Category Archives: Burma in the News

Burma in the News: Landmine Victims Find Solace at Mae La

The choir at Care Villa sing. (Photo: Alex Ellgee/The Irrawaddy)

According to The Irrawaddy (published April 10, 2010):

As the last rays of sun beam through the wooden wall, the choir assembles in the hut. Without delay, the men bellow out the first verse of a Karen song.

One member of the choir tilts his head back, seemingly fully engrossed in the sounds around him while another raises his amputated arm to his ear. The back row breaks off into a harmony filling the room with melancholic songs of freedom and hope for their people.

They have been brought together by a love of music, but this is not your average choir. These men have formed a bond as a result of their near-fatal encounters with landmines.

“In my village, I had never seen a blind man or a person without a limb, so when I lost my sight I felt like such an outsider and lost all hope,” said Has Ka Tarai, who at 15 years of age, is the youngest member of the choir.

When he was 12, Burmese government forces stormed his village, deep in Karen State, burning down all the homes. He and his mother fled to the jungle where they hid for days till they thought it would be safe to return.

As they walked up the hill to the village, Has Ka Tarai recalls being excited to return home. Suddenly he was knocked to the ground; he had hit a landmine with a knife he was playing with.

He says he remembers feeling a pain in his eyes, something he compares to ants eating out his eyeballs. He remembers the sound of his mother shouting and crying. He was blinded and lost much of his hearing.

It has been well documented that the Burmese army often leaves landmines outside villages they raid in order to deter people from returning to their homes. By doing so, they are able to control more territory and leave a psychological scar on the jungle communities who reject their rule.

For two months, Has Ka Tarai’s eyes went untreated until a Free Burma Ranger medic came to the village. Seeing how severe his condition was, the medic took him all the way to Chiang Mai in Thailand. Has Ka Tasrai was told he would never see again.

He didn’t want to go back to his village, fearing for his life. Instead, he was offered a chance to stay at “Care Villa,” a foundation set up in 2000 by the Karen Handicap Welfare Association to look after landmine victims at Mae La Refugee Camp in Thailand.

Not only have many of the residents at Care Villa lost limbs, but many have lost their sight as well. Basic daily activities can be extremely difficult for them. Before coming to Care Villa, many of them stayed with friends or family who were unable to help satisfactorily. Many say they fell into heavy depression.

Continue reading the article here

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Filed under Burma in the News, Free Burma Rangers, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Reports, The Karen, The People

Burma in the News: Opposition to Boycott Myanmar Vote

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese opposition politician, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy and the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

According to the NY Times (published March 29, 2010):

BANGKOK — “After months of internal debate, members of the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the long-detained pro-democracy leader, defied Myanmar’s junta by announcing Monday they would boycott the country’s first elections in two decades.

“The move raises questions about both the future of the Burmese opposition and the credibility of the vote.

“According to election laws the junta released earlier this month, the decision means that the party that has served as the mainstay of the country’s democratic movement for two decades, the National League for Democracy, will be automatically dissolved. Western governments, including the United States and Britain, had said that Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s participation and that of her party were prerequisites for legitimate elections.

“On Monday, U Win Tin, a founding member and strategist for the party, said that more than 100 party delegates were unanimous in their decision. ‘We will ask the people around us not to vote in the election: Please boycott,’ he said in a telephone interview. He said that the party would try to continue political activities after it is disbanded. ‘We will work for the people,’ he said.

“The party had been split over whether to contest the elections, forced to choose between participation that would undercut its principles and a boycott that would dissolve it. Last week, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi said through a spokesman that she viewed the election process as “unjust” and that she felt that the party should not contest.

“’They made a decision to maintain their dignity,’ said Win Min, a lecturer in contemporary Burmese politics at Payap University in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. ‘They wanted to keep Aung San Suu Kyi as their leader. On the other hand, what is their alternative after this?

“Mr. Win Min said the National League for Democracy would likely be disbanded by May 6, a deadline set in the election laws. The party’s assets, including offices, might be seized. ‘Some members may be planning to set up a new party,’ Mr. Win Min said.

“The ruling generals portray the vote as part of a “roadmap” to democracy after 48 years of military rule, while diplomats and exile groups view it as window-dressing for the junta’s continued hold on power.”

Read the entire article here

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Burma VJ At The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

This Sunday, amidst the celebrities and bright lights of Hollywood, the oppressed people of Burma will be given a voice on the international stage at the world renowned Oscars ceremony. “Burma VJ”, which tells the story of the 2007 nationwide “Saffron Revolution” protests, has been nominated for the best feature-documentary award along with 4 other nominees. If successful, the Oscar will become the most prestigious of 34 awards given to this unique piece of cinema.

Speaking to Irrawaddy magazine earlier this week, Jan Krogsgaard, the originator and scriptwriter of the film said “If ‘Burma VJ’ receives the Oscar, it will be the first time in history that a whole nation’s population will receive an Oscar…I think even the generals of Burma would like to see this happen, deep inside themselves, and find peace within their own lives.”

Consisting mainly of footage taken by a furtive network of video journalists (VJs), Burma VJ show the events of September 2007, when monk-led protests throughout the nation brought tens of thousands to the streets to call for their human and civil rights and an end to military rule. Once national momentum had peaked, a brutal crackdown by the regime ensued and is estimated to have led to over 6,000 arrests and over 130 deaths. In following months, urban areas went under tighter martial law, leading to the exodus of thousands of activists.

Last year, as the film premiered in London, WIN’s JJ Kim watched it on the Thai-Burma border with Khine Wai Zaw, one of the many young people at the frontline of the uprising. Speaking after the film, the young activist gave a fascinating account of the events and an insightful reflection on what the film means to Burma. To read it in full click here

To visit the film’s official website, watch the trailer and order a copy click here

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Female Village Heads in Karen State Systematically Abused by Burma Army Soldiers

In a new report released by the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), female village heads from 5 districts of Karen State, eastern Burma, have testified to having suffered or witnessed a long line line of horrific abuses, including crucifixion, people being burnt alive, rape (including gang rape), many forms of torture (including beatings and “water torture”), people being buried up to their heads in earth and beaten to death, arbitrary executions, beheadings  and slave labour.

The report, entitled “Walking Amongst Sharp Knives”, includes interviews with 95 female village heads and offers a mere glimpse at the horrific subjugation and abuse of ethnic minority women inflicted by soldiers of Burma’s ruling military regime.

Photo From KWO's "Walking Amongst Sharp Knives"

The report also describes that “with men increasingly reluctant to risk their lives as chiefs,women have stepped in to assume leadership in the hope of mitigating abuses. However, testimonies of women chiefs show that, far from being exempt from the brutality of the Burma Army, they have faced ongoing systematic abuse, including gender-based violence.”

To download the report in full click here

For six decades, the 49,000 strong KWO has been working for the rights and welfare of Karen women. Click here to visit their website

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The Politics of Building a Gas Pipeline

source: Shwe Gas Movement

While the Western world continues to debate whether economic sanctions can make change in Burma, the sale of gas to China from the offshore Shwe gas fields in Arakan State threatens to raise the junta’s revenue from foreign investment to new heights and strengthen business ties throughout Asia.

Furthermore, the parallel gas and oil pipelines, which are reportedly starting construction this month from Arakan State to Yunnan Province, China, via Magwe Division, Mandalay Division and Shan State, have been criticized by human rights groups as a major contributing factor to the recent conflict in northern Shan State.

According to a report titled “Corridor of Power” released by the Shwe Gas Movement (SGM), the pipeline will make the junta at least US $29 billion over the next 30 years. Much of this is expected to be spent on military expansion, despite the current famine in Arakan State and poverty across the country.

Moreover, the report claims, construction of the pipelines, which are being built primarily by the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), is likely to lead to human rights abuse across the country and a “re-ignition of fighting between the regime and ceasefire armies stationed along the pipeline.”

According to Khur Hseng from Shan Sapawa, who has been researching the impact of the pipeline in Shan State since 2007, these fears were confirmed during the armed confrontation between the military government and the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in late August. The fighting took place just 50 km from the proposed pipeline route, killing 200 people and leading to a mass exodus of up to 30,000 civilians to China.

Read  the entire article by WIN’s Advocacy Manager JJ Kim, orignally published by The Irrawaddy here

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Filed under Burma in the News, Corporate Interests, Globalization, Internal Displacement, Military, Natural Resources, Reports, WIN

US Policy Bodes Ill for Burmese Refugees

Following pressure from the US to crackdown on human trafficking, the Malaysian Immigration Department has decided to go after all employers of illegal migrants, tens of thousands of which are Burmese refugees.

photo by: Maggie Lemere

In the process,  it has been predicted that large numbers of migrants and refugees themselves will be arrested and held in detention camps, which are already horrifically overcrowded. Human rights abuse has become commonplace in these camps and unhygienic conditions have led to widespread disease and an average 18 deaths per month.

The crackdown began on Monday 15th February. Reporting for Thailand-based Democratic Voice of Burma, WIN’s Advocacy Manager, JJ Kim, brings the voices of oppressed groups in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to life, read his account here.

photo by: Maggie Lemere

WIN are following the raids in Malaysia very closely, for further information, contact us directly on worldwideimpactnow2010@gmail.com

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In Darkness, Karen Refugees Dread Forced Return to Burma

photo by: Alex Ellgee/ The Irrawaddy
After a sleepless night, families due to be repatriated gather before dawn to discuss their fate.

THA SONG YANG, Thailand (02/05/2010) — Last night, under the light of the stars, I guided myself through the paddy field toward the flickering flames on the top of the hill. Dashing across a dirt path, I narrowly miss a Thai security bike and arrive at the Noh Boe temporary refugee camp.

Immediately, I am whisked into a flimsy bamboo shelter to avoid the Thai soldiers, who the residents say are always circling the camp on patrol. Quickly, someone lights a candle—a precious commodity in a place with no electricity—and various residents tell me of their heartache.

“We can’t stay here but we don’t want to go back,” Saw Naing, a camp teacher, says quietly as we sit on his hut floor.

He explains that all the people in the camp are terrified to go back to Ler Per Her in Karen State because of the landmines that litter the area and the abuse they can expect to receive there from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ally of the Burmese junta.

Read the full article with a photo slideshow via The Irrawaddy

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Filed under Burma in the News, Internal Displacement, Landmine Victims, Military, Perspective, Refugees, Reports, The Karen, The People