Burma: Capitalizing on the Gains by Refugees International


In the past year, humanitarian assistance to Burma has been primarily focused on victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Irrawaddy delta on May 2, 2008. Though the initial delivery of assistance was hampered by government obstruction, the aid programs that have since developed in the delta have benefited from an ease of operations unseen in other parts of the country. Relief work in the delta is progressing smoothly, but attempts to expand access to the rest of the country are struggling. Nonetheless, to capitalize on the existing gains, the U.S. should provide significant funding for programs throughout the country.

Operations Inside the Delta
Since June 2008, international aid organizations have expanded their operations to an unprecedented level inside Burma in order to respond to emergency needs created by the cyclone. Because of the small number of agencies working in the country prior to the storm, many that did not have emergency experience have modified their operations to provide relief. These changes, combined with the self-reliance of delta residents, have been largely successful in meeting the immediate needs of cyclone victims.

Agricultural production has revived, temporary housing has met the shelter needs of most residents, and income generation programs are beginning to address the economic needs of cyclone victims. In addition, the number of international NGOs in the country has doubled from 40 to almost 80, greatly increasing the capacity to support longer-term stabilization activities. Similarly, there has been a tremendous growth in the formation of local NGOs continue

Burmese Premier League soccer tournament to begin in May

by Nem Davies
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 22:27

New Delhi (Mizzima) – The first ever Burmese Premier League soccer tournament, played by professional Burmese football clubs, will be kick started in May 2009.

The Myanmar National League (MNL) was established in 2008 and people from the Federation of Burma Football and other soccer professionals have started collaborating on establishing national level football clubs in Burma.

The signing ceremony for the final official transfer of players from ‘Myanmar National League’ to private football clubs, from their respective ministry teams, was held yesterday.

In the first batch, five famous players were paid maximum transfer fees and a monthly salary of Kyat. 5 million and 1 million respectively, today’s issue of state-run ‘New Light of Myanmar’ reported.

“Yes, all these players received the full amount mentioned in the agreement. All the players in these football clubs were paid their salaries too. We are working mainly to uplift their life. Some of them are paid under Kyat. 300,000 as monthly salary,” ‘Myanmar Federation of Football’ Chairman Zaw Zaw said.

These football clubs are allowed to hire a foreign coach and a maximum of 5 foreign players for each club.

“Our signing standard is world class. We are using the signing format recognized by the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) and Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and the contracts and certificates are of world standard too,” Zaw Zaw said.

Burmese business tycoons announced the establishment of private football clubs in a press conference held on March 4, at Sedona Hotel in Rangoon.

Most of these club owners are cronies of the military junta and they are blacklisted under the US economic sanction imposed on Burma.

Tay Za of Htoo Co. owns Rangoon United, Kanbawza Bank banker Aung Ko Win owns Kanbawza Club, Alpine Drinking Water owner Dr. Sai Sem Tun owns Yadanabon Club, Asian World Co. owner Tun Myint Naing owns Magwe Club, Htay Myint from Yuzana Co. owns Southern Burmese United, ITBC Liquor Co. owner Aung Moe Kyaw owns Oktha United Club, Aden Co. Chit Khaing owns Delta United and Shwe Nagar Co. owner Win Myint owns Zeya Shwe Myay Club, totaling 8 private football clubs.

The Burmese Football Federation has said that the aims of establishing these private football clubs are to ensure a better future and prospects for Burmese football and to create awareness and interest in soccer, among the people in Burma.

However, the business community in Burma said that the implementation of this project is in accordance with the principle of ‘Do as they say, will be rewarded in return later’, the basic principle of cronyism in the Burmese business world, of collaborating with the junta.

“However the future and prospects of Burmese football is bright and rosy. But, we have to work zealously for some time in great unity, to achieve success in this work,” Myanmar Football Federation Chairman Zaw Zaw said.

“This is one of the changes that we have to ensure in soccer. We have to do a lot more. It will take a lot of time to make these football clubs measure up to the professional standard,” he added. Mizzima news

A leader of Burma’s 2007 Saffron Revolution, U Gambira, is urging the Burmese people to carry on in resisting the military government and has agreed to appeal his conviction and lengthy prison sentence, according to his mother.

U Gambira, leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, is serving a 69-years jail term Khandee prison for his role in the 2007 protests. He was transferred from Mandalay prison in February after staging a hunger strike there.
His mother, Daw Yay, said that when she visited her son in prison he quoted Burma’s late independence hero Gen. Aung San, father of detained opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
“If one wants [to follow] the way of the Buddha, one must practice Buddhism. If one wanted independence, one must practice the way towards independence,” she quoted U Gambira as saying.
“He is continuing along that same road,” she said.
Hunger strike
U Gambira began a hunger strike Feb. 15 in Mandalay prison to demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, prompting authorities to transfer him in iron shackles to remote Kamdee prison in the north of the country, she said.
“The trip from Mandalay to Kamdee prison was like being sent to Hell alive,” she said, adding that it required a three-day boat trip from Monywa to Homalin. “I was in the middle seat of the boat without a back rest. It was very uncomfortable.”
“My life, and my family’s life, is just clockwork now. We eat and sleep like robots. There is no life in our bodies,” she said, calling on the authorities to free all political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.
“The ordeal we are going through—it’s a punishment for our entire family.”
Daw Yay said that she had persuaded her son to appeal his conviction for treason, although he initially refused, and that she would travel from her home in Mandalay to the former capital, Rangoon, to file papers on his behalf. continue http://www.rfa.org/english/news/burma/burmamonkleader-03182009112622.html




While the world remains shocked by the story of the Rohingya boatpeople who washed up on Thailand’s shores in January, the media coverage has failed to open up a discussion on the wider Burmese refugee crisis.

Media coverage of the Rohingyans has barely broken the surface

Francis Wade

It is a situation that is, to put it politely, being ‘under-reported’; a classic problem of media hype, when the surface layer of a story is mulled over again and again without adequately probing the underlying context.
The international frenzy around the Rohingya story has brought the situation of arguably Burma’s most downtrodden ethnic group to global attention, and rightly so.
Last week the head of the United Nations refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, traveled to Burma and met with officials from the governing State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to “discuss” the issue, and expand “humanitarian space”. He paid a visit to Rakhine state, home of the Rohingya, where the UNHCR has offices.
It was Guterres’ first visit to Burma, and comes four years into his five-year stint as head of the UNHCR. If one could believe that UN officials prioritized a regional topic by its media notoriety, then he could be forgiven for not arriving sooner. continue http://english.dvb.no/news.php?id=2354

The Ambassador of Japan from Bangkok opened the mobile Burmese Migrant Learning Center

On March 16th His Excellency Kyoji Komachi, Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of Thailand attended the opening ceremony of Burmese Migrant mobile Learning Center which he officially opened that afternoon by cutting the ribbon.
This learning center, located in Tit Tit rubber plantation of Takua Hton District of Phang Nga Province in Southern Thailand, was established by Grassroots-HRE and has been financially supported by the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok, Thailand. The Ambassador of Japan said during a speech made at the ceremony that “I’m very proud to have the opportunity to attend the opening ceremony of this learning center as the Ambassador of Japan. Unfortunately, many children living in these communities are not receiving even a basic education and health service. I’m very glad to support the Learning Centers for the children’s education in this remote region.”
Mr. Kraisak Choonhavan, Chairman of Grassroots-HRE said during his speech speech that “In Thailand, the only Burmese director of a legally recognized Thai foundation is Htoo Chit and he is working together with Thai, Burmese, Mon, Rakaing, Karen, Tavoy, Karenni and many other foreign staff in order to help the Burmese Migrant community. I thank the Japanese Embassy so much for the financial support of our Learning Centers and also I thank the Thai Land owner for giving us the land on which to build the Learning Center”.
Phi Chindaphon, the Thai Land owner, said “I’m very happy to see the learning center for Burmese Children on my land. I’m ready to donate more of my land if necessary to build another”.
Furthermore, Director Mr. Htoo Chit said “Education is very important for our Burmese people. The important thing is that we can open the learning centers with the help of Thai people. We can’t survive without the help of Thais. That’s why I would like to request to the parents to be with disciplined and respect Thai Law”.
This Learning Center opening ceremony was attended by The Ambassador of Japan to the Kingdom of Thailand, Mr. Kraisak, Chairman of GHRE, Mrs. Charida Tajalang Sak, a board member of GHRE, The Local governor of Takua Hton district and other local authorities.
The opening ceremony represented the opening ceremony for 4 learning centers, all located in remote areas, which are supported by the Japanese Embassy under the mobile education program. Before getting the support from the Japanese Embassy for these 4 Learning centers, the so called mobile education program was run by GHRE staff and teachers who went to teach the children in those remote areas every weekend. Often, teaching was done under the shade of a tree.
Up till now GHRE has built 4 learning centers in these remote areas with 150 students attending there in regularly.
Grassroots http://www.ghre.org/en/

Villagers forced to relocate, provide materials to pave way for road project

Wed 18 Mar 2009, Kon Hadae, IMNA
Villagers are being forced to provide construction materials and move their homes to facilitate a road expansion project in southern Mon State. At least four households have been required to relocate or partially dismantle their homes to make room for the road expansion, say local sources.

Every household in Khaw-zar Sub-township is also being required to provide two loads of stones for the project. According to local sources, no one is being compensated for the cost of supplies or even the loss of their homes. Khaw-zar is home to at least 650 households.

The project, which began last month, is being undertaken on the order of Khaw-zar Sub-township Peace and Development Council Chairman Kyaw Moe. According to local sources, Kyaw Moe has said that he would like the town to have a developed main road through its center. The mile-long road is currently made of dirt and barely wide enough for two ox carts to pass abreast of each other.

“We are doing this for the development of the town, so people have to help by giving their labor,” a male source quoted Kyaw Moe to IMNA.

Some villagers are donating substantially more than their labor, however, and have had to destroy their homes to make way for the widening of the road. “Right now, even though the road is only half finished, four or five homes have had to be destroyed,” said the male source. “I do not know how many houses will be destroyed in the future.”
continue http://www.monnews-imna.com/index.php

Student protests over electricity are meeting mixed results in Mon State, with the University quarter in Moulmein receiving power while the rest of Mon State remains largely in the dark.

Student protests meet mixed results; power supply remains weak
Wed 18 Mar 2009, Mon Son, Asah and Blai Mon
Student protests over electricity are meeting mixed results in Mon State, with the University quarter in Moulmein receiving power while the rest of Mon State remains largely in the dark.

Over the last two weeks following the student protests, residents of the Myaing-tha-yar ward report that they have been receiving steady supplies of electricity. Myaing-tha-yar ward is the primary area where Moulmein University students reside.

At least one hundred university and 10th grade students protested on the night of March 6th, throwing stones and shouting demands for electricity at government offices. The events were prompted by a prolonged stretch in which Mon State’s capital city had been without power, complicating students’ efforts to study for their annual exams.

“Since the students’ protest, the electricity supply around the University comes very often. When it cuts off, it only takes about 10 or 15 minutes to come back,” a Moulmein University student from Myaing-tha-yar ward told IMNA. “But other wards do not get electricity as much as us.” continue

Ashin Sopaka”Generals sure to suffer living hell,” says Burmese monk

Prague – Burmese monk Ashin Sopaka recently came to Prague on the invitation of the One World film festival to introduce one of the strongest human rights documentaries to be shown here in recent years.

The story of Danish film “Burma VJ” revolves around the work of a group of undercover video-journalists from Burma who cover the anti-government street demonstrations that rocked Rangoon and a few other cities in this military-ruled South East Asian country in August and September 2007.

The revered Buddhist monks took the leading role in the protests, which became known as the Saffron Revolution for the colour of their robes, and they also bore the brunt of the crackdown that the junta eventually unleashed against the demonstrating crowds.

In the interview he gave to Aktuálně.cz, Ashin Sopaka explains what made his fellow monks take on one of the most brutal regimes in the world and how the junta eventually lost its face in front of the Buddhist community:

Aktuálně.cz: Many people around the world were really surprised by the sheer size of the anti-government protests that took place in Burma in September 2007 as well as by the prominent role the Buddhist monks played in those events. Were you surprised too, given that you had been away from the country for several years when it all started?
Ashin Sopaka: Of course, when I first saw the pictures of monks marching in the streets, and how many they were – especially on September 24 and 25 – I could not stop crying because I was so happy. I never imagined that so many monks would take to the streets and would lead the demonstrations. I really could not hold back the tears, I was so moved and so happy.

Later, when the regime started shooting at the protesters and the crackdown began, I became so sad that when my German friends tried to visit me I had to tell them to leave me alone. I just closed the door and started crying again. It took me about a week to recover. But then I came to realize that this is like a battle for peace. Its goal was to achieve peace, but it was battle all the same. And I started thinking in another way: in every battle, soldiers die. And the monks who were killed by the regime, they were the real, extraordinary soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the benefit of people. And therefore we had to take responsibility, forget about the pain and move on.

But it was not easy because some people, for example my journalist friends from The Radio Free Asia, were so depressed by what happened that they could not even sleep. I had to encourage them and make them share my vision of the inevitable losses on the side of our “soldiers” for peace to help them recover. continue

PLEASE VISIT ASHIN SOPAKAS WEBPAGE http://www.ashin-sopaka.online.de/


A former student leader who was jailed for his part in the 1988 pro-democracy movement in Burma is in danger of losing his eyesight, his wife said, after getting a letter from Ko Hla Myo Naung last month.

Ma Aye Aye Mar wrote to prison authorities in the northern city of Myitkyina requesting medical treatment for her husband after receiving the letter, she said.
“I received a letter from him saying that one of his eyes was bad. He said a doctor had seen his eye but the problem is not something that could be diagnosed just by looking into the eye with a flashlight,” she said.
…With one eye already gone blind, he cannot afford to let the other eye go blind as well.”
Ma Aye Aye Mar
“So we don’t know for sure what is wrong. I have only visited him once. I received a letter about this on Feb. 17.”
She said the problem was similar to one he had already experienced in the other eye, resembling strobe flashes of light from time to time.
“The people there don’t know much,” Ma Aye Aye Mar said. “Even in Rangoon there are only two eye specialists who can treat this kind of ailment.”
Eye drops prescribed
“There are no proper medical instruments there either. They just looked at his eye and prescribed eye drops,” she added.
Families of political prisoners requently report that Burmese prisoners with medical problems face difficulties because their medical records are not transferred together with them when they are moved to prisons in remote areas of Burma, a common practise making visits long-winded and expensive.
Such prisoners miss out on their regular prescription medication and ongoing medical examinations as a result, and doctors and medical staff at the new prison often refuse to believe what the prisoners say about their medical condition in the absence of written proof.
Also at Myitkyina, political prisoner Ko Thein Aye became mentally disoriented after transferring there, because he was unable to take his regular medication for amnesia.
Ma Honey Oo, who has heart problems, was not given an electrocardiogram examination or her regular medication after she was transferred to Lashio prison from Rangoon’s notorious Insein prison without her medical records, sources said.
And sources close to Ko Kyaw Ko Ko, a prisoner transferred to Taunggyi with liver disease, said he was having problems after failing to get his regular prescriptions filled.
Fear of blindness
Ma Aye Aye Mar said she hoped to make a second visit to the Myitkyina jail at the end of March, although she had received no response to her letter requesting treatment yet.
“Since he was transferred to Myitkyina, I have not been too concerned with his other medical problems. He only has two eyes and with one eye already gone blind, he cannot afford to let the other eye go blind as well,” she said.
“That is why I have made the appeal. I have asked for help but I have not received a reply as yet. So right now, I don’t know what to do. I will just see what I can do when I get there.”

In a related case, a parliamentary representative serving a sentence in Mandalay Ohboe jail lost his sight in one eye after failing to receive treatment. U Than Lwin’s eye was injuring after he was hit with a brass knuckle.
Meanwhile, the family of Ko Pyone Cho, jailed for 65 years for his part in the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations 790 miles (about 1,250 kms) from his family home in the former capital Rangoon, said they also had concerns about his health.
“After hearing that we had arrived in Kawthaung in February but were not allowed to visit him, he became worried and his blood pressure went up,” U Win Maung said of his son’s health. continue http://www.rfa.org/english/news/burma/burma_eyes-03172009101940.html

Letters: What can Indonesia do for Myanmar?

Letters: What can Indonesia do for Myanmar?

Wed, 03/18/2009 2:35 PM | Reader’s Forum

University of Indonesia international relations expert, Bantarto Bandoro, is quoted on page 8 of the March 16 edition of The Jakarta Post as saying, “Myanmar considers Indonesia its best friend .” and maintains this “special status” gives the Indonesian President an opportunity to encourage Myanmar’s soon-to-visit Prime Minister General Thein Sein to show greater respect for human rights in his own country.

One is tempted to be flippant about all this and say, if Myanmar and Indonesia are really “best friends”, then Indonesia would do well to be much more careful in future, about with which countries it chooses to be friendly. Indonesia’s reputation as a gradually emerging civil society will certainly not be enhanced by proudly listing Myanmar among its “best friends”.

On a slightly more serious note, however, Bantarto may well be right that the forthcoming visit of Thein Sein does provide Indonesia with the opportunity to do some real good in the world by encouraging Myanmar to show greater respect for human rights.

In this regard, it is to be noted that Thein Sein’s visit comes at a time when the newly appointed US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton has just publicly acknowledged the abject failure of past US foreign policy in trying to change things in Myanmar with economic sanctions.

With the United States clearly uncertain about what to do next in terms of Myanmar, Indonesia would, unquestionably, be making a huge contribution to the greater good of the world if it were able to influence Myanmar, even ever so slightly, to improve its human rights record. continue