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27 July 2014

Clashes between police and villagers in Maungdaw

Maungdaw, Arakan State: A clash between police and villagers was occurred yesterday at Maungdaw north as police forcibly took away beef from the villagers, Dilu, a villager said from the locality.

“On that day, at about 10:00 am, in Maung Nama village of Maungdaw north, villagers slaughtered a cow for beef for religious festival – Laylatul Qadr (the Night of Power) – after getting permission from the concerned authority.”
At around 11:00 am, a group of police from Aung Mingala police out-post of Maungdaw north led by police officer U Kyaw accompanied by present village Admin office U Thein Tun and ex-village Chairman U Thein Maung Gyi went to Maung Nama village and asked villagers to give them five- Visses (one Viss=1.66 kg) of beef, but villagers refused to pay them beef without money.
However, in one stage, police and Admin officer snatched away about 7 Visses of beef from the villagers, but the villagers re- took it again from their hands. As a result, there was a clash between two groups. So, police fired two blind shoot into air to threaten the villagers and to give signal to their camp. After that the police fled from the scene as villagers rushed to the stop.
After one hour, three trucks of Hluntin arrived to that village from police headquarters and searched the villagers who actively took part in the clashes, but the police failed to arrest them as the villagers ran away from the village, so the police returned to their headquarters.
Besides, the police went again to that village at night and entered three homes to arrest villagers. At first, they entered Ms Sura Khatun’s home and tortured her severely and arrested her son Batoo. They also arrested two other villagers- Hafez Ahmed, son of Abdu Salam and another one.
The authority deliberately created the problem with the villagers to make the situation unstable in the village, said a local youth.
Source KPN

No Eid for Muslim Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh


By Mainul Islam Khan
July 27, 2014

DHAKA, Bangladesh: As Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, nears, just around the corner, it does not affect Seno Ara in any way. She is busy with her paddle sewing machine, fashioning clothes for the other Rohingya women - refugees, like her and many others, in the camp in Kutupalong of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Seno Ara, 27, lives in a tiny shack made of bamboo sticks and poly sheets, with a five-feet-high and two-feet-wide door, and no window. Since there is no electricity in the camp and no light inside her home, she must find the light of day on her doorstep, to sew.

“We have neither Eid, nor pleasure,” says Seno Ara. “We do not have money to have even new cloths for Eid.”

She has been living in this unofficial Rohingya camp for six years. (The unofficial camp takes in all the refugees that the nearby official UN-run one, at full capacity, cannot).

She was forced to migrate and take shelter here after suffering from incessant persecution in her homeland – Myanmar, where, she lived in Mondu, along with her 35-year-old husband Ershad Ullah and their two daughters.

“All our assets were forcibly taken away by state-sponsored goons,” Seno Ara says. “There was no peace. Every day, we were forced to work - to plough and cultivate their land, to cut firewood, etc - but they never paid any money in return.”

One night, Seno Ara had had enough. With her family, she escaped on a dingy boat across the Naf river, which marks the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

But life in the Bangladeshi camp has proved grueling. Five months ago, Seno Ara’s husband was diagnosed with a mental disorder - she cannot recall the name. He often cannot recognize his wife and children; he talks to himself and suffers from memory lapses. This prevents him from working and earning a living.

Seno Ara managed to scrape some money together and purchase a 5000-taka (around $65) sewing machine, which helps her earn at least 2,500 taka ($33), on average, per month - far from enough to sustain a family of four.

Many Muslim Rohingyas have fled from western Myanmar, a country which is predominantly Buddhist. The authorities deny them citizenship, claiming that they originated from Bangladesh (at the time called Bengal) during British rule. According to the Immigration Ministry, cited by the charity Thomson Reuters Foundation, there are approximately 1.33 million in the country. Most face numerous persecutions. They also cannot travel, marry or receive medical care without official permission, still according to Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We were not able to practice our religion, says another refugee Nurul Islam, 42. “We could not pray together. They closed one mosque in Mondu town for 15 years.”

According to Bakhtiar Ahmed, a former member of Rajapalong Union Council, there are at least 40,000 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, living in Kutupalong camp, which, barely a comfort, has 16 mosques for prayer.

“Refugees live here in very inhumane conditions,” Bakhtiar adds. “They do not have access to adequate healthcare, education and food. Some NGOs have built a few tube-wells so that they can get access to water, which they can use for drinking and taking baths.”

“There are no concrete-made toilets for them, but recently, the Bangladeshi government gave permission to the International Office of Migration to build a few,” says Bakhtiar.

Most of the young adults are not allowed to work outside the camp. They kill time by playing soccer, cards or Carrom board (resembles billiard or table shuffleboard and is quite popular in South Asia). Some of them take the risk of climbing up the hills to gather firewood to sell in the market.

Mohammad Hashem, 22, usually collects firewood on the Bangladesh – Myanmar border, in the hills near Tombru.

“If I don’t work, that means no food for the day,” he says. “I earn only 3,500 taka ($45) per month, at most, to provide for five people.”

But, for the past three months, Hashem has not been able to work. 

“I was attacked by the Myanmar border guards while chopping wood one morning,’ he explains. “They chased me with long knife and attacked me. My right shoulder and the top of my head sustained injuries.” 

His brother now has to beg door to door. They also receive relief from various groups, namely from Turkey, but these do not wish to be identified as the Bangladeshi government frowns upon any relief given to unregistered Rohingyas. 

The camp – locally known as Tal, which means ‘pile’ or ‘stack’ - is divided into several blocks. Each has several sections. Most of the houses are made of clay and bamboo sticks with poly sheets. The refugees use coarse mats made with bamboo slips – also used for the toilets – as beds.

Life becomes severely miserable during monsoon season. Heavy rains cause houses’ walls to collapse as the water washes away the floors. The refugees try as they can to limit the damage by putting big sand bags near their houses or installing drains, which crisscross throughout the camp in order to channel the water out.

Amidst these atrocious conditions, a slight - very slight - glimmer of hope flickers in the form of 60 small schools, which provide education to children living in the camp.

“Despite a lot of pressure not to initiate an education program here without proper permission, I decided to step forward because kids need their basic education, so that they don’t go on a wrong track,” says the education program supervisor of the schools, Mohammad Iqbal, 32, whose friends provided help with the teaching.

They now operate all these school, providing education up to the 3rd grade. There are 30 teachers, who have studied up to an 8th grade level themselves.

“It is difficult for us to find teachers within the camp,” Iqbal says. “These teachers are, at least, capable to teach students up to the 3rd grade.”

They prepared the academic curriculum on their own. “We take the admissions of students who are interested, explains Iqbal. The minimum age is set at six. But we take students who are, on average, 10 years old.”

Each day, Jannat Ara, 15, who studied up to the 7th grade, teaches in five schools.

“I teach Environment and we have several other subjects such as: Bangla, English, Mathematics and sometimes Burmese in the school curriculum,” Jannat says.

“I will go further in my studies,” she adds. “My mother has a dream to see me going to the university. But we need to save money to fulfill this dream.”

The unregistered Rohingya refugees are not recognized as ‘refugees’ in Bangladesh, which therefore provides no official support.

“Despite official restrictions, there are a few Turkish organizations that come with a little generous support, such as Deniz Feneri Dernegi (Association of Lighthouse) in Kutupalong camps,” says Bakhtiar.

Moreover, the humanitarian-aid non-governmental organization, Doctors Without Borders Holland, has a clinic across the street that provides some basic health services for the refugees - as it does for all Bangladeshi citizens.

Nearby though, the registered camp, run by the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR), boasts all the basic facilities required for its 30,000 Rohingya refugees. They have schools and even a computer center for students.

“We get ration food, a medical facility and can move around freely,” says 67-year-old registered refugee Ameer Hossain.

A far cry from what Seno Ara, who so wanted to escape persecution and dreamt of a better life in a Muslim country, experiences today.

“I could not stay in my country,” she says. “I thought, why not try a better peaceful life in Bangladesh, which is a Muslim country, but now I feel bad. We do not have enough food, no work, cannot go outside of the camp…”

“If the Bangladeshi government drive us away, I don’t know what would happen, we have nowhere to go,” she adds, with a furtive glance, to the future, uncertain.

25 July 2014

Block admin officer harassing villagers for sentry money

By KPN
July 24, 2014

Maungdaw, Arakan State: The number two block administration officer – U Yousuf – is harassing the villagers for sentry money which he runs four sentry posts with hiring people monthly basis, said Halim, Human Rights Watchdog from Maungdaw.


The block administration officer, U Yousuf, keeps seven persons to harass and to collect the monthly money for sentry posts. The officer hired 16 persons for sentry with monthly basis and paid to them 200,000 kyat which are collecting from the villagers, Halim said.

The number two administration officer and his helping group are collecting – Kyat 5,000 or 3,000 or 2,000, or 1,000 per family according to the family status – where they collected more than 2.5 million Kyat per month from 5,000 families in the block, Halim more added.

But, the administration officer also collects from issuing recommendation and reporting about the gusts visiting home. The collection of the sentry money is for every month, if someone denies to pay money with scheduled time, he and his puppet group are making harassments – not issuing travel pass, no recommendation letters, no registration for guest reports and enter his/her home for guest checking at night. The admin officer and his group along with police, immigration officer enter the homes where they make as an operation of criminal searching. The group enters home and keep the family members aside in a room, than they searched along the home without accompanying any family members, it look like robbery at the home, said a person from the admin office who denied to be named.

The admin officer’s helping group are:- Ayub, Hamid, Ferose Khan, Taher, Illiyas, Zubair and Latib. The group is making problems to the villagers to get the monthly money, as it is their main source of income. The block admin officer also gives money to high level officers to protect him from his ill motive business, the person more added


Rape as a weapon of War against Rohingya and other minority Muslims of Myanmar

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui
July 24, 2015

In Buddhist Burma, rape is increasingly used for genocidal campaigns against Muslims and other minorities. The state of Arakan had her share of troubles in recent years, all started with rumors that a Buddhist woman was violated by a Rohingya Muslim. Based on medical reports, Dr. Maung Zarni and I, including many other human rights activists, have shown that there was no truth to such allegations. But the extermination campaign that followed resulted in the death of thousands and the uprooting of nearly a quarter of the Rohingya and other Muslims of Burma. The targeted violence did not confine itself to Arakan but spread everywhere. Before the start of a new hate campaign, there was always some false allegations lodged against one or two Muslims to stir up the Buddhist mob to start the genocidal campaign against Muslims. 

Last month, the crimes of the Arakan state were repeated in Mandalay - all with a false claim. 

The news below is from Mizzima:

The communal violence in Mandalay early this month in which two people died began after a fabricated claim by a woman that she had been raped, state media has reported.

A police investigation found that the Buddhist woman was paid to make false rape claims against two Muslim brothers, AFP news agency quoted the state-controlledNew Light of Myanmar as reporting on July 20.

The violence in Myanmar's second-biggest city erupted on July 1 after the fabrication was published on social media, including on the Facebook page of the Venerable U Wirathu, and a mob converged on a tea shop run by two Muslim brothers whom the woman had falsely accused of rape.

In the ensuing days of violence, which resulted in a curfew being imposed in Mandalay, two men ? a Buddhist and a Muslim ? were killed, more than 20 people were wounded and buildings and cars were destroyed or damaged.

AFP said the July 20 report in the New Light of Myanmar cited the Ministry of Home Affairs as saying that a medical examination of the woman, named as Phyu Phyu Min, found "no sign of rape or other violence".

"After a detailed investigation she confessed that she accused the two men because she was paid" to do so by two other people who apparently had a personal dispute with the tea shop owners, the report said.

It said the woman, and one of men alleged to have paid her to fabricate the story, had been arrested.

============
It is good news to know that in Thein Sein's Myanmar eventually truth has been revealed, and the criminal woman and her patron arrrested. But will the Muslim victims see genuine justice? Can they live securely without being attacked by the Buddhist mob? Can the government do the right thing to integrate them on an equal footing as citizens of Myanmar? 

19 July 2014

UN Human Rights envoy doesn’t meet Rohingya in Maungdaw district

(AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

By KPN 
July 19, 2014

Maungdaw, Arakan State: The United Nations new human rights envoy to Burma, Ms. Yanghee Lee, didn’t meet Rohingya from Maungdaw district, said Halim, a Human Rights Watchdog from Maungdaw.

Ms. Lee arrived Maungdaw at 11:41 am, from Buthidaung by helicopter, officers from all departments welcomed her from the helicopter, Halim said.

The Human Rights envoy’s first visit to Maungdaw Police station’s custody to see the Rohingya and Rakhine detainees. But, she met only one Rohingya –Mawgyi Ullah, a person of government- pretending as detainee and Rakhine detainees in the custody, said a closed aide from Maungdaw police station, who denied to be named.

All Rohingya detainees were shifted to three miles Hluntin Headquarters from police custody, he added.

The envoy moved from police station to Daywanadi at jetty road and discussed with officers of all departments, he more added.

Besides, the envoy arrived Buthidaung from Akyab (Sittwe) in the morning by helicopter and visited to the Buthidaung Jail. There also she didn’t able to meet the Rohingya prisoners and also not able to meet the local Rohingya community in Buthidaung, according to an elder from Buthidaung.

We keep the two groups -Rakhine and Muslim- separately to control not to happen again conflict. We will check the Muslim under the 1982 citizenship law and whoever get the citizenship will be allowed to go all over the country, said Rakhine state Chief Minister, when he met the UN Human Rights envoy in Akyab.

“The situation is going like this in Rakhine state, the peace process and moving towards democracy by the government will not reach to the target,” said the envoy while she met the Rakhine state government.

When Kaladan Press Network asked to a local from Akyab about the statement of deputy minister Kyaw Kyaw Win, “If they themselves identify as Bengali and request to check their citizenship status, then we will process under the 1982 citizenship law,” published Yangon Times Journal, Vol. 10, number 27. The local Rohingya said, “If we accept the Bengali, it was finished when the government started the collecting of census. We don’t accept “Bengali” so far and we want “Rohingya” only.

17 July 2014

Atrocities against Rohingyas by Myanmar Border Guard Police

By Rohingya Eye & MYARF
July 17, 2014 

Maungdaw, Arakan State: A Rohingya has been killed by unknown assailants in northern Maungdaw and Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) has gone rampant to arrest innocent Rohingya in the region, whereas the BGP has arrested two innocent Rohingya in two separate incidents in the same region, according to reliable sources.

BGP Headquarter in Taung Pyo Sub-Township, Northern Maungdaw

“Junaid (son of) Noor Bashar, 28-year-old Rohingya hails from Quarter 2 of Taung Pyo sub-township team in northern Maungdaw, set off for fishing to river on June 30. Since then, he had not come back home. On June 6, however, his dead body without several injuries and bruises was found on a river bank. We feel some Rakhine extremists operating in the nearby forests have killed him.

Therefore, his villagers informed the authority and requested for the dead body for the burial. After being requested several times, the authority allowed the corpse for the burial in the evening of the day.

From the day onward, Border Guard Police in the village started raiding the village and trying to arrest the innocent villagers under the blatant allegation of the murder (of their own man). Many Rohingya men have gone into hiding since then.

The BGP arbitrarily arrested Adus Salam (son of) Abu, 38-year-old innocent Rohingya in the village. He was detained, soaked in hot water and tortured severely. Now, he has gone missing and is no longer in the police intention. Therefore, his family is extremely worried that he was killed by the authority” said a Rohingya in the village on the condition of anonymity.

On the other hand, the Border Guard Police (BGP) arbitrarily arrested a Rohingya Shopkeeper in the region.

“There is a Border Guard Police (BGP) Station camp based in Kyein Chaung village also known as Bawli Bazaar in the northern Maungdaw. Around 12:30PM on June 12, a few police personnel from the station arrested a Rohingya shopkeeper that runs an electronic shop in a nearby Kamauk Seik village under an arbitrary accusation of selling illegal imported products from Bangladesh. The arrestee is Shafi Ullah (son of) Sayed Hussein hails from Bodalla hamlet of Kamauk Seik village tract.

They confiscated 15 Solar Panels (of 20W and 30W), 42 Smart Phones, Three Torch Lights (each worth Kyat 25,000) and One CDMA Phone from his shop. Then, he was sent to Maungdaw Police Station along with the seized products” said an elderly Rohingya declining to be named. 

“Similarly, Muzaffar (son of) Mohammed Sayed is a 27-year-old Rohingya hails from Mingalar Gyi Quarter, northern Maungdaw. While he was going to Kyauk Hle Kar village for buying foodstuffs around 11AM on June 7, he was arrested by Border Guard Police (BGP) from Region 6 BGP camp under the accusation of fishing in a BGP-owned-fishing pond in La-bau-zarr village.

Afterwards, he was detained and sent to BGP Headquarter in Kyi Kan Pyin Village also known as Khawar Bil. However, the truth is that he is a youth and student with no habit of fishing” he added.

16 July 2014

Arakan Minister Struggles to Gain Trust of Rohingyas

A 25-year-old Rohingya Muslim sits in front of her hut at a camp outside Sittwe. (Photo: Reuters)

By Lawi Weng
The Irrawaddy
 July 16, 2014

RANGOON — The newly appointed chief minister of Burma’s conflict-torn Arakan State appears to be struggling to win the trust of Rohingya Muslims, who continue to live in squalid camps after being driven from their homes in rioting two years ago.

Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn, who is also a general in the armed forces, has met four times with Rohingya community leaders since he was appointed last month. But in that time, he has been unable to convince the Rohingyas to participate in the government’s controversial “citizenship verification” scheme, according to state government spokesman Win Myaing.

“They are refusing to cooperate,” the spokesman told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

The Arakan State government implemented a pilot project in Myebon Township last month to determine who will qualify to become a naturalized citizen. Many Rohingya families have lived in the country for generations, but they are widely regarded as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and are mostly denied citizenship by the government.

Win Myaing said the international community had pressured Naypyidaw to reconsider their pleas for citizenship. “But we cannot do anything, even though we are trying, because they refuse to cooperate,” he said.

Rohingya rights activists Aung Win said he believed the government wanted to appease the international community but had little interest in actually granting citizenship to the 1 million or so Rohingya people living in western Burma.

“After their work in Myebon, we did not see them grant citizenship to our people,” he said. “I believe that even though we agreed to identify as Bengali, they may grant citizenship only to a few of our people.”

The chief minister, who met most recently with Rohingya leaders on Monday, said applicants would be considered for citizenship only if they identified as Bengali, as they are known by the government. During the nationwide census earlier this year, the government also refused to count anybody who identified as ethnic Rohingya rather than Bengali.

Arakan State was torn apart by communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. More than 140,000 people were displaced from their homes, and the majority of these were Rohingya Muslims who continue to live today in camps outside the state capital, Sittwe.

Grassroots moves to quell Myanmar’s communal violence

Interfaith marriages are rare in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country. This couple, a Muslim man and a Buddhist woman were among those forced to flee their home after communal violence broke out in Meiktila in 2013. Photo: Nyan Lynn/IRIN

July 15, 2014

YANGON,  -  In early July, a hundreds-strong mob of Buddhists converged on a shop in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. According to rumours spread on social media, its Muslim owner had raped a Buddhist woman. The ensuing violence left two dead and a dozen injured.

Since 2012 more than 240 people have died in communal violence fought along religious and ethnic lines, the victims overwhelmingly Muslim.

Than Nyunt of the Interfaith Religious Group of Mandalay, told IRIN it was the intervention of both Muslim and Buddhist leaders that stopped violence in Mandalay from spreading - a significant achievement, experts and community leaders say, given the current polarized political atmosphere in the country.

“We approached the crowd in the streets and people in communities and urged them not to get involved in the fights, not to believe the circulating rumours,” Than Nyunt said.

On 8 July, a week after the outburst, Myanmar’s reformist president, Thein Sein, addressed the nation on the radio, saying: “We have faced various challenges with ethnic and religious conflicts…. [M]any of the conflicts were deliberate instigations to derail our aim of achieving a society based on democratic principles.”

After the violence, the government imposed a curfew on Mandalay and deployed security forces.

“With the presence of the police deployed across the city, people no longer need to worry about their safety,” said Chit Htoo, vice-chairman of Byamaso Social Services, an NGO in Mandalay. Chit Htoo is a member of the Peace Restoration Committee of Mandalay, a citizens’ group formed in the wake of the July violence by senior citizens in Mandalay with guidance from Buddhist monks. Other community groups followed suit.

“For the sake of our country’s future, our next generation, we must ensure that rule of law is in place, communities are well-educated and harmonious, and the government must respond instantly and effectively,” said Shine Win, a founding member of Interfaith Youth Coalition on AIDS in Myanmar

But, some analysts say, community-led initiatives will be up against increasing - and often politically manipulated - polarization as the country approaches an election in 2015.

Religious leaders, particularly Buddhist monks, hold considerable political stature in Myanmar: They were major players both in the struggle to regain independence from British colonial rule and in democracy movements. However, in an environment the International Crisis Group (ICG) has called a “context of rising Burman-Buddhist nationalism” being pushed by a monk-led “populist political force that cloaks itself in religious respectability and moral authority”, monastic influence can fan the flames of hatred as well.

“As usual with Burma’s communal violence, the plot thickens as the dust settles,” said Dave Matheison, senior researcher on Burma at Human Rights Watch. “So the question hangs: was this another case of organic, spontaneous religious violence, or an orchestrated piece of a broader political puzzle utilizing racism ahead of Burma’s 2015 elections?”

Weak reactions feed the rumour mill


In his national address, President Thein Sein said: “Everyone must avoid hate speech and incitement, and sensibly, bravely and with foresight cooperate to bring legal action against those responsible for such acts.”

However, government failure to prevent clashes or investigate and prosecute those involved suggests a weak grip on instigators.

“As long as rule of law is weak and the government doesn’t take actions instantly and effectively, the [sectarian] conflict could spread far and wide,” said Phyo Min Thein, lawmaker in Hlegu Township in Yangon Region, which saw a small brawl between groups of Buddhists and Muslims in April 2013.

“Repeated failure by the government does suggest that there are elements of the government who may be not only sympathizing with the perpetrators but possibly actively creating the problem,” said Benedict Rogers, East Asia team leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). “There may be political reasons behind this. There is a lot of speculation, a lot of theories and rumours, some of which sound plausible,” he said.

One popular theory involves democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was scheduled to visit Mandalay this week for a rally on constitutional reform. Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for 15 years, is prevented from running in the 2015 presidential election by Myanmar’s 2008 constitution.

“It is probably no coincidence that a fake memo from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party circulated throughout Facebook in Burma claiming the NLD was planning on taking advantage of the [Mandalay] riots to protect Muslims,” explained HRW’s Matheison, adding that U Wirathu, a Mandalay-based influential and well-known monk who has sparked fierce criticism for his anti-Muslim speeches, is publicly opposed to amending that clause of the constitution which would permit Suu Kyi’s eligibility to be president.

“The best way the government can prove the conspiracy theorists wrong would be by taking clear action to prevent further violence, to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice, to end discrimination, and to address hate speech,” said Rogers.

Tensions on the rise


The violence in Mandalay comes 15 months after a bloody communal clash between Buddhists and Muslims broke out in Meiktila - about two hours from Mandalay - killing 40 people and displacing 1,200. In June 2012, a mob of Buddhists in western Rakhine State attacked Muslim men in retaliation for an alleged rape, setting off riots that left 80 dead and tens of thousands displaced.

Renewed violence in October of that year left more than 100,000 displaced, where they remain today. 

Stoking tensions, in May 2014 the government published the first of four religious conversion laws, which drew criticism for breaching human right standards. And in June Thein Sein fired Minister of Religious Affairs U San Hsint and replaced him with advisers including a military official implicated in a 2012 crackdown that injured several Buddhist monks.

Ethnic and religious tensions in Rakhine State, home to the beleaguered Rohingya Muslim minority, continue to fester.

Myanmar’s first census in 30 years did not include the word “Rohingya”, a move analysts with the International State Crime Initiative called part of the “dehumanization process”, a precursor for genocide, arguing that “the Burmese state has had decades to ‘rationalize’ violence against Rohingya.”

In March Rakhine Buddhist mob violence against aid agencies over perceived pro-Rohingya bias triggered mass humanitarian withdrawal from Rakhine State. During a 13 June visit to internally displaced persons’ camps in the state, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, called the situation “appalling, with wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, 
education
, water and sanitation”.

Grassroots and online responses

Amid limited action from the government, some community leaders are taking initiatives into their own hands.

“Interfaith education should be given at the community levels,” said Bo Bo Lwin of Kalyana Mitta Development Foundation, a Buddhist group that has conducted workshops and promoted peace in collaboration with other faith-based groups in several cities.

Shine Win, of the Interfaith Youth Coalition on AIDS in Myanmar, said school reform will need to be part of the solution.

“The government needs to institute lessons on history of different religions in the curriculum. If children learn about other religions in school, the communities can be better integrated as they grow up,” he said.

Shine Win told IRIN that part of inter-faith groups’ community outreach must be to counter hate speech and rumours on social media.

“Here the problem is that many people believe information they get from blogs or websites, without considering whether it is reliable or not,” he explained.

“One of the campaigns we’re going to conduct is to raise awareness among the people not to believe the rumours that they get [from different channels] such as through social networks like Facebook,” Shine Win said, adding that they had attempted such a campaign when rumours of the Mandalay rape began spreading on the Internet, but it was too limited in reach to prevent the violent clash.

“We need to do this sort of outreach on a larger scale and with multiple inter-faith groups, reminding people to check the sources of information and not believe inciters on the Internet,” he said.

14 July 2014

As international focus shifts, political prisoners fall by wayside

By Myanmar Times
On July 15, 2013

One year ago this week – President U Thein Sein stood next to David Cameron in London and told reporters, “By the end of the year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar.”

A member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) looks through prisoner records on July 10. (Yu Yu/The Myanmar Times)A member of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) looks through prisoner records on July 10. (Yu Yu/The Myanmar Times)

He touted his newly formed Remaining Political Prisoner Scrutiny Committee as the mechanism to achieve this aim. The committee, he said, would review the cases of all “prisoners of conscience” and make recommendations for their release.

One year later, dozens of democracy activists sit in jail for non-violent political offences, while hundreds of others have been arrested on spurious criminal charges linked to political activities. Since January, there have been few prisoners released and the review committee appears powerless to resolve the ongoing incarceration of people for political activities.

Frustrated by official indifference to the fate of remaining prisoners, civilian members on the committee are now ready to speak out. A number have told The Myanmar Times that they are disillusioned with the process and their role; one said they have simply been “wasting time and energy” on the issue.

U Ye Aung, a committee member who is also from the Former Political Prisoner Society (FPPS), told The Myanmar Times that when he was invited to join the committee in March of last year, he was “happy to cooperate”.

He and other former political prisoners on the committee felt that high-profile cooperation between the new government and democratic opposition could serve as a model to tackle other contentious issues.

“We participated in this because we hoped by working together we could make trust,” said U Bo Kyi, a member of the committee and head of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). “If we got a good result it could be an example for other sectors ... but we did not get a good result.”

The limitations of the committee became apparent within months, they said. Civilian members did not have access to legal documents and were barred from interviewing prisoners. The committee also had no formal role in the release process; it only made recommendations for the President’s Office to consider.

“Our committee doesn’t have a function. We have no mechanism to scrutinise the political prisoners,” U Ye Aung said.

U Bo Kyi expressed similar frustrations. “We should have the right to investigate [to get] more detailed information … But now we do not have such kind of rights. Right now it’s difficult to work.”

Both activists told The Myanmar Times they had raised the issue of unfair detentions in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states only to be told the conflicts were “too sensitive” for the committee to weigh in.

While they applauded U Thein Sein for ordering several large-scale amnesties in 2013, they, like many observers, argue that they were more about placating the international community.

“The UK, US and rest of the international community made a tactical mistake by treating President Thein Sein’s promise as meaning the problem was solved, and relaxed pressure, rather than applying pressure to make sure he kept his promise,” said Ma Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, a London-based campaigns officer for Burma Campaign UK. “It is now clear that the issue of political prisoners will remain in Burma for years to come.”

Most worryingly, the government has done little to address the policies that put people in prison for political activities in the first place. These include not just unfair or autocratic laws, but reprimanding those who apply them incorrectly.

Ko Aung, the son of a political prisoner in Sittwe Prison, U Kyaw Hla Aung, said there are many powerful factions within both the national and regional governments that want to silence activists like his father.

“There are still many small dictators who are not satisfied with the release of all such prisoners,” he said last week.

Ko Aung said that in recent years police based in Rakhine State have regularly arrested and detained Muslim activists and community on orders from local nationalist groups. The practice has also been documented by a number of human rights groups studying the region.

Minister for the President’s Office U Soe Thein, who heads the prisoner release committee, did not respond to repeated requests for comment last week. The government has previously stated that the president achieved his promise of releasing all political prisoners by the end of last year. With little international pressure to ensure no more people are jailed for political activities, it appears to have lost interest in the issue completely following a series of very visible amnesties between 2011 and 2013.

While the committee held monthly meetings in 2013, there have been only two meetings so far this year. On both occasions, the meetings only took place after the FPPS and the AAPP made repeated requests to U Soe Thein.

Even then, U Ye Aung and U Bo Kyi said few of the committee’s government representatives, including those from the Ministry of Home Affairs, attended the meetings.

“We think the government has lost interest in this issue,” said U Ye Aung.

U Bo Gyi agreed. “I’m bored of requesting meetings ... We’re wasting time and energy. I am out of patience.”

While the AAPP and the FPPS have slightly different figures on the number of political prisoners in Myanmar’s jails, both say the number has increased since the beginning of the year.

They say the committee will only be relevant if it is granted real authority and made completely independent of the government. But more than anything, the government and parliament must take swift action to change the laws and policies that create political prisoners in the first place.

“It’s not just about the numbers,” said U Bo Kyi. “It’s about freedom of expression in our social and political lives. As long as there are still arbitrary arrests, as long as police use torture [during interrogations], the issue of political prisoners will not be over.”

Robbers kill three villagers in Maungdaw south

By KPN News
July 14, 2014

Maungdaw, Arakan State: Three villagers had been killed by a gang of robbers in Maungdaw south recently, said a close relative of one of the victims.

The victims were identified as— the village Administration officer Zakoria (35), son of Manzur, his wife and Moulvi Sayed Azim (25), son of Abdu Zabber. They all hailed from Thinnbaw Kway( Kuloon) village of Maungdaw south.

The gang of robbers are identified as— Abdul Hakim, Nazir Ahmed, Boshir Ahmed and Monir Ahmed. They are all brothers from Thawin Chaung (Basara) village of Maungdaw Township, and fled from their home land three years ago because of harassment by local village chairman and took shelter in Bangladesh, said a villager from inside Arakan preferring not to be named.

They occasionally went to Maungdaw south and killed some of their opponents and looted their properties and came back to Bangladesh and living at Teknaf in hiding position, Kalu from Shapuri Dip of Bangladesh.

Burmese authority has been trying to arrest or to kill the gang as they frequently disturb the villagers in Arakan state. However, Hluntin killed one of their brothers while taking bath in the forest, two years ago. They are originally seven brothers, one was killed by Hluntin, one was jailed in Akyab (Sittwe), another one was jailed in Buthidaung, said Boshir from the locality.

The robber gang have— one short gun, two local made short guns, on rifle and two revolvers and are living in Teknaf, Bangladesh, according to Jashim who lives in Teknaf.

They are disturbing Rohingya villages from Maungdaw after taking shelter in Bangladesh, and the concerned authority Bangladesh need to take action to them to safe the public lives in Arakan. May be they will be killed Bangladeshi people in the future, said a humanitarian worker from Cox’s Bazar.