Thursday, April 4, 2013

International media go live from Myanmar

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:14 Khin Myo Thwe

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information has announced that Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, and US-based wire service Associated Press have been granted permits to open bureaus in the country.

“We are now examining the application of another Japan-based media group, Kyodo News, which also wishes to open a branch in Myanmar,” said a spokesperson from the Ministry.

Other major foreign media, including Voice of America (VOA), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), opened bureaus in Yangon in mid-2012.

Kyaw Kyaw, an official from RFA’s Myanmar branch, said that his department has 40 staff. “In the past, we had to ask permission from [headquarters in] Washington to travel to the Thai or Chinese borders to get information on Myanmar. Now we can be closely in contact with our sources.

“The benefit of working together with international media organizations is that we will be able to ascertain truthful information. The government will also benefit if they learn how to use the media correctly,” he said.
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5.5 earthquake recorded in Magway

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 12:34 Mizzima News



A moderate earthquake, measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale, was recorded in Magway (Magwe) in central Myanmar at 11 pm on Wednesday night, according to both the Naypyitaw Hydrology and Meteorology Department and the US Geological Survey (USGS).

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage to property, Chinese state media reported.

The epicenter of the quake was estimated at a location about 304 km southwest of Mandalay, 78 km southwest of Naypyitaw, and 80 km from Taungdwingyi in central Magway region.

USGS recorded the tremor at a magnitude of 5.4, and said it struck at a depth of 7.8 km.
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Suu Kyi heading to Japan

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 11:01 AFP

Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Japan from April 13 through 19, according to a Japanese statement released late Wednesday.

It will be her first visit to Japan in nearly three decades since her previous stay as a visiting researcher at the prestigious Kyoto University from 1985 to 1986, the foreign ministry said in the statement.

She is expected to visit Kyoto, to give speeches at universities, to meet Myanmar nationals living in Japan and to hold talks with Japanese political leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Her visit will come as Japan continues to court newly-liberalised Myanmar as a trading partner.

Unlike many industrialised countries, Japan maintained trade ties and generous aid for Myanmar while it was ruled by a military junta, warning that taking a hard line could push it closer to China.

Tokyo has also gently pressed the country's leaders to listen to voices of those in opposition and the international community.

Since the end of military rule in 2011, Myanmar has made visible efforts to open up to the rest of the world and has lured international firms to start operations in the potentially lucrative market.

Japanese businesses in particular have been active in the country with strong backing from Tokyo, including the cancelation of 350 billion yen ($3.7 billion) of debt and numerous aid grants.
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  2. Japan contributes half of WFP’s Myanmar program
  3. Japan’s Deputy PM reaffirms Tokyo’s commitment to Burma


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Thein Sein to visit China

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:44 Mizzima News

Visiting Myanmar President Thein Sein (R) and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao (L) inspect a military honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 27, 2011. (AFP)

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein will pay a visit to China on April 6-8 at the invitation of newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, which said that both leaders are scheduled to attend the annual conference of the Boao Forum For Asia in Hainan Province.

The theme of this year’s forum is “Asia Seeking Development for All: Restructuring, Responsibility and Cooperation”, and a number of state leaders from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas are expected to attend.

Myanmar’s MRTV and state-run New Light of Myanmar confirmed the trip, noting that this will be President Thein Sein’s third visit to China since he assumed the presidency in March 2011.
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Ambassador expects amnesty for Myanmar prisoners

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:15 Hintharni

Myanmar’s Ambassador to Thailand has said he expects some of the Myanmar prisoners in Thai jails will be granted amnesty or penalty reductions on HM Bhumibol’s 86th birthday this coming December.

Thailand's King Bhumibol may grant amnesties to many Myanmar prisoners later this year. PHOTO: Government of Thailand

Speaking to Mizzima earlier this week, Ambassador Myo Tint said, “I have submitted this request twice to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has responded positively.”

Myo Tint said that officially there are some 3,000 Myanmar prisoners in Thai jails on a range of different charges. However, unofficial estimates say there could be more than 10,000 in total.

U Myo Tint said that many of the said prisoners had been charged with drugs offenses, and that he would not seek release for those particular criminals.

He said the government of Thailand is considering lessening some sentences and granting amnesty to others, an occasion usually announced on December 5, the king’s birthday.
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  3. 452 Burmese prisoners to be released in amnesty


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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meiktila: Waiting to return home

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Wednesday, 03 April 2013 14:18 Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

In the week after shocking satellite images were released that showed the extent of the devastation in Meiktila following the riots, in which an estimated 41 people were killed and 12,000 displaced, some of the victims who lost their homes have spoken of how immediate aid is being provided, but say that what they really need is the opportunity to go back home.

Soldiers take part in clean-up operations on March 24, 2013, after an outbreak of communal violence claimed at least 32 lives and displaced about 9,000 people in Meiktila, central Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

Hnin Mya's home was gutted by a fire and he is currently taking refuge in a monastery: “Here, we have food and we can use kitchen equipment. People have made donations every day. We can use toilets and we have the required medicines. But now, we have heard that we have to move, so we need to a safe place to stay.”

Khin Thein, whose home was also destroyed by fire, said, “Plenty of groups have made donations, so we have enough food. But, there is concern about our lands and houses; we want to get our houses and lands back."

Relief organizations and residents living in Meiktila have been providing food and basic supplies to the victims.

An official from one IDP camp said, “When the fire started in the town, we carried all the necessary things we could. Some victims fled by foot, others on horse-drawn carts or cars”

Win Shein, an administrative chief in Meiktila, said, “They have unlimited access to drinking water at any time, according to their needs. And the municipality gave them bathwater. The victims also have access to food every day.”

Governmental organizations, social groups, political organizations and religious organizations have all made donations to the victims, said Win Shein.
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Investigation team formed to probe Yangon mosque fire

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Wednesday, 03 April 2013 11:58 Mizzima News

An investigation team has been formed by the Yangon Region Government to find out the exact cause of the fire that resulted in the deaths of 13 boys at the 48th Street Mosque on Tuesday.

Yangon security forces pictured outside the 48th Street Mosque on Tuesday. (Photo: Mizzima)

Fire services and government authorities initially responded with an explanation: “The fire—caused by the overheating of a transformer placed under the staircase—spread, trapping the boys sleeping in the attic. As a result, 13 twelve-year-old boys died of suffocation after inhaling smoke," a fire service officer said, reading from a statement, according to a report by Reuters.

The committee is comprised of seven members from various government bodies, including Kyi Win, the head of the Yangon Region Fire Services Department, Police Lt-Col Thet Lwin, deputy commander of the Yangon Region Police Force, and Aung Kyi, the head of Yangon Region Religious Affairs Department.

The results of their fact-finding report are due to be submitted to the regional government by April 5.
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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Suspicions flare about Yangon mosque fire

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 19:21 Mizzima News

The charred, barred windows of the upper storey of the bright blue mosque and school on Yangon's 48th Street tell a horrific tale—here, in the early hours of Tuesday, 13 young boys died in a fire that blazed through their dormitory.

The fire services and government authorities have responded quickly: “The fire—caused by the overheating of a transformer placed under the staircase—spread, trapping the boys sleeping in the attic. As a result, 13 twelve-year-old boys died of suffocation after inhaling smoke," a fire service officer said, reading from a statement, according to a report by Reuters.

Deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut echoed the line that the school fire had occurred because of a faulty transformer inside the school.

However, following the recent communal violence in central Myanmar, in which at least 43 people have died and 12,000 displaced, many observers harbor suspicions as to what may have caused this fire.

On the afternoon of April 2, as dozens of heavily armed police officers guarded 48th Street where authorities were still investigating the scene of the blaze, the funerals of the boys took place and emotions ran high among members of the surrounding Muslim community.

"We believe it was a deliberate attack," said Ruhl Amin, a translator assisting the Imam of M.M. Raunaq, a mosque on 101st Street, where surviving children and adults from the 48th Street mosque were taken on Tuesday morning.

"We asked the people who came to the mosque, senior people and children—they said they smelled gasoline. They [the suspected attackers] threw something in from outside," he said.

Their suspicions are not isolated. Eva Kusuma Sundari, ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus President and Indonesian Member of Parliament, has made a public call for justice to be sought if, in fact, it was arson.

However, if it was not, she said in her statement, "then this must be clearly proven to prevent a continued decline in inter-communal relations that threaten the security of all Burmese [Myanmar] and the fragile reform process in the country.”
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Daily newspapers finally hit newsstands

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 19:43 Khaing Khaing

Four private daily newspapers were published on Monday in Myanmar—the Voice Daily, Golden Fresh Land, the Union Daily, and San Daw Chein—for the first time since the 1960s.

Phoe Thauk Kyar, the editor of Golden Fresh Land, told Mizzima that the launch of private newspapers would help to protect citizens’ rights.

“These days, it has become so hard to find quality editors and reporters,” he said. “To be honest, we still do not have enough resources and assets to publish the newspaper as best we can.”

Phoe Thauk Kyar said that Golden Fresh Land now has 36 staffers but needs double that number to work on a long-term basis.

Kyaw Min Swe of the Voice Daily said that the newcomers are going to cover all the major issues, including news from around the world.

The Myanmar government has issued 16 licenses—one of which was awarded to Mizzima—while other applicants are pending.

Maung Hla, a private citizen who says he likes to buy a newspaper every morning, told Mizzima on Monday that readers were now spoilt for choice.

“Before we had only the Myanmar Ahlin [Light of Myanmar] and The Mirror,” he said. “Now we will have a choice of private newspapers. Not only that, but they look nice and are good quality.”

The first editions of Myanmar’s private newspapers were selling at newsstands on Monday and Tuesday for just 200 to 300 kyat per copy (US $0.23 – 0.35).
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OIC calls for end to anti-Muslim campaign

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:42 Mizzima News

The Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has called on the Myanmar government to put an end to the campaigns of hatred being waged against Muslims in the country.

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (Photo: OIC)

Speaking at OIC headquarters in the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah on Saturday, March 30, Prof. Ihsanoglu also addressed a message to Muslims in Myanmar, telling them the OIC “would champion their cause”, and stressing that the Organisation and its member states will follow up the issue and stand ready to take all necessary measures to address it.  

A meeting of the OIC’s Contact group was called in response to the communal violence that erupted in central Myanmar following an otherwise innocuous incident at a gold shop in Meiktila on March 20.

“These acts of violence have killed scores of Muslims, burned their homes, and left hundreds of them homeless, in addition to the burning of mosques and schools,” the IOC Secretary-General said.

A Times of India report said that the IOC will reconvene to discuss the issue of Myanmar on April 14.

With 57 member states, the IOC is the second largest inter-governmental organization in the world after the United Nations.

In October, the Myanmar government rejected plans by the OIC to open an office in Myanmar after Buddhist monks led protests against the bloc’s involvement.
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13 boys killed in fire at Islamic school

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 10:35 Mizzima News

Thirteen boys died in Botahtaung Islamic School in central Yangon when a fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday at the adjoining Yay-Gyaw Mosque.

A group of Muslim people pray for the victims of a fire at an Islamic school in Yangon on April 2, 2013. (AFP)

Myanmar state media announced on Tuesday morning that the 13 were among some 70 students who were sleeping in the school on 48th Street in Botahtaung Township when the fire broke out at approximately 3 am. The students died of burns and smoke inhalation, the report said. Four students who were originally reported as missing have now been accounted for and are alive and uninjured.

Deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut wrote on his Facebook that the school fire occurred because of a faulty transformer inside the school.

Islamic religious leaders and local Muslims gathered at the school early on Tuesday morning to pray for the souls of the deceased.

The fire—assuming it was accidental—comes at an inopportune time for local authorities and the Muslim community in general, following on the heels of anti-Muslim riots in central Myanmar and a period of inter-communal tension in the former capital.
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Monday, April 1, 2013

Security expert warns of pipeline explosion

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Monday, 01 April 2013 17:01 Mizzima News

Running a pipeline of natural gas through an active conflict zone is highly dangerous, according to a respected security consultant in the UK.

KIA front lines

Speaking to reporter James Byrne of Russian newswire Interfax’s Natural Gas Daily, Michael Oxlade, senior security consultant at Westminster International, which provides security for oil and gas infrastructure, said that running an over-ground gas pipeline in a location where an armed conflict is taking place is “absolutely unadvisable”.

Oxlade was interviewed for an Interfax report about the trans-Myanmar Shwe Gas pipeline which is currently in its final phase of construction. Chinese investors CNPC recently announced that they hoped to have the pipeline actively transferring gas from the Bay of Bengal to southern China by June.

However, the final phase of the 2,806-km pipeline—which is intended to transport 12 billion cubic meters of gas per year—runs through northern Shan State where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is engaged in heavy fighting against Myanmar government forces.

Much of the conflict zone is peppered with landmines, and both sides use both small arms and heavy assault weapons, including artillery. In recent months, the Myanmar army has intensified its assaults on KIA front lines, bases and its headquarters in Laiza, and has deployed jet fighters and helicopter gunships to attack Kachin positions.

“Running an over-ground gas pipeline in a location where an armed conflict is taking place is absolutely unadvisable; an explosion could easily be caused by a stray bullet. If the pipeline is penetrated, it will explode, causing it—and the surrounding area—significant damage,” Oxlade is quoted as saying in the March 28 report.
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AP to open Yangon bureau

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Monday, 01 April 2013 12:57 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

It has been a landmark few days in Myanmar's rapidly developing media scene. On April 1, four of the 16 permitted newspapers launched the first editions of their new daily papers—they are the first privately-owned dailies to be published in the country in more than 50 years.

And, on Saturday, the Ministry of Information informed the Associated Press (AP) that it would be the first international news agency allowed to open a bureau in Yangon. The newswire has operated in the country for many years, with correspondents like Aye Aye Win producing award-winning journalism for the agency since 1989, and her father, Sein Win, before her.

“AP has a proud history of reportage from Myanmar, and the new multimedia bureau marks the beginning of an even more robust commitment,” said the non-profit company's President and CEO Gary Pruitt in an AP report. “We hope to build on our efforts and cover the important changes there for many years to come.”

Japanese broadcaster NHK was also granted a license to open an office in Yangon. Under the previous regime, only Chinese news agencies Xinhua and Guanming were permitted to have staff on the ground in Myanmar.

State-run daily newspapers reported on March 26 that the authorizing committee for daily publications had yet to decide on three more pending applications. If permitted it would bring the total of daily newspapers in Myanmar to 19.

Last month, the government announced that it has suspended its draft media law until parliamentary sessions resume after Myanmar's traditional Water Festival ends on April 17.

London-based rights group Article 19 previously said that the draft of the Myanmar’s new media bill falls short of international standards.

The organization said at the end of February in a statement that the new press bill to be presented in Parliament “retains a vagueness that will leave the print media open to abuse from the government and other powerful actors.”

It said that the draft Press Law Bill (2013), if passed, would undermine the role of journalists and overly restrict their work.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thai police continue to dispute cause of refugee camp fire

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Saturaday, 30 March 2013 20:53 The Bangkok Post

Several clues indicate that the cause of the fire that killed 37 people at Mae Surin refugee camp was arson, the district police chief insists.

Mae Surin refugee camp after the fire on Friday, March 22, 2013. (PHOTO: TBC)

Khun Yuam district police chief Pol Col Nitinart Wittayawuthikul says he stands by his remarks despite the fact that authorities have unofficially concluded the fire was an accident.

Mae Hong Son police chief Sompong Chingduang, meanwhile, reiterated that Pol Col Nitinart was transferred to an inactive post because he had failed to carry out his duties properly.

Pol Maj Gen Sompong said Pol Col Nitinart was negligent in the way he handled operations to put out the fire.

Pol Col Nitinart was temporarily transferred to an inactive post at Mae Hong Son provincial police office following the disaster.

However, he claimed his transfer was because he refused to conclude the Mae Surin fire on March 22 was an accident.
He insisted his team was among the first to arrive at the camp that evening.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, he said there were several clues which indicated the fire might have been started intentionally.

He said more than 10 Karen refugees gave statements to his team that they had seen a burning object fall from an aircraft flying over the camp a few minutes before the fire was discovered.

How the fire spread was unusual, he said. It began in a house in Zone 1 of the camp and spread to Zone 4, rather than Zone 2.

Joa Pa Hu, 26, the owner of the house where it is thought the fire started, told police he was not at home when the blaze began.

Eyewitnesses told police they had seen fires flaring up from different points at the same time, and that there was no wind at the time, Pol Col Nitinart said.

He said the fire seemed to have been set to "encircle" the camp.

The colour of the smoke was also suspicious, he said.

"The smoke appeared dark, such as what you see with the burning of chemical substances or rubber tyres," the officer said.

"Smoke from a burning house mostly made from natural materials such as bamboo and leaves should be more white."
Liquid phosphorus might have been used to spark the fire, he said.

A source from the police forensics team said traces of phosphorus had been found in the grounds of the house where the blaze was believed to have started.

The motive, if the fire was deliberate, could have been the high cost of maintaining the camp, Pol Col Nitinart said.

"Some people have told me to shut my mouth," he claimed. "But I can't. Those refugees have spilt blood and lost lives. So I have to tell the truth."

A military source in Mae Hong Son told the Bangkok Post that the cause of the fire was unlikely to have been a cooking mishap, as authorities claim. However, he could not rule it out.

A police source said the investigation is mainly being conducted by officers from outside Khun Yuam district.
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This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on March 30, 2013.
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For more background:

  1. Mae Surin fire was accident, says Thai security chief
  2. Refugee camp fire not an accident, says police chief
  3. Refugee camp death toll rises to 42


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President’s Office refutes UN envoy allegations

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Saturday, 30 March 2013 20:22 AFP

Myanmar on Friday strongly rejected comments by a senior United Nations official linking the state with recent anti-Muslim riots that have left at least 40 people dead and seen mosques razed in several towns.

Ye Htut

The UN's special rapporteur on Myanmar human rights Tomas Ojea Quintana on Thursday said he had "received reports of state involvement in some of the acts of violence", prompting the rebuttal from Myanmar's presidential spokesman.

"I totally reject what Quintana's saying about some sections of the state being involved in violence," Ye Htut said in comments posted on his Facebook page.

"It is regrettable that Mr Quintana has commented on the situation, based on second hand information without correctly studying the situation on the ground." Buddhist mobs have marauded through several towns in central Myanmar since religious violence erupted on March 20, prompting the government to impose emergency rule and curfews in some areas.

The situation appeared to have calmed on Friday, a day after President Thein Sein vowed a tough response to those behind the violence which he attributed to "political opportunists and religious extremists."

In his statement Quintana accused "the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces" of "standing by while atrocities have been committed ... this may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the state or implicit collusion".

Security forces fired warning shots on Wednesday to disperse rioters and dozens of people have been detained. However, Muslim leaders have criticized the security forces for failing to stop the attacks.

According to the United Nations, the recent clashes—which were apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop that turned into a riot—have seen some 12,000 people displaced.

It is the worst sectarian strife since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.

Myanmar's Muslims—largely of Indian, Chinese and Bangladeshi descent—account for an estimated four per cent of the population of roughly 60 million.
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Friday, March 29, 2013

UK priest in bizarre blood ritual for Burma

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Saturday, 30 March 2013 13:40 Mizzima News

In one of the more bizarre protests against oil and gas investment in Myanmar in recent times, an English priest commemorated the Christian festival of Good Friday on March 29 by pouring his own blood over the floor of a petrol station before lying down to block the entrance.

English vicars Fathers David Fudger and Keith Hebden outside Total petrol Station in Mansfield on Friday, March 29, 2013. (PHOTO: St. Mark's Church magazine)

According to the Christian think-tank Ekklesia, the Rev. Dr. Keith Hebden of Mansfield in Nottinghamshire took action to protest French company Total’s investments in Myanmar.

“After pouring his blood, he laid down in front of the entrance with a notice reading: ‘Boycott Total for the sake of Burma: Total Regime Change Now!’” the report said.

Church of England vicar Hebden, who is also an associate of Ekklesia and an advisor to the Seeking Justice campaign at his local deanery, is quoted as saying: “There are things we can do to bring about change. Boycott Total Oil and Barclays Bank and put pressure on their directors to disinvest in the killing fields of Burma before it’s too late and the genocide is complete.”

Friday was not the first time that Rev. Hebden had brought attention to his cause with an act of public demonstration; Gloucestershire media reported in 2011 that the vicar had nailed books to a cross as part of a protest against cuts at a local library.

Full Ekklesia report: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18267
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Jimmy Carter to visit Myanmar

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Friday, 29 March 2013 17:10 Mizzima News

[Photo: The Carter Center]
Former US President Jimmy Carter will come to Myanmar next week to explore ways to support the country's ongoing democratic transition.

Jimmy Carter is leading members of the Carter Center, an NGO that he founded with his wife, around the world to encourage democracy and human rights. He is visiting Nepal ahead of his trip to Myanmar.

The former president will meet with President Thein Sein, government officials, Daw Aung Suu Kyi, political leaders and civil society representatives during his visit.

*This article was amended from the original: President Carter arrived in Nepal on March 29; he will travel to Myanmar on April 2 and is due to stay until April 6.
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Myanmar must take ‘bold steps’ to tackle unrest: UN envoy

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Friday, 29 March 2013 16:03 Mizzima News

Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, on Friday issued a statement from Geneva expressing his “serious concerns” about the spread of violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Myanmar and urged the Thein Sein government to take “bold steps” to counteract what he called a “frightening trend”.

“The Government must take immediate action to stop the violence from spreading to other parts of the country and undermining the reform process,” Quintana said. “This includes stemming campaigns of discrimination and hate speech which are fuelling racist and, in particular, anti-Muslim feeling in the country.”

The UN envoy was undoubtedly referring to the emergence of Buddhist extremists, in many cases led by monks, who stand accused of masterminding the violence. A group calling itself “969”, which appears to be spearheaded by a Buddhist monk named Wirathu, has inundated social media with anti-Muslim vitriol and called for a boycott of all Muslim businesses.

“The warning signs have been there since the communal violence in Rakhine State last June, and the Government has simply not done enough to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities across the country, and to tackle the organised and coordinated mobs that are inciting hatred and violently attacking Muslim communities,” Quintana said.

He called for Myanmar’s authorities to hold to account those responsible for acts of violence and destruction against religious and ethnic minorities.

Quintana also alluded to allegations that some State officials, including local politicians and administrators, have been encouraging discriminatory views and inciting hatred.

“The Government must clearly distance itself from such incitement to hatred, and instruct its officials to do likewise,” the UN envoy said. “Although Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country, the Government must promote tolerance of all faiths and religions.”

Quintana went on to say that he had received reports that the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces had stood by “while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs.”

He called for Myanmar to also hold to account those military and police officers who were responsible for tolerating attacks against Muslims.

Quintana praised the work of 88 Generation leaders, such as Min Ko Naing, who had travelled to Meiktila following the violence and worked to ease tensions and promote understanding.

In the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month, he warned that the crisis in Rakhine State could spread to other parts of the country, and issued a number of recommendations to the Government aimed at addressing the widespread discrimination and prejudice against ethnic and religious minority groups in Myanmar, including lifting restrictions on discriminatory practices against Muslim communities, and reviewing the functions of the border security forces.
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For more background:

  1. Thein Sein warns: ‘I will not hesitate to use force’
  2. Mob violence spreads in Bago
  3. Rohingya face ongoing humanitarian crisis


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Kachin human rights issues must be addressed

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Friday, 29 March 2013 14:57 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

As peace talks continue in the Kachin State, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) has recommended immediate de-mining; no forced recruitment of soldiers; and easy access for humanitarian aid to the conflict-stricken region.

The makeshift shelter of a Kachin family displaced by war. (PHOTO Partners Relief and Development)

The calls came in a statement released on March 28, following the latest round of peace talks between the Myanmar government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in Ruili on March 11-12.

"The MNHRC wholeheartedly welcomes the statement that the Union Government will accelerate development and rehabilitation tasks in the Kachin State as the process to achieve ceasefire has commenced," said the organization's statement.

However, the group said that addressing crucial human rights issues in Kachin State should be "implemented as a priority" to encourage the ongoing peace process.

No ceasefire agreement was reached during the last round of negotiations. Speaking after the meeting, Doi Pi Sar, a non-military official of the KIO, said, “What they [the government delegation] want and what we want are two different things. Their primary goal is the signing of a ceasefire agreement. However, judging by our past experiences, the hasty signing of a ceasefire agreement is not in our interests.

“We need to continue holding discussions until we are in a situation where a ceasefire agreement is the correct course of action,” he said. “Our differences cannot be solved by just one meeting. So, we have agreed to meet again.”

Peace broker Hla Maung Shwe told Mizzima at the time that, “I would like to say that this was the most fruitful meeting in the past 10 months.”

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin state since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between government forces and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army, broke down.

The total number of casualties is unknown, but the government said in January that 35 soldiers had been killed and 190 injured in a series of ambushes by the rebels since 2011.

Humanitarian aid to the region has notoriously been blocked by the government until recently when the UN announced that a 10-vehicle convoy was permitted to travel to the Hpakant area to bring shelter, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking sets, clothes and sanitary items to more than 2,000 refugees between February 17 and 21.

The visit was the first to the area since January 2012 by the UN.
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thein Sein warns: ‘I will not hesitate to use force’

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Thursday, 28 March 2013 19:22 Mizzima News

In a televised address to the nation on Thursday at 6 pm local time, Myanmar President Thein Sein said he was saddened by the religious violence that has taken part in central Myanmar in recent days, and warned instigators that he had the power to deploy security forces to protect his fellow citizens.

“In general, I do not endorse the use of force to solve problems,” he said. “However, I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of [the] general public.”

Thein Sein spoke in response to a series of anti-Muslim riots which have taken place in Myanmar’s Bago and Mandalay regions since Friday when an otherwise innocuous disagreement in a Muslim-owned gold shop spilled over into mob violence.

The riots spread south to other townships that have large Muslim populations, and sources have told Mizzima that attacks on Muslim property and mosques have been well-organized and may be orchestrated by extremists. At least 40 people have been killed since Friday.

Headed by a Buddhist monk named Wirathu, an anti-Muslim campaign known as “969” has spread among Myanmar’s social media this week spouting much vitriol and propaganda against Muslims.

Many activists have suggested that a military hand may be pulling the strings, but in his speech Thein Sein distanced himself from anti-Muslim sentiments.  

“I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who exploit the noble teachings of these religions and tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest,” he said. “We [the government] will take all necessary and effective action to stop their operations in accordance with our Constitution and our existing laws.”

He said that the nation must expect these conflicts and difficulties to arise during its period of democratic transition, but called on Myanmar citizens to “overcome these challenges while building a harmonious society that safeguards human dignity.”

With regard to criticisms of the security forces who have been accused of failing to intervene to stop the violence, Thein Sein said that the police must be able to act against rioters within the rule of law.

No mention was made, however, of the riot police’s failures in the English version of the speech (below).

Speaking to Mizzima directly after hearing the speech, Khin Maung Swe, founder of the National Democratic Force, said, “It is essential to take action against political opportunists and religious extremists.

“Moreover, people should have been protected by Myanmar’s Police Task Force. The riots spread because of the weakness of the police.”

President’s speech in full (official translation):

“My fellow citizens,

“I would like to take this opportunity to explain to you the circumstances giving rise to the recent riots in Meiktila and the attempts of a small number of people to cause the spread of rioting to other parts of the country. I am deeply saddened to find out that a simple private dispute led to a deadly riot and that some unruly instigators, taking advantage of the disingenuousness of the public, tried to spread the riots to other parts of the country. I will like to reflect my government's position on these riots.

“In general, I do not endorse the use of force to solve problems. However, I will not hesitate to use force as a last resort to protect the lives and safeguard the property of general public.

“Individual freedom, which we consider to be the fundamental ingredient of democracy, is the kind of freedom that does not infringe on the civil liberties of others. Our Constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to worship freely any religion they choose. I would like to warn all political opportunists and religious extremists who exploit the noble teachings of these religions and tried to plant hatred among people of different faiths for their own self-interest. We will take all necessary and effective action to stop their operations in accordance with our Constitution and our existing laws.

“We must expect these conflicts and difficulties to arise during our period of democratic transition. With a united effort, we must face and overcome these challenges together. As we rebuild our society, we must rise above sixty years of historical bitterness, confrontational approaches, and a zero-sum attitude in solving our differences. I want to call on all citizens to rise above these previous erroneous methods, unite our different strengths, and chart a path towards consensus building and democratic deliberation to solve the challenges faced in this transition.

“We have already seen a different approach in this Meiktila incident. To rebuild mutual understanding and trust in the community, it is important to bring together civil society participation, leadership from various religious communities, assistance from international organizations, and responsible reporting from the media. In addition, the tatmadaw [Myanmar armed forces] has also played a meaningful role in safeguarding property and the rehabilitation of victims.

“I am proud to see a concerted effort from civil society organizations, leaders of communities, governmental agencies and security forces to prevent the spread of conflict to other cities and towns. This indicates that citizens from different ethnic and religious groups have worked together to create a civilized society and a proud nation that is based on mutual respect and understanding.

“We did not resort to the use of force immediately mainly because we do not want to let anything happen to our ongoing democratic transition and reform efforts. That said, I am firmly committed to use the power to deploy the security forces vested in me by the Constitution and existing laws to prevent and protect life, liberty and security of my fellow citizens. My fellow citizens, I want to urge you to cooperate with each other on the basis of compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness, and empathy.

“As a nation, it is our firm belief that an inclusive democratic society based on equality for all citizens will ensure peace and stability, especially in our country made up of various ethnic nationalities, religious beliefs, and cultures. Despite our differences, we must find a common ground to coexist peacefully while upholding our democratic ideals. It is my firm belief that we will be able to overcome both our immediate and future challenges if we can embrace our differences and stand united in face of adversity as one people. However, some irresponsible individuals have spread rumors that could incite riots, causing fear among the general public who only wish to live peacefully. I am also very pleased to see local authorities, community and religious leaders coming together to form riot-prevention committees to protect the people

“I would like to make a commitment to the people of Myanmar. In this time of change towards an open society, my government will share information in a truthful and transparent manner. I would also like to request a commitment from you in return. As citizens of this country, we must also distinguish facts from fiction and overcome the dangers posed by rumors in a wise and open-minded manner. If we can keep our commitments, we can overcome these challenges while building a harmonious society that safeguards human dignity.”
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Mae Surin fire was accident, says Thai security chief

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Thursday, 28 March 2013 16:05  The Bangkok Post

The blaze that raged through the Mae Surin refugee camp in Mae Hong Son's Khun Yuam district on Friday was probably an accident, [Thailand’s] National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut said.

The aftermath of Friday's fire at Mae Surin refugee camp in which at least 37 people were killed. Photo: TBC

He said there seemed to be no motive for an act of arson.

He was responding to embattled Khun Yuam district police chief Pol Col Nitinart Wittayawuthikul who told the Bangkok Post his investigation indicated the fire started in the camp and is unlikely to have been an accident.

The district police chief was transferred to an inactive post at Mae Hong Son provincial police office on Monday for alleged negligence in his handling of Friday's disaster. He was also removed from the investigation team.

The officer believes he was moved because he did not agree to conclude that the fire was accidental.

Lt Gen Paradorn brushed aside claims by refugees that they saw a helicopter fly over the camp and drop something which they believe caused the fire.

"I don't see any reason why the camp should be struck by arson. Who would do that kind of thing? It could be an accident," Lt Gen Paradorn said.

Air force chief Prajin Jantong also believed the blaze could have been an accident rather than arson.

ACM Prajin said people may have burnt garbage carelessly while the strong wind in the mountains could have contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze, he said. Officials at the camp should ensure the refugees dispose of garbage properly without causing fires, he said.

Suttha Saiwanich, Mae Hong Son deputy governor, said both central and local forensic teams concluded that the fire was accidental. Damage was severe because of strong winds and the camp being on a slope.

Song Klinprathum, director of the Royal Rain-making Operations Centre in the upper North based in Chiang Mai, said the centre launched an operation last Friday to make artificial rain to ease the choking haze in Mae Hong Son, and Khun Yuam district was chosen as the operation base.

Three helicopters were deployed to improve air quality, he said.

Mr Song insisted chemicals used in rain-making did not cause the fire.

"I am confident those chemicals have nothing to do with the fire. Moreover, the helicopters operated at high altitudes so there was no chance that they would create a fire on the ground below."

"The pilots also detected smoke on their radar during the operation. But they didn't realise that the smoke came from the burning camp. They learned later the fire [at the camp] happened near the operation base."

Meanwhile, a group of non-government organisations has asked for cash donations from people around the world to help the refugees affected by the fire.

Sally Thomson, with The Border Consortium, said about 13 million baht (US $433,000) is needed to rebuild houses, warehouses, sanitation systems and to buy food for the refugees.

Extra would be needed to build schools and clinics [for the refugees] which were destroyed by the blaze.

The fire killed 37 Karen and Karenni refugees, injured more than 100, and left more than 2,300 homeless. The camp is home to more than 3,605 people.

Paisarn Thanyawinitchakul, chief of the Mae Hong Son Public Health Office, said eight refugees are still being treated in hospitals. The most serious case is a man who has suffered burns to 53% of his body. He is being treated at Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital. Seven others are in Mae Hong Son hospitals.
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This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on March 28, 2013.
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CPJ condemns threats against journalists in Meiktila

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Thursday, 28 March 2013 16:55 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

Following severe violence and intimidation against reporters covering the inter-communal riots that erupted in Central Myanmar on March 20, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on authorities to ensure the security of journalists.

Journalists at a Myanmar presidential press conference. (Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima)

“We condemn the threats and intimidation of journalists covering the recent communal riots in Burma,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities are obliged to ensure the security of journalists working in conflict areas. We are concerned that Thein Sein's administration has not prioritized its obligation to protect the press.”

Various media outlets have described shocking attacks and intimidation by Buddhist monks and members of the mob on reporters: One AP photographer said that he had a foot-long dagger held to his throat, while he surrendered the memory card from his camera and both the Democratic Voice of Burma and The Irrawaddy said that their reporters were threatened and forced to delete camera footage.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) told of a group of nine journalists who were threatened by a gang of armed Buddhist monks as they photographed them destroying a mosque.

“We saw a group of monks destroying a mosque and a house near Thiri Street [in Meiktila] as we were in a car taking some pictures in town,” RFA reporter Kyaw Zaw Win said.

“The monks saw us. Suddenly, they surrounded our car and forced us out,” he said. “They put a knife to a reporter’s throat. We begged for our lives saying we didn't do anything wrong. They said that they would destroy our cameras. We refused to give them our cameras. Two reporters in our group gave their memory cards.”

The cards were then smashed by the monks, claimed the report.

There have been no journalists killed in the riots yet, according to CPJ research.
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Mob violence spreads in Bago

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Thursday, 28 March 2013 15:37 Khaing Khaing and Saw Zin Nyi

Anti-Muslim mob violence broke out on Wednesday afternoon in Minhla and Zigon villages in the Bago Region, local residents told Mizzima.

At about 1 pm on Wednesday afternoon, about 1,000 people from Minhla and nearby villages destroyed mosques and property owned by Muslims, said Hla Hla Moe, a local resident.

“The mob destroyed some houses and some mosques. We heard that either two or three mosques were seriously damaged. But the mob did not harm anyone,” he said.

At around 4 pm, police and soldiers fired shots into the sky to disperse the mob, said Hla Hla Moe.

By 7 pm the streets were deserted, he said, as security forces enforced the curfew imposed under Section 144 on Tuesday.

Since the night of March 26, authorities have imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew [6 pm to 6 am] in Okpho, Minhla and Gyobingauk townships, all of which are situated along Highway 2 in Bago Region, some 200 km north of Yangon on the road to Pyay.

Under Chapter VIII (Offences against Public Tranquility) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, Section 144 reads: “Whoever, being armed with any deadly weapon, or with anything which used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death, is a member of an unlawful assembly, shall be punished with imprisonment of their description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”

On March 25, the Myanmar government issued a press release, saying: “The government is making concerted efforts in democratic reform and development undertakings with added momentum. That is why people are urged to avoid acts of violence and religious extremism that could disrupt the reform process and development tasks.”

Than Aung, a resident living in Zigon, told Mizzima on Wednesday that the security forces failed to take action to prevent the mob from rioting in Zigon.

“They committed violence both yesterday and today. Starting from 3 am, they destroyed [the buildings] and the security forces did nothing. They were just watching the violence. Only when the unruly mob retreated did the security forces fire rubber bullets,” he said.

Local residents told Mizzima that they were unaware of any arrests made in Zigon and that calm was resumed in the town after 4 pm.

Khin Wine, a local resident said, “We heard that there were no casualties. In Zigon, most of the victims are Muslims. We feel very sad because the violence occurred although there was no grudge [against each other]. And the security forces took action only after the violence.”

Khin Wine added that the thugs are residents in the area and that the mob contained about 300 people. She said that the thugs destroyed religious buildings but that they did not harm any people.
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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Security beefs up in Bago

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Wednesday, 27 March 2013 20:31 Saw Zin Nyi


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Rumors of impending riots in the town of Nattalin, about 50 km south of Pyay, have led to an increase in police and military presence in the area on the evening of March 27.

The deputy police officer for the area told Mizzima that the increase in security was due to reports that mobs were planning to riot, following incidents the night before when a mosque and several houses were destroyed in the village.

“We have stretched our troops around the township,” he said. “We have spread them everywhere and there are also some mobile security teams in place.”

The army is now collaborating with the police force and both have taken up positions around Nattalin.

Some groups of rioters were apprehended while marching from nearby Tar-Pwon village earlier on Wednesday.
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Rohingya face ongoing humanitarian crisis

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Wednesday, 27 March 2013 17:59 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Myanmar government of restricting humanitarian aid to Rakhine State and discriminating against Muslim Rohingyas in a report released on March 27.

Displaced people in one section of Ah Nauk Ywe makeshift camp in Rakhine state. (PHOTO: UNHCR/V.Tan)

“Burmese [Myanmar] government restrictions on aid to Rohingya Muslims are creating a humanitarian crisis that will become a disaster when the rainy season arrives,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Instead of addressing the problem, Burma’s leaders seem intent on keeping the Rohingya segregated in camps rather than planning for them to return to their homes.”

Several international aid organizations operating in the region have continually made calls for Rohingya camps located in low-lying paddy fields to be urgently relocated before the rainy season begins and fears of flooding and the spread of waterborne diseases become a reality. HRW has reported that in some sites a handful of latrines are shared by several thousand Rohingyas.

“The government seems untroubled by the dire humanitarian conditions in the camps in Arakan [Rakhine] State, but it will be responsible for the lives unnecessarily lost,” Robertson said. “Concerned donor governments should be demanding that the Burmese government produce an action plan to resolve the crisis because continued inaction will only make the crisis worse.”

On March 20, President Thein Sein’s spokesman, Ye Htut, rebutted the claims of discrimination and told Australia Network’s Newswire: “They [Rohingyas] have enough shelter and food supply for the rainy season.”

However, the Myanmar government has reportedly refused to relocate the Rohingya camps; has restricted Rohingya people from accessing local hospitals; and has failed to register tens of thousands of displaced Rohingyas, denying them both freedom of movement and humanitarian aid.

Unregistered Rohingya have told HRW that they lack food, shelter, medicine, potable water, clothing, and other necessities. A Muslim man in Yangon’s Aung Mingalar Township told HRW that UN agencies had not been able to deliver any aid since June, saying, “We only want permission to bring food from outside to Aung Mingalar.”

HRW said that these ongoing issues mean that the Myanmar government is ultimately failing the test of reform.

The Rohingya population faces widespread hostility from the majority Burmese Buddhist society in Myanmar. The latest violence in the state erupted last June between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims and was followed by further attacks in October.

Following a visit to Myanmar last month, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, said that nearly 120,000 people are now living in camps in Rakhine State with a lack of adequate healthcare, and noted that conditions were worse in camps sheltering Rohingyas and other Muslims.

“The situation in this area is extreme,” he warned.
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Indian firm fails to compensate farmers

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Wednesday, 27 March 2013 16:07 Thein Hlaing


Punj Lloyd Upstream Ltd, an Indian company which is building an extension of the Myanmar-China natural gas pipeline, has been accused of failing to compensate for damages relating to the construction of the pipeline.

The accusations have come from local community-based organizations and some of the 161 farmers who utilize a reservoir that the pipeline passes by. The 750-acre community reservoir is located nine miles from the eastern part of Kyaukphyu town and is owned by local farmers.

The gas pipeline extension project was begun in 2011, destroying a part of the dam on the reservoir, leaving farmers unable to cultivate their paddy fields for two years due to the salt entering the reservoir water.

“The farmers asked for compensation from the authorities many times but they have not been paid anything. Since the project has already finished, the farmers here have lost all hope,” said Tun Kywe, a spokesperson from the Myo Chaung region development committee.

He said that he is very disappointed that the company has turned a blind eye to the grievances of the residents and that the residents and local community organizations will fight for adequate compensation.

“I’ve been working on this land my whole life. The reservoir was damaged and it was filled with saltwater after the pipeline extension passed through it. We couldn’t cultivate the paddy fields for two years and we had to sell our buffalos and cows to make a living,” said Aung Kyaw Tun, an 80-year-old farmer from Ka-Paing-Choung village.

The residents said they reported the damage at the reservoir to a local administrative officer four times from May 2011.

Punj Lloyd reportedly sent 200 packs of cement and 500,000 kyat (US $560) through the village administrative officer and let the villagers volunteer to construct the drain pipeline.

They also reportedly gave compensation for some paddy fields but Ma Kyaw Thein, a local farmer, said that local authorities had cut off 4.9 million kyat ($55,680) from the compensation given to five farmers after accusing them of using illegal fertilizers.

Punj Lloyd has been requested to: compensate the value of each destroyed paddy field per year; rebuild all the of the damaged dam frames; conserve the forest from saltwater destruction; and construct better electricity infrastructure, as well as schools, clinics and drinking water ponds.

Punj Lloyd has said that their pipeline extension project will not be finished until May.
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Refugee camp fire not an accident, says police chief

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Wednesday, 27 March 2013 16:31 THE BANGKOK POST

The fire that ravaged Mae Surin refugee camp [in Thailand] on Friday was not an accident, embattled Khun Yuam district police chief Pol Col Nitinart Wittayawuthikul claimed Tuesday.

Thai officials examine the aftermath of the fire at Mae Surin refugee camp on Friday, Mar 22, 2013. (PHOTO: TBC)

The district police chief was transferred, pending an investigation, to an inactive post at Mae Hong Son provincial police office on Monday for alleged negligence in his handling of Friday's disaster in Mae Hong Song's Khun Yuam district. He was also removed from the blaze investigation team.

However, Pol Col Nitinart says he is being punished because he refuses to confirm the deadly fire was an accident.
Friday's fire killed 37 Karen and Karenni refugees, injured over 100 and left more than 2,300 homeless. The camp is home to about 3,000 people.

Authorities have so far been unable to determine the cause of the blaze.

Police initially suspected that the fire started in a kitchen. Another theory is that embers from a nearby forest fire blown by the wind could have landed on the thatched roof of a refugee house.

Pol Col Nitinart Tuesday said he had spoken to witnesses before he was removed from the case and said their accounts led him to believe the fire started inside the camp and was not an accident. He stopped short of saying what he believed caused the fire.

"I have extensively questioned the witnesses and I don't think the fire was an accident," Pol Col Nitinart said.

The transfer order was signed by Mae Hong Son police chief Sompong Chingduang, citing Pol Col Nitinart's alleged dereliction of duty when the fire broke out. But Pol Col Nitinart believes the real reason behind the transfer was because he refused to conclude that the fire was an accident.

"Based on my interrogations and fire scene investigations, I could not come to such a conclusion [that the fire was an accident]," Pol Col Nitinart told the Bangkok Post. "Talk to anyone at the camp, ask them what they saw, and you will know how the fire started," he said.

A police investigation source who questioned Mae Surin refugees said several witnesses claimed they saw a helicopter flying above the camp minutes before the fire broke out.

They also reported seeing a burning object dropped from the helicopter on to the roof of a house in Zone 1.

A source from the Office of Aviation for Natural Resource Conservation said none of the office's helicopters had flown above the camp that day. However, he could not confirm if anyone else had flown helicopters over the site.

Meanwhile, Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director-general Chatchai Promlert said he was working with the Provincial Administration Department to design fire prevention measures at refugee camps.

Regular fire drills will be held at nine camps in four provinces to prevent a recurrence of Friday's deadly inferno.

The department is responsible for nine refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, Tak, Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi provinces.

The measures include regular fire drills, the installation of firefighting equipment, and teaching residents how to prevent and control fires.

Mr Chatchai said the department was working with other agencies to provide food, water, shelter and health care services to refugees affected by the blaze.

National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission secretary-general Thakorn Tanthasit said his agency had sought cooperation from mobile phone operators to send vehicles to areas near the Mae Surin camp.

Thaicom Plc has sent several vehicles to provide phone and internet services in the area, Mr Thakorn said.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong, meanwhile, said he had asked health officials to monitor the refugees as some survivors are suffering from psychological trauma and depression.

The officials would also step up measures to prevent the spread of diseases.

Khun Yuam district chief Charnchai Srisathian said many refugees were in dire need of shoes, underwear, powdered milk, soap and toothpaste. He urged the public to donate those items at Mae Hong Son provincial hall or district offices and Red Cross offices nationwide.

This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on March 27, 2013.
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For more background:
  1. Police chief transferred after refugee camp blaze
  2. Private donations needed after refugee camp blaze
  3. Refugee camp death toll rises to 42


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