KUALA LUMPUR — Gulajan Binti Nur Hamad was only 9 years old when she saw her house set ablaze by rampaging Buddhist mobs. “There was fire and fighting,” she said, running her right hand across her throat in a hint that she had seen worse than the flames that left her family’s home in ashes. Gulajan was one of more than 140,000 Muslim Rohingya driven from their homes in 2012 during violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, in her case left homeless when ethnic Rakhine mobs in October that year attacked the Rohingya Muslims living in the area of Kyaukphyu, an oil and gas port where a major pipeline comes ashore before traversing Myanmar to China’s Yunnan Province.
RANGOON – Aung San Suu Kyi’s chances of becoming president dimmed yesterday after she lost her struggle to break the dominance of Burma’s military establishment. Supporters of the democracy activist failed to muster enough votes, despite three days of debate in Naypyidaw, to pass an amendment that would remove a clause that is, in effect, a military veto on new legislation. The army will now almost certainly continue its dominance over politics into the next parliament. Ms Suu Kyi, 70, a Nobel peace prize winner who spent 15 years as a political prisoner, is by far Burma’s most popular politician, and can expect to win an overwhelming victory in this year’s general election.
YANGON — Ahead of national elections due later this year, Myanmar’s military-influenced parliament voted on Thursday to maintain the army’s veto over key legislative changes and to keep a law that prevents popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing for president. After three days of debate on proposed amendments to the country’s constitution, lawmakers opted against any substantive changes to the charter, which was imposed in 2008 by Myanmar’s former military government. Describing the outcome as “not a shock,” Han Tha Myint, a senior member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the party would now decide whether to contest nationwide elections scheduled for November. “We have to meet to discuss this,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.
BANGKOK – In Aceh on the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, the refugees were in bad shape when they landed in early and mid-May after a long ordeal at sea. “They only had the clothes on their backs. Many had wounds from the fighting that had broken out at sea over food,” Nasruddin, a coordinator for the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Acehnese nongovernmental organization that has been working with the survivors, told the Nikkei Asian Review.
BANGKOK – Last year’s census was Myanmar’s first in over 3 decades but so far there has been no mention of how many of Myanmar’s 51.4 million people are Buddhist, the majority religion, and how many are Christian, Hindu and Muslim. Also withheld for now are crucial data on the country’s ethnic make-up. Estimates suggest that around 60 per cent of the population is Burman, with the rest made up of dozens of minorities. The government’s official classification lists 135 ethnic groups, though many dispute the methodology by which officials came up with that glossary. Khon Ja, an activist from Kachin state, a mostly-Christian region in northern Myanmar, said at the time of the census-taking last year that “my group is listed four times under different names, even using a geographic location as a tribe name.”
BANGKOK – For Rohingya, it surely seemed as if the Myanmar government was not taking the meeting seriously, much less committing to addressing the decades of discrimination and bias that prompt thousands of Rohingya to risk kidnapping and destitution overseas. “The [Myanmar] government just sent a low-level delegation. There was not even a Rohingya representative speaking at the meeting,” said Aung Win ,a Rohingya community leader speaking by telephone from a Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state.
BANGKOK – For now the numbers of people taking to the seas is likely to ease off, as the long rainy season hits Myanmar and Bangladesh, bringing with it the threat of cyclones and stormy seas. The change in weather should in theory give the concerned countries a five to six month window to deal with the causes of the crisis. But Aung Win, a Rohingya community leader living in a Muslim ghetto near Sittwe, the regional capital of Rakhine state, believes that many Rohingya will once again try to reach Thailand and Malaysia when the rains stop around October. “For sure, unless the government does something to make our lives easier, after the rainy season people will make for overseas,” Aung Win told the NAR.
BANGKOK — Deferring to a Myanmar government demand, representatives at a meeting here aimed at resolving southeast Asia’s ongoing maritime migration crisis are sidestepping using the term “Rohingya.” “We are totally against the use of the nomenclature Rohingya, which never [existed] as a race in [this] country,” Htin Lin, Myanmar’s representative at the Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, told the Nikkei Asian Review. Friday’s discussions involve representatives of 17 countries and come after Thailand launched a crackdown on long-established human trafficking syndicates preying on migrants aiming to get to Malaysia from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
BANGKOK – “According to the information given to me by those who come back from the boats, there are no more now offshore,” said Kyaw Hla, a Rohingya businessman who paid out of his own pocket for the safe return to Sittwe of 75 trafficked Rohingya. “I paid 200,000 Myanmar kyat (about US$200) for each human person,” Kyaw Hla told The Edge Review. With the annual rainy season about to hit the Bay of Bengal and surrounding countries, the exodus of Rohingya and Bangladeshis will cease, for now, said Kyaw Hla. But unless conditions improve over the coming months, more Rohingya will likely take to the sea again come October, when the clouds break and the wind and rains stop and the boats point south toward Thailand and Malaysia once more.
YANGON – “I was in Calcutta, my niece phoned me to say that she saw my name on a list of the names of the cardinals announced by the Holy Father. I thought she was joking at first.” said Charles Maung Bo, Myanmar’s first Catholic cardinal. That was how the 66 year old Archbishop of Yangon found out back on Jan. 4 that he was to be one of 20 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis. “He wants to show the universality of the whole church and he wants to hear the voice from the different people,” said Cardinal Bo, assessing the pope’s motives for naming new cardinals from Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Myanmar, which last year marked 5 centuries of Catholic Church presence in the country.