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ASEAN should push Myanmar on Rohingya Issue too

ASEAN should be brave enough to remind Yangoon on the rights and plight of the Rohingyas.  The Rohingyas are the legitimate habitant in the Arakan and nearby areas and they had been staying there for hundreds of years and they are recognized as the owner of the land.  

Baseless allegations such as Rohingyas are the migrators from Bangladesh are the common escapism sentence that will be used by the SPDC regime to allow their brutality and harrassment to these Rohingyas. 

The leaders of ASEAN, I’m sure have enough information and in-fact some of them had the opportunity to see the truth of what this SPDC regime had done to their own people. 

ASEAN is not a forum only for the leaders, it is also a forum for us, the people of ASEAN.  People of ASEAN cannot tolerate such a notorius government who doesnt have any guts to accept their own people.  

ASEAN should push Myanmar harder on the issue of human rights, democracy and tolerancy.  The current development on democracy in Myanmar is just a lip service.  The foreign Minister of ASEAN is wasting the tax-payers money in Senggigi  if they cant do anything better than pressuring the SPDC regime to uphold the basic human rights to its own people.

SHAHRUL PESHAWAR, Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur


ASEAN to push Myanmar on democracy, wants sanctions lifted


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Thailand: Recent arrivals from Myanmar

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, http://www.unhcr.org and http://www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.

Today and yesterday we have sent our staff to villages and a cave in northern Thailand to find out more details about a group of Karen people who have fled across the Moei River from Myanmar since last Wednesday.

Estimates of the number vary greatly from about 2,000 people to some 6,400, and one of the first things we would like to do is ascertain the number of people who are in the five sites near Mae Sot.

They are staying in temples and in homes in four villages and in one case, in a cave accessible only by river and by a 40-minute climb up a steep mountain which is very slippery right now because it is raining heavily.

From our preliminary discussions with the few new Karen arrivals we have been able to talk with, it seems some were fleeing actual fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is allied with government forces, and the rebel Karen National Union (KNU). Others say they were fleeing forced recruitment or forced labour by government forces.

A number of the people who have fled to Thailand were already displaced within their own country. They were residents of the Ler Per Her camp for internally displaced persons run by the KNU within Karen-held territory inside Myanmar. All of the people in that camp fled to Thailand across the Moei River when it was shelled, they say.

Many of the people brought their belongings with them, and the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium, a group of non-governmental organizations providing aid to refugees, has supplied them with basic food, mosquito nets, pots and pans and blankets. UNHCR has also given them plastic sheeting.

Most of the new arrivals say they want to stay as close to their villages as possible in order to go home quickly once the situation calms down because they left cattle behind and because it is time to begin planting rice.

UNHCR is working closely with Thai authorities to best respond to the needs of the new arrivals.

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Rohingya: A regional problem

Solving the problem of Burmese Muslim refugees will take the full efforts of several of the region’s organisations

By: Larry Jagan

“The Rohingya issue is a very complicated challenge to the entire region of Southeast Asia,” Mr Surin told Spectrum in an exclusive interview. “Asean happens to be a foremost regional organisation aspiring to evolve into a community of caring societies, so it has to be an issue of concern to Asean.”


The Rohingya issue featured prominently in bilateral talks in the region last week. US Secretary for State Hillary Clinton discussed it during meetings with both the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda. Army chief Anupong Paojinda reportedly raised the issue with the Burmese junta’s leader General Than Shwe when he visited the Burmese capital Naypyidaw earlier in the week, while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart during his visit to Jakarta.

“We are going to find a suitable way to raise the Rohingya issue during the Asean meeting,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman. “But it may not be discussed formally at the summit.”

But this is unlikely to satisfy activists and human rights groups who believe that unless there is a strong political will on the part of the region’s leaders at the forthcoming summit to seriously tackle the issue, the problem will be left to fester.

INTERNATIONAL CONCERN: Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after their meeting in Jakarta.

“The Rohingya issue is a cross-border problem that cannot be handled by one country alone, it needs a regional response,” Yap Swee Seng head of a regional human rights group, Forum-Asia, told journalists last Thursday ahead of the Asean summit. “While it may be discussed on the margins of the Asean leaders’ meeting, what is needed is a formal consultative meeting of Asean, including Bangladesh and India, who have both been affected by the exodus of Rohingya from Burma.”

Thailand and Indonesia have already agreed that the problem will be referred to the Bali Process after the summit. In fact, the Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers, who chair the international group, have already agreed that the next annual gathering will discuss the Rohingya issue. This year’s Bali Process meeting is expected to be held next month, or early in April. “We discussed and welcomed the fact that the question of the Rohingya will form part of the discussion at the forthcoming ministerial meeting of the Bali Process,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told reporters in Sydney last week, after a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart.


“The Bali Process is a very attractive and viable option for the region to get together, to discuss the Rohingya issue,” Mr Surin suggested. “Asean member states affected by the problem can come together and pool their expertise and resources to put this problem into a proper context and manage it together.”

The Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries, mainly Asian, and at ministerial level, to work on practical measures to help combat people smuggling, people trafficking and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. “It is primarily a process and framework for information sharing and training of officials, in law enforcement and drafting legislation, in connection with the smuggling and trafficking of people and other crimes,” said Chris Lom, the regional spokesman for the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), based in Bangkok. IOM and the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are part of the secretariat and help facilitate the group’s meetings.


MEET AND GREET: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart.

The Bali Process was originally set up at the Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, held in Bali in February 2002.

“The region has faced these kinds of challenges many times before, including the [Vietnamese] boat people in the 1970s, but more recently the influx of people fleeing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran,” Mr Surin said. “That was the origin of the Bali Process, with Australia very much an active participant in the regional efforts to manage that human tide floating across the Indian Ocean.”

Thailand has been forced to take the lead on the issue after allegations that more than 1,000 Burmese-Muslim illegal immigrants were intercepted in Thai territory and cast adrift in three separate incidents on the high seas in several boats, with little food and water, and their engines disabled or removed. Some of the survivors ended up back in Thailand, some made it to India’s Andaman islands, while others drifted as far as the Indonesian island of Sumatra before being rescued. Many of them accused the Thai authorities of abusing them and treating them inhumanely.


REGIONAL INVOLVEMENT: Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Indonesian Foreign Minister Dr Hassan Wirajuda speak at the opening session of the Australia-Indonesia Conference in Sydney.

The refugees were on their way to Malaysia, according to activists and UN officials who have had access to the survivors. Most of them paid the equivalent of 10,000 baht to smugglers who promised to get them to Thailand on the first stage of their trip to a better life. “They would then pay Thai traffickers a further 20,000 baht or so to get them to Malaysia,” said Chris Lewa, who works with the regional Arakan Project, which monitors the situation of the Burmese Muslims, both in Arakan state and those who try to escape the country.

The refugees are members of the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority, who live in northern Arakan state, in western Burma bordering Bangladesh. They have fled social and religious persecution by the Burmese military authorities there. Most human rights activists believe that the abuses committed by the junta in the Muslim-dominated areas of western Burma are worse than anywhere else in the country.

“Burma’s Rohingya minority is subject to systematic persecution. They are effectively denied citizenship, they have their land confiscated, and many are regularly forced to work on government projects without pay,” said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International’s Burma researcher. “They are often prevented from marrying or conducting religious ceremonies. They are also effectively prevented from travelling within the country as well. The regime creates conditions and circumstances that make it clear to the Rohingya that they are not wanted or welcome, so it’s no surprise that they try to flee the country by the thousands.”


MILITARY MIGHT: Burma’s Senior General Than Shwe, left, and Thailand’s General Anupong Paojinda.

Thousands make the hazardous two-week journey from Bangladesh at this time of year  –  between November and April  –  when the seas are not so rough. “We cannot tolerate the suffering any more. We would rather risk going to sea than stay and perish little by little,” one of those who fled Burma and ended up in Thailand told Spectrum. “Live or die; it’s up to Allah.”

More than 5,000 Rohingya have left Bangladesh in the past four months, according to researchers at the Arakan Project. Some have managed to make it to Malaysia, but several thousand Rohingya refugees may have perished in the Andaman Sea in pursuit of freedom and a better life, said Mr Lewa.

The danger now is that by relying on the Bali Process to sort out the problem of the Rohingya boat people, the issue will be treated as people smuggling rather than as a result of persecution.

“It is important that they [the Rohingya] are clearly identified, not just as economic migrants who have been trafficked,” said a UN worker who has interviewed many of the survivors of the latest incidents, but declined to be indentified. “They are asylum seekers escaping oppression, the denial of their rights, violence, land confiscation and religious persecution.”

“UNHCR would like to point out that being trafficked or smuggled does not preclude persons also having a legitimate claim to being a refugee,” said the regional spokesperson for UNHCR, Kitty McKinsey. “Often people fleeing persecution have no way out of their country other than to resort to smugglers or traffickers.”

The root cause of this latest exodus from Burma is the junta’s treatment of its Muslim minority, especially in Arakan state. The regime refuses to accept that they are Burmese citizens. “In reality, the Rohingya are neither Myanmar people nor Myanmar’s ethnic group,” the Burmese consul general in Hong Kong, Ye Myint Aung, wrote in a letter circulated to the press. And what is more they are “ugly as ogres”, he added.

The issue of Burma’s Rohingya has proved an intractable problem in the past. More than a quarter of a million fled massive human rights violations at the hands of the Burmese army. More than 200,000 ended up in camps in Bangladesh in Cox’s Bazaar from 1991 to 1993, largely in the care of UNHCR. Although the UN managed to negotiate a repatriation agreement between Burma and Bangldesh, many thousands remained in Bangladesh, and many of those who returned to Arakan simply fled again at the first opportunity.

So the countries of the region, with the help of the UN and several Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, have tried in the past to help resolve this problem. But all efforts have floundered, largely because of the intransigence of Burma’s military rulers. At the height of the last mass exodus of Burmese-Muslim refugees from Arakan more than 15 years ago  –  the then Bangladesh foreign minister, Mustifizur Rahman (now deceased) said that the Rohingya issue could never be solved while the generals were still in power in Burma.

Many analysts and activists would agree. But that is no excuse for not trying, according to Asian diplomats.

“Countries have always been reluctant to deal with this challenge on their own. They are even hesitant to bilateralise the problem. So as a region we must try to face the challenge as a region,” Mr Surin said.

“Our image, our profile, and our efficiency as a regional organisation, are being tested by the current Rohingya phenomenon. Strong leadership and a determined political will are needed.”

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Rohingya are Muslim outcasts, not welcome anywhere

By AMBIKA AHUJA and MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press Writers Ambika Ahuja And Michael Casey, Associated Press Writers Sat Feb 14, 12:03 pm ET

AP – Muhammad Syafirullah, one of Rohingya boat people rescued by Acehnese fishermen lies on a hospital bed …

BANGKOK, Thailand – For generations, the ethnic Muslim Rohingya have endured persecution by the ruling junta of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.

The plight of the Rohingya, descendants of Arab traders from the 7th century, gained international attention over the past month after five boatloads of haggard migrants were found in the waters around Indonesia and the Andaman Islands.

But unlike the Kurds or the Palestinians, no one has championed the cause of the Rohingya. Most countries, from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia, see them as little more than a source of cheap labor for the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs.

“The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all,” said Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “Hardly any of them have legal status anywhere in the world.”

There are an estimated 750,000 Rohingya living in Myanmar’s mountainous northern state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh. Thousands flee every year, trying to escape a life of abuse that was codified in 1982 with a law that virtually bars them from becoming citizens.

A spokesman for Myanmar’s military government did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment. It has repeatedly denied abusing the Rohingya, though Amnesty International said the junta has described them as less than human. Rights groups have documented widespread abuses, including forced labor, land seizures and rape.

“It was like living in hell,” said Mohamad Zagit, who left after soldiers confiscated his family’s rice farm and then threw him in jail for praying at a local mosque. The 23-year-old spoke from his hospital bed in Thailand, where he had been detained after fleeing Myanmar.

“We have no rights,” said Muhamad Shafirullah, who was among 200 migrants rescued by the Indonesian navy last week. He recalled how he was jailed in Myanmar, his family’s land stolen and a cousin dragged into the jungle and shot dead. “They rape and kill our women. We can’t practice our religion. We aren’t allowed to travel from village to village … It’s almost impossible, even, to get married or go to school.”

Twice since the 1970s, waves of attacks by the military and Buddhist villagers forced hundred of thousands of Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh, a Muslim country whose people speak a similar language. Many have since been repatriated, but 200,000 still work there as illegal migrants and another 28,000 live in squalid refugee camps.

Violence against Rohingya women is common, and they face the threat of prison because of their illegal status, said Chris Lewa, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Arakan Project, an advocacy group for the Rohingya. Thousands of Rohingya have taken to the seas from Bangladesh in search of better jobs, but ended up drowning or at the mercy of traffickers.

For years, the Rohingya traveled to the Middle East for work, with nearly a half million ending up in Saudi Arabia.

But in recent years — partly because of bureaucratic hurdles faced by Muslims following 9/11 — many now try to go instead by boat to Thailand and then overland to Malaysia, another Islamic nation.

But even those who make it to Malaysia then struggle find good jobs and quickly discover that, there too, intolerance is growing. Many of the 14,300 Rohingya in Malaysia live in cramped, rundown apartments in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and face the constant threat of deportation, community leaders said. If caught, the migrants can be caned and imprisoned for up to five years.

Yet most refugee advocates expect Rohingya migrants will keep coming.

“My 14 children rely on me. They have no safety, no food, nothing,” said Mohamad Salim, a 35-year-old, bearded fisherman who also was detained and hospitalized in Thailand and begged to be allowed to continue onto Malaysia.

“What will they eat? How will they live if I don’t find work?” he said, his voice trembling.

Associated Press writer Irwan Firdaus contributed to this report from Idi Rayeuk, Indonesia; Casey in Bangkok; Ahuja in Ranong; Julia Zappei in Malaysia and Farid Hossain in Bangladesh contributed to this report.

SHAHRUL PESHAWAR – The Myanmar Junta is adopting the same policy used by Thailand towards muslim.  In Thailand they accept Muslim group known as Thai Muslim, but treating double standard for other Muslim such as the Malay.  As per Myanmar, they too accept Muslim in the country but not a Rohingya Muslim, it is a pity to them.  Rohingyan Muslim is not a new group of races, they had existed much earlier and they had formed their own dynasties back in 16th Century and even had various diplomatic missions abroad.


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Opposition Leader in Myanmar Expresses Frustration With U.N.


February 3, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who is under house arrest, expressed frustration to a United Nations envoy on Monday over the organization’s failure to persuade Myanmar’s hard-line military leaders to give up their monopoly on power, her political party said.

Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years under house arrest, was briefly allowed out on Monday for a rare meeting with the United Nations envoy, Ibrahim Gambari. Nyan Win, a spokesman for Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, said that during the meeting she told Mr. Gambari that “she was ready and willing to meet anyone” to achieve political reform, but “could not accept having meetings without achieving any outcome.”

The party contends that Mr. Gambari’s seven visits since 2007 have produced no tangible progress toward democracy, saying that the United Nations has not been able to persuade the junta to release political prisoners or to hold talks with the democratic opposition. The party won an election in 1990, but was not allowed to take office.

Last August, Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi snubbed Mr. Gambari by declining to keep an appointment with him and refusing to open the gates of her house in Yangon to his representatives. The gesture was surprising, because the house arrest keeps her in extreme isolation; Mr. Gambari is one of the rare outsiders, other than her lawyer and doctor, allowed to see her.

Myanmar’s military junta, which has ruled the country since 1962, when it was known as Burma, tolerates no dissent and crushed pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks in September 2007. Human rights groups say it holds more than 2,100 political prisoners, a large increase from the nearly 1,200 political prisoners who were being held before the demonstrations.

Mr. Gambari, who arrived Saturday for a four-day visit, has told diplomats that his objectives are to urge the junta to free political prisoners, discuss the country’s ailing economy and revive a dialogue with Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.

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United Nations Worried Over Nigeria’s Donation To Myanmar

From Laolu Akande New York

NIGERIA’S donation of a whopping $500,000 to the military junta in Myanmar few weeks ago is raising questions at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. An official of the Presidency arrived New York two days to Christmas to deliver the check at a hurriedly put together bilateral meeting between the Nigerian Ambassador, Prof. Joy Ugwu, and her Myanmar counterpart at the UN building.

But for the invitation to few members of the UN press, the event would have passed unnoticed and branded a secret deal. Even Nigeria’s former Foreign Affairs Minister who is a UN’s top official on Myanmar was not aware of the donation. A source at the Nigerian mission disclosed that even top Nigerian diplomats at the UN could could not explain the transaction any better than, that the whole affair was an “order from the headquarters (Abuja).”

Professor Ogwu only said that the money was Nigeria’s own contribution to the “ongoing relief efforts in the country, following the devastation caused by cyclone Nargis in May 2008,” in Myanmar.

But observers are however wondering why Nigeria’s own contribution came some six months after the tragedy and why a presidency official had to be specifically detailed to deliver the cheque instead of any of the senior Nigerian diplomats in New York. The other question is why the Federal Government chose to make the money directly available to the Myanmar government when the UN had set up a special fund to warehouse international donations to help victims of the Myanmar cyclone.

Media reports quoted Ambassador Joy Ogwu as saying UN Special Envoy on Myanmar, Nigeria’s Professor Ibrahim Gambari had no role to play in the donation. Gambari’s office at the UN also confirmed this saying he “had no prior knowledge of this transaction or the motive, if any, on the part of the Nigerian Government,” adding however that Professor Gambari does not object to the donation

A reporter with Inner City Press in New York, Lee reported that, “Nigeria gave its money directly, in US dollars, and apparently with no requirement to report back on how the funds are used. This is the type of hard currency for which Senior General Than Shwe is desperate.” He wrote that Nigeria would be seen to be supporting a military dictator by making such a donation “with no strings attached.”

On ther hand, some transparency and accountability on how the money would be spent would have been possible had the money been donated through the United Nations. When contacted for comments, a top Nigerian diplomat simply said the Foreign Affairs Ministry wanted the money to be handed over to Myanmar directly.

Why Nigeria would seek to please one of the few remaining military tyranny in the world is an issue that baffles many at the UN. A retired top Nigerian diplomat who had represented the country at the UN said it is simply shocking that Nigeria would do such a thing without passing through the normal diplomatic channels of the United Nations, since it was the UN that had called for international support to Myanmar.

The Abuja dole is coming at when the the UN and the global community are telling the Myanmar military dictator to move faster with democratic reforms. For instance, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has postponed plans to visit the place and there are no scheduled visits in the foreseeable future by the UN Special Envoy Gambari, who has been working round the clock to advance democratic reforms in Myanmar.

Ki-Moon said last month at the UN that he was “disappointed by the unwillingness of the government of Myanmar (Burma) to deliver on its promises for democratic dialogue and the release of political prisoners.”

By donating half a million bucks to Myanmar and doing it without the knowledge of the UN, Nigeria may be indirectly courting the enmity of those in the international community who are insisting that an iron hand be applied on the Myanmar dictatorship. The timing of the donation according to a source is also an indication, of “bad planning” by the Foreign Affairs Ministry in view of mounting international against the military junta in Myanmar.

One report said that there are as many as 112 former heads of state and government from more than 50 countries urging the UN scribe to help to secure the release of all Burmese political prisoners by the end of the year 2008.

Led by Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former prime minister of Norway, the group told Ki-Moon that, “If the Burmese junta continues to defy the United Nations by refusing to make these releases by the end of the year (2008 ), we urge you to encourage the Security Council to take further concrete action to implement its call for the release of all political prisoners.”

The Federal Government of Nigeria made its donation of half a million dollars to Myanmar less than two weeks after these world leaders called for Security Council action against the Myanmar dictatorship.

What is more, the White House, last month, issued a statement urging the international community and the United Nations not to remain silent to oppressive, anti-democratic measures of the Burmese junta. The statement by Press Secretary Dana Perino, said “Brave Burmese patriots such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and Htay Kywe were among those who have been sentenced to 65 years imprisonment for their peaceful participation in the August 2007 protests, in which Burmese citizens, including monks and activists, called on the regime to address the basic needs of the Burmese people.”

At the donation on December 23, Prof Ugwu said Nigeria took the “opportunity to express our unflinching solidarity with the government and people of Myanmar for the concrete actions being taken to address the sitution”- referring to the cyclone tragedy. There are also those who see the gesture as part of Nigeria’s support of the South to South Integration at the UN, which seek to encourage stronger ties among the less developed countries of the world.

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