Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mon People Celebrate Their Culture and Call for Democracy in Burma

February 16th, 2009 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Burma_Mon_Day_2__web_.JPGMon people all over the world celebrated their national day this week.

The day is aimed at celebrating the rich Mon culture, something that Mon people living in Burma are unable to do.

On the Thai Burma border where thousands of refugees live, the celebrations were particularly vigorous.

There the youth movement for the creation of a democratic multi-ethnic Burma is thriving.

Our reporter King Kong Janoi travelled to the Thai Burma Border to witness the celebrations and filed this report.

On the Thai Burma border Mon refugees were determined and joyful when celebrating their National Day this week.

Hundreds of Mon, many of them young people, waved flags representing their village or group.

For six decades now ethnic Mon people have been struggling for self-determination in Burma and the right to preserve their rich culture.

The history of their repression dates back more than 200 years. Today they are routinely subjected to torture, imprisonment and rape by the military regime.

Thousands have fled the country to an uneasy existence in Thailand.

Speakers of the Mon language number less than a million but there may be as many as eight million people in the world of Mon descent.

Nai Suthon is the chairman of the Mon United League, established in 1996.

“The objective of Mon National Day is to organize Mon people, to maintain our Mon Culture and custom and to spread the message from one village to another. If we don’t do that we worry that the Mon people will forget and remain silent and eventually the Mon people will disappear.”

Mon dancers entertained the crowds. Such cultural displays are usually banned inside Burma. But the military junta even allowed a small celebration within the country this year.

Nai Suthon says he supports the establishment of a federal democracy in Burma.

“We support federalism, if we isolated ourselves it is not good. If we cannot achieve federalism, I think the political crisis in Burma is not possible to be overcome; we have to struggle until what we call self determination.”

The Burmese military leadership have long suppressed minorities in an effort, they say, to build and sustain Burmese nationalism.

Whilst some Mon elders have rallied for the establishment of an independent state, many of today’s youth agree that the unity of Burma is important. A Shan youth, Sai Leik explains.

“We need federalism and democracy at the same time because we are ethnic people in Burma, not equal to mainlanders in central Burma, so we need equal between us. So if they did not consider tripartite, it may difficult to solve ethnic problem in Burma. I mean ethnic is main issue and main concern in Burma because of the country is multi-ethnic country so they must consider ethnic people, ethnic politics.”

Many ethnic groups are demanding a tripartite dialogue with the military regime, to include all democratic and ethnic groups.

But the idea is a long way from being achieved.

The military regime says it is continuing its seven steps road-map to democracy and demands that all ethnic groups lay down their arms. The road-map has been described by critics as a sham.

Most ethnic groups, including the New Mon State party are refusing to participate in the 2010 election.

And there are many Mon youth still fighting for independence.

Mon Youth Nai Chan Jit says democracy without consideration of ethnic diversity is meaningless in Burma.

“This is different religious background, different language, different culture. If you just give them democracy and let speak only Burmese language I pretty much sure, they will fight back again.”

But Chan Jit also says it is impossible for all of Burma’s ethnic peoples to be independent.

“We also need to look at geographical location of the country, the country is between China and India which is very giant and very big so we can not properly survive if only small group like Mon and Shan success and live independently so we have to join together but with some guarantee for their rights this ethnic people only that we can solve the problem. Therefore, most people like federalism.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Plight of Rohingya’s in the Spotlight Again

February 7th, 2009 by King Kong Janoi Print This Post/Page

Thai Refugees (web).JPGAs another boatload of Rohingya refugees arrives on the shores of Indonesia, Thailand is once again in the spotlight for its treatment of the stateless Muslim minority group.

Thai security forces stand accused of dumping more than one thousand Rohingya at sea in early January.

About 500 or so have been rescued but hundreds remain missing.

Whilst Indonesia is debating what to do with the 400 or so Rohingya in its care, Thailand continues to defend its actions in the face of growing international condemnation.

King Kong Janoi has the story.

According to Amnesty International thousands of Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group, flee Burma each year. The military regime denies their existence in the country and routinely subjects them to imprisonment and torture.

Benjamin Zawacki is a researcher for Amnesty International’s Southeast Asia Team.

“Well, certainly they’ve suffered human rights abuses on a vast and widespread scale in Myanmar. And again it’s been claimed that they’ve suffered human rights abuses or violations in Thailand as well.”

Many thousands have settled in Bangladesh in recent years. But others attempt a treacherous journey south to Malaysia, often using Thailand as a transit point.

Accusations of mistreatment at the hands of Thai authorities surfaced earlier this month after nearly 650 Rohingya were rescued off India and Indonesia.

Reports suggest that after being detained and beaten, multiple boatloads of about 1,000 Rohingya were towed out to by the Thai navy sea over a month beginning in December. They were deserted without engines and little food or water.
Whilst conceding they towed the Rohingya out to sea Thailand has consistently denied mistreating the Rohingya.

A request to be interviewed for this story was declined by the government.

Somsri Hananuntasuk is with Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma. She says the government came to power on a platform of protecting human rights. But their recent actions suggest otherwise.

“I know that the government don’t want to be an enemy with the navy or the police or military because they are like a limb of the government. If they don’t cooperate with the government there will be a problem. Of course the government doesn’t want to undermine their own people but still if you want to build up the new culture of politic and human rights investigation then you have to be more transparent and do things openly. If you need to punish anybody let’s do it from now so that the authorities will learn and will do things carefully in the future.”

Amidst mounting international pressure Thailand granted the United Nations High Commission access to a group of Rohingya teenagers this week. They are part of a larger group of recent arrivals detained in southern Ranong province.

Suggestions by the UNHCR that a temporary refugee camp be established in Ranong prompted fierce protests from locals.

Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted they are illegal economic migrants who pose a threat to Thai jobs, a suggestion dismissed by labour migration experts.

Somsri says the Thai government could easily accommodate the Rohingyas.

“If the Thai government says this is a big group, I would to say that in fact this is small group compare to Burmese and Cambodian refugees who come to Thailand in the past. We still have capacity to help them. I believe that and I think we should not push them back to the ocean. They don’t their destiny whether they can go back or if they go back, they will face another problem or not it, is very risky for them.”

Not everyone in Thailand feels that the Rohingya people are a threat.

Nok sells fried chicken on the streets of Bangkok.

She feels positive about illegal migrants who enter Thailand.

“Migrant people come to Thailand to work here, but it doesn’t mean that they will take our jobs because they do the jobs that Thai people don’t want to do. For example, they work in construction. I am not able to work on a constructions site. I will sell chicken in my shop. This kind of selling is not allowed for migrant people so they are not going to occupy my job.”

Surapong Kongchantuk is a respected human rights researcher in Bangkok.

He argues that there is wider problem of racism in Thailand that needs to be addressed.

“Among Thai society there is a belief that if you are not pure Thai then you have no right to use the resources in Thailand.”

But despite the hardship of life in a foreign country for Rohingya like Nasin, anything is better than what they leave behind.

“I cannot stay in our country because the government will not grant us citizenship. We cannot travel within our own country. The military take our land and possessions. We cannot get jobs. We cannot go to hospital if we are sick. How can we survive? We must leave and go anywhere we can. And we must always risk our lives.”