BANGKOK – In recent years, attacks on the Muslim Rohingya by the Buddhist Rakhine have forced almost 150,000 Rohingya into camps after their villages were destroyed. Since then, an estimated 120,000 have run a gauntlet of stormy seas as well as abuse and extortion by traffickers in order to escape to Malaysia. “People do not have any freedom here,” said Myo Win, a Rohingya speaking to the NAR by telephone from Sittwe, the Rakhine regional state capital. “That is why they try to go to Malaysia,” he added.
YANGON – Bodies buried in the jungle, camps hurriedly abandoned, officials arrested, police suspended from duty, thousands of desperate refugees adrift at sea and pushed back into international waters by foreign navies. Muslim Rohingya have been fleeing discrimination in Myanmar by running a gauntlet of extortion, rape, starvation and sometimes execution in the remote jungles of Thailand’s south, a usual way station en route to Malaysia. But after a recent crackdown on traffickers by Thailand, thousands of distressed refugees are being pushed back to sea by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand as they attempt to dock, their boats abandoned by crew.
KAITEHU – “Two hours walk, it grows there,” Bendita Ramos said, pointing back over her shoulder and beyond her pink-painted 2 room house toward mist-shrouded hills behind. She was talking about bitter bean, a poisonous legume growing wild in the Timorese countryside. The bean needs arduous and careful preparation before it can be eaten as a supplement to a corn and rice-dominated diet. “We have to boil it 7 or 8 times, and change the water each time,” Ramos said.
DILI – Gusmao’s administration was tarnished with corruption allegations against two of his highest-profile ministers. And despite eye-popping growth, oil and gas extraction have not generated jobs for the hundreds of thousands of Timorese who eke out a living as subsistence farmers or are jobless. Moreover, the oil and gas revenue that comprises around three-quarters of GDP will run out in around a decade, meaning there is an urgent need to develop other sectors of the economy. But Araujo does not have long to implement his policies, as elections are due in 2017. Tourism and agriculture will be two priority areas, he said: “At least we could set some foundation for the next government to follow on these.”
DILI – Bendita Fraga, a 40-year-old housewife living on a farm near Dili, said that electrification had allowed her family access to new sources of clean groundwater. Pooling with neighbours, the farmers in the village bought an electric pump to extract water from a newly drilled 12-metre well. “With the pump, we can drink cleaner water and grow more crops with the extra water,” Fraga said. That would have been impossible before the government’s recent expansion of the power supply, which now covers around 60 per cent of the population.
YANGON – The emergence of malarial parasites resistant to the front-line treatment artemisinin could put hundreds of millions of people are at risk, according to new research in The Lancet. Drug-resistant malaria was found just 25km from the Indian border in northwestern Myanmar, a country that is now considered “the frontline in the battle against artemisinin resistance as it forms a gateway for resistance to spread to the rest of the world,” according to Dr. Charles Woodrow of the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, senior author of the new study.
YANGON – Gusmão’s tenure saw economic growth hit double digits on the back of oil and gas revenues. New roads have been built, linking isolated mountain villages to nearby towns, and electricity has been provided to 60 per cent of the population in what remains one of Asia’s poorest countries. “He kept the peace and investment increased,” said Tony Jape, a leading Timorese businessman and founder of Dili’s largest shopping mall. But two of Gusmão’s ministers were charged with corruption during his time as prime minister, while connected cadres from the resistance era have often had the first options on juicy government contracts for new roads.
BANDA ACEH – If Bali-style hedonism is out of the question for Aceh, visitors might be drawn by what locals are calling “disaster tourism.” That means promoting the region’s stirring tsunami memorials — such as the imposing PLTD Apung, the Tsunami Museum, with its dank and sheer water tunnel, designed to mimic the soaring tsunami waves, and the disaster research center, which doubles as an evacuation tower and sits near a mass grave holding the remains of almost 15,000 tsunami victims. Reminders of the tsunami dot Banda Aceh, ensuring that although the disaster happened a decade ago, memories remain poignantly and ominously vivid in the minds of survivors.
HALIDOLAR, East Timor — Three years ago, Maximiliano de Sosa had neither electricity nor basic farm machinery. Now, there is power around the clock and a tractor that de Sosa can rent to plow his small plot of land about 40 minutes’ drive from Dili, the capital. Perched on a 30cm ridge between de Sosa’s mustard crop and a neighbor’s spinach plants, an electric pump sucks water from a 12-meter borehole, making it easier to irrigate crops during the searing dry season. “If we don’t have electricity, we have to carry water half a kilometer and then water the crops by hand,” said de Sosa.
BANDA ACEH – Almost a decade on from the ruinous, deadly 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Banda Aceh is back on its feet.
Last Wednesday, people in the province were on their feet, voting, along with almost 200 million other Indonesians, in the third presidential election held since ousting of dictator Suharto back amid economic collapse back in 1998.