Daily Archives: March 15, 2017

Myanmar Ethnic Militias Meet With Chinese Envoy to Discuss Kokang Conflict

Ethnic armed groups fighting the Myanmar army in the country's volatile northern states met with a Chinese special envoy on Wednesday to discuss stopping deadly clashes along the border that have forced tens of thousands of Myanmar residents to flee to China.

Delegates from the Northern Alliance�comprising the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)�along with the United Wa State Party�the political arm of the China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA)�held separate talks with Sun Guoxiang, China's special envoy for Asian affairs, in Kunming, capital of southwestern China's Yunnan province.

The MNDAA, also known as the Kokang army, is involved in ongoing hostilities with Myanmar security forces after launching an attack on a police station, military camps, and civilian buildings on March 6 in Laukkai township in northeastern Shan State.

Dozens have been reported killed in the skirmishes that have driven more than 30,000 people to flee to safety, mostly in China where the Chinese government is housing them in refugee camps.

Calls by the Chinese government for an immediate cease-fire and the restoration of order along the border area have been ignored.

Sun Guoxiang told the representatives from the ethnic armed groups that China would be willing to mediate negotiations between the militias and the Myanmar government, Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung, the AA's vice commander-in-chief, told RFA's Myanmar Service.

We were told we need to have direct talks with the Myanmar [government] or, if we desire, China could mediate as a third party in discussions with the government to reduce the number of clashes and stop them from occurring along the border, he said.

He said we could hold the talks in Kunming, Nyo Tun Aung said.

Sun Guoxiang informed the delegates about what he had discussed with Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, military commander-in-chief senior general Min Aung Hlaing, and government peace negotiators during his visit to Naypyidaw on Feb. 28-March 3.

The Chinese envoy told them that he had wanted the fighting along the border to stop during the Chinese New Year holidays early last month, Nyo Tun Aung said.

[But] the government and the military do not see eye-to-eye on the border issue, and the military leaders said at a recent news conference that they had no plans to hold talks with the AA, TNLA or MNDAA, he said.

They haven't changed their attitude towards us as we are seeing them launch more offensives against us, he said, adding that there had been more clashes with government troops during the last few days, not only in the Kokang area of northeastern Shan state but also along the Lashio-Muse Union Highway, a major thoroughfare in the area.

Unavoidable clashes

Myo Tun Aung also said that some of the recent clashes have been unavoidable and that the ethnic militias have had to fight back to defend themselves.

We'll have to find an outlet from one place or another if they keep on blocking us, Myo Tun Aung said.

The MNDAA has said that it launched the March 6 attack in retaliation for the government army's offensives in Kokang-controlled territory.

The Myanmar News Agency has reported 57 armed clashes between the MNDAA and government soldiers up to March 14.

Min Aung Hlaing told Sun that the Myanmar military would not attack the ethnic armed groups if left unprovoked, and we also adhere to the same principle, Myo Tun Aung said.

The Northern Alliance conducted coordinated attacks on government and military targets in northern Shan state last November.

Myo Tun Aung's comments came as the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups that did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the government in October 2015, cautioned that China has been interfering to some extent in ethnic politics in Myanmar, especially regarding the peace process, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

The organization believes that China's interference could worsen the hostilities involving the Northern Alliance in northern Myanmar.

The UNFC held three days of emergency meetings in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, to discuss how the organization is trying to resolve the country's conflict through political rather than military means.

The renewed fighting has come as a blow for the administration of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose main goals are to end decades of civil wars that have plagued the country and to forge lasting peace. Her government is planning to hold another round of peace talks this month.

Source: Copyright (copyright) 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

As Civilian Displacement Surges, Myanmar Limits Aid Access

MYAING GYI NGO, MYANMAR � Seated amid his family's simple possessions in a bamboo and thatch-roofed shelter, Saw Maung Care describes with anguish how they lost their home and livelihood as conflict flared in southeastern Myanmar in September.

"The soldiers came and destroyed some of our farms, our houses and firewood. We are angry, but we cannot do anything," he said, explaining that the army reportedly burned down many evacuated houses to prevent rebels from hiding there.

Saw Maung Care said he and some 5,500 ethnic Kayin had to quickly flee their villages near Kayin State's border with Thailand, leaving their farm animals and rice harvest behind. They have since lived off limited food handouts in Myaing Gyi Ngu camp, a parched field with rows of cramped, ramshackle huts with little water, hygiene or sanitation.

Management of the IDP camp - where a third of the population is under 13 years of age - said they faced a constant food shortage as state authorities had blocked international aid deliveries to the site in Hlaingbwe Township.

"Our amount of food is only enough for four days," said Naw Tin La, who managed the camp's food warehouse, adding that they only received irregular food donations from state authorities and Kayin community groups.

"We don't know why the high-level authorities stop foreign organizations - we want to accept donations from anyone," she said.

World Food Program (WFP) spokesperson Arsen Sahakyan said on Tuesday that state authorities had declined the agency's offer of food support, adding that WFP last made a limited food delivery of high-energy biscuits for children in November.

138,000 newly displaced

The government restrictions on international aid access for the Kayin IDPs are part of a nationwide trend of worsening conflict, displacement and humanitarian conditions, a recent report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) warned.

It said international aid agencies now face restrictions or limited access in 21 crisis-hit townships in Myanmar. "Unfortunately, our ability to reach people who depend on humanitarian assistance in different parts of the country has been getting worse," said UNOCHA spokesperson Pierre Peron.

Conflict escalated after Aung San Suu Kyi's first peace conference in September. Her government could only stand by as the powerful army launched dry-season offensives against ethnic rebels, who launched counterattacks.

In Rakhine State, her government defended a brutal army crackdown in Rohingya Muslim communities after local insurgents attacked police stations on October 9.

Since then, some 138,000 civilians fled their homes in Rakhine, Shan, Kachin and Kayin states, and only 21,000 have returned, according to UNOCHA. Some 94,000 are Rohingya who fled alleged army abuses, which the military denies, and about 74,000 of them crossed into Bangladesh.

Last week saw a new wave of displacement as a reported 20,000 Kokang civilians, an ethnic Chinese minority, fled Shan State for China after Kokang rebels launched surprise attacks on Laukkai town on March 6.

The new displacement adds to the roughly 220,000 long-term IDPs who were displaced in the states since 2012. Another 100,000 Kayin refugees have lived in camps in Thailand since the 1990s.

Shrinking aid access

In most cases, the army has blocked aid access, ostensibly for security reasons. UNOCHA said international food deliveries to about 42,000 IDPs in rebel-held areas in Kachin and Shan states, which were already falling because of a UN funding shortfall, have been blocked for months.

In northern Rakhine, aid access to 20,000 IDPs and some 150,000 impoverished and undernourished Rohingya villagers was severely restricted from October until the start of this year, UNOCHA said.

Since then, the agency said, "the government permitted an incremental resumption of humanitarian activities, including distributions of food and other relief items." But many limitations remain, including a ban on visits by international staff.

Widespread abuses

At a UN Human Rights Council meeting on Monday, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee alleged widespread army abuses against the Rohingya, such as rape, murder and the destruction of villages. She also condemned abuses in other ethnic areas and the lack of aid access in crisis-hit states.

Lee warned that Myanmar "may be trying to expel the Rohingya population from the country altogether" and called for a Commission of Inquiry, the highest-level UN probe, into Rohingya abuses. However, leading EU states reportedly favor a softer approach.

Myanmar's Permanent Representative at the UN, Hau Do Suan, urged the Council to wait for his government's investigations into alleged army abuses - an inquiry that rights activists believe will yield little result.

Hau Do Suan said the authorities were duly facilitating the international aid response in Rakhine. He added that IDPs in Kachin rebel areas could cross the front line on foot to pick up food at army distribution points - a proposal that UN agencies have repeatedly rejected as completely unsafe.

'There are so many land mines'

Until September, Kayin State had not seen fighting for years and major rebel groups signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with the government in 2015. But violence erupted when a splinter rebel group claimed the army killed its leader.

The IDPs at Myaing Gyi Ngu camp fled the rugged Mae Ta Waw area in northern Kayin, long considered a "black zone" - or an area where the army has little to no control and can deem anyone a legitimate target.

Kayin IDP Naw Tin Swe said life in their villages had been isolated: there was no voting in black zones in the historic 2015 elections, she had never heard of the peace process, nor did she speak Burmese. Her family of five yearned to return to their village nonetheless, but feared it would long remain unsafe.

"We heard Aung San Suu Kyi was elected; we don't know exactly. If she can give us help we will welcome it," Naw Tin Swe said. "We just really want to go back to our farm and home, but we heard there are so many land mines."

Source: Voice o f America

Myanmar Legal Team to Appeal Verdict Against Migrant Workers in Thailand’s Highest Court

The Myanmar government is sending a special legal team to file a second appeal of the verdict against two migrant workers from the country who were sentenced to death in Thailand for the 2014 murder of a British couple at a Thai resort, their lawyer said Wednesday.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun, both in their early 20s, were sentenced to death by a Thai court on Dec. 24, 2015, after being found guilty of the murder of British backpacker David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of his companion Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the resort island of Koh Tao in September 2014.

A government legal team had filed an appeal with a lower court but it was rejected on Feb. 23 of this year, though the news was not made public. The men's lawyers and activists found out about it a week later.

The death sentences can be revoked under an amnesty or be changed into a minimum punishment because the highest court in Thailand cannot impose capital punishment without solid evidence, their lawyer Aung Myo Thant told RFA's Myanmar Service.

The state is giving us full support, he said. It is sending a legal advisory team to provide assistance for when the new appeal is submitted to Thailand's highest court. Right now, we are translating the documents from the First Appeals Court from Thai into the Burmese language.

A Thai Foreign Office official said the Myanmar legal team must submit new facts in its appeal, Aung Myo said, adding that those working on the case are studying a 4,000-page report about the crime.

We need to request that the deadline for the new appeal be postponed because the 30-day deadline for filing it after the sentencing is not enough time, he said.

We are working with the Myanmar Lawyers Network to extend the deadline, Aung Myo said. Under Thai law, the appeal deadline can be extended a month at a time based on reasonable facts.

One of the questionable facts in the case is the principal murder weapon, which court documents list as a hoe, he said.

But the DNA of the two suspects was not found on that hoe, he said, adding that a Thai doctor told the court that DNA could be found if a person holds something for just five seconds.

We can take up this issue in our new appeal, Aung Myo said. We know this highest court where we are submitting our appeal is a very free and impartial court, and we expect to get the truth and a fair result.

Though Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun at first admitted to the crime, they later recanted, saying they had made their confession under duress.

Hundreds in Myanmar staged protests in late December 2015 calling for the pair to be freed, saying the men were scapegoats in a botched Thai police investigation of the crime.

At the same time, Myanmar human rights officials appealed to their counterparts in Thailand to ensure that two remained protected by the law while they appealed their verdict.

Source: Copyright (copyright) 1998-2016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036

UN: Conflict, Poverty Fuel $150-Billion Modern Slave Trade

UNITED NATIONS � The United Nations warns that conflict and poverty are fueling human trafficking and modern slavery, putting $150 billion a year into the coffers of organized crime worldwide.

Trafficking networks have gone global, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday during a special session on the issue. He said victims can be found in 106 countries.

Some 21 million people are estimated to be victims, used as forced labor, sex slaves, coerced into prostitution, or involuntarily recruited into armed groups. Some even have had their organs removed by traffickers to sell on the illegal transplant market.

For organized crime networks, human trafficking is a low-risk, high-reward criminal business, said Yury Fedotov, head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime. He said low conviction rates for perpetrators let traffickers operate with near-impunity.

The conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere are churning out millions of desperate and vulnerable people susceptible to traffickers.

Somali human rights campaigner Ilwad Elman told the council that in her country, women and young children are trafficked for domestic work, forced prostitution and even organ removal.

Conflict and insecurity breed desperation, and traffickers present themselves as a ticket out of all of that, she said via a video link from Mogadishu.

Erosion of the rule of law enables transnational trafficking networks to act with impunity, Britain's Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland told the Security Council.

Slave trade 'booming' in Libya

Europol has confirmed that traffickers are increasingly targeting refugees in the EU, Hyland said, referring to the European Union's law enforcement agency. And nearly half of all refugees are children, many of whom are unaccompanied and, therefore, especially vulnerable.

He told of meeting a 15-year-old Eritrean girl at a refugee reception center on the Italian island of Lampedusa. She had been kidnapped and held for three months in Libya in a connection house where she was raped multiple times a day.

A modern-day slave trade is now booming in Libya, Hyland warned. Political, military and social conditions have created an environment where traffickers have thrived.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 70 percent of migrants moving from North Africa to Europe have experienced exploitation and human trafficking, mainly in Libya.

Terror groups, including Islamic State and Boko Haram, also engage in enslavement and forced labor, while drug traffickers use kidnapping and ransom to finance their operations.

The current refugee and migration crisis is a boon to traffickers.

As people take to the road, predators take advantage, Secretary-General Guterres said. Refugee camps have become a fertile hunting ground for traffickers to find new victims.

No borders

But trafficking can happen far from conflict zones, as well.

No country is immune from this crisis, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said. That includes the United States, where, despite our efforts to combat human trafficking, too many people are still falling victim to criminals who force them into prostitution or other types of work with no pay and no way out.

Haley noted that traffickers are using technology and the internet to their advantage in the recruiting and selling of people.

President Donald Trump's administration is committed to ending this absolutely horrific practice, she said, and is about to launch a new initiative to raise $1.5 billion to help countries break up trafficking rings and assist survivors.

The funding will come partly from the U.S. government, but unlike most assistance programs, the initiative will seek to raise most of its money from partners in foreign governments and in the private sector.

Ending modern slavery must be a collective effort, Haley said, and she pledged that the new initiative would spend its money on programs that show results.

Groups that receive funding must set measurable goals, and they must target a 50-percent reduction in modern slavery for the population they will be working with, she said.

Prevention efforts

The secretary-general made clear there is much that states can do to both punish and prevent human trafficking.

He said a solid legal framework already is in place, including the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Crime, and conventions from the International Labor Organization and the Global Plan of Action on Human Trafficking.

States also need to strengthen cooperation and coordination on law enforcement, investigations and intelligence sharing, Guterres said.

At the same time, we need to get at the underlying vulnerabilities that fuel this phenomenon, the U.N. chief added, by empowering girls through education, by respecting the rights of minorities and by establishing safe and legal channels of migration.

Source: Voice o f America

UN: Conflict, Poverty Fuel $150-Billion Modern Slave Trade

UNITED NATIONS � The United Nations warns that conflict and poverty are fueling human trafficking and modern slavery, putting $150 billion a year into the coffers of organized crime worldwide.

Trafficking networks have gone global, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday during a special session on the issue. He said victims can be found in 106 countries.

Some 21 million people are estimated to be victims, used as forced labor, sex slaves, coerced into prostitution, or involuntarily recruited into armed groups. Some even have had their organs removed by traffickers to sell on the illegal transplant market.

For organized crime networks, human trafficking is a low-risk, high-reward criminal business, said Yury Fedotov, head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime. He said low conviction rates for perpetrators let traffickers operate with near-impunity.

The conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere are churning out millions of desperate and vulnerable people susceptible to traffickers.

Somali human rights campaigner Ilwad Elman told the council that in her country, women and young children are trafficked for domestic work, forced prostitution and even organ removal.

Conflict and insecurity breed desperation, and traffickers present themselves as a ticket out of all of that, she said via a video link from Mogadishu.

Erosion of the rule of law enables transnational trafficking networks to act with impunity, Britain's Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland told the Security Council.

Slave trade 'booming' in Libya

Europol has confirmed that traffickers are increasingly targeting refugees in the EU, Hyland said, referring to the European Union's law enforcement agency. And nearly half of all refugees are children, many of whom are unaccompanied and, therefore, especially vulnerable.

He told of meeting a 15-year-old Eritrean girl at a refugee reception center on the Italian island of Lampedusa. She had been kidnapped and held for three months in Libya in a connection house where she was raped multiple times a day.

A modern-day slave trade is now booming in Libya, Hyland warned. Political, military and social conditions have created an environment where traffickers have thrived.

According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 70 percent of migrants moving from North Africa to Europe have experienced exploitation and human trafficking, mainly in Libya.

Terror groups, including Islamic State and Boko Haram, also engage in enslavement and forced labor, while drug traffickers use kidnapping and ransom to finance their operations.

The current refugee and migration crisis is a boon to traffickers.

As people take to the road, predators take advantage, Secretary-General Guterres said. Refugee camps have become a fertile hunting ground for traffickers to find new victims.

No borders

But trafficking can happen far from conflict zones, as well.

No country is immune from this crisis, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said. That includes the United States, where, despite our efforts to combat human trafficking, too many people are still falling victim to criminals who force them into prostitution or other types of work with no pay and no way out.

Haley noted that traffickers are using technology and the internet to their advantage in the recruiting and selling of people.

President Donald Trump's administration is committed to ending this absolutely horrific practice, she said, and is about to launch a new initiative to raise $1.5 billion to help countries break up trafficking rings and assist survivors.

The funding will come partly from the U.S. government, but unlike most assistance programs, the initiative will seek to raise most of its money from partners in foreign governments and in the private sector.

Ending modern slavery must be a collective effort, Haley said, and she pledged that the new initiative would spend its money on programs that show results.

Groups that receive funding must set measurable goals, and they must target a 50-percent reduction in modern slavery for the population they will be working with, she said.

Prevention efforts

The secretary-general made clear there is much that states can do to both punish and prevent human trafficking.

He said a solid legal framework already is in place, including the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Crime, and conventions from the International Labor Organization and the Global Plan of Action on Human Trafficking.

States also need to strengthen cooperation and coordination on law enforcement, investigations and intelligence sharing, Guterres said.

At the same time, we need to get at the underlying vulnerabilities that fuel this phenomenon, the U.N. chief added, by empowering girls through education, by respecting the rights of minorities and by establishing safe and legal channels of migration.

Source: Voice o f America