Wednesday, January 28, 2009

KNU overrules local officials

ooops... trouble in paradise ... :-)

KNU halts logging after SPDC general harvests 2,500 tons

IMNA -District level authorities from the Karen National Union (KNU) have ordered Htay Company, owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, to halt logging in the Makate Forest near Three Pagodas Pass. The halt order overrules local officials and military officers, who had permitted Htay Company to harvest over 2,500 tons of ironwood.

The 50,000 acre Makate Forest, one of the largest remaining large-timber forests in Burma’s southeastern border area, stands inside KNU Dooplaya District. The KNU and Brigade 6 of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), have strictly controlled the forest with local villagers reporting that they are not allowed to log or even hunt within its reaches.

At the advent of the 2008 rainy season, however, Htay Company purchased logging rights from officials from Kyainnseikyi township administrative offices, the Dooplaya District Forestry Department and Battalion No. 17 of Brigade 6. The company began logging after the rains subsided in November, harvesting over 2,500 tons of timber in just two months.

The logging distressed local villagers, who felt that a forest they had been watching over for generations was being destroyed. In December, 5 representatives from 20 villages in the area drafted a complaint letter to the Dooplaya District Committee, which overseas the area.

According to Saw Liston, Dooplaya District Secretary, the villagers timed their letter to arrive on December 29th, immediately before a regularly scheduled forestry meeting involving district and township level officials. “Local villagers wrote a letter because they have protected this forest since before their grandmothers and grandfathers were alive,” Saw Liston told IMNA. “They said ‘the KNU is trading our heritage for money from the Htay company. Later, will the KNU also eat our rice?’”

Before receiving the letter, district level KNU authorities had not been aware of the logging by Htay Company, Saw Liston said, and in the subsequent meeting the Dooplaya District Committee ordered the logging to be halted. “Htay Company had an agreement with lower level district officials, but of this we did not know. When the villagers reported to us, we found out and then we discussed it in our meeting.”

Though the logging has halted, the Htay Company is being permitted to remove trees that have already been cut. “As our lower officers already made an agreement with the Htay Company, we will allow them to remove the trees they already cut,” Saw Liston told IMNA. “But we will not give them permission to cut any more trees. They have until May to remove their trees. This information has been informed to the Htay Company.”

In spite of the premature end to the timber project, Htay Company stands to make significant income. According to Htay Company sources, the large trees – each at least 15 feet in circumference and weighing 2 to 3 tons – fetch 30,000 baht per ton. Timber from the Makate forest, however, is likely destined to fetch an even higher price. According to a truck driver who is transporting timber for Htay Company, the trees are being transported to Abit village in Mudon Township, Mon State, where it is transferred and continues on for export from Rangoon.

According to an IMNA source in the Three Pagodas Pass Special Branch Police, Htay Company is owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, the former Rangoon Commander who was recently named Chief of Military Training.

With 10,000 acres and 2,500 tons of timber harvested – one fifth of the Makate forestland – local villagers left with the short end of the stick described the cultural and environmental impacts of the logging. “When the Htay Company cuts even one ironwood tree, it is very big and it destroys all the small trees around when it falls,” said one area resident. “And they [Htay loggers] leave all the branches from the trees they cut. They just leave the branches and there will fires in the hot season.”

READ MORE---> KNU overrules local officials...

Rohingya Refugees Appear in Thai Court, Face Extradition

Rohingya migrants sit on a police van after arriving at Ranong provincial court to hear charge of illegal entry in Ranong province, southwestern Thailand on Wednesday. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

Sixty two Rohingya boat people from Burma appeared before a court in Thailand’s southern Ranong province on Wednesday. All of the men, who were arrested on Tuesday by the Thai Navy, face repatriation to Burma if convicted of entering Thailand illegally.

Twelve other Rohingya refugees were under the age of 18 and are being detained at a Thai police station. Four others were admitted to hospital with injuries they say they sustained after Burmese troops intercepted their boat and beat them. One refugee reportedly died during the journey.

The Rohingyas, refugees from Burma’s Arakan State, appealed to Thai authorities not to send them back to Burma, where they face severe discrimination.

A Ranong resident who offered his help to the refugees said they had clearly been beaten. “There were many injuries on their backs. They said they were beaten by Burmese army.”

The Rohingyas, members of a Muslim minority in overwhelmingly Buddhist Burma, said they had bought a boat with the intention of reaching Malaysia. They had left their wives and children behind while they set out to find refuge and work in a Muslim country.

A Ranong police officer, Col Weerasilp Kwanseng, told the Associated Press that the refugees would be expelled from Thailand if found guilty of entering the country illegally.

The Associated Press report said one refugee, Mamoud Hussain, pleaded: “Have pity on us. They [Burmese army] will kill me and my family if I go back.”

Chris Lewa, a researcher on Rohingya issues, said: “This is an issue of serious concern. We are concerned what will happen to them because we know that the Burmese government never accepts any Rohingya back.”

She urged the Thai government to allow officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to the Rohingya migrants to determine whether they needed protection.

Meanwhile, Surin Pitsuwan, Thai general-secretary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, told the TV station Aljazeera: “This is not an issue for a particular country. It is a regional issue. It is also an issue for the international community.”

Last week, Thai Foreign Ministry officials met with envoys from India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma to discuss the exodus of the Rohingya from Burma.

READ MORE---> Rohingya Refugees Appear in Thai Court, Face Extradition...

Tensions Between Wa, Junta Continue to Rise

The Irrawaddy News

Tensions between the Burmese military and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have been mounting since a 30-member Burmese delegation led by Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the chief of Military Affairs Security, was forced to disarm during a visit to Wa-held territory in Shan State on January 19, according to sources in the area.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border, said that the visiting Burmese military officials and accompanying soldiers were told to disarm as they entered Wa-controlled territory to attend a meeting with the UWSA at their headquarters of Panghsang.

According to Mai Aik Phone, who observes Wa affairs, the purpose of the visit was to allow Burmese military leaders to learn how to launch an effective election campaign in the area in 2010. However, sources said that discussions were limited to plans to develop the local economy.

Since last year’s referendum on a military-drafted constitution, the Burmese regime has been sending delegations to different parts of the country to drum up support for an election slated to be held in 2010. The regime claimed to have won overwhelming approval for its new charter, despite charges that the referendum was rigged.

As part of its plans for the future, the junta has stepped up its efforts to persuade ceasefire groups to disarm. However, the Wa have been particularly resistant to this idea, putting renewed pressure on a ceasefire agreement that was reached 20 years ago.

On December 5, Brig-Gen Kyaw Phyoe, the Burmese Army’s regional commander in the Golden Triangle area of Shan State, met with the commander of the UWSA’s 468th Brigade, Col Sai Hsarm, in Mongpawk, south of Panghsang, to pressure him to withdraw troops from the area and “exchange arms for peace.” The Wa leader rejected the demand.

Earlier this month, the UWSA proposed a plan to designate territory under its control as a special autonomous region. Although the Burmese military hasn’t responded to the proposal, the UWSA has already begun to refer to its territory as the “Wa State Government Special Region” in official documents.

The Wa area has been known by the Burmese military as “Shan State Special Region 2” since the UWSA entered into a ceasefire agreement with the regime in 1989.

In 2003, when the United Wa State Party, the political wing of the UWSA, attended a junta-sponsored national constitutional convention, it asked to be allowed to form a Wa State.

Wa political observers estimate that there are 20,000 UWSA soldiers currently deployed along Burma’s borders with Thailand and China, while an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 Wa villagers inhabit areas of lower Shan State.

READ MORE---> Tensions Between Wa, Junta Continue to Rise...

Chins Face Human Rights Abuses: HRW

The Irrawaddy News

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday released a report calling for the Burmese military government to end human rights abuses against ethnic Chin in western Burma.

The New York-based human rights monitors also urged the Indian government and the newly formed Mizoram State government in northeastern India to “extend protection to Chin who have fled to neighboring India to escape ongoing abuses and severe repression in Burma.”

An ethnic Chin child refugee sits with his mother in a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Burma's military regime is perpetrating widespread abuse of the mainly-Christian Chin ethnic group, who face famine, forced labour, torture and persecution, HRW said. (Photo: AFP)

In the 93-page report, HRW said that ethnic Chin experience a wide range of human rights abuses, including forced labor, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and religious repression at the hands of the Burmese army and government officials.

The report also accused the ethnic Chin insurgent group, the Chin National Army (CNA), of committing abuses against Chin villagers, such as harassment, beatings and extortion.

HRW called on the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups to end abuses and for Burma’s ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to allow humanitarian agencies in Rangoon unfettered access to Chin State.

The HRW report included testimonies from about 140 ethnic Chin inside Burma or living in Mizoram interviewed between 2005 and 2008.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, HRW Burma consultant David Mathieson said, “That was just from 140 interviews. There are almost half a million people in Chin State. Therefore, the true number of people who have been tortured is very difficult to calculate.

“Wherever there are soldiers of the Burmese army and non-state armed groups, such as the Chin National Front [the political wing of the CNA], civilians are vulnerable to abuses by armed groups,” he said. “Abuses sometimes happen in towns and cities in Chin state, but they happen most frequently in rural areas. Anywhere where there are Burmese army soldiers and any kind of low-intensity conflict, civilians are vulnerable to these types of abuses.”

HRW quoted one Chin Christian church leader now living in Mizoram as saying, “These underground groups, rather than being a help, make life even more difficult for us.”

However, Chin National Front Joint General Secretary (1) Shwe Khar denied the charges that CAN soldiers extort money, food and property from Chin villagers.

“Chin soldiers used to collect donations from the villagers, but did not extort money,” he said.

There are currently about 75,000 Chin people living in Mizoram and a few thousand in New Delhi. Thousands more have migrated to Malaysia and to other countries such as America and Canada.

Last year, at least 70,000 ethnic Chin were affected by a famine caused by a plague of rats, which ate rice stocks in many of the state’s villages, according to exiled Chin rights groups. More than 30 children died as a result of the famine.

READ MORE---> Chins Face Human Rights Abuses: HRW...

Junta Promises to Address Rohingya Exodus

A wounded Rohingya migrant is treated by a Thai nurse at the provincial hospital in Ranong province, southern Thailand, on Tuesday. A new boatload of the 78 ethnic Rohingya migrants was detained in Thailand, several with lacerations, burns and other wounds they said were inflicted by Burmese soldiers. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

Burma’s No 2 leader, Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, has promised the Thai military supreme commander during an official visit to Burma that authorities will try to stem the flow of Rohingya refugees who try to reach neighboring countries illegally, according to the Thai News Agency (TNA).

A Thai delegation led by Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Jaggabatara visited Naypyidaw, the Burmese capital, on Monday.

A wounded Rohingya migrant is treated by a Thai nurse at the provincial hospital in Ranong province, southern Thailand, on Tuesday. A new boatload of the 78 ethnic Rohingya migrants was detained in Thailand, several with lacerations, burns and other wounds they said were inflicted by Burmese soldiers. (Photo: AP)
Gen Songkitti was quoted by TNA that Maung Aye agreed with Thailand’s request to address the issue of Rohingya Muslims who have sought refuge in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, often risking dangerous journeys by sea in small boats.

Maung Aye said authorities will try to prevent the Rohingya from leaving Burma for other countries.

Burma’s state-run newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, mentioned the visit by the Thai supreme commander, but disclosed no details about the meeting.

Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television reported on Tuesday that a boat with 78 ethnic Rohingya migrants was detained in Thailand. Some Rohingya had lacerations, burns and other wounds.

According to the report, the migrants fled Burma about a month ago, and the Burmese military intercepted their vessel as it sailed south toward Thailand.

A Rohingya, speaking through a translator, said the Burmese military beat them with sticks. Others said the soldiers tried to set their boat on fire, and they showed severe body burns.

A senior Thai navy official told The Associated Press news agency that the migrants would be repatriated once their boat was fixed. "We will send them back through legal channels," he said.

On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that it is still awaiting a response from the Thai government one week after it requested access to Rohingya refugees in Thailand to examine whether they are in need of international protection.

NGOs have alleged that up to 300 Rohingya are missing after the Thai navy denied them refuge and turned them back out to sea.

According to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is estimated that up to 20,000 illegal Rohingya migrants have entered Thailand over recent years and remain in the country.

Last week, Thailand offered to host a regional conference to discuss the mass migration of Rohingya refugees.

Foreign Ministry officials met with envoys from India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Burma to discuss the exodus of the Rohingya from Burma, where they say they are persecuted economically and denied basic rights of citizenship.

READ MORE---> Junta Promises to Address Rohingya Exodus...

Are Malaysian Officials Trafficking Burmese Migrants?

The Irrawaddy News

KUALA LUMPUR — A scandalous trade in Burmese migrant labor involving Malaysian officials and international human traffickers is now coming to light, investigators say.

Like thousands of Burmese migrant workers, That Zin Myint travelled overland from Rangoon to Bangkok and reached the Thai border where local syndicates, for a hefty bribe, helped him cross into northern Malaysia and move overland to the capital where cheap, unskilled labor is in great demand.

‘'Don't take my photographs... they will come after me,'' Zin Myint said, referring to Malaysian authorities who now closely monitor local and overseas publications for anti-Malaysia sentiments expressed by migrant workers.

On arrival Zin Myint “celebrated” with others from his village and joined some three million—documented and undocumented—Asian migrant workers who live and work here in deplorable conditions.

An estimated 150,000 of these workers are Burmese migrant workers, many of them Kachins and Muslim Rohingyas from Burma's northern Rakhine region.

‘'We Burmese migrants are sold like fish and vegetables,'' Myint told IPS in an interview in Pudu market, a big wet market in the capital where Burmese migrant workers predominate.

Myint had been arrested, taken to the Thai border, and officially “deported” which actually means getting sold to human traffickers. “I was robbed of all my cash by both Malaysian and Thai officials and sold to traffickers,'' Myint told IPS.

“I was held in a jungle camp near the border for three weeks until my relatives bought me from the traffickers. I bribed my way back into Malaysia,'' he said, adding that while conditions are tough in Malaysia, they are better than Burma or Thailand. ‘'There is food, work and a roof over my head.''

Myint is one of the luckier ones to be arrested and “deported” only once. He is now considered a leader in the Pudu area and much sought after by other Burmese workers for “assistance” in avoiding arrest and deportation all over again.

Burmese migrant workers call the trade “bwan” (thrown away) or one of the worst forms of human trafficking.

“Malaysia does not recognize key international agreements on the protection of refugees and foreign nationals. Nor does it apply to foreign migrants the same rights and legal protections given to Malaysian citizens,'' said Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, a rights NGO that protects migrant workers.

Human rights activists have long charged that immigration, police and other enforcement officials, including the unpopular voluntary force called RELA, have been “trading'' Burmese migrants, especially Rohingyas, to human traffickers in Thailand who then pass them on to deep sea fishing trawler operators in the South China Sea.

The women are generally sold into the sex industry.

“They are treated as a commodity and frequently bought and sold, and we have been condemning this practice for a long time,'' Fernandez said.

“Our demands have always fallen on deaf ears despite the accumulating evidence of the involvement of uniformed officials in the trade,'' Fernandez told IPS.

It has become commonplace for the authorities to use the vigilante RELA force to periodically arrest and “deport” Rohingyas, but since Burma does not recognize them as citizens, the practice is to take them to the Bukit Kayu Hitam area on the Thai-Malaysia border and force them to cross over into Thailand.

“They are arrested, jailed and deported, but since they are stateless they are taken to the Thai border and often sold to Thai traffickers,'' said Fernandez. Invariably, the “deported'' Rohingyas bribe Thai and Malaysian officials and return to Malaysia.

The accusation against corrupt Malaysian officials is long standing and made frequently by refugees, human rights activists, opposition lawmakers and is even the subject of one official probe.

Malaysian television channels have also investigated and exposed the “sale” of the Rohingya refugees on the Malaysia-Thai border, although they did not finger Malaysian officials for fear of reprisals.

A U.S. probe being conducted into trafficking by the powerful Senate foreign relations committee has stimulated interest in the plight of Rohingyas when its findings are relayed to key U.S. enforcement agencies and Interpol for possible action, Senate officials have said.
“U.S. Senate foreign relations committee staff are reviewing reports of extortion and human trafficking from Burmese and other migrants in Malaysia, allegedly at the hands of Malaysia government officials,'' a staff official told international news agencies in early January.

“The allegations include assertions that Burmese and other migrants—whether or not they have UNHCR documentation—are taken from Malaysian government detention facilities and transported to the Thailand-Malaysia border,'' the official had said.

At the border, they alleged, “money is demanded from them, or they are turned over to human traffickers in southern Thailand.”

“If they pay, they return to Malaysia. If not, they are sold to traffickers,'' the official said, adding that teams had visited Malaysia, Thailand and Burma to collect evidence on the human trade.

Some of the immigrants from Burma and other countries are refugees recognized by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which has an office in Kuala Lumpur.

Since 1995, about 40,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma have been settled in the U.S., most of them after passing through Malaysia, while the emigration applications of thousands more have been rejected by third countries.

“They are left stranded, unable to return to Myanmar (official name for Burma) where they face certain persecution by the military regime and rejected from immigrating to third countries,” said opposition lawmaker Charles Santiago who has raised their plight in parliament.

“They need urgent help and understanding of their plight,” he told IPS, urging Malaysia to sign U.N. refugee conventions and accord refugees due recognition. ”We can no longer close our eyes to their plight.”

“We are trapped in a foreign country without papers and without recognition,'' said Habibur Rahman, general secretary of the Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia, an organization that speaks for stateless Rohingyas in Malaysia.

“We have been looking for a way to escape this dilemma but without success,'' he told IPS.

“We are denied citizenship and made stateless by the Myanmar military junta and persecuted and forced to flee to neighboring countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh,'' he said.

The involvement of the U.S. Senate in the issue has upset Malaysian officials who have warned the U.S. to ‘'take their hands off'' the country, saying such action violated Malaysian sovereignty.

However, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has asked the U.S. to pass on information pertaining to the allegations, saying the government does not tolerate extortion from migrants by officials.

“The U.S. authorities have evidence we would be very thankful for, if they can pass the information to us for investigation and appropriate action,'' he told Bernama, the official news agency, on Jan. 15.

An upset foreign minister, Rais Yatim, told local media on Jan. 19 that the allegations were “baseless, ridiculous and farfetched.”

“We are a civilized country. We are not living in barbaric times when people are sold off at the whims and fancies of people with power. It is certainly unfair of the U.S. Senate to accuse us of doing such outrageous things,'' Yatim said.

READ MORE---> Are Malaysian Officials Trafficking Burmese Migrants?...

NLD holds lecture on Law Affairs in Rangoon

By Ko Wild

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The fortnightly lecture on Law Affairs was held this afternoon at the National League for Democracy (NLD) HQ in Rangoon.

Thingangyun constituency (1) NLD MP and Central Legal Aid Committee member advocate U Thein Nyunt, delivered his lecture on the title 'Burmese Laws and Practical Problems' and he led the discussions on his lecture.

Central Executive Committee (CEC) member U Win Tin told Mizzima that U Thein Nyunt had based his lecture on the official strategy of the NLD, national reconciliation, restoring democracy and human rights, and also on the NLD's tactics of working within the legal framework, resolution of political issues by political means and other legal issues.

"NLD has resolved all political issues within the legal framework and by legal means throughout its history. We are also following this line. He explained and discussed all these things by blending them with his experiences and legal matters," U Win Tin said.

In the Q&A section, he discussed South Africa's experience of the 'Truth Commission' exercised by those who toppled the apartheid government for national reconciliation. In this programme, the people, who admitted their crimes, were pardoned.

The lecture was attended by youths, women's wing members and CEC members including U Win Tin, U Nyunt Wai, Thakin Soe Myint, U Khin Maung Swe among others. There were a total of over 150 people.

Today's lecture and talk was jointly organized by the Rangoon Division Assistance to Youth Organization and Township and NLD Youth Organizations in 'Youth Education Programme'.

READ MORE---> NLD holds lecture on Law Affairs in Rangoon...

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