Thursday, November 26, 2009

2 Indian women arrested in Nepal with banned currency notes

Kathmandu, Nov 26 Two Indian women from the northeast state of Mizoram have been arrested in Nepal for carrying banned Indian currency notes.

Lalring Heti, 41, and Lal Moonbami, 37, were arrested Monday at the airport in Bhadrapur in eastern Nepal while trying to catch a flight to Kathmandu, police said Wednesday.

The two women, both of whom are residents of Champai, a district nearly 200 km from Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, were carrying Rs.195,000 in Indian currency notes of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 denomination, both of which are banned in Nepal.

The two women have been sent to Kathmandu to undergo investigation by the revenue investigation department, police said.

The arrest of the two Indian women comes less than 10 days after a British national, Venkatraman Jagannathan, was arrested at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu for carrying Rs.50,000 in Indian 1,000-rupee currency notes.

Though lower denominations Indian currency notes are accepted in Nepal, the government banned the use of 1,000-rupee and 500-rupee notes more than a decade back following the Reserve Bank of India guidelines.

The step was taken to prevent the growing counterfeiting of Indian currency by organised criminal networks running through several countries as well as to prevent the sponsoring of terrorist activities. However, people in India and other countries still largely remain ignorant about the restrictions, resulting in trouble at Nepal airports.

In June, Indian national Anil Sharma faced a harrowing time after he was found to be carrying Rs.140,000 in 1,000-rupee notes. Carrying large sums in Indian currency, be it in the banned notes or even lesser denomination, is also a punishable offence in Nepal if the carrier is not an Indian or a Nepali national.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New FM radio station to be set up in Shan State

One more new FM radio station will be set up soon in Shan State East’s Tachilek, opposite Thailand’s Maesai, according sources from the Thai-Burma border.

It is due to start broadcasting as of the beginning of coming year, 2010. However, there have been no further details of how it will be programmed, but it is expected to be similar to the existing Cherry FM program, the source said.

Cherry FM is based at Shan State capital, Taunggyi, started broadcasting in August, targeting to air over a 50 mile radius in every part of Shan State, southern, northern and eastern. It is owned by a private company, Zaygaba. Nevertheless it was jointly operated by the junta military.

The program focuses on entertainment and the junta’s own news features, according to a resident from Taunggyi.

The news section is read in Burmese language and the entertainment focuses on ethnic music especially Shan and Pa-O songs. By serving such entertainment, the program is gaining popularity among the people especially youths. “My sister and brother listen to it every day. We like to listen to the songs rather than the news sections,” he said.

Another one, a Pa-O youth shared the same view. “I just listen to the music, not the news because it is so boring,” he said.
A source who regularly listens to exile radio programs said, “The junta military is trying to counter the influence of the exile media.”

Observers have also said the junta is looking for new campaign strategy for the elections as the number of local FM radio stations is increasing.

The existing FM radio stations in Burma are: Rangoon City FM, Mandalay City FM, Pyinsawaddy FM in Arakan State (Rakhine), Padamya FM in Kachin State, Shwe FM in Pegu (Bago) division and Cherry FM in Shan State.

Shwe FM covers over the Pegu and Tenasserim divisions, and Karen and Mon state. The Cherry FM covers Shan state and Karenni state; Padamya FM across Magwe and Sagaing divisions, and Kachin state and Chin state. Another one Pyinsawaddy FM is covers Rakhine and Irrawaddy Division. However, these are all under the operation of the Ministry of Information.

Radio stations operating outside Burma include Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Radio Free Asia (RFA), BBC and Voice of America (VOA). All the stations are also running weekly ethnic programs in their own mother tongues as well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mamit YMA criticises Churches on Bru aid

Aizawl: Young Mizo Association (YMA) Mamit district headquarters criticised the the churches in Mizoram for donating more than Rs5 lakh to Bru families whose bamboo huts were gutted while giving nothing to the family of Zarzokima gunned down by the Bru militants.

In a press release issued at the Mizoram-Tripura border Mamit town yesterday, the YMA lauded the state government for giving Rs1lakh to the bereaved family as ex gratia.

"Brus have killed 17 Mizos including five of a family on November 24, 1958 and seven policemen in 1999 while no Bru has died in the hands of the Mizos as retaliatory acts to these murders," the YMA district headquarters said, adding that the world should know the patience of the Mizo community.

The press release also emphasised that Bru miscreants and militants have abducted a number of Mizo people for ransom and have robbed a plethora of vehicles without any communal retaliation from the Mizos.

The YMA reaction came in the wake of the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church and the Catholic Church donating to the State Level Relief Committee in aid of the victims of arson during the recent spurt of communal tension in the western belt of Mizoram.

The communal tension was triggered by the murder of Zarzokima (18) of Bungthuam village by suspected Bru militants on November 13.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mizoram ethnic violence: paramilitary forces deployed

Aizawl/Paramilitary forces were deployed as tension prevailed in southern Mizoram and northern Tripura Monday after over 300 houses of Reang tribals were set ablaze following the gunning down of a Mizo youth last week, officials here said.

'Central paramilitary Assam Rifles troopers, and Tripura and Mizoram armed police have been deployed in the trouble-torn southern Mizoram and northern Tripura to prevent any fresh hostility between Mizos and Reang tribals,' an official said.

Violent mobs have set fire to more than 300 houses of Reang tribals in 15 villages under Mamit and Kolashib districts in southern Mizoram since Saturday, displacing over 5,000 people.

The displaced tribals have taken shelter in adjacent southern Assam and Jampui in northern Tripura.

'The ethnic violence erupted after the militants shot dead an 18-year-old Mizo youth at Bungthuam village, near the Tripura border, in southern Mizoram on Friday,' said Mizoram Home Minister R. Lalzirliana

The youth was shot dead when he and his friends were collecting pig fodder in a forest area. The two gunmen fled the spot soon after the incident.

'It is a little difficult to prevent arson everywhere as the Reang tribal settlements are scattered in inaccessible areas and the miscreants went in groups on jungle roads to torch the villages,' Lalzirliana told reporters in Aizawl late Sunday.

Warning the troublemakers, Lalzirliana said those who disrupt peace would be firmly dealt with and brought to book.

Senior civil and police officials have been camping in the mixed populated Tripura villages adjacent to Mizoram since Saturday.

'Both Assam Rifles and Tripura police in northern Tripura are on alert to prevent any eventuality following the ethnic violence and exodus of Reang tribals from Mizoram,' north Tripura district magistrate Samarjit Bhowmik told IANS.

Mizoram police chief Lalrokhuma Pachuau has been maintaining close contact with his Tripura counterpart Pranay Sahay to tackle the situation jointly.

'Security has been tightened in the Mizo dominated areas in Jampui in north Tripura,' Bhomik added.

Over 35,000 Reang (locally called Bru) tribal refugees have been living in six north Tripura camps since 1997 after they fled Mizoram following ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos.

The tripartite meeting held in Aizawl Nov 4 between representatives of the central and Mizoram governments and tribal refugees failed to resolve the 12-year deadlock to repatriate 35,000 Reang migrants from Tripura to Mizoram.

'Both the centre and the Mizoram government rejected our major demands. We will not return to our homes unless our vital demands are fulfilled,' said Elvis Chorkhy, who led the seven-member refugee delegation at the meeting.

'We will boycott the repatriation process as both the Mizoram government and the centre are not sincere about conceding our long pending demands.'

A delegation of Mizoram officials was to visit the refugee camps Monday, but they did not turn up in view of the fresh ethnic trouble.

Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF), a body of the Reang tribal refugees, has sent fax messages to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Mizoram Chief Minister Lalthanhawla urging them to stop the ethnic violence in Mizoram.

'The tribal refugees Sunday and Monday organised protest rallies in their six camps in north Tripura to protest the mob attacks and burning down of houses belonging to Reang tribals in Mizoram,' said Chorkhy, who is the president of MBDPF.

Obama demands release of Aung San Suu Kyi Source: Obama demands release of Aung San Suu Kyi

Singapore, Nov.16 (ANI): US President Barack Obama has demanded the release of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
In an unprecedented encounter with Burmese Prime Minister Lt. Gen Thein Sein here on Sunday, Obama also pushed for the release of other political prisoners held by the Burmese regime.
According to The Times, the message was delivered across the table to Sein during a meeting with the leaders of the ten countries that make up the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said that the President used the meeting to urge Burma’s rulers to release the opposition leader and all other political prisoners.
Obama’s comments follow last week’s meeting between Suu Kyi and a group of US diplomats who were allowed to visit the pro-democracy leader despite her persistent and widely reviled house arrest that has locked her away from the world for 14 of the past 20 years.

Thousands displaced in ethnic violence in NE Indian state

 NEW DELHI, Nov. 15  -- Over 5,000 tribal people were displaced in the northeast Indian state of Mizoram after mobs set fire to their village following the death of a local youth, reported the Indo-Asian News Service on Sunday.
    The mobs have set ablaze the huts in seven villages inhabited by the Reang tribal people in southern Mizoram since Saturday, the report quoted officials in Aizawl, the state capital of Mizorum which borders Myanmar and Bangladesh, as saying.
    The ethnic violence erupted after members of a local militant group allegedly shot dead an 18-year-old boy Friday, when he and his friends were collecting pig fodder in a forest area, according to the report.
    Local government has warned that those who disrupt peace would be firmly dealt with and punished by law, said the report.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Refugees abroad; windows of survival for Chin people

Mounting economic crisis is driving out people in Chin state, western Burma by the day, but refugees abroad continue to be windows of survival for Chin people.
Statistics show that there are many Chin people in Mizoram state, India from Chin state, western Burma.
Recently Mr. Hram Uk and his family fled to Mizoram in order to take refuge in New Delhi, India from Mang Kheng village, Falam township in Chin state.
Mr. Hram Uk said, “Usually the Burmese junta authorities call us to work for them and they collect some donation every month. We cannot afford it as we are very poor. We cannot send our children to school. Sometimes, patrolling military personnel demand our domestic animals. So we had to sell our properties and flee to India.”
He told Khonumthung News that there are many villagers, who wanted to go abroad. They are suffering from different kinds of problems in Burma, so they preferred to go to India as refugees.
Now most Chin people are suffering the effects of famine, which was brought by bamboo flowering in the state leading to multiplication of rats. Crops have been destroyed by rats, flies and bugs since late 2006.
Although some Chin people, who are abroad support them, they cannot cover all the villagers in the state. Therefore, they are doing whatever jobs they get to eke out a living. On the other hand, the military junta oppresses them making myriad demands.
A survey report states the population of Chin state was about 5 lakhs in the last two years, but now it has decreased to about 4 lakhs. Some NGOs’ statistics also show that there are about 2,000 Chin people in New Delhi, about 13,000 in Malaysia, United States and other European countries.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

3 Myanmarese nationals held, 49 gm heroin seized in Mizoram

Aizawl, Nov 12 (PTI) Three Myanmarese nationals, including a woman, were arrested and 49 gram heroin recovered from their possession here, police said.

The three were arrested during a raid conducted by Mizoram police and BSF at Thuampui locality here yesterday, SP Lalbiakthanga Khiangte said.

The arrested were booked under Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, he said, adding that the seized drug was estimated to be worth Rs 2.40 lakh in the domestic market.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

India-Burma bi-annual military meet in Manipur

Chennai – The 38th India-Burma bi-annual liaison meeting is currently being held in Leimakhong in Manipur, with Major General S S Pawar, Chief of Staff 3 corps leading the Indian delegation and Brig Gen Tin Maung Ohnn heading the Burmese delegation.

A 15-member Burmese delegation, including Brig Gen La Aye and other army officials arrived in India on Monday, India’s Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing) said in a statement today.

The statement said matters relating to security of the border areas, particularly measures required to control insurgency in both countries were discussed in the meeting.

The movements of the insurgent groups also came up during the meeting and the delegates mulled over a plan of action to prevent them from indulging in illegal activities.

The insurgent groups on both sides of the border take undue advantage of the terrain to carry out undesirable activities, the statement said.

The meeting also discussed solutions to issues of concern to both the armies, based on the principle of mutual trust and respect.

It also emphasized the need for continuous synergy to meet other challenges that come in the way of cordial relationship between the two countries.

The Burmese delegation will be visiting the Eastern Command headquarters, in Kolkata and Bodh Gaya from November 11 to 13. The delegation is scheduled to return to Burma on November 14.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The People Nobody Wants

Rohingya refugees in the Nayapara camp, courtesy of Ruben Flamarique/Austcare/flickr
Rohingya refugees in the Nayapara camp
(cc) Ruben Flamarique/Austcare/flickr
The plight of the Burmese Rohingya made headlines in early 2009 when Thai security forces were accused of pushing migrant boats out to sea. With ASEAN establishing a new human rights body and a US delegation visiting Burma, what chance is there for improvement for a stateless people? Simon Roughneen writes for ISN Security Watch.
By Simon Roughneen for ISN Security Watch
At its 15th summit held in Thailand two weeks ago, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations inaugurated the ASEAN Intergovernmental Human Rights Commission. It is the first time that the 10-state bloc has given institutional recognition to human rights.
What that means in practice is unclear. The body will merely promote human rights, and cannot sanction offenders or protect victims. With the Burmese junta nominating a representative to the 10-member commission, along with states such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, which have less-than-stellar records in this area, it seems the new body is there to pay lip service rather than act decisively.
Action for sure is needed. Malaysia does not recognize refugees as a category; communist Vietnam continues to make life hard for religious groups; and the majority of Burmese struggle under a military dictatorship.
Standing out for the wrong reasons
But of all the ethnic groups in the region perhaps one stands out as suffering the most. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in western Burma, living mainly in Rakhine State close to the border with Bangladesh. Muslims make up around 4 percent of the country's total population, and a majority of Burmese Muslims describe themselves as 'Rohingya.'
The Rohingya number about two million people. Approximately 800,000 remain in Burma and 200,000-400,000 in Bangladesh. An estimated half million live in the Middle East as migrant workers, with around 50,000 in Malaysia.
Some are thought to be descendants of migrants who came east from what is now India and Bangladesh during British colonial rule. Others believe the Rohingya descend from Arab traders who settled in Rakhine more than 1,000 years ago. It is impossible to say exactly who came from where and when, but the Burmese junta maintains that the Rohingya are not among the country's 135 recognized ethnic groups.
Since 1982, Rohingya have been denied citizenship. The Rohingya do not have an automatic right to education or work. They need permission to travel even a few miles between villages in Rakhine, much less move freely around Burma. The junta throws a cascade of red tape around marriage, requiring Rohingya to obtain a variety of authorizations before being issued a ‘marriage permit,’ which may take years.
It doesn't end there. Burma's army has targeted almost all of the ethnic groups living along the country's mountainous borderlands, from the Wa and Karen near Thailand, to the Shan on the Chinese frontier, to the Chin living close to India and Bangladesh. These groups have all established powerful militias that have carved out de facto autonomous zones for themselves, in many cases funded by smuggling and drug trafficking, and have to some extent, been able to protect their people from the army.
Defenceless and nowhere to go
However, the Rohingya have remained defenseless. Multiple accounts of torture, summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape, destruction of homes, forced relocation and eviction, confiscation of land and property and so on, have been given by refugees fleeing to Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. 
The situation for Rohingya gets worse, as the junta's resource wealth increases. Since the early 1990s, the number of battalions in western Burma has jumped from three to over 40. The soldiers often live off the land, expropriating property and implementing forced labor projects. The region is close to offshore oil and gas fields, which the junta needs to boost revenues and fund its military expansion. The junta has the biggest army in Southeast Asia, despite having only around one-fifth the population of Indonesia's estimated 250 million, by far the largest country in the region.
The most important new development is the Shwe gas field off the coast of western Rakhine. In December 2008, the Chinese energy company PetroChina signed a 30-year lease with the Burmese to buy natural gas piped from this field, in a consortium involving Indian, Thai, South Korean, Chinese and Burmese interests. Moreover, another pipeline will run from the coast, into western China, transporting crude oil from the Middle East. China wants that pipeline to avoid sending all its oil traffic from the Middle East and Africa through the Straits of Malacca, which it feels are vulnerable to pirates, and to US naval blockade, should relations between Washington and Beijing get testy.
Bangladesh hosts 28,000 Rohingya in two refugee camps supervised by the UN. An estimated 200,000 – 400,000 live outside camps without access to international protection or humanitarian assistance. Many Rohingya have been pushed back into Burma, only to return to Bangladesh.
In recent weeks, a maritime and land border dispute between Burma and Bangladesh has reopened. The Burmese junta is building a border fence between the two countries, and in a cruel twist, is coercing Rohingya into building the fence. According to Bangladeshi media, the junta is hoping to keep the Rohingya that have fled to Bangladesh from being pushed back by Dhaka.
K Mrat Kyaw, editor of Narinjara, a Bangladesh-based news service for Rohingya, told ISN Security Watch that “Bangladesh authorities would like to push back the Rohingya to Burma before the fence is completed.”
Precarious survival conditions in Bangladesh and the closure of other migration routes to the Middle East have resulted in Rohingya moving by boats toward Malaysia via Thailand. This has led to international outcry over reports that Thailand's ‘push-back’ policy involved security forces pushing boat loads of Rohingya into international waters. Indian and Indonesia naval vessels later found drifters and survivors who said they were sent to sea by Thai security officials. 
Thailand believed the Rohingya to be economic migrants, rather than refugees, and many of the men were fined for illegal entry as they had no papers – which of course they could not get in the first place given that Burma does not grant them citizenship.
Malaysia is listed by the US State Department as one of the world's places of concern for human trafficking and refuses to sign any refugee conventions. However, it is the destination of choice for Rohingya fleeing Burma, and that Rohingya are willing to pay to be smuggled there says a lot.
As Shu Shi of Malaysian human rights group SUARAM put it to ISN Security Watch, “Basically, the Malaysian authorities treat all the refugees equally badly.”
Little hope
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, which lobbies for the Rohingya, tells ISN Security Watch that she “hopes the Rohingya issue will be addressed” when a high-level US delegation visits Burma on 3 and 4 November as part of the new 'engagement' policy with the junta. 
ASEAN passed the buck on this issue at its 14th summit in February 2009. With ASEAN chair Thailand in the spotlight over the ‘push-backs,’ the bloc delegated the Rohingya issue to the Bali Process, a regional forum on human trafficking and related issues. However, this grouping has not come up with any solutions so far.
The recent 15th ASEAN summit in Thailand made no mention of the Rohingya issue, which could return to the international spotlight soon. Seasonal winds make it easier to travel from Bangladesh and Burma to Thailand by boat from October onward. It is likely that more Rohingya will arrive on Thailand's shores in the coming months, given the border wrangles between Burma and Bangladesh. However, it is not clear whether neighboring states will be more welcoming of Rohingya this time around.
Despite ASEAN’s new human rights commission, member-states Thailand, Malaysia and Burma have not ratified the UN Refugee Convention nor enacted domestic refugee legislation. The same applies to Bangladesh, which is not an ASEAN member.
This means these host countries do not abide by the principle of non-refoulement – which stipulates that refugees cannot be sent back to their home country if it is clear that they face persecution. 
Chris Lewa told ISN Security Watch, “I have little hope that the ASEAN human rights body will make any difference to the Rohingya, or to human rights in general in Southeast Asia – at least not for the foreseeable future.”