Sunday October 22, 2017
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Voting begins in Myanmar general election

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Yangon :  Myanmar’s multi-party general election began across the country on Sunday with 33.5 million eligible voters getting ready to cast votes at respective polling stations.

In Yangon, the voters started queuing in front of the polling stations in respective townships one hour before the clock struck six for ballot casting.

The 2015 general election is the second in Myanmar after the previous military government handed over the state power to a civilian government in 2011 through the first election in 2010.

The election is being held under the secret polling system and closely monitored by more than 10,000 local and international observers.

A total of 6,038 candidates from 91 political parties and 310 independents are competing for more than 1,000 seats at three levels of the parliament in the election.

Of the total, 1,733 candidates are to run for seats of the House of Representatives (Lower House), 886 for the House of Nationalities (Upper House), 3,419 for Region or State Parliament.

The Union Election Commission designated 1,150 constituencies for the vote at three levels of the parliament across the country.

Of them, 323 constituencies will be contested for the House of Representatives, 168 for the House of Nationalities, 630 for the Region or State Parliament and 29 for ethnic representatives.

Competitively strong parties go to the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), led by U Htay Oo, and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

USDP fielded 1,122 candidates, while NLD fielded 1,123 for the run for seats at all three levels of the parliament.

NLD chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi will compete in Yangon region’s Kawhmu township constituency for a seat of House of Representatives and she was also signified by her first ever personal vote casting in her residential constituency of Bahan township in Yangon.

(IANS)
(Photo Credit : thestoryandthetruth)

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Insurgency issues detailed list of demands this week that struck a far more pragmatic note

A detailed list of demands was issued this week that struck a far more pragmatic note while describing the use of violence in the past as self-defense

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Rohingya
Rohingya refugees collect aid supplies including food and medicine, sent from Malaysia, at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Feb. 15, 2017, VOA

Yangon, March 30, 2017: The Rohingya Muslim insurgency, whose sneak attacks in October killed nine border guard officers in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, issued a detailed list of demands this week that struck a far more pragmatic note while describing the use of violence in the past as self-defense.

Ata Ullah, the commander of the Faith Movement, now rebranded as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), signed the March 29 list, which has been verified and seems to have been timed to the anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi’s first year in power. Arakan is another name for Rakhine.

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A new presentation

In a preamble to the 20 demands, the ARSA said it does not associate with any terrorist organizations, eschews attacks against civilians and religious minorities, and wants to state “loud and clear” that its “defensive attacks” are only aimed at the “oppressive Burmese regime.” They said they would support international peacekeeping troops in the state.

Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, won elections in late 2015 and swore in its president, Htin Kyaw, one year ago today. Suu Kyi, barred from the presidency by the 2008 military-drafted constitution, assumed the roles of foreign minister and state counselor. But the military still controls 25 percent of parliament and three key ministries.

By far the most polished and level-headed presentation of the group’s goals, the list stands in stark contrast to grainy YouTube videos posted in the days after the attack, which showed men holding guns and reading off declarations in a forest hideout.

Among other things, the demands include calls for political representation, citizenship rights, access to relief aid, education opportunities, freedom of movement and religion, the return of property, the ability to participate in trade and commercial activities, and the return of Rohingya refugees.

“It’s significant they deny connections to terrorist organizations, deny targeting civilians, and speak mostly of rights-based objectives,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of the NGO Fortify Rights, in an email. “We have no evidence that the group is well-trained, well-financed, or well-organized, but it’s clear they aren’t going anywhere.”

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Muslim insurgencies began in 1940s

Since Myanmar became independent in 1948, Muslim insurgencies in Rakhine have emerged under different political contexts over the decades, a reflection of self-determination sought by members of other faiths and ethnic groups across the country. Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its many ethnic groups, denies them citizenship and has pushed them out of the political sphere.

The International Crisis Group said in a report last year that the Faith Movement was formed around 2012 after inter-communal violence in Rakhine killed hundreds and sent more than 120,000 Rohingya into IDP camps in the state capital Sittwe, where they remain today. Its leaders are centered in the Rohingya diaspora in Saudi Arabia, the report said.

Accusations of atrocities

As part of the hunt for militants in the wake of the October attacks, Myanmar’s armed forces have been accused of numerous atrocities, including rape and arson. An estimated 1,000 people have been killed.

The government has vehemently denied the more serious of the accusations, but mounting testimonies pushed the United Nations Human Rights Council to green light a fact-finding mission last week. It is not clear whether the U.N. will gain access.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, and the area of the state where the attacks occurred remains under lockdown except for rare visits and supervised tours.

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A hard line by the Myanmar military

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for the president’s office, did not immediately return requests for comment on the Rohingya demands. But Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing this week gave an indication of how the government will view the demands of the ARSA and the prospect of a U.N. probe.

At the annual Armed Forces Day in the capital Naypyitaw, the general called the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“We have already let the world know that we don’t have Rohingya in our country,” he said, according to reports of his speech.

Two senior U.N. officials working among the Rohingya refugees said more than 1,000 Rohingya might have been killed during the four-month security operation. However, Myanmar presidential spokesman Zaw Htay has previously said fewer than 100 people had been killed during the operation. (VOA)

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Rakhine Crisis: Myanmar state counselor calls on ASEAN for support

Rakhine is home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslim Rohingya who live in squalid refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012

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Rakhine Crisis
Aung San Suu Kyi. Wikimedia
  • Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday asked member states of a regional economic and security organization for “constructive support” in resolving the Rakhine Crisis
  • Rakhine is home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslim Rohingya who live in squalid refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead
  • “We are working to build understanding, harmony and trust between communities while standing firm against prejudice, intolerance, and extremism,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Oct 04, 2016: Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday asked member states of a regional economic and security organization for “constructive support” in resolving the Rakhine crisis in the country’s troubled western Rakhine state.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, is trying to drum up regional support for an advisory commission on Rakhine which she created in late August to review conflict resolution between majority Buddhists and minority Muslim Rohingya in the restive state. It will also look at humanitarian assistance, development issues, and strengthening local institutions.

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Buddhist nationalists and political parties in Rakhine oppose the appointment of three foreigners to the commission, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who chairs the body and have called for its disbandment.

“We are working to build understanding, harmony, and trust between communities while standing firm against prejudice, intolerance, and extremism,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the body’s Inter-Parliamentary Assembly which is meeting on Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw. “In doing so, we ask for the constructive support of our regional neighbors.”

“Progress in every field will not be possible overnight, but we are determined to persevere to bring about positive change in Rakhine state as in other areas of our country affected by conflict,” she said.

Rakhine is home to roughly 1.1 million stateless Muslim Rohingya, considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, who face persecution and are denied basic rights, including those of citizenship and freedom of movement. Their plight has drawn condemnation from the international community.

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About 120,000 Rohingya live in squalid refugee camps after being displaced by communal violence with Rakhine Buddhists in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead.

Rakhine Crisis
Emergency food, drinking water and shelter to help people displaced in Rakhine State. Representational image. Wikimedia

The Buddhists and the state’s dominant Arakan National Party (ANP) believe that the three foreign members of the advisory commission will side with the Rohingya and turn the issue into an international one. The commission’s six other members are Myanmar citizens.

Annan, who was heckled by protesters during the commission’s first visit to Rakhine in early September, later told reporters at a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon that the body’s mandate is to provide recommendations to the government on measures for finding solutions to the state’s complex problems in accordance with international standards, and that it will remain “rigorously impartial.”

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The commission must submit a report on its findings to the Myanmar government in 12 months.

A previous investigative committee was formed just after the outbreak of communal violence in 2012, but the suggestions it provided in a subsequent report were not implemented.

(BBG Direct)

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Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi to meet Barack Obama regarding persecution of Muslim Minority Group Rohingya

The tragic treatment of the Rohingya amounts to genocide or not is a delicate political issue and how Suu Kyi addresses their plight is will be kept on check by the activists of Myanmar

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Rohingya stand outside their camp.
  • Since the sectarian and ethnic violence in 2012, thousands of Rohingya, claimed to be one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups, have been in deplorable condition
  • The chairman of North America Rohingya Association, Uddin, claims to have to insist the US officials to remind Suu Kyi to take steps to help the Rohingya
  • A legal study in Yale Law School in 2015 shows evidence of the treatment of the Rohingya as Genocide

Sept 15, 2016: When Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi meets President Barack Obama at the White House this week, activists will be keenly observing each of her actions to see how the pro-democracy icon addresses the plight of the country’s ethnic Rohingya, who, as claimed by the human rights groups, are among the world’s most persecuted minority groups.

Since ethnic and sectarian violence erupted in 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya have been living in overcrowded camps in conditions that rights groups have condemned as deplorable. Mosques have been shuttered and marriages unrecognized by the government. The government restricts their movement, limiting the Rohingya’s access to health care, education, and job opportunities.

In fact, most Rohingya are not even considered citizens. The Myanmar government and many of its citizens see them as illegal immigrants, and even refuse to call them by their preferred name, “Rohingya.”

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Instead, Myanmar refers to them as “Bengalis,” reflecting the view that they are from neighboring Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya have been living in Myanmar for generations. Aung San Suu Kyi herself has said that the Rohingya term is “divisive” and the government will refrain from using it.

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Thousands of Rohingya have fled abroad, risking dangerous trips to Indonesia or Malaysia since 2012. But an estimated 140,000 remain displaced in internal camps. Some rights groups have argued the treatment amounts to ethnic cleansing or even genocide.

“The situation on the ground today is not good,” said Wakar Uddin, a leading U.S.-based Rohingya advocate who met late last week with several U.S. administration officials to brief them — and sat down with VOA for an interview.

“People are dying. We have dire issues that need to be addressed,” Uddin said. “One hundred forty thousand [people] in camps, lingering. They need to be returned.”

Uddin is the founding chairman of the North America Rohingya Association and a professor of agricultural science at Pennsylvania State University.

Despite his deep concerns, he sees some hope with the creation of a commission headed by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, which has the blessing of the Myanmar’s quasi-military government. The commission is charged with probing the Rohingya conflict and filing a report within a year’s time, a kind of roadmap toward a future solution.

“This Kofi Annan commission is highly capable,” Uddin said. “They will be able to produce a balanced report: the truth. Whatever the truth is.”

Trust is key, added Uddin. “They will be and they should be talking to the victims, who have gone through this hardship.”

That said, he is calling for immediate action now to alleviate the humanitarian suffering. Uddin told VOA that he specifically pressed U.S. officials this week to remind Aung San Suu Kyi to take steps now. Other experts agree.

“The Annan commission has the ability to propose solutions that will assist the Rohingya and the Rakhine,” said Ronan Lee, an Australian-based researcher. “The commission will not make its report until the second half of 2017, meaning human rights for the Rohingya need to be progressed before this.”

Lee also pointed out that Myanmar’s Buddhists also need immediate help.

“It’s important to remember, too, that while the Rohingya Muslims have and continue to suffer dreadfully, Rakhine state’s majority ethnicity, the Rakhine Buddhists, are often also living in appalling poverty,” he said.

Uddin believes that, after speaking with U.S. officials, some of these more urgent, immediate humanitarian steps will be taken ahead of the Annan commission’s report.

One delicate political issue confronting Myanmar’s leadership, the Obama administration, and activists and Buddhists in Myanmar: Does the treatment of the Rohingya amount to genocide?

“You cannot paint with a broad brush. There are all kinds of voices in the community that use their own terminology,” Uddin said. “I really do not want to dwell on these terms. We want to make every effort to not anger the other side.”

Labeling the treatment of Rohingya as genocide could compel the 147 countries that have signed the 1948 Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide treaty to intervene in the situation. That would mark an extreme step, but one that some activists say is necessary.

“This is the case where we, as the predominantly Buddhist society, has been misled and brainwashed in the way the Nazis brainwashed and turned the German citizens against Jews,” said Maung Zarni, a human rights campaigner and co-author of the book “A Slow Burning Genocide of Myanmar.”

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Researcher Lee points to other researchers whom he said confirm Zarni’s position.

“A well-researched report from the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London was certain the Rohingya had been victims of state crimes and ‘genocidal persecution,’” Lee said, while admitting his own research has not focused specifically on the question of genocide.

A separate legal study by researchers at Yale law school in 2015 that analyzed Rohingya testimonies, Myanmar government documents, and analyses by other aid groups argued that there is strong evidence of genocide. The group argued that while it was difficult to determine whether the treatment of Rohingya was intended to destroy them “in whole or in part,” the available evidence strongly suggests that their treatment meets the legal definition of genocide.

As to whether or not Aung San Suu Kyi will act on the Rohingya issue, North America Rohingya Association’s Uddin is hopeful.

“I believe Aung San Suu Kyi is a visionary,” Uddin said. “She cares about our people. She recognizes that this Rohingya issue has risen to a global scale.”

Ultimately, Uddin added, as one of the most revered and well-known political campaigners in the world, she recognizes that “she cannot ignore this.” (VOA)