Friday, January 30, 2009

Amnesty slates Burma on migrants

(Bangkok Post) -The human rights group Amnesty International on Friday called on Burma to stop persecuting its Rohingya people and urged its neighbours to meet their humanitarian obligations.

London-based Amnesty International said in an open letter issued in Bangkok that the mistreatment of the Muslim minority from Burma's western Rakhine State was the "root cause'' of a crisis which has seen thousands of migrants cast adrift in open seas.

"Burma must immediately stop the persecution of the Rohingya minority, which is the root cause of the crisis,'' said the letter, signed by Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Director Sam Zarifi and circulated to six Asian nations.

"All governments should meet their obligations under the law of the sea and provide assistance to those in distress at sea,'' it added.

Thailand's military was accused of towing hundreds of Rohingya people out to sea in poorly equipped boats with scant food and water.

The accusations surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia, some claiming to have been beaten by Thai soldiers.
Hundreds of the boat people are still believed to be missing at sea.

"The Thai government must stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance and cease any plans to proceed with more expulsions,'' the letter continued.

Amnesty said it was "encouraged'' by reports that Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva had invited the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to participate in a regional forum on the issue.

Meanwhile, UNHCR on Friday refused to comment on the condition of teenagers from Burma being held in Thai custody out of "courtesy'' to Thailand's government.

UNHCR on Thursday visited 12 teenagers being held in Thailand's southern Ranong province -- part of a group of 78 migrants discovered off southern Thailand on Monday.

They claim abuse at home but Burma's junta denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group in the mainly Buddhist country and claims the migrants are Bangladeshis.

On Friday Indonesia said it would repatriate the 174 Rohingya migrants found off its coastline, currently being detained on an Indonesian naval base.

READ MORE---> Amnesty slates Burma on migrants...

Burma refuses to recognize Rohingya as citizens

By Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Burma on Friday, refused to recognize Rohingya - Muslim minorities, as citizens of the country and said they are not included in the multi-ethnic groups recorded by the state, the government mouthpiece, New Light of Myanmar Newspaper said.

The statement in the newspaper said, "The Rohinja [Rohingya] is not included in over 100 national races of the Union of Myanmar [Burma]," denying media reports that groups of boatpeople, who recently landed on Thai coast, are from Burma.

The statement by the Burmese government, however, said it will "take necessary measures in connection with the above matter."

The statement came as the Amnesty International on Friday urged the Burmese regime to stop systematic persecutions and discrimination on the Rohingya, who the AI said were living in Burma's western state of Arakan for decades.

Benjamin Zawacki, AI's Burma and Thailand researcher, said the statement by the Burmese government clearly demonstrates its policy on the Rohingya and shows how they are denied the right of citizenship, despite of living in the country.

"They have been made stateless as a government policy. In this case we have a government policy to purposely render its own citizens stateless by saying they are not citizens at all," Zawacki told Mizzima.

"This policy needs to change, it should not be accepted by the international community and first and foremost it should not be accepted by the regional countries," he added.

According to Zawacki and leaders of the Rohingya community, Rohingyas live in northern areas of Arakan State in Western Burma, bordering Bangladesh.

The Rohingyas, according to Zawacki, have been living in Burma for decades but the Burmese government has adopted a policy of "Exclusion" on them.

In a statement released on Friday, the AI said the problem of Rohingya boatpeople needs to be solved at the root in Burma, while regional countries including Thailand should ensure the safety and dignity of the boatpeople, who are being rescued in their territory.

Zawacki said regional countries must pressurise the Burmese government to change its policy against the Rohingya and to stop persecuting them.

"The solution to the problem does not simply start with when they [Rohingya] board the boats but the solution needs to start with why they are boarding the boat and why they are fleeing and their need to flee," Zawacki said.

Meanwhile, Thailand's Foreign Minister on Thursday met UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and discussed on coordinating in solving the problems of Rohingya boatpeople, who have recently landed on Thai soil.

UNHCR told Mizzima that it had received a positive signal from Thailand to allow access to the Rohingyas, who are detained by Thai authorities, to find out their protection needs.

Thailand also said it has also met representatives from Bangladesh, Burma, and Indonesia to discuss on how to solve the problems associating with the boat people.

But Amnesty International, in its statement on Friday urged Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand not to just deport the boatpeople but to assess their protection needs and provide safety to those who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of being returned.

Zawacki welcomed Thailand's meeting with the UNHCR saying, "It is definitely a positive step," but further urged Thailand to immediately conduct investigations on allegations of rights abuses by the Thai Army on the Rohingyas.

READ MORE---> Burma refuses to recognize Rohingya as citizens...

Veteran Shan politician preparing to contest 2010 election

By Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) - A veteran ethnic Shan politician, Shwe Ohn on Thursday said he and his friends have formed a group that will be transformed into a political party to contest the ensuing 2010 general elections.

Shwe Ohn, in an interview to Mizzima said, he and his colleagues based on the spirit of federalism and democracy had chosen a party name – the Union Democratic Alliance. And on January 26 formed an eight-member organising committee that would work for the formation of the party.

"We have formed it with the aim to represent all groups of people including the Burmans. We will represent 135 ethnic groups. We have sent a letter to Naypyitaw expressing our intention to turn the group into a political party," Shwe Ohn said.

While there has been no response so far from Naypyitaw, Shwe Ohn said once the authorities allow the group to form, they would welcome all communities and ethnic groups to become members.

Shwe Ohn had earlier served as an advisor to an ethnic alliance party – the United Nationalities League for Democracy – which the junta later banned.

In 2005, Shwe Ohn was arrested by the junta along with other ethnic Shan leaders including Hkun Tun Oo and Sai Nyunt Lwin, who are respectively chairman and secretary of the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD).

Though the government later released Shwe Ohn, (86) the junta continued to detain Hkun Tun Oo and Sai Nyunt Lwin.

Shwe Ohn was an observer at the historic 'Panglong agreement', where ethnic leaders and representatives along with Burma's Independence architect General Aung San together signed an agreement to form a federal Union.

Despite his age, Shwe Ohn contiues to actively engage himself in politics and has regular contacts and interactions with other politicians.

READ MORE---> Veteran Shan politician preparing to contest 2010 election...

Over five million people face food shortage in Burma

By Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - At least five million people out of a population of 55 million in military ruled Burma are living below the food poverty line, said the United Nations.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint report 'crop and food security assessment mission to Myanmar' said that there are over five million people who are finding it difficult to access food in Burma after Cyclone Nargis ravaged the delta region in May last year.

"Access to food remains a critical challenge for the poorest people and for vulnerable populations in remote areas of Myanmar [Burma]," Chris Kaye, WFP's Representative for Burma said in a written text.

Meanwhile, FAO/WFP's report said, during the 2008 monsoon season, agricultural production suffered a significant decline in areas severely affected by Cyclone Nargis because of poor quality seeds, salinity and iron toxicity in the water, lack of agricultural labour and draught animals.

"Many households are not earning a living from their pre-Cyclone Nargis livelihoods because they could not access the capital required to acquire productive assets lost during the storm," said the report.

The cyclone-related damage to the livestock and fishing sectors in the Irrawaddy Delta will continue to affect food supply and income generation in 2008/09, the report added.

Moreover, the report also said that around 685 hectares of rice and 400 hectares of maize in 121 villages in Chin state were destroyed as a result of rat infestation triggered by the flowering of bamboo in the beginning of 2007, causing food insecurity in these areas.

"Nearly all households reported losing that year's harvest," the report said, "The situation will remain critical until July 2009 and households without alternative income sources (female, single-headed or the elderly) are especially vulnerable".

Similarly, the people from northern Arakan state in western Burma face malnutrition as a consequence of increase in rice price touching 75 percent compared to the previous year, according to WFP assessment undertaken in June 2008.

"Households were found to be reducing the number of meals consumed," the report said and added that the average number of meals declined from 2.8 to 2.0 over the year prior to the assessment.

With high percentages of food insecurity and vulnerable populations in Burma, the WFP/FAO's joint report said," emergency food assistance continues to be required in several areas of the country".

"And for many of those affected by Cyclone Nargis, who are engaged in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, the limited delta harvest means they will continue to rely on assistance to meet their food needs," said Chris Kaye.

The report also mentioned that the state and division in Burma which urgently need emergency food assistance are cyclone-affected areas of Irrawaddy Division (85 000 tonnes); rat infestation affected areas of Chin State (23 000 tonnes), north of Arakan state (15 000 tonnes), Kachin State (8 300 tonnes); north Shan State (20 200 tonnes), east Shan State (7 000 tonnes) and Magwe Division (27 500 tonnes).

The report also recommended 'Food-for-Education' to be implemented in the areas for both food insecurity and low attendance rate for primary and secondary schools and 'Food-for-work' activities to be created for reducing high unemployment and underemployment rates and high temporary migration rates.

READ MORE---> Over five million people face food shortage in Burma...

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