Friday, February 6, 2009

Grassroots activist pressured by police - Than Soe

(DVB)–Grassroots activist Than Soe, who helped local farmers in Magwe’s Aung Lan township report land seizures, has gone into hiding after being threatened with arrest by the police.

Than Soe, a resident of San Kalay village in Aung Lan provided legal support to local farmers seeking justice after their farms were seized by local authorities who were seeking a monopoly on sugar cane production.

A resident of Aung Lan said Than Soe had recently been harassed by township police special information branch officers, who came to his home and threatened to arrest him for having connections with political activists.

"Aung Lan special police officer Nyi Nyi Aung kept going to his house constantly and told family members the authorities wanted to question him as they believed that he had given refuge to 88 Generation Students members hiding from government arrest," said the Aung Lan resident.

"He said the authorities would try to catch him if he didn't turn himself in soon."

The resident said Than Soe had gone into hiding to avoid arrest but Nyi Nyi Aung was still showing up at his house frequently, pressuring his family to turn him in.

"Than Soe, who is a farmer himself, was enthusiastically providing assistance to his fellow farmers who were being abused and now authorities are trying to throw him into prison," he said.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

READ MORE---> Grassroots activist pressured by police - Than Soe...

Opposition slams junta’s refusal to free prisoners

(DVB)–Pro-democracy groups have criticised the ruling State Peace and Development Council’s refusal to release political prisoners and accused them of stalling national reconciliation.

During the recent visit of United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to the country, Burmese government ministers said prisoners already had access to an appeal process.

Regime leaders also called for sanctions to be lifted to allow Burma to develop.

Arakan League for Democracy leader Aye Thar Aung, who is also secretary of the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, said the regime was only focused on its own aims.

"The refusal shows in a way that the SPDC is not interested in national reconciliation," Aye Thar Aung said.

Tate Naing of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said the release of political prisoners was vital for progress in Burma.

"With what is happening now in Burma, the essential thing is the release of political prisoners," he said.

Military and political analyst Htay Aung of the Network for Democracy and Development said "We can say that the SPDC's refusal to take basic steps shows that it has no desire for national reconciliation,” he said.

“They might also be worried that the release of political prisoners might ruin their election plans."

Nyo Ohn Myint of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) said the regime’s insistence that sanctions be lifted and refusal to release political prisoner meant there could be no compromise with the opposition.

"There would be no economic sanctions if all political prisoners were released; the blockade arose from their human rights violations,” Nyo Ohn Myint said.

“Therefore the SPDC needs to release all political prisoners," he said.

"It is necessary to negotiate with groups inside the country for the release of political prisoners and to solve the problems of Burma."

Aye Thar Aung said the opposition needed to work together to pressure for the release of political prisoners.

"To solve the problems of the country, the NLD and ethnic parties and armed groups should work together in unity,” he said.

“Instead of just making demands, it is more important to start to do what needs to be done,” he went on.

“It is necessary for the people and political parties to work together to make them release political prisoners."

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Opposition slams junta’s refusal to free prisoners...

Generation Wave launches new campaign

(DVB)–Underground youth activist group Generation Wave began a new campaign in Rangoon yesterday, spraying graffiti and distributing posters and leaflets calling for a new government.

The group called their campaign Change New Government, which shares the initials CNG with the compressed natural gas stickers the authorities have put on cars.

Generation Wave spokesperson Moe Thway said group members had distributed leaflets in crowded places and put up posters on walls in South Okkalapa, Yankin and Kaba Aye.

"We did it early in the morning, at Dagon-1 high school, on the bridge near the Yuzana Garden Hotel and on the walls of diplomatic residences, and we sprayed paint near the zoo and the armoured carriers battalion base," he said.

Moe Thway said the project was intended in part to make fun of the government.

"The military government put CNG stickers on cars; they forced people to change from petrol to CNG,” he said.

“This is a way of raising awareness by using their own brand, and changing the meaning to make people think that they need a new government whenever they see the CNG sign."

Moe Thway said that the new generation in Burma wanted to bring about change and a better future.

Generation Wave was formed on 9 October 2007 and is made up of the younger generation of students and artists.

Twenty members of the group are currently in prison, including hip-hop artist Zayar Thaw of the band Acid.

Reporting by Naw Say Phaw

READ MORE---> Generation Wave launches new campaign...

Indonesia backtracks on Burmese migrants

(The Age) -Indonesia says it will consider granting refugee status to hundreds of Muslim migrants from Burma allegedly abused and dumped at sea by Thai security forces.

In an about-turn from the government's previous line that the Rohingya men were economic migrants, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda admitted they could have claims to refugee protection.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) would be allowed access to the roughly 400 men who were rescued in desperate conditions off northern Sumatra in two boats in recent weeks, he said, reversing an earlier refusal.

"We did not allow the UNHCR earlier because our early findings were that they (the boat people) were economic migrants," he said on Friday.

He said Indonesia now accepted the possibility the migrants "faced some threats in the legal system from their countries of origin due to religious politics, among others."

"We do not reject that the boat people in Sabang and Idi Rayeuk left their countries due to reasons that were more political in nature," he added.

His comments will likely rile fellow Southeast Asian countries Burma and Thailand, which have denied any wrongdoing after boats full of migrants began appearing in Indian and Indonesian waters last month.

The men from mainly Buddhist Burma's minority Rohingya Muslim community have said they were among about 1,000 migrants who landed illegally on Thai territory late last year.

They say they were beaten for days by Thai security forces and then towed out to sea in around nine engineless boats and set adrift with little food and water.

About 850 have been found but rights groups fear that scores and possibly hundreds could still be missing at sea, feared dead.

© 2009 AFP

READ MORE---> Indonesia backtracks on Burmese migrants...

A Journey to another World

Scenes of everyday life in the Karenni Refugee Camp-1, near Mae Hong Son.
(Photo: Kyaw Zwa Moe/The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy News

Mae Hong Son, Thailand – The journey took only 30 minutes or so but it brought me into a different world. The old motorcycle, bouncing along on a rough, unpaved path, sent up clouds of dirt that penetrated my mask and scarf. It was a rollercoaster ride, through steep mountain slopes that dropped away on either side.

Small groups of people made way for us and children looked enviously at the motorcycle, as if dreaming that one day they perhaps could also drive one home.

The snarling machine maneuvered its way stubbornly upwards until another world opened up before me. A world of tiny huts, people carrying bamboo and timber poles, others waiting for their rations, children in soiled clothes playing in the dirt in front of their makeshift school.

Many of the adults wore longyi, the traditional Burmese sarong, and their lips were stained scarlet from chewing betel nuts.

Thousands of huts huddled on the hillsides, cut off from the outside world. No permanent building was to be seen, no power lines, no telephones, no paved roads, only a few motorcycles negotiating the rough paths.

Welcome to Karenni Refugee Camp-1, located only 15 km from Mae Hong Son, a bustling resort town in northern Thailand. The camp houses more than 20,000 ethnic Karenni from Burma’s Karenni (Kayah) State in eastern Burma. A further 4,000 Karenni refugees live in a second settlement, Camp-2.

The camps—and eight others along the Thai-Burmese border—are products of the decades-long rule of Burma’s oppressive military regime. More than 148,000 refugees live in the 10 camps, which are supported by the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a non-governmental humanitarian relief and development agency financed by 11 charities and other donors.

Across the nearby border, other Karenni refugees—estimated at the end of 2007 to number some 81,000—are living rough or in relocation sites, classed as internally displaced persons, or IDPs. Fighting between government forces and ethnic rebel groups such as the Karenni National Progressive Party uprooted them and sent them seeking the safety of the jungle.

More than 30 percent of the 300,000 Karenni population are refugees or IDPs. As today’s IDPs are the refugees of tomorrow, Camp-1—like the others along the Thai-Burmese border—is preparing to take in more in the future.

The refugees have dramatic and heartbreaking stories to tell.

A teacher told me how his brother was arrested and tortured to death by government troops. He died in the early 2000s shortly after visiting his brother in Camp-1.

“Our family lost him,” said the soft-talking teacher. “I felt so sorry for my brother.”

Many young people in their 20s know no other world than the camp. They were born and grew up here, educated in the camp schools and starting families of their own. A few had managed to visit Thai towns beyond the camp gates.

Kay Mehl, 23, was born in the jungle, daughter of a Karenni rebel soldier. She can’t even imagine what her homeland looks like. “I’ve never seen the Salween river,” she said—referring to one of Burma’s biggest rivers, which runs close to the border.

As hope fades of ever seeing her homeland, Kay Mehl wants to be accepted for resettlement in the US.

Her aim is shared by many refugees. Five hundred residents of Camp-1 have been resettled in western countries so far, while others have been waiting for up to 20 years—living in the hope that one day their turn will come.

Young people were happily playing chinlone and football in the late afternoon sunshine as I left the camp. The images and the questions played in my mind on the rough ride back to the comforts of Mae Hong Son—how long will they have to wait before they lead normal lives, how long will the refugee camps be in existence? How long, indeed, until Burma’s leaders create a country where every citizen can live happily in peace and freedom?

READ MORE---> A Journey to another World...

A peek into brutal Burma

By: Nicholas D Kristof

Bangkok Post - Before entering Burma from Thailand, you scrub your bags of any hint that you might be engaged in some pernicious evil, such as espionage, journalism or promotion of human rights. Then you exit from the Thai town of Mae Sot and walk across the gleaming white "friendship bridge" to the Burmese immigration post on the other side. Entering Burma, you adjust your watch: Burma is 30 minutes ahead - and 50 years behind.

Already Burma's government is one of the most brutal in the world, and in recent months it has become even more repressive. A blogger, Nay Phone Latt, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A prominent comedian, Zarganar, was sentenced to 59 years. A former student leader, Min Ko Naing, a survivor of years of torture and solitary confinement, has received terms of 65 years so far and faces additional sentences that may reach a total of 150 years.

"Politically, things are definitely getting worse," said David Mathieson, an expert on Burma for Human Rights Watch living on the Thai-Burmese border.

"They've just sent hundreds of people who should be agents of change to long prison terms."
A new American presidency is a useful moment to review policy toward Burma, and the truth is that the West's approach has failed. The Burmese junta has ruled despotically since 1988, ignoring democratic elections. Since then, sanctions have had zero effect in moderating the regime.

I have vast respect for Aung San Suu Kyi, the extraordinary woman who won a Nobel Peace Prize for standing up to the country's thugs. But the best use of her courage right now would be to accept that the trade sanctions she advocated have accomplished nothing more than further impoverishing her own people. As with Cuba and North Korea, isolating a venal regime usually just hurts the innocent and helps the thugs stay in power. (JEG's: can anybody explain that the sactions have always been against the generals' pockets not the people)

Instead, the best bet is financial sanctions that specifically target individuals close to the regime - and, even more, a clampdown on Burma's imports of arms. "It would be very difficult to get an arms embargo through the Security Council, but that's something that really goes to the heart of any military regime," Mathieson said. "You lock them out of the tools of their own self-aggrandisement and repression."

President George W Bush tried to help Burmese dissidents, but he had zero international capital. The Obama administration, in contrast, has a chance to lead an international initiative to curb Burmese arms imports and bring the regime to the negotiating table.

Burma's weapons have come from or through China, Russia, Ukraine, Israel and Singapore, and Russia is even selling Burma's dictators a nuclear reactor, Mathieson said.

In crossing from Thailand to Burma, you pass through a time warp. You leave the bustle and dynamism of Thailand and encounter a stagnating backwater of antique cars and shacks beside open sewers. I found it difficult to interview people in Burma, because I was travelling as a tourist with two of my kids (and my wife is sick of me getting our kids arrested with me in dictatorships). But we dropped in on the Myawaddy hospital, which was so understaffed that no one stopped us as we marched through wards of neglected patients.

The most flourishing business we saw on the Burmese side belonged to a snake charmer who set up temporary shop outside a temple. The moment a crowd gathered, an armed soldier ran over in alarm - and then relaxed when he saw that the only threat to public order was a cobra.

In Mae Sot, Thailand, I visited with former Burmese political prisoners, like the courageous Bo Kyi. They are at risk of being killed by Burmese government assassins, yet they are campaigning aggressively for change. Equally inspiring are the Free Burma Rangers, who risk their lives to sneak deep into the country for months at a time to provide medical care and document human rights abuses.

One gutsy American working with the group, who asked that his name not be used for security reasons, communicated with me by satellite phone from his hiding place deep inside Burma. He knows that the Burmese government will kill him if it catches him, yet he stays to gather photos and other evidence of how Burmese soldiers are drafting ethnic Karen villagers for forced labour and are raping women and girls. One recent case described by the Free Burma Rangers involved a 7-year-old girl who was raped, and then killed.

The courage of these people seeking a new Burma is infectious and inspiring. In this new US administration, let's help them - and see if with new approaches we can finally topple one of the most odious regimes in the world.

Nicholas D Kristof is a New York Times columnist.

READ MORE---> A peek into brutal Burma...

Suffer the Rohingya

EDITORIAL - Japan Times

About 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar. They are a Muslim group in a Buddhist state. They are not recognized as one of Myanmar's official minorities, which means they are subject to persecution and worse in that army-run dictatorship. Not surprisingly, thousands of Rohingya have fled their homeland. Officially, some 28,000 Rohingya live in refugee camps in Bangladesh; that number is dwarfed by the estimated 200,000 living illegally there.

The Rohingya's precarious existence makes them easy prey for predators of all sorts. Human traffickers promise them better lives outside Myanmar — for a fee. The exodus to countries throughout Southeast Asia exposes them to different dangers. In recent weeks, some 200 Rohingya have been discovered adrift at sea. They tell of being towed into international waters by the Thai military, with engines sabotaged. Hundreds more are thought to have drowned.

After initially denying any involvement, the Thai military admitted towing the Rohingya out to sea, but with food, water and functioning engines. The military also deny charges of beating refugees before exiling them. In the face of growing international criticism, the Thai government has asked the U.N. High Commission for Refugees to inspect the refugees it has in custody. While rejecting allegations of Thai misconduct, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva blamed traffickers for the plight of the Rohingya and has called on all countries of the region to help deal with this problem.

Mr. Abhisit is right about one thing: While the number of Rohingya intercepted in Thai waters has jumped fourfold in two years — from 1,225 in 2006 to 4,886 last year — this is not just a Thai problem. Rohingya refugees are found in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, and refugees say they would rather die than go home.

Using Orwellian logic, Myanmar even denies that the refugees originate there: "Rohingya people are not among Myanmar's more than 100 ethnic minority groups." Nonetheless, the junta has said it will tighten its borders to prevent more people from fleeing the country. That is an ominous promise. The fate of the Rohingya is another line in the indictment against the junta that rules Myanmar. That does not absolve the rest of the world from doing more to help this embattled minority.

READ MORE---> Suffer the Rohingya...

UN calls for Myanmar talks

(Straits Times) -UNITED NATIONS - UN chief Ban Ki-moon is appealing to Myanmar's military rulers and opposition to resume early, substantive negotiations without preconditions, his spokesman said on Thursday.

Michele Montas said the secretary general issued the appeal after being briefed in New Delhi by his special adviser Ibrahim Gambari on the outcome of his four-day visit to Myanmar which ended on Tuesday.

She added that Mr Ban, who was in the Indian capital on the last leg of a two-week swing through Europe, Africa and Asia, looked forward 'to building on the Mr Gambari visit to further foster national dialogue and reconciliation' in Myanmar.

Mr Ban 'calls on the government and opposition to resume substantive dialogue without preconditions and without further delay,' Ms Montas said.

Mr Gambari left Myanmar on Tuesday after a visit aimed at nudging the regime toward dialogue with the democratic opposition, though he failed to secure a meeting with the top junta leadership.

Opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest for most the past 19 years, met Mr Gambari on Monday. She had refused to see him on his previous visit to Myanmar in August.

Less than a day after Mr Gambari left the military-ruled country, Myanmar state media accused Aung San Suu Kyi of being unrealistic, leaving little room for the diplomatic maneuvering the UN envoy is seeking. -- AFP

READ MORE---> UN calls for Myanmar talks...

Jolie visits camp for refugees from Myanmar

Angelina Jolie UN Goodwill Ambassador

BANGKOK (IHT-AP): Angelina Jolie's day job is acting, but since 2001 she has been playing another real-life role: advocate for the world's refugees. This week she took her show to Thailand.

As a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, she is trying to leverage her celebrity status to put the spotlight on refugees from military-ruled Myanmar, including boat-people from that country's Rohingya minority.

The Rohingya, denied citizenship in their native land, recently drew the world's attention when boatloads who tried to land in Thailand after a treacherous sea journey were towed back to sea and cast adrift by the Thai Navy. Indian officials, who rescued some, believe hundreds perished.

But the Rohingya, from western Myanmar, represent just a part of Myanmar's refugee exodus.

For decades, hundreds of thousands of others — most from other ethnic minorities — have fled by land across the country's eastern border to Thailand, which has accorded most sanctuary.

Most are civilians caught up in fighting between Myanmar government troops and ethnic insurgents. Faced with the risks of war, many flee to Thai refugee camps, where they are cooped up for years on end with little chance of resettlement in third countries and scant incentive to return to their homes.

On Wednesday, Jolie slapped a bright blue U.N. baseball cap on her head and toured the bamboo huts making up the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp, home to 18,111 mainly ethnic Karenni refugees, just two miles (three kilometers) from the Myanmar border, near the northern Thai town of Mae Hong Son. There are between 116,000 and 135,000 refugees in total at camps along the border.

Jolie, 33, sat down in a two-room house on stilts and talked with a female refugee, according to an account of the visit given Thursday in a press release by the U.N. refugee agency. She then met orphans at a boarding school and heard from teenage girls worried that they might be sent back to Myanmar

Jolie asked one 26-year-old woman, Pan Sein, whether she was afraid when she made her perilous journey last year from her home village in Myanmar's Kayah State.

"Yes, I was scared," Pan Sein replied. "It was dangerous to flee, but even more dangerous to stay in my village."

It can also be dangerous in the camp. Ban Mai Nai Soi was attacked by the Myanmar military in 1996, 1997 and 1998. There was fighting just across the border in 2005, and land mines spot the surrounding area.

Jolie is no stranger to the area. She visited one of the other refugee camps along this border in 2004 on another of her missions that have taken her to more than 20 countries to comfort the unwanted.

"I was saddened to meet a 21-year-old woman who was born in a refugee camp, who has never even been out of the camp and is now raising her own child in a camp," Jolie said. "With no foreseeable chance that these refugees will soon be able to return to Burma (Myanmar), we must find some way to help them work and become self-reliant."

Jolie also raised her voice on behalf of the even more neglected Rohingya, whose status is much more precarious than the refugees at these border camps. The UNHCR was only recently able to gain access to 78 being detained in southern Thailand who arrived after a dangerous journey through the Andaman Sea.

Thailand recognizes most at the border camps as refugees with legitimate fear of returning to their homeland, but does not accord the Muslim Rohingyas the same status, and seeks to send them away.

"Visiting Ban Mai Nai Soi and seeing how hospitable Thailand has been to 111,000 mostly Karen and Karenni refugees over the years makes me hope that Thailand will be just as generous to the Rohingya refugees who are now arriving on their shores," Jolie said.

"I also hope the Rohingya situation stabilizes and their life in Myanmar improves so the people do not feel the desperate need to flee, especially considering how dangerous their journey has become," she added. "As with all people, they deserve to have their human rights respected."

Other Rohingya boat people have turned up in Indonesia. Thailand has proposed a regional consultation to come up with a solution to their plight.


On the Net:

Jolie's work for UNHCR:


Thailand Burma Border Consortium:

READ MORE---> Jolie visits camp for refugees from Myanmar...

Myanmar's unwanted boat people

By Najad Abdullahi in Kuala Lumpur
Al Jazeera News

Thai authorties are expected to deport Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar [Reuters]

While the Thai authorities continue to face allegations of abuse of Muslim Rohingya migrants, the policy of rejecting and forcefully repatriating asylum seekers landing on Thai soil is not new.

But increased media attention to the plight of the Rohingya and images of Thai soldiers stood guard over rows of bedraggled men have highlighted the desperation of a minority group effectively rendered stateless by the Myanmar government.

According to Kraisak Choonhavan, a Thai government official, between 2004 and 2008, at least 4,866 Rohingya arrived in Thailand, many of whom have since been repatriated to Myanmar.

In December alone, nearly a thousand arrived along Thailand's Andaman coastline.

Travelling in rickety wooden boats from Myanmar, the winter months when the tides are at their lowest are viewed as the best time to set sail.

Human Rights Watch says the orders to deport the Rohingya are part of a broader policy on the part of Thai authorities aimed at keeping the stateless ethnic group out of Thailand.

"This is not a one-off thing where the authorities decide to deport who they see as illegal immigrants," Sunai Phasuk, a Thailand and Myanmar researcher, told Al Jazeera.

"There is a policy aimed at the Rohingya... a directive given from higher-ranking officials."

'Separatist links'

Rohingya migrants are also facing the prospect of deportation from Indonesia [Reuters]

Sunai is referring to clams by the Thai military that the Rohingya may join the Muslim separatist movement in the country's south – a conflict which has claimed more than 3,000 lives over the past five years.

Al Jazeera has spoken to members of a civilian militia recruited and trained by the Thai military to monitor the movements of Rohingya refugees and to round up illegal immigrants.

"We practise how to shoot guns and train after dark because sometimes the Rohingya come out at night by boat and run up into the hills," said Saman Manee Jansuk, a local resident living near the Thailand-Myanmar border

"We don't want them coming here."

A senior Thai military officer overseeing the treatment of the Rohingya has himself been heavily involved in previous and sometimes controversial military operations in the south.

Colonel Manat Kongpan, now chief of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) in the southern province of Ranong, was one of the officers charged over the deaths of 28 Muslim men at the Krue Se mosque siege in the town of Pattani in 2004.

Repeated requests for an interview with Manat were refused, but he has been quoted as saying that Thailand has "a duty to protect itself".

It is unclear though why ISOC, a shadowy army division revived after the 2006 military coup, has become involved with handling the case of the Rohingya, rather than the Thai immigration or border authorities who normally process migrants.

'No evidence'

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a non-governmental organisation documenting the plight of the Rohingya, told Al Jazeera that she has seen no evidence that Rohingya migrants have joined separatist fighters in southern Thailand.

"There is no evidence they have joined any movement. These people are starving and simply want to feed their families.

"They could not do this in Myanmar, and many found themselves destitute in refugee camps in Bangladesh," she said.

"They do not care about some ideology – political or religious."

But according to a leading Thai forensics expert, "explosives residue" was found on one of the Rohingya boats that landed on Thailand's Andaman coast in December.

Dr Porntip Rojanasunan, a forensic pathologist working for the ministry of justice, was asked by the Thai military to examine the contents of some of the boats, specifically to examine whether the refugees may be linked to fighters in the south, and if they held any objects that may be a "security threat".


"There were substances and chemicals found that can be used in explosives ... there was actually quite a significant level," she told Al Jazeera.

Asked whether the traces could be directly linked to the separatist movement in the south, she said: "I can only give the authorities what my results of the tests were."

"But I am aware of the factor that these boats may have been used for other purposes in their countries of origin ... before they were used by the refugees."

"The Thai authorities may question them about these findings," she added.

Parakorn Priyakorn, of the Islamic Centre of Thailand, told Al Jazeera the policies of previous governments towards southern Thailand, had created "an atmosphere of suspicion" towards immigrants of Muslim background.

"Just because a group of Muslims come to this country, on their way to a better life, does not mean they will fight the government of Thailand," he said.

"I understand that we cannot handle so many migrants, but we also need to consider human rights issues."

The official justification given by the Thai government for deporting the Rohingya is that the country is simply unable to handle the influx of immigrants.

"We cannot afford carrying the burden of taking care of another 200,000-300,000 people," Suthep Thaugsuban, the deputy prime minister, told the Reuters news agency earlier this month.

"They come from Myanmar and that is where they will be deported to," he said.

But the Myanmar government has denied that the migrants recently seen arriving in Thailand, India and Indonesia could have come from its territory because the Rohingya are not among its officially recognised ethnic groups.

'No place'

According to the UNHCR, at least 230,000 Rohingya now live a precarious, stateless existence in Bangladesh alone, having fled their homes in Myanmar's North Rakhine state.

Those who have not fled are restricted from travel inside the country, while human rights groups say Rohingya face abuses by the Myanmar military that make the recent crackdown on democracy protests seem pale in comparison.

Gabriele Marranci, professor of anthropology of Islam at the National University of Singapore, told Al Jazeera the main reason the Rohingya are "unwanted" in Thailand, and also facing the prospect of deportation from Indonesia, is that they "lack strategic value".

"There seems to be a consensus among countries neighbouring Myanmar to also treat the Rohingya as a stateless group which has no place in their societies," he said.

"It is interesting to note that other groups, such as the Palestinians who are fighting for a state, and recognition, are given attention primarily attributed to their strategic significance in the Middle East; but a minority group such as the Rohingya, who are unable and unwilling to start a conflict in the region, are systematically treated as gypsies to be pushed out into the ocean."

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group from the northern Rakhine state of western Myanmar, formerly known as Arakan state.

Their history dates to the early 7th century, when Arab Muslim traders settled in the area.

They are physically, linguistically and culturally similar to South Asians, especially Bengali people.

According to Amnesty International, they suffer from human rights violations under the Myanmar military government, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result.

The vast majority of them have effectively been denied Myanmar citizenship.

In 1978 an estimated 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh.

Approximately 20,000 Rohingya are living in UN refugee camps in Bangladesh.

READ MORE---> Myanmar's unwanted boat people...

Detained editor, reporter of Rangoon-based journal acquitted - Khin Maung Aye

By Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Editor and a reporter of Rangoon-based 'News Watch' weekly journal, have been acquitted, after being detained for over two months in the notorious Insein prison.

Editor Khin Maung Aye and reporter Manaw Tun of the 'News Watch' weekly were both charged at the Pabedan Township Court in early November, for publishing a report on the corruption of judges, which allegedly mentioned wrong articles of the Criminal Code Acts.

A source close to the weekly said, both the editor and reporter were arrested on charges of insulting the court with their report, which allegedly mentioned wrong articles of the criminal codes.

"They published a report on the corruption of judges. In the story they used a quote from a legal journal to cite the article with which the judges can be charged. And authorities said the articles were wrong, and charged them for insulting the court," the source said.

"But since the charges were not acceptable they were produced a number of times in the court, but finally they were acquitted," the source added.

Editor Khin Maung Aye and Manaw Tun have been working with the weekly since its inception. According to the literary community in Rangoon, the weekly is considering re-hiring both the editor and reporter for their original posts.

READ MORE---> Detained editor, reporter of Rangoon-based journal acquitted - Khin Maung Aye...

Rights & Wrongs: Burma's Rohingya, Human Trafficking, and More

Juliette Terzieff
World Politics Review

ROHINGYA FIND MORE CRUELTY AFTER FLIGHT FROM BURMA -- Thailand's indifferent and criminal response to the plight of hundreds of Rohingya refugees has stunned the human rights community and highlights the world's continued failure to effectively protect the rights of refugee and asylum seekers.

In the course of the last month, three boatloads of Rohingya males have washed ashore in Indonesia and India telling similar tales of beatings and abandonment by Thai authorities. Thailand has admitted rounding up the men and dragging them out to sea, but says its army did not torture them, and supplied food and water.

Over 1,000 men and boys are believed to have gone through this harrowing process, with nearly half of them still missing and presumed to be dead at sea.

"It starts in Burma, but it spreads pretty much across the board. [The Rohingyas'] position is tenuous throughout the region. It's becoming a regional problem, and there are no easy answers," Joel Charney of Refugees International told the Toronto Star.

Rights groups are calling on the region's governments to help the Rohingya, who Refugees International calls Burma's "subjugated" people, and allow United Nations aid agencies access to the men.

"The Rohingya's situation has reached a critical stage over the last two months. The Thai government must stop forcibly expelling Rohingyas and provide them with immediate humanitarian assistance and cease any plans to proceed with more expulsions," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director said in a statement.

The Rohingya, who are Muslim and number around 2 million, say they are fleeing the continuous abuse and discrimination heaped on them by Burma's ruling military junta. The Burmese junta refuses to recognize them as an official minority, denies them citizenship, requires them to ask official permission to marry, forces them to pay heavy taxes in the event of a death or birth and restricts their movement inside Burma at all times, according to rights defenders.

Over the last two decades, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Burma, seeking shelter in countries across the region, including Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh (home to the largest Rohingya refugee population). Thailand and Indonesia have both said they do not consider the Rohingya to be refugees but economic migrants to be deported as soon as possible. Bangladesh has accepted more than 200,000 Rohingya as refugees in the last two decades, but forces them to live in camps cut off from the general population and with little hope for a normal life.

READ MORE---> Rights & Wrongs: Burma's Rohingya, Human Trafficking, and More...

Thirteen 88 Student Activists Transferred to New Prisons

The Irrawaddy News

Thirteen political prisoners who are connected to the dissident group, the 88 Generation Students, have been transferred from Insein Prison in Rangoon to prisons in distant areas of the country, according to Burmese prison officials.

Insein Prison sources said 13 political prisoners were transferred on Friday morning.

Two female activists, Lay Lay Mon and Nobel Aye, also known as Hnin May Aung, were transferred to Shwe Bo Prison and Monywa prisons in Sagaing Division.

Thein Than Tun, also known as Ko Ko Gyi, was sent to Thandwe Prison and Zaw Htet Ko Ko was sent to Kyaukpyu Prison in Arakan State.

Kyaw Zin Tun was transferred to Yamaethin Prison; Aung Theik Htwe was sent to Madalay Prison; and San San Tin, a female activist, was sent to Meiktila Prison in Mandalay Division.

Chit Ko Lin was transferred to Pakokku Prison in Magway Division.

Kyi Than was moved to Pyapon Prison; two female dissidents, Nwe Hnin Yee, also know as Noe Noe, and Aye Thida were sent to Maubin Prison and Hinthada prisons in Irrawaddy Division

Saw Myo Min Naing was sent to Thaton Prison in Mon State.

Another female activist, Tharapyi Theint Theint Tun, was moved to Prome Prison in Pegu Division.

According to dissident sources in Rangoon, 36 people connected to the 88 Generation Students were charged and sentenced to up to 65 years imprisonment at the end of last year. Prominent student activists Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Kyawe and Pyone Cho were among the 36.

Each of the 36 activists was sent to a different prison. The transfers were completed on Friday.

Transferring political prisoners to distant prisons is one of the tactics to further punish prisoners and increase the burden on their families and friends. The current military junta has used the tactic since 1990, according to human rights groups.

As result, many families of prisoners cannot afford to visit their loved ones, since some may be 1,000 miles away from a prisoner’s hometown.

READ MORE---> Thirteen 88 Student Activists Transferred to New Prisons...

Surviving on a Little Hope and 33 US Cents a Day

Saw Ner has good reason to smile—he’s been selected for resettlement in the US. (Photo: Jim Andrews/The Irrawaddy)

Some have no legs. Others lack hands or arms. About half are blind. But all these landmine victims have one vital faculty in common—a voice. And what a voice!

The Irrawaddy News

The teak rafters of their ramshackle quarters in Thailand’s Mae La refugee camp seem to tremble as they belt out Karen songs in an impromptu concert for a group of foreign visitors.

They’re songs of hope and defiance—hope for a better future, defiance in the face of the hardships that fate has dealt them.

More than a dozen landmine victims, scarred by Burma’s long-running war between the Karen National Union and the Burmese Army, are housed in this section of Thailand’s largest refugee camp, Mae La.

“They love to sing,” said our Karen guide. “What else is left for them apart from music?”

Mae La is a small city of more than 40,000 people, housed in teak and bamboo dwellings—some of them little more than huts—crammed into a 4 square km, mountainous corner of Thailand’s Tak province, 57 km (34 mi) from the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot.

In other circumstances, this would be a beautiful spot. The jungle-clad valley is overlooked by dramatic mountain peaks that hold a visitor in awe. But fear, not awe, is what the people of Mae La feel when they contemplate those mountains, which mark the border with Burma, just 8 km (5 mi) to the west.

Twice in its 25 year history, Mae La has come under attack by Burmese regulars and forces of the regime-backed Democratic Karen Buddhist Army. There’s no guarantee that the Thai Army would rush to Mae La’s defense should Burma again train its guns on this symbol of resistance to tyranny.

For now, the only Thai military presence in evidence near the camp are the Rangers who man checkpoints on the main access road from Mae Sot. Thailand leaves it to the hand of charity to care for the refugees of Mae La.

Eleven international non-government agencies, grouped under the direction of the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), finance Mae La and 10 other camps, providing food, shelter and essential services for more than 148,000 refugees, on an annual budget of US $23 million.

Soaring commodity prices, a strengthening Thai baht and the pressures on donors because of the global financial crisis have taken a heavy toll on the work of the TBBC, which now fights on a daily basis to keep its refugees adequately fed and healthy.

The meager rations allotted daily to each refugee have been cut, and such small luxuries as soap have been dropped altogether. Even mosquito nets, essential items in primitive homes with unglazed windows and patched walls and roofs, are in short supply.

The daily basket of provisions contains just enough to meet the minimum energy intake for healthy living—2,100 calories. There’s only room in the tight budget for rations costing a total of less than 12 baht (33 US Cents) per head—rice, flour (fortified with minerals and vitamins), fish paste, protein-rich mung beans, cooking oil, salt, sugar and dried chilies. That’s it—no meat, fresh fish or any of the small delicacies taken for granted in the Thai villages that dot this verdant part of western Thailand.

Exceptions are made for undernourished children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, hospital patients and people suffering from HIV-AIDS and TB. Their diet is supplemented by eggs, milk powder, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Our party, led by Sally Steen of the British-based charity Projects to Support Refugees from Burma, brought sweet biscuits, some other simple treats, soap and coffee. As we left, the tables had been laid for lunch—individual plates of the freshly unpacked biscuits, each with a plastic beaker of water.

The grinding routine and the boredom of camp life take their toll on family life. Suicides are no rarity and domestic violence is a common problem.

Yet rays of hope do penetrate the dusty pall of poverty that hangs over the camp. Schools somehow manage against all the odds to offer young people an education that could provide them with the opportunity to exchange camp life for a worthwhile existence in the outside world.

A resettlement program was approved by the Thai government in 2005, and by July 2008 more than 14,000 Mae La residents had left for new lives abroad, most of them in the US. A further 5,000 are expected to be resettled this year.

Among them is Saw Ner, 56, who will be joining his three sons in the US state of Nebraska. He lost his left arm and most of the other when forced by regime troops to help clear landmines in a border battlefield.

“We’ll miss him,” said our guide. “He has a great voice.”

READ MORE---> Surviving on a Little Hope and 33 US Cents a Day...

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