Monthly Archives: March 2012

Chinese crackdown targets Burmese


Source from DVB, 30 March 2012Refugees board a vehicle as they return to Myanmar from the border town of Nansan, China's Yunnan province

Refugees board a vehicle as they return to Burma from the border town of Nansan in China’s Yunnan province on 31 August 2009. (Reuters)

About 800 undocumented Burmese migrants in China’s Yunnan province have been arrested this month in what locals claim is the largest crackdown on the population by the police.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, Burmese resident in Ruili and Jiegao townships said the crackdown started during the middle of March following the murder of a Chinese police officer and a local woman who runs a money exchange operation.

“As far as I remember, the intensive crackdown started around March 14th and has simmered down in the past few days, but it’s still going on,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

The police cited the recent surge in crime as justification for the crackdown, says the resident.

Local officials claim that Burmese hit men from Shan stat, who were paid by a Chinese national to carry out the murder, killed the police officer in Ruili. No one has been charged or arrested concerning the murder of the business owner; however, local residents largely blame the crime on the migrant population.

Following the incidents, Yunnan’s police learnt there were about 30,000 undocumented Burmese migrant workers in the region, which led them to initiate the crackdown.

Malaysia PM Leads 50-Strong Delegation to Burma


Source from Irrawaddy news, 28 March 2012

Editor’s Note: This article is an updated version correcting an erroreous statement that 150 persons were involved in the Malaysian delegation.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak arrived in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday leading four diplomats and at least 50 businesspeople on a two-day visit to the country.

“It is widely expected that the visit will focus on economic issues,” Malaysian ambassador to Burma Ahmad Faisal Mohamed told Malaysian journalists on Tuesday. “Everybody is interested in Myanmar. If you are late, all the opportunities will be gone.”

Bilateral trade between Malaysia and Burma stood at US $795 million in 2011, an increase of nearly 27 percent from the previous year, according to Malaysian government figures. Roughly 258,000 Burmese nationals are registered as working in Malaysia.

23299-Dato_Sri_Mohd_Najib_Tun_Razak300.jpg
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Abdul Razak

Malaysia’s state-owned oil and gas giant Petronas and the hotel group Micasa have investments in Burma. In January, the Burmese government awarded two out of 18 new onshore oil and gas blocks to Petronas in its biggest energy tender in years. Petronas said in December that it was looking to expand its onshore presence in Burma. Six additional onshore oil and gas blocks are expected to be tendered soon.

Malaysia is ranked third as country of origin of tourists in Burma, overtaking South Korea and Japan last year, according to figures by the Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. 23,287 tourist visas were issued to Malaysians in 2011, up 44 percent on the previous year.

“In trade and investment, we are not doing that badly, but we can take these opportunities to talk about areas we can further develop. There is huge potential,” Ambassador Mohamed said.

A business delegation of more than 50 representatives of Malaysian companies has travelled with Najib to Naypyidaw to explore investments in telecommunications, construction, timber and agriculture, according to Malaysia’s state news agency Bernama.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is temporarily home to a total of 88,500 Burmese refugees as of the end of January. 34,400 Chins and 23,000 Rohingyas are the two biggest ethnic groups of asylum seekers in Malaysia.

The ministers for human resources and home affairs, whose portfolios deal with foreign workers and asylum seekers, are part of the prime ministers’ delegation along with Foreign Minister Anifah Aman.

Opposition parliamentarian Mujahid Yusof Rawa expressed hope that Najib will raise the issue of the Rohingya refugees in Naypyidaw.

“I hope that the prime minister’s visit will open a new chapter in how we handle the Rohingya refugees,” the MP for the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “I hope there will be a new approach.”

“I call for the Burmese government to treat Rohingyas as Burmese,” he said. “Do not treat them as aliens.”

Najib’s visit was preceded by a preparatory visit by Foreign Minister Aman two weeks ago. This is his first prime ministerial visit to Burma and the first of a Malaysian prime minister since his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s visit in 2004.

Rohingyan Refugees in Malaysia and UNHCR’s Operation Plan-2012


by Theng,

Preface:
UNHCR country operations plan-2012 states it has continued to encourage the Malaysian government to become a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, while the gov indicates to consider this proposal. In this subject, unsignatory country Malaysia has to host refugees and asylum-seekers continuously or refugees may remain to face uncertainty.

In the report, UNHCR also fingers some degree of integration enjoyed by several stateless groups and the Filipino refugees in Sabah. Beside, UNHCR admits the fact that Malaysian law makes no distinction between refugees and undocumented migrants that causes vulnerable to arrest, detention, prosecution, whipping and deportation.

The report covered about refugees face risk on daily basis and highlighted for the first time in its country operation plan that Rohingyans from eastern Burma are considered both refugees and stateless in its report.

Because of Malaysia hosts the large migrant population and needy of foreign workers, UNHCR points that "there may also be opportunities to improve conditions for refugees, bringing them to a level similar to those of legal migrants". Nevertheless, whether UNHCR takes it as a part of foster step in order to pave local integration. Unfortunately, failure of recent program of ‘amnesty’ (legalization of illegal immigrants) could be more possibly for this fact.

Operation and Resettlement:
Despite UNHCR has committed to register undocumented refugees including newly arrivals, undertake RSD and issue identity documents, it’s primitive for Rohingya cases. As, the report received from area based Rohingyan leader showed only about hundred of unregistered Rohingyans were registered per month for last year 2011. While the number of registration of priority groups was obviously higher many times. Therefore the number of undocumented Rohingyans remained high since 2006.

UNHCR never came to intervene to prevent from arrest or taking to custody. Interference will be met months after during in detentions if information was sent. It’s true that its interference has been improved in detention cases from the mid of year 2009. But it took two to eight months to get release of refugee detainees. And there are still highest number of undocumented Rohingyan detainees in farer detention centres where UNHCR rarely accessed.

As we know, UNHCR always seek resettlement for the refugee population. Its Operation Plan also states- "UNHCR will promote fair and balanced resettlement opportunities for various ethnic groups from Myanmar and other countries".
But we could find whether it’s sideous, when Rohingyans are considered both refugees and stateless. If we check back how many number of Rohingya refugees and other refugees were resettled in the past decade.
Incompatibly, UNHCR still states in its plan that "it will advocate with the Government for temporary, local solutions in the form of residence and work permits for groups of Muslim refugees from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State".

Education:
There are about hundred of education sectors run for refugee children all the over country. The number of attendants is around 35 to 60 kids in each sector. It’s less than 10% compare to total number of refugee children. Primarily, there were less than 36 informal sectors until 2009 which were established by refugee community itself. However, the UNHCR’s report misinforms by stating that ’85 per cent of refugee children aged 6-11 is enrolled in primary school’.

Survival and aid:
Except from very few number of refugees, there are no refugee received financial or accommodation assistance from UNHCR. Historically, it just assist in extension of the documents. Yet, almost all of refugees have to risk their lives by working 3D jobs and living in jungles and mountains. But surprisingly, the report misquoted as- "their livelihoods are improved".

There are some families receive regular financial assistance from UNHCR. It’s short term assistance and generally terminated after one to 3 months and the amount is less than US$ 300 per family. Estimated number of families those receive financial assistance is about 200 families where Rohingya family numbered about 30. Providing such assistance would be more constrained year by year. Because its plan states- "depending on the funding available, UNHCR will prioritize its activities based on the most significant protection risks faced by the population of concern".

Facts:

Previously, UNHCR has pushed the Rohingya plus Muslim refugee population into the host by marginalizing from resettlement quota . Now it upholds to enhance the host country to sign the Refugee Conventions and to allow the refugees right to work so it could able to push the entire number of unwanted refugees. Meanwhile, informal and insincere engagement of UNHCR threats against the host. Nevertheless, they are not going to be happened. In this manner, at the end the ramification will be like now ‘expliotion of their rights only’.

The Operation Plan states, "international NGOs are unable to operate in the country but national NGOs have little capacity to support asylum-seekers and refugees.. Their capacity to expand remains restricted".
What kind of support it is? Practically, UNHCR doesn’t want to expand its regular exercises which are only path to find solution for Burma’s first stateless refugees hereupon it wants unrelated other INGOs to take over it. It’s not new to know about restriction over the activities of national or local NGOs because they are trying to do irregular activities in unsignatory country.

Advertisement:
Current number of Rohingya population in Malaysia is ranked on the third, albeit total about 50,000 of non-Rohingyan refugees had been resettled to 3rd countries from Malaysia in the past decade. And the flow of Rohingyans into Malaysia is still much lower compare to the other refugee groups. So, referring them as ‘largest group and big flow’, is practically inaccurate.

It’s not sad to know about how ‘Rohingya people’ are marginalized and unwanted even in exile while ongoing anti-Rohingya campaigns both in home and exile have been growing day by day.

Some experts hope that unity among Rohingyans could only find solution for their plights. But UNHCR alike Burmese government creates disunity among Rohingyans in order not to confront for their rights.

The first exhibition of ‘Stateless Rohingya…Running on empty’ will be launched from March 27-April 1st, 2012. And the following questions will be raised probably. When and how their solution could be found? What kind of dimension or solution or excuses were given in the past decades?

FIVE MYANMAR KIDNAP VICTIMS BROUGHT BACK TO GIVE STATEMENT


source from Yahoo news, 22 March 2012

PETALING JAYA, March 22 (Bernama) — Five Myanmar teenagers who were abducted on Jan 30, together with a local teenage girl, and taken to Bangkok, have been brought back to the country to facilitate investigations.

The three boys and two girls, aged between 14 and 16, would be brought from Padang Besar to have their statements recorded.

Selangor police chief Datuk Tun Hisan Tun Hamzah hoped their statements would assist the police to track down those involved in their abduction. He was speaking to reporters after a walkabout programme with residents of Bandar Puteri, Puchong near here today.

Also present was Bukit Aman Logistics Department director Datuk Zulkifli Abdullah.

The 14-year-old Malaysian was reported missing on Jan 30, after her mother, Norazura Roski, 37, sent her to a bus station in Section 9 here to visit her friend.

10 killed as ferry sinks in Myanmar


Source from thepeninsula, 23 March 2012

Yangon: Ten people were killed and six injured after a ferry capsized in Myanmar, state media reported yesterday.

The accident occurred on a ferry running from the port city of Pathein, 130kms (80mi) west of Yangon, to villages along a river in the flood-prone Irrawaddy Delta region, the New Light of Myanmar said.

The vessel capsized as it was trying to dock at a village jetty Tuesday afternoon, killing 10 passengers, it said. Seventy-two passengers and three crew members were rescued. Six passengers were taken to hospital for treatment.

The Irrawaddy Delta was the area that suffered worst when Cyclone Nargis hit southern Myanmar in May 2008. The catastrophic storm killed around 138,000 people and left thousands more homeless.

Most people living in the low-lying region — one of the least developed parts of the impoverished country — rely heavily on poorly maintained river ferries for transportation around its flooded plains. afp

Missing M’sian girl took lift into Thailand from stranger


Sorce form the Star newaper, 12 March 2012

BANGKOK: Thai immigration police investigations have indicated that a 14-year-old Malaysian girl and her five Rohingya friends had taken a lift from a stranger in Malaysia near the Malaysia-Thai border before entering Thailand illegally.

The six have since been rescued by the Thai police.

Deputy Commander of Immigration Bureau Investigation Centre Pol Col Chartchai Lamsaeng said Wednesday, the six took the ride on a Malaysian-registered van offered by a Malaysian man near the border on March 8.

The five Rohingyas comprised four boys and a girl, aged between 14 and 16. The six were friends and know each other.

"They were given drinks by the man and fell asleep shortly," Chartchai, who led the investigation into the case, told Bernama here.

He said, they could only remember passing through Hat Yai, Petchaburi or Nakhon Phatom and ended up at Hua Lamphong in the capital.

"We are surprised how they could pass through the border checkpoint without any travel document," he said, adding it was unclear whether the teenagers intended to enter Thailand when they took the van ride.

"The man even took them to a mosque in Hua Lamphong. However, it was not clear what happened to the man after that as the teenagers made their way to the Hua Lamphong Train Station."

Chartchai said, some vendors near the railway station gave them money to buy train tickets to return to Malaysia.

They were caught by the police at the station as they failed to produce valid travel documents and were sent to an immigration police office here, he added.

The immigration police later contacted the Malaysian Embassy here.

"Our investigations showed that all six were safe and not harmed or abused by the man," said Chartchai, adding that the immigration police would investigate the case under human trafficking law, which carried a penalty of between five and 10 years imprisonment.

"We managed to get a sketch of the suspect based on information given by the teenagers. Thai and Malaysian police are working on this case," he said.

He said the Thai authorities were trying to determine if an international crime syndicate was involved in this case.

An initial news report from Malaysia stated the girl had told her mother during a telephone conversation on March 12, that she and the rest were abducted and taken into Thailand before they were rescued by the Thai authorities at the railway station on March 11. – Bernama

MTV and Burmese pop stars campaign to end human trafficking


source from DW, 19 March 2012

Human Rights

R Zarni is one of Myanmar’s most successful pop stars. Normally busy turning the heads of young girls, he is now busy creating awareness about human trafficking.

At the beginning of March, R Zarni presented a documentary film in Yangon about human trafficking. He recounted stories of victims, young girls, who are sold for a little bit of money, and of their traffickers who sell them as prostitutes or slaves.

The documentary film was part of the "MTV Exit" campaign to promote awareness, especially among young populations around the world, against human trafficking and exploitation. The music TV station has already produced short films on the topic in a number of Southeast Asian languages.

To reach as many people as possible, the films are presented by stars of their regions.

MTV started the campaign in 2004. It now receives support from ASEAN, the US, Australia, various NGOs and the United Nations. There is a Facebook page for the project which already has over 90,000 fans. It also has its own Twitter channel.

The hub of human trafficking

Myanmar is an Asian hub for human trafficking. In line with the country’s democratization, it has become easier to talk about the subject openly. Myanmar’s most prominent figure, Aung San Suu Kyi has brought up the issue of trafficked women and children in public speeches. Julia Marip of the Kachin Women’s Association in Thailand told Deutsche Welle this is an important step in the country’s development.

The country that was ruled by a repressive military regime for the past five decades plays a prominent role for traffickers and the victims of their trade. A 2011 report by the US State Department found Myanmar to be a country of origin and a transit country for sex slaves. Burmese victims are trafficked to Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, South Korea and Macau. And victims from Bangladesh meant for the Thai and Chinese markets are usually sent through Myanmar. The struggle to fight trafficking goes on, according to Marip, because of corruption.

"Officials are involved in trafficking. They receive bribes. Bribes, corruption and inadequate laws are the main obstacles."

People of ethnic minority groups are trafficked to various parts of the country and are forced to work on government infrastructure and farming projects. The wide-spread use and deployment of child soldiers in Myanmar is rampant and is virtually unmatched by any other country in the world.

Exploitation in Thailand

A Myanmar woman fetches water from a small pond

Many Burmese women are used for domestic work in Thailand

In Thailand alone there are currently around 100,000 Burmese domestic workers. The conditions in which they work are often extremely poor, according to Awatsaya Panam of Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social.

A recent study conducted by the institute examined the conditions under which people from Myanmar work in Thai factories. They are paid extremely low wages, are not allowed to leave the factory premises, live in over-crowded, windowless shacks and often become victims of sexual abuse.

In recent years, the Burmese government has undertaken steps to stop the export of sex slaves in the bordering areas near Thailand. Yet it has done nothing to stop forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers.

"You can’t say the situation is better or getting worse. Currently, the Burmese government has tried to press reforms as a democratic country. But the root causes of human trafficking are of economic nature. Poverty and high unemployment are big factors," Marip explains.

Exit

MTV’s new Exit campaign is taking advantage of Myanmar’s new reforms to spread awareness about human trafficking.

"The worst part of human trafficking is that seemingly strong people take advantage of people’s weaknesses," says R Zarni.

Other stars are also working on the MTV project. Burmese female singer Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, who is active in UNICEF, has been supporting MTV’s Exit since 2009.

Marip hopes the project will be a big success. "If it is done well, it will be very good for the people." With the government focusing on legislation to curb trafficking and organizations creating awareness, Marip believes the battle is sure to be won.

Author: Rodion Ebbighausen / sb

Editor: Shamil Shams

Displaced and Distressed


Source from Irrawaddy news, 17 March 2012

LAIZA, Kachin State—Maran Tu Ring has a broad but cautious smile and the fixed glare of a tired mind. I met him in Laiza in Kachin State, a place he doesn’t want to be.

The 54-year-old is an internally displaced person or IDP, a civilian victim of the fighting that broke out in June last year in northeastern Burma.

Since then, the Tatmadaw, or the Burmese armed forces, has reduced the area under the control of the Kachin Independence Army and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The fighting has reached a stalemate; both sides say they are seeking a political solution and a ceasefire, but negotiations are tainted by decades of mistrust.

Maran Tu Ring had to abandon his home village of Japu last autumn. He is now living in the Wai Chyai IDP Camp on the outskirts of Laiza, the Kachin Independence Organization’s operational capital situated right on the border to China.

"I really want to go home, but I can’t," he said. "I have no choice in the matter."

He has been living in the refugee camp for the last four months. His arrival in the giant warehouse that initially provided housing in this camp marked the end of a three-month flight from the conflict to provisional safety in Laiza.

"There are 12 families from my village here," he said. He explained that his own family was dispersed between this camp, another camp in Laiza and a camp in Myitkyina.

According to information provided by the KIO, 2,631 people from 40 villages are currently living in the Wai Chyai IDP Camp.

Some have built primitive bamboo huts, while others continue to live in the two-by-two meter compartments provided by the KIO government in the warehouse.

Most cover the entrance with a cloth for privacy and sleep at night on mats. Most had left all they had in their villages.

“Some youths sneaked back into their villages to get a chicken or a piglet to sell or to eat,” Lt. Geng Du Awng, a KIA officer, told me. “We provide them with rice, but it is scarce.”

No less than 45,678 people have left their homes and sought refuge in camps in China, KIO-controlled areas and government-controlled areas, according to March 4 figures released by the KIO’s IDP Refugee Relief Committee (IRRC). Almost half of them are sheltering in Laiza and its outskirts.

More than 5,000 of these displaced people are under five years of age.

"The UNHCR has criticized us for exaggerated numbers, but at the time, we hadn’t released any numbers," said Larip, the 41-year old head of the Kachin Development Group and coordinator of the Laiza-based Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees (RANIR). "Other people have exaggerated the figures."

"Sometimes the figures have been exaggerated, this creates confusion among politicians and donors," Kareng Awng from RANIR said.

Meters away from Larip’s office is the Chinese border. Chinese officials and media have denied the existence of refugee camps on their side over the last months. Chinese journalists have reported on the conflict, but their reports refute the existence of refugee camps on the Chinese side.

One interview on Chinese Central Television showed a local explaining that Kachin people from both sides of the border travel back and forth freely to visit relatives and do business and should not be considered refugees.

“These people are not refugees,” the spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Liu Weimin said at a press conference in Beijing in early February.

According to the IRRC figures, 7,223 refugees are living on the Chinese side of the border. Asked why he thought the Chinese government has denied their existence in recent statements, Larip said, "They might have the understanding that the conflict will be settled very soon. If they say they have refugees, they have to give them refugee status. But they don’t want international organizations to get involved in this issue.

"I think, that is one of the reasons why they have facilitated the peace talks," he added. "They want to localize the issue as much as possible—it should not spread and become a big issue."

One single UN convoy brought basic household and shelter supplies to camps near Laiza in December last year. Larip said he has not seen any international help in the IDP and refugee camps either from China or from any other country recently.

In February, the UN Special Envoy for Burma Vijay Nambiar said that the UN had reached an agreement with the Burmese government to allow humanitarian aid to IDPs in KIO-controlled territory.

The scarcity in food is due to restrictive export legislation on the Chinese side, he said.

“We cannot legally bring Chinese food items across the border to IDP camps in KIO-controlled territory,” he said. “A sufficient supply of medicine has also been a challenge.

They don’t allow us to bring in a lot, but we have to find a way to get it to the camps.”

Larip said he had learned of nine cases of human trafficking from the IDP camps to China.

"We don’t know how they are trafficked to China," he said. "Sometimes it’s the local people, sometimes it’s even the parents."

The fighting has also strained the KIO’s teaching capacity. At Laiza High School, one of three schools in the town, the teaching schedule had to be changed to cater for hundreds of new students when the fighting started.

"Due to the IDP [flood] a lot of children came from the villages, so we had to change the timetable," Secretary of the Central Education Department Yao Sau told me.

Local children now start school at six in the morning, ending at half past 12. Then the IDP students begin their classes at one and end at 5:30.

“The really good students from the IDP classes get moved into the local classes," Yao Sau said.

The IDP flood brought in teachers as well. Thirty-six-year old Hkun San is one of them. Originally from Myitsone, he was a teacher in Bandong village. "I came here when the fighting broke out," he said.

Hkun San is the headmaster of a provisional school in the Je Yang IDP Camp. In a dozen bamboo huts with makeshift bamboo stools and tables, 32 teachers teach 1,063 children. After the 7th grade, some students are allowed to continue their education at the Laiza High School, but for must IDP children schooling ends at age 14. "We prepare to teach grade 8 and 9 next year," he said.

The Laiza Hospital also had to struggle to provide its services to as many of the newcomers as possible. Asked on how many new patients came to his hospital, the head of the Laiza hospital named Major Prang Mai, replied with a forced smile.

They had set up a temporary clinic, which by now has been scaled down to a small room in the Wai Chyai IDP Camp, he said. His hospital caters for those IDPs who sickness is too serious to be treated there.

Kaw Awm, 53, from Namsam village is one of them. She has AIDS and is spending the last days of her life in Major Prang Mai Hospital. Lying in her bed, extremely thin, her eyes are hauntingly sad.

Before the fighting, she used to be a teacher in her village, her 20-year-old son Prang Awng told me. She left in June last year with her two children, a boy and a girl, and found shelter at Laiza’s Manau Wang IDP camp. Six days ago, she was brought from the camp to the hospital.

She shared her room with two other terminally ill AIDS patients. The 100-bed hospital is struggling to get basic equipment, some donated years ago by the Japanese embassy in Rangoon, medicine is mostly smuggled from China.

Five minutes drive from the hospital, another IDP is under arrest. Thirty-four-year-old Sang Bu was sitting on a mat along, holding her child, along with a dozen other inmates of the KIO’s drug rehabilitation centre.

She left her home in Namsang village in October 2011 and until two weeks ago lived in the Wai Chyai IDP Camp. She was arrested for drug consumption and placed under detention in the centre.

She told me she started using opium a month ago. "I tried to lessen my stomach pains but eventually got too fond of it," she said. "I bought the opium on the Chinese side for 20 yuan [US $3] per dose."

Sang Bu is one of 128 people detained for drug consumption or sale at the center. They can be detained up to six months and are administered gradually lower quantities of drugs, said Assistant Secretary of the Drug Eradication Department Gam Ba.

"Most arrested are from IDP camps," he said. He also employs some IDP as cleaners at the camp.

"What’s needed most is food and shelter, nutrition for children and pregnant women," community worker Larip told me.

That evening, just like every other evening in the past six months, thousands of families cook their meals on makeshift fires in crowded camps around Laiza. Most, like Maran Tu Ring, just want to go home.

Bangladesh Claims Victory in Bay of Bengal Dispute


source from Irrawaddy news, 15 March 2012

23218-fishing670.jpg
Men fish with nets in Bay of Bengal near Labutta Township. (Photo: Reuters)

A long-running maritime boundary dispute between Burma and Bangladesh ended on Wednesday after arbitration at the International Tribunal on the Laws of the Sea (ITOLS) in Hamburg, Germany. The 151-page ruling by the UN body was considered a victory for Bangladesh, in a dispute that threatened to turn violent in 2008.

Bangladesh took the case to the tribunal after the Burmese navy escorted oil and gas exploration vessels and a rig run by South Korea’s Daewoo company into sea that both countries claimed as their own, but is situated some 50 km from the Bangladeshi-owned Saint Martin’s Island.

“We are happy, we are absolutely delighted,” Dipu Moni, the Bangladeshi foreign minister, told reporters.

“This is a great day for Bangladesh. All our strategic objectives were achieved,” she said after the ruling, which paves the way for Bangladesh to begin exploration of the sea bed, primarily with US oil company Conoco Philips. The ruling awarded Bangladesh some 111,000 square km of sea, in what was seen as a landmark ruling, delimiting areas of sea beyond 200 nautical miles from the mainland.

Burma had contended that the ITOLS had no jurisdiction over the issue because the contested area and block in question, block AD-7, was more than 200 nautical miles from the mainland.

A Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement asserted that, “The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on March 14, 2012, sustained Bangladesh’s claims to a full 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal, and to a substantial share of the outer continental shelf beyond 200 miles.”

“We are planning to offer at least two to three deep-water gas blocks in the forthcoming bidding round with the planned eight shallow water gas blocks if Bangladesh gets legitimate rights over the deep water blocks through the verdict of the international tribunal,” Petrobangla Director Muhammad Imaduddin told Bangladesh’s Financial Express on Saturday.

Bangladesh had ceased all exploration until a verdict was made after first submitting the request in December 2009. This followed a 2008 incident in which the Burmese navy escorted an exploration rig owned by the US company Transocean but which was leased to Daewoo and Kogas, allegedly for some US $400,000 a day.

When the Bangladeshi navy confronted the vessels the Burmese military sent large numbers of troops to the shared land border. A leaked US embassy cable revealed that the Bangladeshis were so concerned by the build-up, believed to have been some 30 km from their territory, that they requested US assistance, specifically satellite imagery of the Burmese troops, to assess the risk.

The conflict induced Bangladesh to restock its military, acquiring the Serbian-made Nora B-52 self propelled howitzer and additional naval patrol boats.

Bangladesh is desperate for more energy supplies, with the country some 1,800 MW of electricity short of demand. Since the maritime dispute, both countries have witnessed a thaw in bilateral relations with the government of Sheik Hasina making stringent efforts with both India and Burma. This has included the country becoming the first to move its embassy to Naypyidaw, exploring plans to build a rail link, and seeking imports of Burmese energy, both hydro and natural gas.

For Burma’s part, the new government also seems far more prepared to work on bilateral relations, not least in the Energy Ministry, where industry figures believe that under the leadership of Minister Than Htay operations have become more efficient. The previous administration also initiated a 350-km electric fence along the shared border.

Reflecting the thaw in the relationship, Dipu Moni was quoted in the Financial Express as saying, “It is a victory for both of the states. Because it finally resolves—peacefully and according to international law—a problem that had hampered their economic development for more than three decades. We salute Myanmar for its willingness to resolve this matter by legal means and for its acceptance of the tribunal’s judgment.”

Burmese Army Breaches Karen Ceasefire


source from Irrawaddy news, 14 March 2012

23211-knu670.jpg
KNU soldiers march to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of Karen Revolution Day at Oo Kray Kee Township in the Karen State in January 2012. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Karen sources told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that Burmese government forces have breached a two-month-old ceasefire by attacking the frontline positions of the Karen National Union (KNU) in Papun District, northern Karen State, on several occasions in recent weeks.

Htoo Klei, the secretary of the Karen Office of Relief and Development, which operates in conflict zones in Karen State, said that several clashes between KNU rebels and government troops have broken out this month.

He said incidents have also been reported of Burmese soldiers patrolling KNU-controlled routes and stepping on landmines.

The news comes after a formal ceasefire between the two sides was signed on Jan. 12.

Htoo Klei said that villagers displaced by the conflict are still too afraid to return home as the Burmese army has expanded its presence in northern Karen State.

Local villagers told The Irrawaddy that the government has increased its supplies of military hardware in the region, and has beefed up its frontline positions close to KNU outposts.

A Karen refugee named Htoo Htoo, who recently visited his family at an IDP camp in Papun District in northern Karen State, said that he witnessed some 80 trucks on Jan. 15 carrying food and military supplies to Burmese army outposts in northern Karen State close to KNU Brigade 5 bases.

KNU troops said they have witnessed government troops transporting military supplies by boat on the Salween River since the ceasefire was signed.

Many villagers in Karen State say they are very worried about the breakdown of the ceasefire. They said they fear reprisals by government troops.

Meanwhile, another ethnic rebel militia, the Shan State Army–South (SSA–South), said that it too had defended itself recently against Burmese army aggression despite reaching a ceasefire agreement with a government delegation in December.

It said separate clashes between the SSA–South and government forces broke out on March 11 when government units launched attacks against Shan rebel outposts in Mong Yawng in eastern Shan State and in Kyaukme in northwestern Shan State.

The SSA-South responded with gunfire only after it has been attacked several times, said spokesman Maj. Sai Lao Hseng.

“We have learned that the government troops will attack us at any time,” he said. “We cannot trust them. But we have ordered our troops only to fire in self-defense.”

Heavy fighting has also been reported on Monday between the Kachin Independence Army and government troops in northern Shan State, two days after failed peace talks concluded in China.

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