Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Burma six months on: Children and their families are still in need of international assistance

11 Nov 2008 05:39:48 GMT

(Alert Net) - Cyclone Nargis cut a swath of destruction across Myanmar’s southern coast on 2-3 May 2008.

More than 130,000 people, including tens of thousands of children, died or disappeared, while more than 1 million people lost their homes. In addition, the agriculture and fishing industries in the Irrawaddy Delta were devastated, leaving families with no way to earn an income or feed themselves.

The storm also flooded low-lying areas, contaminating wells, containment ponds and rivers. Salinity of these traditional sources of drinking water remains high. As the dry season begins this month in Myanmar, families will have few options for obtaining clean drinking water, increasing the risk of disease.

“The water shortage that typically comes with the dry season is being exacerbated by the unusually high salt content in water sources in the Delta — a lingering result of the cyclone,” said Andrew Kirkwood, Save the Children’s country director in Myanmar. “The lack of clean water will directly impact the health of children. Scarce family resources will be further strained if they must purchase water, as will relationships among communities if they must compete for this resource.”

Source: Save the Children - Australia
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88 Generation Activists Given 65 Years

The Irrawaddy News
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fourteen leading activists, including five women, from the 88 Generation Students group were each given 65-year sentences on Tuesday morning for their political activities during the monk-led uprising in Burma last year, according to sources close to their families.

The lengthy imprisonments were seen as an indication the Burmese military government was invoking harsher punishments on dissidents.

The 14 activists— Min Zeya, Jimmy (aka Kyaw Min Yu), Arnt Bwe Kyaw, Kyaw Kyaw Htwe (aka Ma Kee), Panneik Tun, Zaw Zaw Min, Than Tin, Zeya, Thet Zaw, Mee Mee, Nilar Thein, Mar Mar Oo, Sandar Min and Thet Thet Aung—were sentenced at a court inside Insein Prison, said the sources.

The 88 Generation Students group were seen to be involved in the mass protests against the increased fuel prices enforced by the Burmese government in August 2007.

Meanwhile, a prominent labor rights activist, Su Su Nway, was sentenced to 12 and a half years, said a source who visited Insein Prison on Tuesday.

In late October, nine leaders of the 88 Generation Students group, including Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Htay Kyew, were sentenced to six months imprisonment under Section 228 of the penal code—for contempt of court—by the Northern District Court inside Insein Prison in the northwestern suburbs of Rangoon.

Military Accused of Crimes Against Humanity

The Irrawaddy News
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

BANGKOK — An onslaught by Burmese troops in the eastern part of the military-ruled country, running for three years now, is laying the junta open to charge of ‘crimes against humanity’.

This new charge adds to a growing list of human rights violations that the Southeast Asian nation’s ruling military regime is being slammed for, including the use of rape as a weapon of war in military campaigns in areas that are home to the country’s ethnic minorities. The country has been under the grip of successive juntas since a 1962 military coup.

Eyewitness accounts from civilians fleeing the territory under attack reveal a grim picture of the ‘Tatmadaw’, as the Burmese military is called, targeting unarmed men, women and children in a "widespread and systematic way," say human rights and humanitarian groups.

An increasing number of refugees have been crossing over to northern Thailand from among the Karen ethnic community, the second largest ethnic group in Burma, or Myanmar. Many of them live in the mountainous Karen State, the territory where Southeast Asia’s longest—and largely ignored—separatist conflict is being waged between Burmese troops and the armed wing of the Karen National Union (KNU).

"Myanmar’s troops are overtly targeting civilians; they are actively avoiding KNU military installations. That is why we are describing the attacks as ‘crimes against humanity’," says Benjamin Zawacki, Southeast Asia researcher for Amnesty International (AI), the global rights lobby. "The violations are widespread and systematic."

"This campaign started in November 2005 and has escalated. They did not even stop during the annual monsoon period (from May to October), which was not the case before," he explained during an IPS interview. "There has been a shift in strategy and intensity. It is no more a dry season offensive."

The military campaign is the largest and the longest sustained drive in a decade. "The Burmese army is rotating soldiers every six months and they have penetrated areas deep in the Karen area," David Tharckabaw, vice president of the KNU, said in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location. "Nothing is being spared. They are even destroying fruit plantations like mangosteen."

The list of abuse document by AI, and corroborated by other humanitarian groups, include villagers being beaten and stabbed to death, being shot by the ‘Tatmadaw’ "without any warning" and being tortured and subsequently killed. Karen civilians have also reportedly been subjected to forced labour, disappearances and their rice harvest being burned down.

"Before the soldiers left the village, they planted landmines, one of them in front of the church. An old man, maybe 70 years-old, stepped on a landmine and was killed," a female rice farmer told an AI researcher of an incident in early 2006, when the ‘Tatmadaw’ burned 20 of the 30 houses in her village.

"I lost everything—kitchen, furniture, rice stocks—not a single piece of paper was left," she added. "The same happened to the other 19 families whose houses were burned."

The unrelenting campaign, which has included the Burmese infantry and heavy use of 120 mm and 81mm mortar shells, has shrunk an already limited space for Karen civilians and internally displaced people (IDPs) to escape to. "The more the Burmese military occupies areas in a worsening situation, the less space there is for civilians to escape to," says Duncan McArthur, emergency relief coordinator of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an alliance of 11 humanitarian groups helping refugees from Burma along the Thai-Burmese border.

"Nearly 66,000 people from 38 townships have been forced to flee their homes due to the armed conflict and human rights abuses," he told IPS. "They had to because the violations are being committed in a climate of impunity."

Some of the victims have poured into north-west Thailand, where there are already nine camps that house 120,000 refugees who fled intense phases of the conflict going back over a decade. "There are about 20,000 unregistered new arrivals and the natural growth in the camps," added McArthur. "There is no avenue for redress if they were to stay back."

That is reflected in Burma’s over half a million IDPs, nearly 451,000 of which live in the rural ethnic areas, according to TBBC. It places Burma in the same league as countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, which have internally displaced running into the hundreds of thousands.

But what sets Burma apart is the lack of any international agencies to help the victims and serve as neutral observers in the conflict zone.

Even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was helping to provide artificial limbs for landmine victims, was hampered by new restrictions to its operations in 2006. In mid-2007, the Geneva-based humanitarian agency broke its famed silence in an unprecedented attack on the junta to explain why it had to end its operations in Burma, including the Karen areas.

The ICRC’s denunciation of major and repeated violations in the conflict zones in eastern Burma confirmed what many analysts had said of a region that is cut away from international scrutiny and media exposure. "The repeated abuses committed against men, women and children living along the Thai-Myanmar border violate many provisions of international humanitarian law," the organization said.

The Karens, who account for nearly seven million of Burma’s 57 million people, have their own distinctive culture and language and have Buddhists, Christians and animists among them. The Burmans, who are the majority, are predominantly Buddhist by faith, speak Burmese, and have a culture and history shaped by kings before being subjugated by British colonization.

The Karen fight for independence began in 1949, a year after Burma got independence. And the KNU has refused to sign peace deals with the Burmese regime unlike some of the other separatist rebels from ethnic groups. The latter settled for ceasefire deals over the past two decades, only to learn, subsequently, that the junta’s promises of more political autonomy were hollow.

"The Burmese military’s latest strategy is to keep attacking the KNU and Karen civilians in order to drive them to the Thai-Burma border," says Tharekabaw, of the KNU. "Their goal is to control all the land and all the people, which has never been the case before."

"If they cannot control, they have to kill the people or to wipe them out," he added. "The regime is a fascist regime. Their ideology is extremism, racism and militarism."

Quote on Justice

“Ah-dhhamma (injustice) is winning now,
but one day dhamma (justice) will win.”

--Aung Thein, Defence for Ashin Gambira

Court sentenced blogger for over 20 years, poet for two years - Nay Phone Latt

by Than Htike Oo
Mizzima News
Monday, 10 November 2008 23:37

Chiang Mai – A court in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison on Monday has sentenced a popular Blogger Nay Phone Latt to over 20 years in prison.

Nay Phone Latt, who was arrested on 29 January, on Monday was sentenced by the Insein prison court on three counts including charges under section 505 (b) of the Penal Code - crime against public tranquillity.

The Blogger's mother Aye Aye Than, told Mizzima that her son was sentenced to two years under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, three and half years under sections 32(b)/36 of the Video Law and 15 years under section 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Law.

"We were waiting outside during the court proceedings and after the court session we asked the judge about the quantum of punishment. The judge and prosecutor informed us regarding the judgement," she said.

The 28-years-old, Nay Phone Latt, a famous blogger, is also a youth member of Burma's main opposition party - National League for Democracy. He runs internet caf├ęs in several townships in Rangoon including "The Explorer" in Pabedan Township, and "Heaven" in Thingangyun Township.

His mother Aye Aye Than said that she had no idea why they had sentenced her son to such a long term in prison.
(JEG's: someone ought to tell her...)

"He is the first ever blogger to be arrested in Burma. I have no idea why they punished my son with such a harsh judgement. Blogging is perhaps a very serious crime in the opinion of the authorities," his mother said.

Meanwhile, Nay Phone Latt's defense counsel, Aung Thein, was also sentenced to four months prison-term in absentia on November 7, for a charge of contempt of the court.

Similarly, poet Saw Wei was also sentenced to two years in prison on Monday with charges of 'inducing crime against public tranquillity'.

He was arrested in February, after his poem entitled 'February 14' was published in the Weekly 'Ah Chit' (love) Journal. In his Burmese poem, putting together of the first words of all the lines spells out 'Power Crazy Snr. Gen.Than Shwe', which provokes the authorities and he was immediately arrested.

"I am worried about his health. I want to arrange proper medical treatment outside the prison for him, where X-ray facility would be available in order to diagnose his back and waist pain. Currently, he cannot get these treatments inside the prison. He has to cover his body with a towel all the time. This morning too at the court, he could not sit for a long time and had to stand up frequently to ease his pain when speaking," Saw Wai's wife told Mizzima.

Soe Maung, the defense counsel of Saw Wai said, despite of the court's verdict, he will continue filing appeals for revision, as he thinks the trial were not free and fair enough.

"We will file an appeal against this judgment at all levels of the courts including an appeal for a revision case. We intend to do as much as the law and judicial proceedings permit us to, within the legal framework, until we reach the last stage. I am preparing for an appeal on my client's instruction," Soe Maung said.

Meanwhile, media watchdogs the Reporters Without Frontiers (RSF) and Burma Media Association (BMA) has slam the junta for its unfair trials on the two writers – Nay Phone Latt and Saw Wai – and the verdict to sentenced them.

The two organisations said, they are appalled by the combined sentence of 20 years and six months in prison that a special court in Insein prison passed on Nay Phone Latt and two years to poet Saw Wai.

"This shocking sentence is meant to terrify those who go online in an attempt to elude the dictatorship's ubiquitous control of news and information, and we call for his immediate release. Saw Wai, for his part, is being made to pay for his impertinence and courage as a committed poet," the two organisations said in a press statement.

The two media watchdogs also call on all bloggers and poets around the world to show their solidarity towards Nay Phone Latt and Saw Wai.

"There is an urgent need now for bloggers all over the world to demonstrate their solidarity with Nay Phone Latt by posing his photo on their blogs and by writing to Burmese embassies worldwide to request his release. Similarly, we call on poets to defend their fellow-poet, Saw Wai, who has been jailed just because of one poem," said the two organisations.


Young Burmese Blogger Sentenced to more than 20 Years in Jail
The Irrawaddy News

A young Burmese blogger who was a major source of information for the outside world on the brutal regime crackdown on the September 2007 uprising was sentenced to 20 years and six months imprisonment on Monday.

Nay Phone Latt, 28, was sentenced by a court in Rangoon’s Insein Prison, according to his mother, Aye Than. He was convicted of contravening Public Offense Act 505 B by posting a cartoon depicting junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe on his blog site.

Nay Phone Latt’s colleague Thin July Kyaw was sentenced to two years imprisonment, Aye Than reported.

Another dissident who ridiculed the regime, Saw Wai, was sentenced to two years imprisonment for publishing a poem mocking Than Shwe in the weekly Love Journal, according to Rangoon sources. The first words of each line of the Burmese language poem spelled out the message “Senior General Than Shwe is foolish with power.”

Nay Phone Latt’s blogs during the September 2007 uprising provided invaluable information about events within the locked-down country.

Two Rangoon journalists, Htun Htun Thein and Khin Maung Aye, of the privately-owned weekly News Watch, were arrested on November 5 and are being detained in Insein Prison. The media rights organizations Reporters without Borders and Burma Media Association have demanded their immediate release.

The current regime crackdown is also aimed at silencing legal attempts to ensure fair trials for dissidents now appearing before judges in closed court sessions.

Two weeks ago, three defense lawyers, Nyi Nyi Htwe, Aung Thein and Khin Maung Shein were imprisoned for between four and six months for contempt of court after complaining of unfair treatment.

Four other defense lawyers, Kyaw Hoe, Maung Maung Latt, Myint Thaung and Khin Htay Kyew have been barred from representing their clients since November 5, according to Kyaw Hoe. The lawyers are representing several dissidents, including members of the 88 Generation Students group.

“I asked a prison authority why I was not allowed to appear in court,” said Kyaw Hoe. “He said there was no reason and that the order had come from higher officials.”

Members of the 88 Generation Students group were now appearing daily in court without their defense lawyers, Kyaw Hoe said.

Two lawyers, Myint Thaung and Khin Htay Kyi, who represent the prominent labor activist Su Su Nway, withdrew from court proceedings at the weekend, citing unfair treatment, according to the accused’s sister, Htay Htay Kyi.

Htay Htay Kyi said Su Su Nway would be sentenced on Tuesday. The winner of the 2006 John Humphrey Freedom Award was originally charged with “threatening the stability of the government,” under articles 124, 130 and 505 of the penal code, but new charges have now been added.

In a statement in Washington, the US State Department criticized the imprisonment of the four defense lawyers and urged the Burmese regime to drop all charges and release them.

Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood called on the junta to stop harassing and arresting citizens for peacefully practicing their internationally recognized human rights, to release all political prisoners, and to start a genuine dialogue with democratic forces and ethnic minority groups for democratic reform in Burma.
Monday, November 10, 2008

Burma Resolution Introduced in the UN

The Irrawaddy News
Monday, November 10, 2008

Forty-three nations voted to send a resolution highly critical of the Burmese government to the UN General Assembly for a vote, probably in December.

Among the countries sponsoring the resolution were Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Britain and the US.

The resolution, which will be debated in committee before it is taken up in the general assembly, urged the governing junta to ensure full respect for human rights and to take steps for the restoration of democracy through a free and fair election.

In addition, it called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader who has been under house arrest for the past 13 years, and urged the release of all political prisoners, including leaders from the National League for Democracy, 88 Generation Students and ethnic groups.

The resolution called on the junta to fully implement previous recommendations of the UN special rapporteur on Burma, the General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, Commission on Human Rights and the International Labor Organization.

The resolution also called for the Burmese government to lift all restraints on peaceful political activities and to ensure unhindered access to media information.

Expressing its support for the good offices role of the UN secretary-general and his special envoy on Burma, the resolution urged the resumption of a dialogue with political opposition groups, including the National League for Democracy and representatives of ethnic nationalities. It also urged that arrest of political opposition group members be halted immediately.