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BURMA RELATED NEWS – JANUARY 19, 2011
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AP – Group says survey confirms Myanmar rights abuses
AFP – Myanmar rights report says minority group killed, raped
IRIN – MYANMAR: Chin State abuses “crime against humanity” – NGO
Bangkok Post – Burmese soldiers arrest eight Thais
Bangkok Post – Burmese soldiers release eight Thais
ABC Radio Australia – Burma considers new trade union law
Asian Correspondent – Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State
Asia News Network – Disturbing Burma
EarthTimes – Direct flights agreed between Cambodia and Myanmar
Washington Post – Family, friends of Lance Cpl. Maung Htaik gather for funeral at Arlington
Strategy Page – China Lite
istockAnalyst.com (press release) – Chickens suspected of dying of avian influenza in Myanmar state
Guernica Magazine – Zoya Phan: Don’t You Dare Lift Sanctions on Burma
The Irrawaddy – Buildings Collapse as Heavy Snow Hits Burma’s Far North
The Irrawaddy – Fighting Spreads in Karen State
Mizzima News – NDF to call for amnesty for all political prisoners
Mizzima News – Election Commission tribunal to hear election cases
DVB News – Ex-child soldier jailed for desertion
DVB News – Children shot in Karen crossfire
DVB News – Migrants missing after rights case
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Group says survey confirms Myanmar rights abuses
By GRANT PECK, Associated Press – Wed Jan 19, 1:33 am ET

BANGKOK (AP) – A human rights group says a survey it conducted reveals flagrant and widespread abuses by Myanmar’s army, and could be used as evidence to prosecute the country’s military rulers for crimes against humanity.

Physicians for Human Rights, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for campaigning against land mines, says in a report issued Wednesday that it has documented abuses against Myanmar’s Chin minority including killings, beatings, forced labor, religious persecution, disappearances, torture, rape and widespread pillaging.

It describes its survey as the first to assess the scale and scope of alleged crimes against humanity in Myanmar, supporting a barrage of earlier published material.

“The data don’t lie and this report puts in stark light the horrors that the Chin people are enduring,” Physicians for Human Rights chief executive Frank Donaghue said in a statement.
Myanmar’s government had no immediate comment. In the past, it has denied allegations of widespread abuses.

The U.S.-based group says its 64-page report — “Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State” — provides evidence of at least eight human rights violations that could be taken to the International Criminal Court.

It also urges the United Nations to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate reports of human rights violations in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“The approach used by the investigators lets us see the widespread and systematic nature of these abuses and the results are devastating,” South African religious leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said in a statement released by the group.

In the past year, pro-democracy and human rights groups have stepped up a campaign urging that the alleged abuses of the junta be heard by the International Criminal Court and that the U.N. Security Council set up a commission of inquiry.

Their pressure comes as the junta makes a self-proclaimed transition to democracy, with the country’s first parliament in more than two decades due to convene this month following November elections. Critics allege that the process is a charade, meant to provide a fig leaf of respectability for continued rule by the military.

Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, comprising 30-40 percent of the country’s 56 million people and clustered mostly in border regions, have for decades sought autonomy from the central government, often resorting to armed struggle and triggering fierce repression by the army.

While the plights of more populous groups along the Thai border, such as the Karen and the Shan, are fairly well publicized, the Chin — Christians living in the remote mountains of northwestern Myanmar — are often neglected.

For the new report, 621 randomly selected households throughout Chin State’s nine townships responded to an 87-question survey in January to March 2010 about their life during the previous 12 months.

Nearly 92 percent of the respondents reported at least one episode of forced labor, such as hauling military supplies or building roads. Government authorities, primarily soldiers, committed more than 98 percent of the overall abuses, including killings, rapes, torture and abductions, according to the responses. Fifteen percent of the households reported members being tortured or beaten by soldiers.

Physicians for Human Rights says its findings constitute evidence of activities that are regarded under international law as crimes against humanity.

It also says the case against the junta qualifies to be brought before the International Criminal Court because the abuses were carried out after the court began operating in 2002 and were committed by government authorities as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.

The International Criminal Court, headquartered in the Netherlands, is the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal. Under the Rome treaty that established the tribunal, the court can step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves for genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

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Myanmar rights report says minority group killed, raped
Wed Jan 19, 1:10 am ET

NEW YORK (AFP) – The Myanmar junta has been commiting abuses in a remote state that need a crimes against humanity investigation, an international rights group said Wednesday.

The Physicians for Human Rights group trained volunteers to survey hundreds of families in Chin state, many of whom said relatives had been killed, raped or forced into slave labor.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu, the anti-apartheid campaigner, and former International Criminal Court prosecutor Richard Goldstone called the results of the survey “devastating” as they joined a call made in the report for an international inquiry into alleged crimes of humanity across Myanmar.

Physicians for Human Rights issued its report ahead of a review of Myanmar’s record by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next week.

Demands for an international commission of inquiry have eased since Myanmar’s election in November, which was dominated by pro-junta parties, and the later release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

But the US-based group, which shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work in the international campaign to ban landmines, said the election had not “addressed the suffering” of the Myanmar people.

Its “Life Under The Junta” report said that Myanmar’s “authoritarian system, with all the harm it has generated remains intact” and ethnic minorities like the Chin have faced “particularly brutal treatment under military rule.”

The survey, carried out between October 2009 and November 2010, interviewed 621 families across Chin state, which is on the border with India. Physicians for Human Rights said it was the first detailed study of its kind.

Crimes committed in Chin state “include murder, rape, torture, group persecution and other inhumane acts,” said the report.

The group said more than 90 percent of the families had reported that at least one member of the family had been forced into unpaid labor for the military or government.

Six families said a relative had been killed by soldiers, another 29 reported relatives had disappeared, 23 said a family member had been tortured, 17 that one person in the group had been raped or sexually violated by the military.

The report said that nearly a third of rape victims and nearly 20 percent of torture victims were aged under 15. Seventeen families said a child from the group had been forcibly conscripted into the Myanmar army. Some of the child soldiers were as young as 11, the report said.

“Forced labor is often performed at gunpoint under military oversight,” said Physicians for Human Rights.

“Government soldiers reportedly beat and even shoot to death civilians while they labor under duress.” The “military have also made civilian laborers serve as minesweepers and human shields to protect the soldiers while marching on dirt roads.”

The Myanmar government has tried to turn remote Chin state into a major producer of tea and jatropha, also known as the physic nut.

To do this many families have been forced to stop growing their own food, the report said, and many have been displaced. There are an estimated 75,000 displaced Chin in India and 50,000 in Malaysia.

“Decades of neglect and widespread abuses have, moreover, devastated the Chin who have remained in (Myanmar) and rendered them highly food insecure and vulnerable to natural disaster.” It said 114 villages in the southern township of Kanpalet face food shortages because of rat infestation.

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Bangkok Post – Burmese soldiers arrest eight Thais
Published: 19/01/2011 at 12:00 PM
Online news: Local News

Eight Thais from Tak’s Phop Phra district were arrested by Burmese soldiers after the villagers crossed the border on Wednesday morning.

Reports said the eight people had crossed the border to fish and harvest a crop of corn.

They were named as Mr Methee Khiritassanai, Mr Paetoo Khiriklaiwan, Tanu Khiriklaiwan, Mrs Mamee Khiriklaiwan, Mr Morshi, Mrs Tala, Mrs Palamo and Mr Pakue.

They are being held at the Third Tactical Command in Burma, the reports said.

A group of Thai villagers were seeking their release by negotiating with the Burmese soldiers, but it was difficult as the soldiers were from other areas and were assigned to deal with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops in the area.

According to reports from Burma, five of the detained Thais were caught planting corn and the three others were fishing.

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MYANMAR: Chin State abuses “crime against humanity” – NGO

BANGKOK, 19 January 2011 (IRIN) – Myanmar’s military government is guilty of crimes against humanity in Chin State, targeting minority Christians, says the US-based NGO, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in a new report.

“There is little humanitarian information on Chin State because it is remote with no infrastructure or easy access from neighbouring India. It is a neglected region,” said Richard Sollom, a PHR deputy director and principal author of Life Under the Junta, released on 19 January.

PHR surveyors documented almost 3,000 separate incidents of abuse among 621 households (3,281 people) from 2009-2010, including forced labour, rape, torture, abduction, arbitrary execution, arrest, and forced conscription of children.

Almost 92 percent of all surveyed households reported at least one family member subjected to forced labour. More than 62 percent of those surveyed reported working under the threat of physical harm, death or at gunpoint, according to PHR.

Steve Marshall, the UN International Labour Organization Liaison Officer for Myanmar, told IRIN that in certain areas, “villagers are literally corralled into labour under major physical threat”.

“Forced labour is just two words but a lot happens when people are taken to a job site, and marched hundreds of kilometres away from their villages. Young girls are taken away from the protection of fathers, uncles, and brothers, making them much more vulnerable to sexual assault and rape,” Sollom said.

Sexual violence is used by the Burmese military as a tool to “persecute and demoralize” the Chins, according to the report. Men, women, and children reported sexual violations by government soldiers, with almost 30 percent of rape victims under the age of 15.

UN report

With an eye to the first UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the human rights situation in Burma on 27 January, PHR and Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, are calling for a UN Commission of Inquiry into Myanmar’s human rights situation.

“The quantitative data poses questions the Myanmar government has to respond to. The condemning evidence aims to bring justice and accountability to Chin State,” said Sollom.

Abductions

Two southern townships in Chin State, Paletwa and Mindat, are home to 97 percent of all reported abductions and disappearances allegedly carried out by government and local police in Chin State, according to the report.

Almost 15 percent of households reported at least one incidence of torture – defined by PHR as “the infliction of severe suffering or pain lasting over 10 minutes” – by the Burmese military. Seventeen out of every 100 reports came from children younger than 15.

More than 10 percent of households reported family members suffering from either fatal weapon injuries or extrajudicial killings.

“The army thinks they can do anything they want with the Chin people because we are an ethnic and religious minority. They have the power to kill with impunity,” said Salai Ling, who escaped from Chin State and sought exile in Thailand in 1996.

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Bangkok Post – Burmese soldiers release eight Thais
Published: 19/01/2011 at 03:14 PM
Online news:

Burmese soldiers have released eight Thai villagers arrested after they crossed the border on Wednesday morning, Tak governor Samart Loyfa said.

Mr Samart said in the afternoon that the eight Thais from Tak’s Phop Phra district were released following talks between Thai and Burmese authorities.

The governor said most of the eight villagers crossed the border to fish or tend crops on a regular basis.

Phop Phra district chief Poj Ruworanand confirmed he was told that the eight had been freed.

However,  some of them had yet to return home and their relatives were not certain about their release.

According to reports in the morning, the eight were arrested fishing and planting corn.

They were named as Mr Methee Khiritassanai, Mr Paetoo Khiriklaiwan, Tanu Khiriklaiwan, Mrs Mamee Khiriklaiwan, Mr Morshi, Mrs Tala, Mrs Palamo and Mr Pakue.

They were held at the Third Tactical Command, about 20 kilometres from the Thai border.

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ABC Radio Australia – Burma considers new trade union law
Updated January 19, 2011 21:23:01

In a surprising move, the Burmese government is set to table new legislation that could allow workers to establishment trade unions. The proposal has been welcomed by the International Labour Organisation, which says it’s working with the Burmese government to improve workers’ rights in the impoverished nation. But the junta’s moves are also being seen with scepticism.

Presenter: Girish Sawlani
Speakers: Steve Marshall, Burma representative, International Labour Organisation (ILO); Dr Myint Cho, director, Burma Office, Sydney

SAWLANI: It’s been almost 50 years since the Burmese military crushed what was then a vibrant trade union movement.

Since then, union activities have been driven beyond the country’s borders, or reduced to underground associations, as successive governments have kept a tight control on workers’ dissent.

But a provision in the Junta’s 2008 constitution has paved the way for legislation that could see the re-emergence of trade unions.

Steve Marshall is the International Labour Organisation’s representative in Burma.

MARSHALL: It is obviously extremely significant, the situation has arisen that the constitution that was adopted in 2008 has a provision that makes allowance for the right of persons, particularly workers to be represented, which would lead them to the situation of collective bargaining.

SAWLANI: Burma’s military government has already ratified the ILO convention on the Freedom of Association, although until recently suspected trade unionists were still being arrested and imprisoned.

But international pressure has seen the government adopt a lighter approach to workers’ dissent.

Since November 2009, there have been a series of strikes in Rangoon, with workers protesting and demanding higher wages – with little or no interference from armed forces.

And as far as the new legislation is concerned, the ILO’s Steve Marshall says the initiative is driven by the government.

MARSHALL: It was brought to our attention by senior government representatives that with the adoption of the new constitution, it was the intention to put those principles into practice. It is being driven from inside the government at a very senior level, which is excellent.

SAWLANI: The latest developments come amid calls from Southeast Asian neighbours for Western nations to either lift or ease their crippling sanctions against Burma.

And moves to permit the establishment of trade unions could vindicate ASEAN’s stance that Burma has made significant progress towards democracy, especially since the release of opposition figurehead, Aung San Suu Kyi.

But many are still sceptical about the junta’s motives.

Dr Myint Cho is an exiled Burmese who now heads the Burma Office in Sydney.

CHO: I have seen it so many times before, when the previous regime formed a non-independent trade union under the control of the government. So they controlled totally the movement of the trade union in the past. Right now, because of international pressure for the workers’ rights in Burma, the regime is trying to use this kind of initiative as a public relations move to relax international pressures.

SAWLANI: Even if legislation gets passed through parliament, Dr Myint Cho doesn’t expect the new trade unions to be genuinely independent.

CHO: Under the current military controlled government, that kind of parliament is just a sham and it cannot operate freely, so of course the pressure from the current military regime, the parliament will adopt some kind of policies in dealing with the trade unions around the world, as well as the International Labour Organisation. So I don’t expect the newly formed trade union organisations will be independent and genuine.

SAWLANI: The ILO’s Steve Marshall says while there will be scepticism his organisation is adopting a wait and see approach.

MARSHALL: We do need to put into consideration that this is a very major step and we don’t know at this stage what structure will be put into place, whether it will be a full liberal trade union type structure or whether it will be one of the other models that exist elsewhere in the world which are slightly more constrained. That is something that we will be continuing to discuss with the government in terms of the structures concerned.

SAWLANI: That legislation is set to be tabled before the country’s new parliament, which holds its first session later this month.

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Asian Correspondent – Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State
By Zin Linn Jan 19, 2011 9:08PM UTC

A US-based non-profit, non-sectarian NGO has verified Burmese military junta of being guilty of crimes against humanity in the isolated Chin State, generally targeting the Christian minority. Approximately 3000 human rights abuses including forced labour, rape, torture, abduction, arbitrary execution, arrest, and forced conscription of children have been recorded.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today announced findings from the first population-based survey to file human rights violations in all nine townships of Chin State. The report – Life under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State – provides the first quantitative data of human rights violations against the people of Chin State in Western Burma. The report also reveals that at least eight of the violations surveyed fall within the purview of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and may constitute crimes against humanity.

In its press release today, PHR explains the procedure of doing research work on the said report.  PHR said that its research team consulted with 32 key informants and representatives from Chin civil society to accomplish the survey.

From February to March 2010, surveyors carried out a multi-stage, 90-cluster sample survey of 702 households – 621 of which gave consent to take part – in all nine townships in Chin State. They used an 87-question survey translated into five regional languages and asked heads of household about their life under the junta during the past 12 months.

“This report reveals extraordinary levels of state and military violence against civilian populations, and many of the violations that we surveyed may constitute crimes against humanity,” said Richard Sollom, Deputy Director at PHR and principal author of Life Under the Junta, released on 19 January.

“These findings demand not only attention, but action by all who are concerned with Burma’s peoples, their well-being, and Burma’s future,” he said

The PHR investigation discovered prevalent reports of human rights violations among 621 randomly selected households during the 12 months prior to interviews. Nearly 92 percent of the households interviewed testified at least one incident of forced labor, such as portering of military supplies or building roads.

More than 98 percent of the abuses were committed by junta’s authorities, primarily soldiers.  According to the report, generally, 1,768 of the most severe abuses were reported across all nine townships of Chin State.

“The approach used by the investigators lets us see the widespread and systematic nature of these abuses and the results are devastating,” said Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The U.S.-based PHR says its 64-page report – “Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma’s Chin State” – provides evidence of at least eight human rights violations that could be taken to the International Criminal Court.

It also urges the United Nations to establish a ‘Commission of Inquiry’ to investigate reports of human rights violations in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“The approach used by the investigators lets us see the widespread and systematic nature of these abuses and the results are devastating,” South African religious leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said in a statement released by the group.

There is an advice to the international community in the ‘Foreword’ by Justice Richard Goldstone and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It says, “What can the international community do about the human rights violations of this regime? First, both international law and basic human dignity demand accountability for these crimes. We urge the United Nations to immediately establish a Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in Chin State, and in all of Burma. Second, Burma’s neighbors and the regime’s allies, China, Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and most importantly India, must do much more to pressure the regime to cease and desist from its ruthless repression and lawless violence.”

PHR was founded in 1986 on the idea that health professionals, with their specialized skills, ethical duties, and credible voices, are uniquely positioned to investigate the health consequences of human rights violations and work to stop them. It headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with an office in Washington, DC. The organization is a non-profit, non-sectarian organization funded through private foundations and by individual donors. PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

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Asia News Network – Disturbing Burma
The Jakarta Post – Editorial Desk
Publication Date : 19-01-2011

Few were expecting any surprises from the Asean Ministerial Retreat in Lombok, Indonesia over the weekend. So when news emerged that the 10-member group was urging an easing of sanctions against Burma (Myanmar), we found it rather shocking, if not altogether disturbing.

The introduction of a regime sanctioned constitution, general elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi are grounds for Indonesia and fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to be cautiously optimistic, but nothing more than that. They are certainly not worth betting Indonesia’s international credibility on.

The argument put forward using the election and Suu Kyi’s release as rationale was flawed and premature.

The elections were held under extremely restrictive conditions, to the point that even Indonesian foreign policy analysts here criticised the limitations being placed on international poll watchers. In other words, the process was not open to the kind of scrutiny and critique common in standard elections around the world.

The right to free expression – whether through public rallies criticizing the government or a free press – remains void.

We dare Asean ministers and leaders  to publicly avow that the citizens of Burma have the right to express and channel their aspirations towards a viable political opposition that has the same rights as the ruling regime.

And while the release of Suu Kyi is a nudge in the right direction, are there any assurances of a cessation of political or ethnic persecution when the authority of the regime is under threat? The answer remains no.

When a regime so unabashedly engaged in open political suppression with military force, such as was the case during the saffron revolution just three years ago, we should keep our suspicions on alert.

Nor do we find it difficult to shake off our incongruity when, in 2008, a constitutional referendum was passed with an almost unanimous 92 percent of the ballots, a number which Joseph Stalin would have been proud of.

We are sad Asean would feel it necessary to risk its credentials – yet again – when a cloud of uncertainty still hangs over Burma. Indonesia should encourage the process of opening up in Myanmar, but it should not put its reputation on the line for a regime that only has itself to blame for its predicament.

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EarthTimes – Direct flights agreed between Cambodia and Myanmar
Posted : Wed, 19 Jan 2011 03:42:07 GMT

Phnom Penh – Cambodia and Myanmar have agreed to begin direct flights in a bid to boost tourism, local media reported Wednesday.

Cambodia’s Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said the twice-weekly flights would link Myanmar’s capital Yangon and Cambodia’s tourist centre of Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Wat temple complex.

He said Myanmar Airways International would operate the flights, with the first scheduled for February 23.

Thong Khon announced the deal at the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), a week-long gathering of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in Phnom Penh to boost tourism to the region and between the group’s 10 member states.

He said Cambodia was also using the opportunity of hosting the ATF to try and negotiate improved flight connections with other countries.

“We are hopeful that if we have direct flights with Russia and Japan, their tourists will increasingly come to our country,” he told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper.

Around 2.5 million people visited Cambodia last year, of whom just 2,600 were from Myanmar. Tourism is one of Cambodia’s key economic pillars.

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Washington Post – Family, friends of Lance Cpl. Maung Htaik gather for funeral at Arlington
By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 10:44 PM

Maung P. Htaik told his family that he was going to be a scientist when he grew up. But after graduating from high school in 2009, he became a Marine.

His enlistment took his family by surprise, said his brother, Dan Yar, 25. He asked his brother why he joined, but he did not get an answer, he said.

“For him, there was no regret. He really liked where he was,” said Yar, who added that his sibling was brave and joined the infantry. “As a brother, I always worried about him.”

Lance Cpl. Maung Htaik, 20, of Hagerstown, Md., known as “Sam” to many of his friends, was killed Jan. 1 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, the Defense Department said.

About 70 family members, friends and Marines huddled together on an icy Tuesday morning for his burial at Arlington National Cemetery. His family members placed their hands over their hearts to salute Htaik as a firing party fired three volleys. They solemnly accepted flags and condolences presented by Sgt. Maj. Eric J. Stockton.

The lance corporal was born in Burma, previously called Myanmar. His family moved to Singapore for a few years before coming to the United States in 2002.

“We were much closer at home before we came here,” Yar said. “We were each other’s friends.”

The two shared a love of drawing and video games, he said. But they grew apart as Yar went to college and took on adult responsibilities and Htaik attended Smithsburg High School.

Yar said his brother enjoyed weight lifting and had many friends in both the Burmese youth group he attended and at Gateway Ministries in Williamsport, Md.

“He is a smart, godly man,” his father, Hla Shwe, said of his youngest son.

Htaik was known for having good grades, being easygoing and not calling attention to himself, school officials told The Washington Post.

“He was a nice kid,” said Diana Price, who taught Htaik world history. “A delightful young man.” Price had received an e-mail from Htaik letting her know that he was doing all right and heading to Afghanistan.

“He used to be really talkative, one of those kids who said funny stuff all the time. Then, after the boot camp, he came back, he was more quiet” and mature, Yar said. His brother was deployed to Afghanistan in July and was due home in February.

“He called home and [asked] my mother to pray for a guy because he got shot,” Yar said. “Every time we talked to him, he had other things going on. He never asked for anything from home. It was more about his friends and stuff going on. That is him.”

Lance Cpl. Mark Dell, a Marine in Htaik’s platoon, spoke at Htaik’s Jan. 8 memorial service at Frederick Christian Fellowship Church via a video on Voice of America’s Burmese news YouTube channel. Dell said the first time he saw Htaik was when Htaik came charging by a group of tired Marines at the end of a day of grueling exercises.

“First impressions are everything. For Sam, it truly was,” Dell said. “The entire time I knew Sam, he never let up.”

Htaik was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

His awards included the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

“I just wish I had more time to spend with my brother,” Yar said. “That is all that I really want.”

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Strategy Page – China Lite

January 19, 2011: Fighting continues in the north, against various tribal groups. This is low-level stuff, with rebels skirmishing with army patrols, or troops moving in to search, or destroy, villages. No reporters are allowed in the area, and most information on the war is obtained from refugees fleeing to Bangladesh, China and Thailand. Often, the refugees are forced back. The UN and Thailand are fighting over this, but Thailand does not want these tribes to permanently move into Thailand.

New revenue from natural gas and other economic projects, financed by China, is expected to continue the expansion and modernization of the army. In the last 25 years, the army has tripled in size, but remains a poorly equipped force mainly devoted to fighting tribal rebels and keeping the population under control. China has been supplying inexpensive new weapons and equipment, but expects to get paid.

The new government provides an opportunity for many who call for the lifting of sanctions. The main argument is that the sanctions have not worked. China and Thailand continue to invest in Burma anyway, and many other nations, especially neighbors, and major trading nations in Europe, want to get involved in the many economic opportunities in Burma. The military government has taken a hint from China, and is privatizing much of the economy and allowing a market economy. There’s a lot of economic opportunity, with foreign investors and members of the military (now in civilian clothes) government ready to share the profits. Most Burmese can’t expect to see more than a low-paying job, and getting pushed around as they have been for decades.

The World War II “Stilwell (or Ledo) Road”, from northeast India into Burma, is going to be rebuilt. The road was originally, in 1942, built to replace the “Burma Road” that got Allied military aid to Chinese troops fighting the Japanese. But Japan captured Burma in 1942, and cut that connection. The new road will bypass India, and just go from China into Burma. India is not happy about being left out, and nervous about how the new road will go right up to the Indian border.

China is building an oil terminal in Western Burma, where tankers from the Persian Gulf will unload oil, which will then be moved into southwestern China  via a new pipeline. China will run the new oil terminal, and the Burmese government will be responsible for the security of the pipeline, which runs through tribal territory that still suffered from periodic violence.

January 10, 2011:  The new parliament will meet on the 31st, the first  meeting of an elected parliament in 22 years. The government controls 80 percent of the seats, including a quarter of the seats that are reserved for the military. The election was widely believed (by locals and foreign observers) to be rigged. Despite that, the new government is campaigning to get economic sanctions lifted.

January 9, 2011: It’s been revealed that one of the last laws passed by the old, military controlled, parliament last year was one that introduced conscription for men and women. The law is still secret, and no one is quite sure what it is for. At worse, it appears to be a legal way to remove large numbers of anti-government activists from public life. Those who refuse to report for service can be sent to prison for three years.

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istockAnalyst.com (press release) – Chickens suspected of dying of avian influenza in Myanmar state
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:17 AM

YANGON, Jan. 19, 2011 (Xinhua News Agency) — The unusual death of 700 three- month-old chickens in a poultry farm in Sittway, Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, which occurred over the past week, was suspected of dying of virulent avian influenza, the local weekly Yangon Times reported Wednesday.

The case was found in the state’s Bumay village-tract and samples of the dead chickens have been sent to Yangon for laboratory test, the report said, adding that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) stands the most possibility to have caused the death.

The Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD) has warned the public to take bio-security measures and report to the authorities on suspected death of livestocks.

Another local weekly, the Popular News, also reported on Wednesday that a number of some American migratory birds were found arriving and resting in some areas in Bago region’s Nyaunlaypin, Daik Oo and Pyontazar townships during this winter.

The LBVD has warned of probable infection from the birds which may carry virus into the country from the cold regions to infect local birds.

Myanmar experienced a re-strike by bird flu H5N1 in early 2010, detecting such cases in Yangon’s Mayangong township and Mingaladon township and northwestern Sagaing region after some chickens died of virulent avian influenza in poultry farms.

The avian influenza recurred in Myanmar in February 2010, nearly two years after the country was claimed free from the disease.

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Guernica Magazine – Zoya Phan: Don’t You Dare Lift Sanctions on Burma
January 19, 2011

Karen-Burmese author/activist Zoya Phan worries that an ascendant Aung San Suu Kyi might get assassinated, chides nostalgia for pre-colonial Burma, where minorities were oppressed, and calls sanctions busters naive or stupid. This interview was conducted in late November and early December by email.

In December, I interviewed Burmese historian Thant Myint-U, who argued that sanctions on Burma were a mistake, since they hurt ordinary people and fostered Burma’s partnership with China. Zoya Phan, a member of Burma’s battered and abused Karen ethnic group, begs to differ. Phan is the author of a stirring 2010 memoir, Undaunted: My Struggle for Freedom and Survival in Burma, in which she recounts her early years on the run from the Burmese army, in refugee camps in Thailand, and finally her education and escape to London, where she works with the Burma Campaign UK. As Undaunted and our discussion below both make clear, what trade with Burma’s generals fosters is a larger Burmese army. It doubled the last time the world dealt freely with Burma, and chased her from her village. If you read Undaunted you’ll discover how that army killed her dad.

She begins our discussion, and her critique of Thant Myint-U’s argument to lift sanctions, thus: “Thant Myint-U is right in identifying ethnic issues as key to solving the political problems in Burma, but does not appear to support giving rights, protection and autonomy to ethnic people as a solution to these problems. In many of his writings, he has even implied that ethnic identity is a British colonial invention to divide and rule Burma, which shows a worrying lack of understanding about ethnic people and our history. He seems to be nostalgic for the pre-colonial period in Burma. This may have been a good time for some wealthy Burmans in the royal court in Mandalay, but it was a time of oppression and fear for ethnic people.”

—Joel Whitney for Guernica

Guernica: Weren’t Burma’s November elections a total sham?

Zoya Phan: The November elections were a complete sham, as the main intention was to legalize the rule of the dictatorship. Repressive laws and media censorship remain in place. For ethnic people, there is no guarantee for rights needed to protect their culture and traditions. Remember that these elections were announced in 2003, following international outrage at the Depayin massacre, and re-arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi. The so-called roadmap to democracy, which included these elections, was announced to head off the threat of sanctions. This shows the generals really do care about international pressure and sanctions, or action from the UN Security Council.

These elections have strengthened [the generals’] rule, and now everything they do is within Burmese law. [After these elections] we have the same people in charge, the same policies, the same control over wealth and power, and a constitution designed for this. For example, through the new state and regional parliaments, and the threatened abandonment of ceasefire agreements, the dictatorship will be expanding its control over ethnic areas, in a way they haven’t before, and in ways even Burmese kings before colonialism didn’t have. There are also similarities to the current situation in more recent Burmese history. In 1974 General Ne Win also brought in a new constitution aimed at legalizing his rule, and giving it a civilian front. He remained in power for more than a decade, before a new and even more brutal dictatorship assumed control.

Guernica: And what of the politics more generally?

Zoya Phan: For more than 40 years under military dictatorship, people have been living in constant fear and extreme poverty. We now have five main political powerbases in Burma. The first is the military/ex-military elite, who run the government through the President and the National Defense and Security Council. Parliament is sidelined to a rubber stamp role. The second, the Parliament, is separate from, but connected to the government. The military has ensured it controls the Parliament. The regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party dominates, thanks to rigged elections. The party is packed with ex-soldiers and business cronies and ensures old power remains in place. For ethnic people in regional Parliaments, MPs will raise and promote ethnic issues, but MPs won’t be able to change the Constitution, without agreement from the military, as it requires 75 percent of the vote. In regional governments it is the military-backed national president who appoints ministers. So central government has strong control over local governments and parliaments.

What people in Burma need is a democratic federal Burma that guarantees autonomy, rights and protection for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or race.

Now we are being told by so-called experts and some governments that we must be patient and that there can be incremental change through Parliament. The UN did this, and failed spectacularly, and while they did, the human rights situation got worse. The dictatorship ignored the UN and international community, making not a single concession. Now we are being told again these Parliaments are new, we should engage with them and if improved they can bring positive change. I don’t place any hope in that.

Returning to our list, the third political grouping is the non-ceasefire groups. On one purely practical level, [generals and the international community] will have to deal with them, because they are armed groups, and there will not be peace without their agreement. But also, their main goal is no different from the official position of the United Nations. They want respect for human rights, and are working for a federal Burma. The UN cannot continue to sideline them from political dialogue if it genuinely wants dialogue and a political settlement.

The fourth political grouping is the mainstream opposition, spearheaded by the National League for Democracy. This also includes the Committee Representing the People’s Parliament, other ethnic parties, the 88 Generation Students, and others. You also have Buddhist monks who have taken up leadership roles since the 2007 uprising, and who continue to operate underground. Their movement continues even though they are banned. Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, there is no doubt that their political significance is undiminished. Clearly the dictatorship shares this view, which is why more than 2,000 of their leaders are in jail.

You also have armed ceasefire groups, which are under a lot more pressure now, as they refuse to become Border Guard Forces, as required by the new constitution. There is a real danger here with the continued attacks against them, leading to a human rights crisis. They have formed an alliance, and are also moving closer to non-ceasefire armed ethnic groups. In the past these groups were mostly ready to cooperate with the regime. But now they have lost hope for achieving their dream of federal Burma through the military dictatorship, and are reaching out to non-ceasefire groups. This is very significant; the dictatorship is losing control it previously had with ethnic ceasefire groups and so ceasefire and non-ceasefire groups are moving closer together. There is potential for a stronger, more united ethnic opposition.

It is a bizarre situation where the Parliament, which is where there is so much international attention at the moment, is in fact the least politically significant and powerful of the groupings. If there is to be dialogue leading to a transition to democracy, then the military, the mainstream democracy movement, and ceasefire and non-ceasefire groups will have to be at the negotiating table. The same cannot be said for the Parliament.

Guernica: Tell me a little more about the armed conflicts.

Zoya Phan: The ruling regime’s failure to address the rights, security and aspirations of Burma’s ethnic people, who make up an estimated 40 percent of the population, has resulted in armed conflicts. Such failures have been at the root of instability in Burma since independence in 1948. As a result of military pressure on these groups to join the Border Guard Force, with the dictatorship breaking ceasefire agreements, armed conflicts are increasing. Unlike most ethnic armies, the regime’s Army targets civilians, in breach of international law.

Likely tactics will be divide and rule, military force, arrests, torture, restrictions on activists, closing offices, the arrest or even assassination of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Despite all of this happening in ethnic areas, the international community hasn’t paid enough attention. The United Nations and governments around the world, including China and ASEAN, have repeatedly called on the dictatorship to enter into dialogue with the democracy movement and ethnic leaders. But there hasn’t been much effort to engage ethnic groups in the political process or the negotiations. What people in Burma need is a democratic federal Burma that guarantees autonomy, rights and protection for all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or race.

Guernica: Will Aung San Suu Kyi’s release lead to change?

Zoya Phan: It is very important to understand that the dictatorship’s intention to release Aung San Suu Kyi is about public relations, not democratic reform. It is the third time Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest. The last time, in 2002, it was part of a UN-led initiative to try to persuade Burma’s dictatorship to enter into dialogue leading to a transition to democracy. However, when the time came for substantive discussions, the generals would not talk.

There is potential for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release to contribute to significant change, if the opportunity is seized quickly. Already you can see how the NLD is re-energized. This is very important because people look to the NLD for leadership, and also, the NLD have a mandate from the people. They are now working on a second Panglong conference, which means they will discuss properly the establishment of a federal Burma. This unites three of the five main political constituencies in the country.

If the mainstream democracy movement does come together with ethnic forces, the regime will see this as a serious threat. They have used the excuse of ethnic armed groups to justify their rule, claiming these groups want to divide the country. They are also very opposed to federalism, and have rejected groups’ proposals for federalism at the National Convention. The dictatorship will oppose this in every way they think necessary. Tactics likely to be used will be to try to divide and rule, use of military force, arrests, torture, increasing repression with more restrictions on activists, closing offices, and the arrest or even assassination of Aung San Suu Kyi. There is a danger we’ll just see a repeat of the vicious circle where, with a revitalized movement, thanks to Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, the movement grows, and then meets with a crackdown when the generals consider it could become a real threat. This has happened three times already. This is why the international community must unite behind high-level UN effort for dialogue.

Guernica: Won’t economic engagement or development or trade lead to enriching a patently murderous regime?

Zoya Phan: Economic engagement enriches the regime, as the economy is controlled by the regime. Economic engagement benefits this elite, not ordinary people. The money is spent on the military, stolen by the elite. This sector isn’t labor-intensive. So people don’t get jobs. Even possible jobs from construction of these projects don’t benefit people, and is even directly responsible for human rights abuses, such as land seizures and forced labor. Look at one of the dams being built in Kachin State. They forced local people off their land, and are now importing 10,000 Chinese workers.

Guernica: That’s easy to say from outside Burma, but don’t sanctions stifle the economic freedoms of ordinary Burmese?

Zoya Phan: People arguing for lifting sanctions saying it will help ordinary people are either very naive or very stupid. We had [no sanctions] for almost ten years up till 1997. During that time, despite billions of dollars of investment, there was no political progress, spending on services did not increase. But the size of the army did—it doubled—securing the regime’s grip on power. That army was used against the population, for example, on the attack against my own village when I was fourteen years old.

Targeted sanctions are one of several ways to apply pressure on the regime. Unfortunately, we haven’t got the kind of sanctions Burma’s democracy movement has been asking for. Most of the sanctions in place at the moment are not strong enough and do not cover gas and oil sectors that provide main revenue sources to the regime. No one is asking for the isolation of Burma. In fact, it is the dictatorship’s policy that isolates the people of Burma while it reaches out to different countries every year and opens new embassies around the world. It is the dictatorship’s policy that kills civilians and makes people poor. As long as the dictatorship is in power, foreign trade and investment in Burma will not benefit people. Instead, it will end up fueling the oppression in Burma.

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The Irrawaddy – Buildings Collapse as Heavy Snow Hits Burma’s Far North
By KO HTWE Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Heavy snowfall in northern Kachin State on Sunday caused the collapse of several buildings belonging to a customs office in the Panwa Valley, near the border with China, according to local residents.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said one resident of the area. “The snow came down like heavy rain, causing a number of buildings to collapse. No one was injured, but travel in and out of the area has been blocked for days.”

Meanwhile, in nearby Chipwe Township, local residents said that transportation was slowed by snow and hail.
“People are having trouble getting around because of all the snow and hail on the road,” said an employee of Asia Wall, a local company, adding that poor travel conditions have prevented outside aid groups from reaching the remote area.

According to a resident of Bamaw Township, several older people in the area have reportedly gone into shock due to the extremely cold weather.
Earlier this month, Tun Lwin, a retired director-general of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology in Rangoon, predicted that a cold wave would hit the region four times between January and March.

Temperatures in the region would rise and fall depending on the speed and direction of winds from high-altitude areas of China, he added on his website.

Freezing conditions in high-altitude areas of western, eastern and northern Burma at the end of December have continued into the new year, with Hakha and Mindat townships in Chin State and Loilem and Pinlaung townships in southern Shan State experiencing below-zero temperatures at night.

According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar, recent nighttime temperatures in Kachin and Chin states have been 3-4°C below January averages.

Temperatures are also falling in parts of Shan State, where local residents reported cold winds and light rain.

“The temperature has been falling since Sunday. The wind is significantly colder these days than usual in Loilem Township,” said Moe Moe, a resident of the area.

The cold wave has also hit northern Vietnam, killing around 9,200 cows and buffaloes and closing schools, according to reports in the country’s state-run media.

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The Irrawaddy – Fighting Spreads in Karen State
By SAW YAN NAING Wednesday, January 19, 2011

MAE LA OON, Thailand―Although more than 16,000 Karen people were sheltering at close quarters in Mae La Oon refugee camp, the night was silent. Among the shadows of the banana trees, the moonlight flickered across the river.

Suddenly, the whiz of a mortar shell arcs across the sky like a shooting star. For a second there is a vacuum of silence, then the resounding boom of an explosion rocks the northern Thai jungle. The heavens are instantly illuminated as gunfire and artillery consume the area.

It was 9:30 pm on Jan. 17. The fighting between Burmese government forces and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) was taking place about 30 km from the camp, on Kasaw Wah Lay Mountain, opposite Thailand’s Sop Moei District.

We heard the echo of artillery shells thundering across the valley until 10:30 pm. Some households in the camp had already packed their belongings in case the shelling came any closer and they had to flee.

I rushed to a hut where the camp security guards were based. Through their walkie-talkies and satellite phones, we found out that the fighting was going on around Noh Day, Kasaw Wah Lay and the former Karen National Union (KNU) headquarters, Manerplaw.

Several refugees told me they have had to endure this every night since mid-December. Now I was experiencing it for myself. I could barely fathom what it must be like to get woken up by these thunderous explosions on a nightly basis.

The camp authorities announced on loudspeakers that everyone should be alert and to pack their valuables. People lingered near the underground bunkers that had been dug in case of such an emergency.

A few days earlier, three Burmese soldiers were arrested inside Mae La Oon refugee camp and later expelled. Rumors were spreading that spies for the Burmese military regime had been deployed in Mae La Oon and at Mae Ra Ma Luang, another refugee camp close by.

Karen sources on the border said that an estimated eight battalions around Kasaw Wah Lay Mountain had been recently reinforced; meanwhile, KNU Brigade 5 was recruiting in the local area.

KNU sources said a small group of Burmese troops at Kasaw Wah Lay had been cut off from their unit and were unable to receive rations and supplies. The Thai border authorities have reportedly provided rations in recent weeks to other Burmese troops.

The fighting is expected to escalate as both the KNU and the Burmese army beef up their forces in the combat zone.

Thailand has also deployed a unit of soldiers to Sop Moei District after mortar shells landed in a Thai village on the night of Nov. 17.

Several refugees said they fear that the Burmese army can fire down on the camp from Kasaw Wah Lay Mountain. Many said they are praying for a cease-fire.

“We fed up with the fighting. We want to live in peace,” said Si Mon, a housewife in Mae La Oon refugee camp.

“We don’t go to big cities like Rangoon and attack them [the Burmese] and try to take over their land,” said Saw Htee, a former KNU fighter. “We don’t want their land. We don’t want armed conflict. We fight them because they come here and attack us. They come to our land and try to oppress our people.”

The KNU’s war with the Burmese army is one of the world’s longest running conflicts. The insurgent group was formed in 1947 and took up arms against the central Burmese government in 1949, just one year after Burma had gained independence from British colonial rule.

Decades of repression by the Burmese regime has resulted in more than 150,000 Burmese refugees, mostly Karen, displaced to refugee camps in Thailand.

Many refugees ultimately decide to resettle in third countries. Some 60,000 Karen refugees have been resettled in the West, according to a humanitarian aid agency, Thailand Burma Border Consortium.

Having lived in a refugee camp for more than a decade, Si Mon said that she always expected to return to her village in Karen State. However, she is now on the UNHCR list as waiting to resettle in the US as she has given up all hope of ever seeing her hometown ever again.

On Nov. 8, one day after Burma’s general election, serious fighting erupted between Burmese troops and a renegade faction of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), Brigade 5. The conflict has since spread north.

With an estimated 1,000 troops, Brigade 5 is led by Brig-Gen Saw Lah Pwe, and is the only DKBA battalion to reject the Burmese junta’s border guard force plan. It has since allied with the KNU. On Nov. 17, a group of about 40 soldiers belong to a Karen breakaway group called Klow Htoo Baw also returned to KNU Brigade 6 areas.

Local residents in Kyaukkyi Township in Pegu Division said that fighting between the KNU and Burmese government forces broke out near the town on Jan. 11.

Skirmishes between DKBA Brigade 5 and Burmese regime troops have been reported on a near-daily basis in Waw Lay and Phaluu in southern Karen State.

The Burmese army is also reported to be reinforcing its forces and supplies west of the Salween River in northern Karen State, and near the border with Karenni State. KNU Brigade 5 troops in Papun District in northern Karen are reported to be on high alert.

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NDF to call for amnesty for all political prisoners
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 12:35
Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – National Democratic Force (NDF) party officials say their first priority will be to present a bill during the first session of the new Parliament to grant amnesty for the nearly 2,200 political prisoners.

Parliament affairs committee member Khin Maung Swe said: ‘We believe that the political prisoners should be released as a priority when the government changes to the new system. For the dignity of the country, the newly elected president should issue a general amnesty order for these prisoners’.

The Thai-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) says there are 2,178 political prisoners in prisons across the country.

AAPP-B Secretary Teik Naing said, ‘This matter must be raised both inside and outside of Parliament by both winning parties and non-winning parties. They must raise the issue consistently and resolutely’.

Critics of the military government note that the controversial laws used to charge and imprison dissidents and opposition group members still exist.

Laws such as the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act and the 1975 Law Safeguarding the State from Danger of Subversive Elements are repressive tools used by the government to silence freedom of speech, say opposition group members.

Exiled-based Burma Lawyers’ Council chairman Thein Oo said that newly elected members of Parliament must move to repeal such repressive laws.

“These laws are specifically made for arresting political activists. The activists and politicians who fight within the parliamentary framework must work to remove these laws so people can enjoy their natural rights’, said Thein Oo.

Among the political prisoners are ethnic leaders, 255 monks, members of various political parties, and former members of parliament.

Activist Ashin Zawana of the International Burmese Monks Organisation said that releasing political prisoners would be the gateway to democracy and human rights in Burma.

‘Medical care in prisons is very poor so it seems as if the government is intentionally trying to kill these prisoners inside the prison. The government will increase its dignity by releasing these prisoners and also it will pave the way to democracy and human rights’. Ashin Zawana was imprisoned for 15 years for his political views.

U Etriria, another exiled monk who works with the All Burma Monks’ Alliance, noted that since January 6 the ABMA has led signature campaigns in the US, India and Sri Lanka for the release of all political prisoners. The signatures will be presented to the European Union, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

A list of political prisoners in Burma compiled and by the AAPP-B in December 2010:

Political prisonersNumber
Monks255
Members of Parliament12
Students282
Women174
NLD party members399
Human Right Defender and Promoters Network31
Ethnic nationalities political prisoners225
Relief volunteers of cyclone Nargis victims20
School Teachers26
Journalists42
Lawyers11
Labour rights activists44
88 generation students39
Medical doctors11
Individual political activists607
Politicians in poor health142

Laws used to convict political activists:

1.1950 Emergency Provisions Act
2.1975 Law on Safeguarding the State from Danger of Subversive Elements or 1975 State Protection Law
3. TV and Video Law
4.1908 Unlawful Associations Act
5.Electronic Acts Law
6.Immigration Act Amendment
7.1947 Public Order Protection Act
8.1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Law

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Election Commission tribunal to hear election cases
Wednesday, 19 January 2011 20:50
Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Union Election Commission (UEC) will hear several complaints and lawsuits filed by political parties and candidates that contested the 2010 general election in the next few days.

At least 28 lawsuits have been filed with the UEC in Naypyidaw including two cases by the National Democratic Force (NDF), nine cases by the Rhakine Nationalities Democratic Party, seven cases by the Shan National Democratic Party, three cases by the Democratic Party (Myanmar) and three cases by the National Union Party.

According to the electoral law, the complaining party must deposit 1 million kyat (USD 1,176) and file a lawsuit within 60 days of the polling date. A number of parties have said they lacked the funds to file complaints.

NDF candidate Bauk Ja filed a complaint against the winning Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate, Ohn Myint, in Phakant Township in Kachin State on January 7. The commission has set a hearing for January 26 in election tribunal No. 15.

‘Ohn Myint himself fixed the date for the hearing at Naypyidaw. The UEC informed my lawyer that Ohn Myint fixed this date by fax’, said Bauk Ja. Ohn Myint is a former general who resigned to stand as a USDP candidate.

In her complaint, Bauk Ja alleged that the USDP brought absentee ballot papers to polling booths, conducted campaign activities within 50 yards of polling booths, ticked ballots for their party on behalf of the voters and posted campaign posters next to polling booths.

USDP candidate and writer Myat Thu filed a complaint against Dr. Myat Nyar Na Soe, the winning NDF party candidate in Rangoon Division for the House of Nationalities No. 4 seat.

As per the electoral law, the defendant must submit his or her written statement within four days before the court hearing. Myat Nyar Na Soe said that all the allegations made against him are incorrect.

The allegations say Myat Nya Na Soe made slanderous and malicious attacks against the USDP party in his election campaign, obstructed casting absentee votes in some townships, conducted electoral malpractices at polling booths and placed ballot boxes in the wrong order in some polling booths.

‘Everybody knows I didn’t do anything wrong’, said Myat Nya Na Soe. ‘All their allegations do not hold water, but I must prove this point with sound evidence. If I really committed wrongdoings and malpractices as they alleged I would be worried, but all their allegations do not amount to electoral malpractices. So I will defend myself’, he said.

He said he would submit his written statement on Thursday. Election tribunal No. 28 will hear the case on January 26. Lawyer Myint Thwin from Mandalay Division will represent Myat Nya Na Soe.

Thein Maung, a losing USDP candidate in the Rathetaung Township constituency in Rakhine State, filed a suit against winning candidate Hla Maung Thein of the RNDP, alleging electoral fraud. His suit will be heard on Thursday.

The Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics and the 88-Generation Student and Youths (Union of Myanmar) parties have registered a total 28 cases at respective police stations, but these cases had yet to be taken up.

‘In fact, these cases should have been handled already, but the authorities didn’t handle them seriously. If the law might be counterproductive for them, they don’t abide by their own laws’, said Aye Lwin, the chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of National Politics.

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DVB News – Ex-child soldier jailed for desertion
By AYE NAI
Published: 19 January 2011

A man who escaped from the army after joining at the age of 13 has been given a three-and-a half year prison sentence for desertion.

Despite being illegal under Burmese and international law, the use of child soldiers in the Burmese army is common. Only children over the age of 15 are legally able to volunteer for the army, while only adults over 18 can be forcibly recruited.

The army eventually caught up with Zin Maung, now in his mid-twenties, in Pegu division’s Waw township in September last year and arrested him.

“He was arrested and sent to jail. It happened without us knowing. When we heard the news about it, he was already in prison,” said his mother, Kyi Win.

Zin Maung had enlisted himself in the Burmese army at the age of 13 along with two friends who were quickly rejected on the grounds that they didn’t meet the physical requirements.

The following year, in 2001, he was sent to boot camp in Magwe division’s Taungdwingyi.

Due to his young age, he was unable to finish the boot camp training and so was sent to a chicken farm owned by a local army captain in Pegu’s Intakaw township. It was then that he deserted.

According to his mother, Zin Maung‘s grandfather was a witness to his arrest last September, and died on the spot. She added that his father became bed-ridden after hearing of his arrest.

“I want my son back in my arms. His father is also very ill so we are requesting that he is released. We need our son back who has been looking after us and feeding us.” she said.

The story is common in Burma, where the ruling generals have been aggressively expanding the Burmese army, which is now thought to number nearly 500,000 troops, one of the world’s largest standing armies relative to population. A recent law that makes military service compulsory for men and women over the age of 18 is likely to increase this further.

A Human Rights Watch report in 2002 said that as many as 70,000 children could be in active duty, although more recent estimates are hard to obtain.

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DVB News – Children shot in Karen crossfire
By NAW NOREEN
Published: 19 January 2011

Two children have been hospitalised in eastern Burma with bullet wounds sustained whilst fleeing fighting in Karen state.

One of the two, a 12-year-old boy, was shot twice in the arm as he attempted to escape ongoing clashes between Burmese troops and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army
(DKBA). The other boy, 17, was hit in the thigh.

A Karen man told DVB that he had driven the two from Chaungsone in the Three Pagodas Pass district to a hospital in Payathonzu, close to the Thai border, where they remain.

Numbers of aid workers are reportedly on the Thai side of the border waiting for permission from Burmese authorities to visit the children, although this could not be independently verified.

Fighting has intensified over the past two weeks along the volatile border region close to Thailand, where the DKBA is joined by a loose coalition of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF). Both armies support the DKBA’s decision not to become a Border Guard Force (BGF), which would force it to relinquish control over troops to the Burmese junta.

A firefight on Monday between KNLA Brigade 6 soldiers and a Burmese army battalion left thee Burmese troops injured, one of whom reportedly died later that evening.

The following morning, DKBA troops carried out an ambush on a Burmese army column near to the border town of Myawaddy, where fighting first began on 8 November last year.

DVB has also learnt that the Burmese army has been firing artillery into Manerplaw, the former headquarters of the KNLA which fell in 1995. Numbers of poorly aimed artillery shells have landed on Thai soil in the past week.

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DVB News – Migrants missing after rights case
By JOSEPH ALLCHIN
Published: 19 January 2011

Three Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia have been deported and an additional two have gone missing after requesting that their employers uphold contractual obligations over payment.

Thirty-five Burmese in total had been detained last week in Johor in southern Malaysia after complaining that the owners of the Sinometal Technology Company had paid them only 640 Malaysian Ringit ($US210) per month instead of the 900 Ringit ($US295) agreed when they signed the three-month contract. They also complained that they were not receiving overtime pay which had also been promised.

Thirty were subsequently released, but the three deported were deemed to be ringleaders of the group.

“On 12 January the employer made a fake report to the police and the police arrived at the hostel,” says Tun Tun from the Burma Campaign Malaysia (BCM). The police detained all 35 workers at around 10.30am but released the 30 at around 6:45pm, telling BCM that the other five were “under investigation”.

According to Pranom Sawong of the Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (NAMM), however, “they immediately sent five of the workers’ leaders to the airport, and tried to send them back to Burma”.

No legal charges against the workers were made clear to either advocates or the workers. Human rights lawyer Charles Hector, who advocates for migrant workers in Malaysia, says: “Honestly speaking, the police should not have got themselves involved in this situation where there was no protest and there was no criminal offence happening. This was a labour matter, but police are used by employers to harass migrant workers – this is common practice.”

The case is another indictment of strained labour relations in Malaysia, around 30 percent of whose workforce is made up of migrant workers. Tun Tun tells DVB that Malaysia is thus “a pro-employer country”.

The Kuala Lumpur-based Burma Workers’ Rights Protection Committee estimates there are about 500,000 registered and unregistered migrants from Burma in Malaysia. As of May 2009, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it had registered 50,000 people of concern from Burma, including refugees and asylum-seekers. Amnesty International claims there are a total of around 2.2 million legal migrants in Malaysia.

Hector believes the incident was aimed at “making the migrants believe that they can’t do anything against the employer”.

Access to the law in Malaysia is widely identified as a problem for Burmese migrant workers, meaning they are more liable to be abused by their employers. Tun Tun adds that the 35 did not speak Bahasa, the local language, and little English. As a result the BCM publishes the laws in Burmese in a newsletter called the Thuria Malaysia.

The 30 who were released returned to their hostel but found it locked and were unable to enter, forcing them to spend the night on the streets.

Through the intervention of groups such as the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, NAMM and the BCM, the country’s labour office became involved and was able to regain the jobs of at least 27 of the 35. As well as the fate of the deported three, concern abounds about the whereabouts of the two leaders whom no one has heard from.

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Editor - The Myanmar Gazette || First Amendment – Religion and Expression - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.