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Myanmar: Military Chief Warns Against Strong-Arming Voters in National Elections

33 min 38 sec ago
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By KYAW PHYO THA / THE IRRAWAADY

RANGOON — The Burmese military’s commander-in-chief warned on Friday that the army will not tolerate the strong-arming of voters in national elections slated for later this year.

“I want to say that any disturbances to the stability of the state and the prevalence of law [and] any armed pressure or threats to voters won’t be allowed in the General Election,” Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said during a military parade in Naypyidaw to mark the 70th anniversary of Burma’s Armed Forces Day.

Though he didn’t elaborate on this remark, it was a possible warning to armed rebel groups to refrain from forcing voters in areas under their control to support certain political parties.

During the nearly 30-minute speech given to military columns participating in the morning parade, the military chief also said that ethnic armed groups currently in peace talks with the government should uphold their promises and utilize political means to solve political issues.

“In the implementation of a cease fire and peace process, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration [of ethnic armed groups] is essential,” Min Aung Hlaing said.

“National solidarity [and] national reconciliation… will be carried out without fail as the Tatmadaw is the Union Defence Services formed by ethnic people of the Union.”

His remarks on the peace process came as the latest round of negotiations for a nationwide ceasefire agreement are paused for a recess, with stakeholders and observers split on whether the long-awaited pact will be signed soon. Talks will resume in Rangoon on Mar. 30.

Friday’s parade was attended by senior military officials, lawmakers and international military attachés.

Although Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the event in 2013 and 2014, she was absent on Friday, reportedly due to ill health.

The country’s “Navy Seals” joined Burma Army soldiers for the first time, marching in formation across a parade ground where tanks, armored personnel carriers, mobile radar systems and truck-mounted rockets were also on display.

Myanmar: ‘Signing the Ceasefire Does Not Mean Achieving Peace’

26 March 2015 - 11:28pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By AUNG ZAW / THE IRRAWADDY

Just as the latest round of peace talks paused for a recess and participants emerged optimistic about reaching a long awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement, news emerged that clashes had again broken out between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the country’s far north. While many stakeholders maintain that an agreement is just around the corner, so many deadlines have come and gone that peace seems a distant mirage to many observers.

As conflict continues and several parts of the country, and as negotiators continue trying to forge a path toward a peaceful Burma, The Irrawaddy’s Editor in Chief Aung Zaw sits down with Gen. Gun Maw, Deputy Chief of Staff to the KIA, for a frank and thorough discussion about recent conflicts in Kachin and Shan states, and the country’s prospects for peace.

KIA delegates recently met with President U Thein Sein for the first time in Naypyidaw, raising hopes that a peace agreement could be reached soon. Could you tell us about the meeting and its outcomes?

We stopped in Naypyidaw on our way to attend the seventh round of peace talks [in Rangoon from March 17 to 22] between the Union Peace-making Work Committee [UPWC] and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team [NCCT]. We had long negotiated to meet with the commander in chief, since December. We made a two-day stop in Naypyidaw and eight of our central committee members met with the president. We delivered a letter from the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the KIA] chairman to the president. [KIO] General Secretary La Jar had a frank discussion [with the president] about the KIO’s position. We expected to achieve good results at the meeting between the UPWC and the NCCT after meeting with the president, and that is what happened.

What is your assessment of the discussion? Do you think it was a further step toward peace?

I think the meeting could have dispelled some doubts that the president had about us, as we were able to express the KIO’s position in person. I hope that if we could reach an understanding it would benefit the nationwide ceasefire process, but we can’t say what the outcomes of the meeting will be at this time.

Many viewed the fact that Commander in Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing received KIO delegates as significant. As the Burma Army is taking a leading role in negotiations with ethnic armed groups, what was the result of this meeting?

When we met with the commander in chief, we talked about solving political problems through political means, and avoiding military means. The second point we discussed was the future of the army. We accept the principle that there must be only one army and only one commander in chief, but we said we would like to discuss during the political dialogue exactly what the army should look like in the future.

What was his response?

I felt like he was satisfied. We mainly talked about two topics. Firstly, one military and one commander in chief. Secondly, we must accomplish a nationwide ceasefire agreement. When we said that we hoped to see a time when there would be no need for military preparations after the NCA is signed, he replied that he was quite happy to hear such words from us.

Was he really happy or was he pretending to be happy?

We have yet to wait and see how he acts. But he said so.

Did you discuss what the future army would look like?

We have not yet discussed it, because the ethnic armed groups themselves do not have a specific principle about it. But the ideal army, in our minds, is an army made up of all ethnicities on equal standing and without discrimination, and it must practice meritocracy with regard to promotion. It must be an army which carries out the main responsibilities of a professional army. I don’t want to blame the existing army. I don’t mean the existing army must be disbanded, I mean we would like to discuss how we can improve it.

Burma is in terrible need of trust, and trust must be built. Do you feel that mutual trust has increased after you met with the country’s leadership?

It takes two to build trust. As we could talk face-to-face with the president and the commander in chief, we have trust in them. But follow-up procedures are important to strengthen this trust. I think it will depend on the extent to which we keep promises and make compromises.

The Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) and peace negotiators told the media that a further step could be made toward the NCA after the talks. Does this reflect the nature of the discussions?

The United Nations and Chinese delegates attended the peace talks as observers, and Mong La, Naga and the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) were also present this time. Both the UWPC and the NCCT expressed stronger enthusiasm about finding a solution, compared to previous talks. But regarding the result of the meeting, much remains to be done.

But some newspapers reported that the NCA could be signed within a few days.

The NCA may be signed by both parties soon, but signing it does not mean peace. As I have said earlier, the matters we have to discuss after signing the NCA are much more difficult, so signing the NCA does not mean achieving peace.

I suppose troop deployment is also a key issue.

Yes, it is quite an important issue. This is a topic that is yet to be discussed.

So it could take a long time to reach agreement on that topic?

Yes, we need to discuss some points before signing the NCA and much more remains to be done after signing it. That’s why I say peace can’t be achieved right after the NCA is signed.

MPC told the media that there are only four remaining topics to discuss. People took that to mean that peace is just a few days away. They had false hopes. What would you like to say to them?

Those four topics could be big issues, and there may be sub-topics. So rather than talking about the number, I would like to ask the UWPC to make public the fact that we have yet to discuss important principle issues.

The Myanmar army attacked the KIA while the seventh round of talks was going on, even using air strikes. Isn’t this a step backward?

I was about to report to our central committee about some deadlock issues when the government’s warplanes attacked our Brigade No. 3. The clashes were ordered by the upper levels of power, but the unexpected engagement will not have a serious impact on the talks.

The clashes occurred shortly after you met with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. Many have a very pessimistic view about this fight. Do you share this view?

We are systematically studying their intentions now. We are checking if the government army’s attack was meant to put pressure on us to sign the NCA quickly.

Are ongoing conflicts, including clashes with Kokang at the China-Myanmar border, related to the coming election?

As we understand it, the government has officially said that it wants to hold elections, but given the circumstances, it is doubtful that elections can be held nationwide. For example, no preparations have been made so far in conflict regions. We have told the president and the commander in chief that we understand they have difficulties and their time is limited for achieving nationwide peace because of the election.

Was the Kokang fighting on the agenda at the talks?

Yes, it was. We called on the government to discuss the Kokang issue with magnanimity and patience. We have accepted the Kokang as an ethnic group in Myanmar. We proposed settling the issue through negotiation and not militarily.

Don’t you think they are keener on solving the issue by military means, as they are even using warplanes?

Around 60 battalions have been deployed in Kokang and more reinforcements are being sent there. We have proposed both to the commander in chief and to the UPWC not to solve the issue militarily, but to find a solution through political means. Personally, I think it should not be settled by military means.

Do ethnic leaders have a single, united desire for peace?

Genuine political dialogue is the aspiration of all ethnic armed groups. Even if there are flaws in the NCA, if there were true political dialogue we would have no reason not to sign it. We have explicitly told the government that we would sign the NCA if we believe it could lead to true political dialogue. But we won’t sign it if it would force [ethnic minorities] to accept the [military drafted] 2008 Constitution.

You mean ethnic minority groups do not accept the 2008 Constitution?

Yes. We, the KIO, have officially said that the 2008 Constitution is incomplete and does not meet an acceptable standard for all ethnicities. But we are not discussing charter amendment at the talks. We understand that it needs to be discussed by all at some time in the future.

You mean during political dialogue?

Yes.

Ethnic armed groups, including the KIA/KIO, reached ceasefire agreements during the time of U Ne Win, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the State Peace and Development Council, but none of them were permanent. Compared to previous discussions and truces, do you think the current discussions are more convincing?

Yes, we have hope. Looking back at previous ceasefire agreements, we find two flaws. One is that we could not adopt a future plan. Secondly, we failed to inform the public. This time, we have to correct these mistakes. The NCA must have a future plan and it must be made public. If there is public participation, I believe the NCA will have a guarantee.

Some say that the NCA will be signed during the Myanmar New Year Festival. Is this true?

It is unlikely that it will be signed before the [New Year] Water Festival. If we get the draft agreement we need to inform our leaders first, so it won’t be signed before the water festival.

What about during or after the Water Festival?

We would be able to sign it after the Water Festival if we reach an agreement.

Pakistan: Conflict Trends (No. 1): Real-Time Analysis of Asian Political Violence, March 2015

26 March 2015 - 12:48pm
Source: Armed Conflict Location and Events Dataset Country: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, India, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam

Welcome to the first trend report for ACLED Asia. In these periodic publications, the ACLED Asia team will discuss and analyze the real-time conflict event trends that are occurring throughout South and South-East Asia. ACLED Asia will release real-time data for eleven states with various conflict profiles. These states include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam,
Thailand and Myanmar. See Figure 1. Data for January and February 2015 are now available from the CEPSA website and the ACLED website.

Real-time data will be released by month, while the ACLED Asia team continues to collect back dated information for all states. A schedule for available backdated information will be released in the coming month. Several states will have coverage from 1997-present, while others will have conflict events coded from 2010-present for the initial round of backdating. See Figure 2.

World: Communicating with Communities Newsletter, March 2015 (Vanuatu in Focus)

25 March 2015 - 11:50pm
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Bangladesh, Japan, Myanmar, Philippines, Vanuatu, World

This update seeks to support growth in innovative policy, practice and partnerships in humanitarian action to better communicate with disaster-affected communities. Readers are encouraged to forward this email through their own networks.

What's inside

  • Vanuatu – Are we communicating with cyclone affected communities?

  • Myanmar – Rakhine State community focus group discussions.

  • Philippines - Facebook goes free-of-charge with Smart Communications.

  • Bangladesh – Communications on the preparedness agenda.

  • Japan – Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake two years on.

  • Global – Mobile operators sign Humanitarian Connectivity Charter.

  • CDAC Network – New members, Members Forum and more.

Myanmar: Myanmar Army Commits Rapes, Beatings, Killings of Kokang People: Refugees

25 March 2015 - 6:46pm
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: China, Myanmar

Refugees in the conflict-torn Kokang region of Shan State have accused Myanmar government troops of gang rape, beatings and shootings of unarmed civilians, in a bid to terrorize the local population since fighting with rebel forces began on Feb. 9.

Kokang refugee Liu Zhengxiang, who frequently returns from China's neighboring province of Yunnan to take care of animals at her home in Shiyuanzi on the Myanmar side of the border, said groups of Myanmar government soldiers are roaming around, using rape, beatings and shootings as a weapon of war against local people.

"The Myanmar army...comes at night, when you can't see them, because they think that the local people are working for [rebel commander] Peng Jiasheng," Liu said.

"If they see a woman, they will rape her," she said. "They tie her hands up with wire, twisted tight with pliers, so that it tears into her flesh. When they are done raping her, they let her go."

Liu said the groups of soldiers are attacking civilians in the belief that they are Peng's soldiers, even if they are unarmed.

"Some of Peng's troops don't wear uniform, so when the Myanmar army sees them, especially if they are young, they assume they are Peng's people."

Photos obtained by RFA from the region in recent weeks have shown young women fighting in Peng's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) forces. However, the women in the photos wore green military uniforms.

The MNDAA is trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone in northeastern Myanmar's Shan that it had controlled until 2009.

Raping women, beating men

Liu said men were also being targeted by Myanmar government forces for violent attacks.

"If they see a man, they tie them up and beat them with a wooden stick," she said.

She said she had witnessed the shooting of a 70-year-old civilian by Myanmar soldiers on a recent trip home.

"They shot two of his toes off as he was getting into a vehicle, but he hadn't managed to shut the door yet," Liu said.

Xu Yong, a refugee who escaped to Yunnan from Yanjiaozhai village on the Myanmar side of the border, said he had witnessed an attack by government troops in the village on March 19.

"They smashed in doors and beat up anyone they saw," Xu told RFA in a recent interview. "They pointed their guns at the local people, and pushed them into a huddle in an open space in the village."

"Four people were killed and 13 people were wounded, and two people are missing," he said.

Massacres in Kokang

Kokang high school teacher Qiu Yongbin, currently based in Yunnan's Nansan township and helping teach refugee children at the Border Marker No. 125 refugee camp, said the army is 'massacring' local people.

"Wherever they go, they massacre whole villages, massacre them," Qiu said.

"If you give me a sniper rifle, I'll go and join in the war."

Qiu said the ethnic Chinese of Kokang aren't treated as Myanmar citizens in their own country, and carry ID cards identifying them as "not citizens of this country."

Fellow Kokang refugee Liu Xiaowen said local residents who hadn't been attacked by government troops had had their homes ransacked and their belongings stolen by them.

"They've been in charge of this country for several decades now, but they have never treated Kokang people as their own people," Liu Xiaowen said. "They treat us like the enemy, and they steal our stuff."

Liu said hunger is becoming a widespread problem among the estimated 100,000 cilivians displaced from the border region by the conflict.

"If they are hungry, they'll steal," he said. "The elderly and the children are starving, and they don't want to watch them die."

"So they have to steal. The only alternative is to go and get food from Kokang, and risk getting beaten to death by the Myanmar army."

Refugee Fang Yongwen, who ran a prosperous supermarket in the once-bustling regional capital Laukkai, said local people now fear for their lives on the Myanmar side of the border.

"Things are tough here, but it's better to stay alive," Fang said. "Over there, there's no guarantee that you'll live."

"When Peng Jiasheng was in charge, Laukkai ruled its own affairs... and excluded the Myanmar army, who act without reason."

Tensions in the region are running high amid a relative lull in fighting between government and rebel forces, as a major government assault is widely expected in the next few days, sources said.

A Kokang resident on the Myanmar side of the border said sporadic shelling and gunfire bursts had been heard, but that another government attack is expected soon.

"The Myanmar army is going to launch an attack, but we're still only talking about surrounding and taking rebel positions," he said. "There's no way they can wage all-out war."

In Nansan, China's armed police and People's Liberation Army (PLA) have stepped up patrols, a resident surnamed Zhang told RFA.

"The PLA is all in position here now, an they have anti-missile missiles," Zhang said. "The guesthouse next door to our house has been totally taken over by PLA soldiers."

"There are helicopters filling up the sports field at the school," Zhang said, adding: "China is prepared, and we are pretty safe here."

Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Myanmar: Recent Developments at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia: March 2015

25 March 2015 - 4:26pm
Source: Open Society Foundations Country: Myanmar

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has been remarkably active in the first quarter of 2015, but its progress is being undermined by mounting evidence of political interference in two cases currently under investigation.

This report reviews significant recent developments in Case 002/02, including witness testimony, shortcomings in outreach, additions to the case file, and the need to plan for reparations.

It then examines Cases 003 and 004, including ongoing political interference, the failure of the judicial police to execute arrest warrants, and the refusal of the UN and international officials to oppose this interference. It concludes with recommendations for action by the court, the United Nations, the government of Cambodia, and the court’s donors.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Refugee and IDP Camp Populations: February 2015

25 March 2015 - 5:10am
Source: The Border Consortium Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Myanmar: Myanmar: Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 2 | 1 – 28 February 2015

25 March 2015 - 4:29am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Outbreak of fighting in Kokang displaces tens of thousands into China and other parts of Myanmar

  • Urgent need for measures to ensure safety of people in IDP camps in Rakhine that are at high risk of flooding in the monsoon season

  • New measures to strengthen the emergency medical referral system in Rakhine

  • MSF Holland has restarted health activities in some parts of Rakhine State

Key FIGURES

People displaced in Rakhine State 139,000

People displaced in Kachin and northern Shan states 100,000

People displaced in Meiktila, Mandalay region 3,300 People displaced from Kokang who transited through Lashio >13,000

  • Total numbers displaced by the Kokang conflict remain unconfirmed

Myanmar: Reaching the hard to reach - Fighting measles and rubella in Rakhine State

25 March 2015 - 12:00am
Source: UN Children's Fund Country: Myanmar

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

By Virginia Henderson

Rakhine State, February 2015: Wading barefoot through streams, climbing over steep narrow hill paths, crossing wobbly log bridges and walking hours over parched dusty plains- teams from Myanmar’s Ministry of Health, UNICEF and WHO went to great lengths to reach children in out-of-the-way places around the country.

In tiny villages and large towns around the country, 12,000 vaccination teams were part of Myanmar’s largest ever public health intervention. The National Measles and Rubella (MR) vaccination campaign, aiming to reach more than 17 million children aged nine months to 15 years, covered nearly 65,000 villages and 45,000 schools over two-phases.

Mya My Thein, has been a Township Health Nurse for 23 years in Rakhine State. It is only her second time in Upper Timma village, where she came to support the campaign’s second phase, primarily community-based. “Things went smoothly here, though some could not come because of transportation issues, which is the biggest challenge, for both health staff and the local people”, she explained. Indeed, to reach that village it takes three hours driving across vast unfenced flats, past tiny villages of bamboo and rattan, followed by a one hour walk through rice paddies dotted with haystacks, oxen and goats.

A labyrinth of arms of rivers and islands, Rakhine State poses logistical challenges for the outreach effort. Transport is an issue. Propellers, wheels and feet are needed to get the dedicated health workers to far out isolated villages. Such outreach could only be undertaken in the dry season.

“I’m used to working in hard to reach places”, said Aye Win, a very pregnant midwife in charge of administering the vaccinations in Kant Kaw Kyang village. “This village is doing well because the IEC [Information, Education and Communication] materials were distributed effectively so people knew about it.”

Community mobilisation is key to overcoming the difficult challenge of inaccessibility, especially in the country’s northern townships. The widespread campaign using leaflets, TV, radio, posters, vinyl banners, and mobile broadcast units announced details and encouraged people to participate. The Ministry of Health and UNICEF trained people to spread the word.

The vaccination campaign began in January 2015 with school-based children from 5 to 15 years old. At the end of February, phase two of the campaign focused on reaching all the children not covered in phase one, including out-of-school children and pre-schoolers.

Proud of the 92 percent coverage of school children, Deputy State Health Director, Dr Aung Thurein, explained that nearly 32,000 children were immunised in Sittwe area. “The school phase was comparatively easy. The next stage was the IDP camps, then the community mobilisation phase aiming to reach isolated villages,” he summarised.

In fact, Rakhine authorities have reasons to be proud. The information about the campaign reached almost every corner of the State.

Mae Lon Gyi, 30, brought to Upper Timma Village her two children Sandar Moe, 3, and Moe Ee Zan 18 months to be vaccinated. “The health staff came to my house to give me some information and told me to come to the vaccination centre”, she explained. “Now, I know that measles can cause small blisters on the skin and fever, and understand that this vaccine can prevent measles”, she said.

At Zaw Ma Tet village, thirty minutes by speedboat up the river from Sittwe, village headman U Lu Gyi, explains how traditional healers are crucial. “For common illnesses, people here usually consult local traditional healers”, he said. “When the basic health staff, nurses and midwives came to discuss the vaccination programme, they included some of these village traditional healers, making them part of the campaign. It’s all part of community mobilisation”, U Lu Gyi concluded.

In internal-communal violence-affected areas, populations can have limited access to healthcare services. As Yosi Echeverry Burckhardt, Chief of UNICEF Sittwe field office explains: “In order to break the disease transmission chain, when introducing a new vaccine such as against rubella, we have to do a major push to ensure all children up to 15 years of age are vaccinated, especially girls, as the disease is particularly dangerous during pregnancy”.

UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Health and its partners to ensure the success of Myanmar’s largest ever vaccination campaign, namely by procuring vaccines, reinforcing the cold chain infrastructures, and monitoring to ensure micro-plans were followed.

Country-wide, the exceptional mobilisation of nurses, teachers and countless community leaders has resulted in an excellent coverage that is currently estimated at approximately 95%. Even in areas of conflict and intercommunal tensions such as Rakhine and Kachin States, the unprecedented commitment of health and education workers and community leaders has helped reach levels comparable to the national average.

Nevertheless, the recent violence in Kokang Self-Administered Zone, which has forced thousands of people from their homes, forced schools and health centres to close down, and put children at additional risks of separation from their families, has also impeded the movement of supplies and health personnel essential to the immunisation campaign. UNICEF calls for a resumption of immunisation activities, to make sure the remaining 35% of children aged between nine months and 15 years in Kokang Self-Administered Zone are protected from the risk of contracting measles or rubella.

World: March 2015 Special Update – Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

24 March 2015 - 10:13pm
Source: Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict Country: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, World, Yemen

On Wednesday 25th March, the UN Security Council (UNSC) will hold an Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, which will take place under the presidency of France. The theme of the Open Debate will focus on child victims of non-state armed actors (ANSAs). This will be the first Open Debate to focus on actions and tools Member States may constructively use to end and prevent grave violations against children by ANSAs.

Bearing in mind the variety of ANSAs, the Security Council must use the appropriate actions and tools for ending and preventing violations of children’s rights by armed groups. Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict recommends the UNSC and Member States to call for the following:

1 Facilitate the opportunity for ANSAs to sign and implement action plans and/or other protective measures;

2 Consider children and armed conflict in the peacemaking process;

3 Expand the Security Council Resolution 1612 listing criteria to include abductions;

4 Promote safe schools and end the military use of schools;

5 Consider children and armed conflict in UN-mandated peace and political missions; and

6 Increase effectiveness of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict is a network of local, national and international non-governmental organizations striving to end violations against children in armed conflicts and to guarantee their rights. This special update is based on the experience of Watchlist and its member organizations in over a decade of engagement with the Security Council’s children and armed conflict agenda.

Download Special Update PDF

Link to Special Update Background

Myanmar: Vocational Training in Myanmar: Building a Brighter Future

24 March 2015 - 8:52pm
Source: Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development Country: Myanmar

On the one hand the demand for skilled labour is high in Myanmar, however there are not enough trained workers to meet the needs of the job market. On the other, youth and young adults want to learn new skills that will lead them to more employment opportunities.

To address this gap, ACTED, with support from the Swiss Development Cooperation, organized short vocational courses and training on skills that are in line with what the labor market needs. ACTED worked closely with local teachers in Loikaw, Kayah State, located in the East of Myanmar along the border with Thailand. Trainings were held in masonry and construction, motorbike repair, electronics, and electronic wiring. A total of 82 students registered for the first batch of courses and completed 200 hours (over 6 weeks) of practical and theoretical classroom training.

Before participating in a course, 27 year old Aung Kyaw, worked with his uncle in a small plastic factory in Loikaw. Without any proper training, one of his responsibilities was the electrical maintenance of the factory. His lack of proper skills and knowledge on electrical maintenance led him to register for the electrical wiring course.

After the classroom training, students are required to do a six-week internship in the private sector. Aung Kyaw, along with 16 other students, took the opportunity to complete his internship with a large international construction firm in Yangon, Myanmar’s economic capital. After four weeks of doing the internship, Aung Kyaw is already convinced he would like to continue working for the international construction firm, as he is gaining invaluable practical experience through the use of new technology and equipment, and especially safety procedures. In the future, Aung Kyaw sees himself returning to Loikaw and sharing his knowledge to develop Loikaw’s construction sector.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 18–24 March 2015

24 March 2015 - 10:00am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, Vanuatu, World, Yemen

Snapshot 18-24 March 2015

Syria: The Government carried out over 10,000 airstrikes between October and March, dropping more than 5,300 barrel bombs and killing almost 2,200 civilians. A chlorine attack on 16 March in Idleb killed six people.

Yemen: Conflict is escalating as Houthi forces seized part of Taizz city and its military airbase, and have sent further reinforcements south. Eleven people were killed and at least 63 wounded when special forces loyal to the Houthis tried to seize control of Aden's airport.Troops loyal to President Hadi have reportedly deployed in Lahj in anticipation of a possible Houthi advance. Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks on mosques in Sanaa that killed 142 and injured more than 350.

Updated: 24/03/2015. Next update: 31/03/2015

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface

World: World TB Day 2015: Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone, including Migrants and Displaced Persons

24 March 2015 - 8:50am
Source: International Organization for Migration Country: Iraq, Jordan, Myanmar, Nepal, World

Switzerland - March 24 marks World TB Day with the theme “Reach the 3 Million: Reach, Treat, Cure Everyone.”

Tuberculosis is one of the world’s top health challenges with 9 million new cases and the deaths of nearly 1.5 million people each year. Approximately one third of these 9 million cases of TB are missed by the health system. Among those missed are those most vulnerable to TB: people living with HIV/AIDS, migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, miners, ethnic minorities and indigenous populations.

In 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted WHO’s “Global strategy and targets for tuberculosis prevention, care and control after 2015” which requests WHO and partners to promote cross-border collaboration to address the needs of vulnerable communities, including migrant populations.

Access to “continuity of care” and prevention of communicable diseases such as TB, including Multidrug-resistant TB (MDR), as well as TB/HIV co-infection, commonly occur in states suffering from political turmoil and armed conflict. Crisis situations often result in disrupted capacity of the public health system to meet the health care needs of affected populations.

Therefore, on World TB Day, IOM aims to raise awareness of the importance of addressing TB among migrants, displaced persons and other crisis affected populations in humanitarian emergencies, whether as a result of natural disasters or conflicts. In crisis or emergency settings, displaced persons and affected communities often live in overcrowded and confined spaces and lack access to TB services.

“Promoting the use of primary health care and early treatment for TB among crisis affected populations and including them in TB-control programmes will reduce the need for costly emergency care and related high costs for the health system,” stated IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

IOM works, amongst others, with Ministries of Health, especially National TB Programmes (NTP), WHO, the Stop TB Partnership, and the Global Fund to improve the quality and capacity of TB prevention, care and treatment services for crisis affected populations.

Examples of IOM’s work to reduce TB in humanitarian emergencies include:

· In January 2015, IOM received USD 3.25 million from the Global Fund’s Emergency Fund to support the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB among Syrian refugees and Lebanese returnees in Lebanon and Syrian refugees in Jordan, in close collaboration with the National TB Programme, WHO and UNHCR. With the civil war in Syria entering its fourth year, Lebanon now hosts 1.3 million Syrian refugees and Jordan, 620,000. This has severely overstretched the capacity of both countries’ health systems and has resulted in an increase of TB cases in both countries.

· In Nepal, IOM works with the National TB Programme to reduce TB among Bhutanese refugees living in camps, who have escaped political unrest and violence in Bhutan. In 2014, IOM Nepal was awarded the Rana Samundra Trophy by the National Tuberculosis Center for outstanding work in TB. IOM introduced the TB diagnostic tool “GeneXpert” in nine strategically located microscopy centres in Nepal to increase TB detection among refugees, immigrants and Nepalese host populations. The project has tested over 20,000 suspect TB cases with GeneXpert technology detecting nearly 4,000 additional TB cases with around 300 drug resistant TB.

· In Iraq, as of January 2015, there are 235,563 Syrian refugees and 2,045,700 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Iraq. IOM Iraq, in collaboration with the National TB Programme, WHO, UNHCR, and UNDP, supports the provision of critical primary health care services to approximately 400,000 beneficiaries, including TB detection and treatment support services in IDP and refugee camps. This is done, among others, by training community health workers on TB in the four governorates of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq. These health workers learn the proper procedures for TB detection, screening, and referral for more complicated strains of TB in a humanitarian setting.

· IOM Yemen, in coordination with the national TB programme and WHO, has been responding to the health needs of irregular migrants, mainly from the Horn of Africa, and internally displaced persons from Yemen. IOM ensures that all migrants have access to health care services including TB screening, diagnosis and treatment in different areas including coastal areas and borders with Saudi Arabia as well as conflict affected areas in Sana'a, Aden, Hajjah and Abyan governorates. IOM provides a range of services, including physical examinations, radiological investigation, tuberculin skin test, sputum smear and culture, Drug Susceptibility Testing (DST) and Directly Observed Treatment (DOT). During 2014, 96 TB cases were detected and treated through IOM supported centers. Furthermore, 2,360 people have benefitted from TB awareness-raising sessions organized by IOM during 2014. Also, IOM conducts regular pre-departure health screening for those migrants who are returning to their countries of origin to assess if they are fit to travel, and to coordinate with these countries for further treatment and follow up of the TB cases.

· With support from the Global Fund, and in close collaboration with the National TB programme, IOM Myanmar is currently implementing community-based TB awareness, detection, diagnosis and treatment amongst migrants and mobility impacted communities in seven townships in South Eastern Myanmar, including Myawaddy Township in Kayin State, on the Myanmar-Thai border. Outreach health workers (OHWs) trained and supervised by IOM provide health education to the community, encourage people to present for testing if they have TB symptoms and provide DOT for TB patients in close collaboration with local TB services. OHWs also do active case finding and contact tracing to identify TB cases that might be missed otherwise. In 2014, 7,427 TB suspected patients were referred through IOM’s community-based approach for testing, of which 2,153 were positive and put on TB treatment. IOM provides transportation and meal support for hospitals to further enable successful patient outcomes, and has achieved treatment success rates of over 80 per cent amongst new smear positive patients in some areas. Integral to this approach are the OHWs, who provide continuous support to patients to ensure treatment adherence. “We need to find all the hidden TB cases we can, to reach them with health care services and treat them properly until they are cured. As a staff member of a humanitarian organization, I pledge to implement TB control activities as much as I can so my community will be free of TB,” said Shine Win Htut, an OHW in Myawaddy.

To learn more about IOM’s health programmes, please go to http://health.iom.int

Thailand: 200,000 stateless people lack healthcare

24 March 2015 - 3:12am
Source: Bangkok Post Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Republished with permission. © Post Publishing PCL. www.bangkokpost.com

WRITER: PARITTA WANGKIAT

Govt urged to add thousands to scheme

Civic groups have called on the Public Health Ministry to quickly extend membership in the healthcare scheme for stateless people to more than 200,000 people who still face citizenship problems. Surapong Kongchantuk, a human rights lawyer from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said that in 2010 former health minister Jurin Laksanawisit secured cabinet approval in only two months to establish the scheme.

Stateless people are those whose births were not officially registered and so do not hold Thai citizenship. They include hill tribe people born in remote areas, those whose ancestors settled here long ago, and Thais whose parents failed to register their births. Many are undergoing lengthy nationality verification procedures.

Mr Surapong was speaking yesterday at the seminar, "Looking backward, Looking forward: Healthcare Scheme for People with Citizenship Problems". He called on the Public Health Ministry to urgently propose propose the scheme's membership extension for cabinet approval.

"The process to get cabinet approval is sluggish despite the fact this is not a new topic," Mr Surapong said.

"The healthcare scheme involves peoples' lives. If it goes slowly, there will be losses," he added.

The state allocates about 900 million baht to the scheme each year and adding 200,000 more people will cost another 400 million baht, officials say.

The civic groups argue that stateless people should have healthcare rights even while going through the Thai citizenship verification process.

Speakers at the seminar urged Public Health Minister Rajata Rajatanavin to immediately table the issue before the cabinet. Some criticised Dr Rajata for making slow progress on the issue even though it was a policy he announced when he took office in September last year.

Myanmar: Peace-Building: A Chin Perspective

24 March 2015 - 2:38am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By KYAW ZWA MOE / THE IRRAWADDY|

President U Thein Sein’s government hoped to sign a nationwide ceasefire accord with various ethnic armed groups on Feb. 12, Union Day. Bogged down by lingering unresolved differences and imperiled by intermittent clashes between a handful of ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar Army, as with past target dates, Union Day came and went with no deal reached. Naypyitaw has signed bilateral ceasefire agreements with more than a dozen armed groups since 2011, but a nationwide deal remains elusive.

Pu No Than Kap, the chairman of the Chin Progressive Party and Chin national affairs minister for the Sagaing Region government, spoke to Kyaw Zwa Moe, the editor of The Irrawaddy English Edition, about obstacles to an agreement and the way forward.

Q: Why is it taking so long to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement? What are the major hurdles?

A: In my view, both ethnic groups and the government desperately want a ceasefire. However, something is wrong somewhere. I don’t want to put blame on anyone in particular. The president has taken steps and opened the door. I think ethnic groups welcome his move, because everyone accepts the fact that fighting all the time has served no one’s interests.

But the president himself has to do more. It is taking so long on the ground, I think perhaps, due to too much suspicion.

Q: How should they dispel that suspicion and build trust?

A: It is the president who should and can start to make a move for a breakthrough. The government understands this and it should therefore open the door wide, not just ajar. The government and the military could declare a unilateral ceasefire, but with a time limit—for example for 15 days, or a month or three months—and say, ‘We will not launch attacks during that period and will invite ethnic groups for political dialogue.’ Ethnic groups would certainly join it, I believe.

Q: That is the first step toward building trust?

A: Even if a nationwide ceasefire accord can’t be signed right now, the government should open the door fully by declaring a unilateral ceasefire, and they should invite ethnic groups to a political dialogue during the ceasefire. It would help a lot, I think, because doing so would earn the trust of ethnic groups. They then have no reason to believe that the government does not want a ceasefire. Then the burden is on them [ethnic armed groups]. All national peoples will think that the political dialogue to which they aspire can be started when the government declares a unilateral ceasefire.

Q: There has been a great deal of debate over what form political dialogue should take, and how many participants it should include. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the government and ethnic groups all have different opinions on the matter.

A: For me, I accept any type of dialogue—four-party or six-party or 12-party talks and so on. I am not so rigid as to stick to only one form. The important thing is that the talks be genuine. The outcome should be fruitful for our country. Without dialogue, I don’t think we can get any results. Even the last time, when we 48 political and ethnic leaders met with the president, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the commander-in-chief of the military, I think we managed to have a dialogue to some extent. Each of us could share our perspectives. That, at least, is a good outcome from such a meeting.

Q: How important is political dialogue for our country?

A: I think all we urgently need is to start a political dialogue to solve the problems. Unless and until the political dialogue is started, we will not be able to solve this lingering problem. A mere ceasefire can’t guarantee peace. There will be gunfire anyway, either necessarily or accidentally, on this broad battleground.

Because the problem is based on national chauvinism, I think political dialogue should begin as early as possible to solve this problem. This is a chronic cancer that Myanmar has suffered for 60 years. We all know what kind of disease we are suffering from and what kind of remedy we need to cure it. Ethnic leaders know it, and especially the president knows it. But they don’t seem to apply that remedy to cure the disease.

Q: Why do you think the government leaders don’t want to use the remedy?

A: We’ve been fighting for more than 60 years. Why have ethnic people taken up arms to fight the government? The government does know what the ethnic people want, doesn’t it?

Frankly speaking, I think we ethnic people made a mistake because we believed in Bogyoke Aung San and we wanted independence from Britain to set up a federal union. We believed in what Bogyoke Aung San promised to us: equality to all ethnicities in the country. But so far, his successors and their governments have not given it. In fact, the federalism we have asked for is not to separate from the country. We can’t build a federal union by coercion or political ploys. It should be built up with satisfaction, agreement and follow-through. And then, no one will want to separate from that union.

Q: The major political parties, the government and the army are all dominated by ethnic Bamar, and as an ethnic leader, you have had to deal with them constantly since entering into politics. Do you still see Burmanization and chauvinism? Do you still see any discrimination in dealing with authorities as well as democratic forces, including leaders like opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

A: In my view, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi does not seem to hear our voices. She may be someone who can understand us well under certain circumstances. I don’t want to talk about it.

We gained independence 60 years ago. Suppose a Chin Christian man joins the army; generally, he will not be given a promotion higher than the level of colonel. It is restricted for two reasons: the first is because he is Chin and the second is because he is Christian. We Chin people call it the two Cs factor. The question has been, is it an underlying principle that only Bamar nationals and Buddhists can be generals?

Q: Is it fair to say that Aung San’s successors did not fulfill his aspirations for Myanmar?

A: Many think that his aspirations were not fulfilled by his successors. Whatever the case may be, our view is we signed [the Panglong Agreement] because of him—we trusted him more than he should be trusted—and he died; and whenever we think about our situation, we think of him.

Q: What if he had survived?

A: Who will answer the question: what if he survived? In fact, he did not. We are pragmatic.

Myanmar: On a Mission: Destruction of Opium

24 March 2015 - 2:33am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NIELS LARSEN

NAMKHAM, Shan State – After a three-day trek from their jungle base in Kutkai Township, Battalion 101 of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) finally reached their destination: the mountainous region around Namkham in northern Shan State that is largely under the control of the government-backed Pansay militia.

Straddling the borders of China and Kachin State, the territory is a patchwork of poppy fields and clandestine drug laboratories; a major source of the heroin and methamphetamine that is fueling widespread drug addiction among local Palaung (also known as Ta’ang) communities.

In its annual “Southeast Asia Opium Survey,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime warned that the use of opium more than doubled and the use of heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants tripled in poppy-growing areas of northern Myanmar from 2012 to 2014.

“Our village looked like a graveyard,” a monk from a remote village close to Tar Moe Nyae in Kutkai Township said. “No men were working in the fields and the rate of robberies and domestic violence increased.”

Shan State—where the vast majority of opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar takes place—is home to an array of armed groups, including those that transformed into Border Guard Forces (BGF) under Myanmar Army control since 2009 and People’s Militia Forces (PMFs). Some of these government-backed militias, which often take part in military operations alongside the Myanmar Army, are reportedly heavily involved in drug production and trafficking.

Without government support, the TNLA, which is one of only two major ethnic armed groups yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with Naypyitaw, has made drug eradication a priority. But while destroying poppy grown by independent farmers has been relatively easy, the fields in the Pansay militia’s area are a different story.

The influential Pansay militia, reportedly led by Kyaw Myint, also known as Li Shau Yung, a state-level parliamentarian and a member of the Union Solidarity and Development Party, is said to control 20,000 acres of remote and largely deforested territory in which poppy cultivation is rife. A Myanmar Army battalion permanently stationed in the area has apparently turned a blind eye.

“Our objective is not to destroy the headquarters of Pansay or to fight, we just [want] to destroy the opium,” explained Tar Now, deputy commander-in-chief of the 3,500 to 4,000 strong TNLA. “We know that the Tatmadaw and the militias will never let us eradicate the poppy without a fight. So we are ready.”

Following Palaung national day celebrations on Jan. 12 in Mantong Township, the TNLA leadership resolved to launch a coordinated attack on the Pansay-controlled region, using four different battalions (400 men in total), under the leadership of Tar Now. Previous TNLA sorties in the area had been thwarted by the militia and the Myanmar Army.

At around 3 pm on Jan. 24, this reporter accompanied the lead TNLA battalion—Battalion 101—as it crossed a ridge and entered Pansay territory, engaging in a few short firefights with militiamen in the valley below.

For the rest of the afternoon and throughout the following day, TNLA soldiers set about destroying poppy fields in the valley. The group also forced Lisu and Chinese farmers living in the valley to destroy the crops; no soldiers were observed using physically abusive methods to do this.

On the evening of Jan. 25, the Myanmar Army stepped in. An army unit based in the area fired rocket-propelled grenades from higher ground at the farms where TNLA soldiers had taken shelter for the night. The TNLA soldiers managed to escape alive, leaving terrified Lisu farmers behind.

Fighting resumed the following morning and raged for two hours, leaving several Myanmar Army soldiers dead. When the army began strafing TNLA positions with mortar fire, the ethnic armed group finally withdrew, abandoning their poppy eradication mission.

The TNLA forces were pursued by Myanmar Army units throughout the three-day journey back to their Kutkai Township headquarters. In their attempt to intercept the ethnic armed group, the government army passed through territory controlled by other TNLA units, as well as the Shan State Army-North and the Kachin Independence Army, triggering more clashes.

Following the mission, the Battalion 101 commander, who asked that his name be withheld, resolved to return.

“We will go back there again until there is no more opium.”

Myanmar: The Luxury of MDR-TB treatment in Myanmar: An impossible choice for many

23 March 2015 - 9:50pm
Source: Médecins Sans Frontières Country: Myanmar

Decentralization key for scaling up MDR-TB treatment in Myanmar

Ko Thet Oo started treatment for multi-drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR-TB) about two months ago at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) HIV/TB clinic in Insein Township, Yangon. It is a 12 hour and 11,000 Kyat[1] bus ride away from his home village. Ko Thet Oo is already accustomed to this journey – he also has HIV and used to make this trip once every three months to receive antiretroviral (ARV) medication for it. However, MDR-TB requires daily treatment: a minimum of six months of painful injections and 20 months of taking a cocktail of a minimum of 11 drugs a day. He now has no choice but to move closer to the nearest facility offering integrated HIV and MDR-TB care, far away from family, friends and comforting social networks back home.

“In my native town, there is only a general hospital and you cannot get the right medication from there. It would be great if treatment was provided there for poor people like me, as most of the patients from rural areas have to come to big cities [like Yangon] to cure the diseases,” he says.

Ko Thet Oo is not alone. Many of those diagnosed with MDR-TB must choose to leave loved ones, social support systems, and often jobs and livelihoods behind to get treatment in one of the few medical facilities offering the specialized care they need in Myanmar.

Though there are plans by the National TB Program (NTP) to significantly increase the number, to date there are only 68 facilities scattered over 36 townships that offer MDR-TB treatment nationwide. And they are mainly concentrated in the state and regional capitals, out of reach of patients like Ko Thet Oo living in more remote areas.

MDR-TB is recognized as an alarming national health crisis in Myanmar, with an estimated 9,000 new cases each year. However, only 1,537 patients received treatment in 2014 – far too few to curb the deadly epidemic.

There are many reasons, but key among them is a lack of resources, including staff and appropriate medical infrastructure especially in the rural areas, as well as the regimen's long duration and complexity. Most of the treatment, however, could be simplified and brought down to community level.

“For many people, putting their lives on hold for nearly two years to complete the full treatment course is an impossible choice,” says Nana Zarkua, Country Health Director for MSF in Myanmar. “Simplifying care and bringing it closer to their homes could be an important first step to keeping them alive and preventing the disease from spreading.”

Patients who choose to face the hardship of MDR-treatment and move to a central treatment site are clearly committed to beating the deadly disease. But their suffering is doubled. Their physical and psychological hardship from the long and painful cure is compounded by loss of income, home sickness and solitude.

“Depression is a common side effect of one of the drugs that MDR-TB patients receive and many patients suffer from it. They need a lot of support to get them through,” says Yin Min Thu, Counsellor in charge of MDR-TB patients for MSF in Yangon. “When you are close to home, your relatives, neighbors and other social networks can help you to endure the treatment all the way through.”

Ko Thet Oo is lucky: his wife was able to come and stay with him in Yangon when he started his treatment. “She helps me a lot, especially when I am feeling sick from the drugs, when my body and my bones hurt,” he says. “She also cooks our local food, which is spicier than the food in Yangon and which I miss. Unfortunately, the cost of living here is so much higher that she will have to go back to our village as soon as possible, as soon as I feel better.”

To enable patients financially to seek and remain on treatment, MSF helps its patients to relocate by offering accommodation, as well as a daily transport allowance, food rations and a small monthly stipend. Of course, this is not possible on the large scale required to address the problem adequately. It is a temporary solution until decentralized treatment becomes available.

Decentralization of diagnosis and treatment is a crucial step to scaling up the MDR-TB response in Myanmar – it will allow more people to access the treatment they need and thus help reduce transmission. However, as in many other countries, health authorities in Myanmar are struggling with a lack of resources, funding, and sufficient trained personnel, particularly in rural areas.

“As diagnosis and treatment of MDR-TB is quite complex and requires significant financial and human resources, additional support from donors and other stakeholders involved in the health system is imperative to help Myanmar in scaling up the its MDR-TB program to an adequate level,” says Zarkua. “Ultimately, being able to bring the whole package of diagnosis and treatment closer to patient’s homes is key for controlling the epidemic.”

[1] Approximately 10 US dollars; as a general worker he would earn approx. 1-2 dollars a day

Myanmar: Refugees on Myanmar-China Border in Crisis Amid Cease-Fire Doubts

23 March 2015 - 4:15pm
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: China, Myanmar

Tens of thousands of displaced civilians in northern Myanmar's conflict-riven Kokang region and across the Chinese border face worsening conditions and uncertainty, local sources told RFA on Monday.

A volunteer doctor surnamed Sun at a refugee camp near Lingesai in China's southwestern province of Yunnan said a woman had died recently as a result of debilitating conditions in the camp, and that disease is now rife in many of the volunteer-run camps on the Chinese side of the border.

"The water they are drinking is very dirty and turbid, so how could they not get sick?" said Sun, who said he was the only doctor currently volunteering in the camps. "It is very hot during the day."

He said a lack of purification equipment for water taken from small creeks and drainage ditches was at the heart of the problem, but that a lack of education about when to seek medical advice and how to stick to prescribed medication had made matters worse in the camps.

"There are a lot of illnesses that are easily cured if you treat them early, but they haven't sought treatment, perhaps because they are refugees now," Sun said.

"They will only bring people over here for treatment if there is a medical emergency and their lives are in danger."

Shortage of medical staff

Refugees in Xiaobangdong, Chaheba, Qincaigou, Malishu, Maidihe, Guangbaowa, and Yangchang camps in Yunnan told RFA that a shortage of clean water has led to widespread diarrhea and fever, with children in the camps among the worst affected.

Sun said he had already gotten sick several times, and needs qualified medical staff to lend a hand.

"I wish someone could relieve me of duty and take over for a shift, but there's no one," he said.

"Even if we paid someone, they wouldn't want to come, because there's a war on."

Sun said China's Red Cross is currently only meeting the needs of around a small proportion of the refugees on the Chinese side of the border.

"The government has only provided real refugee relief in two camps, while the rest of the refugees can't get in there," he said.

"Those are the two camps that the Chinese Red Cross allows the outside world to see."

"They won't take refugees we have sent to them, saying they're full, but then they tell us we shouldn't concern ourselves," Sun said. "So who is going to take care of them? People here can't even get water to drink."

An uncertain future

Meanwhile a volunteer surnamed Li at the Maidihe refugee camp, which straddles the border, said refugees are beginning to hope that rumored cease-fire negotiations will allow them to go home.

"It seems the Myanmar government is getting ready to hold talks with the Kokang rebel alliance," Li said. "If that's the case, then we will all be able to go home pretty soon."

But he said the tens of thousands of displaced civilians still face an uncertain future, even if the conflict ends soon.

"Over at the No. 125 Border Marker camp, they have drawn up two scenarios," Li said. "In one, they totally disperse all of the refugees and leave them to fend for themselves."

"In the second, they send those who have the greatest hardship to Nansan in China and provide them with a month's worth of food and housing, then nothing," Li said.

"That's how their thinking is going right now."

Government-led talks began on March 17 in Yangon, but without the current conflict between rebel groups in Kokang on the table.

The move sparked criticism that the exclusion of Kokang's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) would undermine any final agreement.

The talks continued Monday in a bid to finalize an agreement without the MNDAA under ethnic Chinese commander Peng Jiasheng, who launched a bid to retake the rugged and mountainous region of Shan State on Feb. 9, and whose forces are currently focusing their efforts on the regional capital Laukkai.

Talks delayed

Officials have promised that Kokang cease-fire talks will begin after the current round of negotiations is complete, official Chinese media reported.

A spokesperson surnamed Song for the Kokang rebels told China's English-language Global Times that the Myanmar government hadn't approached them yet to start talks, however.

"There has so far been no representative from the Myanmar government or military saying that they support a cease-fire or want to achieve peace in Kokang," Song said.

"On the contrary, we have been seeking to negotiate with the Myanmar government but have received no response."

The fighting in Kokang has on several occasions spilled over the border into China's southwestern province of Yunnan, prompting stern warnings from Beijing after five of its nationals were killed on March 14.

However, official Chinese media have focused on the danger of increased cross-border stability in the region, rather than commenting on the conflict itself.

Cross-border movements

Meanwhile, there are signs of constant movement back and forth across the border by civilians seeking shelter, food, and employment, aid workers said.

An aid worker surnamed Zhao at the No. 125 Border Marker camp in Kokang said the number of refugees at the camps had fallen in recent days from a peak of 5,000 to some 1,700.

"They have gone to try to find a way to live," Zhao said, adding that he hadn't heard any sounds of fighting in the past two days.

A second volunteer at the camp who declined to be named said that many of the refugees had again crossed the border into China in search of work.

"Some have gone [to Nansan] to find work, because they were finding it hard to scrape an existence here," the volunteer said.

"They are trying to find their own food and clothing."

A lull in fighting

Kokang sources told RFA on Monday that there had been a temporary lull in fighting.

"There hasn't been any fighting today," a Kokang resident of the conflict zone surnamed Yuan told RFA. "I heard one or two shells and gunfire two or three times [on Sunday]."

He said residents had witnessed a burst of fierce fighting on Sunday near the Yanglongsai border checkpoint.

"It was apparently the Kokang rebel forces trying to disrupt the Myanmar army's activities," Yuan said. "It was a small group doing the fighting."

Yuan said Myanmar warplanes hadn't been seen in the region on Sunday and Monday, either.

"They haven't been seen in the past couple of days, but we heard gunfire and artillery fire," he said. "I saw one helicopter sent on reconnaissance by the Myanmar government, but it wasn't a fighter jet."

Reported by Xin Lin and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Myanmar: Life-saving volunteers fighting malaria in Myanmar

23 March 2015 - 2:09pm
Source: Christian Aid Country: Myanmar

‘I was not feeling well. I was vomiting and shaking,’ explains Ku Saw Reh, who lives in a remote village in eastern Myanmar. Ku Saw Reh’s situation is familiar to many in Myanmar who live with the constant threat of malaria.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 40 million people in Myanmar live in malaria-endemic areas, and in 2010 alone the country reported 650,000 cases.

A simple blood test saves lives

However, with support from our partner and the success of a local healthcare project, communities in Myanmar are fighting back against the might of malaria.

It’s all thanks to life-savers like Mi Myar, a health volunteer in her village.

Trained by our local partner, she plays a vital role in helping to reduce morbidity and mortality rates in the community.

She raises awareness around good health and hygiene practices, distributes insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and can spot the signs and symptoms of malaria.

Healthcare at the heart of the community

In addition, she has been taught how to carry out a simple blood test, using a rapid diagnostic testing kit.

Where previously cases of malaria went undetected, now, thanks to testing, cases are diagnosed much earlier, which means people like Ku Saw Reh receive treatment as fast as possible.

Mi Myar is one of 1,844 trained and trusted volunteers who are serving their communities and showing how very simple changes in behaviour, like using a mosquito net, maintaining a clean home and seeking medical help when you feel unwell, can make a huge difference.

‘You have to change people’s way of thinking – to make them see how important these things are,’ she explains.

‘With the skills I’ve learned and the support I’ve received, I believe I can do this, if not instantly, then certainly over time.’

The road to recovery

Thanks to Mi Myar’s support, Ku Saw Reh is now on the road to recovery.

He remains unable to work, which puts huge pressure on his wife, especially as they have a newborn daughter to look after, but Mi Myar’s swift intervention has made their situation far less bleak.

‘I think the project is saving lives,’ she says, proudly.

‘The people I have examined and referred are better now. They are well. The outcomes might have been very different, without a referral.’

Myanmar: Ongoing sexual violence highlights urgent need for burma army to stop offensives and pull back troops from Kachin areas

23 March 2015 - 11:11am
Source: Kachin Women's Association Thailand Country: Myanmar

Statement by Women's League of Burma
(Chiang Mai, January 22, 2015) The rape and murder of two female teachers in Northern Shan State early on January 20th is evidence of the Burma Army’s continued use of sexual violence against ethnic civilians. The Kachin Baptist Convention volunteers – Maran Lu Ra and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin – were gang-raped and killed in their church compound in Kawng Hka Shabuk village, Muse District. The day after, a woman in Hku Maw village, Northern Shan State suffered severe injuries during an incident of attempted sexual violence by a Burma Army soldier stationed there. The government of Burma must immediately stop its military offensives in ethnic areas, pull back its troops, and start political dialogue with all the ethnic armed groups.

The killings of the two teachers were committed by Burma Army troops carrying out a military operation against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Northern Shan State. The troops were stationed on guard around the teachers’ village on the night of the incident, making it impossible for anyone else to have committed these crimes.

Recent weeks have seen intensified attacks by the Burma Army across Kachin areas, displacing thousands and leading to the targeting of civilians. Sexual violence by the Burma Army has increased since the renewed conflict against the KIA in June 2011. Since that time, the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) have documented over 70 cases of gang-rape, rape and attempted sexual violence by Burma Army troops. In only two of these cases were the perpetrators punished.

‘The latest murders show that, for all the rhetoric about reform, Burmese government troops continue to rape, torture, and kill women and girls with impunity’, said Moon Nay Li of KWAT. ‘The international community must establish an independent international investigation into crimes of sexual violence by the Burma Army.’

As the Women’s League of Burma noted in our report, ‘If they had hope, they would speak’, abuses by the Burma Army which we have documented since the elections of 2010 may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity under international criminal law. Despite the acclaim won for the Burmese government following last year’s signing of the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence, the rape and murder of our Kachin sisters is clear evidence that sexual violence is still used as a weapon of war against the country’s ethnic communities. Today we reiterate our calls for an immediate end to sexual violence against the women of Burma, and the establishment of an independent international investigation into crimes of sexual violence in conflict.

The brutality inflicted on our Kachin sisters is a reminder that, despite the optimism of the international community for our country’s future, Burma remains plagued by violence of the most horrific kind. If the Burmese government is sincere about establishing peace, it should not be launching offensives in the ethnic areas, and allowing its troops to commit abuses with impunity. The government must start political dialogue immediately to begin a process of federal reform that will bring genuine peace, which is the only way to protect women from sexual violence at the hands of the Burma Army.

For more information, please contact: Tin Tin Nyo (Thailand) – (+66) (0) 81 0322 882 Moon Nay Li (Thailand) – (+66) (0) 85 5233 791

Details of the rape and murder of two Kachin teachers in Panghsai township, Muse district, Northern Shan State

Background:

Maran Lu Ra (age 20) from Myikyina, and Tangbau Hkawn Nan Tsin (age 21) from Waingmaw, were working as volunteer teachers in the village of Kawng Kha Shabuk village, about 20 miles east of Muse town, in Northern Shan State. They had been sent there by the Kachin Baptist Convention about eight months ago. They taught at the village school, and stayed in a small bamboo house in the village church compound. No one else stayed in the compound, which was at the edge of the village. There are about 40 households in the village, with a population of about 160 people. There is no Burma Army base in the village, which lies in a government controlled area. There are no resistance forces operating in or around the village.

Monday January 19th 2015

At about 7am, about 30 Burma Army troops from LIB 503, based in Kyaukme, led by Major Aung Soe Myint, arrived on foot at Kawng Kha Shabuk village, about 20 miles east of Muse town. They had come from the direction of Mong Ko, where there had been a military operation against the Kachin Independence Army in early January. The soldiers based themselves in four houses in different parts of the village, posting guards around the village within eyesight of each other. They maintained close guard of the entire village to ensure their security.

In the evening there was a birthday party for the child of the village headman at his house, so the two teachers went to the party. They returned back to their house at about 10pm at night.

Tuesday January 20th 2015

At about 1am, three villagers staying near the church compound heard screams and sounds of beating coming from the church compound. They went to the house in the compound where the two teachers were staying, and called out to them, but there was no answer. There was no light on in the house, only in the toilet nearby. They could hear some groaning from inside, and they tried to push open the door, but they couldn’t. The villagers thought the women may just be sleeping deeply, and perhaps the screaming had been from some quarrelling neighbours nearby. They therefore went back to their homes. Early in the morning, before 7am, a truck left the village with some of the Burma Army soldiers, but some soldiers were still left in the village.

At about 7am, a neighbor was surprised when the teachers were not seen around their house preparing breakfast, so asked a child to go and call the teachers. The child went and called out the teachers’ names outside their house, but there was no reply, so the child came back. Then the neighbor went to see, and also called out the teachers’ names, but there was no answer. The neighbor then pushed open the door, which opened easily. Inside, the neighbor saw the teachers lying down covered with a blanket. The neighbor thought they must still be sleeping, and went to lift the blanket, and found they were dead. Their bodies were half naked, and there were knife wounds on their bodies, and their heads had been severely beaten. By the bodies there was a big stick with bloodstains on it. The neighbor called out, and other villagers came immediately. They noticed there were marks of boots in the dirt in front of the house. The village headman called the police by phone, and at 2pm the police arrived from Panghsai, together with an ambulance. The ambulance took the bodies to Muse Hospital.

Wednesday January 21st 2015

In the afternoon, about 200 more Burma Army troops arrived in the village from Kyaukme, and about 100 of these troops began staying in villagers’ houses, while another 100 patrolled around the village. Major Aung Soe Myint and some troops from LIB 503 were also still staying in the village.

Analysis:

There is strong circumstantial evidence that the rape and killing was carried out by the Burma Army troops which had arrived on January 19. These troops were stationed on guard around the village, and no one else would have dared carry out these crimes with the soldiers present.