Friday, February 13, 2009

Kachin refugee status seekers increase in Burma's neighbouring countries

Written by KNG

The number of ethnic Kachin in Burma seeking refugee status has gradually increased in the two neighboring countries --- Malaysia and Thailand since 2005, said Kachin refugees in the two countries.

Kachin refugees from northern Burma in Malaysia

Till date over 3,000 Kachin refugees and refugee/asylum seekers have arrived in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur and in the three refugee camps (Mae La, Nu Po and Umpiem) along the Thailand-Burma border, said Kachin refugees.

There are fewer Kachin refugees and those seeking refugee statuses in Malaysia and Thailand when compared with thousands of refugees from Burma in these countries, said Kachin refugees in the two countries.

According to Kuala Lumpur based Kachin Refugee Committee (KRC), the number of Kachin people seeking refugee status has now risen to nearly 3,000 from some 500 till 2003 in Malaysia. During 2003-2008, over 300 Kachin refugees in Malaysia departed to third countries like Canada, United States of America, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway.

On the other hand, there were no Kachin refugees or those seeking refugee status in refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border before the year 2000, but there are now over 40 Kachin refugees and some 500 refugees status seekers in these camps, said a Kachin refugee called Lamung Brang Gam who is waiting to leave for a third country for 10 years in Nu Po camp.

About a dozen Kachin refugees from the camps along Thailand-Burma departed to third countries during the past four years, added Lamung Brang Gam.

Most Kachin refugee status seekers in these countries have economic problems in their areas in Burma rather than political problems with Burma's ruling junta, added refugees.

Refugee and refugee status seekers live an unsafe life in Malaysia and Thailand because the two countries do not recognize the 1951 Geneva Convention related to the Status of Refugees.

In Malaysia, refugees and refugee status seekers have to live and work and hide from being sent to jail and are expelled by Malaysian authorities whereas refugees and refugee status seekers on the Thailand-Burma border have to live only in refugee camps, added refugees in the two countries.

For the first time, Kachin refugees started to resettle in third countries Europe and North America after the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma's ruling junta in February 24, 1994.

During the civil war from 1961 to 1994 between the KIO and the ruling junta in Kachin state and Northeast Shan state, thousands of Kachin people had their homes burnt and lost their live stock when the Burmese Army launched operations but they had to hide within the states.

READ MORE---> Kachin refugee status seekers increase in Burma's neighbouring countries...

Two elected MPs jailed for 15 years

(DVB)–Elected members of parliament Dr Tin Min Htut and Nyi Pu were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment today by Insein prison court, according to Dr Tin Min Htut’s son.

Khaing Win Hlaing, son of Dr Tin Min Htut, said his father and Nyi Pu were sentenced at 4.40pm this afternoon.

Kyaw Hoe, the lawyer for the two MPs-elect, was barred from attending the court proceedings right up until the sentencing.

Nyi Pu is the elected representative for Gwa township and an Arakan National League for Democracy organising committee member, while Dr Tin Min Htut is an elected MP from Panatanaw township in Irrawaddy division.

Khaing Win Hlaing said he expected to find out more details when he visits his father tomorrow.

The two men were among five elected MPs who signed a letter to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon at the end of July last year, along with Pu Cin Sian Thaung, Thein Pe and Dr Myint Naing.

In the letter, the five declared their opposition to the 2010 elections and called for the 1990 election result to be honoured and for tripartite dialogue.

Dr Tin Min Htut and Nyi Pu were arrested by police special branch soon after the letter was sent, in the early hours of 12 August.

They were charged with disrupting the national convention, causing a public disturbance and offences under the electronic communication law.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Two elected MPs jailed for 15 years...

Mizzima's correspondent released - Kyaw Moe

By Nem Davies

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Mizzima's Bangladesh-based journalist was released on Wednesday, after being detained for a year and four months in a jail in Kolkata city.

Kyaw Moe, who was arrested in September 2007, under the Foreigners Act and detained at Dum Dum jail, has been finally acquitted. He was deported to the Bangladesh border, from where he had originally crossed the border into India.

"Two days ago, the jail authorities told me that Kyaw Moe would be released within two-three days. I was called on Wednesday and told that he was being deported to Bangladesh," Anil Sharma, Defense Counsel of Kyaw Moe, told Mizzima.

Kyaw Moe, alias Nyein Chan, a Burmese journalist based in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka, is a news stringer for Mizzima News, a Burmese independent news agency based in New Delhi. He was arrested by the Indian Border Security Force near the Indo-Bangladesh border, while returning from Kolkata after a journalism training course, organized by Mizzima in September 2007.

On May 26, 2008, after pleading guilty to the terms of the Foreigners Act, Kyaw Moe was sentenced to a term of 250 days in prison.

Despite being a recognized refugee by the Bangladeshi office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he was charged under the Foreigners Act for illegally crossing the border.

The Solidarity Committee for Burma's Freedom Fighters, a committee formed to advocate on behalf of the 34 Burmese rebels arrested in February 1998 by Indian authorities at Andaman and Nicobar Islands, took up the case of Kyaw Moe and appealed for his early release.

Despite efforts by Mizzima, activists and the UNHCR, Indian authorities continued to detain him and a request by Mizzima for his bail was also turned down.

Although he had completed his jail term, the West Bengal government, however, did not deport him to Burma, where he would face a distinct threat of persecution if he was deported, but sent him back to Bangladesh as requested by the UNHCR, Mizzima and activists.

The activist cum journalist was finally reunited with his wife and three children yesterday, after being separated for over one year.

"I feel like a person, who has won a lottery," Kyaw Moe's excited wife told Mizzima.

READ MORE---> Mizzima's correspondent released - Kyaw Moe...

Skin Color and Prejudice Endangers Rohingya

The Irrawaddy News

Unbelievably in this day and time, skin color has become an issue in the case of the Rohingya boat people.

While much of the world has moved beyond discrimination due to the color of one’s skin (think President Obama), pockets of prejudice still exist, including in Southeast Asia.

“You will see in the photos that their complexion is dark brown,” said Burmese Counsel Ye Myint Aung in Hong Kong, in a letter to fellow diplomats, referring to the Rohingya boat people. He went on to describe the complexion of Burmese as “fair and soft, good looking as well.”

His own complexion, he said, was typical of a Burmese gentleman and his fellow diplomats could easily contrast their diplomatic colleague with Rohingya.

“Rohingyas are as ugly as ogres,” he said.

In essence, what he said was that Rohingyas couldn’t qualify as Burmese citizens because of their appearance, and they are not recognized as an ethnic group of Burma.

Thousands of Rohingyas have fled their homes in Burma and Bangladesh to Thailand and Malaysia in recent years. In 2008 alone, reports estimated 4,880 Rohingyas were arrested for illegally entering Thailand.

It’s fairly clear now that no country in Southeast Asia is willing to accept the desperate Rohingyas who wash up on their shore or enter a country by other means.

One reason is that they don’t look like ordinary economic migrants or refugees. They take to the ocean in dilapidated boats, reminiscent of the Vietnamese boat people, who also were desperate to leave an unforgiving land and would do anything—even risk their lives—to escape. In addition, they are Muslims, another strike against them in some people’s eyes.

The boat people have become an irritant for many countries in the region, especially Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Compounding the problem is the unwillingness of Burma and Bangladesh to recognize the Rohingya as citizens.

When various groups of Rohingya boat people were arrested in Thailand recently, they were beaten and tortured by Thai authorities, according to reports, and eventually towed back out to sea and set adrift with inadequate water and food in boats without working engines.

Earlier, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was quoted by reporters as saying, “They [the Rohingyas] are not refugees. Our policy is to push them out of the country because they are illegal migrants.”

More than 1,000 Rohingyas were towed out to sea and set adrift late last year by the Thai navy. Fortunately, they were rescued by Indonesian and Indian authorities. Unknown numbers, however, disappeared at sea.

Recently, the Thai premier changed his tune to acknowledge the claims of human rights groups, telling CNN in an exclusive interview, “It’s not exactly clear whose work it is.” He added, “All the [Thai] authorities say it’s not their policy, but I have reason to believe some instances of this happened, and if I can have the evidence of who exactly did this, I will certainly bring them to account.”

Clearly, the issue is now a regional issue, and the Thai government is feeling the heat of world opinion. Even a simple statement in support of the Rohingya boat people made by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who is also a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations, during a visit to Thailand last week drew a curt response from Thai foreign ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat, who pounced on her remarks, saying, “It’s not her role to comment on the matter.”

Thailand’s army commander is now scheduled to visit Burma next week to discuss the Rohingya issue with the military government.

Really, the issue would be best addressed in a regional forum with the gravity that it deserves.

The secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Surin Pitsuwin, said in an interview: “This is not an issue for a particular country. It is a regional issue. It is also an issue for the international community.”

When Asean leaders gather for the regional summit which is scheduled to be held at the end of this month in Thailand, Surin and other Asean leaders must responsibly address the Rohingya issue.

If they fail to do so and paper over the issue with rhetorical flourishes, they will bring further discredit to the region.

READ MORE---> Skin Color and Prejudice Endangers Rohingya...

Burma’s Rice Exports Soar, While Millions Remain Malnourished

Burmese farmers plant rice near new capital Naypyidaw. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

Driven by strong demand from Africa and Bangladesh, Burma’s rice exports have increased rapidly since the beginning of this year, according to traders in Rangoon, who say that sales in January have already nearly quadrupled the total for the first half of the current fiscal year.

“Exports to Africa, Mauritius and Bangladesh have gone way up,” said a rice exporter from Rangoon, adding that export prices remain unusually low, while domestic prices are continuing to rise.

“The increase in rice exports is having an impact, making rice more expensive locally,” he said.

According to a Reuters report, Burma has exported around 400,000 tons of rice so far this year. A Burmese agricultural official told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the country’s exports over the period from April to September 2008 amounted to around 100,000 tons.

One reason for the strong sales has been the cheap price of Burmese rice on the international market. Burma is selling 25 percent broken rice at US $270-$280 per ton, compared with $348-US$353 quoted for a similar Vietnamese variety.

Speaking early last December, Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein said that Burmese rice exports could reach as high as three million tons in 2009. “Myanmar is to strive for ensuring local self-sufficiency in rice and [exports of] about three million tons of rice annually,” he was quoted in the state-run media as saying.

However, some Burmese agricultural experts said they didn’t expect the country’s rice surplus to exceed two million tons, far short of the three million projected by the government.

A senior official from the Myanmar Rice Traders Association said that rice production would likely decrease as a result of lower prices, as farmers say they could end up selling at a loss because of the high price of inputs.

“Fertilizer, seeds, pesticides and equipment such as pumps and ploughs are all very expensive,” he said, adding that the impact of Cyclone Nargis, which hit Irrawaddy and Rangoon divisions last May, would also be felt for some time.

“Total rice production was about 18 million tons last year, including summer paddy,” he said. “In the coming fiscal year, rice production will fall at least 20 percent.”

Meanwhile, a joint report by the World Food Program and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, released on January 22, said that there are more than five million people below the food poverty line in Burma.

The report also said that two divisions and five states were found to be a priority for emergency food assistance, requiring 186,000 tons of food aid.

The report pointed out that after Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta—an area known as the “Rice Bowl” of Burma—last May, rice harvests in the affected townships fell by about a third.

In Chin State, near Burma’s border with India, at least 30 children were reported to have died as a result of a famine caused by a plague of rats that has been devouring rice stocks since December 2007. According to exiled Chin rights groups, at least 100,000 ethnic Chin, or 20 percent of the state’s population, has been affected by the food emergency.

READ MORE---> Burma’s Rice Exports Soar, While Millions Remain Malnourished...

Mahn Sha’s Spirit Lives On

General Secretary Mahn Sha (right) of KNU pictured with
Gen Bo Mya at Karen Revolution Day in 2004.
(Photo: Htain Linn)

The Irrawaddy News

On February 14 last year, two unknown men pulled up in a pick-up truck outside Mahn Sha’s house in Mae Sot. He was upstairs resting on the balcony at the time, family members say. The men walked into the house armed with shotguns. They marched up the stairs and a series of loud gunshots was heard. The gunmen ran downstairs and escaped. The Karen National Union (KNU) general-secretary lay dead in a pool of blood.

On Saturday, Karen people around the world, Burmese opposition leaders, international Burma watchers and exiled Burmese will pay respects to Mahn Sha, considered a visionary Karen leader—a man respected by all, especially his adversaries.

Ceremonies of remembrance to Mahn Shah, who was 64 when he died, will be held on Saturday in Norway and other countries around the world.

Mahn Sha was born in Irrawaddy Division on July 5, 1944. After majoring in history at Rangoon University in 1962, he joined the Karen movement at its jungle headquarters, Manerplaw, on the Thai-Burmese border.

He was involved in ceasefire talks with the Burmese military regime, which came to see him as a strong leader who repeatedly called for genuine political dialogue. He was regarded by many as one of the leading lights in the KNU and was being groomed to take over the troubled KNU leadership.

In its six-decade war for autonomy, the KNU never signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese armed forces and, in recent years, had to contend with the splinter Karen group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, as an enemy too.

With so many enemies, it has never been confirmed who ordered the Karen leader’s assassination.

Brig-Gen Johnny, commander of the Karen National Liberation Army’s Brigade 7, said that Karen youth should look at Mahn Sha’s example and the way he sacrificed his life for the Karen people.

Brig-Gen Johnny said, “Mahn Sha didn’t work for his own family. He worked for his people. He didn’t even possess any belongings of worth when he died.”

The current general-secretary of the KNU, Zipporah Sein, said she encouraged Karen youths to learn from Mahn Sha as he was the one who always supported education and politics, and even prompted youngsters to get involved in the democracy movement.

Burmese opposition leaders in exile also spoke out in support of Mahn Sha’s vision. Most agreed that the death of Mahn Sha was a huge loss for the Burmese democracy movement as no one in the KNU leadership could substitute for him.

Aung Moe Zaw, the chairman of the Thailand-based Democratic Party for a New Society, said that Mahn Sha was an ethnic leader who spoke for the whole Burmese democracy movement, including ethnic people and the Burmese opposition.

The secretary-general of the Forum for Democracy in Burma, Naing Aung, agreed that Mahn Sha was a strong ethnic leader who knew and understood the history of the Burmese opposition alliance and who dealt harmoniously with the Burmese opposition groups.

In Norway on Saturday, a posthumous award will be presented to Mahn Sha as well as four other ethnic leaders for their efforts toward national reconciliation in Burma.

The four others are Khun Htun Oo, Aye Tha Aung, Cin Sian Thang and Nai Ngwe Thein.

Mahn Sha’s daughter, Zoya Phan, will receive the award on her father’s behalf.

READ MORE---> Mahn Sha’s Spirit Lives On...

Burma Extends Detention of NLD Leader - Tin Oo


Burma's military government on Friday extended the house arrest of Tin Oo, the deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party.

Several policemen were seen visiting Tin Oo's house to inform him that the restrictions had been extended, according to a neighbor who asked not to be named for fear of government reprisal.

Photo: Tin Oo, the deputy leader of NLD.

The extension was for one year, said a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release such information. Burma's junta tightly controls the release of all news.

Tin Oo, 82, the vice chairman of the National League for Democracy, was arrested with Suu Kyi in May 2003, when a pro-government mob attacked their motorcade as they were making a political tour of northern Burma. Both party leaders have been in either prison or under house arrest since then.

Meanwhile, two elected members of parliament from the NLD were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment on Friday by the notorious Insein Prison special court, according to their family members.

Nyi Pu, a elected member of parliament from Gwa Township, Arakan State, and Dr Tin Min Htut, a elected member of parliament from Pantanaw Township, Irrawaddy Division, were convicted of three charges, including the State Offence Act 505 B, said Khine Win Hlaing, one of Dr Tin Min Htut’s sons.

The two parliamentary members were arrested and detained on August 12 last year.

“No lawyer was allowed to represent them in the special court,” Khine Win Hlaing said.

According to Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—Burma, 2,137 political activists and their supporters are currently being held in prisons across Burma.

READ MORE---> Burma Extends Detention of NLD Leader - Tin Oo...

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