Saturday, September 26, 2009

Myanmar's Chin people persecuted



Thailand (AP) — The Chin people, Christians living in the remote mountains of northwestern Myanmar, are subject to forced labor, torture, extrajudicial killings and religious persecution by the country's military regime, a human rights group said Wednesday.

The New York-based Human Right Watch said as many as 100,000 people have fled the Chin homeland into neighboring India, where they face abuse and the risk of being forced back into Myanmar."The Chin are unsafe in Burma and unprotected in India," a report from the group said. The report said the regime in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to commit atrocities against its other ethnic minorities.Myanmar's ruling junta has been widely accused of widespread human rights violations in ethnic minority areas where anti-government insurgent groups are fighting for autonomy.

The government has repeatedly denied such charges. An e-mailed request for comment on the new report was not immediately answered.

Photo- CHRO
Chief Secretary Vanhela Pachau, a top official for India's Mizoram state, said he had not seen the report and could not comment."(The police) hit me in my mouth and broke my front teeth. They split my head open and I was bleeding badly. They also shocked me with electricity," the group quoted a Chin man accused of supporting the insurgents, who are small in number and largely ineffective.He was one of some 140 Chin people interviewed by the human rights group from 2005 to 2008. The group said the names of those interviewed were withheld to prevent reprisals.

A number of people spoke of being forced out of their villages to serve as unpaid porters for the army or to build roads, sentry posts and army barracks.Amy Alexander, a consultant for Human Rights Watch, told a news conference that insurgents of the Chin National Front also committed abuses such as extorting money from villagers to fund their operations.Alexander said Myanmar's government, attempting to suppress minority cultures, was destroying churches, desecrating crosses, interfering with worship services by forcing Christians to work on Sundays and promoting Buddhism through threats and inducements. Some 90 percent of the Chin are Christians, most of them adherents to the American Baptist Church.Ethnic insurgencies erupted in Myanmar in the late 1940s when the country gained independence from Great Britain.

Former junta member Gen. Khin Nyunt negotiated cease-fires with 17 of the insurgent groups before he was ousted by rival generals in 2004.Among rebels still fighting are groups from the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Chin minorities.At least half a million minority people have been internally displaced in eastern Myanmar as a result of the regime's brutal military campaigns while refugees continue to flee to the Thai-Myanmar border. More than 145,000 refugees receive international humanitarian assistance in Thai border camps.Alexander said that some 30,000 Chin have also sought refuge in Malaysia while about 500 were living in Thai border camps.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rat infestation compounds Chin food crisis

Sept 24, 2009 (DVB)–A mass infestation of rats in western Burma is likely to compound a food shortage in a state that has lost thousands of acres of crops over the past two years, according to local aid workers.

An aid worker in Chin state, which borders India, said that local farmers had reported the ongoing destruction of rice and millet crops by rats.

The infestation was sparked in 2007 by the mass flowering of bamboo, which rats then feed on. The flowering on this scale occurs only once every 50 years.

“We are predicting the same situation [food shortage] as last year and it won’t get better until June next year,” the aid worker said.

“The government is not providing aid but they are not stopping our projects. We are allowed to work here freely,” he said.

According to the Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), the fallout from the last mass bamboo flowering in Burma reportedly caused the deaths of 10,000 to 15,000 in India’s neighbouring Mizoram state.

A report released by the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) said that approximately 1700 acres of rice paddy and 1000 acres of millet have been destroyed by rats since 2007. Around 23,000 tons of food aid is needed for the 470,000-strong population of Chin state.

The CHRO said that the crisis has affected seven towns in the region, and 54 have so far died from famine-related illnesses, with children comprising the majority of deaths.

A WFP official in Burma, Swe Swe Win, said that the organization would be running a ‘food for work’ programme in the region, but that “no other component activity will be conducted”.

The WFP had said that the food crisis in Chin state was “worse than any other region visited by the Mission [in Burma]”.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Letter to Japan Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada on the Burma policy review

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada
Kasumigaseki 2-2-1
Tokyo 100-8919

Re: Burma Policy Review

Dear Foreign Minister Okada:

We write to you on the occasion of your inauguration as Foreign Minister of Japan to discuss the human rights situation in Burma.

Human rights violations remain rampant all over the world, including in Asia. Across the region, civilians are killed in wars, millions of people are forced to flee violence and persecution as refugees, and many are unlawfully jailed for expressing views critical of their governments. While the past Japanese government made commitments to promote human rights and the rule of law, it was reticent in translating these commitments into concrete and visible actions. Now is the time for Japan to revise its foreign policy and make promotion of human rights a central pillar. Burma is a very good place to start.

As repression continues ahead of the elections planned for 2010, we believe the new Japanese government should urgently undertake a thorough policy review on Burma. As intractable as the situation in Burma may seem, Japan does have a role to play in improving the human rights and political situation there.

As you know, Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in the world. There are strict limits on basic freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The intelligence and security services are omnipresent. Censorship is draconian. More than 2,200 political prisoners suffer in Burma's squalid prisons. These prisoners include many members of the political opposition, courageous protestors who peacefully took to the streets in August and September 2007, and individuals who criticized the government for its poor response to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008. All have been sentenced after sham trials, summary hearings that often take place in the prisons themselves. The recent conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculous charges reminded the world of the despotic nature of the military government that has been in power since 1962.

At the same time, military abuses connected to armed conflicts in ethnic minority areas continue. Human Rights Watch has for many years documented the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers, the use of forced labor, and summary killings, rape, and other abuses against minority populations, including the Rohingya, Chin, Shan, and Karen. Recent attacks against Shan and Karen communities have once again led to large-scale displacement of ethnic communities and needless death and hardship. Fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic militias has also driven thousands of refugees from northern Shan state into China.

In addition to rampant violations of civil and political rights, corruption and mismanagement have meant that under military rule Burma has become one of the poorest countries in Asia. The government seems to care little for the basic welfare of its people; to give but one example, while the Burmese government received an estimated US$150 million per month in gas export revenue in 2008, its last announced annual budget to address its AIDS crisis in 2007 was a mere $172,000. While most Burmese struggle to subsist, the country's leaders have the comfort of "5 star" lives of luxury generated through corruption from the plunder of the country's natural resources.

There is no mystery in the military's long-term intentions, as the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), has been totally open about its plans to stage-manage an electoral process that will ensure continued military rule with a civilian face. Burma's generals have learned from their resounding defeat by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy in 1990 and periodic protest movements that it cannot risk staging a credible election (indeed, last year the government announced a 98 percent turnout and a 92 percent vote in favor of a new constitution, just months after the 2007 street protests that rocked the country). They doubtlessly hope that this will mollify countries that have imposed sanctions and oppose military rule and end the pressure to make progress on political reform and national reconciliation, and encourage large-scale international aid flows.

Based on the experience of the 2008 referendum, the harsh prison sentences handed down to activists, the lack of serious dialogue with the political opposition and Burma's many ethnic groups, the stonewalling of United Nations and ASEAN efforts to discuss political and human rights issues, the lack of any reform measures, and the trial and conviction of Aung San Suu Kyi on ridiculous charges, it is clear that there will be no meaningful change in the political direction of the country before or after the 2010 elections unless concerned governments and international bodies take steps to change the SPDC's calculations.

We recognize the scale of this challenge. The military government has close relations with its neighbors China, India, and Thailand, and has large revenue streams from these countries from the sale of gas, timber, gems, and other natural resources. China, Russia, and even South Africa have protected the government from action at the United Nations Security Council. Japan, thankfully, changed its policy in this respect in 2006, yet still has fallen far short of being a strong public critic of Burma. In short, while much of the world sees Burma's rulers as isolated, ruthless, and despised, from the SPDC's perspective it has influential friends in the region that provide massive resources through the purchase of energy and other commodities, and shield Burma from concerted action at the UN, ASEAN, and other international fora on subjects like effective arms embargoes or targeted sanctions.

According to Keiichi Ono, Director of the First Southeast Asia Division of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan's current policy towards Burma is predicated on "retaining dialogue, providing limited economic assistance, [and] cooperating with the UN and international community." This approach misses an important tool for change: using Japan's international and regional standing and status as one of the world's largest donors to put public pressure on the SPDC.

For years, Japan has been reluctant to exert pressure on the SPDC and its senior leadership. Now is the time to consider a different and stronger approach. With the right calibration and a more unified approach with other states, pressure on Burma can work.

We suggest that Japan's policy review should, therefore, aim at making more effective all three prongs of Japanese policy - diplomacy, sanctions and aid - and not placing one ahead of the others.


On diplomacy, Human Rights Watch supports Japanese government efforts to speak to the Burmese government at the highest levels. But there should be no wishful thinking or illusions that more conciliatory talk from Japan and others will somehow cause Burma's senior leadership to alter its plans. The Burmese military is committed to remaining in complete control, whether through managed elections or the current system and has exploited engagement by the Japanese government and others by making close contact and relations the primary goal of Japanese policy. The Japanese government should make it clear that as a rights-respecting democracy Japan stands by its principles and the protection of the rights of Burmese and a genuine and credible political reform process needs to be the primary goal of any talks with the Burmese leadership.

Second, Japan should keep in mind that the Burmese officials who normally speak to foreigners - whether the foreign minister or the functionaries involved in the post-Nargis reconstruction - have no real authority in the government and are probably as fearful of Than Shwe and other senior leaders as anyone else. Many foreign diplomats and others who have invested a great deal of time and energy in pursuing relations with the second tier of leadership have told us that it was time largely wasted. Those who do have the authority - Senior General Than Shwe, Vice-Senior General Maung Aye, Lt. General Thura Shwe Mann, Prime Minister Thein Sein, and key regional commanders - usually do not engage with outsiders. Talking to the deputy health minister and mid-level civil servants can be useful in facilitating humanitarian relief and resolving discrete practical problems on the ground. But it is not a way of addressing the fundamental issues in the country or causes of friction between Burma and Japan - including the recent meeting of Htay Oo, minister for agriculture and irrigation and secretary-general of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, with your predecessor Hirofumi Nakasone.

On key political matters, the engagement that has taken place thus far has not been very meaningful and in some cases has even been counterproductive. During the crackdown following the 2007 demonstrations, for instance, diplomatic action merely allowed the SPDC to buy time and pretend that it was engaged in serious discussions. For example, the efforts of the UN secretary-general's special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, have failed to achieve anything of substance. The situation has devolved to the point that at times getting a visa or a short meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi was treated as a success, with the unintended but predictable consequence of being used by the SPDC for its own propaganda. Ban Ki-Moon's most recent visit also failed to achieve anything of substance; he was not even allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi and was given empty promises to release political prisoners.

Human Rights Watch recommends that Japan appoint its own special envoy. That envoy should have a direct line to the foreign minister and specific instructions to engage in a principled way with the SPDC and other key bilateral and multilateral actors. Vigorous and principled diplomacy is needed with China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and other influential actors, to ensure that new revenue streams are not made available to the government.

We also encourage you to consider the establishment of a Burma Contact Group or some form of multilateral grouping, in close contact with the US, to meet and regularly discuss diplomatic engagement with the Burmese government on a range of issues. This could have the effect of converging the views and policies of China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and others, and gradually minimize the ability of the SPDC to play states off against each other. There is considerable common ground on a range of issues, including the need for political reform and credible elections involving the political opposition, concern over Burma's trafficking in heroin and methamphetamines, and the need for a regional approach to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Another topic could be the growing defense links between Burma and North Korea, as evidenced by the recent publication of photos showing North Korean assistance building tunnel complexes in Burma. Such a Contact Grouping would, of course, have to be predicated on Japan sticking to human rights principles and not engaging in diplomatic horse-trading on core issues of reform.

As the United Nations has long been the focal point for diplomacy on Burma, we urge Japan to keep supporting the continuation of a special envoy of the secretary-general. It is crucial that the secretary-general and the special envoy not get sucked into the game of access or high-level meetings being the goal or a sign of progress. The envoy must be an individual with the principles, skills, and backing of the international community to make an impact.


There is now a strong and even emotional debate on sanctions against Burma. Some argue that sanctions have not had any discernible impact on the military government and should be lifted. Others argue that for political and technical reasons they have never been properly implemented and, therefore, more pressure should be applied by imposing sanctions on additional companies and individuals, and also by encouraging countries and institutions that have not imposed sanctions to do so.

Part of the problem is that this debate tends to treat all sanctions as the same, when in fact they should be differentiated. In our work in various countries around the globe, we have found that properly imposed targeted sanctions can be effective in bringing about improvements in human rights. Targeted sanctions include arms embargoes and restrictions on military assistance, travel bans on individuals, financial sanctions on individuals and entities, and investment and trade sanctions that are specifically focused on companies or economic sectors of greatest concern.

Perhaps the most effective of these are financial sanctions. As with countries like the US, EU, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada, which already have financial sanctions in place, we urge Japan to impose financial sanctions as part of a coordinated approach to put maximum pressure on Burma's leaders. Human Rights Watch supports sanctions, including financial sanctions, targeted at leading officials, both military and civilian, who bear responsibility for abuses. Targeted sanctions don't impose hardship on ordinary people, but do provide leverage if effectively implemented. Going after financial transactions by key individuals in the SPDC and others with close ties to the oil and gas authority and other key revenue-generating entities in Burma will require the dedication of intelligence resources and continual monitoring and adjustment by Japan, as it does by the US and other governments which have imposed financial sanctions. These individuals are at the apex of the system inside Burma and susceptible to this kind of coordinated pressure.

Human Rights Watch also believes Japan, as a leading proponent of human security at the UN Security Council, should pursue openings for targeted military sanctions through the UN Security Council's agenda on children and armed conflict. The Security Council has stated in two resolutions (SC Res. 1539 and Res. 1612) that it will consider bans on the export and supply of small arms, light weapons, and other military equipment and assistance to parties that refuse to end their recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Burmese military retains thousands of children in its ranks and has been identified repeatedly since 2002 by the UN secretary-general for its continued recruitment and use of child soldiers. While the imposition of sanctions by the Security Council against Burma has proven nearly impossible, the children and armed conflict agenda provides a useful avenue for stronger Security Council action. A credible threat of military sanctions can be used as leverage to gain concrete improvements in ending the widespread recruitment and use of children as soldiers.

Humanitarian and Development Aid

On humanitarian aid, Human Rights Watch has long called for increased assistance to deal with acute humanitarian needs in Burma. Japan funding can increase on certain conditions outlined below. But first, it is necessary to recognize that the cause of Burma's humanitarian problems is not a lack of available resources. Burma has made gas deals with Thailand that provides the government its largest source of revenue, worth approximately $2 billion annually. A new deal to supply natural gas to China via an overland pipeline will significantly add to that sum. Burma's leaders also count on large earnings from sales of gems and timber, and ongoing hydroelectric projects are expected to generate additional lucrative export revenue.

Despite these large revenue sources, the military government spends next to nothing on the welfare of its people. The largest share of the state budget is allocated to the military, as much as 40 percent, while combined social spending is estimated to be a paltry 0.8 percent of GDP for 2008/09, making public expenditures on health and education in Burma among the lowest in the world. Huge numbers of Burmese live in grinding poverty, brought upon by decades of government economic mismanagement and corruption. For this reason, the suggestion that foreign business investment in Burma would somehow open up the country is fallacious. Foreign investment in Burma is concentrated on the extraction of natural resources and building of hydropower projects. The resulting revenues are largely squandered, stolen, or used for military spending instead of to meet humanitarian and development needs, thereby resulting in the strengthening of those in power and robbing the Burmese people of basic economic and social rights.

Donor discussions with the SPDC over the provision of humanitarian assistance should not neglect the government's ability to contribute substantially to such assistance. Donors should also remember that the purpose of humanitarian aid is humanitarian - to keep people alive and healthy - not political. No one should expect humanitarian aid itself to have a significant political effect in opening up the country or changing the government's policies. Donors will also need to stress the importance of transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian aid, including the need for approaches that strengthen civil society rather than existing corrupt power structures and that respond to the views and needs of ordinary people.

The SPDC does not want to be totally dependent on China. For this reason, it also wants assistance from Japan, the US, and EU. Development aid is a very important incentive for change in Burma. However, we do not believe development aid from Japan or other countries should be made available until there is significant political reform, progress on human rights, better governance, and the possibility of consulting civil society and local communities in setting development goals. Likewise, World Bank lending for development should also not be resumed until these conditions are met. Unfortunately, the SPDC gives priority to development initiatives that are "vanity projects" for its leaders, facilitate abusive military campaigns, and help generate funds to strengthen military rule, when what is needed is development that would alleviate the poverty and deprivation of ordinary citizens.

Helping the Burmese people is one of the most difficult and intractable problems the world has faced in recent decades. We don't underestimate the challenge, but we think a new and principled approach by the international community with Japanese leadership can make a significant difference in the years ahead.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

Burma Continues Rights Abuse on Ethnic Chin Christians Amid Food Crisis

By Joseph Keenan

A new report by a human rights watchdog says that there is widespread human rights abuses by the Burmese Army continue even as much of the population of ethnic Chin Christians are struggling with food crisis in western Burma.

Many ethnic Burmese Chin Christians, who are the main inhabitants of Chin state, have fled to the neighbouring countries due to continued persecutions. The Christians, who have had suffered enough under the military regime had to deal with a rare phenomenon of rat infestation of crops since 2007, causing the food crisis in the state.

Chin Christians claimed that the military regime knew of the impending food crisis that happens once in half a centry, but “took no action” unlike the Indian government who dealt with the same phenomenon in the neihbouring India state of Mizoram and Manipur.

The reported titled, “On the Edge of Survival: Continuing Rat Infestation and Food Crisis,” published Thursday by Canada-based Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) said that the food shortages, which began in 2007 have spread to seven townships in Chin State and parts of neighboring Sagaing Division with as much as 80 percent of the farmlands destroyed by rats in some areas affected by rat infestation.

“Through utter neglect and continuing practices of human rights abuse, the military regime has turned this natural disaster into a man-made catrastrophe,” says Salai Bawi Lian Mang, Executive Director of Chin Human Rights Organization.

Attributed to a one-in-fifty-year cyclical flowering and dying of bamboo and subsequent infestation of rats, the new report says the food shortages in Chin State have been made more acute by arbitrary policies and practices of abuse and repression against Chin civilians at the hands of the Burma Army.

The report noted that despite increased attention to the crisis and involvement by international aid organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP), the response has been limited and even problematic in certain aspects, with thousands of people still unreached by relief efforts, especially the South and Southwest part of Chin state where there is no proper connectivity of road.

Myanmar, the new name for Burma until the junta change it in 1989 is ranked No.24 by Open Doors 2009 Watch List of the top 50 nations that are worst persecutors of Christians. Myanmar has been under the junta since the infamous military coup in 1962.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization specialized in religious freedom around the world in a secret visit to the Burma-Thailand border in May this year said there is rampant violation of human rights and restriction of religious freedom especially those of the minority Christians. It was very similar to the report of CHRO on ethnic Chin Christians.

The CSW report also uncovered forced labour, rape, torture, the destruction of villages, crops and livestock, and the use of human minesweepers at the hands of the military regime are common in states dominated by ethnic minorities like Chin, Kachin, Karen and Karenni – who are majority Christians.

Christians make up about 4 percent of the estimated 55 million populations of which Baptists are the single largest Christian denomination. It is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country with as many as 89 percent adhering to Buddhism.

Many ethnic Christian minorities who form majority of Burmese Christians have fled the country due to rampant human rights violation and religious persecutions in the country.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Assam rebel group to surrender en masse

GUWAHATI - Hopes for an end to long years of violent bush war brightened in Assam with an influential tribal separatist group deciding to surrender en masse and hold peace talks with New Delhi, officials said here Monday.

A police spokesperson said some 350 cadres and leaders of the outlawed Jewel Garlosa faction of the Dima Haolam Daogah (DHD-J), more popularly known as the Black Widow, have decided to surrender and join the peace process.

“The process is on with 193 Black Widow militants already surrendering their weapons before authorities, while about 157 more are expected to lay down their arms by Monday,” Khagen Sharma, Additional Director General of Police (Intelligence), said.

The Black Widow militants, active in the North Cachar Hills district of southern Assam, had unleashed a reign of terror in the region killing an estimated 100 people so far this year and attacking passenger trains, resulting in suspension of railway services for months.

“The nearly 350 militants would be put up in some designated camps,” Sharma said.

A formal surrender ceremony is expected after Sep 22 when Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi returns from a visit to the US.

The DHD-J was formed in March 2003 following a split in the outfit. The faction led by Jewel Garlosa continued with its fight for an independent homeland for the majority Dimasa tribe, while its rival group led by guerrilla leader Dilip Nunisa entered into a ceasefire with New Delhi.

The decision by the Black Widow to surrender follows an ultimatum by central home minister P. Chidambaram last month to lay down arms by Sep 15 or face a stepped-up military offensive.

The Black Widow suffered a setback with police arresting its chief Jewel Garlosa from Bangalore in June.

“If all their top leaders and cadres surrender then we can expect peace in the region. We welcome their decision to join the peace process,” Nunisa told IANS.

Kalemyo youths flee to Mizoram to evade military training

A number of youths have been forced to flee to Mizoram state in northeast India to avoid being conscripted by the Burmese Army for military training from different areas in Kalemyo, Sagaing division western Burma.

It is learnt that army authorities want at least 10 persons from each village near Kalemyo to attend the military training programme in mid September.

Reluctant to join the training, 12 youths were apprehensive of staying in their villages. They fled to Mizoram. A youth from Tayakaung village said, “We have come here to escape from the army’s dragnet after they ordered village heads to send at least 10 youths from each village. If we had stayed back we would have been included in the military trainee list.”

In fact, the army authorities had drawn up a number of trainee lists for each village depending on its population. Some big villages have to give lists with 30 names for the training programme. On completion of training the trained have to serve as volunteer workers in the police, as firefighters and the USDA (Union Solidarity and Development Association).

Although there is no confirmation about how many youths have fled to Mizoram from Kalemyo areas, 12 have reached the Indian state on September 6.

Meanwhile, military personnel in Kalemyo have been arresting late night street walkers and drunks.

The military training programme has been completed in Matupi Township, southern Chin state in August, but it will be organized in Chikha Township this month.

The military junta is preparing for the forthcoming 2010 general elections in different ways. This military training programme is part of it and it is meant to strengthen block and village level security with the trained youths.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Myanmar refugees at home with downtown church

A benefit garage sale is being planned to raise funds for several members of a congregation of Myanmar refugees.

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The sale is set for Sept. 12 at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, 1201 N Robinson, where the Chin Baptist Church has been holding services.
Brian McAtee, First Baptist’s minister with global peoples, said the downtown Oklahoma City church had been working with the refugees since July 2008 when a local refugee resettlement group indicated some refugees wanted to connect with a Baptist church in the Oklahoma City metro area. The refugees come from Chin, a state in western Myanmar.
"They had a strong Baptist heritage and were looking for a spiritual home,” McAtee said.
He said the Chin church members are among many refugees who came under persecution by the ruling military powers in Myanmar, also known as Burma. He said missionaries report that a large percentage of the Chin people are Christian. Many are Baptist, he said, due to the success of American Baptist missionaries more than a century ago.
"The Chin were one of the more successful outreaches for these missionaries,” McAtee said.
McAtee said the Chin church held its first church service in February at First Baptist. He said it has its own pastor and board of deacons, and members make up a hardworking, friendly congregation.
He said several members of the congregation were involved in a serious car accident in July, and a portion of the garage sale proceeds will help cover their medical bills. He said some of the accident victims had only been in Oklahoma a few weeks and did not have jobs.
Navigating the health care system has been difficult for the refugees because of language barriers, McAtee said. Also, he said the refugees do not understand how the health care system works.
McAtee said people who want to help can donate items to sell at the garage sale or just plan to attend the event and buy things.
He said the refugee congregation has had a positive effect on the First Baptist congregation, and the latter group wanted to raise funds to make things better for those involved in the accident.
"They’ve had a profound impact on our congregation — their faith, just their spirit of worship — because of their journey,” McAtee said.
"They’ve dealt directly with persecution. They’ve been run out of town. Their churches have been burned. It’s a very unique story for most of us Westerners, who don’t deal with that stuff all the time.”

More than 5,000 IDPs on the run from the Burma Army in Arakan State, 100,000 villagers suffer from food shortages. Arakan State and southern Chin State, Burma

  • More than 5,000 IDPs are on the run from the Burma Army in Arakan State and southern Chin State, while over 100,000 villagers suffer from food shortages.
More than 5,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are living a life on the run in the jungles along the border of Arakan State and in southern Chin State in western Burma, according to a recent report by FBR teams on the ground there. In addition to these 5,000 IDPs, more than 100,000 villagers are suffering from the ongoing famine that stretches through both northern Arakan State and into Chin State.

Map showing affected townships (click for larger image)

Isolated from most international aid providers, the people here have little access to medical aid, food relief, or any other assistance typically provided in crisis areas. Free Burma Ranger relief teams are one of the few providers of medical aid in this area. Since the onset of the food shortage, caused by the ongoing infestation of rats that attack the rice crops, the price of rice has shot up from 5 rupees per kilogram (about $0.10 USD) to 32 rupees/kg ($0.67USD). This crisis, relentless for the last three years, is leading to the unraveling of the social fabric of life, with increases in incidences of robbery and kidnapping as well as poaching of wild animals, including elephants, tigers, and buffalo. Additionally, our teams report an increase in the production of opium as the people become increasingly desperate for cash crops.

An internally displaced Arakan family

A group of internally displaced children. Far from trying to help the suffering people, the Burma Army in the area requisitions taxes in the form of livestock and forced labor, as well as annexing land at will.

In Arpountwa Village, Kyauk Taw Township, the Burma Army annexed two hundreds acres of paddy farm without any payment to build an artillery battalion. When Battalion 375 moved from Nyaung Ban Hla Village, Kyauk Taw Township, to Paneyechawn Village in the same township, they annexed more than 120 acres of paddy farm without payment. They also did not return the land that had been stolen in Nyaung Ban Hla Village to accommodate their original location, keeping this as an army-controlled farm.

A patient diagnosed with diarrhea.

A Free Burma Ranger medic treating a typhoid patient.

Free Burma Ranger teams are one of the few medical providers in much of this area. FBR teams treated 224 patients for sicknesses including diarrhea, malaria, gastritis, fungal conditions, beri beri, and anemia. They also reported the closure of hundreds of schools as the local communities could neither pay teachers, nor pay student fees.

The Free Burma Ranger’s (FBR) mission is to provide hope, help and love to internally displaced people inside Burma, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Using a network of indigenous field teams, FBR reports on human rights abuses, casualties and the humanitarian needs of people who are under the oppression of the Burma Army. FBR provides medical, spiritual and educational resources for IDP communities as they struggle to survive Burmese military attacks. For more information, please visit Free Burma Rangers

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recent news of Burma underlines local event

August 31, 2009

Burmese democracy activists held a memorial day event at Keller Region Park, to remember those who laid down their lives 21 years ago for democracy in their homeland Burma now also known as Myanmar.

The event was organized by the Committee for Celebration, with a gathering of various ethnic compatriots of Burma, along with student activists, then and now, refugees and asylees representing various pro-democracy groups. Together they marked the 21st event to remember the 8888 Pro-democracy Movement – named for August 8, 1988, when the military junta suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations against the military takeover following the National Leagues for Democracy victory in the elections that would have made Daw Aung San Suu Kyi president.

The participants posed with a cardboard independence monument replica crafted by Aung San Oo. An oil painting of Suu Kyi by activist Chit Win was displayed together with a photo of her late father, General Aung San, considered the father of Burma's independence and assassinated by paramilitaries in 1947.

Hundred and possibly thousands students and citizens were shot during the mushrooming nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations. The Minnesota ceremony began with a laying a wreath to mourn the deaths and for the fate of the expatriates and fellow countrymen inside of Burma.

There were several statements read to call for the military to hand over power to the 1990 election winners and free Aung San Suu Kyi and Khun Htun Oo and all prisoners of conscience.

Ye Din, a student activist, called for the government to abolish its plan to hold new elections in 2010 – calling them a sham that is designed to prolong the rein of the ruling military.

Saw Hla Tun Oo of the Karen Community of Minnesota, who took part in the student demonstrations of 1988, said the events are still vivid.

“We shall not forget those who have sacrificed their lives for democracy and will strive to achieve what they have given their lives for,” said Oo.

Ko Chin, also a student activist, said that given the history of the democracy movement’s attempts to reconcile with the junta, that he now does not believe this is possible. He described a leadership vacuum where NLD leaders continue to remain jailed.

''So the only option left for change to democracy in Burma, in my opinion, is through peoples’ power or armed struggle,” he said.

Benjamin Aung, a local community leader, was a student activist in the demonstrations against the military when the army shot and killed university students on July 7, 1962.

Aung also recalled when Burma’s most well-known citizen of the 1960s, United Nations Secretary General U Thant of Burma, succeeded Dag Hammarskold in 1961 and served until 1971, and during the time of the Myanmar junta takeover. When he died of cancer in 1974, the Myanmar junta refused to grant national honors in the burial service.

The final speaker was the Venerable monk, Ashin Thondara, who said ''as a 21 year old the pro-democracy movement is very strong and healthy.''

''We should have no fear when fighting for Democracy or Human Rights,” he added. “Truth is the real strength. The world loves the truth. Have faith and carry on. Downfall awaits the junta.”

The ceremony concluded with the 1988 democracy movement song '' KAba Ma Kye Bu'' (We Shall Not Forget) with guitarist Soe Naing and Chit Win.