Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
MAWLAMYINE, Mon State – Hundreds of internally displaced people (IDPs) will benefit from a water point and a school building built by the UN refugee agency in Pa Yit Kho village in Thaton township in Mon State of south-east Myanmar.
Today, UNHCR’s Representative for Myanmar Mr. Giuseppe de Vincentiis officially handed over a water point and primary school to communities in Pa Yit Kho village during a ceremony attended by the State Minister of Border and Security Col. Htay Myint Aung, the State Director of the Department of Education Mr. U Myo Tint Aung, the Chairman of Social Development of Thaton township from the Karen National Union Mr. Pha Do Saw Tin Soe and the Secretary of the Myanmar Red Cross Society Dr. Aung Mon.
The water point and the primary school will benefit over 40 families and 62 students, numbering a total of 262 people living in Pa Yit Kho and the nearby villages. “We are extremely satisfied with these projects”, said de Vincentiis. “Our aim is to support these communities that have been affected by conflict so they can build for a brighter future, especially at this time when we see many changes in Myanmar and new avenues for peace.” A large number of people are displaced in south-eastern Myanmar’s Mon, Kayah and Kayin States and Tanintharyi Region, where UNHCR is operating. Additionally, some 110,000 Myanmar refugees are hosted in nine camps along the Myanmar-Thai border.
Speaking about refugee return from Thailand to Myanmar, de Vincentiis said: “UNHCR is preparing for a day when the situation is conducive for refugees to voluntarily and safely return home. For this to be durable, we need to work together, as Government, Ethnic Groups, local communities and international community, to design a response that is part of a broader comprehensive effort in the south-east. Refugees have hopes, fears and needs that are important to be understood and taken into account.” The water point and school construction was undertaken by UNHCR with its partners Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) and Bridge Asia Japan (BAJ). The projects were generously supported by the Governments of Japan and of the United States of America, two of UNHCR’s main donors.
Between 2004 and 2014, UNHCR assisted in building more than 500 rural health subcentres, primary schools and water points, as well as several hundred rehabilitation projects, school latrines, transitional shelters. The agency also provided school and medical equipment and relief supplies to address the needs of internally displaced people and refugees who decided on their own to return from Thailand to Myanmar.
By SALAI THANT ZIN / THE IRRAWADDY
KANZAM, Chin State — New Year’s Eve passed quietly in Kanzam, a small village in northern Chin State. While other villages in remote Tonzang Township were busily preparing for a celebration, this one remained eerily still. Kanzam’s old and weather-beaten Catholic chapel was barred shut and entirely without décor. No bells were ringing, no churchgoers singing, no priest stood in the chapel, once the holy heart of this pious village.
Bordering India’s Manipur and Mizoram states to the west and Sagaing Division to the east, Tonzang Township is Chin State’s most mountainous and sparsely populated area, with little to no access to roads. Kanzam village dates back more than a century, its remaining residents said, and in the past it has been home to up to 100 people. In the 1990’s, they said, a new crop was introduced to the hill-dwelling agrarians. Since opium crept into their lives, the village population dove to 22.
There is not a single living man in his 30’s left in Kanzam. In fact, the village is home to only three males, all around the age of 18. Neighboring villages refer to it with a spooky epithet—Widow Village—because drug use has claimed so many of its men. Only three children attend the local primary school, as their parents tend poppy fields and brew rice liquor in the daytime.
“Drug dealers come through forests on mountain ranges, they don’t use main roads,” Chin State Police Chief Myint Lwin told The Irrawaddy after a recent visit to the desolate town. He explained that dealers from Moreh, in India, and from Sagaing Division’s Tamu and Kale cross into the obscure terrain to buy raw opium, which was in high demand around 2010. At its peak, he said, the product brought in between 1 and 3 million kyats (US$1-3,000) per viss, a Burmese measurement equal to about 1.6 kilograms, or 3.6 pounds.
As demand waned, however, prices dropped to around 700,000 kyats for the same yield. Despite the steep decline in value, poppy cultivation was still easier and more profitable than most other crops, so production remained steady.
A rise in addiction followed naturally from increased production, and while the village’s men were the first to fall, women have also become users. Mang Lian Lung, a woman from Kanzam, said that the drug helps her make it through long and difficult days in the fields.
“I became addicted to opium while working at a poppy farm,” she said. “The job is tiring, but smoking opium keeps me active. I know it’s not good, but I can’t help it.”
‘Poppy Made the Mountains Bald’
The rugged top of the Arakan Yoma mountain range bulges through the center of Chin State, the poorest, sparsest and least connected of Burma’s administrative regions. The climate and soils vary throughout the state, where many still rely on traditional agricultural practices.
Villagers said that opium became a hot crop in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when drug and arms dealers from neighboring Sagaing Division paid villagers to take up cultivation. State police said the crop later seeped into other areas in the northern part of the state.
Farmers adapted to the new production cycle: they cut and burn hillside forest in April and May, till in July, sow the seeds in August and September and harvest from December to March. The practice hasn’t gone unnoticed, leaving a distinct mark on an otherwise untouched landscape. A hunter lamented that the felling of large trees to make room for poppy “has made the mountain bald.”
The complete history and scale of the problem in Chin State is still unknown. The United nations has been involved in anti-narcotics activities in Burma since 1974, but the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted its first cultivation survey in Chin State just last year. Only a negligible amount of the country’s 670-ton annual production potential comes from Chin State (most of the country’s opiates are sourced from the “golden triangle” where Shan State borders Thailand and Laos), but the new data shows cause for concern.
Tonzang and nearby Tedim townships were areas of interest when the UNODC made rounds. Its research, drawn from field visits, interviews and various imaging systems, found that about 1,100 hectares of land were under cultivation in Chin State in 2014. A lack of any previous data meant that no trends could be yet be identified.
To those who live there, however, the pattern is clear. Ba Min, chairman of the Kale district chapter of the National League for Democracy, said the drug problem “has become serious,” and that local law enforcement and government officials are exacerbating the problem. Bribery and other forms of corruption are rampant, he said, hampering efforts to curb drug production and trafficking. “It is quite clear who is involved,” he said. “It’s an open secret.”
Chin State authorities said that they have a plan to eliminate poppy production within three years. While education initiatives and some minimal punitive actions are already underway, the biggest obstacle is that the government has presented no sustainable agricultural alternatives in the region.
Authorities and locals are both hopeful that development will ease the dilemma, pinning their hopes on a new road being built from the coarse mountainside to Sagaing Division. Ease of transport will likely make a variety of crops more profitable for farmers, as they will no longer be faced with the choice of selling drugs to traffickers or walking seven miles to the nearest marketplace.
“We don’t grow poppy because we love it,” confessed Mang Lian Kai, one of the three young men left in Widow Village. “We promise, we will never grow poppy again if a road and a mobile network are built.”
A migrant rights NGO is calling on the authorities in southern Thai tourist resorts to respect minimum wage, work permit and social security regulations for Myanmar migrant workers who contribute to the region’s successful economy.
Representatives of the Migrant Worker Rights Network formally handed a complaint letter to the Koh Samui provincial offices on January 9, signed by MWRN President U Sein Htay Sun regarding what is alleges are systematic violations of migrant worker labour and employment rights on Koh Samui, Koh Phangnan and Koh Tao.
These three islands are all globally renowned, successful and productive tourist islands in Surat Thani Province that are a key source of income for Thailand's economy, according to the NGO.
The letter was delivered by MWRN International Affairs AdvisorMr Andy Hall, accompanied by Human Rights and Development Foundation’s Daw Aye Mar Cho, writes Mr Hall on his Facebook page.
The letter has also been delivered to the governor of Surat Thani province and other relevant authorities.
The NGO, which supports Myanmar migrant workers’ rights, called on the Thai authorities to ensure the migrant workers receive the official 300 baht [K10,000] minimum daily wage, appropriate overtime pay, and time off. The letter calls for registration and work permits for workers, as well social security coverage, including support in the case of illness and accidents.
MWRN called for all migrant workers on Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangnan to be protected and treated in accordance with Thai and international labour and employment laws, the rule of law and general human rights.
The letter is said to be the result of three months of investigations and interviews with migrant workers on the islands.
MWRN has found migrants on the islands frequently receive a monthly salary that, when calculated based on numbers of days and hours worked per month, is below the minimum wage levels.
In addition, many are not sufficiently protected in case of illness or accidents. The NGO has come across cases of migrants who have been left destitute after an accident or illness, with little or no support provided by their employer.
By Khaing Thanda Lwin
Yangon, 11 Jan — A survey of people infected with liver disease, especially hepatitis B and C viruses, is reported to be conducted nationwide in February by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with Liver Foundation, a local nonprofit organization.
“The project is believed to help reduce the death toll and the outbreak of the silent killers,” said Dr Daw Khin Pyone Kyi, President of the Foundation.
After the survey, the two bodies have plans to distribute anti-hepatitis C virus drugs free of charge to infected people by the middle of the year,she added.
At a recent meeting in the capital city, the ministry is said to have vowed to accelerate its initiative called National Hepatitis Programme in partnership with NGOs and INGOs to bridge the treatment gaps for hepatitis virus.
According to a WHO survey, there are about 400 million people living with hepatitis B virus and some 170 million with hepatitis C virus.
In Myanmar, it is estimated that 8-10 per cent of the people surveyed are found contracting hepatitis B virus, while two to five per cent are suffering from the hepatitis C, with experts noting that the actual figures would be higher following the nationwide survey.
More joint projects and programmes will be implemented throughout the year, Dr Daw Khin Pyone Kyi said.
Both hepatitis B and C viruses have potential to lead to chronic liver infections which can be transmitted through contact with blood or body fluids of an infected person.
Vaccines are available for hepatitis B, but there is no vaccine available for hepatitis C. Despite this, effective drugs to fight the virus are available in some countries, with experts saying that these drugs have potential to kill the virus in a short time.—GNLM
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY
RANGOON — Local authorities have confirmed at least four deaths after a rockslide on Tuesday buried small-scale miners at a jade mine in Hpakant, Kachin State, home to Burma’s richest deposits of the precious stone.
The search for bodies began on Wednesday, with a local rescue team uncovering the fourth body on Thursday afternoon.
Myo Thant Aung, the deputy director of the Hpakant Township administrative office, told The Irrawaddy that search efforts would continue.
“Four bodies—two men and two women who were small-scale miners—have been found so far, but we cannot tell how many are still missing as we have not yet received any reports about missing persons,” he said.
The local official said township authorities had requested that nearby communities contact them if any of their family members are unaccounted for. Earlier on Thursday, Reuters quoted an anonymous employee of a mining company in Hpakant as saying the death toll could climb as high as 50 people.
Thousands of illegal small-scale miners, also known as hand-pickers, have combed through Hpakant’s famed jade mines for years, seeking fortune—or merely eking out a livelihood—from the prized green stones. Large-scale mining in the area was suspended for security reasons in 2011, but were allowed to resume in September of last year.
Myo Thant Aung said authorities had also met with survivors of the rockslide, who live in nine temporary shops that have sprung up to cater to the basic needs of hand-pickers. The shops are located near piles of mining waste, some of which tower 200 to 300 feet in height.
Three companies involved in mining in the area and a handful of social organizations on Thursday donated rice sacks and 350,000 kyats (US$350) to each of the families of the victims.
The four victims identified so far are all ethnic Arakanese, including two women, Ma Sein Htay, 35, and Thida Soe, 21. Both women and the two male victims—Nay Lin, 20, and Myo Naing, 23—migrated to the jade mines of Hpakant from western Arakan State.
“The pile of rocks overwhelmed them while they were doing small-scale work in the late afternoon [on Tuesday],” said Myo Thant Aung.
The rockslide occurred at a site where earthen waste is piled by the three private companies that donated to the victims’ families—the mining firms Unity, Wai and Yadana Sein Thiri. The jade mining camp is located about three miles from the town of Hpakant.
Rockslides, a frequent occurrence in Hpakant, are estimated by some to have caused more than 100 deaths over the past half-decade.
Small-scale mining is technically illegal in Hpakant, but Myo Thant Aung said the practice is tolerated to an extent by local authorities and companies mining in the area, realizing that a strict ban would leave many without a means of earning a living.
Yangon, Myanmar | Friday 1/9/2015 - 06:57 GMT
Rescuers Friday called off the search at a jade mine in war-torn northern Myanmar that was struck by a landslide this week after all missing people were accounted for, police said.
Four bodies were pulled from the rubble at the mine in Hpakant town, Kachin state, which was engulfed by a wall of mud on Tuesday evening.
The landslide is believed to have occurred when debris heaped beside the mine collapsed after it was loosened by heavy rains.
"We stopped our search and rescue today as we found all missing persons," Police Major Naing Win of Hpakant police station told AFP.
The death toll could have been considerably higher had the landslide hit earlier in the day, he added. Instead it struck around 7:05 pm (1235 GMT) after most miners had returned home to eat dinner.
"About eight tents selling food were there with very few customers inside when the landslide occurred. That's why there were fewer casualties," Major Naing Win said.
Up to 90 percent of the world's jadeite -- the most sought-after type of jade -- is mined in Hpakant, feeding a vast appetite for the green stone in Asia and particularly China, where it is believed to ward off evil spirits and improve health.
Accidents and landslides at Myanmar's jade mines are commonplace.
The famously murky trade in the resource-rich nation has seen lower sales in recent years in part because of an upsurge in fighting in Kachin.
But it remains highly lucrative and observers say a slice of all jade revenue finds its way into the pockets of Kachin rebels, who have a large presence in the area.
Some 100,000 people have been displaced in the state since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke down in June 2011.
Tensions have soared in recent weeks during an uptick in violence between the army and rebels in the region, near the border with China.
© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse
YANGON — At least four people have been killed in a landslide at a jade mine in Myanmar's north, authorities said Friday.
A rescue mission in the mining town of Phakant was called off late Thursday after a search team recovered four bodies, including those of two women, local government official Than Shwe said, adding that no other people had officially been reported missing so far.
Heavy rains caused the collapse Tuesday night, Than Shwe said by telephone from Hpakant town in Kachin state, about 960 kilometres from Yangon.
Myanmar is one of the world's biggest producers of jade, most found in the conflict-torn mountains of Kachin state, where ethnic rebels have been fighting the government for more than half a century. Landslides are common in the area and impoverished artisanal miners have been buried by rockslides on unstable slopes before.
The vast majority of the gemstones, considered to be of the highest quality, are smuggled over the border to China.
Hpakant, which is controlled by the government, has been closed off to large scale miners since 2011 because of the conflict.
By SONYA CARASSIK RATTY
At a meeting in Chiang Mai on Wednesday to mark the organisation’s 20th anniversary, Burmese Women’s Union (BWU) reiterated the need for continued work to support women who are suffering from the ongoing armed conflict in Burma.
Mi Sue Pwint, a former member of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) and one of the seven founding members of BWU, all of whom hail from the 1988 student movement, told the meeting that the BWU “has always strived for independence, without outside influence”.
Thwe Zin Toe, the outgoing general-secretary of BWU, said, “In the future, we aim to increase the role of women in politics in accordance with our organisation’s objectives, goals and expectations.
“Within the last 20 years, we trained many young women leaders and, as a result, improved the lives of young women, allowing them to work in various fields with self-confidence.”
The newly appointed Board Committee and Secretariat members for 2015-17 were announced at the gathering, which coincided with the group’s seventh biennial congress, with incoming Secretariat members stating their commitment to assist victims of human rights abuses, including sexual violence, and to tackle the impunity with which abusers act.
Other addressees spoke of the central importance of women in building a sustainable peace in Burma. Speaking as general-secretary of the umbrella organisation Women’s League of Burma (WLB), Tin Tin Nyo said that “BWU strongly believes in and promotes gender equality as well as political change in Burma.”
BWU is a founder member of the WLB, which includes more than a dozen women’s groups representing Karen, Karenni, Kachin, Shan, Palaung and other ethnic women’s interests.
Though we had been supporting the villagers that needed medical and other help, we went back to the village after three months. Besides the long overdue medical clinic, we had to do village assessment in terms of education, health and hygiene, see progress on water delivery project and any other immediate needs of the villagers.We had a team of 10 enthusiastic volunteers, including a very young volunteer of 11 years old, in 2 4x4s; both donated. One, regular, by Dave and the other by Emma.
Leaving Hua Hin just after 7AM, we made a brief stop at Home for Students where volunteers were impressed by how, gradually, it is becoming a self-sustaining community. We organized the logistics of Choo Choo May’s upcoming visit to hospital in Bangkok for the minor procedure to take out the sutures from the eye transplant he had received. Once again, were pleased by the news that no one needed medical attention at H4S and all were in good health.
We had two medical- and one Osteopath teams ready to see patients as soon as we reached the village. Medical teams were headed by Dr Coco and Emma while our osteopath Sam saw patients with muscle and joint pains. Enu and Thu helped the medical teams with translation. In the mean time, the assessment team, Prabhjeet (project manager), Nick Seymour (volunteer) and Yui (translator), talked to the village representative for assessment of current projects and immediate needs of the village.
We found out that the tank and pump installed by Jungle Aid are not being shared by the entire village. Also, the second tank isn’t currently being used. We will formulate an action plan for better sharing of the first tank as well as installation of the second tank. We need to make sure that present water delivery system is being properly maintained as well. The villagers requested for better lamps as light from the makeshift arrangement they are using (wicks doused in diesel) are not sufficient. There are solar panels installed in the village but these are not functioning. We will be looking at possibility to repair these panels and also look for more efficient and better lamps. We will review these matters and look for solutions before our next visit.
We found out a 14 year old mother who isn’t attending school due to her maternal responsibilities. We will now be looking at how to help her resuming school and try to prevent this happening to other girls in future. We asked for the list of all children under 17 years of age who are not attending school / need assistance with going to school now and for next year. This list will be given to us on our next visit.
The forest rangers stopped by to have a talk with our team. They requested us to create awareness about cleanliness, waste / garbage management and general hygiene. We will plan an awareness campaign for the villages and have some classes / leaflets prepared. We will try to replicate Bon Luk model for garbage collection and disposal.
Our medical teams saw 50 patients, mostly children with colds, cough and fever. Donations of clothes and shoes were distributed very quickly. We incentivized the girls attending school by letting them have the first choice of clothes and footwear. The villagers were pleased to see many warm clothes in the bags we had brought for them and pillows, which were gratefully received. They had requested for warm clothes (at present the early mornings and nights are very cold).
After an amazing day with incredible volunteers and incredible people we work with, we headed home.
Thank you for supporting the work we do…….
Nay Pyi Taw, 30 December 2014: UNICEF congratulates the Government of Myanmar on the adoption of the country’s first national social protection strategy. The document, which has been developed in the last year by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement-with technical support from UNICEF and inputs from UN agencies, bilateral development partners, NGOs- was endorsed by the president of Myanmar and officially launched today in Nay Pyi Taw.
“This is an historical milestone in the recent reform history of Myanmar, and in an exceptionally short time”, said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF representative in Myanmar. “The document presented today represents a major opportunity to change the life of children and families in Myanmar, and in particular the most vulnerable ones”, he added.
The first-ever National Social Protection strategy is both comprehensive and innovative, and sets new standards for the Asian region. The strategy takes a universal approach to cash benefits and highlights key flagship programmes with calculated costs in terms of GDP % and impacts on poverty reduction. In addition, the documemt clearly articulates social vulnerabilities and the need to hire and deploy 6000 social work case managers to facilitate an integrated approach to social services at decentralized level. It also gives prominence to disaster risk reduction, in recognition to the impact natural and human-made disasters have on vulnerable populations, especially children.
UNICEF applauds the strong focus on the first and very critical 1,000 days of life, with cash transfer to pregnant women and children up to 2 years of age – as well as the inclusion of a long-term support for children up to 15 years, a school feeding programme, and another programme to assist children with disabilities. With today’s launch, Myanmar is positioning itself with Thailand as the two countries in ASEAN with the most progressive vision on social protection for families and children.
“For the past two years, we have been discussing the opportunities for Myanmar to invest a great part of its revenues into services for families and children, and hopefully the Social Protection policy, strategy, and strategy plan will help make the case. It now all depends on policy makers, including the Parliamentarians, to make social protection a reality for millions of children and their families, right now, right from the 2015/2016 budget.” concluded Bertrand Bainvel.
UNICEF Myanmar reaffirms its commitment to continue supporting the reforms undertaken by the Government of Myanmar, namely by providing technical support and coordinating with donors and international agencies in key areas such as Education, Water and Sanitation, Nutrition and Social Protection- all areas critical for child survival, development and protection.
Together with the Relief and Resettlement Department of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Rehabilitation of Myanmar, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), UN-Habitat and World Vision train Burmese youth volunteers on disaster management and community-based disaster risk reduction.
Following the ongoing training courses, the department aims to establish Youth Volunteer Committees in all villages with the goal of raising disaster awareness and improving the communities’ knowledge of early warning systems, disaster response, recovery and rehabilitation.
Myanmar ranks first as the most at-risk country to natural hazards of the Asia-Pacific region, with historical data indicating that the likelihood for medium to large-scale natural disasters to occur is high. More specifically the country is exposed to multiple natural hazards such as cyclones, earthquakes, floods and fire. Youth volunteers will be an essential part of the recovery in the occasion of a natural hazard.
The first three youth volunteer training courses were conducted in the Yangon region in July–December 2014. ADPC supported the courses by training the youth on climate change, disaster response, disaster recovery and reconstruction, as well as the linkages between disasters and development.
ADPC continues to support the Relief and Resettlement Department for the upcoming training sessions this year.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Government of Bangladesh today (8 January) signed a project agreement to provide health, water, sanitation and hygiene services and related information materials in two districts of Cox’s Bazar.
The Government’s endorsement of the three-year, USD 18 million project, allows IOM to provide much needed humanitarian assistance to Undocumented Myanmar Nationals and vulnerable host communities in the coastal city located at the south-eastern tip of Bangladesh bordering Myanmar.
The project will improve access to primary and secondary health care in the target districts through mobile medical teams, strengthened government health services and improved health referrals. It will strengthen the water and sanitation infrastructure in the district by providing deep tube wells and latrines in the makeshift settlements and underserved host communities. Community outreach around key health and hygiene issues will ensure better overall health for over 100,000 vulnerable people.
It will also support the Government of Bangladesh in coordinating the overall provision of humanitarian services for Undocumented Myanmar Nationals living in the area. The three-year project is currently supported by the American, British and Swedish Governments.
“This intervention has been carefully planned and supports the Government of Bangladesh’s National Strategy on Myanmar Refugees and Undocumented Myanmar Nationals and the local population,” said Sarat Dash, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Bangladesh. “This support is very significant and we thank the Government and the international community for their faith in IOM to provide sustained humanitarian assistance.”
For more information please contact Sarat Dash, IOM Bangladesh, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Yangon, Myanmar | AFP | Thursday 1/8/2015 - 04:32 GMT
Rescuers continued to comb through rubble Thursday for victims of a landslide at a jade mine in war-torn northern Myanmar that killed at least two people, according to police.
An unknown number of miners are missing after heavy rain triggered a landslide in Hpakant town in Kachin state on Tuesday evening, a local police officer told AFP.
The landslide is believed to have occurred after debris heaped beside the mine collapsed after it was loosened by heavy rains.
"Two dead bodies have been found. We are still trying to search for others but there is a lot of rubble. We don't know how many people are missing," he said, requesting anonymity.
"Rescue teams are using hoes to search for the missing people. We don't have a list of people who are working... they are transient workers... whenever an accident happens, it's difficult to get exact figures."
He added that mining accidents were common in the area with several recent fatalities caused by landslides.
Up to 90 percent of the world's jadeite -- the most sought-after type of jade -- is mined in Hpakant, feeding a vast appetite for the green stone in Asia, particularly in China where it is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring better health.
The famously murky jade trade in resource-rich Myanmar has seen lower sales in recent years in part because of an upsurge in fighting in Kachin.
But it remains highly lucrative and observers say a slice of all jade revenue finds its way into the pockets of Kachin rebels who have a large presence in the area.
Some 100,000 people have been displaced in the state since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke down in June 2011.
Tensions have soared in recent weeks with an uptick in violence between the army and rebels in the region, near the border with China.
© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse
Representatives of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) civil society group and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) met in state capital Myitkyina on Monday to discuss the ongoing peace process in Burma, though indications suggest that the suspended Myitsone mega-dam project featured prominently in their talks.
Mya Aye of the 88GPOS wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday that his organisation was hopeful it would see progress at the upcoming round of ceasefire talks between the ethnic bloc’s Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team and the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee.
He also said that the 88GPOS delegation was taken 30 kilometres north of the capital to meet the residents of Aungmyintha village who were forcibly relocated four years ago to make way for the controversial Chinese-backed dam project.
Though neither the 88GPOS nor the KIO chose to mention details of the Rangoon-based group’s trip to the site, Ja Khon, a local Aungmyintha villager, said the 88 Generation delegation arrived on Tuesday morning and listened to their woes.
“They [88GPOS representatives] met with more than 20 villagers at the communal house and listened to us telling them how we were relocated and lost our livelihoods,” he told DVB on Tuesday. “We also explained how we now have little access to healthcare and education.
“They promised to raise our issues with the government.”
The villagers also stressed their concerns that the dam would be resumed when the current government’s term ends.
Dau Hka, a member of the KIO’s Technical Advisory Team (TAT), said that the Kachin army did not accompany the 88GPOS to Aungmyintha, but instead spoke with the activists about the current state of affairs with regard to the ceasefire talks and peace process.
“We spoke in general terms about each other’s viewpoints and discussed means to strengthen the peace process,” he told DVB.
The 88GPOS team met later on Tuesday with members of the Peace Creation Group (PCG), which has played a mediatory role in recent talks with the central government.
PCG spokesman San Aung said, “We discussed the possibilities with regard to a successful nationwide ceasefire, and we said we expect a positive outcome from the upcoming preliminary talks ahead of the seventh round of ceasefire negotiations.
“We believe that peace will be delayed unless there is progress,” he added. “The president has suggested signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement next month on Union Day, and so we shall wait and see whether that will happen.”
Donor contributions are monetary donations provided by Governments and the private sector. This mechanism gives them the opportunity to pool their unearmarked contributions to a specific country. With these pooled donations, CBPFs offer rapid and flexible financing instruments to scale up humanitarian operations, increase humanitarian access, and strengthen our partnerships with local and international NGOs and UN agencies. This complements the overall humanitarian response based on affected people's needs identified under country-specific strategic response plans. The following are paid contributions and pledges received from 1 December 2013 to 1 December 2014.
Major challenges still face the media and freedom of the press in Myanmar despite the fact that the current media environment represents one of the most open in the country’s history. “Both the government and the media must learn to changes their ways,” says one of the leading figures in Myanmars media reform process today, U Thiha Saw
A new Media Law, a Printing and Enterprises Law, a Code of Conduct for journalists and private dailies on the streets. Media reform in Myanmar has come far in the almost four years since a democratisation process was initiated under the leadership of a new civilian government in 2011 after a 50 year media blackout. While citizens and civil society in the Middle East and North Africa fought for democratic reform in the streets, in Myanmar it was coming from the top without violence or uprisings.
Discussions about the future of Myanmar’s media sector remain fervent. This was clearly demonstrated when stakeholders within Myanmar’s media environment, including journalists and editors, government officials, academics and civil society, came together for the third annual conference on media development organised by UNESCO, International Media Support and the Myanmar Ministry of Information in September 2014. While not everyone agrees on the extent of progress in the media sector, especially in light of some backstepping by both government and the media itself in 2014, media reform remains very much a central issue of scrutiny on the public agenda.
U Thiha Saw, Vice President of Myanmar Journalist Association, and a member of Press Council (Interim), is a prominent figure in Myanmar’s media environment today, having played an active role in the establishment of the country’s first Press Council (interim), as well as in the Myanmar Journalist Association and the first private Myanmar Journalism Institute. In his eyes, one of the most significant changes in the media environment in Myanmar over the last four years was the abolishment of censorship.
“In 2012 the censorship board was dissolved, more than 400 monthlies and weeklies were released and pre-censorship abolished. The arrival of private dailies in the media market was a result of abolishing censorship.
“On the down side, there is a lack of knowledge of journalism ethics with examples of journalists writing whatever they choose. Still, there are journalists who are sued or imprisoned because of their media products. I would not only blame the government for this. The media community needs to become more ethical. Both the government and media must learn to change their ways.
“Another of the major challenges that still face the media and freedom of the press are the legal frameworks, the state and big business ownership of media, as well as lack of professionalism in journalism.”
The power of the unions
Until 2012, Myanmar journalists had never before had independent organisations to represent their rights.
“The formation of journalism unions was a very significant change to occur in the last few years,” says U Thiha Saw.
“Myanmar Journalist Association, Myanmar Journalist Union and the Myanmar Journalist Network are important. This was the first time we ever saw these types of associations in the country. Myanmar journalists never before had independent associations to represent them. There used to be only one, which was government funded, and not independent. The unions have pushed through a number of results working not only alone, but also together. When there were cases where 50 young journalists were sued by the government for insulting government members, the unions came together to talk to the President and ask for convictions to be more lenient and sections in laws to be changed.”
U Thiha Saw points to the introduction of the interim Press Council, as another major step for the media environment over the last almost four years. While he himself was closely involved in setting it up in its current form, the process was not easy. He explains:
“Immediately after the reform process began in 2012, the government appointed members to a council which had a set-up that would effectively replace the control wielded by the abolished censorship board. We were a number of members who refused to be part of it.
“The second, and current ”interim” Press Council was subsequently formed and includes more delegates from the media community, as well as ten nominees by the government such as academics and lawyers. In 2014, the Interim Press Council went on to develop a code of ethics for journalists and has been traveling around the country to talk about it. ”
The process which led the government to accept a different construction of the Interim Press Council with members appointed by the media community – and the initial refusal of some of the appointed members to serve in a solely-government appointed council was then seen by many observers of the Myanmar media community as a clear indication of the shift taking place.
Two steps forward, one step back
While Myanmar’s current media environment represents one of the most open in the country’s history, there were a number of setbacks in 2014. A number of prison charges were handed out to journalists for critisising authorities. In October 2014, Aung Naing, a journalist was shot dead while in the custody of the authorities and in November, 11 journalists from the Myanmar Herald were hit by defamation charges following the publication of an article critisising the president.
Grave concerns around these setbacks have been voiced by both Myanmar and international media stakeholders. However, a positive attitude to push forward with media reform by both government and media nevertheless resonated at the annual media development conference in Yangon in September 2014 – coupled with the recognition that building a free and professional media environment is the responsibility not only of government, but also of the country’s media professionals.
This is the first in a series of articles marking the third anniversary of International Media Support’s media development programme in Myanmar. Since January 2012, with financial backing from Sweden, Norway and Denmark, IMS has worked directly with journalist associations, government institutions, civil society groups, and other partners to develop a competent, professional and independent media. Please visit our Myanmar webpage for more information.
Snapshot 17 December – 6 January
Nigeria: A series of suspected Boko Haram attacks in Borno and neighbouring states have resulted in more than 80 deaths, 225 kidnapped, hundreds of homes burneds and thousands displaced.
Central African Republic: Nearly 200,000 people need nutrition assistance. Over 36,000 people are trapped in seven enclaves across the country; a group of 474 Fulani who fled to Yaloke months ago and now cannot leave are in particular need.
Syria: 76,000 people were killed in conflict in 2014, the highest annual toll since the war began, and including 18,000 civilians. 4.8 million people are in hard-to-reach areas. Shortages of food and medicine caused the deaths of more than 300 civilians in areas under government siege in 2014.
Updated: 06/01/2014. Next update: 13/01/2015
Myanmar President Thein Sein urged leaders from a dozen of the country’s armed ethnic groups on Monday to strive hard to reach a nationwide cease-fire accord with the government in five weeks.
Thein Sein told the meeting in the capital Naypyidaw that he wants to sign a peace deal with the groups on Union Day on Feb. 12.
On that day in 1947, General Aung San, father of current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and ethnic representatives forged a landmark agreement to share power to prevent the country from plunging into civil war.
But Aung San was assassinated the same year — ahead of independence from Britain in 1948 — and the agreement was not honored.
Khun Myint Tun, chairman of the Pa-oh National Liberation Organization (PNLO), one of the ethnic groups that attended the meeting with Thein Sein, said the president indicated that he wanted Myanmar to be a federal union—one of the goals of the ethnic groups.
“He (Thein Sein) said peace in the nation could be developed and nurtured more successfully by the coming administrations only if the foundations were laid down properly by the present government,” Khun Myint Tun said.
“He said he wanted the peace agreement to be signed on Union Day, Feb 12, and that it was not lip service, but that he was serious about building a federal union.”
Leaders from 12 of the country’s 16 ethnic groups, represented in the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of armed ethnic organizations, exchanged views with the president at the meeting.
Among the groups who met with the president and later with military commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing were the Karen National Union (KNU), United Wa State Army (UWSA), Rehabilitation Council of Shan State (RCSS), Arakan Liberation Army (ALP), and All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF).
But the leaders of groups that have had recent clashes with the Myanmar military did not attend the meetings, The Irrawaddy online journal reported.
The meetings were held a day after ethnic leaders had joined the president to attend Independence Day celebrations, which included a military parade.
The president is eager to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement before the country’s next general elections late this year.
Fighting for decades
The government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC) and the NCCT last met on Dec. 22 to discuss a cease-fire deal and negotiators had focused on a draft ceasefire accord.
Information Minister Ye Htut said Aung Min, who is in charge of the government ceasefire negotiations team, would meet with ethnic representatives soon to resume negotiations, according to The Irrawaddy report.
Most of Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been fighting for decades but have temporary, bilateral cease-fire agreements with the government, except for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
But sporadic attacks by armed ethnic groups and government forces in various hotspots around the country have prevented significant progress in the ongoing talks between government and rebel negotiators.
The armed ethnic rebel groups and the government failed to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement in September after five days of talks following disagreements over military issues and a format for talks on providing greater power to ethnic states.
Myanmar’s ethnic groups have been seeking a federal system since the country gained independence after World War II, but the country’s former military rulers have resisted their efforts because they equate local autonomy with separatism.
Reported by San Maw Aung of RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
December saw a significant deterioration of the security situation – compared to the previous month – in nine countries or conflict situations in the world, including in South Asia (Pakistan and India), and East Africa (South Sudan and Kenya). There is a risk of increased violence in the coming month in Sudan, where major offensives are anticipated on the heels of a failure in the peace talks; in Sri Lanka, in the context of the 8 January elections; and in Haiti, where the current president could rule by decree unless parliament's mandate, due to expire on 12 January, is extended. On a positive note, the Colombia peace talks emerged strengthened in December, and relations between Cuba and the U.S. dramatically improved.
In South Asia, both Pakistan and India experienced severe violent attacks. In Pakistan, the deadliest ever attack by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) took place on 16 December on a military-run school in Peshawar, killing at least 148, including 132 children. The military retaliated by escalating operations against militants in the tribal belt. The government introduced a counter-terrorism “National Action Plan”, including the establishment of military-run courts, which would require a constitutional amendment undermining fundamental rights and due process. It also lifted a moratorium on the death penalty, leading to the execution of several non-TTP militants allegedly responsible for past attacks on the military. (See our recent report). In India’s north east, militant Bodo separatists killed over 70 people in several attacks across Assam state on 23 December. The attacks, which reportedly targeted Adivasi settlers and came in response to several Bodo deaths during the army’s ongoing counter-insurgency operation in the area, prompted retaliatory vigilante assaults on Bodos and an intensification of the military campaign. In Sri Lanka, as the race tightened ahead of the 8 January presidential election between joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena and President Rajapaksa, an increasingly volatile campaign environment, including numerous attacks on opposition activists and rallies, raised concerns about the possibility of serious election related violence. (See our new report on the January presidential election and blog post published today).
In the Horn of Africa, both Sudan and South Sudan saw serious armed clashes. In South Sudan, peace talks between warring parties ground to a halt. Both sides remain at odds over the details of a power-sharing deal, in particular the powers that SPLM-IO leader Riek Machar would have as premier of a transitional government. Clashes between the opposing forces continued despite the recommitment in November to a cessation of hostilities agreement, including in Nasir town where fighting between government and SPLA-IO forces is ongoing. There is a risk attacks will escalate into major offensives if no political agreement is reached. (See our new report). Peace negotiations in Sudan floundered as the government continued to reject a comprehensive approach to talks with rebel groups in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Violence is already on the rise, and major offensives are anticipated if the talks fail. The government has stepped up pressure on the UN presence, expelling two UN officials in late December. Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militants continued to step up attacks in Kenya. On 2 December 36 non-Muslim workers were killed at a quarry near Mandera, prompting hundreds to flee the town. Thirteen were injured and one killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants on a club in Wajir. The government’s clampdown continued, as President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law an anti-terror bill that is widely contested and seen by many as draconian. (See our recent report)
Elsewhere in Africa, government rule was challenged in both Gambia and Gabon prompting a crackdown. In Gambia, the military foiled a coup attempt against President Yahya Jammeh. Three coup plotters were reportedly killed as the military repulsed the 30 December attack on the presidential palace in the capital Banjul. Dozens of military personnel and civilians were subsequently arrested and, according to Gambian official sources, a weapons cache found. President Jammeh, who was abroad at the time of the coup attempt, has accused dissidents based in the U.S., UK and Germany of masterminding the attack and alluded to suspected foreign support. The government in Gabon violently cracked down on protesters demanding the resignation of President Ali Bongo Ondimba. On 20 December, protesters clashed with security forces – officials reported one killed, but protesters suggested at least three. Several opposition leaders were detained by police in late December.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, political crisis deepened in both Venezuela and Haiti. In Venezuela, President Nicolás Maduro’s government pushed through a number of appointments to key institutions with a simple majority vote, installing government allies in the judiciary and other branches of state. In doing so it has violated a number of legal and constitutional requirements designed to ensure that nominees are impartial and of good repute. The opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance abstained in all the appointments in protest. (See our latest report and recent blog post). Haiti’s political crisis over its long-overdue elections intensified, with mass protests demanding the resignation of President Michel Martelly even after Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned, and calling for polls to take place. There were fears of further violence with parliament’s mandate set to expire on 12 January, leaving Haiti without a functioning government and meaning Martelly would rule by decree. On 30 December, Martelly reached a deal with the senate and the chamber of deputies to extend their mandate, however lawmakers still need to approve the deal and agree on an acceptable provisional electoral council.
In Russia’s North Caucasus region and in Libya the situation deteriorated in December. In the North Caucasus, fifteen police, two civilians and eleven militants were killed, and 36 police injured, in a shootout between rebel gunmen and police in the Chechen capital Grozny in the early hours of 4 December. An Islamist group claimed responsibility for the raid. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov announced that relatives of militants responsible would be punished; sixteen houses belonging to insurgents’ relatives were later destroyed. Meanwhile, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate's Dagestan network and several insurgency leaders from Dagestan and Chechnya pledged loyalty to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In Libya, multiple new frontlines emerged across the country, with heavy clashes in the south, west and east between the military allies of the country’s two rival parliaments. The fighting deepened the conflict between the two political bodies. A UN-sponsored political dialogue was again postponed due to disagreements over participants.
On a positive note, there was progress both in Colombia and Cuba. In Colombia, peace talks with FARC emerged strengthened from the crisis triggered by the kidnapping of an army general in November. The guerrillas declared an unprecedented, indefinite unilateral ceasefire, which entered into force on 20 December. President Santos welcomed the ceasefire but rejected demands for third party verification and said that security forces would continue operations. There are questions about sustainability, but if the ceasefire holds, it will help break the ground for ending decades of conflict. Expectations that exploratory talks with the ELN could finally develop into formal negotiations are rising, after the country’s second guerrilla group said it would make a “special announcement” in early January. (See our recent report on the challenges of ending the Colombian conflict). December saw a dramatic improvement in relations between Cuba and the U.S., with the U.S. announcement on 17 December that it would normalise ties with the island. The possibility of an end to the decades-long U.S. embargo of Cuba is set to transform political relations across the hemisphere (see our blog post on U.S.-Cuban relations).
Shelter Projects 2013-2014 is the fifth edition in the series which began in 2008. This book adds 27 new shelter case studies and overviews, bringing the total number of project articles to over 150. This valuable repository of project examples and response overviews represents a significant body of experience offering unique reference material for shelter and settlement practitioners worldwide.
To quote Albert Einstein, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”, and the objective of this publication has always been to encourage the sharing of lessons learned, both good and bad, and to advocate the following of best practices. Such knowledge sharing helps practitioners to be more accountable to crisis affected communities by implementing effective shelter responses and to show impact to donors by ensuring adequacy in our settlement and shelter interventions.
Shelter programming should operate in accordance with recognized shelter best practice while enabling those displaced to return to their homes or equivalent living space in a timely manner encouraging community recovery and building resilience to possible future shocks. Participation and promoting a sense of ownership is the key to achieving successful projects.
The introduction section of this publication provides and overview of the emergencies which have continued to require large-scale settlement and shelter responses since the last edition. The on-going and widening conflict in Syria, vast destruction left in the wake of tropical storms Sandy in the Americas and Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines and recurring flooding in Pakistan prompted this edition to include four overview pieces to complement the geographic spread of the selected case studies.
The international humanitarian community is dealing with unprecedented levels of displacement and scale of natural disaster. This implies a requirement for increased shelter needs, larger mobilization of resources and projects requiring improved models of delivery as well as innovative, cost-effective solutions which incorporate best practice as well as positioning the persons of concern at the forefront of response interventions.
The topics of the opinion pieces in Section B were decided on through discussion with a technical advisory group. The pieces are written by experts with specific interests and experiences and we are extremely grateful for their invaluable contribution. The topics include the importance of assessment in shelter, evaluating cash-for-rent subsidies, security of tenure and humanitarian shelter, supporting host families as shelter options and urban settings, all of significant current relevance and interest in the settlement and shelter domain.
These new case studies remind us of the similarities yet uniqueness every crisis presents. It is important not to ‘re-invent the wheel’ with every emergency and this publication acts as a tool for building on and improving on the successes of completed shelter projects. The case studies address common issues emerging in shelter response, outline different approaches to addressing shelter needs and assist in evaluating the impact on affected communities. They provide an excellent resource against which to gauge proposed shelter interventions and possible outcomes.
The Shelter Projects website - www.sheltercasestudies.org - has been updated with the latest edition and provides an easy way to search the repository of case studies, overviews and project updates.
We are once again indebted to everyone who contributed case studies and to the technical advisory group for their valuable time and expert input.
We trust that the reader will find this edition of ‘Shelter projects’ relevant and thought-provoking, leading to improved settlement and shelter solutions for affected communities.