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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

KAOWAO NEWS NO. 81

Newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma
December 22, 2004 - January 5, 2005

READERS’ FRONT

TSUNAMI: WORLDWIDE CONCERN FOR BURMA

MON VILLAGE GOES UP IN FLAMES

FRANCE S OIL GIANT Total AND HUMAN RIGHTS

TIGHTENED SECURITY AFTER EXPLOSION

PIPELINE SECURITY ROUND UP PORTERS FOR OFFENSIVES

MALAYSIA CRACKDOWN DRIVES THOUSANDS HOME

Migrant Workers Conference Held in Thailand

SHAN DRAFT CHAPTER PRESENTED FOR TEAM APPROVAL

THAI DEVOTEES HONOR WAT PROK ABBOT

MYANMAR´S LOW OFFICIAL DEATH TOLL FROM TSUNAMI QUESTIONED


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.

Regards,

Editor

kaowao@hotmail.com, kaowao_news@yahoo.ca

www.kaowao.org


(Kaowao: January 4, 2005)  
TSUNAMI: WORLDWIDE CONCERN FOR BURMA

Burmese junta claim that under a hundred Burmese people perished in the monster wave that struck coastlines around Indian Ocean, Andaman Sea, and Somalia, Africa, the aftershock of a powerful earthquake on the seafloor in the Indian Ocean between the Indian and Burman plates.

Remarkably, the junta claims that the tsunamis lost their force after they struck the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that wiped out 17 seaside villages, killing 90 people leaving 788 homeless, with 21 people missing and 43 injured.

Experts from the United Nations, scientists and activists from Ireland , Australia , the United States and Canada , aid workers, and international reporters are wondering if the junta was giving the true picture of the disaster.

According to Damien McElroy from the London Sunday Telegraph who set off to investigate a mile-long stretch of estuary on the Andaman Sea, Burmese fishermen up the coast from Thailand border’s at Kra Buri, not far from Phuket, say that many more, maybe thousands, have perished, that there is “widespread devastation on the Coco Islands and the Mergui archipelago”. One fisherman reported that he saw about 50 people being swept away from a bridge on a large island, Palao Ton Ton.  

The junta sealed parts of Burma ’s approximately 2000 km coastline and ordered conscript soldiers to keep a watch out for any foreign nationals wanting to sneak into Burma to check things out.  Aid workers say that it is impossible to fly over the area because of designated military zone. 

The Mon community in Calgary is trying to contact a Mon Buddhist temple near Colombo in Sri Lanka who live in the coastal area.  However, they could not call the monks due to communication break down.  The Mon has a long history with Sri Lanka stretching back at least 2 thousand years.

No news from fishing community in Mon State is available because no media is allowed to visit inside coastal region in Mon State .  In Thailand , at least 5 Mon migrant workers were reportedly killed in Phuket by the tsunami.

A San Francisco based Burma organization is gathering funds for a relief effort into Burma and will assist coastal communities in a few weeks. The organization has assisted the Kyaikto community and its monastery since 1999.

For those who want to make a donation to the Burmese tsunami victims in the coastal community please go to: www.foundationburma.org


MON VILLAGE GOES UP IN FLAMES
(Kun Yekha: December 22, 2004)

A fire that spread from the tiny home in Sarm Hle Mon village in Pa-An township, Karen state burnt down (31) homes on December 17, 2004.

“It’s unthinkable how the fire started in the first place, the home owners are in Thailand working,” said a Sarm Hle villager on the phone. She said the fire started at the house of Nai Aung Win and Ma Tin Mu who are working in Thailand .

The home was built of bamboo staves and nipa palm leaf and went up in seconds, the fire spread quickly to the surrounding (30) homes in Banya Lagon Ein ward. Without a fire emergency system or a fire brigade, the villagers from Sarm Hle, Khayah and Takoh Yekha grabbed containers and buckets; and from hand to hand threw water and sand on the burning homes.

The next day local authorities from Pa-An township, social workers from NGOs and some companies visited the burnt out village to provide blankets, clothes and foods. The authorities held a brief meeting with the villagers to learn what had happened and to set up a fire-brigade system for future emergencies. As the dry season nears village headmen instruct villagers to cook outside as a safety precaution.

In southern Burma , most rural homes roofed with nipa palm leaf are a fire hazard and have no modern emergency equipment.  In case of a fire, villagers haul water by buckets pulled from the nearest well to put out fires. 


FRANCE ’S OIL GIANT Total aND HUMAN RIGHTS
(Taramon/Ong Mon, January 3, 2005)

Burma Army     while guarding Total’s gas pipeline in southern Burma consistently violates human rights by forcefully collecting taxes from poor villagers.

The Second Commander of LIB No. 273, Moe San Winn, demanded Kyats 200,000 from two villages, after granting them permission to hold a Buddhist traditional festival last month, villagers from the area talked to Kaowao yesterday.

Ohn Pin Kwin and Phaung Daw villages are in the area of the Total gas station in Yebyu Township , Tenasserim Division where the LIB No.273 is in charge of providing security to the pipeline.

According to a headman who spoke under condition of anonymity, the villagers were not allowed to celebrate annual festival and theater performance without first paying money to the BA Commander. The commander told them that he is responsible for the security of the gas pipeline and it shouldn’t be interrupted because of the crowd in the festival. 

13 buffalos belong to villagers were seized by the BA and the owners were brutally tortured being accused of trying to transport them across the border to sell in Thailand .

Civilians are prevented from traveling outside the area.  “We cannot travel or go back to our own village even though we show recommendation letter from the New Mon State Party,” said an elderly Mon woman who recently arrived to the border for her daughter’s wedding to an NMSP soldier.

The Mon splinter group HRP and KNU have operated guerilla warfare in the area.  The ethnic nationalities in this area, Mon and Karen set up bases in jungle hideouts to fight the central government. The local people have usually supported the armed resistance groups since 1948 after Burma gained its independence from Britain .  Before reaching a cease-fire agreement with the SPDC, the area was under the control of the NMSP and KNU.

The local Mon and Tavoyan have fled their villages due to hardship, poor income opportunities, and human rights violations by the Burmese security forces guarding the pipeline.


TIGHTENED SECURITY AFTER EXPLOSION
(Taing Taw, December 31, 2004)

Security has tightened in Mon and Karen states after a bomb explosion in Pa-An, the capital of Karen sate.

“The authorities are checking travelers, I was thoroughly checked by Burma Army soldiers,” a Mon political leader told Kaowao after arriving at the border recently.  The leader who spoke on condition of anonymity added that more restrictions have been imposed since the MI was disbanded.

“They check every body who travel to the cities and soldiers in charge of the checkpoints order people about in a rude way,” complained a village woman who visited Moulmein for shopping.

“It’s very difficult to visit to the Thailand Burma border and it’s frustrating to return and to live under the current SPDC regime”, the Mon politician said.  He added that it is difficult to deal with the new SPDC leaders and do activities because of not knowing enough about the new officials and authorities in charge.


PIPELINE SECURITY ROUND UP PORTERS FOR OFFENSIVES
(Independent Mon News Agency: December 23, 2004)

The Burma Army responsible for the Yadana gas pipeline to Thailand ’s border has conscripted villagers in their military offensives against the Mon armed group in Yebyu Township , northern Tenasserim Division, southern Burma .

Until the 3rd week of December, the Light Infantry Battalion No. 408 under the command of Major Aung Naing Myint used villagers around the area of Yepyu Township as porters for carrying food and ammunition during their operations against Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP), sources reported.

They ordered a 60-year old man as porter who was later taken to the hospital for treatment on the 16th of December.  

The Burma Army recruited porters twice a month from Lort-thaing, Kyauk-kadin, Alae-sakan, and Kwe-talin villages during their offensive operation, the source added.

Tarkalaw, a Karen ethnic porter, 60 years old, told me that the soldiers used them for 5 days between December 12 and 16.  They took them from Lort-thaing to Wae-peer village (local names of villages) into the jungle. The porters told me that the soldiers also took them for two days on December 4th to carry heavy supplies, the soldier’s food and ammunition for 30 miles into the jungle, the source explained.

In early December, soldiers from LIB No. 408 conscripted two villagers from Kwe-talin village: Nai Pyay (25) and Mehm Arholl (17) and two villagers from Kyauk-din village and one villager from Alae-sakan village. On the second occasion, they took many villagers from Lort-thaing village, which is a Karen ethnic village.

LIB No.408 is a battalion responsible for security of the Yadana Gas Pipeline that transports gas from the Kanpauk area, Tavoy district to Thailand , together with another 9 BA battalions in the area under the command of Coastal Region Command based in Mergui, another city of Tenasserim Division .

The Yadana gas pipeline was built by the French oil and gas Company giant, Total, and since 1998 and has sold gas to Thailand ’s PTT gas and oil company.  The SPDC regime also receives 400 million US dollars annually from the gas pipeline, its armed forces, the Burmese Army, is responsible for the inner and outer security of the pipeline.

Porters receive no payment for carrying the army’s food and ammunition supplies. Portering is a widespread human rights violation against the civilians of Burma in which villagers are sometimes beaten and treated inhumanely, a practice that has been used in a five-decade old civil war against the ethnic groups.


Migrant Watch

MALAYSIA CRACKDOWN DRIVES THOUSANDS HOME
(Kun Yekha, January 5, 2005)

While the Thai-Malaysia border is busy with problems from the Tsunami crisis, many undocumented Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia have fled to Thailand to avoid arrest from a major crackdown there.

“We have to wait and see before we can re-enter again,” said Win San a migrant worker from Belugyun, Mon State . After the Malaysia government announced the crackdown, many workers returned home, some are waiting to re-enter Malaysia . The Malaysia officials threaten workers with harsh penalties under the tough new laws, if caught they are lashed 5 times with a thick rattan cane.

 “Many of us don't want to leave, we want to earn more money and send it back to our family who are having a difficult time in Burma,” said Ong Seik at Morchit Bus Terminal of Bangkok, Thailand who was on his way back to Burma passing through Maesot- Myawaddy border.

Scores of migrant workers in groups are passing through the Thai-Malaysia border with the help of brokers (human traffickers) into Thailand . “We are so busy right now, not to bring them to Malaysia , but instead to take them home,” said Kun Sagong, a broker on the Thai-Malaysia border.

Those who don’t want to leave had to quit their jobs to hide in the jungle area until things settle down. The employers won’t accept undocumented workers fearing the government’s new policy on alien workers. Many Burmese work on construction sites, restaurants, agricultural plantations, and factories in low wages.

There are more than a million; some say it could be as high as 2.5 million- undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia . That's between 5 to 10 percent of the country's 26 million population, reported by Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS).

The Malaysian government granted an amnesty period for migrant workers without proper documents to leave the country. By the end of December, all those remaining without valid papers will be arrested and deported to their countries.


Migrant Workers Conference Held in Thailand
(Mi Wossorn: Dec 20, 2004)

Organized by NGOs, ‘Future of Migrant Workers in Thailand Conference’ was held on December 17, on the eve of International Migration Day to improve lives of migrant workers in Thailand .  

The human rights of Burmese migrant workers face serious challenges. As reported by Asian Legal Resource Center 2003, “Burmese workers suffer extreme brutality in Thailand ,” ranging from unsafe working conditions, murder, rape, harassment, extortion to the most basic of rights including access to education and health care.

In some cases when the Burmese demand their rights they risk being tortured, murdered, or sent back to Burma where they may face stiff prison terms if arrested.

At the Miracle Grand Hotel, the conference focused on Trends, Health and Rights of migrant workers in Thailand with participants from government agencies directly responsible for developing and administering migrant policies, Public Health officials, NGOs working on migrant issues, representatives of migrants, and academics.

“It’s good to hear the great results from the conference that the government agencies plan to recognize the legal status of migrant workers,” commented Nai Su Mit, a social worker from the Prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Among Migrant Workers in Thailand Project (PHAMIT), a representative pointed out the difficulties of the registration process, the working system and other social affairs. A Shan representative talked about the difficulties of work permit registration, language barriers, and the lack of general knowledge of living and working in Thailand .

A Thai deputy minister said that his aim was to improve next year’s registration process. A workshop focused on trends of migration; migrant workers’ access to health services; and rights and protection of migrant workers and their dependents.

On December 18th, a public event was held in Chatuchak Park in Bangkok called “Promoting the Rights of Migrant Workers: Culture, Health and Legal Process”.  Mon, Burmese, and Cambodian groups performed live music and cultural performances.

In 1997, Filipino and other Asian migrant organizations began celebrating and promoting the 18th of December as the International Day of Solidarity with Migrants, the day the UN adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families. Twenty-five countries have signed, but as of yet Thailand hasn’t.


Political development

SHAN DRAFT CHAPTER PRESENTED FOR TEAM APPROVAL
(Shan Herald Agency for News: 23 December 2004)

A long wait after it was formed in the year 2000, the Shan Constitution Drafting Commission in exile, has come up with its "bottom-up" first draft to be debated and adopted prior to the release for public review, said the Commission's chairman on Saturday, 18 December.

"The reason for the delay was that we were doing our best to make it a document of the people that is written collectively by the people for the people," declared Sao Seng Suk, 69, son of Hkun Kya Bu, a signatory of the historic Panglong Agreement of 1947. "The Commission, especially myself, is only putting their wishes together."

The 106-page "outline" has 8 chapters (Characteristics, Bill of Rights, Legislature, Legislative powers, National Executive, Judiciary Power, General Provisions and Amendment of the Constitution) 19 sections and 295 sub-sections.

Apart from being a bottom-up draft "made up of copious feedbacks from the people inside", it also boasts of 4 other prominent features:

The Shan State will be a federal union composed of states, sub-states and autonomous regions. ("It will also hopefully serve as a model for the Federal Union of Burma")

The people of Shan State will decide whether it will be part of the future Federal Union of Burma or a separate nation.

The Shan State government will be chosen by the Upper House i.e. the House of Nationalities and not by the House of Representatives.

The role of local governments, Shan State being a multi-ethnic state, has been especially focused. Three separate sections with 31 sub-sections have been devoted to the subject.

According to the resolutions of the 36th monthly meeting of the SS-CDC on Saturday, the draft would be translated into Burmese before it was considered by the 11-member Commission.

"I hope it will stir up constructive debates among all those concerned to produce a draft agreed by all," Sao Seng Suk, who is concurrently President of the Shan Democratic Union, said.

The SS-CDC was elected at a meeting attended by 50 representatives from various organizations from Shan State , 8-11 September 2000, that had commissioned its task as the incorporation of a federal structure and a democratic decentralized administrative system for the Shan State .

Among the seven non-Burman states of Burma , Karen, Karenni, Chin and Mon have already completed their first drafts and are in the process of gathering more feedbacks. The authors hope the whole process will eventually lead to the emergence of a genuine federation and national reconciliation, according to the late Chao Tzang Yawnghwe (1939-2004), who was credited as the originator of the concept.


(Gore Lawi, December 22,2004)

THAI DEVOTEES HONOR WAT PROK ABBOT

About (700) Thai devotees celebrated an honoring ceremony of Rev. Wicharn Jayaedhomore (Ajar Wicharn) on December 19, 2004.

Ajar Wicharn Jayaedhomore, the abbot of Wat Prok, received an honoring certificate on December 17 from His Majesty King Bhumiphol of Thailand for his international propagation of Buddhist religion. The certificate, ‘Phra Khroo Wimon Chayaedham Chayaedhomore’, was also presented to other Thai venerable monks. Thailand ’s king offered the certificate and a long-stemmed fan, normally used in the prestigious honoring, to (368) monks for the whole country.

“I’m pleased to have received the certificate recognized by the king, I can do many things to improve Wat Prok and other Buddhist Sarsana affairs,” said Ajar Wicharn.

The State Buddhist Sangha Association produced the monk’s list and handed it to the Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The certificate was signed by the king and Prime Minister and presented at Pra Pathom Jedi, Nakhom Pathom.

During the past 20 years, Ajar Wicharn traveled around the world teaching the Buddhist religion in Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia, USA and (15) nations of Europe. 

The Mon monks from (36) monasteries in Thailand were invited with about (270) monks receiving alms donation. Varaporn Bhekhanandara, the Montwssorri school owner was the main donor contributing to the honoring ceremony. Wat Prok monastery is resided by (90) monks and novices and also known for its social services to the Mon community in Bangkok


Exile groups, scientists question Myanmar 's low official death toll

MYANMAR ’S LOW OFFICIAL DEATH TOLL FROM TSUNAMI QUESTIONED
(Paul Alexander, Associated Press: January 4, 2005)

Even after looking at satellite photos of Myanmar , U.S. Secretary of State

Colin Powell said Tuesday he isn't sure what to make of claims by the reclusive country's military junta that the Asian tsunami killed only 59 people there.

"I don't know whether to believe or not to believe them," he told a news conference during a brief visit to Thailand , where more than 5,000 people are confirmed dead and another 4,000 missing, just across the border from Myanmar .

Aid agencies have said at least 90 were killed along Myanmar 's southern coast. Dissidents and exile groups claim the toll is in the hundreds, perhaps even in the thousands.

The U.N. World Food Program says some 30,000 people need help in Myanmar , also known as Burma .

"In the first stage, the Burmese government thought they could deal with the problem themselves, but they revised their position. So our offer of service has been accepted," said Simon Pluess, WFP'S Geneva-based spokesman.

Powell said the photos appear to show that Myanmar wasn't hit as hard as other countries. Aid agencies share that assessment - at least as far as the mainland, where some groups have been allowed to send assessment teams.

But the situation is much more unclear on the offshore islands. No one outside Myanmar even knows how many people may live there, and the government is sensitive about allowing access because it has military bases in the south.

"One of the areas we are concerned about is ... the archipelago to the west of the mainland coast," said Sean Healy, spokesman for Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in Australia , pointing out that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, off India to the west, were devastated.

"That is the worst-case scenario," he said. "Until we go there, we’re not going to be sure."

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Myanmar Red Cross have hired boats and were to assess the islands on Tuesday and Wednesday, ICRC spokesman Eros Bosisio said.

Nearly 150 Myanmar nationals living in New Delhi demonstrated Tuesday near the Myanmar Embassy on the 57th anniversary of their Independence Day, demanding the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees and dialogue to restore democracy.

Former Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes, who led the demonstration, accused the military regime of hiding tsunami damage.

"They can never be expected to tell the truth," he said.

Fernandes said he didn't know how many people have died there, "but the figure is much more than what they are saying."

Zin Linn, spokesman for National Coalition Government of Union of Burma, the umbrella organization for Myanmar dissidents and ethnic nationals, claimed the death toll is 400 to 600.

"The military government has deployed large numbers of troops into the areas and is not allowing people to speak about the damage," Zin Linn said.

So Myint, the New Delhi-based editor of a Burmese pro-democracy Web site, said the total could be as high as 5,000.

"There is no news of casualties from Coco Islands close to India 's Andaman and Nicobar Islands ," So Myint said. "The government also says the Margui region in Myanmar close to southern Thailand has escaped damage. How can that be? More than 5,000 people have died in Thailand ."

Exiled Burmese who live near the delta Irrawadi township estimate 400-500

dead in five towns alone - Busshin, Laputta, Bogalay, Pharporn and Ngabudaw, and say Victoria Point also was hit badly. In Busshin and Laputta, about 7,000 shanty houses were washed away and about 70 fishing boats sank, they said.

However, Kyaw Kyaw Khai, who works at the 70-room Chaung Tha Bungalow beach resort in Irrawadi, said everything was fine, with no dead or damage where he works.

"We only felt shaking. Water receded from the beach for about one kilometer (more than a half mile), and 10 minutes later, the water came up to the beach at the normal level," he told The Associated Press by telephone, adding that he had no information about the towns that the exile groups say were hit badly.

A computer model of the tsunami suggests Myanmar could have been hit as hard by the waves as nearby southern Thailand , said Steven Ward, a research geophysicist at the University of California , Santa Cruz .

The model, however, has not been validated with real-world measurements, he said.

Associated Press writers Sutin Wannabovorn in Bangkok, Meraiah Foley in Sydney, Elaine Ganley in Paris, Alexander G. Higgins in Geneva, Michael McDonough in London, Tini Tran in New Delhi and Matthew Fordahl in San Jose contributed to this story.


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