Friday 25 December 2015

A Love Of Sovereignty: Borders, Bureaucracy And The Rohingya Crisis – Analysis

Source eurasiareview, 22 Dec,

A Rohingya youth sleeps on the street in Burma. Photo Source: Queen Mary, University of London.A Rohingya youth sleeps on the street in Burma. Photo Source: Queen Mary, University of London.

By  December 22, 2015

The disenfranchisement of the Rohingya from Myanmar's recent historic November elections is but the latest event in a long series of tragedies in Rakhine state. Yet the central government finds itself in a position where after a long history of purposeful neglect, the politics of Rakhine state have boiled to the surface of both national level politics, and relations between the international community and the state. The Rohingya issue, and the fact that the states unwanted population now faces a bleak future, confined to camps similar to 'open air prisons', and which have compelled thousands to take perilous boat trips to Malaysia and beyond, has become an embarrassment for the government in the context of western donors who have been in a euphoria over Myanmar's nominally democratic transition.

Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state has now been 'cleansed' of Muslims – or more specifically the Rohingya. Before the 2012 violence there were approximately 20,000 Rohingya living around Sittwe, now nearly all traces of Rohingya have been erased – save for some burnt out Mosques and the 4000 strong hidden away ghetto of Aung Mingalar (which people are unable to freely leave, and have to go under police guard just to travel to the market). The domineering Rakhine cultural Museum also erases all traces of the Rohingya from Arakan history. Across the state Rohingya are confined to villages, displacement camps and ghettos with extremely limited access to healthcare and no access to formal government schooling. It is now dangerous just to say the 'R word' (as local development workers term it) when in downtown Sittwe. Especially after the anti UN and NGO pogroms of last year where Rakhine led riots resulted in over 20 INGO and UN properties being ransacked, saying the word 'Rohingya' could quite literally incite a violent response. As one small anecdote of the situation, in Sittwe, in a tea shop one night, a Rakhine man proudly wearing a jacket with Nazi insignia on it aggressively asked me – 'so what are you writing there on your computer, maybe about the 'Rohingya' huh?

What is now happening in Rakhine state is not 'communal violence' or 'religious tension' – it is an experiment with apartheid which has come in the wake of a 60 year old problem on the part of the state – how to govern a population that the state emphatically denies is a legitimate part of the political community. Localised eruptions of violence instigated by Rakhine groups against Rohingya are now so intertwined with citizenship issues, and operate at a scale far above the village level (where state authorities are implicated), that it is no longer feasible to analytically distinguish between localised events of 'communal violence', and the state's broader treatment of the Rohingya. The grievances of prominent Rakhine civil society groups (many of which are implicated in recent violence) are now largely aligned with those of the state – as Rakhine civil society groups have been at pains to point out, for them the issue is about citizenship, not religion.

In a remarkably fascist like movement (in the Deluzian sense) (i) specific historical grievances over land, armed struggle, under-development and representation have now been abstracted into questions of citizenship, borders and a fear of the Other, and risk spreading like a cancer across Buddhist communities. To some degree it is now Muslims and the Rohingya that have displaced the Bamar dominated military state as the all-pervasive threat to the cohesion of community(ii) and ironically it is now the state which is called upon to formally exclude the Rohingya from community . In Rakhine, the corruptibility of the state is even measured on its ability to carry out this task while much more salient issues such as resource extraction revenue sharing have taken a backseat.

Far-right Rakhine and Buddhist groups will predictably remain intractable on the Rohingya issue and push their prejudices to further extremes and absurdities. The National League for Democracy's recent ineptness on the Rohingya issue and the new dominance of the Arakan National Party are also reason for concern. But this should not distract from the fact that 'communal violence' or even the new electoral politics are only blips on a much longer history of state led persecution. The state has tried denial, violent and forceful military actions to push the Rohingya to Bangladesh, it has erected model villages to try and diminish the demographic dominance of the Rohingya in northern Rakhine, it has even dabbled in eugenics(iii), and now it has settled on apartheid. As political philosopher Roberto Esposito (2004) has pointed out, it is the posturing of a group of people as a threat to the coherency of community – whose mere biological existence is rendered a problem that needs to be managed by the state, that represents the most potentially dangerous of situations and that will ultimately lead to horrific cruelty and suffering.

A love of Sovereignty, a love of Borders

As hordes of experts and analysts fumble through the politics of the Rohingya crisis misrepresenting it as a communal or religious problem, the state and its sponsors conjure up ever more systematic and violent techniques to establish sovereignty over Myanmar's problematized Rohingya. The Australian government has provided over AUS$5 million to Myanmar to help'strengthen border control' with the aim of tackling 'illegal cross border movement'. Myanmar government officials have made it clear that for the state it is the Rohingya who constitute the largest threat to sovereignty (Zarni & Cowley, 2014).

As Australian supported 'Border Liaison Offices' popped up in the region, and state officials were empowered with bureaucratic techniques to dispel unwanted populations like the Rohingya, Australia's minister for immigration Scott Morrison reportedly visited Rohingya displacement camps where his main message to people was that there is no chance of settling in Australia. A year later, with the spectacle of hundreds of Rohingya adrift at sea facing starvation, being pushed back from state after state, the Australian PM Tony Abbott when asked if Australia could accommodate some of the refugees replied 'No, No, No'. If anything the boat crisis of April showed that not only neighbouring counties which have for years ignored the atrocities involvedin regional trafficking chains, but also Europe, America and Australia, are all complicit in the states exclusion of the Rohingya. Many countries offered statements of concern and criticism over the event but all ultimately succumbed to the Myanmar states insistence that it has the sovereign right to refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Rohingya. Most pathetically, under pressure from the Myanmar state the term 'Rohingya' was even omitted from a high level meeting on the Rohingya crisis in Thailand at the time.

Donors decry the situation in Rakhine state but are reluctant to challenge state sovereignty which they are so desperately trying to build up as part of neoliberal state-building programmes (as just one example the EU has dedicated 199 million Euro to 'good governance' and 'state capacity building' programmes over the last four years). The EU, Australia and other donors have also contributed millions of dollars to the Myanmar Peace Centre which has spectacularly failed to do anything meaningful to help the plight of the Rohingya. Of course, neoliberal development interventions challenge and fragment sovereignty in complex ways (Ong, 2006), but in an age of security obsessed states, the rights of states to brutally expel their unwanted populations has become a de facto sovereign right – for instance Australia's talk of international rights can hardly be taken seriously when it is busy trafficking its unwanted refugee population – some of whom are Rohingya, across the region.

Unlike the sacred commitment to democracy – which is backed up by the threat of sanctions and aid cuts, the legally sanctioned expulsion of the unwanted results in little more than concerned statements. Or perhaps it is precisely because the states treatment of the Rohingya is not in conflict with democracy, but a dark and imminent part of it , that the international community has been so tolerant of events in Rakhine state. In 2014 Myanmar received a record amount of aid and was the second largest recipient of OECD aid after Afghanistan. Aid flows have largely been unaffected by the states experiment with apartheid in Rakhine state – if anything they have likely increased because of it.

The Rohingya have not just become stateless, but have been made stateless through technologies of sovereignty such as censuses and elections. And in donors endeavours to extend sovereignty by supporting such activities, they have consistently been outmanoeuvred by the state. The Australian supported, and UN implemented census for instance, succumbed to pressureto disqualify the Rohingya from the census – formally rendering the million or so people who identify as Rohingya invisible. Then there was the state's decision just months before the election to revoke voting rights to white card holders, of which the Rohingya are the largest group – a direct response to fascist like protests from Rakhine groups and Buddhist nationalist group MaBaTha, and which effectively undid the lobbying of the UN in the early 1990's which had secured at least some basic level of recognition to the Rohingya.

As Australian electoral observers were wandering around Rakhine state in November (to only Rakhine villagers) tacitly legitimising not only the election process but the state's decision to exclude the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya confined to camps were contemplating taking to sea to escape their worsening plight. Then there was the recent UN supported 'citizenship verification process' in Myebon Township. The government refused to back down on the issue of Rohingya as an ethnic group, and instead offered people the category of 'naturalised citizenship' if they would register as 'Bengalis'. Due to the overwhelmingly horrific conditions in those particular camps, most people accepted the compromise (unlike others further north). Yet even those who received citizenship are still under the same mobility restrictions as before, which has given rise to a sense of hopelessness to the Rohingya and no doubt contributed to their exodus by boat.

Through accidents of history those who now identify as Rohingya found themselves on the wrong side of the arbitrary state sanctioned ethnic categories which came out of colonial censuses (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997). The British used highly arbitrary groupings that were an amalgamation of geographic based, religious based and racial categories (Harriden, 2002). Yet some researchers still use British censuses to suggest, implicitly or otherwise, that the Rohingya category lacks legitimacy – as if we can look to arbitrary state techniques for categorising people as a proxy for whether those people exist. As debates rage on academic and popular sites about the legitimacy of the Rohingya category where much academic labour has been invested in elucidating the contested nature of the identity(iv) – and some academics even now insist on using inverted commas every time they use the term, violent technologies of sovereignty go largely unquestioned.

One white male academic in Sittwe for instance told me that even my own country Australia has to put in place mechanisms to deal with 'illegal immigrants'. I immediately thought of Australia's offshore mandatory detention gulags and the remarkably similar circumstances people find themselves in when they are rendered illegal – and it just so happens that in both Australian and Myanmar some of the same NGOs manage both camps, and some detainees from one camp inevitably end up in the other. But the academic was defending sovereignty, not challenging it. So many English language discussions on the Rohingya, both within academic and practioner circles, remain either tacitly or overtly framed within the categories of citizenship, legal and illegal migration, and borders. The challenge, as border theorists such as Angela Mitropolous have pointed out, is to keep up with the way border technologies evolve in disparate circumstances with the aim of contesting and challenging them, rather than tacitly defending them.

Borders and bare life

There is one crucial difference between Muslims in Yangon or Mandalay, and Muslims in Arakan – the border. The worsening situation of the Rohingya is in a large part due to the historical process of the state trying to exert its sovereignty over a peripheral and porous borderland. This no doubt stems from the fact that Arakan has historically tended to be in the orbit of Chittagong as much as lowland Burma (Christie, 1996). The concessions that the Rohingya had gained in the aftermath of the mess of independence were slowly eroded from the 60's onwards (Zin, 2015). As the state sought to not only crush the Mujahidin, but extend its sovereignty over all people in Arakan , legal and administrative ambiguities and inconsistencies were replaced with a sharp divide between legal citizens and illegal immigrants. Long held tensions over land, autonomy, the future of Arakan and underdevelopment became abstracted into questions of citizenship and borders – and in the process further deferred any actual solution to underlying problems in Arakan (Grundy-Warr & Wong, 1997).

The Rohingya, who like the Rakhine had experienced a de facto exclusion from the very most basic of state goods and services, began to experience a de jure exclusion as the 1982 citizenship law sought to formally render them as non-citizens. It is even likely that the 1982 citizenship law was put in place with the large number of Rohingya refugees being repatriated back to Arakan from Bangladesh in mind (Lewa, 2005). The state used seemingly banal bureaucratic procedures, but which on the ground were backed up by raw violence (as nearly all bureaucratic institutions ultimately are), to deal with the Rohingya.

The most violently notorious government operation NagaMin (dragon king), which was the cause of the large refugee flows to Bangladesh in 1978 was not a mere counterinsurgency operation but a programme to 'scrutinize each individual living in the State, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally'. At the centre of the Rohinga's plight over the last 60 years has thus been the border, and in particular populist anxiety's that 'illegal Bengali's' have been flowing across the border taking land, jobs and exerting a negative influence on Buddhist norms. There is little point to dispute the fact that especially during the colonial period large number of Bengali's were encouraged by the British to cultivate northern Arakan's fertile alluvial plains and that no doubt many of these farmers melded with the pre-existing Muslim Arakan community. But it is the perceived fear that matters more here than the realities of cross border migration, as the large scale military operations and border forces erected to deal with supposed illegal immigration are on a scale far greater than the trickle of Bengali in-migration after. It is hence no coincidence that it was those put in charge to police the border –i.e the notorious state border force NaSaKa, that gained a particular reputation for brutality in Rakhine state, or that so much of the state military actions over the last 50 years in Arakan (of which there have been 17 major campaigns) have been almost exclusively focused on that population which lives exactly along the porous border region.

It is also no coincidence that as the Rohingya progressively became politically marginalised, it was the camp that the state turned to as a solution to the supposed problem of dealing with the non-citizen 'illegal Bengali's. In this sense, Giogio Agamben's (1998) insistence that the camp is the space par excellence used to deal with that form of life that has been stripped of all its political significance – what he terms 'bare life', appears accurate. Yet what is different about the camps set up to deal with the Rohingya is that unlike similar camps such as those on Guantanamo or Manus islands where the state exerts its sovereign right to run the camps as exceptional spaces where external interference is strictly prohibited, in the case of the Rohingya camps, NGOs, and UN agencies exert 'petty sovereignties' over displaced populations, pushing for rights and providing goods and services that the state refuses.

The UNHCR for instance played a large role in early repatriations from Bangladesh in 1978-79 and 1991 and also pushed for temporary citizenship papers (white cards) for the Rohingya in 1995 (which allowed them to vote in the 2010 elections but largely closed down and options for full citizenship). Right now 29 NGOs operate in Rakhine with varying degrees of cooperation with various UN agencies. Yet the UN and NGOs find themselves restricted by the forces of sovereignty and confined to providing humanitarian assistance to a population the state does not recognise. As Hannah Arendt (1943)identified more than 50 years ago the notion of right only gains meaning in the context of a state that recognise such rights and it here that the UN and NGOs have been coerced into entering into a pact with the state where they are confined to addressing only the most basic of needs of the Rohingya – i.e. that the Rohingya are treated as bare life.

The UNHCR has had a particularly controversial role in Rohingya camps. After operation NagaMin, the UNHCR achieved a MoU with the government of Bangladesh to provide essential services within camps which turned out to be a disaster– largely due to acquiescence with the government's strategy of underproviding for refugees as an incentive for them to return to Burma. After six months of settlement the camps had the appallingly high fatality rate of 33 per 10,000 per week and by March 1979, 12,000 refugees had died in less than a year (Lindquist, 1979). Controversies over forced repatriations continued in the 1990s and it appears that the UNHCR , who was the first non-government entity to establish an office in Rakhine state in 1994, was reluctant to publicly acknowledge continued instances of violence and extrajudicial killings (as this would no doubt compromise its work) (Human Rights Watch Asia, 1996)o.

The current situation that the Rohingya find themselves in is equally precarious. After the violent 2012 riots where 112 people were murdered, and over 100,000 people displaced, military rule in Rohingya dominated areas was established and large numbers of Rohingya were once again moved into displacement camps. In northern Rakhine where the Rohingya are a majority, people were confined to their villages. INGOs and the UN essentially provide people in camps with their basic daily needs, while the military retains what it sees as its sovereign right to impose mobility restrictions and limit access to state services to those deemed as non-citizens. The state has made it clear that Rohingya are not rights bearers and since violent attacks against INGOs and UN agencies in 2014, these agencies have had to carefully avoid any work that treats Rohingya as full citizens or is seen in any way to 'privilege' them (and they cannot even formally use the term 'Rohingya').

No doubt, some of the attacks on NGOs and the UN were in response to a perceived intrusion on the states sovereign right to exclude its unwanted populations without interference. In early 2014, MSF-Holland for instance was expelled from Myanmar due to the fact that it treated a number of Rohingya from northern Rakhine suffering from gunshot and stab wounds. The state is happy to outsource responsibility of its unwanted population to external agencies on the provision that they do not interfere when it wants to take life away. Thus the Rohingya find themselves in a situation where at any moment they could be exposed to death. It is unlikely the state will resort to militaristic violence to directly inflict mass death on the Rohingya. Rather, it is much more likely that the state will progressively withdraw the means to security and life. The UN and NGOs expressed that in the next two years they are likely to face major shortages in funding and face a crisis in terms of maintaining goods and services to the displaced. The UN has responded by trying to dramatically reduce its humanitarian case load and transition to development rather than humanitarian assistance. NGOs and the UN provide emergency means to sustaining life, while the state maintains its right to take it away.

Thus accounts of what is going in Rakhine state as 'communal violence', 'ethnic conflict' or 'religious tension' are unable to grasp the situation adequately. When life is reduced down to its bare state, stripped of citizenship, and able to be killed without sanction, it become extremely vulnerable to death. In the short time researching in Rakhine state, I heard of three men who had mysteriously disappeared from camps outside of Sittwe (and whose relatives claimed had been murdered), and one women who was unable to access Sittwe hospital during the election period and died of a treatable illness. Then there are the hundreds of people who have died while on boats fleeing Rakhine. Ultimately no one is responsible for these deaths.

*Tim Frewer is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney (human geography) and has spent the last ten years researching various issues in Southeast Asia.

Agamben, G., & Raiola, M. (1998). Homo sacer: Stanford University Press Stanford.
Arendt, H. (1943). We refugees. Menorah Journal, 31(1), 69-77.
Christie, C. J. (1996). A Modern History of South East Asia: Decolonisation, Nationalism and Spearatism, . London: Taurus.
Esposito, R. (2004). Immunitas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Grundy-Warr, C., & Wong, E. (1997). Sanctuary Under a Plastic Sheet – The Unresolved Problem of Rohingya Refugees. IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin, 8(23).
Harriden, J. (2002). " Making a Name for Themselves:": Karen Identity and the Politicization of Ethnicity in Burma. Journal of Burma Studies, 7(1), 84-144.
Human Rights Watch Asia. (1996). Burma – The Rohingya Muslims – Ending a cycle of Exodus? (Vol. 8). London: Human Rights Watch.
Lewa, C. (2005). The Rohingya: Forced Migration and Statelessness. In O. Mishra (Ed.), Forced Migration in the South Asian Region: Displacement, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Washington DC: Centre for Refugees Studies.
Ong, A. (2006). Neoliberalism as exception: Mutations in citizenship and sovereignty: Duke University Press.
Zarni, M., & Cowley, A. (2014). Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya, The. Pac. Rim L. & Pol'y J., 23, 683.
Zin, M. (2015). Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma: Why Now? Social Research: An International Quarterly, 82(2), 375-397.

i. Fascism here is understood as described by Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari – i.e. an organic and often uncontainable movement composed of individuals who take state thinking and duties upon themselves, who act as 'policemen, judge and juror all in one'. Unlike localised clashes that arise due to specific historical grievances (such as the WWII skirmishes between Rakhine and Rohingya groups, fascist movements take abstract notions such as 'illegal migrants', 'the nation', 'the Buddhist community', 'citizenship' and attempt to restore the purity of their community/ nation through the systematic expulsion or destruction of that/ those deemed a threat.

ii. Francis Wade quotes the Rakhine National Development Party (the precursor to the Arakan National Party): "In order for a country's survival, the survival of a race, or in defense of national sovereignty, crimes against humanity or in-human acts may justifiably be committed […] So, if that survival principle or justification is applied or permitted equally (in our Myanmar case) our endeavors to protect our Rakhine race and defend the sovereignty and longevity of the Union of Myanmar cannot be labeled as "crimes against humanity," or "inhuman" or "in-humane"".

iii. Eugenics as a philosophy which attempts to improve or protect the racial characteristics of a particular group have been enacted through a number of local government policies (eg released in 1993 and 2005) and state level policies (2008), that restrict the number of offspring of Rohingya (although appears to have been implemented sporadically). There have also been claims that family planning activities have been used to sterilise Rohingya without their consent – see (Human Rights Watch Asia, 1996).

iv. See for instance see the works of historian Jaques Leider and former British diplomat Derek Tonkin.

A Perfect New Year Gift: A Calendar Dedicated to the Rohingya Victims of Myanmar's Slow Genocide

Source maungzarni, 24 Dec

Looking for a perfect gift for your friends and colleagues? Look no more!

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Here is a perfect gift for this holiday season, especially for those with a social conscience. And Myanmar authorities will arrest you if it is found in your possession!

(see Arrests in Myanmar over calendar recognizing Rohingya.  AFP, 25 November 2015.)

So, please, help inform the world about Myanmar's slow genocide of the Rohingya Muslims by purchasing a calendar as a gift for friends, colleagues and family for 2017.

Six hundred years of presence in the country, the "Theraveda Buddhist" nation of Myanmar deems, entitles them to neither full citizenship nor the prized status of a native ethnic group!

Yes, that's right!  After 600 years of their  natural evolution as an ethnic group, the Rohingya are misperceived as "illegal aliens" by the Myanmar's public, who themselves are oppressed by the ruling military for the last half-century.

Sad indeed, ain't it?

The English language calendar will be available for purchase in January. The delivery will be in early to mid-January.

Don't worry.   In order to compensate for the late-sales we have created 14-months calendar - from Jan 2016-Feb-2017.

On-line orders can be placed at the website:

The proceeds - always a source of evil, slanders and bickerings among fund-deprived activists - will be used 100% transparently and accountably.  Specifically, the funds will be used for the purpose of educating and training Rohingya activists so that they can end their sufferings. Only the oppressed can free themselves.

What is in the calendar?

With award-winning photos and official documentations and slickly designed, the calendar tells a factual (that is, empirically verifiable) story of Rohingya people who have, according to archaeological and historical evidence, made the western borderlands region of Myanmar their home since the 14th century. 

Since February 1978, Myanmar's successive military regimes have singled them out on the basis of their ethnic identity for persecution, framing them as "illegal economic migrants from the neighboring Bangladesh" and as such, "a threat to national security", encoding the state's systematic persecution the 1982 Citizenship Act reminiscent of the Third Reich's Nuremberg Laws and outsourcing various acts designed to destroy the Rohingya as a distinct ethnic community of over 2 millions - inside the country and in diaspora.

Despite the optimism  and hype about the country's "consolidation"  - as the British Government official Hugo Swire put it - of democratic openinging, virtually the entire Myanmar public remain indifferent to the plight of the Rohingya while most disturbingly, the country's revered politician and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has joined her former jailors in condoning and denying what is increasingly viewed as a slow genocide.

The calendar is organized thematically in ways that will inform the world about the pre-British colonial ancestral history of the Rohingya, their official indigenous ethnicity, the origin and evolution of Myanmar's persecution, the evidence of genocide, and the call to end Myanmar's international human rights crime against the entire ethnic group.

Additionally, the calendar contains bite-size crucial insights about a genocidal process and international human rights law - so incredibly misperceived even among highly educated quarters (for instance,non-genocide studies academics and Myanmar experts), not to mention men (and women) on the streets.

Watch Professor Amartya Sen explains succinctly why Myanmar's policies and persecution of the Rohingya amounts to a slow genocide. 

Hear what George Soros, who as a young man escaped the Nazi-occupied Budapest in 1944, has to say about the Rohingya after having visited a Rohingya "ghetto" in Myanmar, as he put it.  

Amartya Sen and George Soros are joined by a group of 7 Nobel Peace Laureates who says the Rohingya are "a textbook example of a genocide in which an entire ethnic people is being wiped out".

7 Nobel Peace Laureates Call Rohingya Persecution a Genocide

But Aung San Suu Kyi who travels around the world to collect virtually all available human rights awards and yet has chosen not to set her foot in a Rohingya community - one hr flight away - or speak out to end the sufferings of the most wretched of Myanmar disagrees.

Watch below how she denies there is any 'ethnic cleansing' of the Rohingya - let alone a genocide, which she calls 'an exaggeration'. 

Far Eastern Economic Review - and other media outlets - were reporting about the then Burma's persecution of the Rohingya as early as July 1978.  (The calendar contains a high resolution, readable article in its entirety).

The calendar thus arranged presents a brief overview of the plight of the wretched of Myanmar. 

Whether you are Rohingyas, Rohingya supporters, diplomats, journalists, academics, business persons, tourists, or human rights activists this is a perfect New Year gift.

The calendar is aimed at telling a factua lstory of the world's most persecuted people, with no hope on their own homeland, a story which the government of Myanmar is trying so hard to erase, unsuccessfully. 

The calendar is conceptualized, designed, published and distributed by the Rohingya intellectuals and the Burmese Buddhist activists and scholars.

Help us expose Myanmar's genocidal lies. And help end the slow genocide.

The first step is to call for the international conference to determine the status of the Rohingya in Myanmar, starting with their official, pre-Burma/Myanmar historical and contemporary presence in Myanmar or Burma.
- See more at:

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Return to Arakan IDP Camp, Kaman Migrants in Rangoon Told

Source Irrawaddy news, 22 Dec
Ethnic Kaman Muslims, who are being pressured by immigration authorities to return to Arakan State, show their national registration cards in Rangoon. (Photo: K Zun Nwe / Myanmar Now)

Ethnic Kaman Muslims, who are being pressured by immigration authorities to return to Arakan State, show their national registration cards in Rangoon. (Photo: K Zun Nwe / Myanmar Now)

RANGOON — The Kaman National Progressive Party (KNPP) is pushing back against an order by immigration authorities that 22 ethnic Kaman Muslims living in Rangoon return to Arakan State, where they previously lived in a displacement camp following communal violence in 2012.

Tin Hlaing Win, the Rangoon-based general secretary of the KNPP, said Tuesday that his party had sent letters to the National League for Democracy (NLD) and President Thein Sein, asking the government not to send the 22 people back to Arakan State.

"Our Kaman have the right to travel in the country, based on the 2008 Constitution, as they have citizenship ID cards. This is why there is nothing wrong with them being in Rangoon. However, immigration came to check on them and told them to go back to Arakan," Tin Hlaing Win told The Irrawaddy.

The men and women in question originally hailed from Ramree Township, where their houses were burned down during 2012 violence that pitted Arakanese Buddhists against Muslims in Arakan State. Following the violence, they had been living in a camp for the displaced.

Southern Arakan State is home to a sizeable population of ethnic Kaman Muslims, who are recognized as one of 135 "official ethnicities" of Burma entitled to citizenship. Though the state's minority Rohingya Muslims—who are not recognized by the government as an official ethnic group—bore the brunt of the 2012 violence, Arakanese Buddhists and Kaman too were displaced to a lesser degree. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said this month that there are about 140,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arakan State, most of whom are Rohingya.

The KNPP leader said hardships at the camp in Ramree Township, including a dearth of employment prospects, had led the 22 Kaman to try their luck in Rangoon, while some of the younger migrants had wanted to continue their studies at Rangoon University.

The group traveled to the commercial capital about a month ago, and began getting pressure from immigration authorities last week, according to Tin Hlaing Win.

"The immigration told us that these 22 people did not inform the camp authority when they left the camp. Therefore, immigration told us that they have to send them back to Ramree camp," he said.

The internal migrants are living at a number of different locations in Rangoon, and an official from the Rangoon Division Immigration and National Registration Department who asked not to be named said the instruction for their return was made according to "official procedures" and that there were no other motivating factors.

The Irrawaddy's Thu Zar contributed reporting.

Monday 21 December 2015

Compassion fatigue for Rohingyas in Nepal

Source Nepalitimes, 16 Dec
111A Rohingya refugee woman in her shelter in Kathmandu. Photo: Bikram Rai

Santa Gaha Magar in Himal Khabarpatrika, 13-19 December

Burma's persecuted Rohingya Muslim refugees have been taking flimsy boats across the Bay of Bengal to the coasts of Thailand and Malaysia since 2012, but a few have ventured north in a perilous overland journey through Bangladesh and India to enter Nepal.

While thousands have been abandoned and perished at sea, in Nepal the 160 Rohingyas face a bitter winter in shelters in Kathmandu and humanitarian agencies that are running out of money to look after them.

The UNHCR is to stop providing a subsistence allowance to the Rohingya from December, saying it has run out of money because of refugee crises in other parts of the world. The 'boat people' who fled anti-Muslim violence in Burma are now fighting yet another battle for survival in Nepal.

The refugees have been on sit-in protests in front of the UN agency's office in Maharajganj since October, and they have been repeatedly chased away with batons by the Nepal Police. Now, four Rohingya youth have started a hunger strike from 1 December. They want their allowances until they get a chance to be resettled.


The UNHCR had been providing monthly allowances of Rs 5,750 to male, Rs 3,330 to female and Rs 2,700 children Rohingya refugees who came to Nepal before 2013. Those Rohingyas who landed in Nepal since 2013 have not been recognised by UNHCR as 'urban refugees'.

"Refugee allowances are now being cut everywhere in the world, not just in Nepal, but we continue to provide allowance for elderly and children," says UNCHR's Dipesh Das Shrestha. "Instead of subsistence allowance, we are now focused on giving vocational training to refugees. And we continue to support them for medical treatment and education, too."

Rohingya refugees say the UNHCR's decision has dealt them a double blow in the wake of India's blockade of Nepal. "The blockade has made even local Nepalis' life difficult, and we suffer even more," says Jafar Miyan, 31.

The Rohingya have also called on the UN to help them to either go back to western Burma or to resettle in a third country. Hasan Hasan, 23, was one of the first from his community to escape to Nepal in 2012, and is among those on hunger strike.

Nepal views the Rohingyas as 'illegal immigrants' and charges them $5 for each day they live in Nepal. But Home Ministry spokesperson Laxmi Dhakal says these fines can be waived for those who have no money to pay.

Of the Rohingyas who have sought refuge in Nepal only 120 of them have obtained 'urban refugee' cards from UNHCR. Apart from refugees from Bhutan, Tibet and Rohingyas, Nepal now provides refuge to people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Somalia and even Congo.

Since 2012, there have been several brutal pogroms against the Rohingya by Burma's Buddhist majority who consider them 'Bengali'. The Rohingya have actually lived in Burma's Rakhine state for at least four generations, and most of them held Burmese citizenship till the early 1980s.

In 1984, Rangoon enacted a new citizenship law declaring Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They were then effectively deprived of government jobs and facilities and tensions ran high. Since 2012, about 120,000 Rohingyas have fled Burma, either to Bangladesh, Thailand or Malaysia.

Some, like Hasan, fled north to India in search of his family, and from there travelled 1,400 km to eastern Nepal after someone told him there were refugee camps here. Only to discover that they were actually camps for refugees from Bhutan.

Hasan still hasn't found his family.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Burma’s Hard-Line Buddhists Are Waging a Campaign of Hate That Nobody Can Stop

Source time, 15 Dec

Burma Muslims face Buddhist FuryJonas GratzerA Muslim man walks around the ruins of what was once his family's home after waves of violence led against Muslims by Buddhists destroyed and left many buildings in ruins during the riots of March 2013 in the Muslim quarter of the Burmese city of Mektila

Sectarian hatred shown by Burma's Buddhist extremists toward the country's Muslim minority has become so pronounced that activists and politicians appear unable to stop it

The first text message came through several days after Myo had ended his workshop. "F—g kalar," it read, using a slur that Burmese ultra-nationalists like to apply to Muslims or others of South Asian appearance. "Why don't you stop your work?"

It was late July, exactly one year on from a deadly bout of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the northern Burmese city of Mandalay. The young activist, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, had been working on a series of peace-building initiatives between the two communities, which had fissured in the wake of several waves of violence since 2012.

The workshop had gone relatively smoothly, or so he thought. A second message, the following day, caused even more alarm. "You want to die? Why are you pressuring our monks?" Myo grew increasingly agitated. As someone openly advocating interfaith harmony in a deeply divided society he was already too conspicuous for comfort.  

He thought back on the workshop. Among the group were a number of progressive monks, and he was sure the tone of the meeting chimed with their own desires for religious accord. But there had been one nun present who had seemed resentful toward him. After a session on the Buddhist concept of "right speech" — defined by Buddha as words promoting peace and happiness — she fell quiet. He knew the nun had close ties to Wirathu, the abbot of a monastery in Mandalay, who is known not for his right speech but hate speech towards Muslims.

Myo told TIME that he decided to postpone future workshops. But later that day, a third message was received. "Who the hell are you to teach our monks? Motherf—r kalar, you're going to die," it warned. When a final message arrived on July 26, he decided to flee Mandalay and go into hiding. "We will see you tomorrow," it read.

During its nearly half-century of military rule, the world tended to view Burma — formally known as Myanmar — as a black-and-white case of bad junta vs. good opposition, whose most visible luminaries were Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and many of the country's saffron-robed monks. But the democratization process, supported by Western countries eager to draw resource-rich Burma out of China's hands and into theirs, has brought into the open communal divides that had previously been hidden from view. Monks, whose leadership of the September 2007 uprising against military rule won them international admiration, have become among the most vocal proponents of a view of Islam as a foreign religion whose faithful posed an existential threat to Burmese Buddhism.

Particular venom has been reserved for the stateless Muslim Rohingya minority in western Burma, who were branded interlopers from Bangladesh and subjected to several campaigns of violence since 2012 that left hundreds dead and close to 150,000 insqualid displacement camps. Suu Kyi, a world-renowned icon of democracy, has been roundly criticized for failing to condemn the pogroms — fearful that to do so would be considered tantamount to support for an increasingly maligned Muslim community in Burma, and could affect support for her among a population that has shown an alarmingly anti-Muslim streak.

Inside Burma, the upshot has been broader disenfranchisement of Muslims, with no Muslim candidates standing for Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, in its victorious showing at the November elections that were considered such a major step in bringing democracy to Burma. Outside of the country, particularly among Western backers of the transition, many have questioned exactly what brand of democracy Suu Kyi and her colleagues, who have been largely silent on the persecution of Muslims, have fought all these years for.

Around the same time that Myo began receiving threats, a fellow interfaith activist in Mandalay was being stalked by Burmese authorities. On a Tuesday in mid-July, the cell phone of Zaw Zaw Latt, 31, a member of the Mandalay Interfaith Social Volunteer Youth Group, began to ring. The caller identified himself as a policeman and told Zaw Zaw Latt to head to a café in downtown Mandalay at 8 p.m. that evening. Several officers from the Criminal Investigation Department were waiting, and started to question him about a photo on social media of him holding a rifle. The photo dated from 2013, when Zaw Zaw Latt had traveled as part of an outreach trip to camps for displaced persons rebel-held territory in Kachin state. While there, he posed with the firearm for show.

Unhappily for Zaw Zaw Latt, the photo was picked up two years later, and he was detained and later charged under a law banning association with "unlawful" groups. Less than a week later, two other colleagues, Pwint Phyu Latt and Zaw Win Bo, from the same Mandalay interfaith network that was set up in the wake of another round of anti-Muslim violence in March 2013, were arrested on spurious charges of illegal border crossing several months before, and sent to the same jail as Zaw Zaw Latt. Border officials had testified at one hearing that the two had been permitted to cross into India, but judges dismissed their testimony.

A relative of Zaw Zaw Latt explains to TIME that at every court appearance since his arrest in July, members of an ultra-nationalist monk-led movement known locally as Ma Ba Tha had been present. "They come and observe, and they put pressure on the mother of Pwint Phyu Latt and tell her he could be in prison for seven years," she says of an encounter she had witnessed outside a court hearing in November.

The Rohingya, Burma's Forgotten Muslims by James Nachtwey
<em>More than 140,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have been forced to live in camps, where disease and despair have taken root.</em><br /></br>    Abdul Kadir, 65, who has a severe stomach ailment and malnutrition, is cared for by his wife in one of the camps.Abdul Kadir, 65, who has a severe stomach ailment and malnutrition, is cared for by his wife in one of the camp.
Relatives weep at the funeral of a woman who died at 35 of a stomach disease; she left five children behind.  Relatives weep at the funeral of a woman who died at 35 of a stomach disease; she left five children behind.
A mourner weeps as she sits by an internee's coffin. The Rohingya lack medical care since most NGOs are now barred from the camps.A mourner weeps as she sits by an internee's coffin. The Rohingya lack medical care since most NGOs are now barred from the camps.
Two men are seen mourning at the funeral of a woman who died from stomach disease.Two men are seen mourning at the funeral of a woman who died from stomach disease.
Internees in one camp operate brick kilns to earn money. Adults are paid about $2 a day; children, half that amount.    Internees in one camp operate brick kilns to earn money. Adults are paid about $2 a day; children, half that amount. 

Thek Kay Pyin, 7, is among the Rohingya Muslims interned in Rakhine state,  on the northwest coast of Burma. He is seen here working at a brick kiln where he earns $1 a day.Thek Kay Pyin, 7, is among the Rohingya Muslims interned in Rakhine state, on the northwest coast of Burma. He is seen here working at a brick kiln where he earns $1 a day.
Children working at a brick kiln where they earn $1 a day.  Children working at a brick kiln where they earn $1 a day.

Workers at a brick kiln are seen tossing bricks.Workers at a brick kiln are seen tossing bricks

At the camp, mourners are seen at a funeral for a 16-year-old girl who drank poison. At the camp, mourners are seen at a funeral for a 16-year-old girl who drank poison.

Suffering in the camps continues unabated.Suffering in the camps continues unabated
Children learning the Quran at a madrassa in one of the camps.Children learning Quran at the madarasa in one of the camp
A child suffering from malnutrition in one of the camps is held by its mother.     A child suffering from mulnutration in one of the camp is held by its mother
At a government-run hospital in Da Paing, a mother watches over her 45-year-old son Abdul Salam, who suffers from diabetes.    At a government-run hospital in Da Paing, a mother watches over her 45-year-old son Abdul Salam, who suffers from diabetes.

A child suffering from stomach worms with her mother at a pharmacy waiting for treatment. The owner of the pharmacy is neither a doctor nor a pharmacist but does his best to help people. International NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders have been expelled from the camp by the government, leading to a soaring crisis in health care.A child suffering from stomach worms with her mother at a pharmacy waiting for treatment. The owner of the pharmacy is neither a doctor nor a pharmacist but does his best to help people. International NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders have been expelled from the camp by the government, leading to a soaring crisis in health care.
Malnutrition among the camps' children is commonplace.  In June a top U.N. aid official who traveled to Rakhine said she had never before Malnutrition among the camps' children is commonplace. In June a top U.N. aid official who traveled to Rakhine said she had never before "witnessed [such] a level of human suffering
Fishermen tend their nets before going out into the Bay of Bengal to fish, one of the main sources of food and livelihood for the Rohingya.  Fishermen tend their nets before going out into the Bay of Bengal to fish, one of the main sources of food and livelihood for the Rohingya
A blind beggar on railway tracks between two IDP camps.A blind beggar on railway tracks between two IDP camps.
A boy using an umbrella as a sun shield jumps across a drainage canal behind a row of latrines at Baw Du Pha camp.  A boy using an umbrella as a sun shield jumps across a drainage canal behind a row of latrines at Baw Du Pha camp.
James Nachtwey for TIME

More than 140,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have been forced to live in camps, where disease and despair have taken root.

A month prior to Zaw Zaw Latt's arrest, he had been the focus of an article in Atumashi, a magazine published by an ultra-orthodox Buddhist movement known as Ma Ba Tha. The article was highly critical of his interfaith efforts and authored by Aung Myaing, a self-described "scholar" of the Mandalay monastery where Wirathu is head abbot, and where Wirathu's virulent sermons are copied onto DVDs and pamphlets before being distributed to monasteries and Ma Ba Tha offices across Burma. The article carried the same picture of Zaw Zaw Latt from 2013 that came to the attention of police; it was titled "Photo evidence of threat to Buddhism."

Although formed only two years ago, Ma Ba Tha has risen to become perhaps the most well-resourced and expansive social movement in Burma. It has branches in 250 of the country's 330 townships, and supporting its vanguard of monks are millions of lay followers. Its magazines serve as propaganda platforms that document its social-welfare activities while shooting down those it considers to be working to upset the movement. The group's spokespersons deny it has any ill intent toward Muslims. Instead it claims to be running a "politeness training" campaign for Burma's youth that will instill in them the virtues of Buddhism, a religion Ma Ba Tha continually touts as peaceful and altruistic.

That was once Buddhism's reputation to be sure, but the role of monks in provoking attacks on Muslims in Burma and elsewhere has cast doubt on the religion's supposedly inherent nonviolence. A movement similar to Ma Ba Tha has flowered in Sri Lanka, with monks from the Buddhist Power Force (Bodu Bala Sena or BBS), which was formed in 2012, using sermons and public rallies to agitate against Muslims. One BBS rally in June 2014 — in the town of Aluthgama, organized in response to the alleged assault of a monk by Muslims — triggered widespread burning and looting of Muslim homes and mosques, and the displacement of 8,000 Muslims, as well as a lesser number of Sinhalese.

Michael Jerryson, an expert on religion and violence at Youngstown State University in the U.S., says that part of the success of these movements is their ability to use Islamophobia to tap into dormant communal hostilities. Says Jerryson: "There is no religion that is inherently violent or nonviolent. In this way, these recent conflicts are a reminder that Buddhists struggle with the same social problems as people from other religions." He adds that the dominant Western view of Buddhist monks as transcendental creatures — forever pondering on the oneness of all things — is wrong, for the act of becoming a monk "does not wash away the person's internal struggles or behavioral patterns."

The spread of prejudice toward Muslims has been particularly pronounced in Burma, where those seeking to reunite divided townships now find themselves branded as threats to the dominant religion and placed in the crosshairs of its radical bloc.

Myo's decision to postpone the workshops may have put a stop to the death threats, but his situation is still precarious. Intelligence agents track him regularly, he tells TIME. "When Ma Ba Tha find out something wrong that you've done, they tell MI [military intelligence]." That may have been the fate of Zaw Zaw Latt, who remains in jail awaiting charges that could send him away for up to three years. Vani Sathisan, international legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists in Rangoon, says there is also evidence signaling government acquiescence in Ma Ba Tha's ambitions. Add in a judiciary that is both incompetent — through its lack of independence from a government still closely aligned to the military — and the environment "allows for nationalist monks to use overly broad laws to settle personal scores."

A case in point was the sentencing of Htin Lin Oo in June to two years with hard labor. A senior member of the election-winning NLD, he had publicly stated that the attitude of ultra-nationalist monks conflicted with Buddhist notions of tolerance. As a result, he was charged with "outraging religious feelings" and jailed, having been shunned by the NLD. He appealed, but, according to Sathisan, monks protested outside the courtroom for the strongest sentence possible. The appeal was dismissed, and he remains in prison.

The NLD swept polls in November elections and will soon form a new government, but whether it has either the power or the will to stem the ultra-nationalist tide is unclear. The party, already frequently slated as "pro-Islam" by Ma Ba Tha, rejected all Muslim applicants for candidacy prior to the vote, fearful that Ma Ba Tha would intensify a campaign against the NLD that could unsettle its election prospects. After its victory, Win Htein, a member of the party's central committee and aide to Aung San Suu Kyi, saidof the disenfranchised Rohingya minority, "We have other priorities." Any hope that the NLD will push back against groups like Ma Ba Tha is slim: the U.N. has called for the release of Htin Lin Oo, but his onetime party has kept silent.

With the climate of fear now so pervasive, interfaith workers have had to rethink their approach. Instead of discussion on belief, Myo now focuses on much more banal topics. In a village tract outside of Mandalay where Buddhists and Muslims live in an atmosphere of tension and mutual suspicion, he recently began a joint waste-disposal initiative. A prior survey of villagers had found this to be the most pressing local issue that could cut across religious boundaries and forge a degree of collaboration. Similarly subtle efforts have been under way in Rakhine state in Burma's west, where a number of towns have seen total segregation between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. One group led by ethnic Rakhine has been working in the north of the state to bring the two communities together in settings stripped of any political or religiously charged symbolism: on the football field, or in cinemas where they mingle and watch films. The group however works quietly, and demands anonymity.

But these progressive voices compete against a growing grassroots movement that finds willing audiences in Burma's rural areas, where education is often of a poorer standard and where Buddhist villagers, lacking exposure to a more balanced discourse on Islam, are susceptible to indoctrination. One group, the Myanmar National Network, tours villages, educating children on the perils of Islam. An online video shows the group instructing young children to list violent acts committed by ISIS in Syria, and to repeat the refrain that Islam is responsible.

These forces work against the notion of equal rights for all that Burma's transition should usher in. The challenge they pose to the NLD, already floundering under pressure from groups like Ma Ba Tha, is therefore considerable, and the jailing of those who have criticized the movement indicates that no pillar of authority in Burma is willing to stand up against this force.

Myo, for one, never told police about the death threats. "If I did," he tells TIME, "they would just pressure me to stop my work on the grounds of security." But the chilling effect it has had on his colleagues concerns him more. "The worst thing is that it scares people away from interfaith work," he says. Already familiar with the dark side of fanatical Buddhism, they must now look for more subtle ways to stem this tide. But with the country's democratic leadership failing to come to their aid, it's a battle they may need to go at alone.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Border Guard Police (BGP) killed another Young Rohingya Boy

Source Burmatimes, 9 dec

The Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) killed a young Rohingya boy to death in Maungdaw Township last night, according to the local reliable sources.

Border Guard Police (BGP) killed another Young Rohingya Boy

Mohammed Musa @ Maung Maung 25, killed by Myanmar's Border Guard Police (BGP)

The victim is Mohammed Musa (Burmese name) Maung Maung (son of) Master Abul Kalam, 25, hails from Quarter 4, Buthidaung Township. He was shot down by the BGP at Aung Mingalar village's Check-post — before Maung Nama (Mondama) village around 10:00PM last night.

According to our sources he was traveling to Buthidaung from Maungdaw. He was on the Bus when the bus arrived at the 'Aung Mingalar' Check-post the BGP stopped the Bus and shot his head. As our sources, there were also 5 more people on the Bus including Rakhine people.

One of his relative said "he was murdered by BGP for money while he travels every week, he has small business for the reason he has been targetedly killed.

It's a 3rd Murdered in a week after election in Rahkine State. Local people said it's a target killing by local Government and they  changed their strategy to kill Muslim in Arakan State.

The dead body of the killed victim was later admitted to Maungdaw General Hospital for post-mortem.  After that, it was transferred to the family members in Buthidaung today.

Since recently, there has been escalation of killings of innocent Rohingya people, either by Rakhine extremists or the armed forces, all over the Arakan state. This has been the latest incident.

Dozen convicted in ‘Muslim Army’ trial

Source mmtimes, 8 dec

Twelve men in Mandalay were convicted yesterday for having links to an alleged armed insurgent group – one that human rights workers claim may be entirely fictitious.

Defendents arrive at the Aung Myay Thar San township court yesterday. Photo Khin Su Wai / The Myanmar Times

Defendents arrive at the Aung Myay Thar San township court yesterday. Photo Khin Su Wai / The Myanmar Times

The 12 defendants were given five-year sentences for receiving training from an organisation referred to as the "Myanmar Muslim Army". They were charged under section 5J of the Emergency Provisions Act, undermining the security of the union.

All 12, aged from 19 to 54, were arrested and detained between November 14 and December 26, 2014.

In a statement, activist group Fortify Rights accused the Aung Myay Thar San township court in Mandalay Region of staging an unfair trial and said the defendants were tortured into confessions.

"This is injustice. There was clearly no evidence to support this verdict," said Matthew Bugher, a consultant to Fortify Rights who has been monitoring the trial. "This sentence reveals the lack of justice, accountability and fair process in the current government and the court system."

Fortify said the prosecution refused to provide concrete evidence of the alleged armed network or how the men were associated with it, and instead repeatedly cited the Official Secrets Act.

One of the defendants, Ko Soe Moe Aung, 24, testified that he had been tortured while in police custody, according to his lawyer Daw Nandar Myint Thein. He said he was beaten while in detention, deprived of food and water, and given injections of an unknown substance before interrogations. He was then made to sign a confession.

Other defendants also claim to have undergone torture, but most were too scared to speak about it, fearing discrimination and reprisal.

"We heard that torture happened," said U Maung Gyi, a friend of one of the defendants who came from Yangon to hear the verdict yesterday.

"At first we tried to find someone to share our feelings," he said, adding that the more attention the case got the more families feared for the potential of discrimination. "After that we just tried to keep quiet."

After the guilty verdict was announced yesterday, the family members of the defendants who were gathered at the court began to cry.

"I want to die," Daw Khin Kyi, the 66-year-old mother of two defendants told The Myanmar Times. She said her older sons, who were arrested, supported the family of 11 children.

"My two sons were seized at Theingyi gate near Lashio," she said. "I don't know how I can stand this."

U Maung Maung, the brother of defendant U Nyi Nyi, told The Myanmar Times that two of his bothers have faced jail time in connection to supposed armed groups, charges he believes are completely ungrounded. One brother was charged in a separate case in Amapura township last month. Both brothers were religious teachers.

"My brothers are not guilty. They are very kind people," he said.

He said Ko Nyi Nyi was travelling with a youth group on a bus going from Mayawady to Mandalay when he and the group, including the driver, were arrested.

The existence of the "Myanmar Muslim Army" has not publicly been independently confirmed by security experts, and is only referred to with a single citation, a briefing by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore which referred to "unconfirmed reports". According to the author of one such brief, the citation was based on "field research in Myanmar".

Some rights organisations have suggested the "Myanmar Muslim Army" may have been entirely fabricated.

"There is some truth in the claim that, since September 2001, the Rangoon regime has sought to use the rubric of the global war against terrorism to cloak a renewed campaign of discrimination against Burma's broad Muslim population," Andrew Selth, a professor specialising in Myanmar at Griffith University, wrote in an article about terrorism and Myanmar.

Fortify Rights said analysis of 170 pages of court documents did not provide any details about the supposed organisation.

"It is impossible to assess the government's claims regarding the Myanmar Muslim Army because the government has failed to provide any concrete evidence demonstrating its existence or details about its composition or activities," Mr Bugher said. "The government's case is so thin."

The President's Office could not be reached for comment yesterday and the prosecution declined to comment.

Family members of the convicted men yesterday said they are leaning against filing an appeal.

"Because of the changeover in government next year, some think they will only go to jail for three months," said the daughter of defendant U Hasan who declined to provide her name.