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Myanmar: Myanmar says more than 130 dead in fighting near China border

21 February 2015 - 12:46pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

Naypyidaw, Myanmar | AFP | Saturday 2/21/2015 - 17:39 GMT |

Myanmar's army Saturday said more than 130 people had died in a deepening battle with rebels in the northeast, declaring it would not rest until stability was restored to the border area which tens of thousands have fled.

Fighting raged in the remote Kokang region of Shan state where conflict erupted on February 9 when insurgent attacks on soldiers triggered a military onslaught, prompting at least 30,000 civilians to escape into bordering China.

In the first press conference since clashes began, defence ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Mya Htun Oo said the conflict had killed 61 military and police officers and around 72 insurgents.

"The fighting is strong... Because of serious fighting, our helicopters are helping," he told reporters in the capital Naypyidaw. "We will not retreat until we get stability."

He did not provide figures on civilian deaths in and around Laukkai town, where the conflict has centred, as efforts to evacuate communities remain hampered by an attack Tuesday on a local Red Cross convoy which wounded two aid workers.

The spokesman blamed the attack on the rebels: "Our military only provides protection to civilian convoys... We are going to take action against Kokang rebels’ offence."

The ethnically Chinese Kokang rebels or National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), who are fighting for regional autonomy, have denied attacking the convoy.

The conflict, the first major unrest in the region since 2009, has renewed doubts over a government attempt to forge a nationwide ceasefire in a country peppered with ethnic insurgencies.

Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has put the ceasefire agreement at the heart of its reforms as the nation prepares for a general election later this year.

But the fighting has raised fears those efforts are unravelling.

hla/pj/ac

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: New waterways, climate research, to revive Myanmar’s ‘dry zone’

21 February 2015 - 1:27am
Source: UN Development Programme Country: Myanmar

Mandalay: New plans to build water reservoirs and provide farmers with timely information on weather patterns could benefit more than a quarter of a million people in drought-prone central Myanmar, the United Nations Development Programme said this week.

A USD$7.9m project launched in Mandalay on February 17th will seek to reduce water stress in central, lowland Myanmar one of the most climate-sensitive and resource-depleted regions in the country, now known as the Dry Zone, and home to 34 per cent of Myanmar’s total population.

The Addressing Climate Change Risk on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar project sees a collaboration between UNDP and the regional governments of Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry and other relevant government agencies.

A network of canals, community ponds, pumps and tube wells to be built with UNDP support is intended to ensure ensure a continuous supply of freshwater to 280 villages during the dry season. Timely and accurate climate information provided by the project’s work would enable farmers to better plan crop planting during the dry season.

The project was launched by H.E. U Ye Myint, Chief Minister of the Mandalay Region, along with H.E. U Win Tun, the Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry and Nicholas Rosellini, UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

In speaking on the joint initiative, the Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry H.E. Mr. Tun described it as a “significant milestone for rural development in the central dry zone of Myanmar, particularly on climate change resilience, water resource development and food security of communities living in the region.”

“Such integration effort is very much in line with current development strategies of the country, and will have great positive impacts on grass-root rural communities living in the central dry zone of Myanmar,” he added.

Water scarcity, resulting from longer and more severe droughts is the biggest threat to livelihoods in the region and families spend a great deal of time and effort to fetch their daily supply of water, taking away from time for income-generating work.

More than 5,000 hectares of important watershed areas – about 15 times the size of New York’s Central Park – will see efforts to reduce soil erosion.

The project is the first to be financed by the Adaptation Fund in Myanmar and the UNDP.

The Chief Minister of the Mandalay Region, H.E. Mr. Myint said the project would make a significant difference to local communities that suffered from the impacts of climate change-related events, such as prolonged drought and scarcity of water.

“This project will contribute to making clean water available in rural villages and will therefore help reduce the outbreaks of diseases resulting from contaminated water,” said H.E. Mr. Myint.

“It will increase agricultural production and enhance local food security. It will help develop water resources and reduce soil erosion; as well as provide income generating opportunities for the landless people.”

UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini said that the project was of great importance to sustainable development in Myanmar.

“This is the first active project on the ground which responds to Myanmar’s climate change adaptation needs, recognized by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in alignment with its National Adaptation Program of Action,” said Nicholas Rosellini.

“It is a stepping stone for Myanmar to build its institutional capacities, and to integrate climate risks in development planning. This is a strategic initiative, which will help increase access to additional climate change finance from funds such as the Green Climate Fund,” he added.

“Climate change impacts are so far-reaching and extensive that we can only aim to address them through a cross-sectoral approach,” said Ms. Renata Lok-Dessallien, UNDP Resident Representative in Myanmar.

“Climate change is challenging us all to adopt new ways of thinking and working,” she said.

“Collaboration of different partners, including the government departments, civil society organizations and participation of communities are critical for accomplishment of this project, as climate change adaptation cannot be promoted through different agencies working independently,” Ms. Lok-Desallien said.

Myanmar: Educating The Next Generation On How To Live With Landmines [Video]

20 February 2015 - 2:03pm
Source: Mines Advisory Group Country: Myanmar

In Kayah State, Myanmar, a child's ability to correctly identify a landmine or other explosive weapon could save his or her life.

Thirty-year old farmer Thein Zaw lives in Salaung, a village of around 250 people on Myanmar’s border with Thailand.

Kayah is one of the areas most heavily affected by decades of internal conflict between armed ethnic groups, and while the eastern state has seen a cessation in hostilities, clearance of the landmines and unexploded bombs used during the fighting has unfortunately not yet started with the beginning of the peace process.

Thein told MAG that the fifty-odd households in the village continue to feel threatened. "I worry for my children," he said. "My son might find a dangerous item and get into an accident, because he is still young and curious."

These fears are typical in a country where an estimated five million-plus people live in areas contaminated by landmines.

Last month, a MAG community liaison team spent three days in Shadaw township, which takes in Salaung and many other villages like it, delivering mine risk education sessions to schoolchildren.

MAG uses songs, games, storytelling and role-play to fully involve the children and get them to act in a safe manner. Sessions and materials are tailored to the different developmental stages in childhood, and the aims are:

• to encourage youngsters to be curious, yet understand the consequences of risky behaviour;

• to enable and encourage them to independently make good decisions in the future.

Below is some footage shot by MAG Community Liaison Manager Brenda Floors at a mine risk education game in Daw Wei Raw village. Teams of children race to place pictures in baskets marked ‘Safe’ or “Danger’; the images are a mix of landmines/unexploded ordnance and safe items such as clocks and fruit.

Life and death decisions

The stark reality is that a child's ability to correctly identify a landmine or other explosive weapon – and act safely on doing so – could save his or her life.

So far, MAG has given 124 mine risk education sessions to 3,981 people in Kayah State, including 1,421 boys and girls. Think about it: that’s nearly 1,500 young lives potentially saved.

With landmine contamination remaining a very sensitive topic in Myanmar and clearance activities yet to take off, MAG is helping to foster a society in which people feel comfortable discussing landmines and mine-safe behaviour.

We want the next generation to grow up to become more knowledgeable and vocal about the dangers of landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Thailand: Migrant schools face closure amid funding plunge

20 February 2015 - 1:22pm
Source: Democratic Voice of Burma Country: Myanmar, Thailand

Schools at the Thai-Burma border that cater for migrant children are facing severe operational struggles as funding from international donors falls, according to the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Committee (BMWEC).

“At this moment, there is no donor interest in funding the learning centres for next year, as a lot of attention has shifted to inside the country,” said Naw Paw Ray, chairperson of the BMWEC.

“The learning centres will continue operations until the end of this educational year, and students will be able to sit the end-of-year exams – but as yet, we have no funds for the upcoming cycle,” she said.

The committee have called a meeting with students and parents to assess how to deal with the situation.

There are around 70 Burmese migrant learning centres in Thailand’s Mae Sot and Phop Phra districts that border Burma, providing education to around 10,000 students. 55 of these schools – comprising 6,900 students – are BMWEC affiliated.

Naw Paw Ray said the BMWEC would put forward three options in the scheduled meeting which will allow parents to ensure their children’s continued education.

“We came up with three options. The first is to transfer the students to Thai schools. If parents are interested in this, the Education Department in Tak Province [which contains both Mae Sot and Phop Phra] have pledged to help explore opportunity for enrolment in local schools.

“The second option is to join schools back home in Burma. The BMWEC will assist with provision of the necessary paperwork for this,” said Naw Paw Ray.

“The third option is to continue learning at the migrant learning centres, but to make this possible, we need to explore ways to become self-reliant.”

Zaw Lwin Oo, a teacher at one of the learning centres in Mae Sot, has said that the closure of the centres would be devastating for the futures of the children.

A migrant worker named U Than, who has three children in school, told DVB: “Ideally, I would like my children to sit the matriculation exams here. However, if there are to be no more migrant learning centres, I may have to consider sending them back to school in Burma.”

The learning centres will hold their end-of-year exams at the end of February and throughout March, in line with Burmese government schools. There are 165 tenth grade migrant school students who are sitting the matriculation exam this year.

Myanmar: Myanmar army deepens offensive on ethnic rebels near China border

20 February 2015 - 8:03am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

Lashio, Myanmar | AFP | Friday 2/20/2015 - 07:18 GMT

by Nan Tin HTWE

Myanmar's army intensified an offensive to flush out rebels from areas around a flashpoint town on the northeastern border with China, state media said Friday, after 11 days of fighting displaced tens of thousands of people.

The conflict, which flared on February 9 when ethnic Kokang rebels killed nearly 50 soldiers during a series of attacks on Laukkai town, has seen at least 30,000 people flee into China, prompting Beijing to call for an end to the clashes.

A similar number of people are believed to be displaced within Myanmar's northern Shan State, but clear estimates are hard to glean as local aid groups have limited operations after a Myanmar Red Cross convoy came under fire.

The army has struck back against the rebels with air strikes and ground forces, after apparently being caught flat-footed by the pace and ferocity of the initial rebel assault.

"Army columns were in hot pursuit of Kokang insurgents into retreat," around the Laukkai area, state mouthpiece the Global New Light of Myanmar reported Friday.

The report said the bodies of two rebels were recovered by Myanmar soldiers after fighting early Thursday to secure roads leading to Laukkai, which is now an apparent ghost town.

Rebels say they have also inflicted casualties on the army over recent days.

  • More flee conflict -

The conflict has renewed doubts over a government attempt to forge a nationwide ceasefire in a country peppered with bitter ethnic insurgencies.

The Kokang, who are mainly ethnic Chinese, have continued ambushes on army convoys despite losing dozens of men in the government push back.

They have been joined by other nearby rebel groups, including the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the powerful Kachin Independence Army, an ominous sign for peace in the country as it opens up and heads towards a crunch general election later this year.

Civilians have continued to stream into the Shan town of Lashio, some 140 kilometres (85 miles) from the fighting.

"We left yesterday (Thursday) morning because we were scared," a tired, sunburnt 50-year-old woman taking shelter at a Lashio monastery told AFP on Friday.

"The fighting was continuous... we could see the firing. One day it started around 3 pm and went on until the next morning," she added, requesting anonymity.

On Friday around 500 people were camped at the monastery where thousands who have fled the violence, many of them temporary workers, have taken refuge before travelling on to their homes in other parts of Myanmar.

Vice President Sai Mauk Kham was due to visit the site later Friday as the latest senior official to travel to Lashio after meeting wounded soldiers at the local military hospital.

Efforts to evacuate remote communities have been hampered by Tuesday's attack on a local Red Cross convoy which wounded two aid workers.

It is unclear who shot at the six-vehicle convoy, which was carrying civilians and journalists.

On Friday the United States Embassy in Yangon condemned the attack as "unacceptable".

Myanmar has blamed Kokang rebel leader Phone Kya Shin for the upsurge of violence -- after six years of relative peace -- and called on Beijing to rein in any local officials who might be helping the group on its side of the border.

Reform-minded President Thein Sein has vowed "not to lose an inch of Myanmar's territory" to the rebels.

nan-hla/pj/kb

© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: Kunlong Township Red Cross rescues 3,000 war refugees

20 February 2015 - 6:27am
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

The Kunlong Township branch of the Myanmar Red Cross Society has helped to rescue 3,163 war refugees from the fighting in the Kokang region within the last week, Daw Shwe Sin Myint, head of the communications department of the NGO, told Mizzima on February 19.

Intense fighting recently broke out in Laukkai, northeastern Shan State, between government forces and the Kokang armed group called Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army.

From February 11 to 17, the Kunlong Township branch of the MRCS, in cooperation with some social organizations in the township, arranged vehicles and moved 3,163 refugees from Laukkai to Lashio.

During the rescue efforts, two vehicle accidents occurred, according to the NGO.

Daw Shwe Sin Myint said: “These are the latest figures from Kunlong. The number of the refugees may be larger than the current figure.”

Many civilians have reportedly fled into adjoining regions, as well as over the nearby border into China.

As widely reported, a convoy carrying Myanmar war refugees, correspondents and press photographers was ambushed by an unknown armed group on February 17 and two regional Red Cross workers were injured in the gunfire.

Starting on February 9, intense fighting broke out in Laukkai between the government forces and the Kokang armed group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, said to be led by Pheung Kya-shin aka Phone Kyar Shin.

Myanmar: NGO reports ongoing militarisation of southeast Myanmar

20 February 2015 - 1:22am
Source: Mizzima News Country: Myanmar

Human rights violations may have dropped over the last three years in Kayin State but Myanmar government soldiers have been quietly, or in some cases, noisily building an increased presence.

That is the message from the Karen Human Rights Group in a press release received on February 18 that provides details of Tatmadaw activity in a region that is supposed to be at peace.

Following the January 2012 ceasefire between the Karen National Union and the Myanmar government, villagers have consistently reported to the NGO that Tatmadaw soldiers have moved with greater ease and frequency throughout the NGO’s research areas in southeastern Myanmar, causing feelings of insecurity and anxiety among villagers.

The rights group has received information regarding various aspects of ongoing militarisation, including the Tatmadaw repairing and constructing roads for military use, resupplying their camps with ammunition and food, and strengthening and repairing camps in Toungoo, Nyaunglebin, Hpapun and Dooplaya districts in southeastern Myanmar.

For example, in Toungoo District, villagers reported that when the Tatmadaw are transporting rations and ammunition, despite the fact that the ceasefire is in place and that they are not disturbed by the Karen National Liberation Army, they continue to fire mortars in civilian areas to deter KNLA ambushes. As a result, villagers in this district are worried that fighting will resume again. The Tatmadaw, although they have signed the ceasefire, are transporting rations and ammunition in greater numbers than are needed, according to local civilians.

In Bu Tho Township, Hpapun District, villagers reported that while they had seen a reduction in Tatmadaw patrolling and other activities, they have experienced an increased presence of two Border Guard Force battalions, who have been active in the area since the ceasefire.

Overall, based on the NGO’s reporting since the 2012 preliminary ceasefire, villagers in southeastern Myanmar have experienced a reduced number of human rights violations committed by armed groups. However, when villagers see the increase in Tatmadaw military activities in the region, it increases feelings of insecurity, and makes them fear that fighting will reoccur.

Myanmar: Ethnic NGOs Key to Addressing East Burma’s Large Health Care Issues: Report

20 February 2015 - 12:58am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY

A large-scale survey among ethnic minority communities in eastern Burma released on Thursday found that health care in the conflict-affected region has somewhat improved after ceasefires were signed in recent years, although it remains beset by serious health care challenges.

This situation, researchers said, is best addressed by further progress towards peace in Burma and by increasing government and international support for decentralized, ethnic health care organizations already working in the region.

The 64-page report by the Health Information System Working Group (HISWG), a network of field-based organizations working in eastern Burma, surveyed 6,620 households in 64 townships that are home to some 450,000 people, mostly ethnic Shan, Karen, Mon, and Karenni minorities. The surveyed areas included ethnic rebel-controlled and government-controlled areas, as well as mixed administration zones.

The survey’s main findings included “decreased rates of malaria and maternal malnutrition, and improved patterns of breastfeeding” in recent years, a press release by HISWG said, adding that the survey “also reveals that infant and child mortality rates in eastern Burma remain higher than the country’s official figures, and are similar to other conflict-affected countries such as Somalia.”

Infant mortality in eastern Burma was 94.2 per 1,000 live births in 2013, as compared to 41 for Burma as a whole in 2012, according Unicef figures cited in the report. Preventable diseases diarrhea, malaria and acute respiratory infections were the leading cause of death among all age groups and accounted for 15.6 percent, 14.8 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively, of all deaths among children under the age of five, the survey found.

The survey found that 10 percent of the population had access to government-operated health facilities, while 84 percent of patients, in particular pregnant women, rely on ethnic organization’s medial teams and field workers.

HISWG said its ethnic and community-based organizations had “developed their own primary health care service structures, outside the central government health system, through a network of rural clinics and mobile medical teams” to help hard-to-reach communities during past decades of ethnic conflict in eastern Burma and were therefore best placed to improve access to health care.

“To establish a good and effective health care system in the ethnic regions, it is very necessary that the government reduces its centralized policy as much as they can. They should mandate ethnic health organizations and workers in managing health programs in ethnic regions,” Dr. Cynthia Maung, founder of Thai-Burma border-based Mae Tao Clinic and lead author of the report, told The Irrawaddy.

“It is necessary to balance the involvement of locally-trained ethnic workers in job recruitment. The government should also promote the role of ethnic health workers in managing funding, writing health policy, planning and administration of ethnic regions,” she said.

Dr. Maung said ethnic health care workers communicate better with local communities and have gained their trust, and should therefore be empowered by both government policy and international donor support.

The international community has reengaged with Burma’s government after its transition from military to nominally-civilian rule in recent years and donors have sought to align funding with central government priorities, leading to concerns among ethnic aid and medical organizations that their role is being overlooked after decades of receiving international support.

Dr. Maung said a lack of security, ongoing conflict and displacement of people, and difficulties in transportation through militarized areas have hindered ethnic communities seeking access to health care services. Progress towards establishing a nationwide ceasefire and a subsequent peace agreement is therefore key to improving the health care situation in eastern Burma, she said.

Ethnic Karen rebels groups operating in eastern Burma have generally had stable ceasefires with the government in recent years, although a nationwide ceasefire process hit deadlock in September last year.

Myanmar: Drug-resistant malaria found close to Myanmar border with India

19 February 2015 - 10:56pm
Source: Reuters - AlertNet Country: India, Myanmar

Source: Reuters - Fri, 20 Feb 2015 00:01 GMT

Author: Reuters

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Malaria with total resistance to the antimalarial drug artemisinin has taken hold in Myanmar and spread close to the border with India, threatening to repeat history and render crucial medicines useless, scientists said on Friday.

Read more on AlertNet

Myanmar: Myanmar aid group urges ceasefire to evacuate trapped civilians

19 February 2015 - 5:02am
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: China, Myanmar

Thursday 2/19/2015 - 09:46 GMT

by Nan Tin HTWE

Aid workers called Thursday for a ceasefire to allow the evacuation of people trapped around a town at the centre of fierce fighting between Myanmar's army and ethnic rebels, after the deaths of two more civilians in an area cloaked in a state of emergency.

Tens of thousands of civilians have already fled the remote and rugged Kokang area of northeastern Shan State over the last 10 days, with at least 30,000 crossing the border into China.

Local aid groups have officially suspended rescue convoys to and around the flashpoint town of Laukkai, where a series of surprise attacks by ethnic Kokang rebels last week sparked the flare up of violence.

The decision follows an attack on a convoy led by the Myanmar Red Cross that wounded two aid workers on Tuesday. Officials say the roads leading to the area may have been mined by the rebels.

"We still do not know exactly how many people are still trapped in the Laukkai region... but we evacuated around 30 people from there on Wednesday," a Myanmar Red Cross member told AFP in the Shan town of Lashio, some 140 kilometres (85 miles) south of Laukkai.

"We are asking both sides to keep a ceasefire for a few days, so we can help to evacuate people. Currently, even our Red Cross logo cannot help to protect people. It's really sad."

Over recent days fighting has clustered just south of Laukkai -- after the town was effectively emptied by the outbreak of conflict last week, which saw nearly 50 Myanmar soldiers killed in a rebel assault.

The army regained the town after helicopter and jet air strikes were followed by bloody street gun battles, which state media said killed dozens of rebels.

Rebel ambushes

Rebels have continued to carry out sporadic ambushes with "small and heavy weapons" on army convoys and camps but have withdrawn "when counterattacks were launched", state-led newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar reported Thursday.

"Three tatmadaw (army) personnel died in action and two civilians," the report said, adding affiliated rebel groups, including the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the powerful Kachin Independence Army, had also carried out attacks.

Rebels have said they are braced for a major army assault, after Myanmar imposed a state of emergency handing a local military commander sweeping powers.

An MP for Laukkai said his constituency was a virtual ghost town, with only a few residents left guarding their houses.

"People dare not to come back to the town," said Kyaw Ni Naing, an ethnic Kokang MP for Laukkai told AFP from the capital Naypyidaw.

"We do not want to see any fighting. I want my region to be in peace as soon as possible," he said, adding the refugees in China are desperate to return, but they "have to wait until the fighting stops".

While the majority of the fleeing civilians have crossed into southwest China, tens of thousands more are believed to have been displaced on the Myanmar side of the border.

Several thousand have streamed into Lashio where they are seeking sanctuary in a cramped monastery.

Experts say Kokang area is viewed in Myanmar as a culturally distinct outpost, renowned for drug production and a cross-border trade with China.

Many of the ethnic Kokang are of Chinese origin.

China says it is providing relief to the refugees but has urged a swift end to the conflict.

Officials have blamed the Kokang rebel leader Phone Kya Shin for the sudden flaring of violence -- after six years of relative calm -- and called on Beijing to rein in any local officials who might be helping the group on its side of the border.

Myanmar's President Thein Sein has vowed "not to lose an inch of Myanmar's territory" to the rebels.

But the violence has undercut his well-trailed attempts to secure a nationwide ceasefire to end several festering insurgencies before breakthrough elections are held later this year.

nan-hla/apj/as

Myanmar: Myanmar: Kachin & Northern Shan CCCM Dashboard (1/Feb/2015)

19 February 2015 - 1:20am
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Myanmar Information Management Unit, CCCM Cluster, Shelter Cluster Country: Myanmar

Myanmar: Myanmar: Kachin & Northern Shan Shelter Coverage & Gaps (1/Feb/2015)

19 February 2015 - 1:18am
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Myanmar Information Management Unit, CCCM Cluster, Shelter Cluster Country: Myanmar

Myanmar: Myanmar: Kachin & Northern Shan States - IDPs Location List (1/Feb/2015)

19 February 2015 - 1:16am
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees, CCCM Cluster, Shelter Cluster Country: Myanmar

Myanmar: Myanmar: Human rights reforms under threat - Amnesty International’s written statement to the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (2-27 March 2015)

18 February 2015 - 4:58pm
Source: Amnesty Country: Myanmar

Index: ASA 16/010/2015 18 February 2015

Myanmar’s backsliding on human rights reforms – only a few months before general elections – underscores the necessity for the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt a strong resolution on the situation of human rights on the country and to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

HRC resolutions on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur have been critical to demonstrating the international community’s support for human rights in Myanmar and have made a positive contribution towards improving the human rights situation there.

Continued strong engagement by the HRC is warranted as the human rights situation in the country remains serious. Myanmar is failing to make progress in several important areas and has slid back worryingly in others, just a few months before general elections. It is crucial that international scrutiny continues at such a critical juncture in the country’s history. vv

The following is an overview of Amnesty International’s concerns on the human rights situation and recommendations for the HRC’s consideration. In addition to this statement, the organization has submitted to this session a written statement with concerns and recommendations relating to protection of people from abuses linked to extractive projects in Myanmar.1

INCREASED RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOMS OF EXPRESSION AND PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Since the last HRC resolution on Myanmar, Amnesty International has documented an increase in the number of prisoners of conscience in the country,2 in addition to an alarming rise in the harassment, arrest and detention of individuals who are simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. These include human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, land activists, and farmers.

Furthermore, the government has not taken any effective steps to repeal or amend laws that violate the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly or are used to punish the exercise of these rights. This creates an environment in which human rights defenders and journalists fear reprisals, which undermines their ability to carry out their legitimate work.
Amnesty International also continues to receive reports of other violations within the criminal justice system, including torture and other ill-treatment and unfair trials.

CRISIS IN RAKHINE STATE

The situation of the Rohingya has continued to deteriorate. In Rakhine state, what started as a humanitarian emergency has increasingly become an entrenched human rights crisis.
The dire humanitarian situation of an estimated 139,000 displaced people in Rakhine State – mostly Rohingya – worsened following the expulsion of some humanitarian organizations in February and March 2014, and the withdrawal of others following attacks against them in March. Although access has resumed for some organizations, humanitarian assistance has not returned to the levels prior to the attacks.

The situation in Rakhine state is fragile, and security concerns for people there are high. The Rohingya remain deprived of nationality under the 1982 Citizenship Act, and as a result they have continued to face restrictions on their freedom of movement, with repercussions for their access to livelihoods. Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the proposed Rakhine State Action Plan, a leaked copy of which looks set to further entrench discrimination against the Rohingya. Furthermore, the government has not made the plan publically available – or consulted with affected communities.

The dire humanitarian situation, coupled with pervasive discrimination, increasing advocacy of hatred and threats of further restrictions, has pushed growing numbers of people to leave the Myanmar in recent months. In 2014 alone, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated 53,000 people left the Bay of Bengal by boat. Between October and December,
UNHCR recorded a 37 per cent increase in the number of people departing compared to the previous year.

RISING RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE

Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the package of laws aimed at “protecting race and religion”, which are currently under consideration by the Parliament. The four laws – the Religious Conversion Bill, the Population Control Bill, the Myanmar Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Bill and the Monogamy Bill – contain many aspects that do not comply with international human rights law and standards, including Myanmar’s legal obligations as a state party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many provisions in these four laws discriminate on multiple grounds, including gender, religion and marital status.

Amnesty International is concerned that the passage of these four laws will not only result in increased discrimination, it could further heighten existing tensions between religious groups.
We are deeply concerned about the continued rise in religious intolerance and hardline nationalist attitudes. The government has failed to speak out against the growing use of advocacy of hatred to incite discrimination, hostility and violence.

We share the condemnation by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights of the deeply offensive and sexist comments made against the Special Rapporteur at the end of her visit to Myanmar. We note that others who speak out against hardline religious and nationalist views have also faced retaliation from state and non-state actors, including threats, harassment and even possible arrest. For example, writer Htin Lin Oo is currently in detention and facing imprisonment for making a speech criticizing the use of religion to promote discriminatory views. He faces up to three years in prison.Failure to address human rights violations and abuses, including discrimination against Rohingya, and to address growing hardline nationalist attitudes and advocacy of hatred is a recipe for further violence.

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND ABUSES IN CONFLICT AREAS

The situation in Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas also deteriorated in 2014, with fighting in Northern Shan State and Kachin State now in its fourth year. Worryingly, violence appears to have intensified since the beginning of 2015, displacing parts of the civilian population.

Violations of international humanitarian and human rights law continue, with ongoing reports of unlawful killings and torture and other ill-treatment, including rape and other crimes of sexual violence – in particular by the Myanmar security forces. Amnesty International also receives reports of human rights abuses by armed groups aligned with certain ethnic groups. However, impunity persists for such violations and abuses, with perpetrators rarely, if ever, brought to justice.

Around 98,000 people remain displaced in Kachin and Northern Shan States. However, the Myanmar government continues to deny full and sustained access for humanitarian actors to displaced communities, particularly those displaced in Kachin Independence Army-controlled areas.

IMPUNITY

Immunity from prosecution for past violations by the security forces and other government officials remains codified in Article 445 of the 2008 Constitution, meaning that perpetrators of both current and past human rights violations continue to enjoy impunity. As a result, victims of both past and current human rights violations and their families have continued to be denied truth, justice, compensation and any other form of reparation.

NEED FOR THE PROMPT OPENING OF AN OHCHR COUNTRY OFFICE

Despite commitments from the Myanmar government, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has not yet been able to establish an office in the country. The establishment of an OHCHR office, with a full protection and promotion mandate and access to all areas of the country, is crucial to ensure monitoring of and reporting on the human rights situation in the country. While Amnesty International notes that there are several OHCHR staff able to work in Myanmar, the organization is concerned that they do not have full and sustained access to the country. This not only seriously impedes their ability to undertake their work, it raises serious questions about the extent to which the Myanmar government is cooperating with OHCHR.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Amnesty International recommends that the HRC extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and urge the government to co-operate fully with the Special Rapporteur and other Special Procedures.

Further, Amnesty International recommends that the HRC, its members and observer States urge the Government of Myanmar to:

  • Release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience and drop charges against those currently not detained, but who are facing imprisonment simply for the peaceful exercise of their human rights;

  • Ensure human rights defenders and journalists can carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisal;

  • End all discrimination in law, policy and practice against ethnic and religious minorities, and ensure Rohingya have equal access to citizenship rights;

  • Ensure that humanitarian aid organizations have full and unfettered access to all displaced persons throughout the country;

  • Immediately put an end to violations of international human rights law – including rape and other crimes of sexual violence – especially against members of ethnic minority groups;

  • Ensure all those who are responsible for human rights violations and abuses – including those with command responsibility – are brought to justice in fair proceedings, without the imposition of the death penalty, and that victims can access truth, justice and full and effective reparation;

  • Ratify and effectively implement international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

  • Engage constructively in the Universal Periodic Review when Myanmar is reviewed in late 2015; and

  • Facilitate the establishment of an office of the OHCHR able to operate throughout Myanmar with a full promotion and protection mandate.

Myanmar: Statement by the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Ms. Renata Dessallien, 18 February 2015

18 February 2015 - 10:12am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar Country: Myanmar

(Yangon, 18 February 2015): “I am saddened to hear of the attack on a Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) convoy en route between Laukkai and Chin Schwe Haw in northern Shan State on 17 February. Two MRCS volunteers were wounded in the attack. The convoy was carrying civilians from the conflict area in the Kokang self-administered zone to safe areas.

An attack on humanitarian aid workers and on civilians is a violation of International Humanitarian Law. I call on all parties to the conflict to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff and remind them of their obligations under International Humanitarian Law, and to allow humanitarian convoys safe passage out of the conflict area.

I am also concerned by reports of thousands of people displaced by fighting between the Government of Myanmar Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and other armed groups in the Kokang self-administered zone, north-eastern Shan State.

I appeal to all parties to the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected, and to allow civilians who remain in the conflict zone safe passage out of the Kokang area.”

For further information, please contact:

Chris Hyslop, Deputy Head of Office, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar (hyslopc@un.org / +95 (0) 94 253 14850 )

Eva Modvig, Reports and Communications Officer, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Myanmar ( modvig@un.org )

OCHA press releases are available at www.reliefweb.int and www.themimu.info

Myanmar: Climate Change Adaptation Project Kicks Off in Myanmar’s Dry Zone

17 February 2015 - 11:44pm
Source: UN Development Programme Country: Myanmar

[Mandalay – 17 February] More than a quarter of a million people in Myanmar will benefit from a project that will equip farmers with timely resources, knowledge and tools and enable them to have good harvests despite changing weather patterns, says the UN Development Programme’s Nicholas Rosellini.

The USD$7.9 million, four-year project, “Addressing Climate Change Risk on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar,” was launched in Mandalay today by the Chief Minister of the Mandalay Region, H.E U Ye Myint and the Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry, H. E U Win Tun, the UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini.

The project will be conducted in central, lowland Myanmar. Over the past 150 years, environmental degradation, compounded by global warming, has transformed this land into one of the most climate-sensitive and resource-depleted regions in Myanmar, now known as the Dry Zone. The Dry Zone is home to 34% of the country’s total population. Water scarcity, resulting from longer and more severe droughts is the biggest threat to livelihood here. A majority of the households spend most of their time and effort fetching water for drinking and other uses, depriving them of income generating opportunities.

Through the project, small scale water management infrastructure such as canals, community ponds, and water pumps and tube wells will be put in place to ensure a continuous supply of freshwater during the dry season in 280 villages. Five thousand hectares of watershed area will be rehabilitated to improve erosion control. The project also aims to provide timely and accurate climate risk information that would enable farmers to better plan crop planting during the dry season.

The project is the first to be financed by the Adaptation Fund in Myanmar and the UNDP. It is also supported by the Regional Governments of Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry and other relevant government agencies.

In speaking about the joint initiative, the Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry H. E U Win Tun described it as a “significant milestone for rural development in the central dry zone of Myanmar, particularly on climate change resilience, water resource development and food security of communities living in the region.”

“Such integration effort is very much in line with current development strategies of the country, and will have great positive impacts on grass-root rural communities living in the central dry zone of Myanmar,” he added.

The Chief Minister of the Mandalay Region, H.E U Ye Myint said the project would make significant difference to local communities in the dry zone that increasingly suffered from the impacts of climate change-related events, such as prolonged drought and scarcity of water.

“This project will contribute to making clean water available in rural villages and will therefore help reduce the outbreaks of diseases resulting contaminated water,” said H. E U Ye Myint. “It will increase agricultural production and enhance local food security. It will help develop water resources and reduce soil erosion; as well as provide income generating opportunities for the landless people.”

UNDP Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Nicholas Rosellini said that the project was of great importance to sustainable development in Myanmar.

“This is the first active project on the ground which responds to Myanmar’s climate change adaptation needs, recognized by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in alignment with its National Adaptation Program of Action,” said Nicholas Rosellini. “It is a stepping stone for Myanmar to build its institutional capacities, and to integrate climate risks in development planning. This is a strategic initiative, which will help increase access to additional climate change finance from funds such as the Green Climate Fund,” he added.

“Climate change impacts are so far-reaching and extensive that we can only aim to address them through a cross-sectoral approach. Climate change is challenging us all to adopt new ways of thinking and working. Collaboration of different partners, including the government departments, civil society organizations and participation of communities are critical for accomplishment of this project, as climate change adaptation cannot be promoted through different agencies working independently,” said Ms. Renata Lok-Dessallien, UNDP Resident Representative in Myanmar.

The project will be implemented in Shwebo and Monywa in Sagaing Region; Myin Chan and Nyaung Oo in Mandalay Region; and Chauk in Magway Region by UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Forestry.

Contact Information

Shobhna Decloitre
Communications Specialist
UNDP Myanmar
Tel: 09 250345158
shobhna.decloitre@undp.org

Lat Lat Aye
Team Leader, UNDP Myanmar
09-250-345168
lat.lat.aye@undp.org

U Ba Kaung
Deputy Director,
Dry Zone Greening Department
Tel: 09-5143120
ubakaung95@gmail.com

Myanmar: Tens of thousands flee Myanmar conflict as aid curbed

17 February 2015 - 11:27pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: China, Myanmar

Lashio, Myanmar | AFP | Wednesday 2/18/2015 - 08:09 GMT

by Nan Tin HTWE

Nearly 90,000 civilians in northeastern Myanmar are believed to have fled clashes between troops and ethnic rebels, an official said Wednesday, as sporadic violence hampered efforts to evacuate those still trapped.

Rebels fear the national army is planning a major assault following the imposition of a state of emergency in the Kokang region of Shan state on Tuesday.

Whole towns and villages lie empty in the rugged, remote area as tens of thousands of residents have fled their homes -- some on foot.

At least 30,000 people, mainly the ethnic Chinese Kokang, have crossed the border into China's Yunnan province, sparking alarm in Beijing.

Clashes continued Wednesday as more civilians arrived in the Shan town of Lashio, fearing they could be caught up in the sudden upsurge of violence.

In one of at least two separate attacks on civilians Tuesday, around 100 people came under fire as they travelled in Myanmar Red Cross trucks in a desperate dash from their homes.

"It was a miracle we weren't hit," Maung Ying told AFP in Lashio after the attack on aid vehicles, which were marked with Red Cross flags but had no military protection.

"They were shooting from the mountains on both sides of the road. I thought I was going to die, bullets were passing just over our heads," he said, adding the ordeal lasted for an hour.

The convoy had passed through Laukkai, the epicentre of fierce fighting since rebels launched attacks last week.

Tun Tun Oo, head of the Lashio Red Cross, which is separate from the better known International Committee of the Red Cross, said it was now too dangerous to go into Laukkai.

"We just have to wait for people to come to us. If the army could give us protection under military rule, then we would go back," he told AFP.

Both the army and rebels have blamed each other for the attack.

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, Renata Dessallien, said she was "saddened" by the aid convoy attack, adding that it was in breach of humanitarian law.

"I appeal to all parties to the conflict to ensure that civilians are protected, and to allow civilians who remain in the conflict zone safe passage out of the Kokang area," she said in a statement.

  • Civilian exodus -

The violence, which flared on February 9, has killed dozens of soldiers and rebels. There is no official civilian death toll.

Laukkai's ethnic Kokang MP Kyaw Ni Naing said he believed more than half of the region's 140,000 people were on the move.

"There are many refugees fleeing from Laukkai town and nearby regions," he told AFP by telephone from the national capital Naypyidaw, adding that sporadic fighting had continued on Wednesday although the town itself was quiet.

He said around 8,000 people from central Myanmar had fled through Lashio, while some 40,000 Kokang had crossed into China. Another 40,000 people from Kokang and other ethnic minorities were thought to be scrambling for safety along the frontier.

China says it has stepped up border controls and called on all parties to prevent a further escalation of fighting.

Military activity in Lashio appeared to be increasing on Wednesday, despite an apparent lull in heavy fighting, with two helicopters and six trucks seemingly on standby at an army airstrip on the outskirts of town.

"The military is increasing its forces with tanks and heavy weapons in the region. We believe there will be more fighting," said Captain Tar Parn Hla, spokesman for the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, which is fighting alongside the Kokang rebels.

He denied rebel involvement in the attack on the aid convoy, and accused the army of "intentionally" targeting civilians.

No one from the Myanmar government was available to comment.

It is the first major unrest in the region since 2009, when a huge assault by the army drove out rebel fighters, sending tens of thousands into China.

Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has made signing a ceasefire with various ethnic rebel groups a key pillar of its reforms as the country heads towards a general election later this year.

But the fighting has raised fears those efforts are unravelling.

nan-hla/klm/pj/sm

Myanmar: Red Cross Convoy Ambushed Near Laukkai

17 February 2015 - 11:27pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

A convoy of the Myanmar Red Cross Society came under fire by rebel troops on Tuesday as it was traveling near Laukkai, the administrative capital of Kokang Special Region 1, where insurgents have been in conflict with the Burma Army for more than a week.

The convoy, which was carrying MRCS staff and at least two journalists, was attacked while driving between Laukkai and Chin Shwe Haw after an aid mission in the devastated township.

The fleet of seven vehicles was transporting more than 100 displaced persons from Laukkai to Lashio. They were attacked around 2pm. One truck was struck by gunfire. The bullet came from atop a nearby hill to the vehicle’s left, a witness said.

The vehicles were clearly marked with MRCS insignia. Some of trucks in the convoy were blue, which the witness said indicated that they were not Burma Army vehicles as they are typically green.

Two members of the convoy were injured during five minutes of fire. Both survived and were transported to Kunlong General Hospital for medical treatment after the convoy spent 30 minutes hiding in a street-side gutter, according to Irrawaddy photographer JPaing, who was traveling with the convoy.

Prior to the attack, an army convoy headed to Laukkai clashed with Kokang rebels near Chin Shwe Haw.

Since fighting began between the Burma Army and an ethnic rebel group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on Feb. 9, dozens have died and tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced, many spilling over the nearby border into Yunnan, China.

This article was updated on Feb. 17, 2015, at 8:30 pm, to add new details and clarify that the injured were taken to Kunlong, not to Chin Shwe Haw as previously reported.

Myanmar: Red Cross Convoy Ambushed Near Laukkai

17 February 2015 - 11:27pm
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar

A convoy of the Myanmar Red Cross Society came under fire by rebel troops on Tuesday as it was traveling near Laukkai, the administrative capital of Kokang Special Region 1, where insurgents have been in conflict with the Burma Army for more than a week.

The convoy, which was carrying MRCS staff and at least two journalists, was attacked while driving between Laukkai and Chin Shwe Haw after an aid mission in the devastated township.

The fleet of seven vehicles was transporting more than 100 displaced persons from Laukkai to Lashio. They were attacked around 2pm. One truck was struck by gunfire. The bullet came from atop a nearby hill to the vehicle’s left, a witness said.

The vehicles were clearly marked with MRCS insignia. Some of trucks in the convoy were blue, which the witness said indicated that they were not Burma Army vehicles as they are typically green.

Two members of the convoy were injured during five minutes of fire. Both survived and were transported to Kunlong General Hospital for medical treatment after the convoy spent 30 minutes hiding in a street-side gutter, according to Irrawaddy photographer JPaing, who was traveling with the convoy.

Prior to the attack, an army convoy headed to Laukkai clashed with Kokang rebels near Chin Shwe Haw.

Since fighting began between the Burma Army and an ethnic rebel group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) on Feb. 9, dozens have died and tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced, many spilling over the nearby border into Yunnan, China.

This article was updated on Feb. 17, 2015, at 8:30 pm, to add new details and clarify that the injured were taken to Kunlong, not to Chin Shwe Haw as previously reported.

World: Global Emergency Overview Snapshot 11–17 February 2015

17 February 2015 - 10:41am
Source: Assessment Capacities Project Country: Afghanistan, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Ukraine, World, Yemen

Snapshot 11–17 February 2015

Myanmar: Fighting between the Myanmar army and the MNDAA, an insurgent group in the Kokang area of Shan state, displaced tens of thousands of people. Some fled into central Myanmar, while between 30,000 and 50,000 are thought to have crossed into Nansan, Yunnan province, China.

Afghanistan: 32,000 undocumented Afghans have spontaneously returned from Pakistan, after security incidents in the country have led to a military crackdown; another 2,000 people have been deported to Afghanistan. This is 130% more people than returned in all of 2014.

DRC: 1,170 cases of cholera have been recorded in Katanga province so far in 2015, with 24 deaths.

Global Emergency Overview Web Interface