Tuesday 28 May 2019

Myanmar soldiers jailed for Rohingya massacre freed after months

Source Aljazeera, 27 May

Troops released in November 2018 after serving less than one year of their 10-year prison terms, Reuters report says.

Ten Rohingya men with their hands bound kneel as members of the Myanmar security forces stand guard in Inn Din village on September 2, 2017 [Handout via REUTERS] [Reuters]


Myanmar has granted early release to seven soldiers jailed for the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys during a 2017 military crackdown in the western state of Rakhine, two prison officials, two former fellow inmates and one of the soldiers told Reuters news agency.

The soldiers were freed in November last year, the two inmates said, meaning they served less than one year of their 10-year prison terms for the killings at Inn Din village.

They also served less jail time than two Reuters reporters who uncovered the killings. The journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, spent more than 16 months behind bars on charges of obtaining state secrets. The two were released in an amnesty on May 6.

Win Naing, the chief warden at Rakhine's Sittwe prison, and a senior prison official in the capital, Naypyitaw, confirmed that the convicted soldiers had not been in prison for some months.

"Their punishment was reduced by the military," said the senior Naypyitaw official, who declined to be named in the Reuters report that was published on Monday.

Both prison officials declined to provide further details and said they did not know the exact date of the release, which was not announced publicly.

Military spokesmen Zaw Min Tun and Tun Tun Nyi declined to comment.

'I am a journalist and I am going to continue': Reuters ... - YouTube

▶ 2:14

'I am going to continue': Reuters reporters freed in Myanmar (2:13)

The seven soldiers were the only security personnel the military has said it has punished over the 2017 operation in Rakhine, which drove more than 730,000 Muslim-majority Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. United Nations investigators said the crackdown was executed with "genocidal intent" and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.


Myanmar's political prisoners struggle with life after jail

Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and officials have pointed to the jailing of the seven soldiers in the Inn Din case as evidence Myanmar security forces do not enjoy impunity.

"I would say that we took action against every case we could investigate," the military's commander in chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, told officials from the UN Security Council in April last year, according to an account posted on his personal website.

The army chief cited the Inn Din case specifically. "The latest crime we punished was a killing, and 10 years' imprisonment was given to seven perpetrators," he said. "We will not forgive anyone if they commit (a) crime."

Reached by phone on Thursday, a man named Zin Paing Soe confirmed that he was one of the seven soldiers and that he was now free, but declined to comment further. "We were told to shutup," he said.

'First step'

The 2017 campaign was launched across hundreds of villages in northern Rakhine in response to attacks by Rohingya fighters. Reuters exposed the killings in a report published in February 2018. 

Troops from the 33rd Light Infantry Division, a mobile force known for its brutal campaigns, worked with members of a paramilitary police force and Buddhist vigilantes to drive out the entire Muslim population of Inn Din, burning and looting Rohingya homes and property, according to Buddhist and Muslim villagers and members of the security forces.

On September 1, 2017, soldiers and some villagers detained a group of 10 Rohingya. The military said the men were "terrorists"; their family members said they were farmers, high school students and an Islamic teacher.

The next morning, witnesses said, Buddhist villagers hacked some of the Rohingya men with swords. The rest were shot by Myanmar troops and buried in a shallow grave.

Watch : Al Jazeera English - A letter from a Rohingya | Facebook

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The two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, discovered the grave and obtained pictures of the 10 men before and after they were killed.


In Pictures: Tears of joy as journalists walk free in Myanmar

The journalists were arrested in December 2017 while investigating the killings and later sentenced to seven years in prison under the Official Secrets Act.

Defence lawyers argued their arrest and prosecution were aimed at blocking their reporting, and one police officer testified that a senior police official had ordered that the reporters be set up and arrested.

In April 2018, after launching an investigation into the killings, the military announced that four officers and three soldiers of other ranks had been dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years with hard labour for "contributing and participating in murder". Neither their names nor details of their roles in the killing were disclosed.

Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed the convictions, telling reporters at the time the sentencing was Myanmar's "first step on the road of taking responsibility".

Suu Kyi's spokesman, Zaw Htay, did not pick up a call seeking comment on the release of the seven soldiers.

Will UN's Myanmar 'genocide' accusation amount to change? | Al ...

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Will UN's Myanmar 'genocide' accusation amount to change?

'Year that changed my life'

Two men who recently spent time in Sittwe prison told Reuters the seven soldiers were well-known among prisoners there.

"We were in the same building but different cells," said one of the men, Aung Than Wai, a political activist from Sittwe, who spent nearly six months in prison under a privacy law after he criticised a state official and posted an image of the official online.

Aung Than Wai, who was released from Sittwe in December, said he wanted to speak publicly about the soldiers' early release because an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist villager also jailed over the Inn Din killings was still in prison. The villager, school teacher Tun Aye, is serving a five-year sentence for murder at Buthidaung Prison in northern Rakhine, said his lawyer, Khin Win.

The convicted soldiers in Sittwe were given beer and cigarettes even though such indulgences were off-limits to other prisoners, Aung Than Wai said.

The soldiers were also visited by army officials, said the second man who was in the prison at the time and asked not to be named. In November, the seven men were taken away in a military vehicle, he said.

The same month, Zin Paing Soe, one of the convicted soldiers, set up a new Facebook account, noting in his biography that he attended the military's elite Defence Services Academy.

In one of the account's first public posts, he said he was looking forward to the end of a year spent mostly in prison.

"When will these unfortunate things end for me?" the post reads. "The year that totally changed my life: F*** 2018."

Reporting Myanmar's Rohingya story | The Listening Post ...


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In Yangon, Myanmar – Mob appears in streets again to show their denial of religious freedom

Source MMedia, 16 May,

Photo credit – Khit Thit Media

Buddhist mob forced to shut down three Muslim places of worship in suburb of commercial capital Yangon, another sign of broader trend of intimidation and violence perpetrated by ultranationalist groups and latest government failure to uphold religious freedom enshrined in country's constitution.

Muslims in three neighborhoods of South Dagon Township have agreed to close three buildings which were permitted by Yangon regional government to use temporary places of worship in the fasting month of Ramadan after so called Buddhist ultranationalists putting pressure and threatening to attack if their demand does not meet.

"This is not an agreement and not a negotiation but just forcing us to sign not to conducting prayers", Wunna Shwe, secretary general of the Islamic Religious Affairs Council, told to Myanmar Now media.

The latest infringement on the Muslim community's basic right to religious freedom by so called Buddhist nationalists started on Tuseday when a mob of about 200 people, some carrying swords and knives appeared in the streets of 26 Quarter, South Dagon Township before disturbing Muslim congregation and forcing local authorities to shut down temporary place of worship. The group continued their campaign and became more agitated on Wednesday in 64 Quarter and 106 Quarter.

A freelance reporter was attacked and a car was destroyed in yesterday incident.

"Without giving any reason, they said their nationalist groups do not agree the prayer and forced us to shut down the place threatening potential attack if their demand does not meet", said an unnamed Muslim youth leader to Myanmar Now.

Approval letter from Yangon Regional government to use three houses as temporary places of worship

Muslims in South Dagon Township sent a request letter to Yangon Regional government to grant temporary places of worship in 16 neighborhoods during the fasting month of Ramadan. But authorities allowed three places which were forced to close just 10th day of fasting.

Photo credit – Khit Thit Media

Against Freedom of worship

In March, people in Chauk Township of central Myanmar voted against reopening of mosques in what they call referendum.

Mosques in Chauk, Salin and Sinphy Kyun Townships of Sagaing Division were set alight or destroyed by Buddhist mob in the anti-Muslim riot broke out in 2006 at the time of military regime.

A damaged mosque in Chauk township

Last year, local Muslims in Chauk Township sent a request letter to authorities asking for permission of reopening two Mosques which were seriously damaged in 2006 riot without repairing. Officials from Sagaing Regional government have decided to approve the request in the regional meeting held in October 2017 and instructed township authorities in November 2017 to follow the order.

But township officials delayed the implementation. In March 30th 2019, two neighborhoods – where two damaged mosques are situated – held what they called 'referendum' to decide whether local Buddhists agreed or not the government approval. According to the Facebook group of Chauk News – where the voting result is posted – most of the voters rejected the reopening of the mosques. Officials from General Administration Department, Police forces and Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population were participated in so called referendum that goes against the constitution.

In May 2017, two Islamic religious schools in Thaketa Township near downtown Yangon were sealed off by authorities after a Buddhist mob staged a protest against it.

Sources – Myanmar Now
Photo credit – Khit Thit Media

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Thursday 16 May 2019

UN investigators urge nations to snap financial ties with Myanmar military

Source thedailystar, 14 May

Reuters, Yangon

Myanmar's military commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing shakes hands with a participant during the annual Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow, Russia April 24, 2019. Photo: Reuters 
The world must cut off financial and other support for Myanmar's armed forces, a UN fact-finding mission said today, repeating a call for top generals to be prosecuted for abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Myanmar security forces are accused of killings, gang rape and arson during a crackdown that drove more than 730,000 people to flee western Rakhine state for neighbouring Bangladesh after attacks on police posts by Rohingya insurgents in August 2017.

Myanmar has rejected most of the accusations and dismissed a report last September by the UN-appointed panel, which said military officers carried out the campaign against the Rohingya with "genocidal intent" and should stand trial.

Autralian human rights lawyer and panel member Christopher Sidoti said it had seen no evidence Myanmar was trying to resolve the crisis or ease the safe return of refugees.

Myanmar has barred the experts from visiting the country, but they visited the region, including refugee camps in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, beginning early this month.

"Due to the gravity of the past and continuing violations, attention must be given to the political, economic and financial ties of the Myanmar military, to identify who and what should be targeted," Sidoti said.

That would aid efforts to cut off the money supply, as a means of boosting pressure and reducing violence, he added.

The statement did not identify specific nations. Myanmar's military buys weapons from China and Russia, among others. Many Western countries have supended training programs over human rights abuses and impose arms embargoes.

Myanmar rejected the fact-finding mission when it was formed at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2017, with a mandate to investigate military abuses against the Rohingya and in other conflicts with ethnic armed groups in Myanmar.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay did not immediately answer a telephone call to seek comment.

Military spokesman Major General Tun Tun Nyi said the military would investigate allegations backed by evidence but the fact-finding mission had levelled false accusations at troops.

"Our country is an independent country, so we don't accept our matters being interfered with," he told Reuters by telephone.

The military was cooperating with a government-appointed panel on alleged abuses in Rakhine, Tun Tun Nyi said. Human rights campaigners say it lacks credibility.

The UN panel said it was still receiving reports of human rights abuses in Rakhine and Chin states, where clashes between the military and insurgents from the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group since late last year have displaced more than 30,000 people.

Thursday 9 May 2019

'Money interests fuel world neglect of Rohingya crisis'

Source AA, 3 May

Expert says Rohingya issue ignored for many reasons, citing in particular Myanmar's alliance with several countries

'Money interests fuel world neglect of Rohingya crisis'


The world is ignoring the Rohingya crisis for several reasons, said an NGO leader in Canada on Friday, citing in particular the alliance of Myanmar's government with China, India, Israel, and Russia as well as the global climate of Islamophobia. 

"Both India and China have a strategic economic interest in Myanmar. The Myanmar government recently agreed to the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) agreement, which is part of China's Belt and Road Initiative," Yuriko Cowper-Smith, a board member at the NGO Canadian Rohingya Development Initiative (CRDI), told Anadolu Agency.

Starting in China's Yunnan province, Cowper-Smith explained, the economic corridor goes through Mandalay and Yangon, and reaches Myanmar's coast at the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine state, the site of a brutal 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya.

"Neither India nor China would want to upset this status quo with any sort of international intervention, and so neither government will broach the Rohingya issue with the Burmese [Myanmar] government, let alone the United Nations," she added.

"Therefore, the UN Security Council avenue is closed as a possibility."

She downplayed any expectations of the U.S. or NATO taking action, saying: "The likelihood of this option seems low, as President Trump is not a fan of the UN system or of transnational justice."

She added: "Although a Muslim nation, which has a significant Rohingya refugee population, Saudi Arabia also has economic interests in Rakhine state, which lessens the likelihood of them speaking out against the Burmese state."

Cowper-Smith added that the global climate of Islamophobia, fear of terrorism, as well as the lack of access to Rakhine state by international observers lessens the likelihood of international involvement.

Rohingya meeting

NGOs, human rights activists, academics, and lawyers convened in Toronto, Canada last month to discuss the progress since the release of a report by Canada's special envoy to Myanmar in 2018.

Bob Rae's report -- Tell them we are human: What Canada and the world can do about the Rohingya crisis -- was published last year to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis faced by Rohingya refugees who have been fleeing systematic persecution by Myanmar's army and government.

Experts discussed several key issues related to the crisis such as the lack of coordinated international response against Myanmar, urgent issues in the refugee camps, and the steps Canada could take to alleviate the plight of Rohingya refugees.

According to the experts, if the international community fails to take immediate action, the following problems will only get worse:

  • Exploitation, human trafficking, systemic rape by Myanmar officials and soldiers in refugee camps
  • Lack of access to health and schooling
  • Urgent need for flood-resistant, cyclone-resistant housing
  • Mental, physical, and psychological trauma

Experts agreed to sustain the dialogue on the Rohingya and also recommended putting international court pressure on the Myanmar army.

International Rohingya observers say the generals in Myanmar's army are worried about the possibility of being prosecuted for crimes against humanity.

Recommendations to Canadian officials

Experts recommended establishing better relationship with political parties and the Canadian public to raise awareness of the crisis.

They also urged Canadian authorities to provide scholarships and a pathway to resettlement for Rohingya students in Canada.

Participants added that Canadian officials should continue to work with Bangladesh to allow refugee visas, especially to women and children.

Persecuted people

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar's state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience".

Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar's army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

The UN has also documented mass gang rapes, killings – including of infants and young children – and brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces.

In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity and genocidal intent.

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Renewed EU Sanctions Don’t Affect Us: Military Spokesperson

Source Irrawaddy, 30 April

YANGON—Myanmar's military, or Tatmadaw, has said the European Union's (EU's) renewed embargo on arms and equipment wouldn't have any serious impact on it because the majority of its arsenal are of Russian and Chinese origin.

On Monday, the bloc extended sanctions which are already in place for a further year until April 2020.

The sanctions comprise of an embargo on arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression, an export ban on dual-use goods for use by military and border guard police, restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications, and a prohibition on military training and cooperation. Plus, asset freezes and travel bans on 14 people for serious human rights violations against the Rohingya population and civilians in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.

Military spokesperson Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told the media on Tuesday that a majority of the military's weaponry system doesn't come from the EU, "…..but from Russia and China, so Myanmar will not be affected very much." He added that as the military is trying to develop into a "standard army," it would accept technology from any country.

This was a rare admission by a senior military official about the sources of military weaponry.

Crippled for decades by international sanctions—especially by those imposed by the West—it has long been an open secret that the military relies on Russia and China for hardware. However, they have rarely revealed that. The two powerful countries have been long-time supporters of the military regime, especially since the 1990s and early 2000s during a time when Myanmar was shunned by the international community for its human rights abuses and political oppression. Even now, decades later, military ties between them still appear to be strong.

On April 21, Myanmar's military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing left for Russia for his third trip since taking his post in 2011. During the six-day trip, at the invite of Russia's defense minister, he participated in the 8th Moscow Conference on International Security. He also met the government of the Russian Federation and military leaders and visited plants and factories in Ulan-Ude, Irkutsk, Murom, Saint Petersburg and Moscow.

According to the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services website, in Ulan-Ude, he visited an aviation plant; he viewed the MIG-29 Service Support Center in Moscow while admiring a skills demonstration and the firing of armored vehicles manufactured by the OJSC Muromteplovoz Factory in Murom.

During his trip, Russian news outlets reported that six Sukhoi SU-30SM fighter jets are being assembled for Myanmar under a contract worth about US$204 million (300 billion kyats) which was signed between the two nations last year.

Prior to his Russian trip, also in April, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing was in China for a fifth time since 2011. He visited an armored vehicle training school in Beijing and met with senior officers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) on April 11.

It wasn't known if the military chief made any deals on military hardware with China this time, but records show that Myanmar owns a number of Chinese-made aircraft. In June 2017, a Y-8 military tactical transport aircraft crashed into the Andaman Sea, killing 124 people onboard. The plane was made in China. The military later blamed bad weather for the crash.

UN Aid Chief: No Progress So Rohingya Can Return to Myanmar

Source nytimes, 29 April

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian chief said Monday there has been "no progress" in dealing with the reasons why more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to Bangladesh from western Myanmar's Rakhine state.

Mark Lowcock, who just returned from a visit to Bangladesh, said Myanmar has failed "to put in place confidence-building measures that would persuade people it's safe to go back."

He said all the refugees he spoke to didn't think it was safe to return, and want to be assured of things like freedom of movement and access to education, jobs and services.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has long considered the Rohingya to be "Bengalis" from Bangladesh even though their families have lived in the country for generations. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless, and they are also denied freedom of movement and other basic rights.

The latest crisis began with attacks by an underground Rohingya insurgent group on Myanmar security personnel in August 2017 in northern Rakhine. Myanmar's military responded with a brutal campaign and is accused of mass rape, killings and the burning of thousands of homes that critics have described as ethnic cleansing, or even genocide.

Lowcock told a small group of reporters he is "extremely worried" that the U.N. appeal for $962 million to provide for the Rohingya refugees and their host communities in Bangladesh this year is only 17% funded.

"I think the world may be losing interest," he said. "Last year, we got 70% what we asked for. We're running way behind."

He warned that "if we don't get financed, the consequences will be serious" for the provision of such things as food rations and health services.

Lowcock visited Bangladesh with U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi and Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Office for Migration. In a joint statement, they stressed the need to sustain support for the Rohingya refugees and to keep working for "safe and sustainable solutions" so they can return home.

They noted that almost half the 540,000 refugee children under age 12 are missing out on education and the rest are only getting very limited schooling.

"I think the world ought to worry about what this very large group of people will be like in 10 years' time if they don't get an opportunity to access education and a chance to develop a livelihood and have a normal life," Lowcock told reporters.

While the best solution would be for the refugees to return home, he said, "in any event it's a bad idea to run the risk of a very aggrieved, disaffected large group of young people, especially young men."

Lowcock said Bangladesh's government expressed concern to the three U.N. officials during the trip about criminal activity among refugees in the Cox's Bazaar area."There are well-known concerns about the drugs industry trying to use populations in Cox's Bazaar to support their malign activities," Lowcock said, adding that there are also concerns about possible radicalization of refugees.