Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lawyer in ILO case harassed by authorities - Pho Phyu

(DVB)–Lawyer Pho Phyu, who is well known for representing political activists, has complained of being harassed by local authorities when he went to Nat Mauk township to attend a court hearing.

The case involved farmers who were arrested after reporting land confiscation by the military to the International Labour Organisation.

Pho Phyu said he was denied guest registration on arrival in the Magwe town on 1 January and was pressured by authorities when he tried to check into a guest house.

Later that evening, while he was waiting for a bus to go back to Rangoon, a group of local government officials led by Magwe police station 1 chief Kyu Aye apprehended Pho Phyu.

They took him to the local Ward Peace and Development Council office and questioned him while they went through his belongings and case files.

"I was waiting for a bus and at around 11.30pm, Kyu Aye and some police officers arrived on motorbikes. They said they had suspicions about me and took me to the WPDC office," Pho Phyu said.

"When we got to the office, they started looking in my bags claiming I might be carrying explosives," he said.

"I told Kyu Aye that they needed proper paperwork to search my belongings and also that they didn't have the authority to look at my case files as they contain information that is between me and my clients.

"He said he didn't care and told me he could sue me for disturbing a government official on duty."

He said Kyu Aye had also taken a report he was preparing entitled 'The struggle for human rights in [Burmese] courts', a compilation of testimonials from his clients.

"The report included information about cases relating to the ILO, mainly cases of land confiscation and forced labour," Pho Phyu said.

"They took away the documents under a search warrant and forced me to sign it," he said.

"I explained to him that I had the right to freely consider my cases and legal procedures, but he just said it didn't matter as it was more important for them to be able to bring me to court." Pho Phyu was in Nat Mauk to attend court hearing for his clients Hla Soe of Nat Mauk and Zaw Htay from Aung Lan.

The two men were arrested by authorities on 29 October last year after they filed a report on the confiscation of land from local farmers by the army.

"They did this to me intentionally to disrupt my clients’ court hearing, making it impossible for me to be present or call witnesses," Pho Phyu said.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

READ MORE---> Lawyer in ILO case harassed by authorities - Pho Phyu...

Detained NLD member denied family visits - Tun Tun Naing

(DVB)–Insein township National League for Democracy member Tun Tun Naing has been banned from receiving family visits in Meikhtila prison, where he has been detained since 24 November last year.

Tun Tun Naing was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment in connection with the September 2007 protests.

Aye Aye Thet, Tun Tun Naing’s wife, said he had been banned from receiving visitors for one month.

"Apparently some senior officials came to the prison on Monday to check on sanitation systems and the personal hygiene of the inmates there,” Aye Aye Thet said.

“Most of the inmates did not talk directly to the senior officials but just communicated via the prison officials," she said.

"But he talked to them directly and the prison officials were disappointed in him for doing that, so later in the day, they banned him from receiving prison visits for one month as a punishment for violating prison regulations."

Aye Aye Thet was told she should come back on 5 February.

Tun Tun Naing had previously told his wife he was having trouble maintaining his healthy lifestyle as he was only allowed a short time for walking, and was not given any blankets on cold nights or any kind of container to use for a toilet.

When Aye Aye Thet tried to bring him food, prison officials told her the items she had brought were not allowed.

"I brought some fish sauce and vegetables like cabbage to him as he had asked for them before in a letter he sent me,” Aye Aye Thet explained.

“But the prison officials refused to accept those items for him; they said cabbage was prohibited as it might damage the inmates' health because a lot of insecticides were used in growing them," she said.

"They said instant noodles were also prohibited as the prison had no hot water to give the inmates to prepare them," she continued.

"Instant coffee mix packs bought from outside were not allowed either – only those sold by prison officials were allowed."

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Detained NLD member denied family visits - Tun Tun Naing...

Commodity protestor beaten in Bago prison - Aung Kyaw Oo

(DVB)–Detained commodity protester Aung Kyaw Oo, who has now been sent to the remote Pu-Tao prison, has told his wife he was badly beaten when he arrived in Bago prison on 24 December.

Aung Kyaw Oo is the joint secretary of Taik Gyi township National League for Democracy.

He was sentenced to 13 and a half years’ imprisonment in December 2008 and has now been sent to Pu-Tao prison on the northern edge of Burma in Kachin state.

Aung Kyaw Oo’s wife Aye Aye Maw said her husband had told her about his mistreatment during their last meeting.

"When I met him the last time, he told me he had had a problem with [Bago] prison officials on the day he arrived as he didn't obey their order to sit in a stress position," Aye Aye Maw said.

"All he did was tell them politely that there was no rule in the prison regulations and they started throwing his begs and belongings around," she said.

"Then he told them they would have to pay if they damaged his belongings and they swore at him and beat him up."

Aye Aye Maw said Aung Kyaw Oo was beaten by five wardens, the prison chief and the prison administrator.

"When I went to the prison on 3 January, the prison authorities did not allow me to see him as he was in bad shape,” she said.

“His face was black and blue and he had some minor damage to his ribs. The prison officials told me to come back on 13 [January]."

Aye Aye Maw said she did not find out about her husband's transfer to Pu-Tao until she was told by a family member of a political inmate in Bago prison.

"I called the prison today [Wednesday] and they said they had sent him to the northern edge of Burma," she said.

Aung Kyaw Oo was arrested by authorities on 23 August 2008 and was sentenced to 13 and a half years’ imprisonment on five different charges including sedition.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Commodity protestor beaten in Bago prison - Aung Kyaw Oo...

Withholding of case files hampers ICRC applications

(DVB)–Families of political inmates are having difficulties getting copies of their relatives’ case files, which they need to gain assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross, from courts in Rangoon.

A family member of one political prisoner said the judges had been banned from giving copies of the documents to relatives of the detainees.

"I was told by a judge that they were given orders not to give us copies of the case file documents,” he said.

“We need them in order to get assistance from the ICRC."

A relative of another inmate said Insein prison court had been withholding the case file of another political prisoner.

"The mother of political prisoner Ko Kyi Phyu, who is youth coordinator of the National League for Democracy in North Dagon township, has been having trouble gaining a copy of her son's case file from Insein prison's special court,” he said.

“Now she is unable to get help from the ICRC as she doesn't have the necessary documents."

The ICRC spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

Reporting by Ahunt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> Withholding of case files hampers ICRC applications...

Goodbye cruel 2008 and hello to reality

By Pascal Khoo Thwe

(DVB)–For the majority of people in Burma, 2008 will be remembered as the year an apocalypse by the name of Cyclone Nargis visited their country, and the year the international community headed by the United Nations thoroughly failed them.

But people who are in the position to help, both the ruling generals and powerful nations who could push the generals to help their own people, still pretend that it was only a passing phenomenon that can be ignored. Or is it? You may say I am a cynic but I'm not the only one, though I sincerely wish I were the only one.

When the evil wind struck the Irrawaddy delta in early May, the world was waiting for the arrival of the biggest Olympic Games ever to be held by the biggest nation on earth. The 'great and the good', who always regard Burma as merely a footnote in world history, regarded the disaster there as an inconvenient and uninvited blip from Mother Nature and thought it wise not to do anything which could upset the striding dragon that is China, situated next door.

It wasn't so much the destruction caused by the storm that was most painful for the people affected as the lack of collective political will by the people who were in a position to help which caused the indelible scars on their hearts.

When an Indian meteorological station warned in advance that the storm was heading towards Burma, the state media reacted as if it was merely a seasonal storm that would just skim over the country like a breeze over a lake, and the junta made no serious effort to forewarn or make systematic preparations to protect the people.

As soon as the cyclone struck, Burmese soldiers were ordered to stay in their bases until the worst was over. Not a single general was to be seen on the television or anywhere near the disaster zones for many days.

It makes sense for the generals not to help the people in need because the junta has never been interested in improving the lives of the people in the slightest, but only in holding on to power whatever happens. The more people the storm killed, the better for the generals as no one could blame them for it and they could seize the prime lands of the people who perished. Among those who perished were many Karen people whom successive military regimes had been trying to wipe out – in various ways and many times – from the region. When Indian, French and US warships rushed towards Burmese waters to help the survivors, the junta refused them permission to come ashore to help those stranded in remote regions.

Foreign governments, 'urged', 'denounced', 'condemned' and 'demanded' that the generals take action but no concerted efforts were made to push the junta where it matters, and the blame was thrown back on people who pointed out that effective help could be given, leaving potential donors and helpers confused at best. Politicians have many 'critical' words to say when they are not keen to help – with an undertone of blame on the people of Burma for the existence of military regime to boot.

While it was estimated that around 80,000 people had died and 50,000 were still missing after more than a week, western governments and donors were still arguing as to how to help the victims without infringing the 'national sovereignty' of Burma, and the UN admitted it hadn't a clue how bad things were. It was like watching a school bully taunt a slowly starving boy with food while another bully grabs the boy’s throat. The mental cruelty inflicted on the surviving victims was so painfully comical that it was hard not to laugh.

The UN knew perfectly well that the junta would accept aid only on its own terms, refusing to allow foreign humanitarian workers into the country and insisting – despite having little experience in the area – on distributing aid itself. As usual, it opted to pursue a ‘wait and see’ policy and diplomatise while hundreds of people were dying day by day, instead of taking decisive action – either to negotiate with or to overrule the junta – to save lives.

While world leaders were arguing with aid organisations, a major-general Karel Vervoort, former head of Training and Support Command in the Belgian Air Force, revealed that life-saving parcels could bring instant relief if the will was there.

His 'revelation', published in a reputable British newspaper, the Independent, on 18 May, was particularly critical to the UN, to the say the least. He insisted that there was a way of distributing aid from the air in small packages containing food, water and medicines, which could be scattered widely, minimising the chances of them being monopolised and misused, similar to a system known as 'Snowdrop' conceived by a man named Geoff Woodford. After 10 years of tests and investment, it was declared ‘operational’ in the Belgian Air Force by the Minister of Defence. Vervoort argued that if the food arsenals had been in place, aid could have been dropped within 24 hours of the cyclone. He added that many actual ‘experts’ did not even know of its existence at the time.

He also pointed out that there had been a dispute over the ownership of the patent as the UN World Food Programme began implementing its own Snowdrop programme, stating that they had devised the system themselves, prompting Geoff Woodford to file a complaint insisting that the patent was his, and asserting ownership of the intellectual property.

After reading the article, I had no energy left to say anything about the suffering of the people to the media or anyone who cared to ask. I knew then that the people of Burma had no one to depend on. They are expected to die in their hundreds or thousands just to get the fleeting attention of the world to their plight without getting any solid action from those who can help them help themselves.

When individual Burmese people saw that neither their government nor the international community was going to help their distressed countrymen, they packed whatever supplies they could give or collect, and drove down to the affected areas to help. They were stopped, robbed, harassed and intimidated at every turn by agents of the junta, and some of them, including famous comedian Zarganar, were arrested later and imprisoned for their efforts.

A Burmese army officer later said that the international community should have entered Burma willy-nilly to help. "Speaking as an army officer, there would certainly have been an initial shoot-out if the planes came but we would have had to retreat as we can't compete with their weapons. They could have saved thousands of lives," he said. Meanwhile, while Burmese people in exile were working hard to raise funds for the victims, I overheard a Burmese doctor at a gathering outside London comment, "They are giving too much to them. Foreigners don’t understand our people." Some people could be as selfish and arrogant as the Burmese generals without having their power, I thought.

Some weeks after the storm, a farmer, the only survivor of his family, told a visiting foreign aid worker: "Thanks for nothing and for coming too late. Keep on helping tyranny." The farmer disappeared without a trace and nobody knows what happened to him.

Local people later said that the population of carnivorous crabs exploded at the end of the monsoon season and most of them exported to South East Asian nations. I didn't have to wonder why the population of crabs exploded that year. But I still do wonder though how many people remembered to send words of comfort, not to mention presents, to the survivors at Christmas. "Speaking as a human being, there is a deep sense of hopelessness here," a religious figure who helped the survivors told me from Burma.

But all was not lost.

The most prominent journalist and political figure of Burma, Win Tin, was released in late September along with ten other political prisoners. Around 9000 criminals were released at the same time. His release was as unexpected as it was strange. He insisted on wearing his prison uniform as he argued he was evicted, not released.

Win Tin revived the fortunes of his battling party the National League for Democracy, rife with all kinds of problems. But – and it's a big but – his efforts and those of thousands of others who sacrificed their lives in the fight for dignity would be just a waste of energy and lives unless the international community gives them solid help or stops supporting the generals through various means.

What is the future of Burma then?

Will the president-elect Barack Obama be a better man to ensure the freedom of Burma as many activists think? I dare not even dream of it, having seen the way previous presidents raised hope for democracy in Burma and petered out into mere babbling. At best, the new president will make the right noises about Burma at the beginning of his term.

For one thing, Obama has too many things on his plate to sort out as the most powerful leader on earth, such as the mess in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine and the global economic crisis, to name but a few. I would advise my countrymen that we should not pin our hopes on events abroad.

If anything, incidents in 2008 (and previous years) sent a clear message to all the people of Burma and the generals alike that we must all stop mentally depending on foreign powers, or accusing each other of depending on foreign powers if we are to achieve something resembling national identity, and go beyond the politics of emotion.

The reality is, Burma is not an island and we are not unique. We have to import foreign goods, ideas and support, and utilise them in an organic way, and we must export competitive ideas and materials abroad if we want to survive as a stable nation. At the moment, the only exports from Burma are natural resources, human beings and a feeling of resentment against all the people we are in touch with. Burma cannot survive on emotion alone and it needs the confidence to know its limits and potential in equal measure. The opposition groups must also remember that there is more than one solution to each problem and those who find the right ones are likely to be winners in the long run. In a word, we must stop our reliance on a magic bullet formula in politics, by really listening to the concerns of those at the grassroots level.

Of course, one could wait until everything falls down in Burma but by then it would have become a wasteland of second-hand ideological and material junk which would take even longer to clear. Having said that, Burma is already a wasteland in many ways despite its placid appearance and the orderly buildings one often sees on television frequented by finger pointing, green-uniformed generals. Look deep into their faces next time, you will see fear and inferiority in these handfuls of dust that have nothing else in their heads but the boredom of the devils who look after hell.

If Burma is to come out this episode of its dark and sordid history, the opposition groups and those who want to help the country must learn to chase pacific opportunities that work – not all the passing butterflies. Admittedly, opportunities have been lost because we were unable to sort out basic problems, thus storing up problems for the future for ourselves. I once retorted to my father that his generation had piled all the problems on us, and now our generation is likely to do the same if we are to just wait and see and mope around. All the ingredients for greater tragedies are there in Burma, but they could be averted if they were handled with less emotion and neurosis – as Burma is a geographical entity as well as a country of emotion.

Although there have been many suggestions and ideas as to how to solve the problems of Burma, they can only be realised through a combination of hard-thinking people and the actions of energetic experts who posses the efficiency of Nordic countries and the resilience and ruthlessness of the post-war Japanese generation who rebuilt their country from ashes.

The history of Burma has shown that good ideas or actions or foreign support alone are not enough to govern or rebuild a nation and maintain its soul.

READ MORE---> Goodbye cruel 2008 and hello to reality...

Humanitarian crisis in Chin state likely to escalate in 2009: NGO

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – With crop yields declining due to severe weather conditions and the devastation caused by rat infestation, a humanitarian crisis is imminent for western Burma's Chin state in 2009, a leading humanitarian worker in Chin state said.

Joseph Win Hlaing Oo, director of the Rangoon-based Country Agency for Rural Development in Myanmar (CAD), on Thursday said the humanitarian crisis in Chin state caused by both drought and rat infestation in 2008 is far from being over.

"This year, the situation seems to be getting worse," Joseph told Mizzima, adding that people have already begun running short of food.

"People will need more help," iterated Joseph, whose organization with help from the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun distributing aid supplies to a few villages in Chin state.

On Thursday, CAD began distributing about 700 rice bags to villagers affected by drought and rat infestation in Hakha township, home to the capital of Chin state.

Since the end of 2006, food security in the region has been gradually threatened by the infestation of rats, which are multiplying in great numbers after consuming a special bamboo flower that blossoms only once every 50 years in Chin state.

"Today, we started distributing rice bags to the people in four villages, including Pinam in Hakha township," Joseph said.

But he said aid is not simply given, with villagers instead receiving aid in exchange for community work, such as assistance in the construction of roads to connect villages, under a program called "Food-for-Work".

"We provide rice to villagers according to the work. We give [a total of] 100 bags of rice to 18 people on completion of a mile of road," said Joseph, adding that the 'Work-for-Food' model was utilized to help villagers get the best out of aid supplies.

Joseph said CAD intends to reach at least 30,000 people in three townships - Hakha, Thangtlang and Matupi – with aid supplies. However his initial plan of distributing aid last November was derailed due to difficulties in purchasing good quality rice and high transportation cost.

Additionally, he said aid supplies are still insufficient, as many more villages in other parts of Chin state, including those that are close to the Indo-Burmese border, are yet to be covered. According to him, the food crisis is far more severe along the Indo-Burmese border.

"The problems in the areas close to the India-Burma border are more serious than other areas," said Joseph, with the crux of the problem being a lack of proper roads and means of transportation to reach those areas.

According to an assessment done by the WFP and other relief agencies such as CAD, KARET, World Vision and Karuna Myanmar Social Service (KMSS), at least 60,000 people from 139 villages in Chin state are severely affected by food scarcity caused by rat infestation.

In 2008, the WFP coordinated a relief aid program to help victims in Chin state with 1,451 tons of rice through international and local relief agencies, Joseph said. He added that an additional 800 million kyat (approximately US$ 600,000) will be made available for the first six months of 2009.

Meanwhile Van Lian Thang, spokesperson for the exile-based Chin Humanitarian and Relief Committee (CHRC), recently said people from at least 16 villages in northern Chin state are facing food insufficiency as the harvest of crops such maize and paddy has fallen sharply.

"Because the rate of crops harvested this year is very low, people from some villages in Tedim and Falam townships are facing a shortage of food," said Van Lian Thang.

READ MORE---> Humanitarian crisis in Chin state likely to escalate in 2009: NGO...

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