Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Listening to Asia

Mr Eric G John, United States’ ambassador to Thailand

APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2
The Irrawaddy News

In a wide-ranging interview with The Irrawaddy, the United States’ ambassador to Thailand, Eric G John, spoke about what Asia—and the countries of Asean in particular—can expect from the foreign policy program of Barack Obama’s presidency

Question: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first official visit was to Asia. It was seen by many as a sign that President Obama wants to focus much of his foreign policy on this region. What can the US do to improve its relations with Asia, particularly Asean?

Answer: We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Asean, one that spans more than 30 years. I understand the perception recently may be that we have not paid enough attention to Asia or Asean, but a closer look will reveal that we have always been engaged with this region. During the last administration, we established the US-Asean Enhanced Partnership, and we have taken definitive steps to improve bilateral cooperation with many Asean members in recent years.

Having said that, the Obama administration has sent a clear signal of its intention to make relations with Asia an even greater priority [with Clinton’s visit]. As Secretary Clinton announced in Jakarta, President Obama and his administration will soon launch a formal interagency process to pursue accession to Asean’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. This is a major step forward in our relationship with Asean. [Clinton] also told Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan that she plans to travel to Thailand in July to participate in the Asean Post-Ministerial and Asean Regional Forum.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scot Marciel, the US ambassador for Asean Affairs—the first such ambassador appointed among Asean’s 10 dialogue partners—represented Washington at the Asean Summit in Cha-am, Thailand. The participation of these high-level US government officials in these critical regional fora certainly reflects the importance we place on our relationship with Asean.

Looking forward, there will be many opportunities for the US and Asean to work together. The economic development and well-being of all Asean nations is of great importance to the US and increasing trade with Asean will be a key objective for the new Obama administration. The US provides a huge market for Asean’s exports. In 2007, we purchased US $111 billion in Asean goods. US private sector investment in Asean exceeds $130 billion, more than in China, Japan or India. In turn, the United States each year exports more than $60 billion in goods to Asean, our fourth largest market.

In addition to trade, the US will also look to partner with Asean to make progress on climate change, counterterrorism, disease control, the situation in Burma, disaster relief and many other issues of importance to the region.

Q: Secretary Clinton recently outlined a foreign policy based on the “Three Ds” of defense, diplomacy and development. Where does the fourth “D”—democracy—fit into the Obama administration’s foreign policy?

A: It is important to recognize that it is still quite early in the Obama administration and not all policy initiatives have been cemented into concrete plans of action. Defense, diplomacy and development—the “Three Ds” as Secretary Clinton framed them—will indeed be the pillars of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but I contend that all three of the components are intrinsically tied to democracy promotion and that this theme will remain central to the new administration’s foreign policy agenda. In other words, democracy is inherent in all three pillars.

Q: On Burma, Secretary Clinton has said that both engagement and sanctions have failed and that the new administration is considering a shift in its Burma policy. Does this mean that the US will start to engage with the Burmese junta? What other options does the administration have?

A: As Secretary Clinton stated while on her tour of Asia, the US administration is currently reviewing its policy towards Burma. In her words, “We want to see the best ideas about how to influence the Burmese regime.” The end policy goal remains the same: the start of a genuine, inclusive political dialogue in Burma and the release of all political prisoners.

As you have pointed out, Secretary Clinton noted that neither sanctions nor efforts to reach out and engage the regime have proven successful in influencing the authorities in Burma toward this end, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council and Asean foreign ministers. Moving forward, the US intends to consult with a broad range of stakeholders as we conduct our review of US policy on Burma to ensure that it is a collaborative process based on the vital exchange of information with key actors and friends in the region.

Although we welcome the recent release of some political prisoners by the Burmese government, I note that the regime continues to hold more than 2,100 prisoners of conscience. We will continue to call on the government of Burma to immediately set free all remaining political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking members of the country’s democracy movement, so that an inclusive dialogue can begin on Burma’s political future.

Q: Are you concerned about the stability of Thailand’s democracy? Do you feel the political situation here has had an adverse impact on the region?

A: No nation’s path to democracy is smooth or straight. Along the way, there are bound to be stumbles. You need only look at the history of my country to see that. It is true that democracy in Thailand has suffered several setbacks in recent years, but I think we must look beyond these past events and consider the democratic tradition that has long been a part of the Thai political landscape. Democratic values are deeply rooted in Thailand and what we have witnessed during this recent period of tension are political disagreements resolved within a constitutional framework. We must recognize that key pillars of democratic societies—freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom to assemble—remained intact through these turbulent times.

Q: The alleged mistreatment of Rohingya boat people by the Thai navy has hurt Thailand’s reputation and has become a serious concern in other countries in the region. What practical solutions to this problem would you like to see?

A: Assisting refugees is one of the top strategic priorities of the US mission in Thailand and one to which I am fully committed.

We must recognize that the root of the problem lies in the situation in Burma. The Rohingya are systematically persecuted for their religion and ethnicity by the Burmese regime, which does not recognize them as citizens despite their centuries-long presence within the modern-day boundaries of Burma.
They are fleeing a situation of severe persecution, which includes strict limits on their ability to find livelihoods in their own villages, in order to seek opportunities in other countries to feed themselves and their families.

Without improvements in their treatment in northern Rakhine [Arakan] State, and verifiable guarantees by authorities that they won’t be punished for departing, the US strictly opposes the forced repatriation of the Rohingya into the hands of Burmese officials. We welcome efforts by concerned governments, particularly those in the Asean region, to work together on a common regional approach for the Rohingya. We are encouraged by reports that the governments of Thailand and Indonesia discussed the issue of Rohingya refugees at the Asean Summit in February, as well as plans to address a regional approach at the Bali Process forum [in April]. We support efforts by Asean nations to develop viable solutions that will ensure that the rights of these individuals are protected and look forward to seeing what concrete plans of action come out of the sideline meetings held recently at the Asean Summit.

Q: Asean now has a charter. Do you see any new ways to strengthen human rights protection?

A: The protection of fundamental human rights was a cornerstone in the establishment of the US over 200 years ago. Since then, a central goal of US foreign policy has been the promotion of respect for human rights, as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Asean has taken the steps to fulfill this commitment, but its success will depend on the hard work and resolve of its member nations to act against those who stand in violation of human rights. As a longtime friend of Asean, the US stands ready to assist in helping Asean live up to its commitments.

The Obama administration has pledged to reach beyond ministerial buildings and official meeting halls, as important as those are, to engage the public and civil society to strengthen the foundations needed to support human rights, including good governance, religious tolerance, free elections and a free press.

And we are ready to listen, too. President Obama and Secretary Clinton recognize that actively listening to our partners can also be a source of ideas to fuel our common efforts. The US is committed to a foreign policy that values what others have to say.

READ MORE---> Listening to Asia...

It’s Time to Play the Villains’ Game

The Irrawaddy News

Sometimes it’s necessary to play the villains’ game, particularly when there’s no one else around to defeat them.

Players with the will to bring Burma’s villainous regime to book aren’t to be found, so no “High Noon” confrontation between the good guys and the baddies can be realistically expected.

Burma’s potential heroes are locked up and out of action. They need to be rescued—as do the suffering 50 million people of Burma.

Regime apologists have the luxury of being able to defend the actions of the military government. That’s their right. But they can’t ignore the evidence of the regime’s crimes—the bloody suppression of all opposition to its iron rule.

The opposition—whether locked away or still free—needs to be cleverer, more organized and united in order to break political, social and economic barriers. They need a more pragmatic and strategic approach when it comes to playing with the villains.

Burma’s pro-democracy forces can’t deny that over the past 20 years they missed some windows of opportunity despite gaining legitimacy through the 1990 elections. Most of the opposition groups have been weakened by systematic attacks by the very villains they describe as “dumb.”

Whatever has happened in the past, the basic goal remains the same: to bring positive change to Burma and to create a country whose people can enjoy a better life. It doesn’t matter whether the strategy is to attack the villains or play their game—the current strategies are limited enough, reduced to a choice between sanctions and constructive engagement. In other words: punishment and incentive.

Each of those approaches has failed to bring about a dialogue between the junta and the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by detained pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi. Dialogue is undeniably the best and most peaceful way to reach a national reconciliation among the military leaders, opposition and ethnic leaders in the country, as a first step towards opening up opportunities to all citizens.

Until now, the world has been divided into two camps when it comes to how to deal with Burma—those who support sanctions and those who urge constructive engagement. Western countries led by the US have applied sanctions, while Burma’s neighbors, including members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China and India, have favored engagement.

But things seem to be changing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at a shift in Western thinking when she said during a recent Asia tour: “Clearly, the path we have taken in imposing sanctions hasn’t influenced the Burmese junta.”

But she also made clear that the alternative policy followed by Burma’s neighbors is also ineffective, adding: “Reaching out and trying to engage them [the Burmese generals] hasn’t influenced them, either.”

Clinton announced that the new US administration is reviewing its Burma policy—“because we want to see the best ideas about how to influence the Burmese regime.” It’s obvious, however, that US policy makers have no clear idea which idea is best.

Nevertheless, a departure from the policy that first applied sanctions against Burma in 1997 can be expected.

US President Barack Obama indicated a less confrontational approach to the world’s dictators when he said during his inaugural address in January: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

The question now is how to play this new game and what rules to follow. If a more realistic and proactive US policy towards Burma emerges from Washington, others—including China and Asean countries—will surely follow.

US policy could accommodate both sanctions and constructive engagement. It needs to be both flexible and firm.

As a first step, there are only two core political bargaining chips on the table—the release of all political prisoners and the removal of economic sanctions. The first is a key demand of pro-democracy forces, including Suu Kyi’s NLD, while the second is one of the junta main desires.

The two issues probably hold the key to unlocking the frustrating political status quo in Burma. President Obama and Clinton should make the two issues the focus of direct talks or “back channel” negotiations with the junta. The sooner the better.

To drive home the message that direct talks are required, the US administration needs its own special envoy to Burma. A succession of UN special envoys have achieved nothing.

Although former President George W Bush appointed Michael Green as his special Burma policy coordinator, President Obama has yet to nominate anyone for the job.

With a special envoy installed at the State Department, the US can get down to business, focusing on a basic quid pro quo: the release of all political prisoners for a lifting of economic sanctions. Playing the villains’ game will probably then open up the beginning of a new chapter for Burma.

This article appeared in the March-April issue of the Irrawaddy magazine.

READ MORE---> It’s Time to Play the Villains’ Game...

Than Shwe’s ‘The Art of War’

Burmese junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe reviews soldiers during Armed Forces Day celebrations in Rangoon in March, 2007. (Photo: AP)

APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2
The Irrawaddy News

Burmese generals have long sought to defend themselves from imagined external threats, masking their intense paranoia with a military shield

ARMED ethnic insurgents pose little threat nowadays to the Burmese regime, but that doesn’t deter the generals in Naypyidaw from continually strengthening their military capacity and spending the country’s precious foreign reserves on more sophisticated weapons, such as jet fighters, an air defense system, naval ships and short and medium-range missiles.

Analysts generally agree that the junta’s modern military arsenal is ill-suited for combating guerilla warfare in a mountainous jungle, but is more realistically intended as a defensive shield against an external threat.

Burmese troops march in Resistance Park in Rangoon in 2005 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Armed Forces Day. (Photo: Reuters)

When Gen Maung Aye visited Moscow in April 2006, he told Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that Burma wished to order more Russian-made MiG-29 jet fighters (in addition to the 12 it had already secured), as well as 12 secondhand MI-17 helicopters. According to sources, Maung Aye asked the Russians to sell Burma the aircraft at “friendship prices.”

At the same time, the deputy chief of Burma’s armed forces also expressed a desire to build a short-range guided missile system in central Burma with assistance from Russia. And the wish list did not stop there.

The Russian military was asked to provide training in the manufacture of guided missiles and to supply a “Pechora” air defense system—a Russian-made, surface-to-air anti-aircraft system.

Unless the regime believes the Karen National Union and other armed ethnic groups are planning to take their insurgency to the skies, it is clear that Naypyidaw envisaged a potential threat from a foreign power.

Most analysts concurred that the Burmese regime—unlike the North Korean government under Kim Jong-il—did not have the capacity, or desire, to obtain nuclear weapons.

That was until 2007, when word leaked that Burma had contracted Russia’s federal atomic energy agency, Rosatom, to help build a 10-megawatt nuclear reactor in central Burma.

Naturally, Burma claimed that its quest for nuclear energy was not weapons-related. In fairness, the junta had come clean in January 2002 when then-deputy Foreign Minister Khin Maung Win declared that Burma’s “interest in nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is longstanding,” dating back as far as the 1950s.

However, the regime has offered little or no transparency in its development of the nuclear reactor and dissidents in exile charge that the regime seeks to build a nuclear weapon.

In recent years, the junta has been actively enlisting North Korean advice on missile technology, and during his acquisitive trip to Russia, Maung Aye pressed his hosts for expertise in developing a nuclear reactor. He also suggested that Naypyidaw send students to Russia to study nuclear science.

Let’s be frank and clear—Burma does not face an external threat today, nor does any foreign country intend to invade Burma in the foreseeable future.

So, why are the generals in Naypyidaw so paranoid?

Maung Aung Myoe, a Burmese scholar who has specialized on the Burmese armed forces, or Tatmadaw, says in the recent book, “Building the Tatmadaw,” that since it came into power in 1988, the military leadership has frequently reviewed its existing defensive strategy and moved to modernize the country’s military capacity.

“This probably reflected the fear of direct invasion or invasion by proxy,” wrote Maung Aung Myoe. “The state-owned media had cited from time to time the presence of a US naval fleet in Myanmar’s [Burma’s] territorial waters during the 1988 political upheaval as evidence of an infringement of Myanmar’s sovereignty.”

The regime was also concerned that foreign powers might help insurgents on the border to develop formidable armies that would challenge the regime in Rangoon. From that fear a new doctrine and military strategy was formed, and the molding of a “people’s war” was pursued.

The concept of “people’s war” was first touched upon by Gen Aung San in 1947 and was taken up as a doctrine by Gen Ne Win after he led a military coup in 1962.

It essentially assumes that the Tatmadaw enjoys the support of the nation and, according to Maung Aung Myoe, is “built on a system of ‘total people’s defense,’ [whereby] the armed forces provide the first line of defense, and the training and leadership of the nation in the matter of national defense.

“It is designed,” he added, “to deter potential aggressors [with] the knowledge that the defeat of the Tatmadaw in conventional warfare would be followed by persistent guerilla warfare in the occupied areas by militias and dispersed regular troops, [which] would eventually wear down the invader.”

Ne Win adopted the people’s war concept to combat insurgency and the threat of communists in the 1970s and 1980s. Ne Win’s government was able to mobilize civilians, villagers, war veterans’ organizations, militias and even students and youths, and provided them with basic military training. When the insurgents’ threat was neutralized, Ne Win and his commanders declared that the people’s war had defeated Burma’s enemies.

Nowadays, in almost every speech to commanders and soldiers, the army leaders—including Than Shwe—remind them of the need for a people’s war and to nurture the support of the masses. Than Shwe’s call is for a “people’s war under modern conditions,” wrote Maung Aung Myoe. Interestingly, under Than Shwe’s people’s war, the concept of cyber warfare has also been launched.

In 1998, the Tatmadaw held its first joint military exercises of the navy, the air force and the army to introduce counteroffensive strategies to the existing people’s war doctrine.

During these exercises, the fire brigade, the Myanmar Red Cross and the Union Solidarity Development Association were mobilized. “The exercises,” Maung Aung Myoe wrote, “revealed that the purpose of such a counteroffensive was to counter low-level foreign invasion.”

According to the author, the new doctrine developed under the regime dictates that, should the standing conventional force fail to defeat an invading force on the beachheads or landing zones, resistance would be organized at the village, regional and national levels to sap the will of the invading force. When the enemy’s will is sapped and its capabilities are dispersed and exhausted, the Burmese army would be able to muster sufficient force to wage a counteroffensive that would drive the invader from Burma.

Intelligence sources revealed that Than Shwe and senior military officers sat in a war room and discussed war games plans. One inevitable inland route was identified as Burma’s historical adversary, Thailand.

Burmese leaders have never hidden their suspicion that Thailand’s annual Cobra Gold joint military exercise with the US and regional forces are a potential threat to Burma.

Aside from Thailand, Burmese military officers also pored over the invasion plans of “Operation Desert Storm” in Iraq, the US-Afghanistan War and the recent Kosovo War, paying particular attention to US strategies.

They have also studied tunnel warfare with specific regard to North Korean defense. Burma has sent several delegations to Pyongyang since normalizing relations with North Korea last year, but military sources have confirmed that Burma’s late Prime Minister Gen Soe Win implemented tunnel warfare strategies as early as 2000.

Although a series of underground routes was supposedly built in central Burma, it is believed the program was halted after Chinese officials convinced Soe Win that tunnel warfare was no longer a viable option due to the introduction of the US-made BLU-82B/ C-130 weapon, nicknamed “daisy cutters,” that has been employed successfully in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban underground complexes and caves.

Many social and philosophical reasons for moving the Burmese capital to Naypyidaw have been aired, but in the end, it was a strategic military maneuver.

“Until and unless one [side] commits its ground force to capture its [enemy’s] military headquarters, a war cannot be declared over,” Maung Aung Myoe wrote. “The moving of the capital and military high command from Yangon (Rangoon) to Naypyitaw (Naypyidaw) clearly reflects the underlying military thinking and war fighting strategy of the Tatmadaw.”

The author argued that an amphibious landing on the west coast of Burma, and a simultaneous land-based invasion from the eastern Karen or Karenni State would not only cut off Rangoon from Upper Burma, but also make it a target for attacks from the south. He concluded: “The new location will give the military high command easy access to heavily forested mountainous areas in the north bordering China or India; this is vital for protracted guerilla warfare.”

Maung Aung Myoe noted that Burma’s military leaders seem to have adopted Mao Tse-tung’s maxim that guerillas must be “like fish in water.”

“The guerilla or regular army (fish) has to operate (swim) in the people (water): therefore, the control of the water temperature is important in the success of the people’s war,” he wrote.

Indeed, the move to Naypyidaw and the doctrine behind the junta’s people’s war could have been taken straight from Mao’s interpretations of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”: “The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; and the enemy retreats; we pursue.”

If Burma did come under attack, Maung Aung Myoe asserts, Burma’s armed forces would be put to the test, not least because of a lack of training, wartime experience and operational capability.

Evidently, these weaknesses were exposed last year when the Tatmadaw appeared unable to synchronize its army, navy and air force to confront naval aid vessels from the US, Britain and France that had closed in on Burmese waters to deliver humanitarian aid to cyclone victims in the Irrawaddy delta.

In the end, political wrangling resulted in the ships leaving Burma without delivering the aid. But army sources claimed that the regime leaders had mobilized the country’s paltry air force and missile systems around Naypyidaw in preparation for an outbreak of hostilities.

Aware of its limitations, the Tatmadaw has since upgraded and expanded several airfields in central and southern Burma, and the nation’s air defenses have been greatly enhanced by newly procured signals intelligence equipment, according to Maung Aung Myoe.

Whether or not the Burmese junta could rally its forces and effectively coordinate a people’s war, the question remains: why would another country invade Burma?

One answer could be that Burma sits between the world’s two most populous nations—India and China—who are increasingly competing and hungry for energy and natural resources.

China, the regime’s foremost ally, is increasingly looking for access to the Indian Ocean via Burma. China is also building oil and gas pipelines through Burma and developing a deepwater port at Sittwe in Arakan State.

Robert Kaplan’s recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine concluded that Burma and Pakistan are two of the least stable countries in the world.

“The collapse of the junta in Myanmar—where competition over energy and natural resources between China and India looms—would threaten economies nearby and require a massive seaborne humanitarian intervention,” wrote Kaplan.

If Burma slides even deeper into political, economic and humanitarian crises, one could conclude there was a rationality in Than Shwe’s people’s war and a reason for him to be paranoid.

However, if Than Shwe had the vision to steer Burma toward being a stable, strong and prosperous nation, he wouldn’t need to prepare for a people’s war. But then again, it appears that he made his choice long ago.

READ MORE---> Than Shwe’s ‘The Art of War’...

To Fight or Not to Fight

The Irrawaddy News
APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2

As the 2010 election approaches, Burma’s ethnic armies are becoming restless

OVER the past decade, a patchwork of ceasefire agreements, if not actual peace, has reigned over most of Burma’s ethnic hinterland. Of the many ethnic insurgent armies that once battled the Burmese regime, only a handful are still waging active military campaigns. The rest remain armed, but have shown little appetite for renewed fighting—so far.

With an election planned for sometime next year, however, the status quo is looking increasingly unsustainable. The junta is pushing its erstwhile adversaries to form parties and field candidates, and while some have unenthusiastically complied, others have begun to chafe at the persistent pressure.

To the north, near Burma’s border with China, the Kachin, the Kokang and the Wa have all responded very differently to the regime’s demands. The Kachin have formed a proxy party to contest the election, while the Kokang have said thanks, but no thanks—managing, somehow, not to rile the generals in Naypyidaw.

The Wa, on the other hand, have been more openly resistant to the regime’s plans to use the election to end hostilities permanently.

The United Wa State Army, with 20,000 troops under its command, was formed 20 years ago out of the ashes of the Burman-dominated Communist Party of Burma. Soon after, it signed a ceasefire deal with then-intelligence chief Gen Khin Nyunt, who was ousted in 2004. Since then, relations with the Burmese junta have been strained.

Recently, these tensions have intensified, raising concerns that the Wa are preparing to go back on the warpath. However, Chinese officials from Yunnan Province, which borders the Wa territory, say they are working to calm rising tempers on both sides.

The situation farther south is similarly varied, depending on the ethnic army in question.

The Shan State Army-South, a non-ceasefire group, spoke out against the election at a ceremony marking the Shan national day in February. Its position is unlikely to change, despite talk of Thailand intervening on the Burmese junta’s behalf, because the group acts as a buffer between Thailand and the drug-trafficking Wa.

The Karen National Union, which has the largest army still fighting the regime, has also denounced the election as a sham. But the group is increasingly fragmented and under growing pressure from Thailand to end its more than six decades of armed struggle.

Mon rebels, who also rely on Thailand for supplies and logistical support, entered a ceasefire agreement with the regime in 1996. They have kept their distance from the election, but are closely monitoring developments in central Burma.

Although no clear picture has emerged of what the election will mean for Burma’s disparate ethnic armies, the junta’s ambitious plans to redraw the country’s political map seem as likely to stir up old resentments as they are to usher in an unprecedented era of stability in frontier areas.

READ MORE---> To Fight or Not to Fight...

Plain Speaking

APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2
The Irrawaddy News

The Irrawaddy’s correspondent asked Rohingya and Rakhine residents of Maungdaw, in Arakan State, and a Burmese computer expert in Rangoon for their views on the Rohingya issue. All three interview subjects are 27 years old, and while they clearly don’t represent Rohingya, Rakhine and Burmese populations as a whole, their comments offer some idea of popular thinking in Burma

A young Rohingya man who helps out in his parents’ business was asked to describe his life in Arakan State.

I feel we’re confined in a box. I feel we’re treated as sub-human. I feel we suffer the worst human rights violations compared with our brethren [Burmese citizens] in other parts of the country who are experiencing the policies of this government. We all bear the brunt of this dictatorship. But I don’t know why other ethnic groups do not sympathize with us. This is the saddest thing.

Q: Why do you think this government does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group?

A: I don’t know exactly why. But we do know that this government uses a divide-and-rule system in our state so they can rule easily. I also think the government fears our work potential and expansion strategy. As you know, we Rohingya are very hardworking, and our population could swell in a short time. I guess that in order to prevent our expansion and influence, the junta denies us our human rights, and removed our citizenship. Our fellow ethnic Rakhine people also think we’re hostile and aggressive. It may be true, sometimes. But it would be because of their discrimination and restrictions.

Q: What keeps you here?

A: Hope! Hope that one day we will get citizenship. I hope that at least in the near future, some restrictions will be lifted, easing our daily life, and improving our livelihoods.

Q: What do you expect from the 2010 election?

A: Democracy that guarantees our human rights. But only real democracy could make our dreams come true. If the government doesn’t want to give us citizenship, we will automatically understand that the democracy it restores is just half-baked democracy. The other half needs to be baked by ourselves. I don’t know, at least for now, how to bake that half. Taking arms or taking to the streets? Or what else?

A Rakhine employee of a Maungdaw engineering company was asked to define the Rohingya.

A: We don’t consider them as one of the ethnic groups of Myanmar [Burma]. They sometimes create problems against our Rakhine people without realizing that they’re living on our land. They’re also trying to occupy our lands, and also threatening our religion. We can’t allow them to do that. I personally see them as destructive to our state. They would certainly threaten all Burma. But we’re human. We have sympathy with anyone as long as they don’t harm our self-regard.

Q: How would you describe your “fear factor” in living alongside Rohingyas if they regain citizenship?

A: Don’t say our fear factor. We don’t fear them. What we worry about is the safety and security of our people in such Muslim populated townships as Buthidaung and Maungdaw. We have to take their safety into account. Our people there are only a minority and are vulnerable. If Muslims have citizenship and there is no law enforcement in our state, who will guarantee the safety and security of our ethnic group? If the Rohingya get citizenship, they will not stop there—believe me. They will demand a “special region.” We can’t give them Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships as a special region. Should the Rakhine be allowed to establish special regions where they live? Who would allow that? Tens of thousands of Burmese migrants are working in Thailand, but do you think the Thai government would grant them a “special region?”

Q: What do you think about stationing the Burmese army in Arakan State?

A: I think it’s good for us. It is thought that the army is here to guard us against hostile and aggressive actions by the Bengali immigrants. But don’t think we gladly accept soldiers on our land. I sometimes think about what my grandfather once said to us: our Rakhine [Arakan] State was once very peaceful before the army staged its coup [in 1962]. There were not many soldiers in those times. But, after the coup, more and more soldiers were stationed here, and many problems arose between Muslims and Rakhines. My grandfather blamed the army. He said the government drove a wedge between us in order to rule more easily over us. I don’t know whether that’s correct or not. But, what I see with my own eyes is that our Rakhine State is not as developed as other states of Myanmar. We have very poor transportation and communication infrastructure. But, for the present, we have to have a military presence on our land, however inconvenient.

Q: What do you expect from the 2010 election?

A: A government that will protect us from any invasion or expansion of illegal, hostile migrants. It’s very important to us. We’re worried that the next government will give citizenship to the Muslim people, without trying to keep law and order in our area. But, I’m one of those who support any government that undertakes humanitarian tasks that have to be tackled immediately.

A Burmese computer expert living in Rangoon was asked to comment on the Rohingya issue.

We cannot see this issue only from the humanitarian angle. I think it’s based on politics. Only after the military took power in the [1962] coup were there tensions and riots involving these two ethnic groups [Rakhine and Rohingya]. I think there were motives behind the government’s claim that the Rohingya are not an ethnic group. The government withdrew citizenship for the Rohingya in order to create problems within the state, which would help to shift the attention of fanatic Rakhine nationalists to concentrate on the Rohingya. As you know, the Rakhine people are famous for their nationalism. They love their ethnicity, their land, their culture so much more strongly than we love our own. The junta seems to abuse that. As a Burmese, one of the victims suffering under the iron heel of the military junta, I like to say we should be united. Our common enemy should not be Rohingya, nor any other ethnic group. Our one common enemy is the military government.

Q: What can be done to reconcile Rakhine and Rohingya?

A: I think the 2007 September protests helped to some extent to achieve reconciliation between Rakhine and Rohingya. I was in Sittwe at the time. The hair on my arms stood up when I saw four or five Muslims walking ahead of the monks. Their presence meant they would guard the monks who were marching for the sake of all people living in the country. That sent a message to me that when it comes to national interests and national causes, Rakhine and Rohingya are friends. We should not forget the momentum of the September protests. At the same time, we should be fully aware of the junta’s divide-and-rule policy.

Q: Do you think it’s worrisome if the Rohingya people acquire citizenship?

A: No, absolutely not. I believe they would be good citizens. They would work very hard to develop their area and catch up with developed townships in other parts of the country. We should wait and see how the government solves this issue. If it sorts it out wisely, there will be no problem. The government should not pass the issue as it is into the hands of the next civilian government. This problem has been created by the present government, so it must solve it. The problem should not be a legacy for future generations.

Q: Do you believe a post-2010 government will respect the human rights of all ethnic groups?

A: I dare not hope so, because I don’t know how honest and humane the next government will be. This Rohingya issue would be the best example, I think, to understand how the next government will behave in other cases.

READ MORE---> Plain Speaking...

Opposition members jailed for bomb plot

(DVB)–Seven members of opposition party National League for Democracy accused of a bomb plot were sentenced on Monday to five years imprisonment despite a distinct lack of evidence, said the wife of one.

The sentences were handed down exactly one year after they were first detained at Rangoon’s Insein jail.

"[The police] could not provide any evidence,” said Kyin Nu, wife of imprisoned Aung Than Tun.

“He was arrested because they claimed he was found at Minthagyee teashop, and by using the statement of an informer." (JEG's: who was the informer?)

Kyin Nu added that Minthagyee teashop closed down over four years ago.

“We assume that they were arrested because they are NLD members,” she said, adding that some of the police who questioned the suspects were subsequently promoted. (JEG's: selling your own aha? fabricated witnessings)

Another of the accused, Aung Kyaw, was arrested shortly before his son's funeral, his wife Ma Chaw said.

“They came to arrest him in the evening, on the fourth day after the death of our child,” she said.

“They told him to come with them for a short while. He told them he couldn’t because he had to arrange for our son's funeral.”

Two of the accused were already serving lengthy prison sentences.

NLD spokesman Nyan Win said the latest imprisonments show that the government is doing opposite of its promises to ease repression of opposition parties.

"In our view, these are signs of more oppression on NLD members and all pro-democracy activities."

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

READ MORE---> Opposition members jailed for bomb plot...

Burma’s Gaza?

APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2
The Irrawaddy News

Citizenship and land rights are hot issues in Arakan State

MAUNGDAW, Arakan State—In a simple house on the edge of this small town near Burma’s border with Bangladesh, a Rohingya resident carefully adjusted his cheap Chinese-made radio. Six other Rohingyas also huddled around the radio, straining to hear its crackling broadcast.

“Here we go,” said 52-year-old Ahmed triumphantly. “It’s VOA reporting on what the international community is saying about the Rohingya issue. Listen carefully.”

A small convenience store in Maungdaw. (Photo: Min Khet Maung/The Irrawaddy)

Ahmed said he and his friends tune in nightly to Western broadcasts in the hope of hearing news about efforts by the international community and humanitarian agencies to pressure Burma’s military government to improve their living conditions.

In a teashop near Ahmed’s home, a small group of ethnic Rakhine people discussed the same issue—but from a different viewpoint. They were united in opposing any move to grant citizenship to the Rohingya people of Arakan State.

One man in his late thirties claimed the state and its majority Buddhist population would fall under the influence of Muslim Rohingyas if they became Burmese citizens. “They [Rohingyas] are like a virus,” he said.

Another man, in his early fifties, agreed. “Let’s hope the government doesn’t pay attention to international pressure,” he said. “The Rohingya are not among the 150 ethnic groups of Myanmar [Burma].”

His claim, supported by most Rakhine people and reflected in regime policy, is disputed by many scholars and historians, who trace the arrival of the Rohingyas in the Arakan region back to the eighth century.

Ethnologists say the Rohingya—far from being a homeless migrant people—are a distinct ethnic group derived from a bewildering ancestral mix of Arabs, Moors, Persians, Turks, Mughals, Pathans, Bengalis, Chakmas, Rakhine, Dutch and Portuguese.

For centuries, Muslim Rohingyas and the Buddhist Rakhine people of the Arakan region lived in harmony. They enjoyed the same rights, guaranteed by the 1947 constitution and the 1948 Citizenship Acts.

A Rohingya boy carries items to a local village near Maungdaw. (Photo: Min Khet Maung/The Irrawaddy)

Rohingyas were able to participate fully in post-colonial political life. They could vote and stand for public office in local and national elections, and they were granted Burmese passports and complete freedom of employment.

The 1962 military coup that brought Ne Win to power ended all that. Anti-Rohingya sentiments were allowed to fester. Race riots disrupted life in Arakan State.

“The Rakhine-Rohingya relationship was poisoned by the military junta,” said one moderate Rakhine historian in Maungdaw.

Denied protection by the Ne Win government and the current military regime, Rohingyas have been mercilessly exploited by many Rakhines, who are accused of treating the Muslim minority as a cheap workforce. The fiction that these dark-skinned people were illegal Bengali immigrants has been allowed to spread without much contradiction.

Discrimination against the Rohingya now permeates all levels of society in Arakan State, from local government departments to community life.

“The military government is systematically encouraging ‘divide and rule’ in our state,” said the Rakhine historian. “It can then exploit the instability it causes in order to rein in the people.”

Observers say the policy has inevitably fuelled racial tensions, leading to clashes between Rakhine residents and resentful Rohingyas.

Fear is said to reign not only in Rakhine towns and villages but also areas with Rohingya majorities—including Maungdaw Township, where more than 90 percent of the 493,000 inhabitants are Rohingya. One other township in Arakan State has a large Rohingya majority—Buthidaung, where more than 80 percent of the 279,000 inhabitants are Rohingya.

Building on Rakhine prejudice and exploiting social tensions, the current military regime has progressively tightened restrictions on the Rohingya, denying them not only citizenship but also the most basic rights.

Freedom to travel is severely curtailed, and permission has to be sought from local immigration departments for journeys even within Arakan State. Permits are issued for a maximum of 14 days.

A main street in Maungdaw. (Photo: Min Khet Maung/The Irrawaddy)

The travel restrictions make life difficult for the Rohingya on many levels, including education. The university in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, has no faculties for medicine or engineering, meaning that young people wanting to study those subjects must enroll at universities in Rangoon. But that option is denied Rohingya students, who have difficulty enough trying to cope with the discriminatory practices and bureaucracy of Sittwe University.

Some restrictions are patently racist—one, for instance, requires Rohingya couples to sign an agreement that they will have no more than three children when seeking official approval to marry.

Many Rohingyas hope the general election planned for 2010 could bring about a relaxation of restrictions or even an end to them.

For one young Rohingya, who graduated from university two years ago, citizenship is the most important right he would like to see restored. “If democracy is restored, then we must be given the chance to ask for citizenship,” he said.

Yet the Rakhine historian warned that social tensions could increase if the Rohingya are granted citizenship and land ownership rights.

“If the government does not solve the problem wisely,” he said, “ this could be a hot spot of the future—another Gaza.”

READ MORE---> Burma’s Gaza?...

The Row over the Rohingya

Rohingya migrants sit in a provincial immigration detention center in southwestern Thailand fter being transported from Ranong prison in January. Thailand promised a transparent investigation into allegations of army abuse of Rohingya boat people. (Photo: Reuters)

APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2

Irrawaddy readers weigh in on a contentious issue

IN February, The Irrawaddy launched a new online feature, enabling users of our Web site to post comments on stories of particular interest to them. One subject has attracted far more attention than any other: the status of the Rohingya in Burma. Every news item and commentary on this topic elicited numerous responses; taken together, they give a sense of the range of opinions on this issue.

Some readers based their arguments on historical evidence, while others emphasized human rights considerations. But judging from the bulk of the comments we received, it was clear that race, religion and ethnicity were the major factors animating the debate over whether the Rohingya “belong” in Burma.

Few readers stooped to the blatant racism of the Burmese consul in Hong Kong, who infamously described the Rohingya as ugly, dark-skinned “ogres.” Some, however, evidently viewed the matter chiefly through the lens of race.

“A thorough DNA testing would reveal that these [people] belong to Bangladesh rather than Burma,” wrote one such reader, San Oo Aung.

For many other readers, the Islamic faith of the Rohingya was more of an issue than their genetic makeup. Although some, like Tin Win, recalled “ancient days when Muslims and Buddhists stayed together side by side in harmony,” many others painted a much darker picture of relations between followers of the two religions.

“For once, the regime is right,” wrote Pasquale. “The Rohingya are not Burmese. They are the fifth column for the Islamization of the land of Dhamma.”

“Be careful, Shwedagon Pagoda will disappear very soon,” echoed Mr True, who also accused The Irrawaddy and other exiled media of being “worse that the SPDC” for their supposed bias in favor of the Rohingya.

Just as controversial as the subject of race and religion was the issue of ethnicity. Many readers followed the junta’s practice of labeling the Rohingya “Bengalis.” Indeed, many voiced strong support for the regime’s refusal to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group.

“I dislike the junta, but I support it for [its position on the] Rohingya,” wrote Maung Myanmar, in response to a report on our Burmese-language Web site.

Such views (which were also common on the English version of The Irrawaddy) provoked a number of international readers to express concern about the attitudes of some Burmese who profess to espouse democratic principles.

“Aren’t we fighting so that human rights will be protected for everyone?” asked Pokpong Lawansiri, who identified himself as “a Thai advocate working for a Burmese cause.”

Hong Kong-based Luzhou similarly asked: “Do we not believe in justice, equality, non-discrimination? Do we not observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

“Even when the democracy struggle has come to a victory, and democratic government is established, without the right attitude, there will be no answer to the problem,” he added.

Several Burmese readers expressed sympathy for the Rohingya as fellow victims of military rule, but in some cases added that too much emphasis had been placed on their plight because of their religion and ethnicity. “Please do not forget the fact that the military government kills even Buddhist monks,” wrote Than Aung.

“Rohingyas deserve humanitarian aid as much as any other refugees. Focus should be on that and not on which ethnicity they belong to,” wrote Khin, who cautioned against “carelessly” accepting the claims of the Rohingya “out of sympathy.”

The most hotly disputed claims were those relating to the historical presence of the Rohingya in Arakan State. Historian Aye Chan was representative of those who strongly denied that the Rohingya have long had a place in the history of the once-independent kingdom of Arakan.

“It is obvious that the term ‘Rohingya’ was created in the 1950s by the educated Chittagonian descendants from the Mayu Frontier area (present day Buthidaung and Maungdaw Districts) and that it cannot be found in any historical source materials in any language till then,” he wrote.

As some readers pointed out, however, not all historians agree with this view.

“Dr Than Tun wrote that the Muslim title used [by] Arakan kings mentioned in the stone pillar of 1422 might be Rohingyas from the Mayu valley of the eastern Naf river and the western Kaladan river who have claimed their existence there for over 1,000 years,” wrote Maungmaung, referring to the findings of a well-known Burmese historian.

Notwithstanding the role of The Irrawaddy’s online comments section and other Internet-based forums, some readers complained that the real problem dogging this issue is the lack of open discussion.

Ahmedur Rahman Farooq wrote that “the Burmese pro-democracy government-in-exile was formally approached by the Rohingyas to arrange a debate over the issue under the supervision of international historians, but they have no guts to arrange such a debate because they know very well that such an initiative will permanently close all the doors for anti-Rohingya camps inside the pro-democracy movement.”

READ MORE---> The Row over the Rohingya...

Unwanted Anywhere

APRIL, 2009 - VOLUME 17 NO.2
The Irrawaddy News

The Rohingya remain one of the region’s most neglected ethnic minorities

FOR years, the plight of the Rohingya—a Muslim ethnic minority from the Burma-Bangladesh border—had been fading from world attention.

Then, earlier this year, it abruptly reemerged in the public eye following reports that the Royal Thai Navy had towed more than a thousand Rohingya boat people out to sea in engineless boats with little food or water.

A Rohingya migrant looks out the window of a police van while being transported from jail to he immigration police station in Thailand’s southern province of Ranong in January. (Photo: AP)

A few hundred were rescued near India’s Andaman Islands and Indonesia’s Aceh Province, but many others were not so lucky, and are presumed to have died at sea.

In February, actress Angelina Jolie, who is also a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s refugee agency, drew even more international attention to the issue during a visit to Karenni refugee camps in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province.

Although she did not directly criticize the Thai authorities for their treatment of the Rohingya, she said: “As with all people, they deserve to have their human rights respected.”

The Thai government, suddenly under a harsh spotlight for its handling of the issue, has attempted to address the concerns of relief agencies and human rights organizations.

In Burma, however, the ruling regime has adamantly refused to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s indigenous peoples, adding fuel to a fire that other countries in the region are trying to contain.

Thailand has long been on the frontlines of Burma’s humanitarian crises, and in this case, it is particularly concerned about the implications of the Burmese junta’s policies.

Not only is Thailand host to an estimated 120,000 refugees and perhaps 2 million migrant workers from Burma, it also has an Islamic separatist insurgency raging in its southern provinces and fears that the arrival of thousands of stateless Muslims could further destabilize the situation.

The Arakan Project, a Thailand-based NGO which advocates for the Rohingya, estimated in June 2008 that more than 8,000 Rohingya had reached Thai shores over the preceding two years, sailing from the coast of Bangladesh to southern Thailand; from there, most traveled overland to Malaysia.

The majority of Rohingya who make this perilous journey are looking for no more than an opportunity to earn a living in a less hostile environment than the one they left behind in Burma. Some, however, seek asylum—a process that is fraught with obstacles.

Thailand and Malaysia are not signatories to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 protocol, which define the rights of asylum seekers and the obligations of states to protect them.

Thus, although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has representatives in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, the agency’s mandate is subject to restrictions imposed on it by the Thai and Malaysian governments.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the current Democrat-led government has attempted to deflect some of the criticism it has faced for its handling of this issue by insisting that the international community, and especially regional neighbors, must share responsibility for solving the Rohingya problem.

To this end, Thailand discussed the issue with representatives of the UNHCR and ambassadors from Bangladesh, India, Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia, and raised it again at the recent summit of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean), which last year formally enacted a charter that obliges member nations to respect human rights.

At the Asean summit, Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win said the boat people would be allowed to return, but only if they identified themselves as “Bengalis” born in Burma, rather than as Rohingyas.

Observers suggested that the Burmese response was just a token gesture to avoid embarrassing Asean governments and to end any discussion of the root causes of the problem, which include widespread human rights abuses in northern Arakan State.

It is clear, however, that Asean cannot afford to let the Burmese generals simply sweep this issue under the rug. Decades of neglect have turned the plight of the Rohingya into a regional issue, and any failure to address it adequately will only serve to undermine the bloc’s credibility.

The Rohingya are the second-largest ethnic group living in Arakan State, after the ethnic Rakhine; in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships, in the northern part of the state, they are in the majority. But even though they comprise nearly 30 percent of the state’s population of 2.75 million people, they are often treated as if they don’t exist.

Goodwill Ambassador of the UNHCR Angelina Jolie smiles at Karenni refugee children during a visit to Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in northern Thailand. (Photo: AFP)

Ultra-nationalist campaigns initiated by the Burmese government, often with the support of local Buddhist communities, have long portrayed the Rohingya as interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh and India, arguing that they are just another part of the negative legacy of British colonial rule.

As part of the effort to drive them out of the state, the Rohingya are routinely subjected to human rights abuses, including forced labor, land confiscation and even restrictions on marriage. They are also frequent targets of extortion and arbitrary taxation.

In 1991, waves of Rohingya refugees fled across Burma’s western border to Bangladesh to escape oppression. About 230,000 of the refugees have since been repatriated under an agreement between Bangladesh and Burma, with the involvement of the UNHCR, while approximately 28,000 remain in two refugee camps in Bangladesh.

As part of the ongoing repatriation program, the Burmese regime has agreed to issue temporary registration cards to returnees. The UNHCR estimates that around 35,000 cards were issued in 2007, with an additional 48,000 issued between January and May of 2008.

But far from providing them with any sort of legal status, the registration cards have often served to reinforce discrimination against the Rohingya.

According to the US government’s 2008 Report on International Religious Freedom, for instance, Burmese authorities insist that Muslim men applying for the cards “must submit photos without beards”—an offensively discriminatory requirement intended to discourage registration.

With no hope of improvement in their situation, many Rohingyas continue to leave Burma, often via Bangladesh. But in their quest for friendlier shores, they often have to pass through Burmese territorial waters, putting them at risk of arrest under Section 13(1) of the 1947 Immigration Law, which prescribes penalties for illegal entry into Burma.

According to the Arakan Project, many Rohingyas who have been arrested in Burmese waters on their way to Thailand have been sentenced to up to five years in prison for illegally crossing the border. Such prisoners account for the majority of the jail population in northern Arakan State.

Rohingya boat people receive medical treatment at a temporary shelter in Aceh Province after being rescued by local fishermen on February 2. The all-male group of 198, who had not eaten for a week and who included a 13-year-old, was found floating in a wooden boat off the coast of Aceh after 21 days at sea. (Photo: Reuters)

Former inmates of these prisons say that Rohingya prisoners are fed only once every three or four days, and are often subjected to beatings. Little can be done to protect them from such treatment, however, because international agencies such as the UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross currently have no access to jails in Burma.

For those who are pardoned and allowed to return to their home villages, the situation isn’t much better. They often find that their names have been permanently deleted from their household registries, meaning that they are constantly at risk of being arrested again.

“Since they are no longer administratively listed, many have been forced to flee to Bangladesh again,” according to Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project.

In Bangladesh, life is only marginally less precarious.

The Bangladeshi government divides the Rohingya into two categories: recognized refugees living in official camps and unrecognized refugees living in unofficial sites or among Bangladeshi communities.

The UNHCR provides basic services to around 28,000 registered Rohingya refugees living in the official Nayapara and Kutupalong camps, and Islamic Relief, a UK-based charity, supports a further 10,000 people living in an unofficial camp constructed in 2008.

But for most of the estimated 200,000 undocumented Rohingyas living in Bangladesh today, the only way to survive is by performing backbreaking labor that pays less than a dollar a day.

Now, with the impact of the global economic downturn hitting one of the poorest regions of Asia, many Rohingyas are growing increasingly desperate to find some way to support themselves and their families—forcing many to turn to brokers who, for US $300-450, arrange to smuggle them by boat to countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.

Most set off on this dangerous journey between November and April, when the seas are at their calmest.

Typically, they are given water and rice that has been cooked and dried for their one meal of the day. The traffickers, wary of naval patrol boats, order the migrants to pack into the small hold below deck and remain there; if they try to come out, they are beaten. Only after dark are they allowed up on deck to stretch and shower.

According to Thailand’s House Committee on Security, which has blamed international human traffickers for the recent massive influx of Rohingya boat people, some of those who were apprehended had telephone numbers they used to contact other Rohingyas who have already settled in Thailand and Malaysia.

This prompted Thai police to round up roadside roti vendors in Bangkok and cities in the predominantly Muslim south. Thai security officials say that many of the trafficked Rohingya sell rotis as a temporary job until they are ready for their departure to Malaysia.

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have all focused their efforts on cracking down on trafficking gangs, insisting that the Rohingya boat people are victims of unscrupulous criminals exploiting their economic desperation and not refugees fleeing persecution.

One problem with this approach is that it isn’t likely to end the exodus anytime soon. Observers say that endemic corruption in all of the countries affected by this issue makes it impossible to stem the flow of people seeking a better life, especially when they have highly organized and well-financed brokers helping them.

In northern Arakan State, the border security forces readily turn a blind eye to human trafficking in exchange for bribes. Bangladeshi law enforcement agents also cooperate for a cut of the brokers’ profits. And for the right price, immigration officials in Thailand and Malaysia hand Rohingyas over to traffickers instead of deporting them across the border.

Meanwhile, Asean foreign ministers will have another opportunity to tackle the problem at the Bali Process meeting on April 14-15. The Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries and international agencies, including the International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR, for talks to discuss practical measures to help combat human trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region.

Beyond this, Asean may be counting on the precedent of the Cyclone Nargis relief effort to open up the possibility of greater cooperation between the Burmese junta and the international community on the Rohingya issue.

In March, Burma’s neighbors were given some reason to hope for the best.

After months of dragging its feet over the future of the UNHCR’s mandate to operate in northern Arakan State, the regime finally gave the UN refugee agency a green light to stay. In an echo of the junta’s post-Nargis reversal on allowing aid into the Irrawaddy delta following a visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last May, the decision was made only after a high-profile visit to Burma by Antonio Guterres, the head of the UNHCR.

But convincing the generals to accept hundreds of millions of dollars to help restore Burma’s agricultural heartland is one thing; persuading them to end a pattern of abuses against an ethnic minority with few friends anywhere in the region is another.

Unlike the situation in the Irrawaddy delta, the humanitarian crisis emanating from northern Arakan State is almost entirely of the regime’s making. Until Burma’s neighbors finally begin to address this fact, they can continue to expect more unwelcome visitors on their shores.

READ MORE---> Unwanted Anywhere...

Parliament Passed Anti-beggar Bills on Tuesday

Wednesday, 01 April 2009

Parliament on Tuesday passed the Sylhet Metropolitan Police Bill 2009 and Barisal Metropolitan Police Bill 2009, setting jail terms of up to three months for begging. The new laws fix no fines for beggars, but state if anyone is caught begging in public places or shows disabilities to get alms, they will face time behind bars.

The laws also says anyone guilty of 'eve teasing' will face imprisonment for three months, a fine of Tk 500 or both. If anyone uses public places as a lavatory, they face a Tk 500 fine.

It sets a Tk 300 fine for anyone caught spitting or smoking in violation of public notices. Similar punishment is applicable if anyone bathes or washes in public ponds, tanks or by their banks.

Home minister Sahara Khatun proposed the bills, passed by voice vote. BNP MPs M K Anwar, Jafrul Islam Chowdhury, Nazimuddin Ahmed and Asifa Ashrafi Papiya had earlier proposed some amendments to the bills. But they were rejected by voice vote.

Nazimuddin Ahmed questioned whether it was possible to stop begging by such laws. With the passage of the two bills, Barisal and Sylhet cities get metropolitan police forces for the first time. The four other divisional cities—Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna—already have separate metropolitan forces.

News Source:

READ MORE---> Parliament Passed Anti-beggar Bills on Tuesday...

N Korea threat to shoot down US spy planes

Why the secrecy if the launching is for peaceful purposes then?
when the powerful run out of toys they step into untruth and inhumanities

North Korea has threatened to shoot down any US spy planes if they violate its airspace to monitor an imminent rocket launch, in a statement carried by state radio.

The warning followed accusations on Tuesday that US planes had stepped up flights over a northeastern region where the North is preparing to launch the rocket.

The North has said it would launch a communications satellite some time between April 4-8. The United States, South Korea and Japan say this is a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

Toenday the North's Korean Central Broadcasting Station denounced US spy planes for monitoring launch preparations.

"Should the US imperialist racketeers dare to intrude espionage planes into our territorial sky, interfering with our preparations for a satellite launch for peaceful purposes, our revolutionary forces will shoot them down unsparingly," it said.

The North has regularly published its count of spy flights by South Korea and the United States.

The official Korean Central News Agency said on Tuesday that US and South Korean planes had conducted "intensive" espionage against strategic targets every day from March 9 to 20.

It said a US RC-135 plane made shuttle flights between its Musudan-ri missile base and the northeastern port of Wonsan on March 13, 17 and 22.

"This is a wanton infringement upon the sovereignty of the DPRK (North Korea) and another dangerous military provocation to it," KCNA said.

US spy planes are within the range of counterstrikes, it said.


READ MORE---> N Korea threat to shoot down US spy planes...

George W. Bush - The 2008 TIME 100 - Leaders & Revolutionaries

Christopher Morris / VII for TIME

By Silvio Berlusconi

There was a genuine atmosphere of trust and goodwill that summer of 2001, when a new era seemed to be upon us, with the Berlin Wall gone and the divisions of the past overcome. I was sharing this thought with President Bush (both of us recently elected to lead our countries) at the closing dinner of the G-8 summit in Genoa in July 2001.

Bush led the conversation, talking amiably with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, the tragedies of the Second World War and cold war seemed far away indeed.

Bush observed how much the world had changed, and how we could pass on a lasting peace to our children. I remember feeling true happiness inside me. Just two months later the unthinkable happened, and the Sept. 11 attacks would again forever change the world. The battle against terrorism would become the principal preoccupation of the American President and our common international priority.

In the months that followed that immense tragedy, we nonetheless tried to stay focused, aware that justice, freedom and democracy can flourish only if there is security. President Bush knows this well, that a secure world is bound to be a united world, where everyone—and particularly those more fortunate—can and must do their part.

George W. Bush, 61, will be remembered as Commander in Chief, but not only for that. He was above all a President who felt the moral obligation that the leading nation of the free world must carry. My thoughts return again to that G-8 summit, where Italy had brought to the top of the agenda the fate of the world's poorest nations. And Bush was an early and enthusiastic supporter of our initiative to establish a fund for combating endemic illnesses.

One time, Bush told me that it is reasonable to have doubts, but not to have so many doubts that you cannot make a decision. It's up to historians to judge his presidency, but whatever fate history holds for him, I am sure that George W. Bush will be remembered as a leader of ideals, courage and sincerity. Personally, I will always remember him as a friend, a true man who loves his family, understands the meaning of friendship and is grateful toward America's allies around the world.

Berlusconi was elected Prime Minister of Italy for a third time last month

READ MORE---> George W. Bush - The 2008 TIME 100 - Leaders & Revolutionaries...

Aung San Suu Kyi - The 2008 TIME 100 - Heroes and Pioneers

Eddie Adams / Corbis Outline

By Anjelica Huston

For nearly two decades, Nelson Mandela languished in global obscurity while imprisoned under the apartheid regime in South Africa. Then, during the 1980s, millions around the world mobilized an effort for his release and an end to apartheid. Now Mandela is a global icon for human rights.

Today's Mandela is Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who has been held under arrest for 12 years in Burma. Suu Kyi, 62, has been a courageous advocate for human rights and democracy, and she is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

She became a target of her country's military junta after spearheading a nationwide effort to end decades of military rule.

The current regime is exceedingly brutal—incarcerating up to 2,000 political prisoners, recruiting more child soldiers than any other country in the world and carrying out a campaign of rape against ethnic-minority women. It has pursued a scorched-earth policy against minorities, destroying medical clinics, food supplies and homes.

Suu Kyi has appealed to the global community to take up the Burmese cause, saying "Please, use your liberty to promote ours." It took decades for us to come to Mandela's aid. Suu Kyi—and the people of Burma—are waiting to be freed now.

Huston, an Oscar-winning actress, is involved with the U.S. Campaign for Burma

READ MORE---> Aung San Suu Kyi - The 2008 TIME 100 - Heroes and Pioneers...

Dalai Lama - 2008 TIME 100 - Leaders and Revolutionaries

James Nachtwey / VII for TIME

By Deepak Chopra

Millions of people turn to the Dalai Lama for inspiration, but to whom does he turn? He and his people have struggled all their lives with the audacity of hopelessness. Oppression and exile are their daily bread.

Yet the Dalai Lama, 72, remains calm in the face of cruelty. What does he think of the human race? "We are the superior species on Earth but also the biggest troublemakers," he once told me.

China's rulers aren't like the British masters of colonial India, and the Dalai Lama's Gandhiesque nonviolent struggle won't give them twinges of conscience, leading to Tibet's freedom.

If anything, Beijing has grown more ruthless in suppressing Tibetan aspirations, as we've seen this Olympic year. And yet he has found a way to think kindly of those who oppress his people and vilify his name. I found him unwilling to show any harshness. He said to me, "I don't dislike the Chinese, only their actions."

To me, the most mystical thing about him is also the most ordinary: the Dalai Lama is happy. He's happy in the midst of chaos and turmoil. The most inspiring thing he ever told me was to ignore all organized faiths and keep to the road of higher consciousness. "Without relying on religion, we look to common sense, common experience and the findings of science for understanding," he said. I do the same thing, but I still marvel at this model of calm and compassion. I'm sure neuroscientists would love to know what's going on inside that brain.

To whom, then, does the Dalai Lama turn for inspiration? It's not a person but a place—beyond I and thou, beyond self and nonself. The wonder isn't that such a place can be found. The wonder is that one man makes it look so easy.

Chopra, author of more than 50 books on spirituality and medicine, has met the Dalai Lama several times

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