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Three Latpadaung villagers protest against the continuation of the copper mine project by lying in front of a bulldozer, 22 December 2014. (PHOTO: Han Win Aung)

By Naw Noreen 
December 22, 2014

A 50-year-old local woman was killed and at least four other villagers seriously wounded after protestors clashed with riot police near the site of Latpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division on Monday afternoon.

A resident from Sete village, situated inside the mining project site, said Myanmar Wanbao company staff arrived with police security on Monday morning to lay fences across land plots that villagers have refused to give up [by not accepting compensation].

“The police stood in a line, armed with riot shields, and warned the villagers they would be shot if they did not move,” said the Sete villager. “The protestors tried to block them from entering the plots and refused to give in.

“The police killed a woman named Khin Win from Mogyopyin village. She was shot in the head,” he said.

DVB has learnt that protestors had launched stones from slingshots at the police and that the security forces had responded in kind before shots were fired.

Khin San Hlaing, a union parliament MP from nearby Pale Township, said she was informed by locals that Khin Win was shot dead by police.

“I was told by the villagers that Daw Khin Win was shot in the head when the police opened fire. The photos we received showed a bullet wound entering her forehead and exiting through the back of her head,” she told DVB by telephone at 3:30pm local time.

“Her body was still lying in the sesame field and no one had the courage to go pick it up,” the MP added. “We were also informed that another villager, U Hmine, from Mogyopyin village was shot in the thigh and was bleeding out. But he was yet to be taken to hospital.”

She added that a third villager, a woman named Ma Kyu, was injured in the eye.

Pho La Pyae, a resident from Mogyopyin village, said around 200 farmers from Myogyopyin, Sete and Tonywa villagers had confronted the police that morning and prevented them from coming onto their land. He said that 20 people were injured by police gunfire.

So far, no government official, police spokesperson or representative of Myanmar Wanbao has made an official statement.

Zaw Myo Nyunt, the administrator of nearby Yinmarbin village, told DVB by phone about an hour after the incident that he was unaware of any violence.

A DVB reporter at the scene said the protestors were dispersed from the area at around 4pm, whereby mining staff resumed erecting fences around the 1,000 acres of land in question.

The incident follows an official press release on 22 December by Myanmar Wanbao, a joint venture between military-backed Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings and China’s Wanbao Company. The company stated that it would soon commence work on an extended area of land allotted by the Burmese government for use in the copper mine project.

“Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited is pleased to announce that, under the direction of the Myanmar Government, the company will be extending its working area in the Letpadaung copper project to comply with requirements of its investment permit granted by the Myanmar Investment Commission. Construction is proceeding as a result of broad community support for the project.”

In addition to claiming that the project has the overwhelming backing of the local people, the firm went on to detail the amount it is has paid to villagers as compensation for assuming their land, and said that it has donated much money into the local community, as well as creating jobs and investing in local infrastructure.

Hundreds of local villagers and their supporters have been protesting the Latpadaung copper mine since its inception more than 10 years ago. Many have been displaced to make way for the project which was originally contracted to a Canadian firm, Ivanhoe Mines.

The controversial mine was temporarily suspended when activists and monks staged a mass sit-in protest in 2012. The protest was broken up brutally by riot police on 29 November that year when some 80 protestors were injured, including several Buddhist monks, many with horrific burns that experts have attributed to white phosphorous bombs.

A subsequent investigation headed by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi failed to pronounce anyone guilty for the violent crackdown, and to many villagers’ dismay, recommended to the government that the project be resumed.

President Thein Sein takes notes at a meeting with 63 political parties in Rangoon on March 29, 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

By Nyein Nyein
December 22, 2014

President Thein Sein has recommended that Burma’s temporary identity card holders, also known as “white card holders,” be allowed to vote in a proposed referendum on amendments to the 2008 military-drafted Constitution.

According to members of Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee, Thein Sein sent the constitutional referendum bill back to Parliament, including a written remark that white card holders should be granted the right to vote due to the fact that they were allowed to do so during the referendum to approve the Constitution in May 2008.

The president’s input, sent to the Union Parliament’s Joint Bill Committee last week, highlighted Article 11(a) under Chapter Five of the referendum bill, a draft of which was published in state newspapers on Nov. 26.

Article 11(a) of the bill reads: “All citizens, naturalized citizens, associate citizens and the temporary card-holders, who are 18 years old, has the right to vote on the referendum day and these people must be included in the voter lists.”

Ba Shein, a Joint Bill Committee member and Lower House lawmaker from the Arakan National Party, told The Irrawaddy that the committee would submit its recommendations to the Union Parliament, which will reconvene in the third week of January.

“I cannot say the decision of the committee on the president’s remark until it is shared in the upcoming parliamentary session,” said Ba Shein, who hinted at his personal position on the issue.

“Personally, I think political affairs are entirely the concern of citizens and not non-citizens,” said the Arakanese lawmaker.

Parliament has the power to vote down the president’s suggestion in its final approval.

Thein Sein’s comment marks a different approach to white card holders than he took on separate elections-related legislation in October, when the president shared the view of Parliament on a change to the Political Parties Registration Law, signing off on an amendment barring white card holders from forming political parties.

The vast majority of white cards holders—estimated to number some 850,000 in total—are Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State who the government classifies as “Bengalis” and largely denies citizenship. The cards were first issued in 1993, under the previous military junta. A majority of white card holders voted in favor of the 2008 Constitution and supported candidates from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in 2010.

Critics of the decision to allow white card holders to vote have accused the USDP of essentially buying votes through the cards’ issuance, in a region where there is strong support for Arakanese parties among the majority ethnic Arakanese constituencies.

Abu Tahay, a Rohingya leader who has been trying for two years to register his political party, the National Union Development Party, said Thein Sein’s recommendation reflected the president’s conception of an “all inclusive” national reform process.

“If the temporary card holders, whose existence in the country has been recognized, are not allowed to vote, it would be against to the voters’ rights enshrined in the 2008 Constitution,” he said.

Apart from the Political Parties Registration Law and the referendum bill put forward by Parliament, white cards holders currently retain the right to vote, as laid out in electoral laws at the Union and regional levels.

Several lawmakers said the president appeared to be backing the Union Election Commission. UEC member Myint Naing told Parliament last month that the right to vote should extend to the same populations that were given suffrage in the 2010 national election, given that there have been no changes to electoral laws in the interim.

Hla Maung Cho, the commission’s deputy director, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the process of compiling voter lists, which began last month, was being carried out in accordance with all relevant electoral laws.

Buddhist monks and other people protest against a visit to Myanmar by a high-level delegation from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in Yangon on Nov. 15, 2013. The OIC general secretary and other members were in the country to assess the situation of Rohingya Muslims. (Reuters Photo/Soe Zeya Tun)

By Jamil Maidan Flores
December 22, 2014

There are all sorts of silence. I remember the silence at night in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul when I was there a few years ago. The silence of holy places, the silence of contemplation, it was sublime.

There’s the comforting silence that binds one to a beloved because all the loving words have been said and there’s no need for more. In a world that can’t stop its chatter, this silence is precious, golden.

There’s the stony silence of the tyrant that says: I’m above dialogue. Just obey. There’s the practical silence of the timid that says: OK, I know when to shut up.

Then there’s the silence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. It’s a burden that she bears like an albatross on her neck. It consists of her inability to say one word, “Rohingya.”

For in all of Myanmar that word is taboo. All but a few brave ones observe the embargo. This is a way members of the Buddhist majority show contempt for a Muslim ethnic minority group in western Rakhine State that self-identifies as Rohingya.

There are as many as 1.1 million Rohingya. Scores have died in recent spates of ethno-religious violence. Some 100,000 have fled the country to escape persecution and deprivation of their rights to social services, health care, education and livelihood. As many as six generations of Rohingya have lived in Myanmar, yet they’re denied citizenship.

Instead of Rohingya, they’re called Bengali to pass them off as recent runaways from Bangladesh. They’re not welcome in Bangladesh. Nor anywhere else. They’re most unwelcome in the only country they’ve known, the country where they and their fathers were born.

Thus the taboo. It’s a way of telling the Rohingya: You don’t exist. You’ve no right to exist. And if you don’t conveniently disappear, we will make you cease to exist.

It takes courage to defy this taboo. No doubt, Aung San Suu Kyi is a courageous woman. For years she defied the repressive junta that once ruled Myanmar and she suffered stoically for her defiance. But strangely she doesn’t stand up to this taboo, this hoax of religious and ethnic prejudice, this sneaky execution of cold-blooded injustice. Nor does she meekly endure it. She embraces it.

She has been quoted as explaining: “I am not silent because of political calculation. I am silent because, whoever’s side I stand on, there will be more blood. If I speak up for human rights, [the Rohingya] will only suffer. There will be more blood.”

Lady, the surest guarantee that there will be more blood is your silence. For in cases like this, common sense interprets silence as consent. Acquiescence. The message you’re inadvertently sending is: It’s OK to exterminate the Rohingya.

Granted, if you do break your silence, there may still be more blood. But with the immense prestige of your Nobel Peace Prize, your heroic past and your illustrious bloodline, there’s a chance that breaking your silence will staunch the blood flow. Perhaps a small chance but real. If only for that, you’re under moral obligation to scream.

And, Lady, nobody is asking you to take new sides. As democracy icon, you’re supposed to be on the side of justice and human rights. You’re only being asked to stand where you’re supposed to have always been from the very beginning.

Your many new critics — some of them your admirers — say you’ve thrown away statesmanship to become a common politician. They have a point.

But your true supporters mustn’t give up on you. We must keep challenging your silence until one day soon, weary of its weight, you break it. Then you retrieve the moral compass you lost in the rough and tumble of local politics.

And maybe in all Myanmar the taboo will dissipate.

Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy.

RB News 
December 21, 2014 

Maungdaw, Arakan – A 72 year old Rohingya man was shot by Myanmar military soldier in Pa Din village in Maungdaw Township of Arakan State. 

Three military men from a battalion based in 3rd Mile in Maungdaw Township and seven police from Myanmar Border Guard Police based in Ma Gyi Chaung village entered Pa Din village on Sunday at 2 pm. The three military men were sitting at a shop owned by Nurul Ameen located north of Pa Din village administration office while at the same time seven police were roaming in the village. 

A military man suddenly opened fire on a 72 year old Rohingya man named Husson s/o Miah Husson while he was passing by the shop. The Rohingya man was not breaking any laws or provoking the soldier. According to localsthe military man shot him without any reason. The bullet hit the leg of the man and it passed nearly hitting a 5 year old child. Fortunately the child was safe. 

The military men took the injured Rohingya with their car but it is unknown to the villagers where they have taken him. 

Myanmar military and Border Guard Police (BGP) have been committing many crimes against humanity for many years in Northern Arakan. Although the union government led by President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw is well informed these crimes against humanity continue in Maungdaw district. It is clear that persecution on Rohingyas is state policy as they are complicit and allow it to continue.

RB News
December 21, 2014

For the sake of unity and to formulate a unified strategy, the Rohingya people living in different parts of Europe are organising a conference with all the Rohingya organisations and individuals living in Europe. The conference will not create any new organisation but will find the mechanism how existing organisations and individuals can sit and work together. The collective work will make the voice of Rohingyas stronger.

The conference will be held on 27th and 28th of December 2014 in Esbjerg, Denmark and will be hosted by the Burmese Rohingya Community in Denmark (BRCD). All the interested Rohingyas are invited to join the conference in the best interest of the suffering Rohingya people. 

The objectives of the conference are:

· To discuss Rohingya issues with all Rohingya organisations and individuals in Europe
· To strengthen friendship among the Rohingyas in Europe
· To draw action plan and to formulate campaigning strategy

The following persons can be contacted for further information.

1. Mv. Habib Pitar (Denmark) +45 27965356
2. Monowara Jamil (Denmark) +45 4225 4828
3. Sazzad Ahmed (Netherlands) + 31 615033663
4. Tun Khin (UK) +44 7888714866
5. Nay San Lwin (Germany) + 49 1796535213
6. Mv. Azizul Hoque (Switzerland) + 41 762982367
7. Sayed Hussein (Norway) + 47 95795575

RB News 
December 21, 2014 

Maungdaw, Arakan – Some Rohingyas from Yey Twin Pyin village of Northern Maungdaw Township in Arakan State were extorted of money by Myanmar’s Border Guard Police (BGP) on false accusation of browsing the internet with Bangladeshi mobile phone. 

On December 19th, Border Guard Police from zone (4), No. (10) Outpost arrested two Rohingyas named Molvi Noor Husson s/o Abu Bakkar (Age 28) and Mohammed Ayub s/o Amir Husson (Age 25) from Yey Twin Pyin village in Northern Maungdaw Township. Both of them were falsely accused of browsing the internet with a Bangladesh mobile phone. They were arrested at 8 pm and later released after being extorted of Kyat 450,000 from each person. 

Similarly three Rohingyas named Kamal s/o Zakir Ahmed (Age 18), Haroon s/o Hala Bawda (Age 28) and Mufiz s/o Dildar (Age 30) were also arrested for the same accusation. They are still in custody of BGP police. As is common they were tortured at the BGP outpost. The BGP police are demanding Kyat 450,000 from each person for release, according to locals. 

In Maungdaw district, even the officials, police, military and BGP police are using Bangladesh mobile phones, but the local Rohingyas are forbidden to do so and even though most of the Rohingyas use the SIM from Myanmar Telecom they are still often falsely accused by the authorities as pretext to extort money. Many Rohingyas in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Township are extorted daily basis on this accusation.

(Photo: Phuketwan)

December 21, 2014

PHATTHALUNG, Thailand — Nineteen Rohingya migrants were injured, 11 of them seriously, after a pickup truck veered off a slippery road in Khao Chaison district on Sunday morning. 

The group, reportedly including a few children, were going from Ranong to the Padang Besar border checkpoint in Songkhla province when the accident took place on a local road in Moo 1 village in tambon Koke Muang at 8am. It was raining at the time. 

Police said the unidentified Thai driver failed to negotiate a curve in the wet conditions. He lost control of the vehicle, causing it to crash into a roadside ditch and overturn. 

The driver fled the scene, leaving the injured Rohingya behind and unattended. They were later taken to Tamod and Khao Chai hospitals. 

Speaking through an interpreter, a Rohingya migrant told police the group had left Myanmar by boat for Thailand. They stayed overnight in a forest behind a military camp in Ranong province before setting out on their journey to the Padang Besar checkpointearly Sunday. They were supposed to travel to Malaysia from there. The Rohingya migrant said each of them paid a Thai middle man 60,000 baht. 

Chaison district police chief Pol Col Pon Wanna said police are now investigating the Myanmar minority Rohingya and trying to track down the driver who is believed to be a member of a human trafficking gang.

More than 50 journalists and their supporters were charged in July for protesting illegally after they attempted to take their calls for media freedom directly to Burmese President Thein Sein. (Photo: DVB)

By Colin Hinshelwood
December 20, 2014

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has identified 220 journalists imprisoned around the world in 2014, a slight increase from the year before.

The Burmese government is currently ranked as the eighth most repressive regime for jailing reporters; with ten media workers listed behind bars, it is surpassed only by China, Iran, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Egypt and Syria.

“The fact that Burma is among the ten worst global jailers of journalists underscores the abrupt reversal of President Thein Sein’s earlier press freedom promises. Reporters in Burma now face the same level of threat they did under the previous military junta,” said Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative for CPJ, speaking to DVB on Friday.

“With ten journalists now languishing behind bars, proponents of the country’s supposed democratic progress should wake up and take notice of the authoritarian reality that still governs the country. The use of anti-state charges to jail journalists has restored the culture of fear and self-censorship that was pervasive under the previous ruling junta.

“If Western governments based their decisions to lift or suspend sanctions on previous progress on press freedom, they should now consider reimposing those punitive measures in response to the jailing of journalists,” he added.

According to the report by the international journalists’ watchdog, on the date of the CPJ census, at least 10 journalists were imprisoned in Burma, officially known as Myanmar, all on anti-state charges.

“In July, five staff members of the Unity weekly news journal were sentenced to 10 years in prison each under the 1923 Official Secrets Act. Rather than reforming draconian and outdated security laws, President Thein Sein’s government is using the laws to imprison journalists,” the report by CPJ news editor Shazdeh Omari said.

The five were found guilty of exposing state secrets after a January report in Unity alleged the existence of a secret chemical weapons factory in Magwe Division, central Burma.

On 2 October, the regional court reduced the sentences of the five Unity personnel to seven years following an appeal.

In July, more than 50 journalists and their supporters were charged under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act for participating in an unauthorised demonstration where they taped their mouths and held a vigil outside the government-backed Myanmar Peace Centre in Rangoon.

In October, five staff members of the now defunct Bi-Mon Te Nay weekly news journal were found guilty of sedition charges and sentenced to two years each.

The five – two editors, one reporter and two publishers – were sentenced under Article 505(b) of the penal code for “defamation of the state”after the journal had published a report in July repeating an activist group’s claims that Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had teamed up with several ethnic politicians to form an interim government.

The conviction of the ten Unity and Bi-Mon Te Nay journalists prompted a domestic and international outcry, with warnings that the country could be backsliding on promises of press freedom.

While major media reforms, such as the disbandment of Burma’s notorious pre-publication censorship board in August 2012, caused a wave of early optimism, disputes over new regulations and an apparent targeting of reporters began to cast doubt on Naypyidaw’s commitment to establishing a free media.

According to the CPJ report, 44 journalists languish behind bars in China, a jump from 32 the previous year. Almost half of those jailed are either Tibetan or Uighur.

The increased imprisonment of journalists in China “reflects the pressure that President Xi Jinping has exerted on media, lawyers, dissidents and academics to toe the government line,” said CPJ. “In addition to jailing journalists, Beijing has issued restrictive new rules about what can be covered and denied visas to international journalists.”

Iran is second worst offender, according to CPJ, although its record continues to improve. Thirty media workers are currently recorded in Iranian prisons, down from 35 in 2013, and a record high of 45 in 2012.

According to international watchdog Reporters Without Borders, 66 journalists were killed around the world in 2014, 15 of who were in Syria. One slain reporter was recorded in Burma – Par Gyi, who was killed by the Burmese army in September under opaque circumstances.

RB News
December 18, 2014

Maungdaw, Arakan – A Rohingya firsherman from Yey Twin Pyin village tract of Nothern Maungdaw Township in Arakan State was shot dead by Myanmar’s Border Guard Police on Thursday morning.

A fisherman named Kala Miah, son of Sayedul Amin at age 40 was coming back from fishing at sea in the morning on Thursday at 6 am. As earlier, he was ordered to report at the Border Guard Police (BGP) outpost and he was late reporting in, scared to go to BGP outpost. Once he got there, a police named Khin Maung Htoo shot him. The fisherman died on the spot at that place, according to a local.

The BGP police then threw a coffin into the stream nearby BGP’s outpost and no one is allowed to take the coffin up until now. 

According to the locals, the BGP outpost has been extorting fish from fishermen for a very long time. For that reason the fishermen are scared to go into the outpost. 

Myanmar’s BGP has been committing many crimes against humanity since the time it has formed. The previous notorious Na-Sa-Ka was replaced by the BGP. The locals claimed that the BGP forces are more notorious than the then Na-Sa-Ka for abuses. Although the government in Naypyidaw is well informed about the crimes committing by local officials and BGP in Maungdaw district, they let them continue to do more crimes and the crimes have been increasing day by day.

December 18, 2014

The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency has distributed food, clothing, and stationary to the people of Myanmar in Arakan state.

Along with AFAD (Turkish State Emergency Services), distributed food, clothing, stationary to the Rohingya muslims of Arakan state – 600,000 people have benefitted from the distribution that took place in the Yangon area, with two separate shipments of 600,000 tons to the capital Sittwe.

The Rohingya Muslims live 20km away from the capital city where they are in 10 different towns and districts. The organisation of the distribution was done jointly with TIKA and local ngo's.

In the press statement, it was explained that many were in camps and faced difficult condition with nearly 300,000 were close to starvation and the local organisations thanked TIKA and AFAD.

At the same time, the Myanmar United Nations Food programme had reduced their limit and as a result many Muslims in Rohingya are starving.

The Muslims who live near in the camps and villages expressed their gratitude for the people of Turkey for helping them in their difficult time.

From November 2013: Kachin villagers including children flee for safety as the war intensifies. (PHOTO: Lee Yu Kyung)

By Naw Noreen

December 17, 2014

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has announced that more than 536,000 people in Burma – about one percent of the country’s population – have been affected by conflict or inter-communal violence and are in need of protection.

It said some US$190 million would be required to support those affected throughout next year.

The UNOCHA’s Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan 2015 said the aid will target 416,600 people in Arakan State and 119,800 in Kachin and northern Shan states.

It said 65 percent of the $190 million budget will be used to provide security, clean water, sanitation, education and health assistance.

Doi Pyisa, chairman of the Kachin Refugee Committee, said supplies of aid to IDP camps in areas under control of the rebel Kachin Independence Army around Laiza have been halted as of October.

He said residents in the camps are in need of housing materials.

“Their makeshift huts are made of bamboo and getting quite rickety as they were built back in 2011. We need to rebuild homes for them,” said Doi Pyisa.

Zaw Zaw, a committee member for a Muslim displacement camp in Arakan State’s Myebon Township, said the camp has not received any supplies for eight months other than monthly food rations from the World Food Programme (WFP).

“People in this camp have no jobs and no income – we struggle to survive,” he said. “We have not been getting anything apart from rations of rice, cooking oil, salt and beans, which is provided by the WFP.”

He said he worried that the prospect of malnutrition.

UNHCR Ambassador John Abraham (Photo: UNHCR India)

RB News 
December 17, 2014

New Delhi, India – Members of a Rohingya youth club taking refuge in New Delhi, India called “Genius Rohingya Youth Club” joined a meeting with UNHCR Ambassador, Bollywood actor John Abraham on December 15, 2014.

In the meeting with UNHCR Ambassador John Abraham, the refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia and ethnic Chin from Myanmar also joined with Genius Rohingya Youth Club. The refugees performed their traditional dances and songs before starting the meeting and the UNHCR Chief of Mission Mr. Dominik Bartsch introduced John Abraham to the attendees.

In the meeting John Abraham explained how his grandparents migrated to India from other countries. He welcomed all refugees and said that the stories of the refugees are very interesting. He urged all refugees to stay in India as their own home. He said that it is his work to promote the plight of refugees to the Indian people.

The Genius Rohingya Youth Club was formed by Rohingya youth in New Delhi. Their aims are to preserve the original culture of Rohingyas, assisting Rohingya community members in India, campaigning about the plights of Rohingya, developing the community, information sharing with UNHCR officials and to reduce the pain from the sorrows of refugees by various forms of entertainment. They have been engaging in various sporting activities as well.

The Rohingya youths have submitted a letter to the chair of Human Rights Organization that detailed all about Rohingya refugees in India. According to the letter, about 200 families in New Delhi, 200 families in UP, 400 families in Haryana, 100 families in Rajasthan, 250 families in Punjab, 750 families in Hyderabad and 2000 families in J & K are taking refuge. It also stated that over 200 people are working in the factories in Mumbai and about 5000 people are in jail in Kolkata.

In the letter, they also detailed the difficulties of all Rohingya refugees in each state in India, and highlighted how Rohingya refugees were arrested while crossing the border and there is no one to help to free the estimated 5000 Rohingyas from jails in Kolkata region. The organization also expressed how human traffickers are selling women and how unsecure life is for Rohingya refugees, with some poor refugees who are working but are denied their pay and have no protection or grievance procedure as laborers. Children being kept at child detention centers was also among the topics. Although the U.N. is well informed of all of this, their problems remain unsolved.

By Qutub Shah
RB Cartoon
December 17, 2014

For a better democracy

Press Release 
16 December 2014


Today, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), Tun Khin, spoke at the British Parliament on the Burmese Government’s plan to exclude Rohingya from elections next year, the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and a new plan by Burma’s government which could result in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya being interred in camps under Apartheid-like conditions.

The meeting was chaired by Baroness Kinnock, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma, and focused on the Rohingya crisis in Arakan State, Burma. Chris Lewa, Director of the Arakan Project, also spoke at the meeting about a new wave of repression which has driven more than 16,000 Rohingya to flee Burma in the last two months.

According to Tun Khin, the central government obstructs Rohingyas’ attempts to eke out a living. In fact, the government can be said to be trying to gradually starve the Rohingya by placing extreme constraints on our livelihood opportunities and by blocking and/or severely restricting humanitarian assistance to our communities, either in internal refugee camps or in Rohingya villages. Recent media reports indicate that in the last two months alone more than 16,000 Rohingyas – including women, children and elderly people – have fled the country for fear that the Burmese authorities are about to implement the final phase of Rohingya destruction – widely known as the ‘Rakhine Action Plan’. 

The government uses various security forces – police, Special Branch, military units and other law enforcement agencies – to control our physical movement which in turn extort money, extract forced labor, and force us to give them our produce if we are farmers or our daily catch if we are fishermen. Typically, the government sanctions its state security forces to use violence and coercion against Rohingya.

The Burmese government has given blanket impunity to extremist Rakhines who openly vow to cleanse Arakan or Rakhine state of any Rohingya and act violently towards Rohingya communities. There is a systematic plan to drive out Rohingyas. The truth is that the Burmese government is the root cause of this problem.

BROUK President Tun Khin said “The British government should support the establishment of an independent international investigation into possible violations of international law against the Rohingya in Burma.Low level quiet diplomacy isn’t going to bring about the major changes that would ensure proper humanitarian access in Rakhine State that is needed to save lives. Ban Ki-moon must personally take the lead in negotiating international humanitarian access; The British government should support it”. 

For more information please contact Tun Khin +44 (0) 7888714866.

By Brent Crane
December 16, 2014

Anadolu Agency finds poverty and little hope during visit to camp for displaced in Rakhine state

Sittwe, Myanmar -- Scrawny chickens and mangy dogs mingle with raggedly clothed children and exhausted adults on the dusty paths through Da Paing camp near the capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Nobody wears shoes. Nearby are a dozen simple longhouses arranged in rows where families live in cramped quarters.

A salty breeze blowing in from the Bay of Bengal provides a brief respite from the blazing sun but there is little around that exudes anything but destitution.

“Everything is not okay here,” Ba Sein, 52, a member of the managing committee for the camp, told The Anadolu Agency.

Holding 7,000 inhabitants from the Rohingya Muslim minority, Da Phaing is one of several squalid enclosures for Internally Displaced People outside Sittwe in northwestern Myanmar.

The center emits an air of despair and misery as its listless inhabitants eke out a subsistence existence under the eyes of Myanmar police and military.

The Rohingya were relocated to camps after a year of sectarian violence between the Rakhine state's Buddhist majority and Muslims in 2012 – clashes that saw hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

“We are living over two years here,” Ba Sein said grimly. “The government is planning to settle us permanently in these camps.”

There are an estimated 140,000 Rohingya living in such camps throughout Rakhine.

In most, basic necessities such as food, clean water and healthcare are alarmingly scarce and job opportunities virtually nonexistent.

The Rohingya are barred from leaving the camps by state security forces, who claim the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, despite the fact that many families have lived in Myanmar for generations.

As a result of their dire situation, many Rohingya have fled the camps illegally to make the perilous boat journey to Thailand and on to destinations such as Malaysia, a majority Muslim country that quietly takes them in.

Many end up the victims of human traffickers and are forced to work under appalling conditions to pay of the cost of their journey from Myanmar, a country still largely under the control of the military despite the introduction of a nominally civilian government in 2011.

Nearly 12,000 Rohingya have fled in the last month alone, according to the Arakan Project, an organization that monitors the exodus.

Under the Rakhine State Action Plan, a government initiative introduced in September, Rohingya can only secure citizenship if they register themselves as Bengali, a term that implies they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Those who refuse to do so are placed in camps.

The United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee, which deems the Rohingya among the most persecuted minorities in the world, passed a resolution soon after the release of the plan calling for the government in Naypyidaw to grant the Rohingya “access to full citizenship on an equal basis” and to drop its controversial initiative.

But the government, which refuses to even acknowledge the Rohingya as an ethnic group, does not appear willing to do so.

In an open air cafe, with flies buzzing around an oily plate of potato samosas and cups of sweet tea, Ba Sein recounts the 2012 violence that led to his people’s displacement.

“On June 8 at four in the afternoon, many Rakhine people surrounded our village, threatening us, telling us we weren’t citizens of this country and that we needed to leave this place,” he said.

The mob dispersed but returned the next morning and began setting fire to the village. “The police weren’t stopping them but they were stopping the Rohingya from fighting back,” Ba Sein added.

The villagers hid in a mosque while their homes were looted and burned. One Rohingya man who attempted to fight back was shot dead by security forces, Ba Sein claimed.

After three days, eight military trucks showed up and drove the traumatized villagers to the camps, where they have been ever since. Similar stories are shared by tens of thousands of Rohingya throughout Rakhine state.

Yet despite their dire circumstances, many of those forced from their homes have not given up hope.

“We have no problem to forgive the Rakhine people and to live together with them,” Ahmed Saffar, 48, said.

A member of the managing committee of Maw Son Nywa camp also outside Sittwe, Saffar was speaking as other members of the committee sat around him. Prior to the 2012 violence they were businessmen, traders and even civil servants. But now they are imprisoned in enforced penury.

Peace with the Buddhists in Rakhine can be reached, Saffar said, “but we need government support.”

In front of Thandwe Township Court (Photo: Kaman Ethnic Facebook)

RB News 
December 16, 2014

Thandwe, Arakan – Nine ethnic Kaman Muslims from Thandwe Township in Arakan State received long term prison sentences with hard labour for self-defense during attacks by Rakhine extremists in October 2013. 

During President Thein Sein’s visit to Arakan State, which included Thandwe Township, in the first week of October 2013, many Kaman Muslims villages in Thandwe Township were attacked by Rakhine extremists and monks. The Muslim villages and villagers were terrorized and many houses were burned to ashes. Reportedly a few Kaman Muslims killed. 

During the attacks that started on September 28, 2013, 5 Kaman Muslims were mercilessly killed and one died of a heart attack. About 800 Kaman Muslims became homeless, 52 houses were destroyed, 114 houses were burnt down. Ten chicken farms and two rich mills were also destroyed along with three mosques and two Islamic schools destroyed in the violence. 

Reportedly ten Kaman Muslims from Linn Thi village were arrested in the first of October 2013 for self-defense when the Rakhine mobs arrived and attacked their village. Today on December 16, 2014, the court in Thandwe Township sentenced them and one woman was released as she received one year imprisonment and as she has been arrested since last year, she was set free today with time already served. 

The remaining nine Kaman Muslims were sentenced to long term imprisonment as follows: 

30 years long term imprisonment with hard labour – 

(1) Khin Maung Lwin s/o Ismail (Age 40) 
(2) Tin Hlaing Soe s/o Thet Hlaing (Age 36) 
(3) Hla Myint (a.k.a) Ko Com s/o Hmaing Gyi (Age 55) 

10 years long term imprisonment with hard labour – 

(1) Zaw Min Tun (a.k.a) Naing Zin s/o Ba Thet (Age 35) 

7 years long term imprisonment with hard labour – 

(1) Kyaw Thu Linn (a.k.a) Maung Linn s/o Maung Nu (Age 38) 
(2) Tin Shwe s/o Shwe Hla (Age 40) 
(3) Ye Htut Aung (a.k.a) Sayar Lay s/o Myint Aung (Age 30) 
(4) Aung Thein (a.k.a) Tin Myint s/o Nga Chait Kay (Age 50) 

3 years long term imprisonment with hard labour – 

(1) Tin Naung Tun s/o Tin Thein (Age 37)

RB News 
December 15, 2014 

Maungdaw, Arakan – 32 Rohingyas working in four fishing boats owned by a Rakhine businessman from Aley Than Kyaw village tract of Southern Maungdaw Township in Arakan State were arrested and tortured by Rakhine Militia, Arakan Army. They will be sold in Thailand according who escaped.

On Saturday night, December 13, 2014, four fishing boats owned by Than Htay (a.k.a) Maung Saw Tin from Aley Than Kyaw village tract of Southern Maungdaw Township, carrying 40 Rohingyas fishermen who were fishing at sea. The Arakan Army came by Thai boat which is commonly used for human trafficking and terrorizing the fishermen while they are fishing. 

Among 40 fishermen, 8 could manage to escape from the brutal attacks and torture of Arakan Army on their fishing boats. The remaining 32 were tortured on their boats and later they were detained and taken onto the boat of Arakan Army. 

On the Thai boat operated by the Arakan Army approximately 200 Rohingyas were carried. Normally such boat carried 600 but as the Rohingyas in Northern Arakan were alerted of the risk to be victims of human trafficking, the human trafficking led by Arakan Army received less than they expected, picking up the fishermen from the sea and torturing them. Their intention is to sell all these Rohingyas as slaves in Thailand, according to 8 survivors. 

The four fishing boats remain in the location they were left at and blood stains remain on the boats as 32 Rohingyas were brutally tortured and terrorized before they were taken to Thai boat by Arakan Army men, according to a local. 

Although three ships from Myanmar Navy at the Naf river saw that the Rohingyas on the fishing boats were being tortured by the Arakan Army they ignored the crimes and didn’t rescue them because they were Rohingyas. 

As many tactics have been used by Myanmar government to cleanse the Rohingya minority from Myanmar, sometime the local authorities collaborate with Rakhine rebels to attack the Rohingyas, the authorities themselves bring the ships from Thailand and organizing the local Rohingyas to go to Thailand and Malaysia, and arresting the innocent Rohingyas in Northern Arakan so they will leave from the country.

By Qutub Shah
RB Cartoon
December 14, 2014

Suu Kyi's Minus One Democracy

People walk at a market in Maungdaw on Nov 11. The market is where the Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist communities meet. — (Photo: Reuters) 

By Benedict Ng
December 14, 2014

PETALING JAYA — The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) insists that asylum-seekers in Malaysia are screened thoroughly before they are granted the status. 

The UNHCR Kuala Lumpur spokesman Yante Ismail said a detailed interview and investigation would be carried out on the applicant to determine a person’s eligibility for refugee status. 

“The asylum (application) process assesses whether a person is in need of protection and also when required, whether their conduct would exclude them from protection,” she said. 

“Because of the thoroughness that is required, and for high profile and complicated cases, a longer time is needed to process an individual.”

Concern over who were getting the refugee status was raised after it was reported last week that 15 out of 17 Myanmar men detained to assist police investigations into the brutal murders in Penang are UNHCR cardholders who have been resident in Malaysia for up to 14 years. 

Yante said refugee protection was not extended to individuals who have committed serious crimes or acts contrary to the purposes of the United Nations. 

“Given the seriousness of these issues, a close and full examination of all facts would need to be undertaken.” 

She said because investigations were on-going, the commission was unable to comment on the arrests of the Myanmar detainees, including those who have UNCHR cards. 

“If there are allegations of crimes committed in Malaysia by refugees, UNHCR expects that they be given full due process under the law like any individual,” she said. 

“All refugees and asylum-seekers must respect the national laws of the countries in which they seek asylum in.”

Yante said UNHCR has contacted the Malaysian authorities to offer its assistance. 

From March until November, the country has seen an influx of about 6,000 refugees from Myanmar.

As of November,139,200 Myanmar refugees were registered with UNHCR, with 150,460 asylum-seekers from other countries in Malaysia. 

The Myanmar refugees comprise of 50,620 Chins, 40,070 Rohingyas, 12,160 Myanmar Muslims, 7,440 Rakhines and Arakaneses, and other ethnicities.

The other 11,260 refugees from other countries include 4,200 Sri Lankans, 1,200 Pakistanis, 1,120 Somalis, 970 Syrians, 860 Iraqis, 580 Iranians, 450 Palestinians, 390 Afghans, 360 Yemenis and 140 Sudanese.

In March, the total number of Myanmar refugees was 133,070 and the overall total of refugees in Malaysia from other countries was 143,435. 

The UNHCR believed there were about 35,000 unregistered asylum-seekers in the country and UNHCR is progressively working to register them.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui
RB Article
December 14, 2014

The Rohingya people of Myanmar (formerly Burma) are the most oppressed people in our planet. They face elimination in the Buddhist majority country, which is rightly called the ‘den of hatred and intolerance’ in our time. Not a single day goes by when their community members don’t face repeated persecution and harassment from not only the Gestapo-like members of the government but also from the fellow Buddhists who have swallowed Hitler’s poisonous pills of xenophobia and bigotry. Not surprisingly, in today’s Myanmar Nazi swastika and similar insignia are in great demand! 

The two-year long pogrom against the Rohingya has resulted in the internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of their fellow men, women and children. Many have been slaughtered by blood-thirsty Buddhists. Others have been forced to live inside squalid camps that are described by independent fact-finding observers as worse than prison camps. Many of the desperate Rohingyas have braved the stormy seas and oceans to find shelter elsewhere, and in so doing many of them continue to be preyed upon by the criminal human traffickers who engage them as slave labors. So hopeless is their condition inside Myanmar that they think such life-threatening risks are worth-taking and better than what awaits them inside Myanmar. 

Aung San Suu Kyi – once touted as the democracy icon has shown her real ugly image. She has proven to be morally bankrupt. Being too keen in becoming the next president by any means possible, she feigns ignorance and is criminally silent on the plight of the Rohingya people. 

As to the Buddhist monks – the so-called followers of Gautama Buddha – the least said the better. They ignore all the non-violent teachings of their founder showing their hideous selves. Guilty of participating in genocidal campaigns and inciting extermination campaigns against the Muslim minorities, esp. the Rohingya people, they appear spiritually more connected to Hitler’s dreaded SS than anyone else. 

Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Myanmar authorities do not recognize Rohingya, classing them as Bengali and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite hard evidences proving that their family roots are in Myanmar. The R-word (i.e., Rohingya) is unacceptable to the genocidal regime epitomizing Myanmarism which is a toxic cocktail of ultra-nationalism, fascism and religious fanaticism. As such, those Rohingyas who have chosen to live either inside or have no wherewithal to leave the killing fields of Buddhist Myanmar are forced to register as “Bengalis”, denying their root and ancestral ties to the soil of their birth. If they refuse to register as such, they face lengthy prison terms. On December 2, eight Muslims, who identify themselves as Rohingya, were jailed in the Maungdaw Township Court in Arakan (Rakhine state of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh) for two years for their refusal to register as “Bengali” during the March-April countrywide census. During the trial, no lawyers were provided for the accused and family members were not allowed to attend as observers.

Many Rohingyas are dying of starvation and lack of healthcare services, which are denied to them by the Myanmar government and their partners-in-crime within the broader Buddhist community. Many of the Rakhine Buddhist doctors are proving to be monsters killing Rohingya patients. A two year old Rohingya boy died at Sittwe General Hospital in Arakan State’s capital, Sittwe on December 6, 2014 after he was given an injection by the doctor. Alqama, mother of Twariq Zia, took her son to the hospital on December 5th at 2:30 pm. At that time he was treated well and recovered quite well. Alqama thought her son could be discharged from the hospital on the following day. However, on the second day, December 6th at 8:00 am, a different doctor came and gave an injection. Immediately after the injection the boy lost breathing and died.

The government of nearby Muslim majority Bangladesh, seemingly more mindful of not jeopardizing its precarious relationship with Myanmar than ensuring the human rights of the Rohingya people, is, sadly, setting a new low standard in witch-hunting and harassment. Not only are the Rohingyas refused entry in this country but also their refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar are put as off-limits to Muslim NGOs. Worse yet, they are imprisoned for trying to get out of Bangladesh to a third country. Last week, five Rohingya women were arrested in Pabna for just attempting to do so. 

Without valid passports people risk being put behind the bar for traveling to a foreign land. The Rohingyas, being declared stateless by the Myanmar government, obviously don’t have valid passports. No matter how those refugees entered Bangladesh, they can’t travel to a third country without such passports. The arrest of those Rohingya women raises the vital question: how should the international community, especially Bangladesh, deal with such matters? What is better and morally right – they be allowed to travel to a third country where they are welcome and prosper or restrict such travels on legal grounds while denying them the very means necessary to better their lives, thereby forcing them to a life of an unwanted refugee inside Bangladesh where the government is utterly hostile to them? I am sure the verdict of the conscientious human beings is for the former option. 

Will the tragedy of the Rohingya people ever end? The answer lies in the attitude and sincerity of the Myanmar government and her people who for decades have been fed the toxic pill ethnocentrism and bigotry to hate and eliminate the Rohingya and other Muslims in this Buddhist majority country. Thus far I haven’t found anything to believe in Thein Sein government’s sincerity to resolve the matter peacefully. What we have noticed, instead, is simply sinister. Rather than reining in the ultra-racist and bigoted monks of the fascist 969 movement it has been promoting their incendiary activities. In recent days, it has passed bigotry-ridden laws in the parliament which violates several international laws. 

Through a calculated policy of starvation, forced poverty, denial of all the basic rights (enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) of the Rohingya people and inaccessibility of humanitarian aids reaching them, the Myanmar government is guilty of scripting the Rohingya genocide. It is creating forced exodus and bringing in slow death of the Rohingya people. Thus, what this pariah regime is doing is an international crime of the highest proportion which must be stopped by the UN and its member nations failing which the Rohingya people face extinction inside Myanmar. 

While the violence against the Rohingya and other Muslims is mushrooming out of control, almost completing their ethnic cleansing, the international community is sending mixed messages. Sanctions by the powerful USA and the EU have long been lifted against the murderous regime. What is shocking is the mere fact, as reported in the BBC, that the last of the EU sanctions were lifted six hours after they reported this on the Burma riots: “In the sequence where policemen look on as a man rolls on the ground having been set on fire, someone in the watching crowd is heard to say: "No water for him - let him die”—a video goes on to show the police standing by as Monks participate in dragging a man from a nearby brush, and beating him to death (BBC, “Burma Riots”). 

The consequences of enmification (a term coined by Professor Alan Tidwell of Georgetown University) for the Rohingya are reaching the stage of genocide. They are called kular (a derogatory term similar to niggers) as well as dogs, thieves, terrorists and various expletives. Spiteful Buddhist commentators urge the government to ‘make them disappear’ and seem particularly enraged that the international NGOs, human rights groups and the United Nations High Commission for the Refugees are highlighting their plight. 

As we all know, one of the more troubling aspects of enmification is that when it is seeded deeply enough as it was in Rwanda, nominal differences between groups can be relatively perceived as existential threats. Cockroaches (inyenzi, during the Rwandan genocide), dogs, and thieves are dehumanizing epithets that make the effective parties easier to eliminate psychologically. Sadly, this is already well under way in the case of the Rohingya.

If the Rohingya people are not considered human, are enmified, and persecuted with tacit recognition from the state and the Buddhist Sangha, it is high time that the international community comes to their rescue. Through their stern actions and biting sanctions, they must play a crucial role in reversing some of the attitudes and actions of the regime—preventing further violence against the Rohingya people. They simply cannot kowtow with the murderous regime and send mixed messages that show that the political and psychological backlash from the violence against the Rohingya is not severe enough. 

As noted by Samuel Feigenbaum in his thesis work – the Oppressed of the Oppressed (Georgetown University, 2013), if there is not a dramatic paradigm shift, which looks unlikely, the Rohingya will be systematically cleansed from Myanmar under the guise of communal violence, states of emergency, and national unity. This is the preemption of a genocide, which simply cannot be allowed to happen in our time. We can surely avoid this tragedy if our generation is serious. 

The lessons from Rwanda and South Africa are sufficient to guide us all.

For Immediate Release 
13 December 2014

Humanitarian Crisis of Rohingya in Burma – New Briefing Paper

Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK today publishes a new briefing paper examining the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, and calls upon the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to personally take the lead in negotiating unhindered international humanitarian access in Rakhine State. 

The new briefing paper examines how even before the latest wave of violence against the Rohingya in 2012, the Burmese government has systematically implemented laws and policies which are designed to impoverish and oppress the Rohingya, in order to try to drive them out of the country. 

The paper also examines the many different methods that are currently used by the Burmese government to restrict humanitarian access, and how policies are deliberately designed so that there can be an element of deniability by the central government. Taken together, however, these methods amount to a clear pattern and policy of obstruction of humanitarian assistance in line with the policy of making life for the Rohingya as unbearable as possible so that they leave the country. 

“Creating poverty and a humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State is deliberate Burmese government policy,” said Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. “What is happening in Rakhine State is nothing to do with previously repressed tensions. It is not communal violence and it is not a complicated issue which the Burmese government is struggling to deal with. The truth is that the Burmese government is the root cause of this problem.”

Senior UN officials have described the situation in the camps for 140,000 internally displaced Rohingya in Rakhine State as the worst they have seen. Despite this, there has not been the kind of high-level and concerted diplomatic effort that would be required to persuade the government of Burma to start to allow free and safe humanitarian access. 

“Low level quiet diplomacy isn’t going to bring about the major changes that would ensure proper humanitarian access in Rakhine State that is needed to save lives,” said Tun Khin. “Ban Ki-moon must personally take the lead in negotiating international humanitarian access, and governments worldwide should give him their support. A similar effort in 2008 after Cyclone Nargis succeeded in increasing humanitarian access.”

For more information contact Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, at 07888714866. Twitter: @tunkhin80.

In this Nov. 14, 2014 file photo, President Barack Obama walks with Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for their joint news conference at her home in Yangon, Myanmar. Human rights advocates and some lawmakers say the United States is sending the wrong signal by opening the door for broader cooperation with Myanmar’s widely criticized military just weeks after President Barack Obama assured opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that closer ties weren’t going to happen soon. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

December 12, 2014

WASHINGTON – Human rights advocates and some lawmakers say the United States is sending the wrong signal by opening the door for broader engagement with Myanmar's widely criticized military just weeks after President Barack Obama assured opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi that closer ties weren't going to happen soon.

Congress, acting at the administration's request, is expected to allow U.S. training in some noncombat activities for the military in Myanmar, also known as Burma. This would be part of a sweeping defense policy bill slated to pass this week.

The administration says this does not mean closer ties are imminent with a military known for rights abuses. Patrick Ventrell, a National Security Council spokesman, said the provision would "give us the flexibility to pursue slightly broader engagement if the military takes steps to implement reforms and support Burma's democratic transition."

But lawmakers who oversee U.S. foreign policy say it's ill-timed. Political reforms have stalled, tens of thousands of minority Muslims are still living under apartheid-like conditions in displacement camps after attacks by Buddhist extremists, and fighting is heating up between the government and ethnic rebels.

"It sends the wrong message to the people of Burma who are counting on the U.S. to uphold the values and rights they so desperately seek," said Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, who chairs a House panel on Asia.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said it would be different if reforms were advancing in Myanmar. "But even the president (Obama) is saying they are going backward."

When Obama traveled to Myanmar last month, his second visit in two years, Suu Kyi requested that the U.S. not pursue new areas of military engagement at least until the national elections in late 2015, according to several congressional aides who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge briefings on the trip given by administration officials. The president gave that assurance, the aides said.

Ventrell confirmed Obama discussed the subject with Suu Kyi and others. He said the president's message was that the U.S. did not intend to go further toward "more traditional military-to-military cooperation" until the Burmese military makes clear steps toward reform.

Washington has normalized diplomatic relations and rolled back sanctions to reward the former pariah state's shift away from five decades of authoritarian rule. But the U.S. retains an arms embargo and strictly controls ties with the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's military is known. So far engagement has been limited to seminars on human rights, rule of law and institutional reform. Myanmar has also been an observer at annual U.S. military exercises hosted by neighboring Thailand.

The defense bill would allow "consultation, education, and training" on humanitarian and disaster relief, and medical and health standards — areas that critics say should be left to Myanmar's civilian government agencies. The language was drafted by the House and Senate committees that oversee defense policy and are more hopeful than their colleagues on foreign policy panels that military engagement will, over time, encourage reform.

"Increased contact of their troops with the U.S. military will help to demonstrate the principles of accountability, civilian control, and rule of law that are the hallmarks of a healthy democracy," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, top-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

But Sen. Robert Menendez, Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Obama this week saying the bill's language appears to be at odds with the commitments Obama made to Suu Kyi. He called for the administration to articulate a "clear and consistent policy" on military engagement, and which of the new authorities it intends to exercise.

Rep. Eliot Engel, top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Associated Press: "Deepening our military ties with Burma sends the perverse signal that the United States will turn a blind eye to the Burmese military's violent and regressive behavior."

Five days after Obama's visit, the military shelled a Kachin rebel camp, killing 23 people, a blow to talks aimed at ending decades of war in the nation's border regions. The military said the strike was unintended.

And despite Obama's appeal for reform of a junta-era constitution that guarantees a military bloc in the legislature and bars Suu Kyi from becoming president, the government has since announced that won't happen before the election.

The nominee to become the next commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., said in Senate testimony last week that Myanmar remains "firmly under military control."

Rohingya Exodus