Monday, June 29, 2009

New Military Offensive Creates More Misery for Burma’s Karen People

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We go now to the Thai Burma border, where thousands of Burmese, ethnic Karen people have fled to recent weeks, following an escalation of fighting between Karen rebels the Burmese army and their former allies the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

Rebels claim that this latest offensive is aimed at wiping out any opposition ahead of the so-called multi-party elections scheduled for 2010.

About 4,000 refugees, mostly women and children have arrived since the offensive began in the first week of June.

They have brought little with them except stories of trauma and suffering and fears for those left behind, which they shared with our reporter Kong Janoi.
It is the wet season in Mae On Son, a terrible time to be living in temporary shelters.

A sick child is crying. A thin plastic sheet is the only protection for this medical clinic. There is only one health work to care for the sick. Nan Hti arrived recently after the fight reached her village.

“After we heard gun fire, we all ran from our village, we could not take anything with us. I was struggling to run because I had five children with me. One child from our group died on the way while because of malaria.”

The refugees are taking shelter in a new camp about one hundred kilometers north of Mae Sot, a border town where around 100 hundred thousand other Karen refugees have settled.

It’s a thirty-minute hike up the mountain to reach the new camp.

Gun-fire from clashes between Burmese troops and Karen rebels can be heard in the distance.

The Burmese troops began this latest offensive against the Karen National Union rebels in early June after the rebel’s resisted attempts by the Junta, who is allied with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) to establish a border force.

The rebels earlier rejected a ceasefire offer from the junta and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which demanded that the groups unite under one banner to establish a ‘Border Guard’ force.

The rebels say they would lose their army if they accepted the junta’s offer. They believe that their intention is to wipe out all opposition ahead of the promised multi-party elections scheduled for 2010.

Naw Paw Gay from the Karen Information Center says the Burmese troops and DKBA want to rid the area of Karen rebels troops in order to make border guard troop after coming election.

“This offensive against the Karen rebels KNU is amid to clear KNU from this area. As the junta constitution, in coming 2010 election, there were no aim groups in Burma so the groups can co-operate with junta as border guard otherwise the Burmese troops will fight them to end of their enemies. DKBA accepted junta policy as border guard so they have been collaborating with Burmese troop an offensive KNU."

To help there cause the Karen Information Center is distributing a video recording of fighting on the frontline.

Mahn Nyien Maung a Central committee member of the rebel group says they will fight until the end. He is wants all the people of Burma to rise up against military rule.

"As everybody knows the military government in Burma has done nothing to promote the transition to democracy and they offer no ethnic rights. They even kill our respected, innocent monks so they definitely don’t care about the people. All ethnic groups and civilians should unite. We should not be divided even though our enemy uses game amongst us and we should fight together to end military brutal rule and for democracy and ethnic rights in Burma.”

The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar's central government for more than 60 years.

In a separate statement the Karen Women Organization (KWO) said two young Karen women were raped and murdered last week by Burmese soldiers.

Burmese soldiers captured the two women, aged 17 and 18, after their husbands fled into the jungle. One of them was pregnant whilst the other was a mother of a six-month old baby.

Karen Women’s Organisation secretary Dah Eh Kler says ASEAN countries should do more to help her people.

“We appeal to the international communities to put pressure on the junta over this latest offensive. Some countries may say it is a domestic problem but it is spreading to all our neighbor countries. Burma is an ASEAN member and ASEAN has a responsibility concerning human right abuses and escalating wars.”

The junta is reported to have assembled more troops in the region in recent days. The rebels are reported to have withdrawn from some strongholds after suffering heavy causalities.

Meanwhile more and more people are arriving at Mae On Son camp. More than 4,000 have come so far.

This is in addition to the 100,000 sheltering in camps to the south and nearly half a million, according to aid agencies, who are displaced inside eastern Burma.

Thai authorities and other aid agencies are struggling to provide essential aid.

Nan Hti doesn't know what to do next.

“We are just sitting here and thinking. If there is peace in my village I will go back. We love our home and we want to stay there. We left our farms and struggles there. We cannot run from the war anymore. It is too hard. We just want peace to last forever.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Burmese Refugees Celebrate Birthday of Imprisoned Suu Kyi

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Burmese democracy hero Daw Aung San Suu Kyi turned 64 last Friday the 19th of June.

But there were unlikely to be celebrations at the notorious Insein prison, in the Burmese capital Yangon, where Suu Kyi remains imprisoned.

She is on trial for charges of violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home last month.

The trial is widely viewed as an excuse to keep her locked up until elections, scheduled for next year are held. U.N. human-rights investigators have condemned her arrest, labeling it a "flagrant" rights violation.

In Mae Sot, on the Thai Burma border, thousands of Burmese refugees honored Suu Kyi’s struggle with celebrations and ceremonies marking her birthday.

Asia Calling reporter Kong Janoi was there for the celebrations and filed this report.

Hundreds of Burmese refugees joined celebrations for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday in Mae Sot.

In music and dance and with words of praise they honored her efforts to achieve democracy in their homeland.

U Zaw Wot is convinced that only she can end the military junta’s rule.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the only current leader in Burma who is known as a political and moral force. She is respected by many and I think only she can deliver democracy for the Burmese and also solve ethnic issues.”

But others are more cautious.

U Kyaw Han, a former chairman of the All Student Rakhine Congress says Ms Suu Kyi is certainly a democracy hero but she may not be able to resolve Burma’s ethnic divisions. He believes ethnic people need to stand up for themselves.

“We have to separate the two sides of Suu Kyi’s leadership. She is perfect to lead Burma’s democracy movement, but I don't think she will be able to represent the interests of all ethnics groups in Burma.”

Nan Dah Eh Kler, a secretary of Karen Women Organization says it is too soon to know what Ms Suu Kyi can do for Karen people.

“It is hard to say whether Ms Suu Kyi represents the Karen people because she has not met Karen civilians or had discussions with them about their problems. But as we observed in her speechs in the past, she did mention ethnic problems. We have to wait and see if she can solve these when the time comes.”

Regardless of Ms Suu Kyi’s track record on issues of ethnic divide it is clear that, for Burmese women in particular, she is a potent symbol of their struggle for human rights.

Nan Dah says her organization is using the day of her birth, to mark the struggles of all women in Burma.

“All along the border, we are participating with people and other civil society organizations in the campaign for Ms Suu Kyi’s release. There is no justice at all in her arrest. It shows that in Burma, women do not have protection and always become victims. We can not image how women are abused in the rural areas and war zones in Burma.”

In Mae Sot, women planted trees and released birds to mark the passing of her 64th year and hopes for her speedy release from prison.

Their condemnation is an echo of the outrage and concern expressed by leaders and human rights groups across the world.

Tin Tin Aung from the Women’s League of Burma says if the military junta is sincere in its commitment to a so called roadmap for democracy, it must free Ms Suu Kyi.

“Without the release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, there will be no inclusive political process and there will be no peaceful transition and no reconciliation and also no lauching of peace and democracy in Burma. So it is important to call international communities to demand for release Aung San Suu Kyi also all political prisoners, to start a dialogue process, review this 2008 constitution and condemn and denounce coming the 2010 elections.”