Sunday, August 18, 2013

UN Envoy Meets With Displaced Rohingya in Burma

Tomas Ojea Quintana (C), United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation, walks with Rohingya Muslims as he visits Aung Mingalar in Sittwe, Burma.

A U.N. human rights envoy has toured Burma's Rakhine state following another round of violence in the area.

During a tour of camps for displaced Rohingya Muslims, Tomas Ojea Quintana called for the residents to organize to help find a peaceful solution to the violence.

"You, [the] Muslim community, you also have a responsibility. You have to organize yourself to pursue peace," he said. "I really hope that the situation will improve.  I know it is very difficult.  I know how difficult it is to live now, but you have my commitment to find solution."

He also met with members of the Rakhine Buddhist community as well as senior officials in the state government.

State government spokesman U Hla Thein said there is a plan in place to rebuild trust between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

“[The] Prime Minister [of the Rakhine State Government] told Mr. Quitana that they have implemented some points of the recommendations made by the Central Government's Inquiry Commission for the Rakhine Conflict," he said. 

"At first, a committee [established by the government] holds separate meetings with community leaders from both sides - Rakhine and Bangali [Rohingya]. Then, trust building activities, including meetings between the two communities will be planned.”

Violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state last year killed more than 200 people and left 140,000 homeless. A clash between police and members of the Rohingya community last week left at least one dead and several injured.

After his visit to Rakhine, Quintana traveled to Rangoon for a meeting with The Civil Society, an umbrella organization representing human rights and pro-democracy groups.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

14 Muslim Rohingya on trial for brawl in Indonesia

Muslim Rohingya asylum seekers facing charges over a brawl sit on the defendant's bench during their trial at a district court in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, on Wednesday. (AP)
MEDAN, Indonesia: A group of 14 Muslim asylum seekers from Myanmar went on trial Wednesday after a deadly brawl at an Indonesian detention center left eight Buddhist fishermen from their country dead.
The violence occurred April 5 in North Sumatra province, where more than 100 ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers — most intercepted off Indonesia’s coast after fleeing Myanmar in rickety boats — and 11 Buddhists from Myanmar accused of illegal fishing were being housed together.
Eight Buddhists were killed, and 15 Muslim Rohingya were injured. Three other Buddhists escaped unharmed.
The Rohingya men are being tried at Medan district court in North Sumatra province. Prosecutors charged them with collective assault and torturing, which carry a maximum sentence of 12 years.
Police and the detention chief say the clash began after a Rohingya Muslim cleric and a fisherman got into a heated debate about religious violence that had erupted a few weeks earlier in central Myanmar.
However, prosecutors told the court that the Rohingya were angered when a female asylum seeker was sexually harassed by the fishermen.
Early this month the same court acquitted three Rohingya teenagers due to a lack of evidence of involvement in the violence.
Boatloads of Rohingya have been arriving on Indonesia’s shores following a wave of religious violence in Myanmar, where they are considered illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. Hundreds have been killed and more than 100,000 left homeless in clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
The tensions have tested Myanmar’s reformist government as it attempts to institute political and economic liberalization after nearly half a century of harsh military rule.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Myanmar’s gas starts flowing to China

Gas has started flowing to energy-hungry China through a pipeline from Myanmar, a Chinese state oil company said yesterday, in a controversial project that highlights the countries’ economic links even as their political ties come under pressure.
The 793-kilometre (492-mile) pipeline runs from Kyaukpyu on resource-rich Myanmar’s west coast, close to the offshore Shwe gas fields, and across the country.
It enters southwest China at Ruili, near areas where heavy clashes between the rebel Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar military were reported earlier this year.
As well as the risks associated with the pipeline passing through conflict zones, environmental and rights groups say land has been confiscated for it and people in Myanmar — most of whom do not have electricity — do not benefit sufficiently from its hydrocarbon assets.
The project is the fruit of Beijing’s long allegiance with the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades, a bond that is weakening as the reforming government opens up to the West.
It went into operation on Sunday at a ceremony in Mandalay, key investor China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), said in a report posted on its website.
“When torches flamed in the sky… a storm of applause and cheers broke out,” China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
Construction began in June 2010, according to CNPC, and a parallel oil pipeline is also part of the project.
According to Xinhua, the gas pipeline will be able to carry 12 billion cubic metres annually, while the crude oil pipeline has a capacity of 22 million tonnes per year.
Under military rule, Myanmar — which also counts tin and precious gems among its natural resources — was a pariah state largely isolated from the rest of the world and subject to heavy international sanctions, but it maintained close economic links with China which for years was its major foreign influence.
But now that Myanmar is opening up politically and economically, more countries are setting up operations and seeking deals that sanctions had previously prevented.
“Myanmar used to be sanctioned by the West and China was its only friend,” the Global Times newspaper, which is affiliated with the ruling Communist Party, acknowledged in an editorial. “Nowadays, it has opened more to the West. This will reduce its passion in cooperating with China, but does not mean it will set itself against China.”
In a warning that Beijing expects its economic interests to be protected, the newspaper cautioned Myanmar that it must ensure agreements regarding the project are fulfilled, no matter who eventually leads the country, where democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi has entered parliament.
“China should be determined to supervise Myanmar in doing so,” the paper said. “Myanmar should hold a serious attitude toward China, and Chinese will take (the Myanmar) people’s attitude toward the pipeline as a test of their stance on China.”
The pipeline opens up a new route for China’s fuel imports, and could help Beijing’s attempts to promote economic growth in the vast and less developed west.
The Global Times editorial said: “This is another breakthrough in China’s strategy of energy diversification and has obvious significance in reducing China’s dependence on the Strait of Malacca for the import of oil and natural gas.”
But the Shwe Gas Movement, a campaign group, says the project has sparked protests over issues including demands for higher salaries for local workers, and concerns among farmers about its environmental impacts.
Xinhua, in a commentary yesterday, blasted what it described as “Western criticism” of the pipelines, saying they were part of Beijing’s effort to ensure energy security and would simultaneously benefit the people of Myanmar by providing jobs.
“Why do some Western critics make irresponsible remarks on the project? It stems from their shady mentality,” Xinhua said.
Chinese nervousness about investments in Myanmar comes after Myanmar said last week it had revised a controversial copper mine agreement with a Chinese company, after dozens of Buddhist monks and villagers were injured in a botched police raid.
Myanmar Minister of Mines Myint Aung told parliament that new terms gave the government 51 percent of the revenue, replacing a previous deal that was a joint venture between the Chinese firm and a holding company owned by the Myanmar military.
In 2011, Myanmar President Thein Sein stopped construction on the China-backed $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy river amid public opposition to the project, a move that led Beijing to call for its companies’ rights and interests to be protected.
Myanmar plans to renegotiate billions of dollars of natural resource deals as it imposes tougher environmental standards and clamps down on corruption, the US-based Asia Society said in a report last month.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rohingya Prisoners Rip Free But Escape is Thwarted by Immigration Guards

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

PHUKET: A group of Rohingya staged a breakout from an Immigration centre this afternoon in a protest against cramped conditions at the Thai facility where they are being held.

Immigration officials and soldiers quickly brought the protest under control, sources told Phuketwan this evening.
Tonight in the aftermath of the protest, a number of Rohingya from the Sadao Immigration Centre in the province of Songkhla were being tranferred by officials to an unknown destination.

Sadao Immigration, according to a doctor who pays regular visits there, is where at least five Rohingya have died in custody since January.

The centre is crowded with 302 men who are said to be unable to lie down or stretch from a squatting position without coming into contact with other inmates.

This afternoon about 4pm, sources say, five men tore a grille from their ''cage'' on the second floor - in Thailand the ground floor is called the first floor - and jumped down.

The five men who created the hole were followed by five more men, according to sources.

The 10 Rohingya were still inside the perimeter of the facility. With the alarm raised, Immigration officials quickly brought the situation under control.

It's understood that soldiers also surrounded the centre, just in case the escape bid became more serious.

The doctor and others with access to the centre has warned the Governor of Songkhla Province and other authorities about the deteriorating physical and mental health of the Sadao prisoners.

Incarcerated in inhumane conditions without information about their fate, the men have been rapidly losing hope and in many cases are suffering from depression.

Along with hundreds of other Rohingya men, the group in Sadao is being held indefinitely by Thai authorities pending a decision on their status and future.

A six-month self-imposed deadline for a decision to be made about the Rohingya passed on Friday.

Scores of Rohingya women and children, held in Thailand in open family shelters, have already escaped and - most likely with the help of human traffickers - made their way across the Thai border and into Malaysia.

Eleven men have also escaped from the Phang Nga Immigration centre, north of Phuket.

Amnesty International says seven Rohingya men have died in Thailand since January. A usually reliable source has suppliedPhuketwan with the names of eight men reported to have died in custody so far.

Most of the Rohingya - believed to now number about 1700 in total at centres and shelters around the country - were apprehended in border traffickers' camps or on passing boats in January, with at least one more boatload caught on Phuket in March.

Thailand's Government has yet to make a public statement about the Rohingya and their future.

It is now being speculated more widely that the Thai Army's Internal Operations Security Command - which oversees border security - could be put in charge of a large camp that would at least enable the Rohingya families who are now separated to be reunited.

Thousands more Rohingya are expected to begin boarding boats to leave Burma (Myanmar) from October.

The Thai Government is being advised by NGOs to include the United Nations refugee agency in its future processing to obliterate or diminish the human trafficking that has become widespread along Thailand's Andaman holiday coast.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Interior Ministry:Myanmar following Israel

Asked whether the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in Myanmar are considered Myanmar nationals, Nobel Peace laureate and parliamentary candidate Aung San Suu Kyi replied, “I do not know. We have to be very clear about what the laws of citizenship are and who are entitled to them.”
In an effort to provide such clarity, this reporter met with a Myanmar Interior Ministry official to get some answers:
RIGHT: Illustration courtesy of Jonathon Blakeley. In most countries, persons born in country to parents who have no known ancestry elsewhere are considered citizens. How is this applied in the case of the Rohingya?
Interior Ministry: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to explain. We call them “resident foreigners”. After trying for many years to show that they are really from neighboring countries, we finally have decided that they are most likely Swiss nationals that came to Myanmar and lost their passports. Unfortunately, their birth records appear to have been lost in an avalanche in Switzerland and so we cannot prove their origin. However, we are negotiating with Switzerland to repatriate them. Are there possibly other reasons that you hesitate to grant citizenship to Rohingyas?
Interior Ministry: In many countries, illegal immigrants often work for slave wages and are treated like animals. Rohingyas are often enslaved in Myanmar, and forced to live in the most deplorable conditions. We therefore suspect that they may be illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants from where? Where do they belong?

“The Rohingya Muslims are a demographic bomb for Myanmar. We want to remain Buddhist and democratic…”

Interior Ministry: I told you. They’re Swiss. And besides, they’re Muslim. The Rohingya Muslims are a demographic bomb for Myanmar. We want to remain Buddhist and democratic, and Muslim Rohingyas are a threat to our existence. Muslim self-determination has been expressed in dozens of countries. Why don’t the Muslim countries take them? They don’t belong here. But won’t you be accused of apartheid if you deny them citizenship on the basis of their ethnicity and religion?
Interior Ministry: We’re not worried. Israel gets accused of the same, and how seriously does anyone take such accusations? But isn’t it more than that? Aren’t Rohingya homes and villages being demolished and the people being slaughtered and made refugees?
Interior Ministry: Like I said, Israel… OK, OK. But Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t say for sure that Rohingyas are not entitled to Myanmar citizenship, only that we have to be clear about it. Isn’t she leaving open the possibility that they should be considered Myanmar citizens? Ms. Suu Kyi is a very rare creature: a politician with a humanitarian reputation and even a Nobel Peace Prize. She has to equivocate on Rohingyan rights. However, we are confident that just like Nobel laureates Shimon Peres and Barack Obama, she will do the right thing and overlook injustice toward undesirable populations.

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Barb Weir is the pseudonym of a writer and social justice advocate in the San Francisco Bay Area.