Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rights group calls on Thailand to change policy for boatpeople

Thai Navy holds Rohingya boatpeople where Navy keeps like dried fish and exposed to the hot sun

Kalandan Press

Chittagong, Bangladesh: A rights group, Refugees International (RI) from Washington, D.C called on the Government of Thailand to change their policy towards boat people, who have been recently entering their territory, through a press release yesterday.

The boat people are primarily stateless Burmese Rohingya escaping severe oppression and harsh poverty at home, but also include some Bangladeshi migrants. Both group board boats of varying seaworthiness with the aim of finding security and economic opportunity in Thailand and Malaysia, the statement said.

"The Government of Thailand should instruct its Army to desist from its new and troubling policy of pushing refugees and migrants intercepted on boats back out to sea which endangers their lives, and exposes them to the risk of capsizing or sinking," the statement said.

The Thai government is detaining them on a remote island and then forcing them back out to sea, statement added.

Thai Navy holds Rohingya boatpeople, and giving punishment like drying on hot sand

"The actions of the Thai government contravene accepted standards of international law that discourage putting civilians at greater risk after being in the custody of government officials. The Thai authorities should, at a minimum, revert to the practice of deporting undocumented migrants. Thai officials should also ensure that refugees seeking asylum are properly screened and are not forced back to their country of origin if it will put them at risk," the statement more added.

"The Thai government is taking highly vulnerable people and risking their lives for political gain. It should be engaging the Burmese government on improving conditions at home for the Rohingya if it wants to stem the flow. The Rohingya will continue to make the journey because they have no hope for a better life in Burma. Pushing them back out to sea is not an effective deterrent – it just jeopardizes lives," said Advocate Sean Garcia.

Thai Navy holds Rohingya boatpeople and tied with plastic rope on Navy

"The Rohingya are stateless and have no rights inside Burma. The Burmese government targets them for forced labour and extortion, and restricts their movement. The Burmese government's policy of actively displacing the Rohingya from their homeland means that any refugee who is forced back is subjected to arrest and abuse. Until the Rohingya are recognized by Burma as citizens, neighboring countries like Thailand must protect and assist this vulnerable population," he added.

"It was a sick and bizarre situation, and there appeared to be children in the groups as well. They were forcibly exposed to the hot sun although trees provided shade a few meters away. Some of the tourists went over to look at what was going on," said Mrs. Skibelig, who had her Christmas holiday in Similan Islands, Thailand, together with 20 other family members, is one of the eyewitnesses about the policy of Thailand regarding boatpeople.

"When we first arrived on the beach we thought the Thai military was going through a military drill. Later we understood that something very, very serious was going on," Mrs Skibelid explained to the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet.no

The refugee (boatpeople) had been arrested and forcibly kept on the beach since 10 a.m. and were still lying there when the Norwegian travelers left in the afternoon, at around 4 pm. They also witnessed the guards hitting and kicking the refugees, she added.

Nearly 200 people (174 Rohingyas and 19 Bangladeshi) reached Indonesia's Sumatra island on a wooden boat on January 7, and after drifting for a few days were found by local fishermen and transferred to the coastguard where medical treatment and food were provided by the Indonesia government, according to local Navy Commander Yanuar Handwiyono.

Nurse helping a boatpeople in Indonesia

On January 4, 2009, a motor-boat carrying about 97 people returned to Shapuri Dip of Bangladesh, at about 12:30 pm, after Burmese naval forces from Rangoon Division pushed them back. The Burmese authorities provided the travelers with some ration and fuel, according to a person who returned from the Rangoon coast.

Towards the end of last year, the British "The Guardian" newspaper mentioned, "More than 300 people believed to be illegal migrants and mostly Bangladeshis were feared to have drowned. The accident took place off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal on December 28, as the victims jumped into the sea and tried to swim ashore."

"The men were mostly Bangladeshis and some Burmese nationals, aged between 18 and 60, who drifted through the Bay of Bengal, and we are trying to rescue the boatpeople with navy ship and helicopter," said authorities in Port Blair.

"To arrest people when they enter Thai waters then release them in international waters, without motors or sails, would clearly be a violation of international human rights,'' said Chris Lewa, a Bangkok-based social worker who is seeking better treatment for the Rohingya boat people.

Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises. In November 2008, Refugees International staff conducted a mission to Bangladesh and Malaysia to assess the humanitarian conditions for Burmese Rohingya refugees, including boat migrants. There are approximately 1 million Rohingya living outside Burma.

READ MORE---> Rights group calls on Thailand to change policy for boatpeople...

Elected MPs’ lawyers denied access to court - Nyi Pu and Dr Tin Min Htut

(DVB)–Lawyers defending two 1990 people's parliament representatives, Nyi Pu and Dr Tin Min Htut, were denied entry to the courtroom at Insein prison special court yesterday.

Nyi Pu and Dr Tin Min Htut are facing four different charges including sedition and disrupting the national convention.

Central court lawyer Kyaw Ho said he had arrived in court at around 9am yesterday morning with fellow lawyers Maung Maung Latt and Sithu Maung to attend the hearing.

"We already have obtained all the necessary documents to act as defending lawyers for the two on 6 January," Kyaw Ho said.

"We filled out and submitted forms to gain entry to the courtroom but then we were told by the deputy prison chief and another official we were not allowed in," he said.

"I asked them whether it was the prison's decision to not let us in, and they said the prison had nothing to do with it and that it was an order from the special police's prosecution department."

Kyaw Ho said the lawyers had asked secondary provincial judge Tin Htut of western Rangoon provincial court, who was hearing the case, to help them negotiate with government authorities to gain access to the courtroom.

"It's the judge's responsibility to enable us to come to the court hearing; otherwise it disadvantages defendants whose lawyers are not present,” he said.

Relatives of Nyi Pu and Tin Min Htut who went to the prison to visit them yesterday were not allowed to see them due to the court hearing.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Elected MPs’ lawyers denied access to court - Nyi Pu and Dr Tin Min Htut...

Singaporean Activists Detained after Protesting Burmese Migrants’ Plight

Plainclothes police officers keep watch and block a demonstration placard
by standing in front of activists (wearing red t-shirts) during
a two-man protest in Singapore January 12. (Photo: Reuters)
Blogger's Note: look careful and watch the "struggle and resistance" during the arrest,
also note that the activists are OUTSIDE the premises opposite to the
Minister's press statement.
The law is corrupted and this is the evidence to be presented in a closed doors court.


(Irrawaddy News) -Two Singaporean activists were detained for five hours on Monday by police after they had protested outside the Ministry of Manpower in solidarity with Burmese migrant workers in the country.

Activists Seelan Palay and Chong Kai Xiong said they felt guilty because their government had refused to extend the work permits of two Burmese migrants who had protested outside the Burmese embassy last year.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, artist Seelan Palay said, “We will go to jail for three months if we are found guilty. We have to go to court in two weeks.”

The two Burmese in question, Moe Kyaw Thu and Win Kyaw, had actively participated in demonstrations last year and when their work permits came up for renewal, they were denied on the basis of having police records.

“I will go to either Indonesia or Cambodia,” said Moe Kyaw Thu. “If I return to Burma, the government will arrest me.”

According to Moe Kyaw Thu, he has sent four letters of appeal to the Ministry of Manpower office requesting an extension of his work permit, but they were rejected. His work permit expires on January 27.

“The Singaporean government doesn’t want me to stay because I am a Burmese activist. They are afraid Singaporean activists will emulate our demonstrations,” he said.

Burmese migrants have held demonstrations several times recently outside the Burmese embassy in Singapore, including protests in May against the junta's insistence on pushing ahead with the referendum in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis.

The Singaporean government refused to extend the work visas of at least five Burmese migrants last year for having police records of for being involved in demonstrations.

According to Burmese workers in Singapore, the city-state hosts more than 60,000 Burmese, who mainly work as general workers or technical skilled laborers, while some are students.

Public demonstrations are not allowed in Singapore without a police permit.

The Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs warned Burmese political activists not to ignore repeated police orders to stop illegal public protests in August 2008.

According to a report in the Singaporean daily Strait Times in August, a ministry spokesperson said that the rights of a foreign national to work or stay in Singapore is not a matter of entitlement or a right to be secured by political demand and public pressure, and the activists had repeatedly ignored requests from government officials to meet to discuss the group's conduct.

READ MORE---> Singaporean Activists Detained after Protesting Burmese Migrants’ Plight...

Burmese Rice Farmers Struggle to Make a Living

Farmers till a field while water buffaloes and calves feed near
Kungyangone Township in Rangoon Division.
(Photo: Tint Aung/The Irrawaddy)

(Irrawaddy News) -The destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis, combined with falling world prices, is hitting Burmese rice farmers hard, with many of them complaining they are working at a loss.

Sub-standard seeds and inadequate stocks of fertilizer are also taking their toll on Burmese rice production, particularly in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta.

A farmer in Nyaung Laybin Township, Pegu Division, said income from the sale of his rice amounted to 70,000 kyat (US $59) per acre, while production costs were about 90,000 kyat ($78).

Recent rice harvests in cyclone-hit areas of Irrawaddy and Rangoon Divisions had dropped by at least 35 percent, farmers report.

Khin Maung Nyo, a Rangoon-based economic analyst, said the global financial crisis also played a major role. Businessmen were withdrawing from the rice market. “We are facing liquidity problems,” he said.

About 70 percent of Burmese rice millers are unable to invest any further in their businesses because of the cyclone, and 70 percent of stockpiled paddy had been depleted, Aung Than Oo, chairman of the Myanmar Rice Miller and Crops Traders Association, told the Rangoon-based Weekly Eleven journal.

“Most of the rice millers in the country suffered heavy losses owing to the cyclone,” he was quoted by the journal’s Web site as saying. “Their purchasing power went down about 70 percent. That is why the trading is low in the domestic crop market. These businesspeople usually sell the stored crops of the previous year, and they buy the new seasonal paddy. But after cyclone Nargis they could not purchase the crops any more.”

Aung Than Oo said merchants had low capital. The price of paddy dropped from 575,000 kyat ($500) per ton in July 2008 to a current level of 287,500 kyat (US$ 250).

“Although some merchants wanted to export the paddy, they cannot afford the necessary investment,” Aung Than Oo said.

Burma has two rice harvests—the summer paddy, planted in April and harvested in late December, and the monsoon harvest, planted in May and harvested in December.

“We didn’t plant the summer paddy because we haven’t enough money,” said farmer Win Maung, who owns 10 acres of paddy in Pegu Township.

READ MORE---> Burmese Rice Farmers Struggle to Make a Living...

Thailand to Help Rebuild Temples in the Irrawaddy Delta

(Irrawaddy News)-Thailand’s foreign minister said on Monday that his recently formed coalition government was ready to help Burma rebuild temples damaged by Cyclone Nargis, according to reports in the Thai press.

The Burmese government wants the international community to help renovate its temples damaged by the cyclone,” Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post. “Thailand is ready to act as the coordinating center for donations to help it.”

According to Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, 1,163 temples in Irrawaddy Division and 284 temples in Rangoon Division were destroyed when Cyclone Nargis struck on May 2-3.

If Thailand’s offer is accepted, it will be the first foreign assistance that Burma has received for work on temples damaged or destroyed by the deadly cyclone, according to local relief groups operating in the Irrawaddy delta. In the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, the temples played a key role in providing shelter and coordinating emergency assistance for survivors.

Kasit earlier indicated that the new Democrat-led coalition government in Bangkok would depart from the business-oriented Burma policies of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his hand-picked successors, saying that Thailand would now run “an ethical foreign policy.”

“We shall have no [personal] business deals with the [Burmese] junta; we shall observe human rights and environmental concerns; we shall treat Burmese as we do Thais,” he said at an academic conference on December 19.

On Monday, Kasit held a meeting in Bangkok with Burmese Deputy Foreign Minister Kyaw Thu to discuss bilateral relations.

After the meeting, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters that Thailand wanted to see change in Burma.

“The goals of Western countries and the countries of this region for Burma are not different. We all want to see some changes,” Abhisit said. “But our methods may differ because of two main reasons: cultural differences and the distance of the countries.”

Abhisit did not, however, comment on what specific steps Thailand might take to push for change in Burma, where the ruling junta has imprisoned more than 2,000 pro-democracy activists.

“I don’t believe Thailand can change Burma because Asian countries have tried to change Burma for more than 20 years. But there is still no change,” said Aye Thar Aung, secretary of the opposition Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, responding to the Thai prime minister’s comments.

READ MORE---> Thailand to Help Rebuild Temples in the Irrawaddy Delta...

Rangoon Under Tightened Security: Sources


(Irrawaddy News)- Burma’s ruling authorities have tightened security around Rangoon after anti-government leaflets were distributed last week, according to sources in the city.

“There are riot police and soldiers, in standby position on trucks and on the ground, at important junctions and corners in the downtown area, as well as around Shwedagon Pagoda,” a student in the former capital told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

Other residents of the city also reported an increased security presence since last week. Last night, security forces were sighted patrolling in various parts of the city, including Dawbon, Sanchaung, Thingangyun, and North and South Dagon Myothit townships.

A businessman in Rangoon’s Bayintnaung Market said he heard that anti-junta leaflets were distributed around the city last week. “Since then, there are a lot more security forces around here,” he said.

An unknown dissident group has been carrying out an anti-government campaign since the beginning of January, distributing leaflets which read,

“As people have not attained freedom yet, we must continue our struggle.”
On January 4, Burma’s Independence Day, nine members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested after they held a small protest in front of the People’s Parliament building on Prome Road in Rangoon.

The protesters called for the release of NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The parliament building has been unused since the current junta seized power in 1988.

READ MORE---> Rangoon Under Tightened Security: Sources...

Pro-junta party kicks off campaign for 2010 polls in northwestern Burma

by Salai Pi Pi
Mizzima News

In the run-up to the junta's general election in 2010, a pro-regime party has launched its poll campaign in Burma's north western Chin state.

Ling Ha, organizational in-charge of the National Unity Party (NUP) of Hakha town, capital of Chin state, on Tuesday said they have begun recruiting new members as part of its campaign for the elections.

"We plan to contest the elections from all the nine townships of Chin state and have started recruiting members," Ling Ha told Mizzima over telephone, adding that he, personally, is gearing up to contest from a constituency in Kanpalat Township, southern Chin state.

Ling Ha said he and his party believe that the junta's roadmap, which has reached the fourth stage since it was chalked out in 2003, is the only way out from the political deadlock and humanitarian crisis.

The NUP is a political party formed in 1990 by members of former military dictator Newin's Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). NUP, while not representing the current batch of military generals, is largely endorsed by the junta.

Ling Ha said junta authorities had not imposed any restrictions on them while campaigning.

"We are into all campaigning within the legal framework," he said, adding the 1990 election law allows parties to assemble less than 50 people during campaign but prohibits parties from using loudspeakers and disallows campaign in public places.

In Burma's last election in 1990, the NUP got one seat in Chin state out of a total of 13 seats. Other parties that had contested the election include the National League for Democracy, Chin National League for Democracy (CNLD), Zomi National Congress (ZNC), Mara People's Party (MPP) and Mro or Khami National Solidarity Organisation (MKNSO).

While the junta in 1992 abolished all other political parties in the state, the NUP and MKNSO continue to function as legal parties. The NLD, though it was not abolished, is banned from opening their offices.

According to Ling Ha, political parties that have been abolished by the ruling junta are unlikely to be allowed to contest in the ensuing elections.

He said, the likely candidates so far in Chin state includes the MKNSO, a party that failed to garner a parliamentary seat in Chin state in the last election, and an independent candidate Dr. Hmu Thang, who individually attended the junta's national convention.

The MKNSO, a party that also contested from the Arakan state's Kyaukdaw constituency in the 1990 election and won a parliamentary seat, also sent a representative to the junta's national convention.

Meanwhile, a leader in exile of the Mara People's Party told Mizzima that Mara people in Chin state are likely to form yet another party to contest the election.

The veteran politician, who requested not to be named said, "I heard that the Mara people are very interested in the 2010 election. They held a meeting and had sent a delegate to study the nature of the election."

However, he said, things would only be clearer once the junta announces the election law.

Edited Mungpi

READ MORE---> Pro-junta party kicks off campaign for 2010 polls in northwestern Burma...

Meeting to foster people's participation in 2010 election

By Than Htike Oo

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Gearing up for the ensuing general election that the ruling junta has proposed for 2010, a few politicians in Bogale Town in Irrawaddy division held a meeting on Monday.

The meeting held at the residence of Nay Myo Wai, who has been writing critical articles against Burma's mainstream opposition on internet web pages, in Padauk Street of Bogale town in Irrawaddy division, lasted about three hours. It was a gathering of a few politicians, who are believed to endorse the ruling junta's roadmap to democracy.

"The aim was to create awareness among the people so that people will know how to choose their representatives in the elections in 2010," Nay Myo Wai told Mizzima.

He said, people are not much aware about politics and are not even able to raise questions to test the intellectual levels of possible candidates.

"They don't even have questions to ask. So through this meeting we were able to explain and teach them," he added.

He said, the meeting was attended by a few dignitaries in the area including Thetkatoe Myat Thu, Tin Win, who was an elected Member of Parliament of Kyaik Latt Township in the 1990 election, an economist Ohn Lwin, and a few villagers and local people. The meeting was held after obtaining permission of the District Peace and Development Council.

"Authorities said we can conduct the meeting if it was for less than 50 people. So we called a few elders, some respected persons and a few local people totaling less than 50," he added.

The meeting, according to him, was part of the plan to prepare the public for the ensuing elections in 2010, and the process will continue among the people.

READ MORE---> Meeting to foster people's participation in 2010 election...

Burma ranks among worst nations for civilian freedom: Rights Group

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A United States-based Freedom House in its annual global release on freedom in the world, has ranked Burma among the 'worst of the worst' countries, where civilians enjoy negligible political and civil liberties.

The Freedom in the World 2009, which examines the state of freedom in 193 countries and 16 strategic territories, ranked Burma along with North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Libya, Sudan, Equatorial Guinea and Somalia among the worst countries that impose restrictions on the lives of civilians.

The report said freedom "retreated in much of the world in 2008, the third year of global decline," and countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union, and a few countries in Asia including China, North Korea and Burma saw the most reversals.

The Freedom House survey categorized countries, according to the political rights and civil liberties which their civilians enjoy, into three categories – Free, Partly Free and Not Free. Burma along with 41 other countries was ranked as 'Not Free'.

In 2008, Burma's military rulers have widely attracted criticism and condemnation from international communities for its high-handedness on opposition activists by arresting and sentencing them to long prison terms.

Following the September 2007 monk-led mass protests, Burma's military junta escalated its crackdown on dissidents by arresting several activists, including prominent student activist Min Ko Naing and group.

Since August 2008, the military junta has conducted secret trials in prisons and handed down harsh sentences of imprisonment upto 68 years. Among those handed harsh prison terms, a dissident Buddhist monk, Ashin Gambira, who had played a vital role in leading the September 2007 protests, was given 68 years of prison term.

Burma's military rulers have said that the country is building a roadmap to democracy and are gearing up to hold general elections in 2010. However, critics doubt whether the elections will be free and fair.

The junta in May, amidst a severe crisis faced by the country's southwestern coastal region after it was hit by Cyclone Nargis, held a referendum to approve a draft constitution, which critics and opposition parties said was a tool to cement military rule.

Regional and international communities including the United Nations have urged Burma's military rulers to implement a broad based dialogue with all political stake holders and to speed up the process of democratization.

Burma has been under military rule since 1962.

READ MORE---> Burma ranks among worst nations for civilian freedom: Rights Group...

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