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Issue No. 80, 2004
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KAOWAO NEWS NO. 80

An electronic newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma

December 9-21, 2004

READERS FRONT

LIVING STANDARD IMPROVES IN MONLAND

ILLEGAL CASH COW business

Forced labor still exists in Karen state  

SPDC CASHES IN ON SEIZED CARS

theives prey on NAPPING women

FORGOTTEN MON REFUGEES IN MALAYSIA

PRESERVING A CENTURIES OLD TRADITON

QUEEN CHAMMA DEVI WRAPS UP THE KINGS BIRTHDAY

MON GALA ON KINGS BIRTHDAY


READERS FRONT

Dear Readers,

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kaowao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kaowao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma . And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news.  We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.

Merry Christmas!

Editor

kaowao@hotmail.com, kaowao_news@yahoo.ca

www.kaowao.org


The good, the bad, and the ugly in Mon State

LIVING STANDARD IMPROVES IN MONLAND

(Reported by Cham Toik: December 21, 2004)

Central Mon State enjoys a better standard of living due to a thriving economy and an increase in population in sharp contrast to other areas of Burma .

Many villages are promoted to towns and have become more populated.  The streets are bustling with activity, new motorcycles and vehicles roar up and down the streets, new houses are being built and old ones renovated according to former residents of the area who recently visited there.  Several karaoke bars are packed with young people, including Mon, Burmese and Thai patrons.  All who travel frequently and conveniently to Rangoon , Moulmein and other cities for shopping and dealing business enjoy freedom of movement, a rare commodity in Burma

A former resident, a Mon Canadian, said local civilians appear to be content with their daily lives and show little interest in discussing politics despite the Burmese governments strict rules and suppression.  Relatives working abroad support family businesses and activities.  Most villages in Mon State have cell phones and use them to communicate with their families and relatives working in Thailand , Malaysia , Singapore , North America, Australia , and Europe .

Since thousands have left for economic reasons and human rights violations committed by the military regime, communities face a shortage of farm laborers.  Thousands of internal migrant workers from the delta region (Myitwa Kyunbaw) and upper Burma (Ahnyar) flock to Mon State and work in the rice fields and rubber plantations to fill in quotas.

Migrant workers told Kaowao, who just arrived in Thailand, that the daily wages for a farm laborer is about 3,000 Kyat a day in villages in Thanbyu Zayat Township while wages in Rangoon are half that and 500 Kyat in upper Burma.  With such economic disparity as well as milder weather in Mon State , many adults and young people from other areas flock down to work in the fishing and agriculture industries. 

They work hard, save their money and then go back home like us (local Mon people) who go to Thailand and bring back some money, said Awin from Durae in Ye.

When I came here, I expected to see only older people and women in the village.  But I was really surprised to see many different kinds of people in the markets.  Ten years ago there were no Burmese speaking people in my village.  But now, I hear many people speaking Burmese, some have married the local Mon people to settle here and buy some land, said Kloy Toi who works in Thailands Maharchai fishing factories on his recent visit back home in Ye Township. 

Many travelers and local people from Thanbyu Zayat and Ye Townships confirm their lives are improving; they can easily travel to the city by cars.  In the past, traveling was very difficult except for the Ye-Moulmein railroad, which stretches for about 100 miles from Moulmein to Ye.  Many people now own motorcycles and most monasteries have their own cars for getting around.

Before the cease-fire agreement, we had to flee from the Burma Army when they came to our area.  Now there is no fighting and it is peaceful.  I have not seen (Burmese) soldiers in years, said Nai Kyaw Zin, a local farmer from Andin.

In Moulmein and Rangoon , people wear red sarongs (Mon traditional dress) and bargain for goods in the market.  Various Mon publications have increased compared to a decade ago.  Several publications in Mon language, including journals, magazines, textbooks and a range of music in CDs and tapes are easily found in the cities and villages.  Nai Een said he had to steer clear of many hawkers approaching him to sell their products.  Of course, there is a scrutiny board and censorship but there are many more publications compared to 8 years ago, he commented.

Nonetheless, there are good and bad aspects, two sides to the story.  While some have grown complacent from their living standard and cultural rights, other villagers in Mon State , especially in southern Ye, are subjected to corruption and human rights violations committed by the local authorities.

Several political communities and the Mon Buddhist Sangha concluded that the SPDC government is unsympathetic to their needs and exercises complete control over Monland by expanding its army.  The ceasefire agreement between the NMSP and the junta has led to no political solution and the people have gained little.

The Burma Army and militia groups (PyiThuSit) march in to confiscate thousands of acres in Mon State .  The land is stolen from the people outright, with no compensation.  Civilians are told to leave or they face arrest and torture. Once productive Monland is turned into military battalions or the BA keeps the farm business for themselves.

During these past years the Burma Army has confiscated over 8,000 acres of land and built military bases, many outsiders flock to Mon state and work here replacing the local work force that fled, the population transfer is a new challenge here, said a senior member of the New Mon State Party.  Soldiers, militias and counter insurgency forces have increased in Mon State .  Over ten military regiments are expanded into Ye and Thanbyu Zayat areas after 1995, the year the ceasefire agreement came into being. 


ILLEGAL CASH COW business

(By Taramon/ Sangkhlaburi: December 17, 2004)

Militiamen in Yebyu township of Tanessarim Division snatched cows and money from villagers earlier this month, accusing them of wanting to illegally transport the much-needed animals to Thailand , reported a local businessman.

The head of militia known as Nai Winn Myint of Mayan Kyaung village seized two cows along with 80,000 Kyats from other villagers; the buyers had initially come to his village to buy cows.

He accused the cow buyers of wanting to transport the cows to Thailand (as illegal work), Nai Apeh from Ham-Gam village, Ye township, Mon state said. The cow buyers are his friends from the same village.  He added that when his friends came to the village to buy four cows, the head of the militia man asked for 500,000 Kyats for each cow, the buyers couldnt pay that much and so seized two of the cows as well as their money, he added.

Some local businessmen in the area buy cows and bring them to neighboring Thailand using jungle routes and mountain passes, which takes about a week of trekking.

Traveling in the dense jungle can be a risky venture, especially with tigers roaming around, the tigers leap out of nowhere and the cows become instant cat food. Those who get through are transported to the Three Pagodas Pass border town opposite Kanchanaburi.

The cow business is a cash cow for local big businessmen, not only in this area but the whole of southern Burma . Some of them are involved in lucrative drug deals especially in smuggling Yaba pills to Thailand , the source from the Three Pagodas Pass border said.

According to a source from Pha-An township, Karen state, when the businessmen arrive with their cows at the checkpoint they must pay up to 50,000 Kyats as permission to cross over into to Myawaddy opposite Mae Sot.

The checkpoint near my village collects 100,000 Kyats for two oxen, said Nai Wongsa from southern Pha-An Township to Kaowao recently.

The checkpoint guard, he said, suspected the cow transporters as illegally transporting the cows to the Thai border since there are many smugglers with oxen that cross from that checkpoint.

The businessmen pay a high price, up to 500,000 for an ox. Someone else from Thanbyu Zayat Township , Mon state, agreed that that was the going rate. The businessmen usually buy big oxen, not small cows, Nai Say from Mon state said. The oxen in Three Pagodas Pass are usually transported from Mon State and Tanessarim Division to Kanchanaburi by truck.

Local businessmen in southern Burma have been transporting cows and buffalos to Thailand for many years.  


Forced labor still exists in Karen state  

(Taramon/ Sangkhlaburi, December 17, 2004)

The Burma Army in southern Karen state is using forced labor to construct motor roads, a source from the area said.

I have to work on the road construction for one day, the whole day on orders from the village headmen, said a young Mon man who recently spoke to Kaowao after arriving at Myawaddy border town opposite Mae Sod.

Every household in the village, he added, must provide unpaid labor for constructing the motor road even though there are bulldozers and road construction trucks. The road construction managers tend not to use the equipment to prepare the road; they resell the fuel to the outside and use instead unpaid labor, he added.

Some houses belonging to two Mon villages in the area have been ordered demolished to make way for the road construction, he added. The village chairman wants to quit his position, but he cannot because of restrictions from the township authorities, Wongsaparla said.

There were, he said, many cases of people being used to provide the construction, but usually not for the whole day. As the road is being built in a wetland or low area, it can be easily damaged by flash floods during the monsoon season. The road needed repair after the season since last year.

If we dont provide forced labor we will be locked up at the township detention center as ordered from the township, he quoted the village chairman, his relative, as saying. He added that the villagers were too afraid of going to the township, which forced them to work in the construction project.

There are about 500 houses in his village. About ten of the houses were destroyed in the village because they were in the way of the road, Nai Lawi Mon, another villager explained to Kaowao. The road is situated along the Gyaing River near the boundary line of Mon state.


SPDC CASHES IN ON SEIZED CARS

(Taramon/ Sangkhaburi: December 10, 2004)

The State Peace and Development Council are selling their seized cars at rock bottom prices to local people according to a businessman who has close ties with the local authorities.

Vehicles that were seized from various owners last month are being sold at low prices to the local people and Buddhist monasteries the source said.  Because of the special offers, the abbots are eager to buy the discounted cars and have asked their devotees for donations.

The devotees and followers collect money to purchase the cars for their abbots and the temples, a Karen resident said.

A leader of Mon women organization in Ye Township told Kaowao that many Buddhist monks and monasteries now own vehicles in Mon State .  Local commanders of the Burma Army give permission to the monks who can operate vehicles without license as prestige.

Former owners whose cars were seized by the SPDC do not dare to purchase their old motorcars back fearing another seizure.

The prices of vehicles range from 7 to 10 million Kyats, these vehicles were originally confiscated from various car owners after the sacking of Burma s Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt and Military Intelligence.  Many Japanese used cars were imported from Thailand through a network of businessmen, cease-fire groups and the Military Intelligence over the past several years.


theives prey on NAPPING women

(Banyar Toay, December 12, 2004)

The high price of human hair in the black market has prompted unscrupulous individuals to sneak up on woman napping on the bus to cut their long hair, which is then sold on the black market for a high profit.

A commuter in Rangoon said, Bus drivers tell the women passengers to be cautious while traveling on the bus. If they fall asleep on the bus they risk having all their hair chopped off.

The source from Shwe Pyi Thar township of Rangoon said that the women in the township must be alert when they return home from work on the downtown bus.

Buses during rush-hour are jam packed with people so women have to tie up their long hair or hide it down their back to prevent hair thieves from stealing it, said a young Mon to Kao Wao recently.

She added that her aunt told her to be careful when traveling around for she has very long hair; most Burmese women grow their hair long. Very often though, the women in Moulmein , the capital of Mon state, must sell their hair to get money, a source from Mon community said.

A Muslim woman in Ngan Tay track cut her hair and sold it, said Nai Kunba a businessman who witnessed it.

Women in rural areas have sold their long hair to collectors who come from other areas to get it. The high price of hair has impelled some women to cut their long hair for money. They cut it off to sell it because of lack of income and to survive, the source from rural area said. One Viss (1.3 Kilogram) of hair on the current hair market is over 60,000 Kyats, the women from Mon state said. The longer the hair, the higher the price, the women said.


FORGOTTEN MON REFUGEES IN MALAYSIA

(Gong Ong and Kun Yekha in Kuala Lumpur : December 20, 2004)

Four Mons in Kuala Lumpur have been granted refugee status after their final interviews with UNHCR office in Malaysia in recent months.

No Mon nationality has been recognized as refugees before, said Nai Khit Ral Mon, Vice President of Mon National Democratic Front (Liberated Area). More than a hundred Mons (an ethnic group from Burma ) are seeking refugee status in Kuala Lumpur s UNHCR office while several thousand fled Mon State due to human rights abuse by the military junta in Burma in recent years. 

According to a refugee seeker, the UNHCR officials accept only a few refugees per day, so those seeking refugee status must queue up and sleep on the street outside of the UNHCR office the day before the registration starts. 

Ethnic Chin and Rohingya refugees are favorably accepted into the office more than us because of the good contacts they have through missionaries and religious groups.  Many Mons have to come back later without having the chance to register after a long night of waiting. The UNHCR accepts only a few seekers for registration and then conducts the interview. The asylum seekers line up normally in the evening about 5 oclock and have to wait until 8 oclock the next morning every weekday, claimed Ong Chem Tala who fled Burma by boat fearing arrest of local militia in An Khae, Thanbyu Zayat in Mon State .

Some worry the police will come by and arrest them in front of the office after spending all night there, thus losing their chance of registering, he added.

Its unfortunate that we are Buddhists and our case is forgotten in the Muslim dominated country and Christian dominated advocacy.  Rohingyas are granted asylum here, many Chin refugees are taken to a third country (such as Norway ) because of good contacts by the Christian missionaries and the western government.  We (Mon refugees) have no idea how to apply for refugee status and are not informed by any advocacy group here, said Chan Hongsar, leader of the Mon community in Malaysia .

Mobile teams will be deployed in an urgent effort to register refugees hiding in the jungles on the fringes of Malaysian cities ahead of the imminent government crackdown on illegal immigrants, reported by AFP on December 1, 2004.

According to Amnesty International, the Malaysian government has announced an amnesty period during which an estimated one million 'illegal immigrants' can return home without penalty. Initially from 29 October to 14 November, it has since been
extended for an unidentified period. Mass deportations could start at any time after this. Penalties include jail, fines and caning.

Malaysia has refused over the years to offer protection to refugees on its territory as it is not a party to the UN Convention on Refugees. In a significant step forward, in October the Malaysian government said it would provide official identity documents to Burmese Rohingyas and so free them from the deportation process.

The UNHCR in Malaysia last month granted 10,000 Rohingyas from Burma refugee status giving permission to them to stay temporarily, thus allowing freedom of movement around the country and acquiring work permits.

However, other refugees remain vulnerable to deportation.  Im so happy that I was finally recognized as a refugee, but am still concerned about the security of my colleagues because now the Malaysia governments plans to crack down on migrants, said Nai Piung Nyan, a newly granted Mon refugee. He fears that asylum seekers will be swept up along with hundreds of thousands of other illegal immigrants in the new year of 2005.


Basics learning Mon now available in VCD

PRESERVING A CENTURIES OLD TRADITON

(Layeh Rot, December 19, 2004)

Mon community is pleased to announce the release of learning the basics of the Mon language in VCD, produced by a youth in Bangkok aiming to attract the new Mon generation living in Thailand and Burma in order to preserve the language and literature.

Zahan Ong produced 500 copies of learning the basics of the Mon language with the help and sponsorship of the Mon Youth Agriculture Organization based in Prachuap Kirikhan province, Thailand , a large Mon group made up of youths working in the agriculture and plantations industries in the kingdom.

The CD has seven chapters: how to read and write the Mon alphabet and vowels, how to form consonants with other consonants, how to combine consonants and vowels, how to read and write the ten superscripted devowelizer arc (Gajot 10), including learning Mon for beginner in VCD.

I wont preserve the copy rights for the VCD, anyone can produce it for their own personal use or for their organization, they can copy as many as they want, explained Zahan who created the VCD.

Most Mon migrant children have no access to education and learning their own language is very limited due to their living conditions in Thailand . A huge concern for the Mon is that some children cannot even speak Mon and many migrant workers are not able to read and write it.

To overcome these barriers, we should solve this illiteracy problem and encourage migrant workers and children to learn Mon by VCD, said Nai Hong Chan, the Secretary General of MYAO.

It is very important for migrant workers to learn Mon and to be able to access other Mon publications while they are far away from their motherland. Mon is one of the earliest languages in Southeast Asia , grouped within the Austro Asiatic language family, which includes Khmer and Vietnamese, among others.  The heart of the Mon community lies within the antiquity of their language, the earliest written records of the language dates back to the 6th century A.D.

The distinctive bubble script which was often written on palm leaves and stone slabs in days gone by was derived from the ancient Indian Pali script and is spoken by about 4 million people in Southern Burma and Thailand today. Preserving their language has been the defining characteristic of the Mon culture for centuries, learned monks charged with maintaining and developing the language were taken captive by the conquering Burmese in 1757 who adopted the language for their own, Mon also figures prominently in the Thai language as well.

Zahan Ong, a native from Durae in Mon State , is an active member of the MUL or Mon Unity League and leader of its youth wing.  He has been active in the community promoting the Mon language to Thai and foreign academics for about 7 years. He organizes and puts together various Mon publications, researches old Mon palm-leaf inscriptions for the Mon and Thai community, and provides computer training to Mon youth in Burma and Thailand .  He is basically self-taught in advanced computer networking and applications and puts his skills to good use by providing computer maintenance to the Mon community in addition to teaching basic computer skills in workshops held on the Thai Burma border.

Zahan and his group are also seeking funds from interested organizations or individuals abroad or in Thailand who would like to donate financial assistance for the purpose of promoting and strengthening Mon Literature in the Mon migrant community.

Those interested please email mul@anet.net.th


QUEEN CHAMMA DEVI WRAPS UP THE KINGS BIRTHDAY

(Kun Yekha: December 6, 2004)

An exciting drama presentation of the legend of Queen Chamma Devi was the finale feature of a 5-day birthday celebration of His Majesty King Bhumiphorn of Thailand , on December 5 in Bangkok .   

The popular legend of the Davaravati Mon Queen was rendered in a gripping drama performance portraying the introduction of Buddhism and Mon culture to the Haripunchai kingdom, an ancient northern town in present day Lamphun near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand . The Thai celebrity, Jarunee Suksawadi played the leading role of the Mon Queen who ruled the sovereign Mon kingdom.

Many Thais, including academic scholars and foreigners, were captivated by the show held at Sala Chalermkrung Theatre in Thailand s capital.

Its a brief history of Chamma Devi, they portray the best characters combined with hi- technology supported by authentic setting that depicted the way of life then, it was as if we were back in the Mon kingdom era, commented Nai Sunthorn, General Secretary of Mon Unity League, after watching the second evening show on November 28.

Background music featured the Anonta Mitta song, which means infinite kindness, softly sung by Khon Lawar Pung (a) Suta Wongraman, Nai Ork Pungs daughter. The song is a blessing that all living beings in the universe be happy and prosperous.  The original lyrics of the song are written by Banyar Samoin (aka) Banyar Kwain.  Nai Ork Pung is a Mon musician from Sangkhalaburi who composed the pleasant tune.

The play narrated the story of the famous queens life, how she was chosen and fostered by a holy hermit in the Jomper jungle to establish the kingdom in Haripunchai in 768 A.D. As the legend goes, she learned her skills of defense while playing with monkeys in the jungle. When she grew up, through an arrangement by the holy hermit, she was sent to Lawa (Lopburi, central Thailand ) and was adopted by the king. When the Lawo king couldnt deal with enemies outside of the kingdom, Chamma Devi declared that she would defend it by fighting against King Kaosombe. 

The climax of the play was when the Lawo king demanded Chamma Devi not to go into the battlefield. The audience grew silent at the moment when she rose up to defend the kingdom. The Mon cultural influence in the old Thailand is clearly manifested in the Hariphunchai kingdom, in art, architecture, language, and the Theravada Buddhist religion that helped shape later Thai kingdoms. The Mons were the original architects of the v-shaped styled roof found throughout most of Thailand today.  Daravati and Hariphunchai flourished from the sixth to thirteenth century. 

The Culture Ministry, Matichon, AIS and other companies and firms were the main sponsors for the show that started on November 27. The tickets were sold at different prices 500, 800 and 1000 Baht (Thai currency), an expensive night out by Thai standards.


MON GALA ON KINGS BIRTHDAY

(Gore Lawi: December 6, 004)

In honor of His Majesty the Kings 77th year birthday, Mons from Burma and Thailand put their best foot forward in organizing a special gala event in Thailand featuring a parade, entertainment, and a splendid Mon feast.

The kings birthday is known in Thailand as Wan Phor (Fathers Day), which falls on December 5th and was celebrated at many venues in the kingdom including a major celebration in Sanam Luang, Bangkok .

The Mon Youth Community of Bangkok, led by the newly elected and ambitious Chairperson, Nai Oong Bangjune, joined in the celebration with Mons from both Burma and Thailand . The groups eagerly worked together for two days in honoring with full respect and gratitude to the head of state, King Bhumiphorn.

On the eve of the kings birthday, a Mon traditional dance from Pakret, Bangkok was performed while the Thai-Mon food booth served up a variety of Mon dishes to the celebrants. About 30 traditional dance troupes from the Mon Youth Community performed the Smarr Bangae dance (the farmers dance) and were warmly applauded by the audience in the grand palace.

As on Mothers Day with Ta Pao and Ta Bo dance, we had to rehearse over and over the intricate dance moves (Samarr Bangae) for two months, said by Nai Lomyom Mon, a dance trainer. The trainer also explained the meaning of the song, how the Mons introduced rice irrigation, the growing of paddy rice in the South East Asia region before the Christian era.

Out front of the Thai-Mon Pavilion hundreds waited patiently to indulge themselves on Mon traditional food. Long tables were packed with banquet-sized bowls and plates of steaming rice, noodles, fish, soups, and curried dishes; especially the popular Mon dishes Khanom (Mon noodles) and Gajip (roselle) vegetables. Food was prepared exactly as it is by the rural folk in Burma Its good, it tastes just like food back home in our village, commented a Krenar villager while eating sour and spicy food under the tamarind tree.

In front of the parade the Mon carried two great big lotus flowers, others joined in the march from the Emerald Buddha Image Palace to Sanam Luang. The Mons walked in a long row and wore their traditional dress adorned with brightly colored yellow scarves draped across their shoulders. To honor the king who was born on Wednesday, we chose yellow, said Nai Ong Marn, an organizer of the event.

Although facing difficulties in organizing members and gathering funds, their activities were given a boost by joining up with the Mon Youth Community in Bangkok and The Light of Mon Youth Organization.

Following their combined effort on the Queens birthday and honoring Dr. Su-ed Gajaseni on his 80th birthday, it was the third of joint events of the two organizations, composed of both Mons from Thailand and Burma .


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