MYANMAR: Multi-purpose cyclone shelters needed – UN specialist (Irin news)

200812311 YANGON, 31 December 2008 (IRIN) – A UN specialist has called for the building of cyclone shelters in southern Myanmar ahead of the next monsoon, expected in about five months’ time.

“Multi-purpose cyclone shelters should be built before the monsoon season comes to disaster-prone areas in order to reduce the risk of future disasters,” Dillip Kumar Bhanja, disaster risk reduction specialist for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Myanmar, told IRIN in Yangon, the former Burmese capital.

“Tens of thousands of people died because they didn’t have access to cyclone shelters,” he said. read all

BURMA: Junta Determined to ‘Guide’ 2010 Polls

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Dec 31 (IPS) – Burma’s military regime ended 2008 with greater resolve to steamroll over opposition voices in order to pave the way for a junta-friendly government when the country holds general elections in 2010.

On Dec. 30, nine supporters of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested when they staged a protest in Rangoon, the former capital, calling for her release. Some of the protesters were wearing the colours of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that she heads.

The risk these activists took in placing their lives on the side of political freedom has been heightened in the wake of harsh judgements delivered against leading voices of the country’s struggling democracy movement in November. Some of them were given long jail terms and Min Ko Naing, a widely respected former university student leader, was put away for 65 years.

The November verdicts, which saw 215 political activists sentenced, were largely linked to the peaceful, pro-democracy street protests, led by thousands of Buddhist monks, held in September 2007.

Buddhist monks who were in the vanguard of the protests, which was crushed by the junta, were not spared. U Gambria, a leader of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, was sentenced to 68 years in jail.
read all

India coast guard retrieving bodies of immigrants

The coast guard rescued 105 people on Saturday from the rickety wooden boat found drifting off the coast. Two more survivors were found Monday but none since, Sharma said by telephone.
Survivors told Indian authorities that more than 300 people from Bangladesh and Myanmar had jumped from the boat, which had been drifting for 13 days, and tried to swim to shore.
Sharma said they had no independent confirmation of the number of people aboard the boat, but the condition of the rescued survivors was grim.
The overloaded boat, about 65 to 80 feet (20 to 25 meters) long, had no covering to protect passengers from the harsh sun and had inadequate food and water, he said.
“They were dehydrated and some were unconscious,” Sharma said. “They were in a state of shock and trauma, both mental and physical.”
The boat’s mast was gone and it had no engine, he said. continue

Myanmar Sends 19 North Korean Refugees To Thailand

Nineteen North Korean refugees, detained at a Myanmar border town early this month, have been released and sent to neighbouring Thailand, a government official said on Wednesday.
The group, which included 15 women and a young boy and had faced up to three years in prison for illegal entry, were sent to the border town of Tachileck, where they crossed into Thailand, said the official who declined to be named.

Hundreds of North Koreans flee the hermit state every year, usually crossing into China and then on to a third country on their way to eventual asylum in South Korea, rights groups say.

Many end up in Thailand, packing detention facilities. South Korea grants asylum to the North Koreans at a slower rate than they have been arriving, creating a bottleneck that has strained ties between Seoul and Bangkok.

A South Korean diplomat in Yangon confirmed the group were in Thailand and “will be allowed to go to South Korea”.

The Stories We Missed in 2008 COMMENTARY from Irrawaddy news

Wednesday, December 31, 2008 – As I was preparing to take a break for the New Year, a Burmese colleague who has extensive sources in Burma walked into my office.

I knew this individual to be one of our most avid readers—and an unsparing critic who has often alerted me to the shortcomings of our coverage. But I also knew that he was uniquely well-informed and always constructive in his criticism, so I stopped what I was doing and braced for an earful.

“Your coverage on Burma this year was excellent,” he started. “Your reports on Cyclone Nargis, the referendum, political prisoners, women’s issues, tycoons—spot on! Superb!”
Then he started his criticism: “You claim to be an independent news organization searching for the truth, but this year you have failed to expose the reality of the exiled opposition.” to continue

FBR REPORT: We Tried Our Best to Help them (the British and Allies), Now We Are in Difficulty

Karen State, Burma
30 December, 2008

“We tried our best to help them (the British and allies), now we are in difficulty, we wonder if they will help us.”
— WWII veteran, Saw Nya They Mu, 80 years old.
Muthraw District, Northern Karen State, Burma. December 26, 2008.

Saw Nya Mu, 80 year old WWII veteran
While on this relief mission we met Saw Nya They Mu who fought alongside the Allies against the Japanese here in Burma. He was smiling and very happy to see us. He thanked us for the help the team gave the people, and told us his story.

“In World War Two, the Japanese invaded here and they killed and tortured us a lot. If they wanted to kill one of us Karen, they just did it. We worked with the British to help them fight the Japanese. They asked us to help them and we did. 160 of us joined the British. 80 of us as local militia or home guard, and 80 as a mobile unit to fight alongside the British on their operations.

The British camped here at that mountain over there -The Po Maw Jo– and the British parachuted the rations into that rice field there. There were also British soldiers at many places in the Karen State. They were at Thaw Thi Ko and Kaw Mu Paw, Plako and Kaw Mu Der.

One of us, Saw Tha Na Moo, went out to India, trained there with the British, and parachuted back into here. After the British came we all joined against the Japanese and defeated them.

I knew one of the British Officers well. He was Major Seagrim- Grandfather Longlegs- and was with us all the time. He was captured by the Japanese at Kaw Mu Pwa Der village near here.

As for veterans, only myself and Saw Tha Maw Ye who is more than 80 years old is still alive here. He is up the valley a little way where he had to run after the Burma Army attacked.

As for the British we did our best for them.

We tried our best to help them (the British and allies), now we are in difficulty, we wonder if they will help us.”

We gave him a blanket, shirt and some money. We told him that we and many around the world were grateful for his service. We made a presentation and honored him as best we could. He was smiling all the time and thanked us profusely. Then, with a twinkle in his eye and a broad smile, he said, ” I must be getting back home, thank you so much again and may God bless you all”.

Thank you and God bless you,

A Relief Team Leader, Free Burma Rangers
Muthraw (Papun) District, Karen State, Burma.

The Free Burma Ranger’s (FBR) mission is to provide hope, help and love to internally displaced people inside Burma, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Using a network of indigenous field teams, FBR reports on human rights abuses, casualties and the humanitarian needs of people who are under the oppression of the Burma Army. FBR provides medical, spiritual and educational resources for IDP communities as they struggle to survive Burmese military attacks.