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Myanmar: Water, Safe and Close, Makes Life Simpler in Rural Myanmar

5 hours 28 min ago
Source: Church World Service Country: Myanmar

Safe water was hard to come by for the residents of two villages in Kayin State, Myanmar, who were used to walking miles to fetch water from shallow, unclean wells and streams.

"It was very difficult for them to get safe drinking water especially during dry season. Some people had to walk to get water for more than two hours," said Yoko Ito, program coordinator for CWS Japan.

Services of any kind are in short supply in Myine Thar Yar, a village of farmers, with almost no basic infrastructure. There is no water supply system, no electricity, no public school, and no health center,” Ito said.

Now, following completion of a water project that serves Myine Thar Yar and an adjoining village, residents can strike “no water supply system” from list of things their community is lacking.

The new system, which uses gravity to move water downhill from the source to a designated spot in the village, provides a dependable supply of safe water for drinking and domestic use to 33 households of 163 people. It is the result of a CWS initiative, with additional funding from the Japan Platform, to strengthen the community’s capacity to implement and manage vital development projects.

The water project already is changing lives.

Saw Thein Ye has lived in Myine Thar Yar with his family for more than a decade. He has the good fortune of living right across from the new water supply. For him, the close proximity is more than just a convenience that allows him to walk steps instead of miles for water. Saw Thein Ye [Myanmar people do not have family surnames] said the water system has freed up time for him to do other things, which means an increase in productivity. “I can easily get water whenever I want it, and we can work more now as we do not have to spend time for water.”

Importantly, the development project also included training so that the people of the village could gain the technical and management skills necessary to make the project sustainable, a hallmark of all CWS development initiatives.

“We trained people on how to manage the community based project as well as how to construct the water supply system and how to maintain it,” Ito explained. “People worked with the carpenters and a civil engineer and now they are able to have water near their homes.”

In addition to the obvious health benefits of safe water residents are pleased that the local managers also have designed an equitable system of distribution. “I feel secure now when taking a bath,” says village resident Cho. The water is clean and good for health and each household has an equal and fair share of water.”

The water is distributed at a fixed time, which resident Than Win appreciates and it is close enough, she said, that “even the children can get it.” The new ease of access comes at a time when the community, which was affected by the civil war in Myanmar, could experience an influx of residents.

CWS’s Ito described the situation as “calm now after the cease fire agreement between the government and non-state armed groups.” With the end of fighting, though, “We are expecting that internally-displaced people and refugees will return to this village in the near future," she added.

At the very least, those who return will share in the experience of lives made both simpler and healthier because of the construction of a water system that has made safe water readily accessible, even during the dry season.

Thailand: No increase in deportations from Thai camps, says UNHCR

23 July 2014 - 10:45am
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar, Thailand

There has been no increase in deportations of Myanmar refugees from camps in Thailand since restrictions began being enforced on their movement in late June, the United Nations refugee agency told Mizzima on July 23.

"We're monitoring the situation; based on current information we have not seen any changes on this front," UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan told Mizzima in an email from the agency's Bangkok office.

Ms Tan was responding to comments by a Thai official that refugees caught outside the camps would be considered illegal migrants and liable for deportation.

"We will process them according to the law by sending them to the police and they will be pushed back," Preeda Foongtrakulchai, a district official in Thailand's Tak Province, was quoted as saying in a Thomson Reuters Foundation report on July 21.

Head-counts that the Thai authorities began in the three refugee camps in Tak Province in early July had created concern among refugees that preparations were being made to repatriate them.

A decision by the Thai authorities to enforce a curfew and long-standing restrictions on movement outside the nine camps along the border since late June had added to the concerns of the 120,000 Myanmar refugees in the camps.

A teacher at Mae La camp in Tak Province said a head-count that began there on July 21 was expected to finish at the end of the month.

“I am not sure what will happen to the refugees who are not included in the head-count and found outside the camp,” said the teacher, who requested anonymity.

Mae La is the biggest of the camps, with more than 40,000 refugees.

Myanmar: UN Rights Rapporteur Visits Mandalay

23 July 2014 - 10:34am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By ZARNI MANN / THE IRRAWADDY| Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MANDALAY — Yanghee Lee, the new UN rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, visited Mandalay on Tuesday to speak with government officials and community leaders about the recent outbreak of anti-Muslim violence in the country’s second biggest city.

Mandalay-based lawyer Thein Than Oo said she met with members of the Mandalay Peace Keeping Committee, which comprises Buddhist and Muslim community leaders, and officials.

Thein Than Oo, who is on the committee to provide legal counsel, said he could not disclose the details of the discussions, but added, “Mrs. Yanhee Lee’s visit to Mandalay is satisfying as she said that the UN will work with us in the future in maintaining peace in our region.”

He said the rapporteur had also met with Mandalay Division government officials and

[nggallery id=432 visited the Muslim section of Kyar Ni Kan Cemetery, located outside of the city, where some buildings were destroyed by an angry Buddhist crowd earlier this month.

In early July, clashes erupted between Buddhists and Muslim residents of Mandalay after allegations were circulated on social media that a Muslim tea shop owner had raped his Buddhist maid. In the ensuing violence, one Buddhist man and a Muslim man were killed, while 14 people were injured.

After several days, authorities installed a curfew and arrested more than a dozen suspects. This Monday, some three weeks after the violence, the government announced that rape the claims were false. At the time of the unrest, however, officials said they were detaining two Muslim men in relation with the allegations.

Yanghee Lee has travelled on to the Burmese capital Naypyidaw. Prior to her visit to Mandalay, she visited war-torn Kachin State and Arakan State, where she spoke with Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim leaders. She has also met with political prisoners in Rangoon’s Insein Prison.

She is set to wrap up her 10-day visit on Saturday. South Korea’s Yanghee Lee is making her first visit to Burma as a rapporteur and succeeds Argentina’s Tomás Ojea Quintana.

Myanmar: Curfew in Mandalay townships eased after three weeks

22 July 2014 - 10:48pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By PAING SOE

Authorities in Mandalay have relaxed the eight-hour curfew imposed upon seven townships three weeks after communal violence rocked the city’s Chan Aye Tharzan Township. The curfew is still in effect from 9pm to 3pm.

On 1 July, communal violence broke out between the Muslim and Buddhist populations after a false rumour spread throughout the town that two Muslim teashop owners had raped a Buddhist maid. Two men – one Buddhist and one Muslim – were killed, while roughly 20 more were injured in the ensuing violence. Divisional authorities then levied a 9pm to 5am curfew upon seven townships.

Ohn Lwin, secretary of the Mandalay Division’s government, said that the curfew period will now end at 3 am, although security forces will remain on the ground.

“The important thing is for the people to not buy into rumours that they heard by mouth without seeing it verified with their own eyes,” Ohn Lwin said, adding that building trust between the two religious communities is also vital to preventing further violence.

Ohn Lwin said that it is currently still “impossible” to completely lift the curfew.

The Mandalay Peacekeeping Committee – made up of local civil society groups to monitor the situation and dispel rumours – recently reached out to the divisional government to lift the curfew, explaining that such a restrictive time frame was causing difficulties in the social, economic and health sectors.

Zin Maung, a sales coordinator at a Mandalay supermarket, said that it would be better if the curfew could be eased at night, rather than in the early morning.

“It would be more convenient if the curfew is relaxed in the evening because now we have to close our shops by around 7pm,” Zin Maung said.

Myanmar: UN's new special rapporteur on Myanmar discusses IDPs during visit to Kachin State

22 July 2014 - 4:06pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

United Nations special rapporteur Ms Yanghee Lee discussed people displaced by conflict, land mines, land grabs and rape in talks with government officials during a trip to Kachin State on July 21 as she continued her first visit to Myanmar since her appointment.

The topics were discussed when Ms Lee met Chief Minister U La John Ngan Hsai and other state government ministers, Kachin State Social Affairs Minister Daw Bautgyar told Mizzima after the talks.

U La John Ngan Hsai told Ms Lee that land grabs were not an issue in Kachin State because of the conflict there, Daw Bautgyar said.

After the talks in the state capital, Myitkyina, Ms Lee travelled to Waingaw and Bhamaw townships to meet people displaced by the conflict in Kachin State, a UN official said.

He said Ms Lee would continue her visit to Kachin State on July 22 but gave no further details.

Ms Lee arrived in Myanmar on July 17 and is due to give a news conference at the end of her visit on July 26.

The itinerary for Ms Lee's visit has also included trips to Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Rakhine State.

Ms Lee, a South Korean human rights expert, was appointed in June to succeed Mr Tomas Ojea Quintana, who ended a six-year stint as special rapporteur in May.

Thailand: Census goes ahead at Thai refugee camps

22 July 2014 - 4:03pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By REUTERS And DVB 22 July 2014

Thousands of refugees have been lining up to be counted at Mae La, the largest refugee camp in Thailand, since Monday. Authorities said the process is set to finish by the end of July.

They said the census is the first of its kind since the camp which houses over 43,000 refugees was established 30 years ago.

“We conducted the census to get the exact number of those who fled the conflict [in Burma],” said infantry commander Terdsak Ngamsanong.

But anyone who came here to work illegally will lose their refugee status,” he said.

An estimated 120,000 Burmese refugees live in 10 camps along the Thai-Burmese border, according to The Border Consortium, which coordinates NGO activity in the camps.

Many fled persecution and ethnic wars as well as poverty and have lived in the camps with no legal means of making an income.

“We’ve announced in both Burmese and Karen languages that we are processing them strictly. If the refugees leave the camp area, they will be considered illegal migrants. We’ll process them according to law. We’ll send them to the police and they will be pushed back,” said Preeda Foongtrakulchai, permanent secretary of Tha Song Yang District.

Refugees lined up to get their photos taken, with numbers marking the hierarchy in the family.

“There are lots of different rumours going around. What they are worried about is that once they finish the head count they will be sent back,” said Saw A Kaing, the village chief at one of the refugee zones.

There have been anonymous comments in the media recently that Thailand’s military government plans to repatriate the refugees, a move rights groups say would create chaos at a tense time for both nations.

However, DVB has leaned that such a move is unlikely to be contemplated within the next year as too many security factors remain.

Myanmar: Clashes Continue Between SSA and Burma Army

22 July 2014 - 3:56pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY

More fighting has erupted between ethnic Shan rebels and the Burma Army near a village in eastern Shan State where hundreds of displaced people have taken shelter for about two weeks.

Gunfire could be heard for many hours on Sunday and Monday in Kyaethee Township, according to local residents.

“The clashes began on Sunday afternoon at about 2 pm near Pang Sel village,” said Sai Hlaing Kham, a Shan resident in Kyaythee town. “It continued into the night, and artillery could be heard again on Monday between 7 am and 3 pm.”

The Burma Army and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) could not be reached for comment.

The Shan Herald Agency for News reported that the SSA and government troops from Infantry Unit 248 clashed about eight miles east of Kyaethee town. SSA frontline commander Sai Pha Hlat was quoted as saying that government troops attacked an SSA-N camp with artillery on Sunday.

“We heard some artillery shells even fell into Pang Sel village,” a resident from nearby Hah Wan village told The Irrawaddy, adding that her own village was spared from the fighting. “We keep staying in our homes,” she said.

Residents were forced to flee their homes in Pang Sel, Wan Kyaung, Pa Tit and two other villages, according to Sai Hlaing from Kyaethee town. He added that the government troops had left Pang Sel and were returning to Kyaethee town on Tuesday.

The clashes were also seven miles away from Wan Wap village, where about 300 people have been taking shelter at a monastery since fleeing their homes due to fighting earlier this month. They fled from Pha Saung village, where government troops and the SSA-N have clashed near Tah Pha Hsawng bridge since June 26. The situation around the strategic bridge remains tense.

Aid workers said the fighting this week has prevented them from reaching the displaced people in Wan Wap village. They plan to attempt to resume aid on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, two civilians were killed in separate clashes west of Namkham Township, northern Shan State, between government troops and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) over the weekend.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 16-22 July

22 July 2014 - 10:45am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Angola, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, World, Yemen, South Sudan preview

Snapshot 16–22 July

oPT: 583 have been reported killed and over 100,000 displaced since Operation Protective Edge began on 8 July. There are urgent needs for essential drugs, shelter, water, and food assistance in the Gaza Strip, requiring greater humanitarian space.

Syria: The recent UN Security Council resolution authorising UN cross-border and cross-line humanitarian aid is expected to enable assistance to reach 2.9 million more people. Currently, Al Hasakeh governorate remains inaccessible as internal displacement is ongoing and Iraqi refugees continue to arrive.

Iraq: Minority groups are being targeted, with Islamic State reportedly giving Christian residents of Mosul 24 hours to leave the city. Insecurity and population movements are leading to the breakdown of procurement and distribution systems, impacting on the provision of essential goods and services.
Philippines: Over 1.6 million people have been affected by Typhoon Rammasun, which hit the Philippines over 15-16 July, leaving 97 dead and 460 injured. Over 111,000 houses have been damaged and 518,700 people are staying in 1,264 evacuation centres.

Myanmar: Ethnic leaders arrive for Laiza ceasefire talks

22 July 2014 - 9:27am
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By NAW NOREEN

Representatives of various ethnic armed groups arrived at the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) in Laiza on Monday for a conference on the nationwide ceasefire.

Many observers expect the Laiza talks to have significant bearing upon the peace process in Burma.

The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), made up of 16 ethnic militias, is due to sit for negotiations in the Sino-Burmese border town on 24– 26 July, when they will review and discuss terms and conditions for a ceasefire that could end decades of war with Burmese government forces.

“First and foremost, we look to review the nationwide ceasefire draft and stipulate conditions for its signing,” said Gen. Gun Maw, the deputy commander-in-chief of the KIO’s armed wing Kachin Independence Army, and the main negotiator for the hosts at the talks.

“We must also include a work plan for future political dialogue after a ceasefire is reached.”

He confirmed that the All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front and other non-NCCT actors have been invited to the talks in Laiza.

“We invited both NCCT and non-NCCT members, and are looking to engage with delegations from non-NCCT groups after and on the sidelines of the members’ group meeting.”

Representing the Mon, the Karen, the Karenni, the Shan, the Kachin, the Chin and the Arakanese Buddhists, the NCCT is the most comprehensive alliance of ethnic actors to assemble in recent history. The most notable exclusions are the Shan State Army-South and the United Wa State Party.

The NCCT was formed at a meeting in Laiza on 30 October 2013. It held its second conference at the Karen National Union’s (KNU’s) headquarters at Law Khee La in January this year.

The KNU’s General-Secretary Saw Kwe Htoo Win said, “We believe that [this meeting] will bring us closer to reaching a nationwide ceasefire.”

Myanmar: Landslide Kills 5 Civilians in Kachin Camp

22 July 2014 - 8:52am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — Five people were killed in a camp for displaced Kachin civilians near the rebel-held town of Laiza on Tuesday after their shelters were buried by a landslide, according to Kachin rebels. They said the disaster occurred after several days of heavy rains hit the mountainous region in Kachin State, northern Burma.

Doi Be Za, an officer in charge of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee, told The Irrawaddy that two families were buried alive inside their huts at Je Yang camp during the mudslide and instantly killed.

“There has been a lot of rain here. A landslide from the mountain occurred this morning around 7 am and two shelters were destroyed; two older people and three children were killed,” he said, adding that a funeral would be held for the victims around 4 pm on Tuesday.

The victims include a 50-year-old man, a 40-year-old woman and three teenage boys, aged between 14 and 15 years, according to Doi Be Za.

Three days of downpours in the KIO-controlled parts of Kachin State, which include the town of Laiza and mountainous areas along the Burma-China border, had caused several landslides in the area that have blocked roads and put internally displaced person’s (IDP) camps at risk, he said.

Je Yang refugee camp, located south of Laiza, is home to some 8,000 Kachin who have been displaced by the fighting between the Kachin rebels and the Burma Army, which began in mid-2011.

More than 100,000 ethnic civilians have been displaced by the conflict and the majority live in KIO-controlled areas, where their situation is precarious because the rebels and local Kachin NGOs struggle to support the camps. UN and other international aid groups have only been able to offer some support for several IDP camps in rebel-held areas.

In May, several Kachin NGOs warned that the impending rainy season would bring problems for the displaced as their tents were unsuitable for the heavy downpours that often lash northern Burma.

The conflict quieted down after intense fighting occurred in early 2013, but it continues to fester as attempts to negotiate bilateral ceasefire between Kachin rebels and government have failed.

In recent months, skirmishes have become more frequent and a government offensive in southern Kachin State in April displaced another 2,700 villagers.

Ethnic Palaung and Shan rebels have also increasingly clashed with the Burma Army as fighting has spilled over into northern Shan State, where hundreds of villagers fled their homes in recent weeks.

Myanmar: Two Civilians Killed in Renewed Clashes in Northern Shan State: TNLA

21 July 2014 - 11:45am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — Two civilians were killed and at least 10 children were wounded as fighting broke out over the weekend between government troops and rebels in northern Shan State, according to an ethnic Palaung armed group.

Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) deputy spokesman Tar Parn La told The Irrawaddy that there were four clashes across Saturday and Sunday around Mang Poe village, in the western part of Namkham Township.

He said two people were killed on Saturday, including a woman aged over 70 who was found dead at her house and is thought to have died from the shock of artillery landing nearby. The woman was disabled and unable to flee the fighting along with her family, he said.

The other victim was a 50-year-old man who was hit by an artillery shell, the spokesman said.

“More than 10 children were wounded from artillery and two people were killed. Within 16 hours, we had clashes four times with them [government troops]. Our troops were based at a remote site away from the village, and their troops surrounded us and attacked our troops,” said Tar Parn La.

The clashes appear to have broken out when government troops heard rebel soldiers were in Mang Poe village. Tar Parn La said TNLA troops went to the village to talk to local people about the group’s opium eradication policy, since the village is known as a site of poppy cultivation.

Mang Poe has about 400 houses. More than 100 people have fled to a nearby Buddhist monastery to avoid the fighting. Others have fled into the jungle or to stay with relatives, according to Tar Parn La.

Casualties on the government side from the clashes are unknown, but the TNLA last week said it had killed 178 Burma Army troops in more than 100 clashes since January.

The TNLA—along with the larger Kachin Independence Army—does not currently have a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government. Government negotiators have been attempting to reach a nationwide ceasefire agreement with all of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, but efforts have been marred by frequent reoccurrences of fighting in northern Burma.

Myanmar: New UN Rights Rapporteur Meets With Rohingya, Arakan Leaders

21 July 2014 - 11:42am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — Yanghee Lee, the new UN rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, visited the Arakan State capital Sittwe and has met with leaders of the Arakanese Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities in the troubled region, local sources said.

“She only told us that she wanted to hear about our concerns regarding the situation,” said Than Thun, a leader from an Arakanese NGO who participated in Sunday’s meeting with Yanghee Lee.

“Our community leaders gave her a letter to explain why we have conflict in our region between our Rakhines [Arakanese] and the Bengalis. The letter is explains the history of the conflict and the current situation,” he said, while referring to the Muslim minority as ‘Bengalis’ to suggest that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.

Than Thun said it was too early to determine what the Arakanese leaders thought of the new rights rapporteur, adding, “She will have a press conference at the end of her trip. Let’s see what she will say and then we could know what type of person she is.”

South Korea’s Yanghee Lee is making her first visit to Burma as a rapporteur and succeeds Argentina’s Tomás Ojea Quintana. He wrote numerous reports on the crisis in Arakan State and warned that the stateless Rohingya minority were facing persecution and a range of serious rights violations at the hands of the authorities and the Arakanese community.

The government, Arakanese authorities and Buddhist community leaders dismissed his reports as biased.

The new rapporteur announced last week that she would be visiting Naypyidaw, Rangoon, Mandalay and Arakan and Kachin states from 17-26 July to gather first-hand information on the rights situation in Burma.

She said she planned to have “frank and open exchange of views” during meetings with government officials, political, religious and community leaders, NGO representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

State-run media reported that the new rapporteur met with the Burma Human Right Commission last week and several prisoners held in Rangoon’s Insein Prison for political reasons, before heading off to Arakan State.

Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist living in Sittwe’s Muslim quarter Aung Mingalar, said he and other Rohingya leaders met with Yanghee Lee on Sunday, adding that the rapporteur visited Aung Mingalar and a camp for displaced Rohingya, as well as two camps for displaced Arakanese.

“I told her about how our children could not go to [Sittwe] university. I said everyone has the right to education, according to the UN, but our children cannot get it,” he said.

“One of our leaders told her that we need to have a program to be resettled [in former homes], while another said we needs rights under the 1982 Citizenship Law,” Aung Win said, referring to a Burmese law that has rendered the Muslim minority stateless.

Aung Win said leaders also complained about the lack of medical care in the Rohingya camps. “There is no 24 hour-service. They only provide 2 hours a day of medical treatment through a mobile clinic that visits the camps. So, we told her we have lost our rights [to access to care].”

Roughly 140,000 Rohingya displaced by the outbreak of deadly inter-communal violence have been living in squalid, crowded camps since 2012. Authorities prevent them from leaving the camp and are limiting humanitarian aid and basic government services such as health care, education and food, for the displaced.

Aung Mingalar is considered a ghetto as authorities are preventing its approximately 6,000 Muslim residents from leaving the area in central Sittwe, and families inside lack access to basic services.

Since the outbreak of violence in 2012, tensions have remained high and the government has come no closer to resolving the conflict. International aid groups’ access to needy Muslim communities has been restricted in recent months, and the government blocked two major medical charities helping the Rohingya from operating in the state.

Myanmar: Thai Authorities Hamper Food Deliveries to Burmese Refugee Camp

21 July 2014 - 11:41am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY

Thousands of Burmese at the Ei Htu Hta refugee camp in eastern Burma are struggling to feed themselves as monthly food supplies from non-governmental organizations have been interrupted by Thai authorities, according to an aid worker.

Ei Htu Hta, located on the western bank of the Salween River in Burma’s Karen State, across from Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province, houses about 4,000 Burmese refugees.

Saw Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development (KORD), said refugees who live in the camp have seen food rations dwindle beginning late last month, as supply lines to the camp, which come from Thailand, have been monitored and sometimes interrupted by Thai authorities.

“Food for this month should have arrived by late last month, but we were not able to transport it in time as we faced some difficulties from Thai authorities,” said Saw Htoo Klei, whose organization provides assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Karen State and at the Ei Htu Hta camp.

Eh Doh, an Ei Htu Hta inhabitant, told The Irrawaddy that as a result, refugees were having to look elsewhere for food, and do more with less.

“Because we have had problems receiving rice on time, we have had to buy rice from local merchants,” he said. “Some people say they have been eating boiled rice soup since early this month as they don’t have enough rice.”

Food supplies for Ei Htu Hta are transported by boat through the nearby Thai village of Mae Sam Laep, upstream on the Salween. Thai military checkpoints are positioned along the river, which demarcates the Thai-Burma border.

There are nine refugee camps on the Thai side of the border, where some 130,000 refugees live.

A May 22 military coup brought the National Council for Peace and Order to power in Thailand, and with it have come changes that have restricted refugees’ movement and sent tens of thousands of migrant workers back to their home countries, fearing detention or worse.

At the same time, NGOs’ support to Burmese refugees in Thailand has declined since the beginning of 2012 as peace negotiations between Naypyidaw and ethnic armed rebel groups have ramped up. The prospect of an end to the decades-long armed conflict in Burma has spurred discussions between the Thai and Burmese governments about repatriating refugees.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy, Nyar Hter, chairman of Ei Htu Hta refugee camp, said food supplies have been declining annually.

“We only get rice and salt. We don’t get other additional foods such as yellow bean, cooking oil, canned fish and other nutritious foods like before,” Nyar Hter said.

According to a press release from Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a recent visit to Thailand by Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Burmese armed forces, included a meeting with Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, head of the ruling Thai junta.

Both sides touched upon the repatriation issue, according to the press release, and the Burmese side reaffirmed its commitment to working closely with Thailand to prepare for a safe future return, in accordance with humanitarian and human rights principles. The discussion was in general terms with no specific timeframe under consideration, the release stated.

Even as NGO support has declined and talk has increasingly turned to repatriation plans, it is clear that many refugees are not ready to return home.

“There is no safety for us to return as government troops are still occupying our village,” Nyar Hter said.

Myanmar: 2014 Strategic Response Plan Myanmar (December 2013)

21 July 2014 - 5:35am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar preview

SUMMARY

Since 2011, the Government of Myanmar has made rapid progress on its reform agenda, particularly in the area of democratization and peace building. Meanwhile, humanitarian needs have significantly increased in some areas over the last two years, with the most urgent stemming from inter-communal violence in Rakhine State. Although efforts are being made to find durable solutions and prevent long-term displacement, tensions in Rakhine State remain high and there remains a risk of further violence and displacement in 2014.

Humanitarian needs have also increased in Kachin and northern Shan states, where many people have been newly displaced by fighting over the last two years. Decades of armed conflict in the north as well as in the southeast of the country, combined with chronic under-development, have eroded the resilience of communities and increased the vulnerability of hundreds of thousands of people. The outlook here is more positive, however, as there has been significant progress towards achieving a nationwide ceasefire.

Emergency preparedness also remains a big challenge as Myanmar is considered to be one of the countries at highest risk of natural disasters in South East Asia. There is a continued need for disaster risk reduction and activities aimed at strengthening national capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.

The 2014 Strategic Response Plan for humanitarian action is one component of a much broader engagement by the United Nations and its partners in Myanmar that includes a wide range of peace-building, recovery and longer-term development activities. While humanitarian action will continue to be needed to address the needs of people who have been displaced or severely affected as a result of armed conflict, inter-communal violence and natural disasters, such activities need to be seen in the context of this broader engagement in Myanmar.

In 2014 the United Nations and its partners will continue to focus on assisting the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to ensure that all crisis-affected people in the country receive the assistance and protection they need, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender or class, in accordance with humanitarian principles. Further efforts will also be made to support the Government in finding durable solutions for crisis-affected people and to support early recovery, so as to avoid long-term dependency on humanitarian aid.

The Strategic Response Plan focuses primarily on Rakhine and Kachin States where humanitarian needs and vulnerability of people remains at critical levels. At the same time, it takes note of humanitarian needs in other parts of the country including the southeast, Shan and Chin States, where there are high levels of human vulnerability as a result of protracted periods of armed conflict, exposure to natural disasters, chronic underdevelopment and other factors. The Strategic Response Plan also outlines activities aimed at strengthening preparedness to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.

The Strategic Response Plan highlights the need for joint advocacy to ensure the rights of all crisis-affected people are respected. It stresses the need for humanitarian activities to be calibrated to ensure a conflict-sensitive, “do no harm” approach. In this regard, it outlines the need to ensure strong community participation in all aspects of the programme cycle, from planning to implementation, monitoring and evaluation. A particular focus in 2014 will be that of improving communications with affected people.

With this plan, humanitarian action in Myanmar will be more strategic, targeted, measurable, and accountable than ever before.

PRIORITY HUMANITARIAN NEEDS

1 Life-saving support to displaced and vulnerable people to reduce mortality and morbidity

2 Access to basic services and restoration of livelihoods

3 Protection of people who are at risk of violence, exploitation or abuse

4 Strengthen preparedness to respond to new emergencies

Goal

The overall goal is to ensure that crisis-affected people in Myanmar receive timely, appropriate and impartialhumanitarian assistance and protection wherever this is needed, and to assist in finding durable solutions and promoting early recovery, for the benefit of all people and communities. It is well recognized that humanitarian action is but one component of a much broader peace-building, recovery and development agenda in the country.

Myanmar: Ayeyarwady farmers resort to costly drilling to plant rice crops

20 July 2014 - 10:48pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Min Min

Unseasonably low rainfall in Ayeyarwady Region has led to farmers resorting to drilling unprecedented levels of artesian wells.

U Soe Lwin, owner of a local drilling business told Mizzima on July 17, that demand for wells in the townships of Einme, Kyaunggon and Kangyidaunt is triple the level normally seen over the traditional monsoon planting season.

"Normally, we plant with rainwater but since we have had to drill for water this year, our expenses have increased. I haven’t sowed a single plant yet," said U Than Htike Oo, a farmer from Kangyidaunt.

Farmers say that normally the planting of paddy fields should be complete by the middle of July but they have had to resort not only to the digging of basic wells or pumping water from nearby ponds, creeks and rivers but to the drilling of costly artesian wells.

The drilling, purchase of pipes and the maintenance of an artesian well, a well that produces a constant supply of water with little or no pumping, costs about K500,000 (US$513) and means their fields are not profitable, said the farmers.

"We've never faced this situation before," said farmer U Tin Hla, adding his disappointment that no government officials had come to witness the situation.

Meteorologist Dr Tun Lwin said that Myanmar was experiencing an abnormal monsoon season.

“This year it is raining more at sea, than on the land, so we are not guaranteed enough rain this year,” said the weatherman.

Myanmar: New HIV Infections Have Fallen in Burma: UN Report

20 July 2014 - 10:42pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| Thursday, July 17, 2014 |

The number of people contracting HIV in Burma decreased between 2000 and 2013, according to a new UN report, which also said there are still 189,000 people in the country living with the virus.

The Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) “Gap report”—which was published Wednesday to highlight the global inequity of gains made in fighting the disease—noted a worldwide drop in new HIV infections of 38 percent between 2001 and last year. Despite that progress, 2.1 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2013 in all countries, it said.

In Burma, the report said, “New infections declined in this reporting period, but over 7,000 new infections are estimated to have occurred in 2013, confirming the continuing need for effective prevention efforts.”

The UN report—which used figures collected by Burma’s National AIDS Program, part of the Ministry of Health—did not give figures for the number of new infections in any other years.

Burma is one of six countries—also including India, China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam—that together account for more than 90 percent of the people living with HIV in Asia and the Pacific.

Some 189,000 people in Burma are living with the virus, and an estimated 15,000 people died of AIDS-related illness in 2013, according to the report.

According to a government survey of HIV-infected people in Rangoon and Mandalay alone—cited in the UN report—52 percent of them were men who have sex with men, 25 percent were intravenous drug users and 23 percent were female sex workers.

However, Burmese health experts said the real number of people with HIV/AIDS in the country could be higher than the figures suggest.

“The number of HIV-infected persons or new infections could be more than the UN figures due to the fact that many are still reluctant to seek official treatment,” said Dr. Tin Myo Win, who runs the Karuna La Yeik shelter for people living with HIV in Rangoon.

His organization, which gets no government funding, provides shelter to about 200 people receiving the anti-retroviral treatment (ART).

“Since 2006, we have only been able to provide ART medication for about 200 people—women, men and children—with support from nongovernmental organizations,” said Dr. Tin Myo Win.

“We cannot tell how many remain outside of the survey list in the whole nation because, for instance, those who can pay for ART don’t seek support.”

The figures also do not include children with HIV, who most often are passed the virus from their mother. Many Burmese people living near or across the country’s borders are also likely left out of the statistics.

Myanmar: Nationwide Ceasefire Hangs in the Balance at Rebel Meeting

20 July 2014 - 10:34pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| Friday, July 18, 2014 |

Aung Min, the President’s Office Minister and lead peace negotiator, addressed the Upper House on Thursday to reconfirm the government’s commitment to achieving a nationwide ceasefire agreement, and he voiced his confidence that an accord could be reached soon.

“The peace process will not go backward, although there is some fighting,” he told journalists after the parliamentary session, referring to a growing number of clashes between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Shan and Karen states.

Last weekend, President Thein Sein paid a visit to government advisors at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Rangoon to provide support and instructions on achieving a nationwide ceasefire.

However, some three months after the government, army and the ethnic rebel groups began a new approach to the nationwide ceasefire talks by agreeing to jointly draft a single ceasefire text it is far from clear whether this approach is succeeding.

Some government sources involved in the peace process are even warning that if negotiations fail to progress in coming weeks, a nationwide ceasefire before the 2015 elections could become impossible and rebels might have to deal with a new, tougher commander-in-chief.

On Thursday, Aung Min expressed the government’s oft-repeated, optimistic assumption that a nationwide ceasefire accord with an alliance of 16 ethnic rebels groups is only weeks or months away. “We will meet with the ethnics leaders in Yangon after the ethnic armed groups’ conference in Laiza next week and the signing of the nationwide ceasefire accord will come in September,” he told reporters.

Since mid-2013, Aung Min has repeatedly said a nationwide ceasefire would soon be signed but the agreement has proven elusive. Formal nationwide ceasefire talks on drafting a single ceasefire text have stalled since June.

On July 24-26, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of 16 ethnic groups, will meet in Kachin rebel-held town of Laiza to discuss whether they will accept the current draft of a single ceasefire text and the Burma Army demands for the inclusion of a six-point statement.

The government and rebels have not formally met since June and it appears the sides have reached an impasse in further developing the ceasefire text.

Among rebel leaders opinions are divided over the current draft and the negotiations and concerned about the army’s demands. Worries also abound over the ongoing fighting and the lack of a bilateral ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

Fighting and Mistrust

In recent months, fighting has intensified in northern Burma, spilling over from Kachin State to northern Shan State, with the Burma Army frequently clashing with the KIA, the TNLA, and the Shan State Army-North and even a Kokang rebel group. Clashes have also occurred in Karen National Union (KNU)-held areas in recent weeks, despite the relatively good relations between the KNU and the government and army.

Col. Mae Aye Sein, of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), said he is concerned over the Burma Army’s demand that its six-point statement becomes part of the ceasefire text. “It is impossible to sign a [nationwide ceasefire] if we are forced to accept the 2008 constitution, which is one of the demands of the army’s chief six-point proposal,” said Mae Aye Sein, of KNLA Brigade 5, a unit that is known to be skeptical of the peace process.

The army’s statement includes a number demands that many ethnic groups oppose, most prominent among them accept the military-drafted Constitution, which asserts all armed group come under the army’s central command.

Sources at the MPC have suggested that the army’s demands regarding the statement are flexible, but it remains unclear how the sides could reconcile the differences over such fundamental issues.

The ethnic groups, for their part, are demanding greater political autonomy and control over natural resources in ethnic minority region through the creation of a federal union, while they want guarantees that a political dialogue on these demands will start within months after a nationwide ceasefire is signed.

Mae Aye Sein said recent clashes in Karen State’s Papun and Bago Division’s Taungoo district and Tenasserim Division’s Dawei district cast further doubts over the peace process and the army’s willingness to end Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflict.

“The clashes were due to the government’s ground forces crossing beyond the line and into our areas of control,” said the colonel, whose unit is controls part of Papun District. “As the SSA-North and KIA are facing the same type of situation, we think that they [Burma Army] are testing our tolerance.”

Mae Aye Sein said KNU leaders had been willing to play down the clashes in order to maintain relations with Naypyidaw, adding, “Our leaders have been talking very carefully as not to damage the ceasefire talks.”

KNU secretary Pado Kwe Htoo Win, who initially had denied the reports of clashes, told The Irrawaddy remains optimistic about the peace process. “Renewed clashes won’t stop our peace effort, as there is a very few engagement compared to the past decades,” he said.

Leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which has been fighting an insurgency since a 17-year-old ceasefire collapsed in mid-2011, remain concerned over the peace process, with some voicing concerns that conflict could intensify if the ethnic groups decided to reject the nationwide ceasefire text next week.

“It seems there are many government troop deployments in Kachin State. We also have to be prepared and stay cautious,” said Daun Kha, KIO liaison office coordinator in the Kachin capital Myitkyina. He said recent clashes between the army and KNU and SSA-North showed that “even for the 14 ceasefire groups conflicts is still raging in their territories.”

The KIO and the government last met in May to discuss a bilateral ceasefire, but negotiations have stalled since.

Government Warnings

In conversations with The Irrawaddy, government advisors at the MPC and senior government sources gave oblique warnings on what might happen if ethnic groups become apprehensive about the direction of nationwide ceasefire negations.

A source at the MPC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ethnic groups should seize the opportunity that is being presented to them at the current stage of negotiations as the current Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing could step down after 2015.

“If a[nationwide ceasefire] could not be signed before 2015 due to the ethnics’ hesitation over the army’s proposal, which is not yet included in the single text, then nobody knows how things might go after a new army chief comes in,” the peace broker said.

Gen. Soe Win, the current deputy commander-in-chief, is being considered as a successor to Min Aung Hlaing, a senior government official said and he warned that he could take a more hardline approach to the ethnic conflict.

The official noted that Soe Win had, for example, threatened to attack the KIA in May unless they immediately released several government staff that had been detained by the rebels.

Hkyet Hting Nan, chairman of the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State, believes the peace process has been arduous and long but successful, adding that a nationwide ceasefire should be possible if current agreements are solidified and carried out.

“The process has been gradually improving,” said the Upper House lawmaker, who has been involved in KIO-government negotiations. “[But] there must immediate actions to implement the agreements they made after talks,” he said, referring to for example an agreement between the KNU and the government to establish a code of conduct, which has yet to be implemented.

He added, “It is hard to imagine whether the [nationwide ceasefire] can become a reality before the 2015” elections.

Additional reporting by Kyaw Kha.

Myanmar: Rain dampens relief efforts as fighting continues in northern Burma

19 July 2014 - 8:00pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar

By MYO ZAW LINN 20 June 201

Relief efforts in Kachin and northern Shan states are falling short, according to a prominent NGO working in the war zone.

Refugees are in dire need of adequate shelter in particular, said the Action Times Foundation, as continuing battles are waged between the government and rebel groups.

Over 100,000 civilians have been displaced by two years of conflict, and many are now sheltering in makeshift camps across government or rebel-controlled territory, as well as in Yunnan State, China.

The Action Times Foundation, a humanitarian organisation based in Rangoon, said that the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is deteriorating rapidly as fighting has intensified as of April this year.

Eindra Nay Nwe, the foundation’s secretary, said that those living in fresh camps, which have sprung up since April, have been unable to stay dry as the rainy season has arrived, while their children are in need of textbooks and other school supplies.

“As the monsoon has arrived, the IDPs are in need of roofing materials, umbrellas and raincoats for the children as well as learning materials for study,” she said.

Last month, Action Times Foundation linked up with much-loved band Shwe Thanzin and Pan Ye Lan, a charity made up of musicians, to stage fundraising performances on sidewalks and in teashops in urban areas of Burma. That effort raised 33 million kyat (US$33,000). Last week, the charity collaboration distributed that assistance to seven camps across Muse in Kachin State, and Namhkam in northern Shan State.

Shwe Thazin member Win Maw took part in the relief mission to the camps. He said the organisation is acting quickly to try to close the gap in delivering humanitarian assistance to the displaced people.

“We went to IDP camps in Muse and asked their coordinators what they required now that it is monsoon season,” he told DVB. “Their children have to go to school and need umbrellas and raincoats. So we immediately ordered 1,000 items of wet weather gear from Ruili, using the funds we collected.”

“We are planning to build bamboo flooring. It’s unliveable with the ground constantly wet,” she said.

As the refugees wait out the wet season, further fighting has been reported by ethic media organisations in Kachin and northern Shan States.

This week, Kachinland News reported that the Kachin Independence Army have been engaged in heavy fighting in the Mansi area.

According to the Shan Herald, the Burmese army shelled the Shan State Army North in their positions at Mongsu for two days last week, forcing the rebel army to cede the camp.

Myanmar: Arakan Minister Struggles to Gain Trust of Rohingyas

19 July 2014 - 2:51am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By LAWI WENG

RANGOON — The newly appointed chief minister of Burma’s conflict-torn Arakan State appears to be struggling to win the trust of Rohingya Muslims, who continue to live in squalid camps after being driven from their homes in rioting two years ago.

Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn, who is also a general in the armed forces, has met four times with Rohingya community leaders since he was appointed last month. But in that time, he has been unable to convince the Rohingyas to participate in the government’s controversial “citizenship verification” scheme, according to state government spokesman Win Myaing.

They are refusing to cooperate,” the spokesman told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The Arakan State government implemented a pilot project in Myebon Township last month to determine who will qualify to become a naturalized citizen. Many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations, but they are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and are mostly denied citizenship by the government.

Win Myaing said the international community had pressured Naypyidaw to reconsider their pleas for citizenship. “But we cannot do anything, even though we are trying, because they refuse to cooperate,” he said.

Rohingya rights activists Aung Win said he believed the government wanted to appease the international community but had little interest in actually granting citizenship to the 1 million or so Rohingya people living in western Burma.

“After their work in Myebon, we did not see them grant citizenship to our people,” he said. “I believe that even though we agreed to identify as Bengali, they may grant citizenship only to a few of our people.”

The chief minister, who met most recently with Rohingya leaders on Monday, said applicants would be considered for citizenship only if they identified as Bengali, as they are known by the government. During the nationwide census earlier this year, the government also refused to count anybody who identified as ethnic Rohingya rather than Bengali.

Arakan State was torn apart by communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. More than 140,000 people were displaced from their homes, and the majority of these were Rohingya Muslims who continue to live today in camps outside the state capital, Sittwe.

Myanmar: Smiles in darkness: Hundreds of education kits bring happiness to the IDP students

18 July 2014 - 8:03am
Source: Finn Church Aid Country: Myanmar

It was a sunny and wonderful day to see smiles of the primary school students, as they received education kits in a bag that had EU and Finn Church Aid (FCA) logos. In the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in Set Yoe Kya and nearby Buddhist camps in Sittwe, in Western Myanmar, smiles are rare for many reasons.

“I am so tired and I have even lost my voice; however, I am so glad for my students receiving the kits. As IDP students, they have to attend classes in a small schools, share small spaces and they don’t have enough facilities with peers”, Than Than Shwe, 47, teacher from Set Yoe Kya school says.

But on the 24th of June, the children were all smiles and looked curiously about what kind of items were inside the enclosed bags, that was were delivered to them by the teachers and staff of Lutheran World Federation (LWF). As the children received their kits, they looked for their family members to come and help carry the heavy kits. Especially 1st grade students’ family members were ready and waiting outside of the school.

Education kit: rubber slippers and a rain coat

Each student received one Penang bag, which includes pencils and erasers, a ruler, a pencil case, a school bag, a lunch box, a water container, a sharpener, rubber slippers, a raincoat and several exercise books, which were funded by the EU Children of Peace Initiative (CoPI).

“The kits are very useful for students, as they include school utensils and other necessary stuff for the primary students. For example, some of the students come to school without slippers. Honestly, they don’t have good slippers to wear during the rainy season as parents cannot afford to buy nice ones. But now, parents don’t need to worry about the slippers”, a student’s mother Khine Khine Nwae, 43, says.

In IDP camps small things also often have large psychological significance.

“I am sure I will see my pupils filled with happiness and satisfaction using the items in the class. They themselves are very proud of owing these kinds of kits. Moreover, these items support IDP students physically and mentally. It will build up their self-esteem and they will be more interested in attending school in order to use all the items”, Than Than Shwe says with a smile.

Students from Grade I-V of Set Yoe Kya No.1 Primary School received 289 kits. Also, those who attended school from nearby, and one of the Buddhist camps of Sittwe Township got another 39 kits. During the academic year, 1345 IDP students have received the CoPI education kit.

Also, it wasn’t an easy job for the teachers to control the parents. Parents were anxious for their children waiting among the queuing students for their teachers to call out their names in order to receive their kits.

“No one will feel unhappy when they have received their kits. I will write until there are no more blank pages left in the exercise books and try very hard to be an outstanding student in the class”, Soe Moe Nwae, 6, says.

In the end, some of the children had to carry the heavy items by themselves. In IDP camps, parents don’t always have the time for anything else than to think about livelihood and daily work in the center of the town, as for instance construction site labour, or at the market place, carrying bags, stones, firewood, or work as tri-cycle drivers. But at least today all the children, teachers and parents left with a big smile on their faces.

Text and photos: Mya Yadanar Khine, Communication and Reporting Officer, LWF