Southeast Asia Theater

Indigenous environmental activist killed in Burma

Indigenous and environmental activist Saw O Moo was reported killed in Burma's Karen State on April 5. The Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN) said Saw O Moo was killed in an ambush  by Burmese army soldiers while returning home from a community meeting to help organize humanitarian aid for villagers displaced by renewed hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Saw O Moo was one of the most active local community leaders pushing for creation of the Salween Peace Park, a proposed 5,400-square-kilometer protected area to be overseen by indigenous peoples. “We will never forget his dedication in the ongoing struggle to build peace and protect ancestral lands,” KESAN said in a statement. Several attempts to retrieve the body have been unsuccessful, as soldiers are shooting at anyone who approaches the area. As a result, Saw O Moo’s family has not been able to perform their Indigenous funeral rites. The Salween Peace Park is intended to protect the montane rainforest region from mining interests. (Mongabay, Burma Link, April 9; The Irrawady, Jan. 13, 2017)

Razed Rohingya villages turned into military bases

Burma's Rakhine state is being militarized at an alarming pace, as authorities build security force bases on lands where Rohingya villages were burned to the ground just months ago, Amnesty International said in a new report March 12. Through witness testimony and analysis of satellite images, Remaking Rakhine State documents how the bulldozing of Rohingya villages and new construction have intensified since January in areas where hundreds of thousands fled the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing last year. "What we are seeing in Rakhine State is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya," said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's crisis response director. "This makes the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees an even more distant prospect."

UN official: 'ethnic cleansing' of Rohingya continues

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour on March 6 said that the "ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar continues," after a four-day visit to Bangladesh. During his visit, he focused on the situation of thousands of refugees who have fled from Burma (Myanmar). Recently-arrived Rohingya gave credible accounts of continued violence against their people, including killings, rape, and forced starvation, Gilmour reported. Burma has been saying that it is ready to receive returning Rohingya refugees, but Gilmour maintains that safe returns are impossible under current conditions.

Philippine paradox: martial law, medical marijuana

The Unites States is facing a pretty surreal contradiction, with blustering Trump and his cannabis-phobic Attorney General Jeff Sessions holding the federal reins, as legalization takes effect in California. The Philippines is looking at a similar paradox. Ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte is again sending the National Police back into drug enforcement, after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of thousands of innocent civilians since he took office in June 2016. And on New Year's Eve, he won a grim victory as the Philippine Congress voted to extend his declaration of martial law in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao through the end of 2018.

Rohingya refugees face forced repatriation

Bangladesh and Burma agreed Jan. 16 to complete the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees within two years. According to a statement by the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the repatriation will be completed within two years from commencement. Under the agreement, Bangladesh will establish five camps. They will then move the Rohingya from these camps to two reception centers established on Burma's side of the border. Burma will then shelter the Rohingya in temporary accommodations while rebuilding houses for them. Humanitarian organizations are warning that this time frame is insufficient to guarantee a safe and voluntary return. A representative of the UN Refugee Agency said the Rohingya should voluntarily return only when they feel that it is safe to do so. (Jurist)

Duterte fudges police death toll to justify drug war

The Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte—trying to justify sending the National Police back into drug enforcement after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of innocent civilians—seems to have just been caught in a lie. He stated Dec. 7 that 242 police officers have been killed in anti-drug operations since he took office on June 30, 2016—this by way of providing a rationale for the police killing thousands of Filipinos in this same period. He said, in his typically crude syntax: "[W]hy is it, if it is not that dangerous and violent, why is it that to date, I have lost 242 policemen in drug-related raids and arrest?"

Aung San Suu Kyi to face genocide charges?

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein raised the possibility that Burma's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi could face international genocide charges over the military campaign targeting the country's Rohingya Muslim people. "For obvious reasons, if you're planning to commit genocide you don't commit it to paper and you don't provide instructions," he told BBC News Dec. 18. "The thresholds for proof are high. But it wouldn't surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see." He emphasized that he spoke to her by telephone after his office published a report in February documenting atrocities committed during an escalation of violence that began in October 2016. "I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end. I appealed to her emotional standing... to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen."

Duterte backtracks on drug war de-escalation —surprise!

Just a few weeks after the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte won rare favorable headlines by pledging to pull the National Police out of his ultra-deadly "war on drugs," he is already backpeddaling and threatening to send them back in—as cynics had predicted. Duterte made his threat Nov. 18 in a speech at a business event in his hometown Davao City (where he first honed his death-squad tactics when he served there as mayor). "The drug problem, if it becomes worse again, the police has to enter the picture," he said in his typically crude syntax. "I want it eradicated if possible."

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