Friday, January 23, 2009

Migrant Crackdown Won’t Solve Problem: Rights Groups

The Irrawaddy News

The Thai government’s vow to crackdown on illegal migrants will not solve the country’s migrant problems, say human rights groups.

Jackie Pollock, a founding member of the Chiang Mai-based Migrant Assistance Program (MAP), said, “A crackdown is not a good solution. It’s just making migrants’ lives more risky. The best solution is to offer new registration and let them come out and stay legally.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Thursday the government would crackdown on illegal migrants, while commenting on allegations that the Thai navy has mistreated Rohingya boat people by forcing them back out to sea.

“We have to solve the illegal immigrant problem otherwise it will affect our security, economy and the opportunities of Thai laborers,” he said. “We will push them out of the country.”

Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a team organizer with the Migrant Working Group (MWG) based in Bangkok, said, “The root cause of the problem for illegal Burmese migrants is the political crisis in Burma. They have no food there so they have to come to Thailand.

The Thai government should offer legal status to solve the long-term problem. They should not only focus on a security crack down in the country."

Estimates say there are about 4 million Burmese migrants living and working in Thailand. About 500,000 are legally registered with the Thai Ministry of Labor.

The Thai government earlier this month announced it would not offer illegal Burmese migrants a chance to register for legal status this year. Several hundred illegal migrants were arrested in Bangkok in recent weeks.

Recently, the Thai government has expressed concerns about more and more Rohingya illegal migrants arriving by boat in southern Thailand.

The English-language newspaper, Bangkok Post, reported on Friday that the government is considering whether to set up a coastguard center with a mission to block the influx of illegal immigrants trying to enter the country by boat.

Prime Minister Abhisit instructed the National Security Council (NSC) to study the idea. The center would work with in cooperation with other agencies, including the navy and Marine Police Division.

In the meantime, officials said they are waiting to deport 4,880 Rohingya for illegally entering Thailand. Security officials were ordered to boost efforts to track down human traffickers helping illegal migrants.

The Thai navy has been accused of misconduct against the Rohingya, including torture. The navy denied the charge, saying the illegal migrants were given food and water before being turned back to sea.

Human rights groups, including International Refugees and Human Rights Watch, claim the Rohingya boat people were forced back out to sea with little food and water. The groups said as many as 300 Rohingya are missing.

On Tuesday, the UNHCR asked the Thai government to grant access to the boat people rounded up in the recent incidents for interviews. The agency said it believes 126 Rohingya are in the custody of Thai authorities, following the detentions and allegations.

Meanwhile, Indonesia detained 193 Rohingya illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Burma who were in boats drifting off Indonesia’s Aceh Province on January 7.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told the reporters in Jakarta: “Indonesia is working with their countries of origin and the International Organization for Migration to properly repatriate the migrants.”

“Based on interviews they are economic migrants,” he said. “They are not political asylum seekers.”

READ MORE---> Migrant Crackdown Won’t Solve Problem: Rights Groups...

Zachary Michaelson Seeks to Raise Awareness on Burma

New York, NY (Webwire)-- Zachary Michaelson, a New York-based financial consultant and lecturer, has announced his intention to launch an awareness campaign to further expose the plight of religious and ethnic minority groups in Burma (Myanmar). Using the Internet, media and other forms of communication, Michaelson hopes his efforts will bring much needed attention to the people of the war-torn region of Southeast Asia.

“The Burmese military government is currently intimidating, imprisoning, torturing and murdering anyone who even talks about democracy,” says Zachary Michaelson.

“We must make sure those standing for democracy and human rights in Burma are defended,” Michaelson adds.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Zachary Michaelson has championed human rights around the globe and is currently a coordinator for the Manhattan chapter of Amnesty International.

In December, Michaelson helped coordinate and promote a film screening of ‘In the Shadow of the Pagodas: The Other Side of Burma.’ The event also featured a distinguished panel of former Burmese political prisoners who were incarcerated for campaigning against the military dictatorship.

In addition to his efforts on Burma, Zachary Michaelson has also tutored Sudanese refugees and performed orphanage work for citizens of Africa and Central America.

In the coming months, Michaelson will be highlighting the atrocities of the Burmese government through his Internet public awareness campaign.

“Education and awareness are the first steps to implementing change and I will be doing all I can to help,” he says. “People of conscience cannot witness evil quietly.”

For more information, visit the NYU home page of Zachary Michaelson at or visit .

READ MORE---> Zachary Michaelson Seeks to Raise Awareness on Burma...

Thailand Asks Neighbors to Cooperate on Illegal Immigration

By Daniel Schearf

This undated handout photo released by Thai Royal Navy on January 18, 2009 shows illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Burma after they were escorted by Thai navy to Similan island

(VOA) - Thailand is asking its neighbors to share information and procedures for handling illegal immigrants after being accused of abusing refugees from Burma. Meanwhile, Thailand has deported more than a hundred of the alleged refugees without granting United Nations requests to see them.

Officials from Thailand's foreign ministry met Friday with ambassadors from Burma, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The neighbors discussed cooperation on illegal immigration across the Andaman Sea.

The meeting, and Thailand's call for cooperation, came after hundreds of Rohingya boat people washed up on shores in Thailand, Indonesia, and India with stories of abuse by the Thai military.

A human rights group said late last year nearly 1,000 Rohingya refugees were detained, beaten, and then left for dead at sea. The Thai military denies the accusations. The Thai government says it will investigate but maintains the Rohingya are economic immigrants and not refugees.

Tharit Charungvat talks to reporters, 22 Jan 2009 - "Prevention is what we're talking about, said Tharit Charungvat, a Thai foreign ministry spokesman. "We have to work together to exchange information and intelligence of how they treat these people and share with us the information after they interview or interrogate all these people so we know exactly how these people have been sent out."

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority from Burma who fled persecution in the Buddhist country. Many are now living stateless in Bangladesh where people smuggling rings are believed responsible for at least some of their boat trips to find better lives.

Thai authorities late Friday said the last 126 Rohingya in their custody had been deported but it was not clear if they were taken by land or pushed back out to sea.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had asked Tuesday for access to the 126 Rohingya detained in Thailand but was never granted access.

Indonesia has nearly 200 Rohingya in its custody and has also refused to give the U.N. agency access.

READ MORE---> Thailand Asks Neighbors to Cooperate on Illegal Immigration...

USDA will not contest in 2010 election: Official

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The pro-government organization – Union Solidarity and Development Association – in Burma's western Chin state on Friday denied rumors that it will be changed into a political party to contest the ensuing 2010 general elections.

An official in the USDA office in Hakha, capital of Chin state, said that there has been no decision to fight the elections that the Burmese regime has declared to hold in 2010.

"So far, we have no information from above to prepare for a transformation of the organization into a political party," an official in Hakha's USDA office, who declined to named, told Mizzima.

"We have not held any political campaigns," the official said. "Till now we are only engaged in activities related to rural development work."

The official told Mizzima that the USDA in Chin state will keep staying out of political campaigns but focus only on regional development work in the area.

"The USDA is a civilian organization. It will continue to function as a civil society," he added.

However, other sources in Hakha town said that USDA had actually selected a few individuals to be candidates in the ensuing elections.

"Most of the candidates are delegates who had attended the national convention," the source told Mizzima.

According to the source, USDA has selected national convention delegates U Thatmang, and U Lakung and another independent U Ngikung, a retired Township administration official as candidates.

The USDA official, however, denied nominating candidates for the forthcoming poll saying, "We did not nominate any one as a candidate but I can't say if the people will pick up individuals from USDA for their organization in future."

The USDA was established by Burmese military Supremo Senior General Than Shwe in 1993, and is the largest civil society in Burma with a membership of over 20 million.

READ MORE---> USDA will not contest in 2010 election: Official...

Dala NLD youth member jailed - Htet Soe Linn

(DVB)–The mother of recently imprisoned Dala National League for Democracy youth coordinator Htet Soe Linn has accused local authorities of framing her son to put a stop to his political activities.

Htet Soe Linn was imprisoned for two and a half years on Wednesday for disrupting a public official on duty, despite a request by the prosecutor to drop the case.

Win Myint said Htet Soe Linn was first arrested in September 2008 and accused of being involved in a fight between his younger brother Thet Paing Linn and a special police officer.

"On 23 September, Thet Paing Linn got into a quarrel with Special Police officer Kyaw Myo Win, but Htet Soe Linn wasn't involved in the fight as he was asleep at home at the time," said Win Myint.

Htet Soe Linn was later released on bail pending his trial.

Dala township NLD secretary Tun Lwin, who went to of Htet Soe Linn's court hearing on Wednesday, said the prosecutor had previously tried to drop the case against the youth member.

"The prosecutor, who is named Yazar, had already agreed to drop the case but the court judges and the police would not accept it so the hearing continued," said Tun Lwin.

Win Myint said a group of special police officers led by officer Ko Ko Aung then came to search their house on 11 January and they claimed to have found an explosive device in their compound.

"Ko Ko Aung and a group of special police officers came to our house at around 2am on 11 January and told Htet Soe Linn to go with them as they had some questions for him," said Win Myint.

"After Htet Soe Linn left the house with some of them, the rest began searching our house and Ko Ko Aung started digging in our compound and claimed he had found some explosives there."

Tun Lwin said Htet Soe Linn was then released again on 19 January as the court did not have enough evidence to build a case against him in connection with the explosive device.

On Wednesday, Htet Soe Linn, Thet Paing Linn and two other local youths were sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment by Dala township court on the earlier charges of disturbing a government official on duty.

Tun Lwin said Htet Soe Linn’s case was another example of the dysfunctional justice system in Burma.

"This is a very ugly incident and discredits the image of the judicial system in Burma," he said.

"Now we can say there are two different groups of people in our country; the group which is above the law and the others who are abused by the law."

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Dala NLD youth member jailed - Htet Soe Linn...

Chin activist’s prison term reduced on appeal - Kyaw Soe

(DVB)–Eastern Rangoon Provincial Court yesterday upheld an appeal by ethnic Chin activist Kyaw Soe and reduced his jail term by 13 years, according to his lawyer.

Kyaw Soe, also known as Kamlam Koup, is the son of the Zomi National Congress chairman and 1990 people's parliament representative Pu Cint Sian Than.

He was arrested in connection with the September 2007 demonstrations and was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment by South Dagon township court in November last year.

His lawyer Kyaw Ho said Kyaw Soe will now serve his two seven-year jail terms under the Press Law concurrently, followed by two other two-year sentences for sedition and causing public disorder, which will also be served concurrently.

The court also decided to combine his three sentences under the Unlawful Assembly Act so he will serve the two terms of two years and one of three years concurrently, bringing his term down from seven to three years.

His sentences under the Immigration Act remains unchanged.

In total, the decision decreases Kyaw Soe’s sentence by 13 years down to 20 years.

Kyaw Ho said the appeal for Pu Cint Sian Than's nephew Anthony, who was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, was rejected.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

READ MORE---> Chin activist’s prison term reduced on appeal - Kyaw Soe...

Ethnic Minorities Hold the Key to Burma’s Future

The Irrawaddy News

Ceasefires that cannot be transformed into political settlements and a lasting peace are typical examples of protracted deadlocks. When neither party seems willing or able to resolve this situation, the deadlocks have the potential to trigger an escalation strategy in conflict. This is the point that the Burmese military and ceasefire ethnic groups have now reached. The question is what strategy options are available for both parties.

The Burmese military has initiated ceasefire agreements with no less than 17 ethnic rebel groups since 1989 and has allowed the groups to retain their arms and control somewhat extensive blocks of territory over the past twenty years. This shows uncharacteristic tolerance on the part of the military, which, like the whole Burman population to some extent, has a chauvinistic and patronizing attitude toward ethnic minorities.

The Burmese junta has accepted this situation for at least three reasons. First, the ceasefire accords have allowed the military to avoid multiple enemy fronts in the aftermath of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising and to focus mainly on suppressing political opposition in central Burma.

Secondly, the ceasefire condition that prevails in the border areas has enabled the Burmese military to make unprecedented advances in its relations with neighboring countries¬ especially China and Thailand ¬in both security and economic terms. The neighbors that once supported Burma’s ethnic rebels along their borders as a key part of their buffer policy or because of an ideological affinity have now shifted to the policy of full economic cooperation with the Burmese junta through massive investment and border trade.

Lastly, the ceasefire accords give the military regime the much-needed political legitimacy that they have lost since the bloody crackdown on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising. The regime constantly points to the ethnic ceasefire groups as the most defining feature of its “national reconsolidation” policy and as evidence of its claims to legitimacy.

However, the success of the military’s strategic tolerance is now about to be put to the test, as the regime must do two things before the 2010 elections to ensure that the progress it has made toward establishing a so-called “disciplined democracy” is meaningful.

First of all, the military needs to redraw the map of Burma under its new constitution. The basic state structure, consisting of seven centrally located regions surrounded by seven ethnic states, will remain the same. This favors the continuing dominance of the Burman majority, who live mostly in the seven regions. Some states, however, will see their maps being redrawn, with five Self-Administered Zones (for Naga, Danu, Pa-O, Pa Laung and Kokang ethnic groups) and one Self-Administered Division (for Wa ethnic group) designated by the military. The seventeen “special regions” established in the ethnic ceasefire areas are due to expire when the military redraws the map in accordance with the new constitution. Re-mapping must also be done soon so that the junta can establish new electoral constituencies in the country, especially in the ethnic areas. However, there is still no consensus among all parties concerned with regard to the drawing up of a new map, and this issue remains contentious.

Secondly, and more importantly, the military needs to disarm the ceasefire groups, reclaim territory from them, and push them to transform themselves into political parties ready to contest the 2010 election. This will be a major test of the military’s “contained Balkanization” of the ethnic areas; failure to achieve these goals could trigger an outright conflict and, in the worst case scenario, initiate another era of regional instability.

The question is how ethnic ceasefire groups will respond to the regime’s plans for their future. The indications so far suggest that ethnic groups will not likely give in to the junta’s demands. The United Wa State Party (UWSP), for example, now refers to itself as the “Government of Wa State, Special Autonomous Region, Union of Myanmar” in official documents. The UWSP, which has long pressed the regime to designate the Wa territory as a “state” in the constitution, has refused to call the area under its control “Shan State Special Region 2” in accordance with the terms of their ceasefire agreement or “Shan State Self-Administered Division” in accordance with the military’s new constitution.

Two other strong ceasefire groups, ¬the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), ¬have already officially stated that they will not contest the 2010 election. The NMSP even went so far as to say that it does not accept the military’s constitution.

There are two things the ceasefire groups can and should do. The first would be to resist the regime’s forced disarmament under the current conditions. Some groups may take part in the 2010 election through their proxy ethnic parties, but they must not give in to the regime’s demands for the disarmament of their troops or the loss of territories under their control.

Secondly, they should convey the message to neighboring countries, ¬particularly China and Thailand, and regional groupings such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations¬, that the 2010 election, which will be held under the military’s constitution, will in no way contribute to stability or a smooth political transition to democracy and ethnic autonomy.

Genuine national reconciliation and nation-building must precede the restructuring of the state. The neighboring countries and the regional group should, therefore, be reminded that the situation of “contained Balkanization” in Burma could easily lead to a resumption of localized arm conflicts between certain ethnic ceasefire groups and the Burmese army unless the latter negotiates an acceptable political resolution with fourteen major ceasefire groups whose strength reaches over 40,000 armed troops. Such a situation would particularly alarm China, since the most volatile areas are around the Sino-Burmese border, where formidable Wa and Kachin ethnic groups are based.

The aforementioned resistance and warnings should be accompanied by two political demands: a review of the constitution, and the release of political prisoners, including Shan ceasefire leader Hso Ten and Shan MP-elect Khun Htun Oo. These demands are largely in line with those of the mainstream opposition in central Burma and the international community.

However, the ceasefire groups must be strategic and coordinated in their action. Otherwise, they will face inter-group divisions¬ with some groups giving in and others resisting against disarmament ¬as well as intra-group splits ¬with one part of a group surrendering and another part resuming fighting.

Many ceasefire groups have, in fact, issued collective statements in the past to raise their political demands with the junta. When the military resumed the National Convention in 2004, collective demands were issued to the regime on two occasions ¬by eight groups the first time, and by 13 the second (with the KIO and the NMSP joining in both efforts). Their demands included the right to discuss and revise the undemocratic principles and procedures of the convention, the right of elected representatives from the 1990 election to participate in the convention, and the clear distribution of power to the states.

Similar collective efforts should now be used to achieve the two key political goals of a constitutional review and the release of political prisoners. A broad, well-coordinated effort must be strategically articulated not only to consolidate the domestic power bases of ethnic groups, but also to persuade neighboring countries to engage in and facilitate an acceptable political resolution in Burma.

If the ceasefire groups fail to stand together and be strategic at this critical historical juncture, they will lose their ground and eventually succumb to the junta’s “divide and conquer” tactics.

In the long run, ethnic minorities will be the ultimate losers under the military’s constitution. Burma will remain a highly centralized state in the post-2010 era. The undemocratic power of the president and the brooding presence of the military at every level of government in the ethnic states will not produce anything approaching the level of autonomy desired by ethnic minorities.

While military-owned businesses, junta cronies, foreign investors and traders, and ethnic drug lords and elites plunder the natural resources of the ethnic states, local ethnic populations will continue to be denied economic opportunities. This situation is already common in many areas. For example, logging companies from China bring their own cutters, drivers and laborers to work their concession in the Wa ethnic area, leaving locals impoverished and susceptible to social ills such as drug abuse, prostitution and diseases.

In the post-2010 era, ethnic states will also see their environment further destroyed by greedy businesses and bad governance. The preservation of ethnic identity will be at serious risk as states or self-administered communities will have almost no authority over the issues of language or cultural and religious rights.

Moreover, since a military chief will independently administer military affairs in the post-2010 era, including the recruitment of troops and the deployment of military forces, the issues of child soldiers, forced relocations, forced labor, landmines, internally displaced persons, the flow of refugees to neighboring countries, and rape and other rights violations – all of which are associated with the military’s unchecked interests and behavior¬ – will remain unresolved, especially in ethnic minority areas.

Relentless repression and the darkest side of economic globalization will continue to cause lives in the ethnic states to be, as Hobbes described, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

It is now up to the leaders of ceasefire groups to decide whether they will betray the 60-year long struggle for their ethnic people or stand together with an effective strategy to fight for equal ethnic rights. The rest will be history.

Min Zin is a Burmese journalist in exile and a teaching fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Journalism.

READ MORE---> Ethnic Minorities Hold the Key to Burma’s Future...

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