By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| Saturday, September 5, 2015 |
KALE TOWNSHIP, Sagaing Division — After a month living in a cramped hut, San Htay still has no idea where she will ultimately end up. This much she does know: It is unlikely that she and her husband will ever return to live in the village they were forced to abandon when floodwaters ravaged western Kale Township, Sagaing Division, several weeks ago.

When The Irrawaddy met the 45-year-old, she was returning from a salvage mission, walking back from her native Maw Lite village with household possessions in both arms, and balanced precariously atop her head.

Asked what her future holds, San Htay’s answer was resignedly simple: “I have no clear future.”

That’s true for many of the 385,000 households displaced nationwide by severe flooding that began in mid-July and has since affected 12 of Burma’s 14 states and divisions.

For now, San Htay said she would wait and see what kind of land the government would provide for those without the monetary means to take an initial offer put to displaced residents of Kale Township.

“They [authorities in Kale] told us we have to deposit at least 250,000 kyats [US$195] to get a small plot of land to stay on, but those who have money have to pay 500,000 [kyats] all at once, up front. But I do not have money, and so I have not enrolled to deposit money,” she said.

For many victims of the high waters here, the uncertainty is not just about finding a new place to live. Along with homes, paddy fields have been inundated, and with this an economic engine for the region and vital source of livelihoods has been imperiled.

More than 300 households in Maw Lite village have been abandoned, with a lack of potable water and an all-covering residual mud keeping its former inhabitants away for the time being—and maybe for good.

Though it was a stretch for him financially, 68-year-old Tin Win said he had already paid the 500,000 kyats required of some to get a small plot of land to stay on.

“I can’t really afford it, but I have to think about my children’s future. So, I paid it,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Like San Htay, Tin Win returned to Maw Lite village, joining a humanitarian aid convoy from Rangoon that was delivering supplies to the region. Visiting his abandoned home, Tin Win said the scene was without personal precedent.

“Our grandfather was 90 years old, and died in that house,” he said. “As I remember it, even he had never had such a terrible experience as we are having now.”

As the waters swiftly inundated Maw Lite, Tin Win had little time to gather his belongings before fleeing to higher ground. With waters rising above the entryway, Tin Win was forced to punch a hole through his roof to retrieve spare clothes.

“I lost 600 baskets of [rice] paddy,” he said, pointing his finger toward the storehouse where the rotting rice remained.

Moving Day

About 150 families from neighboring Pauk Khaung village who have been staying in a temporary camp at the entrance of Kale town will soon be relocated, according to those displaced.

They too have lived for a month along the main road at the entrance of Kale, their village also hard-hit by the flooding. But rather than to offer the displaced greater certainty, it is safety that has prompted authorities to instruct the families to move; three children have been involved in car accidents since the roadside settlement was established.

“It is not safe for us to stay along the road. This is why they told us to relocate to another place,” said San Yee, a woman from Paung Khaung who has been staying along the highway in what amounts to a wall-less raised platform covered by tarpaulin.

“Cars are trying to avoid having accidents, but there are many kids here,” she added.

Pauk Khaung village was decimated by the flood, and as is a common refrain in Kale, the villagers still do not know when they might return to their homes. The authorities in Kale have hired locals to help resettle the roadside camp at a football field in Tharyarwaddy village, a 20-minute drive from the town of Kale.

The UN said last week that more than $75 million would be required through December to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the floods. For many in Kale Township and elsewhere, foremost on their Maslowian list of unmet needs is a place to call home.

A house that fell victim to landslides in August demonstrates the compound effect of Chin State’s unique natural disasters. Photo: SuppliedA house that fell victim to landslides in August demonstrates the compound effect of Chin State’s unique natural disasters. Photo: Supplied

By Peter Brimble and Nyi Nyi Aung   |   Monday, 07 September 2015

Mountain ranges across Chin State offer stunning scenery but also contribute to frequent landslides. Chin State is the poorest region in Myanmar, and frequent natural disasters prevent the 500,000 Chin people from fully enjoying government and development partner efforts to lift them out of poverty. Making matters worse were the heavy monsoon rains in July and August that lashed the state and generated devastating landslides.

Recently, the joint World Food Programme/ADB Myanmar team travelled to the Western part of Myanmar to observe first-hand the damage and impacts of the unprecedented floods and landslides. Chin State has been declared one of the four disaster zones that were severely affected by the recent extreme weather. In Chin State over 20,000 people were fully displaced and more than 3800 houses were destroyed.

The team departed Kalay in Sa-gaing State – itself badly affected by rains and flooding – on August 29 to travel along the winding mountain road to Hakha, the picturesque capital of Chin State. The original plan had been to return on the road to the south via Gangaw, but this critical access road had been blocked by landslides for several weeks already.

Early in the 13-hour trip, it became clear that road access – on both major and minor roads – has been seriously disrupted and remains highly vulnerable, especially to the heavy rains that Chin State normally experiences each September to October. The main road from Kalay to Hakha, along with its buildings perched on stilts high above the valleys, has been transformed by the extreme weather conditions and is barely passable in places. Some road sections have been completely washed away, requiring construction of temporary bypasses, and many more segments have been partially damaged or covered in mud. Bridges have been substantially destroyed, and water flowing over many sections steadily washes away the road material. Large numbers of village access roads have been either damaged by floods or completed obliterated by landslides.

A key takeaway from our visit was that the nature of the damage triggered by the heavy rains and compounded by the resulting landslides and earthquake effects is different in nature from that of the flash floods and river overflows in other affected areas. Damage to villages and buildings tends to be complete, so most affected people have no household to return to – and in many cases, no land plot either. This means that many displaced people will spend extended periods in public buildings or temporary camps, and require ongoing food supplies as livelihoods will take longer to reestablish.

After the long day on damaged single-lane roads, we arrived in Hakha after sunset, as the moon rose over the hillside capital and the household lights twinkled into the distance. It was not until the harsh light of day that we were able to view the dramatic damage – including an area very close to our guest house where a number of commercial buildings had completely collapsed. Above the older section of the town, a major landslide flowed through a large water reservoir and destroyed most of the old city lying below, which now stands largely deserted. Even in areas where landslides did not directly reach, the earthquake-like land-shaking effects severely damaged many roads and buildings, including schools and churches.

A house that fell victim to landslides in August demonstrates the compound effect of Chin State’s unique natural disasters. Photo: SuppliedA house that fell victim to landslides in August demonstrates the compound effect of Chin State’s unique natural disasters. Photo: Supplied

A house that fell victim to landslides in August demonstrates the compound effect of Chin State’s unique natural disasters. Photo: Supplied

On the positive side, one noticeable feature of the disaster response to date has been the rapid and effective measures taken by the government and civil society, as well as the highly visible resilience shown by affected persons. The night before we arrived in Kalay on August 28, two villages across the Chin border were completely destroyed by a nighttime landslide. Fortunately no one was hurt, as a monk heard the approaching menace. Within the day, all residents from the 65 destroyed households were relocated to a tent camp some distance away and supplied with emergency food and water by WFP, with UNICEF providing child-friendly facilities.

And large numbers of heavy earth moving equipment have been deployed along the main connection between Kale and Hakha and have succeeded in keeping the road open in the face of numerous landslides.

During our short stay in Hakha, the UNICEF’s head of office in Chin State kindly hosted a dinner with other development partners. It became very clear that donor involvement in Chin State is very limited, and that information on the extent of the damage has not spread widely.

Before setting off for the 12-hour drive back to Kalay, we had a meeting with the Chin State minister and his cabinet, and were again impressed by the professionalism with which the disaster response has been handled. He stressed the tremendous ongoing needs for food, especially for those destined for long stays in the camps, and for road reconstruction to ensure continued access and to consolidate the temporary emergency repairs.

In sum, the key message that we take away from our mission is that the disaster damage in Chin State appears much more serious than expected or perceived by the government and aid agencies. A major landslide could cut the state’s only remaining lifeline from Kale to Hakha for many weeks. In view of all this, the isolated and poor mountainous state deserves more attention and support in this time of serious need.

Peter Brimble and Nyi Nyi Aung are deputy country director and external relations officer at ADB Myanmar.


Myanmar said on Tuesday it had appealed for international assistance to help provide food, temporary shelter and clothing for more than 210,000 people affected by widespread flooding following weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

At least 47 people have died in the floods, according to the government.

Myanmar’s call for international aid stands in sharp contrast to stance taken when it was ruled by generals. The junta had refused outside help in the wake of a devastating cyclone in 2008, when 130,000 people perished in the disaster.

While the quasi civilian government, which took power in 2011 and faces elections in November, is leading the relief effort, but the military is handling operations on the ground.

“We are cooperating and inviting international assistance. We have started contacting possible donor organizations and countries,” Ye Htut, the Minister of Information and spokesman for the President’s Office said.

He said international assistance was also needed to relocate people and rebuild communities after the flood waters retreat. With a per capita GDP of $1,105, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in East Asia and the Pacific.

The Chinese Embassy in Yangon began providing relief supplies to stricken areas this week.

The minister said that the flood waters have begun to recede in Rakhine state on the west coast, which suffered some of the worst flooding after being lashed by the tail of Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh late last week.

Areas northeast of the Rakhine state capital, Sittwe, including Mrauk U and Minbya, were particularly hard hit.

Video footage shot by Reuters on Monday aboard a military helicopter in Rakhine showed hundreds of people rushing through muddy flood waters to collect air dropped supplies.

Rakhine is home to around 140,000 displaced people, mainly Rohingya Muslims who live in squalid camps scattered across the state.

Emergency workers were still facing difficulties in Chin State on Tuesday after the rain caused landslides in the mountainous state that borders India and Bangladesh.

Main roads running through the state remained impassible and attempts to access cities by helicopter were hampered by the relentless downpours, Ye Htut said.

The state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, citing the Ministry of Education, said that more than 1,300 schools across the country had been shuttered due to the floods.

Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament, has also postponed the reconvening of parliament scheduled for Aug. 10, in what will be the final session before the country heads to the polls on Nov. 8.

Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland have been inundated by the floods, with the U.N. warning that this could, “disrupt the planting season and impact long-term food security.”

The Global New Light reported that the Myanmar Rice Federation would halt exports until mid-September in an effort to stabilize domestic rice prices and keep rice in country.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Scene of flood devastation in Paletwa. (PHOTO: Mary Lin)

By SHWE AUNG 2 August 2015

Thousands of local people in Hakha, Tiddim, Falam, Paletwa and Matupi townships in Chin State are facing severe food shortages following mass disruptions to transport due to landslides and floods in the region.

The leaders of ten ethnic Chin-based political parties have signed and sent a letter to President Thein Sein, urging him to order airlifts of emergency food aid to those affected areas.

Speaking to DVB by telephone on Sunday, the vice-chairman of the Chin Progressive Party, No Htan Kap, said, “Landslides [in this region] are not unusual. But now, water is cascading from the mountains. Floods are thigh-high, and the current is carrying rocks so it is too dangerous to go outside. Many roads have been cut off. If food is not sent in by helicopter, many people will have big problems.”

Flash floods and landslides have caused about 50 houses to collapse in the last few days in state capital Hakha.

The Chinland Guardian has reported that 100 houses were submerged by high floodwaters in Paletwa Township, while at least ten homes were destroyed by landslides in Matupi Township,

Meanwhile, the price of commodities, such as rice, oil, eggs and other staple foods, has increased exponentially at local markets.

Since Friday, helicopters have been dispatched from Naypyidaw airport to transport supplies to the towns of Mrauk-U and Minbya, the worst hit areas in Arakan State.

Saturday, 01 August 2015 17:15 Written by Chinland Guardian

Published in Chin News

01 August 2015 — Burma’s government has been urged to take immediate action to provide humanitarian assistance to disaster-hit victims in Chin State and other parts of the country. The Chin National Front and the Chin Human Rights Organization called on the State and Union governments to ‘quickly and meaningfully respond to the disaster’.

In a statement released today, they said that the government should allow ‘unfettered access for local and international aid organizations’ to provide effective relief and rehabilitation for thousands of victims.

During an emergency meeting convened in Rangoon today, the two parties formed the ‘International Chin Humanitarian Information Network (iCHIN)’ to raise awareness of humanitarian issues facing the Chin people in Burma.

It also aims to collect data on damage caused by heavy landslides and floods in Chin State, and parts of Sagaing and Magwe Regions and Arakan State.

Meanwhile, eight Chin political parties and other civil society groups wrote a letter to President Thein Sein today, requesting timely food supplies to be provided by helicopter to victims.

The groups indicated that the victims in Chin State had been in a very difficult situation as landslides and flash floods had destroyed roads and bridges.

Thousands of people are being displaced and left homeless by the unprecedented level of continuous heavy rains causing landslides, mudslides and floods.

Friday, 31 July 2015 16:28 Written by Chinland Guardian
Published in Chin News

31 July 2015 — About 1,000 families have evacuated their houses in Hakha, Chin State as flash floods and landslides continue following continuous heavy rains. It is estimated that about 7,00 buildings, including government offices, schools and private houses, have been left empty as they are in danger of collapse.

Salai Thawng, a Hakha resident, said: “Rains continue and an increasing number of houses are being destroyed or getting unsafe for families to live as there are cracks on the ground.”

The victims, estimated to be more than 2,500, are now being sheltered temporarily at churches and halls.

Mai Sui, from Hakha, told the Chinland Guardian: “Victims from nearby villages such as Khuabe, Beute and Hniarlawn are also fleeing to Hakha as their places are severely affected.”

“They walked on foot in the rain without eating anything on the way. I saw some children completely wet and feeling cold. They said they hadn’t had any food for nearly two days. It’s very heart-breaking,” she added.

According to sources, at least two wards in Hakha – Khuahlun and Dawrhlun – have been completely deserted.

“We are in a very dangerous situation. Hakha is now being cut off from all corners as the roads are swept away. Shops have run out of stock including rice, oil and other stuff. If this continues for another few days, we all will run out of food,” said Thawng.

Community leaders said that they had not got the exact number of victims and damage but it was likely to increase.

By Richard Potter

July 22, 2015

In the very early morning of March 29 the Myanmar Army was caught off-guard when it was assaulted and overrun in two separate locations: Kyauk Taw, in northern Rakhine State, and Paletwa, slightly north of Kyauk Taw in neighboring Chin State. In Kyauk Taw, two soldiers were killed, and two were taken prisoner, according to the Arakan Information Network, as quoted by The Irrawaddy. In Paletwa, a captain was killed, a private was injured, and two soldiers were taken prisoner according to the Chin Human Rights Organization. In both instances the assailants appeared to escape without serious casualties. As surprising as the assault was, more surprising was the group behind it: a relatively obscure militia called the Arakan Army, using the former name of Rakhine State. This group had previously only been known for operating in the country’s northern Kachin and Shan States, mostly in a supportive position of the much better known Kachin Independence Army. In a single carefully coordinated attack, though, the Arakan Army has gone from obscurity to prominence.

The commander of the Arakan Army, Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing is younger than his contemporaries of the other ethnic armed groups in the country, but is shrewd, passionate, and well spoken. Regarding his militia being outnumbered and outgunned in Rakhine State, he told The Diplomat, “Revolution is to resist a more powerful enemy, a better equipped army – this is how we have to manage to fight for our freedom, to liberate oppressed people.” Utilizing a smaller army requires flexibility. “Guerrilla tactics are good for saving your manpower and firepower and direct contact when you are sure you will win. It just depends.” The quick appearances of Tun Myat Naing’s men and their equally quick disappearances after fighting underscores their versatility. Their raids on the Myanmar Army so far have involved overrunning positions, seizing weapons and equipment, and disappearing back into the jungle, leaving the Myanmar military scrambling to respond.


The Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s Armed Forces are known, has conducted raids and arrested a number of Rakhine citizens it says are suspected of being associated with the Arakan Army. At least 31 have been formally charged, but Tun Myat Naing says far more have suffered as a result, “Many villagers were taken into the sun, and they kept them there the whole day. Their food was taken by the army. People were treated badly, beaten and tied up, hanging under trees. A village was completely burnt down by some Burmese soldiers, we heard from the villagers. They told the villagers they had to follow the orders to burn down the villages.” Reports from independent sources have corroborated accounts of collective punishment against Rakhine villagers in and around Kyauk Taw, where 450 people have been displaced by continued clashes, most notably a blockade of food or aid. Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing said that transportation routes into the city had been blocked off, and that coupled with flooding from heavy rains, which washed away most everything they owned, has left many families in complete desolation. According to the general these people have been denied status as internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the local and central government, and none of the many aid agencies or government agencies in the state have taken steps to help what he estimates to be more than 5,000 people affected by the conflict and blockade of Kyauk Taw and the dozens of smaller villages nearby.

The fighting between Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army has also had severe repercussions in Paletwa, in bordering Chin State, where both sides were accused in a recent report of committing severe human rights abuses. According to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) the Tatmadaw forcibly recruited two child soldiers from the township, as well as one adult about a month before the fighting began. The CHRO reports that on the evening of March 28, a force of 40 Arakan Army soldiers approached a Myanmar Army outpost outside of Paletwa, where eight soldiers were stationed. During the night and early into the following morning the CHRO says a total of 16 ethnic Chin villagers were detained by the Arakan Army, two escaped and alerted the villagers of the Arakan Army’s movement, which in turn alerted the Tatmadaw. Another villager named Ling Min was out hunting at this time, and has disappeared. The CHRO believes he was detained and was forced to work as a porter or guide, or that he was killed by the Arakan Army. The CHRO’s Rachel Fleming told The Diplomat, “We don’t know exactly what happened in (the case of) Ling Min, which is why there must be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him. Circumstantial evidence points to the Arakan Army, as they detained eight other villagers at the same spot, and ordered the villagers to perform forced labor. Also, the Burma Army soldiers were positioned in the village for the duration of the fighting, in sight of the villagers, so they do not believe that the Burma Army is responsible.”

Fleming described the fighting itself: “During the clashes, a Burma Army private was wounded, and escaped into the forest. A Burma Army captain was killed. Two other Burma Army soldiers were detained by the Arakan Army and the remaining four fled back to their headquarters in Paletwa.” The Arakan Army had effective control over the village, overwhelming the small force stationed there. It was at this point, according to the CHRO, that the Arakan Army forced villagers to dig a grave and bury the dead captain. Afterward they say 10 villagers were forced to carry what the Arakan Army had seized from the Myanmar Army to the Bangladesh border, at which point they were released.

Tun Myat Naing denies these allegations, “They accused us of taking porters, taking the villagers as guides, but these are false accusations. We have to respond to these accusations.”

Land Mines

As a result of the fighting much of the village was destroyed, and both sides have been accused by the CHRO of laying land mines around the village. More than 350 people have been displaced and are in need of humanitarian aid. The CHRO reports that efforts have been made by the Tatmadaw to pressure the displaced villagers to return home against their will at a time it continues to be unsafe there. Tun Myat Naing places the blame for this on the Tatmadaw. “We do not station [fighters] in their (Chin) villages. We try to avoid confrontations near villages as much as possible.” His assertions are supported by reports from CHRO that clashes continue in the area, but outside the villages. The general also noted similar tactics used by the Tatmadaw in Rakhine State, “They deployed two divisions in the northern part of Arakan State, and after our confrontation a week ago they sent troops to the far north, closer to the border, with more land mines, which is very dangerous for the villagers, and for their livestock.”

According to the CHRO, the child soldiers were released by the Tatmadaw after significant legal and political pressure was placed on the government, but the adult villager forcibly recruited is believed to still be in custody, presumably in military training. According to a press release by the Arakan Army, two of the soldiers they kept prisoner were released to the Bangladesh Red Cross, and are expected to be transferred by the Bangladesh Border Guard back to Myanmar.

The Diplomat contacted the spokesperson for Myanmar President Thein Sein, as well as the Ministry of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Home Affairs. All declined to comment regarding these events and accusations, originally referring inquiries to each other before finally deferring to the Ministry of Defense, which was unavailable for comment.

Around the time of the clashes in Rakhine State, heavy fighting broke out in the country’s semi-autonomous Kokang Region on the Chinese border, and clashes intensified between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army. It is not unreasonable to infer that these events were coordinated, and Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing implies as much. “It could be coincidence. When people view the whole structure they think we try to synchronize, and of course we have to synchronize to defeat or hurt the enemy.” His official reluctance to disclose what seems to be an obvious and calculated effort by Ethnic Armed Groups comes with some light laughter, but he did convey the genuine need of such coordination by ethnic forces. “We need to have even more timely synchronized actions. If all the Burmese ethnic forces move that way, I am sure the central government will be pressured to negotiate and they will think they will come to the table faster. They will become more flexible if they have military pressure from all directions at the same time.” In this way the aspirations of the Arakan Army are also the aspirations of the oppressed and marginalized in each of the ethnic regions of the country, and an attempt to unify what is largely divided and fractured. Under a government often thought to control through divide and conquer the means of reversal become apparent.

The Arakan Army says at least ten clashes have taken place since fighting initially began, but the pace has slowed with the onset of the monsoon season. The strategy for them now, General Tun Myat Naing says, is to observe movements of the Tatmadaw, and plan their next moves accordingly. Meanwhile, there is a separate front for the Arakan Army, the political one. While the Arakan Army previously made it a point to avoid politics, this is changing as it grows. “Eventually we decided to start a political wing of our own, because we have our fundamental principle and political agenda. The military objective is to support our political ambitions. We have to have the right to self determination, and to form a genuine federal union where Arakan people can determine their own destiny with their own decisions. We need to fight for that. We will make our national movement to achieve this objective.”

Lonely Fight

The fight, both political and military, seems to be a lonely one for the Arakan Army. While it has many allies in the north of the country, it operates alone in its home state. Local political groups are legally banned from associating with it, and Rakhine State’s other armed group, the Arakan Liberation Army, has not responded to the Arakan Army’s attempts to reach out, according to Tun Myat Naing, likely because of the Arakan Liberation Party’s ceasefire with the central government, and its role in the ongoing ceasefire negotiations between several of the country’s armed groups and the Myanmar government.

Speaking on the ceasefire talks, Tun Myat Naing is skeptical. “Of course we want to solve the problem through dialogue, but we can see the attitude of the central government – they are not that sincere. So this could be a waste of time, scrambling over the table while already two years have passed by and nothing fruitful or beneficial or concrete has come out yet. The ceasefire is like a divide tactic.”

Regarding the well publicized riots and continued tensions between Rakhine State’s ethnic Rakhine majority and Stateless Rohingya minority, which have resulted in over 140,000 people displaced from their homes and nearly 200 recorded deaths, Tun Myat Naing suspects much of the conflict is a distraction. “We should not make blind accusations to political (actors) without evidence, but if we look beyond these clashes we can see who benefits from this problem. It is obvious. When we had that clash, the Arakanese people lost a lot, the Bengali [a controversial term for the Rohingya, implying they are foreign) people lost their homes and everything. We both hurt. But someone – they achieved their plan. They realized their plan with no one to thwart it. This is one [piece of] evidence. Another that you could see is when the people were fighting each other, if [the authorities] wanted to stop it they could have earlier. They didn’t have to be watching from the distance. So it could be a guiding hand to manipulate the fight of the local people who don’t benefit.” For now, there is deep resentment between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities, and in other ethnic regions in the country political and armed groups have often been manipulated against each other, weakening their military capabilities, and often causing them to lose control of their natural resources.

The coming year will be one of great potential for Myanmar, and one of inevitable change for better or worse. With elections officially scheduled for November 8, challenges to the current constitution, student activists increasingly challenging the status quo, and a resurgence of conflict in several of the ethnic regions, the country is undoubtedly on the cusp of something big. Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing emphasizes the role he hopes the Arakan Army and the other ethnic armed groups might play, “May 2015 to May 2016 is a big period. Now it is July. This time spent, this one year, will bring back a sort of change in this country, we pray. I wish to change this for the better.”

Richard Potter is a writer and social worker from Pittsburgh. His has previously written for Vice, The Mantle, Your Middle East News, and other publications, covering the Middle East and Myanmar.

By YEN SNAING / THE IRRAWADDY| Tuesday, July 21, 2015 |

RANGOON — A coalition of 24 indigenous rights organizations is planning to make a submission on the situation of indigenous communities in Burma when the country is reviewed at the 23rd session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group in Geneva, Switzerland, in November.

The group, called the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar/Burma, has catalogued a raft of issues that indigenous peoples are facing in Burma, including lack of access to land and resources and the impact of destructive development projects on local livelihoods.

“Burma’s 2008 Constitution makes no mention of indigenous peoples, their collective rights, or customary land use practices in indigenous peoples’ territories,” the coalition said in a factsheet released at a press conference on Tuesday.

“The lack of recognition [in the Constitution] of the people’s right to own land directly contradicts with the basic principle that the State’s power is derived from its citizens.”

The coalition said the current draft national land use policy gives special privileges to business investors that could lead to more land grabs in the country and is vague regarding the land use rights of ethnic nationalities.

The group called for amendments to the national land use policy and other legislation to ensure they accommodate “the collective rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, territories, and natural resources, including customary land use practices with regard to forests, rivers, and other land, as well as agricultural land.”

Min Than Oo, director of the Mon Multimedia Institute, said land seizures had particularly impacted ethnic nationalities in Burma, a trend that has continued to the present day.

“Since 1995, more than 18,000 acres of land have been grabbed by the Burma Army in Mon State until as recently as December 2014,” he said.

The lands of ethnic minorities have often been confiscated in connection with large infrastructure, plantation and extractive industry projects. The right to free, prior and informed consent is seldom upheld and impact assessments are often opaque or not carried out at all.

“Foreign investors are promoting harmful development projects—such as mega hydro-powered and coal-fired electricity generation projects—in conflict areas without conducting [impact assessments],” the group said.

Naw Ei Ei Min, executive director of POINT, an organization promoting indigenous peoples rights and environmental awareness, expressed concern that, with protracted negotiations over a nationwide ceasefire ongoing, indigenous rights will remain up in the air.

“We still can’t see sustained peace [and] we have no idea how ethnic rights will be granted and to what extent,” she said.

The coalition on Tuesday also addressed the issue of preserving ethnic languages long suppressed under decades of enforced monolingual education under military rule.

Mann Win Maung, joint-secretary of the Pantanaw literature and cultural committee in Irrawaddy Division, said Karen language and literature in the division had been slowly disappearing since 1962.

He said the concession to allow ethnic languages to be taught outside of normal school hours, with no budgetary support, was “not effective,” and worried that the decline in Karen-language literacy could erode their sense of Karen identity.

The group recommended that the Burmese government “provide the teaching of indigenous peoples’ languages in the national curriculum… and to allocate sufficient national budget for effective implementation.”

The Burmese government officially recognizes 135 “national races” in Burma that are considered taing yin tha—translated as “indigenous” peoples.

But the coalition contends that these ethnic categories are too broad and do not reflect the rich diversity of Burma’s indigenous peoples.

The group called on the UN special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “to provide expertise and to assist in facilitating a national-level dialogue with the aim of identifying and recognizing indigenous peoples in Myanmar, based on the international concept of indigenous peoples.”

The UPR process reviews all UN member states’ compliance with their human rights obligations. Burma’s last review took place in 2011.

Written by Chinland Guardian
Published in Interviews

24 June 2015 — Ling Min, a Khumi Chin from Pyin So village where the Burma Army and the Arakan Army clashed, has been missing since late March and it is alleged that he might have been abducted. Regarding his disappearance, the Chinland Guardian interviews Rachel Fleming, CHRO’s Advocacy Director.

Chinland Guardian: Why are the Arakan Army fighting in Chin State?
Rachel Fleming: In a Reuters media interview, General Nyunt Htun Aung, the second in command of the Arakan Army, said that the AA opened up a new Western front as a way of putting pressure on the government to include it among ethnic armed groups engaged in peace talks. [Source:] Hardline Arakan nationalists would like to claim Paletwa to be part of Arakan State, even though the majority of the population self-identify as Khumi and Mara Chin.

Chinland Guardian: Aren’t these very serious allegations you are making against the Arakan Army?
Rachel Fleming: We have documented evidence of serious human rights abuses committed by both parties to this conflict. The Arakan Army detained Khumi Chin civilians, and ordered them to perform forced labour, including digging a grave and burying the dead body of a Burma Army Captain. At the same time, we also documented human rights violations by the Burma Army in the lead-up to the conflict, including the recruitment of child soldiers and also forced recruitment, which is a form of forced labour. Ordinary Khumi Chin civilians are the ones bearing the brunt of this conflict.

Chinland Guardian: What happened to Ling Min, who you allege may have been abducted by the Arakan Army?
Rachel Fleming: We don’t know exactly, which is why there must be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him. Circumstantial evidence points to the Arakan Army, as they detained 8 other villagers at the same spot, and ordered other villagers to perform forced labour. Also, the Burma Army soldiers were positioned in the village for the duration of the fighting, in sight of the villagers, so they do not believe that the Burma Army is responsible. If the Arakan Army are holding Ling Min, they should release him immediately. Under international humanitarian law, each party to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict, and to provide their family members with information it has on their fate.

Chinland Guardian: Who should investigate his disappearance?
Rachel Fleming: As a first step, the police should launch a search for Ling Min. There also needs to be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him. In the first instance, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission should do this, in accordance with best practice guidelines produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross. [Source: Best practice guidelines are outlined by the International Committee for the Red Cross in The Missing and Their Families: Action to resolve the problem of people unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence and to assist their families, December 2003, ICRC, ref: 03/IC/10] That includes making sure that his family are kept fully informed at every step of the way. They have a right to know what happened to him.

Chinland Guardian: There has been criticism of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission in the past. Are they up to the job of investigating?
Rachel Fleming: We are well aware of the limitations of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, and have called for the enabling legislation to be amended, in order for the Commission to operate independently, impartially, and effectively. However, in this case we believe that an investigation by the MNHRC would be better than one conducted by the Burma Army, as they are a party to the conflict.

Chinland Guardian: What should the Arakan Army do?
Rachel Fleming: As a party to the conflict, the Arakan Army has legal obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law. Arbitrary detention, abusive forced labour, and enforced disappearance are expressly prohibited under international humanitarian law. If the Arakan Army are holding Ling Min, they should release him immediately. The AA should investigate these alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice in open civilian court, regardless of rank or position. We are also calling on the AA to sign and implement the Geneva Call deeds of commitment, including banning the use of anti-personnel landmines.

Note: The other deeds of commitment cover protecting children in armed conflict, and prohibiting sexual violence and gender discrimination.

Chinland Guardian: Has the government of Chin State taken any action regarding the conflict, and help for the victims?
Rachel Fleming: Chin State Minister for Forestry and Mining U Kyaw Nyein delivered 4 million kyats in assistance to the IDPs, but that has run out already. U Kyaw Nyein promised the IDPs that the State government will take action to help them go back peacefully. But to date, nothing has been done to ensure the IDPs’ safety. Kyaw Nyein urged the IDPs to return to Pyin So soon. The IDPs have also faced pressure to return from Paletwa Township Administration Officer Han Win Aung. He told the IDPs, “If you don’t go back very soon, your villages will be expelled from Kyway village tract and you will have problems regarding your National Registration Cards and family registration documents under the department of home affairs and immigration.” He warned the villagers that would be a particular problem for them, in light of the upcoming elections. Such threats and pressure breaches international standards on the treatment of displaced persons, including those provided by the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Chinland Guardian: Ling Min’s family as well as the villagers must be deeply affected by his disappearance.
Rachel Fleming: Ling Min’s disappearance has caused huge anguish to his family and to the Pyin So community as a whole. We are calling on the police to launch a search for him. There also needs to be an independent, impartial investigation to determine what happened to him, and his family must be kept fully informed at every step of the way. They have a right to know what happened to him. Those responsible must also be held accountable.

Another practical way we can help the family and the community as a whole is to support them with their immediate and longer-term needs. They need food, medical care, and medicines. In the longer term the IDPs are very concerned about their children’s education and have already started to construct a school out of bamboo in the IDP camp. But they have no teachers.

Written by Chinland Guardian
Published in National

23 June 2015 — Stones were thrown at a building in which a Chin Christian pastor and his family live in Yesagyo town, Magwe Region.

Chin pastor Rev. Zun Hlei Sum said that his building had been attacked with stones at around 9:50pm and 11:10pm on Saturday and around 9:35pm last night.

He said that he had not known who the attackers were but he believed their action had to be in connection with the court case last year.

In May 2014, the Yesagyo Township Criminal Court had dropped the charges against the Chin pastor who was accused of illegally constructing a religious building in his compound.

Sum said that the building had also been stoned soon after the end of the court case last year.

“As we are preparing for a Christian meeting at the building next week, this happens. I am not sure if it is related or not. But parts of our compound fence and roof are destroyed,” Sum said.

“They also entered our compound secretly early in the morning and damaged our chairs with stones, which were wrapped in cloths in order to make less noise,” Sum added.

He said that he had reported the incident to the Yesagyo police, adding: “They told me that they would come but they haven’t turned up so far.”

“We don’t want this to happen again. This has got to be stopped. We would like the authorities to take necessary action in association with community leaders,” Sum said.

To protect and promote human rights and democratic principles