Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
By SPIKE JOHNSON
RANGOON — The sun is sinking into the Rangoon River, one of lower Burma’s main waterways. It is dotted with small boats on their way to dusky moorings. Arkar Min, 21, rides a water taxi with seven men, all of them silent. They’ve spent the day hauling fish into trucks. Now they rest against one another, backs between knees, arms around shoulders, heads on laps, lulled by the rhythmic thump of the engine.
Arkar Min has worked on Rangoon’s docks since his release from the Tatmadaw, Burma’s armed forces, six years ago. He left school at the age of eight to help his struggling family. One day when he was a teenager, on the way home from his factory job, a man approached him, asking whether he’d like to earn better money as a driver. “I was so happy that I was going to learn to drive,” he says quietly, his eyes trained on the ember of his cigarette. His father, Tin Win, wanted him to be a farmer, but “the only thing that excited me then was driving fast.”
Arkar Min and the man left immediately. They stopped for snacks, two identical jam pastries. Arkar Min didn’t notice that his had been opened previously. It was likely drugged and made him drowsy, and he woke up the next afternoon. The man, a civilian broker working for the army, had collected US$80 for delivering a new recruit and was long gone.
Living under armed guard, Arkar Min received one meal a day—a bowl of rice with some oil and salt. He had no bed and slept on the concrete, using his lungi as a pillow. There were six other conscripts, most of them 15; the eldest was 17. None of them had joined voluntarily—they’d been offered work, hoodwinked, kidnapped, and sold into service.
Arkar Min’s father, Tin Win, had retired from the army—he’d been a sergeant for most of his life—and quickly realized what had happened. He knew where new recruits were sent: to a base near Shwedagon Pagoda, Rangoon’s landmark Buddhist temple. He went to the police, but they did nothing. Arkar Min says that “the police wouldn’t help until my father mentioned the International Labor Organization (ILO).”
The ILO works alongside Unicef to free underage soldiers in Burma and eliminate the practice of child recruitment, which has stained the army’s reputation for decades. Small local NGOs are helping to contribute to end the practice too. Thein Myint works for the Child Protection Organization, which connects families affected by child recruitment to international organizations such as the ILO.
Thein Myint also looks for kidnapped boys in the 12 army training camps across Burma. If their location is unknown, she searches for them on foot or takes considerable risks in finding them; sometimes she bribes her way into an army base with meat or fish for the malnourished guards, in hopes of finding the children.
She is small, hunched, and “old enough to retire,” she tells me. With short black hair, cheeks painted white with the traditional thanaka paste, and calm eyes, she has a temperament that is at once stern and caring. Twelve years ago, she moved to Dine Su, a village on the outskirts of Rangoon, after the government razed her 12-acre farm to make way for a luxury golf course. “It is in my nature to help needy people and people who are in trouble,” she says. “This work demands a lot of love and sacrifice.”
“Times have changed,” Thein Myint says when asked whether the problem of child recruitment has improved. There has been steady pressure on the Burma Army and non-state militias in recent years to fall in line with ILO and UN conventions that ban child recruitment.
In the UN secretary general’s most recent Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, the Burma Army is mentioned as one of seven national armies listed for recruitment and use of children in the Annexes of the report. The report also includes 50 armed groups which are known to use and recruit children across the world.
In 2012, at the encouragement of Unicef, the ILO, and Save the Children, the Burmese government and the UN signed a joint plan of action outlining terms for the gradual release of child soldiers from the Tatmadaw, including fighters over 18 who were recruited as minors. The document also outlines accountability measures for offending officers and brokers.
The army and Burma’s ethnic armed groups are making small acts of compromise in appeasement since, and during the final few months of 2014 they increased their releases of child recruits. “There is international pressure now regarding forced labor, child labor,” Thein Myint says firmly. “They can’t keep doing it.”
In November, the Burma Army released 80 child soldiers from active service, bringing the total number of freed minors to 845 since 2007. Slowly, soldiers who were forcibly recruited as children are returning to their villages, to families who have long thought them dead.
Village Child Recruitment
Dine Su contains an army base, a shipping port, and factories. Its bamboo, mud, swaying pampas grass, and dusty football pitches match the landscape of many poor settlements throughout the country. Tracks between huts are paved with broken bricks, stepping stones for crossing puddles, or bags of cement. Many of its residents have come here from faraway, victims of government-backed land grabs.
An illegal settlement in the eyes of the law, residents of Dine Su are especially susceptible to exploitation by authorities. “In the past, I’ve rescued three boys from this village from the military,” Thein Myint says. “Most are struggling financially.”
Police typically arrest village boys for being out too late or committing petty crime. Sometimes, civilian brokers offering better work lure the boys in, like in Arkar Min’s case. Intimidation is the norm, and the boys are physically and psychologically pressured into signing up. Fake national registration cards are then issued that state they are 18, the legal minimum age to join. If recruits are less than 100 pounds, they’re force-fed bananas and water until they meet the weight requirement.
After four months of training, they are shipped to a post, often on the remote front lines of the country’s lingering ethnic conflict in forested, mountainous regions that are alien to the boys, who are mostly from central Burma.
The ILO’s Forced Labor Convention of 1930, to which Burma is a signatory, defines underage recruitment as a form of forced labor. This enables the ILO to assist those who were recruited underage, “whether years previously, or those still considered child soldiers,” says Steve Marshall, an ILO liaison officer. In 1991, Burma also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, agreeing to protect minors from participating in war. And in 2007, the ILO and the Burmese government agreed upon the Forced Labor Complaint Mechanism, a system designed to offer victims of forced labor a platform for release without fear of retaliation.
Since 2007, the ILO has received 1,260 reports of underage recruitment by the Tatmadaw. “The numbers of complaints increased exponentially over time, as public awareness and confidence grew,” says Marshall. Four hundred eighty-five of these underage recruits have been discharged. Seven died before their releases could be secured. Under the 2012 joint plan of action, there have been 472 discharges, which include 112 of the aforementioned ILO cases. These developments notwithstanding, recruitment of underage males is still commonplace.
An Unpopular Army
The Tatmadaw were formally created by independence hero Gen. Aung San just after Burma gained independence from Britain in January 1948. After more than a decade of fragile democracy afflicted by a destabilizing civil war between the central government and the country’s ethnic minorities, the army took over.
In 1962, General Ne Win staged a coup and stepped up his fight against the ethnic rebels, waging a brutal internal war; the country has not seen peace since.
Ne Win’s regime faced routine challenges from its citizens and he lost power to a new generation of generals after the 1988 democratic uprising, which was brutally crushed by the army. Soon after, the new junta decided to rebrand Burma as the Union of Myanmar; among its priorities was a great expansion of the army in terms of both arms and personnel in order to win the ethnic conflict.
A recruitment drive was ordered and the army’s ranks swelled to some 400,000 men under arms by the late 1990s, a number that has since dropped to around 300,000. The figure still places the Tatmadaw among Southeast Asia’s largest armies, and one that has over the years been filled with a great number of forcibly recruited soldiers, including many who are under age.
Prior to 1988, most recruits were volunteers over the age of 18. But after the uprising, the military was less popular than ever and the Tatmadaw relied heavily on coerced manpower to achieve its ends.
Since President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government replaced the junta in 2011, reforms have been taking place. The army has sought to modernize its operations and improve its tarnished reputation. Conflict has lessened after more than a dozen tentative ceasefires were signed between Naypyidaw and the ethnic armed groups. Since then, ending child recruitment has ostensibly also become an army priority.
In 2013 and 2014, the ILO received complaints of 69 cases of underage recruitment. Yet to this day, soldiers will often be denied leave unless they can come back with one or two new recruits. Other soldiers and civilian brokers are incentivized by cash and in-kind rewards. The current rate is $80 per conscript—the equivalent of four months of sergeant-rank wages. Sometimes recruits are exchanged for bags of rice or oil.
When a child enters the army his education stops. When he is released, he begins again at square one. With limited education, often lacking vocational skills, ex-child soldiers struggle to reintegrate into society and working life. “The soldiers come back unemployed,” Thein Myint says. “They take whatever job they can find, usually manual labor. Those whose family can afford it may start up a business.”
When soldiers are asked by aid workers what type of job they like to do, the deprivation they’ve experienced means they typically don’t have an answer. So it’s decided for them—they are bought some pigs because their father was a pig farmer, or a trishaw because they earned money that way when they were young.
One international NGO reportedly offered around $100 to support returning child soldiers (though the charity officially denies this). But as funding dries up, this is happening less. Government programs for reintegration exist too, offering routes for returning soldiers to reenter the education system, but for Burma’s stunted young veterans, the basic requirements for participation are often too high.
Just outside of Dine Su village, another of Thein Myint’s success stories, Kyaw Thura, has returned to his mother. Kyaw Thura pours tea sweetened with condensed milk as he describes the guerrilla fighting he saw on the front lines and his defection to the enemy, the Karen National Union (KNU)—how they faked his death on a wooden crucifix, with animal blood and entrails, and how he lived in hiding from the Burma Army.
He speaks in an even tone, but his pauses are vacant. He recalls being sent to Mon State in southeastern Burma for four months of training. “There were rocks in the soup and sand in the rice,” he says. “I missed home terribly.” Deployed to the jungle, he and his squad camped in tents at night and hunted monkeys and pigs to add to their inadequate rations.
Fearing for his life, he deserted with two friends. Without weapons or money, they went over to the KNU, whose leaders gave them a choice: join the rebels for pay and rations, or leave and try to make it to the Thai border. They opted to break for the border.
In Thailand, Kyaw Thura says, he “couldn’t move. There were people searching everywhere for me,” he says. Time passed, and he eventually found work in the border town of Mae Sot as a welder, met a girl, married, and fathered Thant Zin, now four years old.
He came back to Rangoon to find his mother. Although the ILO gave him a letter of protection, he was arrested by the army anyway, sentenced to two years and six months for deserting, and jailed in Hpa’an Prison in Karen State. “Conditions [in prison] were better than when I was in the army,” he says wryly. “The food was better. We were able to exercise. We farmed and made bricks.”
Living in his mother’s house with his son, he is now seeking compensation from the military for wrongful arrest. Little Thant Zin climbs into his lap and plays with a plastic motorcycle. Kyaw Thura was gone for so long that his son now calls him “uncle.”
Tun Tun Win is 30. At 14, he was sold to the Tatmadaw by a broker. He didn’t give them his full name. “I wanted to keep some of my identity for myself,” he says, “so I told them I was called just Tun Tun.” In a camp in the jungle near Mandalay, he tattooed the last part of his name into his forearm using a blunt needle, soot, and juice from a betel nut—”Win” inside a heart with two crossed swords behind it.
He spent most of his time repairing tanks or on security detail, moving from base to base. “I learned how to drive, shoot, do security, not much else.” His pay was $4.50 a month.
Thirteen years later, he rents a small house from his brother in the village where he grew up. He lives with his two-year-old daughter, who suffers from malnutrition, and his five-year-old son. A year ago, his wife left him with the children. “She has a gambling problem,” he says. “She was not good for the kids.” His eldest sister pitches in.
With $100 from an international NGO, he set up a small library in front of his house, loaning out books and magazines to villagers for 100 kyats (about 10 cents) a day. “I want to be my own boss now,” he says. His father loaned him money to buy a small motorcycle, which he hopes to use as a taxi. “I don’t have any ill feelings toward army recruiters. Karma will be their judgment. I have freedom now. In the army I was renting out my body.”
This story was made possible with funding from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
In many areas of Myanmar, WFP has long been the most reliable and regular source of food security and vulnerability information, backing the programme work of WFP and other stakeholders tacking food insecurity in the country. However, in a country with high diversities between and within the 15 Regions and States, information on food security has remained geographically scattered, with multiple indicators of food insecurity collected with little regard to seasonality. This hinders understanding of fluctuations in seasonal vulnerabilities and impacts the overall usefulness of the information collected for programme design. Notwithstanding its central role as an information provider to partners, WFP values the need, as a service provider, to build on its Vulnerability Analysis Mapping (VAM) capacities and activities in order to better serve stakeholders and beneficiaries in Myanmar. WFP recognizes the need to create a more integrated and comprehensive information system, which will provide the evidence base required to design the most appropriate responses to food insecurity.
Since February 9, Kokang Self-Administered Zone has been severally affected by continuous armed conflict between the Government forces and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) supported by Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army. A state of emergency, declared by the President, is still in place.
Ongoing clashes have resulted in a massive displacement of people from Kokang to adjacent northern Shan State, Wa Self-Administrative Division, and Yunnan Province of China, where several camps were formed.
The Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) arranged convoys to transport conflict-affected people, who were mostly Bamar migrant workers, from Laukkai, the capital of Kokang, to Lashio city in northern Shan, where transit camps were set up. Food and other assistance was provided by local civil society organisations and private donors. The convoys have been suspended after repeated ambushed attacks, causing injuries and a death of MRCS staff.
Depending on location of and access to the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs), humanitarian assistance has been provided through various channels and by different actors.
Myanmar President Thein Sein held rare talks Wednesday with dozens of political leaders to discuss upcoming elections and finalizing a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with ethnic armies, according to a minister from his office and a lawmaker who attended the meeting.
The closed-door talks with 42 representatives, including opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, was held at Thein Sein’s home in the capital Naypyidaw and comes ahead of high-level six-party talks on constitutional reform scheduled for Friday.
Myanmar president’s office spokesman Ye Htut told a press conference after the meeting that 48 leaders of various political parties and heads of government had been invited to the talks, but six were unable to attend, including commander in chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who was traveling in Rakhine state.
Ye Htut said that during the meeting, the chairman of the government-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC), Tin Aye, pledged to work towards holding free and fair polls later this year.
The spokesman confirmed that six-party talks—consisting of Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi, Min Aung Hlaing, upper house speaker Khin Aung Myint, lower house speaker Shwe Mann and ethnic representative Aye Maung of the Arakan National Party—would be held April 10 at the president’s home.
Pu Zozam, chairman of the Chin National Party (CNP), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Thein Sein had pushed for help in signing an official NCA between the government and more than a dozen armed ethnic groups following the inking of a final draft of the deal at the end of March.
“The president asked us to help and work together to sign a final NCA, as all leaders have already signed the draft,” he said.
“He also confirmed that he will host and take part in the six-party talks.”
Seats at the table
Bickering over the number of parties to be included in the discussions has stymied progress on the issue.
Aung San Suu Kyi had been holding out for four-way discussions among herself, Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and Min Aung Hlaing.
She wants amendments to the 2008 constitution to curb the political power of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament through appointment and holds an effective veto over charter reform, and to alter provisions that make her ineligible for the country’s presidency.
But after meeting with Thein Sein in January, she called for six-party talks that would also include Khin Aung Myint and a representative of the ethnic parties.
Aung San Suu Kyi told Reuters news agency over the weekend that the NLD would consider boycotting general elections planned for later this year if the country’s constitution, which blocks her from becoming president because her sons are foreign nationals, is not amended.
The charter, written by the former junta in 2008, also guarantees a quarter of seats for military delegates, allowing them to veto any proposed constitutional amendment.
Thein Sein had refused to hold four-party talks as well as six-party talks put forward by parliament, which would put the reform of Myanmar’s controversial 2008 constitution at the center of cease-fire negotiations with country’s armed ethnic groups.
Referendum in doubt
Some lawmakers on Wednesday expressed doubt over whether a referendum on changes to the charter could be held in May as scheduled, saying there is not enough time to factor in recommendations for amendments from enough members of the country’s parliament.
Saw Hla Tun of the parliament’s Draft Law Committee said that while the legislature’s Constitutional Amendment Committee had recently submitted its final recommendations to amend the charter, at least 20 percent of lawmakers would need to submit their own proposed changes for specific acts and articles before the vote could proceed.
“After parliament’s review of the recommendations to amend particular acts and articles, it will refer these recommendations to our committee and we will have to work on it,” he said.
“Shwe Mann has said the referendum will be held as scheduled in May. If we get the recommendations to amend particular acts and articles from 20 percent of MPs (members of parliament) soon, we will have enough time to work on them.”
Lawmaker Tin Maung Oo, a member of the Constitutional Amendment Committee, told RFA it was “impossible to hold the referendum in May,” suggesting that more time was needed before progressing to the vote.
Also on Wednesday, more than a dozen political parties endorsed adopting a controversial proportional representation (PR) electoral system for this year’s elections, in which the number of seats won by a party is proportional to the number of votes received.
At the end of a three-day hearing at the upper house of parliament attended by 18 political parties, 14 endorsed the system, according to lawmaker Thein Kyi, who is chairman of the National Political Alliance (NPA) party.
“We accept the PR system, as it can lead to unity between [Myanmar’s] 135 ethnic groups, despite their different viewpoints,” he said.
“The larger parties have an advantage in parliament under the current system.”
So far, 16 political parties have rejected the PR system, including the NLD and several ethnic parties.
The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) is pushing for the PR system in a bid to prevent a highly likely landslide win by the NLD in the 2015 general elections, some reports have suggested.
Reported by Win Naung Toe, Kyaw Thu and Thin Thiri for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
By KYAW KHA/ THE IRRAWADDY| Wednesday, April 8, 2015 |
Renewed fighting was reported this week between Burma Army troops and three ethnic armed groups in Kachin and Shan states, less than a week after ethnic negotiators reached a tentative agreement with their government counterparts on the draft text for a nationwide ceasefire accord.
Fresh clashes erupted between government forces and Kachin, Kokang and Palaung rebels at three separate locations in northern and northeast Burma beginning Sunday, according to spokespeople from the respective armed groups.
“We clashed [with government troops] yesterday and the day before yesterday,” Daung Khar, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) technical team, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “We still do not have information on the exact number of casualties on the ground. Today there is no activity.”
The KIO is the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Daung Khar said forces from Battalion No. 11 under KIA Brigade No. 2 and government troops clashed near Tapadaung village in Mogaung Township.
Conflict resolution teams from the two sides met in the aftermath of the fighting on Monday. The KIA’s Col. Zaung Taung and Col. Than Aung from the Burma Army attended the sit-down.
“At the meeting yesterday, Col. Than Aung said they are paving a road as part of [regional] development efforts,” said Daung Khar. “The clashes broke out because they asked a KIA post near a bridge on their road construction site to leave temporarily. But now, KIA troops have left there.”
The fighting comes about three weeks after a KIA delegation met President Thein Sein and commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the proposed nationwide ceasefire and how to reduce hostilities between the two sides. But subsequently, on March 21, the Burma Army called in airstrikes against a KIA base in Mansi Township, an attack believed to be linked to timber smuggling in the region.
Meanwhile, battalions under Division Nos. 33, 11 and 66 of the Burma Army are said to have launched offensives on Sunday against Kokang rebels under the banner of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Laukkai, the administrative capital of northern Shan State’s Kokang Special Region.
“They first fired with artillery,” MNDAA General Secretary Htun Myat Lin told The Irrawaddy. “They fired at least 20 shells. After that, they launched an offensive with army soldiers. When they were repelled, they fired artillery again and launched another offensive. On April 5 alone, they launched at least six different offensives in that way.”
The Kokang rebel spokesman claimed that the Burma Army had suffered 35 casualties, while four MNDAA soldiers were seriously injured over two days of fighting.
The government has yet to confirm the fighting, but previous reports of the Kokang conflict by state media have offered widely differing casualty totals compared with MNDAA accounts, with both sides claiming greater losses inflicted and fewer sustained. While state mouthpiece The Global New Light of Myanmar has provided unusually detailed coverage of the fighting in Kokang since it began on Feb. 9, including at times daily updates of Burma Army offensives and casualty counts, the newspaper has provided no reporting on the conflict since the draft nationwide ceasefire accord was signed late last month.
The MNDAA was not a signatory to that draft agreement.
Htun Myat Lin said that although the MNDAA had sent an open letter to Thein Sein expressing the group’s desire to hold a political dialogue with the government, no response had yet been received. He added that fighting—which has featured some of the deadliest clashes in years—was likely to recur as the government army continues to bring troop reinforcements and supplies to the area.
Elsewhere in northern Shan State, Col. Mai Phone Kyaw, a spokesperson for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), said Burma Army troops clashed in Kyaukme Township with rebel forces of the ethnic Palaung, also known as Ta’ang.
Clashes between the TNLA and government troops had declined since the government and ethnic leaders signed the draft ceasefire pact late last month, he said, but added that troop deployments remained a major unresolved issue fueling ongoing hostilities.
“Perhaps there will be no more clashes after the NCA [nationwide ceasefire agreement] is signed. I am not sure. But we can’t just sign the NCA right now—not before having a serious discussion on troop deployments,” Mai Phone Kyaw told The Irrawaddy. “If we don’t have a definite agreement on troop deployments, fighting will not end, even if an NCA is signed.”
On March 31 in Rangoon, government negotiators and the 16 ethnic armed groups that comprise the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) signed on to a draft ceasefire text. It laid out in-principle the terms of a peace agreement, but left several contentious issues to be negotiated at a political dialogue to be convened following the signing of the accord. Ethnic leaders have said an official signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement won’t come until after the ethnic armed groups have met to discuss the deal among themselves.
Unlike most of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, none of the three armies reporting renewed clashes this week has signed a bilateral ceasefire with the government.
Two hundred and seventy seven servicemen of the Burmese military, including 50 officers, have had action taken against them for recruiting child soldiers, according to Deputy Home Affairs minister Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint.
Speaking to the lower house on Wednesday, the minister made the comments while responding to a formal question from MP Khine Maung Yee of Rangoon’s Ahlone Township. The MP requested information about the provision of birth certificates for children in both urban and rural areas to protect them from forced labour, abandonment and human trafficking, and recruitment into the military.
Kyaw Zan Myint also said that while there were no specific plans on the prevention of these issues, when perpetrators of abandonment of a child under 12 are caught they can be punished by up to seven years, while traffickers can be sentenced from 10 years to life imprisonment.
Burma’s government has previously been accused of inaction, and even complicity, on the matter of child soldiers.
Child Soldiers International (CSI), who released their latest report in January, have characterised Burma’s political crossroads as an “unprecedented opportunity” to solve the country’s child soldier crisis.
It is nearly impossible to get an accurate view of the scale of the child soldier problem in Burma. Low rates of birth registration, an inaccurate and decentralised military record system, and a lack of government forthcoming – factors that lend themselves to easily recruiting minors – make it hard for observers to gauge the numbers affected. Since the International Labour Organisation’s Complaints Mechanism on Forced Labour was established in 2007, it has received 1,293 complaints regarding child soldiers in Burma, but CSI say that this is not representative of the real numbers.
Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint.—mna
Nay Pyi Taw, 8 April — The government is taking measures to prevent child labour and the employment of children in dangerous or illegal work, including the recruitment of minors into armed forces, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Brig-Gen Kyaw Zan Myint told the Pyithu Hluttaw session on Wednesday.
Those who abandon or traffic children, or force them to beg, will also be targeted, the deputy minister said, in accordance with criminal and juvenile laws.
Those who abandon a child under 12 are liable to a maximum seven-year sentence. Trafficking children for forced labour is subject to a life sentence under the anti-human trafficking law, according to the deputy minister.
The ministry of health is also trying to issue birth certificates when newborns are discharged from hospitals to prevent abandonment of children, the deputy minister added.
Concerning child soldiers, the deputy minister said that armed forces have their own rules and regulations for recruiting new soldiers who are required to be between the ages of 18 and 25.
Armed forces have released 594 child soldiers who were recruited improperly, while action was taken against 50 officers and 277 other personnel who recruited child soldiers.—MNA
Snapshot 1–8 April 2015
Iraq: Violence, looting and serious human rights violations were reported as Iraqi forces and affiliated groups recaptured Tikrit. There are numerous booby traps and tensions are reportedly rising between government forces and militias. Elsewhere, IDPs are returning: tens of thousands have gone home to Diyala, Ninewa and Al Alam in Salah al Din since February.
Syria: Islamic State has taken large parts of Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp after days of intense fighting. 2,000 of the 18,000-strong population are thought to have escaped the camp. 15,000 people have fled Idleb since its takeover by Jabhut al Nusra and Ahrar al Sham.
Yemen: More than 100,000 are reported displaced since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes on 26 March. Access, already difficult, is worsening. It is very difficult to move within the country, and port and airport access is restricted.
Kenya: An Al Shabaab attack on Garissa University left 147 dead and 79 injured. The Kenyan Government ordered the recruitment of 10,000 more police, and sent fighter jets to bomb Al Shabaab bases in Somalia. In Dadaab refugee camp, Garissa, suspected Al Shabaab stormed the premises of an NGO, killed one person and injuring three.
Updated: 08/04/2015. Next update: 14/04/2015
Republished with permission. © Post Publishing Plc. www.bangkokpost.com
Fire swept through a Myanmar refugee camp in Mae Hong Son province shortly before noon yesterday, leaving more than 3,000 people homeless.
Some 250 living quarters at the Ban Mai Nai Soi camp in Muang district of the northern province were reduced to ash.
There were no reports of serious casualties, said district chief Sarawut Thaichaoren, who was alerted to the blaze about 11.30am.
Fire engines and firemen from the Pang Mu tambon administration organisation, Muang municipality, and an infantry task force were sent to the scene.
The blaze was brought under control by 1pm.
Pol Maj Gen Jaruek Limsuwan, commander of Mae Hong Son police, said no official word on the cause was available.
However, Mr Sarawut said the fire started in the living quarters of a woman identified as Pamae who was boiling water at the time.
The flames spread quickly, fanned by strong winds. The fire sent thousands of refugees fleeing for their safety.
One person's arm was broken but there were no reports of deaths.
About 3,500 refugees were left homeless.
Authorities have turned Nai Soi School and a local temple into temporary shelters for the refugees while authorities determine where to house them.
Non-governmental organisations yesterday sent supplies of drinking water and basic necessities to help the refugees, he said.
Mae Hong Son governor Surapol Panas-amphon toured the camp around 1.30pm and ordered that help be given.
The fire broke out despite authorities, including soldiers, police, and officers from the Interior Ministry last week organising anti-fire training sessions at the camp which is home to a total of 10,428...
On Monday night, a fire broke out at Mae La Oon refugee camp in Sop Moei district of Mae Hong Son which damaged five living areas affecting 27 refugees.
The Myanmar authorities have collected about 40,000 temporary identification cards from displaced and stateless Rohingya Muslims in restive Rakhine State, part of the process of applying for citizenship, reports Radio Free Asia on April 6.
An immigration officer in the state capital Sittwe told RFA that more than 10,000 of the “white cards” were being collected daily in the western Myanmar state, following a declaration by President U Thein Sein in February that they would expire on March 31.
The controversial move came about because of a bill that would have allowed white card holders to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments, which drew sharp opposition from Buddhist nationalists.
Most of the temporary identification card holders are Rohingya, a Muslim minority of around 1 million people who live in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government refers to them as “Bengali” because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in the country for generations.
By ZARNI MANN
MANDALAY — Southern Shan State’s famed Inle Lake is again facing drought conditions that have seen many of the area’s waterways dry up and access to clean water reduced.
Though boating through the lake’s central reservoir remains possible, water levels are significantly lower at the villages of Ywa Ma and Nant Huu, located on the southwest end of the lake near the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and at the waterway south to Nang Pan village.
“To restore the waterways, dredging the silt is urgently needed,” said Thar Gyi, a resident of Thale Oo village. “Many of the waterways of the villages on the eastern and western banks are mostly dried up. The worst-hit villages are on the western bank.”
High temperatures and the failure of pre-monsoon rains to materialize this year are being blamed for the drought, which can cause particular headaches in an area that largely relies on water transport. Currently, water levels in the channel linking the lake to the tourist town of Nyaung Shwe and the entrance to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake’s most famous shrine, are down considerably but motorized boats are still able to pass through.
“We’ve informed the local authorities to dredge the waterway before summer. It was done only for the waterway to the pagoda and for the VIPs’ waterway—the routes to major attractions and hotels,” said a member of the pagoda’s board of trustees.
According to locals, many villagers are taking the channels on foot on water routes that are too shallow or have completely dried up and can no longer accommodate boats.
“Climate change is affecting us a lot. Given the drought, we are now struggling to find clean water,” said U Damadaza, an abbot from Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda.
Many of the area’s residents rely on lake water for cooking and other household tasks.
“Those who can’t afford bottled water have no choice,” U Damadaza explained. “We hope that conservation of the forests around the lake will work as soon as possible to protect the lake.”
Unrelated to the drought, lake dwellers were told by local authorities through a letter of notice that water from the lake was not suitable to drink, especially during the summer months. The notice said the water’s PH level, an indicator of acidity, was measured in February exceeding 8.2—a level beyond what is considered potable—and was likely to rise further in the summer.
The notice also urged lake dwellers to reduce their use of chemical fertilizers on the many floating gardens that the lake hosts, with local authorities warning that consequences of unrestrained use of fertilizers included water toxicity and attendant negative impacts for the area’s flora and fauna.
In the summer of 2010, high temperatures and an irregular monsoon season blamed on climate change resulted in severe drought in the area, a popular tourism destination. Every year since, Inle Lake has been plagued by similar problems.
“Support from authorities is needed for environmental protection of the lake. The lake dwellers also need to be educated about excessive use of chemicals on crops to protect clean water as well,” said U Damadaza.
“We hope the summer won’t last long,” he added.
In Shan State, a bout of showers preceding the monsoon rains typically arrive in mid-March, with the rainy season fully setting in by June and lasting through September.
Throughout the period from July to December 2014, ND-Burma documented 107 human rights violations across Burma. The violations documented during these six months occurred in areas of armed conflict but also in areas covered by ceasefires. Each violation is a specific incident, but it may involve any number of victims, from one victim of killing, to forced labor involving many victims, to the forced displacement of an entire village. ND-Burma’s findings demonstrate that, despite progress in reaching ceasefire agreements with non-state armed groups, the government has made little progress protecting the human rights of its citizens.
Furthermore, continued arrests of human rights defenders demonstrate that the government is not serious about working with civil society to protect human rights.
During this period, people in Burma, especially activists, communities, and victim’s families have dared to raise the issue and demand the truth of what actually happened to their loved ones. For instance Ko Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Ko Par Gyi, was a freelance journalist who went missing while he was in Mon State. In October, the Burma Army announced that Ko Par Gyi was fatally shot when he attempted to grab a weapon and flee while being investigated in military custody.1 Later Ma Thandar, an activist and wife of Ko Par Gyi, tried to demand that the Burma Army state the truth regarding what happened to Ko Par Gyi. Finally the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) agreed to investigate the case, however the commission’s report was unsatisfactory to the victim’s family and activists who had seen Ko Par Gyi’s body and believed that he was killed following brutal torture.
This period also marked the three year anniversary of the disappearance of Samlut Roija, a 28 year old ethnic Kachin woman who was abducted by the Burma Army from Light Infantry Battalion 321 along with her husband and father-in-law, near their farm in Hkaibang village, Momauk Township, Kachin state in 2011. Her husband and father-in-law escaped while she was brought to the army camp.
Later Samlut Roija’s family submitted a letter asking authorities about her fate. Both the military and civilian authorities refused to supply an answer. In March 2012, her husband submitted a letter to the Supreme Court, which was also rejected. Therefore on the third anniversary of her disappearance, over 100 organizations signed a petition and demanded the Burmese government fully investigate her forced disappearance and hold the perpetrators accountable.
In 2012, Ja Seng Ing, a ninth grade Kachin school girl who lived in Maw Wan quarter No.1, Sut Ngai Yang village of Hpakant was shot and killed by the Burma Army while she and her friends hid during fighting between the Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).3 Mr. Brang Shawng, the father of Ja Seng Ing, submitted a petition to authorities asking them to investigate this incident. However Mr. Brang Shawng was instead charged under Article 211 of the Myanmar Penal Code for making “false charges” against the Burma Army in a letter he sent to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) in October 2012.4 On December 6, 2014, the Ja Seng Ing Truth Finding Committee (the Committee) released a 42 page report titled “Who Killed Ja Seng Ing?” which documents the testimonies of 16 individuals with knowledge of the events surrounding Ja Seng Ing’s death. The committee also called on the Burmese Government to initiate an investigation into her death.5 At the Letpadaung copper mining project in Sagaing Region, 56 year old Daw Khin Win was fatally shot by the police in December while she and villagers gathered to protest against a Chinese mining firm, Wanbao, which attempted to fence off an area which the company had not yet legally acquired.6 While human rights defenders and activists call for the truth about how victims suffered and for perpetrators to be held accountable, they were met with repressive laws such as well-known controversial Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act and Article 19, the sister clause.
In July, Chin State, eight Chin activists – were charged under Article 18 of “The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act” for protesting without permission after they organized a demonstration in protest of the beating and attempted rape of a 55 year old woman from Rezua sub-township in Matupi Township, Chin State by a soldier from the Burma Army. Even though these Chin activists applied in advance to the respective police station requesting to hold a demonstration, they still faced threats and intimidation from local officials according to Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) statement.
Following the death of 56 year old Daw Kin Win at the site of the Letpadaung copper mine, activists Daw Naw Ohn Hla, U Nay Myo Zin and Daw Sein Htwe, who led demonstrations calling for an investigation into and accountability for the killing, were arrested.
Political and rights activists are still behind bars according to the monthly chronology issued by Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) in December 2014. By the end of December, 81 political activists remain in prison, with 78 farmers in jail and 203 people awaiting trial. As another year passes by the government’s promise to release all political prisoners by the end of 2013 is once again left unfulfilled.
Since 2011, the government has attempted to negotiate ceasefire agreements with the 16 non-state-armed groups in Burma. Although preliminary ceasefires have been signed with 14 of these groups, fighting between government troops and the two remaining groups without ceasefires continues, as well as clashes between parties to ceasefires. Armed clashes between Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAO) and the Burma Army in 2014 are stated below:
Clashes recorded as following:
Kachin State 73 clashes, KIA and Myanmar army, Karen State 13 clashes, Karen National Union (KNU) 3, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army 10 (DKBA), Mon State 3 clashes (DKBA), Rakhine State 3 clashes, Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), Shan State 143 clashes, Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) 113, Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) 17, Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) 13, Taninthari Region 1 clash (KNU), Bago region 1 clash (KNU)
Even though the government has held negotiations and other meetings with ethnic armed groups, they have not yet reached a genuine political solution. Offensives continue in ethnic areas such as Kachin state and in the Palaung areas of Northern Shan State. As a result of the fighting, almost 100,000 people have become internally displaced in Kachin and Shan States.
Micronesia (Federated States of): Asia and the Pacific: Weekly Regional Humanitarian Snapshot (31 Mar - 7 Apr 2015)
As of 3 Apr, 166,000 people remain affected on 22 islands. 50,000 people received emergency shelter assistance, 20,000 received hygiene kits, and nearly 11,000 children were vaccinated against measles. Despite the provision of assistance across all sectors, needs remain, with an estimated 110,000 people are in need of drinking water. On 2 Apr Government-led teams completed a round of assessments to ascertain humanitarian and early recovery needs across several sectors. A Flash Appeal for nearly US$30 million remains 64 percent unfunded.
166,000 people affected
110,000 people in need of water
On 5 Apr a severe local storm affected 14 districts across the country. The storm killed at least 40 people, and injured nearly 300. Casualties were caused by collapsed homes, landslides, and lightning strikes. Bogra district is the worst affected. Reports indicate that nearly 92,000 families are affected, and that 29,000 homes are destroyed with another 70,000 damaged.
The Government is providing assistance.
92,000 families affected
29,000 homes destroyed
Typhoon Maysak weakened into a tropical storm as it made landfall on northern Luzon on 5 Apr. The storm affected 2,800 people in Isabela and Aurora provinces. There are no reports of casualties.
FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA
The Government and humanitarian partners continue to deliver food, water, medical supplies, and temporary shelter to the islands and atolls affected by Typhoon Maysak. The Ulithi atoll took the most direct hit from the typhoon, with the majority of homes destroyed and reports of significant damage to crops and infrastructure as well as contamination of food and water sources. The affected populations in Chuuk and Yap are highly reliant on subsistence farming and damage to crops was significant. School buildings were also damaged and classes in Chuuk are temporarily suspended. Power is being restored in Chuuk and the main Yap island, however the outer Yap islands are still without power. The dispersed nature of the affected communities across many small islands and atolls – spanning hundreds of kilometres – will increase the complexity of the humanitarian response.
At the request of the Government, OCHA deployed a five-person UNDAC team to provide support in response coordination, assessments, and information management. IOM and the Micronesia Red Cross Society are also supporting the Government with logistics support, humanitarian coordination, and needs assessments.
Myanmar authorities have collected about 40,000 temporary identification cards from displaced and stateless Rohingya Muslims in restive Rakhine state, part of the process of applying for citizenship, an official said Monday.
Khin Soe, an immigration officer in the state capital Sittwe, said more than 10,000 of the “white cards” were being collected daily in the western Myanmar state, following a declaration by President Thein Sein in February that they would expire on March 31.
The move came about because of a bill that would have allowed white card holders to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments, which drew sharp opposition from Buddhist nationalists.
Most of the temporary identification card holders are persecuted Rohingya, a Muslim minority of around 1 million people who live in Rakhine (Arakan) state. The Myanmar government refers to the Rohingya as “Bengali” because it views them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, although many have lived in the country for generations.
“From April 1 to April 5, we collected 44,651 cards,” Khin Soe told RFA’s Myanmar service. “According to that rate, we will collect all white cards within a monthly or slightly longer.”
There are a total of about 700,000 white card holders in Rakhine state, and 37 immigration groups have been collecting the cards around the state, he said.
The Rohingya must turn in all the cards by May 31 so they can apply for Myanmar citizenship by June 1, according to the citizenship law of 1982, he said.
The citizenship law does not recognize the term Rohingya as an ethnic minority of Myanmar, so that members of the group cannot obtain government documentation by using the term to identify themselves.
Khin Soe said white card holders would have to show proof of a long family history in Rakhine state if they wanted to obtain Myanmar citizenship and have an identity card again, according to a report last week in The Irrawaddy online journal.
Authorities backed by security personnel visited nearly a dozen camps where the Muslim Rohingya have been housed since they were displaced by a violent and deadly clash with majority Buddhists in 2012, Agence France-Presse reported last week. About 140,000 Rohingya have been displaced by violence since then.
It was unclear whether those who surrendered their cards would be able to begin the citizenship process, the report said, because they do not have any other form of national identification.
But those who give up their white cards receive a “receipt” to prove they had a temporary identity card and can begin the citizenship verification process in June, Khin Soe said, according to The Irrawaddy report.
Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar, said the expiration of the temporary white cards raised more uncertainties about the status of the Rohingya and further increased their vulnerability, according to a news release by the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK following a Rohingya panel discussion at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 18.
Lee also warned that Myanmar was backsliding because of continued discriminatory restrictions on the freedom of movement of Muslim internally displaced persons, which also infringed on other basic fundamental rights, the news release said.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a research and advocacy group that focuses on the northern part of Rakhine state, denounced the citizenship verification process and the cancellation of white cards, because it could lead to a total exclusion of the Rohingya in Myanmar, the news release said.
She believes that the withdrawal of the white cards goes beyond denial of the right to vote and risks leaving the Rohingya without any legal documentation and the right to reside in Myanmar, it said.
White cards were issued by Myanmar’s former military junta for the 2010 elections, which saw Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government take power from the regime. An army-backed political party won seats in areas with sizable numbers of white card holders.
White card holders in the process of applying for citizenship include members of other ethnic minorities such as the Kokang and Wa, and people of Chinese and Indian descent, in addition to roughly half a million Rohingyas.
In early February, the Myanmar parliament approved a proposal by Thein Sein to allow people with temporary identification “white cards,” most of whom were Rohingya, to vote on a referendum on constitutional amendments to the country’s junta-backed constitution, which could come as early as May.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon on Feb. 11 to protest the government’s decision to allow people without citizenship, including Rohingya, to take part in the referendum.
Reported by Min Thein Aung of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| Monday, April 6, 2015 |
RANGOON — The number of political prisoners in Burma has increased to nearly 470, according to a rights group, in a major backslide after a series of amnesties in recent years geared toward ridding the countries jails of prisoners conscience.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), among Burma’s most active advocates for prisoners of conscious since it was founded on the Thai-Burma border in 2000, said that 172 people are now serving prison terms for politically motivated charges, while 296 others are awaiting trial.
Those currently in prison include political and land rights activists, farmers, journalists, members of ethnic armed organizations and students, the AAPP said in its monthly bulletin. The charges include various controversial clauses such as unlawful assembly, incitement, unlawful association and rioting.
The group said that a spike in arrests over the past month indicate that there is “no sign of abating” in political imprisonments, particularly in light of the detention of more than 100 people during a crackdown on demonstrators in Letpadan, central Burma, early last month.
AAPPP Secretary Bo Kyi told The Irrawaddy that the incident proved there is “no political stability in Burma yet,” urging the government to hold officers accountable for violence against and wrongful arrest of the demonstrators.
“If actions are not taken against those [police officers], it shows that this is the government’s policy [to use violence against peaceful protesters],” said Bo Kyi.
The group said that individuals on the roster are identified by using criteria established by the AAPP and the Rangoon-based Former Political Prisoners Society in August 2014.
While the AAPP once participated in a government committee tasked with identifying and releasing prisoners of conscience, which made recommendations throughout a series of presidential amnesties, the committee was reconstituted early this year, controversially excluding the AAPP.
Bo Kyi described the new committee as “just for show,” adding that it is ultimately under the control of Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Ko Ko, a controversial figure who was recently fingered as a potential war criminal by a Harvard-based legal clinic.
During his time on the committee, the number of political prisoners dropped to just 33 by the start of 2014. President Thein Sein, however, had promised to free all political prisoners by that time, which he failed to accomplish.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY
RANGOON — Burma’s ethnic armed groups are considering convening at the headquarters of the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA) in northern Shan State to discuss the potential signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord, a UWSA representative said on Monday.
“Some [ethnic] leaders told us that they will come if the meeting is held in our area, but for some leaders we are not sure yet as we do not have a chance to talk to them,” said Aung Myint, a UWSA spokesperson.
“We have not sent an invitation yet to all ethnic armed groups. [But] we told them that we would welcome holding a meeting in our area of control,” he told The Irrawaddy.
Aung Myint said some leaders of Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represent 16 ethnic groups engaged in nationwide ceasefire talks with the government, had contacted the UWSA to ask whether they could hold the conference at Wa headquarters in Panghsang, a town located on the Burma-China border.
NCCT representative Lian H. Sakhong told BBC Burmese language that the ethnic groups are considering convening in either the UWSA area, the Kachin Independence Army’s Laiza headquarters, or at the Karen National Union (KNU) area of control.
Last week, the NCCT and the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UWPC) succeeded in negotiating an in-principle agreement on the content of a ceasefire accord text. The understanding between the sides represents a potential breakthrough if the government, the Burma Army and a significant number of ethnic armies can sign the ceasefire in coming weeks.
NCCT representatives have said they need to hold a conference with the leaders of their ethnic groups to discuss if each group can accept the content of the more than 100-point text, which has been kept under wraps.
State media have celebrated the in-principle agreement as a historic breakthrough and government negotiators have said Naypyidaw is ready sign an accord that could help end Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflict.
It is understood, however, that a number of key political differences—such as disarmament of ethnic armies, federal autonomy for ethnic regions and the army’s demand that the groups come under the 2008 Constitution—have been left out of the text. These issues will have to be discussed in the extended political dialogue phase that is supposed start soon after the accord’s signing.
The UWSA are Burma’s most powerful rebel army, with an estimated 20,000 soldiers under arms and sophisticated Chinese-supplied weapons. The Wa have had a fairly stable ceasefire with the government for more than two decades. The group controls are large swathe of territory between the Salween River and the Burma-China border called the Wa Special Region.
The UWSA have observed the ceasefire talks but are not a NCCT member.
Aung Myint said the UWSA would consider joining the nationwide ceasefire accord after it was signed, adding, “We would need to talk about it more, before we could sign.”
Naypyidaw is likely to accept the Wa as a signatory to an accord, but has objected to several other groups that are considered NCCT members. It declines to recognize the Kokang rebels of the Myanmar Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Arakan Army and several other small ethnic armed groups.
Since February, the Burma Army has been engaged in fierce fighting with the MNDAA is northern Shan State, where tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced and dozens of soldiers and rebels have been killed.
By Ariana Zarleen
KYAINGTON, SHAN STATE – In the mountains of eastern Shan State, the Lahu are among the many ethnic groups who continue their traditional farming lifestyle in largely inaccessible remote mountain villages.
Lahu suffer from a disproportionate lack of education and development. As most Lahu live in remote villages, they often have restricted access to any services, including education. Most villagers are illiterate, traditional medicine is used widely, infrastructure is non-existent and there is limited access to electricity or water, say local activists.
The area around Kyaington, the main city in eastern Shan State, is surrounded by ethnic villages, some of them Lahu, and all are at least partly under government control. The Lahu have no army to protect them, and instead, many Lahu have joined militia groups that are directly under Tatmadaw control.
Local NGOs face double jeopardy when conducting training in the area as they say they fear not only the government but also their own people. Mary, a veteran Lahu politician and member of the Shan State parliament, told me there was no big Lahu political movement because of a lack of education.
Lahu people do not feel equal to other ethnic minorities, Mary told me in the living room of her home in Pan Lin village.
“Some Lahu people have difficulties as they look down on themselves in relation to other ethnic people, because other people are more educated and richer than them,” she said.
De Paw La Bo, a young Lahu woman who works for a local Lahu group and regularly conducts training, echoed Mary’s views. “Lahu people is lack of education,” she said in English. “They do not have a chance to study like other ethnic people.”
Lack of education
Isolated communities and widespread poverty create barriers for the Lahu to access education. In some remote Lahu villages, there are schools but no teachers, De Paw La Bo told me quietly in her office. The government sometimes expects poor villagers to pay for the teacher’s salary, she said.
Many Lahu people have no means of earning an income and are certainly unable to contribute towards anyone else’s salary. Most villagers farm rice and vegetables for their family’s survival. Some sell farm produce in towns, but for isolated villages four or five hours from the nearest town, accessing markets is hardly an option.
During a visit to Pan Lin, only an hour from Kyaington, I am told it is much more developed than remote communities. Houses in Pan Lin have tin roofs, the school has teachers and some of its pupils have study materials such as books, pens and school bags.
Na Ga, 60, is one of the Lahu residents of Pan Lin who grows her own food. Although her family has enough to eat, generating income is a significant challenge. “Very difficult,” she said when asked about making a living. “We cannot sell our products because we have no communication with other people.”
Na Ga had 10 children, of whom seven survived childhood. She has found ways to support her children to go to school, doing day labour for others. “Sometimes we go find something in the forest and sell it in the village,” she added.
Calling for more support
In a discussion with De Paw La Bo and her colleague, Eh Na, at their office, I realise that the locals are sometimes confused about the origin of the support provided to Lahu villagers.
Eh Na believes that the study materials for Lahu children came from the government but De Paw La Bo was quick to correct her that they were provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. “Not government,” said De Paw La Bo. “Government didn’t support anything.”
The two women also explained that the support reaches a fraction of the children and only those living near townships. De Paw La Bo laughed at the memory of her nephew proudly showing a UNICEF school bag that only three other children had received in his village. She also laughed when asked if Lahu villages have electricity.
NGO-backed educational initiatives are also accessibly only near the towns, the women said. “Lahu people need to give a lot of knowledge,” said De Paw La Bo. “But now I see most NGO they go and they give [training] only near in township,” she said, emphasising the need to access remote areas.
In Kyaington, U Ye Sheh, the chairman of the Lahu National Development Party in the area, shares many of the women’s opinions.
He receives no salary for his work and the money he earns managing a farm supports his political activities.
“I want to say to the world please help our Lahu people in order to improve their education level,” said U Ye Sheh, who lives in a modest house and was the only one of eight siblings to receive an education.
Freedom from fear
Mary said a lack of education was one reason why the Lahu do not have a big political movement. “The current Lahu situation is that some Lahu people are afraid of participating in politics and not brave because they are uneducated,” she said.
“If others come and train Lahu people to have more confidence and courage to work for the Lahu people, they will also be free from fear to participate in politics,” Mary said.
Mary, who has been a member of the LNDP for 25 years, said she is the only Lahu woman in the 139-member Shan State parliament.
As a woman and a member of an ethnic minority, Mary has faced significant challenges during her long career. “I was told that ‘you are just a woman involved in politics and you can be captured and tortured,’” she said. Despite repeated threats and fears for her life, Mary never gave up the struggle.
In recent years, she has found more freedom to speak and write, although concerns remain. “We cannot do what we want to do if the ruling body doesn’t allow, like now even though they say we have democracy, they still constrain the power and oppress the people because they don’t rule it as a democratic country.”
U Ye Sheh has learned to let go of his fears. “I am not afraid [to participate in politics] because I work and stand for justice,” he said.
De Paw La Bo, who conducts training in Lahu villages, said security is a major concern for her and her colleagues.
They have no protection and because they fear both the Tatmadaw and the Lahu militia providing political training can be nerve-wracking. “For security now we are not only afraid [of the government] but also we have to be afraid of our Lahu military, militia. Because Lahu militia already cooperate with the government,” De Paw La Bo said.
“We are worried, this a bit dangerous for security. But now is a bit better than before, a little bit better than before but we are still afraid when we give training or something like this,“ she said.
De Paw La Bo said Lahu militia sometimes attend their training, watching silently and creating anxiety among the trainer and the participants. “So this time we [are] still afraid [of] these two groups of people, not only government but also each other ethnic armed group… Really afraid.”
Despite the fear, and the loud objections that De Paw La Bo hears from her family against taking part in activities that compromise her security, this determined young woman continues her mission to share her knowledge.
Mary is also determined to continue her work. “We have to sacrifice our times with all that we have to lift up our Lahu people if we really want to work for our people. Nobody can work for the well-being of their own people without sacrifice.”
The world of the Lahu
The Lahu ethnic group is believed to have originated in China and lives in villages scattered throughout mountainous areas of China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. There are several subgroups of Lahu, including the Lahu Na, Lahu Shi Ba Lan, Lahu Ban Keo, Lahu Nan Keo, and Lahu Ku Lao, each with their own traditional dress. Most Lahu are animist and even those who are Christian and Buddhist often mix their religious beliefs with traditional animist practices. Lahu throughout the four countries speak Lahu and can usually understand each other, although dialects vary. Birth dates are often unknown and birthdays are not celebrated. Instead, Lahu people get together for the most important celebration across the regions, the Lahu New Year, held at different times in different countries, but revered all the same.
The most important celebration
The most important celebration for the Lahu is the Lahu New Year, which is often celebrated at different times not only throughout countries but also from village to village.
In Pan Lin, the villagers celebrated for seven days during the first week of January, while most villages in the area placed the special day on January 20. In Kyaington, the three-day celebration was held from January 27 to 29.
Lahu New Year is one of the only times each year that Na Ga, a Lahu farmer in Pan Lin, leaves her village. “I go to Kyaington maybe once a year, especially for the New Year to dance,” she said, adding that her husband is one of the leading dancers in her village. This year, it was Na Ga’s turn to provide the costly pig for the village’s New Year feast and she did not make her annual trip to town.
U Ye Sheh, the Lahu National Development Party’s leader in the Kyaington, remembers celebrating New Year in the town since he was a child. He was hoping to be involved in the organising committee this year but was not allowed. It is because “they are afraid of politics,” he said.
U Ye Sheh said Lahu New Year is a special time for everyone to come together and celebrate the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new.
Although the celebration has different meanings to different people, “the Lahu pancake (made of sticky rice) and pork is compulsory,” U Ye Sheh said.
Other similarities across families and regions include traditional dancing, rituals to show respect to elders and forgiving mistakes.
In Kyaington, Lahu militia was a conspicuous presence during the three-day celebration, walking through the crowds and sometimes participating in activities such as gambling. The militia is under the command of the Tatmadaw, which has camps in villages throughout the area, including at Pan Lin.
“Last year in New Year, also there was fighting over there, under the mountain range,” U Ye Sheh said, pointing at nearby peak from his living room window. Lahu people are often trapped in conflicts between the many armed groups in the area, sometimes even during their most important celebration of the year.
*The names of some people in this article have been changed to protect their identity. (Ariana Zarleen is a co-founder of Burma Link, a non-government organisation based in Mae Sot, Thailand, that works to amplify the voices of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities and displaced people).
Free Burma Rangers, a frontline provider of medical aid to displaced civilians in Myanmar, has highlighted continued incidents of aggression by government forces despite the signing of a draft peace agreement between the opposing forces, according to a report in Karen News on April 3.
FBR said attacks are continuing including an incident on March 23 in which soldiers from the 10th Infantry Battalion allegedly killed a father, his wife and their son at Du Hku village, Kachin State. The village is located close to Kachin Independence Army positions.
The Kachin conflict erupted in June 2011 when the Myanmar military attacked Kachin Independence Army positions, shattering a 17-year-long ceasefire.
“Despite recent meetings between senior representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization, President U Thein Sein and Burma Army military head Min Aung Hlaing to discuss a potential ceasefire agreement, incidents of aggression by the Burma Army have increased to levels not seen since initial fighting in 2011,” FBR said in a media statement.
FBR said it witnessed repeated air attacks from helicopter gunships and jet fighters throughout March.
A 2012 report by Human Rights Watch estimated that fighting in Kachin State had displaced 100,000 civilians. It also accused government forces of raping, torturing and killing civilians.
Teknaf, Bangladesh: Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) pushed back 514 Rohingyas including 319 men, 129 women and 68 children to Burma within one month—March, 2015,-- according to second commander Abu Rasel Siddique of BGB Battalion No.42 of Teknaf, Bangladesh.
“They are arrested by BGB while illegally entering Bangladesh from various points of Burma-Bangladesh border. Later on, they were pushed back to Burma by BGB after giving some food and medicines.”
The fate of the pushed back Rohingya is unknown, Alamgir, a Rohingya from border said.
Besides, the BGB personnel also seized a lot of Yaba tablets worth Taka over 123.75 million from Burma-Bangladesh border within last month (in March), the BGB official more added.
Especially, the BGB and coast Guard of Bangladesh have been trying to curb the Yaba smuggling from Burma since long, but failed. Though the BGB out-posts in border area are closely built one after another to watch the Yaba smugglers, they are not able to stop the Yaba smuggling to Bangladesh, a local trader from Teknaf said on condition of anonymity.
Another man from border area said, “The villagers who are living in border areas quickly become rich after involving in Yaba smuggling. So, the people who are not involved in Yaba before are also interesting in Yaba smuggling.”
The big smugglers carry Yaba to Chittagong by water way from Akyab (Sittwe), the capital of Arakan State, according to a trader from Teknaf preferring not to be named.
Meeting at our usual time of 7am in Hua Hin, loaded up with many donated clothes, shoes, tooth brushes, soap and mosquito nets we set off in our newly donated truck from the Rotary, Rivers Foundation and several private sponsors all making our medical trips possible. Our team included our dedicated translators, Area manager and nurse, plus 7 students from Webster Universirty who will be supporting us with the field trips and also with fund raising through crowd funding which we are hoping is going to start next month.
Our first stop was at the Home for Students only 1 hour away where we have 29 orphans living together. There were many sick people who had walked to this location to be seen by our nurse Emma who was able to assess and treat them. The Webster students did a great job supporting with translation enabling us as a team to see as many people as possible. From the home for students we continued to drive 1 hour through dense jungle and riverbeds to the village of Pal u noi.
The assessment team was able to obtain a lot of information and was able to discuss their current needs:
Health promotion-village representatives to take on the role for maternal health and environmental health including waste disposal
Water tanks to be installed, repair current water pump and install additional pump
Pilot the use of small solar panels to replace oil lamps
During the assessment, the medical clinic continued. In total 36 people were seen by our nurse. There were many young adults with many different problems such as cataracts, tuberculosis, spinal injury, many skin infections and support needed with family planning. There were at least 7 patients who will be seen at Hua Hin hospital this week for follow up. One of the students that were able to translate will also help with the visits at the hospital where it is often difficult to support all the patients in different departments of the hospital.
After both the medical and village assessment had been completed the clothes, shoes, children’s toys were gratefully received.
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After an amazing day with the incredible volunteers and incredible people we work with we headed home.
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