Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
By NAW NOREEN
The next meeting of Burma’s ethnic armed groups will likely take place at Lay Wah, the headquarters of the Karen National Union (KNU), around the third week of December.
KNU General-Secretary Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win said the talks would probably be held between 17- 25 December ahead of a conference between the ethnic representatives and a Burmese government delegation which is due to be hosted by the KNU in Karen state capital Hpa-an.
The two summits follow up on earlier negotiations held among the ethnic armies in Laiza on 30 October to 2 November, followed by a similar summit with government representatives in Myitkyina on 4- 5 November.
“We are roughly looking between the 17th and 25th December for the [ethnic] conference but will have to discuss this with other ethnic armed groups,” said Pado Saw Kew Htoo Win.
He said that the Hpa-an round of talks with the government, which was originally planned for early December, must now be postponed probably until January.
“Weighing up the circumstances, it is unlikely the Hpa-an conference will take place this year, but we assume it will go ahead in January,” said the KNU general-secretary.
The announcement would appear to deaden the possibility of a nationwide ceasefire being signed before the end of 2012, something President Thein Sein had predicted would happen.
Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Centre, which sits as a mediator at talks, confirmed that no date had been fixed for the Hpa-an talks, but neither had he heard of any postponement.
“We haven’t heard of the talks being postponed – we are just waiting for word,” he told DVB. “I guess it would be hard for us to say when the Hpa-an talks will happen when the ethnic groups themselves don’t even know yet when their own meeting is going to take place.”
The KNU has released a statement pledging to work with other ethnic armed groups and democracy activists to help facilitate a nationwide ceasefire and meaningful political dialogue, and to bring peace to the country.
12/10/2013 05:51 GMT
JAKARTA, December 10, 2013 (AFP) - Three asylum seekers including a toddler died when their Australia-bound boat sank in rough seas off Indonesia's Java island but 29 others were rescued, police said Tuesday.
Hundreds of asylum seekers have died trying to make the sea voyage to Australia in recent years, and Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the sinking highlighted the dangers of people-smuggling.
The vessel had been carrying 32 people -- including members of the Rohingya Muslim minority from Myanmar, Iranians and a Bangladeshi -- who wanted to reach the Australian territory of Christmas Island, police said.
But the small, wooden vessel sank off West Java province early Monday after being battered by big waves, provincial police spokesman Martinus Sitompul told AFP.
"Fishermen found the boat off Ciawi beach in Garut district," he said.
The Bangladeshi asylum seeker and two from Myanmar -- including the two-year-old -- drowned but the other 29 were rescued by the fishermen and handed over to immigration authorities, he said.
Morrison said no request was or had been made for Australian assistance, by either passengers onboard the vessel or the Indonesian authorities involved in the rescue.
"This further loss of life is as tragic as all those that preceded it in similar circumstances, and we extend sympathies to the families of those affected," Morrison said.
"It is especially tragic as these deaths were needless and avoidable."
While Australia would meet its obligations regarding the safety of life at sea, Morrison said that did not mean there was a "safety net" for voyages undertaken on people-smuggling boats.
"This latest incident highlights once again the fatal consequences of people-smuggling, particularly in this most dangerous time of the year," he said, referring to the annual monsoon season.
Asylum-seeker boat arrivals have dropped dramatically under the new conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which has retained the policy of the former administration of sending all boatpeople to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for permanent resettlement.
But there has been a recent spike, with close to 200 people arriving on four boats in the week up to December 6.
© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse
Myanmar: Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) DIPECHO South East Asia 2014 - 2015 (ECHO/DIP/BUD/2014/91000) Last update 16/10/2013 Version 1
The activities proposed hereafter are still subject to the adoption of the financing decision ECHO/WWD/ BUD/2014/01000
AMOUNT: EUR 11 000 000
South East Asia (SEA) figures among the most disaster affected regions in the world, in terms of scale, recurrence and severity of disasters1 and among the most at risk taking into account the social and economic dimensions of vulnerabilities, the hazard profiles as well as environmental and climate change considerations. For the purpose of this HIP, country specific programmes will target Myanmar/Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, and the Philippines.
The range of hazards is wide (floods, flash floods, typhoons, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and tidal surges, landslides, droughts, forest fires and volcano eruptions) and though increased interest and investment in DRR is noticeable, new challenges like retarded economic development and pernicious environmental impacts (widespread deforestation, illegal land use and mono-cropping) constitute new risks. The private sector is increasingly concerned by the impact of recurrent disasters on economic growth and development. It understands better the value of investment in DRR as a risk assurance against financial and material loss, for example in coastal/urban built up areas.
Vulnerability profiles are also evolving, with increased urban migration and erosion of traditional coping mechanisms, including decreased resistance to pandemics. While the possible effects of climate change are still subject to varying scenarios, in particular at local level, overall patterns are nevertheless worrying, with increasingly erratic meteorological cycles and higher disaster impact from hydro-meteorological events.
Almost all SEA countries are taking concrete action to improve preparedness and reduce risk.
However, at local level, the most vulnerable populations often remain ill-prepared to cope with disasters and preparedness efforts are not inclusive enough of the different groups of population to significantly increase resilience. ECHO's focus is to work as far as possible with vulnerable communities. One of the success stories in SEA has been the ability to engage a wide range of stakeholders in reducing risk: from communities to different governmental actors, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
occupied Palestinian territory: Opening of 40th Session of Council of Foreign Ministers in Guinea, In his last speech as OIC Secretary General: Your organization has developed and matured into a reputable organization
In his last speech as secretary general of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu gave an account of the major achievements and initiatives undertaken during his tenure at the opening of the 40th session of the CFM in Guinea on 9 December 2013.
From the consensual passage of UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18 on combating religious intolerance and the adoption of the OIC Water Vision to the establishment of the Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission, the Women Development Organization, and a specialised department on humanitarian activities; while the Draft Statute of the Islamic Organization for Food Security is up for approval at this session and the Islamic States Broadcasting Regulatory Authorities Forum (IBRAF) and the OIC Media Forum (OMF) have submitted their applications for OIC Affiliate memberships. The secretary general also presented the progress made in addressing Islamophobia, promoting economic cooperation, advancing science and technology and developing education and health in the member states.
“I can say with full confidence that your organization has developed and matured into a reputable organization and has so far passed successfully through myriad challenges. During this period of 9 years, the OIC has waded its way into the twenty-first century in a much better standing. It is now playing a much more important role in the political, economic, cultural and social fields to forge Islamic solidarity,” said Ihsanoglu.
After thanking the people and leadership of Guinea for hosting the 40th CFM in Conakry and thanking Djibouti, the Chair of the previous session of the CFM, Ihsanoglu highlighted the outstanding progress made in implementing the Ten-Year Program of Action adopted in Makkah in 2005 while acknowledging with profound gratitude the support and interest he was awarded by the member states towards reaching these goals. “We have witnessed a clear demonstration of greater political will by the Member States to engage more actively and concretely in the activities and programs of the OIC which has witnessed a remarkable growth and expansion during this period. We are here to build on the important achievements of the previous CFM,” he said. He urged the member states to continue their support to the activities and programs of the OIC.
Pointing to the main achievements, at the international level, OIC’s process of reform and global political engagement led powers of the international community to establish or upgrade their relations with the OIC as a sign of their interest in engaging and cooperating with the Organization on a number of fronts, he said. The convening by the UN Security Council on 28 October 2013 of an unprecedented Special high-level session on the cooperation between the OIC and UN is a clear testimony of the unique standing the OIC has embraced.
As for the cause of Palestine, the raison d’être of the OIC, it has witnessed important developments in recent times. International unanimity on recognizing the State of Palestine as member of the UN General Assembly on 29 November 2012 was a major achievement that needs to be built on in order to secure more support to the Palestinian people and their legitimate national rights, stressed Ihsanoglu.
To examine the grave situation of the City of Al-Quds and the Aqsa Holy Mosque and consider possible actions to counter Israeli violations, he invited the member states to participate actively in the proceedings of the special session to be held during the current CFM session with a view to elaborating a program of action, including practical measures, that would put an end to continued Israeli violations in the city of Al-Quds. As a matter of urgency, he reiterated his call on all member states, institutions and funds to take the initiative and provide the financing required to implement the strategic plan for the development of vital sectors in Al-Quds as a means to unite our efforts and focus our interventions in a way commensurate with challenges the Holy City is facing.
He spoke about his recent visit to Palestine in August 2013 and his personal observation of the impending Judaization risk at Al-Quds and the stifling conditions on the ground suffered by the people under Israeli occupation.
Another important trip he undertook recently is to Myanmar, heading an OIC ministerial Contact Group delegation in November. Throughout the meetings with officials, civil society groups and Rakhine community members he expressed OIC’s wish to open channels of communication and dialogue with Myanmar as well as its readiness to contribute to the humanitarian and rehabilitation assistance to all affected people and communities without any discrimination. He also stressed the need to clarify the misperception and misunderstanding on both sides in order to build trust. At the conclusion of the visit a Joint Communiqué was issued with the Government of Myanmar, which outlined the framework of their joint cooperation. “Through constructive diplomacy, consistent pressure and international engagement a historic breakthrough was achieved in OIC relations with Myanmar.” Following the visit, Ihsanoglu wrote a letter to the President thanking him for his hospitality and proposing three projects: a technical training college and a medical facility in Rakhine State by the Islamic Development Bank and an international symposium on the relations of Buddhism and Islam through a historical perspective by IRCICA. He urged the Member States to provide urgent humanitarian aid and contribute to socio-economic projects while maintaining the political pressure on the government to fulfill the rights of the Rohingya Muslim Minority.
2012 at a Glance
30,000 women lifted their families out of extreme poverty.
105,700 young children received specialized nutritious food from WFP to prevent and treat undernutrition.
1,848 communities built assets that help protect their homes and fields from natural disasters and the effects of climate change.
2.3 million schoolchildren ate a nutritious snack every day they attended class. More than half of these kids were supported by the government following a successful scale-up.
12,500 families improved their nutrition and food security in the long term, with assistance from a Joint UN Programme
Myanmar Climate Change Alliance
In the inaugural address of the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA) Stakeholder Workshop in Nay Pyi Taw, His Excellency U Win Tun, Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MoECAF) announced that the Government of Myanmar had approved the formation of a ‘Myanmar Climate Change Alliance Committee’. Under his Chairmanship The Vice Chairs will comprise two deputy ministers whilst the secretary of the committee will be the Director General of the Department of Planning and Statistics. Members will comprise of 28 Directors General of related government line agencies.
This is a significant milestone in establishing the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance and highlights the political will of the government to address climate change. This announcement set the tone for the proceedings of the stakeholder consultation workshop, which saw participation from representatives of 21 ministries, civil society and private sector stakeholders.
Mrs Karine Genty, acting Head of Operations at the Delegation of the European Union in Myanmar, welcomed the news and highlighted how MCCA requires involvement and active contribution of all stakeholders. She encouraged participants in the workshop to familiarise themselves with the aims and objectives of MCCA and to actively engage in and contribute to discussions.
Speaking on behalf of UN-‐Habitat Country Programme Manager Mr. Bijay Karmacharya for the implementing partners UN Habitat and The United Nations Environment Programme, Senior Advisor U Denzil Abel highlighted the importance of addressing climate change while conveying gratitude to His Excellency Union Minister U Win Tun for his attentive and guiding role in establishing this project.
Over the course of the two days of the stakeholder consultation workshop the participants were introduced to the detailed activities and planned results designed to support Myanmar in developing a climate change strategy, awareness and capacity to tackle climate change. Participants were given the lead in the workshop to comment, discuss and provide input and feedback into the framework of activities to ensure that the MCCA is implemented effectively.
U Tin Tun, the Director General of Planning and Statistics Department of MoECAF led the final sessions of the workshop, explaining the proposed institutional set up of the programme highlighting expected roles and responsibilities of the various ministries, civil society and private sector stakeholders on contributing and guiding the programme.
The workshop provided stakeholders with a clear understanding of the activities, planned results and expected roles for the MCCA. The participants enthusiastically engaged in the discussion of activities and programme structures and agreed to coordinate and streamline their activities to ensure effective implementation of the MCCA programme and wider environmental initiatives.
For further information, please contact:
U Denzil Abel
Senior Advisor, UN-‐Habitat
Mr. Mozaharul Alam
UNEP Regional Climate Change coordinator
ZIMBABWE: Reduced agricultural production
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: Below average production and reduced wages
AFGHANISTAN: Electoral violence and armed conflict among tribal and insurgent groups
MYANMAR: Communal violence involving Muslim and Buddhist communities
SOMALIA/KENYA: Somali returnees affected by Al Shabaab in Somalia (in the area administered by the Juba Interim Administration)
IRAQ: Communal violence between Sunni and Shia groups
LEBANON: Communal violence among sectarian groups
JORDAN: Decreased access to basic goods and services
MADAGASCAR: Above average cyclone season
COLOMBIA: Reguee and IDP return following a peace agreement
MAI JA YANG, 5 December 2013 (IRIN) - Even if a nationwide ceasefire is signed between the Burmese government and armed opposition groups, people displaced by fighting in Myanmar's Kachin State may face land tenure problems when they return to their homes, say rights groups.
"In some areas, army-affiliated economic interests have confiscated the land vacated by IDPs [internally displaced persons], and the rights of the displaced will have to be defended in those cases," said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based human rights organization that recently completed a fact-finding mission in Kachin State.
"We've received reports from colleagues who've travelled to Myitkina [capital of Kachin State], of gold mining on farms in Nam Sanyang village, where locals fled fighting two years ago," said Ah Nan, head of the Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), a Thailand-based network of Kachin civil society groups and development organizations documenting illegal natural resource exploitation.
Unsubstantiated reports by the KDNG of government troops and private businesses excavating abandoned farmland for gold mining have added to the uncertainty families face about returning to their old lives and livelihoods.
Ah Nan said the local government is telling people that they need property title deeds to prove ownership, but the concern is that even then there is no guarantee this will be enough to reclaim land.
The Legal Aid Network, a non-profit founded by Aung Htoo, is training fellow lawyers and activists in Mai Ja Yang city, which is controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization, to provide farmers and other landowners with information on their rights.
"The people should have the right to own their land in terms of private ownership, and the state needs to formally recognize the rights of local ethnic people in terms of collective rights [and communal land]," he told IRIN.
A key problem is the current constitution. Article 37 states that the union, or government, is the "ultimate owner of all lands and all natural resources above and below the ground, above and beneath the water and in the atmosphere in the union", said Aung Htoo. The state also controls all extraction and use of natural resources.
Many observers stress the need for new laws regarding land rights, as well as a "fair, transparent and efficient system" to resolve land disputes. "It seems there is an inadequate legal framework to ensure the satisfactory protection of land rights of the displaced Kachin people," said Simon Young, Legal Aid Network's advisor and University of Hong Kong law professor.
The Myanmar parliament set up the 60-member Farmland Investigation Commission in August 2012 to oversee land-related investigations nationwide. According to local media, the commission recently reported that most allegations of military land-grabs have been made in the central Mandalay Region and Mon State in the south.
The report notes that around 15 percent of complaints dating back to 2011, when the current government was elected, are linked to land confiscations for public construction. Despite several land decisions favouring farmers, critics cited in international media say these cases represent only a fraction of illegal land-grabs.
Even with a favourable ruling, many displaced land owners will still be ill-equipped to return. "Entire communities - tens of thousands - have lost everything," Smith from Fortify Rights told IRIN. "Those whose villages haven't been razed by the Myanmar army face completely overgrown farms, dilapidated homes and paddy houses, and no animals."
Mr. Ichiro MARUYAMA, Chargé ď Affaires ad interim of the Embassy of Japan and Chairmen of the Committees concerned, signed the grant contracts of four projects today, under its Grant Assistance for Grass-roots Human Security Projects(GGP) Scheme, totaling US$467,137 as listed below.
The Project for Construction of Kalaw Town Spring Water Supply System in Kalaw Township, Shan State (US$109,948)
The Project for Construction of Pwekone Ward Basic Education Post Primary School in Shwekyin Township, Bago Region (US$119,749)
The Project for Construction of Myitta Ward Basic Education Post Primary School in Kyaukkyi Township, Bago Region (US$121,854)
The Project for Construction of San Kya Monastic Post Primary School in Myingyan Township, Mandalay Region (US$115,586)
Kalaw Town in Southern Shan State is hometown for various ethnic minorities, including Danu, Pa-O, Taung Yoe and Palaung, as well as for Myanmar. Around 5,000 residents of the Kalay Town, who have been suffering from water shortage, will benefit from the new Spring Water Supply System funded by the Government of Japan. The fund will be used to replace old and small PVC pipes and to add a new pump at Kalaw Thit Htwin Spring Water Supply System.
The three school projects in Kyaukkyi and Shwekyin Tonwships in Bago Region and Myingyan Township in Mandalay Region will benefit around 1,100 students, who are now studying under insufficient learning environment in old school buildings. The fund provided by the Government of Japan will be used for constructing new classrooms, toilets, and school furniture.
The Government of Japan has helped 651 various grass-roots projects in Myanmar under this GGP scheme since 1993. Among them, 291 school construction projects, 166 health care center construction projects and 129 public welfare and environment projects are included. It is expected that these assistances will further strengthen existing friendly relations between Japan and Myanmar.
RANGOON — Local authorities are preparing to resettle hundreds of Muslims displaced by inter-communal violence in March between local Buddhists and the Muslims in Meikhtila Township, Mandalay Division, according a state-run newspaper.
Muslim neighborhoods of Meikhtila were razed to the ground during the violence. Authorities say Muslims made up the majority of the 7,845 people who have since been living in temporary camps outside the town.
A report in the New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday said the government will provide plots of land or apartments to resettle about 400 Muslim victims of the violence.
The report was unclear on the details of the resettlement plan, but said a coordination meeting was held at the end of last month among the government authorities to decide what to do with the displaced people.
The report did say specifically that those at the meeting—including Mandalay Division’s Planning and Economic Minister Aung Zan, as well as district and township officials—agreed that a first round of plots measuring 40 by 30 feet would be given to 93 people. Another 77 fire victims would later get plots and 193 “victims who have no guarantee” would be provided residential quarters.
Violence between local Buddhists and Muslims broke out in Meilktila on March 20 following bouts of violence in Arakan State between Arakanese Buddhists and the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority last year, which left 192 people dead and 140,000 people displaced.
In Meikhtila, 1,594 houses were burned down in Chanayethaya Ward, according to the New Light of Myanmar report, sending people into five relief camps. About 40 people were killed and 60 injured, and about 30 people, both Buddhist and Muslims, were sentenced by a court in Meikhtila in July for the violence.
Win Htein, a National League for Democracy (NLD) member of Parliament for Meikhtila, said the displaced people were being resettled in the same area they were displaced from. He said the resettlement was overdue, and would begin this month.
“I have been telling the government for a long time to let them return their homeland. I feel it’s late already as they have had to stay in the camps for a long time,” said Win Htein.
He insisted the atmosphere in the town was much improved since the violence and that Buddhists and Muslims would not clash again.
“The current situation is getting better, it’s a lot better than before,” Win Htein said. “There will be no problem with their return.”
Maung Maung, a Muslim from Meikhtila, who was displaced by the violence in March and is now in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy that all the victims wanted to go back as soon as possible.
“The majority of our people want to go back to their homeland,” he said, adding that many were concerned they would be resettled in a new place without being consulted.
“They are still checking people who have title paper for their own land. So, as far as I know, we will return to our homeland,” said Maung Maung. “People are saying that they are happy if they can go back to their homeland, even if they can only build small hut to stay in.”
Ko Phyo, a Buddhist resident of Meikhtila, said that the Buddhist population of the town was concerned by the resettlement.
“Our residents are worried that it is going to cause more violence. They are the people who started problem first, but when the locals [Buddhists] reacted, events went out of control,” he said, adding that the deaths of monks during the violence had caused escalation.
“This is big problem. The local people were outraged and lost control in their reaction,” said Ko Phyo.
He also claimed the resettlement would be problematic because displaced Muslims had been opportunistic. “We heard that some families asked for three plot of land, even though they only had one family home in the past,” he said
However, some Muslim families have already returned to their land in Meikhtila, and visitors report that the situation is stable.
Hajj Kyaw Khin, a Muslim has donated to the Muslim victims of the Meikhtila violence, said resettlement would help the area to be return to normal.
“It is good if the people could return to their homeland because I found there that they express the feeling that they wanted to return back,” he said. “Many people have no job and don’t have enough food because they have to stay in the camps.”
HLA LAUNG PAN, 4 December 2013 (IRIN) - In northwestern Myanmar’s mountainous Chin State, Lu Lein, a widow in her late 50s, often finds breathing difficult, her heart palpitations are worrying, and even small efforts can be exhausting, but she has no idea what these symptoms mean. She lives in a village an hour by motorbike over rocky hills from Kanpetlet, the nearest township.
“The only thing I can do is take rest when I feel like that. I can’t afford to get treatment in the town,” she said. People in her village of some 130 people said a health worker comes once every three months, but only to immunize children, not to treat illness.
Primary healthcare is still out of reach for most people in Chin State, one of the most remote, isolated parts of the country, where three-quarters of the people, who mostly depend on small-scale farming to survive, hover below the poverty line, said aid workers.
Poor transport and the state’s rough terrain mean rural residents often have to walk for days to reach medical care in the nearest town. Some arrive close to death while others do not survive the journey.
“As healthcare is not easily available, many people rely on the traditional remedies for seasonal [monsoon] sicknesses,” said Myo Min Zaw, assistant surgeon at the state-run hospital in Kanpetlet. “Only when they are seriously ill do they come to the hospital.”
Respiratory infections, malaria and diarrhoea are the most common childhood illnesses in the state, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Compared to children under age five nationwide, those in Chin are most affected by undernourishment, stunting (they are shorter than they should be for their age), a sign of chronic malnutrition, and wasting (their weight is too low for their height.) a sign of acute malnutrition.
The health indicators are dismal. Chin State has the lowest rate of antenatal care in the country, as well as the lowest tetanus vaccine coverage, the lowest rate of births with skilled attendants present, and the lowest birth registration, according to the latest Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey.
Despite health education efforts by the government and NGOs, health awareness and hygiene levels among local people remain low, say health workers.
It is not for lack of facilities. Chin has nine hospitals with a total of 750 beds, 15 “station hospitals” - health facilities smaller than town hospitals, but larger than rural health centres - nine maternal and child health centres, and more than 330 village health centres. But staffing the health facilities has been difficult to accomplish and most facilities are seriously underserved.
According to UNICEF, there are 64 doctors for 342 posts, which means around eight out of 10 doctor’s posts are vacant across the state, and out of 349 posts for midwives, 108 are vacant - a 30 percent shortage. The state has long struggled to fill rural posts, where working conditions and pay have been described to IRIN as “discouraging”.
Where there are no doctors
With few other options available, rural residents often turn to traditional healers, who are present in almost every village and benefit from the lack of formal medical assistance.
“No wonder… people rely on quack doctors,” said Joseph Kung Za Hmung, founder and director of a local NGO, Country Agency for Rural Development (CAD). “They have no choice but to rely on them.”
In Ye Laung Pan village, home to some 280 residents and more than one hour from Kanpetlet, people turn to the elected village head to diagnose ailments and prescribe medicine. “I know something about health,” said the village head, Thang Nai, 36, who learned how to treat illnesses from medics while he was in the national army. “I only want to help my people who can’t go to the town.”
Others turn to their faith. In Hla Laung Pan, village head Naing Law said 85-year old Aung Lay is the recognized “spirit medium”, and some villagers ask him to pray to local spirits for their health. “For those who can’t go to the town for treatment, he is a man of hope.”
The conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States has displaced an estimated 100,000 people who are in need of humanitarian assistance. 20,000 families who have been hosting some 10,000 IDPs are also in need of assistance.
Renewed clashes in October and November 2013 displaced more than 2,400 people in Mansi, southern Kachin State, including 1,600 people from Nam Lim Pa who were displaced for the second time, to IDP camps bordering China and northern Shan State. The security situation and bureaucratic constraints are preventing international organisations from having full access to all new IDPs.
The Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar issued a statement on 25 October expressing concerns for civilians affected by the renewed clashes in Mansi. The statement also urged both sides to allow civilians free passage to safe areas, called for the cessation of hostilities, and requested access for humanitarian organisations to respond to the needs of IDPs.
In response to latest displacement, local NGOs have begun food distributions, construction of temporary shelters and latrines, and issued a statement on 18 November calling for assurances of safety and protection for IDPs as well as provision of additional food, shelter, and Non Food Items (NFIs).
The inter-communal violence in June and October 2012 has resulted in at least 143,000 people being displaced across Rakhine State. In addition, at least 36,000 vulnerable people in 113 isolated villages have no or limited access to job opportunities and basic services due to continued restrictions on movement.
There has been increased community resistance and increased intimidation of UN and NGO staff since September, causing serious impediments to humanitarian operations and development work.
Humanitarian organisations must have full and unimpeded access to all affected communities in Rakhine State and must be able to deliver lifesaving relief assistance to Internally Displaced People (IDPs) based on their needs and regardless of their background.
The inter-communal violence in June and October 2012 resulted in at least 143,000 people being displaced across Rakhine State. In addition, at least 36,000 vulnerable people in 113 isolated villages have no or limited access to job opportunities and basic services due to continued restrictions on movement.
The conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States has displaced an estimated 100,000 people, including more than 52,000 in areas beyond Government control. Renewed clashes in November 2013 displaced more than 2,400 people in Mansi, southern Kachin State, including 1,600 people from Nam Lim Pa who were displaced for the second time. Interagency cross-line mission to IDP camps in areas beyond government control brought relief items to more than 26,000 IDPs, along with training workshops and needs-assessments at the camps.
It is important for humanitarian organisations to have full and unimpeded access to all affected communities across Myanmar and to be able to deliver assistance based on the evidence of people’s needs, regardless of their background. Increased community resistance since October 2013 has caused serious impediment for humanitarian operations and development work in Rakhine. Insecurity and cumbersome bureaucratic processes are also major constraints.
By ANDREW D. KASPAR / THE IRRAWADDY|
The UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict is in Burma this week to review efforts by the government to eradicate the practice of conscripting child soldiers, and to encourage further reform. Burma is among some 20 countries that the UN says bolsters its military ranks through underage recruitment, but recent reforms leave room for hope that the practice can be stamped out once and for all. The signing of a Joint Action Plan in June 2012 marked a promising commitment by the government to address the issue, in a country where civil war has for decades fueled child soldier recruitment by the government and ethnic armed rebels.
Charu Lata Hogg, Asia program manager for Child Soldiers International, an NGO working to end the practice of underage recruitment across the globe, spoke to The Irrawaddy about the issue as the Working Group visited Burma this week. Though the situation in Burma has improved, children continue to be used in conflict, Hogg said, urging all responsible parties to do their part to eliminate the scourge.
Q: What progress has been made since the government signed a UN Action Plan to eliminate the use of child soldiers?
A: Certainly important steps have been taken to end underage recruitment since the signing of the Joint Action Plan. UN figures show that 176 children have been released from the ranks of the Tatmadaw [Burma’s military]; access to military sites by the UN Country Task Force has improved; the number of soldiers held accountable for underage recruitment has increased; and important procedures have been introduced by the government to ensure that recruitment processes are improved at least in the four main recruitment centers.
However, almost 18 months since the signing of the Action Plan, children continue to be present in the ranks of the Tatmadaw Kyi[Burma Army] and the Border Guard Forces [BGFs] as well as armed opposition groups. Access to military sites remains constricted by a 72-hour notice period and children who escape from the Tatmadaw Kyi continue to be detained and treated as adult deserters. While some form of disciplinary action by the military is taken in cases brought to their attention, the majority of those punished are of lower ranks.
Q: How many people have been charged with child soldier recruitment?
A: According to the International Labor Organization, in response to their complaints, 241 perpetrators have received either judicial or administrative punishment. Of these, 15 have received prison sentences.
Q: Can you explain a bit more about the 72-hour notice policy you mentioned?
A: The terms of independent access to recruitment and training centers, and other places where child soldiers are present, are the subject of intense negotiations in every country where such plans have been signed. We understand that in Myanmar, advanced notice of 72 hours is required. Child Soldiers International believes that these conditions fall short of the regular and unimpeded access that is an essential prerequisite to effective verification of the Action Plan’s implementation.
Q: And what kind of penalties do these children face for desertion?
A: Children who attempt to escape or do escape from the army are arrested and tried on charges of desertion. For those who ran away for a year or more, our research shows that they would be tried in military courts for being absent from duty without permission and sentenced for a period proportionate to the length of time they had escaped for and, on release, would be required to continue serving in the army.
Q: I’ve seen the number of child soldiers in Burma estimated at 5,000. Is that a fair guess?
A: In the absence of independent monitoring, it is impossible to estimate the number of child soldiers present in the ranks of the Myanmar military, the BGF and armed groups. We would not like to estimate numbers.
Q: But there seems to be widespread agreement that the number of child soldiers still conscripted is many times larger than the 176 children released so far. What is holding back a larger release of child soldiers?
A: Our research shows that a persistent emphasis on increasing troop numbers—accompanied by corruption, weak oversight and impunity—has historically led to high rates of child recruitment in the Tatmadaw Kyi. An incentive-based quota system in the Myanmar military continues to drive demand for fresh recruits and works against the quick release of children. The practice of falsification of age documents, including National Registration Cards and family lists, continues unchecked and no measures have been taken to establish accountability for this practice.
Q: How should the issue of child soldiers be handled in the context of the government’s hoped-for ‘nationwide ceasefire agreement’ with Burma’s ethnic armed groups?
A: The Security Council Working Group has urged the Myanmar government to ensure that the issue of child protection, including the release and reintegration of children, is integrated into ceasefire and/or peace talks and agreements. In our view, recruitment and use of children should be considered a violation of the ceasefire agreement. The monitoring ceasefire committee should have an explicit mandate to monitor such violations and to report them to the UN.
We have seen in other contexts, such as the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo], where the issue of child soldiers being overlooked in peace agreements has contributed to instability and violence. A number of ethnic armies have also made a commitment to end underage recruitment and use. The Karen National Union, Karenni National Progressive Party and the New Mon State Party have signed deeds of commitment to end underage recruitment. Some of these groups, notably the KNLA and KNPP, have expressed an interest in entering into a dialogue with the UN to verify and demobilize children. This expression of intent by armed groups should be turned into tangible commitments in the peace process.
Q: To your knowledge, are child soldiers a part of the current ceasefire discussions?
A: The Myanmar Peace Center has certainly voiced support for the inclusion of issues concerning protection of children in the nationwide ceasefire agreement. However, the Myanmar government and armed groups need to agree to child soldiers’ issues being fully incorporated throughout the peace process. We are not aware whether the government and armed groups have agreed to implement this key recommendation by the Working Group.
Q: Your organization says ‘most of the cases of underage recruitment in 2013 have been coerced, with children being tricked or lured into the army through false promises.’ Can you offer some specific examples of what form this takes?
A: Our information shows that recruitment is achieved mostly among poor and uneducated children, the overwhelming majority of whom have not finished eighth grade at school and are particularly vulnerable to false threats of legal action, persuasive language and promises of salaries. Recruiters are also known to threaten children and use force. A common tactic practiced is to demand to see the individual’s National Registration Card knowing that children generally do not carry them. If the child presents a student identity card, he is often told that it is an unacceptable form of identification and the recruiter then offers him a choice of joining the army, or facing a long prison term for failing to carry a card.
In other cases, children have been offered jobs but not told that the job is with the military. It is only when the child arrives at the battalion or recruitment center that they realize they are being recruited in the military. Poverty is a key factor here.
Q: What are the priority areas that the government and ethnic armed groups should focus on to facilitate the release of remaining child soldiers and end further recruitment?
A: Firstly, the government needs to fully implement commitments made in the Action Plan by identifying, registering and discharging all children present in the ranks of the Tatmadaw Kyi and the BGFs. For this, unimpeded access to all its military sites, and other areas where children may be present, needs to be provided to the UN Country Task Force.
On the prevention side, the government needs to strengthen recruitment procedures and oversight across all recruitment sites in the country; establish a central database with personal information of individual Tatmadaw Kyiand BGF recruits; and reform the civil registration system to ensure that all children are registered at birth free of charge and without discrimination.
Ethnic armed groups need to ensure that the issue of protection of children is incorporated into the framework of the nationwide ceasefire agreement and other peace and ceasefire agreements in the future.
In Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that an estimated 126,000 people have died during the conflict, more than a third of them civilians. Meanwhile, Turkey and Iran, which support opposing sides within the crisis, jointly called for a ceasefire before the beginning of the peace talks, set for 22 January in Geneva.
In the Philippines, an estimated 14.9 million people have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan to date, according to OCHA. The number of displaced currently stands at 4.13 million, but people continue to move from the worst affected areas in search of aid, and humanitarian partners in regions VI and VIII indicated that assistance is not sufficiently reaching remote areas. The death toll currently stands at 5,632 people, with another 1,759 still reported as missing.
Seasonal rains in Somalia caused flooding in the plain of Middle Shabelle, where a major frontline between African Union troops and the armed group Al Shabaab is limiting the provision of assistance. To date, rising water levels and violence have displaced 90,000 people in the area.
Last Updated: 03/12/2013 Next Update: 10/12/2013
NGON LAUNG, 3 December 2013 (IRIN) - For the past three weeks, every morning before the primary school starts in Ngon Laung village in Myanmar's northwestern Chin State, Ba Thein, the principal, looks for a teenage student who has been absent for nearly one month.
Because of the late start to their education, some 17 percent of the primary school population is up to 13 years old, which is beyond the usual age of nine when most pupils finish primary school, said Bertrand Bainvel, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative in Myanmar. He noted that older students are often at high risk of having to abandon their studies due to pressure to earn money.
"We wish she [would] come back to school," said Ba Thein, looking out the window of his one-room wooden school in the valley where Ngon Laung is located - home to 184 inhabitants and a two-hour motorbike trip over rough terrain from Kanpetlet, a township in a mountainous area near the border with Bangladesh.
Chin is the poorest state in Myanmar and also one of the most remote. Around 52 percent of the students leave school before the age of 10, in part because they are called to help with housework or traditional hillside farming, said Ba Thein.
A 30-minute motorbike ride away in Ye Laung Pan village, Pan Kwee, 10, the only student in grade five in a school of 40 students, is concentrating hard on her notebook. She does not know whether her parents will be able to send her to town for more schooling next year, but she knows exactly what she wants to become when she grows up. "A scientist," she says.
While she may be hungry for knowledge, some classmates are simply hungry for food. According to the latest national statistics, up to 58 percent of children under age five in Chin are chronically malnourished (having diets of poor caloric and nutrient value), which is the world's leading cause of preventable brain damage and learning disability.
A teacher told IRIN some of her students are "slow" and "unable to follow lessons", though she did not attribute this to malnutrition, while a doctor at the hospital in Kanpetlet said young children's "unbalanced diets" are the cause of frequent falls when students hike to and from school.
The UN World Food Programme distributes high-energy biscuits through schools across the state to 11,000 primary school students.
In an assessment by the NGO, Solidarités International, published in 2012, almost all of the 135 households surveyed in Kanpetlet (96 percent) reported food shortages in the previous year, and more than 95 percent were in debt, mostly to buy food. According to the WFP Food Consumption Score, which measures dietary diversity and food frequency, 92 percent had poor or "borderline" scores.
The advantages of keeping children in school are high, say teachers, who point out that the classroom is an ideal place to raise community health awareness, because the students act as messengers to their families, which in turn could help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and poor health.
Rain and rocks in the way of school
Lack of calories is only one challenge - climate is another. Cold winters, and heavy rains that sometimes wash away bridges during the May-September monsoon, can lead to hikes that take hours along rough roads and slippery muddy hillsides to reach school, say parents.
"Children may have to travel long distances over difficult, mountainous terrain," Bainvel said. "For this reason, parents may be particularly reluctant to send small children and girls to school."
An inadequate number of teachers is also problematic, said Mat Aung, head of the primary school in Makyauk Arr village outside Kanpetlet. "It's a disaster when one teacher is on leave."
According to the Country Agency for Rural Development, a local NGO, in 2013 there were some 5,600 primary and secondary schoolteachers for about 121,000 students, spread over about 1,000 schools in Chin.
While some classrooms are sparsely populated, other teachers handle large classes filled with students of varying ages and learning abilities. Most students struggle to understand the language of instruction (Burmese, the official national language) in a state where some 50 languages are spoken. Chin educators teach students in the first two years of primary schooling due to their ability to communicate with the students in their mother tongue.
Even if primary school graduates want to pursue further study, it is difficult for them because most villages are located in rural areas that do not have secondary schools, which are found primarily in the state's nine townships.
"While some parents can afford to send their children to stay and study in the town, many parents cannot," said Htuu Ei Mon, a primary school teacher in Ye Laung Pan village about a one-hour motorbike ride from Kanpetlet. Meals and accommodation for one month of boarding can cost up to US$60, a steep price for farmers who typically earn less than that.
"Instead, they just decide to work on the hillside, farming with their families," said Ba Thein, who added that no student from Ngon Laung primary school has ever advanced to final four years of secondary schooling.
RSIS Commentary 221/2013
By Eliane Coates
Two hundred Buddhist monks took to the streets of Yangon on 12 November to protest the visit of a delegation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Many Buddhist monks are re-igniting anti-Muslim animosity and Burman Buddhist nationalism. Can Myanmar’s ASEAN Chairmanship and structural reforms give an opportunity for the country to heal old wounds?
TWO HUNDRED Buddhist monks took to the streets of Yangon on 12 November 2013 to protest the visit of a high-level delegation of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The delegation, comprising the OIC Secretary-General and senior ministers of seven member states – Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Djibouti and Egypt – were met by demonstrations against the world’s largest Islamic bloc. Echoing those of 2012, the demonstrations were led by Buddhist monks demanding that the OIC not get involved in Myanmar’s internal affairs.
The delegation, which was to review the situation of Muslims in Myanmar, came almost 18 months after violence broke out in the western Rakhine state between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists in June 2012, which developed into widespread clashes all over Myanmar, resulting in the death of 240 persons and the displacement of 240,000 people – the majority being Rohingya Muslims.
History of Burman-Buddhist nationalism
The anti-Muslim animosity among Burman Buddhists has its roots in the lingering resentment of colonial history 80 years ago. British colonisation of the Indian sub-continent and Myanmar and the erasing of historical boundaries in the 19th century led to an open immigration policy which enabled an influx of Bengali Muslim labourers into Myanmar.
Buddhist monks claim that the Rohingya are the descendants of the Bengali migrant population, citing the 1982 Burman Citizenship Law which refused to recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group of Myanmar, and thus essentially legitimised discrimination against Rohingya.
Indeed Buddhist monks led the riots in the 1930s during the Great Depression which resulted in the emergence of the Doh Bama (We Burma) movement. This subsequently saw the rise of Burman-Buddhist nationalism and the beginning of nation-wide anti-Indian sentiment, which later evolved into anti-Muslim attitudes.
Today a section of Burman Buddhist monks led by Ashin Wirathu is re-igniting that sentiment by preaching hatred and sowing fear which drives religious divisions in society. A senior abbot in the Mandalay Buddhist monastery, Wirathu is the founder of the ‘969’ economic-nationalist campaign which encourages Buddhists to shop only at Buddhist stores.
Two narratives are salient underlying the anti-Rohingya drive.
The first is the ‘Islamic encroachment’ idea that runs deep in Burman Buddhist society. There is fear of a demographic explosion of Muslims that would disrupt Myanmar’s Buddhist identity. These concerns stem from the fact many Rohingya fail to assimilate Burmese local customs and way of life. Despite criticism from Aung San Suu Kyi – the opposition leader and spokesperson for human rights - as well as the international community, several cities began in May this year to impose a discriminatory two-child policy on Rohingya families to slow their population growth.
According to the Rakhine State government spokesperson the Rohingya “are trying to Islamise [Buddhists] through their terrible birth rate,” citing that the Rohingya population growth is ten times that of native Buddhists. However economists at Harvard’s Ash Centre for Democratic Governance and Innovation argue that there is no evidence of an increasing Rohingya birth rate. Instead, they find there has been a net outflow of the Rohingya, mostly to Bangladesh, since 1950.
The second narrative being disseminated is that ‘the Rohingya started it’, that this minority Muslim group has been taking over the Buddhist lands of Myanmar. After Myanmar’s Independence in 1948, the Rohingya formed a guerilla-fighting Mujahideen which launched a 13-year rebellion for a separate Islamic State or to join the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
While this movement was defeated, lingering resentment remains amongst Buddhists as the rebellion was seen as a great betrayal and threat to Myanmar’s new found sovereignty. The Rohingya too were blamed for igniting the recent ethnic clashes after the alleged rape of a Buddhist woman in May 2012 which soon led to retaliatory attacks by local Buddhists.
Ironically, however, efforts by Buddhist monks to propagate these narratives have been facilitated by Myanmar’s reforms. Whereas during the period of the military junta ethnic tensions and separatism were held at bay by (and justified) strict military rule, new found freedom of speech permits Buddhist monks, such as Wirathu, to spread ideas of religious intolerance and fan the flames of Islamophobia.
Embracing diversity and ASEAN Chairmanship
While in the past Burmese nationhood has been fundamentally linked to Buddhism, now is time for a more concerted effort by Myanmar, and in particular its senior Buddhist monks, to embrace multiculturalism, condemn hate speech, and find strength in ethnic diversity. No doubt Myanmar has undergone rapid economic and political transitions since 2011 – it has held elections, lifted censorship laws, and freed hundreds of political prisoners.
Yet reform should not only touch on the hardware of development, but also the software, including both national identity and character building. After decades of civil war between ethnic nationalities and lingering anti-Muslim prejudice, it is clear that denying the ethnic diversity of Myanmar has only caused harm to the country and its people. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in July this year: “There is a dangerous polarisation taking place within Myanmar” and “if it is not addressed urgently and firmly, underlying tensions could provoke more upheaval, undermining the reform process and triggering negative regional repercussions”. Change could begin with constitutional reform to repeal the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law.
This choice is important now more than ever as Myanmar has recently become the chairman of ASEAN for 2014. It has to demonstrate that this is not a premature move given the growing climate of insecurity for minorities within its borders. There is a lot at stake for both ASEAN and Myanmar. Both parties want Myanmar to normalise its international standing and increase the much-needed political legitimacy for the regime in Naypyidaw.
More so, Myanmar wants to show off its reforms, and in doing so, portray a positive image of itself internationally. Yet, this image is reliant on public confidence as to how Myanmar treats its own society, including its minority population.
Eliane Coates is a Senior Analyst at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS), a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.
UKKHO, 2 December 2013 (IRIN) - Bamboo has a dark history in Chin State, on the borders of India and Bangladesh in Myanmar’s northwest. Roughly every 50 years the bamboo forests flower and produce masses of fruit. The abundant food supply draws in rats to eat the fruit, but they stay to cause widespread crop damage and even consume stored food.
Starting in late 2006, Chin had a serious rat infestation. Most of the rats have moved on now, but the fallout of poor harvests, fluctuating crop market prices and rising interest rates on loans are still felt, say aid workers.
In the small village of Ye Laung Pan – home to 280 people and an hour and a half off-road motorbike ride from the town of Kanpetlet – rodents are a seasonal nuisance, even without fruiting bamboo. “Rats still come and eat our crops,” said Thang Nai, 36, head of the village. “Many people are deeply in debt as they cannot fully rely on their harvest.”
Just outside the township of Kanpetlet to the southwest, is Ukkho, where 210 people live. Many residents say they have struggled for years to get enough food. Nutritious food is beyond their ambitions, for now.
"Never has there been a single day we didn’t have to worry about the meals," murmured Raung Nein, 41, a widow, with a tattooed face – a dying tradition among elderly Chin women. "Some days we have to skip the meals," said the mother of two, who also takes care of her 66-year-old widowed mother.
With no agricultural land, the family relies on her patchy income as a day labourer, for which she earns about US$2 a day at best when she can find work as a sharecropper.
Food insecurity - a chronic and cyclical problem in these parts - affects all nine townships of Chin State - one of the poorest areas in Myanmar - where 73 percent of the estimated 500,000 population live below the poverty line, according to government estimates.
The most recent Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2009-2010), reveals that children in Chin State have the country’s highest prevalence of diarrhoea (13 percent), a leading cause of child mortality linked to poor nutrition and sanitation. They were also more likely to be undernourished (30.7 percent, followed by 37.4 percent in Rakhine State) than children elsewhere in Myanmar.
Severe or moderate stunting, a sign of chronic debilitating malnutrition - the world’s leading cause of preventable brain damage - affects as many as 58 percent of Chin state’s children under age five.
A food security assessment by the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food Security Information Network (FSIN) in May 2013, before the monsoon’s arrival, when hunger usually worsens, showed the state was “moderately” food insecure.
Heavy rains in September prevented travel on several main roads across Chin State. A bridge was washed away between Hakha, the state capital, and Gangaw, a township in the central region of Magway, which connects Chin residents with markets in central Myanmar, and up to half the state’s maize crops was damaged or completely destroyed.
Transportation became sporadic, pushing up fuel and rice prices.
Southern parts of the state have not been spared, especially Kanpetlet and Paletwa townships. “Food security in Paletwa is slowly improving but assistance is still needed [for residents] to fully recover [from rat infestation]," said Isabelle Roubeix, the country director of NGO Action Contre la Faim (ACF).
In an assessment in Kanpetlet by the NGO Solidarités International, published in 2012, almost all of the 135 households interviewed reported access to land for farming, but villages were largely cut off from markets, which were mostly accessibly only by foot, and took 4.5 hours to reach on average. Residents were limited to eating what they could grow. Almost everyone (96 percent) reported food shortages in the previous year, and more than 95 percent were in debt, mostly to buy food. According to the WFP Food Consumption Score, which measures dietary diversity and food frequency, 92 percent had poor or “borderline” scores.
In an effort to bolster food security and reverse the state’s malnutrition crisis, experts suggest improving infrastructure by expanding education, energy supplies, telecommunications and roads, creating more community rice banks – a place where farmers can store their rice surplus post-harvest, from which they can borrow at low-interest rates during a rice shortage – and increasing microcredit lending to reduce dependence on extortionist money lenders.
Local media has reported that Chin state’s parliament recently approved US$1 million to go toward road and construction projects, as well as improved water and electricity access, an amount a state legislator had called “rather insignificant” given the needs.
State-wide, 22,000 people participate in WFP cash-for-work programmes, in which participants receive cash for working on development projects such as soil conservation, irrigation systems, tree planting, and road construction.
Solidarités International has helped pave motorbike tracks in otherwise impassable terrain, and in 2012 reported helping to create communal vegetable gardens in 22 villages, distributing soya and ginger seeds and training villagers in nutrition, composting, and how to run a micro-enterprise. The International Rescue Committee has reported setting up community rice banks, and local NGOs, including faith-based ones, are also active in trying to improve diets, nutrition levels, and access to food and job opportunities.
Despite these efforts, Roubeix of ACF says, "People are still in debt and struggling to pay back the loans… [they took] to buy rice [when rodents devoured crops] in 2006-08."
Even with a ceasefire negotiated one year ago between local rebels from the Chin National Front and the government, a Thailand-based NGO has documented continued human rights violations, most prevalent being extortion and arbitrary taxation, according to an April 2013 report from Chin Human Rights Organization, accusations the national government has steadfastly denied.