Thursday, October 30, 2008

Burma gems auction shrugs off Western sanctions

November 17th, 2007 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Trade.jpgBurma is holding it’s first auction of gems and jade since its deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The auction defies a tightening of sanctions and calls for a boycott of its jewel trade.

The poverty-stricken country is the source of up to 90 percent of the world’s rubies, and each auction of precious stones rakes in more than 100 million dollars, making it a key source of revenue for the military regime.

With financial sanctions being placed, it is getting increasingly difficult for the Burmese generals to move their money around.

And as King Kong Janoi reports from the border town of Myawaddy, the weak Burmese currency is bringing cross-boarder trade to a stand-still.

“At the movement, there are only a few trucks filled with goods crossing into Burma. Earlier this year there were many big trucks going in and out of Burma filled with things such as oil, gas, seasoning and basic commodities.”

That’s U Tun Soe a long time resident of the boarder town of Myawaddy.

A Burmese trader Ma Nam says the stand-still in trade is due to the poor exchange rate.

“If the Thai Baht is weak, we can buy cheap goods and can sell them easily in Burma. But the Thai baht is getting stronger and stronger, the Burmese kyat is getting weaker and weaker”

One Thai baht buys 40 Burmese kyat. A month ago one baht was equal to 30 kyat.

Traders here also blame the military junta for their hardships.

Ma Aung Aung says she is saddled with high taxes and lengthy delays.

The junta has banned the import of many basic commodities like oil and condense milk, to ensure it retains tight control over the movement of goods.

Ma Aung Aung says that the dramatic fuel increase in August has had a huge impact on her import-export business.

The cost of transport makes it unprofitable to import she says.

Economist Dr Kyaw Nyut, says Burma was not ready for a such a fuel price increase.

“When the Burmese junta increased the price of fuel five times it had a dramatic impact on the price of everything. Salaries have not increase but the cost of transport has. I can’t imagine how people are surviving.�?

Ma Nam who runs a big jewelry shops in Rangoon says business is extremely quiet.

“As you know, the economy is bad in Burma so people only buy the things they need to survive.�?

She says, there are many shops in Rangoon who are on the verge of closing down.

The military junta has blame the slow economic growth on the national sanctions imposed on them by western nations.

International outrage over the brutal crackdown on the monk-led protests has led to tighter Western sanctions on the regime, including moves by the United States and European Union to target the gems trade.

Kyaw Lin Oo, a Burmese political science student argues sanction must target companies associated with the junta.

“We need a sanction to attack the policy of Burmese junta. But of course we worry that they make the life of original people harder. That is why we want more and more targeted sanctions. The US government must not stop the import of every product from Burma. It’s better to target businesses associated with the generals. For example every business owned by Tay Za has been affected by the sanctions. We believe that this is directly hurts the generals rather than the original people. This is what we want.�?

However many argue that the sanctions from the West are having no impact on the junta.

Most of Burma’s trade is with it’s Asian neighbors Thailand, China and India which have ignored calls for sanctions on the regime.

Professor Win Min.

“So far, I don’t see much impact on economy because all the government in region including China and India are not involving sanction on Burma but instant they have been engaged with military so that this engagement make the sanction not really have been impact in Burmese economic.�?

At the gem action in Yangon most of the 3,000 foreign buyers are from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand.

The generals are estimated to have earned around 750 million US dollars since they began holding official gem and jade sales in 1964.

A far bigger number of precious stones are smuggled out.

In neighbouring Thailand, where the majority of the gems are bought and sold, stone merchants have yet to be put off business with the junta.

*1119*: ဍဳင္ဗဿာဆလအ္ၿပံင္သၜာဲေရာ


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Digging up the Past in Northern Thailand

October 25th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Thai_archaeologist__web_.JPGThis week our profile of an inspiring Asia woman comes from the mountainous province of Mae Hong Son in northern Thailand bordering Burma.

For this is where we find Thailand’s first female highland archeologist at work.

Since 2001 Rasmi Shoocongdej has unearthed a wealth of new archaeological information from pre-historic burial sites including ancient teak coffins and skeletons which date back 12,000 years.

King Kong Janoi spent a day with her digging up the past.

Rasmi Shoocongdej has an interesting morning walk to work. She climbs up steep mountains to excavate ancient burial sites.

“It is really hard because nowadays there are no allot of women who work in the field, I see no one willing to work in the area that is rough in terms of get into the field work in the jungle. Most of them are interest historical period and pre-historical period which is easy to get access to. I like the challenge I don’t like to do something that is easy that is why I still keep going. I hope that with my example I can be something for new generation they could look for and then they say that “Hey I want to do something like that it is not difficult to do it”.

Between 2001 and 2006, her team has unearthed a rich wealth of new archaeological information from the burial sites.

“I think I proud of that I have a chance to do something for people who live in the marginal area. I bring their life, their history and their culture to the world.”

Indeed they should feel proud.

The rock shelter of Ban Rai dates back between 12,000 and 600 years.

Better known among locals as the Spirit Cave, it is believed to have been inhabited in ancient times by a prehistoric form of man.

The area was also used as a burial ground. A number of teak coffins and human remains dating to early 8000 BC have been unearthed.

Now tourists are led by local guides around the ancient burial ground.

Australian John Spies runs a guest house near the historic site.

“What the people used to do was, get a big teak log, split in half length way, dig out the interior for space to put the body or to put the possessions of the dead person and use one half as the lid then they would support this somehow on natural rock shelters in the cave.”

Rasmi says it’s incredible that the wood coffins have remained intact.

“Most of the teak there are some selection because they cut the teak dating between 100 years old and 80 years old, 300 years old so they have prepared the teak because they cut the tree and let it really die while it is standing. So when you crave it will not break. That is why it still is in really good quality because it’s dried out the people who created the log coffins must of had special knowledge about wood.”

Although there is evidence that in the late Ice Age of Europe, humans migrated from Asia to North America and within Asia, there is only limited information about the Ice Age in Southeast Asia.

So far, less than 10 archaeological sites dating back to that period have been uncovered in Southeast Asia.

The mountain ranges Mae Hong Son are known for their well-preserved archaeological traces from the Ice Age because ice there melted more slowly than on lower plains.

As an outsider Rasmi says she had to build up trust with the local community before beginning evacuation work.

“You have to use a different approach. You have to start from zero by learning and try to understand the different culture first. After that everything get easy but at the beginning it is not easy at all because you don’t know the languages, you don’t know the culture, you don’t know what they believe. What people think about archeology? because they think touch it you touch the spirits.”

She says she spend years trying to win the trust of the local community before she started work.

“I am afraid when someone will yell at me that I stole their cultural heritage. It happened one time because we did not explain to the people that who we are. And they just yells at us when we enter the village “You are a liar” I feel that oh my God! I encounter those kinds of fears.”

However with her support, a community museum has been set up in the village.

Every month, about 15 villagers voluntarily take turns to clean the track leading to the site and repair any damages.

50 year old, Punnee who lives near the rock shelter says at first they were suspicious about Rasmis work.

“This is our believe that you can’t touch those things or the spirit will haunt you. But now we understand what she is doing. Because of her many people know us. Because of her many people care about us. They respect our culture. She is our great leader for our community.”

Before, the local children were afraid of the coffins. They believed they were haunted.

Now, many of them have joined the community’s Little Guides Programme to help visitors understand the cave and the local culture better.

16 years old Pa Wi Na is one of them.

“Before I was really afraid of the spirit cave, I never went there alone. Now I am happy to be a guide for tourist because I can earn money.”

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Local people spirit in Thailand Burma border

Most of people in this village, they give respect for their culture believe in the remote area northern Thailand connect to Burma.

Refugees in Karenni Camp one

Photo By Kong Janoi

Joking about the Junta: Burmese Comedians Use Satire as a Weapon

February 9th, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Commedy__web_.GIFThe military regime in Burma keeps a tight rein over freedom of speech.

Films, music, journals, and newspapers must past the censorship board before being published.

Despite this, one comedian troupe, Thee Lay Thee bravely criticizes the junta with a dynamic live performance and film.

King Kong Janoi attended one of their shows in Chiang Mai to find out more.

Five Burmese comedians, sing we will fight the military government with jokes as our weapon.

Even though we may go to jail, we will do it!

The audience of more than a hundred Burmese migrants roars with laugher.

This group called Thee Lay Thee is renowned for its edgy political satire.

After the show student Nai Aung is still laughing about one of their jokes.

“You know, the joke about Burma’s leaders showing off in front of other world leaders. The American president says proudly at a gathering of statesmen: “An American without legs can climb Mount Everest,” the Russian president then says, “A Russian without arms can swim across the Atlantic.” The other world leaders are stunned by these two statements but then the Burmese leader comes to the rescue and says, “In my country, a man without a head and brain can run the country for 20 years.”

When performed on stage this joke draws loud applause from the audience.

40 year Godzilla the leader of the group says their show reflects how the Burmese people feel.

“When we write comedy scripts, we base them on how people are feeling and suffering. We travel and go in the field and talk to people. They tell us what is happening to them. So the rulers know what is going we retell their stories in the form of jokes.”

The show is full of funny routines about corruption, the lack of electricity and the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations last September.

Jokes that could see the comedians end up in jail in Burma for a long time.

But Godzilla boasts on stage that they are touring the world.

“After this performance in Thailand, we’re going to perform in other countries, including Singapore, South Korea, the United States, Canada and Germany. After that, we’re going to perform in Moscow.”

A big laugh sweeps over the audience. In Burma, ‘Moscow’ means prison.

Amazingly the group performed in Rangoon last November, just one month after the pro-democracy protests were crushed by the military.

Before the show authorities requested they sign a document saying they would not make political jokes.

A request they ignored.

But right after the performance they left the country and have been traveling ever since.

Godzilla says they will go back.

“But right now we want to tell the Burmese communities outside the country about the real situation inside. They may not really know what is happening and we want to show them our traditional a-nyeint performance.”

Many of their supporters worry about their safety.

The ruling Burmese generals view political comedians as enemies.

Fellow comedians Zarganar and Par Par Lay were jailed for a month during the September pro-democracy demonstrations.

Previously, both were imprisoned for several years.

In 2004 Zarganar produced a highly popular film that joked about corruption and the lack of electricity.

It was banned by the military government.

However the film is widely available in neighboring Thailand.

Back on stage Godzilla is telling a joke about the temples having to be shutdown during the September uprising.

“As comedians we have to expose our countries weaknesses. The people are suffering because of the wrongs of our rulers. We may not be able to change their behavior but we have to expose it. We are like a bridge between the people and the rulers.”

The troupe ends their performance with a song about how the junta murder demonstrations last September.

The troupe says they will continue traveling and pushing the boundaries of expression.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Torture and Exhaustion: The Story of a Porter for the Burmese Military

February 2nd, 2008 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

porter__web_.JPGReports from Karen State in eastern Burma say that the army’s annual dry season offensive against the Karen National Union is under way.The KNU has been fighting for independence from the military government for almost 60 years.

In the past two years, the Burmese army has intensified a scorched earth campaign in Karen State, resulting in a growing humanitarian crisis.

Human rights groups say that the army often uses captured civilians as forced labor.

They work as porters carrying ammunition and supplies for the troops.Many have died from assault, exhaustion, and sickness.

King Kong Janoi spoke with one man who was seriously beaten when he worked as a hired porter ffor Infantry Battalion no. 18 in the Karen state.
Ko San Win walks slowly towards me; every bone in his body hurts.

He has a kind face that’s framed by curly black hair but his eyes reveal the suffering he has been through.

Ko San rarely leaves this simple bamboo home.

“My wife works as a cleaner and my daughter in a shoe factory. I can’t work because my whole body aches. Our family is struggling to survive.”

He’s tiny body now aches because of the torture he was subjected to while working as a porter for the Burmese military in the Karen State.

Human rights groups say that the army often uses captured civilians as slave labour.

They are forced to work as porters carrying ammunition and supplies for the troops. However Ko San Win is different.

He chose to become a porter out of economic hardship.

“I was on the brink of selling my farm in the Mon state. I though I could kill two birds with one stone, I could travel and make some money. I thought the trip would go smoothly.”

But he says the journey turned into a nightmare.

Kon San Win says for five days he trekked with the military through the jungle covered mountains of the Karen State

It rained night and day and they had to sleep out in the open.

He claims he was subject to beatings along the way.

“I asked a soldier who was walking behind me for some water. Instead of giving me water, he insulted me and kicked me in the waist. The kick was so strong that I fell to the ground. I had to carry about 35 kilograms of food and supplies. I said to them, you can kill me but I am unable to move without water.”

Ko San Win says the soldiers treated all the porters very cruelly.

Due to physical exhaustion on the four day he had a serious fall.

“I was dehydrated and had not eaten because the army did not give me enough food and water. So I fell from the top of the mountain. My face, my head and body was full of blood. I was unconscious for a while and then I heard a loud thump next to me. A solider had thrown down baggage next to me and told me to carry it.�?

After the fall, a fellow porter offered to carry some of his bags.

But a sergeant stopped them and beat them with the butt of his gun, he says.

Ko San Win lifts up his shirt and shows me bruises and cuts still on his body, two months after the beatings.

Ko San was only able to leave when his wife paid 2,000 baht or 64 USD to the army.

When he arrived home, a member of the New Mon State Party paid for his treatment in hospital.

Nai Aue Mon from the Human Rights group ‘Mon-Lan’ says Kon San is very lucky to have come home alive.

“Many people have been killed when they could no longer carry things and were weak. The soldiers just shot them in the field. Some of the porters are pay but it’s not just because they are some times forced to work until they die of exhaustion. We have recorded many cases like this in our database.�?

Ko San Win earned 1,000 baht or 32 US dollars for five days with the military.

But he says he will never do it again.

He is paying for it with pain for the rest of his life.

I called the Southeast military officer in Moulmein to check Kon San Win’s story.

However the military officers refused to answer questions and then disconnected the line.

Kon San win doesn’t want to fight for justice.

For now he just happy to be home alive.

“I didn’t think that I would survive. I really thank those people who have helped me. When I came home I could barely walk, eat or go to the toilet. All of my body was seriously injured and full of abscesses. You can imagine injuries that went without treatment for days.�?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Burma the world’s second biggest producer of opium

October 27th, 2007 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Drug__web_.JPGThe Burmese military junta is not only running one of the world’s most repressive regimes, it is also presiding over a massive illegal drug trade.

The United Nations (UN) has confirmed that Burma has established itself as the world’s second biggest producer of opium, the base drug that heroin is made from.

The biggest is Afghanistan.

The UN says cultivation in Burma has risen by nearly 30 per cent this year and the country is now pumping out more methamphetamine as well.

King Kong Janoi reports on how the trade is propping up the military regime.

“There are a lot of high military officers involved in the massive drug trafficking trade. They are rich and act with impunity.�?

That’s Ko Toe Lwin from the Opposition National League for Democracy party.

He is deeply involved in drug addict rehabilitation programs in Burma.Experts say most of the illegal drug trade is across the Chinese boarder.

Lway Cherry is the general secretary of the Palong Women’s Organizations, who works on the Burma-China boarder.

“The Burmese military regime ignores the big opium operators that belong to the opium trade centre because they are paid corruption money. They just arrest the little fish, the poor farmers. That’s why there is a massive increase in the drug trade. More and more people in our community in Palong are becoming drug addicts and more opium is being cultivation�?.

The UN blames the increased drug production on high-level collusion, corruption, and the country’s leaky borders.

It is also the result of the success in other areas - less opium cultivated across the region has pushed up its price, making it more attractive.

But fellow activist Lway Bo Bo, says the local people are not seeing any of the money.

“It’s control by big bosses, those people who are able to invest large amounts of money. The local Palong people just become the workers in the fields. The Big bosses with links to the military benefit while the Palong people become drug addicts.�?

Burma has serious drug addiction problem.

And Ko Toe Lwin says there are no rehabilitation or education programs to help people with a drug addiction.

“The worse thing in Burma is that many parents take her drug addicted sons to the police! The police then sent them to jail. There their addiction gets worse because in jail they can get drugs easily.�?

The number of drug addicts in Burma is unknown as there no official data.

However Lway Cherry says the situation is getting worse in her community.

“There are no hospitals in there area in rural area so when women give birth or people have a fever they take opium as medicine. If they use it often it will became drug addicts. Before we did not see women using drug, now many women use drugs. It’s terrible for the children they have to leave school and go and work.�?

Cherry says one couple who were addict to drugs sold their five-year old daughter to traffickers who took her top China.

Ko Toe Lwin from the NLD party says a free press and democracy is needed to fight the drug trade and addiction.

“Because now we can not even talk about the drugs problem in Burma. The government controlled newspapers never talk about the drugs problem, so how can we educate people and solve the crisis.�?

U Khun Sein, is an editor of Shan Herald Agency for News which focuses on Burma’s ethnic Shan community.

He also is an expert on the Burmese drug trade.

He argues it’s unlikely that the military government will crackdown on the drug trade as they desperately need the money it creates.

“The military regime is building military bases around the country to maintain it’s control. As a result it’s struggling to pay all the soldiers. So they desperately need money and they are getting that in the drug trade. If we want to put an end to drug trafficking, we have put an end to the military regime and bring democracy to Burma.�?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Burma’s ethnic minorities fight to save their culture

October 20th, 2007 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Asia Calling

The Burmese military government has been at war for 50 years with 17 ethnic rebel groups fighting for independence.

Burmans, of Tibetan ethnic origin, form 70 percent of the population, but there are other distinct ethnic groups including the Mon are demanding independence.

Their unique culture and way of life is disappearing under the repressive Burmese regime.

This week, academics came together in Bangkok to find away to keep alive Mon language and culture.

Asia Calling’s King Kong Janoi attended the conference find out more.

She sings about the invasion and massacre of the Mon at the hands of Burmese ruler U Aungzeya in 1757.

Mon people were persecuted, oppressed, and enslaved she cries.
Their possessions were looted and burned throughout Burma; and many were forced to flee towards Thailand.

Nai Sunthon is the Chairman of the Mon United League in Thailand.

“They lost their country. Our people, culture, literature is disappearing."

There are believed to be around eight million Mon people left.

However the majority use modern Burmese to do business.

25 year old Mi Hong Sar says her generation rarely uses their language.

“If you go to a big city like in Rangoon if you speak Mon they look down on you. In Burma you can see them they don’t want to speak in Mon so the people from Mon State when they come to visit in the city they have to speak in Burmese. Even they are not clear to speak in Burmese. It means that like may be a kind of discrimination to the people."

Amnesty International has accused the current Burmese military government of carrying out a reign of terror against ethnic minorities.

They claim the army subjects the Shan, Mon and Karen ethnic groups to forced labour, extortion and land confiscation.

Scholar Nai Maung says if young Mons want to be successful they have to leave their cultural heritage and language behind.

“In Rangoon, children who want to get high marks at school they don’t have time to learn the Mon language or culture. For example, I said that I would teach children during the summer holidays. I said that I would do it for free. But everyone said sorry our children have to study for normal school. It is a big problem."

After General Naw Win took power in 1962, Mon books, magazines and journals came under tight government control.

Nai Ghosita, a Mon Buddhist Monk adds that the government puts restrictions on language.

“At the time of General Naw Win government, the Mon leaders including monks and politicians demanded the government to allow students in Mon State and Mon dominated area to take school lessons in Mon language but it was turn down."

Due to the situation inside Burma, many Mon’s have fled across the boarder to Thailand.

Nai Ong, is the chairman of the Mon youth organization. He is trying to keep alive the Mon culture in exile.

“I am lobbying among Mon people who live in Thailand to speak Mon. As myself when I was young, I am very shy to speak Mon with father when we go to shopping. But now all are finish, I have known Mon history it was very grateful nation in the past so I am dare to speak Mon in everywhere.”

Nai Ghosita says if action is not taken now the Mon language and way of life will be lost for ever.

“All Mon people have to aware, they should not to be asleep because we should aware an example of the Phyu people. The Phyu is totally extinguished; they are no more history in the Burma now. The main reason for it, the Burmese they try to Burmanize the Phyu and now there is no more Phyu. So we have take the example of this very seriously and we have to be awoken and we have to be alert to persevere our great history of our race and to persevere our literature and culture.”

He is hoping that this week’s conference in Bangkok, where everyone is speaking Mon, will be one step in achieving this goal.

Burmese Student Leaders Plan a Revolution Through Education

February 23rd, 2008 by King Kong Janoi , Asia Calling

Military government has announced that a draft of the nation’s new constitution has been completed. The draft will be put to a referendum in May, and be followed by elections in 2010, according to state media.

Little is known of the contents of the document, which was drawn up without the participation of the country’s political opposition or ethnic groups.

The country has not had a constitution since the military seized power in 1990, after refusing the recognise Ms Suu Kyi’s victory in the national election.

The political deadlock has had a impact on all aspects of Burmese life, including education.

Burmese youth groups in exile in Thailand are fighting to have the junta overthrown.

As King Kong Janoi reports they are doing that through education.

A group of Burmese students and migrant workers are listening to a lecturer about the political process back in their homeland. This event in the northern city of Chiang Mai is run by the Overseas National Students Organisation of Burma.

Ma Thi-ri Chit Sein is the spokesperson for the group.

“We are not satisfied with this situation right now. If all of us get involved in our countries political crisis one day we may achieve the goal and we can solve problems as such economy hardship. But to get that we have to be prepared to make sacrifices ourselves. If we don’t pay anything, we never get it.”

Thiri believes the key to creating change is educating and empowering young minds.

As part of this campaign they provide computer training to the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers and Burmese students in Thailand.

“We train young people how to use computers because nowadays if the people can use computer and internet they can access more information and they can develop more knowledge. We have some newspapers in the country but they can reach the world through the internet. That’s why we are encouraging to give computer training for youth.”

There are no official figures of Burmese university students in Thailand but it is believed that there are more than a thousand.

Ko Zin Lat who studies at Assumption University in Bangkok says it’s hard to get a good education in Burma.

The universities he says are in a very poor state.

Having a Burmese degree is like having a fake document he says.

One of my friends, he continues, did medicine at university but when he finished he was not confident enough to work as a doctor because his schooling was so poor.

“But mostly young people in Burma can not to university because they are working and trying to survive.”

He believes if more young people in Burma receive an education then the movement against the military government will grow stronger.

“Many students from the universities were involved in the September uprisings. Educated people learn about what democracy is and how developed the outside world. You know our country is weak in education and weak in business because of the military dictatorship.”

But Kyaw Lin Oo from the Thai NGO believes poor uneducated people are the real hero’s of the fight for democracy in Burma.

“Those outside the country get a good education and they have good access to information technology but the young people who are living inside face the reality of the military government everyday. The people who are living inside are the courageous ones who have being fighting against the military regime.”

Burmese NGO worker in Thailand Ko Kyaw Lin Oo says most people in Burma are poor and struggling.

“They don’t have education and they don’t have a job. They don’t have income so they are hopeless. They have only one hope that to remove the junta. If they remove junta, they know every thing will change in their life. May be they don’t know what is democracy? And what is human right? They know how is poor in their right now.”

Back at the meeting of young Burmese in Chiang Mai, Thi-ri from the overseas student organization is calling on everyone to join the fight for democracy in Burma.

“Only young people can not solve the problem, all people, all classes must be involved and only then will we achieve our goal. It’s time a younger generation took over. But the problem is that the junta is closes their eyes and ears. Young minds are filled with what the junta wants them to think. Only people, who are living outside country can access information and learn about another way to live.”