Saturday, February 27, 2010

Burma SC rejects release Suu Kyi

Myanmar highest court dismissed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's latest bid for freedom Friday, turning down an appeal to end 14 years of house arrest, her lawyer said.The Supreme Court's decision had been expected since legal rulings in Myanmar rarely favoured opposition activists.Defence lawyer Nyan Win told reporters that he would launch one final "special appeal" before the court after determining why the earlier appeal had been rejected. "The court order did not mention any reasons," he said."Although the decision comes as no surprise, it is deeply disappointing. We continue to believe that (Suu Kyi) should be released immediately along with the other 2,000 and more other prisoners of conscience," said British Ambassador Andrew Heyn, who attended the court session along with diplomats from Australia, France and the United States.Suu Kyi's lawyers appealed to the court last November after a lower court a month earlier upheld a decision to sentence her to 18 mor months of house arrest.She was convicted last August of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American who swam to her lakeside home. The 64-year-old democracy icon was initially sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor in a trial that drew global condemnation, but that sentence was immediately commuted to 18 months of house arrest by junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe. Argentinian lawyer showed frustrated when he was not allowed to see the country’s iconic political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi,currently under house arrest. She has spent more than 15 of the last 21 years in Burmese jail.Lawyer said,“Of course I was disappointed not to meet her, and even though I had made my desire to talk to her about the forthcoming elections, I never expected to be given permission to see her.”The envoy to give a detailed report on Burma’s human rights situation to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.This is his third mission to the country since his appointment two years ago but all visit ends in vain. “But my mission should not be judged by whether the regime makes any concessions or not,” he said. “It’s a process and the fact that they allow me to visit and continue the dialogue on human rights is very positive.” envoy seemed very distressed while assessment his trips. Argentinian also complained about the Burmese authorities approach to his five-day visit. For one thing, he said, there was never any advance warning of the agenda. “It was a day-to-day programme,” he said. This did not permit him and his team to prepare properly and reduced the effectiveness of his mission, UN sources told Mizzima on condition of anonymity. There is no doubt though that Mr Quintana’s visit to Rakhine State in western Burma to see for himself the conditions of Burmese Muslims there was a significant concession by the regime. This is the first time a senior UN envoy has been allowed in that region – though the UN country team do have projects and people in the area. He visited both the regional capital Sittwe and Buthidaung in the north of the state -- where the worse abuses against Burmese Muslims are alledged to take place.Perhaps even more significantly he was allowed to be accompanied by the two senior representatives of the International Labour Organization in Rangoon, who are actively involved in checking reports of forced labour in the country. During his mission there he was also allowed to visit Buthidaung prison where he met five political prisoners, including one of the ten local leaders of the Myanmar Muslim Association of Maungdaw -- who have been sentenced to some 13 years for allegedly holding a meeting to discuss the constitution in 2007 – and a senior Shan leader, Tun Nyo who is now 79. Both were in very poor health, the envoy said. “Curiously the conditions in the jail have improved over the last six months, the prisonsers told me,” Mr Quintana told Mizzima. “But no one seemed to know why. They assumed it was maybe to do with election preparations,” he added. “But the conditions remain a matter of grave concern,” he added. “It is essential that the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to be allowed to resume their prison visits,” he stressed. ICRC suspended these at the end of 2005 because of the interference of government officials. As a result many prisoners do not the medicines they need or soap. More importantly the ICRC used to provide a channel of communications with the prisoners’ families. “I was the first visitor ever to Buthidaung prison,” he told Mizzima. “And while I thank the authorities for this opportunity, it is intolerable that some have had no contact with their love-ones since being transferred there – in some case that has been years.” ICRC’s access to the prisons is something that has been in every report the envoy has put before the UN, and will feature prominently in his fourth report, the next to be submitted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva soon. It was also something that the envoy said he raised persistently and firmly at every opportunity, with the home minister, the attorney general and the chief justice. But the envoy remained pessimistic that the regime will take any notice. Both Indonesia and China have also been quietly encouraging the junta to soften its stance towards ICRC behind the scenes. Most countries, even those with blemished human rights’ records, understand that the ICRC should be allowed to do its work unhindered by government interference. “That the ICRC is not permitted to do carry out its full mandate is shameful, since this is considered worldwide to be a minimum standard of cooperation with the international community,” Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s South East Asia researcher based in Bangkok told Mizzima. On Mr Quintana’s other two major concerns – the release of political prisoners and the forthcoming election – the regime remained equally intransigent. “I don’t expect any progress soon [on the release of political prisoners],” he said. During his talks with the representatives of the regime he continued to stress the need to release all political prisoners before the elections if the process was to at all believable.“These are well-educated and capable people who could participate in the election and help make the whole process credible I told the authorities,” he said.But on the elections as a whole he found the senior representatives of the junta he met relatively uncompromising. No one was prepared to discuss the elections in any detail – all they would say was that the legal framework is being prepared and the electoral law will be released in time. The UN envoy was obviously frustrated at the regime’s apparent obstinance. “But its important to have access to the authorities to be able to discuss human rights issues and explain what is needed to be done to meet international standards,” he said. “We can at least explain what is needed.” When he met the Home Minister, Maung Oo, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice, he left the UN’s handbook on free and fair elections for their reference. Few people though, including the envoy, expect the regime to consult in any way. “Barring an Election Law that marks a radical departure from its past and present laws and practices, the government is unlikely to allow political parties to participate fully--and meaningfully -- in the elections process,” said Mr Zawacki. “Politicians and political parties must able to communicate freely with both the domestic and international media,” he added. “Unfortunately, all the signs are that the only views acceptable to the government will be its own, with no room at all for a debate of any kind.” The key people involved in the elections that Mr Quintana met also categorically rejected any involvement of international observers. “They aren’t needed,” he was told.The envoy also took the opportunity to discuss acceptable approaches to demonstrations with the police chief, Khin Yi.The issue was raised in terms of future protests rather than the brutal handling of the monk-led marches in 2007. “It’s important to peacefully control demonstrations, and force needs to be used proportionately,” he told the senior policeman. Tin Oo, the deputy leader of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party the National League for Democracy, was freed on the even of Mr Quintana’s mission to Burma after nearly seven years in detention. But during his visit five other dissidents were imprisoned – including a Buddhist abbot and four women activists. The four women were arrested last October after being accused of offering Buddhist monks alms that included religious literature, said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by detained Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The women used to hold prayer services at Yangon's Shwedagon pagoda for Ms Suu Kyi's release.The Buddhist monk, Gaw Thita was given seven years jail for violating immigration laws by making a trip to Taiwan last year, said his lawyer Aung Thein. He was also convicted of unlawful association and failing to declare possession of foreign currency. On top of that, six detained political activists in Rangoon’s infamous Insein jail went on hunger strike a day before the UN envoy was due to visit the prison, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma (AAPP-B), a Thailand-based Burmese human rights group. They launched their week-long hunger strike after complaining that the prison authorities were denying them what they called “basic human requirements”. It was due to end on Thursday 25th February. In a letter smuggled out of the prison, the political detainees complained that the rice that was given to prisoners was stale and mixed with small stones. “The bean soup and the sour vegetable soup often have insects in it and are dirty. We only get meat twice a week ... and we get no salt,” said the letter. The prisoners are denied appropriate medical attention or needed medicines, and are not allowed sufficient exercise, complained the prisoners. In the letter activists said that although prisoners were allowed to receive books and newspapers from their relatives, all reading material was heavily censored. “Sometimes the pages are torn [out] and the books censored,” said the letter. “There is no regular access to newspapers, [and] when they do arrive, are often out of date,” compllined the letter. The prisoners are also not allowed paper or pens. “If a prisoner is found with paper or pens, they are sent to the punishment cell called the ‘Dog Cell’, said the letter. “We are not allowed to write to our families,” the prisoners complained. Last week, according to Mulim activists in Rakhune state, more than 70 inmates of Buthidaung prison also went on hunger strike in protest at the insufficient food rations. Their protests erupted after the prisoners, mostly non-Burmese, were denied a meeting with Mr Quintana when he visited Buthidaung prison. But on the positive side, Mr Quintan found a child soldier – who had been sentenced to 7 years for desertion. He had been conscripted when he was 16, seized off the street in hi school uniform on the way home. He was arrested when he went home to see his sick mother less than six months after he was forcibly recruited. When the envoy raised it with the Home Minister he at least responded positively, and maybe released soon. The ILO is following up the case.But human rights groups still fear that these high-profile visits are only used by the regime for their own ends.“When visits by UN envoys fail to achieve any progress, they allow the country to still claim it is cooperating with the UN, and leave the UN itself with little choice but to claim that the visits themselves constitute progress,” aid Mr Zawacki. “But in this case the special rapportteur is making it clear that the failure is the government’s fault.” Although no spectacular break-throughs may result from this visit, the fact that senior members of the regime are engaged with representatives of the international community is significant, especially on human rights. Some Burmese leaders at the very top are hearing what the government needs to be done, especially if the elections are to be credible and to meet international human rights’ norms. “If anyone expects that fundamental human rights changes are going to come about strictly through UN visits and other efforts they're ignoring 20 years of history,” said Mr Zawacki. “Change will only come from within,” he added. And the real problem is that the senior general Than Shwe, who makes all the decisions, may not be listening to any of it.United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana believes there that the country’s political prisoners will not be freed any time soon. “There seems to be no movement on political prisoners since my last trip [a year ago],” the UN envoy told Mizzima in an interview in Bangkok a few days ago. “In fact the government continues to deny that there are any prisoners of conscience.” At the same time more critics of the government and activists have been imprisoned on spurious charges. And political prioners already in jail mounted protests to coincide with the UN envoys visit.Mizzima

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bangladesh cracks Burmese Muslim refugees

Bangladesh authorities have cracked down on Burmese Muslim refugees seeking refuge from the brutal Burmese military regime. The police operation has created a major humanitarian crisis according to an aid agency working in the area, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF).Over the past few weeks thousands of unregistered Rohingyas have fled their temporary homes in Bangladesh and sought safety in a makeshift camp, where they have no food, inadequate shelter and cannot work, according to the Arakan Project which monitors the situation of Burmese Muslims throughout Asia. The Rohinygas have sought refuge in a makeshift camp, Kuta Palong, near the Bangladesh border with Burma. The numbers in this camp have swelled to over 30,000 in the past six weeks, according to the Arakan project. The makeshift camp has nearly doubled in the last four months, MSF told Mizzima. In January alone, 2,000 Rohinygas refugees arrived. “As we speak, more are arriving out of fear and facing an uncertain future,” warned Paul Critchfley, head of MSF’s mission in Bangladesh. The camp residents do not receive food rations and cannot leave the camp to find work for fear of being arrested, beaten and forced back to Burma. “Hunger is spreading rapidly among the already malnourished population in the makeshift camp, and a grave humanitarian crisis is looming,” Chris Lewa, the director of Arakan Proiject told Mizzima.“If the Bangladesh authorities do not stop the crackdown on these refugees immediately, then there a significant risk of starvation,” she added. Residents in Cox’s Bazaar – the main town in the border area with Burma – told Mizzima that police and security forces have been targetting Rohingya refugees for several months now. Since the beginning of the year, Rohinygas settled outside the two official refugee camps have been harrassed, intimidated and beaten, according to hundreds of personal testimonies collected by the Arakan Project.“Thousands have been evicted with threats of violence,” Ms Lewa told Mizzima. “Robberies, assaults and rape against Rohingyas have risen significantly,” she said. Local Bangladeshi villagers have also been venting their anger against the refugees. Aid workers in the area also report Rohinygas being beaten with sticks and women being raped.“We have treated hundreds of refugees in the camp for wounds from violent assaults and beatings,” said Mr. Critchley. “Many women have also been raped.” The refugees all tell a similar stories. “We cannot find work and no one helps us,” said Nurul, a 75-year-old former farmer, who has been living in the Kuta Palong camp for more than a month now with his wife and four children and grandchildren. “My daughter was raped by local youths one evening, when she was returning, after working as a maid nearby. She told the police and identified the cuplrits: but the police did nothing,” he said.“I have spent all my savings and we have nothing to eat,” said Rafiq, a 50-year-old day labourer who is sheltered in the camp since the end of January with his wife and five children. “We cannot go out to find work because we will be arrested if we go out. I cannot sleep at night, and have nightmares about the police raiding the camp and handing us over to the Burmese authorities,” he added.“I fear we will be sent back to Burma,” said another Rohingya refugee. “Since we were born, we have always been on the run!”“More than 500 Rohingya have been arrested in the past few weeks, some have even been forcibly returned to Burma,” said Ms Lewa. “They could be forced out at any moment, so they're basically holding their families together. You have a space of slightly larger than a bathroom that has six or seven people and attached to it is another bathroom, so you have two families living in this really crammed condition,” another MSF staff member, Vanessa Van Schoor, told journalists in Bangkok recently. “Sometimes I am overwhelmed with fear,” said Muhamad, a 35-year-old day labourer. “Perhaps the Bangladesh government has a plan to gather all Rohingya in one place and send us back to Burma.” However, a local district police chief, Kamrul Ahsan denied these allegations telling Mizzima that only those Rohingyas staying in the country illegally had been arrested. Senior police officers in charge near the makeshift camp admitted that the authorities were conducting normal security operations, but only foreigners who entered Bangladesh illegally were being detained. Between mid-November and mid-February, more than 500 Burmese illegal immigrants were detained and returned to Burma, said a local police chief.“This month we have arrested over 50, and sent them back to Myanmar [Burma]. It is an ongoing operation,” the local police chief in Kuta Palong, Rafiqul Islam told local journalists this week. The crackdown, he said was prompted by the rise in the number of Rohingya refugees in the area – felling the forests and building shanty towns the Kuta Palong camp – and was an attempt to stem the flow of illegal migrants. “If we don’t stop them now, the floodgates will open wide,” he said. There are an estimated 300,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, some of whom escaped from persecution in Burma in the early 1990s.There are some 28,000 registered refugees in two camps, monitored by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. These people receive food rations and health care. The others have to fend for themselves. Human rights groups and aid workers estimate that more than 9,000 refugees arrived in Burma last year. In December the Burmese and Bangladesh governments agreed that 6,000 Rohingya refugees would be returned to Burma, though as yet none seem to have been sent back.International organisations, however, fear that any repatriation programme would not be voluntary as most of the refugees do not want to go. “Though I do not see any future here, it is worse in Burma,” said a 60-year male Rohingya who first fled to Bangladesh in 1992, but returned to his home in 1994 under the UN-sponsored repatriation programme. “I stayed three years, but the extortion, persecution and travel restrictions forced me to flee again with my family more than 10 years ago.” “I pray that one day Burma will be peaceful and that we can enjoy our rights,” he said. “Then I can return to my country.” Till then, he and most Rohingya refugees want to stay in Bangladesh; though the authorities may not let them. The situation for Burmese Muslims in western Burma is intolerable. And the UK-human rights group Amnesty International (AI) characterised the situation there as perhaps one of the worst in the world. There are an estimated 700,000 Rohingya in Burma, where they are not recognised as citizens and have no right to own land. They are also forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission. “Discrimination in Rakhine State [where most of the Rohinygas flee from] is shockingly severe,” the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana told Mizzima after visiting the area last week.Mizzima news

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Suu Kyi's Deputy 'Tin Oo ' Vice-Chairman NLD released

Deputy of Aung San Suu Kyi, Tin Oo, 83, who has been imprisoned since 2003 was freed from house arrest today by the ruling military junta.The release comes at a time when the military junta is preparing to hold national level elections in 2010.Myanmar to go for 'multiparty election' whether Miss Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, still to decide for their participation in General election fall in line an aberration of the nations consitution. Senior General Than Shwe said "a free and fair election will take place soon"."That means national people will have the rights to elect representatives, and stand for election," the 77-year-old said in his annual national holiday message."So, members of parliament, who the voters think will be capable of generating a prosperous future for the nation, will be elected by ballot."The last election in 1990 was won by the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the results were never honoured by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962. U Tin Oo, the Vice-Chairman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) was released today in Yangon, financial capital city in Myanmar, after the expiration of his term of house arrest.The release comes two days before the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is due to arrive in the Asian nation for a five-day official visit.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the release today of a prominent opposition politician in Myanmar after six years of house arrest, saying he hopes the move will lead to a more credible and inclusive political process."The Secretary-General hopes that this development will contribute to the advancement of substantive dialogue between the NLD and the Government of Myanmar as a necessary step towards a more credible and inclusive political process," according to a statement issued by a spokesperson for Mr. Ban. "To that end, the Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Government of Myanmar to lift without further delay the restrictions on NLD General Secretary Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and to release all remaining political prisoners." Mr. Quintana said last week that he hopes to be able to meet Ms. Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest, during his visit.The first elections in Myanmar in more than two decades are slated to take place later this year as part of a Government-designed time table towards greater democratization. "Aung San Suu Kyi said if freedom of information and freedom of expression are not allowed, the elections will neither be free nor fair nor credible",told to Nyan Win, her lawyer and NLD spokesman

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Karen,Karenni refugees in Thailand

Thai authorities started the deportations, 3,000 ethnic Karen refugees back to Burma,sending 3 families back to Burma, but then halted them.European governments called on Thailand to halt the deportations,3 families were forced back to Burma return to the temporary refugee camp in Thailand.Though plans suggested repatriation of 30 families of a total of 900 refugees sheltered in Noe Boe temporary refugee camp.“UNHCR told them (the Thai authorities) not to send them back if they did not want to go back. But the Thai authorities insisted on sending them back forcibly,” a refugee from the camp said. International Organization for Migration in a press release on Tuesday said that since 2004, the total number of refugees shifted from Thailand’s refugee camps to new homes abroad, accounted for over 74,000. The majority of the refugees over 57,000 or nearly 80 per cent came from Burma, and belonged to the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups. Local soldiers have still been pressuring the refugees to agree to return, and no permanent solution has yet been agreed that means the refugees are safe and secure. Senior level meetings involving Karen organisations and government officials are being held in Thailand to try to find a solution.Thailand political and military Leaders claims of cooperation to the international community and media, soldiers and officials on the ground are doing the opposite. Sources close to the camp state that to avoid embarrassing pictures of Thai soldiers forcing families to leave, the removals were carried out by people in civilian clothing, and that they could have been soldiers in civilian clothing and vehicles. There are also worrying reports that Thai authorities are trying to stir up negative feelings about the refugees in nearby Thai villages, which they can then use as a pretext for their actions.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kanbawza Bank acquires Myanmar Airways

Aung Ko Win, a business tycoon and owner of Kanbawza Bank, had bought Myanmar Airways shares. With reports confirming from local weekly in Rangoon, the ‘7 Days Journal’ on Wednesday also reported that Kanbawza Bank, after acquiring 80 per cent shares, has taken over the management of the Myanmar Airways.Kanbawza Bank official in Rangoon expressed their ignorance on the subject said they were not aware of the deal further thereon no senior manager were available to provide an answer. Myanmar Airways started its operations in 1993 with a joint venture Singaporean Company Region Air (HK) Ltd.Share percentage of the Myanmar Airlines were 51 per cent and the managing rights, the Singaporean Company held the remaining 49 per cent. Myanmar Airways is the largest Burmese airline, but failed its obligations into international operations,therefore forced to suspend its international flights in late July 2008,as it failed to meet international safety standards. Aung Ko Win, Chairman of the Kanbawza Bank, close to Burmese military junta’s second-in-command Vice-Senior General Maung Aye. Aung Ko Win is few businessmen, get special permits for business ventures in Burma. Zaw Win Naing, the Managing Director of Kanbawza Bank is the son of the former military intelligence officer Brig-Gen Than Tun and is also the foster son of Aung Ko Win.Myanmar Airways,national carrier has sold 80 per cent of its shares to the privately held Kanbawza (KBZ) bank along with control of the management, sources and media reports said.

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