees refusing to return to Myanmar.

They constitute a residual caseload of 250,000 who entered Bangladesh in 1991 and 1992.

UNHCR has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees since 1991 when hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims poured into Bangladesh following a crackdown on them by the Burma's military junta.

READ MORE---> Australia to give Tk 3cr to UNHCR for Rohingyas...

Fishery Department introduces media censorship

by Myo Thein

Rangoon (Mizzima) – The 'Myanmar Fishery Federation’ has imposed certain restrictions on the domestic media, on media coverage of fishery products and export figures issued by the government Fisheries Department, without getting prior approval from them.

A weekly journal reported the actual export figures of fishery products in its news report, and claimed that it was far below the targeted figure for 2008-09 fiscal in comparison with the previous financial year, in terms of percentage. Following the publication of that news report, the Fisheries Department put forth such restrictions on the local media.

The Myanmar Fishery Federation holds a Meeting for Development of Meat and Fishery every Tuesday, at its head office in West Gyogon, which is attended by responsible people from the Fishery Department, the concerned people from organizations under the Myanmar Fishery Federation, concerned people from the Livestock Federation and sometimes even the Minister of Livestock and Fishery attends these meetings.

During these meetings, the local media are usually allowed to attend and report the news emanating from the meeting freely, but currently an officer of FIQC, a section of the Fishery Department has said that news regarding these meetings must get prior approval from their office. He also informed the local media that this restriction had already been communicated to the notorious Censor Board.

Although the reason given for this restriction, was reportage of incorrect facts, the real reason was disclosure of the true facts of both export earnings and volumes far short of target, by a local weekly journal, a Rangoon-based journal editor said.

"The reason is reporting of these facts before being sent to Naypyitaw. The Fishery Federation usually discloses weekly and monthly export figures. Though the media are allowed to report these figures, they are not allowed to report these figures in an overview report, such as export figures and target for the whole financial year. All reporters, who are familiar with this department and organization, know about it. In this case, the journalist, who wrote this news, was summoned to their office and a complaint was also lodged with the Censor Board,” he told Mizzima.

Sources from this Fishery Department said that the officials usually adjust the export volume and foreign exchange earning figures for each financial year, before reporting to their higher authorities.

They do such adjustments to avoid criticism and blame, likely to be put on them by their higher authorities, the sources said.

"The export target for this financial year is USD 850 million and the actual export is just 56% of this target. The Fishery Department wants the local media to report this news only from a positive viewpoint. Now it seems to be pointing out their negative aspect. It seems likely that we have to write news reports, without facts and figures from now on," a source said.

The Fishery Sector stands fourth in export earnings in Burma and the export target for the 2008-09 financial year is USD 850 million. Even in the post-Nargis scenario, the fishery products export business was not affected much. However, the current global economic slowdown has hit this fishery sector hard, when it was just picking up.

Therefore, the department revised its export target in early 2009, to a more realistic USD 500 million from the previous USD 850 million. But the actual export earnings reached only USD 483.082 million at the end of the last financial year, which ended in March 2009.

READ MORE---> Fishery Department introduces media censorship...

Three Village Leaders Abducted by Armed Group

Paletwa (Narinjara): Three village leaders, including two village chairmen, were abducted by an unidentified armed group on the western Burmese border on 24 April, after the group entered Pri Zaw Village on the border to extort money, said a relative of one of the victims.

He said, "I came to the Bangladesh border to enquire about their condition but I have not heard anything about them. An eleven-member group armed with guns abducted the men on the night of 24 April and brought them to the border area near Bangladesh."

The victims have been identified as U Sein Aung, chairman of Pri Zaw Village, U Wai Ni Kyaw, chairman of Mraung Village, and U Tun Aung, a village leader from Mraung Village in Paletwa Township in Chin State.

"The armed group took two chickens and two baskets of rice from our village. Afterward, our chairman was abducted and taken from the village," he said.

According to a border source, most of the villages know the armed group that abducted the three men, but no has revealed its identity for fear of retaliation.

"We do not know why the armed group abducted our chairman and we do not know the organization's name. We have to enquire about the abduction and later may be able to reveal the organization's name," the relative said.

On the western Burmese border, especially in Paletwa Township, there are two or three insurgent groups that sometimes patrol the area in order to ambush SPDC soldiers in the area.

According to a local villager source, the villagers in the area live in a very risky position because both the insurgent groups and the Burmese army abduct and kill villagers whenever they are unable to meet their demands for money, food, or information.

In addition the recent abduction, an elder monk was assassinated by unknown assailants in upper Sami Village in Paletwa Township last week.

READ MORE---> Three Village Leaders Abducted by Armed Group...

Wa anniversary has positive, negative responses in Thailand

(SHAN) -According to Thailand’s security, that has been closely following Wa developments, the recent Wa celebrations marking their 20th anniversary of what it calls “Peaceful Construction” was both a satisfying and disappointing event.

“We’ve been using its 10th anniversary pictorial publication like a bible on Wa up to this day,” a senior security officer told SHAN as he fondly ran his fingers through his newly received 392 page 20th anniversary publication, priced at Y188 (roughly $27) per copy in Panghsang, the Wa capital. “Whenever we wanted to know who’s who in Wa, we always refer to the volume. The new one is even better, and more detailed.”

For instance, while the 1999 volume did not carry photographs of the Wei brothers, wanted in both Thailand and the United States, the 2009 volume has two colorful prints of Wei Xuelong, the eldest and Deputy Minister of the Wa State Government’s all powerful Finance Department, and Wei Xuegang, the youngest and Deputy Commander of the 171st Military Region that covers areas opposite Thailand’s Maehongson, Chiangmai and Chiangrai provinces.

[“I wish the SSA (Shan State Army “South”) takes its cue from this one,” he added. The group has 5 main bases across the border.]

The only disappointment was that no latest snapshots of the most well-known brother, Wei Xuegang, was again not included the new volume. “Which means we are stuck to the only two available photos we have of him,” said another.

“We can do nothing about that,” said a Wa official who requested anonymity, “because it is his explicit wish. He attends only close door meetings. He’s so paranoid you can’t expect his presence in any meeting where there are 30 participants upwards.”

The other disappointment was about the lack of any display of United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s military might on 17 April, when around 2,400 of its troops took part in the military parade.

The Wa is reported to have acquired at least 2 Chinese-made armored vehicles, each Y 2.8 million ($400,000) recently, aside from a number of sophisticated anti-aircraft guns, mortars and field guns. This reluctance was in contrast to its former nemesis the Mong Tai Army (MTA) of the late Khun Sa who never failed to fascinate its civilian supporters with a show of its weaponry.

The UWSA, held a 4-day celebrations, 15-18 April, at its main base on the Sino-Burma border, attended by hundreds of its allies and thousands of guests from China.

The UWSA and the Thai Army have fought each other on several occasions since 1996, most notably in 2002, when the latter launched a military exercise code-named Surasi.

READ MORE---> Wa anniversary has positive, negative responses in Thailand...

Appalling conditions in Naga Hills Region under Burmese junta

by Ring Aung
Kachin News Group

A majority of the Naga, estimated to be about four million live on the Indian side, in Nagaland. The Naga in Burma is in the minority with an estimated population of over 200,000.

The Naga in Burma live in Homemalin Township, Khamthi Township, Leshi Township, Lahe Township, Namyun Township and Pangsau sub-township of Sagaing division and Shing Bwe Yang sub-township in Kachin State.

The people in the Naga Hills Region under the Burmese military junta have never got favours from the regime. Their neglect by the junta is appalling. Some of these people are forcibly recruited into the army. Their religious practices are controlled by the Burmese authorities.

After 1990, there has been religious persecution in the Naga Hills Region. Since the majority of Naga people are Christians, the Burmese military regime has been planning to develop the region under the military. The Buddhist religious organizations are keen on persuading the Naga people to convert to Buddhism.

In some villages, the Burmese junta has been burning churches. The people have been ordered by the Burmese authorities to convert to Buddhism and are being threatened by the authorities. Villagers who don’t want to change their religion have to run away from their villages.

According to locals in the Naga region, the people tried to negotiate with the Burmese authorities to stop the religious persecution in the region twice in the past, but there has been no progress. The situation is said to be bad.

In every village in the Naga region, the population is half Buddhist and half Christians. The Burmese regime has built temples in a village and put in place fake monks.

Monks staying at a temple in a village are imposters. They are just pretending to be monks. If there are 10 monks in a temple, half of them are soldiers. Some carry guns.

All the monks receive financial assistance and food. Normally, they get 60,000 Kyat (US $ 59) per month. They also receive rice but they sell the rice to for money. Because villagers donate food to them, they can afford to sell the rice, said a local.

All Christian churches in the region have to register with the Burmese authorities and it is mandatory to put up the registration sign board on top of their church.

Being Christians in the region they have to struggle a lot and the Burmese authorities even beat up Christian missionaries who graduated from India. They are not allowed to carry out any mission in the region, a local added.

Because of poor transportation and road communication, the children from the region can’t afford to go to school. Most villages have only a primary school and if the children want to go to middle or high school, they have to study in the township. Children who have finished primary school cannot go for higher studies. They help their parents in farming.

On the other hand, the Burmese Army forcibly recruits youngsters including those under18 years of age.

According to local people from Shing Bwe Yang Township, in September 2007, the Burmese Army recruited over 80 people into the armed forces. They were from the Shing Bwe Yang Township.

Ring Aung is a staff reporter of Kachin News Group (KNG).

READ MORE---> Appalling conditions in Naga Hills Region under Burmese junta...

Dialogue necessary before 2010 elections

(DVB)–If the Burmese government releases all political prisoners and holds dialogue without preconditions with opposition groups then Burma’s main opposition party will contest the 2010 elections, said a statement yesterday.

Following a plenary meeting on Tuesday between senior officials of the National League for Democracy, whose leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest, a statement was released outlining conditions under which the NLD would participate in the elections next year.

The so-called Shwegondaing statement also emphasized that dialogue without precondition between senior government officials and NLD members was the key to resolving Burma’s political problems.

“The NLD has a big role in solving the problems the country is currently facing - the release of political prisoners, the amendment of the constitution, the recognition of the 1990 election result, and the holding of dialogue,” said Ohn Kyaing, a member of the NLD central information committee.

“These are problems that need sorting out now, but dialogue is the main thing.”

He added, however, that dialogue would have to take place without preconditions, and that any discussion should include the provision of equal opportunities for the ethnic nationalities.

Critics have said the draft constitution, ratified by the government last year in the weeks following cyclone Nargis, guarantees entrenchment of military rule.

The plenary meeting was attended by over 150 party organizers, members of parliament, and central executive committee members.

Diplomats from countries such as United States, United Kingdom, France and Italy also attended.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Dialogue necessary before 2010 elections...

Diarrhea outbreak claims three lives

(DVB)–Outbreaks of severe diarrhea have continued in several towns in Burma, with hospitals now unable to cope with the upsurge in patient numbers and several deaths being reported.

Fresh outbreaks have occurred in Nyaung Lay Pin township in Bago division and Pakokku township in Magwe division.

“At our Nyaung Lay Pin hospital, patients have to be lined up on the corridors because the hospital is full up,” a local resident said.

“Up to last night, three people had died."

It is possible that the outbreak was caused by a combination of rising temperatures and people eating food contaminated by flies, said a retired local medical staff.

The illness has mainly affected poor people in Pakokku township, a local resident said.

"It is happening more among grassroots people as they are poor,” he said.

“They can't afford to drink clean water, and there is no electricity.”

A member of staff on duty at Pakokku said however that the situation was not dire.

Other outbreaks have been occurring in Rangoon, Mandalay, and some towns in Irrawaddy division.

The government’s health ministry has previously said it would publish details of the condition of the illness but so far there has been no report.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> Diarrhea outbreak claims three lives...

Karen group lose outpost to army

(DVB)–Burma’s principal armed opposition group has lost sections of a strategically important outpost near the Thai border after nearly a month of fighting between the group and government troops.

The Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Karen National Union, yesterday said it has lost parts of its Walakee outpost run by Battalion 201 in eastern Karen state.

Government troops, backed by the pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, launched the latest offensive against the battalion two days ago.

A KNLA officer said that main section of the outpost was still under their control, although the army had taken the artillery firing ground.

According to the KNLA, three government soldiers were killed in the offensive and ten were injured.

Villagers living near the base were reportedly being forced to work for the army and were running out of food, said Battalion 201 official Captain Kyi Aung.

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army split from the KNU in 1994 and allied themselves with the government.

Reconciliation talks between the KNU and ruling State Peace and Development Council, whose conflict is thought to be the world’s longest running, have been on the cards for some time.

Both sides have agreed in principle to hold discussions, although the KNU have repeatedly stated that they will not disarm.

Reporting by Nay Htoo

READ MORE---> Karen group lose outpost to army...

Crossing the Great Divide

The Irrawaddy News

Last week, I was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) to attend a panel discussion organized by the BBC Burmese Service to mark the one-year anniversary of Cyclone Nargis, Burma’s worst recorded natural disaster.

My first question to Tin Htar Swe, the head of the BBC Burmese Service in London, was why there were no Burmese NGO workers or monks on the panel. Both groups are widely recognized as key participants in the post-Nargis relief effort.

She replied that local aid workers and monks were initially invited to speak, but they all turned down the invitation when they learned that the discussion would be videotaped and aired.

After hearing this response, a Burmese colleague joked that it looked like Burma’s humanitarian workers were sharing the fate of the country’s political activists, who have long been forced to carry out most of their activities “underground.”

But two of the panelists—Chris Kaye, the World Food Program’s country director for Burma, and Dr Frank Smithius, the country representative for MSF (Holland)—disagreed with the suggestion that the Burmese regime was impeding relief efforts.

They said that aid could be delivered to the needy without interference from the junta. But they also emphasized that much more work needed to be done to improve the lives of cyclone survivors. The recovery process in the delta would take time and more assistance was needed, they said. No one disagreed with them.

The third panelist, Britain’s ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, also had a message that few people could disagree with. He said that Burma remained one of the most repressive places on earth, and insisted that real political progress could only begin after the regime released all of the country’s political prisoners.

At the same time, however, he stressed that while searching for a solution to Burma’s political problems, the basic needs of the Burmese people could not be ignored.

But meeting these needs continues to be a serious challenge for all involved. Although more international NGOs have entered Burma since Cyclone Nargis and large numbers of ordinary Burmese have joined the relief effort, it remains unclear how far the regime will go in allowing a larger “humanitarian space” to open in the country.

While many observers outside the country remain skeptical about the international aid agencies’ claims of being able to work freely (“What else do you expect them to say?” asked one cynical senior journalist at the FCCT), the regime itself is as suspicious as ever of these outsiders.

According to official sources in Naypyidaw, top leaders have shown little interest in humanitarian relief efforts in the delta, but are paying close attention to what’s going on there, as they remain ever watchful of signs of anything that could undermine their grip on power.

Indeed, when the microphones were off, some aid workers admitted that the junta has often been less than helpful, confirming comments from some Burmese observers who attended the FCCT event, who said that the real situation in the delta was very different from the picture being painted by the international aid groups.

Some foreign NGO workers also expressed doubts about the three-year recovery project receiving the $700 million it is estimated to need—something that will hinge largely on their ability to convince foreign donors that the regime is not hindering their efforts.

Last week, Koos Richelle, the director general of the European Commission’s EuropeAid Cooperation Office, told reporters in Manila that Burma must open up to dialogue with donors if it wants to receive much-needed development assistance. He added, however, that there has been little progress in providing aid to Burma because the military regime refuses to discuss development programs. (JEG's: but they want our money... )

Although the regime has extended the mandate of the relief-coordinating body, the Tripartite Core Group—consisting of representatives of the UN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the junta—for another year, Naypyidaw appears to be reluctant to allow more foreign aid workers into the country.

This is a disappointment for aid workers who say that they have been able to collaborate effectively with officials committed to helping their fellow Burmese citizens through cooperation with international relief groups and UN agencies.

One panelist even said that his organization was able to work inside Burma without sacrificing any of its core principles. But a foreign aid worker with in-depth knowledge of Burma was dismissive of this claim. The only organization in Burma that has strictly adhered to its principles is the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), he said. Although the ICRC stopped its activities, including prison visits, in Burma after the regime imposed restrictions, it has maintained its office in Rangoon.

Meanwhile, some aid workers active inside Burma are countering such recriminations by arguing that advocacy groups and activists outside the country are attempting to paint an overly bleak picture of the difficulties of working with the junta.

Recently, 21 international NGOs involved in Nargis-related relief and recovery work slammed a joint report by the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Thailand-based Emergency Assistance Team (EAT) which was highly critical of the relief effort in the delta.

In a joint letter, the NGO group said that the report, titled “After the Storm: Voices from the Delta,” published on February 27, was “both inaccurate and does a disservice to the courageous and resilient survivors of Cyclone Nargis.”

The report focused on human rights violations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

The response letter said, “We found a number of shortcomings in the report, including its premise, methodology and most of its findings.”

Defending the relief effort, the letter said: “Dozens of international and local relief agencies along with foreign embassies are continually examining humanitarian and delivery from inside Burma. They are able to do so independently and first-hand.

“The international humanitarian assistance delivered to date has been life-saving and life sustaining for millions of cyclone survivors. It has reached them without significant interference,” the letter claimed.

The letter also claimed that misleading reports could undermine further aid to cyclone survivors.

Although others have also questioned the Johns Hopkins/EAT report’s methodology, most observers agree that it has succeeded in initiating a healthy debate. Some researchers who advocate increased aid defended the report, saying that it helps to raise awareness of the need for transparency and accountability in the distribution of aid and use of funds.

As the relief effort approaches the one-year mark, this would be a good time for the aid community inside and outside Burma to open a dialogue, instead of undermining the missions inside and along the border.

Burmese aid workers on both sides of this artificial divide have many shared concerns. One is that the fight over aid money could obscure more important issues and even intensify divisions between Burmese inside and outside of the country.

A year ago, there was unprecedented cooperation between Burmese living in exile and those still inside the country, as both struggled to find a way to come to the assistance of their fellow citizens. Now, however, many fear that a dispute among foreign aid groups could weaken their shared resolve, with consequences that can only add to the tragedy of Cyclone Nargis.

READ MORE---> Crossing the Great Divide...

Differences halt school reconstruction in Nargis-hit regions

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Serious differences have cropped up between the No. 1 Basic Education Department and construction companies over sanctions for rebuilding schools in Cyclone Nargis devastated regions.

The ministers of the Burmese regime assigned to supervise reconstruction work in Irrawaddy delta region identified 40 construction companies for rebuilding 680 schools in the region. But the Basic Education Department officials rejected the scheme and reassigned the reconstruction work to the companies. This has led to a deadlock where they have not been able to sign an agreement with the construction companies yet.

"The Basic Education Department wants to manage reconstruction of all the schools. So they recompiled the list of construction companies to build the schools and got it approved by the supervising ministers," a manager of a construction company told Mizzima.

At the same time, there are allegations that the construction companies are bribing the authorities concerned to get job orders for rebuilding schools at an estimated cost of Kyat 12,000 million.

Cyclone Nargis which devastated the region on May 2 and 3 last year left 84,537 dead and 53,836 missing. The Tripartite core group's joint assessment report said that an estimated up to 50 to 60 per cent of public schools, including monastic schools, in the hardest-hit 30 townships were destroyed.

With the monsoon approaching the people are worried about the differences between construction companies and government officials of the No. 1 Basic Education Department.

The junta gave some private companies construction contracts for reconstruction work in cyclone-hit regions and assigned some ministers to supervise the work.

READ MORE---> Differences halt school reconstruction in Nargis-hit regions...

$US 690 million needed to rebuild devastated Delta region

A year after Myanmar’s worst ever cyclone debt-ridden survivors need substantial aid package

Embargoed until 00:01GMT Thursday April 30

Hundreds of thousands of people who survived Myanmar’s worst-ever cyclone are facing the prospect of being trapped in debt with little prospect of securing further credit or loans and need urgent help from the international community, international aid agency Oxfam said today.

”One of the many impacts of Cyclone Nargis was that it destroyed almost an entire harvest that farmers and fishermen had already borrowed against before the cyclone hit,” Oxfam Myanmar Country Director Claire Light said.

”That has meant many families defaulted on those loans, and haven’t been able to access enough credit ever since to get back on their feet,”

”Urgent international assistance is needed before June so that farming and fishing families can kick-start their upcoming harvest, repay their loans, and avoid losing any more to this devastating cyclone and its aftermath,” Ms Light said.

Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Delta and Yangon Division on May 2 - 3, 2008, as well as killing 140 000 people and destroying homes and schools, demolished farmland, cattle, fishing ponds and equipment leaving the vast majority of survivors who rely on these for an income struggling to make ends meet, Oxfam said today.

A recovery plan prepared by the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations in Myanmar and the Government of the Union of Myanmar, says that $US 690 million is needed from the international community over the next three years to restore people’s lives back to what they were before the cyclone.

Of that it states $US 189 million dollars is needed to restore people’s livelihoods, through activities such as generating jobs and supporting agricultural production for fishing and farming communities.

The United Nations Flash Appeal opened soon after the cyclone, will draw to a close only 67 per cent funded, and has a $US 42 million shortfall in the amount requested for agricultural projects. That appeal closes tomorrow.

Ms Light said aid agencies do not want to see funding end after the first anniversary of the cyclone, and they have not seen enough pledges from the international community for long-term aid.

“There was a generous response in the wake of the storm that allowed the largest ever relief effort in Myanmar, and because of that almost all cyclone-survivors have been reached with some level of assistance,” Ms Light said.

“But Cyclone Nargis caused a level of destruction similar to the worst-hit areas of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The 2.4 million people affected will continue to feel its impact unless aid keeps flowing for the next three years,” Ms Ireland said.

Oxfam has reached approximately half a million people with aid in the cyclone-affected regions. The aid agency has been directly operational in the country since August 2008, and continues to fund partner organisations that assisted in the immediate relief efforts. Prior to Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar received among the lowest levels of aid per capita in the world.

Oxfam GB’s Myanmar Country Director Claire Light, based in Yangon, and Oxfam GB’s Regional Director, Sarah Ireland, based in Bangkok are available for interview. To interview them or for a copy of the background note The Aftershock of Cyclone Nargis: Credit Crunch in the Delta or for more information please contact: Sunita Bose in Bangkok on +66... or on Australian number +61... or Uamdao Noikorn in Bangkok on +66 .... In the UK contact Sean Kenny +44 7766 443 506,

Notes to editors: Overview of Oxfam’s Cyclone Response in Myanmar

Where we work:

Oxfam has reached approximately half a million people with aid following Cyclone Nargis.

Oxfam has been directly operational in the country since August 2008, and continues to fund local partner organisations who assisted in the immediate relief efforts.

In the first phase of the response, Oxfam and our partners provided immediate relief assistance in 24 of the most affected townships. Oxfam now works directly in Dedaye and Pyapon townships, and supports recovery efforts in eight cyclone-affected townships through partner organisations.

Oxfam’s response to date:

Oxfam has provided 64 000 households with water-related support. This has included giving people emergency water and reconstructing water infrastructure systems, or providing water storage containers.

Oxfam has given approximately 53,000 households emergency shelter materials to protect them from the elements or assistance to rebuild their homes.

Oxfam has given approximately 11 000 households fishing or farming support so that they can continue to generate an income.

Oxfam has given approximately 26,000 households food or cash-for-work support to assist in small-scale rehabilitation of infrastructure or to receive vocational training to build their capacity to earn an income.

Oxfam has supported the rehabilitation of early childhood care and development centers and schools provided school supplies, uniforms, and books.

Oxfam is providing radios to communities as an early warning radio system that would benefit 45 000 villagers.

Oxfam’s priorities for the next two years:

Oxfam and our partners are now supporting communities on the very long road to recovery.

Oxfam’s direct cyclone response work is a three-year programme, and in the next two years, subject to funding, aims to reach 243 000 people in the hardest-hit townships in the Ayeyarwardy delta with livelihoods and water and sanitation support.

Oxfam are working to restore agricultural and fisheries production to pre-cyclone levels so that people in the region can generate an income to feed themselves and their families and avoid getting further into debt.

Oxfam is working to reduce long-term public health risks and are safeguarding people from water-borne diseases, by helping communities to restore their water supplies and through distributing pots, buckets and water purification means and building latrines.

For more information please contact: Sunita Bose in Bangkok on +66 84 ... or on Australian number +61 407... or Uamdao Noikorn, in Bangkok on +66 818 553 196. I n the UK contact Sean Kenny +44 7766 443 506,

Oxfam UK

READ MORE---> $US 690 million needed to rebuild devastated Delta region...

'I Worked For Human Traffickers'

(RFA) -A Burmese man describes how he was forced to beat other illegal workers by a Malaysian trafficking gang to buy his own freedom.

Ko Wunna is a 28-year-old resident of Burma's former capital, Rangoon, who was trafficked to Malaysia by gangs importing illegal workers in a constantly revolving racket in which, former participants say, the Malaysian police are also complicit.

Here, Ko Wunna speaks to RFA Burmese service reporter Kyaw Min Htun about his experiences over three months working for a trafficking gang in the region in and around northern Malaysia's Kedah province, which borders Songkhla and Yala provinces in Thailand. He reveals that illegal migrants who don't come under the aegis of one gang are vulnerable to worse exploitation by others.

The Malaysian government has recently pledged to investigate claims made by many other Burmese like Ko Wunna.

"I was arrested [by Malaysian immigration authorities] on Nov. 15, 2008 and was sentenced to jail for two months and one stroke of the lash. I was released on Jan. 2, 2009. After I was released from prison, the Thai human traffickers [to whom Ko Wunna says he was then sold by immigration authorities] told me to buy myself 'back in' [to work in Malaysia] from the border town of Changlun. But they wanted 2050 ringgit (U.S. $570) to buy myself back in. I couldn’t give them that much money. Those who could pay were able to leave [the trafficking gang]."

"Seven of us were left behind. We told them that we would work our way out. But they would not accept it. They said if we could not pay we would be sold to an Indonesian boat under a five-year plan. What we heard about this five-year plan was that if we were unable to work, they would kill us, beat us to death. We were afraid, so we escaped in the night. The traffickers and their Thai boss chased us. We fled into the forest."

"In the morning we saw a tea shop and asked for help. The people in the tea shop asked what nationality we were. We told them we were from Burma. They said we should contact the police. We thought about it. The traffickers chasing us had iron rods and were closing in on us. They also had motorcycles and if we crossed the street they would have tried to hit us with their cars. And if we were caught by the Thais we knew we would be dead. So we decided it would be better to be arrested, so we surrendered to the police."

Police 'took money from traffickers'

"The police told us to wait while they telephoned their officer in charge. The police told us to sit and wait at the tea shop. While we were waiting the police officer arrived. But it seemed that the police officer and the traffickers had done business in the past, because one of the traffickers came along with the police officer. They told us to get into the car. The police officer himself drove the car while the trafficker sat next to him. They took us to the same place that we had been kept before."

"After leaving us there, the police left, after receiving 2,000 ringgit from the traffickers. There were four traffickers. They kicked us with their boots. Later three more of them arrived with a gun and a metal chain. They hit us, but not on our faces where the injuries could be seen. They also used knuckle-dusters to hit us on our bodies."

"After we were caught again, the price [to leave the gang] went up to 3,000 ringgit. They said that if we did not pay the 3,000, the Thai bosses would cut our legs off as an example to the others... I was concerned so I contacted my home, but they were also in a tight situation in terms of money. So I did not ask for help from them again."

Ordered to beat new arrivals

"There was no way I could pay the money they asked for. So they told me to work for the payment. I agreed and did what they told me to do. After that they did not look after the new arrivals, they just kept them in that big house with just me looking after the new arrivals ... The traffickers gave me a phone, a book, and a ball-point pen. I had to register their names, their destination, and the phone numbers the new arrivals were calling. Those who could pay the money were brought forward first."

"The traffickers first showed me how to deal with the new arrivals. If they could pay 2,500 ringgit they were allowed to make the telephone call. If they could not pay, or if they said they would pay at the end of the month or later, I was told to hit them across their faces. Since they asked me to hit them, I had to do it."

"It was not easy, as I myself had gone through the same fate in the past. But I had to hit them because if I did not do as I was told they would turn against me. So I had to hit them a bit in front of the trafficker. But after the traffickers had left, I would apologize to the new arrivals. I told them that I would have to hit them, kick them, and treat them roughly in front of the traffickers, but that I was not really like that. And I asked them to understand my situation. They understood, as all of us were Burmese."

Original reporting in Burmese by Kyaw Min Htun. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Edited for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.


They are still sending them

READ MORE---> 'I Worked For Human Traffickers'...

Thai Army protest over Burmese Army's shelling

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - The Thai Army has lodged a protest with the Burmese Army over Burmese soldiers firing a mortar into a village in Tak Province of Thailand.

Colonel Phadung Yingpaiboonsuk, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division of the Thai Army and representatives from Thailand of the Thailand-Burma Border Committee in Maesot in the Tak Province border with Myawaddy township of Burma, has submitted a complaint to Major Colonel Thun Lin Aung, the commander of 275th Infantry Division of the Burmese Army protesting against the incident where two Thai soldiers were injured.

The two Thai soldiers are Mag Lanang and Kampanat Ruathongfoo. Both are privates who were on duty in Phadee Village in Pobphra district, close to Maesot when they sustained injures on April 27. A Thai villager, Pha Seu was also injured. Their condition, however, is not serious.

About 200 villagers from Phadee village were temporality sheltered in Roum Thai Wattanaram Monastery to ensure their security, according to a report in the Thailand Public Relation Department website.

Earlier, the Thai Army had submitted a similar complaint to the Burmese Army on April 11 when a mortar fell in Thai territory but so far there is no response from the Burmese Army regarding the incident.

Besides, the Tak Governor, Komsan Ekkachai warned Thai villagers to avoid the battle zone.

The incident occurred following the fighting between the Burmese Army and its ally, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army with the Karen National Liberation Army. These skirmishes always take place in dry season.

The Burmese Army and DKBA have lost a total of 10 soldiers in their bid to capture a Karen National Liberation Army base camp while the KNLA lost two soldiers, including Colonel Saw Jay and had to contend with three soldiers injured in the past 16 days.

The Burmese troops suffered almost 40 casualties, because of landmines and booby traps planted by the KNLA in the past two weeks during which they laid siege to the camp, known as Wah Lay Kee. The base is home to the sixth brigade’s 201st battalion and is about an hour’s drive south of Mae Sot. Wah Lay Kee was lost for a couple of days at the end of June last year, but reclaimed quickly. It has been lost once again this time.

The Burmese Army has burnt down several buildings of the Wah Lay Kee camp after they captured the base.

Thailand’s 3rd Army has positioned its troops along the border for security reasons. The situation of refugee from Burma is not known.

READ MORE---> Thai Army protest over Burmese Army's shelling...

WFP attempts to change salty lands to paddy fields in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan Press): The World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations is attempting to change salty stretches to paddy growing fields for the benefit of villagers in Maungdaw Township since April 20, said a local trader on condition of anonymity.

There are about 1,000 acres of salty land in Sara Auk Village of Maungdaw Township where paddy cannot be grown. As a result, the WFP has taken the initiative to change this land to paddy growing land. WFP with the help of nearby villagers is building a dam around the land to stop saline water coming in.

Every day, about 200 to 250 villagers go to the work site to build the dam around the land. Villagers estimate that it will be take at least 15 days to complete the dam.

If the project is completed successfully, WFP will provide about 1,200 rice bags (50 kg bag) to the villagers who are participating in the dam building.

If the project succeeds, many villagers will benefit from the land, said a local schoolteacher.

However, on April 28, a group of soldiers, who are erecting fencing on the Burma-Bangladesh border, came to the work site while the villagers were working and took away all 200 villagers to work in their project for erecting fences in the border area.

After working the whole day at the army work site, the villagers were released with a payment of Kyat 6,000 only. The daily labour wage is Kyat 2,000 in the open market. So, villagers should have got Kyat 400,000 from the army. But, one villager received Kyat 30 for a day. Kyat 30 is nothing in Burma, because a cup of tea costs over Kyat 100, said a villager who was among the forced labour.

A village elder said, “There are many other villagers, if the army wanted labourers. Why do they take away villagers who are working on the dam? It is intentional harassment of the WFP authority.

READ MORE---> WFP attempts to change salty lands to paddy fields in Maungdaw...

NLD Sets Conditions for Election Participation

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy has set three conditions for participation in the 2010 general election—the unconditional release of all political prisoners, amendment of any provisions in the 2008 constitution “not in accord with the democratic principles” and an all-inclusive free and fair poll under international supervision.

The conditions were agreed on at a two-day special national party meeting that ended in Rangoon on Wednesday.

The NLD said in a concluding “Shwegondaing Declaration” that it would also have to study the election law and party registration law before deciding whether to participate in the planned 2010 poll.

The NLD nevertheless accepted that elections were a landmark on the country’s journey to democracy, the statement said.

“At present, the ball is in their court and we have to wait and see their response,” NLD leader Win Tin told reporters after the meeting. “The NLD will not drop out of the political game.”

Observers who read the three-page declaration said the NLD’s conditions had not differed from policies already adopted before the meeting and rejected by the junta—the release of political prisoners, a review of the constitution, genuine dialogue to resolve Burma’s crisis and recognition of the 1990 election result.

“I do not think the Shwegondaing Declaration is any different from the NLD’s previous stance,” said Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for New Society, based in exile.

Two conditions—the release of political prisoners and amendment of the constitution—were quite sensitive for the junta to consider, however, he said.

Since the junta announced that its constitution had been approved in a 2008 referendum, it has rejected any possibility of amending the constitution, which reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for military officers and grants the military permanent leading role in Burmese politics.

Junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe said on Burma’s Armed Forces Day in March declared that it was “necessary to refrain completely from undermining the Constitution that has been adopted by the people.”

On the question of political prisoners, the junta often denies it is holding any. The country has a known number of more than 2,100 political prisoners, however, and the number of arrested dissidents has doubled since August 2007.

In late 2008 and early 2009, thousands of prisoners were granted amnesty, but only a few political prisoners were among them.

Although the junta is not expected to agree on the NLD’s conditions for joining the 2010 election, the international community’s approach is quite similar to the NLD’s.

The Council of the European Union (EU) said on April 27 that the political and socio-economic challenges in Burma “can only be addressed through genuine dialogue with all stakeholders, including ethnic groups.”

The EU Council called for the release of all political prisoners and detainees in Burma, including NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi as well as a credible, transparent and inclusive process in the 2010 elections.

The US policy on Burma is similar to the EU’s. Robert Wood, a US State Department spokesman, said on March 24 that the US was disappointed that the Burmese regime continues to ignore the calls of the international community, including the UN Security Council, to release political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.

“We once again urge the Burmese authorities to release all political prisoners and initiate a genuine dialogue that can help move the country forward,” he said.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, currently chaired by Thailand, also called for the release of Burmese political prisoners and an all-inclusive political process at its 14th summit on February 27- March 1.

Win Min, a Burmese analyst in Thailand, said the NLD declaration was quite practical because it included the party’s position on the 2010 elections.

“Now the NLD started talking about its stand on the election. Now they have strategy for the election. So we can say they are pragmatic,” he said.

READ MORE---> NLD Sets Conditions for Election Participation...

Burma Named Worst Online Oppressor


Burma is the worst violator of Internet freedom of speech rights in the world, says a leading media watchdog group.

World Press Freedom Day this year is Monday, the day the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) officially names the world's worst Internet oppressor, which is recognized as an emerging threat to freedom of speech and the press worldwide.

"Burma leads the dishonor roll," said the CPJ in its report. "Booming online cultures in many Asian and Middle East nations have led to aggressive government repression."

With a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material on the Internet, Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger, the CPJ said in the report "10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger."

The CPJ said that bloggers and online journalists were the single largest professional group unjustly imprisoned in 2008, overtaking print and broadcast journalists for the first time.

China and Vietnam, where burgeoning blogging cultures have encountered extensive monitoring and restrictions, are among Asia’s worst blogging nations, said the report.

Relying on a mix of detentions, regulations and intimidation, authorities in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Egypt have emerged as the leading online oppressors in the Middle East and North Africa.

Cuba and Turkmenistan, nations where Internet access is heavily restricted, round out the dishonor roll on the CPJ list.

Along with censorship and restrictions on print and broadcast media, Burma has applied extensive restrictions on blogging and other Internet activity, the CPJ said.

According to the Internet research group OpenNet Initiative, private Internet penetration in Burma is only about 1 percent and most citizens access the Internet in cybercafés where military authorities heavily regulate activities.

The government, which shut down the Internet altogether during a popular uprising led by Buddhist monks in 2007, has the capability to monitor e-mail and other communication methods and to block users from viewing Web sites of political opposition groups.

At least two Burmese bloggers are now serving long prison sentences.

Blogger Maung Thura, popularly known as Zarganar, is serving a 35-year prison term for disseminating video footage after Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Nay Phone Latt, 28, is serving eight years and six months in Hpa-an Prison in Karen State for infringement of several acts governing computer use.

READ MORE---> Burma Named Worst Online Oppressor...

Thai Ex-diplomat: He Urged Ban on Burma’s Asean Membership


Former Thai ambassador to Burma Poksak Nilubol has disclosed in a book titled “Understanding Burma” that his government rejected in 1996 a memo he wrote opposing Burma’s admittance to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Poksak, who wrote the book in collaboration with a former director-general of the Thai Foreign Ministry’s East Asia Department, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday: “When I made a report to the Thai Foreign Office in July 1996, it didn’t just ignore my memo but rejected it.”

Poksak served as Thailand’s ambassador to Burma in Rangoon from late 1994 to the beginning of 1998. During his time in Rangoon, he met opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with the approval of the Thai government, which reportedly wanted to expand its ties not only with the Burmese government but with the opposition.

The meeting upset the Burmese regime, which pressed for Poksak’s recall. Poksak claimed that during his time in Rangoon he was monitored by intelligence officers.

In his book, Poksak said that other Asean members had also rejected his stand on Burma’s membership of Asean, fearing that if Burma were excluded it would push the country closer to China.

A report on Poksak’s book carried by the Bangkok English-language daily The Nation said the former diplomat warned that a trouble-wracked Burma would continue to cause problems for Thailand because of illegal migrants, human smuggling, border insurgency and illicit drugs.

Poksak charged that Thai politicians and military leaders alike misunderstood Burma. “I don’t think that Thai politicians and military leaders know and understand Burma,” he said.

Poksak said his book also described the influence the renowned soothsayer E Thi had over Thai politicians and Burmese military leaders, who sought advice from the disabled Burmese woman credited with supernatural powers.

READ MORE---> Thai Ex-diplomat: He Urged Ban on Burma’s Asean Membership...

US Will Not Lift Sanctions on Burma


The United States is not considering lifting sanctions against Burma as part of a review of policy toward the military government, Agencie France Presse (AFP) reported on Wednesday, quoting a letter by a State Department official.

Richard Verma, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs who handles relations between the State Department and Congress, wrote a letter to Republican Congressman Peter King saying reports that the US would lift sanctions were "incorrect."

According to the AFP, Verma said: "The sanctions that the United States and other countries maintain against the regime are an important part of our efforts to support change in Burma."

"While we are currently reviewing our Burma policy, we can assure you that we remain committed to delivering a firm message on the need for real reform, including the initiation of a credible and inclusive dialogue with the democratic opposition and the release of political prisoners," Verma said.

During her visit to Asia in February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the United States was reviewing its policy of sanctions against Burma's government.

"Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn't influenced the Burmese junta," she said, adding that the route taken by Burma's neighbors of "reaching out and trying to engage them has not influenced them, either."

Her comments triggered an intense debate about what policy approach toward Burma might prove most effective.

In March, Stephen Blake, the department's director of Mainland Southeast Asian Affairs, flew to Burma's capital of Naypyidaw and met with Foreign Minister Nyan Win, as the administration of US President Barack Obama continued to review the Burma policy of former President George W. Bush.

In July 2008, the US signed into law the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act 2008. The act has three aims: to impose new financial sanctions and travel restrictions on the leaders of the junta and their associates; to tighten the economic sanctions imposed in 2003 by outlawing the importation of Burmese gems to the US; and to create a new position of “US Special Representative and Policy Coordinator for Burma.”

Recently, the European Union (EU) renewed its economic sanctions on Burma for one more year, during a foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg.

The EU said it would continue to work to establish an open dialogue with Burma’s ruling generals. It also called for the junta to conduct a genuine dialogue with opposition and ethnic groups.

READ MORE---> US Will Not Lift Sanctions on Burma...

Cyclone survivors left to their own devices

by Celeste Chenard

‘Postcard from the Irrawaddy Delta’

Travelling from Rangoon and in the south west direction, less than two hours by car is necessary to realize the extent of damage caused by Cyclone Nargis where more than 138,000 were killed or missing, one year after its passage. But it is by meeting the survivors in the Irrawaddy Delta that one can really realize to what extent the population has been completely forsaken.

That’s perhaps the reason why, in some remote villages, the inhabitants are eager to talk. For all of them, before they had rarely seen the visit of a foreigner.

Most people also have never been interviewed by a journalist; it was their first occasion after Nargis to express their concerns about their situation.

Surprisingly and somehow because they have nothing more to lose, they talked in an outspoken way about their poor livelihood or their resentment against the government.

When asked about their first need today, just one year after the cyclone, all the villagers interviewed had the same answer: housing.

Rehabilitation efforts are indeed the first preoccupation of the inhabitants of the devastated region, especially a few weeks before the start of the rainy season.

The reconstruction phase is still underway and in some villages it is far from being achieved: fallen trees are still obstructing roads or gardens, UNICEF or USAID tarpaulin sheets are still covering most of the roofs or walls of the houses, and construction materials are lying on the ground waiting to be used for new constructions.

You can see in each village men working at fixing roofs, rebuilding collapsed schools, pagodas or monasteries. Meanwhile thousands of families are still living in temporary shelters waiting for their new house to be built.

So why is the reconstruction process taking so much time? Where are the barriers? Who bridles the process while rehabilitation efforts, including rebuilding homes and reestablishing livelihoods, education, and health infrastructure are urgently needed?

In most of the villages one visited the last aid received was around two months ago and for most of them, it was a sole bag of rice. This fact raises serious concerns about the aid supplies which are barely still ongoing, particularly in the remote places.

In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, international donors have been very active in providing emergency measures, despite the first limitations imposed by the junta, but what about the mid-term recovery process?

Moreover, just by visiting different villages, one can see an obvious unequal distribution of aid between villages.

In the villages near the main agglomeration or near the highways, the reconstruction is going well. Even if the situation of the population is still precarious, they have rebuilt houses, and infrastructures are coming back to normal.

However in some remote places, nothing was done. Some villages hadn’t received aid not only from the government, but also from UN agencies. No NGOs have reached there yet.

Kan Chung village, part of the Ma Ngay Gyi village group in Bogalay Division, is a good example of totally forsaken villages the more badly hit by the cyclone, but also provided with less supply of aid relief.

In that village group, around 1,000 families used to live and 700 houses were demolished totally. In total, around 200 people died in the village and 300 are missing.

On June 1, children of Kan Chung village will go back to school in their still partly-destroyed school, patched up with the materials the villagers could find, and with “roofs” made of tarpaulins full of holes.

In a village group located in the same division, seven miles from Bogalay, the children are luckier, they will go back to school in an almost finished house built thanks to private local donors.

This gap between areas in the recovery effort can be explained by the government’s pretence of high involvement in the rehabilitation efforts. This reflects a serious breach of trust by the government in such a natural and human disaster.

These targeted investments in some highlighted places may be linked to a shameful dual politics of interests.

On the one hand, in the context of the 2010 elections, the junta needs to shows to the delta population its “involvement” in the recovery process. The propaganda efforts of the junta, especially with the ensuing 2010 elections are indeed increasing. But does the junta still think it can make a good impression? Let’s be realistic, no one is blind, neither the international community, nor the Burmese people who are the first witness and victims of the government.

On the other hand, economical interest always prevails, and the delta region it is not the more appropriate or interesting place to inject money for the government. It is a remote area with tourist spots and part of it is inhabited by Karen “rebels”. So why put money in the rehabilitation of that area? Instead it is worthier for the regime to invest in the renovation of the Naypyitaw airport in Burma's new jungle capital to international standards where transportation and communication facilities will be upgraded to facilitate the travel of military rulers to their homes.

A recovery plan prepared by the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), the United Nations in Myanmar and the Government of the Union of Myanmar, says that $US 690 million is needed from the international community over the next three years to restore people's lives back to what it was before the cyclone.

It is clear that new funding and a period of three years are needed for a return to normal in the region. But the question is why already one year has been spent without a proper recovery action plan?

Actually, the population of the delta is far from thinking about full recovery, they just think about having a proper house, enough food to have at least two meals a day, and accessible drinking water.

If life in military-ruled Burma has always been (Nargis or not) a question of surviving, it is not the reason to forsake the population.

READ MORE---> Cyclone survivors left to their own devices...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Burma’s Own Potemkin Village

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON — Nearly half the inhabitants of the village of Thayet Thone Bin died in Cyclone Nargis, but lucky survivors had double reason to thank their own good fortune. Burma’s Energy Minister, Brig-Gen Lun Thi, was born there—and his patronage appears to have guaranteed the village special attention in the post-cyclone relief and reconstruction effort.

Twenty new houses, a school and a library were built amid the ruins. Five mechanical plows, four fishing boats, water-purification equipment, two pumps and a community TV set were delivered to the village.

Relief teams were accompanied by TV crews, who created a propaganda success story reminiscent of the fake Potemkin settlements reputedly built to fool the Russian empress Catherine II during a visit to the Crimea in 1787.

Thayet Thone Bin, in Kunchankone Township, became such a showpiece that it served as the background for other TV reports about the success of the cyclone relief effort. Road signs at the entrance to the village were replaced by others bearing other names in a bid to show that villages throughout the region were also recovering well.

"Our village has become a kind of film studio,” said one woman. “People filmed for the TV reports are given new clothes to wear in front of the cameras. Soldiers are based here and are filmed helping us in the fields. We’re even filmed reading at the new library and watching the community TV.”

Apart from infrastructure assistance, the people of Thayet Thone Bin have received only basic relief items and are living on handouts of rice.

Daw Mya Mya has received two blankets, a mosquito net, a set of cooking utensils, a rain-water container and some other items. She has no money and says she might have to sell her relief supplies at the local market in order to raise cash for the merit-making ceremonies so important to Burma’s Buddhists.

The ceremonies involve making donations to local monasteries and monks to ensure peace for the souls of departed family members. The tradition is so strong that families often make severe financial sacrifices in order to make merit for dead loved ones.

One 60-year-old who goes by the name of Grandpa Nyo is so short of money that he is asking friends to contribute to his merit-making ceremonies on the first anniversary of the cyclone deaths of his two sons.

“I couldn’t afford to pay for their funerals, so I’d like now to make some offering to the monks on the first anniversary of their deaths,” he said.

His two sons, aged 30 and 14, died when their fishing boat sank in the cyclone.

Grandpa Nyo’s 50-year-old wife explained that merit-making ceremonies were necessary to assure the souls of their dead sons peace and a return to a better life.

The couple’s home was flattened by the cyclone and they live now under the tarpaulin roof of a makeshift hut in Rangoon Division’s Kun Chan Kone Township. Their daughter supports them with the income she receives from selling lottery tickets.

Ko Kyaw Khin and Ma Pyone Pyone Yi, who live in the Irrawaddy delta’s Dadeye Township are also saving money for merit-making ceremonies for their mother and daughter, victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Their family lost their fishing boat and its nets in the cyclone. Relief agencies gave them a replacement boat but no nets. Now they fish in cooperation with a family owning nets, but the meager income has to be shared. Their predicament is reportedly a common problem in fishing communities struggling to recover from the effects of the cyclone.

The importance of making merit on the first anniversary of the cyclone and the death of family members is forcing many survivors to overcome their resistance to returning to their devastated villages,

Ko Zaw Zaw left Padauk Kone village in Labutta Township for Rangoon after the cyclone destroyed his livelihood in the fishing industry. His father died in the cyclone, and he is forcing himself to face the pain of returning home in order to make merit.

“My younger brother, who still lives in the village, believes my father’s spirit cannot be released until we have made merit,” he said. “We couldn't do it after three months, nor after six months. But I will definitely do it on the first anniversary of his death.”

His determination to make merit, whatever the cost, is shared by a farmer who lost his sister in the cyclone. Most of his land was spoilt by sea water, reducing paddy yields by 75 percent, and he owes money to the bank. Nevertheless, he is putting money aside for merit-making.

READ MORE---> Burma’s Own Potemkin Village...

Junta meets leaders of ethnic ceasefire groups

by Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) – In a renewed effort to persuade ceasefire armed groups to join them, Burma’s military junta on Tuesday met with six Sino-Burmese border based ethnic armed ceasefire groups.

The junta’s Military Affairs Security (MAS) Chief Maj. Gen. Ye Myint and regional command commanders met ethnic leaders of six ceasefire groups on Tuesday, separately at the same time in their respective regions.

Northern Command Commander Maj. Gen. Soe Win met 'Kachin Independence Organization' (KIO) and the 'New Democratic Army' (Kachin) – (NDA-K) from Kachin State at its command HQ in Myitkyina, separately in the morning and evening respectively, political and military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw, based on the Sino-Burma border told Mizzima.

The ceasefire groups from Shan State (North) namely 'United Wa State Solidarity Party' (UWSP), 'Shan State Army (North) (SSA-N), 'Myanmar National Democratic Allied Army' (MNDAA) and 'National Democratic Allied Army' (NDAA) met MAS Chief Maj. Gen. Ye Myint and the Northeast Command Commander separately.

The UWSP held its meeting in Tangyan, Shan State (North) and the 171st Military Region met in Kengtung, eastern Shan State separately. Aung Kyaw Zaw said that it was unusual and significant to see the UWSP meeting in Tangyan, rather than the usual venue of Lashio.

"The Northern Command Commander was due to meet KIA on April 28 in the morning at about 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. The Zakhung Teng Ying group will meet at about 1:30 p.m. As for the Northeast Command, the Command Commander will meet SSA-N at Ruili Guesthouse in Lashio and Laokaing Region Commander Brig. Gen. Win Maung will meet the Kokang group in Laokaing in the evening," he said.

Maj. Gen. Ye Myint met the most powerful ceasefire group UWSA, in Tangyang in the morning and met the 171st military region in southern Wa State and arranged to meet NDAA in Kengtung, it was learnt.

The junta informed these ceasefire groups in advance to bring the military commanders of their groups along with their leaders.
(JEG's: the junta gave them an order :) )

Aung Kyaw Zaw said that it had been suggested that the discussions between them would focus on military affairs before the ensuing 2010 elections and there would be no concrete results from these meetings. These ceasefire groups would continue in keeping with their own plans in the meantime.

The speeches delivered at the functions by their respective leaders revealed that the ceasefire groups were unlikely to accept being disarming and reorganization of their forces. The unilaterally drafted and approved 2008 Constitution was also totally unacceptable to them.

They would discuss only the general issue of reorganizing the ethnic armed forces as border security and administrative forces under the respective military commands. This is one step lower than the junta's previous demand of laying down arms. The conclusion drawn from the non-existence of open confrontation by the ceasefire groups against the junta, that they would do whatever the junta said, is totally wrong, Aung Kyaw Zaw said.

"It is likely that some leaders will be alienated from their respective organizations and they will enter politics by forming a political party. Some would be with their forces and it is unlikely that they will surrender their forces to the junta within 1 or 2 years. Some organizations such as KDA and Zakhung Teng Ying would do such a thing. But I do not think other organizations would do any such thing," he said.

Some leaders from ethnic Kachin armed groups in Kachin State are planning to form a Kachin State Progressive Party and those who join this party must resign from their mother organizations.

The current meetings suggest the dilemma among them. For the ceasefire groups, reigniting armed resistance at this moment is both impractical and impossible.

The ceasefire groups were unavailable for comment.

READ MORE---> Junta meets leaders of ethnic ceasefire groups...

NLD sets pre-conditions for role in elections

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma’s main opposition party – the National League for Democracy – on Wednesday said it was willing to contest the forthcoming 2010 elections if the military regime releases political prisoners, and makes proper amendments to its Constitution.

Nyan Win, the NLD spokesperson, said the party would decide on contesting the 2010 elections only if the government unconditionally released political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Tin Oo Khun Tun Oo, Sai Nyunt Lwin, Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, and reviewed and amended the 2008 Constitution.

“We reiterate our call to the junta to amend the Constitution and for the release of political prisoners, and then we will decide on contesting the 2010 elections,” Nyan Win told Mizzima.

The NLD voiced its stand in the “Shwegonedine Declaration” released on Wednesday, at the conclusion of a two-day plenary meeting between party leaders in Rangoon on April 28 and 29.

The NLD, which won a landslide victory in the last general elections in 1990, said so far they had not prepared for the ensuing elections, but would do so once the government responded to their request of reviewing the Constitution and amending the contents that were undemocratic.

“These points are the pre-conditions for us to be able to contest the elections,” Nyan Win added.

The party also called on Junta supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe to embark on a dialogue with detained opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Burma’s ruling military junta, as part of its seven-step roadmap, approved a new Constitution in a referendum in May 2008 and declared it would hold a general election in 2010.

However, the opposition, including the NLD have said, the junta’s Constitution was drafted unilaterally and does not reflect the peoples’ aspirations. The NLD has called for a review of the Constitution and the amendment of its contents.

But a few critics have said, the NLD should realize that it needs to take a clear-cut stand on the junta’s proposed 2010 elections, as the current stand could confuse the people.

Aung Naing Oo, a Thailand-based Burmese political analyst, said, the NLD should take a clear stand on whether they would contest the 2010 elections, because having no clear stand reduces their credibility.

Aung Naing Oo said, “If the NLD considers itself a revolutionary group, then they should clearly reject the junta’s elections on grounds that it would be manipulated, but if they consider themselves a political party, it would be wise for them to contest the elections.”

But, with the junta not wanting the NLD to take part in the election, the party’s pre-conditions for joining the elections could be serving the junta’s interest, as the junta was unlikely to fulfill them, Aung Naing Oo added.

“The junta would obviously prefer not having the opposition contesting the elections. So the NLD’s current stand of demanding pre-conditions could be serving the junta’s interests,” he said.

But Nyo Ohn Myint, in-charge of the exiled NLD-Liberated Area’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said going ahead without the NLD would put a big question mark on the junta’s legitimacy, as the NLD was the legitimate winner of the 1990 elections.

“The junta would lack legitimacy, if the NLD does not contest the elections,” he said.

He said, the NLD was clear in its stand in setting pre-conditions before it could decide on joining the elections, as there was no guarantee that the junta would honour the election results.

“Without all these pre-conditions, nobody can assure that the junta will honour the election results just like they did not in the 1990 elections,” he said.

He said, with the NLD declaring their pre-conditions, it was only fair to give some space and time to the junta to think it over before the NLD could make another move by declaring their stand on the elections – to reject or to contest.

Aung Shwe, NLD’s Chairman, in his opening speech on Tuesday urged NLD members to brainstorm on the junta’s elections and to decide what the party should do.

Nyan Win said, the two-day meeting at the party headquarters in Rangoon’s Shwegonedine had been crucial as they were able to come up with a unified stand. He said, it was the fifth such meeting that the NLD had been able to hold in the past 20 years.

READ MORE---> NLD sets pre-conditions for role in elections...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Junta resumes pressure on Wa, allies

(SHAN) -Following the 20th anniversary of “peace construction” between the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and Burma’s ruling military council, which was marked with great pomp and fanfare on 17 April, a new round of meeting between the two have begun, according to a source close to the Wa authority.

Xiao Minliang, Vice President of the “Wa Government,” leading a 20-member delegation, left for Tangyan during the weekend to meet Lt-Gen Ye Myint, chief negotiator for the junta.

“The main issue would likely be the standing 3 point demand by the Burmese military,” he said.

The 3 points are:
• To surrender
• Or to become an auxiliary force under the Tatmadaw
• For elderly leaders to retire and establish a political party to contest the 2010 elections

The Wa already have the United Wa State Party (UWSP). Its leader Bao Youxiang is wearing 3 different hats:
• President, Government of Wa State
• Secretary General, United Wa State Party (UWSP)
• Commander in Chief, United Wa State Army (UWSA)

“What will be interesting is how the delegates are going to respond to Ye Myint’s query,” said an observer.

Bao Youxiang

The Wa have so far yet to say Yes or No to the demand. “The marathon (National Convention) starting in 1993 has lasted for more than ten years. Wa authorities have not failed to send delegations to attend during all those years. Our deputies have clearly expressed our position which is the Wa region requests to be granted autonomy with district or state status. GUM (Government of Union of Myanmar) has finally enfranchised Wa ethnic region the status of an autonomous prefecture, which doesn’t fully satisfy our request. To enhance the democratic process of our country and sufficiently reflect ethnic reconciliation, we will continue our dialogue and negotiate with GUM to solve the problem and we believe we can solve the problem through dialogue,” Bao said in his speech on 17 April.

Apparently for the same purpose, leaders of the Shan State Army (SSA) North, “our closet ally outside the United Front” according to the Wa, are also gathering at their Hseng Keow base in Hsipaw township.

“We’ve also been notified by Kengtung to be ready with our own answers,” said a source from the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), a member of the Wa led Peace and Democracy Front (PDF), headed by Sai Leun aka Lin Mingxian.

All have so far been resisting Naypyitaw’s pressure either to surrender or become auxiliaries to the Tatmadaw and enter the planned elections.

READ MORE---> Junta resumes pressure on Wa, allies...

Sittwe Residents Suffer Water Shortage

Sittwe (Narinjara): Residents in Sittwe have been suffering from a shortage of water supplied by the municipality since the beginning of summer, said Daw Hla Tin, a leader in Rupa Wra Ward in Sittwe.

"We are now facing a critical condition with the shortage of water. We receive water for only two hours every four days, and it is distributed to all the households in Sittwe by the Municipal authority. It is a big problem for everyone in Sittwe because the supply of water is insufficient for all the people in our city," said Daw Hla. In Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, there is a single reservoir pond named Kandawgyi that supplies water to the city. The reservoir was built by the British government in 1906 to supply water to the approximately 20,000 residents living in Sittwe at the time.

"As water is short in the pond, the officials reduced the number of times the water is supplied to the town. The pond is now unable to store water for all the people in our city because the population in Sittwe is now over 300,000. We people have to face such a water shortage problem every summer," Daw Hla added.

According to a local resident, many remote wards in Sittwe, including Kyi Pru Wra, Min Gan, Sat Rokya, Nazi Wra, and San Pya, have not received any water since summer started in Arakan.

A young girl from Min Gan said, "I heard water in Kandawgyi is short and the authority has saved water by decreasing the number of times water is supplied. Since then, people in our ward have not been receiving water. Now we use water from tube wells and well waters."

Women in some wards in Sittwe have to line up with water pots every day in the early morning near their local water wells to carry water to home for daily use.

A source from Sittwe said that due to the water shortage, some children from Kyi Pru Wra and Min Ga Wards are suffering from diarrhea but their families can not afford to take them to the hospital for treatment.

The Burmese military authority is aware of the water shortage that happens every summer in Sittwe, but has never tried to make upgrades to help meet the residents' water needs. Arakan State receives over 120 inches of rain every year during the rainy season, but due to poor infrastructure the state faces a water shortage every year during the dry season.

READ MORE---> Sittwe Residents Suffer Water Shortage...

Karen group urge end to international support of junta

(DVB)–Burma’s main armed opposition group has urged the international community not to support the military government after denouncing the junta for pursuing the proposed 2010 election.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Karen National Union labeled the elections unfair due to the number of political prisoners, lack of press freedom and lack of freedom of expression in Burma.

The government had ignored pleas from the United Nations and pro-democracy groups and will go ahead with the election, it said.

“Twenty-five per cent of the representatives of the army will be in the parliament,” said KNU vice-chairman David Thackrabaw.

“Moreover, the army's puppet organizations and political parties will be representatives.”

He added that the judicial department would have no freedom under the new constitution.

"As the constitution itself is wrong, the emerging government will be a military government wearing the skin of civilians,” he said.

“Human rights violations and injustices will continue to exist like that of a dictatorial system."

The KNU have denounced the rash ratification of the new constitution by the military government, which was signed last year only a few weeks after cyclone Nargis hit.

The statement also pointed out the fact that the constitution does not allow the traditions and customs of ethnic national groups.

Reporting by Nay Htoo

READ MORE---> Karen group urge end to international support of junta...

NLD Meets on 2010 Election

The Irrawaddy News

RANGOON (AP)— Burma's military government tightened security as the country's pro-democracy party of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi gathered Tuesday to discuss political issues including next year's planned election.

Attendees will consider proposals for the 2010 elections, but might not decide about whether to take part, party spokesman Nyan Win said.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy maintains that the polling will take place under a constitution aimed at ensuring the military's domination of politics. The document also has clauses that bar Suu Kyi from office.

The party has repeatedly urged the government to review the military-backed constitution, saying it was "approved by force" in a referendum last year.

About 100 party members from various parts of the country registered at the party headquarters Monday to attend the two-day meeting, Nyan Win said. They include elected candidates of the last general election in 1990 whose results were annulled by the military.

"We will discuss party organizational activities, prevailing political conditions, and the constitution. We will also discuss and exchange views on the elections," Nyan Win said.

Police were deployed near party headquarters Monday while dozens of plainclothes policemen watched the building from across the street and a convoy of four to seven trucks carrying anti-riot police cruised the city.

Burma's military, which has held power since 1962, tolerates little dissent. The current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising and has stepped up its campaign against opposition politicians and activists ahead of next year's polls.

READ MORE---> NLD Meets on 2010 Election...

Burmese Army, DKBA lose 10 soldiers

by Daniel Pedersen

Mae Sot (Mizzima) - The Burmese Army and its ally, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, have lost a total of 10 soldiers in their bid to capture a Karen National Liberation Army base camp south of the border town of Mae Sot.

On Monday five soldiers of Burma’s ruling military regime, the State Peace and Development Council were maimed by exploding landmines.

Two KNLA soldiers have been killed and three injured in the past 16 days, including a Colonel, Saw Jay.

Naypidaw’s forces have suffered almost 40 casualties, because of landmines and booby traps, in the past 16 days during which they laid siege to the camp, known as Wah Lay Kee.

The base is home to the sixth brigade’s 201st battalion and is about an hour’s drive south of Mae Sot.

A senior KNLA commander this morning said fighting continued throughout the day on Monday. Today much the same is expected.

The Burmese Army is now hugging the Thai border, in a bid to launch a fresh offensive against the main camp from the rear.

But the camp is so close to the Thai border it seems increasingly likely that Thailand’s sovereignty will be breached by troops of its neighbour.

The KNLA is fighting desperately to hold on to the camp.

The commander said the situation was “very difficult” and there did not seem to be much likelihood of a break in the fighting.

The past 16 days have been marked by lulls, but regular sorties against the main base camp appear part of a concerted effort to take the camp.

Wah Lay Kee was lost for a couple of days at the end of June last year, but reclaimed quickly.

READ MORE---> Burmese Army, DKBA lose 10 soldiers...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nasaka loots goods from market in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan Press): Burma’s border security force, Nasaka, has been looting goods from Amina Bazaar (market) of Maungdaw Township, on every market day (on Tuesdays and Saturdays) from the Rohingya community.

The market is held twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. So, villagers go to the market to sell their goods and to buy things they need for their families.

However, some Nasaka officials accompanied by Natala villagers of Aung Mangala village, went to the market and collected all kinds of vegetables, onions, garlic, oil, fish, meat, betel leaves and betel nuts, peas, and other things from the Bazaar.

The Nasaka personnel are from Aung Mangala Nasaka out post, which is under the Nasaka Headquarters. Regarding the matter, no action will be taken, if the villagers complain to the concerned authorities. So, the Nasaka loots goods from the market regularly on market days.

After collecting the goods, the Nasaka divides it and gives some of it to Natala villagers and the rest are usually taken by Nasaka personnel. If the stolen goods are in excess, they sell it to the villagers again.

The local people are unwilling to pay for goods to the Nasaka and Natala villagers, but the Nasaka officials force the villagers to pay for these goods.

Villagers often have to become sources for the Nasaka, police and the army in order to earn their living, a village elder said, on condition of anonymity.

READ MORE---> Nasaka loots goods from market in Maungdaw...

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