Category Archives: Reports

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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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 4

And to conclude…read part one, part two and part three

Rahima came to Mae Sot when all hope was lost for a good life in Burma. Now, after being left by two husbands, she is a single mother of two and spends her days on the streets of Mae Sot collecting glass and plastic to sell for recycling.

“I don’t need a husband. I’ve had enough of all that. I’ve had two husbands already who divorced me because they couldn’t afford me or our children so they left. I am finished with all of that! I just live in a dream where someone will notice me and resettle me to a third country; somewhere my children can be educated and live a good life.”

“Sometimes I think we could find a better life in Bangkok or Malaysia. But then I look down at my children and think that if I can’t even provide them with food and medicine, how could I ever do something like that? Sometimes I think of giving them to an orphanage but I can’t because they are not Thai or Karen. I have no optimism left. I just live each day to survive.”

With the future looking so bleak for Rahima, and millions of other irregular migrants across Asia, it is hard to draw any positives. But as I leave Rahima, I make sure she knows how inspiring it is to see what people are capable of when it comes to the survival of their family. The strength between Rahima and her children that has kept them together against all odds is more impressive than anything most people could hope to achieve, anywhere in the world.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager

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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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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 3

The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand…read part one and part two

In Burma, soldiers are given total power and often stationed far from home, creating what has been dubbed a “culture of impunity.” Without a strong community to support them, young girls living without homes are among the most vulnerable to abuse. Bad health is also rife on the streets of Burma. While less than 2% of government spending goes to health-care, around 40% is spent strengthening the military, further entrenching the regime’s stranglehold on the nation. Never in her life had Rahima seen a medic or doctor of any kind before she came to Thailand, despite being surrounded by illness.

“We had so many diseases, mainly diarrhea and stomach pains because we had no food. Sometimes we went collecting herbal leaves and boiled them down and drank the broth. That sometimes worked, but most people died. It’s all a blur now, but I’m sure my whole family are dead. My father had a brain stroke, and then my mother died of cancer. Me and my siblings were uncontrollable. We had no food so we came and went and often lost track of each other. One by one, my 8 brothers and sisters just stopped coming back.”

For almost an hour, without tears, Rahima tells me of her childhood, describing the railway station as “worse than anything [she’d] ever heard or learned about hell.” Meanwhile giving her utmost attention to her own two children, both close by her side. Throughout the interview the boy is so sick he has soiled the floor twice, unduly embarrassing his mother.

“My child has had diarrhea for over 20 days now but I have no money. The Thai police wait outside the free clinic [Mae Tao] and arrest foreigners every day. I tell them that we live in Burma and have just come for the clinic but they don’t care, they arrest us and take us to DKBA soldiers on the border.”

The final part of this series will be published in the coming days.

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager

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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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The Harrowing Tale of a Refugee Mother Named Rahima, Part 2

The story continues for Rahima, an Arakanese refugee mother in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand… Read part one here

“After that we moved across the country to Moulmein [Mon State], Burma where we found some farmland and started over. But when I was ten, it happened again, some soldiers came and ordered us to leave at once. It was horrible, I remember it well, me and my eight brothers and sisters were crying and screaming, while my father was just frozen stiff and speechless.”

Rahima and I, along with her two children – a boy and a girl, both under five and with shaven heads – sit in a small communal home in Mae Sot’s run-down Muslim quarter. The girl wears a long brown vest that just covers her up, while the boy dons a baby’s dress, both covered in dirt. In the next room two older children are being taught English by a local volunteer, while people storm in and out speaking in rapid Bengali and Thai. 19-year-old Rahima, upright on a wooden chair, is wrapped in a once-beautiful but ragged sarong wearing large hoop earrings and her hair in a bun, holding the air of a mature woman.

Keen to talk she tells me of her family’s second move in 2000, this time to the streets of Mattayar near the ancient city of Mandalay. Soon after arrival, they were forced to take shelter in a railway station with around 50 other homeless families. It was then, at age ten, Rahima effectively became an adult, spending her days searching for food and work, or begging on the streets.

“We had no hut or shelter, we just slept in the main hall of the railway station. We got most of our food from begging and tried so hard to find work. Occasionally people gave us rice to do small jobs but most wouldn’t even look at us. We often went for two or three days without food, sometimes longer, and drank water from puddles and streams.”

When I ask about soldiers in Mattayar, Rahima lets out a long moan and shoots a piercing glance straight thorough me with her wide brown eyes. She takes a long pause and then, after breathing deep, begins to talk quietly drawing me in closer to listen carefully.

“It was horrible. They used to come all the time – to see what they could take. We had nothing, just a few rags and some cardboard. If we had food we ate it quickly but if they found any coins, they just took them. They beat the men and used to try and scare us. There was nowhere to go, no one would take us in or protect us. We were children running away from trained soldiers. We didn’t even try to run.”

Rahima becomes uneasy and I consider changing the subject. Then, looking at the ground for the first time, she speaks again, straining to get the words past her swollen throat.

“They would take all the pretty girls first. My elder sister was taken once for four or five days and then just dropped back one morning. She was different after that. It’s very shameful to talk about these things so when she came back she didn’t tell anyone what had happened, although we asked. In my time there, dozens of women were taken. Not one of them ever told of what had happened.”

JJ Kim, Advocacy Manager
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To be  continued…read part one here

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