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Archive for the ‘Wonder Land of Burma’ Category

2,000 Kachin trapped by Myanmar fighting lack food, medicine

April 19, 2018

BANGKOK (AP) — Community leaders from the Christian ethnic Kachin community have called for urgent medical attention for about 2,000 civilians, including pregnant women and the elderly, trapped in the jungle where they fled to escape clashes between the Myanmar’s army and the Kachin guerrillas in the country’s north.

The latest fighting in Kachin state’s Tanai region — an area known for amber and gold mining — began in early April with government shelling and airstrikes in response to threats by the rebel Kachin Independence Army to retake lost territory.

The Rev. Mung Dan, a Baptist community leader, said Wednesday the civilians trapped without medicine or sufficient food include five pregnant women, two women who just gave birth, 93 old people, and other villagers wounded by mortar shelling. They are “in dire need of medical treatment as well as rations,” he said by phone.

“Even today, it’s been raining the whole day in our region and these civilians do not have any shelter yet and they are suffering from sickness as well,” he added. A non-governmental organization based in Kachin state has sent an open letter to the Kachin State Minister on Wednesday, asking for the permission to rescue civilians but the permission has not been granted yet.

“We have been asking permission to rescue people who are trapped in the jungle and they are in a very critical condition,” said Awng Ja, a member of Kachin State Women Network, which helps displaced women. “But the state minister said only if the military granted us access, we can rescue these civilians.”

Rights and aids groups said the Myanmar government and the military have dramatically increased restrictions on humanitarian assistance to some 100,000 displaced people. The government has denied virtually denied all access for the United Nations and other international humanitarian groups.

Some civilian have already been killed by the government’s offensive, the Kachin say. “At least three civilians were killed by the army’s mortar shells and airstrikes in three different places since April 11,” said Naw Bu, the head of the information department of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political organization to which the Kachin Independence Army is affiliated.

The Kachin Independence Army, like other ethnic minority armed groups, has been fighting on and off for decades against the central government for greater autonomy. Combat between the Kachin rebels and the government military resumed in 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 100,000 civilians displaced.

Myanmar’s military has long been accused of grave human rights violations against ethnic minority groups in different parts of the country. Most recently, it has been accused of abuses against the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority in the western state of Rakhine that critics say amounts to “ethnic cleansing,” as violent counter-insurgency sweeps by the army helped drive about 700,000 Rohingya across the border to neighboring Bangladesh, where they stay in refugee camps.

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Myanmar’s president grants amnesty to over 8,500 prisoners

April 17, 2018

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozen political prisoners. The amnesty, announced Tuesday, coincided with Myanmar’s traditional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners. A statement from presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said those released included the aged, people in ill health and drug offenders. None was individually named.

It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The releases were to take place at prisons nationwide. Relatives and friends of those held waited Tuesday outside the gates at Insein Prison, in the northern outskirts of Yangon, where it was expected that more than 300 prisoners, including eight political detainees, would be released.

Although called an amnesty, the action appeared to actually be a mass pardon, meaning it would cover only prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes. Two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, facing a high-profile freedom of the press trial for possessing secret official documents would not be covered under the action.

One of the journalists’ lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his understanding was that the president was only pardoning convicted criminals. “So, since the two reporters have not been sentenced for prison terms, we don’t know if they will be part of the release. If this was an amnesty, then it’s possible that they might be part of the list,” he told The Associated Press.

Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the group was waiting to confirm the releases. “We don’t know exactly if all 36 political prisoners will be released or not, and that’s why the family members are waiting outside of the prison,” he said.

The group, which has extensive experience in monitoring the incarceration of political prisoners, says that 54 are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.

Win Myint became president last month, after his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down because of illness. The Facebook page of Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun said the presidential action was taken “as a gesture of marking the Myanmar New Year and after taking into consideration the prevalence of peace of mind among the people, humanitarian concerns and friendly relations among nations.”

The release of political prisoners was a priority of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party when it took over power from a pro-military government in March 2016. Suu Kyi is the country’s de facto leader, holding the specially created post of State Counsellor. Constitutional rules prohibit her from serving as president because her two children are British, as was her late husband.

When Suu Kyi’s government took power in 2016, it made it a priority to release political prisoners detained during military rule, freeing almost 200 within a month. However, critics of Suu Kyi’s government say it also has pursued politically motivated prosecutions, citing cases against land rights activists and journalists.

Myanmar swears in Suu Kyi loyalist as new president

March 30, 2018

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — A longtime Aung San Suu Kyi loyalist vowed to prioritize the rule of law, peace and reconciliation Friday after being sworn in as the country’s new president, who will continue his predecessor’s deference to her as the de facto national leader.

Win Myint, 66 and the former lower house speaker, took his oath of office during a joint session of Parliament, pledging loyalty “to the people and the republic of the Union of Myanmar.” First vice president Myint Swe, a military nominee and second vice president Henry Van Tio, an upper house parliament nominee, took oaths alongside him.

Suu Kyi and the powerful army chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing watched the swearing-in. For many years a political prisoner under the military that then ruled Myanmar, Suu Kyi cannot become president because the junta-drafted 2008 constitution bars those with foreign family, which directly aimed to bar Suu Kyi from becoming head of state. Her two sons are British.

Myanmar’s military ruled with an iron fist before handing power to a civilian government led by Suu Kyi in 2016. The military still holds considerable power, with control of national security and other government functions and a quarter of the seats in Parliament.

Suu Kyi became foreign minister and state councilor, a position created for her, and said when her government took office that she would be “above the president.” She led the government in that manner during the presidency of her close friend, Htin Kyaw, who retired last week because of ill health.

In his inaugural speech, Win Myint vowed to work on amending the constitution. “As part of the priorities of the union government, amending the constitution is the most fundamental to build the federal democratic government,” Win Myint said, “I will prioritize to implement the rule of law, for the improvement of people’s life, national reconciliation and internal peace.”

Myanmar’s civilian government has come under international pressure for its handling of a crisis in northern Rakhine state, where security forces have been accused of ethnic cleansing and serious human rights violations that have caused about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

“We are facing pressure, criticisms and misunderstandings at the international fronts and our country and our people are facing many challenges,” Win Myint said in his speech. “Though everything will not be solved easily, I will try my best to solve the problems and prioritize them.”

EU prepares new Myanmar sanctions over Rohingya crackdown

February 26, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union foreign ministers have tasked the EU’s top diplomat with drawing up a list of sanctions to slap on senior Myanmar military officers over rights abuses against the Rohingya minority.

The ministers on Monday also ordered EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to propose ways to toughen an EU embargo blocking the provision of arms and equipment that could be used for internal repression.

They said the measures are needed “in light of the disproportionate use of force and widespread and systematic grave human rights violations committed by the military and security forces.” About 700,000 Rohingya have fled towns and villages in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state since August to escape a military crackdown.

Negotiations for their return are underway but many fear their safety and well-being are not guaranteed.

Amnesty: Myanmar army killed at least hundreds of Rohingya

October 18, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar security forces killed hundreds of men, women and children during a systematic campaign to expel Rohingya Muslims, Amnesty International said in a new report Wednesday that calls for an arms embargo on the country and criminal prosecution of the perpetrators.

More than 580,000 refugees have arrived in Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar’s government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate.

The continuing exodus of Rohingya Muslims has become a major humanitarian crisis and sparked international condemnation of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which still denies atrocities are taking place. Based on interviews with more than 120 fleeing Rohingya, Amnesty International said at least hundreds of people were killed by security forces who surrounded villages, shot fleeing inhabitants and then set buildings alight, burning to death the elderly, sick and disabled who were unable to flee.

In some villages, women and girls were raped or subjected to other sexual violence, according to the report. The witnesses repeatedly described an insignia on their attackers’ uniforms that matched one worn by troops from Myanmar’s Western Command, Amnesty International said.

When shown various insignia used by Myanmar’s army, witnesses consistently picked out the Western Command patch, it said. The 33rd Light Infantry Division and border police, who wear a distinctive blue camouflage uniform, were also frequently involved in attacks on villages, along with Buddhist vigilante mobs, witnesses said.

Matthew Wells, an Amnesty crisis researcher who spent several weeks at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, said the rights group plans to issue another report in the coming months examining individual criminal responsibility, including specific commanders and others that may be involved in abuses.

He said hundreds of Rohingya have been treated for gunshot wounds and doctors say that the injuries are consistent with people being shot from behind as they fled. There were credible indications that a total of several hundred people had been killed in just five villages that were the focus of Amnesty’s reporting. Wells said that given that dozens of villages across northern Rakhine State have been targeted in a similar fashion, the death toll could be much higher.

He said satellite imagery, corroborated by witness accounts, show that Rohingya homes and mosques have been burned entirely in villages, while non-Rohingya areas just one or two hundred yards (meters) away were untouched.

“It speaks to how organized, how seemingly well-planned this scorched-earth campaign has been by the Myanmar military and how determined the effort has been to drive the Rohingya population out of the country,” Wells said.

Among almost two dozen recommendations, the human rights group called for the U.N. Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar and financial sanctions against senior officials responsible for violations that Amnesty says meet the criteria for crimes against humanity.

It said the council should explore options for bringing the perpetrators to justice under international law if Myanmar authorities do not act swiftly. “It is time for the international community to move beyond public outcry and take action to end the campaign of violence that has driven more than half the Rohingya population out of Myanmar,” Amnesty said.

Witnesses and a drone video shot Monday by the U.N. refugee agency show that Rohingya are continuing to flee persecution in Myanmar and crossing into Bangladesh. The video showed thousands upon thousands of Rohingya trudging along a narrow strip of land alongside what appears to a rain-swollen creek in the Palong Khali area in southern Bangladesh. The line of refugees stretches for a few kilometers (miles).

The new wave of refugees started crossing the border over the weekend, witnesses said. An Associated Press photographer saw thousands of newcomers near one border crossing Tuesday. Several said that they were stopped by Bangladeshi border guards and spent the night in muddy rice fields.

Nearly 60 percent of the refugees are children. The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, warned Tuesday that without immediate additional funding, it will not be able to continue providing life-saving aid and protection to Rohingya children. UNICEF said it has received just 7 percent of the $76 million it needs.

On Aug. 25, a Rohingya insurgent group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked at least 30 security posts on Aug. 25, causing dozens of casualties, according to Myanmar authorities. The brutal attacks against Rohingya that followed have been described by the U.N. as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has denied citizenship for the Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups officially recognized, which effectively renders them stateless. They have long faced discrimination and persecution with many Buddhists in Myanmar calling them “Bengalis” and saying they migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though they have lived in the country for generations.

AP journalists Matthew Pennington and Dar Yasin in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh contributed to this report.

UN: Myanmar violence a deliberate strategy to expel Rohingya

October 12, 2017

GENEVA (AP) — A report by the U.N. human rights office says attacks against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar point to a strategy to instill “widespread fear and trauma” and prevent them from ever returning to their homes.

The report released Wednesday is based on 65 interviews conducted in mid-September with Rohingya, individually and in groups, as more the half a million people from the ethnic group fled into Bangladesh during a violent crackdown in Myanmar.

The attacks against Rohingya in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state by security forces and Buddhist mobs were “coordinated and systematic,” with the intent of not only driving the population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning, the report said.

Some of those interviewed said that before and during attacks, megaphones were used to announce: “You do not belong here — go to Bangladesh. If you do not leave, we will torch your houses and kill you.”

According to the U.N. researchers, measures against the minority group began almost a month before the Aug. 25 attacks on police posts by Muslim militants that served as a pretext for what Myanmar’s military called “clearance operations” in Rakhine.

“Information we have received indicates that days and up to a month before the 25th of August, that the Myanmar security forces imposed further restrictions on access to markets, medical clinics, schools and religious sites,” Karin Friedrich, who was part of the U.N. mission to Bangladesh, said at a news conference. “Rohingya men aged 15 to 40 were reportedly arrested by the Myanmar police” and detained without any charges, she said.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the Myanmar government’s denial of rights, including citizenship, to the Rohingya appeared to be part of “a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return.” He has also described the systematic attacks and widespread burning of villages as “textbook ethnic cleansing.”

The report said efforts were made to “effectively erase signs of memorable landmarks” in Rohingya areas to make the landscape unrecognizable. Myanmar’s Buddhist majority denies that Rohingya Muslims are a separate ethnic group and regards them as illegal immigrants.

Bangladesh offers land to shelter Rohingya fleeing Myanmar

September 11, 2017

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh has agreed to free a plot of land for a new camp to shelter hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled recent violence in Myanmar, an official said Monday.

The new camp will help relieve some pressure on existing settlements in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar, where nearly 300,000 Rohingya have arrived since Aug. 25. “The two refugees camps we are in are beyond overcrowded,” said U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan.

Other new arrivals were being sheltered in schools, or were huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields. Basic resources were scarce, including food, clean water and medical aid.

Still, refugees were still arriving. An Associated Press reporter witnessed hundreds streaming into the border at Shah Puri Dwip on Monday. “Tomorrow we are expecting an airlift of relief supplies for 20,000 people,” Tan said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had offered 2 acres (.8 hectares) near the existing camp of Kutupalong “to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya newcomers,” according to a Facebook post Monday by Mohammed Shahriar Alam, a junior minister for foreign affairs.

He also said the government would begin registering the new arrivals on Monday. Hasina is scheduled to visit Rohingya refugees on Tuesday. Aid agencies have been overwhelmed by the influx of Rohingya, many of whom are arriving hungry and traumatized after walking days through jungles or packing into rickety wooden boats in search of safety on the Bangladeshi side of the border.

Many tell similar stories — of Myanmar soldiers firing indiscriminately on their villages, burning their homes and warning them to leave or to die. Some say they were attacked by Buddhist mobs. The government hospital in Cox’s Bazar has been overwhelmed by Rohingya patients, with 80 arriving in the last two weeks suffering gunshot wounds as well as bad infections. At least three have been wounded in land mine blasts, and dozens have drowned when boats capsized during sea crossings.

The violence and exodus began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution by security forces in the majority Buddhist country.

In response, the military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out the insurgents. Accounts from refugees show the Myanmar military is also targeting civilians with shootings and wholesale burning of Rohingya villages in an apparent attempt to purge Rakhine state of Muslims.

Bloody anti-Muslim rioting that erupted in 2012 in Rakhine state forced more than 100,000 Rohingya into displacement camps in Bangladesh, where many still live today. Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination and persecution in Myanmar and are denied citizenship despite centuries-olds roots in the Rakhine region. Myanmar denies Rohingya exist as an ethnic group and says those living in Rakhine are illegal migrants from Bangladesh

Alam reported from Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP writer Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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