Jailed DVB reporter included in ‘100 Heroes’ list for 2014

DVB video journalist Zaw Pe, who was sentenced to one year in prison on 7 April,  has been included in a list of “100 information heroes” compiled by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.

“Zaw Phay [Zaw Pe] is an experienced journalist who started out as a clandestine video reporter for Democratic Voice of Burma [DVB] during the Saffron Revolution in 2007,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He is also a former political prisoner who was given a three-year jail sentence in 2010 for filming ‘without permission’ while investigating a water shortage in Nat Mauk, in the central Magwe region.

“Released in a January 2012 amnesty, he went back to work at once. His journalistic dedication got him into trouble a few months later when he investigated a Japanese-funded scholarship programme in Magwe. A local education department official filed a complaint accusing him of trespassing on government property and disturbing a civil servant in the course of his duties. In April 2014, almost two years after the complaint, Zaw Phay was sentenced to a year in prison under articles 448 and 353 of the penal code.”

Since his sentencing, colleagues and international media groups have flocked to support Zaw Pe, and he is now the focus of campaigns organised by Amnesty International, Burma Campaign UK, and US Campaign for Burma.

According to DVB Rangoon bureau chief Toe Zaw Latt, “DVB is confident that reporter Zaw Pe was fulfilling his responsibility as a news reporter to inquire about a scholarship programme at the Magwe Township Education Department, which was in the public interest and therefore we completely denounce his sentencing.

“Despite all the government officials’ pledges of press reform, we believe the jailing of Zaw Pe is an obstacle to media freedom in the country, and we call for the unconditional release of the reporter and his co-defendant.”

Others included in the “100 information heroes” list were Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, the US journalists responsible for revealing mass electronic surveillance methods used by the US and British intelligence.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders said, “Through their courageous work or activism, these ‘100 heroes’ help to promote the freedom enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the freedom to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’. They put their ideals in the service of the common good. They serve as examples.”

By DVB
Zaw Pe started out as an undercover video journalist for DVB in 2007. (PHOTO: DVB)


Vietnam’s Blogosphere Poses Big Challenge to State Media, Activists Say

Vietnam’s blogosphere is posing a big challenge to state media as social media grows in popularity and government-sanctioned newspapers lose readership, a group of Vietnamese citizen journalists and digital activists told U.S. lawmakers at a meeting in Washington Tuesday.

The netizens called for tougher U.S. pressure on Vietnam to protect freedom of speech and information, citing harassment and imprisonment of those who criticize the one-party communist government online.

The six well known netizens—Nguyen Thi Kim Chi, Ngo Nhat Dang, Nguyen Dinh Ha, To Oanh, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Thanh Tung—were speaking at a congressional briefing ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Three others invited to the briefing were prevented by Vietnamese authorities from leaving their country.

The activists who did make it to the briefing described harassment bloggers and government critics face for speaking out online in Vietnam, which is ranked among the world’s worse online censors by international press freedom watchdogs Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Nevertheless, citizen journalism and social media are playing an increasingly important role in challenging state censorship, the activists said.

“At a time when readers have become bored with the one-way reporting of state media, social media is filling their needs,” said Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a blogger and poet who writes about social injustices in Vietnam.

“Blogs have become a challenger to state newspapers, forcing them to change the way they write and cover the news.”

At the same time as Vietnam’s social media is exploding, strict censorship is forcing state-run newspapers into decline, the activists said.

“No newspaper really touches on big national issues,” said independent journalist To Oanh, a former teacher and contributor to state-owned newspapers who now blogs about injustices against Vietnam’s Catholic community.

“Over time, the newspapers in Vietnam have lost readership as the contents have worsened,” he said.

While state intervention leaves newspapers with only “meaningless stories” to cover, citizen journalists writing online are stepping in to fill the gap, fueling a rapid growth in social media whose popularity is growing, the activists said.

Call for US pressure

However, bloggers who do speak out face imprisonment, harassment, and restrictions on their families, they said.

The group of activists called on the U.S. government to leverage concern for freedom of speech in negotiations with Vietnam on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed 12-nation trade agreement.

They also called on lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a resolution urging greater concern for freedom of information in Vietnam.

U.S. congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who hosted the briefing, said she would work to educate fellow lawmakers about restrictions in Vietnam, noting she was “very concerned” about the TPP.

“We really feel it’s an important time to push back and to open up this issue of freedom of the press,” she said.

She condemned the Vietnamese authorities’ decision to block the three other netizens—bloggers Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Lan Thang, Anna Huyen Trang—from traveling to the U.S. for the briefing.

“Freedom of expression and information and the right to travel are all human rights and the Vietnamese government’s aggressive and unlawful tactics to restrict traveling are shameful and only worsen their reputation across the world,” she said.

Barred from attending

Dung had his passport confiscated in February, Thang was stopped at Hanoi’s Noi Bai Airport and prevented from boarding his flight on April 5, and Trang was stopped at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport on April 13 and physically harassed by security police.

“I am not guilty of any crime … and yet I was barred from my flight,” Trang, who is a citizen journalist for Vietnamese Redemptorists' News, told the briefing via video message.

Thang said the restrictions on his travel underscored how much Vietnam’s blogging community could use help from overseas.

“Every day our work includes going to hot spots in Vietnam to report on events, to capture images that reflect what is happening in our society,” he said via video message.

“We really need the help of our friends abroad.”

Repurcussions feared

The activists who made it to Washington, where they are attending various events marking World Press Freedom Day, said they expected to face punishment for speaking critically of Vietnam once they return from their trip.

“I considered it before I came and I’m ready to accept the repercussions that might come because of my trip,” said 24-year-old Nguyen Dinh Ha, who has been harassed by police for his online critiques and participation in public demonstrations.

“They might take my passport and prevent me from ever leaving the country again.  And second of all, I’m afraid they will put pressure on my family,” he told RFA.

Nguyen Thi Kim Chi, a former star in Communist Party propaganda films who now frequently shares dissenting views on social media, said her greatest fear was for her family members.

“I’m not afraid for myself because I am prepared for that already. But what I am afraid of is what will happen to my husband and children because of this trip.”

“They are able to do to them whatever they want, just as they did with other bloggers’ families,” she said.

By Rachel Vandenbrink
Vietnamese netizens speak at a briefing in Washington, April 29, 2014. From left to right, Nguyen Dinh Ha, Ngo Nhat Dang, Le Thanh Tung, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Nguyen Thi Kim Chi, To Oanh, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy.

China Warned Over Use of Force As Obama Heads Home

U.S. President Barack Obama ended his Asian tour on Tuesday with a warning to Beijing not to use force to settle territorial disputes, sparking an angry response from Chinese media amid growing regional tensions.

Obama told a gathering of U.S. and Filipino troops at the end of his tense four-day visit to the region on Tuesday that nations should respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"We believe that international law must be upheld, that freedom of navigation must be preserved and commerce must not be impeded," said Obama as Washington signed a 10-year agreement to give the U.S. military greater access to Philippine bases.

Obama said the arrangement will help promote peace and stability in a region unsettled by China's claims on disputed territories. Many of the details remain to be worked out.

"We believe that disputes must be resolved peacefully and not by intimidation or force," he told troops at Fort Bonifacio near Manila, before boarding Air Force One for the flight home to Washington.

He said the U.S. commitment to defend the Philippines in the face of external armed attacks was "ironclad."

But he omitted to give the same specific reassurance to Manila as he had to Tokyo on the first leg of his tour; namely that the U.S. would come to Japan's aid in the event of military conflict with China over ongoing and multi-party maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas.

Beijing responds

China's state media responded by accusing Obama of "ganging up" with its neighbors and creating a security threat of its own.

"It is increasingly obvious that Washington is taking Beijing as an opponent," said an editorial in the English-language China Daily newspaper on Tuesday.

Beijing has come to view Obama's visits to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines as a tour of anti-Chinese hostility, it said.

"With Obama reassuring the US allies of protection in any conflict with China, it is now clear that Washington is no longer bothering to conceal its attempt to contain China's influence in the region," the paper said.

"Ganging up with its troublemaking allies, the US is presenting itself as a security threat to China," it said.

Obama on Tuesday also insisted that the United States is not seeking to counter or contain China.

China's foreign ministry was relatively cautious in its response.

"As for whether the move is aimed at containing China, we need to see what the American side says and what it does," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.

"President Obama and other US officials have said on different occasions that the United States has no intention of containing China," Qin said. "We believe that China and the United States share extensive common interests in the Asia-Pacific region and in Asia-Pacific affairs."

However, Beijing sent three Chinese coastguard ships into waters around disputed islands known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, which controls them, the Japanese coastguard service said on Tuesday.

Two threats

Chinese political analysts say the administration of President Xi Jinping has pursued a more aggressive foreign policy than its predecessors since taking the reins of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in November 2012.

According to retired Toledo University international politics professor Ran Bogong, Beijing sees two major threats to national security; domestically from acts of internal unrest, violence and terrorism, and externally, from Japan.

"In the near future, [perceived] threats to China's national security will come from two quarters at least: internally from terrorist activities; and externally from the challenge presented by Japan," Ran told RFA in an interview on Monday.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas, even including disputed waters, islands and reefs close to its neighbors.

Such disputes have sparked sporadic maritime standoffs with vessels from Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines in recent months, prompting calls for stronger U.S. support.

Ran said U.S. military power was still likely to be decisive in maintaining the status quo in territorial disputes.

"U.S. military might is still far greater than China's, and everyone including China recognizes that reality," he said.

Seeking stability

Li Xiaobing, director of the Western Pacific Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma, agreed.

"It would be very dangerous to underestimate America's military strength," he said in an interview at the start of Obama's trip.

But he said Obama's aim in Asia was still to maintain stability.

"There is a lot of trouble in the world right now, so Obama will want to stabilize [the U.S.] backyard in Asia," Li said.

"He doesn't want to see any major conflict, and that includes clashes between China and Japan."

Reported by Yang Jiadai and Nan Zhou for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks to US and Philippine troops at Fort Bonifacio in Manila, April 29, 2014.

Call for Government Resignation: Interview with Ko Htin Kyaw

Call for Government Resignation: Interview with Ko Htin Kyaw

Protest against Oil Refinery Project in Tanintharyi

Protest against Oil Refinery Project in Tanintharyi

Relocation by Paunglaung Dam Project

Relocation by Paunglaung Dam Project

Government's Land Grab Solution and Magway Farmers

Government's Land Grab Solution and Magway Farmers

Ethnic leaders discuss ceasefire in Chiang Mai

Leaders of several of Burma’s ethnic armed groups are convening this week in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in the lead-up to bilateral ceasefire talks.

The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a 13-member coalition of ethnic leaders created to liaise with government peace negotiators, began the two-day conference in the Northern Thai city on Monday.

Nai Hongsa, NCCT vice-chair and member of the New Mon State Party, was joined by colleagues Saw Kwe Htoo Win of the Karen National Union and Maj-Gen Gun Maw, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Kachin Independence Army.

Members met to review and amend a seven-chapter draft ceasefire agreement outlined in March in collaboration with the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC).

“We are reviewing the framework … such as policies, terms and other technical issues, and discussing the upcoming meeting [with the government],” said Kwe Htoo Win, deputy leader of the NCCT. The group is supposed to meet with the UPWC in Rangoon next month to proceed with negotiations.

The NCCT has identified nine ceasefire points that they wish to amend, which include military ethics, liaison offices, framework for future political dialogue and protection for civilians in conflict zones.

The drafting in March of a single-text ceasefire agreement signalled considerable progress towards ending the country’s decades of civil war, but optimism faded as fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states broke out again in early April.

Kwe Htoo Win emphasised that the Kachin Independence Organisation and the government must immediately take measures to resolve the conflict, and that the issue will be addressed in chapter seven of the ceasefire draft.

The United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of 11 ethnic armed groups, on 23 April issued a public warning to the Burmese army that offensives against ethnic armed groups during peace negotiations could undo progress made to date.

By NANG MYA NADI(DVB)

File photo of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team meeting with government negotiators in Rangoon. (PHOTO: DVB)

Unity journalists’ lawyer objects to court procedure

An eighth court hearing for the CEO and four reporters of Unity Weekly news journal took place at a court in the town of Pakokku on Monday morning.

The five were arrested after Unity published a report on 25 January alleging that a factory in Magwe Division was in fact secretly manufacturing chemical weapons. CEO Tint San and four reporters – Sithu Soe, Paing Thet Kyaw, Yazar Oo and Lu Maw Naing – were subsequently charged with violating the State Secrets Act.

Aung Thein, defence lawyer for the Unity Weekly staff, said the judge listened to statements by the prosecutor and prosecution witnesses on 28 April, but that he intended to object to the procedure as it was not conducted in conformity with statute law.

“The court on Monday heard accounts by the prosecutor and prosecution witnesses for charges brought against the defendants under a ‘special law’ within the penal code which may later be changed to a general law,” he told DVB. “But for the moment, this procedure is not in conformity with statute law and so we are set to present an oral argument on this.”

Government representatives, in response to the Unity report, have rejected the accusations, saying that the factory in question is a standard ordnance factory and that no chemical weapons have been developed there.

Theingi Tun, wife of defendant Yazar Oo, said the detained journalists were suffering from depression and heat exhaustion, and that they had little access to clean water.

“The reporters, having been previously based in Rangoon, are not used to Pakokku’s hot weather and so cannot eat properly – they are also facing difficulties of access to clean water – especially my husband who has a liver condition. They are also suffering from depression,” she said.

The Unity trial is one of a spate of cases involving Burmese journalists in recent weeks. On Saturday, a Mizzima reporter who organised a rally in support of media freedom in central Burma was charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act.

Another journalist, Ma Khine of Eleven Media, spent more than two months in jail on charges of trespassing, using abusive language, and defamation. The charges were brought against her following a scheduled interview with a lawyer for a report about corruption.

A DVB video journalist based in Magwe, Zaw Pe, was sentenced on 7 April and is currently incarcerated in Magwe Division’s Thayet prison. In August 2012, he and another civilian were arrested for investigating a Japanese scholarship programme operating in the town’s schools.

According to a Magwe-based member of the Myanmar Journalist Network, U Tun, journalists and media activists in the central Burmese town are planning to stage a rally on 7 May to demand the release of all jailed reporters in the country, as well as calling for greater press freedom.

“We are presently holding a meeting to organise the protest and will seek official permission from the police later today,” U Tun told DVB on Tuesday morning.

“But whether we get official permission or not, we are still going to hold the demonstration.”

By TUN TUN THEIN(DVB)

Unity staff are taken to a court hearing in Pakokku on 17 March 2014. (Credit: Robert San Aung)

Mizzima reporter arrested for protesting media suppression

The organiser of a rally in support of media freedom in central Burma was charged on Saturday under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act.

Yae Khe, a local correspondent for Mizzima in the town of Prome, officially known as Pyay, organised the protest in partnership with DVB journalist Min Nyo, calling for greater press freedom and the release of six journalists currently imprisoned in Burma, including DVB video journalist Zaw Pe.

On 19 April, Yae Khe and Min Nyo applied for permission to township authorities in accordance with the controversial law. Their application was rejected on 23 April.

Min Nyo, speaking to DVB on Monday, said that he and Yae Khe received a rejection letter from Prome Township police chief Myint Oo, who raised security concerns regarding the proposed route.

The rally went ahead regardless and included 20 local Prome journalists accompanied by more than 80 media activists.

According to Min Nyo, Yae Khe was charged on Saturday after marchers ignored the demands of local police officers to desist as they marched the streets of Prome on Friday. Police officers did not block the hour-long protest.

“As we were marching, the police told us to stop the protest. We ignored them, but we were told to go to the Prome police office at 10am on Saturday,” Min Nyo said.

“They only wanted to arrest Yae Khe,” the DVB journalist said. “When I questioned Myo Myint, a Prome Township police officer, he said that no more arrests would be made. He said the police were only interested in Yae Khe because they believed him to be the chief organiser of the protest.”

According to Min Nyo, Yae Khe was released without bail. No court date has yet been set, he added.

Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act carries a maximum punishment of one year in prison, a fine of 30,000 kyat (US$30), or both.

Min Nyo, who was previously charged three times with breaches of the protest law, said that Yae Khe expects to go to court within the next seven to ten days.

“Each time I was arrested and charged, I was fined 10,000 kyat,” Min Nyo said. “Each time I had to wait seven to ten days before trial. Yae Khe expects the same thing. He is the 17th person to be arrested for breaches of the Peaceful Assembly Act in Prome in April alone.”

Imprisoned DVB Magwe correspondent Zaw Pe has become the focus of recent international outcry against media suppression in Burma. Zaw Pe was arrested in August 2012 and charged with “trespassing” and “disturbing a civil servant on duty” after he visited Magwe Division education office to investigate allegations of corruption in its allocation of scholarships within a Japanese-funded programme. Earlier this month, the video journalist was sentenced to serve one year in Thayet Prison.

Min Nyo believes that the treatment of Zaw Pe is indicative of a culture of corruption among government officials.

“The government has a strong mindset and officials believe that they should control all information, especially when it has to do with the allocation of funds. This sort of transparency is crucial to the public, but the government is preventing journalists such as Zaw Pe from informing them.”

On Friday, a similar protest proceeded unhindered in Mon State, after organisers Southern-Burma Journalists Network and the Myanmar Journalists Association received the necessary permission.

By ANGUS WATSON AND KHINE THUREIN
Yae Khe (far left) talks with police in Prome before his arrest. (PHOTO: DVB)


Chinese Court Hands Death Sentence to Shanxi Bomber

Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan have sentenced a man to death after finding him guilty of setting off several deadly blasts near a provincial ruling Chinese Communist Party headquarters last November that killed at least one person, his lawyer said on Monday.

Feng Zhijun, 42, was handed the death sentence by the Taiyuan Intermediate People's Court, his lawyer Nan Shoujun told RFA after the sentencing.

He was convicted of laying explosive devices in at least two locations outside the Communist Party headquarters in Taiyuan, the capital of the northern province of Shanxi, on Nov. 6, 2013.

State media said one person died in the blasts, and a further 17 were injured.

"He was sentenced to death for causing an explosion, to be carried out immediately," Nan said.

Feng was tried behind closed doors on April 16, and sentenced on April 25, Nan said, and appeared to believe that the sentence had already been carried out.

"It is as you said," Nan replied, when asked if execution had been immediate, adding: "He won't be appealing."

He declined to give details of the judge's remarks during the sentencing hearing, nor of the trial, however.

But he denied that Feng had a grievance against the government.

"That I can answer; he wasn't a petitioner," Nan said.

Taiyuan blasts

Feng was detained during the course of police investigations just two days after the explosions, which came hard on the heels of a deadly jeep explosion in Beijing's Tiananmen Square ahead of a high-profile meeting of the Communist Party.

The Taiyuan blasts rocked Yingze Street at the height of the morning rush hour. Eyewitnesses reported seeing heavy smoke and flames billowing from a minivan surrounded by debris after the explosions.

The homemade devices were planted in roadside flower-beds in an area frequented by petitioners: ordinary Chinese who pursue complaints and grievances against the government, often for years, and to no avail, eyewitnesses told RFA at the time.

Activists have described a series of blasts in public places in China in recent months as symptomatic of deep social tensions and injustice that have no immediate solution.

According to Shanxi-based rights activist Li Maolin, who has been following Feng's case closely, none of the details of his trial or the police investigation have been released to the public, giving rise to widespread speculation about his motives.

"Some say he was a hired assassin, while another theory says he was a petitioner who was beaten up by [the authorities] on Nov. 5, and who wanted to take revenge on society," Li said.

"I think all these possibilities are likely; he was clearly targeting the government, so it must have been an issue linked to the government," he said.

Li said he still believed Feng was motivated by some kind of grievance against local officials.

"Social problems are the government's problem," he said. "If the government was a decent one, you wouldn't get all this unrest."

"I think it's highly likely that he was aiming [the blasts] at the government," Li said. "If he wanted revenge on society, then he could have targeted a school, an airport or a railway station."

Airport explosion

Last October, authorities in Beijing handed down a six-year jail term to a disabled man who set off an explosion at the city's international airport, sparking anger over what many said was an unjust sentence.

The sentence was handed down by the Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing to Ji Zhongxing, who says he was crippled in an act of police brutality in 2005.

Chinese authorities have kept up a "stranglehold" on petitioners and rights activists in recent years, subjecting thousands to arbitrary detention in labor camps and unofficial "black jails," rights groups say.

China's army of petitioners—many of whom pursue complaints against the government over forced evictions, wrongful detention, physical attacks, and deaths in custody—are increasingly targeted by police and officials for punishment.

Many of those who pursue official complaints against government wrongdoing in their hometowns have done so to no avail for several years, some for decades. Many are middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

In this screen grab from China's official CCTV, Feng Zhijun (C) is arrested by local police in Taiyuan, Nov. 8, 2013.

Gao Yu’s Disappearance Highlights Serious Threat to Chinese Journalism

The disappearance of Gao Yu shows that the liberty and freedom of expression of Chinese people is under great threat.

This well-known journalist had just celebrated her 70th birthday when the news of her disappearance came, spelling doom for Chinese journalism and for the civil rights movement.

Perhaps she is being held against her will by a criminal organization. If so, this raises doubts about the ability of the government to protect its own citizens.

Perhaps she is under supervision by some government agency or department, which would raise even more doubts about the legality of the government's operations.

Whichever it is, the newly formed state security working group must bear some of the responsibility, and we hope will soon get to the bottom of the matter.

Some people say that Gao Yu was too outspoken, and that this is what led to her persecution. Perhaps that is the reason, but that doesn't make it a legitimate reason.

I know about the universal values of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. I know that there was in China's recent history a politician called Xi Zhongxun—the father of the current president, Xi Jinping—who was the instigator of the Protection of Different Opinions Act, which was his long-cherished wish.

Nowadays, in the 21st century, there aren't very many citizens left who are "too outspoken," like Gao Yu. There really aren't enough.

I don't want to see this country continue on the path towards a new era of book-burning, when all different views are wiped out, which will inevitably lead to a submissive era of shameless dogs, with no spirit of independence or free thought, no creativity. This would be no sort of habitat for any true patriot.

The fates of every citizen are inextricably bound up with the fate of the political system. The rights and liberty of a single individual are linked to the rights and liberty of everyone.

An illegal threat to the liberty and rights of any person increases the likelihood that everyone's rights and freedoms will be threatened.

This is one of the reasons that I had to publish the above statement.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

A file photo of Chinese journalist Gao Yu speaking at a press conference in Hong Kong.

Journalists rally to free jailed colleague

Burma’s reporters took to the streets of two cities on Friday to rally support for greater press freedom. About 100 demonstrators amassed in Prome, Pegu Division, while dozens gathered in Mon State capital Moulmein.

Demonstrators demanded the immediate release of DVB video journalist Zaw Pe, who was recently sentenced to one year in prison on charges of trespassing and disturbing a civil servant. The protestors emphasised that the right to report on issues of public concern, especially in public spaces, must be protected to allow Burma to develop a robust media landscape.

The larger rally was held without an assembly permit, but no one has yet been arrested for participation. DVB’s Prome correspondent, Thank Htike Aung, said that demonstrators were warned by local police but refused to dissipate.

“We marched along the main road… and we were stopped by the superintendent of Prome Police Station,” he said, “but we refused to follow his order to desist. We told him he can press any charges on us that he wished.”

Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law requires prior approval for all public gathering, where the intention is to publicly express opinion. The law has been widely admonished, with critics claiming that authorities frequently abuse it by targeting certain outspoken activists.

In Moulmein, where a permit was granted, local reporters were joined by members of the Southern-Burma Journalists Network , the Myanmar Journalists Association and correspondents from neighbouring Karen state.

One demonstrator, Hmu Eain Zaw, plainly explained the group’s agenda: “We call for the release of all reporters unfairly imprisoned, and for the freedom to allow reporters to cover the news in public spaces.”

Zaw Pe, DVB’s Magwe Division correspondent, was sentenced on 7 April and is currently incarcerated in Magwe Division’s Thayet prison. In August 2012, he and another civilian were arrested for investigating a Japanese scholarship programme in Magwe’s schools.

This is the second time Zaw Pe has been jailed for his journalistic work; In 2010, he was jailed for two years because he shot video without a licence while covering a water shortage in central Burma.

Five journalists still await a verdict on charges of disclosing state secrets after publishing an investigative report about an alleged chemical weapons facility in late January.

Yet another journalist, Ma Khine of Eleven Media, spent more than two months in jail for charges of trespassing, using abusive language, and defamation. The charges were brought against her following a scheduled interview with a lawyer for a report about corruption.

The dissolution of Burma’s notorious censorship board in 2012 prompted a wave of optimism for press freedom in the country, though the subsequent arrest of several journalists, discretionary warnings for foreign press and a heated debacle over new regulations have raised a few flags.

Burma is currently ranked 145th of 180 nations monitored in the latest World Press Freedom Index, a yearly appraisal by France-based Reporters Without Borders.

By NAW NOREEN(DVB)

DVB staffers in Rangoon call for reporter Zaw Pe's release. (PHOTO: DVB)


Chinese Authorities Destroy Tibetan Brick Plants to 'Prevent Competition'

Authorities in a county in China's Qinghai province have demolished several brick factories operated by Tibetans in a move taken in response to pleas by Chinese rival plants concerned over increasing competition, sources said.

The Chinese companies had bribed the authorities to bulldoze the Tibetan factories at Kyegudo (in Chinese, Yushu) county in the Yulshul [in Chinese, Yushu]  Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture last week, the sources alleged.

"It is believed that the authorities in Yushu were bribed by the Chinese brick kiln owners, who paid 50,000 yuan [nearly U.S. $8,000] to prevent competition from the Tibetan brick kilns,” Nima, a Tibetan in exile, told RFA's Tibetan Service.

“The brick kilns owned and operated by Tibetans in Kyegudo county were destroyed while those owned by the Chinese immigrants were untouched," Nima said, citing local contacts.

In the April 20 incident, "the authorities not only deployed bulldozers to demolish the brick kilns operated by the Tibetans but also burned their tents and took away their mobile phones and also beat those who tried to resist the demolition," according to Nima, a Kyegudo native.

It was not immediately clear how many factories were destroyed or how many of the owners were injured by the beatings. Local authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Quake-hit area

Kyegudo was hit by a devastating earthquake on April 14, 2010, that largely destroyed the town and killed almost 3,000 residents by official count.

Many of the homes later torn down by authorities were built by families on their own land and with their own resources, sources had said.

In March, the Chinese authorities destroyed several "illegal" houses and shops set up by Tibetans in a small Tibetan nomadic town called Karda, not far from Kyegudo town, the sources said.

"The local Tibetans had built small houses as part of a cooperative business center. They did not seek permission from the local authorities, who called the structures illegal and dispatched a demolition team [to destroy them]," Nima said. "As the Tibetan shops were destroyed, their merchandise were scattered everywhere."

"Tibetans who tried to salvage their belongings were beaten by Chinese police and harassed."

Tibetans in Kyegudo complain that the Chinese authorities do not issue permits to Tibetans to operate language centers, shops and restaurants while applications to set up such businesses by Chinese immigrants are easily approved.

"These are explicit actions of discrimination committed by local authorities favoring Han Chinese immigrants over the local Tibetans," Nima said.

Tibetans in China complain of political, religious and economic discrimination as well as human rights abuses. A total of 131 Tibetans have self-immolated in China since 2009 in protest against Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas and calling for the return from exile of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.

Reported by Lobe Socktsang for RFA's Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
New houses built one year after a deadly quake hit Kyegudo in northwest China's Qinghai province, Nov. 13, 2011.


Shan Army celebrates 50 years of resistance

The Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) marked its 50th anniversary on Thursday in Wanhai, Kehsi Township, in eastern Burma.

The ethnic armed organisation, which is still engaged in intermittent combat with the Burmese military despite signing a 2012 ceasefire pact, vowed to continue their armed struggle until a true federalist system is established.

“Our patron, [Lt-Gen] Hso Ten, reminded us of the origin of the Shan State Army in his opening remarks. We took up arms because the Burmese government denied ethnic rights and did not respect the Panglong Agreement,” said Sai La, spokesperson for the SSA-N.

“He urged members of the SSA-N not to forget this history, and to keep on with the struggle until our goal of ethnic equality is achieved.”

Lt-Gen Hso Ten and six other Shan leaders were arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 106 years in prison on charges including high treason. He was released under an amnesty by President Thein Sein in 2011.

SSA-N chairman, Lt-Gen Pang Fa, also addressed the crowds, expressing gratitude for half a century of public support for the Shan movement.

Representatives of the Shan State Army-South, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, Taileng (Red Shan) National Development Party, and civil society groups joined with about 3,000 supporters for the 24 April event.

Founded in 1964, the SSA-N reached a ceasefire agreement in 1989 with the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the military junta at that time. War with government forces resumed in 2011 after the group refused to accept the Border Guard Force scheme that would have co-opted them under the command of the Burmese military.

The SSA-N reached a new peace pact with the government in 2012, though as many as 100 instances of combat with the Burmese army or its allied militias have been reported since that time.

By NANG MYA NADI(DVB)

File photo of Shan State Army-North officials alongside leaders of the Shan State Army-South in the latter’s headquarters of Loi Taileng (PHOTO: Joseph Allchin)

Chinese Labor Camp Whistleblower Escapes, Vows to Pursue Lawsuit


A former inmate of a notorious labor camp in China has escaped from house arrest following her release from criminal detention, vowing to continue her lawsuit against the authorities about her treatment at the facility.

Liu Hua was freed this week from criminal detention linked to her role in a cutting-edge documentary that exposed widespread abuses at the Masanjia women's labor camp in the northeastern province of Liaoning.

She was placed on house arrest following her release from a detention center in the Liaoning capital Shenyang on Monday but managed to escape to Beijing where she met up with the director of the "Above the Ghosts' Heads: The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp" documentary.

In an interview with RFA following her escape, Liu, a key participant in the documentary, said she now plans to renew her complaints with the Beijing authorities about her treatment at the Masanjia Women's Re-education Through Labor facility outside Shenyang where she spent three years.

She was banished to the camp for lodging persistent complaints against the government, especially on corruption in her home village of Zhangliangbao.

In her interview, Liu accused the government of illegally detaining her last month in a bid to punish her for exposing the ill-treatment at the labor camp.

"They illegally kidnapped me and locked me up," said Liu, who was detained on March 10 in Beijing by Shenyang police and later taken to the Shenyang No. 1 Detention Center under criminal detention.

"They wanted to turn black into white, and made as if none of the horrors and reality of Masanjia [were true]," said Liu, who said she had had many verbal confrontations with police during her detention.

Liu, who was held for "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," said she has been questioned repeatedly by police officers about the allegations of torture she made in the film, directed by Du Bin, and about her attempts to petition China's parliament in February alongside 20 other former Masanjia inmates.

"Perhaps they wanted to rewrite history," Liu said. "They summoned me for interrogation on many occasions, but after a while I quit talking to them, and I just let them talk."

Torture and abuse

Former inmates have detailed a regime of daily torture and abuse, failure of medical care, and grueling overtime at Masanjia, a police-run facility where women regarded as troublemakers by the authorities were sent without trial for up to four years at a time.

In the film directed by Du Bin, Liu describes how camp guards beat the female detainees, used electric batons to shock their breasts, inserted the batons and poured chilli peppers into their vaginas and put them into various torture devices such as "the Death Bed" and "the Tiger's Bench."

She said the police had repeatedly denied during her interrogation sessions that they abused inmates at Masanjia.

Du defended all of the allegations contained in it, however.

"They say that the Masanjia documentary is full of empty and fabricated allegations," he said.

"I would like to tell the Liaoning provincial state security police that I interviewed 30 of the victims, and that they gave first-hand accounts of their treatment [at Masanjia]," Du said.

"The authorities have never sought out these inmates to confirm their stories, and yet they are all living evidence," he said.

Problems continuing

Liu said her leg injury, left over from torture and abuse at the hands of Masanjia security guards, still troubles her to this day.

"My leg isn't straight, which means I can't get up steps or stairs," she told RFA's Mandarin Service. "I can't bend it at all."

She said she had been provided with oxygen, but little else in the way of relief for her medical problems while in the detention center.

Liu said she plans to continue to sue the former Masanjia Women's Re-education Through Labor camp, which is now a drug rehabilitation facility.

In a campaign page dedicated to Liu Hua on its website, Amnesty International credited her with helping to raise the profile of labor camp victims.

"Liu Hua made a valuable contribution to push for human rights improvements in China, and continues to be targeted as a result," the group said.

China's "reform through labor" camp-based punishment system was officially abolished at the end of last year, but victims who try to seek compensation are still harassed by the authorities, rights activists say.

China's National People's Congress (NPC) voted on Dec. 28, 2013, to end the system of administrative punishments known in Chinese as "laojiao," following a prolonged campaign by lawyers, former inmates, and rights activists.

However, lawyers and inmates' families say many of the former police-controlled camps are still in operation under a different name, rebranded as either drug rehabilitation centers or "legal education centers," where those regarded as troublemakers by police continue to be held without trial.

Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Liu Hua in a recent photo.Photo courtesy of Du Bin

Vietnamese Government Under Fire Over Its Handling of Measles Crisis

Vietnamese authorities have come under fire for their management of a deadly measles outbreak, with netizens calling for the resignation of the embattled health minister and suggesting authorities were covering up a potential epidemic.

Fatalities of children infected with the disease reached at least 123 on Tuesday, Thanh Nien news reported, as parents rushed to get their children vaccinated against the highly contagious viral disease

A report by the Ministry of Health confirmed 3,430 confirmed cases and more than 5,800 suspected ones as of last Sunday, in what doctors have called the country’s worst-ever measles outbreak.

But Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien has come under criticism for being slow to declare an epidemic and under-representing the number of children who died in the outbreak.  

“I give up on you,” one Facebook user named Thu Hang wrote of the minister.

“How long do you want to cover this up before you declare an epidemic so that people will be aware of the situation?” her message said.

“How many more children have to die before you declare an epidemic?” a user named Dang Duc wrote, calling on Tien to resign.

“If you still have some dignity, please resign and give the position to someone else with better qualifications and more willingness to do the job so that the people will suffer less.”

Others said health officials were unwilling to acknowledge the public’s concerns because of commitments Vietnam had made to eliminate measles from the country by 2017.

“Through this we can see how talented our health minister is, too talented. Her motto is listening to no one, knowing nothing, seeing nothing,” a Facebook user named Ngoc Khanh wrote.

Death toll

Last week, Tien rejected claims that she had covered up the true number of deaths in the outbreak by reporting to the public that only 25 deaths were directly attributable to measles, while doctors at hospitals in Hanoi reported scores of young children dying from measles-linked infections.

After the doctors in the Vietnamese capital reported more than 100 deaths linked to measles, the Ministry of Health issued a statement acknowledging the higher figure but maintaining that its original, lower one was more precise, according to reports.  

Measles deaths are usually a result of complications from the disease, according to the World Health Organization, which has been monitoring the measles situation in Vietnam.

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said Friday that although Vietnam has yet to declare a measles epidemic, that does not mean the ministry has concealed the truth of the situation, according to Thanh Nien.

The ministry has said it will only declare an epidemic if it detects mutations in the measles virus, according to the paper.

Government response

Popular blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who goes by the pen name Me Nam or “Mother Mushroom,” said the public was concerned the Ministry of Health was deviating from global standards in its guidelines for responding to outbreaks and declaring epidemics.

“What’s in Vietnam’s guidelines is different from the WHO’s standards,” she said.

“So Vietnam’s [guidelines for] declaring an outbreak are different from [those in] other countries in the world.”

Vietnam’s standards for communicating with the public about a disease outbreak and monitoring the cases of the disease in hospitals were lacking, with not enough money devoted to the tasks, she said.

The recent public criticism of Tien over the ministry’s handling of the outbreak was a revival of a campaign last year that called for her resignation, Quynh added.

The WHO’s chief representative in Vietnam Takeshi Kasai told Vietnamese officials at a meeting last week that the decision to declare an outbreak is up to individual countries’ considerations, though just three deaths would be enough for a declaration, according to Tuoi Tre News.  

He has also said he is “very concerned” about the outbreak, which follows a joint UNICEF and World Health Organization vaccination campaign that aimed to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.

Case overload

At a visit to hospitals in Hanoi on Monday, Tien said the high death rate in the current outbreak was due to a rush of patients that had caused overcrowding, Thanh Nien reported.

At the National Pediatric Hospital, where many of the serious cases were taken and where the vast majority of measles-linked deaths were reported, an overload of cases had caused overcrowding, she said.

“The children have to share beds, resulting in cross-infection in the hospital,” she told reporters.

Hot weather over the past two months had also facilitated the spread of the virus, she said.

In Hanoi and other parts of Vietnam, where the outbreak has been centered, as well as in other parts of the country residents have rushed to health centers in recent days to get their children and themselves vaccinated, according to reports.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week called for stepped-up measures to contain the outbreak, ordering local authorities and government agencies to focus resources on preventing the spread of the disease.

Measles is a common childhood viral illness of the paramyxovirus family which carries symptoms of high fever, a runny nose, white spots in the mouth, and a hallmark rash.

In Vietnam, it is recommended that children have a first measles vaccination dose at 9 months old and a second after 12 months.

The WHO says two doses of the vaccine to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks as about 15 percent of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from the first dose.

In Vietnam’s previous measles flare-up in 2009-2010, there were two deaths, according to reports.

Reported by Chan Nhu for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Parents hold children being treated for measles at a hospital in Hanoi on April 17, 2014.

Pegu police prohibit constitution protest


Activists in the Pegu Division town of Nyaunglebin have been denied permission to hold a protest calling for amendments to the 2008 Constitution.

Bo Tauk, a former political prisoner and member of the Nyaunglebin Public Campaign Committee, said the local police had informed them that their bid to stage a protest on 25 April was rejected under the pretext that the proposed location for the rally falls within a “prohibited zone” for public demonstrations.

The activist leader said that the venue had previously hosted a rally by the National League for Democracy.

He said that the police also rejected permission on the basis that such a public demonstration might incite a religious riot.

A second request has been submitted to the Pegu [Bago] Division government requesting permission to stage the protest, said Bo Tauk, adding that his group were determined to go ahead with the rally as planned on Friday whether permission is granted or not.

Nyaunglebin police superintendent Tin Aung warned that if the organisers proceed with the rally without permission they will be prosecuted under existing laws.
Despite being signed into law in December 2011 by President Thein Sein, Burma’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Act is a highly contested piece of legislation that has been widely denounced by domestic and international human rights groups, which claim that the law is being used to target activists who oppose major development projects.

Under Article 18 of the Act, organisers of an unapproved “assembly” or “procession” can be sentenced to a maximum of one year imprisonment or a maximum fine of 30,000 kyat (US$30) or both.

However, Article 5 of the same Act states that neither the local police nor the township authorities can deny permission for a peaceful protest, “when it is not in breach of the security of the State, rule of law, community’s peace and tranquillity, and public morality.”

Nonetheless, the legislation has been used across the country countless times by local authorities to deny protestors, most notably farmers and villagers who are campaigning to have lands returned that were seized from them during the era of the military junta.

Several protestors in Sagaing Division have likewise been arrested and jailed for campaigning for the closure of the controversial Latpadaung copper mine near Monywa.

By THAZIN HTWE(DVB)

Activist Win Cho at a protest against seized farmlands in front of Rangoon’s City Hall on 9 July 2013. Win Cho was sentenced to three months under the Peaceful Procession Act by a court on 1 April 2014. (PHOTO: DVB)


Gun Maw urges US to play role in Burma’s peace process

Gen. Gun Maw, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the group’s chief negotiator, has renewed an offer to the US government to become involved in Burma’s ongoing peace process.

Speaking in an interview with Reuters in Washington DC on Monday, Gun Maw said he made the request to US officials last week, and that the invitation was first extended to the United States, Britain, China and the United Nations in February last year.

“We would like to have the US present at the peace process as a witness, so this agreement will become strong,” he said. “At present, we are still asking the US to be involved. Whether they will be, we don’t know yet.”

To date, only China has played a mediating role, attending and hosting negotiations between the Kachin side and a Burmese government delegation at the Sino-Burmese border last year following the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire in June 2011.

The Kachin rebels are due to hold another round of negotiations with the Burmese government next month. A bilateral ceasefire agreement between the two sides would be seen as pivotal in the government’s quest to establish a nationwide peace accord.

“The challenge is that from the government side they would purely like to sign a ceasefire, but from the KIO [Kachin Independence Organisation] side, in the ceasefire agreement there has to be a future plan involved and what will follow after,” Gun Maw told Reuters. “For example, after the ceasefire, there will be a discussion on the building of a federal union and on the rights of the ethnic groups. We would like to have guarantees.” The KIO is the political wing of the KIA.

The US State Department has not as yet made any response to the offer to mediate in Burma’s peace process, nor has the Burmese government commented on the suggestion.

Gun Maw was also quoted as saying he wished to see Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi involved in the political dialogue.
During his 12-day stay in US, the Kachin general met with: US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power; Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman; Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Rick Barton; Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski; Senior Advisor for Burma Judith Cefkin; US Congressmen; officials from the National Security Council, USAID and Department of Defense; and officials from the United Nations including Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar, according to Kachinland News.

On Saturday, following his talks with US officials, Gun Maw met with representatives of the Kachin and Chin communities.

More than 200 representatives from 15 Kachin communities around the US and two representatives from the Kachin Canadian Association attended a seminar where Gun Maw explained the substance of his visit to the US, and laid out his views on the current peace process, as well as the ongoing conflict in parts of Kachin and Shan states.

He then proceeded to meet with representatives from 23 Chin Christian communities in a Baptist Church in Gaithersburg, MD, Kachinland News reported.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary Malinowski, who met with the Kachin rebel leader in Washington, said in a statementreleased on Friday: “The Kachin and American people share ties going back to WWII. Many Americans owed their lives to the Kachin fighters who guided General Stillwell’s men in the high altitudes and thick jungles of Burma’s upper Kachin State, and helped Allied forces secure victory in Southeast Asia.

“A Burmese government of the people, by the people, and for the people will strive on to finish the work it is in”
“But following Burma’s independence, and especially after a military coup in 1962, its armed forces proved unwilling to unite Burma’s diverse ethnic nationalities by democratic consent and unable to bond them by brute force. The result has been decades of war and division, with millions of civilians displaced. In Kachin State, abundant natural resources – gold, jade, teak, timber, gems, to name just a few – have been drivers of this conflict rather than sources of development.”

At the invitation of Malinowski, Gun Maw also visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. The US assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, is reported saying: “We hope that the words written there, commemorating our own nation’s perseverance through civil war, will soon be spoken of Burma: that a Burmese government of the people, by the people, and for the people will strive on to finish the work it is in; to bind up its nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among its people, and with all nations.”

By KACHINLAND NEWS And REUTERS

Kachin rebel leader Gen Gun Maw, pictured in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. (PHOTO: courtesy of Kachinland News)

Interview With Ko Min Ko Naing Regarding U Win Tin

Interview With Ko Min Ko Naing Regarding U Win Tin

Memorial Service For U Win Tin at Judson Hall

Memorial Service For U Win Tin at Judson Hall

Burmese New Year Day at Kyauktan Pagoda

Burmese New Year Day at Kyauktan Pagoda

Interview with Protester: Land Confiscation in Michaungkan

Interview with Protester: Land Confiscation in Michaungkan

US calls on Burma to intervene in Rohingya crisis

Ambassador Power at the United Nations Security Council, 6 August 2013. (PHOTO: US Mission to the UN)
Addressing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday, US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power called on the Burmese government to address communal tensions that have stoked nationwide violence that left more than 200 dead and 140,000 displaced.

The stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, predominantly of Burma’s western Arakan State, has been subject to the worst of internecine violence and makes up the vast majority of internally displaced persons (IDP) in Sittwe and surrounds. As Arakan State’s population begins to feel effects of a critical aid shortage, the US has called on the Burmese government to ensure the delivery of aid.

Speaking after a presentation by Vijay Nambiar, the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Burma, Power reportedly said that the US “continues to support Burma’s reforms, but are greatly concerned that without effective government intervention violence in Rakhine [Arakan] could worsen, lives will be lost, and the critically needed humanitarian presence will not be sustainable.”

Late last month, rioting in Sittwe forced the evacuation of hundreds of aid workers, when mobs of Arakanese Buddhists ransacked more than 30 homes and offices occupied by NGO staff. Many Arakanese believe that international aid workers are biased towards the Muslim community.

Power called on the Burmese government to intervene in the situation, which the US believes could result in more violence. The Burmese Union and Arakanese State governments have made some effort to bridge the gap left by expelled aid workers. However, according to Human Rights Watch,“the [Union] government claims it is committed to ending ethnic strife and abuse, but recent events in Arakan State demonstrate that state-sponsored persecution and discrimination persist.”
By DVB

Amid peace talks, health cooperation in Karen State sends positive signals

File photo of a nurse tending to a tuberculosis patient from Burma at the Mae Tao clinic in northern Thailand, May 2007. (PHOTO: Reuters)
Over six decades of civil war in Eastern Burma, civilians fled en masse over the border to Thailand in search of basic necessities – physical security, food, medicine.

But now, glimmers of hope are shining through back home. A nationwide ceasefire process is underway, and the government has signed ceasefires with the vast majority of the country’s ethnic armed groups. To be sure, the durability of these accords is far from assured. Conditions in some parts of the country remain violent and tense, but Karen State — where the majority of the refugees in Thailand originate — is experiencing what is perhaps the calmest period in its modern history.

Although high-level negotiations are still underway, health services for tens of thousands of people living in territories controlled by the Karen National Union (KNU) are steadily improving, a corollary of the peace process that is already palpable.

“We can conduct our activities safely, and we have more access to our communities,” says Gyi Gyi, an official with the KNU’s medical relief arm, the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW), who conducts cross-border relief work from his regional headquarters in Mae Sariang, Thailand. “When we met with the SPDC soldiers [in the past], they would shoot our medics. But now, according to the ceasefire process, our medics can [travel] freely.”

The KDHW provides the only front-line health care available to residents of KNU-controlled areas of Karen State, and other Karen-majority territories further afield. The Burmese military classified these areas “free fire” zones when hostilities were active, rendering impossible any hope of offering permanent health services across vast swathes of the state.

Although a finalised peace accord is still elusive, the KDHW has taken steps to increase its presence in areas where fighting historically limited its ability to operate. In the past, the KDHW operated most of its brick-and-mortar clinics at a distance from populated areas likely to come under attack; the core of its operations were based around ten-man “mobile clinics” that moved from village to village, able to pack up and leave on short notice.

As perceived security has increased, the KDHW has transformed these mobile clinics into 35 “village-tract health centres,” physical bases of operation from where medics can travel to more remote locations. “Some clinics that we built in remote areas, we have now moved to villages, which acts as a centre for other villages,” Gyi Gyi said.

The village-tract health centres offer basic front-line health services, including immunizations, malaria treatment, nutrition programmes and trauma care, and serve populations of between 3,500 and 5,000 each. But despite the advantages inherent to not having to move around, facilities are rudimentary and health outcomes are still poor.

Poor healthcare is not unique to Karen State, but rather a nationwide phenomenon. In 2011, Naypyidaw allocated just US$2.90 per person for healthcare, less than almost any other government on earth.

But despite the government’s own limited provision of health services, cooperation is on the agenda. The KDHW opened a dialogue with their counterparts in the Karen State health department one year ago, a development that would have been implausible just months before. “Now, the KDHW is still talking with the government,” Gyi Gyi said. “We have talked with the state health department seven times.”

The KDHW seeks official recognition as the main healthcare provider for areas outside the reach of the government in Karen State, and wants to cooperate with the government on a range of initiatives, including maternal health, malaria eradication, and infrastructure projects, such as improving access to water and sanitation. To facilitate communication, it recently opened a branch office in Hpa-An, the capital of Karen State. It is also seeking official accreditation for the KDHW’s medics, who undergo much more rigorous training than do government employees.

State-level negotiations have been extremely positive, Gyi Gyi claims, but true decision-making power is out of the local government’s hands. “They need to send all information to the union health level, and then if the union health level says we can proceed, we will,” he said.

While the KDHW still receives the bulk of its funds from border-based organisations, it is now able to receive funds from Rangoon-based donors through the Myanmar Peace Centre, the government’s one-stop clearinghouse for peace negotiations and the allocation of funds associated with it.

For the KDHW, it’s a welcome change, but not one that it’s entirely accustomed to yet. “When you build peace, you need to adjust many things,” Gyi Gyi said. “At least, we now have channels: Even if we cannot go directly to the government, we can go through the peace centre, which coordinates between us and the government.” Eventually, he believes, the KDHW will receive funds directly from the government, but “it’ll be better to negotiate that after a [peace] agreement is signed.”

 For all the tangible progress made on health in Karen State, the gains witnessed over the past two years could be eradicated if the peace process were to turn sour. A long-postponed third round of peace talks is set to be held in Hpa-An in May, but there can be no assurances it will go smoothly. “While we see there’s no fighting, both sides, especially from the military, should sign onto a code of conduct, but that [agreement] hasn’t been reached yet,” Gyi Gyi said.

Yet the positive ties forged between the KDHW and the government may serve as a bellwether for the future of the peace process writ large. “We are looking forward to the next KNU meeting with the government. It’s very important for us, to be able to work for our people in the future,” Gyi Gyi said. “This process has progressed very far in one year, but we will see how things will be in 2015 about Burma.”
By ALEX BOOKBINDER

Search for MH370 Continues as Deep-Sea Drone Comes Up Empty in 5th Mission

The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is craned over the side of the Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. (Reuters Photo/Australian Defense Force)

Perth. Hopes that a deep sea drone scouring the Indian Ocean floor might soon turn up a missing Malaysian jetliner were fading on Friday, as the remote-controlled submarine embarked on a fifth mission with still no sign of wreckage.

Sonar footage by the US Navy owned Bluefin-21 has become the focal point of the search some 2,000 kilometers west of the Australian city of Perth, where authorities believe Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 hit the ocean after disappearing from radars on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The search has centered on a city-sized area where a series of “pings” led authorities to believe the plane’s black box may be located. But after more than a week without a signal, and almost two weeks past the black box battery’s life expectancy, authorities have now turned to the Bluefin-21.

But after four missions to depths of about 4.5 kilometers, two of those aborted early for technical reasons, Australian search authorities said on Friday that the drone had yet to turn up a meaningful lead.

“Bluefin-21 has searched approximately 110 square kilometers to date. Data analysis from the fourth mission did not provide any contacts of interest,” the Joint Agency Coordination Center said in a statement.

The center said the Bluefin-21’s search area had been reduce based on further analysis of the initial black box signals. It said a US Navy warning that the Bluefin-21’s examination may take two months was now incorrect and the drone was focusing on a “reduced and more focused underwater search area” without specifying the size.

No end in sight

On Monday, the search coordinator, retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said the air and surface search for debris would likely end in three days as the operation shifted its focus to the largely unmapped area of ocean floor.

But on Friday, the JACC said up to 11 military aircraft and 12 ships would join in the search across 52,000 square kilometers of ocean.

That would suggest searchers, under pressure from the families of those on board the plane, still hold some hope of finding floating wreckage.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quoted by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday as saying that “we believe that [underwater] search will be completed within a week or so. If we don’t find wreckage, we stop, we regroup, we reconsider”.

Asked by Reuters to clarify Abbott’s comments to the newspaper, his office said he was only suggesting that authorities may change the area being searched by the Bluefin-21 drone, not that the search would be called off.

Malaysia’s defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, vowed that the search would continue even if there could be a pause to regroup and reconsider the best area to scour.

“The search will always continue. It’s just a matter of approach,” he told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.

He said Abbott remained in close contact with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and the two had spoken on Thursday to discuss the search.

Reuters
Jakarta Globe

Vietnam’s PM Calls for Urgent Measures as Measles Death Toll Climbs

A nurse gives a child a measles vaccination in Yen Bai province, March 2014.

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has called for stepped-up measures to contain a serious measles outbreak among children as the highly contagious viral disease spread across the country with the death toll climbing to 112, local reports said.

Dung issued a bulletin to all government agencies late Wednesday calling for increased vigilance as reports said that the disease has spread to 61 of the country’s 63 provinces and cities since late December in the worst outbreak in at least four years.

Tran Dac Phu, director of the Ministry of Health’s Department of Preventive Medicine, said Thursday there had been 112 reported deaths from complications arising from measles, four more than he reported the day before.

The ministry has not updated its official toll of 25 deaths directly attributed to the disease, according to state-controlled Vietnamese media, which gave widespread coverage of the measles outbreak apparently following public complaints.

Many mothers took to the Internet to complain about the press's handling of the news, according to VietNamNet.

“In the last few weeks, they have posted their gripes on their Facebook pages and on websites … Some even claimed that the Ministry of Health's published number of fatalities caused by the disease was incomplete,” it said.

Since measles re-emerged in Vietnam in December, at least 3,100 people throughout the country have been confirmed to have contracted the disease and 8,440 others are suspected of having been infected, according to officials.

The outbreak of the disease, which mainly affects children, has centered on northern Vietnam and the capital Hanoi, where some of the biggest hospitals have been overloaded with cases.

PM Dung's call

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Dung issued an urgent circular ordering local authorities and government agencies to focus resources on preventing the spread of the disease, Vietnam News Agency reported.

The notice blamed the high death toll on the insufficient quality and quantity of vaccinations administered, the report said.

He ordered the Health Ministry to improve the standard of treatment for measles patients and to monitor the spread of the disease more closely.

He ordered the Ministry of Finance to provide stable funding for those efforts and asked the press to keep the public updated on the outbreak and preventive measures, the report said.

The re-emergence of the disease since the previous flare-up in 2009-2010 follows a UNICEF and World Health Organization vaccination campaign that aimed to eliminate measles from Vietnam by 2012.

Separate figures given by health officials for measles deaths have prompted accusations in local media that officials were trying to downplay the severity of the epidemic.

The Ministry of Health said earlier this week, after hospitals in Hanoi reported 108 deaths, that 25 of them had been directly attributable to measles, while others were linked to related complications.

Measles deaths are usually a result of complications from the disease, which is one of the leading causes of death among young children around the world despite the availability of a vaccine, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Weak response

Nguyen Van Tuan, a professor of medicine at Australia’s University of New South Wales and researcher at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, said the Vietnamese government’s response to the recent measles flare-up had been weak.

“Vietnam just needs to put in more effort and provide more information to people on time and then we will be able to limit the consequences and prevent this in the future.”

“The problem in Vietnam is the system is very weak. I think the priority for Vietnam now is not about expensive medical equipment but an effective public health system.”

He said the government had not responded to the current measles outbreak as aggressively as it had to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu outbreaks in recent years that had resulted in fewer deaths.

“I remember when Vietnam had SARS or H1N1, the numbers of deaths were not as high as this time but the whole political system was engaged in trying to stop the epidemic. Now more than 100 children have died because of measles, but it seems that the political system is not engaged.”

He said it was not surprising that measles had re-emerged in Vietnam because although Vietnam has reported high vaccination rates, some of the figures represent only children who have received the first dose of the vaccine, instead of the recommended two doses.

The World Health Organization says two doses of the vaccine are needed to ensure immunity and prevent outbreaks as about 15 percent of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from the first dose.

In Vietnam, children are recommended to have a first measles vaccination dose at 9 months old and a second after 12 months.

Tuan said another factor behind the outbreak was that Vietnamese authorities have focused in recent years on giving vaccines to children between 9 months and 9 years old, instead of to children up to 14 years old.

Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long has said recently that some 23 million kids under 14 are expected to be vaccinated against measles and rubella by 2017, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

Measles is a common childhood viral illness of the paramyxovirus family which carries symptoms of high fever, a runny nose, white spots in the mouth, and a hallmark rash.

In Vietnam’s previous measles flare-up in 2009-2010, there were two deaths, according to reports .

Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Seven Herders Held After Inner Mongolia Clashes

Public security personnel and riot police rounded up herders from Chagaan-oboo Gachaa in Heshigten Banner as they staged a sit-in protest in front of Inner Mongolia Yindu Mining Co. on April 17, 2014.
Chinese authorities in the northern region of Inner Mongolia are holding seven ethnic Mongolian herders after clashes with a mining company they said polluted their grazing lands, local residents said on Thursday.

The detentions came after around 150 herders from Chagaan-oboo Gachaa in Heshigten Banner (in Chinese, Keshiketeng Qi) to the north of Chifeng city staged a sit-in protest in front of the Inner Mongolia Yindu Mining Co. on Wednesday.

Herders told RFA that the company had been dumping toxic waste onto their grazing lands in since January, causing the death of livestock.

"They were afraid of trouble, so they just called in the riot police from Heshigten and detained eight people," a local herder who declined to be identified said.

He said the dispute had been running since the beginning of the year.

"In January, it seems there was a leak from their waste pipes, and they left it too late to fix it, which meant that pollution got into the river," he said.

"All the livestock nearby ended up dying."

He said an elderly herder was released by police late on Wednesday, but the rest remained behind bars.

"There are still seven of our herders being held by the Heshigten Banner police department," he said.

Land occupied

According to the New York-based Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), Yindu Mining runs one of the few large silver, zinc, and lead mines in northern China.

"The mining company ... occupied a large piece of grazing land of the local Mongolian herders' community," the group said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.

An official who answered the phone at the Heshigten Banner police department said it was "inconvenient" to speak by phone.

"You should come here yourself," the official said.

Leak under control

And an employee who answered the phone at the Bayanchagaan Som, a subdistrict of Heshigten Banner which administers Chagaan-Oboo Gachaa, said the pollution leak had already been brought under control.

"The locals got a bit of compensation, which has already been paid out," the official said. "There shouldn't be a problem."

"They are kicking up a fuss over nothing, saying they have to give them money."

"Animals die in every village ... because it's spring and they're not doing well and their immunity is down," the official added. "It's hardly fair to go blaming the mining company because a cow or a sheep dies."

But the Chagaan-Oboo herder said their animals rarely died in springtime, and that a single ox would cost an average herding family one fifth of their total annual income.

Earlier clashes

Earlier this month, authorities near Tongliao city in the east of the region detained more than 40 herders from Maliin-ger Gachaa, Morin-Sum Som after they clashed with local police on April 12 in a bid to prevent a coal transportation company from taking over their grazing lands, SMHRIC said.

"Local Mongolian villagers were beaten up and threatened with imprisonment by the local police reinforced by more than 400 fully armed riot police dispatched from the municipal authorities," the group said in a statement.

It quoted social media posts as saying that police had seized villagers' cell phones and wallets, threatened them with guns, and beat up women.

A Morin-sum Som government official later confirmed the clashes had taken place, it said.

"Are you talking about the incident that took place on Saturday?" the official said in an interview with SMHRIC. "Yes, there were some Mongolian villagers taken away."

But he transferred the call to his supervisor when asked whether the 40 some Mongolians who were arrested are still being held in detention, SMHRIC said.

Clashes between Chinese companies and ethnic Mongolian herders protesting the exploitation of their grasslands are increasingly common in the region, which borders the independent country of Mongolia.

Rights activists say grasslands on which the herding communities depend for a living are constantly being taken over, forcing them to take action to stand up for their rights.

Ethnic Mongolians, who make up almost 20 percent of Inner Mongolia's population of 23 million, complain of environmental destruction and unfair development policies in the region.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

 

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