Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Myanmar president sued over alleged Rohingya abuse

Source Aljazeera, 5 Oct

Activists' suit alleges Thein Sein, top officials planned and instigated 'hate crimes' against Myanmar's Rohingya

October 5, 2015 10:15PM ET

Muslim rights activists have filed a lawsuit in the United States against Myanmar President Thein Sein, accusing him and several ministers of human rights abuses against minority Rohingyas, just a few weeks before an historic general election.

The complaint filed in Manhattan federal court accused Thein Sein and top officials of planning and instigating "hate crimes and discrimination amounting to genocide."

Thumbnail image for Who are the Rohingya of Myanmar?

According to the plaintiffs, Muslim Rohingya are "subjected to genocide, torture, arbitrary detention, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" by officials controlled by Thein Sein and his ministers.

Myanmar's government spokesman was not immediately available for comment, and did not respond to emailed requests.

The civil lawsuit was filed on Thursday by Burma Task Force, a group of 19 Muslim organizations, and a Rohingya man, Hitay Lwin Oo.

It seeks compensatory and punitive damages for alleged violations of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a U.S. law often invoked in lawsuits alleging human rights abuses.

The government will have a chance to respond to the lawsuit once it is served. It typically takes at least a few months for a judge to decide whether a case may proceed.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court made it harder to pursue many ATS lawsuits. It said claims must "touch and concern" U.S. territory "with sufficient force" to displace the presumption that the law does not cover non-U.S. conduct.

Myanmar does not consider the Rohingya to be citizens, rendering them effectively stateless, while denying that it discriminates against them or that they are fleeing persecution.

 A tide of anti-Muslim sentiment swept through the country a year after the military ended its rule in 2011, morphing into communal violence.

At least 200 people were killed and more than 140,000, mainly Rohingyas, were displaced in fighting between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar's western Rakhine State.

During the flare up of the boat people crisis in Asia in May, Myanmar denied that its treatment of the Rohingya caused their exodus.

Religious and ethnic tensions are intensifying ahead of Nov. 8 elections in Myanmar. The government has barred most Rohingyas from voting and registering as candidates, drawing criticism from western countries and undercutting Myanmar's efforts to portray the poll as its first free and fair election in 25 years.


Monday, 5 October 2015

Myanmar: Religious tensions grow as thousands of nationalist monks stage rally

Source Christiantoday, 4 Oct


Reuters : Hardline Buddhist monks and supporters celebrate the recent establishment of four controversial bills decried by rights groups as aimed at discriminating against the country's Muslim minority.

Thousands of Myanmar's nationalist monks and their supporters prayed, clapped and held speeches at a large rally in the country's biggest city on Sunday, in a show of growing clout of radical Buddhists ahead of a Nov. 8 election.

Religious tensions are running high in Myanmar ahead of the parliamentary poll billed as the country's first free and fair election in 25 years, largely stoked by the Ma Ba Tha, an organization led by the hardline monks who called the rally.


It was a climax of their campaign to celebrate their successful push to establish four so-called Protection of Race and Religion Laws seen as targeting women and the country's Muslim minority.

The monks have emerged as a powerful force in the run up to the poll, sharply criticizing Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy for opposing the laws.

"Today is the victory. Ma Ba Tha tried for many years to enact the laws to protect the country, people, nationalism and religion," said Nyanissara, a senior monk at the organization.

Thousands of devotees in white t-shirts with the Ma Ba Tha logo, monks in burgundy and nuns in pink robes crowded in front of the stage at a sports hall in Myanmar's commercial capital of Yangon. Hundreds of buses and trucks lined the streets leading to the site.

One of the bills sets punishments for people who have more than one spouse or live with an unmarried partner other than the spouse. Others require Buddhist women to register their marriages in advance if marrying a man who is not Buddhist.


The laws are dangerous for the country, set out the potential for discrimination on religious grounds and create the environment for serious communal tension, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in August.

The government denies the laws are anti-Muslim.

"We realized that laws are needed to protect the religion and nationalism. The other three religions of the country already have laws that protect them," said Ashin Tilawkar Biwonsa, chairman of Ma Ba Tha, referring to Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.

An overwhelming majority of Myanmar citizens are Buddhist.

The Ma Ba Tha said it invited representatives of the United States and western countries to the rally, but their chairs remained empty throughout the ceremony.

Aung Thein Lin, a former minister who is running in elections for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party attended the rally.

One of the most outspoken leaders of the group, Wirathu, on Sunday endorsed president Thein Sein, whose USDP is facing a stiff battle against the widely popular NLD.

Charles Bo asked not use ‘Rohingya’ in front of Pope

Source Mizzima, 1 Oct
Charles Bo was requested not to use the term 'Rohingya' during his visit to the Vatican for the 'Month of the Holy Rosary,' Photo by Mizzima

Charles Bo was requested not to use the term 'Rohingya' during his visit to the Vatican for the 'Month of the Holy Rosary,' Photo by Mizzima.dpuf-

Officials from the Ministry of Religious Affairs have approached Cardinal Charles Bo to request that he not use the word Rohingya in the presence of Pope Francis.

Myanmar's first Cardinal is flying to Rome on 1 October for the month of the Holy Rosary held in Vatican City.

"The Religious Minister wanted to meet me but so far I haven't met him, only a few members who recently came to meet me regarding the term of 'Rohingya' persons. They requested me not to use the term Rohingya in front of Pope Francis," Cardinal Charles Bo told Mizzima News.

"If the word Rohingya is used it means the people understand that they are citizens of Rahkine State, that is the interpretation they would not like. Just [to use] the [term] Bengali or the Muslim from Rahkine State,"

"So, the situation there is very crucial, I think we have to solve this problem before it becomes too prolonged, before there is more violence and also the worry of international terrorism and other things."

When asked if he would use the term in front of Pope Francis he said he would use "Rohingya to indicate [the issue]" but would address the people as Muslim's from Rahkine state because of the sensitivity of the subject.

He said he will refuse to use the term "Bengali" as some of those who identify as Rohingya, their families have been in the region for over a century.

Myanmar's government in the past has worked hard to prevent the use of the word, with government officials scolding UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon for using the word in December 2014 after usingit at the ASEAN summit held in Naypyitaw.

Read the whole interview in next week's Mizzima Weekly Magazine

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Rohingyas face ethnic cleansing, discrimination

Source Saudi Gazette, 22 Sept
4:58 PM
Rohingyas face ethnic cleansing, discrimination

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi


Setting fire to Rohingya villages- an act that was carried out by Rakhine & Security forces(http://www.ndphr.net/2012/09/ethnic-cleansing-nightmare-buddhist.html)

IT is no more a secret that the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are being subjected to flagrant violation of human rights and practices of ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination. A few months ago, the United Nations, represented by its Human Rights Council, announced that the Rohingya Muslims in the Arakan state of Myanmar are the "the world's most persecuted minority."

Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic community in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar, who have for decades suffered from state-sanctioned discrimination in the Buddhist-majority country, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh. Several international rights bodies, such as Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch emphasized in many reports and on several occasions that these hapless people have undergone sufferings that reached the level of ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination. They demanded the intervention of the international community to stop these gross rights violations.

The Western countries, especially the United States and the European Union states, are fully aware of what had happened and is happening in that country, which is closed to the outside world to a great extent. The military junta in Myanmar does not have any concern in safeguarding human rights. The Muslim countries are also aware of the magnitude of atrocities being perpetrated against the Rohingyas. There are several racist groups in Myanmar who are against Islam and Muslims and their aim is to drive Rohingyas out of the Rakhine state, and this with the clandestine support and blessing of the government — from both its civilian and military wings.

The issue of Rohingya Muslims was discussed at the Islamic summit held in Makkah a few years ago. While strongly criticizing the Myanmar government for the ethnic cleansing and atrocities committed against the Rohingyas, the summit demanded the government to stop the persecution of the Rohingya and protect them by restoring their legitimate rights.

The summit authorized the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to exert every effort to end the persecution. But, unfortunately, the pan-Islamic body failed to carry out the duties assigned to it by the summit. The OIC confined its role to dispatching an envoy to Myanmar to tackle the issue and later called upon the Myanmar government to stop its discrimination against Rohingya Muslims and treat them fairly just like other citizens of the country. It is evident that the solution to this problem can be achieved only through collective pressure on the Myanmar government from the part of the international community as a whole and the OIC in particular.

It is also noteworthy that a series of meetings were held in Malaysia, Thailand and Norway to discuss the plight of the Rohingyas. All these meetings expressed their solidarity with these people and denounced what they are exposed to following injustice, oppression and discrimination. In Malaysia, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticized the Myanmar government vehemently for stripping the nationality of inhabitants of the Arakan region who have been living there since several centuries.

In Oslo, a conference was held in May this year with the aim of drawing international attention toward this issue so as to end the increasing persecution and suffering of the stateless Muslims who are ethnically linked to Rakhine state. Several prominent global figures, including philanthropist and business tycoon George Soros, and South African Bishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu converged at the Nobel Institute together with pastors, imams, and monks. In his speech, Soros compared the plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar to that of Jews in the Nazi Germany. Addressing the gathering, Tutu said that Rohingya Muslims face slow genocide.

Some American artists, including famous actor Matt Dillon, visited the Rakhine state to have a close look at Myanmar's long-persecuted Rohingyas who are languishing at squalid camps. Voicing sympathy at the dismal state of Rohingyas, they called on the international community to urgently intervene to halt the persecution and human rights violations in the country.

The latest visit to Myanmar to monitor the situation of Rohingyas was that of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). In their second fact-finding mission, the delegation met with a variety of stakeholders to seek out a wide range of perspectives, including those from government, civil society and various ethnic and religious communities. After meeting with different segments of the Myanmar society, the delegation noted that there is no doubt that the recent legislations aimed at depriving Muslims of their right to vote and contest elections are in flagrant violation of the fundamental human rights.

While stating that the religious freedom is apparently under threat in Myanmar, they called on the international community to urgently intervene to pressurize the Myanmar government to roll back from denying Muslim population of their citizenship and stopping racial discrimination against them.

Similarly, nine embassies in Myanmar have issued a statement calling for tolerance ahead of the November election. In the statement, they said: "As the campaign in Myanmar officially begins, however, we, as international partners invested in the success of this country and these elections, are concerned about the prospect of religion being used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season. We call for all election rules and regulations to be applied fairly, consistently, and transparently without regard to ethnicity, religion, or political party."

They specially mentioned the move to bar a Muslim parliament member belonged to the ruling party from contesting elections again. The United States also voiced its deep concern over the government's decision to mass disenfranchisement of the Rohingya Muslims. However, the Myanmar government paid no heed to these demands or protests.

As the polling day approaches, incumbent President Thein Shin is almost certain to be reelected. In a recorded tape, he boasted of enacting the 'Protection of Race and Religion Law', and taking a series of decisions against Muslims such as denying the OIC, which represents one billion Muslims, from opening an office in the northwest of the country. He also asserted that the international community has been told candidly that there is no such thing as Rohingya Muslims in a country whose inhabitants are only Buddhists. Shin also claimed that he took the country out of its isolation and that he had informed senior world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, that there is no Rohingya in the country and that his decisions have led to a boost of investment in the country.

The open statement about racial discrimination and ethnic cleansing by none other than the country's president has resulted in the denial of voting rights for 1.5 million Rohingyas in the upcoming elections. This also emboldened the Buddhist extremists to continue the killing of hundreds of Rohingyas and driving out of hundreds of thousands of them. Hence, it is a humanitarian obligation on the United Nations and the entire global community to stop these immoral and inhuman acts and come forward to safeguard these miserable people.

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com

Reply to all

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Source Amnesty, 11 Sept

11 September 2015, 16:51 UTC | Asia and The Pacific


In May 2015, the world witnessed harrowing scenes as fishing boats crammed with refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were pushed back to sea by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Desperate children, men and women were left without food, water and medical care for a week, before the Philippines and later Indonesia and Malaysia offered to take them in. This crisis exposed the willingness of some governments in the region to ignore humanitarian imperatives as well as a range of core obligations under international law. Sadly, it is emblematic of the wider issues refugees face in the Asia Pacific region.

Amnesty International, Auckland Refugee Council and the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN) strongly support a regional approach towards improving the protection of refugees and asylum seekers in the Asia Pacific. According to UNHCR, the region hosts more than 3.9 million refugees and 4.8 million people who are internally displaced, stateless or seeking asylum. We believe that this displacement crisis will not be solved unless states recognise it as a regional problem and deal with it as such. A constructive regional approach, firmly grounded in the principles of international human rights and refugee law, would positively impact not only on the well-being of refugees and asylum seekers but also on the stability of the region as a whole.

New Zealand has a key role to play in advancing this form of regional cooperation. Given the country's historically strong record on refugee protection, it is well-placed to foster dialogue with its neighbours and promote efforts to tackle some of the most pressing issues refugees and asylum seekers face in the region. As such, this paper contains a number of recommendations for the New Zealand government to apply bilaterally, domestically as well as through its diplomatic efforts in international fora. It is not intended to be an exhaustive summary but serves as a brief snapshot of key issues and a platform for further discussion.



Essential to a regional approach is ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers are better protected in countries closer to their countries of origin. Refugees in South and South East Asia have very few opportunities to find protection – countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh often treat them not as people desperately seeking safety but as criminals deserving of punishment. Across the region, effective domestic refugee laws are virtually non-existent, and only 19 countries are state parties to the Refugee Convention. As such, refugees typically struggle to access timely and fair asylum procedures, have no formal legal status and are denied the right to work, to send their children to school or to enjoy basic health services.

This lack of status and integration places refugees at great risk of harassment, abuse, exploitation, detention and refoulement. It often leaves them desperate to seek protection via dangerous unofficial channels involving human smugglers and traffickers. With regional states resistant to recognise their human rights, refugees risk taking dangerous boat journeys in search of places of greater safety.

New Zealand can encourage and support, through financial and technical means, the development of robust domestic refugee protection systems across the region. Strengthening the protection of refugees would require governments in countries of asylum to take a number of basic steps, including to:

§ Respect the key customary international law principle of non-refoulementand ensure that protection is provided to all those who require it regardless of their mode of travel and place of origin.

§ Increase access to timely and fair refugee status determinationprocesses, either via UNHCR or domestic asylum systems; and to provide greater financial and other assistance to UNHCR for its refugee registration and status determination work.

§ Develop alternatives to detention while refugee status is determined; and to grant full NGO access to detention centres in order to identify and remove from detention all genuine refugees and asylum seekers.

§ Increase the legal recognition of refugees and grant permissions to stay while refugee claims are processed.

§ Grant refugees and registered asylum seekers work rights.

§ Provide access to basic services such as food, education and health care; and to support local NGOs to deliver essential assistance to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers.

§ Develop national refugee legislation; and to sign and ratify the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention) and/or its 1967 Protocol.

These steps can be advanced by New Zealand through constructive bilateral action between two, three or more states working in partnership with UNHCR and NGOs. New Zealand's Aid Programme also provides an opportunity to support governments, UNHCR and civil society in increasing refugees' access to status determination and basic services. Further, action to achieve immediate improvements can be promoted through New Zealand's engagement with various established regional frameworks such as APEC, the Bali Process, East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers'Forum. All of these fora shape the region's security and trade architecture, yet members have been reluctant to address refugee protection issues in a meaningful way.


Durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers are difficult to find. As voluntary repatriation and integration into asylum countries often prove impossible, resettlement remains the only viable option. However, resettlement to third countries is currently available only to a very limited number of refugees. In 2014, nearly one million refugees needed resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission, yet global annual resettlement commitments were less than a tenth of this number. Only 30,661 of the 3.9 million refugees between Iran and Indonesia were resettled through programs involving UNHCR.

New Zealand has an internationally recognised resettlement programme, but lags far behind other countries in the number of refugees it resettles annually. The current refugee quota stands at 750, a number which has not been increased since it was first set nearly 30 years ago. According to UNHCR figures, when compared to other countries New Zealand ranks 90th in the world for hosting refugees. As such, our organisations believe that New Zealand can and should do more – now is an important time to double the annual quota and model good policies for the region. Further, it is important that New Zealand encourages other governments in the region to increase their humanitarian intakes or develop resettlement capacity in the first place.



A comprehensive regional strategy must address issues of forced displacement at their very source. The majority of the region's refugees originate from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar and Sri Lanka – countries that are either emerging from or in the middle of protracted conflict, all with complex histories involving the persecution of minority groups. However, violations of fundamental human rights are a daily reality throughout the region, with human rights defenders often at risk of arbitrary detention and torture, and the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression severely curtailed. In order to reduce the numbers of people fleeing, New Zealand should prioritise the promotion of international human rights standards in all countries it has diplomatic relations with. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, New Zealand has the authority – and responsibility – to meaningfully address human rights conditions that cause instability, violence and displacement. Making the protection of civilian populations a primary consideration for New Zealand's engagement on the UN Security Council will significantly benefit the country in the long-term.



It is crucial that governments across the Asia Pacific put measures in place to improve the protection of refugees and asylum seekers. Inaction now could pave the way for disaster later as those facing persecution in their home countries will continue to flee to seek asylum. It is clear that as long as refugees have little chance of finding safety through official channels, many will be forced to seek protection through dangerous unofficial channels, frequently involving human smugglers and traffickers.

New Zealand has a key role to play in mobilising its neighbours to take steps towards a genuine regional solution. Bilateral action now to achieve immediate improvements will serve as the basis for an agreed and common regional strategy later. As a country that forms part of the Asia Pacific region, and as a historically strong proponent for human rights, New Zealand is well-placed to demonstrate leadership in ensuring that refugees and asylum seekers are adequately protected.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Does the Voice of America Want to Be Associated With an Extremist Buddhist Group?

Source chicagomonitor, 16 Sept


What would the reaction be if the "official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government," Voice of America (VOA), shared programming space on a satellite provider that also hosted programming by Al-Qaeda or ISIS? One could expect criticism to be rife and swift.

Fox News and other right-wing media would air non-stop coverage propagating conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama's administration being in the pocket of "Islamic terrorists." Liberal media outlets would likely react by saying that the right-wing was overreacting to an issue that was out of the control of the administration, since they signed an agreement with the hypothetical satellite provider a few years before the extremists.

This scenario in actuality is not at all a hypothetical, it is being played out today, only the extremists that share programming space on the same satellite provider as VOA are not AlQaeda or ISIS but rather an ultra-nationalist, violent Buddhist organization known as Ma Ba Tha (Association for the Protection of Race and Religion).

The Ma Ba Tha grew out of the 969 movement and have been behind acts of terrorism targeting Burmese Muslims, specifically the stateless Rohingya, considered one of the most "persecuted peoples" in the world. The Ma Ba Tha haveinstigated pogroms in which hundreds of Rohingya have been killed and many more thousands have been forced to flee either to concentration camps or onto perilous boat journeys where they face the dire possibility of death by drowning, human trafficking, and slavery.

The Ma Ba Tha regularly dehumanizes Burmese Muslims, describing them in their sermons and rallies as "mad dogs," who are "taking over" Burma and insidiously trying to replace Buddhism with Islam. This year Ma Ba Tha drafted discriminatory legislation targeting Muslims and women called the "Protection of Race and Religion Bills" which swiftly passed and have already been enacted into law.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Yanghee Lee, has stated that the bills "heighten discrimination against minorities and women," also adding that "[a]t a time when thousands of Rohingya are already fleeing the country by boat, this sends precisely the wrong signal to these communities."

In light of this the VOA should reconsider its relationship with Burma's most popular satellite company, SkyNet. SkNet is owned by Burma's largest media company, Shwe Thanlwin Media Co., Ltd. Shwe Thanlwin Company was founded and is owned by Kyaw Win, "a close associate of Kyaw Hsan, a former military general." The company "enjoyed exclusive business relations with the Ministry of Industry in the 2000s."

Shwe Thanlwin Kyaw Win is on the EU sanctions list. Many of Kyaw Win's associates and supporters are also on the US sanctions list, including military generals who are members of the State Peace and Development Council.

These facts did not stop Voice of America from signing a deal with SkyNet in 2012 to carry its Asian programming. The aforementioned extremist Ma Ba Tha have also signed a deal with SkyNet to carry their programming and broadcast their hate sermons. So now the VOA is in a position where it shares programming space on the same satellite provider as an extremist, violent religious movement!

One cannot help but note that at the very least there would be an outcry and calls for condemnation if in a different context it was revealed that a US-funded institution such as the VOA was signing agreements with a private company like SkyNet that simultaneously has dealings with an extremist religious organization. This is doubly the case when this extremist organization is known to have a radical agenda that advances Islamophobia and genocide against an oppressed, stateless minority.

The VOA charter states that it seeks to be a "reliable" and "credible" source for news. However, this credibility is hampered when it is associated with the likes of Ma Ba Tha, even when that association is through the platform of a media company. We should ask the VOA, the Secretary of State and the US ambassador to Burma to call upon SkyNet to sever their relationship with Ma Ba Tha.

(This article originally appeared on the Burma Task Force USA site under the title "Does the Voice of America Want to Be Associated With the Extremist Ma Ba Tha?")

Tauseef Akbar is a Chicago-based writer and activist and has worked with a number of national civil rights organizations. He holds a BA in English with a concentration on Creative Writing and is pursuing his graduate degree in Islamic studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor's editorial policy.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Will Myanmar election be free and fair?

See the video: Aljazeera,

The polls in Myanmar will be the first since a nominally civilian government was installed in 2011. But with the military still firmly in control of the process, there is widespread speculation as to whether the election will be free and fair.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is constitutionally barred from becoming President, even if her party, the National League for Democracy, wins in the vote. She has said a smooth transition is crucial.

But how smooth can it be? And will it usher in a new era in Myanmar? 

Presenter: Laura Kyle


Maung Zarni: a Myanmar scholar and dissident now living in the UK. Zarni was a former visiting scholar at London School of Economics and Harvard University.

Gwen Robinson: chief editor of the Nikkei Asian Review. She's also a senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies

Thursday, 10 September 2015

KIA, govt troops clash as peace talks proceed

Source DVB, 9 Sept
File photo of soldiers of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), manning their position at the front line near Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State, 2013. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

File photo of soldiers of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), manning their position at the front line near Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State, 2013. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

Burmese government forces have clashed with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Burma, as President Thein Sein meets with leaders of the five major ethnic armed groups (EAOs) in Naypyidaw today to negotiate and finalise a date for the signing of a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

The KIA's vice chief of staff, Maj-Gen Gun Maw, said the group's 3rd Brigade has been engaged in active hostilities with government troops between the Kachin towns of Bhamo and Shwegu. This latest conflict has been ongoing for three days, and erupted when the Burmese army attached the KIA's frontline sentry units.

Related Stories

  • President Thein Sein shakes hands with ethnic delegates at ceasefire talks in Naypyidaw on 9 September 2015. (PHOTO: DVB)

"Fighting has been ongoing for three days in areas operated by the KIA's 3rd Brigade, 12th Battalion, in the Bhamo-Shwegu area involving their frontline sentry units. We received news this [Wednesday] morning," said Gun Maw.

Citing a similar incident when KIA units were targeted with air attacks while ethnic and government negotiators signed a May draft of the NCA, Gun Maw said attacks by government forces taking place during peace talks had become a pattern.

"We don't know whether the government ordered the attacks or not, but on our side we always try to practice restraint when there are talks taking place. To date, we have never attacked the [Burmese army] first," he said.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Baba Solja finds Burmese saviours

Source Mg, 4 Sept

As the world marks victory over Japan Day, a remarkable story is told of a Nigerian soldier rescued by Rohingya villagersAstonishing: This detailed account of Isaac Fadoyebo's story is a result of the author's discovery of a slim volume of the original text written by Fadoyebo himself.

Astonishing: This detailed account of Isaac Fadoyebo's story is a result of the author's discovery of a slim volume of the original text written by Fadoyebo himself.

A few months before he was shot as an enemy soldier in its sweltering jungles, 16-year-old Nigerian Isaac Fadoyebo had never even heard of Burma. The journey that led him there began in a fit of youthful exuberance when he ran away from his village in southwestern Nigeria and signed up to fight for Britain in World War II.

He joined an estimated 100 000 others from Britain's colonies of Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone who sailed from West Africa's creek-lined coast around the Cape of Good Hope and onwards to Burma. There, Japanese soldiers ambushed his platoon and Fadoyebo was left for dead behind enemy lines.

What happened next captures not just the personal bravery of one man and the strangers into whose midst he was catapulted, but shines a light on a forgotten front of the war.

The ripple effects of the Southeast Asian conflict radiated from Burma's Rohingya Muslim minority, whose persecution today is a direct war legacy, to the returning West African soldiers who later started the region's march towards independence.

Alongside Nigeria's own inability to remember its war dead, this story is also one of Britain's often-neglected debt to its colonial soldiers, and how two British men helped to resuscitate that legacy.

Even in Britain, the 81st and 82nd divisions – the Allies' West African force – were known as the "forgotten army" as all eyes became fixed on the threat of Nazism closer to home. The eight in 10 West Africans in those divisions in Burma were a forgotten contingent in the forgotten army.

Now Fadoyebo was to become one of its dead. It was monsoon season in Burma, a time of mosquito-filled heat and lashing rains. Too weak to move, he lay bleeding in the tropical forest 9 600km from home and waited for the end.

Nigeria in the war

Seventy years later, there's still disbelief about this remarkable chapter in Nigeria's history. "But for my grandfather being involved, I never would have been able to put into perspective the fact that Nigeria was in the war," said Fadoyebo's grandson, Ayo, a human resources worker in Lagos. "I knew Nigerians fought, but it was so distant I couldn't place how it affected me as a Nigerian."

It was a feeling common even at the time. In countless villages such as the sleepy hilltop one of Owo, where Fadoyebo lived, the bloodshed had been a distant thing rumbling on in remote lands. There were vague rumours Hitler wanted to invade Nigeria itself, to plunder its mineral wealth. But the tentacles of the far-flung battles reached Owo when a recruitment truck rolled into the bushes in December 1941. Among the curious onlookers was Fadoyebo, a tall, well-built teenager. The colonial officer's exhortations to fight for the empire didn't rouse him; he sensed a chance to escape the sleepy backwater, earn money and see the world.

Fadoyebo's tale from there might have been lost to history were it not for British journalist Barnaby Phillips, who chronicled the astonishing story in his lucid, detailed book Another Man's War.

In 2011, Phillips took time off from working in Athens to research the "Burma Boys" in London's Imperial War Museum. The addition of East African recruits swelled Britain's colonial army to a 500 000-strong force. But Phillips noticed something rare when he began reading the available literature.

Among the hundreds of books, he chanced upon a slim book by one Isaac Fadoyebo. "It was called A Stroke of Unbelievable Luck and was a beautiful, 70-page manuscript by a Nigerian who not only survived an extraordinary experience, but put it all down in writing," Phillips said, still amazed at his own good fortune.

That was down to David Killingray, an English professor specialising in imperial history. He received the handwritten manuscript – Fadoyebo's only one – in 1989. "I immediately realised this was extraordinary, and set about getting it published," he said. Several hundred copies languished in academic and military libraries for years.

Fadoyebo's story

Fadoyebo's story began on March???2 1944, when his platoon was eating breakfast on a steep bank of Burma's Kaladan River. Suddenly they came under ferocious attack from the Japanese, who were expertly trained in jungle warfare. Men fell around Fadoyebo and a bullet pierced his thigh. He dropped down in anguish.

"He knew what was coming. The Japanese, take a prisoner? A white man, like Captain Brown, perhaps, but a black man? No chance," Phillips's opening transports readers viscerally to the scene.

The final shots never came; perhaps the Japanese believed he would succumb to his wounds. Another soldier, David Kagbo, was also wounded. Fadoyebo crawled to him and they waited together for death.

Villagers brought them food. Fadoyebo's stroke of unbelievable luck was going down in a village of Bengali Muslims, known as Rohingya, who sided with the British. For weeks, they brought sustenance, sometimes every other day, sometimes at longer intervals.

Eventually, a farmer named Shuyiman helped the two men limp to his home. There, at risk of death, he sheltered the two strangers until British forces broke through again in December. Their rescuers knew them only by Muslim names they adopted in deference to the villagers: Fadoyebo was Suleman and Kagbo was Dauda. Fadoyebo never forgot his saviours. "God sent them to save me," he would always say later.

"He had an unquantifiable desire to know what had happened to Shuyiman's family. He talked about them all the time," Ayo said.

A call from a stranger six decades later proved to be another stroke of good fortune. After chancing on his memoirs, Phillips had spent weeks in an effort to track down Fadoyebo. "I was so worried. I thought he wouldn't be able to understand me, he'd be deaf, he wouldn't be able to catch my English over the phone," he said, explaining the moment he finally found a working phone number for Fadoyebo.

"I gave this long speech about who I was, what I wanted to do and so on." There was a long pause on the other end. Then a deep voice replied: "Mr Phillips, when are you comingto Nigeria?"

That began a friendship between the two until, moved by his friend's pleas, Phillips journeyed to Burma in hope of finding Shuyiman's family and passing on the thanks the veteran had longed to give for decades.

History fading

It's difficult not to worry about how quickly history can fade in Nigeria. Official Western accounts long played down the contribution of Africans in the Asian campaign – allied commander General Slim never thanked the 14th Army, of which they were part – and few young Nigerians know of it.

"As children we didn't go to the village very often; if we had, we would have known about it," said Ayo, who said his grandfather never talked about his wartime experiences until the call from Phillips. During an extended visit to the village in 2002, a cousin introduced Ayo to everyone by declaring: "This is the grandson of Baba Solja."

"As soon as he said that, no further explanation was needed. It was established who I was," Ayo said.

Nigeria's military still has 81st and 82nd divisions in honour of the veterans; VJ Day celebrations are invariably muted. "We celebrate Second World War veterans at every opportunity. Just like any other Nigerian soldier who dies serving, their children have been awarded scholarships and other welfare packages," said spokesperson Rabe Abubakar.

Next to the neatly manicured World War II graves in a cemetery partly maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in downtown Lagos are the litter-strewn, unkempt grounds that house the government-run memorials for Nigerian peacekeepers in the 1990s.

At least one man's memories were properly looked after. In a documentary he made later, Phillips travels across wide expanses of jewel-green fields dotted with crumbling temples in Burma's Rakhine state.

It's a risky journey, given the turmoil affecting Rohingya Muslims there, and there's every chance that the village where Fadoyebo was rescued has been razed. Phillips eventually finds the right location – the story of the two African men is part of local folklore.

Watched by chattering monkeys, Shuyiman's family struggle to hold back tears as he delivers Fadoyebo's letter. "His real name is Isaac Fadoyebo and he wants you to know he thinks of your mother and father and sister every day," Phillips begins, himself tearful.

Photographs of Fadoyebo are passed round. The women clutch them to their chests. One man blinks furiously. Another woman covers her hand with her face and sobs. "We've thought of him for so long," she says, wiping her eyes with her headscarf.

Being able to thank those who sheltered him meant Fadoyebo was at peace even when old age sent him to hospital in 2013. Incapacitated in bed, he discussed attending his grandson's wedding when he got better, and picking up a wartime medal that the government had promised. "I'm fine, don't worry. I'll pick up the medal when I'm out of the hospital," he told Ayo just before he died on September 9.

Two days later, the medal, 68 years in coming, finally arrived.

– © Guardian News & Media 2015

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Australian and Thai journalists found not guilty of defaming Thai navy

Source the Guardian

Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian, of news website Phuketwan, were accused in case that alarmed human rights and press freedom groups

Thai journalist Chutima Sidasathian and her Australian colleague Alan Morison arrive at the provincial court in Phuket island.Thai journalist Chutima Sidasathian and her Australian colleague Alan Morison arrive at the provincial court in Phuket island. Photograph: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images 

Monday 31 August 2015 23.16 EDT Last modified on Monday 31 August 2015 23.18 EDT

An Australian editor and his Thai reporter colleague were found not guilty on Tuesday of criminal defamation for reporting on the alleged involvement of Thai naval officers in the trafficking of Burmese Rohingya refugees.

Alan Morison, editor of independent news website Phuketwan, and reporter Chutima Sidasathian faced up to seven years in jail and thousands of US dollars in fines.

Speaking to the Guardian ahead of the court session, Morison said that the year-long case had deeply affected the duo's daily life in Phuket, a tourist hotspot in the Andaman Sea.

"We've felt constant pressure one way or another," he said on the telephone. "We've conscientiously used work as a diversion and evidently being sued by an organisation as mighty as the Royal Thai navy, you can't help but feel some the pressure."

He said he was "reasonably confident" that he would be acquitted as the lawyers had worked hard and the judge appeared to have listened to what he said.

But he was worried that he might not be getting the full picture. "The thing is that nobody is ever going to tell us that they've heard is bad things … We're living in a kind of fairyland before the verdict."

The case – widely condemned by human rights and media freedom groups – has damaged Thailand's reputation. Morison, who is 67, had said a guilty verdict would be a death sentence for him at his age.

A note posted before the trial on the Phuketwan website said: "Two Phuketwan journalists face judgement day in the trial triggered by the Royal Thai navy so the island's online news source of preference is suspended from September 1. The future of the site has yet to be determined."


The defamation claims and charges under the Computer Crime Act, which bans online material considered a threat to national security, relate to a 41-word paragraph from a Reuters news agency report on Rohingya refugees, which wasrepublished in Phuketwan.

Reuters, a huge news organisation of more than 2,600 journalists which won a Pulitzer prize for its reporting on the Rohingya issue, has not been charged.

Thailand's navy has denied its officers were involved in human trafficking. But since the charges were made against the two journalists, the Thai government has launched investigations into official complicity into the trafficking trade and a senior military official was arrested.

Thailand's ruling junta, which toppled the government in a coup last May, has stifled the media and banned political gatherings.

Phil Robertson, deputy director for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said ahead of the verdict that the "case should have never been brought to trial in the first place, and the fact that it was shows this Thai government's total lack of concern for media freedom".

He added: "This whole episode shows a fundamental lack of understanding among Thai government and military officials about what a free press is really about and the role it plays in democratic society."

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rohingya IDPs Detained in Rangoon: Police

Source Irrawaddy, 26 Aug

Bangladeshi nationals found on two boats by the Burma Navy in May are repatriated on Tuesday. (Photo: IPRD)Bangladeshi nationals found on two boats by the Burma Navy in May are repatriated on Tuesday. (Photo: IPRD)

RANGOON — Police in Rangoon Division's Hmawbi Township have detained 10 Rohingya Muslims and the driver of the vehicle in which they were found riding, according to local law enforcement.

A police officer in Hmawbi Township told The Irrawaddy that local authorities were holding the internal migrants, but he declined to provide specifics of the case over the phone.

Citing a police source, a BBC Burmese radio report on Wednesday said each of the Rohingya paid a 1.2 million kyats (US$940) bribe to the Burma Army in order to smuggle them to Rangoon from two camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arakan State's Sittwe Township.

The 10 men and women were part of a larger group of 29 Rohingya, according to The Voice daily, with two other vehicles having thus far evaded authorities.

The Rohingya minority in Arakan State are subject to severe restrictions on movement, and more than 100,000 remain in IDP camps after deadly violence in 2012 between Arakanese Buddhists and Muslims drove them from their homes.

Meanwhile, 125 migrants were deported from western Burma to Bangladesh on Tuesday, as more than 100 people remain in shelters near the border, potentially awaiting the same fate, according to a local immigration official.

"We deported them at 2 pm yesterday after two country officers signed an agreement. There are even more, 101 people, remaining who are awaiting deportation," Khin Soe, an immigration officer in Sittwe, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

Two separate boats packed with refugees and economic migrants were discovered by the Burma Navy in May, seeing more than 900 people brought onto Burmese soil. Burmese immigration authorities have been holding the migrants at temporary shelters in Taung Pyo Let Wai village in Arakan State's Maungdaw Township, where their nationalities are undergoing scrutiny.

The governments of the two countries have been cooperating in the process, which has seen hundreds of Bangladeshi nationals repatriated in several batches since the boats carrying them were brought to shore. At least 187 of the boats' passengers were found to be from Burma.

Earlier this year, thousands of migrants from Bangladesh and refugees from Arakan State began washing up on the shores of other Southeast Asian nations after human traffickers abandoned them at sea. Those from Burma were predominantly Rohingya fleeing state-sanctioned persecution and hardscrabble IDP camp existences in the country's western coastal state.