Friday, 6 June 2008

Burma Army cremates Rohingya Muslims

Kaladan Press - 04 June 2008

Maungdaw, Arakan: The Burmese Army based in Bandohla camp, near the Burma-Bangladesh border, near pillar No.50, cremated two Rohingya Muslims on June 1 evening, according to a villager near the camp. The bodies ought to have been buried.

Bandohla camp is a border outpost with the special armed forces located near the Burma-Bangladesh border.

On June 1, a section of army personnel patrolling the area, found two bodies near the camp, between pillars No.54 and 55 and took the bodies to the camp, according to official source.

The troops informed camp authorities that the dead were Muslims, who had gone to cut bamboo inside the government controlled forest and could have been killed by Bangladeshi robbers, the official source more added.

On May 31, in the morning, a group of army went to the forest to check the border and they shot to the bamboo cutters while they were cutting bamboo and cranes from the forest not far from the camp. The patrol group, hearing the voice of the bamboo cutters, the army blindly fired to them and killed two bamboo cutters on the spot, but some others were managed to escape. But, the nearby villagers did not dare to expose the name of the dead bodies, according to the villagers inside Arakan.

Of the two dead one was old and another young. The army was unable to identify them or get their address. The officer-in-charge ordered their cremation.

"Bodies of Muslims are not cremated as per traditional Muslim custom, but the army didn't handover the bodies to the nearest Muslim village and cremated them in keeping with Buddhist customs," said the sources.

Four 'vote No' campaigners detained in Chin state

Khonumthung - May 31, 2008 - A vengeful Burmese military junta has detained four 'Vote No' campaigners in a military camp located in a remote area in southern Chin state, Burma in the aftermath of the referendum to approve the draft pro-military constitution.

The detained campaigners are Aung Be from Salowa village, Hla Myint Aung from Kinwa village and Tu Lin and Ko Htet from Leite village in Paletwa Township.

The quartet were arrested by Burma Army troops on May 7 while they were distributing pamphlets urging voters in Chinletwa village in Paletwa Township to reject the new charter drafted to perpetuate and legitimize military rule in Burma.

The villagers residing around Chinletwa villages tried to bail the detainees out. They are yet to be produced in the township court.

"We are approaching a commander of the military camp in Chinletwa and trying to bail them out with Kyat 300,000 for each detainee," a village headman from Chin state said on condition of anonymity.

In an initial attempt to bail the detainees out, the villagers paid the money they collected. The village headman did not mention how much was collected from villages near Chinletwa's. The money went to grease the palms of Captain Thang Cing Thang of the Light Infantry Battalion (20) from the military outpost based in Tura Ai village in Paletwa Township.

According to referendum watch groups in Chin state, voters from several areas in Chin state had overwhelmingly rejected the draft constitution in the referendum held on May 10.

However, the regime announced that 92 percent of the voters in Burma endorsed the military's new constitution.

Forced labour for 'No' voters; villagers build military outpost

Khonumthung - June 4, 2008 - The Burmese military junta authorities have engaged villagers from remote areas in Chin state, Burma to construct a military outpost. Engaging the villagers as labour is the regime's way of harassing the people who rejected the draft constitution during the referendum held on May 10.

Captain Thang Cing Thang, camp commander of the Light Infantry Battalion (20) stationed in Shinletwa village in Paletwa Township, southern Chin state issued an order directing the villagers to build and fence military camps on the Indo-Burma border, a village headman in Chin state said on condition of anonymity.

On May 23, military authorities paid a surprise visit to Shinletwa village to find out who all rejected the new constitution, a village head said.

During the referendum, Shinletwa and its nearby villages in the Shinletwa military territory were said to have overwhelmingly voted "No" in the referendum, which the regime said had been supported by 92.4 percent of 99.07 percent of voters who turned up.

"The military authorities came to the village and asked villagers who had told them to reject the constitution. They also wanted to know who the leader is," a village headman said.

Those unwilling to participate in the construction of the military outpost must pay Kyat 30,000 the order said.

So far, Ramri, Pari, Sha O, Hamapi, Arakan and Hemar Te villages have paid Kyat 30,000 each to the camp commander of the Shinletwa military camp. There are 15 villages in the camp territory.

At least five villagers from each village along with the village headman from the respective villages are involved in the construction of a new military camp, according to a villager who arrived on the Indo-Burma border.

Nearby villages of Shinletwa – which have been hit by famine caused by bamboo flowering, are also facing shortage of food.
Soldiers arrested four 'vote No' campaigners in Shinletwa ahead of the referendum poll on May 7.

DVB News - 4-5 May'08

Monks and students reject junta’s constitution

Thai artists raise funds for Burma’s cyclone victims

Commentary: Who will bell the cat in Burma?

Bogalay residents accuse authorities of selling aid

Zarganar taken in for police questioning

Authorities demand money and goods from farmers

Schools demand fees from pupils after cyclone

Burmese police arrest prominent comedian & director Zarganar (Video Update)

Mizzima News
05 June 2008

Prominent Burmese comedian, actor & director Zarganar, who has been playing an active role in helping Cyclone survivals, was taken away from his residence by authorities on Wednesday evening, family sources said.

A team of nine police led by district Police commander of Western Rangoon at about 8 p.m on Wednesday night raided Zarganar's resident in Sanchuang Township.

Thuya or better known as Zarganar was reportedly taken for further interrogation after the police team searched his house, the family source said.

"They came in and said they will only search but after searching the house at about 10:45 p.m they told him [Zarganar] to get his cloths. They said they will take him for about two days," the family source told Mizzima.

The Police team confiscated a computer, video CDs of Than Shwe's daughter's wedding, Rambo 4, and Nargis plights, two cash account book, 30 Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) and USD 1000 from Zarganar's resident.

Zarganar was among the first Burmese celebrities to have rushed to help Cyclone after Nargis struck Burma on May 2 -3. He has played active role in reaching people with aid supplies including rice and other commodities.

Observers believe that authorities are having difficulties with the celebrity's outspoken nature and critical stand against the government's slow response to the crisis.

Zarganar has been frequently arrested by the authorities for revealing and daring to speak to the media that exposes parts of the truths of Burma's tightly controlled living situation.

Authorities in May 2006, banned Zarganar from practice any artistic performances including a ban on writing, film acting and directing, after talking to the Burmese Service of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

The video of Zarganar and Group activities helping cyclone Nargis survivors.

Month after cyclone access to delta still a problem

05 June 2008

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Access to the Irrawaddy delta region is still a huge problem a month after the killer cyclone struck Burma, though visa applications have been granted in small numbers, international aid agencies said.

So far at least 143 international aid workers have been granted entry visa to Burma, said an official at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Bangkok.

"There is some progress on that [obtaining visa]," said the official.

While many international aid workers have been provided access to the delta region they are restricted from staying for long periods, said an official at the United Nations information department in Rangoon.

"But definitely there is progress," the official said, adding that the UN and other agencies are pushing the regime to allow aid workers to stay up to 60 days in the delta.

"They can go to the delta but the junta decides how long they can stay," the official said.

The UN World Food Program meanwhile said it has a single international aid worker staying over night in the delta and coordinating its aid distribution, while others have not received clearance from the government to stay overnight.

"That will be the first significant deployment of international staff in the Delta," Paul Risley, spokesperson of WFP told a UN press conference on Wednesday in Bangkok.

The WFP said it has over 40 international staff members in Burma. Though they are allowed to go down into the delta, only one person so far has received permission to stay back.

"Access to the Delta for international staff does remain a challenge," Risley added.

Jagan Chapagain, deputy head of zone office of the International Federation of Red Cross in Malaysia said, "Primarily our international staff members are in Rangoon, while most of the relief works are being carried out by their national partners -- Myanmar Red Cross Society".

The IFRC, however, sends its international staff members to the delta to provide assistance to the national staff for emergency response and the water unit, but they have to come back as soon as their work is done.

"There is no free access for people to go around [in the delta]," said Chapagain.

"Not everybody in Rangoon can just go in to the delta, we need to get permission," Chapagain added.

However, the World Vision, a Christian NGO, extensively working in Burma said, there has been progress in terms of easing restrictions on travel into Burma and to the delta.

James East, the World Vision spokesperson in Bangkok, said there has been significant progress made on visa application to enter Burma as well as in terms of getting clearance from the concerned ministries to go into the delta.

"Earlier, it took about three to four weeks to get approval to go outside Rangoon but now it takes only a couple of days, its becoming much easier," said East.

Earlier international aid workers needed to get clearance from the Burmese Ministry of Defence as well as from the concerned ministry depending on the nature of the work. But this process has now been eased, he added.

The World Vision said it has over 50 national staff members along with dozens of volunteers working in the Irrawaddy delta. Its international staff are going in and out to assist them but are not permanently based in the delta.

(JEG's: Somethng fishy here... WV sees what the others cannot.. odd???)

In Rural Villages, Life is Desperate

The Irrawaddy News

The shoreline of this island in the Bogalay River is filled with cyclone debris—fallen trees, pieces of houses, thatch and other household rubble.

I saw a yellow shape and then recognized it—the body of a man—devastated by sun and water: yellowish-white and bloated, hands across the branches of a bush.

When a gentle breeze whirls over the river, a putrid odor wafts along in the wind from other decomposed bodies.

Residents squat by a river at their village near Bogalay.
Villagers continue to fish, wash and bathe in the river
where rotting corpses can still be sighted tangled in the scrubs.
(Photo: Reuters)

The local name for this area is Pait Taw (Thick Forest). The island, called Mein Ma Hla Kyun (Pretty Lady Island), is littered with cyclone wreckage and decomposing bodies. The odor of death hangs over the island.

This is one island of death and destruction among hundreds in the delta.

The debris covering the island was deposited here from villages as much as five miles away by the tidal surge and violent winds. People in small boats moved along the shoreline searching for anything usable: pieces of wood, furniture, clothes or household items, anything that could be used to rebuild their lives. Two hungry dogs scavenged for something to eat.

One of the men searching the debris was Myint Than Oo, in his thirties, a resident of Outer Mayan village in the Kyein Chaung Gyi village tract on the western shore of the island. The cyclone killed 13 of his family members and relatives. He was one of 22 people who survived out of more than 400 in his village.

Myint Than Oo said that there were 4,000 people living in the Kyein Chaung Gyi village tract. Of those, about 500 survived.

"Nobody will return to their home village,” he said, taking a break from scavenging. In his boat, he had a gathered a small Nat statute (a spiritual figure) and a few pieces of wood.

“People from four or five villages in the tract will join together into a resettlement village,” he said. “I am looking for house poles and wood to build a house." Before the cyclone, he had worked as a laborer on a farm. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to work again.

My mind was filled with different images, such as pictures of Than Shwe and other generals handing out aid on television. The generals said the first phase of the relief effort was completed and that reconstruction would now begin. The people on this island would say otherwise.

I know millions of dollars have been donated to help the survivors and thousands of tons of food and other material has poured into Rangoon in the past weeks, but so far little of it has trickled down to village tracts like Myint Than Oo’s.

Military trucks and privately owned vehicles pass daily on the roads leading to Laputta, Bogalay, Kwan Chan Kone, Pyar Pon and Mawlamyaing Gyun townships. Relief aid piles up in compounds in Laputta, Dedaye and Bogalay. Will the next phase include a major effort to get reconstruction and aid to the villagers who live far away from the big cities? If so, when?

UN statistics say assistance has reached 1.3 million people out of 2.5 million affected by the cyclone. However, there are several million people here in the delta who seem to desperately need on-going assistance.

One example: Hla Win of Taw Kyaung village in Kwan Chan Kone Township. She said: "My entire betel vine plantation was destroyed in the cyclone. I have nothing left to replant. Some say I could buy betel vine sprouts, but the price has gone sky high. A thousand sprouts of betel vine now costs 55,000 kyats (US $40). It is incredible, and I can't afford to buy at that price. Now I can do nothing but rely on rice assistance from donors. The hardest time was a week after the cyclone. I cooked rain-soaked rice and at it with green mangoes. I thought it would have been better to die. Then, all my troubles would be over."

Many refugees in this area spend hours trying to receive food from donors who drive into the delta from Rangoon, some even reaching remoter areas like this. Some people all their time near the roads. The authorities have assigned military and police to patrol the roads leading into the major cities and village areas. The guards at the checkpoints try to prevent refugees from lining up to receive food.

In many villages, the majority of the residents are Buddhist Karen who work rice paddy, betel vine or betel nut farms.

They have only a few days to plant crops before the monsoon begins. Only a few lucky ones will be able to farm this growing season.

One of the unlucky ones is Hlaing Tun, 24, of Hayman Latar village, about a one hour boat trip from Bogalay.

"My family owns 10 acres of paddy,” he said, “and I used to work it with four buffalo. Now all our buffaloes are dead. All our seeds are gone. I can't afford to buy a mechanical plow, and I can’t afford diesel and seeds. I have no help from anywhere. If I can't start right now, it’s too late."

The burden of many people who have lost their loved ones and their livelihood in the cyclone is hard to bear. Maybe more aid will eventually reach into the distant villages, but it will take time.

Meanwhile, the struggle to eat and to stay healthy grows more difficult for many people who have lived under unimaginable conditions for more than one month.

During the night as I drove between Bogalay and Pyapon, I saw families huddled under under bamboo mats on the side of the road. Others sat under plastic sheets and pieces of corrugated metal.

Many people also stood silently next to the road in the dark, their eyes searching the cars for signs that they might stop and offer a little food.