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Myanmar: In Remote Karenni State, a Place of Diversity and Learning

13 November 2014 - 10:32pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar


DEMOSO TOWNSHIP, Karenni State — A peak inside the Dawbozee Monastery compound at lunchtime reveals a cheerful scene, as novices and lay children play together under the watchful gaze of a handful of Buddhist nuns. But it’s not all fun and games here: There’s also learning to be done.

There are no chairs or tables at the school in Dawbozee village, consigning education materials and pupils alike to the cement floor when lessons are in progress.

The monastic school offers free education to children from a cornucopia of minority groups in the region, from Padaung and Kayan to Kayar, Kayaw, Pa-O and Shan. Many children are brought here from remote areas of Karenni State where families are unable to afford to pay for their education. There are 188 students that call the school home, taking meals and sleeping in the compound after class is out.

The school teaches students from first grade to seventh grade. Those who graduate from the seventh grade must enroll in a government school if they wish to continue their studies.

There are six monastic schools in Karenni State, according to Badhanta Thondhara, who is abbot at the Dawbozee Monastery. His school has eight schoolteachers, and Badhanta Thondhara hopes next year the school will be the first in Karenni State to offer high school instruction.

“Our school will be the first to become a high school next year,” says Badhanta Thondhara, who is also the school’s founder.

He started offering monastic education in 1996, at the time teaching some 60 students brought in from across the diverse state with the intention of offering them a reliable study routine.

“By studying here, children can have regular times for instruction. In local areas, it is very difficult to find schoolteachers. Children do not study at home after coming back from their schools. By living here, they have full time to study at night, while schoolteachers teach them during the daytime,” says Badhanta Thondhara.

“During free time, we teach them how to work with volunteer jobs. For example, students in the third grade, they do not know how to wash their clothes. So, we let fifth grade students wash clothes for the younger children. This is teaching them how to serve in the community. And also we teach them how to pay respect to each other. If we teach them well, they will understand how to serve the country when they become adults,” he says.

Badhanta Thondhara, 68, has spent more than 20 years in the monkhood, after retiring from the Burma Army. He is ethnic Bamar, but says that his school does not accept children who are Bamar because the area is populated by a variety of ethnic minorities.

“We found most of our Burmese kids did not understand the customs of ethnic people. When they do not know how to deal with customs here, they are not happy at the school,” Badhanta Thondhara says.

Many students have to forego study beyond the seventh grade, according to the abbot, as their parents want their children to work. It is for this reason that the abbot is trying to start high school instruction next year.

“For local children, when they become older, their parents want their children to work and drop out of school. It happens a lot locally,” he says.

The monastery has been offering schooling for nearly two decades. The abbot acknowledges that there have been many difficulties over the years, such as how to provide food, schoolteachers and education materials for the children, though he says the first three years were the hardest. Donations have since increased, and with it, the quality of the children’s education and living conditions has risen.

There’s a chance things could further improve with financial assistance from the government, which last year said it would put 3 billion kyats (US$3 million) toward monastic education in Burma. But with more than 260,000 students enrolled in monastic schools across the country, those funds may not go a long way toward bolstering a system that relies almost entirely on donations.

“Our intention is to breed more educated people,” says the abbot in Dawbozee. “If one student becomes well-educated among a hundred, I am happy enough.”

World: Asia-Pacific countries discuss ways to invest in and improve agricultural and rural statistics for food security through a joint effort

13 November 2014 - 2:48pm
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization Country: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Georgia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Myanmar, Samoa, Sri Lanka, World

Bangkok, Thailand, 13 Nov 2014 -- A global initiative to improve the way agricultural statistics are compiled at country level has taken another step forward in Asia and the Pacific, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) announced today.

Some countries in the region employ unscientific methods of gathering agricultural statistics – resulting in a variety of inaccurate estimates from rice production and stocks to the number of livestock. In response, FAO has convened a regional consultation with its partners on agricultural and rural statistical best practices and a discussion on areas for improvement. The consultation has also attracted the participation of major donor countries and institutions.

“Our objective is to enable countries to develop sustainable statistical systems that can produce accurate and reliable agricultural and rural data for appropriate policy decision-making,” said Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative during welcome remarks.

“In the past, we often saw that statistics were managed in different ways and often by different departments within government ministries and between ministries, so we need to find ways to bring them together in a way that helps analyse the overall situation of food security and nutritional status,” Konuma said.

“We need to help countries formulate and implement policies to revitalize their rural areas and one of the ways to do that is to help countries enhance their data collection methods,” said Dalisay Maligalig, Principal Statistician from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)

Improving the way statistics are compiled requires “statistical literacy that must be instilled in the education system,” said Margarita Guerrero, Director of the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP). “A highly skilled workforce in agricultural and rural statistics is needed to help address the challenge,” she added.

Work on improving agricultural and rural statistics began in 2012, with the endorsement of a regional action plan to support the Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics. A regional steering committee was formed the following year which in turn endorsed eight countries for implementation of Global Strategy activities in the region with the intention of covering twenty countries by the end of the 2017.

These eight countries comprise: Bhutan, Fiji, Georgia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Samoa, and Sri Lanka. In addition, work in Bangladesh has been done under a related project supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“A necessary condition for the strategy to expand and succeed is more support from our donor community and resource partners,” said Konuma. Some governments may also need external support to build infrastructure for carrying out statistical activities or for building their human resource capabilities in identified areas, Konuma added.

The Global Strategy to Improve Agricultural and Rural Statistics was initiated by the UN Statistical Commission and is supported in the Asia-Pacific region by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); as well as national statistics offices, agriculture ministries, and other government and private institutions producing and using agricultural statistics in the region.

Allan Dow, Communication Officer

Myanmar: Off-the-Cuff: Secretary-General’s Remarks at Press Conference, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, 12 November 2014

13 November 2014 - 12:18pm
Source: UN Secretary-General Country: Myanmar

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be back in Myanmar to co-chair the Sixth ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations)-UN Summit and to attend the Ninth East Asia Summit. I congratulate the Government of the Union of Myanmar for successfully hosting these meetings. I thank ASEAN’s leaders for their commitment to cooperation with the United Nations.

The leaders of ASEAN and East Asia have gathered in Nay Pyi Taw at a time of test for the international community. The world faces multiple crises. The region faces major challenges. I would like to highlight three issues of particular importance for Asia and, indeed, all humankind.

First, I am concerned that historical tensions and competing territorial claims in the region could hold the region back. I am encouraged by recent steps to enhance dialogue, and hope that this will prevent any needless escalation. Leaders have a responsibility to resolve their disputes peacefully, through dialogue. An Asia that can overcome legacy issues and look to a shared future will be even better placed to advance prosperity for all.

Second, here in Myanmar, the process of democratization is at a defining moment. An inclusive and transparent election next year will be crucial for the country’s future. Earlier today I had meetings with senior officials from the Myanmar Government, including Vice President U Sai Mauk Kham. Tomorrow morning, I will have a meeting with President Thein Sein. In my meeting this morning, I commended the Government’s efforts to implement an ambitious reform agenda. I also expressed my concern about the Rohingya population, who face discrimination and violence. I encouraged the leaders of Myanmar to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions. At a time of rising extremism and intolerance in many countries, progress on this front in Myanmar would keep that country’s transition on track and send a positive message to the world.

Third, the world needs to do even more to address the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The rate of new cases is showing encouraging signs of slowing in some of the hardest-hit parts of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The international strategy is working. At the same time, people are dying every day. I thank the many countries, including some of those here, that are contributing to the response. But I also encourage them to fill the huge gaps in funding, equipment and medical personnel. We are on the right track. But we must speed up efforts to get the crisis under control and bring it to an end.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The leaders of ASEAN and their partners represent more than half the world’s population. I urge them to use this opportunity to take real steps that will enable people to enjoy stability, prosperity, democracy and human rights.

But before taking your questions, I want to commend President Xi Jinping of China and President Barack Obama of the United States for their leadership on climate change that they demonstrated today in the joint announcement agreed to in Beijing.

The decision on their post-2020 action on climate change, notably the commitment to increase their level of commitment on reducing CO2 emissions, is an important contribution to the new climate agreement to be reached in Paris next year.

I urge all countries, especially all major economies, to follow China and the United States' lead and announce ambitious post-2020 targets as soon as possible, but no later than the first quarter of 2015.

I thank you for your attention.

Q: Recently, the opposition leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the international community has criticised Myanmar for the reform process led by President U Thein Sein as flawed. Do you agree with them or not? What is your opinion? And the second question is: On the Bengali or so-called Rohingya issue, our Myanmar people feel that the international community, including the United Nations, has never considered our people [inaudible]. What is your opinion?

SG: Let me go back to your second question, first of all. The Myanmar authorities are carrying out a verification exercise in Rakhine to process the granting of citizenship to people in Rakhine. While the process has been carried out in accordance with national law, it should also be in line with international standards and guidelines. The affected population, referred to as Bengalis by the Government of Myanmar but known as Rohingya in the United Nations and much of the international community – the United Nations uses that word based on the rights of minorities. I also urge the authorities to avoid measures that could entrench the current segregation between communities. It may unnecessarily create some additional negative emotions between the communities. Efforts must be made to foster interfaith dialogue and harmony to bring the communities closer together. I am not aware of what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has criticized about this. I am going to have a meeting with her. I hope I will have an opportunity of getting more information on that.

Q: I am from the Myanmar News Agency. A few months ago, INGOs have resumed operations while MSF is [inaudible] in Rakhine State, and also the UN is following suit. Rakhine State Government is in the process of immunization as was planned now, so let me know your final view on whether progress is making or not in Rakhine State.

SG: It’s a very important and serious issue. I am urging that the human rights and human dignity of people in Rakhine should be respected. As this process of granting citizenship is now going on, I know that the Government must have [its] own criteria to determine whether one is eligible for citizenship. That is why then, whoever is eligible to be given citizenship, I think they should be given citizenship equal to Myanmar people, without any discrimination. Then, for those people who may not meet the criteria, it is important that their human rights and human dignity must be fully protected. That is the message which I have conveyed to Myanmar Government authorities. And that is what I will emphasize again when I meet President Thein Sein tomorrow morning. And, at the same time, there is a serious humanitarian issue: IDPs, internally displaced people. The United Nations is mobilizing all the necessary resources to help them, to deliver humanitarian assistance. At the same time, I have been asking to have easy access to Rakhine State so that the United Nations agencies will be able to freely move around. Thank you.

Q: [inaudible question on freedom of expression]

SG: Let me tell you that Myanmar is now going through a very important transition, a transformation. This transformation and transition towards a full democracy is to be recognised and appreciated. I know that there are still more challenges to overcome, but generally speaking I think that Myanmar is making progress in strengthening its democratic institutions and achieving rapid economic development and also national reconciliation. In the course of that, when they have a political reform process, I have been asking the leaders to fully guarantee the freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, is the basic principle of human rights enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. The international community must continue to support the Government and people of Myanmar as they move toward a truly universal reform process where everybody’s human rights, including the freedom of expression, will be fully guaranteed. This is what, I believe, the international community continues to encourage the Myanmar Government. Thank you very much.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on the previous question. The United Nations and the international community accept “Rohingya”. Here in Myanmar, most of us know as “Bengali”. So their name is one of the problems of the conflict. And some politicians suggest to have a DNA test, whether Rohingya or Bengali, which is scientific. What’s your opinion on this?

SG: I think I have answered your question already. I know that the Government is addressing them as “Bengalis” and people in Rakhine, they call themselves “Rohingya”. The United Nations has been using “Rohingya”, based on the continuing principle to recognize the rights of minority people. I hope that this should not create any additional problems. I don’t think this is a necessary one. And I am urging the Myanmar Government to make accelerated process to grant citizenship to all those who are eligible, according to their national laws.

Q: The Commander of NATO spoke to reporters in Sofia and expressed concerns about the border between Eastern Ukraine and Russia being totally open now. And there are indications in Kiev that troops in Ukraine are preparing for combat. What’s the latest information you have on the situation and do you think there needs to be more intervention from the international community?

SG: The situation in Ukraine has been a source of continuous concern of the international community. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have been urging the parties to resume all the pending issues through dialogue, rather than military use or other violent means. And I believe, and I’m urging again, that all these issues should be resolved in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum. This was agreed between the parties. This should be the guideline by which all the pending issues should be resolved.

Myanmar: A Foreseeable Disaster in Burma: Forced Displacement in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone

13 November 2014 - 1:46am
Source: Physicians for Human Rights Country: Myanmar

Forced Displacement Leaves Burmese Families Living in Substandard Conditions, with Higher Rates of Hunger and Sickness

New Report Shows Burmese Government Violated International Guidelines


Mekong Watch: Minari Tsuchikawa (Japanese and English); +81 90 8487 3161;
Thilawa Social Development Group
(TSDG) (Burmese) U Mya Hlaing; +95 (9420258370), Aye Khaing Win; +95 (9420278843)

Media Contact

Vesna Jaksic Lowe, MS
Deputy Director of Communications, New York
Tel: 917-679-0110

The Burmese government violated international standards when forcibly displacing families from the Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by threatening many residents with court appearances and imprisonment, giving them inadequate compensation for land lost, and failing to provide training or other means of income to those who lost their jobs, according to a new report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

"A Foreseeable Disaster in Burma: Forced Displacement in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone" shows that displacement also affected families’ food security and health conditions, as families reported higher levels of hunger, child malnutrition, and sickness, as well as reduced access to medical treatment.

"The Thilawa project exemplifies how devastating forced displacement can be on local communities when governments completely disregard human rights laws for the sake of a business development," said Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs. "The Burmese and Japanese governments should work to improve the living conditions for those displaced by this misguided venture, and ensure that this disaster is not repeated when hundreds of other families are relocated for future development projects."

The Thilawa SEZ is located near the Thilawa port, located some 15 miles south of Rangoon, Burma’s largest city. It comprises 2,400 hectares of farmland that will be developed into factory sites. The Japanese government and three Japanese companies partnered with the Burmese government and a group of Burmese businesses to develop the site. The project is expected to yield more than $53 million in profits by 2018.

In addition to interviewing 22 key informants, PHR surveyed 29 of the 68 households displaced during phase one of the project, which began in 2013. When phase two begins, an additional 846 households, comprising 3,869 people, will be displaced. Key findings from PHR’s report include:

The displacement process did not follow international guidelines, most notably because the Burmese government threatened residents with imprisonment if they did not move.

The Burmese government did not provide opportunities for residents to seek legal or technical advice, nor to challenge their displacement in court.

Some humanitarian conditions at the relocation site, such as those related to water sources and latrines, are below international standards for refugee situations.

The average household income for the displaced dropped by 78 percent after relocation, with nearly 90 percent of households reporting not having enough money to meet their needs.

Farmers who lost their land were not provided with other means to earn a living; and people who worked in nearby industries had to leave their jobs because their new commute was prohibitively expensive.

Loss of livelihoods also affected families’ food security and health, with eight households reporting higher levels of household hunger; 13.6 percent of children suffering from mild malnutrition; and the number of households reporting being unable to get treatment for sickness doubling, from 7 to 16. PHR has issued a number of recommendations to the Burmese, Japanese, and U.S. governments, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). These include immediately implementing transparent procedures for any evictions; improving humanitarian conditions at the relocation site; and ensuring that the U.S. government raises the issue of forced displacement in bilateral communications with the Burmese government.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Myanmar: Colorful Fields in Shan State Signal Another Bumper Opium Crop

12 November 2014 - 11:23pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar


PEKHON TOWNSHIP, Shan State — In west-Padaung, a hilly region located on the border of Shan and Karenni states, farmers are hard at work in their fields. It’s harvest season and the ethnic Kayan tribes here are busy tending to their crop: Papaver somniferum, or the opium poppy.

In the valleys between the rugged, green hills, poppy fields bloom with bright red, pink and white flowers. The isolated region has poor soils and cold nights that suit the hardy herb but few other cash crops, leaving the impoverished farmers with little choice when it comes to sustaining a livelihood.

“We could not grow any other plants here to make a living, except poppy. If they [the government] ban it, we will have no other jobs,” said a 50-year-old villager, before asking a reporter if such a ban is being planned.

Farmers said poppy has been cultivated in the region, which straddles southern Shan State and northern Karenni State, for more than a decade. A Loikaw-based representative of the National League for Democracy (NLD) estimated that some 20,000 acres are under poppy cultivation here.

According to Aung Than, an ethnic Kayan activist from the Karenni State capital Loikaw, the opium harvested from poppy has offered poor villagers an opportunity to earn a decent living in their remote region.

“These people had no job in the past. They had to find jobs in Loikaw or other towns, which are very far away,” he said. “They had many difficulties, but after they became aware of the fact that their land could grow poppy they became owners of poppy farms. Now, other workers have to come and work for them.”

He pointed at the homes of the roughly 400 families in Be Kin village, named after a sub-tribe of the Kayan minority that live here, and said that before all houses were made from bamboo and thatch. “Now, many people have homes made of bricks and iron roofs,” said the activist.

He added, though, “Everyone wanted to get rich in a short time, and they came to grow poppy, but they did not get rich—only the opium traders become rich.”

The NLD representative said farmers know their livelihoods are considered illegal and fuel an international criminal trade, but they have no other options to survive. “Few use it themselves; they just grow it as a business. Perhaps 2 percent smoke opium themselves,” he added.

Burma is the second-largest opium producer after Afghanistan and accounted for about 18 percent of global trade in the illicit narcotic last year, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.

Opium production in Shan, Karenni and Kachin states reached 58,000 hectares in 2013, according to UN, rising for a sixth consecutive year since 2006, when production had sharply dropped from record 1990s levels as a result of a crackdown by authorities and ethnic armed groups.

In June, the Home Affairs Ministry told Parliament that its drug-elimination efforts, started in 1999, had failed and that a deadline to make Burma “drugs-free” would be extended with another 10 years.

For many years, northern Burma has been the hub for opium and methamphetamine production in Asia and the trade is directly tied to the country’s decades-old ethnic conflict.

Tens of thousands of poor ethnic farmers grow the opium. Authorities and parties involved in the ethnic conflict—rebel groups, the Burma Army and pro-government militias—tax the drug trade to fund the war, while Chinese criminal syndicates and some militias and rebel groups are directly involved in drug production and trade, researchers have said.

‘Police Do Not Come Here’

Farmers said they plant their crop in late August and it takes about three months before the bulbous fruit and flowers are ready to produce white, raw opium. Farmers cut the bulbs in the early morning and collect resin the next day when the opium has dried and become a sticky brown paste. The bulbs produce opium for about two weeks, while a flowering plant lasts about one week.

Few of the Kayan farmers speak Burmese and some of the women brought their children to the fields, where the farmers live in small huts during the growing season. Many of the farmers travel on motorbike, while some own a car. Day laborers travel from other areas to west-Padaung to work the fields during the season, earning about US$5 per day.

Many poppy farmers hid in their homes when approached by reporters, but some were friendly and welcoming. Those interviewed said they had little to fear from police and authorities administering the region in Phekon Township, as long as they pay an opium tax to local officials.

“Of course, I am afraid of police, but police do not come here because we pay them taxes. I’ve never seen police come here in my whole life,” said a 68-year-old Kayan woman, who was collecting raw opium from her 1.5-acre field. The woman, who declined to be named, said she was able to harvest around 3 viss of raw opium (about 4.9 kilo) per year from her farm.

Farmers said they were paid about $700 per viss of opium last year, but they added that prices fluctuated and feared getting lower prices this year. When asked who bought the opium harvest, farmers said “Chinese” traders came to their villages. It is unclear if they meant Chinese nationals, or referred to ethnic Chinese communities in northern Shan State, some of which are known to have been involved in the illicit trade.

Ba Khaing, 50, said he had cultivated a 10-acre area of poppy for more than a decade, he explained that authorities never bothered him but collected about $5 in tax from each of the approximately 100 poppy farmers in Be Kin village every week.

He said the amount of poppy planted by villagers varied every year depending on the availability of labor and expected opium prices. “It is depends on the price. If we can get higher prices, we will grow more. A lot of people are waiting to see price conditions first,” he said.

Names in this story were changed at the request of interviewees to protect their identity.

Bangladesh: Bangladesh President urges for permanent solution to Rohingya issue

12 November 2014 - 8:16pm
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Prior to the APEC CEO Summit, Beijing of China, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid urged Burma President Thein Sein to work together to find out effective mechanisms for a permanent solution to the long-pending Rohingya issue at Diaoyutai State Guest House on November 9, according to president’s press secretary briefed reporters after the meeting.

"The continued influx of Myanmar refugees to Bangladesh and drug trafficking at the border are affecting law and order as well as socio-economic problems in Bangladesh's bordering districts of Cox's Bazar and Banbarban. Both countries should work together to find out fruitful mechanisms for resolving the problem," the President Hamid said this at a bilateral meeting with Burma President Thein Sein held at Diaoyutai State Guest House.

Hamid's press secretary Ihsanul Karim told reporters after the meeting that the Burmese side took note of it for further necessary action.

The Burmese president was apprised of the serious problem being faced by Bangladesh in frontier areas due to huge influx of Burmese citizens since 1991-92. At the meeting, the Burmese government was requested for early repatriation of their citizens inside Bangladesh by expediting the process of verification.

During the meet, Thein Sein said the problems between the two countries could be resolved in a peaceful manner.

Bangladesh has more than 200,000 Rohingyas besides the 30,000 registered at Kutupalang and Naya Parha refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar, according to the UNHCR and Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Bangladesh.

The government assumes a further 500,000 Rohingyas are living in the country.

“The Myanmar president has been briefed on these two issues Bangladesh has been facing. Myanmar has been urged to take back its citizens as soon as possible,” said press secretary Ihsanul Karim.

Rohingya Muslims facing persecution at home have been crossing over to Bangladesh for two decades now. Burma has not responded to Dhaka’s calls to take them back.

But, in Burmese president office website sated the infiltration of people who are assumed to be from Myanmar into Bangladesh, President U Thein Sein reaffirmed Myanmar’s stance that they must return on their own volition and come under a four-point scrutiny as agreed by both countries.

Bangladesh: Bangladesh plans to move Rohingya camps: PM says

12 November 2014 - 8:00pm
Source: Kaladan Press Network Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Chittagong, Bangladesh: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on November 6 that the government has planned for shifting Rohingya refugees to suitable places from the existing camps at Kutupalang and Nayapara in Cox's Bazar, according to PM's Press Secretary AKM Shameem Chowdhury told newsmen after the meeting, quoting the premier.

“The Prime Minister was speaking at a meeting with the high officials of the disaster management and relief ministry at Bangladesh Secretariat.”

“The Rohingya refugees will be shifted to a wider area as they are now living in a very inhumane condition.”

The refugee camp areas near the Cox's Bazar sea beach would be utilized for the development of tourism, the Prime Minister further added.

According to official statistics, some 34,000 registered Rohingya refugees (under supervised UNHCR) are now living in Bangladesh. However, the unofficial number of the refugees (not under UNHCR supervised) is 200,000 to 500,000.

When asked Asharff, a refugee teacher, he said “We have been living a very inhumane condition in the refugee camps since 1991-1992. So, we, the refugees give congratulation to the government of Bangladesh for taking decision of shifting the refugees from the existing place to a better place.”

According to sources, the government of Bangladesh has been halted the repatriation of Rohingya refugees since 2005.

Nur Alam, a unregistered refugee from Kutupalong, “The Bangladesh government didn’t mention about unregistered refugees living in Kutupalong and Leda. If, the authority shifted us same as the registered refugee, it will good for us, otherwise where we will go, if government change the areas for tourist spot.”

Myanmar: In Myanmar, Ban urges greater capacity in Southeast Asia to promote human rights, justice

12 November 2014 - 7:58pm
Source: UN News Service Country: Myanmar

12 November 2014 – The United Nations stands ready to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its member States in strengthening national capacity to protect human rights, provide justice and promote accountability in the region, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.

“Discrimination against minorities and vulnerable groups, and violence against women are serious challenges in the region,” Mr. Ban told the Sixth ASEAN-UN Summit, held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.

“Civil society has a crucial role to play in this effort and I encourage you to ensure the space and the freedoms such groups and organizations need to contribute to these national efforts,” he added.

Welcoming Myanmar’s increased role in regional and international affairs, Mr. Ban said the country will face “critical benchmarks” as it prepares for a general election in 2015.

“I congratulate Myanmar on its achievements, including ambitious reforms aimed at improving the lives of its people,” he said. “The Government and people of Myanmar can count on the support of the United Nations as they continue the process of democratization, development and national reconciliation.”

On human rights, the Secretary-General said he looked forward to ASEAN strengthening its monitoring and protection mandate and its human rights mechanisms, including the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

Mr. Ban also stressed that as the UN strives to address the multiple crises occurring around the world, such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the conflict in Syria and Iraq, or the threat of famine in South Sudan, it counts on the support of its Member States and regional organizations such as ASEAN.

Furthermore, the Secretary-General said, intolerance, extremism and radicalization are on the rise, including in some countries in the ASEAN region, with ordinary women, men and children paying the highest price. As such, he looks forward to continuing to work with all ASEAN Member States for peace, human rights and development across Southeast Asia.

“Seventy years after the adoption of the UN Charter, this is a moment to join hands and renew our commitments to peace and security, human rights and development,” Mr. Ban said, adding that “2015 will a crucial year for the international community to usher in a new era of sustainable development as we reach agreement on a post-MDG [Millennium Development Goals] agenda and its financing.”

Along those lines, the Secretary-General underscored in a press conference later in the day that the leaders of ASEAN and East Asia had gathered for the Summit at “a time of test for the international community.”

In particular, Mr. Ban said he is concerned that historical tensions and competing territorial claims “could hold the region back,” although he is encouraged by recent steps to enhance dialogue, which he hopes will prevent “any needless escalation.”

“Leaders have a responsibility to resolve their disputes peacefully, through dialogue,” he stressed. “An Asia that can overcome legacy issues and look to a shared future will be even better placed to advance prosperity for all.”

Turning to Myanmar, Mr. Ban noted that the process of democratization in the country is at a “defining moment” and that the election next year will be crucial for its future.

Commending efforts on the part of the Myanmar Government to implement an “ambitious reform agenda,” the Secretary-General said he will meet with President Thein Sein tomorrow.

In meetings with senior officials earlier today, Mr. Ban said: “I also expressed my concern about the Rohingya population, who face discrimination and violence. I encouraged the leaders of Myanmar to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions.”

“At a time of rising extremism and intolerance in many countries, progress on this front in Myanmar would keep that country’s transition on track and send a positive message to the world,” Mr. Ban stressed.

Thailand: Protecting child refugees in Thailand

12 November 2014 - 4:42pm
Source: Caritas Country: Myanmar, Thailand

“My parents sent me here so I could go to school,” said Kay Doh*, a 13 year old boy who lives in a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border. “There was no education in my village past Grade 4.”

Kay Doh comes from eastern Myanmar, home to the Karen people, the second largest ethnic group in the country. The Karen have been involved in a drawn out conflict against the Burman majority since 1948, just after Myanmar’s independence.

War and neglect have left Karen areas without schools, hospitals and the people in desperate poverty. The fighting, human rights abuses and poverty have driven tens of thousands from their homes.

Around 120,000 Karen and other minority groups live in nine camps in Thailand, strung along the border. A ceasefire in Myanmar in 2012 has opened up the possibility of a return home, but it also means that aid to the camp residents has been reduced.

The camp where Kay Doh lives is called Mae Ra Ma Luang. It’s high up in remote, jungle-covered mountains. Small wooden huts line a steep ravine, with a river cutting the camp in half. You can get across by way of a few rope bridges.

“I left home four years ago with my brother,” said Kay Doh, whose parents stayed on their farm across the border. Many children are sent to the camps as they have much better education or medical resources than those at home.

He lives alone in a dilapidated hut. “My brother has now gone to live in a nearby farm to work,” he said. It used to be an uncle’s house, who now has resettled in North America. He has one saucepan, some cutlery, a couple of plates and that’s it.

“The hunger is the worst,” he said. The fall in financing means that food aid to camps has dropped by 20 percent. rice rations is 12 kg a month.

Then there is the loneliness. “My friends at school won’t visit me because I’m so poor. I can’t visit my parents because it’s too expensive,” he said.

Every couple of days he receives a visit from Mae*, a 60-something lady with a kind face and caring manner. She checks to see if he is ok or might need something. “He is a good boy and can cook and clean his clothes,” she said. “But at that age, he is not really able to look after himself.”

Mae is a refugee herself, a resident of the camp and one of the 360 plus community staff working for COERR, the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief & Refugees, part of Caritas Thailand.

COERR helps about 10,000 of the refugees, working in all 9 camps, where it focuses on children who are living alone, are orphaned, living with relatives or otherwise in a vulnerable positions.

COERR camp staff carry out home visits to ensure the children go to school, that they’re healthy and to see if there are any serious problems affecting them, as well as providing some basic needs like school kit or candles.

Paw-Paw* is another child that Mae visits regularly. The 12 year old refugee has been in the camp for the last five years, living with an uncle, aunt and their five children since her parents both passed away from the same pulmonary sickness.

“My uncle would drink a lot,” she said. “Last April, he came back drunk and beat me with a stick. I didn’t run away because I thought that would make it worse. I was very scared.”

When her case worker Mae found out, she told the girl to visit friends when the uncle was drunk. Then she sat with both aunt and uncle to explain that his behaviour must stop, that it’s against camp rules and that if it continues she will have to go to the authorities.

“The children living in the camp without their parents have a higher chance of getting abused,” said COERR’s Nongnuch Boonhue*, who works on child protection programmes. “Through our home visit protection mechanism, we can reduce that.”

As well as the visits, COERR runs activities at their centre in the camp for the children.“We arrange games and encourage the children to talk about their past, present and their future hopes,” said Nongnuch Boonhue.

“We talk about child rights through theatre and drawing,” she said. “They draw the human body and mark areas where other people shouldn’t touch. We teach them that before they make a decision they must collect information so they can make the best choice.”

Key to the success of the programme is the trust between child and social worker. Aung, 28 years old, is another camp resident who works for COERR.

“I was an unaccompanied minor myself. I came to get an education and because I didn’t want to be recruited as a soldier,” he said. “When you have war, you have poverty. War is the source of poverty.”

Now he looks after about 40 children, carrying out home visits, making sure they’re doing well and encouraging them at school.“It’s great to be able to care for children in the same position as I was. I feel like a second parent,” he said.

Aung is worried about having to return to Myanmar, which should happen in the next 3 years. COERR is providing livelihoods training so that when the refugees do go back they will have the skills to survive.

“The camp is safe. If they live in Myanmar, they fear there might be more fighting,” said Nongnuch Boonhue. “But they also lack freedom in the camps. They cannot leave to find work outside. They feel like a bird trapped in a cage. There is no real future in the camps.”

Myanmar: Deadlock or the last hurdle for peacemaking

12 November 2014 - 1:40pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Mizzima

The 6th Union Peacemaking Work Committee meeting on September 22, 2014. Photo: Bo Bo/Mizzima More than a month has elapsed since the 6th Union Peacemaking Work Committee-Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team or UPWC-NCCT negotiations, yet no follow-up meeting has been called so far, reports the Shan Herald Agency for News.

According to the Myanmar Peace Center or MPC that is currently visiting Chiang Mai for an informal meeting with the NCCT, any follow-up meeting will only happen after November 13 when the ASEAN Summit chaired by Nay Pyi Taw has ended.

Looking through the 4th draft that was produced by the UPWC-NCCT meeting held from September 22 to 26, one may be able to make an informed guess as to whether we may or may not see a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement or NCA signed soon.

On the positive side, there have been some agreements including the Three National Causes (Non-disintegration of the Union, Non-disintegration of the national sovereignty and Perpetuation of national sovereignty) as proposed by the UPWC; the Spirit of Panglong (if not the promises of Panglong); discussions on military preparations to defend the country; agreement on the setting up of liaison offices in various territories; and a push for a mechanism to resolve violations of the ceasefire peacefully.

However, still on the discussion agenda is the call by the NCCT for full ethnic representation in the Union Armed forces; the ceasefire agreement must be signed by all “acceptable” Ethnic Armed Organizations; discussions about ceasefire monitoring committees; worries about the possible expansion of ethnic armed groups; and the question of including foreign observers as witnesses and monitors when a ceasefire agreement is brought in, amongst other issues.

In addition, there were several points where the two sides agreed earlier but then backed away, including concerns over the Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-integration of ethnic armed groups before a political settlement has been reached.

Note: This story was edited for length.

Courtesy of Shan Herald Agency for News/Burma News International

Myanmar: Land Disputes Leading Cause of Human Rights Complaints

12 November 2014 - 1:39pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By NOBEL ZAW / THE IRRAWADDY| Wednesday, November 12, 2014

RANGOON — The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has said that nearly 45 percent of the total complaints it has received this year stem from land disputes, the highest proportion of such complaints since the commission was founded three years ago.

From January to the end of August this year, 547 of a total 1,220 complaints received by the MNHRC were land disputes. Officials said that the disputes are related to the 2012 Farmlands Act, which requires farmers to seek permission to cultivate their land from their township.

“According to the new Farmlands Act, all farms are to be registered,” said Sit Myaing, secretary of the MNHRC. “Some people can’t register their farms because they are not eligible under the Act. Most of the cases are the result of people who sold their land, then they want it back when the price of the land increases—so they complain to the commission.”

Aung Kyaw Kyaw, interim Upper Myanmar advisor of the Myanmar Farmer Association, told The Irrawaddy that traditional landowners and slash-and-burn cultivation farmers in ethnic states faced difficulties in registering their farms under the Farmlands Act.

Section 12 of the Farmlands Law prevents farmers from changing crops without permission from township authorities, allowing farmland to lay fallow and mortgaging land outside of banking institutions owned or officially approved by the government.

The law empowers the Central Farmland Management Body (FMB) to levy fines and evict farmers for failing to meet the conditions of Section 12. Penalties for farmers failing to comply with an order from the FMB include a fine of up to 500,000 kyats (US$500) and a maximum jail term of two years.

Po Phyu, a lawyer and advocate for farmers with land dispute problems, told The Irrawaddy that farmers who wanted to register their farms had to continuously cultivate the land, but that they ironically need to first seek government approval.

“The 2012 Farmlands Act cannot solve these problems fully, and it makes existing problems more confusing,” he said.

From 2011 to 2014, a total of 7,113 complaints have been lodged with the MNHRC, of which 1,497 were land disputes. While these cases have figured prominently since the commission’s inception, more than a third of total land dispute complaints were filed in the first eight months of this year.

Sit Myaing said that most land disputes in 2014 have been arbitrations between local farmers, while complaints originating from military or business land seizures were more prominent in 2011-12, and were rarely presented to the commission this year.

He added that the creation in 2012 of a parliamentary committee to address these kinds of land seizures have led to complaints from landowners being directed away from the MNHRC and directly to the committee.

“The parliament organized the Farmlands Investigation Committee, which is tasked with solving farmland disputes and either giving money for compensation or returning land to farmers.”

The MNHRC was established in September 2011 and reports directly to President Thein Sein. Its membership is determined by the government and nearly all members are retired government officials.

Their mandate is to acquire information about violations of the fundamental rights of citizens under the Constitution of Burma, to investigate them and to convey the findings to relevant government departments and bodies for necessary action.

Of the 7,113 complaints received since the MNHRC’s inception, 1,900 have been referred directly to the government, and a further 1,100 complainants received reply letters instructing them on how to seek redress with specific government departments. Over 3,700 complaints have been lodged and ultimately dismissed as falling outside the purview of the commission.

After land disputes, the largest number of complaints received by the commission relate to the judicial system, followed by the financial sector and the police.

Thailand: UN urges Thailand against deporting Myanmar boatpeople

12 November 2014 - 1:37pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand | AFP | Tuesday 11/11/2014 - 12:59 GMT

The United Nations said Tuesday it had urged Thai authorities against deporting more than 200 Muslim boatpeople from Myanmar being held in southern Thailand after they were intercepted en route to Malaysia.

Thai police arrested 259 people on an island off the southern province of Ranong Saturday, days after activists reported a surge in the number of stateless Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar's restive Rakhine state.

"We're seeking details from the authorities and appealing for them not to deport the group to a place where their lives or freedom could be threatened," said Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Bangkok.

She added that if the detainees were found to have fled persecution the UNHCR asked they be granted "temporary stay, assistance and protection in Thailand until longer-term solutions are found".

Thousands of Rohingya -- a Muslim minority group not recognised as citizens in Buddhist-majority Myanmar -- have fled deadly communal unrest in Rakhine since 2012. Most have headed for mainly Muslim Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya -- described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities -- as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.

On Tuesday Ranong deputy provincial police commander Kritsak Songmulnak told AFP that officials were determining whether the detainees had entered Myanmar illegally or were victims of trafficking.

"259 Myanmar Muslims were arrested on Saturday, of these 13 are children... They said they wanted to go to Malaysia to work to earn money," he said.

"We have no policy to deport them yet," added Kritsak.

Last month Thai officials arrested 53 Rohingya migrants in southern Thailand for illegal immigration but after further investigation declared them to be victims of trafficking.

Rights groups say the stateless migrants often fall into the hands of people-traffickers.

They have also criticised Thailand in the past for pushing boatloads of Rohingya entering Thai waters back out to sea and holding migrants in overcrowded facilities.

Two weeks ago the Arakan Project, a Rohingya rights group, said around 900 people a day were making the perilous journey by sea to flee Myanmar.

Director Chris Lewa called the exodus "unprecedented", saying some 100,000 people have fled by sea from western Myanmar since June 2012, when conflict between Buddhist and Muslim communities spiralled into bloodshed across Rakhine.

The violence left 200 people dead and a further 140,000 in displacement camps, mainly Rohingya.


© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Myanmar aims to join the Open Government Partnership

12 November 2014 - 1:34pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Phyu Phyu Zin

The Myanmar government has set up two committees in preparation for joining the Open Government Partnership or OGP, according to a press release from the President’s Office on November 11.

The aim is to fulfill the needs of the public as to how the government is working and to develop new initiatives, according to the release.

Open Government Partnership is an international organization promoting multilateral initiatives and seeking strong commitments from participating government institutions to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to make government more open, effective and accountable.

Countries seeking to join the partnership need to develop an action plan that is concrete and measurable in terms of government transparency, accountability and citizen engagement, according to the OGP.

The Leading Committee and the Working Committee will work together in preparation for a programme to ensure fiscal transparency, to take over the role on public information, to fight against corruption and to realize a responsible government, to promote the cooperation of citizens in policy-making and administrative processes.

The Leading Committee chairperson has been designated as President Office Minister U Soe Thane, vice chairperson is President Office Minister U Tin Naing Thein, and four other members are the Minister of Information, Minister of Finance, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, and Deputy Minister for Communication and Information Technology. The secretary is the Union Minister for National Planning and Economic Development.

The Working Committee has the Deputy Finance Minister as chairperson, and the Deputy Minister for National Planning and Economic Development as vice chairperson, and five supporting members.

The OGP was set up in 2011. Since then, it has grown from eight participating countries to 65.

Myanmar: Rakhine State development programme plan delayed: State Minister

12 November 2014 - 1:33pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Kay Zue

Rakhine State Minister for Transport and Construction U Hla Han told Mizzima on November 10 that the state government’s announcement of a plan for development programmes in Rakhine State has been postponed for now.

Chief Minister of Rakhine State U Maung Maung Ohn told media in October said that the development programme would begin in November.

“Remarkable success could not be achieved in citizenship scrutiny and the resettlement of victims [of violence]. Therefore this has slowed the start of the plan for the programme,” U Hla Han said.

He said more time is needed to finish the citizenship scrutiny process but there was no need to amend any economic facts, before revealing it to interested international bodies and organizations.

In the telephone conversation on October 29, US President Barack Obama reportedly urged President U Thein Sein to review the Rakhine issue, including the problems concerning communal violence.

According to the programme, the citizenship scrutiny process will resume in the early 2015.

The leader of the relief camps in Sittwe Township, Rakhine State, said he thought the citizenship scrutiny process was conducted due to international pressure. “In fact, the authorities could not implement anything,” he said.

“The authorities had trouble with the local people in the use of the words ‘Bengali’ or ‘Rohingya’ under the provisions of the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law. As such, the citizenship scrutiny process was postponed,” said U Khin Soe, head of the State Immigration and National Registration Department.

The Rakhine State development programme is being drawn up by the Union government.

Myanmar: Ethnic Leaders Meet Burma Govt Ahead of Regional Summits

12 November 2014 - 1:29pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Tuesday, November 11, 2014

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Representatives from the alliance of ethnic armed groups known as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) traveled to Naypyidaw over the weekend to meet with Burmese officials ahead of major regional summits in the capital this week.

The UNFC leaders traveled to Naypyidaw for informal talks at the invitation of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) and President’s Office Minister Aung Min, who leads the government’s peace negotiating team, said Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the ethnic alliance.

In addition to Aung Min, Burma’s Immigration Minister Khin Yi and two other ministers attended the meeting on Monday, according to Hla Maung Shwe of the MCP, who said that although all ethnic attendees hold leadership positions within UNFC, they were not meeting in their official capacities as representatives of the group.

“We didn’t reach any agreement as it was an informal meeting,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “However, our relations became warmer. We were able to have an exchange about the differences and doubts between us.”

The talks come as sources close to the UNFC said ethnic representatives hope to meet US President Barack Obama, who will attend the Asean and East Asia summits in Naypyidaw this week.

The UNFC sent an open letter to Obama on Nov. 3, requesting a meeting with the American president during his visit to Burma. There has been no official response from the White House.

“We don’t have high expectations for a meeting with President Obama. But, if Obama knows that they [UNFC representatives] are there [in Naypyidaw] and is fine to meet briefly, there is a possibility,” said Khu Oo Reh.

If granted an audience with Obama, ethnic leaders plan to brief the US president on their latest round of peace talks with the Burmese government, he said. The UNFC representatives, including its leaders Nai Hong Sar and Khun Okkar, left for Burma on Sunday and will return to Thailand on Thursday.

In the open letter to Obama, the UNFC claims that Burma’s peace process has stalled since the last round of negotiations with the government in September.

Khu Oo Reh said on-and-off fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops in Kachin and northern Shan states, as well as renewed fighting in eastern Burma’s Karen State, were contributing to delays in signing a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

“We want to make it happen as soon as possible, but before that happens, we want to compromise with the government and make sure that our demands are addressed. In negotiations, both sides have to take and give, not only one side taking everything,” said Khu Oo Reh, adding that among those demands were government acceptance of a federal system with a degree of autonomy for ethnic regions.

In the last round of peace talks in September, the Burmese military representatives reportedly rejected ethnic groups’ push for the creation of a so-called “federal army,” the nature of which remains unclear but, broadly, would likely involve ethnically constituted armed units. Naypyidaw has also shown reluctance to the inclusion of federalism-related terminology in the proposed ceasefire agreement, reflecting the government’s long-held belief that a federal system would lead to a disintegration of the union.

Ahead of Obama’s visit to Burma, some ethnic leaders also met with US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell and shared the reasons for ethnic groups’ reticence to sign a ceasefire at the moment.

Khun Okkar of the UNFC, who attended the meeting with Mitchell, told The Irrawaddy: “He [Mitchell] asked us what made us unwilling to sign the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] very soon; what are the difficulties we are facing. And he said the US government would help the ethnic minorities as much as possible.

“He sounded like they want us to sign the NCA, but we told him that we are not ready yet and it is not possible to sign it right now,” Khun Okkar said.

UNFC chairman N’Ban La said in the letter to Obama that ethnic minorities are not making demands that are beyond the bounds of any fair peace settlement.

The outstanding issues in the peace process are critical to the success of any negotiated ceasefire agreement, the letter said, such as the rights of ethnic nationalities to participate in a genuine federal union; a military code of conduct to govern the behavior of both Burma Army and ethnic rebel troops during the ceasefire; and the structure of an ensuing political dialogue.

“Frankly, ethnic armed resistance organizations would be both naive and irresponsible to accept a ceasefire agreement that does not address each of these topics,” N’Ban La said in the letter.

While the government has signed bilateral ceasefires with more than a dozen ethnic armed groups since 2011, two major armed resistances are ongoing in Burma’s north, and fighting has continued to flare even with some of the ceasefire-committed rebel groups.

James Lum Dau, deputy chief of foreign affairs for the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO), told The Irrawaddy that the United States was trying to exert its influence as a global superpower to steer Burma’s ethnic civil war toward resolution.

“But no matter how good their intentions are, we still need to look at the involvement of the respective [Burmese] government,” said James Lum Dau.

“Even international bodies want to help, but there is no great hope without efforts from the concerned government,” he added.

Hla Maung Shwe said it was “almost certain” that ethnic armed groups and the government would meet by the end of this month, after plans to reconvene in October failed to materialize.

Meanwhile, New York-based Physicians for Human Rights released a statement on Monday urging Obama to push for more progress on a range of human rights issues during his trip to Burma.

Widney Brown, PHR’s director of programs, said in the statement: “The US-Burma relationship is at a critical juncture, and we’ll see whether President Obama will jump on the economic bandwagon and ignore ongoing human rights violations.”

“Burma’s progress on human rights is stalled, particularly with respect to the persecution of the Rohingya,” said the PHR’s director, referring to the Muslim minority group.

The Karen Human Rights Group, an ethnic Karen advocacy organization, also sent an open letter to Obama on Thursday, urging the US president to demand that the Burmese government refrain from establishing new military camps or reinforcing existing bases in civilian areas of Karen State in southeastern Burma.

The rights group has documented human rights abuses in Karen State since 1992, and said that despite the ceasefire signed between the government and ethnic rebels of the Karen National Union (KNU) in January 2012, the Burma Army maintains a substantial and growing presence in the KHRG’s areas of operation, leading to human rights violations and dimming prospects for a sustainable peace.

The group also asked Obama to demand that the Burmese government withdraw its troops from civilian areas, as well as investigate and prosecute soldiers accused of human rights abuses against civilians.

Myanmar: Wa discuss reopening of Thai-Myanmar border checkpoint

12 November 2014 - 1:26pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Mizzima

The Shan Herald Agency for News reported on November 11 that one of the topics discussed by the United Wa State Army and the Myanmar government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee when they met in Mongla was the reopening of a Thai-Myanmar border checkpoint that has been closed since 2002.

The Kiu Pha Wawk, Boundary Pillar number one checkpoint that connects Mongton Township, Shan State with Thialand’s Chiangdao District was shut down by the Tatmadaw in June 2002 following a month long military confrontation with the Shan State Army.

The UWSA’s Vice President Xiao Minliang also proposed the discussion of six other items: assistance for road construction; license for 60 Wa trucks; national identification for the Wa people; the hydropower plant on the Salween; a coal mining project and the hydropower plant in Hsipaw.

The National Democratic Alliance Army President Sai Leun also known as Lin Mingxian, who is based in Mongla, meanwhile, proposed assistance for schools and hospitals in his area.

Myanmar: Kachin Independence Army called on to free forced Shan conscripts

12 November 2014 - 1:24pm
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Written by Mizzima

About 200 Shan people alleged to have been forcibly recruited into the Kachin Independence Army still need to be freed, according to U Sai Tun Yin chairman of the Northern Burma Committee of the Shan Nationalities Affairs based in Kachin State, reports Phophtaw News Association.

“We have already met with officers from the KIA Technical Advisory Team from Myitkyina Township and when we proposed that they release them [the forcibly recruited Shan]. They said they would look into it but that it may be difficult as they are all in different battalions,” he said.

Of the 280 Shan people who were conscripted by the KIA, since the start of armed clashes with the army in June 2011 and until September 2014, only 98 have escaped, according to U Sai Tun Yin.

“There have been no legal releases [of conscripts] but some find the opportunity to escape, some run away to China before returning to Myanmar,” he said.

U Dong Khar, the technical team’s spokesperson, told Photphaw News that they are now dealing with complaints about conscriptions and he admitted that previously the KIA had conscripted child soldiers and collected tax from villagers.

“We cannot yet confirm whether there are any [Shan conscripts]. When their people came and discussed this with us we made investigations,” he said.

“When there are frequent armed clashes all forces conscript people, even the government army conscript people,” he added.

Shan people in Kachin State live mainly in an area bounded by Sin-Bo Village on the Ayeyarwady River in Myitkyina Township to the East and the townships of Mogaung and Moehnyin to the west. KIA and government forces are active in the area.

U Wizaya, a monk and leader of the Shan Volunteer and Social Association, said: “It’s undeniable, the Shan people are trapped in an area where the two sides clash.”

Lt. Col. James Lumdau, the Bangkok based head of the foreign affairs department of the Kachin Independence Organisation, the organisation of which the KIA is the armed wing, denied that they were forcibly recruiting Shan people.

The KIO has no policy to forcibly recruit soldiers and if anyone sees KIO forces on the ground conscripting people they can complain and effective action will be taken, said a leading KIO leader who asked to remain anonymous.

The Northern Burma Committee of the Shan Nationalities Affairs estimates that about 500,000 Shan people live in Kachin State. They claim that about 200,000 of the Shan in Kachin State were excluded from the national census as the population list drawn up by the government prior to the census only showed a Shan population of 300,000 people in the State.

Thailand: Education system fails migrant kids

11 November 2014 - 9:04pm
Source: Bangkok Post Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Non-Thai students find their informal qualifications are invalid for further study in their home countries, writes Lamphai Intathep

Writer: Lamphai Intathep

Twelve-year-old Cherry, who attends an informal school in Mae Sot of Tak province, plans to continue her education in her country of origin, Myanmar.

"I live in Thailand because my parents work here. I love studying the Myanmar language and want to study in my home country. I would like to be a singer there," she said in Thai.

Cherry, whose Myanmar parents sell CDs for a living at Rim Moei market, is among more than 500 migrant students aged 9 to 15 studying at Parami centres in Mae Sot.

It is uncertain whether Cherry will succeed in her hope to further her education.

Yuwadee Silapakit, project coordinator of the Help Without Frontiers Foundation, said Myanmar children who completed their studies at learning centres for migrant children in Thailand were unable to further their education in Myanmar, since the centres could not provide them with official education certificates demanded by Myanmar's authorities.

"They have to study in Thailand as their parents work here. Many of them return to their countries one day, so the educational system should allow them to continue their higher education in Myanmar," she said.

Progress has been made in helping children who want progress with their studies in Myanmar in the form of cooperation with Myawaddy Township authority in Kayin State.

Myanmar's non-formal education curriculum was first introduced into Parami and A-yeon-au learning centres in Mae Sot this year to teach 81 Myanmar students, including Cherry.

The courses take two years to complete, and all lessons are taught in the Myanmar language by Myanmar teachers from Myawaddy schools.

After the courses are completed, the students receive certificates issued by the schools.

"Then they can continue their higher education in Myanmar. In future, we would like to see the educational system be more flexible and help children with different backgrounds because education is their fundamental right," Ms Yuwadee said.

Daw Aye Myint Kyi, an official from Myawaddy township, agreed it was unfair that Myanmar children who graduated from Thailand were unable to continue their higher education in Myanmar due to the lack of academic certificates.

"More cooperation between both countries' education systems is necessary so students who graduate in Thailand can continue their higher education in Myanmar and that educated young people can return to the country," she said.

According to the Foundation for Rural Youth, there were about 300,000 migrant children — Myanmar, Lao and Cambodian nationals — who were accompanied by their parents to work in Thailand or were born here.

In 2013, about 30% were enrolled in schools.

Of them, about 70,000 studied in schools under the Office of the Basic Education Commission; 3,000 under the Office of the Non-Formal and Informal Education (NFE); 1,000 under the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration; and 20,000 at informal migrant learning centres nationwide, mostly established by NGOs and private sector.

As well as NGOs, Thai authorities have been working to develop formal basic education for non-Thai children.

Gasinee Fukfon, director of the Mae Sot NFE, said there were many obstacles to migrant students entering the formal education system.

Not being able to speak Thai was a major problem, she said.

The NFE introduced a pilot project to teach non-Thai children last year in its eight centres in Tak and other provinces crowded with migrant workers, including Chiang Rai in the North, Samut Sakhon in the Central Plains, and Ranong and Phang-nga in the South, to make learning more relevant to migrant students' lives.

However, of the 900 migrant children who applied for the three-year pilot project in Tak, only 201 of them successfully passed the Thai language exam.

"The learning of the pilot project is more flexible than that of the formal one," Ms Gasinee said.

Attendance varies from three days a week to every week day, depending on students' ability. Teachers can speak Myanmar and lessons can be changed to suit students' needs, she said.

Thai culture and tradition is also taught.

"Importantly, when these students graduate under the NFE project, they will earn a certificate which can be used to apply for further education in Myanmar. As the Asean Community draws closer, the education system should change so that students' qualifications are valid in neighbouring countries,"
Ms Gasinee said.

Bangladesh: Communicating With Communities: Experiences from Asia - Bangladesh - Myanmar - Philippines (as of 04 November 2014)

11 November 2014 - 8:28pm
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines

Communication is a form of humanitarian assistance that is as important as water, food and shelter. Without access to information, disaster survivors cannot access the help they need, make informed decisions or be effective leaders in their own recovery. In the aftermath of a disaster, survival for the most vulnerable people depends on knowing the answers to questions such as:

Where can I find safe drinking water, food or shelter?

Where can I go for medical attention?

Where are my family and friends?

Recent mega disasters show that humanitarian actors are increasingly using communication tools - radio, mobile phones, social media and crisis-mapping - to access, communicate and disseminate information that may save lives or improve conditions for the most vulnerable.

Myanmar: Communicating With Communities: Experiences from Asia - Myanmar (as of 04 November 2014)

11 November 2014 - 8:05pm
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar