Sunday, February 8, 2009

Revealed: Burma's human exports

It echoes the slave trade –
in the hotels of Rangoon a smart woman is busy
selling people for work abroad, reports Phoebe Kennedy
(Independent) Her glasses were Gucci and her bag YSL. The smart Burmese businesswoman was perched neatly on a sofa in the lobby of a Rangoon hotel, delivering her sales patter to a small group of businessmen. Her product? Human beings. "We supply only strong bodies," she says crisply. "That is our guarantee."

I am sitting at the next table using the hotel wi-fi, and, as she speaks in clear English, I am drawn into a world of desperation and exploitation. The woman is a supplier of workers for deep-sea trawlers, and her stock of men come from Burma's beautiful but impoverished Inle Lake area, where fishing the tranquil waters no longer makes enough to feed a family. "These are just simple fishermen; they are not educated, but what we promise you is strong bodies," she says, using a phrase she repeats again and again.

It appears that the businesswoman's potential customers are middlemen, probably Chinese. Through a translator, they discuss placing the men on boats in the South China Sea, trawling for tuna. First, they will be flown to a Chinese city. In echoes of the slave trade, she describes a selection process worthy of a livestock market. In a 21st-century twist, she does so with the aid of pictures on her laptop.

"We make them stand in the sun for one hour," she says. "In the middle of the day when it is very hot. We see how they manage, if they look uncomfortable." The group leans in to see the pictures on her computer. "We make them carry 20 kilos, like this," she continues, showing them photographs I cannot see. "For deep-sea fishing, they may need to carry very big fish for long distances across the ship."

Then comes the seasickness test. "We put them in here," the woman says, but I can't see the picture. I think it must be an enclosed truck or some sort of container on water. "Then we start to move them around. If they are sick or find it hard to breathe we don't select them. This is how we select the best bodies."

The group nods. The images of Burma's Rohingya boat people, fleeing oppression only to be allegedly abused and cast adrift by the Thai military, has drawn international attention to the plight of one of the world's most downtrodden people. The Muslim Rohingyas face particular persecution in military-ruled Burma, but throughout the country, impoverished men and women who see no future at home are embarking on risky journeys abroad in search of an income for their families.

During the eavesdropping session, I learn more about the business. The fishermen are to earn $2,400 (£1,600) a year, an enticing wage in Burma, where average rural incomes are about $300 a year. But their rights are few, and they are expected to work very long hours for their money. "During the high season, they can work 23 hours a day," says the saleswoman. "Then in the low season they can relax a little and rest." Any fee the agent wishes from the salaries is up to them, the woman says, and the fishermen should only be paid every six months "in case they fall sick, or violate the contract".

Finally, one of the businessmen appears to ask a question about the welfare of the fishermen. The saleswoman suggests there should be an area on board the ships for the fishermen to live and cook, and says that those who operate machinery should get a bonus. "We hope they can make money to help their families," she says, smiling, and the group nods again.

Hit by the global recession and the mismanagement and neglect of Burma's ruling generals, in power for nearly five decades, the country's farmers and fishermen are suffering as never before, say aid workers.

"The agricultural sector, which employs 80 per cent of the population, is imploding," said Kerren Hedlund, an adviser to a consortium of aid agencies in Rangoon. "People are getting into greater and greater debt to finance a livelihood that's not possible."

In the cities, there is high unemployment, frequent power cuts and ever-climbing prices for food and basic goods. Most people try to scratch a living in the informal economy or the black market.

Lack of opportunity has driven millions of Burma's young people on dangerous journeys to South-east Asia's wealthier nations. They sneak across the border to Thailand, to work illegally as domestic helps, labourers, or in the fish-processing industry. Many young men make perilous sea voyages in the hope of reaching Malaysia, paying agents hundreds of dollars for places on rickety boats. If they make it, construction work is relatively well-paid, but migrant workers run the risk of abuse at the hands of employers and the authorities.

The migrants live simply, and try to send all the money they can back home. "There is a huge exodus of people from Burma," said Debbie Stothard, of the Bangkok-based Burma lobby group Altsean. "It is a land of no opportunity. The only way people can survive is to have a family member overseas, sending money home."

READ MORE---> Revealed: Burma's human exports...

Rebels to combat Burma polls

(Bangkok Post) -The Shan State Army has vowed to fight to oppose the country's general election planned for next year, the group's chief Colonel Yod Serk said on Saturday.

Col Yod Serk said at least 10 out of 17 opposing groups had reached a conclusion to thwart the junta's plans for holding the election because of the regime's lack of transparency and cronyism.

"Even groups who laid down their arms join with us to hinder the voting because the Burmese government lacks transparency and drafts a constitution for its own interest. That's not democratic,'' he said.

He added that the United Wa State Army, known as a close ally of the junta, also opposed the upcoming election.

As long as the power was in the hands of a few military officials and not the people who were still under oppression, Burma faced a dead end for its sought-after democracy, Col Yod Serk said.

"The junta announced the upcoming election, but never let the opposing parties run in the race. What about detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi?,'' he said.

Col Yod Serk said the electorate in Shan state were urged to cast no vote. The state has more than eight million people.

Among them, more than four million are illegible to cast their ballot because they do not have identity documents.

READ MORE---> Rebels to combat Burma polls...

Fight against drug menace with synergy

By Mizzima News

The apparently rising drug production is bad news and a menace not only for Burma, but the whole world. All organizations must tackle this problem with synergy.

The declining prices of crop substitutes, the domino effects of global financial crisis, the falling demand of these substitute crops in Chinese market severely affected the former poppy farmers compelling them to return to their poppy fields because of these irresistible factors.

Burma, the second largest drug producer in the world after Afghanistan, achieved some victories in drug its eradication programme in the past. The sown acreage of poppy was 120,000 hectares at the peak which declined to only one fourth of that amount in 2008. The poppy production also declined to just over 400 metric tons. After achieving all these successes, we are seeing the sign of returning to the previous situation.

A UN survey found that the poppy cultivation rising in eastern and northern Shan State, Kachin and Kayah States. Moreover the current political tension might turn to rearmament of 'United Wa State Army' (UWSA) which will encourage poppy growing in these UWSA controlled areas besides the rising production in ATS drugs such as 'Yaa baaa'.

In fact the drug problem is closely linked with politics in Burma. The military regime, which assumed power by killing peaceful demonstrators brutally in the 1988 nationwide uprising, survived because of drug money of drug kingpins and heavyweights, allowing them free investment and free money laundering. This drug money helped much in building and arming its growing army.

The pressure on Burma for drug eradication is being mounted only after this menace overshadowed not only the US and Europe, but also neighbouring countries, especially China.

The recent big haul of 118 kilograms of heroin from a ship owned by Chinese-Burmese hybrid businessman U Kyaw Sein after the vessel left Asia World port was the result of a tip off by Chinese drug enforcement agencies directly to Burmese Prime Minister's Office.

The port and drug authority recalled the ship to the jetty when it was anchoring at a buoy waiting for the rising tide. They found a lot of white, golden and brown poppy and narcotic drugs packed with newsprint, carbon paper and lead foil in the outermost layer, hidden in container carrying logs and wood conversions.

Two similar tip-offs in the past to Burmese drug enforcement agencies didn't work due to alleged non-cooperation by the Burmese side an evidence of the possible nexus between the authorities and drug gangs, and corruption in junta's administrative machinery.

Now we are witnessing the drug menace reemerging which will take the lives of many people again in Burma. Only the synergy efforts by regional countries can deter money laundering and ensuring the rule of law, an independent justice in the region.

READ MORE---> Fight against drug menace with synergy...

The end of the UN may be at hand

By L. Jayasooriya

(Asian Tribune) -The tough words against Israel used by the Secretary General against Israeli action in Gaza could prompt Israel to tell America that the previous time the Secretary General was an Asian from Myanmar he was anti-Israeli and now when it came for the turn of another Asian he has also demonstrated that he is anti-Israeli and therefore America whether she could do it or not, should either remove him or make sure that in future no Asian will be the Secretary General.

If America that exercises hegemony over other members of the UN except China and Russia and hence in the end controls the UN were to agree then it could be a blessing in disguise because the world that has never been happy about the injustices against humanity that have been allowed to take place all over the world would be forced to look for alternatives. It is therefore not without reason why the whole world had shown so much interest in American elections hoping that Obama would make this planet a better place to live in where justice prevails and nations are not de-stabilized, patriotic leaders killed, puppet regimes installed and Africa, Asia and South America exploited.

If Obama were to take a tough stand on Israeli aggression against the Palestinians and were to make a statement that he is seeking a compromise solution where Israel withdraws from Palestinian lands to an extend that satisfies the neighbouring Muslim countries then that compromise solution can be put into effect whether Israel agrees to it or not even if America physically keeps out of it. If Obama can bring about dignity peace and independence to the Palestinians then the rest of the world would have faith in him to undo American policy that has antagonized the whole world against her but if he fails in the Israeli problem, Asia with the exception of Japan and India would turn their heads away from America and try to see what they could make out with China and Russia.

It would be an easy matter for all Asian countries including China and Russia to form a United Nations of Asian Countries without Japan and India and with the protection of China and Russia, not to interfere with any outside country but to seek protection with strength from the domineering countries of the West. With the hand of Chavez considerably strengthened as a result he could very well seek to form a United Nations of South American countries, again not to interfere with outside countries but to secure independence from America. (JEG's: Unfortunately, China, Russia, Japan and Chavez are a bit short on Human Rights, they must start practicing at home first to make a UN Asian group workable - just an illusion with this thought)

Africa will have to wait a little longer but a beginning would have been made for a natural change in world order which would be stronger than what Obama could bring about single handed even if he had the will to bring about the change for the better that we have interpreted to be not just for America alone but for all peoples of this planet.

READ MORE---> The end of the UN may be at hand...

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