Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Junta directs tour operators to monitor tourists

By Mungpi
Mizzima News

30 April 2008 - New Delhi – An over cautious Burmese military junta is not taking any chances in the run up to the referendum and is taking all the precautions it can think off. It has directed tour operators to monitor and take responsibility of tourists recommended to obtain 'Visa on Arrival'. Stern action would be initiated if the tour operators do not oblige.

In a notice issued by the Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism to Myanmar tour operators association, it instructed tour operators to ensure that tourists, whom it recommend for 'Visa on Arrival', should not be involved in any kind of political activities.

The letter, a copy of which is with Mizzima, said, Burma is conducting a referendum to approve its draft constitution on May 10. "And in order to ensure that the referendum is successfully conducted all tour operators must ensure that foreign tourists do not get embroiled in the political process."

Tour operators from May 1 to 15 must ensure that tourists stick to the four categories of tourism allowed by the ministry - Leisure tourism, Business Concentrated tourism, Regular Business travel and Special Interest tourism, that includes Eco-tourism, Cultural tourism, and Agro-tourism.

"Respective tour companies would be held accountable if tourists, whom they recommend, should create unwanted administrative and security problems," said the letter, signed by retired Lt-Col Yan Naing on behalf of the Minister.

The notice was send to the Myanmar Tour Operators Association by the Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism on April 21, 2008.

While the letter does not mention restricting tourists from traveling to Burma during the month of May, a tour company spokesman in Rangoon said there are only a few tourists, who have bookings to travel into the country in May.

This, however, coincides with rumours that the Burmese government has imposed restrictions in issuing visas to tourists.

However, an official of the Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, denied the rumors saying visa application procedures remain the same and that it continues to issue several visas as well as 'Visa on Arrival'.

Despite the official's denial, a tourist in Thailand, who applied for an entry visa at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok said the procedures have been slightly modified and that it requires personal interviews before the embassy issues visas.

The tourist said obtaining a Burmese visa, now requires proving that the applicant has a clean record and has to sign a pledge stating that the tourist does not have any connection with political activities.

According to a tour company in Burma, to obtain a 'Visa on Arrival' one needs at least two weeks of advance booking.

Anti-riot training in Rangoon

By Mizzima News
30 April 2008

New Delhi: The military junta is stepping on the gas in preparation for the ensuing referendum to have people approve the draft constitution. The authorities in Rangoon's suburbs has been recruiting more members into its puppet organization the Swan Arrshin and imparting anti anti-riot training to them.

The anti-riot training programme was organized by the authorities after the Chairmen of the Township Peace and Development Council in Dagon Myothit North and South of Rangoon suburbs instructed members of Swan Arrshin, Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) and reserve fire fighters to gear up and remain alert for the referendum on May 10.

"Baton charge and small arms training are being imparted to Swan Arrshin and fire brigade members at the Kyaikkasan ground over the last three days," an eyewitness said.

The authorities selected 15 people from each ward to be trained as Special Swan Arrshin. They have been given blue uniforms and will be made to go through a special course again, local residents said.

However, details of the trainings are still not known.

"We have heard that the training is all about how to tackle and beat up the crowds and how to apprehend them and put them onto trucks. The training was imparted at the North Dagon Myothit Town Hall and South Dagon Town Hall. Most of the trainees are local officials from each ward, Red Cross and Fire Brigade members," a local resident from South Dagon Myothit said.

The local authorities pick up these special trainees of each ward from their homes at about 6 in the morning in Toyota Dyna pick-up light trucks and deployed about 20 of them at each key and crowded places such as South Okkalapa Sanpya market, Yankin Centre and Yankin Teachers' Training School. They were picked up again at 6 in the evening.

The special Swan Arrshin groups are equipped with walkie-talkies and a policeman is attached to each group. The authorities mobilised them by promising to give them Kyat 25,000 each. These paid thugs were recruited by the junta and used in crushing the monk led August-September demonstrations in Burma last year.

KIO receives junta's vote commission training

The biggest Kachin ceasefire group in northern Burma, Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has been imparted vote commission training for the countrywide constitutional referendum on May 10 in Myitkyina the capital of Kachin State by the Burmese military junta, said KIO officials.

The one-day training was held in the building of the State Peace and Development Council (Pa-Ya-Ka) on April 26. Over 80 selected civilians from KIO controlled areas in Kachin State attended the training programme, said a KIO official in Laiza on the Sino-Burma border.

The participants were from the west, east and northern commands of KIO in Kachin State but not from the southern command in Northeast Shan State, the KIO official added.

According to the KIO's Department of General Administration (DGA), the training programme was especially designed for the KIO. U Maung Maung Win, the head of the vote commission of Kachin State and his colleagues undertook the demonstrations about polling stations and polling booths.

The KIO has agreed and guard polling stations in its controlled areas following the junta's request. However, the KIO has said that not all KIO servicemen and women will be involved in the referendum process, KIO leaders said.

Meanwhile the KIO has stepped up fresh recruitment in its military and it will not surrender weapons to the ruling junta after the referendum, Dr. Manam Tu Ja, Vice-President No. (2) recently told KNG.

On another front, government personnel in Myitkyina are being threatened with punishment by the authorities if they disapprove the new constitution drafted by the junta, local government personnel said.

The junta's Kachin State's commander Maj-Gen Ohn Myint has issued a strong warning that if government personnel cast the 'No' vote in the referendum, he or she will be put in jail for seven years and fined 500,000 Kyat (est. US$ 628), the personnel said.

At the moment, the polling stations and ballot boxes are being prepared in not only the junta's controlled areas but also in the controlled areas of Kachin ceasefire groups--- KIO, New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and Lasang Awng Wa Peace Group in Kachin State, said their sources.

Kachin News

UNA urge people to reveal their desire in referendum

The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) in Burma today urged the people to reveal their real desire in the forthcoming constitutional referendum if they wanted change in Burma's political situation.

UNA comprising 12 ethnic political parties said in a statement released today that the constitution was not drafted by elected people's representatives. It was designed and drafted so that the Burma Army could control power at the Centre but not democratically. Therefore the people need to vote to change Burma ad steer it on the right course.

The statement also urged the people to go to the polling station and cast votes. If they abstain they would face more difficulties in the future.

"Our future depends on the referendum and we have to cast the 'No' vote without fear as part of our responsibilities" said Duwa Bawm Lang, Chairman of the Kachin State National Congress for Democracy (KNCD) in Myitkyina the capital of Kachin State, Northern Burma.

"If we support the draft constitution, it will be like gripping our throat by ourselves. There will be no chance and expectations will be belied for the ethnic groups," he added.

KNCD is a member of the UNA and the party won three seats in Kachin State in the 1990 general elections.

The statement also noted that according to the Referendum Law, the ballot will be counted in front of at least 10 voters as witnesses. Therefore, the UNA urged the people to watch from the beginning till the end of the counting of ballots.

Kachin News

Burmese say NO to Referumdun - 27 Apr'08

ABFSU calls on students to monitor referendum

Apr 29, 2008 (DVB)—The All-Burma Federation of Students' Unions has called on students across Burma to closely monitor the May referendum to prevent vote rigging by the authorities.

In a statement released yesterday, the ABFSU said the group suspected the ruling State Peace and Development Council would not allow a free and fair vote.

The group accused the government of detaining ethnic and political leaders and hundreds of activists “in order to achieve a situation where they can easily cheat in the referendum”.

Ko Linn Htet Naing, a leader of the ABFSU, told DVB the group was calling for the assistance of students as the government has refused to let international observers into Burma to monitor the referendum.

"We need to prevent the government from rigging the vote and stopping the people of Burma from expressing their true will," said Linn Htet Naing.

"We would like to urge the students of Burma to take on this historic responsibility and closely monitor the ballot stations."

The national referendum on the draft constitution is due to be held on 10 May.

The Burmese government has been using incentives and intimidation to persuade people to vote “Yes” in the upcoming vote.

Some civil servants have also said they were told by local officials that “Yes” votes had already been cast on their behalf.

Activists campaigning against the constitution have faced harassment from the authorities, and press freedom in reporting on the referendum inside the country is severely restricted.

Reporting by Aye Nai

70 activists arrested in 3 days: AAPP

By Nay Thwin
Mizzima News

29 April 2008 - Chiang Mai – The Thai-based Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP) says that over 70 activists have been arrested trying to stage demonstrations in Burma over the last three days.

These fresh arrests include those of monks, AAPP commented, as they continue to compile information on the latest crackdown of Burmese activists.

"The junta arrested a lot yesterday, but we don't know the exact figure. The protesters were arrested at Shwedagon and at their homes," Ko Teik Naing, Secretary of AAPP told Mizzima.

Another activist, wishing to remain anonymous, confirmed this news and said that more than a dozen people were arrested on Saturday and Sunday.

"About fourteen to fifteen people were arrested for launching a poster campaign in the downtown area. Authorities didn't arrest them while they were sticking up the posters, but at their homes," he said.

Activists and monks in recent days have tried to assemble at designated rendezvous points such as Shwedagon, Sule and Kyaikasan Pagodas, but they have been systematically dispersed by authorities.

Security had been tightened in Rangoon amid a rumor in circulation that there would be fresh protests before the scheduled referendum date of May 10.

Meanwhile, the National League for Democracy (NLD) released a statement that some it its party workers were arrested while launching their 'Vote NO' campaign in Irrawaddy, Magwe and Rangoon Divisions, as well as Rakhine State.

Additionally, since the junta's announcement in February on a scheduled referendum date, six NLD party workers have been physically accosted by unknown assailants.

Similarly the NLD issued a news release averring that 20 protesters in Rakhine State who staged a protest against the junta's draft constitution by wearing T-shirts with 'NO' printed on them, were beaten up.

According to United Nations statistics over 30 protesters were killed during last September's crackdown on widespread unrest.

Also thousands of monks and lay-people were arrested last August and September, with hundreds still missing, according to human rights organizations.

Approximately 1,800 political prisoners remain behind bars throughout Burma.

Burmese Visa Formalities Tightened as May 10 Approaches

The Irrawaddy News

The Burmese authorities are tightening visa formalities for foreign journalists and even diplomats ahead of the May 10 constitutional referendum, according to informed sources.

Two Japanese citizens suspected of being journalists were denied entry to Burma at Rangoon airport on Tuesday, one Bangkok source told The Irrawaddy.

Some journalists who went to Burma last year to report on the September demonstrations and their aftermath entered the country on tourist visas, a practice the government is now trying vigorously to eliminate.

Burmese embassies abroad are closely scrutinizing visa applications, including those from bona fide tourists, sources said. One Western TV network has reportedly been waiting for the past six months for a visa for its correspondent. It recently reapplied but was told the application would be submitted to the Burmese Information Ministry for a decision.

The Burmese embassy in Bangkok is taking special care in processing visa applications from diplomats, especially those from European sources, sources in the Thai capital reported.

Delays in processing visa applications from diplomats, their family members, UN personnel and representatives of non-governmental organizations have been reported since the beginning of 2008.

Ceasefire Groups Asked to Provide Referendum Security

Burmese police officers pass under a billboard with slogans urging the public to approve the draft constitution in the upcoming referendum, to be held on May 10, in the downtown area of Burma's largest city Rangoon. The writing on the billboard reads 'Let us all—who are equipped with ardent patriotism, who cherish genuine independence, who aspire perpetuation of sovereignty, who loathe foreign interference and manipulations, and who oppose puppet government with strings of colonialists, VOTE 'YES' for ratification of the Constitution.' (Photo: AP)

The Irrawaddy News

Several ethnic ceasefire groups were recently asked by Burmese military authorities to provide security during the constitutional referendum on May 10, said sources close to the groups.

The ceasefire groups involved include the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen Peace Front (KPF) and the Pa-O National Organization (PNO).

According to sources, their participation was requested by officers of the military government’s Referendum Commission last week at a meeting held in Three Pagodas Pass on the Thai-Burmese border.

Commission officers informed each party’s officials that they should provide security for referendum staff and ballot boxes to their respective areas and to provide security during the voting process at polling stations. It is unclear whether government officials expect to accompany the ballot boxes into ceasefire areas due to security concerns.

However, sources said that many members of the ceasefire groups are reluctant to help the regime monitor the referendum.

“This is the Burmese government’s job. It isn’t ours. Why should we be responsible?” said an official of NMSP, who asked to remain anonymous.

According to a survey conducted by The Irrawaddy last week, many Mon people are not interested in or are indifferent about the referendum. A cafe owner in Wai Zin village in Mon State said that many people in his area will not be going to the polling stations.

However, NMSP party officials say that they will allow polling boxes to be brought into their area.

The ceasefire groups seem to have little choice, and one official who attended the meeting reports that the Burmese officials would tolerate no refusals.

Meanwhile, members of the DKBA were also asked to monitor ballot boxes, provide security and lobby locals to vote “Yes” to the draft constitution, according to a DKBA source in Myawaddy.

He said, “The Burmese authorities asked DKBA members to take care of the voting processes in all the areas they controlled. Local people were asked to vote ‘Yes’ too. The authorities said that if the public votes ‘No’ it will take another 20 years for change to come to Burma.”

DKBA members were asked to take care of monitoring the referendum in areas under their control in Karen state, including Pa-an District, Kawkareik Township, Myawaddy Township and Shwe Koko Village, said the source. He also said that security and patrols had already been organized by DKBA soldiers along the Thai-Burmese border.

He added that villagers with little knowledge about the national referendum would likely do as the authorities told them and vote “Yes.”

Another ceasefire group, the Pa-O National Organization, or PNO, was similarly ordered to monitor the voting process in areas under their control.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone on Tuesday, a source said, “Two days ago, PNO members were ordered to set up ballot boxes in their areas and monitor the voting.”

The PNO signed a ceasefire agreement with the military government o¬n April 11, 1991. The group controls Special Region-6, in southern Shan State in eastern Burma.

Meanwhile, the ethnic Wa ceasefire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), has allowed the military regime to set up polling stations in their region, including the capital, Panghsang, according to a report by Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN).

Wa officials, however, are not really interested in participating in the constitutional referendum, said sources close to the group.

A Wa official was quoted by SHAN as saying, “We are not telling the Wa people whether to support or oppose the draft constitution. It is entirely their choice.”

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese political analyst on the China-Burma border said, “Wa leaders haven’t yet decided to what extent they will be involved in the referendum.

The Burmese authorities dare not to force UWSA to participate in the referendum, because tension between the Wa and the junta remains high because of previous incidents.”

He also said that members of another ethnic ceasefire group, the Kachin Independence Organization, or KIO, would most likely not be involved in the referendum process.

The KIO is the largest armed Kachin group and is based in Laiza o¬n the China-Burma border. The group signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta in February 1994.

Similarly, members of National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS), better known as the “Mongla” group, will boycott the constitutional referendum, while members of the Kokang Army have not decided yet whether they will vote or not, said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

Since early March, Burmese authorities have been issuing temporary citizen cards to families of members of certain ceasefire groups, including the KIO, UWSA, DKBA and NMSP. A temporary citizen card allows a citizen to vote in next month’s national referendum.

Meanwhile, a statement is due to be released tomorrow by leaders from 12 ethnic political parties in Burma, urging its supporters to cast a “No” vote in the national referendum.

Rangoon-based Cin Sian Thang, chairman of Zomi National Congress, said, “The regime knows that people don’t like their constitution. And if the people who don’t like the constitution don’t participate in the referendum, the junta will win and legitimize their constitution,” said Cin Sian Thang.

“If the constitution is approved, the situation in Burma will get worse,” he added. “Therefore, instead of boycotting, it’s important that people participate. I urge everyone to vote “No” in the referendum.”

Burma Junta Steps Up Cyber War On Bloggers

By Terry Evans
Scoop NZ

Junta Steps Up Cyber War On Bloggers

Burma's ruling generals are planning to throttle the flow of information and images transmitted from Burma via the internet during the national referendum, which is scheduled for May 10.

Phase one will be to reduce bandwidth, slowing down information flow, and phase two would be a total disconnect , if required. Internet users in Rangoon are already reporting that internet speed has slowed dramatically.

During last September's "Saffron Revolution" scores of photographs and videos streamed out of the country, with internet users finding ways to circumvent blocks on news sites. The role of bloggers was crucial, as only a handful of Western journalists managed to remain undercover inside the country.

Young technically-savvy Burmese used ingenious techniques to outsmart the junta. These "citizen journalists" refer to the uprising as the "Glite Revolution", named after a proxy server popular in Burmese cybercafes.

Report: Chevron Financing, Profiting From and Liable for Human Rights Abuses in Burma

A report released today by EarthRights International (ERI) documents the ongoing human rights abuses, including the use of forced labor, in the Yadana pipeline region of southern Burma (Myanmar).

The first in-depth look at conditions in the pipeline region since Chevron Corporation joined the Yadana Project in 2005, the report details Chevron’s role in financing the military regime in Burma and highlights Chevron’s continuing legal liability for abuses associated with the pipeline.

Chevron acquired its stake in the pipeline by purchasing Unocal Corporation, shortly after Unocal paid compensation to settle a lawsuit over its own complicity in Yadana Project abuses. Chevron remains the largest U.S. investor in Burma.

According to the report, The Human Cost of Energy: Chevron’s Continuing Role in Financing Oppression and Profiting From Human Rights Abuses in Military-Ruled Burma (Myanmar), Chevron relies on the brutal Burmese military for pipeline security. The pipeline security soldiers conscript forced labor (including forced sentry duty along the pipeline route) and commit other serious human rights abuses in the course of their operations.

As revealed by original field data collected by ERI between 2003-2008 in Burma and along the Thai-Burma border, abuses in the pipeline region include murder and rape by pipeline security soldiers, forced conscription of porters for security patrols, land confiscations, forced plantation programs, and general predation including widespread theft of goods by soldiers.

“The widespread human rights abuses associated with the destructive Yadana project began in the early 1990s, before the pipeline had even been constructed,” noted Ka Hsaw Wa, Executive Director of EarthRights International. “These foreign companies knew all along that there was forced labor and other abuses, but did nothing. If Chevron thought they could assume Unocal’s interest, throw a little money at some development projects with marginal utility, and the people of Burma would welcome them with open arms, they are sorely mistaken.”

The Yadana pipeline, carrying natural gas from the Andaman Sea through southern Burma to Thailand, is the Burmese military regime’s financial lifeline and the single largest source of income for the junta. The military regime is Chevron’s direct partner in the project and receives almost 75% of the project’s total income. In 2007 alone, the regime took in upwards of US $1 billion in project related revenue. Instead of spending this income on much needed health and education for the impoverished residents of Burma, the regime spent less than seven percent of their total budget on education and health care, while spending an estimated 40% of the budget on the military.

By partnering with Burmese military, who continue to commit widespread human rights abuses in connection with the pipeline, Chevron is exposing itself to massive potential liabilities in U.S. courts. ERI served as counsel in Doe v. Unocal Corp., representing twelve victims of the Yadana Project against Unocal in lawsuits in U.S. courts. While Unocal ultimately compensated those victims, the resolution of Doe v. Unocal does not prevent the numerous other victims from filing similar lawsuits against Chevron.

Last year, as peaceful demonstrators were getting gunned down in the streets of Burma, Chevron launched a massive public relations campaign, The Power of Human Energy. This campaign is clearly designed as public relations stunt, and in no way reflects a change of corporate policies or practices. As Marco Simons, Legal Director of EarthRights International recently noted, “If Chevron thinks they can distract the international community with public relations gimmicks or so-called socio-economic programs while at the same time profiting from this pipeline that has caused so much death and destruction in Burma, not to mention other parts of the world where Chevron operates, they should think again. We demand Chevron account for its actions, compensate communities that have been brutalized, and change their behavior, in Burma and around the world.”

The report documents:
  • Pipeline security forces continue to commit acts of violence, terrorize the local population and require forced labor on pipeline-related projects;
  • Despite considerable risks to themselves and their families, residents from the pipeline region continue fleeing to refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border because of conditions around the pipeline;
  • Chevron is misleading the international community by touting its socio-economic programs in the region. In reality, any benefits of these programs only apply to a small portion of people affected, and the dire conditions in the pipeline region render these programs ineffective;
  • Chevron was fully aware of the human rights abuses associated with the pipeline when it purchased Unocal in 2005, and remains complicit and liable for the ongoing abuses by the Burmese military in the pipeline region.
The report calls for Chevron to:
  • Halt the development of projects that fund the Burmese military regime until there is a genuine transition to a full participatory government that guarantees basic human rights;
  • Immediately cease relying on the military for pipeline security and terminate contracts that require the company to fund or use the Burmese military;
  • Allow independent third parties with expertise in documenting human rights abuses unfettered access, without military supervision, to the pipeline region to assess and monitor conditions on the ground, including mechanisms that both allow local residents to bring complaints and ensure their safety and confidentiality;
  • Condemn human rights abuses committed by the military and use its influence with their Burmese military partners to push for respect for and improved human rights throughout the country;
  • Provide adequate compensation to all individuals and communities harmed by the Yadana project;
  • Support efforts to promote transparency through disclosure of all payments involved in the project, including those through the Production Sharing Contract with the military regime;
  • Expand their so-called socio-economic program by including all villages that have suffered and continue to suffer adverse impacts from the Yadana project.
ERI has been documenting human rights abuses in the Yadana pipeline region for fourteen years and litigated Doe v. Unocal for nine years, from 1996 until the settlement in 2005. ERI is currently also litigating Bowoto v. Chevron, a lawsuit against Chevron in San Francisco courts for the 1998 shooting, killing, and torture of several environmental protestors at a Chevron offshore platform in Nigeria.

A copy of the report can be viewed online at

EarthRights International (ERI) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that combines the power of law and the power of people in defense of human rights and the environment. Focusing on earth rights, we work at the intersection of human rights and the environment. We specialize in fact-finding, legal actions against perpetrators of earth rights abuses, training for grassroots and community leaders, and advocacy campaigns that seek to end earth rights abuses and promote and protect earth rights. For more information, please visit:

Common Dreams

EU extends Myanmar sanctions

Luxembourg (M&C)- The European Union on Tuesday extended its sanctions targeting the Myanmar regime for 12 months and threatened to extend them amidst ongoing concerns over the political situation there.

At a meeting in Brussels, the foreign ministers of the bloc's 27 member states agreed to extend the current range of sanctions covering travel, investment and trade, and 'reiterated their readiness to introduce further restrictive measures in light of developments on the ground.'

The ministers also called for an international embargo on arms exports to the regime.

They further criticized Myanmar's proposed new constitution, which is to be the subject of a referendum on May 10, saying that it 'would foresee restrictions on the eligibility for high political office, allow the military to suspend the constitution at will (and) fail to accommodate the country's ethnic diversity.'

And they repeated earlier calls for the release of political prisoners, including pro-democracy leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi.

However, the EU has only limited influence in Myanmar, since its trade with the country is minimal and it is far away from the scene.

China is widely seen as being the most important player in the region, but the EU is keen to avoid an open confrontation with Beijing over the issue, as China is one of its most important trading partners and its single largest supplier of manufactured goods.

Ethnic Karen in Myanmar fight for survival

Kaw Poe Kee, Myanmar - Wah Wah Mu, 38, has dressed up her little daughter with a pink chiffon dress, a rare sight in this jungle region of Myanmar (Burma).

But two-and-a-half-year-old Yaung Naing Oo doesn't smile. She has a high fever and apathetically lies in her mother's arms.

'It has gotten worse since yesterday evening,' says Wah Wah Mu, who trekked through the jungle for an hour to reach the clinic.

Tests show the girl has malaria. Treatment and medication is free at this clinic, build with the help of the South Tyrol-based non-governmental organization Help Without Borders.

Wah Wah Mu is a member of the Karen, an ethnic group that has refused to submit to the Myanmar's military junta's yoke. So the regime has waged a merciless war against the Karen.

Like all her neighbours, Wah Wah Mu fled to Myanmar's border area with Thailand to escape government soldiers who regularly invade Karen villages, demand money and food, burn down houses, force Karen males to work as army porters and chase women and children across mined fields.

The good Samaritan of Kaw Poe Kee is Nana, who lives across the border in Thailand and works for the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) run by the Karen government-in-exile.

The clinic consists of a single, large room with mosquito nets instead of window panes. Some 16 wooden stretchers are lined up against the walls.

'We are seeing between 10 and 20 patients every day, up to 40 during the rainy season,' says Nana.

That is the time of the year when mosquitoes proliferate while flooding provides the perfect condition for all kinds of germs.

Before the clinic was build in 2007, patients had to travel in emergencies into Myanmar's interior to seek treatment at government hospitals, but most of them could not afford the high cost.

On a recent morning, the clinic was very busy.

Two mothers were breast-feeding their babies. Three of the stretchers were occupied by men receiving infusions. They had just gone through particularly violent malaria attacks. The infusion bottles hang on a nail that has been driven into the wooden wall.

Nana has also implemented prophylactic programmes against tuberculosis and malaria.

'When we started out last year, 60 out of 100 patients suffered from malaria; today we are down to seven,' she says proudly.

The village of Kaw Poe Kee has only existed for the past seven or eight years. All its 320 inhabitants are refugees in their own country, just like another estimated 250,000 members of the 7-million-strong Karen ethnic minority.

In addition, Thailand houses thousands of refugees in camps along the border.

One hour from Kaw Poe Kee lies Nya Pel Hta, which is even newer. This is where Wah Wah Mu and her neighbour Ma Chit Tu, 39, live.

'Each time the soldiers arrived, they stole all our belongings. We just couldn't live like this any longer,' recalls Ma Chit Tu. But we also couldn't flee across the border into Thailand, because the Thai authorities would have arrested us.'

That was when the families decided to leave their village and built a new one in this jungle clearing. Today, the population of Nya Pel Hta already includes 25 families.

Karen soldier Thaw Thee, 39, has been assigned to sentry duty in the village. His uniform comprises rubber sandals, a t-shirt, camouflage pants and a cap. His rifle dangles from his shoulder.

'The enemy lurks about 10 kilometres from here,' he says while pointing into the jungle. The Karen rebels control a strip between 5 and 10 kilometres wide along the Thai-Myanmar border, but safety within this area is never guaranteed.

'I will continue fighting until the Karen have gained their freedom,' he asserts.

Thaw Thee's commander is Ner Dah, 41, who once studied liberal arts in California.

'The Karen must become free and independent, only then can they decide if they want a federation with Myanmar's other ethnic groups,' he says.

No-one here has any trust in the junta and its so-called roadmap to democracy. No-one cares about the referendum in Myanmar on the new constitution that is supposed to lead to elections in two years.

'We know that there will be no future for us as long as the junta holds on to power,' says Chaung Khu, 24, a Karen refugee who works for Help Without Borders.

Many Karen want to migrate abroad. Australia, Canada and New Zealand are popular choices.

But this poses a problem for those who want to build a viable Karen state one day. Education is a priority for the government-in-exile but often people trained as teachers leave for third countries.

Help Without Borders currently supports schools for 6,000 pupils in the Karen area and in Thailand.

Next to receive a school is Nya Pel Hta, to accommodate 25 pupils in the near future. It is being paid for with donations from Europe.

One of the pupils is Mu La Thee, 6, who says he originally wanted to become a soldier just like his father.

During a previous visit to Kaw Poe Kee he admired the colourful posters pasted on the school walls there and was mightily impressed.

'If I'm good, perhaps I can become a teacher instead,' he says.

M&C-Deutsche Presse-Agentur