Thousands of people from Myanmar have fled the country over the years in search of asylum, risking their lives in the hope of escaping poverty and persecution. Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reports fr
By Tim Patterson
February 21, 2009
MYANMAR — Campfires twinkle along the Chinese border as soldiers sing raucous freedom ballads and strum beat-up old guitars. They sing in Jinghpaw, the main language of the Kachin people, and their joy is irrepressible on this cold night in the Himalayan foothills of northern Myanmar.
The far north of Myanmar — formerly Burma — is home to the Kachins, a group of predominantly Christian tribes whose struggle against the military government of Myanmar is now in its fifth decade. As ethnic and religious minorities in one of the most repressed and impoverished countries in the world, the Kachins are fighting an uphill battle to achieve political autonomy throughout their homeland.
The Myanmar military government, dominated by ethnic Burmese, has long sought to suppress insurgencies led by ethnic groups such as the Kachin, Karen and Shan. Like many conflicts worldwide, the struggles between Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups and the central government are exacerbated by the inherent wealth of the contested lands.
Kachin state is lightly populated but rich in natural resources, which include timber, gold and the world’s only significant deposits of high quality jade. Most of these resources are exported to China, which is the biggest provider of arms to the Myanmar military. Ordinary Kachins must look on while the wealth of their land is sold out from under them, financing their oppression.
“The prosperity of Kachin state has been seized by the junta,” said Seng Maw, 23, one of two female students at a leadership training academy run by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). “We don’t own the rights to our own resources.”
A 1994 ceasefire agreement between the KIO and the Myanmar military ended active hostilities, but the political situation remains tense. The ceasefire froze the conflict in place without addressing any of its causes. Many civilians anticipate a renewed outbreak of war in 2010, when the government has scheduled elections that few believe will be free or fair.
Kachins see their freedom struggle as separate from political opposition on the part of the ethnic Burmese majority. Even if a democratically elected government were to replace the junta, the Kachins doubt any Burmese government would respect their autonomy.
“The Burmese political system has always been top down,” explained Daw Kong, a KIO volunteer. “Democracy will be very hard for them to put into practice.”
People’s Militia Guards Border
The Burmese military authority has formed people’s militias with residents from several villages along the western border in order to act as guards for the border area, said a Khami community leader.
“People’s militias have been formed by the army authority with nine people from each village along the border of Buthidaung Township close to the southern part of Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tract area,” he said.
The formation of the militias has been going on since the middle of this month in several tribal villages located in northern Buthidaung Township near the Bangladesh border. According to sources, an army team from Buthidaung has been traveling from one village to another to form the militias.
“In our village, the formation of the people’s militias is done with nine elite people from our village, and the army authority will set up the people in the militia with small arms soon,” he said.
A source close to the army said the army authority has plans to form militias in 27 villages, with nine people from each village.
The Burmese military authority has been building up military strength along the western border at the same time that they have been forming the militias in the border area near Bangladesh.
Sun, 2009-03-01 02:25
Vang i Valdres, Norway, 01 March, (Asiantribune.com): In a statement released by Rohingya Human Rights Council based in Norway has said “We are appalled to know that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has decided to send hundreds of Rohingya boat people back to military-ruled Burma. Meeting at its annual summit, the 10-member bloc agreed to compile and pool information and interviews on the Rohingyas, who washed up on the shores of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia having fled oppression in Burma.”
On the other hand, the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Burma is ready to take back the Rohingya migrants if they can prove they are of Bengali descent.
The statement released by the Norway based Rohingya Human Rights Council further said, “The Rohingyas have been fleeing Burma because of extreme human rights violations unleashed by the Burmese military regime to annihilate the entire Rohingya populations from Arakan which is a state under the Union of Burma. They have been subjected to severe persecutions including denial of citizenship, a ban on marriage without government permission, severe restrictions of movement, religious persecution, extortion, land confiscation and restrictions on access to education.
The Rohingyas are not the descendants of the Bengalese. They are an indigenous group of Arakan where they have been living since the 7th century.
These unfortunate Rohingya refugee boat people have already suffered a lot. They have come back to life from the mouth of death after passing many days in the deep sea without food and water. And hundreds of them have perished in the deep sea after the Thailand’s navy has left around 1,000 Rohingya refugees adrift in the ocean in boats without engine or food or water.
Under the above circumstances, the decision of the ASEAN to send the Rohingya refugees back to Burma is a clear violation of human rights and international law for refugees.
So, we fervently appeal to the ASEAN nations to stop push back of the Rohingya boat people and to grant them asylum.
We also fervently appeal to the international community, the world bodies including the UNHCR to stop push back of the Rohingyas to Burma and to take necessary steps for the protection of the Rohingya refugee boat people.
– Asian Tribune –
by Salai Pi Pi
Saturday, 28 February 2009 20:31
New Delhi (Mizzima) – Activists representing civil society organizations in Southeast Asian countries raised the Burma issue including freedom for Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the forum of ASEAN leaders on Saturday.
Malaysian woman activist Wathshlah, who also participated in the meeting, said that civil society organizations’ representatives held talks with ASEAN leaders including Burmese Prime Minister Thein Sein on Burma’s affairs such as Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees including Rohingya boat people and the ensuing 2010 election.
“During the meeting, we raised the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese refugees and Rohingya people and the 2010 election,” Wathshlah from Malaysia based International Women Rights Action Watch Asia-pacific told Mizzima.
The 20-minute interface between ASEAN Leaders and civil society organizations took place at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Hua Hin in Thailand shortly before the start of the on going ASEAN summit from February 27 to March 1.
Though Thein Sein did not reply to questions on Burma, Wathshlah said, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed on the need to start a dialogue on Burma but ruled out interference in the internal affairs of the country.
“He [Abhisit] recognized the need to engage in dialogue, however he said that it is important to preserve the principle of state, sovereignty and non-interference,” Wathshlah said.
However, Wathshlah added, “He promised that all ASEAN members will engage in the issue to start a dialogue on Burma”
The 10-nation members of ASEAN in December ratified a charter, which pledged to protect human rights and promote democracy in the region.
However, the charter maintains ASEAN’s tradition of non-interference in member states, and does not have provisions for the punishment of states if they flout it.
Wathshlah said, the representatives of civil society organizations also discussed with ASEAN leaders about people participating in a regional grouping, human right bodies, promoting and protection of the rights of migrant workers in the region and gender issues.
Abhisit told the activists that the human rights body will be set up according to the principle of Asean Charter to ensure the protection of human rights and the people’s participation in the body, Wathshlah said.
“He said that human rights body is to be in line with the Asean Charter. He will try as much as possible to ensure the protection of human rights”, Wathshlah said and added, “He encouraged people’s participation”.
Earlier, the Thai government arranged for 10 persons representing civil society organizations including the exiled Burmese women activist Khin Ohmar to participate and hold a dialogue with ASEAN leaders on Saturday.
However, Burma and Cambodia objected to the participation of Khin Ohmar and Cambodian volunteer activist Pen Somony at the meeting, saying they will boycott the meeting if civil society organizations, which were not affiliated with them, were involved.
Khin Ohmar, the chair of the Network for Democracy and Development (Burma) in exile said that Burmese regime’s delegates to the 14th ASEAN summit objected to her participating in the 30-minute talk between ASEAN leaders and civil society organizations.
“Without giving any reason, they [Burmese representatives] rejected my involvement in the meeting,” Khin Ohmar told Mizzima.
However, on Thursday, Khin Ohmar could meet Abhisit for 10 minutes.
Khin Ohmar said Abhisit told her to raise Burma’s human rights and political reform issues at the ongoing regional summit.
“He said that he will raise the matters related to human rights, national reconciliation and 2010 election in Burma,” Khin Ohmar said.
Burma and Cambodia have threatened to boycott a dialogue with the civil society organisations (CSOs) today if their own picks are not present for talks on a human rights body.
As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) was debating terms of reference (TOR) for creating an Asean human rights body, Burma and Cambodia objected to the presence of civil society representatives that were not affiliated to governments at the session, sources said.
Laos and Vietnam feel the same way – they do not want talks with representatives they are not familiar with, said CSO sources.
Burmese civil society was scheduled to be represented by Burma Partnership’s Khin Ohmar while Cambodia would be represented by a Cambodian youth volunteer.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded that the stance of the CSOs and the Asean officials regarding the TOR drafting would not be easily reconciled, but there were still several months to sort out the problem.
Yesterday, Asean foreign ministers and the high-level panel on Asean human rights failed to agree on the criteria and process of nominating human rights commissioners, their job description, and whether they would have any monitoring role or just promote awareness of human rights. The TOR must be flexible to work, said Mr Abhisit.
US report says illicit Thai drug production has ended
By: ALAN DAWSON
Published: 28/02/2009 at 07:08 AM
Washington – The annual US report on worldwide drug trafficking says Thailand no longer produces illicit drugs in important quantities, but remains a major source of chemical smuggling and money laundering by cross-border drug gangs.
The report by the US State Department, produced every year for more than two decades, is yet another indication that Thailand has become a victim of drug traffickers over the past 20 years.
“There is no significant drug cultivation or production in Thailand,” the report states flatly. Rather, lack of enforcement and trafficking by gangs in Burma “have a devastating impact on Burma’s neighbours, especially Thailand.” continue
Myanmar, Cambodian Civil Society Representatives Stay Out Of Asean Talks
By D.Arul Rajoo
HUA HIN (Thailand), Feb 28 (Bernama) — Two civil society representatives — Myanmar’s Khin Ohmar and Cambodian Pen Somony — withdrew from meeting 10 Asean leaders here today after their governments threatened to boycott the event.
Altsean-Burma (Alternative Asean Network) coordinator Debbie Stothard said Ohmar and Somony had volunteered to stay out to ensure the meeting between the leaders and other civil society representatives takes place with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and General Thein Sein of Myanmar staying inside.
“Cambodia wants to nominate its own representative while Myanmar don’t want Ohmar who is activist in fighting for democracy in the country. What Cambodia and Myanmar did are against the Asean Charter and in a way sabotaging its vision,” she said.
She said the host of the 14th Asean Summit, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya had come out of the meeting room to meet Ohmar and Somony.
Meanwhile, a protest planned by anti-government supporters linked to ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra outside the venue of the summit was aborted at the last minute when news broke out that pro-government groups were heading there to confront them.
“We came here to show to the rest of Asean this government is not a legitimate one. But we have to leave as the yellow shirts (pro-government) are coming and we don’t want to take the risk as we have only 40 people here,” a spokesman of the red shirt group said.
When opening the summit attended also by Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Thai prime minister said the grouping needs to make Asean more people-centred.
“Protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms is a key feature of our community.
“The establishment of an Asean human rights body by this year, the first ever of its kind in the region, will be a big step in this direction,” said Abhisit, the most junior leader among the 10.
He said with the Asean Charter that makes the grouping a rules-based one, people would demand their share, their ownership and their role in the Asean process.
“How we intend to manage this new reality is of crucial importance to all of us,” he said.
Activists hold posters as they stage a rally to pressure ASEAN leaders to deal effectively with Myanmar rather than just listening politely to its leaders in Cha-am, Thailand, Saturday. AP/Sakchai Lalit