Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A month after mutiny, BDR personnel visit India for talks

New Delhi, Mar 31 BSF and BDR today held their first round of annual talks here after the savage mutiny at the headquarters of the neighbouring country's paramilitary force in Dhaka which led to the killing of its chief Major General Shakeel Ahmed.

The Bangladesh side was led by Brigadier General Mainul Islam and the Indian delegation was headed by BSF Director General M L Kumawat at the meeting held after a month of the savage mutiny by BDR personnel.

The talks, described as continuation of the earlier round held in Dhaka, revolved around joint patrolling of 46 difficult areas, preventing cross-border terrorist movement and trafficking of women, children and contraband, official sources said.

Among other issues discussed between the two sides include joint management of border pillars, fencing within 150 metres of the International border and smuggling.

The Indian side also raised the issue of terrorist camps especially those from the country's Northeast and which operate within the territory of Bangladesh and harbouring of some of the wanted criminals.

The six-member Bangla delegation led by Islam will return tomorrow after their three-day visit here. The minutes of the meeting would be signed tomorrow morning.

The sky is not blue in Burma

By David Calleja
Online Opinion

The recent decision by the Burmese military to release 6,313 prisoners indicates that the rulers are well-versed in undertaking public relations exercises ahead of proposed multi-party elections in 2010.

Some parties see this as a positive first step in the seven-stage roadmap to democracy; a sign that the junta may be ready to enter the international community after years of isolation. But Burma has been at war for more than six decades. The military uses armed conflict, rape, torture and displacement of civilians. Of the inmates that have been released, 24 are deemed political prisoners.

According to the Burma Campaign UK, there are more than 2,100 political prisoners still behind bars. As for a people’s power movement, an anonymous Burmese blogger on the BBC website remarked that the junta’s way of dealing with such a concept is to “simply shoot everybody”.

The military authorities are grinning because they have tossed a bone to the outside world with the promise of an election next year, and in doing so, have driven a wedge in the international community who are divided over what to make of this announcement.

The United Nations and the Japanese government adopt a policy of dialogue and diplomacy with the junta, and see this as a breakthrough. However, history has shown us that military authorities in power are unlikely to give up authority so easily. The Burmese army’s condition is the insistence that will play a powerful role in the parliamentary make-up and retain 25 per cent of seats in parliament.

Naturally, the most famous political prisoner in Burma and around the world, leader of the National League for Democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to remain under house arrest. Her party’s deputy leader, 82-year-old Tin Oo, also remains confined to his home in detention. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has repeatedly called for the unconditional and immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yet the UN’s Special Envoy for Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, has failed to win any concessions. It is little wonder that Aung San Suu Kyi is tired of appearing for the media when it is clear that the Burmese leadership will not change their hardline stance.

The Burmese military are the only party interested in seeing Gambari on a regular basis because they know it serves as a distraction from their failure to assist the victims of Cyclone Nargis and for the endless and well-documented abuses against its own people, especially ethnic minorities.

In a response to the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial criticising the value of Gambari’s visits published on August 28, 2008, the Consulate-General of Burma (Myanmar) to Hong Kong defended Gambari by praising the mutual respect shown between the junta and the Special Envoy for Burma. At the same time, the unnamed official has accused critics of failing to listen to the Burmese government’s side of the story, saying that if “such people wear dark glasses, you cannot see the truth”.

When the 2007 Saffron Revolution commenced, the junta stopped the flow of information to the outside world by blocking 85 per cent of e-mails and blocked foreign news agencies from reporting within Burma's borders, thus restricting live streaming of events.

One courageous individual, Nay Phone Latt, who streamed a rare glimpse into the actions of the armed forces was arrested and tried without legal representation. He was found guilty of breaching both the Electronics Act and the Video Act and sentenced to 20 years in jail. One year later, Burmese publications in exile such as The Irrawaddy and Democratic Voice for Burma were shut down by the junta.

Too many nations have forgotten that the Burmese military brutally crushed unarmed monks and civilians showing their support, resulting in the death of hundreds of protestors and detention of thousands more.

The events of 2007 must now seem distant with international media attention shifting to cover the global financial crisis. Each country is implementing measures to protect their economies. United States President Barack Obama will obviously review policy towards Burma, but his priorities are stopping the war in Afghanistan, and improving diplomatic relations with Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Now is the time for the rest of the world to go beyond the stages of talking tough.

The United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, the members of ASEAN and Australia need to take a more proactive role. Burma's allies, notably China and India, need to stop insisting that private diplomacy will work in convincing the regime to step down and change their ways. The proposed elections in Burma will allow the military to commit more crimes against its own population and give General Than Shwe a chance to make an honourable exit.

Under the present climate, no polls will be free or fair. The National League for Democracy will be barred from fielding candidates, and restrictions on voting will be implemented to prevent an overwhelming protest vote against the junta’s candidates by the rural population who have suffered the most.

The Burmese government also has the option of cancelling the election if they suspect a perceived or genuine threat to their power is possible by citing security concerns in the country’s best interests. This ploy will be undoubtedly described as “despicable” and “unacceptable”, but for all of the colourful adjectives that world leaders and the United Nations are capable of using, the military junta will not listen nor care.

The Burmese government’s ignorance for the plight of its own people is best demonstrated in the closing line of a letter defending Ibrahim Gambari’s visits: “The sky is always blue in the Union of Myanmar.”

Their version of reality cannot be any further from the truth. For far too long now, the military dictatorship of Burma has held a gun to the heads of their own people and left bloodstains and bullets as calling cards. The innocent people of Burma cannot afford to be left vulnerable in the dark anymore.

About the Author

David Calleja is a freelance writer who is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy Journal and Hack Writers. In 2008, he worked as a teacher and soccer coach in the Internally Displaced Persons camp based in Loi Tailang, Shan State, Burma. His writing focuses on human interest stories in Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. David has also worked as an English teacher in South Korea, China, Thailand and Cambodia. His video depicting the lives of families living on the grounds of Steung Meanchey Waste Dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, A Garbage Diet, can be viewed here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New FM stations to debut throughout Burma

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A ranking member from the Myanmar Music Association has indicated that States and Divisions throughout Burma will soon benefit from an additional four frequencies from City FM.

Besides the current Rangoon City FM and Mandalay City FM stations, four new channels will be added within a few months time, a senior official from the Myanmar Music Association acknowledged.

"The government has permitted what seems a joint-venture between the government and private companies," he explained. "Broadcasting work will be handled by the Information Ministry and everything will fall under this Ministry. I think they will assign some private companies to carry out the work and broadcast can begin in the next three months."

As reported in a local news weekly, there will be four base groups concerned with conducting the related work: the first in eastern, southern and northern Shan State; the second in Myitkyina in Kachin State, Chin State and Monywa in Sagaing Division; the third in Sittwe in Rakhine State and Irrawaddy Division; and the fourth in Taninthayi Division, Mon State, Karen State and Pyi in Pegu Division.

According to a responsible person from the Myanmar Music Association, due to the popularity of the existing channels, the need to expand the geographic reach of FM broadcasting and in order to comply with international standards, the decision was made to expand the number of FM stations.

Broadcasting will be the responsibility of private companies. Presently, it is understood that Kanbawza Company will take responsibility for Shan State and Ngwe Taung Company for Monywa in Sagaing Division and Myitkyina in Kachin State.

It is not yet known which companies will take responsibility for the other regions in question.

Currently, two channels, Rangoon and Mandalay City FM, broadcast daily programs, primarily consisting of music, interviews, entertainment news, talk and health shows. Both are lucrative businesses benefiting from vast advertisement revenue.

City FM programs were first introduced in 2000 in Rangoon and in mid-2008 in Mandalay, and are owned by the City Development Committees of the respective cities.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

SSA opposes junta’s political process

By Hseng Khio Fah

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the political wing of the Shan State Army (SSA) South, said that the current junta-dictated political process is not a democratic one, according to its statement released today.

It stops short of calling it “the 7 step roadmap,” apparently not to offend Thailand that has lent support to it.

The statement deals with three topics: politics, drugs and the proposed peace talks.

On the current political situation in Burma, the SSA has recommended a 4 point proposal:

Amnesty for all political dissidents and armed opposition
Amendment by all stakeholders of the junta-approved constitution
Ethnic participation in the electoral commission

For winning parties of the 1990 elections like the National League for Democracy (NLD) and Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) to have a say in the upcoming elections-“Exclusion of them will only make the 2010 elections a meaningless exercise”

Col Yawdserk, Shan State Army leader

Concerning drugs, the resolution, it says, must come from a political settlement. “Shan State must be given the right to rule itself,” citing the 1947 Panglong Agreement which united Shan, Kachin and Chin with Burma. (Bangkok Post, 10 June 2001 issue, quoted the Thai Army as saying that the root of Thailand’s drug problems could be traced to violations of the treaty by Burma’s successive governments.)

As for Thai-facilitated peace talks with Burma’s military rulers, the RCSS says: “Our doors are always open for talks with the Burmese military. But for talks to succeed, both sides must make concessions, not just the RCSS yielding to all the conditions set by the Burmese military.”

Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) also welcomes Thailand’s offer to facilitate the talks, according to Khu Oo Reh, Deputy Secretary General.

“We are always ready to hold talks with the junta if there is a safe venue for both sides.”

With Thailand as a facilitator, chances for peace are great, according to him. “It would have more chance to succeed than if we did it by ourselves.”

KNPP has held several peace talks with the junta both officially and unofficially. The latest was in 2007 in Tachilek, eastern Shan State, opposite Thailand’s Maesai, he said.

Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma illegal, says UN

UN calls for immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi

The United Nations has ruled that the continued detention of Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi violates the country’s own laws as well as those of the international community.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has spent 13 of the last 19 years under house arrest, with the ruling junta yearly extending her detention despite international outcries.
“The latest renewal (2008) of the order to place Ms Suu Kyi under house arrest not only violates international law but also national domestic laws of Myanmar,” said a legal opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions that has been sent to the Burmese government.
Although the ruling is unlikely to spring Suu Kyi from detention, it is uncommon for the world body to accuse a member country of violating its own laws, and while the junta has always marched to its own tune it has also resented being regarded as an international pariah.
The working group, an arm of the UN Human Rights Council, said Suu Kyi was being held under Burma’s 1975 State Protection Law, which allows renewable arrest orders for a maximum of only five years. This five-year period ended at the end of May 2008.
The opinion also questioned whether Suu Kyi represented a threat to the “security of the state or public peace and tranquility,” the provision of the 1975 law authorities have pointed to as the reason for her continued detention.
Jared Genser, a Washington-based attorney retained by Suu Kyi’s family who provided the document to the Associated Press, said that while the UN group earlier found her detention arbitrary and in violation of international law, it was the first time it cited the junta as failing to abide by its own law.
He said the government of Burma has not responded to the UN’s legal arguments and has not commented on why Suu Kyi is still being detained.
Suu Kyi, who rose to prominence during a pro-democracy uprising in 1988, was placed under arrest before her party swept the 1990 general elections, which the junta did not recognise. Over the years, the government released her several times only to have her virtually isolated again in her compound in Yangon.
The UN has for years attempted without success to bring about political reform and a dialogue between Suu Kyi and the military.
“I am under no illusion that the junta will be listening to the UN,” Genser said in a telephone interview. “There is no quick and easy answer to the problem of Burma, so we have to take it one step forward at a time.”
In Burma, the spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, Nyan Win, said over the weekend that her lawyer had sent a letter to the prime minister, Thein Sein, on 13 March asking for a hearing to appeal for her release when the one-year detention period expires in May.
The lawyer, Kyi Win, sent the appeal letter last October but has had no response from authorities, the spokesman said.
“The reason for her detention is false because Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who advocates a nonviolence policy, has not caused any threat to public order,” he said.
Nyan Win said every time Suu Kyi’s detention is extended, authorities read out the order “but no explanation or reason was ever given for the extension or detention”.
Asked if Suu Kyi’s detention might be lifted in May, Nyan Win said, “It is very difficult to make any predictions as the government does not have a transparent policy.”
Activist groups, under a Free Burma’s Political Prisoners Now Campaign, are attempting to collect 888,888 signatures for a petition calling for the release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,100 other political prisoners.
The petition is to be sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The number “8” is regarded as highly auspicious by many Burmese.
Burma has been under military rule since 1962. Its leaders have scheduled elections next year that they say will lead to democracy. Critics say the balloting, held under a junta-orchestrated constitution, will merely perpetuate military control.

Three Burmese arms smugglers arrested in Mizoram

New Delhi, Mar 25 – Three Burmese nationals have been arrested and five rocket launchers seized from them, in India’s north-eastern state of Mizoram, according to the police.

Assistant Sub-Inspector from Champhai police station, A. Sailo, told Mizzima on Tuesday that they had apprehended three Burmese men with arms in the Indo-Burmese border town of Champhai on Saturday.

Sailo said the police first arrested C. Zacchunga with five rocket launchers, which apparently were to be transported to Aizawl, the capital of the state. And after interrogation, the police arrested the other two - Albert D. Muanga and Thang Suan Liana.

“We seized five rocket launchers from him [Zachhunga],” Sailo told Mizzima adding, “Those weapons have been brought in from Burma.”

However, it is still unclear to whom the weapons were to be sold or for what purpose they were to be used.

Sailo said, all three had come from Chin state in north-western Burma, bordering India’s Mizoram state. He said all three of them would be tried on Tuesday.

“Now, they are on the way to Aizawl as the trial will be conducted there,” Sailo said.

Speaking to Mizzima, Aizawl District’s Additional Superintendent of Police R.D on Tuesday confirmed that three Burmese arms smugglers had been handed over to Aizawl, by Champhai police station.

In June 2008, Mizoram police had seized a consignment of AK-47 rifles and ammunition during a raid at Siphir town near Aizawl.

India’s Mizoram state and Burma share a porous border of 404 kilometres, which is often used by smugglers and businessmen to smuggle arms and drugs.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

US Still Working on New Burma Policy

Tuesday, March 24, 2009
WASHINGTON — A senior US official has repeated earlier comments that the Obama administration is in the process of devising a new policy to achieve a goal of democratic reconciliation in Burma.

“It is clear that we and the international community have not been very successful in Burma,” the Acting Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, James Warlick, told a group of foreign journalists here, during a briefing on the administration’s approach with regard to various issues related to the United Nations.

“I think we all are committed to bring about change in Burma, but then the question is how? How can we influence [a government] that has a repressive military regime, which has prosecuted its own people? How can we effectively deal with them?” he asked.

“This administration is seeking a fresh look on Burma, and it has not yet concluded on a particular path but it is recognized as an area which is a concern for us,” Warlick said.

“We still see a repressive regime,” he said. “We still see political prisoners. Aung San Suu Kyi still remains under house arrest. Added to that is the physical devastation of the country due to Cyclone Nargis.”

Warlick said Burma would continue to be one of the priority issues and the Obama administration would continue to push for its goals through the UN, Asean and other countries. He noted that Burma continues to be on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

During her trip to Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Obama administration will review the policy on Burma including economic sanctions which she said had failed to yield the desired result either to the international community or to the people of Burma.

No deadline was set for the completion of the review.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Construction work on the barbed-wire fencing was suddenly stopped yesterday at Maungdaw in Arakan State

as the authorities received information that about 16,000 army personnel from Bangladesh were ready to penetrate into Arakan North from Chittagong Hill Tracts, a close aide of the Nasaka from Maungdaw said.
2009 March 23

The Burmese army personnel immediately left the work site, after hearing the rumor regarding the Bangladesh Army planning to enter North Arakan. After leaving some soldiers in the Nasaka camp, all the rest went to the nearby mountains to observe the situation, after taking shelter in the forest.

Meanwhile, on the Burmese side, recently, at least eleven Burmese army battalions have been deployed along the Burma-Bangladesh border to raise barbed-wire fences. They are LIB, No. 536, 535, 564, 353, 538, 263, 234, 344, 289, 20 and 55.

Burma has planned to deploy at least 30,000 army personnel on the Burma-Bangladesh border, for the security of the barbed-wire fence, according to a Nasaka source.

The Burmese authority has deployed soldiers along the border from Maungdaw Township to Paletwa in Chin State.

The border situation between the two countries has been increasingly tense, with several army battalions being sent to reinforce troops along the Burma-Bangladesh border by the Burmese military junta.
According to sources, Bangladesh border forces are still closely watching the construction of the barbed-wire fence on the Burma-Bangladesh border, by the Burmese junta without giving any information to the friendly neighboring country, Bangladesh.
According to a Bangladeshi source, a naval ship equipped with sophisticated equipment, has been sighted in the Bay of Bengal near Burmese waters.
Regarding the barbed-wire fence, last month, a group of army personnel, consisting of over 100 army officers, had conducted a survey in Rathedaung and Maungdaw Township, from Mayu Tek (Angumaw) of Rathedaung Township, to Pletwa of Chin State, a businessman from Maungdaw said.
According to villagers near the Bangladesh border, extra deployment of soldiers of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) has not been seen on the Bangladesh side.
The people of north Arakan do not know the reason, why the Burmese junta suddenly started erecting the barbed-wire fence and reinforcement of army on the Burma-Bangladesh border, according to sources http://www.kaladanpress.org/v3/

Thailand FM begin Burma visit

New Delhi - Thailand’s Foreign Minister on Kasit Piromya, on Sunday began a two-day visit to neighbouring Burma to discuss issues of illegal migrants, who often lands on Thailand’s shores, an official statement on Saturday said.

Kasit will begin the official visit on Sunday and during the visit will meet with Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win and will also call on Prime Minister General Thein Sein, the statement said.

Besides discussing wide-range bilateral cooperative issues, Kasit will also discuss on the issue on Rohingya Muslim minorities, who often flees to Thailand claiming they were victims of the ruling junta’s severe persecution.

Since December 2008, at least 1,000 Rohingya boatpeople have been intercepted by Thai authorities, who allegedly arrested them, destroy the engine of their boats and towed them back to the sea with little food and water.

Thailand, however, has denied the allegations of ill-treating the boatpeople, though it admits that they were sent back to the sea according to the law.

Rohingya boat people have attracted regional attention, when several other batches of boatpeople were rescued off the shores of India’s Andaman Islands and Indonesia’s Aceh province.

Kasit is making a visit to military-ruled Burma on Prime Minister Nyan Win’s invitation during the 14th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

During the Asean summit, issue of Rohingya migrants was discussed informally and was agreed to be further taken at a regional forum known as the “Bali Process”.

Nyan Win, during the Summit said, Burma does not have Rohingya minorities but is willing to accept the boatpeople if they could that they are bon in Burma.

Kasit, during his visit will discuss on other bilateral issues including “the issue of illegal migrant workers and anti-human trafficking,” the statement said.

“Moreover, the Foreign Minister will consult with the Myanmar [Burmese] leadership…. on cooperation with the Myanmar [Burmese] side to address the Bengalis/ Rohingyas issue,” the statement added.

Thailand is Burma’s largest trading partner with the overall trading volume between the two countries standing at Baht 144,291 million (approximately USD 4809 million).

While Burma’s main export items to Thailand includes natural gas, timber and lumber, metal ores and scraps, iron and steel, and coal, Thailand’s export to Burma consist of animal fat and vegetable oil, chemicals, iron and steel, and plastic resin.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A journey of 83 long years

New Delhi, March 22  The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has got a new chief in Mohan Bhagwat, has travelled a long way since it was born in a middle class house in Nagpur in 1925 to mould the Hindu way of thinking and influence the national struggle for independence.
The organisation has remained controversial all these decades. From 1947 to 2009, successive governments banned it thrice. Its critics term the RSS ideology of &#39Hindutva&#39 communal, conservative and revivalist.
Here are some interesting facts about RSS, which believes in staying away from the media glare:
* RSS was founded by a former Congress worker, Kesava Rao Baliram Hedgewar (known commonly as Doctorji in RSS circles), on Sep 27, 1925 at his residence in Nagpur, where it is now headquartered. The objectives for setting up the RSS were to unite Hindus and to uplift them, leading to the birth of a Hindu rashtra (nation).
* The name RSS was selected officially April 17, 1926. That year the RSS started its daily meetings called &#39nitya shakha&#39 where volunteers, known as &#39swayamsevaks&#39, met every day.
* The &#39shakha&#39 continues to be the basic unit of the RSS organisational structure, which along with its allied organisations is widely referred to as the Sangh Parivar. &#39Shakha&#39 is from where RSS gets its volunteers.
* RSS calls these volunteers &#39swayamsevaks&#39. Anyone is free to come and join RSS meetings, which are generally held in neighbourhood parks. There is no official membership. Anyone who has come to a shakha even once is treated as a &#39swayamsevak&#39
* According to RSS estimates, till the end of January 2009 there were 43,905 shakhas running in 30,015 places; weekly shakhas were being held in 4,964 places and monthly meetings took place in 4,507 locations all over India. There is no official count of its &#39swayamsevaks&#39.
* The first RSS chief was K.B. Hedgewar (1925-40). M.S. Golwalkar, also known as &#39Guruji (1940-73), was the second RSS chief followed by Balasaheb Deoras (1973-94), Rajendra Singh or &#39Rajju bhaiyya&#39 (1994-2000) and K.S. Sudarshan (2000-09). Mohan Bhagwat is the sixth RSS chief.
* Within RSS circles, its chief is known as the &#39sarsanghchalak&#39. The term was coined in 1929. RSS chief is nominated by his predecessor. The general secretary is &#39sarkaryavah&#39. He is elected by an executive council for three years. These two are the most powerful positions in the RSS.
* RSS is exclusively for males. But it has a women&#39s wing, Rashtriya Sevika Samiti.
* When it was born, RSS was dominated by Maharashtrian Brahmins. Over the decades, it began to accept people from all segments of Hindu society.
* Till 1936, RSS was active only in Maharashtra. In the next decade or so, it established its presence in northern India through volunteers who decided to work full time for expanding the organisation. It now has a pan India presence.
* In 1948, RSS was banned in independent India for the first time following Mahatma Gandhi&#39s assassination. The government suspected that the RSS played an active role in the killing. The ban was lifted in 1949.
* RSS was banned twice later: during the &#39emergency&#39 rule of 1975 and after the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992.
* In 1949, RSS set up its first frontal organisation - Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to work among students. This was followed in 1952 by Vanvasi Kalayan Asharam to work among tribals. In 1952, it actively supported the formation of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) by Shyama Prasad Mukharjee. BJS merged into the Janata Party in 1977 and was reborn as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1980.
* In 1955, it started the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, now one of the biggest trade unions in the country.
* In 1963, RSS participated in the Republic Day parade in Delhi. Around 3,000 &#39swayamsevaks&#39 took part.
* In 1964, the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) was set up to unite Hindu religious leaders. It played a leading role in the campaign to build a temple for Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya that led to the razing of the Babri mosque and helped the BJP to grow dramatically.
* From 1998 to 2004, while the BJP ruled India, the RSS flirted with power, but with disastrous consequences for its organisational base. It tried to dictate BJP&#39s agenda, resulting in hiccups in their relations.
* After the BJP&#39s defeat in 2004, the RSS decided to maintain a safe distance from party politics. Mohan Bhagwat, the new RSS chief, was one of the strongest advocates of this line.

Myanmar: An emerging security threat

The New Nation
Our foreign policy advocates for friendship to all and malice to none, which also dictates our strategic and security outlook. So, one should not be surprised that Bangladesh is very reluctant to view her neighbours as a source of security threats despite the fact that she is having some bilateral issues with her neighbours, particularly India, and Myanmar due to their aggressive policy, in the shape of land/maritime border demarcation, illegal migration, refugee influx, illegal drugs and small arms trade, and human trafficking. Despite our policy of harmonious and amicable coexistence with our neighbours, we should not be oblivious of the need for a peaceful and stable border and therefore we should take cognizance of factors that could create threats to our national security.
In this thread we will confine our discussion to possible security threats from Myanmar that could lead both the nations to a low intensity, or even to a high intensity conflict and strategies that Bangladesh should use to reduce the possibility of such conflicts, or to achieve a desired end in the conflict in case a military confrontation is unavoidable.
First let us examine the source of bilateral irritants between Bangladesh and Myanmar that could give rise to conflicts between the two neighbours:
1. Maritime Border Demarcation: Being surrounded by India and Myanmar, Bangladesh can hardly overemphasize the need to demarcate its maritime boundary on just and equitable basis to assert her sovereignty over its resource rich EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and beyond through which almost 90% of its external trade is conducted. Failure in delineating maritime border may cause Bangladesh to be reduced to a mere landlocked country and lose its strategic significance and relevance in South Asian context.
2. Rohingya Refugee issue: Myanmar has a poor human rights record for suppressing and depriving its minority communities of basic rights and privileges and as a result of this thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees cross into Bangladesh territory to escape the atrocities committed by the military junta. Bangladesh with the help of international community has tried to resolve this issue through diplomatic channel but due to Myanmarese military junta's stubbornness, the refugee problem could not be resolved and this is creating security, economic, and social problems in the country. Military junta's refusal to recognize Rohyngias as citizens and continuous attempt to push them inside Bangladesh territory may lead to a conflict situation if not properly handled.
3. Illegal small arms trade: Illegal small arms trade is a flourishing business along Bangladesh-Myanmar border despite all the efforts by Bangladesh Rifles to curb such activities in the border areas. If Myanmar fails to cooperate in stopping illegal arms trade in the border areas, criminals and terrorist groups may create threats to internal law and order situation of Bangladesh.
4. Illegal drugs trade: Because of long military rule, self imposed isolation, and economic embargo by the international community, the military junta relies heavily on poppy cultivation and drug trading for revenues. Being near the notorious 'golden triangle'--a heaven for illegal drug dealings--- Bangladesh faces an imminent danger and this cannot be tackled without full cooperation, which is unlikely to be forthcoming, from Myanmar.
5. Unfriendly NASAKA: The Myanmarese border security force known as NASAKA is a matter of concern for Bangladesh. This particular organization is involved in all sorts of human rights violation, illegal trading, killing and whatnot. Unless NASAKA is turned into a professional force guided by a specific set of code of conduct, a border conflict may break out between them and BDR because of the irrational behaviour of the former jeopardizing stability in the 200 km long border shared by both the neighbours.
Analysis of the strategic landscape
Now let us analyze the strategic landscape to understand the potential players, who might get involved if a military conflict breaks out between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Myanmar: As I have explained already that Myanmar is a pariah state and has little influence over the international community to form an opinion in favour of them. They are under heavy economic and military embargo for human rights violation and lack of respect for democracy. Having said that we should not lose sight of growing relation between China and Myanmar and it must be taken into consideration by Bangladesh and international community because China as a regional power will play an important role in any conflict between countries adjacent to her border . We will talk about China in just a moment but let me add that the Myanmarese military has been completely revamped with the help of Chinese assistance. New divisions have been raised with supporting units and hardware to make it one of the largest militaries in South East Asia. As per Internet and print media, Myanmar has received huge quantity of military hardware including artillery pieces, tanks, APCs, trucks, high speed jet fighters, naval vessels from China, Israel, and other nations. They have improved logistic backup to carryout sustained military operations within their border. They have also gained enormous experience in counter-insurgency in the last 20 years. But their weakness lies in their fragile economy and isolation from the international community, which, I believe, put them in a disadvantageous position to achieve a desired end in the war against Bangladesh.
China: China has a long term strategic interest in Myanmar due, mainly, to latter's convenient geographic location, which the Chinese navy intends to use in its pursuit to advance toward the Indian Ocean, and huge energy reserve. Along with a number of listening posts in the Myanmarese sea territory, the Chinese have also invested heavily in developing sea ports in Myanmar with repair , maintenance, and fuel facilities for the Chinese navy. So, China views Myanmar as a strategic partner, which is the gateway to the Indian Ocean and a cheap source of hydrocarbon to meet its burgeoning demand for energy.
As a permanent member of U.N. Security council, China has the veto power that can be used as a stick against Western pressure to discipline the military junta of Myanmar. But whether or not China will use the veto power is subject to how they perceive their relation with Bangladesh, which has seen a steady rise in the last 30 years, vis-a-vis Myanmar. The strategic analysts believe that China acknowledges the strategic significance of Bangladesh due to its peculiar geographic location, which cuts the North Eastern region off from the rest of India and acts as a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN, and offers access to Indian Ocean via the Bay of Bengal. The growing Chinese economic and military assistance to Bangladesh is a testament to latter's strategic significance to China and its military. So in the end, China may end up being a peace broker between Bangladesh and Myanmar to stop them from starting a conflict, or stop the conflict from escalating and keep the Western powers at bay both to safeguard its strategic interest in Myanmar and Bangladesh, and to end the conflict in Chinese terms.
Other UNSC members: In any conflict between Bangladesh and Myanmar, America will side with Bangladesh simply because both the nations believe in democratic values, freedom of speech and respect for human rights, and both are partners against war on terror. On the other hand, America is one of the staunchest critics of the Myanmarese military junta for its lack of respect for human rights and democracy. Americans, themselves, have already imposed an economic and arms embargo on Myanmar, and persuaded other Western allies to do the same to put pressure on the military junta to restore democracy in the country. So, in a conflict situation, Bangladesh will find America on its side but Myanmar will face even more isolation for attacking a democratic country.
Britain, and France, both seeking a regime change to restore democracy in Myanmar, will also join America to support Bangladesh in its fight against Myanmarese military junta.
Russia, being one of the few countries that supported the independence movement of Bangladesh, and having a close defense relation with Myanmar, may find itself in a difficult diplomatic situation and may only offer itself as a peace broker to maintain neutrality in the conflict situation.
Other players
India: India views Myanmar as an important country for the success of its 'look east policy', and as a good source of cheap energy reserve to meet its rising energy demand. India is also seeking to cultivate deep economic and defense relations with the military junta to counterbalance Chinese influence in Myanmar for its own strategic advantage. At the same time, the policymakers of New Delhi are aware of their role in the independence movement of Bangladesh and its strategic significance in the security of North East India. So, like Russia, India may also seek neutrality in the conflict between Bangladesh and Myanmar and play the role of a peace broker to end the conflict.
Arab countries: Being the 3rd largest Muslim country in the world, Bangladesh is expected to get overwhelming moral and even logistical support from the Arab nations.
Strategic objectives of Bangladesh
1. To resolve any dispute through dialogue and avoid the possibility of a military confrontation
2. In case a military confrontation is unavoidable, limit the scope of confrontation to minimize the loss of lives and properties
3. In case the conflict takes the shape of a full scale war, break the will of the Myanmarese military to fight by inflicting heavy damage upon its men, machine, and economy
Strategies to follow
1. To launch an intense diplomatic effort both bilateral, and multilateral, involving China, and the U.N.
2. To use BDR just to repel sporadic border incursions and keep the army on a stand by mode, and continue with diplomatic efforts to diffuse tension
3. To create a naval blockade against Myanmar to take control of its commercial shipping lanes and use the full military might to force the aggressor to retreat, and ask for help from America and its allies, and the Muslim countries, to achieve a desired end in the conflict.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Goa bans Sri Ram Sene in State

Panaji, Mar 21 : Goa government on Saturday banned Sri Ram Sene (SRS) in the State. "I have personally signed the file pertaining to the ban. We don't want such institutions in Goa, which will spoil the State's harmony," Home Minister Ravi Naik told reporters this evening.
Naik had signed the file pertaining to the ban this morning.
The controversial outfit had stirred a hornet's nest in the State after its chief Pramod Mutalik warned to stop the pub culture in Goa.
The outfit had earlier in January stormed pubs in Mangalore. Mutalik in an interview to local media had termed Goa as the root cause of pub culture in the country. Naik said everyone in the State is unanimous with the view that such outfits should not be encouraged. "If someone tries to open Sri Ram Sene branch in the State, we will arrest him," he said.
The Home Minister who dared Mutalik to enter the State, had received support for his stand from various quarters including the BJP. BJP leader Manohar Parrikar had termed Sri Ram Sene as bunch of criminals.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Building Bridges Over Hate: Thai-Burma Railroad legacy

By David McNeill

Nagase Takashi tortured British POWs during the building of the Thai-Burma railway. He has spent his life since trying to make amends and wants the railway declared a UN World Heritage Site before he dies.

Nagase Takashi still breaks down when he remembers the young British man he helped torture. “I couldn’t bear his pain,” he says, choking back tears. “He was crying Mother! Mother! And I thought: what she would feel if she could see her son like this. I still dream about it.”

Nagase was a military interpreter for the Kempeitai, th special Japanese police, in the prison camp made famous in the movie, Bridge on the River Kwai, when POW Eric Lomax was caught with a concealed radio and map.

Neither man has ever completely recovered from what took place in the following days as Lomax was relentlessly tortured. For the 22-year-old Signals Corps engineer from Edinburgh, it was the beginning of a nightmare that has taken him 60 years to shake off. “The psychological damage stays with you forever,” he says.

For his 21-year-old tormentor, it was the start of one of war’s most remarkable stories of repentance.

Lomax was beaten relentlessly and dragged broken and weak before Nagase and his commanding officer for interrogation. He remembers the officer’s face ‘full of latent and obvious violence.’ But it was that ‘hateful little’ interpreter, for days intoning in a flat inflectionless voice: ‘Lomax you will be killed,’ who he really despised.

Nagase’s voice droned in his ear as he was repeatedly held down and water was hosed into his nose and mouth, filling his lungs and stomach. Lomax survived – barely – to spend the rest of the war in a brutal military prison, and for half a century nursed his hated against his interrogator. ‘I wished to drown him, cage him and beat him,’ he says.

Today, Nagase is a frail 87-year-old retired English teacher who understands the hate directed at him. “People who have been to hell do not forgive easily,” he says. “And we were in hell. But I wanted to help him in some way. I searched my brain for the right English expression and as he was leaving the camp I said to him quietly, ‘Keep your chin up.’ I still remember his astonished face.”

The Thai-Burma Railway was one of the great evil follies of World War II, a 415-km track hewn mostly by hand through rock and tropical jungle that consumed the lives of up to 100,000 men, including an estimated 16,000 slave labourers conscripted from the ranks of the decimated Allied forces.

By the time what became known as ‘Death Railway’ was completed, it was lined with thousands of flimsy wooden crosses marking the bodies of young men from Glasgow, London and Liverpool, who had succumbed to starvation, disease and beatings; 60 years later some are still held in the jungle’s swampy embrace, lost forever.

Nagase, who was chosen as interpreter because he had been taught by US Methodists in a Tokyo college, remembers entering the stinking, malaria-ridden Kanchanaburi prison camp, on the railway’s route to Burma (now Myanmar) in September 1943. “It was surrounded by brazen vultures attracted by the stench of the corpses. I still shudder when I think of it.”

His halting, imperfect English was often the only conduit between the camp commanders and thousands of prisoners, and he helped interrogate many POWs, but it was the memory of Lomax that lingered. “As I watched him being tortured and heard his cries, I felt I was going to lose my mind. I thought he was going to die and I still remember my relief when I felt his pulse.”

When the war ended, Nagase spent seven weeks locating 13,000 abandoned bodies along the line for the Allied war Graves Commission; many now lie in a cemetery in front of Manchanaburi Station. For most, this gruesome work would be penance enough for sins committed under orders during wartime, but Nagase was only beginning his long journey to redemption.

“The work of searching for bodies changed my whole life,” he says. He began to write and lecture in Japan about the horrors he had seen, harshly criticizing, at some personal risk, the Japanese military, and the Emperor system that survived the war. “It should be completely abolished,” he says today. “The Emperor should apologise for what was done in his name.”

He used much of his own money to build memorials across Thailand, including a Buddhist peace temple near the Tham Kham Bridge over the Kwoi Noi River – the bridge on the River Kwai -- and to fund education programs in the area. Remarkably, he has returned to Thailand 125 times, the last time in June this year, trips he says ‘calm his soul.’

In 1976, he organized the first of a series of reunions between ex-POWs and Japanese soldiers, a tense affair on the famous bridge which was overseen by Thai riot police, ‘just in case.’ Nagase was criticised by the Japanese press for holding the Thai national flag rather than the Rising Sun that had once fluttered over the camp. “Do they know how many Thai people were slaughtered under that flag”, he asks.

But he had to wait until March 1993 before a reunion on the banks of the Kwai with the tall, blue-eyed Scotsman he had helped interrogate. Although not yet ready to forgive, Lomax had been disarmed by an ‘extraordinarily beautiful’ letter from Nagase. He had gone to Thailand not knowing what to expect and ended up comforting a shaking, crying Nagase who simply kept saying: “I am so sorry, so very, very sorry.”

The formal forgiveness that Nagase craved came later. “I knew he had hated me for fifty years and I wanted to ask him if he forgave me, but I couldn’t find a way,” says Nagase today. So I said: ‘Can we be friends,’ and he said ‘yes.’” And the old soldier who will again travel to Berwick-upon-Tweed next month to see the man he now calls ‘my friend’ is again wracked by sobs.

When they meet, the men swap war stories and share their astonishment at the ‘utter futility’ of the project that scarred their lives so profoundly. Lomax wrote in his biography, The Railway Man: “The Pyramids, that other great engineering disaster, are at least a monument to our love of beauty, as well as to slave labour; the railway is a dead end in the jungle…The line has become literally pointless. It now runs for about 60 miles and then stops.”

Nagase has never got over his bitterness at the waste of lives and believes, controversially, that young Japanese today share responsibility for what happened. In July this year, he astonished a group of British high school students on an Imperial War Museum-sponsored trip in Japan by tearfully apologizing to them and demanding that a Japanese student to do the same. “This is not a problem of our generation,” said the bewildered Japanese, a reply that infuriates Nagase.

“It is not a generational issue,” he says. “The shame belongs to the whole Japanese race.” Needless to say, he is disgusted by attempts by some nationalist scholars and politicians in Japan to rewrite history. “The textbooks they have written contain the same things we were taught in school in the textbooks in the led up to the war. It is unforgivable.”

And he has no tolerance for Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, the war memorial that he and Lomax visited together when the Scotsman came to Japan. Lomax was astonished to see a monument in the shrine to the Kempeitai, saying “it is like seeing a memorial to the Gestapo in a German cathedral.” Inside they found an ‘immaculate’ C56 steam locomotive from the Thai-Burma railway, with no mention of those who died constructing it; Lomax calls it a ‘monument to barbarism.’

“Koizumi is a fool,” spits Nagase. “I don’t care who I say this to. And why are the newspapers now writing that the war was good. What do they think the Japanese Imperial Army was doing in East Asia for 15 years? Why don’t they listen to what other Asian people are saying? Sometimes this is an odd country.”

But although he says that some Japanese consider him a ‘traitor’, he also frequently criticizes the US. “What the Americans are doing in Iraq is not good,” he says. “In war people identify exclusively with their country. It makes people crazy. There has to be other ways of solving problems.”

At 87, Nagase knows his time is short and desperately wants the railway declared a UN World Heritage Site before he dies. In November, despite a dangerously weak heart, he will cycle with a group of Japanese peace campaigners along the remains of the railway as part of his campaign. He has cultivated good ties with Thai government officials and won the support of several embassies, but the UN designation is controversial.

There is little official support in Japan for a memorial to one of history’s most barbaric episodes, and some veterans are still reluctant to embrace their former captors in a joint campaign; others believe that the railway should be allowed to sink back into the jungle. A 1987 commercial plan to renovate the line was criticised by the former Allied countries and withdrawn.
British Foreign Office spokesman Dan Chugg said the British government had not been formally approached about the move, but said any response “would depend very much on the views of the veterans about the proposal. If it comes up we would talk to veterans groups and take it from there. Because it is not a site in the UK we are simply an interested observer.”

For his part, Lomax is unequivocal. “He has my complete support. This is very important to him.”

After 60 years of campaigning, to make up for less than two years service in the Thai prison camp, those who know Nagase say his relentless search for redemption is humbling, awe-inspiring. “He is so courageous,” says Tamura Keiko, who runs an organisation that helps locate former allied POWs in Japan. “The people who fought in the war forgot their humanity, so it is a long battle to get them to see each other as human beings again. That’s what he does. He is often asked why he continues, and he says it is so we won’t forget those who died.”

David McNeill is a Tokyo-based journalist who teaches at Sophia University. A regular contributor to the London Independent and a columnist for OhMy News, he is a Japan Focus Coordinator. This is a slightly revised version of an article that appeared at The Independent on June 20, 2005. Posted at Japan Focus on September 24, 2005.

11 Army Battalions Deployed to Construct Border Fence

Maungdaw, Dec 20 : At least eleven Burmese army battalions have been deployed along the Burmese border near Bangladesh to erect barbed-wire fences, said a source close to the army.

The source said that previously there were seven battalions deployed along the border from Maungdaw Township in Arakan to Paletwa in southern Chin State, a distance of 200 kilometers.

Another four battalions, three from Buthidaung Township and one from Rathidaung Township, have been sent to the border recently. The battalions from Buthidaung were identified as Light Infantry Battalions 535, 564, and 353, while the fourth battalion from Rathidaung Township is LIB 536.

The seven battalions already stationed along the border are Light Battalions 55 and 20, and Light Infantry Battalions 289, 344, 234, 538, and 263.

Burmese military authorities have also deployed many police and riot police at many outposts along the border to work with the army on the border fence construction.

The border situation between Bangladesh and Burma has been increasingly tense with the multiple army battalions being sent to reinforce troops along the border in Burma.

Bangladesh border forces are closely watching the situation after Burma began construction on the fence.
According to a Bangladesh source, one naval ship equipped with highly sophisticated equipment, including radar covering 15 nautical miles, has been deployed in the Bay of Bengal near Burmese waters.

Than Shwe’s Propaganda Machine Working Overtime

By Carlos(Buffalohair)Guevara

Desperate to counter the growing number of nations waking up to Than Shwe’s dark murderous secrets, Than Shwe’s minions of hate have begun producing fresh lies and fabrications. The *KNU/KNLA Peace Council just fired off a report making some of the most outlandish and completely silly claims to date. Of all things they urged Thailand to work with them in returning the Karen to their homeland since, “The war is over”. Nothing could be further than the truth as innocent villagers continue to flee for their lives or face extinction.

It should be noted the KNU/KNLA identified crimes against humanity of a wide variety that denoted their activities rather than throw blame on others. It is obvious they are desperate to defuse the findings Angelina Jolie will relay to the world since she actually visited the innocent victims of genocide. She will be a most credible witness to the crimes against humanity fore she had the attention of half a million survivors. Compound this event with the arrival of French Foreign Minister Rama Yada and you have a powerhouse of credibility that will surely sway international public opinion. Than Shwe’s secrets will soon be reveled like never before marking the beginning of the end of his murderous empire. One by one his allies will secretly ask for immunity if they testify against their former boss at the War Crimes Tribunal.

In a futile attempt to sound legitimate the KNU/KNLA lashed out at the evil media calling them liars, fabricators and masters of propaganda. This was humorous to say the least since they targeted the British Broadcasting Corporation, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the Irrawaddy along with others calling them terrorists. If anything these organizations were the bastion of truth. Like a pot calling the kettle black they exposed their true nature and magnified the true purpose of Than Shwe’s latest literary disaster The New Light of Myanmar better known as The New Lie of Myanmar. This is a propaganda machine filled with lies designed to promote confusion. They went on to accuse the KNU, student groups, exiles, refugees and anyone else who opposed the criminal regime of causing unrest and acts of terrorism. Personally I find it laughable since this verified my suspicions of who actually robbed the convoy of trucks on the Mandalay-Muse trade corridor. This was a carefully planned operation to offer news for the New Lie of Myanmar and cause conflicts between ethnic groups.

There is no question Than Shwe is in the process of getting religious groups and ethnic groups to fight among themselves. With this distraction Than Shwe can move his criminal agenda forward and erase the election results of 1990 with his corrupt 2010 election. With prisons emptied he now has room to make more secret arrests of anyone or group who opposes the elections. If you recall, last year he freed 2,000 prisoners only to arrest members of the opposition. The Constitutional Referendum was a classic example of strong arm politics at its best. He intimidated and murdered for votes.

Those who voted against the Referendum received no Cyclone relief though most of the aid was sold on the black market according to eye witnesses. And as we all know Naypyidaw, The Pagoda of Death and his cyber city was financed with aid money. It was also reported he has well over 3 billion dollars “in reserve” that did not manage to reach Nargis victims so far. And the KNU/KNLA had the gall to say pro democracy groups and news organizations were involved in terrorism. It is their mentor General Than Shwe who is guilty of all the atrocities they tried to blame on others. And it is Than Shwe and his murderous thugs who will soon meet their dark destiny. Maybe if Than Shwe’s fortune tellers told him the truth he would have reconciled and begun the process of healing Burma.

His plan to divide the country before the elections is doomed to failure since he has managed to cause conflicts on several of his borders. This was not part of the equation and will surely alter his plans. With unrest on all levels of his government he is running out of allies. Now his generals are looking over their shoulders because Than Shwe has grown paranoid. Quietly Than Shwe is shuffling his cabinet out of fear fore no one is safe in his inner circle, anymore. Soon he will be surrounded by enemies.

Your Devil’s Advocate

Drinking Water Crisis in Delta

Friday, March 20, 2009

LAPUTTA — Burma’s Irrawaddy delta region faces an extreme shortage of drinking water this summer because lakes and ponds used for drinking water were destroyed by salty sea water after Cyclone Nargis hit in May 2007.

Local residents worry about an outbreak of infectious diseases because many people are forced to drink unclean water.

Villagers say emergency assistance is urgently needed to solve the problem.

The Laputta region, one of the hardest-hit areas, has 50 village tracks composed of about 500 villages. Currently, United Nations agencies, Save the Children, Merlin, and other international aid groups work to distribute clean drinking water in the area.

A French INGO that distributes drinking water to 88 villages in Laputta Township uses 15 boats which can carry about 100 gallons of water each.

A staff member said governmental red tape is one of the factors that hamper distribution.

“There are many obstacles,” he said, requesting anonymity. “For example, before we can distribute water to a village, we need to get permission from the Township Peace and Development Council, a military command unit and other local government agencies. We must submit every step of our activities to them.”

“In fact, we can solve the local villagers’ problem if only the government authorities and the aid organizations could work together better,” he said.

Many outlying villages, at the far reaches of the aid groups, have an even harder time getting safe drinking water.

“Our village track has 24 villages,” one villager told The Irrawaddy. “All the villages are now facing a shortage of drinking water.”

The drinking water distribution network conducted by international aid agencies in Laputta doesn’t meet the needs of the outlying population, according to a villager in Michaung Ai village.

“At the end of February, the aid agencies set up a fiber tank and started to provide drinking water in Michaung I village, where more than a 100 people are living in 48 households,” he said. “At the beginning, they carried drinking water with a boat and filled the tank every three days. Each villager got three liters of water. But now they haven’t come to fill the tank for 20 days.”

“Our lake was destroyed by salty water, and it now has such a low water level that we can see the ground because the people use it more and more as a water resource,” he said.

He said it’s difficult for many villagers to get to Laputta, and even then, some people can’t afford to buy drinking water

The situation at inland villages is worse because they are farther from rivers and streams, said a villager in Htin Su village in the Alagyaw village track. “They are also out of reach of the drinking water distribution by aid groups.”

Even villagers who live close to Laputta Township have difficulty obtaining clean water. When villagers go to Laputta to buy water, they pay 1,200 kyat (US $ 1.20) per barrel.

“To buy water from the town, we need to have access to a boat, fuel and money to buy water,” said one villager.

People have asked Laputta Township authorities to find a solution, according to a member of the village Red Cross in Michaung Ai village, but officials have not yet come up with a plan.

“We even participated in paramilitary training with the hope that the authorities will help solve our problem,” he said. “But nothing happened.”

We Need Food

Plea for help: A refugee from Burma of the Chin ethnic group protests outside the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on March 18, 2009.

Although granted refugee status, the Chin are seeking a subsistence allowance, healthcare and education for their children while they await resettlement. (Photo/William Gomes)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Burma: Capitalizing on the gains

Policy recommendations

- The United States should join other donor nations in making a significant appropriation for humanitarian aid in Burma. It should allocate $30 million for FY10, with plans to increase its contribution to $45 million in FY11 and $60 million in FY12.
- The United Nations should stengthen its support for the Burma Country team by hiring a Senior Humanitarian Advisor to work with the RC/HC and ensure that teams in Bangkok and New York are providing adequate guidance and support.
- ASEAN should look to apply the Tri-Partite Core Group model for use in the discussion of other issues of concern with Burma, such as the Rohingya.
In the past year, humanitarian assistance to Burma has been primarily focused on victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Irrawaddy delta on May 2, 2008. Though the initial delivery of assistance was hampered by government obstruction, the aid programs that have since developed in the delta have benefited from an ease of operations unseen in other parts of the country. Relief work in the delta is progressing smoothly, but attempts to expand access to the rest of the country are struggling. Nonetheless, to capitalize on the existing gains, the U.S. should provide significant funding for programs throughout the country.
Operations Inside the Delta
Since June 2008, international aid organizations have expanded their operations to an unprecedented level inside Burma in order to respond to emergency needs created by the cyclone. Because of the small number of agencies working in the country prior to the storm, many that did not have emergency experience have modified their operations to provide relief. These changes, combined with the self-reliance of delta residents, have been largely successful in meeting the immediate needs of cyclone victims.
Agricultural production has revived, temporary housing has met the shelter needs of most residents, and income generation programs are beginning to address the economic needs of cyclone victims. In addition, the number of international NGOs in the country has doubled from 40 to almost 80, greatly increasing the capacity to support longer-term stabilization activities. Similarly, there has been a tremendous growth in the formation of local NGOs providing humanitarian assistance in the delta region.
Despite the impressive results of this first phase of recovery activities, NGOs and delta residents still identify three priorities for the near future. First, the availability of clean water continues to be a challenge. Because many reservoirs were salinated due to the storm surge, they were not able to collect sufficient rainwater during the last rainy season. As a result, many organizations are considering trucking water into communities to ensure adequate supply. Agencies are working furiously to ensure that as many reservoirs as possible are cleaned before the upcoming rainy season begins in May. Second, many families are now living in temporary shelters that are only expected to be habitable through this year's rainy season. Again, agencies are rushing to complete as much permanent housing as possible before the rainy season halts construction. Finally, restoring productive livelihoods to delta residents is the key to the sustainability of recovery operations.
One of the largest challenges to livelihood work in the delta is the impact of the global financial crisis on local markets. Since recovery work began, the markets for rice, pulses, and fishery products have dropped 30% - 40%, making it more difficult for delta residents to earn the income needed to re-establish their lives. Access to credit has shrunk, especially as farmers and fishermen who took loans for last season's crops in anticipation of pre-slump prices cannot repay those loans based on current prices for their products. With savings – whether in cash, livestock, or goods – wiped out during the cyclone, many delta families cannot access credit for the upcoming year. Continued livelihoods assistance from the international community will be needed to ensure that delta residents can fully recover from the effects of Cyclone Nargis.
Funding for international operations in the delta is further complicating the ability of organizations to adequately respond to needs in the region. Much of the funding for the emergency phase of delta relief is winding up as the one-year anniversary of the storm approaches. Many agencies are now in a process of consolidating their work to the townships and villages in most need and shutting down offices in less affected areas as a response to the constrained funding environment. While many agencies are looking to the newly established Livelihoods and Food Security (LIFT) Trust Fund – a pooled fund being established by the European Community, Britain, and Australia – to continue funding livelihood programs in the delta, these funds may not begin to flow until June or July, leaving a gap in funding. Donors should examine the need for bridge funding to ensure that agencies are not left without funding between the time their emergency relief grants run out and the LIFT funds are available.
Finally, many delta residents and implementing agencies at the field level report a concern over the psychological impacts of Cyclone Nargis on delta residents as the rainy season approaches. While long-term plans for work in the delta incorporate disaster risk reduction into their work – such as building storm-resistant shelters, elevating roads, and reinforcing bridges – much of this work has yet to be completed. As a result, there is a fear that without adequate communications in the delta to inform people about impending storms the approach of even a small storm with strong winds could send delta residents fleeing to the few regional towns in search of safety. Refugees International could not identify any contingency plans for temporary shelter, feeding, and schooling in the event of this type of migration. Similarly, plans to prepare the government for such a possibility or to manage orderly returns to villages do not seem to be in place. Operational agencies and the UN should prepare contingency plans immediately for the possibility of substantial migrations this rainy season and in the future until risk reduction programs are completed.
Access Needed Outside the Delta
Though Cyclone Nargis forced many international NGOs to temporarily relocate staff and resources from other parts of Burma to the delta in order to mount an effective disaster response, most agencies have quickly refocused on serving needs throughout the country. In addition to returning to other areas with crises brewing, new NGOs are looking strategically at how to expand their presence outside the delta, a potential gain from the access granted to them in cyclone areas.
Northern Rakhine State, home of the Rohingya Muslim minority (see Rohingya: Burma's Forgotten Minority [1], December 18, 2008), continues to be the area of greatest concern. Deteriorating living standards, news of increased forced relocations, continued restrictions on all aspects of normal life, and the expulsion of Rohingya refugees from asylum countries in the region have focused the attention of the international aid community there.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has recently announced that $3 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund will be made available for operations in Northern Rakhine State, and the UN Country Team is also coordinating a donor mission to the region, planned for this spring. Despite the growing attention, there is a need for strong, consistent engagement with the Government of Burma on increasing access to this region and relaxing government restrictions on the Rohingya population. Given the recent attention to Rohingya boat people throughout Southeast Asia, ASEAN should look at ways to facilitate this conversation, possibly using the success of the Tripartite Core Group as a model.
In addition to the needs in Northern Rakhine State, NGO actors cite a number of other areas in need of immediate attention. An ongoing food crisis due to bamboo die-offs in Chin State, particularly in the southern part, continues to require an expanded international response. Similarly, drought in the country's central dry zone – running through Magwe, Mandalay, and Bago Divisions – requires additional resources. In the southeast, areas with high levels of internal displacement due to conflict continue to be off-limits to agencies based in the country. Other areas of increased attention include the Wa and Kokant regions of Shan State, where agencies are attempting to increase resources for alternative agriculture projects for former opium poppy farmers. These initiatives, along with innovative projects in other regions, should be supported by the international community.
While funding for delta operations could face challenges in the upcoming months, humanitarian work throughout the rest of Burma is seeing a growth in funding sources. Britain, the European Commission, and Australia lead the donor community in Burma, and all continue to increase their budgets significantly. Additionally, newer donors such as Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are helping to support operations throughout the country. The establishment of the LIFT fund is an additional boost to funding for countrywide projects, and is currently drawing the attention of additional non-traditional donors. Plans to set up a new Education Trust Fund will further expand the pool of resources available for humanitarian work throughout the country.
The one glaring exception to the growing consensus on the need for increases in humanitarian aid to Burma, especially given its prominent role in funding cyclone relief operations, is the United States. Though a $15 million contribution is currently in process for 2009 delta operations, U.S. funding for countrywide programs is still an insignificant part of international funding.
Despite the renewed focus and increased funding for countrywide operations, international NGOs are keenly aware that the upcoming year could pose potential complications given proposed national elections in March 2010. Agencies have not reported any restrictions on their work in anticipation of the elections, but all indicated that this could change. Special attention was placed on areas where ceasefire groups or ethnic minority groups may boycott elections, such as Mon State and the Wa region of Shan State. However, agencies indicated that operating constraints in these areas could be expected not only from the government, but from ethnic-based boycott groups looking to exert greater control over their territory. Donor governments and the UN need to ensure that planning is developed to maintain clear boundaries that minimize the impact of political concerns on humanitarian operations.
The UN should take the primary lead in resisting government restrictions on aid agencies' operations in the run up to the 2010 elections. Indeed, it is already playing an important role in drawing attention to humanitarian needs outside the delta and discussing the expansion of aid activities nationwide with the government. The UN Country Team is increasingly composed of new leaders, however, and collectively they are still learning how to operate effectively within the complex political dynamics of Burma.
It is surprising, therefore, that senior UN officials in New York have backed away from plans to maintain high-level in-country support for strategic guidance and back-up on humanitarian matters. As a result, the UN as a whole has weakened its ability to face the challenges of the upcoming year. The Secretary-General and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs should revive plans to provide a Senior Humanitarian Advisor to the Yangon-based Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, and they should re-evaluate staffing at the Bangkok and New York levels to ensure that the Burma Country Team receives robust support.
Recognizing ASEAN's Leadership Role
Adhering to the principles of democracy, the rule of law and good governance, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms…and to place the well-being, livelihood and welfare of the peoples at the centre of the ASEAN community building process.
- Preamble to the charter of the Association of South East Asian Nations
In the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, ASEAN was thrust into a new leadership role, serving as a broker between the Burmese government and the international community. Its response has exceeded expectations, and the subsequent development and implementation of the Tri-Partite Core Group (TCG), the mechanism established to work on logistics and develop policies governing the humanitarian response program in the Irrawaddy delta, have been an unquestionable success. The TCG continues to play a vital role in ensuring access to cyclone affected areas, obtaining visas for international staff, and resolving disputes or obstacles that emerge. This model should be replicated as a way towards resolving other challenges inside Burma.
The original mandate of the TCG was for one year, and was set to expire in May 2009. In a positive sign, it was recently renewed for an additional year at the February 2009 ASEAN summit in Thailand. The extension of the TCG for the delta will allow ASEAN to maintain high-level contact with the Burmese government, and provide it with the opportunity to deepen its capacity for international diplomacy through the Secretariat.
Though the renewal of the TCG is a positive development, the inability of the international community to leverage access outside of the delta is a setback. ASEAN should evaluate how best to propose such an extension to the Burmese government during a year that will be fraught with political sensitivities. In the meantime, it should evaluate its experience with the TCG to determine the best form for a proposed expansion. More broadly, the international community should recognize the unique role that Burma's neighbors have in negotiating greater humanitarian access, and should support ASEAN's increasing efforts to convince the Burmese government to allow desperately needed humanitarian activities to take place throughout the country.
ASEAN's new charter includes a multitude of human rights provisions and responsibilities. With its inclusion of Burma, ASEAN will be challenged to find creative ways to ensure that Burma lives up to its commitments under the charter. This should happen through the internal dialogue mechanisms of the regional alliance, as well as through bilateral engagement on the part of Burma's neighbors and regional partners. Indonesia, as the largest country in the region, as well as Thailand and Malaysia, as Burma's immediate neighbors, have a responsibility to engage with the Burmese government to encourage greater adherence to the ASEAN charter.
While ASEAN is learning to adapt to the new mandates in its charter, it has been thrust into the spotlight recently with the coverage of the Rohingya boat crisis. This scandal has demonstrated that humanitarian emergencies inside Burma are fundamentally regional issues. ASEAN members can no longer disregard the internal affairs of Burma, as they have severe and identifiable ramifications for all ASEAN countries, specifically in terms of arrival of refugees.
ASEAN must look to develop and implement a comprehensive regional response to the Rohingya crisis. This response must look simultaneously at conditions inside Northern Rakhine State, as well as protection and assistance conditions in host countries, so that the policies implemented are in accordance with international humanitarian law and do not result in undesirable pull factors. Much like the formation of the TCG, the management of the Rohingya issue will set a precedent for how the Association plans to engage its most difficult member.
Moving Forward
The past year has demonstrated the ability of the humanitarian community to work effectively in the constrained Burmese operating environment. They have responded effectively to the Cyclone Nargis disaster, retooled their programs to meet the most pressing needs, successfully trained thousands of new Burmese staff in humanitarian operations, and negotiated with the Burmese government for increased opportunities to operate freely. These accomplishments have been supported by a renewed commitment to fund these activities by the international community.
International NGOs are now poised to begin the difficult work of translating their experience in the delta into improved operations throughout the country. Despite the challenges of upcoming elections, these agencies have shown that they are up to the task, and donor nations have demonstrated their commitment to supporting that vision.
Burma is still a country in a state of slow-motion collapse. The global financial crisis has only served to underline the dysfunction of the country's economic system, and the laundry list of impending regional crises highlights the vulnerability of the Burmese people. Though Burma continues to present serious challenges to the independence and integrity of humanitarian agencies, the need is clearer than ever, and the ability to operate accountably and transparently has been adequately demonstrated. If donor governments, ASEAN, and international agencies can present a united front on the imperative of meeting humanitarian need, they may allow actors inside the country to capitalize on the gains of the past year.
Congressional Advocate Jake Kurtzer assessed the humanitarian situation inside Burma in February 2009.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Raging Mizoram fire leads to pollution

Aizawl , Mar 18 : Massive smoke caused by forest fires has led to pollution and increase in the average temperature in Mizoram, the state Pollution Control Board said today.

The quantity of nitrogen dioxide in the air stood at 19.5 ppm on March 12, but it remained negligible on a normal day, when measured by the high volume sampler, the board secretary, C Lalduhawma told PTI.

He feared that even the amount of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide might have increased.

"The readings of 19.5 ppm nitrogen dioxide would be normal for the metropolitan cities in the country, but it is very high for Mizoram, which is regarded as pollution free,"he said, adding it could trigger a plethora of health hazards in the state especially respiratory problems.

He added that the temperature in the capital city Aizawl has gone up by 1.22 degree Celsius when compared with the average temperature of the last ten years.

Meanwhile, all flights to and fro the state&aposs lone Lengpui Airport remained cancelled due to low visibility caused by smoke, airlines officials said.

Forest inferno caused by burning of jhum cultivation often spreads out to other areas and so far, taken away four lives besides causing loss to flaura and fauna for the past two months.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Indonesia, Myanmar in talks on Rohingya boat people’s fate

Jakarta, March 17 :  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Monday met Myanmar’s Prime Minister General Thein Sein for talks on various issues, including the issue of the so-called Rohingya boat people, officials said.
Thein Sein was quoted as saying that his country was prepared to receive the Rohingya boat people on condition that they can prove they were Myanmarese, because some of them came from Bangladesh.
Indonesia’s Yudhoyono stressed that the issue of the Rohingya boat people should be tackled together with the involvement of the international organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Hundreds of people from a Muslim minority in Myanmar were found adrift in dilapidated boats with little food and water off the coast of an Indonesian island earlier this year.
“There were several people from Myanmar. Until this stage just one person was able to prove to have links to the identity or the inhabitants from Myanmar,” Indonesian presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said, adding that the identification process was continuing with the involvement of the UNHCR and IOM.
“The UNHCR will go to Myanmar in the near future as part of the identification process,” the spokesman said.
Some of the boat people, who claimed persecution in Myanmar, were rescued by the Indonesian Navy off the coast of Aceh, where they told officials they were rounded up and beaten by Thai military personnel.
The plight of the boat people and efforts to assist, are to be presented before the Bali Process in April, involving the origin nation, the transit nation and the destination country, Djalal said.
The Bali Process, created in 2002, brings participants together to work on practical measures to help combat people smuggling, human trafficking and related transnational crimes in the region.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group from northern Arakan State in Myanmar, have been denied citizenship by Myanmar’s ruling junta who claim they are migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has also denied the Rohingya citizenship, leaving the minority group stateless, homeless and without work. Thousands of Rohingya are working illegally in Thailand and as migrant labourers in Malaysia.
During the meeting, the Myanmar leader also explain on latest development of the so-called road map to democracy in Myanmar, which he claims to have entered the final stage with elections scheduled in 2010, Djalal said.
The Indonesian president stressed that “it is time for Myanmar to prove to ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and the world that road map to democracy could proceed,” Djalal said, adding that the most important is that the process of credible, transparent, fair and inclusive.
Yudhoyono also stressed on the need for the Myanmar regime to release the political detainees, Djalal said, without mentioning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Burmese military regime has shut down at least 50 Chin orphanages in Rangoon

the former capital of Burma leading to problems for children.

New Delhi, Mar 14 : According to a report said the regime closed down about 50 Chin orphanages on March 6, 2009 as their licenses expired. The regime has seized all the buildings

“We had registered for a period of five years. I don’t know others’ cases. Actually, we had registered in 2003 and its validity is up to 2008. Now we have to register for 2009 to 2013, but just before doing so the authorities stopped renewing the license,” said a local Chin from Rangoon.

It means 50 out of 100 Chin orphanage schools in Rangoon city have now been shut down by the government. Similarly, 13 out of 16 schools in Hleku townships also closed including Victoria Childcare Centre (VCC) which looks after 54 orphanages.

Kanpalet Township, Southern Chin state, which looks after 99% of the children in VCC has sent them back to their relatives as per the rule of government that allows a person can adopt not more than five children in his life time.

“The children’s future will be totally dependant on the adopters. Some will be adopted well and some might be adopted as house keepers or servants. It’s very hard to figure out their fortune,” said a victim at one of orphanage schools.

At the same time, some schools are searching for people to adopt the children. It is difficult to know where other schools are located and who are taking responsibility regarding this matter as the government has restricted them and they are afraid to used telephone for their security.

“Once we had used telephone for conversation about our work, the authorities immediately arrived and they inquired about it. We don’t want to use the phone anymore after facing this thrice as we’ve afraid,” he added.

He continued that the care takers at the orphanage schools have been given an appointment on 17 March. It needs to be watched how it will turn out, but the schools cannot be opened again.

Chin orphanage schools started to open in 2003 in Yangon city and there are about 140 of Chin orphanage schools in Burma. Khonumthung News

Chhattisgarh IPS officers upset over police chief’s transfer

Raipur, March 14 Chhattisgarh’s police officers are upset over the Election Commission’s decision to remove state police chief Vishwaranjan, saying it would negatively impact on the force.
Days after the poll panel removed Vishwaranjan, a delegation of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers met Chief Minister Raman Singh Saturday to express their unhappiness over the decision. Vishwaranjan had been involved in a row with the poll body during the assembly elections in November 2008. 
The delegation led by IPS Officers’ Association state president Ram Niwas, who is the additional director general of police, called on Singh and handed over a memorandum saying: “The EC’s decision will have a negative impact on morale of the police force fighting Maoists in the state.”

The delegation, which included several top-ranking IPS officials of the state, urged the chief minister to ask the EC to “reconsider its decision”.

Chhattisgarh’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government Tuesday received a letter from the Commission demanding Vishwaranjan’s removal from the post ahead of the April 16 Lok Sabha poll in the state and sought a list of names of senior police officers who could succeed him.

The government Thursday recommended the names of A.K. Nawani and S.K. Paswan for the post although the chief minister termed the Commission’s decision as “one-sided and unfortunate”.

The Commission Friday cleared name of Nawani as the new police chief.

Vishwaranjan, a former additional director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) who took charge as police chief of the state in July 2007, had applied to the government for three months leave March-May in anticipation of the Commission’s action.

The state government, which had initially rejected the application saying it would affect the morale of the police fighting Maoist insurgents, approved it Friday.

The New Christian Colony of the Santhals

In the pages of the 4 December 1881 edition of the New York Times, buried in the Churches and Ministers column, you will find a brief twelve line notice. This notice states that a colony of Christian Santhals had been established in the Goalpara district of Assam by the missionaries Skrefssud [sic] and Boerresen. This colony and the people of it have an interesting and colourful history, and the only reason that I know anything about it at all is because I came across this map in the Bartholomew Archive Printing Record.

To be honest, at first glance it does look like a fairly unremarkable piece of printing. 650 copies were made on the 12 November 1881. But like so much of what I see, the actual map itself is somewhat less important than what it conveys.
The appeal of this map to me was the door to Empire, colonisation and mission which it opened. I for one am horrified by this aspect of British and indeed European history. I feel a compulsion to pursue the stories of the people affected, like the Santhals, as a way to achieve awareness and also to ensure this part of history continues to be remembered.

The colony was located in northern Assam, a province of India which had been created by the British government in 1874. It would roughly correspond with Dhubri and Kokrajhar districts today. However, this was for once, not a British endeavour but rather the effort of two Scandinavian missionaries, H. P. Boerresen (1825-1901) from Denmark and Lars Olsen Skrefsrud (1840-1910) from Norway. Known colloquially as Santhalistan, the aim of the mission was to educate and of course to instruct the 'heathen' population in the ways of Christianity. By the 1950's Latourette's "History of the Expansion of Christianity" paints a picture somewhat mellowed by time. He describes benevolent men sensitive to the Santhal culture whose work was both patient and gentle. Possibly this is how the missionaries also imagined themselves. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that prior to the mission the Santhals possessed a vivid culture that was actually doing rather alright.
A telling quote from the introduction to "Light in the Darkness" by K. B. Birkeland (1900) possibly paints a more realistic picture:
"Educators will read with great eagerness a chapter on two schools operated at a mission in the heart of Santhalistan. Every Christian will be thankful for the flood of light thrown upon the actual life of the heathen of India."
There is a wealth of information regarding the Santhal culture and links to many of the books mentioned, all of which are available online. Some of the best sources for information which I have found have been We Santhals and the Internet Archive which has digitised versions of many of the books mentioned. I encourage you to learn more about the Santhals as I confess, this is a very brief look indeed.
If I may leave you with another quote though, this time from "Sketches from Santhalistan" by M. A. Pederson (2nd ed. 1913):
"This is a land where the people for ages and ages have been bound by the superstitions of idolatry, and have been taught to look with suspicion on everything foreign. Indeed they think they can get along very well without both the missionary and his preaching."