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Posts Tagged ‘Kachin State’

“The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical”

Posted by African Press International on October 24, 2013

Tomás Ojea Quintana

BUENOS AIRES,  – Myanmar’s government has signed individual ceasefire agreements with 14 main non-state armed groups since 2011, and is pressing ahead with plans for a national ceasefire agreement, originally scheduled for the end of October, but now delayed. The most recent round of negotiations with northern Myanmar’s Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) brought further hope of nationwide reconciliation.

But the government faces ongoing tension in western Rakhine State between ethnic Rakhines (primarily Buddhist) and Rohingyas (mostly Muslims), continued fighting in Kachin State which in the past year has left more than 83,000 people displaced in 42 camps, and allegations of human rights abuses against the country’s ethnic minorities.

Following his most recent mission to Myanmar in August 2013, IRIN met Tomás Ojea Quintana , the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, in his home city of Buenos Aires, to discuss the prospects for a nationwide ceasefire; segregation in Rakhine State, and allegations of army or police brutality against Rohingyas, as well as the implications of the transition to democracy for the country’s ethnic minorities.

IRIN: Given the history of broken ceasefires between non-state armed groups and the Myanmar government, what assurance is there of lasting peace with the latest round of peace talks?

Quintana: Now what is totally different is that it is a civilian government in transition to a democracy. As a human rights rapporteur, I would not say that it is a democracy yet. Democracy will take a long time. But it is a civilian government that is progressively gaining respect, particularly from Western countries.

This respect has given the civilian government some kind of [room for] manoeuvre to have this discussion with the ethnic armed groups [to disarm], which is of course very important [for the peace process].

The ethnic groups, all of them, have reservations about where this might go in terms of lasting peace, in terms of receiving the benefits from development, and in terms of their participation in the exploitation of natural resources.

They have reservations in terms of the political structure of the country, which currently does not [allow] ethnic groups the participation they would like to have [in governing themselves], and regarding their [own political autonomy].

Nonetheless the government has signed [peace deals] with most of the NSA [non-state actor] groups. There is only one group, the Kachin, the KIA [Kachin Independence Army], which is still holding conversations. They have recently signed an agreement… which is not exactly a ceasefire… but it goes in that direction.

And now, after my last mission [in August 2013]… I talked to the president and [his] advisers who are in charge of the peace process and they are planning to hold a national ceasefire agreement by October 2013.

IRIN: How would a national ceasefire differ from individual ceasefires?

Quintana: It will be a very important message to the international community that all [of] Myanmar is united towards the very important objective of peace. A lot of pressure is being put on the KIA [to sign].

The problem… is how these ceasefires will be implemented on the ground and how they will reflect the interests of all the villagers living in remote areas. We don’t see a comprehensive plan to implement these decisions. For example, one of the issues is what will happen to the [Burmese] refugees in Thailand? If you were a refugee would you want to go back?

There is no transparency, no plans [for implementation]. Nobody knows about the problem of the landmines, the problems with the land. There is a lot of land confiscation. It is a really serious problem how to move from a ceasefire – from stopping the bullets from flying – to something different, to build a united country. That is still very difficult and will take a long time.

IRIN: What are the barriers in Kachin State, the only place where the government has not reached an agreement with rebels?

Quintana: It is not clear. The KIA allegations are that the military is not actually following the decisions of the civilian president and there is still a militarization in the area, which they won’t accept. The Kachin community in particular has a strong stance on the possibility for [it] to run [its] own businesses in Kachin State [instead of competing with the military for business and income].

The government, though, is not opening up any spaces for these kinds of issues to be included in the dialogue so far. That is why it has been quite difficult to reach an agreement.

IRIN: How representative are non-state armed groups of people in their communities?

Quintana: That’s a difficult question because there is not a formal democracy and no formal electoral process, so how do you say to what extent they are representative.

What I have seen…is that ordinary people in villages really don’t understand and don’t believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem. The leaders of ethnic groups need to have better connections with their own people.

“Ordinary people in villages really don’t understand and don’t believe that ceasefires and peace processes will bring concrete benefits to them. That is a problem”

And the same with the refugees. When you talk to the refugees about returning and the information they have in respect to what is going on in Myanmar, they don’t know. They don’t trust. They still fear a lot. It seems that the ethnic leaders need more work in this respect.

At the same time, the people and the ethnic army leaders have faced oppression from the military regime for decades and that is very, very tough to lead, and to recover from that, and to try to [be] more organized with your communities is not easy.

IRIN: What can be done to engage communities more in peace talks?

Quintana: The government and the ethnic leaders are doing a lot… to settle the problems at the top, at the highest levels. But they need to involve the communities in a more widespread and comprehensive plan of action. You don’t see the communities being involved. And that has been the practice in Myanmar for decades. I mean that is how the military operated… giving instructions and expecting instructions to be implemented – period – without consulting. It’s part of a historical problem in Myanmar. It is still there.

IRIN: And what about the Rakhine commission established by the Myanmar government? What are your thoughts on its recommendations on ways to prevent violence?

Quintana: They [the commission] never addressed what happened – the human rights abuses. This is a clear shortcoming and it is one of my concerns. And I am calling for the [UN Human Rights Council] to continue to address this. The allegations of what happened are very serious. Widespread human rights abuses, torture of hundreds of prisoners in Buthidaung [a prison in Rakhine State holding an estimated 1,000 Rohingyas], a place I have visited, and the government has not done anything about that. The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical.

“The situation in Rakhine is quite fragile and critical”

IRIN: What is the potential of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to help mitigate what is now a regional crisis?

Quintana: ASEAN countries don’t want to get involved. Based on the non-interference provision of ASEAN charter, they do not want to interfere. There is no potential [for ASEAN] as a regional mechanism [to pressure the Myanmar government to resolve the conflict]. I tried many times to address ASEAN, to let them know they have an important role to play… It is becoming a regional, not a national problem.

IRIN: Is the government putting any foundation in place to allow Rohingyas to return to their homes in northern Rakhine State?

Quintana: No… The original places of the Rohingyas are being used for some other purposes by the government.

IRIN: How can the humanitarian community support shelter for the displaced?

Quintana: There is a dilemma because the [displaced] people still need access to humanitarian aid. So if you do not provide that because you say you do not agree with [the government’s] policies of making settlements permanent, then you are not delivering the aid. So you have a problem there. And the humanitarian agencies or donors try not to get involved in the political arena of a country.

IRIN: What are the risks of long-term segregation of Buddhists and Rohingyas, where government- monitored encampment have cut displaced Rohingyas from their land and livelihoods?

Quintana: It’s going to be a disaster because many of the areas that you can look into in respect to the Rohingyas, how Rohingyas are treated, you always see obstacles, limitations, and intentions to not help them at all.

IRIN: What role can civil society play in reconciliation?

Quintana: I hope they are included as participants in the implementation of the [ceasefire] agreement. That is the role they need to play but that is the role that their own leaders need to address with them [ethnic communities]. The[se communities’] leaders need to say that they want their own people to be involved.

My job as a rapporteur is to say, ‘You are an ethnic general of armed forces. I understand… you have been fighting for years against your army. But now you need to play some other role and let your people participate.’ It will take time…

[During my] last mission my convoy was attacked by Buddhist mobs [where I was addressing the issue of communal violence]. And the police stood by so it was kind of planned somehow… It was more than tense. I was frightened. But I am still holding the mandate [as Myanmar’s special rapporteur on human rights].

dm/pt/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Bolstering access to life-prolonging drugs for people with HIV/AIDS

Posted by African Press International on September 3, 2013

MAE SOT,  – Efforts are under way in Myanmar to bolster access to life-prolonging drugs for people with HIV/AIDS, but tens of thousands will probably still be left out, say health experts.
“All the ingredients are there to make this work, but a comprehensive and integrated plan concerning all actors and activities is needed to ensure a proper and rapid implementation,” Peter Paul de Groote, head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), told IRIN.

In June, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria pledged more than US$160 million over the next four years to Myanmar to improve access to anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs for patients, including those in neglected border regions and some controlled by ethnic armed groups.

“The challenge is that some of the areas are not directly managed by the government,” Eamonn Murphy, country coordinator for the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), explained. “However, I think there is a genuine commitment to provide services in these areas.”

According to UNAIDS, there are about 220,000 people with HIV in Myanmar of whom 120,000 are in need of ARVs. From 2011 to June 2013, ARV treatment coverage climbed from 32 percent of diagnosed patients to nearly 50 percent, inching closer to the government target of 85 percent by the end of 2016.

In 2012, Myanmar officials declared that the availability of ARV treatment had expanded to nearly 100 sites – up from 57 in 2008.

Yet, more than 70 percent of those treated were in the nation’s two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, along with Kachin State, while coverage in other areas remained inadequate.

The Global Fund is currently in talks with various stakeholders on access to war-torn border regions and expects to roll out services in 2014.

“We envisage an expansion of services to these areas with life-saving drugs being brought into the conflict zones and other hard-to-reach areas,” said Andrew Hurst, a Global Fund spokesperson.

But despite the Global Fund boost, Myanmar is still looking for other donors to fill a $110 million funding gap in its national response up to the end of 2016, Murphy said.

Furthermore, some health workers claim HIV prevalence – the third highest in the Asia-Pacific region – could be worse than reported as scarce healthcare in border regions, compounded by a fluid migrant population, may have further spread the virus.

“I think that there are thousands of unknown HIV cases,” said Aye Aye Mar, founder of Social Action for Women (SAW), a non-profit group that supports Burmese HIV patients in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. “We will never know if they have the virus and many won’t know themselves because they don’t get tested.”

WHO guidelines could boost ARV demand

MSF, the largest ARV provider in Myanmar, also predicts a greater demand for treatment after the World Health Organization set new guidelines in June stating that adult patients with CD4 (a white blood cell that targets infection) counts of 500 or below should receive ARVs when immune systems are stronger.

Myanmar’s ARV policy of treating adults with CD4 counts of 350 or below will need to be updated, allowing more infected people to access the drugs, MSF officials say.

“For this, many more treatment sites will have to be opened in areas where so far no treatment is available,” de Groote said.

Seeking help in Thailand

Meanwhile, many impoverished Burmese living with HIV/AIDS continue to cross the Thai-Burmese border in the hope of receiving free treatment in Thailand.

Ma Yin Nu left her eastern Karen State village in 2007 when her daughter became severely malnourished after years of being mistakenly treated for tuberculosis.

“She was in very bad shape. I thought she would die and even the doctors expected it,” said Ma Yin Nu, adding that she herself probably transmitted the HIV virus to her daughter at birth after a blood transfusion at a Burmese hospital.

With ARV treatment, her daughter, Phyoe Thandar Win (17), has since seen her CD4 count skyrocket from two to more than 1,000, and is now healthy enough to attend school. She lives at a SAW shelter, which teaches women to sew garments that are sold to pay for their ARVs (about $170 per month).

“I would be happier living in my village,” she said. “But I need to stay here longer to get treatment.”

Under a Global Fund grant, the Thai government offers free ARV drugs to at least 2,700 foreigners nationwide, but many more remain on waiting lists. Only 70 people are eligible in the Mae Sot area, the main hub for Burmese migrants coming into Thailand, health workers say.

sk/ds/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Conflict boosting trafficking – More women are at risk

Posted by African Press International on June 9, 2013

More women are at risk

BANGKOK, – Women in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State are increasingly susceptible to human trafficking, said a new reportreleased on 5 June by the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT). “Thousands of young women are at risk,” KWAT spokesperson Julia Marip told IRIN.

Sporadic clashes over the past two years between the Burmese government and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting for greater autonomy, have created greater opportunity for traffickers to prey on internally displaced persons (IDPs), the report said.

Despite recent peace talks, the ongoing conflict continues to block regular aid to the camps, fuelling poverty and trafficking, including a report of underage girls being sold to Chinese men for up to US$6,500. The KWAT report highlights 24 cases of IDPs forced into marriage, labour or the sex trade, but there are likely to be many more.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are over 85,000 IDPs in Kachin and Shan states, including over 50,000 in KIA-controlled areas.

sk/ds/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Aid access still limited for displaced

Posted by African Press International on April 7, 2013

LAIZA,  – More than 83,000 people have run from their homes, funneling into some 45 camps and settlements to escape fighting in Myanmar’s northeastern Kachin State. But over half the displaced are still unreachable by international aid workers because they are located in rebel-controlled areas. 

“We had to dig trenches around our home because the Burmese army [was] using fighter jets to attack KIA [Kachin Independence Army] soldiers near our village,” recalled 65-year-old Pokin Kon Dok. She fled her home near Laja Yang Village last December, carrying only her one-month-old granddaughter, after government forces launched an offensive against ethnic Kachin troops near the border town of Laiza.

Now, Polkin and her extended family share a single bamboo hut with six other recent arrivals in Je Yang, a camp in Laiza that currently houses an estimated 6,000 people. The area, near the site of a main rebel camp, is inaccessible by international aid workers.

Health fallout

In other parts of the camp, stone workers and labourers break large rocks to re-enforce dirt roads and pathways leading into the area. Others stack bricks into baskets on their backs, preparing to build latrines.

“The current ratio is one toilet for 60 persons, but that is not enough, so now we are building an additional 300 toilets in the whole of Je Yang camp,” said camp supervisor Brang Shaw.

Emergency aid standards require a minimum of one latrine per 20 adults or 10 children. Local health workers have reported treating a regular stream of internally displaced persons (IDPs) with stomach ailments caused by diarrhoea and parasites.

In southern Kachin State, a network of eight local aid groups, including Wun Pawng Ninghtoi (WPN), is providing food, clothing, shelter and medicine to nearly 10,000 IDPs in six camps.

The protracted conflict has taken a toll on diets and nutrition, say aid workers, who have not conducted any formal studies on malnutrition rates among the displaced.

WPN head Mary Tawm said that while basic foods like potatoes and rice are distributed, vegetables and meats are sparse.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation has proved fatal.

“In January, seven children drank water from a mountain stream that was polluted with pesticides from a nearby sugar cane plantation, and one of the girls died. Several of them had to be transferred to a Chinese hospital for emergency treatment,” said Tawm.

And while the local hospital in Mai Jai Yang can treat routine health problems, more complicated cases
must be transferred across the border into China. Soldiers with heavy casualties have reportedly been transferred there as well.

“We needed to spend US$3,000 for 17 referred patients to the China side in January and another 20 patients in February, basically to save people’s lives, but we don’t have enough funding so we are asking our community for help,” she said.

International aid still blocked

“The international NGOs can get into the government-controlled area very easily, but it is difficult to get to the China border where most of the IDP camps are located and in need of the most [assistance],” explained Hkalam Samson, head of local NGO Kachin Baptist Convention.

Since the start of the conflict, most of the food and medical supplies in KIA-controlled areas have been donated by local religious groups, and the Kachin Independence Organization, KIA’s political wing.

Deemed unsafe by the government, rebel-controlled areas have been largely off-limits to international aid groups since the collapse of a 17-year peace agreement in June 2011. Only a small number of UN convoys have reached KIA-controlled territory since then, the most recent one being in mid-February this year.

“Several of the camps are overcrowded because nine camps on the Chinese side were shut down last summer by Chinese authorities, and the refugees were forced back onto the Kachin side of the border,” Samson added.

On the Burmese side of the border, the population of Lana Zup Ja camp has more than doubled from last year’s 1,138 to 2,689 at the end of March, according to WPN.

Given such crowded camps, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is concerned about potential abuses and the lack of international monitors in KIA-controlled areas. “When we build shelters through our [local] partners – who do have access – we cannot monitor their progress. We are also unable to conduct capacity building such as camp management or protection training,” said Anna Little, a UNHCR spokesperson in Myanmar.

Since fighting resumed in June 2011, 12 peace talks have been held between the government and rebels, including five in China.

Meanwhile, international groups continue calling for unfettered access to all of Kachin’s IDPs.

The KIA has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government for the past six decades.

ss/pt/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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