Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Poor sanitation causes disease outbreak in Bogalay

Jun 4, 2008 (DVB)–Aid workers on the ground in Irrawaddy division have reported continuing health and sanitation problems, while some cyclone victims in some remote areas are still waiting for assistance.

In Bogalay township, volunteers from the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network have had to withdraw from Ayeyargyi village, where they had been helping storm victims, due to an outbreak of dysentery, according to HRDP members based locally.

The United Nations and health organisations have warned that there could be outbreaks of dysentery and typhoid in cyclone-hit areas due to lack of proper sanitation.

An individual aid worker who had been to remote areas of Bogalay, Dadaye and Laputta said the outbreak was not surprising as survivors because of the lack of access to clean water.

“I’ve seen people bathing and washing their mouths and faces about 20 feet away from corpses,” he said.

“In this kind of situation, you won’t be able to control cholera and contagious diseases.”

He also urged aid workers and UN staff based in towns to come and help survivors in remote areas.

“There are people who want to help but they are based in towns – people don’t tend to go to remote areas,” the aid worker said.

“As for the authorities, they just keep on loading and unloading materials onto military trucks at depots,” he said.

“That’s all we see at the moment. We see them in boats with flags flying, but they are doing nothing effective. Many villages, especially Karen villages, have not received aid.”

U Myint Aye of HRDP also said that doctors from Philippines had not been allowed to visit remote areas and restricted to treating patients in the regional capital Pathein.

A Buddhist monk who has been helping survivors of Cyclone Nargis in Irrawaddy division stressed that help is still needed and that comforting words alone are not enough to save lives.

“The situation here is not how the Burmese government describes it. People will only be able to survive with the help of others,” he said.

“You can’t just send prayers; you have to send charity.”

The monk’s comments came after the junta declared in state-run newspapers that the disaster relief phase was over and called for patience while reconstruction work takes place.

Reporting by Aye Nai

UN: Burma Aid Costs Soar as Junta Plays Hard Ball

The Irrawaddy News

The ruling junta's refusal to permit the use of military helicopters even from friendly neighboring countries is hampering aid to Burma's cyclone survivors and dramatically increasing costs, a United Nations report said.

More survivors of the disaster are now receiving some assistance, although in many cases it doesn't meet essential needs, the UN said in a report circulated Tuesday.

A total of 1.3 million survivors have been reached with assistance by local and international humanitarian groups, the Red Cross and the UN, said the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in a situation report dated June 2.

It said that in Burma's Irrawaddy delta, the area hardest hit by Cyclone Nargis, the proportion of people reached with assistance had increased to 49 percent from 23 percent on May 25.

However, the report warned that "There remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance for the affected populations."

"This is compounded by the lack of a clear knowledge of the locations, numbers of families, and level of assistance required, as well as a clear understanding of the support being provided by the Government of Myanmar [Burma] to its people."

The UN has estimated that 2.4 million people are in need of food, shelter or medical care as a result of the storm, which the government said killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

The junta had promised UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that foreign relief workers would be allowed into areas worst affected by the storm in the Irrawaddy delta after they were initially barred.

The UN's World Food Program warned Tuesday that its effort to supply food to the storm's victims, while satisfactory, is facing escalating costs.

Paul Risley, a spokesman for the agency in Bangkok, Thailand, said it is currently able to supply survivors with rice obtained inside Burma, and has about six week's supply on hand, considered a reasonable safety net.

WFP appealed to the international community for US $70 million to fund its operations in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, but was facing a 64 percent shortfall of that target, Risley said.

He warned that logistical aspects of the operations, such as the chartering of helicopters, are causing expenses to soar.

In previous large scale disasters—such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and Pakistan's 2005 earthquake—military helicopters are used to meet the massive immediate emergency requirements, he said. Thailand and Singapore have many such aircraft on hand, he said.

"For political reasons, the Myanmar government was reluctant to approve their use," Risley said. Burma was reportedly able to field only seven helicopters of its own.

After UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon won Burma's agreement to allow in helicopters to work for WFP, the UN agency was compelled to charter 10 privately owned military-grade helicopters: one from nearby Malaysia, and the others from Ukraine, Uganda and South Africa.

The helicopters had to be shipped to Bangkok aboard huge cargo planes. The Canadian government arranged commercially chartered flights to have four helicopters hauled from Ukraine, and an Australian air force plane transported two from South Africa. But a Russian plane had to be chartered to carry the three others from Uganda, at a cost of "roughly US$1 million," said Risley.

WFP must also pay for each hour the helicopters are used, plus associated costs for pilots and ground crew, meaning "expenses can rise very rapidly," he said.

Only one helicopter has arrived in Burma so far, and it flew its first flight there from Rangoon to the Irrawaddy delta town of Laputta on Monday, carrying half a ton of high-energy biscuits.

The other nine are in Thailand and "ready to fly," Risley said, adding that WFP hopes they could be transferred to Burma by the end of the week.

Because of the costs of the helicopters and other equipment WFP needs to hire—such as boats and barges for river transport inside Burma—"expenses will probably go higher than estimated," he said.

Referendum below UN Standards

The Irrawaddy News

The US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday the Burmese referendum on the draft constitution held in May did not meet UN Security Council standards of openness and fairness.

Khalizad, the Security Council president for the month of June, also expressed concern over the lack of progress made by the military government toward political reconciliation and democracy.

"We have not seen satisfactorily progress on that and as a matter of fact, the referendum did not meet the standards of the Security Council," Khalilzad said.

The Security Council for the past several months has emphasized the Burmese political reconciliation process should be all inclusive and transparent.

"The easing of the conditions on Aung San Suu Kyi has not taken place besides the issue of the referendum,” Khalizad said. “The reconciliation process has not moved forward."

On the junta’s response to the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, Khalilzad said: "While there has been some progress, we recognize that it didn't start as early as it should have. We expressed our outrage early on and said the government had the responsibility to protect its people and it shouldn't stand in the way."

At the same time, he said: "We have been encouraged by some of the recent decisions. We want to see more access."

"We will continue to closely monitor events in Burma," he said.

Khalilzad said the issue of Burma is expected to be taken up for discussion by the council this month.

Meanwhile, the United States announced that its naval ships stationed off the coast of Burma are preparing to leave the region, after waiting in the area for three weeks for the junta to grant permission to assist in relief efforts.

The ships—the USS Essex, USS Harpers Ferry, USS Mustin and USS Juneau—were sent to the coast of Burma to offer assistance after Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy Delta in early May.

"These are assets that are needed elsewhere, and there's no rational expectation at this point that we would be able to effectively use those assets in the humanitarian relief operation,” State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington. “That permission has not been forthcoming from the Burmese authorities. And at this point, we don't have any rational expectation that it would be."

However, McCormack said the US would continue with its relief mission through other means.

"We are not going to abandon those people. We're going to continue to try to get more aid in there, get experts in there. It's a humanitarian issue, and we're certainly not going to give up."

"The decision-making process of the Burmese regime stands in stark contrast to the decision making of those countries affected by the tsunami several years ago in the Southeast Asia and Indian Ocean region," McCormack said.

Those countries, he noted, were quick to open up their borders to a massive influx of aid. As a result, people's lives were saved and the process of reconstruction was able to proceed quickly.

"Because of that, also, I would say the international system was prepared to offer even more assistance well beyond the date at which the natural disaster took place," he said.

At UN headquarters in New York, a spokesperson at the secretary-general’s office confirmed media reports that nearly a month after the cyclone hit Burma, more than a million people have still not been reached by representatives of the international community. The assessment is based on information provided by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

However, they may have received aid from Burmese authorities or other groups, she said.

"What they are also saying is that a large number of villages have not received any support at all, and this is causing displacement as people search for food and clean drinking water," she said.

Khin Ohmar Wins International Award

The Irrawaddy News

June 2, 2008 - Burma democracy advocate Khin Ohmar has won the Anna Lindh prize for her efforts to fight prejudice and oppression in Burma. The prize includes a cash award of US $42,000.

The prize was established to honor Anna Lindh, the Swedish foreign minister stabbed to death in 2003.

Khin Ohmar, 46, is the head of the Burma Partnership Network, based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which seeks to promote democracy in Burma. She is also the chairperson of the Network for Democracy and Development. She was actively involved in protests against the junta in 1988.

DVB News for 2-3 June'08

Ethnic organisations appeal for border aid

Modern art group holds cyclone memorial

Meikhtila NLD denounces referendum result

Rights activists commemorate cyclone victims

Donors face questioning at checkpoints

Films planned to raise funds for cyclone victims

FFSS to provide support to cyclone orphans

Irrawaddy residents fear spread of disease

ILO concerned about forced labour after cyclone

Cyclone benefit concert stopped by authorities

School opening delayed in cyclone-hit areas

Refugees Return to Relief Centers in Laputta

Cyclone Nargis victims prepare to leave the Central Relief Camp after the authorities decided to close the camp in Kawhmu Township of Rangoon Division on June 2. All of them are supposed to leave the camp by Tuesday but many said that their villages are still flooded and inhabitable. (Photo: Reuters)

The Irrawaddy News

Thousands of cyclone survivors who were forcibly expelled from relief centers in Laputta over the last two weeks have returned, according to volunteer groups and local residents in Laputta Township.

This comes after international aid workers had said that cyclone survivors who had taken refuge in shelters were being driven out of towns by the local authorities and dumped in rural areas with no aid or supplies.

Sources said it was apparent the military government wanted the victims back in their villages repairing their houses and preparing their land for agriculture.

According to a local resident, however, congregating the refugees in relief centers made it easier for international aid organizations and local donors to distribute food, shelter and medical care.

Having returned from Laputta, Ohn Kyaing, the spokesperson for a relief team sponsored by the opposition National League for Democracy, said on Monday that thousands of cyclone victims had just returned and were sheltering at Layhtat monastery in Laputta, where some 7,000 survivors had taken refuge shortly after Cyclone Nargis hit the region on May 2-3.

Ohn Kyaing said that, in some cases, the authorities had again expelled the refugees who had just made their way back to Laputta from the places they had been driven to.

“The authorities called to the survivors by loudspeaker to return to their devastated villages,” said Ohn Kyaing. “But the refugees still poured into the relief camps.”

A businessman from the Yadanar NGO in Rangoon, who visited cyclone victims in remote villages of Laputta Township on Saturday, said that only a few villagers remained and that they were not receiving sufficient food and shelter from the government or any non-governmental organization.

"It was a sad scene,” he said. “Victims have no food, fresh water or shelter. The situation is just the same as when the cyclone hit. Nothing has changed.”

He said that dead bodies were still floating in rivers and nobody could wash there. He said the villages—including Kyane Chaung, Ale Yekyaw, Maung Ngne, Hlaing Pone and Thit Chaung—are facing disease and starvation.
He added that the international organizations and private donors could not reach the villages between Laputta Township and Pyinsalu village because there was still a strong current at the mouth of the rivers.

An estimated 2.4 million people remain homeless and hungry after the cyclone hit Burma. Official estimates say the storm killed 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

Irrawaddy News for 3-4 Jun'08

Junta Ignores Complaints of Corruption

Burmese Volunteers Struggle to Bring Aid to Cyclone Survivors

Indonesia to Propose Democracy Transition Plan?

Asean Can Impose Sanctions on its Members, Malaysia Says

Thai Donation Center Closed

‘No Warships Please, We’re Burmese’

Burmese Volunteers Struggle to Bring Aid to Cyclone Survivors

Men carry an injured elderly man at a refugee camp in Laputta, in the Irrawaddy delta. (Photo: AFP)

Burmese medical relief workers in the cyclone-devastated Irrawaddy delta region report that restrictions applied by local government authorities and soaring prices for supplies are preventing them from helping all those who urgently need aid.

“The medicines we brought along with us were not enough for the people who needed treatment,” said one volunteer doctor.

A nurse who has just returned from a remote area of Bogalay Township said stomach problems were a common complaint among survivors forced to exist on a diet of coconut shoots.

“People suffer from diarrhea and stomach pain after eating coconut shoots, but they have no other food,” she said.

The nurse bought medical supplies with money donated by her family and friends, but soaring prices prevented her from helping all those who needed treatment.

One Rangoon news journal reported that Burmese volunteers were taking medical aid by boat deep into the delta, to such hard-hit places as Laputta, Pyapon and Bogalay.

Foreign aid workers in the delta include medical personnel from India, Laos, Bangladesh, Singapore, the Philippines, France, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand.

The Chinese medics have treated 4,000 people in Dedaye, in the Irrawaddy delta, and Kungyangon and Kawmu in Rangoon Division. Thai medics have treated nearly 4,000 people in Myaungmya and Laputta in the delta region.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has, meanwhile, established a task force, led by Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan, to coordinate and channel international aid to Burma. Asean is planning to send hundreds of additional relief personnel to cyclone-ravaged areas.

Relief networks have also been set up by several Burmese organizations in exile, including the National Health and Education Committee, the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma, the Burma Medical Association and Dr Cynthia Maung’s Mae Tao Clinic.

Mahn Mahn, a leading member of the Burma Medical Association, said that three days after the cyclone struck the region his organization had established 34 networks to provide food, drinking water, clothes, shelters, medicines and building materials.

But Mahn Mahn said that because the networks had been set up by Burmese in exile he was concerned about the security of volunteers working within Burma to distribute the aid.

Despite the difficulties, Mahn Mahn said, the networks had been able to help more than 40,000 survivors who had received no assistance from the state.

Myanmar Needs `Sustained' Aid for Cyclone Survivors, UN says

By Paul Tighe

June 4 (Bloomberg) -- Myanmar needs ``sustained'' aid for survivors of last month's cyclone as relief supplies have reached less than half of the more than 2 million people in need, the United Nations said.

About 1.3 million people in the southern Irrawaddy River Delta, the main rice-producing area, have received assistance a month after Tropical Cyclone Nargis struck, Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in Geneva yesterday.

``There remains a serious lack of sufficient and sustained humanitarian assistance,'' Byrs said, according to a statement from the UN. About 49 percent of people in the delta have been reached, she said.

International agencies say Myanmar's ruling junta is still delaying full access to the region by imposing travel controls for aid workers. The military, which has ruled the country formerly known as Burma since 1962, says the delta is receiving supplies ``without delay,'' Agence France-Presse reported.

The cyclone killed about 77,000 people and left 55,000 missing, according to the UN. An estimated 500,000 to 600,000 people have been relocated, many in the delta, it said.

Supplies from abroad are ``flowing continuously to the country by planes,'' AFP cited the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper as saying yesterday. ``The relief supplies team accepted the items at the airport and transported them to the storm-hit regions without delay.''

Food Distribution

The World Food Programme says 1.5 million people need food assistance. With the help of other agencies, it aims to distribute about 400 metric tons of food a day, the UN's IRIN news agency cited Paul Risley, a WFP spokesman, as saying yesterday in Bangkok.

A fleet of more than 30 boats is carrying supplies through the delta's waterways to reach villages, he added.

Aid workers said there is evidence that the government is closing some temporary settlements and sending survivors back to their places of origin prematurely, IRIN reported. Authorities are closing shelters in the delta town of Labutta, it cited Frank Smithuis of Doctors Without Borders as saying yesterday.

Premature Returns

``We do not endorse premature returns to areas where there are no services,'' IRIN cited Terje Skavdal, head of the Asia and Pacific office for the UN humanitarian agency, known as OCHA, as saying May 30. ``People need to be assisted in the settlements and satisfactory conditions need to be created before they can return to their places of origin. This point has been made very clearly to the authorities.''

Teams are still finding communities where every building has been destroyed and survivors are living without any outside assistance, the WFP said on its Web site yesterday. Food, drinking water and shelter remain immediate necessities.

The delta produces most of Myanmar's rice, fish and pork, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Prices of goods have at least doubled since the cyclone struck. Myanmar was already battling to feed its 48 million people, with one- third of children malnourished and one-fifth born underweight.

The military went ahead with a referendum on a new constitution after the cyclone hit, saying more than 92 percent of voters approved the charter that provides for elections in 2010.

The vote ``washed away'' the victory claimed by the opposition National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi in a 1990 ballot, state media said yesterday, according to AFP.

The military never recognized the result of the election and has kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Tighe in Sydney at

Myanmar evicts cyclone victims from schools

HLAING THAYAR, Myanmar - After Cyclone Nargis destroyed their home, Htay Win and her two daughters found shelter in the classrooms of a nearby school on the outskirts of Myanmar's former capital Yangon.

But late last week, authorities forced them to move back to the ruins of their home, and then said the two daughters should return on Monday for classes.

Her daughters, longing for some semblance of normalcy in the routine of a school day, begged her to let them go.

So she went to a money lender to borrow the 5.50 dollars she needs for school fees. Htay Win is supposed to pay him back at the end of the month, plus 20 percent interest.

"I have no choice. I have to find a way to give my daughters an education," she said.

"But I have nothing. I am a widow, and my house was destroyed by the storm. I already had to get a loan to build a bamboo tent where my house used to be," the 42-year-old vegetable seller told AFP.

"We just got two tins of rice from the township authorities today. Apart from that, the authorities have not given anything to us.

"Some private donors came to donate things to storm victims, but the authorities stopped them," she said.

Htay Win's family were among 400 hungry and homeless storm victims forced to leave the No.2 Basic Education Middle School on Friday, according to a teacher here.

The lucky ones had a bit of tarpaulin to make a tent, but most had nothing, she said.

The authorities insisted that schools around Yangon open on schedule on Monday after a long holiday, despite the cyclone that left 133,600 dead or missing, with 2.4 million people in need of food, shelter and medicine.

Schools in the hardest-hit regions of the Irrawaddy Delta have been given another month to open, but UNICEF says 3,000 schools were wiped out by the cyclone. About 500,000 children have no classrooms at all.

At this middle school, flies now swarm through the three-storey building, with classrooms reeking of human waste. There has been no sanitation since the cyclone hit one month ago.

Teachers fear for their students' health, but their fear of defying the military authorities is even greater.

"My school isn't clean enough. I worry for the children's health. We need to spray disinfectant around the school. We hope the Doctors Without Borders or World Vision will help," the teacher said.

Only about half of the school's 870 students showed up for class this week.

"Many parents can't afford to send their children to school, because they don't have enough money. I feel so sad for my pupils," another teacher said.

"Many parents told me that they went to money-lenders for their school fees, even with the very high interest rates. I told the children they can come to school even if they don't have the right uniforms," she said.

Some of the children have been sent to work instead.

San San Khaing, a 30-year-old fish seller, said she has sent her 14-year-old daughter to work in a factory after their home was destroyed in the storm.

"I can't afford to educate my eldest daughter any more. I am sending the younger one to school, by borrowing the money at 20 percent interest. We are surviving on my eldest daughter's wages," she said.

"I hope she will go back to school next year," she said. "But I'm lucky enough to send one daughter to school," she added.

Cyclone victims around Hlaing Thayar, a crippling poor neighbourhood on Yangon's outskirts, said the military has stopped private donors from delivering supplies here, even though state media loudly proclaim every day that anyone is free to make donations everywhere.

"The local authorities have given us seven potatoes. Three were already rotten. I have seven family members. What I am supposed to do with that?" said Khin Cho, a 43-year-old mother living in a homemade tent.

"They always try to stop the private donors," she said. "What's the result? We get nothing." - AFP/ir

U.S. warships to leave Myanmar after aid refused

BANGKOK (Reuters) - U.S. warships will soon leave waters near Myanmar after the ruling military junta refused permission for the delivery of aid supplies to the cyclone-stricken Irrawaddy delta, a top U.S. commander said on Wednesday.

Admiral Timothy Keating said the USS Essex group will sail away from the former Burma on Thursday but leave several heavy-lift helicopters in neighboring Thailand to assist in the relief effort.

"Should the Burmese rulers have a change of heart and request our full assistance for their suffering we are prepared to help," Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said in a statement.

Myanmar has been promised millions of dollars in aid from the United States, other governments and aid organizations.

But the junta has refused to allow the U.S. military to help distribute aid to affected areas, appearing due to fear that a large-scale international relief effort would loosen the grip the generals have held since a 1962 coup.

Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Bangkok on Sunday that the junta had rejected foreign military help in delivered cyclone aid because it feared it could be seen as an invasion.

Keating said they had made 15 attempts over the past three weeks to convince the regime to allow in U.S. helicopters and landing craft, "but they have refused us each and every time."

The United States had delivered more than 2 million lbs of relief supplies on 106 airlifts to Myanmar since the first U.S. military aid flight on May 12, Keating said.

(Reporting by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Ed Davies and Valerie Lee)

Tin Soe: Striving for democracy in Myanmar

By A. Junaidi

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta, 06/04/2008

Tin Soe knows how difficult it is to be a minority Burmese Muslim -- suffering discrimination and insecurity -- as well as a journalist working in an authoritarian country like Myanmar.

Along with other inter-faiths activists, Tin, who is also known as Mohamed Taher, the editor of Kaladan Press Network, has been struggling against Myanmar's military junta and dreaming of a democratic country.

"I'm fighting the military junta through the media. No foreign media are able to cover ... the junta are not giving permission to enter the areas," Tin said in an interview with The Jakarta Post recently on the sidelines of his visit together with a group of Buddhist monks at the Post's office in Central Jakarta.

The visit included a discussion on the recent rally in Myanmar, which thousands of people joined, including Buddhist monks in Yangon, the capital of the country.

Hundreds of people, including the monks and a foreign journalist, were reportedly killed during the demonstration after police brutally dispersed the crowd.

Through his news agency, which is based in Chitagong, a Bangladesh border town, Tin coordinated reporters inside Myanmar, particularly in Yangon, to collect information on the rally.

Tin said he was jailed twice in 2004 -- in January (seven days) and November (15 days) -- in Bangladesh for distributing news about the military junta.

"The military junta would also attack Buddhist monks if they felt threatened ... it's not just Muslims who suffered discrimination for years under the regime," self-exiled Tin said.

The muslim population of Myanmar comprises about eight percent or one million of the total population. The religious group is divided into four sub-groups: Muslims of Indian origin, from Bangladesh, India or Pakistan; Arakan Muslims, called Rohingyas; Panthays Muslims, who originate from Yunnan, China and use Mandarin language; and Burmese Muslims, of Persian origin.

Tin said Burmese Muslims in Mynamar were discriminated under an assimilation project commonly called "Burmanization", a socio-cultural project in which Muslims were not allowed to use Urdu (the main language of Muslims of Indian origin), Arabic and Mandarin, instead of Burmese language. Islamic schools, mosques and cemeteries were also closed under the project.

"We were banned from holding Islamic functions such as the Idul Adha and Idul Fitri celebrations," Tin, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Rangoon University, Burma, said.

Another form of discrimination, he said, was the one citizen law, which had forced thousands of Arakan Muslims (who resided in predominantly Muslim state of Rakhine) to take refuge in Bangladesh, as they were not legally acknowledged in Myanmar and not permitted to hold identity cards. Many Muslims also took refuge in Malaysia, while others sought protection in Thailand.

After graduating from university, Tin worked at a private company in Chitagong. He was also active in the Arakan Roping Islamic Front as an intern who collected information from inside Arakan on abuses carried out by the military junta from May 1982 to December 1988.

Tin, who was born on May 20, 1955, went on to study mass media and joined several training programs on various topics, such as public relations, photography and news gathering in Baguio city, the Philippines, and web design and ICT in Thailand.

From January 1989 to December 2003, he worked as an assistant (overseas) information secretary for the Arakan Rohingya National Organization in Saudi Arabia. He reported to the head office in Bangladesh on the settlement of large number of Rohingyas refugees in the Middle East, and set up networks with government officials and local NGOs.

The military junta's brutal action against Buddhist monks was an indication, Tin said, that the violence in Myanmar did not discriminate religion or ethnicity.

It was once thought that the junta supported Buddhism -- as shown by their participation in Buddhist rituals and celebrations -- and discriminated other minority religions, including Islam.

However, the junta has always claimed that a firm government is needed to prevent the country, which is diverse in terms of ethnicity and religions, from breaking up. Burmese comprise the largest ethnic group in Myanmar. Other ethnic groups, including the Karen and Shan groups, are still involved in armed conflict with the military junta.

The current military junta is dominated by Burmese (top opposition leader Aung San Su Kyi is also Burmese).

International countries, including ASEAN states like Indonesia, have condemned the brutal military action against demonstrators in Myanmar.

Tin said international support would help Mynamarmese activists to free the country from military repression. He and other activists, including monks, are now traveling overseas to seek that support.

"We have shown that we, Buddhists and Muslims, as well as people from different ethnic (groups) can cooperate. We believe a democratic country can protect their citizens without any discrimination."