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Myanmar’s military said on Friday that the army used helicopters in war-torn Rakhine state two days earlier to prevent armed Arakan separatists from launching offensives, and claimed that six Rohingya Muslim civilians killed by a chopper attack at the time were working with the Arakan Army (AA).
Military spokesman Major General Tun Tun Nyi told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the army used helicopters on April 3 to deter the AA from firing at its troops. “Yes, we used helicopters and necessary equipment during the fighting,” he said.
The military-run Myawady newspaper said the army acted after it had received a confirmed report that about 150 AA troops were positioned around Sai Din Creek in Buthidaung township, and that the helicopter assault killed six Rohingya and injured nine others during the fighting.
The six Rohingya reported dead by the military were from Thayet Pyin, Dabyu Chaung, King Taung, Hteik Htoo Pauk, and Hpon Nyo Leik villages and were with AA “terrorist” troops while the battle was taking place, the newspaper said. About a dozen others were wounded by the aerial gunfire.
“We have been questioning the injured and people who had been involved [with the AA] during the fighting,” Tun Tun Nyi said. “They are not from one place. It is obvious to conclude that they could be AA members because people from four or five villages were all together in the same [combat] place with the AA.
“The other reason is they are AA members or ordinary people whom the AA asked to help them,” he said. “Some people could have been forced by the AA to go with them. We are questioning them.”
He did not explain how the Muslim Rohingya could possibly work with the AA, a group of Rakhine nationalists and Buddhists historically hostile to the Rohingya. Local Rakhines were seen helping the Myanmar army during its 2016-17 campaign that drove 740,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.
Effects of war
Local residents told RFA on Thursday that at least 10 Rohingya working at the Sai Din bamboo production site died and more than a dozen others were injured by the Myanmar military’s aerial attack during fighting between the two armed forces near the Sai Din mountain range.
But AA spokesman Khine Thukha denied that Arakan forces engaged in combat with Myanmar troops in the area where the helicopter attack occurred and said that government forces have routinely fired artillery and arms indiscriminately.
When RFA contacted asked Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the Myanmar military’s information team on Thursday, he confirmed that a battle took place in Buthidaung north of Yae Soe Chaung village.
But he referred questions about the Rohingya killed during a helicopter attack to Brigadier General Win Zaw Oo, spokesman for the military’s Western Regional Command responsible for Rakhine state. RFA could not reach Win Zaw Oo because his mobile phone was switched off.
Hostilities between the government army and the AA, which is battling Myanmar forces in several Rakhine townships in its quest for greater autonomy in the state, reignited in late 2018 and exploded in early January after Arakan soldiers conducted deadly attacks on police outposts in northern Rakhine.
In response to the attacks, the Myanmar government branded the AA a terrorist group and instructed its forces to crush it.
Between Jan. 4 and March 28, the fighting claimed the lives of 58 AA soldiers, 27 policemen, and 12 civilians, according to the Myanmar government. The number of Myanmar soldiers who have died has not yet been disclosed.
The Rakhine state government estimates that more than 26,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting, while a Rakhine ethnic NGO puts the number at nearly 28,700 as of April 2.
Though the central and state government has provided relief assistance and supplies to the displaced civilians, Rakhine NGOs have said some temporary camps lack enough drinking water and food and that security issues have made it impossible to travel to certain areas. The Myanmar government has prevented almost all humanitarian aid groups from accessing the region as of January.
OHCHR condemns military
Also on Friday, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) expressed concern about attacks on civilians as fighting has escalated in Rakhine state, saying that the Myanmar military’s helicopter assaults could amount to “war crimes.”
“As the international community is taking steps towards accountability for the crimes committed against civilians in previous years, the Myanmar military is again carrying out attacks against its own civilians — attacks which may constitute war crimes,” said a statement issued by OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani. “The consequences of impunity will continue to be deadly.”
Sources on the ground in Buthidaung told the OHCHR that two military helicopters flew over Hpon Nyo Leik village tract — an area that has seen the large-scale displacement of Rohingya civilians in recent days — and fired on civilians tending cows and paddy fields, killing at least seven and injuring 18 others.
Roughly 4,000 Rohingya were displaced between March 25 and 30 from villages along the road connecting Buthidaung and neighboring Rathedaung township, forcing them to flee west to seek shelter in areas including Hpon Nyo Leik village tract, the OHCHR said.
The OHCHR called on the Myanmar military and AA to immediately end the hostilities and to ensure that civilians are protected.
“We are deeply disturbed by the intensification of the conflict in Rakhine state in recent weeks, and condemn what appear to be indiscriminate attacks and attacks directed at civilians by the Myanmar military and armed fighters in the context of the ongoing fighting with the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army,” the statement said.
‘Not allowed to come here’
Meanwhile, a top official at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that a new U.N. Human Rights Council envoy will not be allowed to visit the country to conduct investigations of human rights violations in Rakhine, focusing on atrocities committed against the Rohingya and other minority groups.
Chan Aye, the ministry’s director general, told RFA that Myanmar will turn away U.S. attorney Nicholas Koumjian, the head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar by the U.N., and his team members.
“They will not be allowed to come,” he said. “This is an issue of our sovereignty.”
“They would conduct one-sided investigations,” he said.
“From the very beginning, there was bias in their missions and purposes, so they were banned from coming here,” Chan Aye said about other U.N.-appointed human rights envoys.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced Koumjian as the first head of the mechanism, established by the Human Rights Council in September 2018.
The independent investigative panel will collect and analyze evidence of serious international crimes and international law violations committed in Myanmar since 2011 and prepare files that will facilitate criminal proceedings against perpetrators.
“We strongly objected to it at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in September 2018,” Chan Aye said.
He said that Koumjian’s team could gather the necessary information from other U.N. organizations operating inside Myanmar.
“Although the investigation team is not allowed to go there, they could ask U.N. officials who have visited the conflict region,” Aye Chan said. “There are also employees from agencies working in the area. We have allowed them to. They can get information from these sources.”
‘Plenty of other resources’
Thar Aye, a Rohingya activist and political analyst on the Rakhine issue, agreed that the independent investigative team can gather information on human rights violations and conduct its probe without entering Myanmar.
“Even without entry, they will have plenty of other resources from which to gather data for their investigation,” he said. “They have their networks spread across the world.”
But Thar Aye added that keeping the investigators out of Myanmar will complicate the situation.
“Denying them entry will damage the country’s credibility in the eyes of the international community,” he said.
Aung Myo Min, director of Equality Myanmar, a Myanmar-based NGO that focuses on human rights education and advocacy programs, agreed that rejecting the investigation panel would come at Myanmar’s expense.
“They will try to get the required information from whomever they can,” he said. “They will go to places like the Bangladeshi border for their investigation. What happens next is the Myanmar government no longer has the opportunity to confirm the validity of the information they get from somewhere else. We will lose the opportunity to prove our side of the story.”
Some officials and politicians in Myanmar said they objected to the new investigative panel.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), and Nanda Hla Myint, spokesman of the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), said they do not agree with the U.N.’s decision and will not accept the team’s investigations.
A previous U.N. fact-finding mission established by a Human Rights Council mandate investigated atrocities committed against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state during a military-led crackdown in 2017, and in Kachin and Shan states where the Myanmar military is engaged in fighting with ethnic armed groups.
A report the mission issued in September 2018 found that the Myanmar military had committed serious human rights violations against civilians and had violated international humanitarian law in all three states.
It also called for the prosecution of top commanders before The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for ordering atrocities against the Rohingya.
The Myanmar government, which has largely denied that its forces committed atrocities against the Rohingya and were responsible for driving 740,000 of them across the border to Bangladesh, rejected the report.
Other U.N. rights officials, including former U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, and Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s special envoy on human rights in Myanmar, have called for the prosecution of those responsible for committing suspected acts of genocide against the Rohingya.
In late 2017, the Myanmar government barred Lee from visiting the country to assess the rights situation after it deemed a previous mission report she issued was biased and unfair. (RFA)
Reported by Thiri Min Zin and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
As kids growing up in different states, Shoba Narayan and Michael Maliakel shared a love of one favorite film — "Aladdin." Both are of Indian descent, and in the animated movie, they saw people who looked like them.
That shared love has gone full-circle this month as Narayan and Maliakel lead the Broadway company of the musical "Aladdin" out of the pandemic, playing Princess Jasmine and the hero from the title, respectively.
"Growing up, there was such little South Asian and Middle Eastern representation in the American media, and Princess Jasmine was really all I had. She was a huge role model to me as someone who was intelligent and strong and independent and beautifully curious, and that's who I wanted to be," says Narayan, who grew up in Pennsylvania.
The pair arrived at "Aladdin" in very different ways. Maliakel is making his Broadway debut, but Narayan is a musical theater veteran, having made her Broadway debut in "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" and touring with "Hamilton" as Eliza Hamilton.
She was in "Wicked" as Nessarose when the pandemic shut down Broadway in March 2020. Her agent called in April with the prospect of auditioning for Jasmine. She sang "A Whole New World" over Zoom on gallery mode, pretending to be on a magic carpet. "It was a very unique experience," she says, laughing.
Disney producers flew her to New York to meet face-to-face and go through the material again. Narayan was asked to read with different Aladdin potential actors. She got the gig: "I went from a wicked witch to a Disney princess. Can't complain."
Maliakel, a native of New Jersey, came from the world of opera, a baritone who studied at Johns Hopkins University and the 2014 winner at the National Musical Theatre Competition. He trained his voice to be flexible, waiting for the right window to open.
"I didn't really see a lot of people doing what I wanted to do in the world," he says. "There just wasn't a whole lot of representation. So it's really hard to imagine yourself in those scenarios when you have no one to look up to as a role model or an example of how it could be done."
He played Porter and understudied Raoul in a national tour of "The Phantom of the Opera," which ended its run in Toronto just before the pandemic hit.
"I always dreamed that Broadway might happen someday," he says, laughing. "I'm just kind of dipping my toes into the waters in one of the biggest male roles in the business right now, and it's kind of surreal."
'Aladdin' featured as a Broadway Musical with a cast of Indian origin playing the main roles Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Broadway's "Aladdin" is a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie starring Robin Williams. The musical's story by Chad Beguelin hews close to the film: A street urchin finds a genie in a lamp and hopes to woo a princess while staying true to his values and away from palace intrigue.
Key Alan Menken songs from the film — including "Friend Like Me," ″Prince Ali" and "A Whole New World" — are used. The lyricists are the late Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin.
The show — and it's two new leads — had a few performances to celebrate Broadway's return from the pandemic this fall before it was forced to close for several days when breakthrough COVID-19 cases were detected. The actors say the safety of the cast, crew and audience are paramount and closing was the smart move.
"This is how we keep theater going in the pandemic," Maliakel says. "The other option is to just not do it at all. And that's not an option. A week's worth of lost performances, when we look back on things in a year or so, I think will just be a little blip on the radar."
They both look back with heart-thumping appreciation at the early performances when they welcomed back theater-starved audiences, who gave the company 3-minute standing ovations just for singing "A Whole New World."
"It is every brown girl's dream to be singing that song on an actual flying carpet," says Narayan. "And the fact that I got to do it on Broadway in the full costume with the lights and the 32-piece orchestra beneath me — oh, my gosh, I really had to hold it together. It was emotional overload for me."
Maliakel recalls that he and his brothers wore out their VHS cassette version of "Aladdin." He remembers having lunchboxes, pajamas and bed sheets with the film's theme. Aladdin was "every little brown kid's prince." Now he is that prince.
"Now, finally, to get to get paid to do it on the world's largest stage — it's not lost on me how crazy that is," he says. "The responsibility of my position right now feels really great. This moment sort of feels bigger than me in some ways, and I don't take that lightly. I think it's a really exciting time." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Aladdin, Broadway, Musical, Indian Descendant cast,
Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Cricket fans can now book the ultimate experience with the official accommodation booking partner for the ICC Men's T20 World Cup, Booking.com. The T20 Pavillion, a bespoke cricket-themed luxury stay that transforms the Presidential Suite at Grand Hyatt Mumbai Hotel and Residences into a classic cricket stadium.
The suite offers guests an all-inclusive once-in-a-lifetime experience during the India vs Pakistan ICC Men's T20 World Cup match on October 24, 2021, packed with quirks and luxuries that is sure to satisfy even the biggest cricket enthusiast. Additionally, as a part of the experience, guests will also have the exclusive opportunity to meet Bollywood actor Shraddha Kapoor at The T20 Pavilion.
The booking window that opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021 and check-out on October 25, 2021. | Photo by Alessandro Bogliari on Unsplash
For one night only, guests can soak in the energy of a roaring stadium to enjoy the epic match on a life-sized screen while seated on comfortable sofas -- just like the luxury box seats at the stadium. They can also head to the locker room (dining room) next to the field (living room) to have some energy drinks, just like a cricketer would do or head to the bedroom, transformed into a net practice area. It's got the field, the pitch, the locker room, pitching nets and cricket memorabilia infused in every element of the room.
The booking window opens at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and will be booked on a 'first come, first serve' basis with check-in date on October 24, 2021, and check-out on October 25, 2021. The T20 Pavilion is priced at Rs 6666 only in honour of all the great sixes smashed at the T20 World Cup. The T20 Pavilion can accommodate up to four guests. Cricket fans can visit the website or mobile app to book this cricket-inspired stay. (IANS/ MBI)