Ij reportika Logo

Myanmar junta recruits thousands of soldiers: report

Myanmar’s junta has recruited nearly 4,000 men nationwide in its latest round of conscription as it seeks to reinforce the ranks of its army in the face of battlefield setbacks to insurgents battling to end military rule, a nonprofit group said.  Under the People’s Military Service Law, enacted by the junta in February,  men between the ages of 18 and 45 can be conscripted. The announcement has triggered a wave of killings of administrators enforcing the law and driven thousands of draft dodgers into neighboring Thailand.  A new round of conscriptions was undertaken in mid-April, according to the analysis and data group Burma Affairs and Conflict Study. Training for the nearly 4,000 new recruits began on May 14 in 16 schools across the country, the group said in a release on Wednesday.  One mother was relieved that her two sons were not selected in a raffle system used for the recruitment. She said all families with military aged men had to pay 10,000 kyats (US$ 2) to support the recruits. “I’m so worried that my sons will be picked in the next round,” she told RFA on Friday. The woman declined to be identified. About 5,000 people were recruited in the first round of conscription in early April, which brings the total number to about 9,000, according to the research group.  Spokesmen for the junta were not immediately available for comment on Friday but they said in state-backed media during the first round of recruitment that people were not being forced to join and only volunteers were allowed to begin training.  However, civilians reported mass arrests of young people in the Ayeyarwady and Bago regions, as well as village quotas that included adolescents and threats to burn residents’ houses down if recruits did not come forward. Senior junta official Gen. Maung Maung Aye, who is in charge of the national recruitment drive, said at a meeting in the capital of Naypyidaw on May 20 that the second round of recruitment had begun successfully. Those who failed to attend would  be dealt with according to the law, he said. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.     

Read More

Cambodia’s traditional marble and sandstone sculptors still carve by hand

As they draw closer to Ko Koh commune, drivers and passengers traveling on National Road 6 can spot the thousands of marble and sandstone statues and sculptures set out along the highway in central Cambobia’s Kampong Thom province. The sculptures – mostly of Buddha, various animals and the Angkor-era’s King Jayavarman VII – come from the area’s numerous hand-carving businesses. The traditional art dates back centuries.  About 50 families in Ko Koh commune’s Samnak village are engaged in the local industry, which also provides employment opportunities to about 200 people from other nearby villages, commune chief Chap Thin told Radio Free Asia. Statues of the Buddha. (RFA) Stone sculptor Tep Thean said apprentices can earn from 600,000 (US$146) to 800,000 (US$195) riel a month, while skilled craftsmen are paid up to 100,000 riel (US$24) per day.  But the craft is less popular these days, he said.  “Carving is very difficult. It affects our health. Sometimes it breaks,” he said. “It is very dangerous if we are not careful.” For years, the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has sent trainers to the area to help local sculptors hone their skills and to follow certain practices that make the works uniquely Cambodian, he said. Four steps by hand One has to go through four stages of stone processing. During the first stage, the sculptor trims a stone down into the desired shape of the sculpture, with outlines of the shoulders, arms, legs and face. The second step is to create six corners on the stone, and the third step is to sketch out the face of the sculpture. During the last stage, the sculptor polishes the face and cleans the sculpture before putting it out for sale.  A major selling point for the sculptures is that they are produced by hand, Chap Thin said. “Those who love Khmer sculptures will differentiate those made by hands and machines,” he said. “They won’t value those made by machines.” Undated video screenshot of Stone sculptor Em Ri Phon. (RFA) The sculptures are sold in Cambodia and in areas of southern Vietnam where ethnic Khmers live – often referred to as Kampuchea Krom. They are also shipped abroad to the United States, Canada and Australia.  Although Cambodian sculptors are skilled and meticulous, they can’t carve stone surfaces as smoothly as those made by computer-guided machines. Some of the sculptors in Ko Koh commune are worried that machine-operated stone carvings from Chinese and Vietnamese-owned companies could tarnish the reputation of Cambodian stone carvings. Master stone carver Em Ri Phon said his family is earning 50 percent less from orders than they did a year ago. “This artistic work – I want to promote our art culture as well as Khmer sculpture,” he said. “We want to preserve this culture for a long time.” Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed.

Read More

Clashes displace 15,000 civilians in western Myanmar

Fighting in western Myanmar has forced thousands of people to flee from their homes, left parts of a town in smoldering ruins and killed three civilians, residents told Radio Free Asia, as opponents of military rule try to defeat the junta that seized power in 2021. The clashes between junta troops and insurgent groups in Chin State, which is on the border with India, displaced 15,000 people in two days and led to the destruction of parts of Tedim town, they said.  Anti-junta insurgents from Chin State control 10 towns in the state, while another ethnic minority rebel group, the Arakan Army, controls two others. A battle broke out on Sunday night and continued into the next day, said a resident who declined to be identified for security reasons. Two people fleeing by motorcycle from Tedim on Monday morning were hit by artillery fire. A 40-year-old woman was killed  while her male cousin was wounded. “She was taken to a nearby house after she was injured. That’s when she died. She was cremated in Tedim on Tuesday morning,” he said. “Her cousin, who was also hurt, has a broken leg and is now being treated at a hospital in Kale town.” On Sunday, the junta’s air force bombed nearby camps occupied by the Zoland People’s Defense Force, a Chin group opposed to the junta, residents said. Junta aircraft also bombed two villages controlled by the rebel group, killing two civilians. RFA called Chin State’s junta spokesperson, Aung Cho, to ask for information about the clashes, but the calls went unanswered. Most of the displaced people are taking shelter in Kale, a town in the neighboring Sagaing region, about 80 km (50 miles) away, said another resident who also asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. Others are sheltering in nearby forests.  “Most of the residents fled,” the second resident told RFA  “Most of them fled to Kale town. There are some who could afford to go to Champhai,” he said, referring to a town in India. At around noon on Monday, junta soldiers burned about 30 houses in Tedim, one of the residents said. “The burnt houses were the ones near the clock tower in Myoma neighborhood and down by the telecommunication office,” he said, asking to remain anonymous given security worries. “All the houses near the local administration office were also set on fire.” Dr Sasa, a senior official in a shadow civilian government, said the destruction in Tedim was a crime against humanity and the international community should help. “Tedim town in Chin State has been burned down by the brutal forces of Myanmar’s military junta … It is imperative to help Myanmar end this reign of terror and build peace,” Sasa, who goes by one name, said on the social media platform, X.  An official from Zoland People’s Defense Force, which occupies territory in Tedim township, told RFA that the allied Chin defense forces captured nine junta soldiers, as well as several military camps. “There are three places [we captured], including the junta’s Electric Power Corporation office,” he told RFA on Tuesday, declining to be identified for security reasons. “Some junta soldiers were killed during the battle, but those captured alive will be treated according to the law.”  One member of the anti-junta Chin force was killed and three were wounded, he said.  Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.         

Read More

China cracks down on Tibetans during holy month

Chinese authorities have instructed Tibetan students, government workers and retirees to refrain from engaging in religious activities in Tibet’s capital Lhasa during the Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa, four sources said. The Saga Dawa festival occurs during the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar and runs from May 9 to June 6 this year.  For Tibetan Buddhists, it marks the period of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and parinirvana — the state entered after death by someone who has attained nirvana during their lifetime. During the holy month, thousands of religious pilgrims visit temples and walk sacred kora routes around Lingkhor and Barkhor streets in Lhasa, encircling the revered Jokhang Temple.  The ritual kora — making a circumambulation around sacred sites or objects as part of a pilgrimage — holds immense significance for Tibetan Buddhists who believe that virtuous deeds performed during Saga Dawa are magnified based on their location. A video obtained by Radio Free Asia showed heavy police presence surrounding the Barkhor area — the heart of the capital with its famed pilgrimage circuit — on May 22, the eve of the 15th day of the fourth month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, considered one of the holiest days during Saga Dawa.  Since the start of Saga Dawa, Chinese police have tightened security around key religious sites, including Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, and the Barkhor area, the sources told RFA. The measures illustrate the deterioration of religious freedom in Tibet under the Chinese government’s suppression and Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism — a policy that seeks to bring the religion under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. Police everywhere While devotees were seen on pilgrimage on the other days of Saga Dawa, the 15th day on May 23 saw heightened restrictions, with police stationed along the pathways leading to the Sera, Gandhen and Drepung monasteries, said the sources who declined to be named out of fear of retribution by authorities. “There isn’t any place where you don’t see police and interrogation stations,” one of the sources told RFA.  Tibetans line up to offer prayers as they mark the day of Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment at the Tsuklakhang temple complex in Dharamshala, India, May 23, 2024. (Ashwini Bhatia/AP) The Chinese government has increased the number of police checkpoints in and around Lhasa, and authorities have been interrogating Tibetans spontaneously, the person said.  Individuals who do not have a shenfenzhang, or Chinese resident identity card, are prohibited from visiting temples, leading to the heightened restrictions now in effect, said a second source.  “During our visits to circumambulate the holy sites, Chinese police regularly inspect everyone’s identity cards and engage in arguments,” said a third source.  “Having to engage in disputes with the Chinese police takes an emotional toll on us, and this is one of the reasons why many are afraid of engaging in religious activities as often as they’d like,” he said. A Nepalese monk lights a butter lamp during Saga Dawa at Swayambhunath, one of the holiest Buddhist stupas in Nepal, in Kathmandu, May 24, 2013. (Prakash Mathema/AFP) Facial recognition technology is pervasive at key pilgrimage sites and authorities regularly frisk Tibetans making pilgrimages, said a fourth source. Flag-raising festival Additionally, during the Ngari Flag Raising Festival in Purang county, called Pulan in Chinese, of Ngari Prefecture in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, ​​Chinese authorities increased security  as people gathered on May 23 for the annual ceremony, and banned the use of drones during the event, according to the sources.  The annual tradition of hoisting a large central prayer flag pole in front of Mount Kailash in Tibet began in 1681 during the time of the 5th Dalai Lama. Buddhist monks and Hindu holy men sit by a roadside expecting alms as Tibetans mark the day of Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment in Dharamsala, India, May 23, 2024. (Ashwini Bhatia/AP) In a government notice dated May 16, the Pulan County Public Security Bureau in Talqin said the use of drones and other aircraft during the Saga Dawa flag raising festival was prohibited and that violators would be punished.  Tibetans who attended the event were subjected to extensive questioning and coerced into agreeing to uphold social order and refraining from causing discord, said one of the sources. Police instructed people not to share photos or videos of the festival on social media, he said. Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Edited by Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan and by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

Read More

Myanmar’s junta kills 4 villagers following mass arrest

Junta troops and members of an affiliated militia killed four civilians in central Myanmar shortly after they and 19 other people were rounded up in a sweep as troops hunted for insurgents battling to end military rule, residents told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday. The villagers were detained and taken away for questioning in the Sagaing region’s Pale township as they headed to nearby farms on Friday.  The group of men and women, mostly residents of Ywar Thit village, were taken to In Ma Htee village about 3 km (2 miles) away and tortured, said one Pale resident, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. Witnesses reported that four of the detainees were killed.  The villager identified one of the dead as Tun Naing from In Ma Htee, who was in his thirties. “He had been on the run for a long time because he did not want to join the Pyu Saw Htee,” the villager said, referring to a pro-junta militia made up of supporters of the military, Buddhist nationalists, and army veterans that is frequently accused of terrorizing villages.  “But now, he’s been arrested and killed. Those who were freed also had injuries from the beatings and are now being treated.” Nineteen people were released on Monday, he added. He identified the other dead men as Thint Zaw Oo, 25, Tun Naing Linn, 24, and Kyaw Khaing, who was in his fifties. The bodies had not been returned to their families, he said. RFA phoned the Sagaing region’s junta spokesperson, Nyunt Win Aung, for more information on why villagers were arrested but he did not return the call by the time of publication. The military has faced unprecedented opposition in Myanmar’s central heartlands, which are dominated by members of the majority Burman community, since seizing power from an elected government in early 2021. While ethnic minority groups have battled for autonomy in border hills for decades, central areas like Sagaing had been peaceful until the coup triggered outrage and an insurgency waged by pro-democracy activists in league with the ethnic minority rebels.  Junta troops have cracked down harshly on communities in response to the uprising, aiming to root out supporters of the activists’ People’s Defense Forces. According to a tally compiled by the independent media outlet Burma News International and its Myanmar Peace Monitor, junta forces have killed 1,446 civilians in the past two years in massacres, which the group defines as five or more people killed at the same time. Thousands of people were killed when the security forces crushed mass protests against the 2021 coup and thousands have been killed in fighting across the country since then. The Sagaing region has faced more attacks by the military than any other region or state, the monitoring group said in a statement on Monday. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.   

Read More

Taiwan’s people must never forget Tiananmen massacre, artists warn

The unknown “Tank Man” hero who faced down a line of People’s Liberation Army tanks in his shirtsleeves and holding a shopping bag in June 1989. A grieving woman pulling a tank out of a baby’s body. The hastily packed suitcases of Hong Kongers packed with memories of home as they fled an ongoing crackdown in their city. These and many more works of art are on display in Taipei through June 13 in a bid to warn the democratic island’s residents of the dangers of forgetting — specifically the threat to human rights and freedoms posed by authoritarian rule. As the island is encircled by People’s Liberation Army forces on military exercises, artists are marking the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre with an exhibit that includes key moments in the pro-democracy movement in recent years as well as commemoration of those who died in the 1989 bloodshed. The exhibit, titled “Preserving Memory: Life, Death,” brings together more than 30 works by 18 artists in wooden frames resembling household cabinets, including 3D-printed replicas of the “Pillar of Shame” massacre memorial sculpture, which has been seized by national security police in Hong Kong.  A grieving woman pulls a tank out of a baby’s body in a painting on show at the “Preserving Memory: Life, Death” exhibit in Taipei on May 23, 2024. (RFA/Hsia Hsiao-hwa) Upstairs at the imposing blue-and-white memorial hall commemorating Taiwan’s former authoritarian ruler Chiang Kai-shek, with a candlelight vigil to be held in Democracy Boulevard outside the hall on June 4 this year, more than one third of the works on show are from Hong Kong artists who fled their city amid a crackdown on dissent in the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests. Candlelight vigils were held for the victims of the June 4, 1989, massacre every year in Hong Kong for three decades, before they were banned in 2020 and their organizers jailed. Dangers Tiananmen massacre eyewitness Wu Renhua told the launch event on Thursday that he hopes the exhibit will remind Taiwan’s 23 million people, particularly the younger generation, of the dangers of Chinese Communist Party rule. Speaking as People’s Liberation Army warships and planes encircled the island on military exercises intended as a “serious punishment” for Taiwan’s democratically elected President Lai Ching-te, Wu said Taiwan is currently under threat today because of the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian system. Exiled Hong Kong artist Choi Chi-ho (right) and curator Abbey Li at the opening of the “Preserving Memory: Life, Death” exhibit in Taipei on May 23, 2024. (RFA/Hsia Hsiao-hwa.) “Over the years, some political parties, some politicians, and some media in Taiwan have been trying to curry favor with the Chinese Communist Party, saying that it’s different now, and that China today has changed,” Wu told the event. “This worries me greatly.” “I hope that through commemorative activities for June 4 and by telling the truth about the June 4 massacre, more Taiwanese, particularly the younger generation, will see the violent nature of the Chinese Communist Party for what it is,” Wu said, calling for “a sense of crisis” to safeguard Taiwan’s freedoms and its democratic system. Exiled Hong Kong artist Choi Chi-ho, who exhibited his suitcase as an artwork, said he had packed in a huge hurry when the time came for him to leave Hong Kong, with only a couple of days to get himself ready. “I just stuffed everything I could find … anything I could find to represent my 20 years of life in Hong Kong, my experiences and memories, into that suitcase,” Choi told RFA Mandarin, adding that he couldn’t bear to open it until he heard about the exhibit. Organizers from Taiwan’s New School for Democracy pose at the launch of the “Preserving Memory: Life, Death” exhibit in Taipei on May 23, 2024. RFA/Hsia Hsiao-hwa. Among the items in the suitcase was the key to his old apartment. “My house key,” Choi explained. “I thought maybe one day I’d go back, but eventually, it just wound up here. I’ll never be able to use it again.” “My ex-boyfriend wrote me a farewell letter and gave me some of his clothes,” he said. “When my mother found out I was leaving, she took out a Bible and wrote some words of blessing on it for me,” he said. “When I opened it later, I saw she’d also put some family photos from my childhood in there.” Authoritarian control Choi said the exhibit seeks to underline what can happen to a society once it comes under Beijing’s control. “Taiwan has also lived through a very authoritarian era,” he said in a reference to the one-party rule of the Kuomintang that ended with the direct election of the island’s president in 1996.  “Only by understanding human rights violations in our own land, or in the territory next door, do we realize that freedom and democracy are hard-won, and that our predecessors paid a high price in blood, sweat and human life for them,” he said. Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei speaks at the launch of the “Preserving Memory: Life, Death” exhibit in Taipei on May 23, 2024. RFA/Hsia Hsiao-hwa. Canada-based democracy activist Yang Ruohui said by video message that respect for human rights was the biggest difference between Taiwan and China under Communist Party rule. “I would like to call on the people of Taiwan to pay attention to the human rights situation in China, and to help us build a Chinese community in diaspora that embraces human rights, freedom and democracy as a way of life, and demonstrates it to those in mainland China,” he said. Former Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kei, who fled to Taiwan after being held for months by Chinese state security police for selling banned political books to customers in mainland China, said it’s not enough just to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre every year. “We must also reflect on why this happened in 1989,” he told the launch event. “Was it because…

Read More

Junta officials bulldoze 200 homes in Myanmar neighborhood

Junta administrators destroyed 200 homes in a neighborhood in Myanmar’s Yangon Division on charges of trespassing, residents told Radio Free Asia, the latest in a series of evictions to clear squatter communities in urban centers. The homes in Mingaladon township’s Pale neighborhood were bulldozed on Thursday by municipal officers and troops, they said.  Officials sent residents letters in late April telling them they had to leave  by an early May deadline.  Myanmar’s military has cleared tens of thousands of homes across the country, accusing people of squatting. The neighborhoods are usually in the suburbs of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, crammed with makeshift dwellings made from tarpaulin, scraps of wood and corrugated iron.  A resident who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told RFA that only 18 households left willingly. The rest were destroyed. “They brought a bulldozer to completely flatten them,” he said. In the eviction notice, signed by the junta chairman of Mingaladon township’s Planning and Administration Board, residents were told  “all squatter buildings” in the area had to be dismantled and removed by May 10. People who have lost their homes have had to find rented accommodation, neighbors said. RFA telephoned Yangon region’s junta spokesperson, Htay Aung, for information about the incident  but he did not answer the phone. On April 26, junta forces and municipal officials ordered district authorities to remove 600 houses in Yangon’s Mayangone township, residents said. According to data compiled by RFA, nearly 20,000 houses in Mayangon, Dagon Myothit (Seikkan), Dagon Myothit, Dawbon and Mingaladon townships, have been removed in the more than three years since the military seized power from a democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup. In addition to Yangon, the second city of Mandalay and some other centers have seen  forced evictions. On Dec. 2, 2022, the United Nations called the removal of residential homes by force without providing replacements for those evicted a war crime. Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.  

Read More

In bid to reduce traffic jams, Vietnam mulls congestion fees

Vietnamese drivers entering big cities during peak traffic periods will have to pay “congestion fees” if one lawmaker gets his way.  Nguyen Phuong Thuy, a representative from the capital Hanoi, argued during a discussion Tuesday in the National Assembly that the fee would boost the state budget, increase funds for land transport infrastructure – and reduce traffic jams. He was one of 23 National Assembly deputies who discussed a draft Law on Roads, including the possibility of charging fees on personal cars that enter city centers at certain times, according to a state media. The proposal comes as Vietnam grapples with growing traffic congestion, inadequate transportation infrastructure and increasing air pollution from exhaust fumes despite the government’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. Officials in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city with a population of 9 million, calculated that in 2022, the city lost about 138 trillion dong, or US$5.4 billion, due to traffic jams for missed work time, wasted fuel while sitting in traffic and labor force costs. Public transportation is lacking. In 2022, Hanoi had about 5.8 million motorbikes and 600,000 automobiles, though only 140 bus lines, meeting an estimated 31% of total demand, according to a report by the Hanoi Times. Five centrally governed cities in Vietnam – Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Haiphong, Danang and Can Tho – have the authority to impose driving charges not previously defined by law, according to a report by Viet Nam News.  It wasn’t immediately clear what the fees might be under the new proposal. Three conditions must be met for the scheme to work, Thuy said, according to an online report by VN Express. First, the collection should be digitized. Second, public transportation should meet at least 30% of transportation demand. And third, infrastructure, parking lots, and public transit systems must connect personal vehicles with public ones. “Cars owned by people both inside and outside the city have increased, while old, dilapidated infrastructure has failed to meet transport demand,” he said.  Mixed views But some people are skeptical the plan would be effective. Hanoi resident Nguyen Khac Toan said he didn’t believe a fee on inbound-city cars would reduce traffic jams. “The fee collection measure seems right, but it is only situational and patchy,” he told Radio Free Asia. “It would not help because those who need to drive a car into the city would pay to do so.” Traffic gridlock occurs near the National Convention Center during the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in Hanoi, Jan. 26, 2021. (Nhac Nguyen/AFP) Former National Assembly Deputy Luu Binh Nhuong wrote on Facebook that poor traffic management is the main cause of traffic jams in Hanoi — not inbound personal vehicles.  Therefore, any fees imposed on these drivers would not be not fair and would be a violation of free movement and free business under the country’s Constitution and Competition Law, he said. Nguyen Quang A, another Hanoi resident, said a willingness by city officials to address limited parking spaces and high parking  fees would help ease the situation. Drivers have to pay several hundred thousand dong an hour to park, and lots are difficult to find, he said.  “For city dwellers, there should be parking lots built for them, but in case they park on the streets, a fee should be collected for using public space,” he said. “Those who own cars have to follow. That is the easiest way to solve traffic jams and to collect money for the city budget.” Past proposals This isn’t the first time that Vietnam’s major cities have considered fees on personal vehicles entering the city center – but none have been implemented. The Vietnamese government issued a decree in April 2022 to enhance order, transport security and reduce traffic jams, and several cities were told to conduct a fee collection pilot program for inbound vehicles. In 2017, Hanoi’s People’s Council issued a resolution on enhancing traffic order and combating traffic congestion. It called for limiting or stopping motorbike traffic in certain areas of the five centrally governed cities after 2030, as well as collecting tolls from vehicles in highly congested and polluted areas of major cities. The People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s southern economic hub, included a traffic jam fee in its general city planning project until 2040, a plan that would look further to 2060. Fees would be collected during specific times of the day, including peak travel.  Translated by Gia Minh for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster. 

Read More

About 30 Rohingya killed in clashes between Myanmar junta, insurgents

About 30 members of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority have been killed in clashes between junta forces and ethnic minority Buddhist insurgents, residents of Rakhine State said on Saturday, raising new fears that the persecuted Muslim community is being caught in the middle of increasingly bitter fighting. Twelve Rohingya civilians were killed in junta airstrikes targeting fighters from the Arakan Army, or AA, in Buthidaung township on Friday.  Later in the day, the Arakan Army bombed  a school where Rohingyas were sheltering with drones, killing 18 of them, residents said. About 200 people were wounded, a Buthidaung Rohingya resident who identified himself as Khin Zaw Moe told RFA. “People are scared. The casualties may be even higher,” he said. “The exact number is not known due to the difficulty in communicating.” Rohingyas from about 20 villages were sheltering in the high school when it was attacked, he said. It was not clear why the Arakan Army bombed the school. RFA tried to telephone the AA spokesman, Khaing Thukha, and the junta’s Rakhine State spokesperson, Hla Thein, but could not get through to either of them.  The AA, who are battling the junta for self-determination of the Buddhist ethnic Arakan community in the state, said in a statement on Saturday its forces had captured all junta bases in Buthidaung. It did not mention Rohingya civilians. Rohingya, who have been persecuted for decades in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, are getting caught up in the war between the AA and junta forces, human rights workers  say. Both sides have pressed Rohingya into their ranks and at the same time have accused Rohingya of helping their rivals. Both the AA and junta forces subjected members of the Muslim minority to violence, residents and rights workers say. Another Rohingya resident of Buthidaung said the AA burned down homes in eight neighborhoods of the town although he didn’t know how many of the homes had been destroyed. Rohingya activist Nay San Lwin told RFA that tens of thousands of Rohingyas had fled from their homes after the AA ordered them to leave the town by 10 a.m. on Saturday. Another township resident told RFA on Saturday that AA fighters had rounded up thousands of Rohingya near Buthidaung prison.  RFA was unable to confirm any of the accounts because telephone lines and internet links were down. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled from a Myanmar military crackdown in 2017, in response to a series of attacks on the security forces by Rohingya insurgents. Most of those refugees are sheltering in camps in southeast Bangladesh, where they joined hundreds of thousands who fled earlier abuses. More than half a million Rohingya remain in Rakhine State, many of them in camps for the internally displaced. Rohingya activists estimate the Rohingya population of Buthidaung to be around 200,000.  Edited by Mike Firn and Taejun Kang.

Read More

Indian authorities in Manipur state force Myanmar refugees out of border villagers

Myanmar refugees who fled civil war and sought refuge in border villages in neighboring India’s Manipur state said they are are being deported by local authorities and a paramilitary group. Manipur state Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh said in a May 8 Facebook post that the deportation of nearly 5,500 “illegal immigrants” was underway, though he did not specifically refer to the Myanmar refugees. Of that number, authorities had collected the biometric data of almost 5,200 of them, he said. The Indian government has a policy to collect fingerprints of all foreigners residing in India, including refugees deemed “illegal immigrants,” for security purposes. The thousands of civilians from Chin state and Sagaing region poured over the Indian border and into Manipur state to escape armed conflict between junta troops and rebel forces that followed the military’s seizure of power in a February 2021 coup d’état. Another 60,000 Myanmar civilians from Chin state have crossed the border and sought shelter in Mizoram state, south of Manipur, according to Chin civil society groups in Myanmar and aid workers. The Mizoram government, however, has decided not to repatriate any of the Chin refugees until the situation there stabilizes. Many ethnic Mizos in Mizoram believe that they and the Chins belong to the same ethnic group. A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India’s Manipur state, May 2, 2024. (@NBirenSingh via X) Singh’s announcement contradicted an earlier statement by Indian Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah that the government would not repatriate the refugees until peace had been restored in Myanmar. India is not a signatory of the U.N. refugee convention, which states that refugees should not be returned to countries where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. ‘A disregard of lives’ Soon after Singh’s comment, village administrators and soldiers from the Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force that protects India ‘s northeastern border, began removing 30 refugee households, forcing them into a forest near border post 74, said a Myanmar refugee who declined to be named for safety reasons. “We were forced to remove our shelters and leave there,” said the refugee who fled Htan Ta Bin village in Myanmar after it was burned down. “Now we have to live in a yard.” An official from the Burma Refugees Committee–Kabaw Valley, an organization that helps people fleeing to Manipur from war-torn Myanmar, objected to the refugees being deported and said they have not received humanitarian aid. “They crossed the border because of the conflicts with junta troops who threatened their lives,” said the aid worker who declined to be identified out of fear for his safety. “They were arrested and handed over to the Myanmar junta,” he said. “It is a disregard of the lives of displaced persons, and we object to it.” Salai Dokhar, a New Delhi-based activist who runs India for Myanmar, a group that raises awareness of the rights of refugees, said it would not be safe for the refugees to return if biometric data collected by the Manipur government is handed over to the Myanmar junta. Before repatriating Myanmar citizens, the Indian government sends immigration documents or background information to the ruling junta based on refugee testimonies or documents they possess. A screenshot of a post on X about the deportation of Myanmar refugees by N. Biren Singh, chief minister of northeastern India’s Manipur state, May 2, 2024. (@NBirenSingh via X) “If they are handed over [to the junta] along with the biometric information, then the security of the deported persons would be worrisome,” he said. Dokhar also said he would question officials about the contradictory statements on Myanmar refugee deportation made by Singh and Shah. Neither the Myanmar Embassy in New Delhi nor the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees responded to RFA’s emailed requests for comments by the time of publishing. Call to stop deportations The International Commission of Jurists, a human rights NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland, called on the Manipur government to immediately stop the forced deportations and reconsider treatment of the refugees. On May 2, Singh announced on social media the deportation of 77 detained “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar, calling it the “first phase.” Of these, 38 women and children were handed over to Myanmar’s junta. However, the Manipur government has not yet released the remaining 39 from prison. More than 60 Myanmar refugees arrested by Indian authorities at the border are still being held in prisons, according to volunteer aid workers concerned about the refugees being deported. Translated by Aung Naing for RFA Burmese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Joshua Lipes.

Read More