Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
Myanmar: Statement by Ms. Yanghee LEE, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council
Agenda item 4
Geneva, 13 March 2017
Mr. President, distinguished representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to present today my third report to this Council in my capacity as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. I am conscious that this Government is only now nearing its first anniversary in power and that not only has it inherited formidable human rights challenges from the previous Government, it also has to meet with exceedingly high expectations from its people as well as the international community.
As I have conveyed to the Government of Myanmar, and to members of this Council, my approach to this mandate has always been as a friend to Myanmar. I have no agenda other than the realization of human rights in the country; the only bias and partiality is towards the promotion and protection of the rights of all people in Myanmar.
I have conducted two visits to Myanmar in the past year, in June 2016 and January 2017. I thank the Government of Myanmar for these invitations and its cooperation with my mandate, attempts at better engagement especially by the Permanent Mission here, and particularly in respecting my request to meet community members in Rakhine State without close monitoring of officials and security personnel during my most recent visit. Nevertheless, I regret that I was again unable to visit several areas I had requested in Kachin state and that these refusals were given at the last minute, preventing full optimization of the limited time I had available. I must confess that there were times that I had seriously questioned the nature of the cooperation.
The government has also yet to agree on the proposed joint benchmarks, which were called for by the last Council resolution, and which were shared with them several times before and during my recent visit.
One of the key tasks facing Myanmar will be reform and modernization of all three branches of government. The judiciary – vital arbiters of justice – need continuing strengthening and improvements to the appointments system. In the executive branch, administrative reform including on local levels will be vital. On legislative side, I remain of the view that legislative process requires further streamlining and increased transparency, and suggest a law on law-making be enacted similar to those adopted by several countries in the region. I have also welcomed the repeal of several outdated laws but dozens of problematic laws remain on the books and continue to be used.
The 1982 Citizenship Law in particular appears to have a similar standing as the Constitution as to the sensitivity surrounding its possible reform despite its clearly discriminatory provisions. Currently, a citizenship verification exercise under this discriminatory law is underway and despite understandings that the process should be voluntary, I receive continuing reports of Rohingya being coerced into undergoing the process as otherwise they are not allowed fishing licences, to carry out work as a national staff member of an international organization, sit for matriculation exams in schools or even receive food assistance.
As mentioned, Constitutional reform seems a distant goal at this time. And made even more onerous with the brutal killing of one of Myanmar’s known Constitutional lawyers, U Ko Ni, as he was holding his grandchild. Despite this unexpected and seemingly insurmountable hurdle, I urge for progress towards Constitutional reform through potentially the establishment of a preparatory committee to study possible revision processes. Until the Constitution is reformed to provide for a truly civilian government, Myanmar cannot truly attain a full democracy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The extent that human rights defenders as well as press members are monitored, surveilled, harassed, and intimidated is also a good barometer for measuring democratic space. Considering the number of former political prisoners in the ranks of Myanmar’s Cabinet and Parliament, it is disappointing to see the continued misuse of laws such as section 505 of the Penal Code and increasingly section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act to suppress voices of dissent, including through arrest and imprisonment. Of particular concern are multiple cases of killings of civil society actors for their involvement in human rights work and activism, including several in recent months, as well as cases which remain unresolved even after years of relatives of victims demanding justice. Many of these cases relate to vested commercial interests or the military.
Myanmar has rich natural resources, but it is important that efforts to extract this bounty benefit all. I am concerned that individuals who have lived on land for generations continue to face evictions without proper safeguards and that communities continue to face severe health impacts and livelihood difficulties from environmental degradation associated with large scale mineral extraction. It is important that, the recent Environmental Impact Assessment Procedures, are systematically implemented and enforced, and that full advantage is taken of the welcome decision to suspend the issuance of jade mining licenses, to reform the legislative and policy framework governing the mining industry to ensure strong protections against environmental and human rights abuses.
I am extremely concerned by the escalation in conflict in Kachin and Shan States which is having a dramatic impact on civilians in these areas. Just a week ago, fighting broke out in Kokang self-administered zone, reportedly causing over ten thousand people to flee to cross the Chinese border in search of safety. I say “reportedly” as we do not know exact conditions. Since May 2016, the United Nations and other international organizations have been systematically denied authorization to deliver vital and in some cases lifesaving assistance to over 40,000 IDPs including those recently displaced. Even in areas controlled by the government access is becoming more difficult – additional layers of approvals have recently been required – including from the military.
I also continue to receive reports of serious human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict, including torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, sexual- and gender-based violence, arbitrary killings, and abductions, all of which frequently go uninvestigated. There has also been a worrying trend of reportedly indiscriminate attacks in or near civilian area. I condemn the apparent total disregard for civilian lives in the strongest terms and emphasize the need for all parties to take immediate steps to protect civilians, respect international human rights and humanitarian law and end the violence and for investigations into allegations to be conducted.
Peace will be vital to the future development of Myanmar, and the peace process represents an opportunity to transform the country. To have this transformative effect, discussions need to be inclusive and to address complex issues related to underlying root causes. I welcome the increasing representation of women in the discussions, but hope the level of representation will reach a minimum of 30% across all groups, in the next conference. Civil society organizations must also be seen as vital partners to the process. Unfortunately the peace process at the moment appears to be at a stalemate – I call on all parties to increase efforts to advance the process.
You may be aware that one of my main concerns during my visit to Myanmar in January was reprisals. I raised concerns earlier of voices of dissent being suppressed including through arrest and imprisonment. And never have I felt more anxiety over potential acts of retaliation and reprisals than in Rakhine State during my visit.
Myself and my predecessors have long raised concerns about Rakhine State, particularly the institutionalised discrimination faced by the Rohingya population and the inter-communal violence in 2012, as well as the general underdevelopment of the state and lack of opportunities for all communities. As you are all likely aware the situation in the state took on new dimensions on 9 October, when three Border Guard Police facilities were reportedly attacked, by groups of armed men in a coordinated manner, killing 9 members of the Myanmar Police Force. In response three townships were declared closed off with the launch of a security operation, with no access to independent media, and humanitarian programmes suspended. Following the launch of the security or clearance operations, reports began surfacing, increasingly and persistently regarding serious human rights violations, allegedly committed by the security forces.
Reprisals was the main reason why I had asked to make a visit to Bangladesh where tens of thousands of the Rohingya population have fled from Rakhine State, and where they might feel less threatened to give me their accounts of what had happened during the clearance operations. In Cox’s Bazar, I met around 140 people from several villages in the north of Rakhine. I heard from them harrowing account after harrowing account. In my statement at the end of my mission to Bangladesh, I spoke about having been especially affected by a mother who repeatedly expressed regret for mistakenly thinking that her son had been brought out from their burning house. She heard him screaming for her and managed to save his life but burn scars have been seared onto him - scars which I saw with my own eyes. I wanted to share what I saw with you today.
I heard allegation after allegation of horrific events like these – slitting of throats, indiscriminate shootings, setting alight houses with people tied up inside and throwing very young children into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence. Even men, young and old, broke down and cried in front of me telling me about what they went through and their losses.
Putting these experiences together with the institutionalized discrimination and long-standing persecution of the Rohingya population which I have reported on previously, as well as the continuing action by the authorities to make their lives even more difficult – even as the clearance operations are taking place – which include by dismantling their homes and conducting a household survey where those absent may be struck of the list that could be the only legal proof of their status in Myanmar - indicates the government may be trying to expel the Rohingya population from the country altogether. I sincerely hope that that is not the case.
Myanmar has established several commissions to review the situation in Rakhine State, however I believe they have yet to discharge their investigative obligations. In the case of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the alleged human rights violations are outside the scope of their mandate. For other commissions, there are questions about the extent to which their investigations are “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial”. In particular, for investigations to be truly independent – members should be independent of any institution or agency that may be the subject of the inquiry. However, the Maungdaw Investigation Commission, whose members I was able to meet during my January visit, includes former members of the military and the currently serving Chief of the Myanmar Police Force. The commission also does not appear to have a robust methodology or policies in place to address key issues such as witness protection or documentation of evidence.
The truth about whether all, or some, or any of these allegations are correct needs to be established. There is a need for a new set of investigations which are “prompt, thorough, independent and impartial”, and this needs to happen soon, before the evidence is compromised. In Myanmar’s pursuit of a fully democratic society, no stones must be left unturned. The alleged victims, as well as all the people of Myanmar deserve to know the truth. The international community must come together in expressing a strong and single voice in this regard, regardless of varying interests of individual member states. This is why I called for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the systematic, structural, and institutional discrimination in policy, law and practice, as well long-standing persecution, against the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine State.
Prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations are not only needed in Rakhine, but also in conflict affected areas such as Kachin and Shan which are often overlooked and where serious violations, of a similar type to those in Rakhine, have been reported for many years. Yet many of these violations have also gone uninvestigated, with the situation in these areas worsening and still receiving little attention. For this reason, I have repeatedly requested to travel to Laiza and other areas in Kachin and Shan to speak to community members and IDPs but have been repeatedly denied, including during my most recent visit. That is also the reason why I recommended for this Council to hold a dedicated and urgent discussion to address the human rights violations occurring in other parts of the country including in Kachin and northern Shan.
Following my visit to Bangladesh, I was a bit disappointed to hear that the Government of Myanmar has started to claim that I am unfair and biased. But I have to point out that the focus of my Bangladesh visit and related observations was to meet those who had fled from the north of Rakhine subsequent to the conduct of clearance operations there – and all those I met who had fled were Rohingya.
I would like to draw some attention to the joint benchmarks I have proposed as well as the suggested areas which remain to be explored for development of technical cooperation programmes. I remain convinced that Myanmar would highly benefit from establishing a fully-fledged OHCHR country office with proper resources and a full mandate to help with the provision of technical advice and assistance on human rights issues to the Government and people of Myanmar.
I want to end this statement by emphasizing that I have absolutely no reason whatsoever to present a biased, one-sided report. However, I have every reason to present the situation to reflect the reality, even if some may not like what I have to say.
I believe this Council expects me to do exactly that by entrusting me with this mandate.
As I have always done, I present myself, and my mandate, as a source for support and assistance towards Myanmar’s aim of becoming a fully functioning democracy and aspiration to be respected in the international fora.
Thank you for your attention.
Aid workers and those displaced express fears of more violent and protracted conflict than previous flare-up in Kokang region in early 2015
By James Pomfret
NANSAN, China, March 13 (Reuters) - Within earshot of mortar fire echoing from beyond a ring of hills, a sprawling relief camp in Southwestern China is swelling steadily after fighting erupted last week between a rebel ethnic army in Myanmar and government troops just across the border.
Read more on the Thomson Reuters Foundation
As a result of attacks on security and civilian targets by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in Laukkai (Kokang Self-Administered Zone) on 6 March, media sources reported that up to 20,000 people are estimated to have fled across the border into China. At least 30 people, including five civilians, were reportedly killed in the violence. Thousands of migrant workers from other parts of Myanmar have also fled the Laukkai area and are returning home.
20,000 people estimated to have crossed into China
Between 7 and 10 March, torrential rainfall and river floods across 12 districts in Riau and Jambi provinces affected around 89,700 people. Local authorities confirmed three deaths and one missing as a result of the floods. In Bogor and West Bandung district (West Java province), 800 houses were also flooded. Local governments responded to these events and provided basic relief assistance to the affected communities.
89,700 people affected
As of 12 March, over 11,000 people in Lamitan City (Basilan province) and Tambulig municipality (Zamboanga del Sur province) are displaced by flooding. Two deaths in the provinces of Misamis Occidental and Sarangani and one missing person in Maguindanao province were also reported.
The floods damaged 127 houses, mostly in Lamitan City. Local disaster management authorities, with support from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team and the Philippine Red Cross, are providing relief items to those affected in Basilan.
11,000 people displaced by flooding
Below average rainfall is affecting several islands in the Pacific.
In Kiribati, a drought situation is affecting several areas including Butaritari,
Beru and Kirimati. An emergency situation has not yet been declared. Low water levels are also reported in Nauru, Tokelau and Tuvalu.
Myanmar: Myanmar: Amnesty International Oral Statement at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council
13 March 2017
UN Human Rights Council
27 February – 24 March 2017
Item 4: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar1 Mr. President,
Amnesty International shares the concerns of the Special Rapporteur regarding the situation of human rights in Myanmar, which has deteriorated significantly in the last year.
In Rakhine State, security forces have waged an apparent campaign of violence against the Rohingya community. Reports of the Special Rapporteur, OHCHR, as well Amnesty International, found that women and girls have been raped, hundreds of people forcibly disappeared and an unknown number killed in a disproportionate response to attacks by armed groups. Tens of thousands of Rohingya are now displaced – many after their homes were burned to the ground by state security forces. Amnesty International shares the view of the High Commissioner that these attacks may amount to crimes against humanity.
In northern Shan State, Kachin pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat and his assistant Langjaw Gam were forcibly disappeared after helping journalists report on alleged military airstrikes. The Army disclosed their whereabouts only after international pressure, although both now face politically motivated charges. Their experience reminds us of the risks faced by those who speak out against military abuses.
by Caitlin | Mar 12, 2017
Background on Ba Mak Village
Ba Mak Village is located in the Kuri Buri National Park area of Prachuap Khiri Khan Province near the Myanmar border and is home to about 700 people including approximately 200 children. Electricity and clean water are not widely available and most villagers use candles for light and boiled water from the nearby river for cooking and drinking. Sources of income include selling coffee, textile weaving, basket weaving and working in the local rice plantations. Jungle Aid has been actively supporting Ba Mak for over 5 years. We have held regular medical clinics, supported hospital visits, given oral and visual instruction on personal hygiene and contraception, supported village children to attend school and provided school supplies, and other personal items to the village residents.
Jungle Aid Trip to Ba Mak on 25th February
A team of 7 volunteers met at 6:45 am at Market Village and introductions were made. The team members consisted of the following volunteers: Terry – Driver/Area Manager/Assessor, Emma – Driver/Medical/Assessor, Thu – Interpreter/Medical, Aysa – Medical Journal, Jason – Interpreter, Beck and Marcus – Medical and Dave – Video/Photographer.
Upon our arrival, we were met by Chom-phu and K. Tid. And later by village leader K. Ming
Fresh Water Supply and Distribution:
K. Tid went with the Jungle Aid team around the village mapping where existing water supply lines were constructed several years ago. There is an area at the highest point of the village where four 10,000 litre concrete water storage tanks are located. This distribution network is currently inoperable because there is no method to move river water up to the storage tanks. K. Tid said that it had only been used for one year. He suggested bringing water from the waterfall located 4 kilometers away through a network of PVC piping.
Emma and the medical team treated 11 patients for a variety of ailments and injuries. Several exercises were given to patients to be able to improve their health problems.
Demonstrations on personal hygiene were shown to the children and adults who had gathered. Simply performing thorough and frequent hand washing can prevent many of the skin, intestinal and respiratory infections that we see in the clinics.
We were informed that all children from 6 to 12 go to school; they go to the “police” school in the village. We unable to learn anything about sponsorships for older students.
Emma and the medical team dispensed 50 mosquito nets to the villagers
Clothing and Shoes
The team organized and handed out many donated clothes, shoes, blankets, towels and the knitted hats by the wonderful ladies at “Stitch n Bitch”.
Marcus and Beck conducted a survey of dogs counting approximately 150 dogs with about 90 being males. They also observed 4 new litters of puppies.
Items for Follow-up:
*Bring reading glasses, pediatric paracetamol and more analgesic balm next trip.
*On an ad-hoc trip bring an engineer to study the cost and feasibility of the water supply line from the waterfall to the village storage tanks.
*Conduct neutering on all the male dogs
*3 ladies have requested training in Osteopath techniques to treat patients in the village. Booked for 29th April
by Caitlin | Mar 12, 2017
Once again, we had a large group of volunteers visiting Bon Luk. We left early in two 4x4s, one on which was kindly sponsored by our long time sponsor, Dave of Hua Hin Car Hire, and drove to Bon Luk.
We had one nurse and 6 volunteers with us.
Immediately on our arrival, our nurse Annie set up the clinic with Nim assisting with translation as well as medical journal and Paul helping with medical bag. We saw 23 patients with 2 needing follow up at the hospital. We will be coordinating hospital visits for these two patients.
Annie, Nim and Sue also delivered the general hygiene (hand washing, covering cough and sneeze) seminar which was received by the villagers with a lot of curiosity. Children were particularly amused by the friendly and interactive delivery. Village pastor has agreed to repeat the message during his weekly sermons.
Prabhjeet and Name conducted the village assessment speaking to the pastor and other villagers. They found out that the number of children at the shelter has risen to 18 again and these children are all attending the school run by the rangers. We bought 50kg rice for these children. They have requested for rice, noodles, fish sauce, canned fish and cooking oil when we visit them in March again.
Jungle Aid also supports the children in this shelter by bringing 50kg rice to them on every visit. Of the fish that were donated by CPF, only 70 or so have survived due to lack of water. The land where the fish ponds were has been reclaimed and currently the fish are at an indoor concrete tank. These have grown and are being consumed by the villagers.
We discussed raising fish in the river by making bamboo cages / platforms. Villagers have agreed to explore this possibility and we will be consulting with CPF regarding this.
The solar lamps that we brought to the village are being well used. They know how to use these and are using these at night. They have requested for these for all 120 houses in the village and we will be making a project proposal for this.
We also asked the villagers if there were any other training needs. They asked for motorcycle repairs training and English language classes. We asked them to ask the entire community to identify most relevant trainings required by the majority.
The hair cutting equipment that we had provided them when we trained two of the community members has lost its sharp edge. We brought it back for sharpening and will bring it back in March. The skills are being used well at the village with between 7 – 10 villagers coming for a free haircut every week. This has resulted in less lice and other hair hygiene issues at the village.
We observed that while the village looked clean, the cane baskets that were being used to collect garbage are no longer there. Villagers are collecting garbage in plastic bags next to each house and, since no one comes to collect the garbage anymore, are burning their waste. We will try and find out how to get someone to come collect the waste like it was being in the past.
We were pleased to observe minimal littering and that village is consistently maintaining general cleanliness despite the change in garbage management arrangements.
Andy documented the day in photos.
At the end of the visit, donations from the ladies of Bitch and Stitch and other regular donors were distributed by the volunteers and thankfully received by the villagers.
Villagers are always grateful for the useful things we bring them everytime we visit them.
It was a long day at village and by the time we left, it was past 3PM. All volunteers were loaded back in to the trucks for the dusty journey home.
After an amazing day with incredible volunteers and incredible people we work with we headed home. Thank you for supporting the work we do…….
by Caitlin | Mar 12, 2017
Pa LA U village has 39 houses and about 200 people who have limited medical care and education and insufficient access to healthy food, clean water, electricity, toilets and waste disposal facilities.
The trip had several aims:
*Operate our field medical clinic to:
– Provide access to medical care
– Run a seminar on burns and mosquitos
*Evaluate water situation: – Deliver a new pump and water tank
*Pass on donations
– Sportswear and trainers provided by JA as the children currently share shoes for sport.
*Evaluate current dog and cat numbers for neutering and healthcare
– Kathryn and Bangkok vet to coordinate this project, starting 25th January 2017
The volunteers met in Hua Hin at 7am on Saturday morning, loaded with the sports kits, water pump, water tank and medical supplies into cars and headed out to the village.
Our medical staff was our nurse Emma and Joy our translator working together with Asya who recorded the data. The seminar we had on managing burns was fantastic. Many children burn themselves with the open fires. We discussed how to treat the children and reducing the risk factors in the first place.
We saw 22 patients with one young boy had a broken arm that needed to be sent to hospital. Village assessment team
Terry and Wi and Vasily were able to spend several hours walking around the village to complete the assessment and identify their needs with a local leader.
Water project-The water pump and tank have now been delivered.
The Project for the well which will supply all 200 residents has been approved by the local Thai Government. We will now be looking for support to raise 1 million Baht to fund this project!!!! Details will be sent out soon.
Dogs and cats Project-Spaying the animals starts 25th January
Towards the end of the day we distributed the sports kits, badminton rackets and handmade toys. After an amazing day with the incredible volunteers we headed home.
If you are interested in joining us on a trip please sign-up on the Jungle Aid ‘Meetup’ website at http://www.meetup.com/Jungle-Aid-a-humanitarian-aid-charity/. You will see that places are limited so it is better to sign-up earlier.
We have many volunteer roles available:
*Thai Doctor, Nurse, Dentist, Nutritionist;
* Water and sanitation experts:
Without your support we cannot offer the help that is needed….Thank-you for supporting the work we do…….:]
By Leena Zieger
The changes in Burma’s political landscape have affected the country’s population in varying ways.
Among the less fortunate citizens are tens of thousands of young refugees whose concerns and qualifications continue to be sidelined in the country’s reform process.
Thousands of youth live in limbo along the Thailand-Burma border, where decline in donor funding has adversely impacted the refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) whose lives depend on international assistance and services provided by local ethnic organizations.
Most of the displaced populations are ethnic Karen who fled armed conflict and human rights abuses committed by the Burma Army over several decades.
In addition to declining support, another major blow for around 100,000 refugees who remain in the Thai camps has been the growing expectation that refugees will soon return to their homeland, reinforced by developments such as the US government wrapping up their group resettlement program in 2014.
Despite conditions on the ground indicating that timing is not right for a safe and dignified return, repatriation plans are in full swing.
For many youth, the refugee camp is the only home they have ever known. As life in the camps and future prospects for camp residents have become grim during the past few years, local organizations have documented a sharp increase in camp suicide rates especially among youth.
Stress, drugs, and alcohol have been blamed for the troubling trend. Other concerning social trends on the rise among the youth include growing school dropout rates and teenage marriages.
With growing pressures to return, refugees seek information about the situation on the ground in southeast Burma. While there has been less fighting and direct attacks on civilians since the Karen National Union (KNU) signed a bilateral ceasefire in 2012, land grabbing has increased and the Burma Army has fortified its position next to Karen villages.
Add the uncertain peace process and full-blown war in Burma’s north coupled with sporadic conflict and lands riddled with landmines and one can begin to understand the tip of the massive iceberg constituting refugees’ concerns about returning.
Over the years that refugees have kept fleeing across the border to Thailand, the area has become a vibrant hub for capacity building initiatives including higher education programs.
To this day, these programs bring together a mix of young ethnic refugees who live together and learn about their country’s multi-ethnic history alongside subjects such as human rights, peace building, and community development.
Unlike within the state education system, teaching is student centered with an emphasis on developing the skills for lifelong learning and independent and critical analysis of information.
For refugee youth, an additional impediment to any meaningful definition of the voluntary return is the lack of accreditation for refugee education certificates. Despite the high quality of education along the border, refugee education is still by and large unrecognized in Burma and almost everywhere in the world.
Although there are a few important exceptions providing refugee students the channels they need to access universities in third countries, and some advances are being made toward student recognition in Burma, these initiatives currently reach only a fraction of the students.
Most refugee youth aspiring to continue their education see their dreams blocked by requirements such as having a 10th standard certificate from a government school, while certificates from the camps and the border area, including post-ten level (12th standard) certificates and even post-post-ten level certificates are usually not accepted.
Meanwhile, certificates from Burma—where the education system desperately needs a complete reform—receives international recognition.
As well as being blocked by the requirements of most international institutions, recognizing refugee education was not on the agenda for the recently launched national education plan setting strategic directions for Burma’s educational reform over the next five years.
This means that refugee youth could remain excluded from the educational reform process for at least half of the next decade, a critical time as no one knows when the camps will ultimately close down.
The youth along the border not only deserve accreditation for their high-quality education and years of work, but if the Burmese government does not recognize and appreciate the vast human resources on the borderline, they risk sidelining a pool of dedicated and competent future leaders and peace builders.
Many youth on the border come from villages that have been burned to the ground and from families that have endured persecution for generations. With their first-hand experiences of the conflict and personal motivations for achieving sustainable peace, the youth would undoubtedly have much to offer to Burma’s peace process and the ongoing reform process.
Currently the displaced populations along the Thailand-Burma border, including highly educated youth, continue to be sidelined if not outright excluded from the country’s transition.
For genuine national reconciliation, it is imperative that youth from conflict-affected communities are included in the process by consistently having refugee-led youth organizations participating in stakeholder meetings, including the Union Peace Conferences, and having refugee education recognized by the Ministry of Education and national higher education institutions.
While most refugee youth feel the time is not right to return for numerous reasons, refugee youth should have a chance to participate in the processes that directly impact their future.
Until a meaningful voluntary return of refugees and other displaced populations is possible, and refugee education is recognized by national and international institutions, it is vital that international community continues to support refugees and education along the border.
Leena Zieger is the Founder and International Coordinator of Burma Link, a non-profit organization advocating for the rights of Burma’s ethnic nationalities and conflict-affected communities.
Burma Link launched a joint documentary film “Unrecognized Leaders, Tomorrow’s Hope: Raising the Voices of Forgotten Youth” with the Karen Student Network Group and Karen Youth Organization online on March 10, 2017 The film was originally launched at a press conference in Rangoon on Feb. 22.
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by Thin Lei Win | @thinink | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 10 March 2017 07:00 GMT
In parched lands, families grow food in gardens using drip irrigation, hydroponics and soil moisture sensors to cut down on over-irrigation and save water
By Thin Lei Win
PAKOKKU, Myanmar, March 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Myo Myint fondly remembers when his one-acre farm regularly produced 100 baskets of rice. But as rainfall became erratic in this arid region, he started growing betel leaves, a less thirsty cash crop.
This summer, the 50-year-old is considering leaving fallow his land in Myanmar's central "Dry Zone" because when the stream behind his house dries up in March, the cost of irrigation outstrips the income from any crop.
A 2016 drought followed by heavy rains already battered his farm.
"Water is becoming more scarce every year. I want to keep growing the crops but there's not much I can do without water," he said, sitting beneath the ground floor of his stilt house.
His village of Myay Ni Twin, in Pakokku township, is around two hours' drive from Bagan, Myanmar's top tourist destination known for its ancient Buddhist temples.
"When I was growing up, the stream didn't go dry. Now there's less rain, and it's very hard to plant things," he said.
Myanmar recently emerged from decades of military dictatorship only to face a bigger existential threat.
The Southeast Asian nation of 50 million people is the world's second most vulnerable country to climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index from research group Germanwatch. Studies have shown the onset of the monsoon is becoming more variable, increasing the risk of drought.
The Dry Zone, an area comprising 58 townships in Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing, is home to around 10 million people, who mostly rely on rain-fed agriculture. It suffers from year-round water shortages.
A recent assessment by the Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA), an initiative funded by the European Union and United Nations, predicted a temperature increase of up to 3 degrees Celsius and a shorter monsoon in Pakokku by 2050.
Farmers like Myo Myint - already struggling to make ends meet - will bear the brunt of those changes.
His village has a well, but pumping water costs too much, he said. So he was intrigued by the prototypes of soil moisture sensors in the hands of Tayzar Lin, a product designer with Proximity Designs, a Myanmar-based social enterprise that develops affordable products for farmers.
"I've been curious since I saw something similar on Facebook," said the farmer, as Tayzar Lin plunged into the soil a boxy contraption with a dial at the top and an alloy-tipped brass rod at the bottom.
The hand on the dial moved to green, showing the soil still held water. Red means dry, and blue means too much water.
Myo Myint dreams of watering only when needed, instead of every two days as he now does, to save the precious resource.
Agriculture - including livestock, fisheries and forestry - contributes nearly 40 percent of Myanmar's GDP and employs around half its workforce, according to Andrew Kirkwood, director of the Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), a poverty reduction fund supported by 12 governments.
"Agriculture is extremely important to Myanmar's economy and future growth," he said.
A 2013 study funded by LIFT identified the Dry Zone as Myanmar's most water-stressed region and one of its most food-insecure areas. Inexpensive water sensors made abroad are already available, but their instructions are in English and they are not widely used, nor calibrated by soil type.
Proximity Designs' sensor works with loam and clay, and its staff will train farmers to use it properly, the firm said.
The device - expected to retail at an affordable price of around 30,000 kyat ($22) - is now being tested in three Dry Zone townships, said Proximity's user research manager Louisa-Jane Richards.
A study of growers of flowers, vegetables and betel - a mild stimulant that is chewed - found they were over-irrigating by around 30 percent, she said.
Cutting that to 15 percent could save a farmer with 0.5 acres (0.2 hectares) around 170 gallons of water a season.
Families in the Dry Zone are also getting help to grow nutritious food in gardens using drip irrigation and hydroponics. Non-profit Terre des Hommes (TdH) Italy has set these up in 45 villages with funding from LIFT.
Shwe Bon Thar, a dusty village in Myingyan township, shares a pond with five other villages. But when its water disappears in the dry season, locals must rely on acidic well water and fresh vegetables become pricey.
Maung Maung, 46, now makes 1,000 kyat a day selling mint from the hydroponic garden behind his house, a 3-metre by 2-metre plot of vivid green surrounded by sandy soil. The gravity-fed system irrigates leafy vegetables in discarded water bottles while leftover water collected at the bottom is recycled.
Maung Maung, who uses about 5 gallons of water a day, also grows mustard leaves, morning glory and lettuce, which go into the family meal.
"We used to eat vegetables only when we could afford it, about three times a week. Now we eat fresh, pesticide-free vegetables every day," he said.
The extra income from selling his surplus produce will help in the coming dry months. Like many villagers, his main crop is pigeon pea, whose price has plummeted this year.
Beyond immediate food and water needs, the Dry Zone is also experiencing dramatic shifts.
In many villages, most farmers are in their forties and fifties, as young people have left. Maung Maung's three adult children work at factories in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-biggest city.
Pasquale Capizzi, MCCA's chief technical advisor, said Myanmar needed to tackle both immediate natural disasters and the more gradual impacts of climate change.
"Response... must involve society as a whole", encompassing local and national government, businesses, communities and civil society, he said.
"You must adapt with different crops, different agricultural techniques, different mechanisation and productivity improvement - but in some areas you may have to be prepared to learn another trade," he said.
Climate change will intensify risks such as cyclones, floods and droughts, he added, but will also have "silent effects" on soil salinity, health and yields.
People's efforts to adapt, said Capizzi, must be supported to reinforce "the innate resilience of communities not to accept fate, but to bounce back and improve".
($1 = 1,368.0000 kyat) (Reporting By Thin Lei Win, editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/)
Countries, territories and subnational areas reporting vector-borne Zika virus (ZIKV) infections for the first time since 1 February: None
Countries and territories reporting microcephaly and other central nervous system malformations potentially associated with ZIKV infection for the first time since 1 February: Mexico, Saint Martin
Countries and territories reporting Guillain-Barré syndrome cases associated with ZIKV infection for the first time since 1 February: Curaçao, Trinidad and Tobago
WHO, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have developed a new Zika virus classification scheme. The classification serves to categorize the presence of and potential for vector-borne ZIKV transmission and to inform public health recommendations. Based on the defined criteria and expert review, some countries, territories and subnational areas were reclassified and some were classified for the first time.
In line with WHO’s transition to a sustained programme to address the long-term nature of the disease and its consequences, this is the final WHO Zika situation report. WHO will continue to publish the Zika classification table (Table 1) on a regular basis as well as periodic situation analysis.
By Yitsing Wang
The escalation of a long-running conflict between Myanmar army and a Chinese-speaking ethnic armed group in Northern Shan State is affecting people on both sides of the border.
Fighting between Kokang rebels - the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and Myanmar troops in Laukkai, a region on Myanmar's border with China, has killed at least 30 people and caused new flows of refugees to flee across the border into China’s Yunnan province.
Residents of Yunnan province, meanwhile, have shut themselves inside their homes at night and many local residents said that they heard heavy gunfire and felt tremors during the night and they can see bright flames.
Li Xingwei, who is the headmaster of a Kokang mission school, told Mizzima that he led more than 20 children fleeing into the town of Nansan in Yunnan. “We found an abandoned house to live in. It is a bit crowded and we are trying to find the rest of the kids.”
“At present, tens of thousands of Myanmar refugees have been placed in several open squares in the town of Nansan, and the local government has set up refugee camps to accommodate them.” Guo Lunfeng told Mizzima, who is a volunteer teacher in Kokang and also the member of an NGO for refugees.
“After the conflict, we organised aid action on social media, and we arranged a dozen cars to freely pick up refugees who are old, weak, and disabled on the main roads. Some local residents who had vacant houses provided them with temporary accommodation.”
In addition, several local volunteer organisations and a Chinese insurance company also provided free food to refugees for several days, including instant noodles, rice pudding and mineral water.
Kokang people are an ethnic group of Myanmar. Most of them are descendants of Chinese speakers who migrated to what is now Shan State from the 17th century. Probably because of this reason, the voice of support for the Kokang is not rare to see among Chinese people.
Nevertheless, some people think that the cause of the conflict is not so simple. U Min Zaw Oo, a political analyst in Yangon who advises a government peace commission, told The New York Times that he believed the rebel group currently had about 1,000 to 1,500 fighters and that it targeted casinos in Laukkai controlled by rivals in the Kokang community who are loyal to the Myanmar government.
The office of Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement Monday evening that MNDAA had attacked a hotel, casinos, and police and army posts.
However, in a statement released by “Justice Kokang”, which is an account on China’s social media platform Weibo and which states it is, “The official account of MNDAA”, the rebels denied that it was MNDAA that provoked the conflict. “Myanmar troops gathered and laid siege to Kokang from different directions since January, and they dropped at least dozens of shells a day, never stopped.”
“Justice Kokang” constantly posted news about the war situation for several days and attracted the attention of many Chinese netizens. On Wednesday, the account published a name list showing donations to the MNDAA from dozens of Chinese netizens.
In contrast, the attitude of the Chinese government on this issue is clearly more cautious. “China is highly concerned about the military clashes recently in the Kokang region,” said the spokesman of Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“China urges all parties to cease fire immediately to prevent the escalation of conflict and restore normal order in the border areas as soon as possible.”
This Special Report examines China’s role and interests in Myanmar’s peace process. Funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and integral to USIP’s Asia Center programming, the report is based on more than eighty interviews with officials in China and representatives from ethnic armed groups in Myanmar
• China’s interest in the Myanmar peace process is focused on the armed ethnic groups along the border in Kachin and Shan states—in particular, the Kachin Independence Army, the United Wa State Army, and the Kokang Army. These organizations have historical and cultural ties with ethnic groups across the border in China as well as political and economic connections.
• China’s official position follows the principle of noninterference and its official policy is “persuading for peace and facilitating dialogues.” In practice, its attitude has been more ambiguous.
• Beijing does not necessarily believe that comprehensive peace is attainable for the foreseeable future. Its priority is therefore to prepare for different uncertainties and maximize its flexibility in the process.
• China’s role is complicated by the behavior of certain Chinese special interest groups and individuals who have offered direct financial support for ethnic armed organizations in Myanmar.
• Under Myanmar’s new National League for Democracy government, ties with China have improved significantly. China has played a positive role in persuading armed groups to join the Union Peace Conference in 2016, but its future policy and role will depend on the development of bilateral relations and the evolving definition of China’s national interests.
With the successful completion of its 2015 general elections and a smooth transition of power to the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, Myanmar has embarked on a long but positive path to political and economic reform. Reconciliation among the many ethnic armed groups—ethnic armed organizations, as they are known in Myanmar—in the north, including those still in active combat with the Myanmar Armed Forces, is unresolved and a source of conflict, however. Addressing this issue involves important questions of majority-minority relations, central-local power distribution, and the role of the Myanmar military. The peace process, launched by the former U Thein Sein government and continued by the NLD government, represents the best efforts of the country to end the long ethnic division of the state and achieve genuine reconciliation for the first time in decades.
As Myanmar’s largest neighbor, China has been and will remain a critical player in the Myanmar peace process. Ethnic armed groups in northern Myanmar share historical and cultural linkages with ethnic groups across the border in China as well as political and economic connections. China’s official position on the peace process adheres to the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. However, it is clear from the ongoing debate in Chinese policy circles that this position is not necessarily based on impartiality or disinterested altruism. Strong voices favor China’s active support for ethnic armed groups in Myanmar, arguing that it will help temper the Myanmar government’s treatment of China and Chinese business interests, something that has grown increasingly urgent as Myanmar appears to make pro-West foreign policy adjustments.
China’s role in the peace process is further complicated by the behavior of special interest groups and individuals in China who have offered direct financial support for ethnic armed groups in Myanmar—which include the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), United Wa State Army (UWSA), and the Kokang Army (MNDAA). These relationships have contributed materially to their ability to sustain their autonomous presence and, in some cases, armed conflict with the Myanmar military. Although not sanctioned by Beijing, such private business dealings have reinforced the perception of a duplicitous Chinese role in the peace process.
Seeing Myanmar’s ethnic issues as unlikely to be resolved in the near future, Beijing’s immediate concern is to prevent instability on its borders. However, given the new NLD-led government in Naypyidaw, China has been putting significant efforts into building a good bilateral relationship. At the end of the day, how much it contributes to the Myanmar peace process will depend on bilateral relations and whether Myanmar’s policies and actions are aligned with or at least not contrary to China’s economic and strategic interests.
Latest estimates indicate that about 94,000 people remain displaced (either in Bangladesh or within northern Rakhine) as a result of the 9 October attacks and subsequent security operations.
Humanitarian organizations in Bangladesh estimate that over 74,000 people have crossed the border into Bangladesh since October and remain in the Cox’s Bazaar area.
An estimated 20,000 people remain internally displaced in northern Rakhine.
Restrictions on humanitarian access (particularly for international staff, who are mostly still not being permitted to work outside the main towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung) are compromising the quality of the life-saving assistance and other services humanitarian organizations can provide.
Access restrictions have constrained the ability of the humanitarian community to establish concrete data and conduct the necessary assessments in order to measure the scale and impact of the current displacement in northern Rakhine as a result of the 9 October border post attacks and subsequent security operations. Latest estimates indicate that about 94,000 people remain displaced. This includes approximately 74,000 people who have crossed the border from Myanmar into Bangladesh and some 20,000 people who remain displaced in the northern part of Maungdaw Township. There are also 226 Rakhine and Mro evacuees who continue to be hosted at two locations in Maungdaw Township.
The Government announced that the security operations launched in response to the 9 October attacks ended on 15 February 2017. On 18 February, at least 2,000 displaced people who had been sheltering in neighbouring villages were allowed to return to their village of origin in the northern part of Maungdaw Township.
The Government has permitted an incremental resumption of humanitarian activities, including distributions of food and other relief items (NFIs, hygiene kits, water purifications tablets) in some areas. However, humanitarian access remains far from what it was before the 9 October attacks, particularly in the northern part of Maungdaw Township. Most international staff do not have access to affected areas beyond Maungdaw and Buthidaung towns. Some NGOs report that even where access has been restored, their national staff are not permitted to stay overnight at project sites and have faced other restrictions on their travel routes. In the northern part of Maungdaw Township, humanitarian organizations have not been allowed to resume most of their protection activities.
Despite repeated requests for humanitarian access for a comprehensive needs assessment across the affected area, the Government has not yet granted permission for this to happen. However, a limited multi-sector assessment was conducted in the southern part of Maungdaw Township in January (see section on Needs Assessment below).
On 3 February, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report based on interviews with 204 Rohingya people who have newly arrived in Bangladesh. The report details allegations of serious human rights abuses. On 27 February, Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, completed her mission to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh to assess the situation of arrivals. Based on the findings of her mission, she called on the UN Human Rights Council to create a Commission of Inquiry to examine allegations of abuse in the northern part of Rakhine State. The continued access restrictions and absence of a thorough needs assessment are a major concern in light of reports of serious human rights violations and continued protection risks for civilians in the affected area.
Yangon / Kyaing Tong (ICRC) – The first physical rehabilitation centre in Shan State has officially opened its doors in Kyaing Tong. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) invested 1.86 billion Myanmar kyats (1.3 million US dollars) to build it.
The 34-bed centre will begin operating in May with around 30 staff members. Initially it will accept residents in the Kyaing Tong township area who need replacements and repairs on below-the-knee prostheses. Once it reaches full operational capacity, it is expected to serve up to 910 patients a year, providing prostheses, orthoses, mobility devices and physiotherapy to people across Shan State who have been wounded by landmines or other weapons, or who have had an amputation following a traffic accident or health problem. The new centre will make it much easier for them to get physical rehabilitation services.
"Before, patients from eastern areas of Shan State had to travel for more than two days by bus to Mandalay or Yangon for consultations, physiotherapy or prosthesis fittings," said Jurg Montani, head of the ICRC's delegation in Myanmar.
The ICRC drew on its wealth of experience to design and oversee the construction of the centre, which was recently handed over to the Ministry of Health and Sports. It is the third largest ICRC-supported physical rehabilitation centre in the world in terms of area, after those in Kabul, Afghanistan and Myitkyina, Kachin State.
"The centre will help alleviate suffering and build up local people's experience and capacity to provide physical rehabilitation services for disabled people," said Didier Reck, head of the ICRC's physical rehabilitation programme in Myanmar.
The physical rehabilitation programme in Myanmar began in 1986 and now fully supports three physical rehabilitation centres: on in Hpa-An jointly managed with the Myanmar Red Cross, one run by the Ministry of Health and Sports at Yenanthar Hospital near Mandalay, and the large one in Myitkyina, opened in November 2016.
Myanmar is one of the countries that has been most severely affected by landmines and other unexploded ordnance, in particular in eastern and northern parts of the country where fighting is still ongoing. These deadly weapons have a major impact, not only when people are killed by accidentally stepping on them, but also on people's lives and livelihoods.
"The opening of the centre is our medium-to-long term contribution to stability in the area. It complements the emergency relief work we have been doing, especially in northern areas of Rakhine, Kachin and Shan," said Mr Montani.
The ICRC has run physical rehabilitation programmes in conflict-affected areas around the world since 1979, supporting 165 centres in 48 countries.
For further information, please contact:
Moe Myint Aung, ICRC Yangon (Myanmar language), tel: +95 9 254 205 987
Jean-Yves Clémenzo, ICRC Yangon (English language), tel: +95 9 420 107 606
World: Le chef des droits de l'homme prévient que l'année 2017 sera cruciale dans un contexte de terrorisme et de populisme
8 mars 2017 – Le Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies aux droits de l'homme, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, a estimé mercredi que 2017 serait une année importante et déterminante dans un contexte où le monde est confronté au terrorisme et à la montée du populisme.
« Est-ce que les attaques violentes des groupes terroristes vont conduire les gouvernements à s'enfoncer dans le tout sécuritaire au détriment des droits de l'homme ? Est-ce que des leaders populistes vont continuer à engranger le salaire de la peur et de la désillusion ? Parviendront-ils, avec d'autres responsables à tendance autoritaire, à faire s'effondrer les institutions régionales et internationales? Allons-nous tous nous élever ensemble ou allons-nous tous tomber ensemble ?», s'est interrogé M. Zeid, lors de la présentation de son rapport annuel devant le Conseil des droits de l'homme réuni à Genève.
Outre cette mise en garde, le Haut-Commissaire a fait le point sur l'évolution des droits de l'homme dans de nombreux pays à travers le monde.
Il a ainsi évoqué le sort des populations Rohingyas du Myanmar. Selon lui, les abus auxquels ils sont soumis pourraient constituer des crimes contre l'humanité relevant de la Cour pénale internationale (CPI). M. Zeid a demandé au Conseil des droits de l'homme d'examiner la situation en créant au moins une commission d'enquête.
Après avoir félicité le gouvernement de la République démocratique du Congo pour sa réaction rapide après les signalements de violations des droits de l'homme par des soldats dans deux provinces, M. Zeid a également exhorté le Conseil à mettre en place une commission d'enquête.
S'agissant du Burundi, M. Zeid s'est dit très inquiet de voir que tout espace démocratique a virtuellement disparu. Des abus des forces de sécurité continuent d'être enregistrés, dont des disparitions, des cas de torture et des arrestations arbitraires. Le Burundi a suspendu sa coopération avec le bureau du Haut-Commissariat aux droits de l'homme (HCDH), a déploré le Haut-Commissaire.
M. Zeid s'est dit également inquiet de la détérioration de la situation des droits de l'homme au nord et au centre du Mali, où des groupes extrémistes continuent leur brutale oppression, conduisant des milliers de personnes à fuir la région. Les attaques contre les convois humanitaires et les responsables des organisations internationales sont également préoccupantes.
Le Haut-Commissaire a déploré les violences et destructions au Soudan du Sud, où la famine menace. Les groupes armés et l'armée se sont livrés à des atrocités, notamment des massacres, des viols et violences sexuelles. Le Haut-Commissaire est préoccupé par les arrestations arbitraires et par l'absence d'accès accordé à la Mission des Nations Unies au Soudan du Sud (MINUSS).
Sur une note plus positive, M. Zeid s'est félicité du soutien apporté par la Communauté économique des États de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (CEDEAO) à la Gambie après le résultat de l'élection présidentielle de décembre 2016, alors que tant de responsables semblent déterminés à se maintenir au pouvoir à tout prix. Le nouveau Président Adama Barrow s'est engagé à respecter les droits de l'homme dans le cadre de mesures de grande ampleur et en mettant en place une commission de la vérité et de la réconciliation, a-t-il observé.
Le Haut-Commissaire a aussi fait l'éloge de la Tunisie pour sa coopération exemplaire et notamment pour la préparation d'une nouvelle législation contre la discrimination raciale et en faveur des femmes. La volonté du pays d'intégrer les droits de l'homme dans la lutte contre le terrorisme témoigne aussi de cette bonne volonté, a-t-il estimé.
Fighting between Kokang rebels and Myanmar troops in Laukkai in northern Shan state has forced a wave of more than 20,000 refugees across the border into China, and another roughly 1,600 residents to seek refuge in the town of Lashio, Myanmar monks and villagers said Wednesday.
“We have settled them in a temporary camp near the Chinese border about a mile from [border] milestone 125,” a Myanmar Buddhist monk named Kathera who resides in China told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday. “They are being well looked after.”
Others sought shelter in the homes of friends and relatives, he said.
Administrative officials and nongovernmental organizations are providing assistance to those who fled to Lashio, the largest town in Shan state, said Ponnyananda, the Buddhist abbot of Aungmingalar Mansu Monastery.
“We had more than 1,600 people here during the first two days [after the attack],” he said. “We gave them meals and later arranged cars for them to return home. About eight or nine cars took some of them back yesterday, and another eight or nine will leave today.”
Some shots were still heard on Tuesday evening, and about 20 shells have landed on Chinese territory, said a Myanmar villager who did not give his name.
Shrapnel from the fighting injured a migrant worker on Wednesday, he said.
Fighting broke out early Monday when 30 soldiers from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the formal name of the Kokang army, attacked police and military posts and civilian buildings, leaving about 30 people—police, civilians, and insurgents—dead.
Ongoing hostilities between Kokang fighters and government forces on Tuesday left six more civilians dead and forced thousands of residents and migrant workers to leave Laukkai, locals said.
‘Shells and bullets are flying’
Residents of the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, meanwhile, have shut themselves inside their homes amid the intense fighting just across the border, sources told RFA on Wednesday.
Local Chinese residents said there is now a strong military presence at the border checkpoint in Nansan, which now appears to have been closed.
An ethnic Chinese resident of Kokang surnamed Feng told RFA that he had crossed the border into the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan to escape the recent fighting.
He said he is now in the border township of Nansan along with many other refugees.
"We are all hiding here in our rooms," Feng said. "We dare not go out to shoot any video, because the shells and bullets are flying around."
"We are just hiding out here in the room; this is a war," he said. "We have been lucky just to get back to China safely."
A volunteer surnamed Yuan who was helping the refugees said his group has been scrambling to provide food and shelter for civilians who poured across the border when the fighting started.
"The clashes are continuing in Kokang, with shelling which we can hear from this side of the border," he said. "Some shells fired by the Myanmar government troops are falling on this side of the border, and some of the buildings have been damaged."
"You can see houses that have sustained shell damage here and there, but nobody has been killed or injured," Yuan said. "The firing is coming from the government troops’ positions and the Kokang government positions, not from the Chinese side."
Yuan said schools in Nansan were closed on Wednesday because of the fighting, but would likely resume class on Thursday.
Police patrols have also been stepped up around the township, most of which is out of the line of fire, he said.
"Everyone here wants peace, the security of their country," he said. "Nobody wants war."
"We have been hearing reports of deaths filtering through in the past couple of days, but the figures are those issued by the Myanmar government troops, so it's very hard for the real figures to reach the outside world," Yuan said.
"Nobody really knows how many casualties the Kokang side has sustained, but there haven't been any on the Chinese side of the border," he said.
‘Chinese troops on the streets’
An official who answered the phone at the Chinese embassy in Myanmar declined to comment on the situation.
"I don't know what's going on with them; that's not the job of our department," the official said. "I'm not the embassy spokesperson."
A resident of Nansan surnamed Liu confirmed the closure of local schools on Wednesday.
"We are a few hundred meters from the national border, and there is a strong security presence there; they're not letting anyone through," Liu said.
"There are Chinese troops on the streets, but not very many. I think they were heading to the border crossing to protect it," she said.
"The schools have closed today because the teachers thought the kids wouldn't be able to focus on their studies," Liu said. "The parents are all keeping a close eye on their kids, not letting them go outside and run around."
"There are a lot of stray bullets flying around near the border, but nobody is allowed to report it," she said.
China has called for an immediate cease-fire and restoration of order along the border area.
A second refugee surnamed Liu said the majority of refugees are ethnic Chinese who are being well-treated by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, even though they live and work in Myanmar.
"The government is particularly concerned about the refugees because they are all ethnic Chinese, and they are providing emergency aid," Liu said.
"Some came across before the fighting started, because they knew there was going to be fighting beforehand," he said. "Some Chinese came through yesterday; they do business on the other side."
"There were a lot of them," he said.
He said reports had emerged of heavy losses after government troops failed to hold Laukkai, capital of the Kokang region.
The MNDAA are said to have initiated the assault on government troops and police in retaliation for Myanmar army troops attacking Kokang territory.
Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung, a spokesman of the Northern Alliance—a coalition of four ethnic armed groups including the MNDAA—told RFA on Tuesday that the ethnic militias will not lay down their arms, but are open to political discussions to resolve the conflict.
Shan State Army clash
In a related development, insurgents from the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) clashed with government army troops on Tuesday night near the town of Hsipaw in northern Shan state, said lieutenant Colonel Sai Meng, the militia’s spokesman.
“Government troops from Light Infantry Regiments Nos. 502 and 243 launched an attack on our RCSS camp near the Homu village tract in Hsipaw township,” he told RFA.
“They have been saying that the Tatmadaw [government army] is under the government according to the present constitution, but what we are seeing is the Tatmadaw doing whatever they want,” he said.
The RSCC/SSA seized some weapons from the government troops, but casualty numbers are not known, Sai Meng said.
Though the fighting in the township has subsided, and the situation calmed down this morning, the two sides are poised for more clashes near RCSS camps in the Htanseng and Pahkar areas north of Hsipaw, he said.
Calls to officials in Myanmar’s Ministry of Defense went unanswered.
The latest hostilities in volatile northern Shan state come as the Myanmar government under de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi prepares for another round of peace talks scheduled for this month in a bid to end decades of civil wars that have plagued the country and prevented it from further development.
She has urged the ethnic armed groups to stop the fighting that has caused deaths and problems for citizens, and to move forward with peace talks.
Reported by Kan Thar and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service, Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin and Luisetta Mudie.
South East Asia is particularly prone to natural disasters: a situation which is compounded by the fact that more than half the countries in the region are low or lower income. In addition, three countries (Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar) are considered least developed.
Of these, Myanmar has suffered particularly from cyclones and resultant flooding and landslides. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre’s recent report shows that in 2015, 1.6 million people were displaced as a result of cyclone Komen, resulting in the fifth highest figure worldwide in absolute terms. This devastation followed in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008, which killed nearly 140,000 people and affected 2.4 million people, and Cyclone Giri in 2010, which affected 183,000 people. Myanmar ranks 2nd out of 187 countries in the Global Climate Risk Index and 12th out of 191 countries in the Index of Risk Management (INFORM).
One of the biggest aid organisations working in Myanmar is Save the Children. The charity has been operating in the country since 1995 and now has around thirty offices and 1400 staff deployed. The Aid & International Development Forum (AIDF) spoke to Save the Children UK’s Regional Portfolio Officer for Asia, Gareth Mace, about current projects and innovations in Myanmar.
Save the Children’s nutrition work, funded by Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT), is gaining real traction. This year, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi launched Myanmar’s first national government initiative on nutrition in an attempt to tackle some of the world’s highest malnourishment rates among young children. Mr Mace said:
“Our hope is to help support the adoption of a government-led cash transfer programme to help improve the nutritional contexts of children, particularly in the most critical first 1,000 days of life. Behaviour Change Communications forms an important aspect of our work with communities also, and we are partnering with Innovations for Poverty Action on a Randomized Control Trial to generate evidence of the programme’s effectiveness.”
With Myanmar’s population suffering the effects of monsoon, flooding and landslides, Save the Children’s work to promote health and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is vital.
The charity is working with the Three Millennium Development Goal Fund (3MDG) to promote maternal and newborn child health (MNCH). In five states (Magwe, Northern Shan, Chin, Labutta, Ngapudaw), this work has built the capacity of local health structures to provide services for young children and mothers.
The simple act of washing hands has a huge preventative impact on disease. Save the Children is operating its new Surprise Soap initiative in Myanmar to promote hand washing for children:
“It’s quite an innovative and fun concept which highlights our desire to seek new solutions to longstanding challenges. We’re excited to see the impact that it will have.”
Surprise Soap is being trialled with children between the ages of three and 12 in an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp in Rakhine State, Myanmar, later this year. The soap will be co-designed with the children and used by them in their homes. Through the Surprise Soap project, the charity hopes to achieve an overall improvement in child health in the camp, and a reduction in the number of cases and deaths from diarrhoea and pneumonia.
In addition to initiatives like Surprise Soap, there is an ongoing humanitarian programme funded by European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) in Kachin and Northern Shan state. Here, Save the Children works in collaboration with local CSOs (civil society organisations) and government at multiple levels to improve the basic conditions of local communities. The primary focus is on reducing morbidity and mortality from waterborne diseases, through improving access to safe water and sanitation facilities, and improving hygiene behaviours more broadly.
Rapid urbanisation and increasingly frequent natural disasters combine with high levels of poverty and lack of infrastructure to create a complex set of challenges in Myanmar. While on the surface, its economy is predicted to grow by around eight per cent this year, its people will continue to need the expertise and capacity of aid organisations like Save the Children for the foreseeable future.
Following the success of previous summits on innovations and partnerships in humanitarian aid and development in South East Asia held at the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok, the AIDF audience has stated interest in moving the event to Myanmar in 2017. Join us at the 3rd annual Aid & Development Asia Summit, taking place on 14-15 June 2017 at the Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC2) in Nay Pyi Taw. Visit asia.aidforum.org for more information.
By Daniel Knag for AIDF
With Thanks to Gareth Mace, Save the Children UK
Over the past six months Myanmar has experienced a surge in new displacement in four states, while humanitarian organizations simultaneously faced severe constraints on access. Border post attacks on 9 Oct 2016 and subsequent security operations triggered a new humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine. Intensified conflict resulted in new displacement in Kachin and northern Shan. Thousands were also relocated in Kayin State due to fighting in Sep 2016.