Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rohingyas claim Myanmar troop abuse

The migrants say they were burned when the Myanmar army tried to set light to their boat

Al Jazeera has uncovered fresh evidence from Thailand's southwestern coast of another instance of abuse of Muslim Rohingya boat people.

A recently arrived group of refugees say their boat was boarded by soldiers from Myanmar, who beat them and tried to set light to their vessel.

Al Jazeera's Selina Downes said that 78 Rohingya migrants were found on a boat near Surin island, located near Thailand's Andaman coast.

They took to the seas in search of work to support their families.

"This group, we are told, have all come from Arakan state in western Myanmar. What they got, they say, was more brutality by one of the harshest military regimes in the world," Downes said.

"One man told us the Burmese Border Security Patrol twice intercepted their boat as it headed south towards Thailand. They say dozens of officers boarded the boat and severely beat them. Many of the men appear to have severe burns to their skin."

Defenceless minority

The incident appears to be just another case of the abuses and atrocities committed against a people who are essentially defenceless and stateless.

Myanmar refuses to recognise the Muslim Rohingya minority as a distinct ethnic group.

Human-rights activists say they have been abused and exploited, forcing many to flee abroad, mainly across the border to Bangladesh.

Thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis leave the country aboard rickety boats each year in hopes of finding work, with many travelling to Thailand by sea and then overland to Malaysia.

The Rohingya migrants told Al Jazeera that they each paid a few hundred dollars for the boat journey they thought would take them to a better life.

But by the time the Thai navy found them, they were floundering at sea, trying to keep their boat afloat.

But this time, the Thai authorities did not dump them at sea, but brought them to the mainland to be treated by medical staff.

Thai 'assistance'

The Thai military too have been accused of human-rights abuses against the Rohingya.

A Thai naval officer confirmed on Monday claims that Rohingya boat people from Myanmar, detained along Thailand's southwestern coast, were taken back out to sea and set adrift.

The ethnic Rohingyas are a stateless group denied citizenship by Myanmar [Reuters]

The naval officer, who declined to be identified, told Al Jazeera: "We have to take the engines off the boats or they will come back.

"The wind will carry them to India or somewhere."

Humanitarian groups have accused Thailand of systematically abusing Rohingya migrants.

The allegations surfaced after accounts emerged of a group of Rohingyas who were beaten and then towed back out to sea by Thai soldiers.

Reports from survivors who washed up on India's Andaman islands and northwest Indonesia suggested as many as 550 of the 992 towed out to sea by Thai soldiers later died.

The Thai authorities who rescued the latest group of Rohingya migrants, told Al Jazeera that once these men are processed by immigration, they too will be pushed back out of Thailand by land or, more likely, by sea.

READ MORE---> Rohingyas claim Myanmar troop abuse...

Constitution and the ethnic nationalities

By Aung Htoo

(DVB)–A constitution which guarantees the rights of the people and restricts the powers of the government is a crucial foundation in the building of a country.

But a constitution that denies the rights of the people and the rights to do things for the authorities is certain to destroy the country.

The State Peace and Development Council's 2008 constitution, which basically denies the rights of the people and prioritises the rights of the ruling authorities, will certainly lead the country to total destruction.

Moreover, the SPDC ratified the constitution in 2008 without any regard for factors that could build trust among ethnic national forces. There are many reasons for this disregard, but here I will only focus on those issues that came out during the drafting of the SPDC’s constitution.

The first and main issue is the uncomfortable situation regarding the SPDC's legal boundaries for the ceasefire armed groups. While the SPDC has declared many times that armed ethnic national organisations have been entering the legal fold, there have still been no efforts to allow these organisations to set up as legal political entities in accordance with the law.

On 9 June 2004, during the SPDC’s national convention to draw up the constitution, 13 armed ethnic national groups which had signed ceasefire agreements with the government put forward a joint proposal for the formation of a federal union. But the SPDC didn't take any action on this advice when the national convention finished. That could be said to be the moment the armed ethnic ceasefire groups’ hope was destroyed.

Some ethnic organisations openly reacted against this. At the referendum to ratify the constitution in May 2008, people in areas controlled by the United Wa State Army in northeast Shan State overwhelmingly rejected the constitution. This was the only such incident based on ethnic nationality during the nationwide referendum, and occurred on the territory of the strongest of the armed ethnic groups in Burma.

It is especially notable that this big organisation has clearly shown that it has no faith in the SPDC's constitution. The reason it was able to do so is that it could prevent the SPDC authorities who came to oversee the referendum from entering its territory. It set up its own ballot boxes, let the people vote and sent the results to the SPDC.

The second issue is the SPDC’s legal harassment of ethnic leaders. Eight Shan leaders including Khun Tun Oo were sentenced to between 75 and 106 years in prison for trying to protect the rights of ethnic nationalities with the SPDC’s legal boundaries.

They received these heavy sentences after they formed the Shan state advisory council of experts to develop a political strategy for the building of a federal union. It now seemed that ethnic organisations were not only trying to build up a momentum for a federal union within the national convention process, but also that Shan leaders led by Khun Tun Oo were trying to push for it outside the convention by forming the council of Shan state experts.

The SPDC is more afraid of the building of a federal union in which ethnic nationals would have equal rights and self-determination than it is of a tiger. The actions against the Shan leaders were a way of stopping the peaceful political activities of ethnic nationals by criminalising them. This injustice gives some indication of how much other Shan ethnic leaders and the public have lost their trust in the SPDC.

The third issue is the loss of trust on the part of the Karen National Union which is still carrying out armed struggle outside the SPDC's legal boundaries. The KNU's former leader, the late general Saw Bo Mya, tried to hold discussions with SPDC. But the SPDC instead set a trap for the KNU in the form of the national convention.

When this didn't achieve the desired effect, the SPDC did not allow the KNU to hold negotiate a ceasefire like other armed organisations. Former intelligence officer Aung Lin Htut explained the reason for this in an interview with DVB television. Aung Lin Htut started out by saying that the KNU is in a pitiable situation. General Than Shwe reportedly ordered that, unlike other groups, the KNU must be forced to lay down its arms. Given that the KNU would never surrender, the move was intended prolong the insurgency and breed more rebels, providing a justification for the army to grow and prosper.

I am not sure whether Aung Lin Htut knows it or not but I want to relate a matter that general Than Shwe pretends that he doesn't know. From the time the military dictatorship was set up by general Ne Win and under successive military leaders who have consolidated the massive army, it has never in 60 years of civil war been able to defeat any revolutionary group by military means alone.

Given this background, it is almost impossible to build trust between the KNU and the SPDC after the latter played politics with the KNU and placed it in a hopeless situation. But this is not a new development; it has been this way since the SPDC launched offensives on Manaplaw, headquarters of the KNU, and on other fronts.

The Manaplaw headquarters did not fall because of the SPDC’s military skill. It is a matter of historical record that the SPDC troops suffered heavy losses when the joint ethnic revolutionary troops and student army surrounded Khway Eit Taung [Sleeping Dog Hill]. The SPDC had to declare a ceasefire unilaterally on 28 April 1992 because of its losses. Infantry commander major-general Maung Hla declared unequivocally that offensives would be stopped in Karen state for the sake of national unity.

In reality, the idea of the SLORC military leaders working for national unity is like saying the tiger is a vegetarian. The ceasefire was declared because of the lack of military success. Only when it was able to cause a rift between Christians and Buddhists in the KNU did its true nature reemerge. Then, it restarted offensives on 24 December 1994 without giving any reason. The SPDC captured Manaplaw using underhanded means with the help of Buddhist Karen soldiers from the newly-named Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, who showed them the way to the back door of Manaplaw.

Therefore, the SPDC’s claim that it is heading towards ethnic national unity is like a picture drawn on water. If you look at it from the point of view of ethnic national leaders and organisations, there is no reason to believe it.

All that is left is to tear up the SPDC’s 2008 constitution, a constitution with no political legitimacy, no input from major ethnic national organisations, and no aim except to propagate military rule – to tear it to pieces, and dump it into the dustbin of history.

READ MORE---> Constitution and the ethnic nationalities...

More Rohingya boatpeople arrested in Thailand

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Thailand on Tuesday said it has arrested and detained 78 Rohingya Muslim minorities from Burma.

"We arrested a total of 78 Rohingyas on Monday," the police officer from Ranong told Mizzima, adding, "some are now being admitted to hospital."

The police officer said they are being detained at the Ranong police station, in Southern Thailand, opposite Burma's Southern most town of Kawh Thawng.

The arrest and detention of 78 Rohingya boatpeople came amidst allegations that Thailand since December, has arrested and towed away hundreds of Rohingya boatpeople to the sea.

According to reports, batches of Rohingya boatpeople, who were drifting in the Andaman Sea, were rescued from India's Andaman Islands and Sabang island of Indonesia. Survivors said, they were arrested by Thai authorities and detained briefly before being sent back to sea on engine-less boats with little food and water.

But Thailand denied the accusation, saying it has never mistreated the Rohingya boat people and that its army had given humane treatment to the boatpeople.

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) last week requested the Thai government to allow it to access 126 Rohingyas, who they say were detained by Thai authorities at Koh Sai Daeng Island off the Thai coast in the Andaman Sea.

The UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond in a statement said, they had requested the Thai government to allow access to the 126 detained Muslim Rohingya boat people in order to assess their situation and determine whether any of them are in need of international protection.

But on Tuesday, Thailand said, the Rohingyas boatpeople are mainly economic migrants and that there are no grounds to believe that they have fled from their country of origin for fear of being persecuted.

"Their profile and their seasonal travel further support the picture that they are illegal migrants, and not those requiring international protection under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951," Thailand's Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Tuesday.

It further said, Thailand is into dialogues with the UNHCR both in Geneva and in Bangkok in this regards and also urged other relevant international organizations along with concerned countries to join hands in tackling the trend of illegal migration in the region.

Thailand said, it stopped each and every boatpeople on their arrival in Thai waters and questioned and had their needs assessed.

"If no evidence is found of their involvement in smuggling activities, they are supported in terms of basic humanitarian needs before undergoing repatriation or escorted out of Thai territory in accordance with Thai laws," the statement.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Burma's state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar reported that Burma will assist Thailand in stemming the inflow of Rohingya boat people.

Burma's military strongman number two Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, according to the newspaper offered to assist Thailand's Army Supreme Commander General Songkitti Jaggabatara, during his one-day visit on Monday.

Tun Khin, president of the London based Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), said many Rohingya boatpeople have fled their countries and will continue as conditions back home are worse then the risks they take on sea.

Rohingyas, who are Muslim minorities, mainly reside in parts of Burma's western Arakan state. But are being made stateless by the ruling regime in the form of not issuing national identity cards, Tun Khin said.

"We need permission even for marriage and education and traveling are all banned,"
Tun Khin, who fled the country to reside in UK because of such persecution, told Mizzima.

Thailand, in the statement, acknowledged that there are at least 20,000 Rohingyas in the Kingdom, while about 300,000 Rohingya refugees are reported to be taking shelter in camps in Bangladesh.

According to Burmese refugees in Malaysia, about 14,000 or more Rohingyas are registered as refugees under the UN refugee agency in Kuala Lumpur.

READ MORE---> More Rohingya boatpeople arrested in Thailand...

Burmese opposition eyes U Lin Myaing's US visit

By Zar Ni

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Burmese Opposition has its eye on former Burmese ambassador to the United States, U Ling Myaing's current visit to the US.

Speculations abound that the visit of U Ling Myaing, who has a reputation of being flexible and diplomatic, has a lot to do with the Burmese efforts at lifting of the economic sanctions imposed by the US on Burma. However, others are of the opinion that he is on a personal tour.

People have also been speculating that the junta uses him because of his reputation of having good relations with the US government, while residing in that country during his diplomatic obligations.

On the other hand, Burmese observers and analysts feel that if he really tries to get the US sanctions imposed on Burma lifted, he will undoubtedly fail.

Thailand- based Burmese analyst U Win Min told Mizzima, "I do not think he will succeed in persuading the US administration to lift the sanctions. It will only be possible depending on the Burmese government's good gesture before the upcoming general elections such as releasing political prisoners and the quantum of political concessions offered to the people".

Former Naval Officer U Lin Myaing served in the Burmese Navy for 26 years. He also worked for the Narcotic Eradication Programme in association with the US government.

With the Burmese junta intensifying its repression against political dissidents and activists by more arrests, doling out harsh prison terms to them, the US government is also moving ahead with their economic sanctions on the junta, targeting the top brass of ruling generals and their cronies.

According to the US Finance Department, they targeted major state-run businesses, the senior officials of the junta, the cronies and cohorts of the ruling junta and their economic networks and empires. Currently over 100 people are under this economic sanction.

When ousted Prime Minister Gen. Khin Nyunt was in power, the military regime hired DCI lobby firm at the cost of USD 300,000 for lifting the US sanctions and facilitating recognition of the junta by the US government.

However, the junta stopped all its dealings with DCI later and U Lin Myaing lobbied on their behalf besides performing his diplomatic duties. He lobbied a great deal with US Congressmen, the diplomatic community said.

According to intimate friends of U Lin Myaing, he is tolerant and flexible and he managed to contain the US government's economic sanctions on Burma to some extent, with his diplomatic skill.

During his diplomatic tour to the US, under Gen. Khin Nyunt's policy, he met and discussed with the opposition parties in the US. In these meetings, he persuaded and organized these opposition parties to oppose the US economic sanctions on Burma.

When Gen. Khin Nyunt was ousted from his post in 2004, he was recalled to Burma along with many other diplomats and reassigned to the Foreign Ministry as Director General.

After two years, he retired from this post and is currently working as advisor to a company, which has close proximity with the top brass of the ruling military generals.

READ MORE---> Burmese opposition eyes U Lin Myaing's US visit...

Voice of desperation from Mandalay

By Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - U Maung, nudging 70 years or more, was taken aback when he received a notification in mid-January to evacuate his two-storey apartment building.

"I don't know where to go and what to do," says U Maung, as he talks about the notification that ordered him to leave his dear home, which he had bought a decade ago.

"The government wants it back," he said, "It's their property. I only have to plead as there is nothing else I can do."

U Maung resides in one of the two-storied small apartments on the 30th Street in Mandalay's former Police Academy compound. His worries are that an order from the Police Academy, now known as Central Police Training School, also known as Yabakah, has stated that his apartment will be retaken by the concerned police department.

"They have ordered us to evacuate our houses latest by March 31," U Maung explained in a quavering tone over telephone.

His worries are shared by several others, who like him had bought the police academy owned apartments. There are at least, 250 to 300 apartments in the entire police academy owned compound.

In the mid 1990s the Police Academy, which is the only police training school in Upper Burma, engaged private construction companies to build several two-storey apartments in and around its main training field and in parts of its officer's quarters.

The stretch of area covers the blocks of streets from 31st, 30th, 29th, 28th that runs across North to South and 66th, 67th, and 68th that runs across East to West in Chan Aye Thar Zan Township and parts of Aung Mya Thar Zan Township's police officer quarters.

U Maung said he bought the apartment from a private construction company with a contract to pay a monthly fee of 1000 Kyat (later increased to 3000 Kyat) to the police Academy as contribution to their fund.

"I was never told that we could be evacuated like this without any compensation," U Maung says.

But he said he had been afraid that his wildest nightmares would come true someday, when after about a year of moving into his newly bought apartment in 1996, he received a letter from the Police Academy and was made to sign.

"The letter was undersigned by the head of the academy and it stated - We understand that the land is owned by the Academy while the building belongs to us," U Maung said.

"We were then made to sign the letter."

But he said his fears subsided when police officers in the neighborhood told him that it was a mere formality and that nobody would force him out of his house.

"I was beginning to feel that their words were true but suddenly in mid-January I received this notification," U Maung told Mizzima in shaky tone.

To the dismay of U Maung, an officer at the Central Police Training School in Zeepinkone near Pyin Oo Lwin, about 45 miles Northeast of Mandalay, told Mizzima on Tuesday that the order was issued not only to those apartment owners in Mandalay but in all the states and divisions across the country.

"The order is from the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is for in all parts of the country," the officer said, adding that the order is to evacuate all residential houses constructed in and around police owned compounds.

"I don't know the reasons for the order but residents have to evacuate before the end of March or we will be compelled to take necessary action according to the law," the officer said.

The officer said, though the Central Police Training School had been shifted to Zeepinkone near Pyin Oo Lwin, the former Police Academy Compound in Mandalay still remains under their administration, but he failed to provide any possible reasons for re-claiming the area.

The Central Police Training School, before being shifted to Zeepinkone in the mid-1990s, filled up its previous training grounds with apartment buildings leaving only a small open field unoccupied.

"But it does account for good payment for them," U Maung said, "as they have increased the monthly contribution to 3000 kyat. They are collecting hundreds of thousands every month."

Desperate residents including U Maung have gathered in small meetings and have come up with a plan to appeal to the Ministry of Home affairs in Naypyitaw and to Burma's military supremo Snr. Gen Than Shwe personally.

"I don't know what will be the outcome. As of now we can only hope and pray that they [the junta] would be merciful and do not take away our houses," U Maung says.

"Because this is all I have and I have no where else to go," he adds.

Some part of the information contributed by The The

READ MORE---> Voice of desperation from Mandalay...

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