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Phuket Gazette World News: Myanmar Rohingya’s uncertain future

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Phuket Gazette World News: Myanmar Rohingya’s uncertain future | The Thaiger
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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Muslim victims of Myanmar unrest face uncertain future
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: In Myanmar’s central heartlands, justice and security is elusive for thousands of Muslims who lost their homes in a deadly rampage by Buddhist mobs in March.

Many are detained in prison-like camps, unable to return to neighbourhoods and businesses razed in four days of violence in Meikhtila that killed at least 43 people, most of them Muslims, displaced nearly 13,000, and touched off a wave of anti-Muslim unrest fuelled by radical Buddhist monks.

“It’s for their own security,” said a police officer at a camp inside a sports stadium on Meikhtila’s outskirts. The camp holds more than 1,600 people guarded by police with orders not to let them leave, said the officer, who declined to give his name.

A dawn-to-dusk curfew has been in force in Meikhtila since the government declared martial law on March 22. Skeletal walls and piles of rubble are all that remain of Muslim homes and businesses that once covered several blocks at the heart of the town of 100,000 people in the centre of Myanmar.

Trials have begun, but so far only Muslims stand accused, raising fears that courts will further aggravate religious tension by ignoring the Buddhist ringleaders of the violence.

The unrest and the combustible sectarian relations behind it are one of the biggest tests of Myanmar’s reform-minded government, which took power in March 2011 after almost half a century of hardline military rule.

Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, but about 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslim. They face a growing campaign of anti-Islamic sentiment led by radical Buddhist monks.

An independent commission released a report on Monday saying Myanmar must urgently address the plight of Muslims displaced by sectarian bloodshed in western Rakhine State. It came in response to violence last June and October that killed at least 192 people and left 140,000 homeless, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims in an area dominated by ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.

The trial of seven Muslim men accused of murdering a monk, believed to be the first killing in the March unrest in Meikhtila, is expected to conclude this week. Those on trial say they are innocent.

The sound of hammers ring across the city as workers dismantle what is left of the Muslim neighbourhood, stone by stone. There are no signs of Muslims on the streets.

More than 8,000 Muslims are being held in seven official camps that are off-limits to journalists. Thousands more have crowded into unofficial camps in villages near Meikhtila, where police also restrict their movements and prevented them from speaking with Reuters.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said detaining internally displaced people (IDP) is a violation of their rights.

“Locking people up in an IDP camp is not a substitute for providing basic security and ensuring communal peace,” he said. “Even if the authorities’ intent is good, they are clearly going about this the wrong way.”

Spokesmen for the president’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

One of the office’s spokesmen, Ye Htut, has previously stressed that the monks involved in the Meikhtila violence make up only a fraction of the 500,000-strong monkhood. “All perpetrators of violence will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said President Thein Sein in a nationally televised speech on March 28.

Victims in relief camps “live freely and happily”, reported the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper on April 5.

Students attacked

The government has promised to help Muslims rebuild their homes, but reconstruction has yet to begin. Building more than 1,500 houses burned down or damaged would cost $7 million, it said.

Some Buddhist residents said returning Muslims were unwelcome.

“I can’t accept living with them again, because they insulted Buddhism and a monk’s blood was spilled on the ground,” said Than Htun, as he waited outside a prison to see his son who was arrested for looting money from a Muslim home during the rioting.

Such hostility could influence the outcome of the ongoing murder trial, suggested Thein Than Oo, a lawyer for three of the seven Muslims accused, who believed the judge is under pressure from Buddhists to deliver a guilty verdict.

“He has to satisfy the people,” he said.

He pointed to the case of the Muslim owner of a gold shop, his wife and an employee who on April 11 received 14 years without parole for theft and assault. The charges stemmed from an argument with a Buddhist customer, which sparked the first bout of rioting earlier on the day the monk was killed.

The court imposed harsh sentences due to the violence that erupted afterwards, said Thein Than Oo.

Most victims of the rioting were Muslim but no Buddhists have appeared in court. The district judge said they would be tried after the current trial ends.

Neither the judge nor the district police could say if any monks would be charged. Monks led many of the mobs, according to dozens of witnesses interviewed by Reuters.

New York-based Physicians for Human Rights called for an independent investigation into a report of a massacre at an Islamic school on March 21. The group said 32 students and four teachers were missing.

One student, Soe Min Oo, 18, said he fled with other students and teachers when the school was attacked, taking refuge with other Muslims in a nearby compound.

Soe Min Oo said the mob tossed petrol bombs into the compound until police arrived and offered to bring the nearly 200 Muslims to safety. But the few dozen officers could only protect some of them, said Soe Min Oo, pausing frequently to fight back tears.

He said the Buddhist mob hit them and threw stones as they left the compound, and those who came out last were beaten to death. He saw three friends killed.

“I’ve never faced anything like this situation before,” said Soe Min Oo. “I feel very sad.”

Soe Min Oo spoke to Reuters in a tiny Muslim village about half an hour outside Meikhtila where he was staying with family. During the interview, an official who wouldn’t say who he worked for arrived on a motorcycle and demanded names and contact numbers from journalists.

Mandalay chief minister Ye Myint denied a Reuters request to visit official camps in his region, which includes Meikhtila. Immigration and police officers banned access to an unofficial camp in Yindaw, a village about a 45-minute drive from Meikhtila.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Myanmar

113 bodies recovered in Myanmar jade mine mudslide

Jack Burton

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113 bodies recovered in Myanmar jade mine mudslide | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Fire Services Department Handout

At least 113 are dead after a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar. The Myanmar Fire Services Department says that the incident took place early today in the jade-rich Hpakant district of the northern Kachin state after a heavy rainfall. Photos in the post showed a search and rescue team wading through a valley apparently flooded by the mudslide.

“The jade miners were smothered by a wave of mud. A total of 113 bodies have been found so far.”

“Now we recovered more than 100 bodies,” a local official with the information ministry told Reuters by phone, “Other bodies are in the mud. The numbers are going to rise.”

Fatal landslides are common in the poorly regulated mines of Hpakant, the victims often from impoverished communities who risk their lives hunting the translucent green gemstone.

A 38 year old miner who witnessed the incident says he spotted a tall pile of waste that appeared to be on the verge of collapse and was about to take a picture when people began shouting “Run, run!”

“Within a minute, all the people at the bottom of the hill just disappeared. I feel empty in my heart. I still have goose bumps… There were people stuck in the mud shouting for help but no one could help them.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government promised to clean up the industry when it took power in 2016, but activists say little has changed.

Official sales of jade in Myanmar were worth $750 million US dollars (23.3 billion baht) in 2016-2017, according to data published by the government. Experts say the true value of the industry, which mainly exports to China, is much larger.

Northern Myanmar’s abundant natural resources – including jade, timber, gold and amber – have also helped finance both sides of a decades long civil war between ethnic Kachin and the military. The fight to control the mines and the money they bring frequently traps locals in the middle.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera | Newsvoice

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Hong Kong

HK man arrested for allegedly stabbing officer in security law protests

Jack Burton

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HK man arrested for allegedly stabbing officer in security law protests | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Hong Kong police turned out in force to quash protests of China's new security law - The Thaiger

Police in Hong Kong arrested a man aboard a flight to London this morning on suspicion of stabbing a police officer during protests of the Chinese territory’s new security law. About 370 people were arrested during and after yesterday’s protests against the new laws, imposed by China to curb activities surrounding the anti-government protests that have racked Hong Kong for over a year. 10 of them were arrested for allegedly violating the new law, some of whom were in possession of material advocating Hong Kong’s independence.

The law, which took effect Tuesday, outlaws secessionist, subversive and terrorist acts, and “collusion with foreign forces” intervening in the city’s affairs. It has brought concern from the Special Administrative Region’s former colonial ruler Britain and other governments. Critics say it effectively ends the “one country, two systems” framework, under which the city was promised a high degree of autonomy when it reverted to Chinese rule in June 1997.

Police yesterday posted a photo on Twitter of a police officer bleeding from his arm, claiming that he was stabbed while making arrests during the protests and that the suspects fled.

The 24 year old suspect, surnamed Wong, was arrested on a London-bound Cathay Pacific flight, according to a police officer who spoke anonymously as he was not authorised to speak publicly. He said Wong bought the ticket yesterday and boarded the flight with no check-in luggage. He did not respond to air crew who called him by name, and was not in his designated seat. Police identified him after a sweep of the plane. Local media report that a relative tipped police off to his travel plans.

In a related development, Britain announced yesterday that it is extending residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens eligible for the British National Overseas passport, saying that it will “uphold its historic duty to the former British colony”. Those eligible will be allowed to live and work in the UK for 5 years, before applying for settled status and subsequently for citizenship. China today threatened “counter measures”.

Australian PM Scott Morrison said today his government is considering a similar move, and Taiwan has opened an office to help Hong Kongers relocate to Taiwan for work and other purposes.

SOURCE: AP

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Uruguay’s Covid-19 Policy of “freedom with responsibility” shows success

Anukul

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Uruguay’s Covid-19 Policy of “freedom with responsibility” shows success | The Thaiger
PHOTO: DW

To the Government of Uruguay’s relief, their policy of “independence with responsibility” in the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have been successful… so far. Yesterday, when Europe opened its borders to 15 countries, Uruguay became the only Latin American country to be included. With less than 1,000 registered Covid-19 cases and just 27 deaths, the 3.4 million-plus nation is a significant anomaly in the south American countries that have become the new hotzone of coronavirus cases. Read more HERE

Uruguay currently has just 83 confirmed cases, while its giant neighbour Brazil is the hardest hit country in the world after the US.

This performance is especially impressive as there has never been an official lockdown to the extent other countries have imposed. Instead, in the midst of industrial businesses, school and border closures, authorities ‘advised’ people to stay indoors and strictly adhere to social distancing.

The message was conveyed to the public by media and police helicopters flying overhead with frequent updates and positive messaging, education and information.

The president, who took office in early March as the pandemic was just warming up, said he opted for “individual rights” rather than a “police state” approach. Calls for self-isolation were widely adhered to with minimal effort from officials.

Infectious disease specialist Alvaro Galiana credits the success of Uruguay to early identification and tracking.

Galiana says… “The early appearance of well-known cases, at a time when the circulation of the virus within the population was very limited, led to adequate measures being implemented, even if at the time they seemed exaggerated “.

SOURCE: The Jakarta Post

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