KAOWAO NEWS NO. 118

 

Newsletter for social justice and freedom in Burma

October 10-23, 2006

 

Readers' Front

A tribute to "Phra Raj Udom Mongkhon Phaholnarathorn"

Revered Mon monk passes away at 96

Chin Asylum Seekers Held Captive by Thai Agents

Migrant education continues despite limited support

Mon refugees face arrest and hardship in Malaysia

Unreliable post office disappoints locals

Sangkhlaburi refugees enter border camp

Overseas Mon denounces National Convention

U.S. “Waiver” a means to an end for Burma

 

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Readers' front

 

Dear readers,

 

We invite comments and suggestions on improvements to Kaowao newsletter. With your help, we hope that Kaowao News will continue to grow to serve better the needs of those seeking social justice in Burma. And we hope that it will become an important forum for discussion and debate and help readers to keep abreast of issues and news.  We reserve the right to edit and reject articles without prior notification. You can use a pseudonym but we encourage you to include your full name and address.

 

Regards,

 

Editor

Kaowao News

kaowao@hotmail.com, www.kaowao.org

 

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A tribute to "Phra Raj Udom Mongkhon Phaholnarathorn", Ajar Tala Uttama

 

(By Sunthorn Sripanngern)


The Mon people would like to offer their deep condolences on Ajar Tala's passing from this life to another in Devaloka. After two years of medical treatment at 
Sirirat Hospital with Royal Thai Patronage, 96-year-old Ajar Tala Uttama passed away on October 18, 2006 at 7: 22 a.m. with the Mon people from Sangkhlaburi chanting prayers by his side. Ajar Tala's remains have been brought back to the monastery in Sangkhlaburi in accordance with his wishes prior to being hospitalized. He usually used herbs, such as turmeric and sesame oil in healing diseases while he was observing the Dhutanga Practices in the forest.

 

Throughout his life, Ajar Tala helped many people who faced difficulties in the border area, such as providing shelter for the monks as well as lay people who fled civil war from Mon State, Burma. Aja Tala came to Thailand in 1949 together with a group of lay people from his native village "Mawkanieng".

 

They were not the first Mon to flee into Thailand at that time. The first were 60 families from villages in Kya-In Seikyi Township who arrived in Weangka in 1948.  After arriving in Thailand, Ajar Tala spent a few years at Thai Mon monasteries in central Thailand to study the Thai language. He returned to the refugee Mon community in Weangka and started to build a monastery as well as a Mon village that came to be known as "Weangka". There were no Thai living in this area at that time, except for a few local Karen families.

 

When the Thai authorities began to construct "Khao-lam Dam" in 1984, Weangka Village was transferred to Sangkhlaburi. The Electric Authority of Thailand provided compensation only to people with Thai citizenship; therefore Ajar Tala requested that his monastery compound be big enough to accommodate all the Mon refugees without Thai citizenship. Today the Mon communities of Weangka have equal status with the surrounding Thai communities; they hold Thai citizenship mainly due to Ajar Tala Uttama's strong and compassionate leadership skills.


Ajar Tala would recall his days in Monland and the reasons why he had to flee, "After Burma's independence from British rule in 1948, the civil war between the Burmese government and Mon armed troops started immediately. The Burmese naval forces were well-equipped with a battleship named "Mei-Yu" provided by the British government. It was installed with cannons as big as palm trees,” he added. “When the ship approached "
Panga Village, they started to fire shells from the Andaman Sea onto villages where Mon troops were stationed. A senior Mon monk (Kyaik-janok Krok), the abbot of "Kodood Village, at that time suggested the Mon troops remove themselves from the villages in order to avoid destruction, but they refused the noble suggestions of the monk.

 

The Burmese forces burnt the village to the ground and would do so to all villages where Mon troops fled. As it turned out, the last remaining village in that area "Kodood" was burnt down by the Mon troops themselves. As a result, the innocent villagers became homeless and suffered extreme hardship and oppression. Moreover, the senior Mon monk (Kyaik-Janok Krok) who made the suggestion that Mon armed troops leave was assassinated. Soon after, Ajar Tala Uttama decided to leave and was accompanied by his lay people into Thailand.


After spending 57 years in
Thailand, Ajar Tala Uttama finally visited his motherland and paid homage and offerings to pagodas and temples in 1997. He was honored to offer a number of gold plates to Shwe Dagon Pagoda. He would often share his wisdom about the consequences of Karma, he would say, “Wise people do not grow the spirit of greed, anger, and ignorance. Reprove your own heart, subject it, keep it in check and strengthen it. Restrain the spirit of greed. Do not take by force what is not given from the heart and by word of mouth or take by trickery. Do not take by force the possessions of the poor. Do not increase sinful acts. Do not indulge in haughty pride. Do not develop an angry disposition. Put down the spirit of pride and humble yourself.” 


When he was alive Ajar Tala acted as a stabilizing force for the people. His good deeds will live on and be passed on through the Mon people, from his merit, his instruction and his devotion to the lives of many. He will be remembered as a devout Buddhist working for the social welfare of the Mon community, especially in the building of schools, hospitals, monasteries, pagodas, and the publication of religious books. He could not manage to free himself from the power of death, but we faithfully believe his great meritorious deeds will bring him happiness and prosperity in the life to come.


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Revered Mon monk passes away at 96

(Kaowao: October 18, 2006)

 

One of the most revered Mon monks who founded a border village in Sangkhlaburi passed away peacefully this morning, Wednesday, October 18th.

 

Rev. Luongpaw Uttama, known as Kyaikhnok Waengka, was born in Mawkanin, Ye Township, Mon State. He fled to the Thai Burma border when the Mon people took up arms against the central government during the post independence civil war in Burma.

 

With his followers he built the old Waengka village and a Mon Temple, which is now under water from Khao Lam Dam.

 

“A friend of mine who saw the news on Thai TV called me at once about this tragic news.  It is a great loss for not only the Waengka community but for all Mon.  Without his influence and protection, thousands of refugees would not have been treated fairly,” commented Nai Saryarn from Bangkok.

 

Even though Ajar Uttama was focusing his interest on religion such as building temples and monasteries, he was also actively involved in education and health.  He helped the community in building schools, roads, and clinics in the area.   Thailand’s longest wooden bridge at Waengka’s new location, which is today a popular Thai tourist attraction, was built under his supervision

 

He was also widely respected by the Thai including government officials, the military and the royal family.  The Mon revered monk also joined in the Mon national affairs during a crisis.  His strong influence helped to mediate between the opposite Mon factions in the past.

 

His followers are planning to bring his body to Waengka Wiwekaram Buddhist Temple, Sangkhlaburi for a cremation ceremony in which thousands of Mon are expected to attend. 

 

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Chin Asylum Seekers Held Captive by Thai Agents

 

By Salai Za Uk Ling

www.chinlandguardian.net

 

22 October 2006 – Kuala Lumpur: More than 30 Chins are being held captive by Thai agents at the Thai-Malaysia border, two Chins who were freed after paying huge sums of money to their captors reported. The two, age 29 and 31, arrived in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning along with 17 others after friends and relatives paid 2000 Malaysian ringits to their Thai captors.

 

The detainees are asylum seekers who were arrested by Malaysian authorities during a raid in their jungle camp near Malaysia’s new administrative quarters of Putrajaya in July. They spent nearly three months in two different detention camps before Malaysian immigration dumped them at Thailand border and reportedly sold them to Thai agents for 800 Ringits per person.

 

“UNHCR staff visited us and interviewed us in detention on September 18. But Malaysian immigration secretly transported us to the border and handed us over to Thai agents on 16 October,” one of them told Chinland Guardian. He said more than 90 people were housed in a 15 foot square room with no ventilation. “We could hardly breathe and it was extremely hot and stuffy.” He said a 17-year-old Chin asylum seeker is among the captives still being held at the border town of Pandang Pasah.

 

The armed captors demanded 2500 Ringits from each detainee with a promise to smuggle them back into Malaysia. “We told them we didn’t have that much money and tried to negotiate with them but they said they bought us from Malaysian immigration for 800 Ringits and they had to make a profit,” explains the freed captive. The Thai captors reportedly threatened them with selling them as slave laborers to Thai fishermen.

 

“What I am worried about it is the fate of the remaining captives. Who knows where they will end up if they couldn’t come up with the money,” one of them said.

 

Malaysian government has recently stepped up a campaign against undocumented migrants, resulting in the arrest and detention of hundreds of Chin asylum seekers and refugees and other undocumented migrants.

 

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Migrant education continues despite limited support

(Reported by Cham Toik, Kaowao: October 16, 2006)

 

After a number of years in operation, Mon migrant education facilitated by the Thai Ramon Association came to an end in Bangkok.

 

Mon activists have supervised classes for migrant workers as a basic educational program at Thai Raman Association in Bangkadee, a Mon village near Bangkok, for a number of years.  The program was self-supported from the community by collecting donation money and other classroom supplies from Mon patriots.  Most of the teachers are volunteers, young Mons who graduated form Burma and some are studying at a Thai university in Bangkok.

 

The Thai Mon leader, Dr. Su-ed Gajaseni at the Thai Raman Association in Bangkadee, had facilitated the educational program.  However, the Thai Raman Association (TRA) has decided not to provide the classroom space for the classes this year.

 

“We don’t know why Dr. Su-ed did not allow us to teach there.  Undoubtedly, the program was getting more attention by the community. We were learning Mon, Thai, English, mathematics, plus music.  They (TRA) may be concerned about disturbance by the Thai authorities,” said a migrant worker from Bangkok who attended the class.

 

Nai Ongmarn, a volunteer teacher at the Mon literacy class said it is difficult to continue without support since they have to move out from old venue.  Many migrant workers are hoping to get some education and it is a good opportunity for them, but only a few can support the school fees (200 Baht/month). Last month only 4 students paid.

 

Mon communities from Canada and England have promised to contribute some money, but they have to give priorities for the education programs at the border as well, according to Nai Talanorn of the London based Mon Youth Organization.

 

“Mon social workers and teachers have rent a place.  There are about 50 students who attend the class regularly. Each donates about 200 Baht per month, but the school fee from the students is not enough for the rent,” said Nai Sunthorn Sripannger of the Mon Unity League, an umbrella organization of the Mons in Thailand and Burma.


“We have some good news that the
Mons in Vancouver (Canada) want to pledge 10,000 Baht. It is very important to support migrant workers for their capacity building and continuing education.  Our volunteer teachers are willing to help and the program will continue. We only need some basic financial support,” added the MUL leader from his Bangkok apartment.

 

Access to education for migrants is limited in Thailand who still face some restrictions, mainly due to language problems. The migrant school is a good chance for migrants to learn Thai so they can gain access to more education in Thailand

 

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Mon refugees face arrest and hardship in Malaysia

(Kaowao: October 15, 2006)

 

A Mon Refugee Organization is helping dozens of refugees who were arrested in a Malaysian prison recently, with many falling sick after a stint in jail, Mon social workers said yesterday.

 

Kuala Lumpur based Mon Refugee Organization (Mon Refugee Centre) have expanded its services in Penang due to an increase of Mons needing assistance. Social workers from MRO visited Juru camp in Penang and other places near Kuala Lumpur to assist the Mon refugees.

 

“The team members from both locations visited the refugees who had been arrested in jail.   Nai Tun (not his real name), an asylum seeker, is holding a UNHCR letter and Nai Chan (not his real name) were arrested by the Malaysian police and sent to Penang jail on April 24, 2006.  The duo were beaten by the authorities and spent 4 months in jail before being deported to Juru camp in Penang on August 25, 2006,” said Nai Htoo from the MRO office.

 

Over 30 Mons and about 100 people from Burma were deported to Juru camp last month during the crack down on migrant workers.

 

The Mon social worker visiting the detention camp said, “they (asylum seekers) face many hardships: harassment by authorities from having no security; lack of food and medication. There are many sick people in the detention centre. Only a boy was allowed admittance to the hospital.”

 

The asylum seekers in the Penang prison say that the UNHCR officials have never visited them.  Those arrested were separated into two groups. The first group had to pay RM 50 (Malay currency) for deportation and the second group will be held for an undisclosed period time in the detention camp.

 

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Unreliable post office disappoints local people

(Kaowao: October 10, 2006)

 

Local people at Sangkhalaburi Thai-Burma town are disappointed with the unreliable postal service in their area.

 

Civilians at the border town complained that several letters and parcels were lost or undelivered to their final destination.  Those who received mail said their letters were often wrecked and opened. 

 

A woman from Waengka village talked to a Kaowao reporter saying that a parcel that contained 15 items of clothing she sent to relatives in the U.S was received with only 4 items.  “Apparently, someone had tampered with it or it may have gotten lost on the way to its destination.”

 

“When compared to Burma, Thailand has a very good postal service and we are impressed with the communication system here.  But here on the border town it’s a different story.  If the name in the envelope appears in Mon and not in Thai, it will more than likely be opened or undelivered,” said another villager who regularly receives mail from friends.

 

A package sent from Denmark last year was not delivered and the sender, Nai Hlu himself asked at the post office when he visited the border town and finally found it.

 

Sangkhalaburi Town of Karnchanaburi Province has only one post office, with the area code number 71240, local people mostly rely on this postal service.

 

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Sangkhalaburi refugees enter border camp

(Kaowao: October 10, 2006)

 

Burmese refugees have entered the border camp hoping to resettle in the third countries, today.

 

A local source reported that 45 families of about 180 asylum seekers are preparing to enter the camp today and tomorrow.

 

“I don’t know how I feel.  There will be no contact with the outside in the isolated camp for a while.  But we are excited and hopeful because we have been waiting very long,” said Rot Rot who is on the way to the camp.

 

Thai Provincial Administration Board had decided to relocate all asylum seekers in this area into the camp near Sangkhalaburi border but the plan has been delayed and the relocation only started this month.

 

UNHCR representative, Nai Santi visited the border office prior to this relocation process.  Most of the asylum seekers in this area are Mon, Karen, Tavoyan and Burman from rural areas in Burma and have fled from forced labour from the Burmese government and human rights abuses by the SPDC junta over the past two years.

 

In 2004, 274 people in Sangkhalaburi, Karnchanaburi Province of western Thailand, were granted Non-Indochinese or NI refugee registration papers by the Thai government. In April, about 130 asylum seekers showed up to renew their registration at the local office.

 

Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Burma have fled to neighboring countries in search of asylum.  Most of the refugees in Thailand are living outside the camps, without access to any formal assistance and protection while some 150,000 refugees are staying in 9 camps along the border.

 

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Overseas Mon denounces National Convention

(Kaowao: October 10, 2006)

 

Mon communities in exile have jointly denounced the State Peace and Development Council sponsored National Convention that reconvenes today.

 

The statement, issued on October 9, alleged that the SPDC is preparing to establish a military state to be ruled by the military government forever through the NC and it has no intention of establishing a genuine federal union that the ethnic nationalities of Burma have been fighting for, for more than half a century.

 

The Overseas Mon communities from Australia Mon Association, Euro-Mon Community, Mon Canadian Society, Monland Restoration Council (USA), Mon Unity League (Thailand) and Mon Women's Association of America also called the United Nations Security Council to urge the Burmese military junta to release all political leaders and students' leaders from detention.

  
The overseas Mon believes that
Burma’s problem needs a mediator to bring all stakeholders together such as representatives of SPDC, NLD and democratic forces and ethnic political parties and armed groups, and to moderate in the dialogue.

 

The Mons in exile have reached a consensus from their weekly teleconferencing. During the past two years the overseas Mon community actively coordinates to support the Mon national cause in its homeland.

 
Meanwhile, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) sent a low profile team headed by its Central Committee member Nai Tin Hla to attend the National Convention as observers.

 

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Commentary

 

U.S. “Waiver” a means to an end for Burma

By Nehginpao Kipgen

 

October 20, 2006

 

October 19, 2006 Media Release of the U.S. State Department says:  “The Secretary of State, on October 11, exercised her discretionary exemption authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act, so that Chin refugees from Burma living in Malaysia, Thailand, and India can resettle in the United States…..” This development is partly the recognition of the plights of ethnic people in the Union of Burma. When the State Department granted a waiver for Karen refugees in Thailand, it considered as a test case; it now appears that the test was successful partially if not in its entirety. This being the third time in this year – May, August and October – to waive provisions of the US Patriot Act of 2001 and the Real ID Act of 2005, “waiver” has become a means to an end for Burma.

 

In the USA PATRIOT Act - passed in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States - and the Real ID Act of 2005, the U.S. government broadened the definition of a "terrorist organization” as any group of two or more people who bear arms with the intent to endanger the safety of any individual. In addition, the definition of material support was broadly defined in general categories, such as, transportation, communications, funds, or other material financial benefit. This has barred many asylum seekers and refugees from entering the United States. Under the US Immigration Nationality Act, refugees are not eligible for resettlement without the Secretary of State’s waiver.

 

Meanwhile, Burma’s military regime, the State Peace and Development Council, on October 10, 2006 reconvened its years’ long drawn National Convention – first convened in 1993 - which they consider as first of the seven steps toward “Road map to democracy.” Simultaneously, arrest and political intimidations have been unabated – three leading 1988 democracy uprising leaders - Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Kywe – were arrested on September 27. Another student activist, Thet Win Aung, who was arrested and then incarcerated in 1998 for protesting poor quality of education and denial of human rights, died in prison on October 16 – both incidents were condemned by the US government.

 

The United States is seen engaging on Burma at different levels. On September 29, for the first time in history, Burma was placed in the permanent agenda of the U.N. Security Council. On another front, Ellen Sauerbrey, US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration during her August tour to Tham Hin refugee camp at Thai-Burma border, was hopeful that waivers would be forthcoming for other ethnic minority groups who are fleeing Burma's military regime. She added, "We began with the Karen. We're working on a similar waiver for the Chin in Malaysia.”

 

In his briefing to reporters on May 5, 2006, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “This waiver is not a guarantee that individuals might be resettled in the United States, but merely something that allows the Department of Homeland Security to consider them as potentially eligible." To this effect, Karen refugees have begun to resettle in the United States of America.

 

According to the State Department fact sheet, the Burmese refugees, particularly Karen refugees, have been identified as a population of special humanitarian concern to the United States due to the privations they have experienced during and since their flight from Burma and due to the lack of any other durable solution. Under the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should ensure protection of vulnerable persons basically in three ways – (i) voluntarily repatriating to their homeland (ii) integrate in countries of asylum (iii) resettle in third countries. In the case of Burma, the United States and few other European countries are opting for the third option – resettling in third countries.

 

Despite assumptions that the US foreign policy is beleaguered by murky scenarios of sectarian killings in Iraq and the recent claimed nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), also known as North Korea, it is apparent that the people of Southeast Asian nation are not out of the loop. The announcement of this waiver coincides with the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Asia in an effort to convince North Korean neighbors to implement the UN Security Council resolution number 1718 (2006) adopted at its 5551st meeting on 14 October 2006.

 

With the September 29th U.N. Security Council’s briefing on Burma and the ongoing military junta National Convention having no immediate solution, the United States is exploring for alternative means to address the plights of the Burmese people. Provided that refugees pose no danger to the safety and security of the United States, more waivers can be anticipated. Given the gradual developments, the United States is apparently preparing to use “waiver” as a means to an end for the lives of thousands of asylum seekers and refugees.

 

Nehginpao Kipgen is the General Secretary of the US based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947 – 2004).  The views expressed here are solely the opinion of the author. Kaowao Editor)

 

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ABOUT US

Kaowao Newsgroup is committed to social justice, peace, and democracy in Burma. We hope to be able to provide more of an in-depth analysis that will help to promote lasting peace and change within Burma.

 

Editors, reporters, writers, and overseas volunteers are dedicated members of the Mon activist community based in Thailand.

 

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