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Landslide at an illegal Jade mine in Myanmar kills 13

A workers can earn $300 per month or more in Myanmar. This attracts migrants who are willing to take great risks.

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Rescue teams search for the bodies of miners killed in a landslide in a jade mining area in Hpakhant, in Myanmar's Kachin state on November 24, 2015. Search teams said on November 24 they had abandoned hope of finding survivors from a landslide in north Myanmar's jade mining heartland which killed more than 100 people. It is one of the deadliest incidents surrounding the billion-dollar jade trade that enriches a shadowy elite while destroying the local environment and social structure. AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR

YANGON— Dozens of Jade miner were killed while scavenging in a mining pit. This mishap occurred after the start of monsoon rain and due to lack of safety measure’s and dangerous conditions inside the mine.

Myanmar’s Kachi state in the north has Hpakant Township where vast wasteland of deep pits and huge rubble heaps produced by mining companies using heavy machinery and dynamite.

Due to heavy rainfall instability in area has increased and a pit wall collapsed on scores of workers, said Khin Maung Myint, a National League for Democracy (NLD) Upper House parliamentarian from Hpakant.

“They found 12 bodies so far and sent 50 to the hospital,” he said, adding he believed up to 100 men could still be under the rubble. “There is heavy raining so they had to stop searching,” he added.

extraction of bodies from the landslide area
extraction of bodies from the landslide area. Image source: voa

The men had illegally entered a company pit where work was suspended. Deadly accidents are common in the Hpakant mines, where poor migrants from across Myanmar scavenge mining waste and pits for jade stones.

On May 8, 13 people reportedly died in a landslide. Several accidents with a lower death toll occurred in December and January. In one of the worst accident in recent memory, 114 men sleeping in a mining camp died when they were crushed by a collapsing waste mound last November.

In 2015, an estimated 300,000 itinerant miners were scavenging for jade in Hpakant, a recent state media article said. It noted there had been a sharp rise in workers in the past few years, along with an increase in large-scale mining and waste dumping.

Naw Lown, secretary of the Kachin National Development Foundation, said the hazardous conditions were created by powerful, licensed companies that dumped waste with no regard for safety regulations or environmental rules.

“They don’t take responsibility, they care only for their benefits. They don’t explore according to the rules and regulations, and they don’t dump waste in a systematic way,” he said.

Authorities have thus far struggled to enforce safety laws, or to control the masses of itinerant miners, a situation that the new NLD government urgently wants to change. It has announced plans to improve mine safety during its first 100 days in office and will issue no new mining license until new rules and environmental safeguards are in place.

“We… will make arrangements for systematic mining there,” Win Htein, director-general of the Mining Department, told state media on May 19. Measures such as moving at-risk camps of miners, creating safe zones and enforcing tighter rules on dumping are being planned.

Khin Maung Myint said there were around 150 firms extracting jade, adding that NLD officials “want to stop all mining during the rainy season because it’s dangerous, but that’s very difficult because there are interests (of companies) owned by the military.”

Living conditions in the remote, mountainous area are tough and most workers share simple shacks set up in dirty camps. Addiction to drugs such as heroin and opium, which are cheap and produced in northern Myanmar, is common.

Yet income levels are good by Myanmar standards as workers can earn $300 per month or more. This attracts migrants who are willing to take great risks.

Jade rock found at the mine
Jade rock found at the mine. Image source: voa

Khin Maung Myint said many are driven by the hope of finding a large jade stone. “They dream they can find a golden pot at the end of the rainbow,” he said, adding that most migrants come from impoverished, crisis-affected Rakhine State

Reverend Sai Naw of the Baptist Church in Hpakant said many laborers simply work to feed their drug addiction. “The main danger for miners is the landslide, but we estimate that 60 percent of the migrant miners use drugs, though there is no detailed or correct data,” he said, adding that the recent opening of a NGO health clinic providing free clean needles would help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While countless poor men toil in dangerous conditions and scores die, the owners of mining companies are reaping huge profits.

Jade industry has an estimated worth as $31 billion annually according to an investigation by the London-based natural resource watchdog Global Witness and is Myanmar’s most valuable sector. It found most mining firms had military connections and hid their ownership and license contracts.

China is the market of Jade where it is highly priced. The Jade is exported to nearby border as unregistered raw blocks from where it goes to Hong Kong for processing.(VOA)

 

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Drone and Satellites Expose Myanmar’s Pain

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Rohingya refugee
An Oct. 5, 2017 image taken from a video released by Arakan Rohingya National Organization shows villagers preparing to cross a river towards the Maungdaw township in the Rakhine state that borders Bangladesh.

London- The Rohingya refugee crisis is an age-old tale of displacement and suffering, but technology is providing new tools to tackle it, rights groups and charities said on Wednesday.

Powerful drone and satellite images are bringing to life the urgent needs of more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, while also providing strong evidence of abuses, which could be used to lobby for justice.

“We can describe for hours the large numbers of refugees crossing the border and how quickly existing camps have expanded, but one image captures it all,” said Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since the military in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in late August.

The UNHCR is using videos and photographs shot with drones to show the scale of the displacement crisis and bring it to life to spur action from the public and donors.

It is also using satellites to count and identify refugee families by their location in the Bangladesh camps to target assistance to those most in need, Mahecic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.

The use of drone footage of refugees entering Bangladesh has boosted donations for medical care, water and food, according to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an alliance of 13 leading British aid agencies.

Rights monitors also hope satellite images can provide evidence that to help bring perpetrators to justice.

Satellite photos were used in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to prove mass executions in 1995 in Srebrenica.

But the technology has yet to achieve its potential because of limited budgets and a lack of standardised methodologies accepted by courts, experts say.

Human Rights Watch has shared satellite images showing the burning of almost 300 villages in Myanmar, refugees’ mobile phone footage and their testimonies with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“We have found the debris field in satellite imagery where people were executed, corroborating multiple eyewitness statements,” said Josh Lyons, a satellite imagery analyst with the U.S.-based rights group.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” and his office is working to determine whether it meets the legal definition of genocide.(VOA)

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Restrictions on Freedom of Expression : Pakistani Journalists Struggle with Growing Threats from Government and Militants alike

A recent cybercrime bill in Pakistan has become a vehicle for curbing media freedom, allowing the government to censor digital content, criminalize internet user activity and access bloggers' data without judicial review. Media defenders say the country's blasphemy laws also are being used to cut off public debate.

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Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. Assailants riding on motorcycles have attacked an outspoken Pakistani journalist, leaving him badly hurt with head injuries. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil) VOA

Pakistan, November 2, 2017 : Journalists in Pakistan say they are facing increasing risks ranging from the government’s expanding control over social media to extremist threats that have spread from long-volatile regions to the streets of the capital.

The latest attack left a journalist badly beaten on a street in Islamabad. Earlier this year, security agencies picked up several bloggers from urban centers who said after their release that they had been tortured and humiliated.

Threats to reporters have long been a problem in volatile Baluchistan and the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, but the recent incidents have reinforced complaints by media groups that the danger is spreading to the nation’s heartland.

The victim of the beating in Islamabad was Ahmad Noorani, a senior reporter for the influential Daily News newspaper, who previously had been warned to close his Twitter account after criticizing the powerful military. The attack attracted widespread condemnation on social media, where many posts blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for the attack.

Other journalists have been charged with violating the country’s vague Anti-Terrorism Act, which defines terrorism as creating “a sense of fear or insecurity in society.” Critics say it has broad potential for abuse.

Several bloggers critical of the government or the military have vanished for weeks, later saying they had been kidnapped by the intelligence services.

Popular blogger Asim Saeed was snatched by unknown men earlier this year. He told the BBC in an interview last week that he was picked up by Pakistan intelligence agencies and tortured during his detention.

Digital media rights activists, meanwhile, are warning that Pakistan is attempting to cut back on internet freedom.

“In my opinion, the government is terrifying the social media activists,” Usama Khilji, director of the internet freedom organization Bolo Bhi, told VOA’s Deewa service. “Social media is a democratic medium where people can express their thoughts without any restrictions. However, it has been observed, when people share their thoughts, the government feels insecure.”

Anwar Iqbal, a Washington-based senior journalist and correspondent for the leading English-language newspaper Daily Dawn, agreed.

“The Pakistani state feels vulnerable in the presence of growing social media and wants to stifle the discourse on topics it considers sensitive,” he said.

The state does not want media to discuss sensitive issues like relations with the U.S., China, Afghanistan and India, Iqbal said, particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s new policy for the region calling for Islamabad to crack down on terrorist safe havens.

Reports from watchdog groups

Human Rights Watch’s 2016 report said media were being deterred from reporting on or criticizing human rights violations by the security services.

“Many journalists increasingly practiced self-censorship, fearing retribution from both state security forces and militant groups. Media outlets remained under pressure to avoid reporting on or criticizing human rights violations by the military in counterterrorism operations,” the report said.

Reporters Without Borders, a global media watchdog, in its annual report this year, ranked Pakistan 139 of 180 countries on its Press Freedom Index, despite its reputation having one of the most free media environments in Asia. The report says the nation’s media “are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organizations, and the feared intelligence agencies” — all of which are on the group’s list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”

Even when the threats come from extremist groups, journalists say, the government has done little to pursue the perpetrators.

But Interior Minister Talal Chaudry defended the government’s actions, suggesting the reporters should be doing more to protect themselves.

journalist
Journalist Zafar Achakzai, who was held for sharing content criticizing security forces on social media, sits in his office after being released from jail, in Quetta, Pakistan, July 9, 2017. VOA

“We have included insurance for journalists in the journalists ‘protection bill,” he said. “Sometimes, journalists are not trained or not properly equipped, and that is why they become victims of violence. We understand journalists are sometimes victims of violence, and that is why we are bringing a comprehensive bill for working journalists in the parliament.”

Journalists: Situation worsening

But many journalists say things are getting worse. A recent cybercrime bill has become a vehicle for curbing media freedom, allowing the government to censor digital content, criminalize internet user activity and access bloggers’ data without judicial review. Media defenders say the country’s blasphemy laws also are being used to cut off public debate.

“We have laws in place for social media, but it’s not being controlled,” Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousef told Deewa when asked how the government can avoid the blasphemy law from being misused against social media.

Such problems are longstanding in Pakistan’s troubled southwestern Baluchistan province, where newspapers have been shut down and newsstands shuttered for more than a week amid threats from militant groups claiming the local media are too supportive of the central government.

“The resistance [militant] groups are calling on boycotting all media houses, threatening press offices and journalists,” Behram Baloch, who is now working from home, told VOA. “To address this issue, we held a meeting here at the press club. We decided to suspend our activities for a while, and press club will remain closed. Our movement is limited, and many of our colleagues have left their jobs.”

Militants from separatist groups, banned by the state, threw a hand grenade at an office of a newspaper agency in Turbat, Baluchistan, injuring eight people.

“Journalists as well as the Newspaper Editors Council received threats. As a result, our workers were forced not to leave their homes. They include press workers and hawkers. We were, thus, unable to pick up newspapers [for delivery],” said Mir Ahmed, general secretary of the Newspapers Wholesalers Association.

“Life and death are in the hands of God.” (VOA)

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Myanmar Must Take Back Displaced Rohingya Refugees : India

Sushma Swaraj did not use the word Rohingya to refer to the thousands who have taken shelter in Bangladesh and instead referred to them as displaced persons from Rakhine state

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Rohingya
A group of Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy road after traveling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. VOA

Dhaka, October 22, 2017 : India on Sunday said Rohingya refugees who have poured into Bangladesh must be taken back by Myanmar from where they have been displaced.

“Normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state,” Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a media meet also attended by her Bangladeshi counterpart Abula Hassan Mahmood Ali.

This followed the fourth India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Committee meeting.

ALSO READ US will Provide $32 Million to Rohingyas As Humanitarian Aid Package

Sushma Swaraj did not use the word Rohingya to refer to the thousands who have taken shelter in Bangladesh and instead referred to them as displaced persons from Rakhine state, bdnews24.com reported.

She said India was “deeply concerned at the spate of violence in Rakhine state of Myanmar”.

According to latest figures from the UN office in Bangladesh, over 600,000 refugees have entered the country since August 25 after the Myanmar Army cracked down on the Rohingyas after a series of attacks on security personnel in Rakhine.

Bangladesh Minister Ali said India was urged to contribute towards exerting sustained pressure on Myanmar to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, including return of Rohingyas to their homeland. (IANS)