Monday, July 20, 2009

Burmese FM: Ban’s Proposals Not Off the Table

Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win, center, is surrounded by security guards as he walks to the ministerial meeting retreat at the 42nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial meeting in Phuket. (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

PHUKET, Thailand —Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win told his counterparts from Southeast Asian nations on Sunday that issues including the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners recommended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have not necessarily been ruled out. (JEG's: did he use "political" or he just mentioned prisoners in general, more tricks out of his bag?)

After an informal working dinner on Sunday, Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), told reporters: “We have been briefed [by Nyan Win] about the visit of the [UN] secretary-general, and we have been told some issues recommended by the secretary-general should not be taken as [having] not been accepted because [they have] not been responded to. It will take time.(JEG's: deadlines required...)

Nyan Win’s comment could be interpreted to mean that Ban’s call to release Suu Kyi and all political prisoners is under consideration by the military regime.

However, some analysts said the remark could also be a way for the ruling generals to buy time, in light of the strong international criticism they have received over the ongoing trial of Suu Kyi.

Ban called for the release of all political prisoners during his trip to Burma in early July. His request to see Suu Kyi was turned down by the military regime.

Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Sunday that the Suu Kyi issue should be resolved through an inclusive political process that the international community and Asean have called for.

Kasit said the criticism over Burma’s arrest and trial of Suu Kyi was not interference in the country’s internal affairs.

“I think it is a part of the whole inclusive political process,” he said. “We do not disrupt or interfere in the internal affairs of Myanmar [Burma]. But Myanmar is a part of the Asean family.”

Responding to questions about a possible Asean role in monitoring Burma’s upcoming elections in 2010, Kasit said it was a possibility but no discussions have taken place.

With the foreign ministers’ approval of the Terms of Reference language for the new Asean Human Rights Body, Asean will now form a human rights commission comprised of representatives from member countries.

Kasit told reporters that ministers are generally supportive of the proposed name “Asean Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights.”

Other issues relating to Burma included a faster visa processing effort for members of the Tripartite Core Group, who work on the Cyclone Nargis relief effort.

Surin said the regime needs to play a more active role in granting visas for humanitarian workers.

“There have been some serious backward steps,” he said. “The TCG will have to be a part of the decision process [on visas for relief workers].

The TCG is comprised of Burmese officials, Asean and the UN. During the 14th Asean Summit in Cha-am in late February, the Burmese regime agreed to extend the mandate for TCG to work until July 2010, while Asean and the UN have called for a three-year recovery plan for the Cyclone Nargis relief effort.

Commenting on the human rights body at a press conference, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday the rights body will operate under three principles: credibility, realism and evolution.

The first step will be the promotion of human rights for the 577 million Asean citizens, he said.

Protection, or enforcement, “of human rights will be an evolving process,” Abhisit said. “Better to make a start than no progress at all."

Some human rights groups in the region have expressed disappointment over Asean’s perceived lack of commitment and means to enforce human rights’ protection in the region.

"Without the protection mandate and the independent experts, the Asean human rights body will be a toothless tiger,” said Yap Swee Seng, the executive director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development in a statement.

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the Thai prime minister in Phuket. She will attend the full meeting of the Asean Regional Forum on Wednesday and Thursday.

Clinton is expected to address the issues of North Korea, the political situation in Burma and the recent terrorist bombing in Jakarta.

READ MORE---> Burmese FM: Ban’s Proposals Not Off the Table...

SE Asian nations face anger over new rights body

By Martin Abbugao

(The Age) -Southeast Asian foreign ministers were set to endorse the region's first ever human rights body Monday, despite criticisms that it will be toothless to tackle rogue members like Myanmar.

Officials meeting in the Thai resort island of Phuket ahead of the continent's main security forum later this week are also expected to discuss the deadly hotel bombings in Jakarta and North Korea's nuclear programme.

But the main focus will be on the landmark watchdog proposed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for which ministers will agree final terms before its official launch by leaders of the bloc in October.

According to a draft seen by AFP, the rights body will lack powers to punish violators such as military-ruled Myanmar, and can at best require its 10 member nations to provide reports on their internal rights situations.

Rights groups said in a joint letter to Thailand's foreign minister Kasit Piromya that the new body's remit would "fall far too short of international standards" and asked to meet Kasit to discuss their points.

The rights body in its current form "may not only disappoint all peoples in ASEAN, but also risks compromising the international standing of ASEAN," said the letter signed by Forum-Asia and Solidarity for Asian People's Advocacy, two leading regional advocacy groups.

ASEAN has faced persistent criticism for failing to censure military-ruled Myanmar -- the group's so-called problem child since it joined in 1997 -- for its treatment of democracy activists including detained Aung San Suu Kyi.

The ruling junta sparked fresh international outrage in May by putting the Nobel Peace laureate on trial following a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her lakeside house.

On Sunday, Myanmar authorities arrested around 20 members of Aung San Suu Kyi's party after they had marked the anniversary of her father's death in 1947.

But a draft of the rights body's terms of reference affirms ASEAN's underlying principle of non-interference in domestic affairs, which has been used by some members to fend off criticism about rights abuses.

It lists no sanctions for countries that fail to provide the required reports on their rights situations and it rejects notions of a universal standard of human rights.

The draft says the body will promote rights "within the regional context," bearing in mind national, historical and religious difference and "taking into account the balance between rights and responsibilities."

Kasit on Sunday admitted that there had been compromises to ensure that Myanmar signed on for the rights body, but he defended it by saying that it was still an important step for the region.

He said Myanmar had given details to fellow ASEAN nations on Sunday about the junta's preparations for elections in 2010, including election law and the establishment of an election commission, he said.

ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan said endorsing the body would be a "good beginning."

Human rights have been a perennial challenge for ASEAN in the 42 years since it was founded as a bulwark against the spread of communism. Its members now include an absolute monarchy, a dictatorship and two communist states.

The annual ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on Monday comes ahead of the 27-member ASEAN regional forum later this week, which groups the bloc's members along with the United States, the EU, China, Japan and other countries.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due in Phuket on Wednesday for talks that are likely to include the standoff over North Korea's nuclear programme.

The twin suicide bombings at hotels in the Indonesian capital on Friday which killed eight people are also set for discussion, officials said.

READ MORE---> SE Asian nations face anger over new rights body...

Junta beefs up military presence in Kachin State

by Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) - In what could be preparation for a fresh military campaign, the Burmese army was recently seen transporting more troops toward the country’s north, where ethnic insurgents including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are based.

Eyewitnesses said on July 17th, over 100 soldiers along with several officers were seen offloading military equipment, believed to include heavy weapons, from a ship operating between Mandalay and Bamo on the Irrawaddy River.

An eyewitness who talked to some of the soldiers told Mizzima that he saw over 100 soldiers along with several officers unloading weapons from a ship anchored at Bamo’s Myoma port at about 9 p.m. (local time) on Friday.

Bamo, in Southeastern Kachin State, is connected to Burma’s second largest city of Mandalay by the Irrawaddy River.

“Some of them told me that an artillery detachment is being transferred. I don’t know what kind of weapons and artillery they carried because it was covered,” the eyewitness told Mizzima.

Another local, who also saw the soldiers, said there were more officers than privates among the troops offloading weapons and other military accessories from the vessel.

“As I heard news of soldiers arriving at the port, I rushed to take a look. I saw about a hundred soldiers, more officers than privates. There were also a number of officers inside vehicles that came to pick-up the soldiers,” the eyewitness said.

The fresh arrival of soldiers and weapons comes after the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) rejected the ruling junta’s proposal to transform its armed wing, the KIA, into a Border Guard Force (BGF), which would function as a border security force under the control and administration of the junta.

During a recent meeting on July 8th, representatives of the KIO, the only ceasefire group in Kachin state rejecting the junta’s proposal, told Major General Soe Win of the Northern Command that it prefers to change its name to the “Kachin Regional Guard Force” and maintain its army until a democratically elected government is installed.

Military observers said the refusal by several ethnic armed ceasefire groups including the KIO, United Wa State Army (UWSA) and others has ignited fresh tension between the groups and the junta.

After1988, the junta, under the leadership of the since purged military intelligence chief Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, was able to negotiate ceasefire deals with 17 ethnic armed groups.

Now, the junta is pressuring ceasefire groups to transform into a Border Guard Force in accordance with its new constitution, approved in a rigged referendum last year.

Bamo, a strategic location in Northern Burma bordering China, has about 10 army battalions controlled by the No. 21 Military Operation Command based in the town.

It is, however, unknown where the newly arrived soldiers are heading and will be posted.

Prior to the KIO’s ceasefire deal with the junta in 1994, several parts of Kachin State were largely controlled by the KIO. But following the ceasefire pact, the junta has deployed several army battalions in various parts of the state.

Sources said in early July a convoy of army trucks loaded with arms and ammunition was also seen moving into Bamo.

The KIO, one of Burma’s longest running insurgent groups, has its headquarters in the Sino-Burmese border town of Laiza, about 40 miles north of Bamo.

READ MORE---> Junta beefs up military presence in Kachin State...

Bangladesh to file case against illegal entry

Teknaf, Bangladesh (Kaladan): Bangladeshi authorities have decided to file a case against Rohingya entering Bangladesh illegally, according to sources.

On July 19, six Burmese nationals were arrested from Shapuri Dip by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) for intrusion. They were handed over to the police station in Teknaf in the evening, according to a BDR source.

The arrested are: Ali Akbar (38), Mohamed Hamid (28), Yar Mohammad (22), Mohamed Salim (27), Mohamed Yasin (25), and Dulal Hussain, hailing from Zalia Para of Akyab, Arakan State Burma.

A case has been filed against the six arrested in the Teknaf police station, the acting officer-in-charge Jamal Ahamed Chowdhury said.

The Township Officer of Teknaf, Md Tofayel Islam also said “Earlier we pushed back many Rohingyas to Burma several times. As it did not work, we have now decided to file cases against them.”

But, a social worker from a NGO in Teknaf said the influx will not stop till there is restoration of law and order and human rights in Burma.

"The Rohingya influx will not stop unless there is a qualitative change in Arakan state, in western Myanmar where the Rohingya people live,” Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said.

READ MORE---> Bangladesh to file case against illegal entry...

Junta transports armaments to Puta-O district

by KNG

Military hardware, including weapons and ammunition is being transported to Puta-O (also called Putau in Kachin) district, Kachin State, in the northernmost region of Burma since last year by the military junta, said local sources.

Kachins in Puta-O said, local Burmese Army soldiers are transporting weapons and ammunition to the two remote towns --- Nong Mong and Khaunglanghpu, east of Mali Hka river by horses and in vehicles.

Both small and big weapons are being transported to the two small towns from the Burmese Army's Infantry Battalion No. 137 based in Machyangbaw (also pronounced Machan Baw in Burmese), 14 miles southeast of Puta-O town, said residents of Machyangbaw.

At the same time, the junta is increasingly providing more weapons to a local Rawang militia group called "Rebellion Resistance Force, RRF" led by businessman Tanggu Dang, the owner of Mali Hka Recording in Kachin State's capital Myitkyina, based in Shing Hkong in Khaunglanghpu, said sources close to the RRF.

Rawang is one of six major tribes in Kachin nationals, and are mainly settled in Puta-O district in Kachin State, Northern Burma.

The RRF leader Tanggu Dang, also called Ahdang, has been severely condemned by his Rawang tribe in Puta-O for "selling Rawang tribe" because he recruited hundreds of local Rawang young people for the Burmese Army on the pretext of recruiting for the RRF during the last two years, say native Rawang people in Puta-O.

According to the war history of Puta-O after Burma’s Independence in 1948, many Rawang people served in the Burmese Army and militias in Puta-O. They fought against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the district.

The response of local people to weapons being delivered to Puta-O district is that the junta is planning a 'war between the Kachins'. The conflict between KIA and RRF may restart after next year’s elections because of the machinations of the junta, said local sources.

The junta is also secretly deploying more troops and transporting weapons to the rest of Kachin State like Myitkyina district, Bhamo district, Waingmaw Township and Hukawng Valley, said local sources close to the Burmese Army.

The ruling junta’s actions indicate they are gearing up for an inevitable war with the KIA, post elections, said local sources.

Meanwhile, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of KIA is demanding self-determination of Kachin State from the ruling junta in place of changing KIA to a battalion of the Border Guard Force (BGF) proposed by the junta, said KIO officials.

READ MORE---> Junta transports armaments to Puta-O district...

Mass opposition arrest on Martyrs’ Day

(DVB)–Around 20 members of Burma’s opposition National League for Democracy party were briefly detained yesterday whilst returning from an annual celebration marking Martyrs’ Day.

Around 50 National League for Democracy (NLD) members had marched to the Martyr’s Mausoleum in Rangoon to pay their respects to General Aung San, Burma’s independence leader and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, and other national heroes.

The event was marred by tight security, and 20 people were arrested on their return, said NLD spokesperson Nyan Win.

“About 30 to 40 people who went to the Martyrs’ Hill this morning were nabbed in a truck but all were released after about 30 minutes,” he said.

“Apparently they were detained for wearing t-shirts with pictures of General Aung San and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to one NLD member, security officials had also collected personal information from each person as they entered the mausoleum.

“They also check our bags for digital equipments such as mobile phones, cameras and voice recorders and didn’t allow us to take those into the mausoleum,” he said.

“I felt so disturbed about it; I wanted to salute our national leaders who brought us independence without any restriction.”

Suu Kyi, who is on trial at Rangoon’s Insein prison on charges of breaching conditions of her house arrest, marked the day by sending food to patients inside the prison hospital.

Government officials also visited the mausoleum and laid wreaths in remembrance.

General Aung San was instrumental in setting in motion Burmese independence from British rule, although he was assassinated in July 1947, six months before it was successfully achieved.

As a revered symbol of civilian rule, the military government is now reportedly removing references to General Aung San from school textbooks.

Reporting by Thurein Soe and Ahunt Phone Myat

READ MORE---> Mass opposition arrest on Martyrs’ Day...

An enduring byproduct of war

By Daniella Nayu

July 20, 2009 (DVB)–For half a century, Burma’s jungles and mountains have hosted a conflict where conventional weaponry has been traded for tactics designed to forever scar the ethnic population of the country.

The byproducts of the world’s longest running internal conflict, grossly under breported, have been so severe that international lawyers and rights groups believe that the ruling junta in Burma could warrant investigation for war crimes. Perhaps most chillingly, young girls have been subject to appalling sexual violence at the hands of a military bent on creating a means of intimidation that will far outlast the brandishing of a gun.

System of Impunity, a 2004 report by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), describes the case of a 13-year-old Shan girl, Nang Ung, who was detained by Burmese troops on false charges of being a rebel. “She was tied up in a tent and raped every day for 10 days [by five to six troops each day]. The injuries she sustained from the repeated rapes were so severe that she never recovered. She died a few weeks after her release.”

Naang Ung’s story has been echoed in every ethnic region of Burma for generations. Burmese rights organisations suggest that military rape of ethnic women has been rife in the country for the last five decades since the consolidation of military rule, and shows no signs of abating.

“It can happen in homes, in the villages, in the forests, in the paddy fields, whether the woman is working alone or whether they are going to their villages,” said Cheery Zahau, an activist from the India-based Women’s League of Chinland (WLC). “In some circumstances they just rape the women in front of the men.”

Sexual torture and violence often accompanies such acts. Testimonies from victims show cases of both old women and young girls being gang-raped by up to 20 men, while others report that women who have endured days of rape are then shot in the vagina or have their breasts cut off. Crimes in Burma, a report released in May by the Harvard Law School, said that on many occasions there had been “no attempt to conceal the bodies of dead women who were raped and subjected to other acts of violence.”

Such descriptions are perhaps indicative of a military which has been partially brutalized by debasement, poverty and high levels of institutionalized corruption. Yet this cannot account for all cases. During an interview, Cheery relayed an account of a woman from Chin state whose son had just been killed by the military. After she was gang-raped, the mother was strung up on a wooden cross: “She was hanging outside of the camp the whole night in the freezing winter weather,” said Cheery. “Why would they make the cross to hang the women? The cross is the symbol of Christianity in Chin state; it’s one of the mockeries against their beliefs.”

Religious persecution adds weight to a belief common among ethnic groups that the generals are attempting an ethnic cleansing campaign to strip non-Burmans of their identity. The regime’s suspected policy of ‘Burmanisation’, as referred to in a number of official reports including one by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), could also help to explain such widespread attempts to impregnate non-Burmese women. While some are convinced on ‘Burmanisation’, the UN’s torture rapporteur for Burma in 2006 reported that state-sanctioned violence against women was used as a control mechanism, and as “punishment” for allegedly supporting ethnic armed groups and “a means of terrorizing and subjugating the population”.

According to Ben Rogers, the Southeast Asia advocacy officer for CSW, it is important to note that “these incidents documented are not simply isolated acts by individual, badly behaved frontline soldiers”. Reports have shown that a high percentage of rapes committed by the Burmese military have been orchestrated by officers. Furthermore, an alarming number have been gang rapes. Moan Kaein, from the Thailand-based Shan Women’s Associated Network (SWAN), stated that 83 percent of the rapes SWAN had documented in Shan state were committed by officers, while 61 percent of all military rapes were gang rapes. Furthermore, there have been reports of officers ordering their men to rape ethnic women on threat of death. “Those who refuse to rape will be shot and killed,” Captain Ye Htut from Pah Klaw Hta army camp was quoted as telling his men in the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) report, Shattering Silences.

“When we document all these cases, none of the perpetrators are punished,” says Cheery, referring to WLC’s 2007 Unsafe State report. Despite international publications of reports that specifically name high-ranking officials and officers involved, no actions have been taken by the Burmese government to punish perpetrators even though such crimes are illegal under Burmese law. “This impunity suggests it is a deliberate policy, and is condoned by the regime,” says Rogers.

While the consequences of rape can be horrific – they include unwanted pregnancy, contraction of HIV, and psychological damage for both victim and family – support for victims is virtually non-existent. Even women who manage to flee to the borders have no real hope of any professional psychological assistance, given that they are often not officially recognised by their country of arrival. While some women have been pushed to suicide, others are forced to keep their rape a secret in order to avoid social stigmas.

“The only solution for them is silence, and often they get rejected by their communities,” says Cheery, while Moan Kaein claims that “some husbands will not accept their wives after they have been raped”. Some women also get accused of “sleeping with” Burmese troops and are told to leave their villages.

There is also the real chance of retaliation from troops and government officials. Rape victims and their families have been the most severely punished when such sexual crimes have been reported. According to press releases from the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), four girls aged 14 to16 from a village in northern Kachin state were arrested and jailed after they relayed to independent Burmese media about having been gang-raped by three army officers and four soldiers from a local military base.

Reports of state-sanctioned rape have been consistently met with a tide of public smears within Burma, as well as mass intimidation and deliberate distraction by the military. The problem has been further aggravated by callous retorts from the Burmese government, including the release of a report, License to Lie, attacking authors of License to Rape.

Perhaps more worrying are threats of violence and even death against those who report such cases. System of Impunity describes how the local military officers threatened to “cut out the tongues and slit the throats” of villagers who had dared speak out to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during their visit to Shan State in January 2003. On 1 June this year, Kachin News Group reported that Kachin youths had been “brutally assaulted” for having prevented the gang-rape of a Kachin girl by four soldiers.

Inaction following international condemnation has also served to dampen hope that ethnic women and campaigners will see change in their lifetimes. On the 24 June, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that “If we ignore sexual crimes, we trample on the principles of accountability, reconciliation and peace. We fail not just women but all people." The statement coincided with the one-year anniversary of the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1820 (2008), which notes that “rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict zones can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.

The irony of Ban’s proclamation is that sexual crimes in Burma were ignored on his recent visit to Burma earlier this month, just as they are ignored by countries like China and Russia who supply weapons to the junta and by neighboring countries which provide no support for the raped women pouring over the borders. “We call and call,” says Blooming Night, joint secretary of Karen Women’s Organisation, “but nothing happens”.

Increased militarization in many ethnic regions in lieu of the 2010 elections has led to increasing concern for the safety of women living there. “When we documented Unsafe State [in 2007], there were about 33 army camps. Now there are 55 camps, so they’re spreading” says Cheery, adding that “as long as [Burmese] troops are there, there will be sexual violence”. Burma shows no sign of abating its aggressive expansion of the military. If, as it would seem, rape of ethnic women is a byproduct of this, perhaps we should expect the stories of Naang Ung and the thousands of other women and children to continue echoing throughout Burma.

READ MORE---> An enduring byproduct of war...

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