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Myanmar to Reexamine Divisive Birth Rule

Rohingyas at the Dabang Internally Displaced Persons camp, located on the outskirts of Sittwe in Rakhine state, Oct. 10, 2012.AFP
Myanmar on Friday said it will reexamine a controversial two-child policy in restive Rakhine state after rights organizations and the international community said the law unfairly targets members of the Muslim Rohingya ethnic group.

“We are reexamining this order,” President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that the policy which bans Rohingya families from having more than two children was regionally implemented and had not been developed in tandem with the central government.

Ye Htut’s statement marked the first time Thein Sein’s office has publicly commented on the policy which, according to Rakhine state spokesperson Win Myaing, was initially introduced in 2005 and reaffirmed earlier this month for Rohingyas in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships along the Bangladesh border.

Rights groups say the two-child regulation was an addition to longstanding discriminatory marriage restrictions on Rohingyas in Rakhine, which required them to obtain advance permission before tying the knot and which limited Rohingya men to one wife.

Flouting the two-child restriction is punishable with fines and imprisonment, they say.

Though they are a small, unrecognized minority in Myanmar and Rakhine state, Rohingyas make up most of the population in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, which are also home to a small number of Buddhist Rakhines.

Buddhists are not subject to the two-child policy in the two townships, which were hotspots for ethnic violence in Rakhine state last year.

Ye Htut said that laws requiring Rohingyas to inform and apply for permission from the authorities before getting married were aimed at preventing abuse against women.

“The reason for this is that [Rohingya] girls who are not old enough to get married are often married by force.” The age of consent for marriage in Myanmar is 18 years of age.

He said community leaders and husbands in Rohingya society also prevent women from using reproductive health services.

“Women are harassed when they make personal decisions about their health,” he said.

“Because of this, the authorities have encouraged and directed [Rohingya] women to make use of birth control and reproductive health programs.”

Allegations of discrimination

Ye Htut noted that Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Mother and Child Welfare Association are overseeing reproductive health programs across the country.

But he admitted that “I’m not very well informed about the Rakhine state government’s policy on child limits,” adding "we have to have a look at this policy."

When asked to address criticism from rights groups and the international community that the policy was discriminatory towards Rohingyas, Ye Htut said that the central government was aware of the charges but declined to comment until carrying out an investigation.

“Some other countries have birth policies in effect to control the nation’s population, such as China. We will study those policies,” he said.

He said the government would also review advice from the Rakhine Inquiry Commission, a panel which in April probed last year’s clashes between Buddhists and Muslims and which recommended family planning education be provided to Rohingyas, saying their “rapid population growth” had been a factor fueling the unrest.

“We will be able to comment on the policy after we review all information,” Ye Htut said.

Recent criticism

Violence in June and October last year left nearly 200 people dead and some 140,000 displaced in Rakhine state.

Most of the victims were Rohingya, many of whom remain in camps they are not allowed to leave.

Earlier this week, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi slammed the two-child policy, voicing rare comments defending the rights of the Muslim minority group.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, who faced criticism from international rights groups for not speaking up for Rohingyas’ rights following the violence last year, called the policy “discriminatory and … not in line with human rights.”

The policy also drew condemnation from rights groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which this week called on Myanmar to immediately revoke it.

“Implementation of this callous and cruel two-child policy against the Rohingya is another example of the systematic and wide ranging persecution of this group, who have recently been the target of an ethnic cleansing campaign,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.

“President Thein Sein says he is against discrimination. If so, he should quickly declare an end to these coercive family restrictions and other discriminatory policies against the Rohingya.”

The United Nations deputy spokesman Eduardo del Buey on Thursday said the decision to restore the two-child limit on Rohingyas would be discriminatory and called on authorities in Rakhine state “to remove such policies or practices.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Chin Seek Sustainable Farming Methods

By Tyler Chapman
Chin women pick up wood that has been cut for heat during the cold season, in an undated photo.RFA
CHIN STATE, Myanmar—The Chin people have farmed and survived on this mountainous land for as long as anyone can remember, but their farming methods now have experts raising serious environmental concerns.

The primary culprit is slash-and-burn farming—the Chin call it “switch” farming—whereby farmers clear and burn all the vegetation off a steep hillside, farm it for three years, and leave it fallow for another 10 or so before repeating the cycle. 

The process subjects the soil to erosion during the long rainy season, robbing it of vital nutrients. Repeated again and again, the result is a downward spiral in crop yields, and of profits for the farmers.

The deforestation caused by slash-and-burn farming is exacerbated by the need for firewood in a region with five months a year of cold, wet weather requiring almost constant heat. The pine forests that once covered the higher elevations here are almost gone.

“An average family cuts 1.5 tons of wood a year,” said Moses Thla Cung, a livelihood specialist for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). “Now people are going farther and farther from home to cut trees that are smaller and smaller.”

“A hundred more years like this and no one will be able to live here,” said Siang Mang, Hakha township project manager for the UNDP. “We are headed for extinction unless we change our ways.”

Few resources

Chin State, which is situated in Myanmar’s far west, on the border with India, is the country’s poorest region. Its 500,000 people, almost all Christians, are an ethnic minority who rely on agriculture to survive. Chin State has virtually no industry and receives minimal help from the central government.

The region’s dry season, with no rain for five to six months, exposes the environmental devastation. Bone-dry hillsides smolder with fires set to clear land for the next round of farming. Woodcutters on horseback depart villages every morning. Piles of cut wood await removal to homes and villages. The remaining stands of pine are thin and frail.

So bleak is their future that many young Chin are leaving for better lives in Malaysia, India, and the United States. There, they are able to earn enough so that they can send money home to support the families they left behind. These remittances are estimated to make up 40 percent of the Chin economy.

In an effort to reverse the downward environmental trend, the UNDP has begun encouraging farmers to terrace their hillsides to preserve the soil and enable them to farm one piece of land permanently instead of moving every three years. And it has given some farmers sprinkler systems for growing during the long dry season, creating splotches of fertile green in an otherwise bleak landscape.

The hope is that other farmers will see the benefits of terracing and sprinklers and will adopt these techniques themselves.

“The Chin people are very stubborn,” said the UNDP’s Hedun, a Chin himself. “But maybe if they see they can make more money with these new methods, they will change.”

Environmentalists are encouraging Chin farmers to terrace their land in order to preserve the soil, prevent erosion and create permanent fields.
New methods

Tawk Cer, a Chin woman farmer, has found a way to make money by gathering Elephant Foot Yam in the forest to sell to Chinese brokers. Elephant Foot Yam, a round root vegetable, is not only edible but used in China as a natural medicine for piles and eye ailments.

Just from what she gathered in the forest, Tawk Cer earned about U.S. $2,000 this year, a boon for her impoverished family. Now she wants to find out how she can grow the vegetable as a cash crop for even better profits.

“Our people need help in finding ways to improve our lives,” she said.

Fortunately for Tawk Cer and other Chin farmers, water is in plentiful supply for now, and is piped down to them from lakes, ponds, and springs high in the mountains. But deforestation poses a threat even to this, creating fears that a significant loss of vegetation in the watershed areas will increase evaporation and lessen groundwater retention.

And with rainfall diminishing year by year, water preservation has become even more important to preserving the environment and the Chin way of life. 

“If you can tell the world, we need education and reforestation,” Sen No Thang, a teacher in Za Lai village, told me.

“If we can educate our people to save and restore the forests, everyone will be better for it.”

Tyler Chapman is a regular contributor to RFA.

Laos Admits Handing Over North Korean Defectors to Pyongyang


According to the Lao Foreign Ministry, authorities handed nine North Koreans to the North Korean Embassy in Vientiane.RFA
Laos broke its silence Friday over its much-criticized deportation of nine North Korean defectors, saying it had handed them directly to North Korea and not to China as widely reported.

News reports, some quoting South Korean officials, had said that Laos had deported the defectors, some as young as 14 years old, to China which then repatriated them to North Korea this week without having their asylum claims assessed.

North Korean defectors face harsh punishment, including the death penalty, on their return home.

The Lao Foreign Ministry said in a two-paragraph statement sent to RFA's Lao Service that the Lao government had handed the nine North Koreans to the North Korean Embassy in Vientiane.

It said that the nine North Koreans, aged between 14 to 18 years, and two South Koreans were detained by police in Oudomxay province bordering China. It accused the South Koreans of committing human trafficking.

Lao statement

"On 10th May 2013, the police of Oudomxay Province of the Lao PDR detained 11 Koreans and had subsequently transferred them to Vientiane for investigation," the statement said.

"As a result of the investigation, it has been identified that nine of them are the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) aged between 14 to 18 years who have illegally entered into the Lao PDR, while the other two are the citizens of the Republic of Korea (ROK) who have committed human trafficking."

"In accordance with the Law of the Lao PDR, particularly the Prime Minister’s Decree No. 136 on Immigration and Foreigners Control, and after coordination between the Lao authorities concerned and the concerned Embassies in Vientiane, the Lao side has handed over the nine citizens of the DPRK and the two citizens of the ROK to their respective Embassies on 27th May 2013 and 28th May 2013, respectively," the statement said.

There was no reference to China in the statement or whether the defectors had been sent to North Korea or China.

Reports had said the nine were returned to China on Monday and flown back to North Korea the following day.

Beijing has not commented on the issue so far.

International obligations

International law requires that a person be allowed to apply for asylum and not be expelled to a country where his life or freedom may be under threat.

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR had expressed concern that the deported individuals did not have a chance to have their asylum claims assessed.

“We have received credible information that the nine young North Korean defectors were subsequently returned to DPRK via China,” a spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, said, according to a statement issued by the Geneva-based office.

Colville added that OHCHR was “extremely concerned” about the protection of the group members “who are at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return.”

"We are dismayed that the Governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of this group, all of whom are reported to be orphans."

"We urge the Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine young North Koreans, as well as the conditions under which they were returned, and request the Government of DPRK to provide immediate access to the group by independent actors to verify their status and treatment," the statement said.

The U.N. General Assembly, in successive resolution, has expressed serious concern about the situation of refugees and asylum-seekers expelled or returned to North Korea and the sanctions imposed on those repatriated from abroad.

On Friday, South Korean activists criticized Laos during a rally outside its embassy in Seoul.

"We are here to call on Laos not to deport North Korean defectors because there is concern they may be tortured when sent back," the Associated Press quoted Lee Ho-taek, head of a group that provides refugees with support, as saying.

Defectors' plight

Close to 25,000 North Koreans have come to South Korea since the end of the Korean War. The vast majority of them hid in China and Southeast Asian countries including Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam before flying to Seoul.

China, North Korea's key ally, does not recognize defectors as asylum seekers and has been known to return them to Pyongyang.

"North Korea has to come clean on where these nine refugees are and publicly guarantee that they will not be harmed or retaliated against for having fled the country," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "As a result of their return, they are at dire risk."

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Myanmar Has a Huge Potential for Development

Submitted by Sebastian Kiesl

Aung Tun Thet, a member of President Thein Sein's National Economic and Social Advisory Council, said that Myanmar could be the next Austria.

"Austria smack in the middle of Europe, being the sort of corridor to the East, West, South and North. I think we can do the same thing, that we can be the next Austria, linking India and China", he said.

Aung Tun Thet is also a senior advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator's Office. He said that a strategic location has a huge potential to provide a brilliant opportunity for the transport and logistics sector. The location is between the region's two economic power houses of India and China.

Myanmar is a country rich in resource and has a youthful population. The country has become a favorite destination for many investors after it embarked on political reforms in 2011.

Kanthan Shankar, country manager for the World Bank in Myanmar said that the success of the country heavily relies on the implementation of these reforms.

Nobel laureate and Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said during her visit to Japan that building infrastructure is one of the major challenges that country is facing right now. She said in a speech to students at Tokyo University that inadequate infrastructure has hurt the country's potential.

Suu Kyi urges an end to discrimination against people living with HIV

 BNI News - KIC

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the 8th anniversary of the memorial lighting prayer service for people who have died from HIV/AIDS held at Inn Yar Lake Hotel last week.

DASSK resizedSpeaking at the memorial service, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged people not to discriminate against people with HIV.

Speaking at the ceremony, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

“People who dare to face these challenges are being discriminated by those who are cowards. In our world people are different, but we have to live and exist together with our different problems and weaknesses
- there are no excuses for treating people unequally.”

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that people need educating to vanquish discrimination and responsibility lies with government officials to raise awareness.

The ceremony was attended by around 200 people including the officials from AIDS and Venereal Diseases counteracted department and the United Nations Organizations, the politics parties, the Local Non-government Organizations (LNGO) and the CBOs. The prayer service include worship in Hinduism, Christian, Islam, and Buddhism and they prayed for the deceased AIDS patients.

A member of social network group who attended the event said.

“I am delighted that A May Suu [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] is giving us encouragement in her speech. I hope the situation will become like what A May Suu has said.”

HIV/AIDS education groups, INGOs and social network groups have held the memorial prayer service in Burma since 2005.

Committee asked to push for release of former spy chief’s son-in-law

Former prime minister Khin Nyunt was released from house arrest in January 2012. (Reuters)
By DVB
   
The government-backed political prisoner scrutiny committee has been asked to push for the release of former prime minister and spy chief Khin Nyunt’s son-in-law during the next presidential amnesty.

Following the purges of the government’s military intelligence branch in 2004, Tin Htut was sentenced to 146 years in prison. The purges, which also led to the arrest of Khin Nyunt, have largely been described as the result of a power struggle, between the prime minister and junta strongman Than Shwe.

According to Ye Aung of the Former Political Prisoners Organisation, Tin Htut’s father Paw Khin Than sent a letter to the committee through the President’s Office asking the group to press for his son’s release.

Since taking power in 2011, Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government has released more than 22,000 detainees in 10 general amnesties. Of these, 908 people have been identified as political prisoners by the Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B).

In January 2012, Khin Nyunt along with his sons were released during a presidential amnesty, while the former majority shareholder of the Myanmar Times and son of a military intelligence officer, Sonny Swe, who was imprisoned in 2005 as part of the purges, was released from prison in late April this year.

Although the series of amnesties has brought Thein Sein international praise, rights groups have criticised the government for continually using political prisoners as pawns to garner goodwill with western governments.

While the government-backed political prisoner scrutiny committee was created in February to vet the remaining political prisoners of conscious in the country, committee members have complained the process lacks transparency and genuine consultation.

During the most recent amnesty on 17 May, committee members said prisoner release lists were compiled in secret by the Prison Department and the President’s Office and then passed onto the committee to be endorsed.

“U Aung Thein and U Soe Thane are eager to credit prisoner releases to the work of the verification committee, when in fact the releases are not supported by all members and not all members are included in any meaningful way in the release process,” said the AAPP-B’s Aung Myo Thein during an interview with DVB after the amnesty.

More than 180 political prisoners are still incarcerated in Burma, which does not include Tin Htut, according to a list compiled by AAPP-B.

According to the scrutiny committee, political prisoners are defined as “any individual who is detained or being legally punished for participating in various forms of political activity due to a belief that it would serve the interest of the country and its people or that the people are suffering, and any individual persecuted by a government or a government authority with a political motive.”

Chinese Victims' Group Cites 'Despair' Ahead of Tiananmen Anniversary

A paramilitary guard stands guard on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, March 5, 2013.
AFP
Chinese society is slipping into "general despair" and mistrust of the ruling Communist Party, according to an activist group representing the victims of those killed or maimed in the 1989 military suppression of a student-led pro-democracy movement on Tiananmen Square, 24 years ago next week.

In an open letter to the new administration of President Xi Jinping, who will shortly head to the U.S. for weekend talks with President Barack Obama, the Tiananmen Mothers said relatives of those who died had lived in "a hell-like darkness" amid repeated efforts to engage the government in dialogue.

"We have also been overwhelmed by fear and despair and engulfed by rumors and apathy," said the letter, which was published Friday on the website of the U.S.-based group Human Rights in China.

"We have campaigned year after year, tried to get back justice for the dead year after year. The government authorities, however, have remained unmoved," it said.

"All the hopes we have cherished are gradually leaving us, and despair is increasingly drawing near," the letter said. "During these long 24 years, we Tiananmen Mothers have suffered profoundly."

The group, which has repeatedly called for a dialogue with Chinese officials on a reappraisal of the crackdown, and for victims' families to be allowed to pursue legal claims against the government, hit out at successive generations of Chinese leaders, all of whom had failed to pursue meaningful political reform.

"The more dialogue we have, the more civility and law and order, and the less ignorance and tyranny," the letter said. "Dialogue leads society not toward confrontation or hatred, but toward tolerance and reconciliation."

"The government authorities have never responded to the above proposals; they have pretended not to hear," it said.

Sensitive anniversary

The letter comes as Chinese authorities tighten security measures against political activists, dissident intellectuals and public interest lawyers ahead of the politically sensitive anniversary of the bloodshed, in a bid to clamp down on public memorial events.

Guangdong-based writer and commentator Ye Du and rights activist Yu Gang are being held under house arrest with no access to the Internet, while Guangzhou rights lawyer Tang Jingling has been taken by police on an enforced "holiday" since Thursday, the overseas-based China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in an e-mailed statement. Dissident Liang Songji has been held incommunicado since Wednesday, the group said.

Earlier this week, Chinese authorities banned online discussion and searches linked to the words "24th anniversary" and "demonstration" were blocked on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo from May 25, according to the China Digital Times, which monitors online and mainstream media censorship.

Police also detained three activists who applied to hold a memorial march on June 4 in Guangzhou, and handed 15-day jail terms to activists who tweeted about the anniversary.

In the central province of Hunan, Tiananmen veteran activist Luo Qian is being held in a hotel by police, while Huaihua city activists Zhang Shanguang and Li Jianjun have been incommunicado for several days, CHRD said.

Rejecting the West

Official media on Friday issued a strongly worded commentary rejecting "Western" notions of democracy and urging China to retain its "self-confidence."

A commentary in the Communist Party's People's Daily newspaper said China should "hold unswervingly to the Chinese road, and maintain the guiding role of Marxist ideology."

"Theories from the West, along with neoliberalism and socialist democracy are not appropriate to China's national situation," the paper said. "Neither are they in the basic interests of the Chinese people."

Shenzhen-based activist Zhu Jianguo said the article was self-contradictory, however.

"The Chinese Communist Party was itself founded on the basis of the West's Marxism," Zhu said.

"Democracy and freedom are at the heart of Marxism; so much of what Marx wrote targeted the censorship of books and newspapers by the Prussian government, and their interference with press freedom."

Call for 'truth'

Former 1989 student activist Ma Shaofang said the events of the spring and early summer of 1989 should be allowed to enter the official record.

"When the truth is written into the history books ... then it will always be remembered," Ma said.

"Without the truth, we can't begin to talk of forgiveness ... The lack of reckoning with the truth is an insult to the dead, in my view," he said.

Beijing-based journalist Gao Yu, who was jailed in the wake of the crackdown, said she had met a woman in her sixties serving a sentence in Beijing's Yanqing Prison in 1995.

"She had been sentenced to 15 years for burning military vehicles," Gao said in an interview on Friday. "Her surname was Hu. Every time you brought it up with her, she would burst into tears, and say she had never burned a military vehicle."

Toll unknown

The number of people killed when People's Liberation Army (PLA) tanks and troops entered Beijing on the night of June 3-4, 1989 remains a mystery.

Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but the central government, which labelled the six weeks of pro-democracy protests a “counterrevolutionary uprising,” has not issued an official toll or name list.

The crackdown, which officials styled in a news conference at the time as a necessary way to suppress a counterrevolutionary rebellion, sparked a wave of international condemnation, and for several years China was treated as a near-pariah, as Western governments offered asylum to student leaders fleeing into exile.

The Chinese Red Cross initially reported 2,600 deaths but quickly retracted its statement, while the Tiananmen Mothers, which represents all victims of the crackdown who died or were maimed, says it has confirmed 186 deaths, although not all at the hands of the army.

Reported by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Chinese Teen Dies Following Row With Soldiers

People's Liberation Army soldiers conduct a combat training session at their base in Sichuan, Sept. 15, 2011.AFP
Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan are probing the death of a teenager who local residents say was beaten to death by several People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers after he went with friends to look for spent bullets at a military camp near his home.

A resident of Jichang village near Sichuan's Leshan city surnamed He said a group of teenage boys went to the camp to pick up bullets on Wednesday when they were attacked by a group of soldiers stationed there.

"That kid had some kind of problem, because he wouldn't stop [when they told him to] and didn't do as he was told," He said in an interview on Thursday.

"He didn't die at the time, but a while after they beat him up," she added. "He died outside, in a water ditch."

He confirmed an earlier tweet that appeared on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging site, which said that the 18-year-old had quarreled with a group of soldiers after being told to stop picking up bullet casings.

"He was then surrounded and beaten up by more than a dozen soldiers, and all the kids who were at the scene ran away in fright," the post said.

"Somebody found him after a while, lying on the ground and covered in blood," it said.

Mass protest

According to He, several hundred residents of Jichang village staged a protest outside the gates of the PLA camp, and outside the government offices for Qianwei county, where the village is located.

"This happened [on Wednesday]," she said. "But it's been sorted out now."

He said authorities had agreed to pay compensation to the boy's family.

An employee who answered the phone at a furniture store near the Qianwei county government offices said he had seen a large group of people arrive outside the building on Wednesday.

"They blocked the government [gates], because they wanted an explanation," the employee said. "I heard one of the villagers was beaten to death ... he was taken to hospital and he died there."

No official details

An official who answered the phone at the Yujin township government offices, which administers Jichang village, declined to give details of the incident.

"I'm sorry, we haven't been given an approved statement on this incident yet, because it is still being dealt with," the official said.

"We will have to discuss this another time," he said. "I am very busy right now."

While beatings to death of Chinese citizens—and subsequent mass protests—are frequently reported at the hands of police, hired thugs and urban management officials, incidents involving the PLA are relatively rare.

Earlier this week, Chinese riot police were forced to withdraw after they were overwhelmed in clashes with a large angry crowd protesting the beating of a street vendor by urban management officials, or chengguan, also in Sichuan province.

The clashes occurred late Tuesday after a group of chengguan surrounded and beat up a stallholder in Deyang city's Wenmiao Square, eyewitnesses said.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Khmer Rouge ‘Brother No. 2’ Expresses Remorse to Cambodians

Nuon Chea sits in the courtroom at the ECCC in Phnom Penh on March 19, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / ECCC / NHET SOKHENG
A top leader of Cambodia’s notorious Khmer Rouge on Thursday for the first time accepted responsibility for the deaths of millions during the regime’s reign of terror in the 1970s.

The 86-year-old Nuon Chea, known as “Brother Number Two” after former regime chief Pol Pot, took responsibility and offered apology to families of the victims of the regime’s atrocities while testifying before a U.N.-backed tribunal where he is being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He expressed remorse for the bloodshed committed under his leadership while addressing questions from the families of victims alongside co-defendant Khieu Samphan, the former head of state for the Marxist agrarian movement.

“As a leader, I must be responsible. I accept that responsibility with all my heart,” Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s main ideologist, told the group of so-called civil parties who are representing victims’ families at the trial. He was testifying from his prison cell by video because of poor health.

Both top officials had previously denied all responsibility for the executions of up to 2 million people during Khmer Rouge rule between 1975-1979 and Nuon Chea maintained that he only played a proxy role in the decision to carry out the killings.

“As I have said before, I wasn’t in charge of the Khmer Rouge executive branch. My role was only to educate the people and to devise party propaganda,” he said, adding that he hadn’t officially been given a central role in the regime before it was toppled by a Vietnamese invasion.

But he apologized to the families of the victims at the court for their losses.

“I would like to express my condolences to the civil party. I would like to pay my respects to the souls of your mothers, fathers, children and your relatives—who are also my relatives.”

Civil parties speak

Witnesses representing four former Khmer Rouge victims spoke at Thursday’s hearing at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the war tribunal is known, about the suffering their families endured during the regime.

Bo Dina told the court about how her husband had disappeared when the Khmer Rouge forced him to undergo reeducation.

Another witness, Nou Hun, described how he had lost his daughter and other relatives when they were evacuated from the capital Phnom Penh in 1975.

Nou Hon asked the defendants how it was possible that they were unaware of the killings when even Khmer Rouge officials were being executed as part of party purges, and why the regime had chosen to wipe out the people of Cambodia when it claimed to be trying to protect the country’s sovereignty.

In response to Nou Hun’s questions, Khieu Samphan insisted that he had no knowledge of what was happening within the Khmer Rouge.

“I would like to tell you that I honestly didn’t know … because I was not a leader of Democratic Kampuchea, I was just an intellectual,” he said.

“At that time, people regarded me as a soft-minded person so [the leaders] would only tell me that things were good and held back information about the bad things that were happening.”

Khieu Samphan said that he “accidently” joined the Khmer Rouge in an attempt to “liberate the country.”

“I believed that joining the struggle was for the good of the country’s survival … At the time, our country was affected by war, so I joined the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to kill people—it wasn’t something that I could do. And those who killed your relatives I believe must be brought justice. We must find them.”

Khieu Samphan called the killings “acts of stupidity” committed by a group of people who saw themselves as “kings of the region” and called for a further investigation into those responsible, but continued to deny any knowledge of the executions at the time.

Ongoing trial

Nuan Chea and Khieu Samphan are charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture, but have never accepted legal responsibility for their roles in the regime—an admission many victims have been waiting more than 30 years to hear.

Their trial began in 2011 along with co-defendants Ieng Sary—the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister—and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who had worked as the movement’s social affairs minister.

Ieng Thirith was declared unfit to stand trial last year due to Alzheimer’s disease and Ieng Sary died in March. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

Critics of the tribunal say that a trial process slowed by inefficiency, corruption and resistance from the Cambodian government may never see the elderly defendants brought to justice.

The ECCC was established in 2005, but to date has only delivered one verdict—a life sentence given to Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who oversaw Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh where as many as 14,000 people are believed to have been executed.

Reported by Leng Maly for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Rohingyas hit with multiple charges for not registering as ‘Bengalis’

Men offer Friday prayers in a temporary mosque after returning to a Rohingya IDP camp from a shelter from cyclone Mahasen, outside of Sittwe, on 17 May 2013. (Reuters)
By AYE NAI (DVB)

Prosecutors in Sittwe have hit seven Rohingyas in Arakan state with myriad charges, including rioting, after they were arrested for refusing to register as ‘Bengalis’.

During a hearing on 23 May, senior immigration official Yan Aung Myint charged the seven suspects from Thetkalpyin displacement camp with robbery, intimidation and disturbing officials on duty. Twenty-four individuals, who authorities claimed might be on the run, were also charged in absentia.

The hearing comes after a scuffle erupted between government officials and the Rohingya on 26 April, after authorities tried to register the internally displaced persons (IDPs) as ‘Bengalis’ in accordance with a programme headed by the Ministry of Immigration and Population.

Prosecutors said that around 100 residents, armed with sticks and swords, quickly gathered at the scene and began attacking authorities, which included policemen and soldiers who were accompanying the officials.

According to the defendants’ attorney Hla Myo Myint, the skirmish began after one of his clients, Suleman, was slapped in the face by an official, which prompted children in the camp to begin throwing rocks at authorities.

Army sergeant Win Aung reportedly sustained a head injury after being struck by a rock at the scene, while local Arakanese team member Tun Hla Aung and immigration official Sai Myint Thu sustained lacerations on their backs.

Security forces reportedly fired shots in an attempt to disperse the crowd as they hurled rocks and screamed “Rohingya! Rohingya!” Seven individuals from Thetkalpyin and two from Bawdupha displacement camps were arrested in the skirmish’s wake.

According to Hla Myo Myint, the officials who went to the camps to register the IDPs had no legal right to force his clients to identify as Bengalis – a term commonly used by government officials that implicitly infers that the group are illegal immigrants

“The officials had no authority to determine their ethnicity – according to the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law, the decision has to come at the last stage and made by a government body,” said Hla Myo Myint.

“Reportedly the [officials] were listing them [as Bengali] by force.”

Hla Myo Myint, who has represented high-profile opposition activists including the National League for Democracy’s chair Aung San Suu Kyi in the past, said his clients’ families and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) asked that he provide legal counsel to the group. Two of the individuals Kyaw Myint and his son Hla Myint who are being charged are both USDP members.

“I’m doing this for the rule of law – one of the main objectives of the NLD – to allow human rights for them regardless of their religion and ethnicity,” said Hla Myo Myint.

The next court appointment has been set for 6 June, but will likely to be postponed until officials can decide if the 24 individuals charged in absentia have actually fled.

Arakan state is home to more than 140,000 IDPs, after two bouts of religious violence pitting Arakanese Buddhists against Muslim Rohingya last year led to massive displacement.

Myanmar, Kachin reach tentative ceasefire

Myanmar Lieutenant General Myint Soe from the Defence ministry and Kachin Independence Army, left, Deputy Chief of Staff Guam Maw, right, shake hands after signing an agreement to cease hostilities. Photo: AFP
Myanmar's government and ethnic Kachin rebels have reached a tentative deal aimed at ending fighting that has displaced almost 100,000 people.

The Kachin are the country's only major ethnic group not to sign a ceasefire-agreement since the reformist government of president Thein Sein came to power in 2011.

Under the agreement reached after three days of talks fighting that has raged for two years will stop and further talks will be held on Kachin demands for more political rights and greater autonomy.

The agreement stopped short of a formal ceasefire but both sides agreed to maintain the status quo in the conflict.

A team will be set-up to monitor displaced people and troops.

"I think we have achieved a breakthrough," said Min Zaw Oo, a director of the EU funded Myanmar Peace Centre which took part in the talks in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina.

"The agreement is to stop fighting at this point and afterwards there are going to be detailed discussions about the repositioning of troops," he said.

An official translation of the agreement said the two sides vowed to strive for "de-escalation and cessation of hostilities."

The Kachin Independence Organisation entered into a ceasefire with Myanmar's former military regime in 1994 but it collapsed in 2011 over the exploitation of resources in the northern state that borders China.

The organisation also refused at the time to turn its Kachin Independence Army into a government militia.

The agreement will provide a significant boost for Mr Thein Sein's nominally-civilian government which is struggling to control clashes between majority Buddhists and Muslims in several parts of the country.

The military's use of air-strikes against the Kachin last December provoked international outcry.

The Age

Myanmar Muslims find shelter in Buddhist monastery

TODD PITMAN , The Associated Press

LASHIO, Myanmar - More than 1,000 Muslims who fled Myanmar's latest bout of sectarian violence huddled in a Buddhist monastery guarded by army soldiers as calm returned to this northeastern city, though burnt out buildings leveled by Buddhist rioters still smoldered.

The army transported terrified Muslim families by the truckload out of a neighborhood in Lashio where overturned cars and motorcycles that had been charred a day earlier left black scars on the red earth.

"We heard things could get worse, so we waved down soldiers and asked them for help," said 59-year-old Khin Than, who arrived at the monastery Thursday morning with her four children and sacks of luggage along with several hundred other Muslims. "We left because we're afraid of being attacked."

The violence in Lashio this week shows how anti-Muslim unrest has slowly spread across Myanmar since starting last year in western Rakhine state and hitting the central city of Meikhtila in March. President Thein Sein's government, which inherited power from the military two years ago, has been heavily criticized for failing to contain the violence.

In Lashio on Thursday, Buddhist monks organized meals for the newly arrived refugees, who huddled together in several buildings in the monastery compound.

Although a few Buddhist men could still be seen Thursday riding motorbikes with crude weapons such as sharpened bamboo poles, no new violence was reported. Several banks and shops reopened as residents emerged to look at destroyed Muslim shops. Trucks of soldiers and police crisscrossed main roads. They guarded the ruins of Muslim businesses that were reduced to ashes on Tuesday and Wednesday, erecting roadblocks from twisted debris.

At one corner, where the charred remains of a three-story building still smoldered, Muslim residents sorted through rubble for anything salvageable. One family packed electronics from their shop into the back of a truck.

A woman who had fled a mob a day earlier was still in a state of shock.

"These things should not happen," said the woman, Aye Tin, a Muslim resident who slept overnight in a Red Cross compound. "Most Muslims are staying off the streets. They're afraid they'll be attacked or killed if they go outside."

The rioting began Tuesday after a Muslim man splashed gasoline on a Buddhist woman and set her on fire. Buddhist mobs responded by burning down several Muslim-owned shops, a mosque and an Islamic orphanage. Roving motorcyclists continued the violence on Wednesday, leaving one person dead and four injured.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said 25 people had been detained so far. He said all those arrested were from Lashio.

The violence is casting fresh doubt over whether Thein Sein's government can or will act to contain the racial and religious intolerance plaguing a deeply fractured nation still struggling to emerge from half a century of military rule. Muslims, who account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people, have been the main victims of the violence since it began last year, but so far most criminal trials have involved prosecutions of Muslims, not members of the Buddhist majority.

Associated Press writer Aye Aye Win contributed to this report from Yangon.

1 dead, 4 hurt in anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar

Photo - Ye Htut (Facebook)

By TODD PITMAN
Associated Press /  May 29, 2013

LASHIO, Myanmar (AP) — State television has reported that new violence between Buddhists and Muslims in northeastern Myanmar has left one person dead and four injured.

The report did not identify the victims or their religions. Most if not all of Wednesday’s attacks in the town of Lashio appeared to be carried out by Buddhists on Muslim targets.

The unrest began Tuesday after a Muslim man reportedly splashed gasoline on a Buddhist woman and set her alight. The man was arrested but Buddhist mobs took revenge by burning a mosque, a Muslim school and other buildings.

Calm had appeared to return Wednesday morning, but Buddhist gangs on motorcycles rumbled through the streets swinging sticks and iron rods, and a movie theater was reportedly burned down.end of story marker

Buddhist mobs attack Muslim homes for second day in Myanmar

Reuters in Lashio
Firefighters extinguish a fire during a riot between Buddhist and Muslims in Lashio township on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
Buddhist mobs armed with sticks and machetes burned Muslim homes on Wednesday for a second day in the northern Myanmar city of Lashio, contradicting claims in state media that soldiers and police had restored calm.

A Reuters reporter saw scores of young men and boys on motorbikes and on foot marauding through the city of 130,000 people in a mountainous region about 700 km from the commercial capital Yangon.

One person was killed and four were wounded in fighting that began at about 2pm, Ye Htut, spokesman for President Thein Sein, said in a Facebook post. Police fired their guns to disperse the crowd, he said.

By early evening, Muslims shops and homes were still burning in one quarter, underlining the difficulty the president faces in containing mounting religious violence in an era of historic reforms since military rule ended in March 2011.

“I don’t know where the Muslims are. They all ran away,” said Kyaw Soe Win, a Buddhist resident of a mixed neighbourhood where motorbikes and household possessions lay burning in the streets. Nearby, a man with a sword and a stick combed through the remains of one burned-out shop.

State television said a mosque, a Muslim religious school and a number of shops were gutted by fires started on Tuesday by Buddhists who rampaged after hearing reports of a Muslim man setting a Buddhist woman on fire and badly wounding her. State media said calm had returned by Wednesday.

Myanmar has struggled with religious unrest since June last year when fighting between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya erupted in western Rakhine state.

That was followed by organised Rakhine attacks on Rohingya communities in October that New York-based Human Rights Watch said amounted to ethnic cleansing. The government calls the stateless Rohingya illegal “Bengali” immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

“Kill all Bengalis”

British tourist Stephen Barker, 46, said he saw a group of about 100 machete and stick-carrying youths rallying around his hotel in the early afternoon, including four or five monks. Police and military moved them on and arrested half a dozen people.

“I got a light for my cigarette from one and he told me to kill all Bengalis while waving this 18-inch blade around.”

Muslims appeared to have fled a mixed Lashio neighbourhood known as Quarter Number 17.

Tuesday’s unrest in Lashio was sparked by a quarrel between two people, named by state media as Aye Aye Win, 24, a Buddhist woman who sold petrol, and Ne Win, a Muslim man aged 48.

People gather around a burning mosque in Lashio, northern Shan state, Myanmar, on Tuesday. Photo: AP
MRTV television said Ne Win poured petrol over Aye Aye Win and set her on fire. She was in hospital, it said.

After police detained Ne Win, Buddhists surrounded the police station and demanded he be handed over. When they refused, the crowd went on the rampage, attacking Myoma Mosque near Lashio market, residents said.

The authorities attempted to restore order late on Tuesday by banning unlawful assembly under a state of emergency in the city, which is about 190 km from the Chinese border.

In March, at least 44 people, most of them Muslims, died in the central city of Meikhtila after a rampage by Buddhist mobs incensed by the killing of a monk by Muslims, shortly after a violent row between a Buddhist couple and Muslim shop owners.

Muslims make up about 5 per cent of Myanmar’s 60 million people.

Buddhist Mobs Burn Mosque and Muslim School in Myanmar

Mobs of young Buddhist men on motorcycles roamed the streets of Lashio, Myanmar, on Wednesday, brandishing sticks and metal rods and throwing rocks. Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press
By THOMAS FULLER / New York Times

BANGKOK — Security forces on Wednesday struggled to bring peace to a northern city in Myanmar after Buddhist mobs set fire to a mosque, a Muslim school and shops, the latest outbreak of religious violence in Myanmar and a sign that radical strains of Buddhism may be spreading to a wider area of the country.

The violence occurred in Lashio, near the border with China, which is hundreds of miles from towns and villages affected by religious violence earlier this year.

A correspondent for The Associated Press who reached Lashio on Wednesday reported that mobs of young men on motorcycles roamed the city brandishing sticks and metal rods and throwing rocks. One was wearing monk’s robes, The A.P. report said.

The burning of the mosque and other buildings took place on Tuesday evening and followed a pattern seen elsewhere in Myanmar of the police and military units being unwilling or unable to disperse angry crowds of Buddhists.

Lauri Nio, a student from Finland visiting Lashio, said the first police units arrived two hours after groups of men set fire to a mosque and began destroying shops. The police stayed for only a few minutes, he said, and when a larger contingent of police and military units returned later in the night, they closed off the streets but did not confront the rioters.

Groups of men gathered in the market ‘'shouting, cheering and singing Burmese nationalist songs'’ as they destroyed shops, he said.

Video footage from the city posted on Facebook on Wednesday by the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Myanmar online news service, showed what now have become familiar scenes in Myanmar of burned-out buildings and charred motorcycles.

‘'We do not have information about casualties so far,'’ Ye Htut, a government spokesman, posted on his Facebook page.

Like a previous rampage in March in the central city of Meiktila, the violence in Lashio appeared to have been touched off by a relatively minor quarrel. State television said a Buddhist woman selling gasoline was attacked by a Muslim customer, who was later detained by the police. Buddhist mobs surrounded the police station where the man was being kept and reacted with fury when the police did not hand him over. Details of the quarrel could not be confirmed.

Mr. Ye Htut said the crowd that gathered outside the police station in Lashio included 80 Buddhist monks.

At least 44 people have died since March, when Buddhist mobs rampaged through Meiktila, violence that followed a dispute in a gold shop between a Muslim proprietor and Buddhist customers. Most of the victims in Meiktila were Muslims.

Mr. Yet Htut said the authorities and religious and civic organizations in Lashio were ‘'cooperating with each other to avoid further violence in the city.'’

Muslims make up about 5 percent of the population but their presence is visible in nearly every large town and city in the country. The violence of recent months has strained Myanmar’s relations with Muslim countries and has underlined questions about the ability of the Myanmar government, which is overwhelmingly staffed by Buddhists from the Burman ethnic group, to maintain long-term peace and stability among the country’s many other ethnic and religious groups.

Wai Moe contributed from Yangon.

Rights group: Myanmar policy discriminates against Muslims

Internally displaced Rohingya children play in the foreground of makeshift tents at a camp in northwestern Rakhine State, Myanmar, earlier this month. Authorities in western Rakhine state have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area. (Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press / May 13, 2013)

By Mark Magnier

NEW DELHI -- A watchdog group Tuesday called on Myanmar’s government to immediately revoke a population-control policy that blocks members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community from having more than two children, measures it said are discriminatory, violate human rights and endanger women’s health.

Rohingya, who account for around 1 million of Myanmar’s 60 million people, are deeply unpopular among the country’s Buddhist majority, which doesn’t consider them citizens even though many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations.

This weekend, western Rakhine state spokesman Win Myaing told reporters that the 2005 two-child rule for Rohingya -- along with a mid-1990s rule requiring Rohingya couples to obtain permission before marrying -- would be enforced in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships along the Bangladesh border.

“This is a case of one ethnic group making plans to control the population of another,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, which issued the report. “This is the worst case of systemic abuse of human rights.”

Sectarian violence between majority ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya killed at least 190 people, mostly Muslims, last year and left tens of thousands in settlement camps after their wooden houses were torched or otherwise destroyed. Neither Myanmar, also known as Burma, nor neighboring Bangladesh consider the officially stateless Rohingya as citizens.

Although population controls were among the measures recommended by a national inquiry commission appointed after last year’s violence, the panel said these should not be mandatory, which the Rakhine rules are.

Nobel laureate and human rights champion Aung San Suu Kyi, detained for nearly two decades by the military junta before winning a parliamentary seat in March 2012, has been criticized for failing to condemn discrimination against Rohingya.

On Monday, she spoke out, albeit rather tepidly, against the Rakhine population-control policy. “If true, this is against the law,” Suu Kyi told reporters. If such rules exist, she added, “it is discriminatory and also violates human rights.”

Suu Kyi Opposes 2-Child Limit for Myanmar Minority

By AYE AYE WIN Associated Press
YANGON, Myanmar May 28, 2013 (AP)

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Islamic leaders expressed dismay over decisions by authorities in western Myanmar to restore a two-child limit on a Muslim minority group, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists and follows accusations of "ethnic cleansing."

The order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to level such a restriction against a particular religious group, and is likely to bring further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country. Some Buddhists, however, welcomed the plan for addressing their fear of a population explosion among the Muslim minority known as Rohingya.

Authorities in strife-torn Rakhine state said this past weekend that they were restoring a measure imposed during past military rule that banned Rohingya families from having more than two children. Details about the policy and how it will be enforced have not been released, sparking calls for clarity and concerns of more discrimination against a group the U.N. calls one of the world's most persecuted people.

"If true, this is against the law," said Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Suu Kyi has faced criticism for failing to defend the Rohingya following two waves of deadly sectarian violence last year. She told reporters Monday that she had not heard details of the latest measure but, if it exists, "It is discriminatory and also violates human rights."
Myanmar Two Child Policy.JPEG

The policy applies to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and have the highest Muslim populations in the state. The townships, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, are about 95 percent Muslim. Nationwide, Muslims account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.

The central government has not made any statement about the two-child policy since Rakhine state authorities quietly enacted the measure a week ago. Calls seeking comment from government spokesmen were not returned.

The U.S. government also registered deep concern. In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Tuesday the U.S. opposes coercive birth limitation policies and urges Myanmar "to eliminate all such policies without delay."

Those comments come just a week after President Thein Sein visited the White House and President Barack Obama called for an end to violence against the Muslim group and for their rights and dignity to be recognized.

Longstanding antipathy toward the Rohingya erupted last year into mob violence in which Rakhine Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has accused the government and security forces in Rakhine of fomenting an organized campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya, who are regarded as aliens.

Since the violence, the religious unrest has expanded into a campaign against Muslim communities in other areas, posing a serious challenge to President Thein Sein's reformist government as it attempts to implement democratic reforms after nearly half a century of harsh military rule.

Myanmar's government does not include the Rohingya as one of its 135 recognized ethnic minorities. It considers them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says the Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens.

Religious Unrest in Northeast Burma

By Associated Press

(YANGON, Burma) — Sectarian violence spread to a new region of Burma, with a mob burning shops in a northeastern town after unconfirmed rumors spread that a Muslim man had set fire to a Buddhist woman.

The spread beyond the western and central towns where deadly mob attacks and arsons have occurred since last year will reinforce doubts that President Thein Sein‘s government can or will act to contain the violence.

The extent of Tuesday night’s violence was unclear, as the area is remote and officials were difficult to reach at a late hour. Unconfirmed reports on Muslim news websites said a large mosque and a Muslim orphanage had been burned down.

A politician in Lashio in Shan state, Sai Myint Maung, said authorities banned gatherings of more than five people after about 150 massed outside a police station demanding that the alleged culprit in the unconfirmed immolation be handed over. The mob also burned some stores, he said.

According to the rumors, the man doused the woman with gasoline and set her alight. The attack could not be confirmed, but a Muslim-oriented news website that described it said the attacker was not Muslim.

A resident who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals confirmed by phone that some shops were burned near the police station and the hospital where the victim was said to have been taken. A Lashio resident, Than Htay, said he could see smoke and had heard about the ban on gatherings. He said calm had been restored.

However, the website of the Muslim-oriented M-media Group said Lashio’s biggest mosque had been torched by a mob while firefighters stood by, and a Muslim school and orphanage was also burned down. It did not say if there were any casualties. Its report acknowledged the burning of the woman but said the perpetrator was not a Muslim.

While the account could not immediately be confirmed, the website’s accounts of past violence against Muslims in Burma were subsequently reported in other media. Several photos circulating on Facebook also showed what was purported to be the mosque in flames.

The sectarian violence began in western Rakhine state last year, when hundreds died in clashes between Buddhist and Muslims that drove about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes. The violence had seemed confined to that region, but in late March, similar Buddhist-led violence swept the town of Meikthila in central Burma, killing at least 43 people.

Several other towns in central Burma experienced less deadly violence, mostly involving the torching of Muslim businesses and mosques.

Muslims account for about 4 percent of the nation’s roughly 60 million people. Anti-Muslim sentiment is closely tied to nationalism and the dominant Buddhist religion, so leaders have been reluctant to speak up for the unpopular minority.

Thein Sein’s administration, which came to power in 2011 after half a century of military rule, has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to protect Muslims.

He vowed last week during a U.S. trip that all perpetrators of the sectarian violence would be brought to justice, but so far, only Muslims have been arrested and sentenced for crimes connected to the attacks.

Muslims, however, have accounted for far more of the victims of the violence, and rights groups have accused certain authorities of fomenting a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Burma Muslim-Buddhist clashes erupt in Shan state

Clashes between Muslims and Buddhists have been reported in Lashio, the capital of Burma's north-eastern Shan state.

Local residents said a mosque and shops owned by Muslims were set on fire.

The clashes began after claims spread that a Muslim man had doused a Buddhist woman with fuel and set her on fire at a petrol station.

The woman was reportedly taken to hospital and a man arrested, reports said.

Recent months have seen a number of clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Burma.

The violence - the extent of which remains unclear - reportedly erupted when police refused to hand over the man accused of setting the Buddhist woman alight to a crowd.

The authorities have imposed a curfew in the town, according to residents.

"Fires have been put out at some places in the town... the situation is under control now," an unnamed official told the AFP news agency.
Wave of violence

In March, at least 43 people - mostly Muslim - died in violence that erupted after an argument at a Muslim-owned shop in the central town of Meiktila.

The owner of the shop and nine other Muslims were imprisoned last month for that outbreak of violence. As yet no Buddhists have been convicted over the Meiktila clashes.

Ethnic violence in Rakhine state last year left nearly 200 people dead and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.

The conflict that erupted in Rakhine involved Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognised as Burmese citizens.

The communities remain largely segregated in the wake of the violence, with many displaced Rohingya Muslims living in tents or temporary camps.

Human rights groups have criticised Burmese authorities for being complicit in the persecution of the Rohingya.

BBC

Chinese man kept in cage for 11 years

A mentally ill Chinese man has been kept in a cage for more than a decade by his family after he beat a child to death, media reported Monday, carrying images of him staring blankly though the bars.
Wu Yuanhong, a mentally disabled man, sitting in his cage at his home in Lijiachong village in Ruichang, China's Jiangxi province, May 24, 2013. (AFP)
BEIJING: A mentally ill Chinese man has been kept in a cage for more than a decade by his family after he beat a child to death, media reported Monday, carrying images of him staring blankly though the bars.

Wu Yuanhong, 42, was shown sitting on blankets in the narrow enclosure, his feet shackled with a heavy chain and wearing only a T-shirt and his underwear.

He was diagnosed as a schizophrenic at the age of 15 and in 2001 he beat a 13-year-old to death, the Information Daily newspaper said on its website.

Judicial authorities in Jiangxi province released him a year later as his illness meant he was not legally responsible for his actions, it said.

No independent confirmation of the circumstances was immediately available to AFP.

Wu was placed in shackles after his release, but his mother Wang Muxiang built the cage after he escaped and walked around his home village of Shangfan scaring local residents, the report said.

Family members cried as they put him in the cage, the report added, but he escaped again and they were forced to build a stronger structure to hold him.

"My son may be insane, and beat someone to death, but he's still my son. To use my own hands to place him in a cage was very hard to take, like being stabbed with a knife," the paper quoted Wang as saying.

Wang gives her son three meals a day, placing a cloth over the cage and providing a pan when he needs the toilet.

"Every time I delivered food, I would sit at his cage and cry," she reportedly said, adding: "Now my tears are dried up."

Many mentally ill people in China go without proper treatment due to a lack of resources and qualified professionals, especially in the countryside.

The Ministry of Health said in 2010 that there were only about 20,000 psychiatrists to serve the country's population of 1.35 billion, the state-run China Daily reported.

Authorities estimated in 2009 that about 170 million people had some form of mental illness, while more than 16 million suffered from severe mental health problems.

The Information Daily quoted local officials as saying they had supported Wu's family with donations of oil and rice, adding Jiangxi had launched limited subsidies for poor families with mentally ill relatives.

An official at the police station in Nanyang, which covers Shangfan, told AFP he was not aware of the case.

- AFP/fl

Chelsea Clinton brings clean water program to Myanmar on behalf of father’s project

By Associated Press,

YANGON, Myanmar — Chelsea Clinton is carrying out some of her father’s globe-trotting work in a country where her mother blazed a diplomatic trail — Myanmar.

She represented former President Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative at a Monday ceremony bringing Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water initiative to the Southeast Asian nation. The program provides water purification packets to areas with unsafe water supplies. The project’s organizers say access to safe drinking water is poor in rural Myanmar due to pollution.


Myanmar would have been denied such help a few years ago because it was shunned by the United States for its undemocratic military rule. But as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton helped nudge an elected Myanmar government toward democratic reforms, making a groundbreaking visit in 2011.


Japan Becoming Major Economic Force in Burma

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Burma's President Thein Sein, take a salute of the honor guard at Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Burma, May 26, 2013
Daniel Schearf

BANGKOK, THAILAND — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has forgiven billions of dollars of Burmese debt and promised new aid.  Analysts said despite China being its largest investor, Burma is increasingly looking to Japan as the dominant economic force.

During the first visit by a Japanese prime minister in 36 years, Shinzo Abe not only forgave Burma's debt, but also pledged a new development loan.

Japan cancelled $1.74 billion in debt and on Sunday agreed to lend Burma over half a billion dollars more for infrastructure and power projects.

Japan had earlier written off debts of more than $3.5 billion owed by Burma.

Speaking via Skype, economics professor Sean Turnell of Macquarie University in Sydney said Japan's serves its own self-interest by forgiving Burma's debt.

"There is a huge amount of money that the government of Japan is willing to advance," he said.  "And many Japanese firms, particularly in the areas of infrastructure and so on, who are only too glad to win contracts to do development work in Burma.  So, I think that is number one.  Secondly, though, of course, there's the geo-political aspect.  Japan, like many countries have been worried the extent to which Burma has moved increasingly under China's shadow.  And, of course, we know that there is a broader story of China and Japan in the region.  So, I think we would have to fit it as part of that."

Part of the new loan will go toward electricity development at the Thilawa Special Economic Zone at a port near Rangoon.

The SEZ is Japan's largest investment project and one that economists say is likely to have a major impact because of its proximity to Burma's largest city.

Despite the development plan, Japan's few-hundred-million dollars in investments ranks far below China's more than $14 billion.

Like China, Japan did not take part in Western sanctions against Burma's former military government.  But, Tokyo did scale back loans for development and major investments.

Meanwhile, China invested heavily in hydropower dams, mining projects, and an oil and gas pipeline stretching from western Burma to the Chinese border.

But, unlike Japan, most of China's investments were made in shady deals under the former military government.

Many of the projects are controversial because of their environmental and social costs and have led to protests and hostility against the Chinese.

Turnell said because of the way it is investing, Japan's impact is starting to eclipse that of China's.

"Again, the Chinese investment is mostly resource and energy projects.  It is mostly about taking stuff out of the ground or taking energy out of Burma and into China, with China as the main consumer.  But, if we look at what Japan is about it is essentially projects that will have a deep impact within Burma.  It is not just simply about taking out resources.  It is actually planting infrastructure and institutions in place.  But, similarly, of course, Japan is heavily involved in some the areas of reform," he said.

Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was in Japan last week and encouraged investment in its Dawei project in Burma.

The $8.5 billion deep sea port and industrial zone is to be built along the Thai border, but the project has struggled to get funding.

If finished, it would be the largest industrial zone in Southeast Asia and would cut transport time for goods and improve shipping security.

But analysts said Japan has approached the mega-project cautiously as there is a lot of money needed and Thailand stands to benefit the most.

Thin Aung is director general of the Dawei project at Italian-Thai Development, the company in charge.  Speaking via Skype, he said while they have surveyed the land for the project, the only construction work so far is on a road between Thailand and Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"So, once the road is complete then we have a better road link to Thailand and Myanmar and then we start pushing on the port.  Meanwhile, small industries may be set up at the border or along the road," he said.

Thin Aung said although the road will not likely be finished until 2015, they expect some small factories to begin building in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Ital-Thai is exploring the possibility of investments in the Dawei project from countries other than Japan.

Thin Aung said they plan to discuss opening up the project to various companies, including from the United States, China, the European Union, and Russia during a June meeting in Bangkok.

Ref; Voice of America

Aung San Suu Kyi opposes Burma plan for two-child limit

AP Rangoon

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has criticised plans by authorities in western Burma to revive a two-child limit on Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing.

Authorities in strife-torn Rakhine state (also known as Arakan state) said they were restoring a measure imposed during past military rule that banned Rohingya families from having more than two children. Details about the policy and how it will be enforced have not been released, sparking calls for clarity and concerns of more discrimination against a group the United Nations calls one of the world’s most persecuted people.

The government has not made any statement about the policy since Rakhine state authorities quietly enacted the measure a week ago.

“If true, this is against the law,” said Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. She has faced criticism for failing to defend the Rohingya following two waves of deadly sectarian violence last year. She told reporters she had not heard details of the measure but, if it exists: “It is discriminatory and also violates human rights.”

The two-child policy applies to two Rakhine townships that are about 95 per cent Muslim. Nationwide, Muslims account for only about 4 per cent of Burma’s roughly 60 million people.

Ref; The Independent

Thai raid on fishing operation frees dozens of enslaved migrants

A migrant worker from Burma gets off a fishing boat at a seafood market in the town of Mahachai near Bangkok. (Reuters)
By NANG MYA NADI / DVB

Thai authorities rescued more than 50 migrant workers, including eight Burmese nationals, who had been trafficked and were forced to work as slave labourers on fishing boats in Chonburi on Wednesday.

Officials from the Royal Thai Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division along with local officials and the Royal Thai Navy rescued the 58 migrants, a majority of whom were Cambodian nationals.

The migrants had been working on four fishing boats at Samaesan fishing village in Sattahip town, according to Labour Rights Promotion Network’s director Sompong Srakaew.

The rescue mission was carried out after a Burmese migrant working on one of the boats contacted the NGO.

“The [Burmese migrant] phoned us and reported the situation a few months ago and since then, we have made about three attempts to approach the boats – it finally was successful,” said Sompong Srakaew.

“They were sold to the fishing boats by their ‘job broker’ and forced to repay the money [paid to the trafficker] with their labour – they were not allowed to leave the boats.”

He said the victims were being kept at the Protection and Occupational Development Centre in Pathum Thani province and are not allowed to see visitors as authorities proceed with the investigation.

The Thai police’s Department of Special Investigation is holding the three ship captains who oversaw operations on the suspect vessels in custody.

Following the rapid expansion of Thailand’s economy in the 1990s and 2000s, the Kingdom has been forced to rely largely on foreign migrants to fill manual labour positions in the country’s construction, agriculture and fishing sectors.

Impoverished migrants arriving near Thailand’s bustling coastal hubs are particularly vulnerable to falling victim to schemes were human traffickers pose as job recruiters and end up selling individuals to boat captains.

According to an investigation published on Global Post last year, labourers from Cambodia and Burma in Thailand’s commercial fishing hub at Samut Sakhon are “sold” for an estimated US$ 600 to fishing boats.

Credit & Copy From; http://www.dvb.no/news/thai-raid-on-fishing-operation-frees-dozens-of-enslaved-migrants/28259

Burma fails on natural resource governance: report


Pipeline leaving Maday Island, en route to China. (Photo provided by Shwe Gas Movement)
By HANNA HINDSTROM

Burma has the worst record on natural resource governance in the entire world, according to a new international study, which activists on Thursday described as a “warning” to global investors eyeing oil and gas deals in the former military dictatorship.

The resource-rich Southeast Asian country failed on every criterion listed in the Revenue Watch Institute’s (RWI’s) 2013 resource governance index, scraping together a measly score of four out of 100. It ranked last out of the 58 countries studied, behind Turkmenistan, Libya and Qatar.

According to the report, Burma “performed extremely poorly” across all indicators, citing a prolific lack of transparency and accountability for the extractive industries, including weak legal and regulatory mechanisms.

“It is widely assumed that corruption is rampant in the sector and that much of the country’s resource revenues are diverted to the foreign bank accounts of a few government officials,” warned the report, adding that Burma’s extractives sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of its export earnings.

“The index demonstrates that Myanmar [Burma] still has a long way to go when it comes to responsible natural resource development and indicates to investors that they should tread with great care,” Paul Donowitz, Campaign Director at EarthRights International, told reporters in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Thursday.

Burma is rich in gems, industrial minerals, oil, and offshore natural gas reserves estimated at 10 trillion cubic feet, which the Ministry of Energy recently acknowledged to have earned them $19 billion in foreign exchange reserves between 2006 and 2013. But activists warn that this income has not entered the national budget and Burma stands a significant risk of falling prey to the so-called “resource-curse”.

“These revenues have not been fully accounted for by the government and they have yet to benefit the people of Burma,” said Donowitz, insisting that the money needs to be urgently reinvested into the country’s lagging health and education systems.

The Burmese government recently opened 30 offshore oil and gas blocks for bidding, which analysts say is likely to attract significant interest from western investors, as the country continues to emerge from five decades of military rule.

But most of the country’s natural resources are found in its volatile ethnic minority regions, including Shan and Kachin states, where violence continues to flare near areas slated for large-scale development projects.

The Shwe Gas pipeline, which will connect western Burma’s Arakan state with China’s Yunnan province, has drawn notable ire from local activists, who say it has caused wide-scale environmental destruction, land confiscations, and human rights abuses across ethnic minority territories, while bringing slight economic benefits to the people.

Donowitz insisted that increased militarisation in these territories is “at least partly motivated by natural resource development projects” and warned investors against fuelling further conflict in Burma’s volatile border regions.

“There are neither structures in place to manage funds transparently nor political reforms to ensure regional benefits and controls for the resource producing states,” added Wong Aung from the Shwe Gas Movement. “The sale of natural resources before comprehensive political agreements is threatening to derail fragile peace negotiations.”

Although the Burmese government has expressed an interest in joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) – a multi-stakeholder framework for disclosing payments and revenues around natural resource extraction – activists are worried that the government is using it as a cynical ploy to boost international investment, while persistently ignoring abuses.

“We have some deep concerns that the government is rushing far too quickly to try to become a candidate country before the institutional capacity is in place and there is any real civil society participation,” said Donowitz.

Wong Aung also highlighted the military’s legal right to access unlimited funds from state coffers without parliamentary consent through the controversial Special Funds Law, which was passed just before reformist President Thein Sein took office in March 2011.

Thein Sein has been widely lauded for introducing democratic reforms in Burma and inking peace-deals with ten out of 11 major ethnic armed groups, prompting western countries, including EU members and the US, to drop most economic sanctions against the former pariah state.

But economic analysts have called on international extractive companies to exercise “additional due diligence” before entering business deals in Burma.

“Investors will need to recognise that if they wish to be able to claim that transparent practices are being followed, they are going to have to model this behaviour and help the learning and reform process,” a Rangoon-based analyst told DVB.

- Hanna Hindstrom peer-reviewed the Revenue Watch Institute’s 2013 Resource Governance Index for Burma.

Credit & Copy From; http://www.dvb.no/news/politics-news/burma-fails-on-natural-resource-governance-report/28264

Cyclonic storm Mahasen claims four lives in Bangladesh

Mahasen\'s current velocity was lowered to 25 kilometre per hour as against the initial wind speed of up to 90 kilometre per hour.
Press Trust of India | Posted on May 16, 2013

Dhaka: At least four people were killed on Thursday as cyclonic storm 'Mahasen' battered Bangladesh's southwestern coastlines, forcing authorities to evacuate over one million people from low-lying areas. The cyclone lashed the southern Patuakhali coast with wind speed up to 90 kilometres per hour and now proceeded towards northeastern coastlines.

"The cyclone has now touched the land, gradually losing its strength ... it is heading towards Bandarban (hill district) partly ravaging the Noakhali and Chittagong coasts," meteorology department's deputy director Shamsuddin Ahmed told reporters.

The heavy rainfall largely weakened the Mahasen and it was likely to take a natural death once it reached Bandarban hill day after its emergence in the sea, he said, adding that the Storm caused less damage than had been feared as it passed over Bangladesh, sparing Myanmar almost entirely.

Its current velocity was lowered to 25 kilometre per hour as against the initial wind speed of up to 90 kilometre per hour. Unconfirmed reports claimed six people were killed, but officials said they gathered reports of four deaths in Barguna, Bhola and Patuakhali districts as the Mahasen first struck the southwestern coastline.

The deaths were caused by drowning or the victims were hit by falling trees. At least 18 deaths were reported in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, but officials had prepared for a far greater storm as the United Nations had warned that 8.2 million people could face life-threatening conditions.

Credit & Copy From; http://ibnlive.in.com/news/cyclonic-storm-mahasen-claims-four-lives-in-bangladesh/392054-2.html
 
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