Monday, April 27, 2009

Nasaka loots goods from market in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan Press): Burma’s border security force, Nasaka, has been looting goods from Amina Bazaar (market) of Maungdaw Township, on every market day (on Tuesdays and Saturdays) from the Rohingya community.

The market is held twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays. So, villagers go to the market to sell their goods and to buy things they need for their families.

However, some Nasaka officials accompanied by Natala villagers of Aung Mangala village, went to the market and collected all kinds of vegetables, onions, garlic, oil, fish, meat, betel leaves and betel nuts, peas, and other things from the Bazaar.

The Nasaka personnel are from Aung Mangala Nasaka out post, which is under the Nasaka Headquarters. Regarding the matter, no action will be taken, if the villagers complain to the concerned authorities. So, the Nasaka loots goods from the market regularly on market days.

After collecting the goods, the Nasaka divides it and gives some of it to Natala villagers and the rest are usually taken by Nasaka personnel. If the stolen goods are in excess, they sell it to the villagers again.

The local people are unwilling to pay for goods to the Nasaka and Natala villagers, but the Nasaka officials force the villagers to pay for these goods.

Villagers often have to become sources for the Nasaka, police and the army in order to earn their living, a village elder said, on condition of anonymity.

READ MORE---> Nasaka loots goods from market in Maungdaw...

Salt workers face difficulties in fields from distribution agents

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan Press): Salt workers from Maungdaw Township are facing difficulties in working in their salt production fields, since an agent claiming to be a salt distribution agent is disturbing them, a salt worker from Ngakura village, ten miles away from Maungdaw, said.

Nawzumol Hasson (30), son of Fozul Islam, who hails from Paungza village of Maungdaw, is calling himself an agent of a salt distributor from Maungdaw. He claims to have got permission from the District Peace and Development Council (DPDC) of Maungdaw, the salt worker said.

The agent sent some people to the rural area of Maungdaw, where the salt production fields are located. They take all the salt at lower prices than the local market price and also demand money, from those who are producing salt in the fields as a permission fee, a trader from the Maungdaw market said.

The poor salt workers from Maungdaw, had given money for permission two months ago and were now again forced to take salt at lower prices than the local market, by the authority, a local elder from Shweza village said.

The agent stocks the salt and smuggles it to Bangladesh, with the help of the authority, where the salt prices are higher than Maungdaw, he added.

“If anyone complains to the DPDC office about the agents, Hla Htay, senior clerk of DPDC would listen to him but no action would be taken. If the complainant can pay more money then the issue would pass to the officer for action, an aide from the DPDC said. “The salt workers are poor and are unable to pay such money to clerks,” he added.

The price of salt in Maungdaw is Kyat 4000, but the agents give only Kyat 2500. They sell it in Bangladesh for Kyat 5000. All the prices are for 40 kg bags.

READ MORE---> Salt workers face difficulties in fields from distribution agents...

Authority announces prize money for garnering information

Maungdaw, Arakan State (Kaladan Press): Authorities have announced to the people of Nasaka Section number 3, 4 and 5, prize money of Kyat 100,000 for any person, who could give information about the four people, who led the clash between the Rohingya villagers and the soldiers on April 22, a local village authority of Nasaka Section number 3 of Maungdaw said.

The authority told the local villagers of Nasaka section 3, 4 and 5, that any person with information on the whereabouts of those four people or with information on their exact location would get Kyat 100,000 each, he added.

The authority will release all the arrested people, if they arrested those four people, a close aide of the Nasaka said. But, there was no mention of the names of the four people.

On April 25, the Command Commander of Buthidaung Tactical Operation Command (TOC), the Nasaka Director of Nasaka Headquarters and the Military Operation Command (MOC)-15 Commander and other military officers and Nasaka Section commanders met in Taungbro and discussed regarding the clash, which occurred on April 22 at Balukhali, under Nasaka section 3 and left Taungbro on April 26. After the meeting, the announcement came that the authority would give prize money, to those who would help the authority to make arrests, giving the location about the four people, who had led the clash, the aide added.

The authority had arrested more than 200 Rohingya villagers on April 23, who were then tortured and interrogated day and night to get information about the four people, a local elder from Balu Khali said.

The soldiers, who were seriously injured, were sent to the Buthidaung Tactical Operation Command’s (TOC) emergency medical unit and sergeant Aung Than Htey was sent to Akyab for treatment, an official from TOC said.

READ MORE---> Authority announces prize money for garnering information...

EU sanctions only ‘a symbol of punishment’

(DVB)–The European Union’s plans to continue sanctions against Burma seem more like a symbol of punishment rather than a political solution, said an exiled Burmese political organization.

Earlier today the EU announced it would be continuing with its policy of sanctions against Burma in light of the ruling junta’s failure to change track on its human rights record.

The move was criticized by exiled Burmese political party, the National League for Democracy (Liberated Areas).

“Sanctions are not the pressure or the solution to change the political diversity or political dynamics of Burma,” said Nyo Ohn Myint, chairman of the NLD-LA Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Sanctions are a notion of how [the EU] is unhappy with the regime.”

Planned sanctions are to include an arms embargo, travel bans for senior officials and the freezing of Burmese assets in Europe.

In case of “genuine progress” the EU would be ready to hold high level talks and loosen sanctions.

“The problem is, what you call a genuine progress?” said Burmese political analyst, Aung Naing Oo.

“To me the EU will continue a policy that has been proven ineffective. Sanctions and isolation have not worked.”

Instead, he said, a policy of greater engagement with the regime rather than just sanctions would likely prove more effective.

“[Sanctions] are just keeping the military isolated,” he said. “I’m not saying the situation is easy to resolve though.”

The announcement comes at a time when the United States, who historically has led the international community on sanctions, appears to be reconsidering its stance.

In February, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the path the US had taken on Burma had failed to influence the military government.

Then came a rare meeting in March between a US official and senior government officials in the Burmese capital, although the US have so far publicly denied there will be a change in sanctions policy.

Reporting by Rosalie Smith

READ MORE---> EU sanctions only ‘a symbol of punishment’...

When Good News Goes Bad

The Irrawaddy News

“No news is good news.” For most, this means that a day without incident is a good day, indeed. But for journalists, it tends to mean that truly newsworthy stories are rarely “good news”: death, disease, disaster and downfall will always trump feel-good tales of triumph on the front page.

Journalists are often accused of focusing on the negative and ignoring the positive. But when you are trying to shed light on a situation, you are bound to cast some shadows. This is especially true in the case of Burma, a country run by benighted generals who prefer to keep their people in the dark.

At a media workshop I attended recently, a fellow journalist asked me if there was any good news to report about Burma’s recovery from Cyclone Nargis one year after the disaster claimed nearly 140,000 lives and severely affected 2.4 million people.

In a way, the best news is that the bad news is still coming out of Burma, despite the junta’s efforts to suppress reporting of the realities on the ground. The international and exiled Burmese media have both played an important role in revealing how far from normal the situation in the Irrawaddy delta remains.

A year ago, Cyclone Nargis dominated international headlines and news networks for nearly a month. Then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Burma, and the junta agreed to allow aid workers into the country to assist people in some of the worst-hit areas. End of story, at least as far as many people were concerned.

But for The Irrawaddy and some other news outlets, this was just the beginning of the story. For the past year, we have been watching developments in the delta closely and listening to the testimony of ordinary people as well as the pronouncements of the junta and their partners in the recovery efforts.

What we have learned is not to take the official version of developments at face value, even when it is coming from respected international aid agencies. We have found that many relief workers who offer an optimistic assessment in public will often privately confide that the situation in the delta is a mess, and is likely to remain one as long as the regime continues to set the priorities.

The other good news coming out of Burma is that, despite all the constraints imposed upon them, many ordinary Burmese continue to do everything in their power to help heal the delta. We have learned that local private relief groups, formed by monks, students, celebrities, medical groups, businessmen, charitable organizations and others are still very active in the relief effort, laying the groundwork not only for renewal in the delta, but also cultivating hope for the country’s prospects of achieving justice, pluralism and, ultimately, democracy.

But even this good news has its dark side. The junta, ever fearful of any emerging alternative to their brutal rule, has initiated a crackdown on independent aid workers. To date, twenty-one volunteers have been arrested and detained in connection with their relief work in the Irrawaddy delta. Meanwhile, Burma’s most famous satirist, Zarganar, is said to be suffering from jaundice and hypertension in Myitkyina Prison, where he is serving a 35-year prison term for his relief role.

The survival of these private efforts now depends on their ability to continue operating under the radar. This means that many are reluctant to speak to us about their work, because it would attract unwelcome attention from the military authorities.

“If the media focuses on our efforts today, tomorrow the authorities will shut us down,” said one aid worker.

For Burma’s generals, it seems, any real news is bad news.

READ MORE---> When Good News Goes Bad...

Indian rebels forcing Burmese villagers to flee

(DVB)–Indian separatist rebels who have taken up base in Burma’s Chin state are now forcibly moving into locals’ houses and causing them to flee their village, say a Chin human rights group.

The rebel group, from India’s Manipur region which borders western Burma, entered Hai Kyin village in Tonzang township, northern Chin state, on 13 April and stationed themselves in locals’ houses, said Min Htan Nga, coordinator of Zomi Human Rights Foundation.

The villagers, who feared they might get caught between the rebels and the Indian army’s long range weapon attacks from across the border, had fled the village and were hiding nearby.

“The rebels just came into the village and started staying in villagers’ houses without even asking for their permission,” said Min Htan Nga.

“They were keeping their weapons and ammunition in the houses as well so people started fleeing the village fearing they would be caught in the crossfire with the Indian army.”

This is the second time Hai Kyin villagers have fled their homes. In February this year, a clash broke out near the village between the Manipur rebels and Burmese opposition group, the Zomi Revolutionary Army.

Continued ignorance from the Burmese military regarding the Manipur rebels have led locals in northern Chin state to think the government is assisting them in their fight against the Indian government.

According to reports from locals in the area, the Manipur fighters have been seen carrying out joint border patrols with the Burmese army.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

READ MORE---> Indian rebels forcing Burmese villagers to flee...

Political pluralism is the only answer

by Htet Win

(Mizzima) - Addressing domestic issues is by far the most crucial need in delivering Burma from the vicious circle of political impasse and economic hardship, which has for several decades disgraced the country and its over 50 million citizens.

While most countries around the world work to balance their bargaining position in the international theater by playing to their economic strengths and addressing the needs of their people, Burma’s generals continue to hoard the country’s resources not only from political opposition groups, but from the entire population of the country.

It might be hard, initially, for the military government to commence dialogue with mainstream political opposition such as the National League for Democracy and its iconic leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. If, however, the situation were to transpire, then the attitude of Burma’s top generals toward Aung San Suu Kyi – presently highly personalized and negative – would have to change. Without this, the country will remain in a state of political paralysis.

The presence of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union on the country is only a poor excuse used by the military for the state of the country. Whereas, in actuality, the regime has had since the mid-1990’s to improve several aspects of the country, but has instead failed to take up reforms, driving would-be investors away with policies of mismanagement.

In short, Burma's failures in development have not resulted from actions of the international community; just look at fellow ASEAN member Vietnam. The latter has advanced significantly over a shorter period of time in its relations with the World Trade Organization than has Burma. The main difference is Burma's failure to initiate institutional restructuring.

Burma, in addition to political pluralism, needs reform in the areas of tax, trade, customs and administration – to name but a few underachieving sectors of society.

The junta's ongoing roadmap has not led to reform in the country's politics. Real political reform, through dialogue, has not been realized and has thus stymied the potential for much needed international assistance.

It is unfortunate the military cannot appreciate the positive role that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi could play in addressing the country’s ills. A larger than life figure, she is a real political tool that could be used to effectively deal with almost all quarters of society, and specifically with issues related to international lending agencies and ethnic minorities.

"The problem is, they are making the democratic leader a liability instead of an asset," related one long-time Rangoon-based observer.

"In design or not, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi becomes the manifestation of the people's will," the observer said, adding that all problems could be solved if the regime would be bold enough to make a deal with her.

The post-2010 era, despite the existence of a new constitution adopted last year, still fails to address the relevant issues, instead enshrining the military's leading role in politics.

"To be honest, the entire executive branch and bureaucracy would again be in the hands of the military after 2010," the observer noted.

This is because the new, post-2010, leadership will merely be composed of present ministers and some members from business circles, who in turn have close connections with the current government.

In order to benefit the entire population, the handpicked civilians would need to be granted significant autonomy – though it is dubious whether a few top ranking military players could bear to see this actually happen.

“My opinion is to try to get as much compromise as possible before proceeding with the next stage; a new plan can then be made for 2010, 2011 and so on,” the observer analyzed.

However, it is likely no attempted repairs to the existing roadmap will prove sufficient. What is instead needed is drastic overhaul.

Overhaul in turn demands tangible and sizable international assistance such as ASEAN member Cambodia received in the mid-1990s. This holds true even though it is acknowledged that a small pool of Phnom Penh elites benefitted most from this approach.

Still, this approach toward transition is needed in Burma, where a new generation is coming of age having experienced nothing but autocracy and a systematic failure in quality of education.

Yet, the observer pointed out, “Political liberalization and ethnic issues should not be left out. It could be the country’s nemesis even if there is a democratically elected government.”

In a cautious, if not pessimistic approach, the democratization process is to be first carried through locally, and gradually expanded to meet internationally accepted norms.

And let us not forget that there is a history of political pluralism in Burma. Even under the British in the 1930s, there existed many civic organizations, media outlets and political parties. Put bluntly, the British were much more liberal than the current military regime, which itself benefits in the art of suppression by looking at and learning from the history of Britain’s colonial rule.

In the end, an exit strategy for Burma’s generals and relief from the country’s myriad of ills cannot be tangible and positive as long as the regime rejects political pluralism.

READ MORE---> Political pluralism is the only answer...

Burmese Migrants Handed Over to Human Traffickers

The Irrawaddy News

Unable to support his family in Rangoon, 27-year-old Wunna had migrated to northern Malaysia one year earlier to work illegally on a construction site. Then, on November 15, he was arrested by two policemen and taken to Bandar Badar police station.

Wunna was charged with entering the country illegally and was caned under a draconian Malaysian law. He was held in detention for one month and 17 days before the guards led him out of his cell and bundled him into a truck with 60 other Burmese migrants. He was then driven to the town of Changlun near the Thai-Malaysian border.

Wunna was handed over to human traffickers who told him he would be forced to work on an Indonesian fishing boat for five years if he could not pay Malaysian Ringgit 2,300 (US $640).

“While they waited for the RM 2,300, we were beaten all the time,” Wunna said, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday. “And we were continually told we would be taken to a Thai port and sold to Indonesian fishing boats.”

Wunna claimed that hundreds of Burmese migrants are handed over by Malaysian immigration officials to unscrupulous human traffickers at the Thai-Malaysian border.

“At one point we escaped from the traffickers’ house,” he said. “We came across a Malaysian policeman and begged him to help us. But, he turned out to be on the traffickers’ pay roll and he turned us over to the traffickers. We practically lost all hope.

“The traffickers handed us phones and told us to call our families in Burma or contacts in Malaysia to get money to buy our release,” Wunna added. “We were told that if they didn’t send bank transfers, we would pay with our lives.”

Although Wunna was unable to secure a bank transfer from his family in Rangoon, he said the traffickers kept him in the house and forced him to do domestic work, such as cleaning and cooking.

After two or three months, Wunna finally escaped and contacted a Burmese labor rights group in Kuala Lumpur.

Wunna is still in Malaysia, but remains in hiding as it is known that the gang of human traffickers is looking for him.

On Monday, the Malaysian daily New Straits Times reported that a Malaysian parliamentarian, backed by Malaysian human rights group Tenaganita, had called on the Malaysian government to launch an independent inquiry into the trafficking of illegal migrant workers, most of whom are Burmese.

“This is organized crime and we need an independent commission to investigate, not have co-workers investigate each other,” said Aegile Fernandez, Tenaganita’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Coordinator, according to The New Straits Times’ Web site on Monday.

She was quoted as saying that the authorities must address the issue quickly.

According to The New Straits Times, Fernandez, who alleged that Malaysian Immigration authorities are behind the whole operation, added: “Who else has access to the detainees at the detention camps and is directly involved in sending them back?”

The allegations coincided with a US Senate report released on Thursday claiming that illegal Burmese migrants deported from Malaysia were often turned over to human traffickers and forced to work on fishing boats, in restaurants or as prostitutes in Thailand if they could not raise the money to purchase their freedom.

According to the Senate Committee report, migrants from Burma had regularly become victims of extortion and trafficking once they were deported to Malaysia's northern border with Thailand.

“Migrants state that those unable to pay [the traffickers] are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests ranging from fishing boats to brothels,” the report said.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Friday that his government hopes to get more information on the report from US authorities, according to the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

“We will take appropriate action," Najib told reporters. "We do not want Malaysia to be used as a point for human trafficking ... but we need to know more facts." (JEG's: it has been a human trafficking port for decades...:( )

According to the AP report, Malaysian opposition politician Lim Kit Siang also urged the government to "respond with instant action" to the US Senate report, saying it is "not only most damaging to Malaysia's international image, but raises grave questions about Malaysia's human rights commitment."

READ MORE---> Burmese Migrants Handed Over to Human Traffickers...

Suspect over fire in battalion tortured

Rangoon (Mizzima) – A person has been arrested and is allegedly being tortured in the notorious Insein prison, on suspicion of involvement in a fire in the Garrison Engineering (GE) Battalion in Rangoon Division’s Hleku Township, according to sources.

Military junta authorities arrested a suspect, Zaw Latt (22), on March 28, in connection with a fire, which broke out in the office of GE Battalion (963) in Hleku Township’s Min Kone village on the same day.

“He [Zaw Latt] showed us how he was tortured. We saw his private parts burnt and marks on his body from severe beatings,” the source, who met Zaw Latt on April 10, during the court date, said.

The GE (963) is based near the Min Kone village and is engaged in constructing the Rangoon-Pegu road and other constructions for the Brigade (605) and (337). Allegedly villagers from Min Kone and other nearby villages were asked to volunteer for constructing roads and were forced to break stones.

Zaw Latt, who was one of the workers on the construction site, was arrested as a primary suspect involved in the fire, which broke out on March 28 morning, at about 4 a.m (local time), at the GE office along with 21 other workers.

Head of the workers, Kyi Hla said, the police from Phaunggyi police station had come on the evening of March 28, and arrested 22 people in connection with the fire.

“I told them [the police] not to arrest my workers, but to take me away instead as I am the head. But, they refused and took them away,” Kyi Hla said.

However, of the people arrested, the others were later released and only Zaw Latt was detained.

According to eyewitnesses, authorities have severely tortured Zaw Latt leaving scars on his body. They have threatened that he would be tortured further, unless villagers of Min Kone sign a confession stating they had started the fire.

Kyi Hla said, the GE Battalion had sent Hleku Township Court’s Justice Thein Htay, Legal Officer Hla Myint along with the police to the village, to ask for a confession that the villagers had recklessly caused the fire, while they were drunk.

“In charge of the GE Battalion Warrant Officer Aung Naing came to us and told us that they would try and help the boy [Zaw Latt] from being severely punished, if the villagers confessed that they had recklessly started the fire, while they were drunk,” Kyi Hla said.

Aung Naing also said that he would personally testify in court that Zaw Latt was innocent, but when Kyi Hla asked the legal officers, they said the officer’s statement could not be put as the prosecutor’s official testimony.

Human Rights activist, Myint Maung from the Guiding Star Rights defender group in Pegu town, who has been following the case closely, said, Zaw Latt would complete a month of illegal detention on April 27.

“No charge-sheet has been filed against the boy. Authorities have taken a remand of the first 14 days and later took another remand, but so far there is no charge-sheet against him. He was simply arrested, detained and tortured without any case against him,” Myint Maung added.

He said, the boy had been illegally detained and would probably be charged for destroying public properties.

Even as the culprits behind the fire still remain unknown, Myint Maung said the man in-charge of the construction project, Aung Cho Oo had been stealing petrol from the battalion.

“Aung Cho Oo had been stealing petrol from the battalion and would resell it. But, on that fateful night, he was going to steal from the Battalion’s office,” Myint Maung said.

The construction project was overseen by GE Battalion’s Sergeant Soe Lwin, Sergeant Aung Khin Zaw and villager leader Aung Cho Oo, he added.

Since the battalion was preparing to use mines to break rocks, the battalion on March 27, had kept all stocks of mine, ammunition and other explosives in the office, when the fire broke out.

Myint Maung said the fire spread near the ammunition and other explosives. The villagers and other workers were unable to get close enough to the office to put out the fire.

However, when the fire broke out, while everybody was taken by surprise, Aung Cho Oo was already able to take away motorbikes, cars and even petrol tanks, leaving villagers and workers to think that he had previous knowledge of the fire, Kyi Hla, the workers head said.

“When the fire broke out, Sergeant Aung Khin Saw was taken by surprise and he ran out of his bed without clothes on. But, Aung Cho Oo had been able to remove bikes, cars and even petrol tanks from the office,” he said.

But Kyi Hla also said, the fire might have been a set-up by the authorities in order to avoid paying the workers their wages.

“We have been working since last November. And as per our agreement, we are to get about Kyat 3 to 4 million [approximately USD 2,500-3,333] but when this problem started, they [authorities] are trying to find an excuse not to pay us,” Kyi Hla said.

“They want to portray that [Zaw Latt] or the villagers have started the fire, because authorities have not paid their fees,” he added.

READ MORE---> Suspect over fire in battalion tortured...

Burma on alert over swine flu

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The Burmese Ministry of Health, as a precautionary measure, is issuing an alert to the people regarding Swine Flu.

An official at the Department of Health in Naypyitaw said they are issuing an alert to hospitals and piggeries regarding a potential outbreak of Swine Flu. This follows an outbreak in Mexico where 103 people have died and 1,614 people have fallen ill.

“So far there is no sign of any Swine Flu in Myanmar [Burma]. But we are taking precautions and are prepared to conduct medical check-ups at the international airports,” the official, who declined to be named, said.

READ MORE---> Burma on alert over swine flu...

Migrants sent back to Burma

Mae Sot (Mizzima) - Scores of illegal Burmese immigrants were crammed into trucks and expelled from this city in Thailand this morning, just five kilometers from the Burmese border.

The police arbitrarily searched the busy market quarter of the town in the morning demanding to see identification and arresting those without papers.

An itinerant worker, whose mother was sent back to the border and sent home via the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge, said: “It doesn’t matter, I’ll go meet her at the bridge in the morning and she can come home.”

His boss concurred: “No problem, very easy for her to come back.”

READ MORE---> Migrants sent back to Burma...

Water Woes Still Plague Nargis Survivors

What lies ahead remains a big question mark. (Photo: Minn Minn / IPS Asia-Pacific)

The Irrawaddy News

“When the water is below us, we can make a living. But when it is above us, we die,” 76-year-old U Toe mused, looking back at the damage dealt by Cyclone Nargis nearly a year ago on May 2, 2008.

At the end of its fury, the cyclone, with sustained winds of close to 200 kilometers per hour, killed at least 137,000 people and destroyed the lives of thousands more. Many of these people depended on the natural resources of the fertile Irrawaddy delta, which was hardest hit by the disaster.

Those who survived the initial fury of the disaster soon faced—ironically enough—a lack of potable water. Wells and ponds, traditional sources of fresh water, had been inundated by the inflow of seawater. Water containers, which are typically large ceramic jars or clay pots, were smashed in the devastation. Long lines of survivors, carrying whatever containers they had in order to get water, became a familiar sight immediately after recovery efforts began.

In hindsight, the cyclone highlighted in the cruelest fashion the delicate balance between man and water in the delta. The fertile soil, availability of water and ample supply of labor once made this area the rice bowl of the world. The waters of the delta also supported rich fish and shrimp farms as well as natural salt farms.

But over the years, human habitation gradually changed the topography of the delta and weakened the environment’s ability to resist cyclone-induced strong waves and winds. This transformation accelerated over the past two decades, as mangrove forests were cleared for charcoal production and shrimp and fish farming. Dhani (nipa palm) trees were even more intensively felled to provide thatch for the roofs of traditional village homes.

Today, water problems continue to be among the biggest everyday concerns of local residents, although relief and assistance accelerated immediately after the cyclone.

In the months after the disaster, plastic jerry cans were imported for residents’ water needs, and traditional ceramic jars and clay pot water containers were brought in from other parts of Burma.

Ponds have been repeatedly cleaned since then, but survivors claim that seepage of saltwater into groundwater sources has increased and clearing is therefore of little avail. Digging of new wells may therefore not be an option.

Substantial resources have also been expended on fencing off the remaining 40 percent of usable ponds and reservoirs—although there are now few cows or buffaloes left to trespass into them.

Water filters of different types have been distributed by international and local non-government groups and water rationing was enforced in villages at one point, but water problems in the delta will remain for years to come.

READ MORE---> Water Woes Still Plague Nargis Survivors...

EU extends sanctions on Burma for another year

by Salai Pi Pi

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The European Union (EU) on Monday renewed its sanctions imposed on Burma’s military rulers for another year during its foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg.

The European Council, on Monday called on the Burmese junta to release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and also said the junta needs to take steps necessary to make its 2010 election credible, transparent, and an inclusive process based on international standards.

“In these circumstances, the Council deems it necessary to extend the current EU Common Position by another year, including the restrictive measures,” said the EC’s press statement released on Monday.

The EC, however said, it is ready to revise, amend or reinforce the measures it has already adopted in the light of developments on the ground. The Council reiterates that the EU stands ready to respond positively to genuine progress in Burma.

“The EU remains open to dialogue with the authorities of Burma/Myanmar and is willing to meet them at the ministerial level in the margins of the ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting in Hanoi in May 2009,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, Harn Yawnghwe, director of the Brussel-based Euro-Burma Office said he supports the EU’s position towards Burma saying the extension of sanctions on Burma highlights that there is a lack of political developments in the country.

“The statement [of EU] reminds that there is still no progress in Burma,” Yawnghwe said.

“EU cannot change its position toward the regime unless there are signs of changes in the country.”

Yawnghwe said, though EU wants to see Burma moving towards changes, the military regime is continually resisting it.

The EU, since 1996, has had a common position on Burma, which includes economic sanctions, an arms embargo and visa bans on Burmese military officials and their family members because of Burma’s poor human rights record and lack of democracy. The common position also restricts visits to Burma, by high-level officials from EU member states.

The EU further tightened its sanctions on Burma following the junta’s crackdown on monk-led demonstrators in September 2007.

However, the EU said, it is open to talks with the Burmese military regime and is willing to meet them at the ministerial level in the Asian European Meeting (ASEM) Foreign Ministers meet in Hanoi, Vietnam in May, the report said.

Harn said, “Only through dialogue can the crisis in Burma be solved”.

In response to the humanitarian crisis caused by Cyclone Nargis that lashed Burma in May last year, the European Commission provided Euro 39 million (USD 50 million) for the initial recovery project in 2008.

The Council also said, it welcomes the extension of the Tripartite Core Group, formed with the Burmese government and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), to another one year and hopes that they would be able to continue its effective role to facilitate international assistance.

“In this context, it is critical that unfettered access by humanitarian agencies continues to be ensured. The EU recalls its large and growing role as a donor to the country and stands ready to increase its assistance to the people of Burma/Myanmar further,” the EC said.

READ MORE---> EU extends sanctions on Burma for another year...

NLD meeting under surveillance by junta

by Myint Maung

New Delhi (Mizzima) – A pre-meeting for NLD’s plenary meeting, scheduled for Tuesday was held today at the NLD Head Office in Bahan Township of Rangoon amidst close scrutiny by the authorities and security personnel deployed around the office.

The security personnel were deployed today around the NLD HQ, as the pre-meeting was being held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the meeting was attended by Members of Parliament elected in 1990, Organizing Committee members of States and Divisions, Youth and Women wing leaders, totalling 148 all together.

"There are many plain-clothes security personnel in Kyaukse prayer hall in front of our Head Office, but we did not see USDA members and Swan Arrshin, who used to be deployed near our office earlier. We did not see them this time around our office. There are about 30 security personnel deployed near our office. I cannot say if there are many more in hiding," NLD party spokesperson Nyan Win said.

Riot police and traffic police arrived near the office on motorcycles and cars and made video recordings and took photographs.

"There are many security personnel stationed in a school in Link Road, behind our office. There are about 4-5 cars and 20 motorcycles in front of our office too. People arriving on motorcycles made video recordings, and gathered information,” a party youth, who attended the meeting, told Mizzima.

The youth said, several more security personnel were seen in the prayer hall on Oak Street and at least 200 personnel are seen in each places.

Reportedly, the security personnel were deployed also in Tamwe Township, which is contiguous with Bahan Township.

"The bus stop near Tamwe Mosque was crowded and many cars came and converged near this mosque. According to my estimate, the strength of security in both plain-clothes and uniform was about 15. They walked to and fro between the mosque and the triangular shaped junction," he said.

"Most of our party members had to go to our office through Tamwe. So they deployed these security personnel at this bus stop," he added.

The delegates discussed politics, situation of organizational matters and the constitution in today's pre-meeting.

“We discussed, criticized and summed-up the paper prepared by the party HQ on three topics namely politics, organizational matters and the Constitution. We negotiated on these topics and will review them tomorrow again,” Nyan Win said.

“There are about 100 delegates in Rangoon now, having come from their respective localities to attend this meeting. Some delegates will arrive at the time the meeting starts. But, they are very few in number. Most of the delegates have arrived here,” he added.

The meeting is due to be held tomorrow at the party headquarters. It is the 4th All States and Divisions Units plenary meeting of the 1990 election winning party-- NLD.

READ MORE---> NLD meeting under surveillance by junta...

KNU urges governments not to support junta’s elections

by Mungpi

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Armed ethnic rebel group, the Karen National Union, has called on international governments not to endorse the Burmese military junta’s forthcoming general elections of 2010, as it is not a step in the direction of political reforms.

Burma’s longest running insurgent group, Karen National Union (KNU), which has been fighting for self-determination, said they were against the junta’s elections and did not believe it could bring any reforms.

“We are against the elections, as it is the implementation of the junta’s Constitution that would allow them to be in power. We urge the international community not to endorse it,” David Takarpaw, KNU’s Vice-Chairman, told Mizzima on Monday.

Takarpaw said, as the junta was heading towards a wrong direction, therefore, it was important to send a clear message to them that their actions and behaviour could not be endorsed.

“We need to rebuild the nation through national reconciliation, which must begin with a tripartite dialogue between the military, the ethnic nationalities and Aung San Suu Kyi led National League for Democracy,” he added.

On Friday, the KNU, released a statement listing out 18 points for which the international community, as well as the Burmese people should not support the junta’s 2010 elections.

“It is incorrect to state this [election] could be a step on the path to reform...,” the statement said.

According to the Burmese junta’s new Constitution, which was endorsed in a rigged referendum in May 2008, the military will have a minimum of 25 percent of seats in Parliament. In the name of national security, the army is vested with special powers to veto any changes even if the Parliament votes for change.

The KNU statement argues that, “There will be no democratic space opened up by having a Parliament. The military parties and their allies will dominate the Parliament, and the military parties will decide the agenda of the Parliament.”

However, the KNU referring to the junta by its official name – the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) said, “We are disappointed that Gambari appears to have endorsed the SPDC’s 2010 elections and Constitution, even offering UN assistance with the organization and monitoring of the elections.”

The KNU said, Gambari should rather act as an impartial facilitator for tri-partite dialogue, instead of advocating a path promoted by the military regime.

“We call on governments, around the world not to endorse the 2010 elections and instead redouble efforts to persuade the SPDC, to enter into genuine tri-partite dialogue,” the KNU said.

Takarpaw said, the KNU was in cohesion with other ethnic armed groups in calling on the junta to implement reforms, that would change Burma into a federal union.

The KNU, which has been fighting for over 60 years against the Burmese military regime, however, came under renewed pressure in recent months, when their troops were ordered to move out of Thai soil, where they had been taking refuge.

“We cannot stay in Thailand now. Though some of us are still in Thailand, that is mainly for medical purposes and the main KNU bases have been shifted back to KNU controlled areas inside Burma,” Takarpaw said.

He said, the pressure from Thailand suddenly came into being since February, after the Burmese military government urged Thailand not to allow the KNU to seek shelter in their territory.

READ MORE---> KNU urges governments not to support junta’s elections...

KNU Press Statement on report of UNSG

by Daniel Pedersen

KNU Press Statement on report of UNSG
April 25, 2009

The UN Secretary General’s report regarding children and armed conflict, under the title of “Developments in Myanmar” in Agenda Item 60 (a), at the General Assembly Sixty-third Session mentioned ‘one case of a child recruited by the Karen National Union (KNU)’. In clarification of the matter, we, the KNU would like to say as follows.

1. In years gone by, the KNU had allowed those who had attained the age of 16 years to join the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). However, in the year 2003, KNU issued directives to the KNLA not to recruit persons, who had not attained the age of 18 years.

2. Since 2003, the KNU has not only banned the use of child soldiers, under the age of 18, but has also strengthened the ban by instructing the KNLA officers at all levels to follow the directive precisely and to verify and enforce the ban.

3. On a number of occasions, we have affirmed our readiness to cooperate with human rights and UN or UN affiliated organizations. The KNU and the KNLA, always welcome their monitoring and verification in the field. In addition, we have signed the “Deeds of Commitment” on March 4, 2007 to cease the recruitment and use of children in armed forces.

4. The mention in UNSG’s current report of discovery of ‘one case of a child recruited by the Karen National Union (KNU)’ is probably a case of mistaken identity. However, we will launch an investigation and publish our findings, as soon as possible. The KNU and KNLA are resolved to prevent the use of child soldiers and violations of child rights.

5. We invite the UN country team and other relevant organizations to come to our areas for monitoring and verification purposes, and to assist our programs for child protection, prevention of the use of children in armed conflict and reintegration of the victims into civil society, including provision of education and healthcare to them. In conclusion, we reaffirm our commitment to adhere to the international conventions against the use of child soldiers and call upon the SPDC military regime not to limit access to our areas by the UN country team and other organizations working against the use of children in armed conflict.


READ MORE---> KNU Press Statement on report of UNSG...

Arakan Village Councils to be formed with Military Supporters for 2010 election

Maungdaw (Narinjara): The Burmese military junta is preparing to form village councils throughout Arakan State comprised of pro-tatmadaw people in order to win the 2010 election in Arakan, said a senior clerk from the Maungdaw district office on the condition of anonymity.

"We were ordered by the high authority from Arakan State to send the list of the new village councils from every village in Maungdaw Township within the month in order to reform the village councils in the near future," he said.

Members of the new village councils will need to meet five requirements: -

  1. they must be pro-army,
  2. they must be respected by others,
  3. they must have a fine character,
  4. they must possess a mid-level education, and
  5. they must not be former village council members.
"We were told by the high authority to select those people who are supporters of the Burmese army to serve on the village councils. Most retired soldiers from Burma will be able to serve as members of the new village councils around Arakan State," said the clerk.

According to a local source, some officials from the township administrative office and some members from the USDA in Maungdaw Township are now compiling the lists for new village councils.

Authorities have already formed the new pro-military councils in some villages in Maybon and Buthiduang Townships.

The Burmese military junta is currently taking many steps to prepare for the 2010 election in Arakan. The junta also recently announced that it will be constructing a hydropower plant and a railway route to help develop the state.

Many analysts believe that the recent development work is an effort to lure Arakanese people into supporting the junta in the 2010 election. The recent plans to form new village councils with army supporters is another attempt to bolster their chances in the upcoming elections.

READ MORE---> Arakan Village Councils to be formed with Military Supporters for 2010 election...

A better approach to Myanmar

By Ralph A. Cossa

(Honolulu Advertiser) -Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently observed that U.S. policy toward Burma, as followed by her husband's administration and by the Bush administrations that came before and afterward, is not working.

She's absolutely right. Before those in Southeast Asia and elsewhere start a chorus of "I told you so," however, Secretary Clinton also observed, equally correctly, that the policy followed by Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors had likewise failed to bring about much needed and promised reform in one of the world's few remaining totally despotic nations — in Asia, only North Korea rivals Burma for top position.

The U.S. position toward Burma has long been one of total isolation and strict sanctions until such time as the ruling junta recognizes the results of the 1990 election that should have brought Nobel Laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy to power. This is simply not going to happen. Meanwhile, the 10 nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose image is burdened by having Myanmar — the name preferred by Burma and its neighbors — as a member have long argued that "constructive engagement" is the best path to reform. The ruling junta has thus far successfully resisted both approaches.

That a new policy is needed is beyond dispute. What that policy should or will be is far from clear.

Some have argued that the Six-Party Talks process being used in Northeast Asia to try to bring about Korean Peninsula denuclearization is a possible format to follow. However, finding a lowest common denominator among Burma, the rest of ASEAN, China, India, Japan and the United States will almost guarantee failure. It also puts Burma too much in the driver's seat; like Pyongyang does at the Six-Party Talks, Rangoon could set the terms of the debate and disrupt the process simply by walking out whenever things are not going completely its way. Besides, China has long demonstrated that when it comes to Burma, Beijing is not eager to be part of the solution, out of concern for "interfering in (Myanmar's) internal affairs."

Others have argued for business as usual. In a letter to Secretary Clinton, 17 members of the U.S. Congress reminded her that the lifting of current sanctions against Burma required that the ruling junta first release all political prisoners (Aung Sang Suu Kyi being first among some 2,100 suspected to remain in captivity) and also engage in genuine dialogue with the NLD and with the nation's troubled ethnic nationalities as well. It completely rejects Burma's new constitution and the sham referendum that "endorsed" it as the fraud that they both are. This approach clearly takes the moral high road. But it remains a road to nowhere, proposing a policy that feels good rather than does good.

Finding a middle-ground approach toward Burma does not require Washington to abandon its principles. No one expects that the U.S. is going to embrace the junta any time soon. But U.S. sanctions need to be more targeted against the government and its leaders and not against the people themselves. As the International Crisis Group argued last October, "It is a mistake in the Myanmar context to use aid as a bargaining chip, to be given only in return for political change. ... Twenty years of aid restrictions — which see Myanmar receiving 20 times less assistance per capita than other least-developed countries — have weakened, not strengthened, the forces for change." The bans on Burmese garments, agriculture and fishery products and restrictions on tourism should be lifted. The U.S. provision of humanitarian assistance during Cyclone Nargis last year was a step in the right direction. The aid offer, and the junta's initial reluctance to accept it, resulted in the rest of ASEAN arguing for, rather than against, the U.S. position; this is the circumstance we need to continue to create.

This does not equate to "abandoning" Aung Sang Suu Kyi, as critics claim, but involves accepting that the near-term goal is not her immediate assumption of power but the restoration of some form of democratic process, which can hopefully lead to that long-term goal.

To this end, the U.S. and ASEAN should agree upon a strategy for compelling the junta to live up to its own promises and then judging it by its own standards, not ours. The junta claims that as part of its "road map to democracy," it will hold "free and fair elections" and to then turn over the reins to a civilian government by 2010. Without endorsing the vehicles that got them to this point — the constitution and referendum — we can still join hands with ASEAN in insisting that the junta live up to these promises and insist on measurable milestones. This will at least put the U.S. and the rest of ASEAN on the same side and put the spotlight and pressure where it really belongs.

Ralph Cossa is president of the Honolulu-based Pacific Forum CSIS. He met with Aung Sang Suu Kyi in May 2002, when he became the first foreigner ever to lecture at NLD headquarters in Rangoon. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.

READ MORE---> A better approach to Myanmar...

Farmers forced to buy new variety of paddy seed in Kachin State

(KNG) - Much against their wishes, farmers in Burma's northern Kachin State have been forced to buy an unknown variety of paddy seed by the country's ruling military regime as of early this month, said sources among farmers.

Under its new goal for Kachin State, where the junta wants it to be the 'fourth largest rice bowl' in the country, military authorities of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State sold a new variety of paddy seed worth Kyat 7,000 equivalent to US $ 6.8 per Tin (1 Tin = 40.9 Litre) to all those who own paddy fields, said farmers.

In the Tatkone quarter in Myitkyina, local farmers were forced to buy a Tin of paddy seeds for each acre by their quarter administrative offices known as Ya-Ya-Ka, according to local farmers.

Before the regime's administrative offices of villages and quarters in Myitkyina forced farmers to buy the paddy seeds, they were forced to buy the paddy seeds in cash by the junta, said sources close to them.

According to local sources close to farmers, most administrative offices of villages and quarters bought the new variety of paddy seeds from the regime under pressure after borrowing money because the administrative office was ordered to buy the new seeds.

The regime has not mentioned the name of the new variety of paddy seed it is selling and where it is getting them. But local farmers have been told that the new paddy seeds will give a better yield and all farmers should plant it in the ensuing paddy growing season staring in June, farmers said.

Since early this month, the military authorities put up several signboards on roadsides and places where the public gather in Myitkyina, which read "Kachin State to be the fourth largest rice bowl of Burma".

Meanwhile, farmers are reluctant to buy the new paddy seeds from the regime. But they have to buy given the junta’s order, said local farmers. All farmers on the other hand, would like to grow their own paddy seeds which they keep each year.

Local critics said, once again, the regime is planning to rake in a vast amount of cash from farmers in Kachin State after it earned over 8,000 million Kyat equivalent to US $ 8,121,827 only from Myitkyina township by issuing licenses to Chinese motorcycles late last year. Most people are farmers in Kachin State.

The Irrawaddy Delta in Burma's south is the top rice producer in the country. It is also known as the biggest rice bowl of the country. But paddy plantation in the delta is yet to go back to what it used to be following the deadly Cyclone Nargis on May 2, 2008. The delta was devastated.

READ MORE---> Farmers forced to buy new variety of paddy seed in Kachin State...

Banned church inaugurated in Burma

(Kachin News) -A Baptist church was inaugurated in Kutkai town in northeast Shan State after a ban for over a decade on its construction by Burma's ruling junta. The traditional Christian inauguration service was held today in the country's northern region, said local Christian sources.

Rev. Lahpai Zau Yaw Memorial Church was inaugurated today in Kutkai in northeastern Shan State, Burma.

The Baptist church for Burma's ethnic Kachin residents of Kutkai town in northeast Shan State known as "Rev. Lahpai Zau Yaw Memorial Church" was inaugurated today with hundreds of church followers and hundreds of Christian guest participants.

Burma's ruling junta has banned the construction of new churches in the country. The construction of the memorial church had been banned for over a decade. It was later allowed to be completed, according to local Baptist followers.

Local church followers said, the "Rev. Lahpai Zau Yaw Memorial Church" also known as Middle-Town Church was designed by a Japanese engineer. It is also one of the best churches designed in Burma.

The church was constructed with the funds collected from local followers and Kachin Christian communities abroad as well as Baptist Churches under the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) around Burma, said church sources.

In order to mobilize civilians for the ensuing general elections in the country next year, the junta has been wooing different churches with sacks of rice, gallons of cooking oil, donation and providing telephones (land line, mobile and cellular) in Kachin State since over the last two years.

Some Christians have strongly criticized church leaders for accepting the gifts offered by Satan, the Burma's ruling junta, said local Christians.

READ MORE---> Banned church inaugurated in Burma...

Workers sacked after speaking to foreign media

(DVB)–Ten garment factory workers in Bago division were sacked last week without reason after speaking to foreign media about mistreatment in the workplace.

The workers at Pho Shwe La garment factory in Bago’s Maha Myaing ward said they were informed by the factory’s manager last Friday that they had been made redundant.

No reason was given, but they claim the factory’s manager, Nweni Oak, was reacting to an interview with the BBC’s Burmese service the previous week about salary cuts of 20 per cent.

“On Friday, they paid us our month’s salary and told us we were being made redundant,” said one of the factory workers.

“They said they will pay us our compensation on 5 May.”

She said she would be satisfied if the compensation is paid, although another worker said that compensation would not suffice given her commitment to the work.

“I did my best at work without complaining about extra tasks they asked me to do and now they are sacking me for getting involved in the news,” she said.

“I think this is too personal.”

The group had asked for assistance from Bago-based Guiding Star legal advocacy group which is well known for providing help for farmers and workers regarding rights abuses.

Aye Myint, head of Guiding Star, said this was another incident that highlighted the lack of rights for manual workers in Burma.

“There are not many groups to help them when they are mistreated and abused by their managers,” he said.

“The government’s labour office is only a dummy to pretend that they are actually doing something to help.

“The lives of farmers and worker in Burma are going downhill,” he added.

Reporting by Aye Nai

READ MORE---> Workers sacked after speaking to foreign media...

Burma suspends border fence construction

(DVB)–Burma has temporarily suspended construction of a controversial fence along the Burma-Bangladesh border following a meeting between border officials from the two countries.

The fence is aimed at stemming the flow of illegal migrants into Burma, but the proposals have caused considerable tension between the two governments.

Locals living on the Burmese side of the border have said the fence will impact on those reliant on Bangladeshi services, such as medicine and food.

Bangladesh has claimed the fence lies too close to the border, and has reacted to the increasing numbers of Burmese troops being stationed along its route.

However, a meeting between the Burmese border security force, Nasaka, and their counterparts in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), resulted in the postponement of construction, although exact reasons as to why are unclear.

“At the meeting, the Burmese side said they were acting in accordance with the bilateral agreement concerning the common border signed in 1998,” said Khaing Pyi Thein, an Arakan national living on the Bangladesh side of the border.

Following a request by the BDR, however, Burma agreed to suspend its construction, said Khaing Pyi Thein. He added however that there had been no signs of a halt in military preparations by Burma.

“The Burmese side has deployed five infantry regiments, several armoured cars, and an artillery regiment along the Mayu Mountain Range,” he said.

“These units are on highest alert now.”

Similarly, on the Bangladesh side of the border, BDR units have assembled in the area and are watching the Burmese side closely.

Bangladesh and Burma came close to conflict last November after Burma began exploring for oil in disputed waters. Bangladesh sent its navy to the location before Burma withdrew its ships.

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

READ MORE---> Burma suspends border fence construction...

Suu Kyi’s lawyer to make direct appeal

(DVB)–The lawyer of the detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will file an appeal for her release directly to Burma’s junta leader following the government’s failure to respond to previous appeals.

Three appeals have been filed by lawyer U Kyi Win since last October but no response has been given.

Suu Kyi, the leader of opposition party National League for Democracy, has been under house arrest for 13 of the last 19 years, since the NLD won a landslide victory in the 1990 elections.

“The government is not acting on the appeals,” said Kyi Win. “For that reason, we will be appealing to a higher authority or the chairman of the [State Peace and Development Council].

“We will state that the government has failed to act on our appeals and we will request him to take necessary action."

The lawyer decided to file the appeal to the highest authority after being given the power of attorney by Suu Kyi. The current order on her detention expires on 27 May this year.

“Of course, we could wait for that period to end without taking any action,” he said. “But, what will the consequence of that action be?”

“The government has completely ignored the appeals of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, which is a right granted under Section 19.

“If we do not appeal, that lawful right will come to nothing.”

Suu Kyi’s current spell under house arrest began in 2003 following the Depayin massacre, in which a government-backed mob opened fire on a convoy of people associated with the NLD, killing 70.

Reporting by Yee May Aung

READ MORE---> Suu Kyi’s lawyer to make direct appeal...

Thai PM: Postponed Summit Will Be in June


BANGKOK (The Irrawaddy News)— Thailand's prime minister said Sunday he hopes a regional summit meeting will be rescheduled for June after it was canceled earlier this month when anti-government protests stormed the venue.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, speaking in his weekly radio and television address to the nation, said the rescheduling of the meeting of government leaders in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is now being coordinated among the 15 other countries involved.

Protesters seeking Abhisit's resignation forced the cancellation of the summit on April 11 after they stormed the hotel in which meetings were being held in the seaside resort of Pattaya. Some visiting leaders were evacuated by helicopter, adding to Thailand's embarrassment.

The country's reputation was further damaged the following week as riots by the protesters gripped the capital, Bangkok, in which two people were killed and 122 injured. The army suppressed the violence after several days, and the state of emergency in the capital was lifted Saturday.

"Every country wants to have the meeting soon so we can discuss ways to solve the global financial crisis," Abhisit said. "They want to see peace and order in our country and practical security measures."

Thai officials have said the meeting could be rescheduled for June in the Andaman Sea resort island of Phuket—an area more distant from the capital and more politically sympathetic to Abhisit.

Senior officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are expected to discuss the rescheduling at a meeting in Manado, Indonesia, on May 6-8.

The aborted meeting was supposed to be attended by Asean's 10 member countries and the leaders of its so-called dialogue partners—China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

READ MORE---> Thai PM: Postponed Summit Will Be in June...

Burmese Refugees "Treated Like a Commodity"

The Irrawaddy News

WASHINGTON — The mistreatment of Burmese migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Malaysia is the focus of a report released Thursday by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

After receiving disturbing reports of trafficking in 2007, committee staff conducted a year-long review of the allegations. The report, "Trafficking and Extortion of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia and Southern Thailand," is based on first person accounts of extortion and trafficking in Malaysia and along the Malaysia-Thailand border. Committee information comes from experiences of Burmese refugees resettled in the United States and other countries.

A Burmese refugee reads in his bedroom at his house in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo: Reuters)

Many Burmese migrants, escaping extensive human rights abuses perpetrated by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the Burmese military junta, travel to Malaysia to register with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for resettlement to a third country, according to the report.

Once in Malaysia, Burmese migrants are often arrested by Malaysian authorities, whether or not they have registered with the UNHCR and have identification papers. Burmese migrants are reportedly taken by Malaysian government personnel from detention facilities to the Malaysia-Thailand border for deportation.

Upon arrival at the Malaysia-Thailand border, human traffickers reportedly take possession of the migrants and issue ransom demands on an individual basis. Migrants state that freedom is possible only once money demands are met.

Specific payment procedures are outlined, which reportedly include bank accounts in Kuala Lumpur to which money should be transferred.

It has become commonplace for the authorities to use the vigilante RELA force to periodically arrest and "deport" Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, but since Burma does not recognize them as citizens, the practice is to take them to the Bukit Kayu Hitam area on the Thai-Malaysia border and force them to cross over into Thailand.

Migrants state that those unable to pay are turned over to human peddlers in Thailand, representing a variety of business interests from fishing boats to brothels.

Human rights activists have long charged that immigration, police and other enforcement officials, have been "trading" Rohingyas to human traffickers in Thailand who then pass them on to deep sea fishing trawler operators in the South China Sea.

"People seeking refuge from oppression in Burma are being abused by Malaysian government officials and human traffickers," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

The committee has received numerous reports of sexual assaults against Burmese women by human traffickers along the border. One non-profit organization official states that "Most young women deported to the Thai border are sexually abused, even in front of their husbands, by the syndicates, since no one dares to intervene as they would be shot or stabbed to death in the jungle." Women are generally sold into the sex industry.

"(The Burmese refugees) are treated as a commodity and frequently bought and sold and we have been condemning this practice for a long time," Irene Fernandez, executive director of Tenaganita, a non-profit group that protects migrant workers, told IPS in January. "Our demands have always fallen on deaf ears despite the accumulating evidence of the involvement of uniformed officials in the trade."

The report, the first of three, states that Malaysia does not officially recognize refugees, due in part to concern by the government that official recognition of refugees would encourage more people to enter Malaysia, primarily for economic reasons. Also, Malaysian officials view migrants as a threat to Malaysia's national security.

"Malaysia does not recognize key international agreements on the protection of refugees and foreign nationals. Nor does it apply to foreign migrants the same rights and legal protections given to Malaysian citizens," Fernandez said.

Foreign labor is an integral building block of Malaysia's upward economic mobility. While Malaysia's total workforce is 11.3 million, there are approximately 2.1 million legal foreign workers and an additional one million illegal workers, though no accurate information is available.

While Malaysia accepts the presence of Burmese and others from outside of the country for the purpose of contributing to the work force, persons identified as refugees and asylum seekers on their way to a third country are viewed as threats to national security.

In an interview with The New York Times, RELA's director-general, Zaidon Asmuni, said, "We have no more Communists at the moment, but we are now facing illegal immigrants. As you know, in Malaysia, illegal immigrants are enemy No. 2."

Many of the approximately 40,000 Burmese refugees who have resettled in the United States since 1995 have come via Malaysia.

In August 2008, committee staff met separately with officials in Malaysia's immigration department and the prime minister's office, to convey the committee's concern regarding the extortion and trafficking allegations. Immigration Director-General Datuk Mahmood Bin Adam and long-time immigration enforcement official Datuk Ishak Haji Mohammed denied the allegations of mistreatment against Burmese migrants at the hands of immigration and other Malaysian officials.

As reported recently in the Malaysia Star, "Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar also denied claims that thousands of illegal foreigners held at detention centres were 'being sold off' to human trafficking syndicates. 'I take offence with the allegation because neither the Malaysian Government nor its officials make money by selling people.'"

However, according to the report, on April 1, 2009, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan stated that an investigation has been launched.

The flow of refugees from Burma to Thailand, Malaysia and other countries has cost Burma's neighbors millions of dollars in food and humanitarian assistance. The committee calls on officials of impacted Asean countries to measure the financial cost of hosting refugees displaced from Burma, and to request financial compensation from Burma's military junta for costs incurred in caring for the refugees.

It asks the government of Malaysia to address the trafficking, selling and slavery of Burmese and other migrants within Malaysia and across its border with Thailand. As a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Malaysia is urged to consider alternatives to detention for refugees and asylum seekers, especially for women and children.

"Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak should act on this US Senate report to protect the rights of refugees and victims of human trafficking," said HRW's Pearson.

The report advises the US, in coordination with other donor countries, to continue providing funds to facilitate sharing of information on human trafficking among authorities of Thailand and Malaysia; and to provide technical and other assistance to the governments of Malaysia and Thailand so that the trafficking of Burmese and other migrants may be more actively pursued and prosecuted.

READ MORE---> Burmese Refugees "Treated Like a Commodity"...

Environmentalists worried over impact of Mekong damning

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) - Environmentalists have warned that the damning of Mekong Rivers will have a significant trans boundary impact on countries which share this river, including Burma but accessing information on the issue in Burma is limited.

Montree Chantawong, a Thai environmentalist from the Bangkok-based environment organization, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (Terra) said in a conference on Friday that the damning of projects on the Mekong River in China has destroyed the natural resources of the river and caused decrease in fish and water plant that affect local livelihood, fluctuating water current and would also create conflicts between states and people along the river bank in six countries, according to a case study of Ban Koum Hydropower dam on Mekong mainstream, Lao and Thailand border.

Chantawong also said that the impact of the upstream in China and Burma might have similar impacts but the accessing information is more difficult.

“The damning will only benefit politicians, investors and financial institutions. The claims about electricity generation are fake,” he said.

The six countries that share Mekong River are China, Burma, Thailand, Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam.

However, early this month the Lahu National Development Organization (LNDO) released a report “Undercurrents – Monitoring Development Along Burma’s Mekong”, which confirmed that the impact of the Chinese damning project has not been documented clearly. “China continues to construct a series of giant dams on the mainstream Mekong while downstream communities anxiously question what will befall them. Unprecedented floods in August 2008 damaged thousands of acres of paddy farms.”

The Mekong river bank in Burmese territory is habitat to over 22,000 primarily indigenous people living in the mountainous region of this isolated stretch of the river. The main ethnic groups are Akha, Shan, Lahu, Sam Tao (Loi La), Chinese, and En. The Mekong River has a special significance for the Lahu people, who, like the Chinese, call it the Lancang.

Chantawong’s presentation is a part of Asia and Pacific Regional Health Impact Assessment Conference in Chiang Mai held from 22 – 24 April, 2009 which aimed at promoting Health Impact Assessment (HIA) mechanism as a core part of public development projects of all governments’ agencies.

The representatives from Asia Pacific regions have presented case studies from their countries about the impact on people’s health and livelihood from development projects, particularly the government’s mega projects or policies.

“All policies should take the health of people into consideration and be accountable to impacts that might occur on people’s health. Any policy and programme formulated must take health issues into account by conducting HIA,” according to a press statement from the conference where representatives from 20 countries attended.

The participant also announced the “Chiang Mai Declaration” which focus that every stakeholder of development projects need to realize the importance of people’s health. In addition, they urged ASEAN to treat the issue of HIA as regional mechanism. Given its function as an official coordinating body in an international community, “ASEAN is the appropriate forum to take the lead because the organizational structure of ASEAN has already set up the Secretariat body and the National Secretariat bodies,” the group noted.

In addition the statement also calls on international financial institutions, i.e., the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank to agree to have HIA as criteria for financing projects. Therefore projects financed by Equator Principles adopted international financial institutions are ensured to carry out their implementation pro

perly. It promises to promote the efficient HIA with principles of public participation and people’s empowerment.

READ MORE---> Environmentalists worried over impact of Mekong damning...

KNLA officer killed in battle

by Daniel Pedersen

Mae Sot (Mizzima) – Colonel Saw Jay of the Karen National Liberation Army and two Burmese Army soldiers are the latest to be killed in what today became a two-week long battle for the KNLA base camp of Wah Lay Kee.

All three were killed on Saturday night.

Colonel Saw Jay triggered a trip wire in the dense jungle. Details of the deaths of the Burmese Army soldiers were not immediately available.

Hostilities in Wah Lay Kee have become protracted, with morale-sapping injuries and deaths resulting predominantly from booby traps or land mines, rather than outright firefights over territory.

At this stage the KNLA holds Wah Lay Kee and the Burmese Army is on high ground about five miles away -- within mortar range.

The land in between is guerilla territory, with small bands of scouts watching and waiting.

Yesterday marked an end to three days of relative calm, as the Burmese Army recouped at base camp from heavy losses and casualties.

The injured of the Burmese Army are reportedly being treated in Myawaddy Hospital.

Last night the State Peace and Development Council or junta troops and its allies the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army began to push forward again, as KNLA braced for another assault on its main base.

A senior commander at about noon on Sunday said grimly: “It’s continuing now and it is going to continue. We lost a man last night [referring to Colonel Saw Jay].”

Colonel Nerdah Mya on Sunday morning said while the KNLA held the camp, all around the base was booby-trapped and both sides were laying more mines and continue rigging tripwires.

“It’s really messy out here,” he said, referring to a landscape that has become extremely dangerous to navigate for combatants of either side. We will continue to fight, we still hold the camp,” he said.

The fight for Wah Lay Kee, home to the KNLA Sixth Brigade’s 201st battalion began in the evening on April 12.

No side has taken the upper hand and both have suffered significant losses, although the KNLA far fewer, as would be expected from a force defending a long-standing, well-equipped base camp.

READ MORE---> KNLA officer killed in battle...

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