Thursday, October 20, 2011

US Campaign for Burma News Wrap

Burma News Wrap-Up

A lot has happened in Burma during the last month. We want to keep you updated on what is going on in Burma with an overview of issues, reports, actions, etc. Don't forget to check out our Facebook, Twitter, and Blog for daily news and updates.

Release of Political Prisoners

The unconditional release of ALL political prisoners has always been a major demand from democracy activists and the international community. On October 12, 220 political prisoners were released as part of a general amnesty in which 6,359 prisoners were released, including prominent comedian and social activist Zarganar and labor activist Su Su Nway. However, 1,700 political prisoners still remain behind bars, including the leader of the Saffron Revoltion U Gambira, the Shan political leader U Khun Htun Oo, and prominent members of the 88 Generation Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi. The occasional release of a few political prisoners to alleviate international pressure has been a tactic of the regime for many years. Burma’s regime leaders are not serious about democratic reform, releasing only 12% of the country’s political prisoners. In fact, political persecution continues, on September 14 Sithu Zeya, a video journalist was handed a 10-year extension to his 8-year term.

Read more from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma.

“I’m not convinced – I began to have doubts about the so-called reform because I don’t understand why everyone in prison wasn’t released.” Comedian Zarganar

Increasing Conflict and Human Rights Abuses

The regime’s attacks against the Shan State Army – North and the Kachin Independence Army in Northern Burma have doubled in the last few weeks, subjecting local civilian populations to massive displacement and severe human rights abuses. These attacks coincide with President Thein Sein’s announcement of the temporary halting of dam construction, calling into question the sincerity of his announcement. These fierce attacks in Northern Burma led to an additional 20,000 people having to flee to safety. China has now sent 2,000 troops to the China-Burma border to prohibit refugees from coming across the border. Humanitarian aid organizations have been denied access to areas with displaced civilians increasing the vulnerability of these populations. In Shan and Karen areas there has also been ongoing fighting and human rights abuses. There were even reports of the Burmese army using monks as human shields.

Read the Human Rights Watch release: Burma: Army Committing Abuses in Kachin State.

Read the report from the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand: Burma's Covered up War: Atrocities Against The Kachin People

Read the briefer from Altsean-Burma: Serious International Crimes Continue in Burma in Burma Under ‘New’ Regime.

Stay up to date on conflict and human rights abuses in Burma by going here.

Renewed fighting in Kachin State has meant renewed abuses by the Burmese army against Kachin villagers. Tens of thousands of people have fled through the mountains and jungle at the height of the rainy season, driven away by fear of army attacks.

- Elaine Pearson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.

Derek Mitchell’s Trip to Burma

U.S. Special Representative and Policy Coordinator on Burma Derek Mitchell visited Burma and Thailand in mid-September. In a recent press conference, Ambassador Mitchell spoke about his candid conversations with regime officials about what needs to happen before the U.S. would lift sanctions. He continues to publically push for a release of political prisoners and an end to conflict and human rights abuses against ethnic minorities. He said how the U.S. is ready to respond positively if there is concrete democratic change in the country. He acknowledged the regime continues to commit human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and have not taken any positive steps to address this issue. Unfortunately, he has not spoken about any consequences the U.S. would impose if the regime continues its attacks against ethnic minority civilian populations.

Has the Myitsone Dam Really Been Stopped?

After a national groundswell of anger about the mega-dam being built at the confluence of the Irrawaddy River, President Thein Sein announced on September 30th that during his presidency the construction of the dam would be halted. The news of the postponement of the Myitsone Dam was largely welcomed in Burma, however, China who owns the project was vastly upset and threatened legal action. Recently, the Kachin Development Group released information that local Kachin villagers who live in the area of the construction have seen no stopping of construction activity. The Myitsone dam is not the only destructive development project being financed by foreign companies in partnership with the regime. Activists campaigning against the Shwe Gas Pipeline and other dams are demanding these projects are stopped as well.

Read USCB’s Executive Director, Aung Din’s article about the problems and propaganda surrounding the Myitsone dam: Dam Lies and Statistics

Read the release from Kachin Development Networking Group: Fear and uncertainty remain for villagers at Myitsone dam site

Commemoration of Saffron Revolution Anniversary

September marked the 4th anniversary of the Saffron Revolution. Events were held in Rangoon as well as around the world. Despite the heavy police presence that eventually stopped them, activists in Rangoon marched saying prayers of loving kindness. For the anniversary, U.S. Campaign for Burma delivered 13,000 petition signatures calling on the Obama Administration to show global leadership to bring justice to the countless victims of the regime’s violence in Burma.

Other Important News/Reports

Committee to Protect Journalists: “In Burma, transition neglects press freedom” – September 20

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