Category Archives: Politics

Two Myanmar Ethnic Groups From Strife-torn Areas Not Allowed to Hold Advance Talks

A joint committee overseeing the drafting process of the framework for political dialogue in Myanmar on Monday suspended regional-level discussions by two ethnic minority groups in the run-up to the second meeting of nationwide peace talks scheduled for the end of February.

The Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), headed by State Counselor and de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has put on hold regional-level discussions about policies regarding national-level talks planned by the Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and the Chin National Front (CNF) in Chin state in western Myanmar before the 21st-Century Panglong Conference on Feb. 28.

The UPDJC, which is holding a two-day meeting in the capital Naypyidaw, is composed of ethnic armed groups that have signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government, representatives from political parties and the central government, and military officers.

The UPDJC did not give a reason for suspending regional-level talks in Rakhine and Chin state, while other ethnic minority parties that have signed the NCA have been permitted to hold them in their respective regions in preparation for the national-level conference later this month, said presidential spokesman Zaw Htay.

“It’s not that there wasn’t any solid reason [for the decision],” he said. “We are not saying they cannot do it. Of course, the talks will take place sooner or later.”

The ALP and CNF are both signatories to the NCA.

Kachin political parties in Myanmar’s northernmost state have held discussions to prepare for the next round of the Panglong Conference, but the UPDJC has not recognized their preparatory meetings, and the groups will not be able to submit their meeting results to the peace conference, Eleven Myanmar media group reported on Monday.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), one of the state’s major parties and the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has not signed the NCA and is not officially allowed to hold talks, the report said.

The KIA has been engaged in recent skirmishes with the government army in neighboring northern Shan state.

Who will attend?

The UPDJC urged those in attendance at the current meeting to do what they can to ensure that ethnic militias that have not signed the NCA attend the Feb. 28 conference.

It is not yet clear whether groups that did not sign the NCA will be invited to attend.

About 700 delegates will attend the second session of the of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference to work out a peace plan for the nation to end decades of civil wars between the military and ethnic militias.

Delegates who attended the first session at the end of August and beginning of September 2016 agreed to hold the national-level talks between sessions of the Panglong Conference in order to consider what various ethnic groups and political parties wanted.

Both Rakhine and Chin states have been scenes of recent volatility. Security forces moved into northern Rakhine state in October 2016 after nine border guards were attacked and killed in raids by Rohingya militants.

Deadly clashes between army troops and groups of armed men ensued in November. The crackdown has left hundreds dead by some estimates and forced more than 66,000 Rohingya Muslims who live in the region to flee, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh where they have accused security forces of murder, toture, rape, and arson.

Renewed clashes between the government army and Arakan Army (AA) took place last December in Paletwa township, Chin State, which sits on the border with Rakhine state. The fighting displaced hundreds of residents.

Muslim women, sheltered in a house at Kutupalang Rohingya camp in Bangladesh, talk about the abuse they endured during security operations in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Jan. 27, 2017. Credit: DPA HRW calls for action

On Sunday, New York-based human Rights Watch issued a call for the Myanmar government to endorse an independent, international investigation into alleged human rights abuses in northern Rakhine, including reports of rape and sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls.

The group, which documented cases of rape from interviews it conducted with Rohingya survivors and witnesses in Bangladesh, also called for security forces involved in the violence to be punished.

“These horrific acts on Rohingya women and girls by security forces add a new and brutal chapter to the Burmese military’s long and sickening history of sexual violence against women,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, senior emergencies researcher at HRW.

“Military and police commanders should be held responsible for these crimes if they did not do everything in their power to stop them or punish those involved,” she said.

The group’s statement comes two days after the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) issued a report confirming attacks of rape and sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls based on interviews it conducted, and said that abuses committed against the minority by security forces indicate “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

Rights groups have blasted a national-level commission investigating the violence, which said in an interim report issued in January that it had found no cases of genocide or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims living in the region.

The commission also said that its interviews of local villagers and women had yielded insufficient evidence of rape to take legal action, though its investigations into accusations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests were still under way.

Commission inspects jails

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s independent National Human Rights Commission inspected jails and prisons in Rakhine state’s capital Sittwe on Monday about two weeks after a U.N. human rights envoy visited the state.

During a 12-day visit, Yanghee Lee visited violence-affected areas in northern Rakhine state, the prison in Buthidaung township, Sittwe prison, and internally displaced persons camps where Rohingya live. She will deliver a report on her findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

The members of the commission found that improvements have been made in Sittwe Prison and other jails in Rakhine state according to human rights guidelines, a member of the body said.

“We noticed there were still minor violations at the prisons we inspected,” commission member Yu Lwin Aung told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Monday after his visit to Sittwe. “The toilets in Sittwe prison are not as clean as they should be, and some of the plastic bedsheets are torn. Apart from that, we didn’t find any major human rights violations.”

Regular inspections by officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had resulted in the improvements, he said.

Commission members also inspected courtrooms and the general hospital in Sittwe and visited Ponnagyun, a township of Sittwe district, Yu Lwin said.

The Commission has drawn up a working plan to meet the minimum standards in prisons prescribed by the U.N. and are on an inspection tour of various prisons, he said.

No Rohingya support from Cambodia

The crisis in Rakhine has prompted government leaders of some member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to condemn violence against the Rohingya and increased pressure on Myanmar to stop it, though the members of the regional body have long agreed to a policy of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs.

Malaysia and Indonesia-both Muslim-majority countries-have sent ships with food and other essentials to Rakhine state.

But Cambodia is not among those criticizing Myanmar. Following a meeting with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said his country would refrain from intervening in the Rohingya crisis.

Hun Sen also said the issue was an internal matter, and that the ASEAN charter bans members from intervening in each other’s internal affairs.

“The issue is purely that of Burma’s,” said Cambodia government spokesman Phay Siphan, using the former name of Myanmar. “It falls within the sovereignty of Burma. We shall respect that.”

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

Malaysian Prime Minister Wants Myanmar to Stop Violence, Discrimination Against Rohingya

Malaysia’s prime minister urged the Myanmar government on Thursday to end reported violence and discrimination against the stateless Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state where security forces have allegedly carried out atrocities against the group.

Premier Najib Razak warned that Islamic extremists could use the plight of the Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority population, as a way to radicalize the minority group, which is denied basic rights.

Myanmar army soldiers stand accused of killing civilians, torturing villagers, raping women and girls, and setting homes ablaze in Rohingya communities during a security sweep in northern Rakhine following deadly attacks on border guard stations last October.

The government and army have denied the allegations and blamed the attacks on Rohingya militants who received training and financial help from abroad.

“Many have suffered appalling deaths, and those that have lived through the atrocities have witnessed or endured unspeakable cruelty,” Najib was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying during a special meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The intergovernmental body of 57 member nations met in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to discuss the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state.

“For a start, the killing must stop,” he said. “The violation of women and girls must stop.”

‘The Rohingya cannot wait’

Contacted by RFA’s Myanmar Service, the Myanmar government declined to comment on the OIC meeting.

Tensions between Muslim-majority Malaysia and Myanmar over the treatment of the Rohingya have risen in the last several weeks.

Early last December, Najib led a rally of thousands in Kuala Lumpur to protest what he called the Myanmar government’s “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya.

At the time, he also urged the United Nations and OIC to take more active roles in the latest Rohingya crisis, which has caused an exodus of about 65,000 refugees to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to the U.N.

“[T]he government of Myanmar disputes the terms ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ but whatever the terminology, the Rohingya cannot wait,” Najib said in opening remarks at the OIC session.

Malaysia is sending a food flotilla for the Rohingya in Rakhine state and is providing 10 million ringgit ($2.24 million) for humanitarian relief.

The Myanmar government has previously vowed to turn the flotilla back unless the organizers in charge of the mission apply for permission to enter Myanmar territory.

A decision to allow the aid mission to enter the country would help create a more positive image of Myanmar, Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said at the OIC meeting, the country’s New Straits Times reported.

“Not only [would] we welcome the commitment by the government of Myanmar, but we would also like to assist them by giving a positive impression to the international community towards what is happening in Rakhine State,” he was quoted as telling reporters at the meeting.

Solo protest against Malaysia

Back in Myanmar, Myat Hsu Mon, a former political science student, carried out a solo protest against the OIC meeting by marching from Yangon University to the Malaysian embassy.

She had also sent a letter to the Malaysian embassy, asking that the country respect the rights of the 135 ethnic groups on Myanmar’s official list-which does not include the Rohingya-and reject the OIC meeting to discuss Myanmar’s problem in a foreign country.

“Fifty-seven OIC countries held a meeting in Malaysia to discuss a Myanmar problem,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “It is direct interference in and an insult to Myanmar’s sovereignty. I can’t accept it; and that’s why I’m protesting.”

Myat Hsu Mon said she will join others to protest if her solo effort is not effective in preventing Malaysia from interfering in Myanmar’s affairs.

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

Rohingya Leader: 90,000 Already in Malaysia Willing to Work

A day after Myanmar’s government announced it would no longer send workers to Malaysia, a migrant-group leader said about 90,000 Rohingya Muslims already in the country were willing to take jobs.

Faisal Islam Muhammad Kassim, president of the Rohingya Society in Malaysia (RSM), told BenarNews on Thursday that allowing members of his group to get jobs and seek education in Malaysia would help many who live in shared flats and houses have better lives.

“We would like to work and earn our income,” said Faisal, a statistics graduate from a Myanmar university who earns his keep in Malaysia through translation work for media outlets and other odd jobs.

“We then can have access to health insurance if we are able to work legally here. Our children can also receive proper education,” said Faisal, who has been in Malaysia for three years without a full-time job.

In response, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Executive Director Shamsuddin Bardan supported the idea following Myanmar’s move on Wednesday.

“I personally believe when the Myanmar government decided to stop sending workers, the government should allow Rohingya refugees who are currently in Malaysia to work.

“But the policy must be firm. No refugees who come after a certain date should be allowed to work so that the country won’t be overrun by Rohingya refugees,” Shamsuddin told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Ministry of Human Resources has not received official notification from Myanmar about its prohibition on migrant workers heading to Malaysia. Human Resources Minister Richard Riot said such a move would not change the number of foreign workers in the country.

“About 100,000 Myanmar workers are working in Malaysia with most of them in the manufacturing sector,” he said, adding the nation had enough foreign workers with most coming from Bangladesh.

In addition, Malaysia recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia to bring in workers, he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

UNHCR

About 56,000 Rohingya in Malaysia have received refugee status cards from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kuala Lumpur. Faisal said another 35,000 were not recognized by UNHCR, which protects refugees but does not allow them to work legally.

Shamsuddin said the number of refugees was much higher, claiming that 150,000 Rohingya were in Malaysia and had no legal access to jobs.

In November, UNHCR told the Reuters news service that it was working with Malaysian officials on a pilot program to allow a few Rohingya – 300 over three years – to work in Malaysia’s plantation and manufacturing sectors.

Political fallout

Myanmar on Wednesday said it had temporarily stopped sending workers to Malaysia over the “current situation in Malaysia,” but without elaboration and apparently in response to bilateral tensions over a military crackdown in Rakhine state.

Myanmar’s army has conducted security sweeps in the northern part of the state that borders Bangladesh following deadly attacks on Burmese border guard posts in early October. Authorities have blamed Rohingya militants for those attacks.

Soldiers have been accused of committing extrajudicial killings, rape and arson in Rohingya communities. The military has denied committing any atrocities and has blamed the arson that reportedly destroyed hundreds of homes on Rohingya. More than 20,000 Rohingya have crossed into southeastern Bangladesh in recent weeks as they have fled from the violence in Rakhine, the International Organization for Migration said this week.

On Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a rally in Kuala Lumpur where he condemned violence against Rohingya Muslims as “genocide” and urged other Asian nations to increase pressure on Myanmar to stop the bloodletting.

The move prompted Myanmar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin to summon Malaysian Ambassador Mohd Haniff Bin Abd Rahman to express dismay over Najib’s remarks and reject accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Educational opportunities

Faisal said large populations of Rohingya were in Kuala Lumpur Selangor, and the northern state of Penang. Their children attend schools run by non-governmental organizations.

“We expect that there are more than what we’ve recorded. UNHCR is giving cards to those who really need it like the sickly and those who had been detained by the authorities and kept at the immigration depot,” said Faisal, 34, the father of a 5-month-old.

Lydia Amira, a teacher at a Rohingya NGO school in Kuala Lumpur supported calls for educational rights for Rohingya.

“These students have potential. We want them to have language and knowledge so that they can survive the outside world. It’s no different from normal, non-refugee kids.

“From just teaching them language, basic English, a number of our students were accepted for relocation efforts into the United States, perhaps with what we are teaching here, one day they can go back to their country and rebuild it with what they learned,” she told BenarNews.

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

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