Monday, March 16

Orphanages Closed, Buildings Seized

The Burmese military regime has shut down at least 50 Chin orphanages in Rangoon, the former capital of Burma leading to problems for children.

According to a report said the regime closed down about 50 Chin orphanages on March 6, 2009 as their licenses expired. The regime has seized all the buildings

“We had registered for a period of five years. I don’t know others’ cases. Actually, we had registered in 2003 and its validity is up to 2008. Now we have to register for 2009 to 2013, but just before doing so the authorities stopped renewing the license,” said a local Chin from Rangoon .

It means 50 out of 100 Chin orphanage schools in Rangoon city have now been shut down by the government. Similarly, 13 out of 16 schools in Hleku townships also closed including Victoria Childcare Centre (VCC) which looks after 54 orphanages.

Kanpalet Township , Southern Chin state, which looks after 99% of the children in VCC has sent them back to their relatives as per the rule of government that allows a person can adopt not more than five children in his life time.

“The children’s future will be totally dependant on the adopters. Some will be adopted well and some might be adopted as house keepers or servants. It’s very hard to figure out their fortune,” said a victim at one of orphanage schools.

At the same time, some schools are searching for people to adopt the children.. It is difficult to know where other schools are located and who are taking responsibility regarding this matter as the government has restricted them and they are afraid to used telephone for their security.

“Once we had used telephone for conversation about our work, the authorities immediately arrived and they inquired about it. We don’t want to use the phone anymore after facing this thrice as we’ve afraid,” he added.

He continued that the care takers at the orphanage schools have been given an appointment on 17 March. It needs to be watched how it will turn out, but the schools cannot be opened again.

Chin orphanage schools started to open in 2003 in Yangon city and there are about 140 of Chin orphanage schools in Burma.

Friday, March 6

More From Tim Patterson

“My generation thinks there will be a war,” says a 22-year-old cadet in the Kachin Independence Army, one of several armed groups that struggle for political autonomy on the frontiers of Myanmar.

His AK-47 slung loosely over his shoulder, the cadet qualifies his prediction, perhaps in deference to the officers who listen as he speaks.

“We don´t know what the leadership will decide,” he says. “We will follow their orders.”

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, encompasses the homelands of several distinct ethnic groups that resent the totalitarian rule of ethnic Burmese, who form a majority in this impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

Burmese dominate the powerful armed forces, which prop up the military junta that governs Myanmar, widely recognized as one of world’s most corrupt and repressive governments.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is the military wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), among the largest and most powerful of the armed groups that challenge the junta´s rule.

Founded in the early 1960s, the KIO represents ethnic Kachins, themselves a loose coalition of predominantly Christian tribes whose historic territory encompasses the Himalayan foothills of northernmost Myanmar, bordered by southern Tibet, far-eastern India and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

For more than 30 years, the KIA has waged a guerrilla campaign against the military from its jungle bases along the Chinese border. Other armed groups were active in the region during this period, including the Communist Party and various warlords, many of whom financed their armies through opium smuggling, intensive logging and mining for gold, rubies and jade.

In 1994 the KIO leadership signed a cease-fire with the military, an agreement many Kachins saw as a betrayal of their aspirations for political autonomy.

The cease-fire brought a measure of stability to Kachin state and enriched some powerful individuals who were willing to cooperate with Burmese authorities, but it did little to alleviate the suffering of Kachin civilians.

In the 15 years since the truce, Kachins say there has been no genuine attempt at reconciliation, and many expect a renewed outbreak of armed hostilities.

During the war years, Kachin state developed a reputation as one of the most lawless places in the world.

Only a handful of foreign observers managed to sneak inside to document reports of human rights abuses by Myanmar’s military in its efforts to defeat the resistance groups and consolidate control over Kachin state.

One journalist, Outside Magazine editor Mark Jenkins, was drugged, beaten and dumped in an alley with a death threat written on his hand after interviewing Kachin villagers near the state capital of Myitkyina in 1996.

The Kachins hope for more exposure to the outside world, one KIA soldier explained. “Here in Kachin, it´s been 15 years since the cease-fire, but nothing has changed.”

“I have a degree in economics, but there is no job for me,” added another soldier. “There are no good positions for Kachin people. There is oppression and exploitation everywhere.”

Like others quoted in this article, the soldiers asked not to be named, fearing retribution from the government.

The KIA military academy is located off a rough mountain road that links the wartime army headquarters, a windswept base called Pajau, with more comfortable and modern peacetime headquarters outside the bustling border town of Laiza.

Recruits rise before dawn to practice karate and repeat the pledges of the army: “We will always obey the orders of the Kachin Independence Organization,” they shout. “We will never give up our arms.”

These two pledges may come into conflict if the KIO leadership decides to participate in nationwide elections scheduled for 2010.

The elections are the culmination of a constitutional process introduced by the junta last year. Few observers expect the elections to be free or fair.

Both within Myanmar and abroad, the elections are widely seen as an attempt by the junta to legitimize iron-fisted military rule.

A clause in the new constitution states that all rebel groups must disarm and submit to the central control of the Myanmar military.

Although the KIO initially signaled its intent to participate in the election, officials now claim the KIO itself will stay on the sidelines, although KIO members may form a party to contest the elections.

Whether the Kachins decide to participate, the government that emerges will no doubt be heavily influenced by the leaders of the current military junta.

If the government attempts to forcibly disarm the KIA and other armed ethnic groups, the Kachins may retreat from their peacetime headquarters and retrench in the rugged hills along the Chinese frontier.

Bombs Explode in Two Historic Areas

Note: the following story is from BurmaNet. The two locations where the bombs exploded were sites of massive government retaliations against the student-led protests in 1988. The "Whole Burma United Revolutionary Front" (WBURF) has claimed responsibility for the bombings.


Authorities in Myanmar have warned people to be on alert after two small bombs exploded in the commercial hub Yangon, causing minor damage but no injuries, junta-run media reported Thursday.

The explosions hit hours apart Tuesday evening at a Yangon park and bus stop, and police and soldiers immediately sealed off the scene.

“Authorities concerned have reminded the people to provide information to those responsible in time if there is something or someone (suspected) of committing destructive acts,” the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

The paper said an investigation was ongoing and gave no indication about who might be behind the blasts, but the military regime has in the past blamed similar attacks on ethnic rebel insurgents battling junta rule.

The first explosion blew a hole in a fence and smashed the windscreen of a truck, the paper said, while the bus stop bomb near a busy intersection blew a small crater in the ground and damaged the shelter.

Myanmar was rocked by a series of similar small blasts late last year, with one man killed in Yangon in October and two people killed in a township outside the main city in a video cafe bombing.

Although the junta usually blames armed exile groups or ethnic rebels, it has also pointed the finger at democracy activists.

State-run media in September accused two members of detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) of bombing pro-government offices in July last year.

The NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the junta never allowed it to take office. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest almost constantly since.

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962, partly justifying its grip on power by claiming the need to fend off ethnic rebellions which have plagued remote border areas for decades.

No Hugs For Thugs

Opinion by Jean Geran:

Secretary of State Clinton should not go wobbly on the junta. In the midst of her recent Asia trip, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that the United States is reviewing its policy toward Burma. As the Obama administration assesses its options, it would be wise to remember it is dealing with one of the world’s most brutal tyrannies, which has held power for decades through terror and totalitarian control. Fear and force are the two things that the ruling junta most understands—and are the only two factors that have ever succeeded in altering its behavior over the years. Any policy review must be mindful of that history.

In recent months, the Burmese generals stepped up their imprisonment of dissidents. The number of political prisoners has swelled to over 2,000. Horrific attacks and displacement of civilians in ethnic minority regions continue unabated. The legitimate leaders of the Burmese people such as Aung San Suu Kyi and Min Ko Naing, along with representatives of the tormented ethnic minority groups such as the Karen and Shan, continue to seek more support from the international community and more pressure on the regime. Now is not the time to abandon them.

It is especially disturbing to think that a review of U.S. policy may cede important ground gained under the Bush administration. In addition to President Bush’s forceful advocacy on the issue, First Lady Laura Bush took a personal interest in Burma’s plight and, among other initiatives, helped bring the issue of the tyrannical Burmese government for the first time before the U.N. Security Council. Any policy change that goes the other direction and eases pressure would be disastrous for the Burmese people.

The most important thing that the West can do is to apply more and smarter pressure on the generals to force them to the negotiating table—not with us, but with the legitimate leaders of their own people. We can also press Burma’s neighbors—specifically India, Thailand, and China—to end their support for the regime.

Frustration over the lack of progress has revived longstanding debates over sanctions and humanitarian aid. On the surface the arguments for easing sanctions and allowing more aid strike sympathetic chords with those unfamiliar with the peculiar and psychotic nature of Than Shwe and the rest of the junta. It is easy to think that aid will ease the suffering of the people. But only the most carefully channelled assistance can avoid cooptation by the regime, and even these channels are extremely rare and limited to flows across the border from Thailand and small subtle efforts that work under the radar of the regime. Large-scale aid flowing through Rangoon, especially through larger U.N. agencies, inevitably is controlled by the regime or its cronies and strengthens their grip on power.

The generals have repeatedly shown their contempt for the welfare of their own people. This contempt was most tragically seen in their appalling response to Cyclone Nargis. The disaster led to over a hundred thousand deaths, many unnecessary, due to restrictions or even denial of aid. One need only remember the ships, planes, and tarmacs full of supplies that were not distributed because the regime denied access to the victims; or the plight of courageous Burmese citizens like 23-year-old student Kay Thi Aung, who was imprisoned in September 2008 for her efforts to provide aid to cyclone victims, and who recently suffered a miscarriage due to the deplorable jail conditions; and comedian Zarganar, sentenced to 59 years imprisonment for criticizing the regime’s failures. In most other countries the actions of these two would not be considered political activity, but to the lawless Burmese regime all things—even humanitarian gestures—are “political.”

The current sanctions have not yet brought freedom, but that is no reason to abandon them. They must be intensified and coordinated multilaterally.

The people of this fertile, resource rich, and once well-educated country are suffering under the economic malevolence and ignorance of their oppressors, not the effects of economic sanctions. A policy review of sanctions would be helpful only if it leads to better targeting and expanded coordination with allies in the region and beyond. But any backtracking or easing of pressure would be a huge mistake and would play right into the hands of the generals.

Likewise, a policy review that leads to a renewed diplomatic push in Washington and at the United Nations might have a chance of overcoming the Russian and Chinese veto threat. A strong U.N. Security Council resolution, especially one with sharp multilateral teeth such as an arms embargo or targeted global sanctions, would quickly get the attention of the generals. The case for Security Council action is clear. Ongoing military offensives against civilians that include rape as a weapon of war, as well as refugee displacement, disease spreading across borders, and trafficking in drugs and people, make the situation in Burma as much a security issue as a human rights or humanitarian one.

Concern for Burma has long attracted strong bipartisan interest and support in the United States, and Secretary Clinton herself has previously made a priority of supporting female leaders such as Aung San Suu Kyi. If this review goes forward and new tactics are considered, U.S. policymakers should remember the nature and history of this brutal regime and pay heed to the vital voices of the Burmese democracy movement over those tired voices of Western academics, the United Nations, or aid agencies. We in the West have failed the people of Burma time and again with our weak statements and our short memories, and yet they persevere with an honor and steadfastness that should put us all to shame. They are the ones who know what is best for their country. We must continue to stand beside them against tyranny and terror until freedom and prosperity are once again theirs.

Jean Geran is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute. She served as the director for democracy and human rights on the National Security Council and as an abuse prevention officer on the U.S. Disaster Assistance Response Team in southern Iraq.