A third demonstration was held in Malaysia on 26 April, calling for a halt to the Shwe Gas Project that is being undertaken in Arakan State, Burma.
About 350 Arakanese people participated in the demonstration that was held in front of the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. The participants shouted slogans while holding placards and Arakanese flags.
Ko Thar Tun Aung, a participant in the demonstration said, “This Shwe Gas Project caused several problems to the locals, such as land confiscation, forced relocation, homelessness, environmental degradation, and coral destruction. We can not turn a blind eye to these problems, that’s why we are demonstrating here.”
Ko Thar Tun Aung is the president of the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD-exile Malaysia Branch). He continued talking about the suffering of the locals as follows. “People became jobless because their land is being confiscated and the children can not go to school due to poverty. Several women were also assaulted by the foreigners who came to work with the project. Therefore, we do not want this project and we ask for the immediate stop of the project.”
The demonstration was coordinated by the Arakan Liberation Party (Malaysia Branch), Arakanese Refugee Relief Committee (ARRC), Malaysia Arakanese Organization, and the ALD (Exile Malaysia Branch).
A woman who participated in the demonstration, who is also a teacher, told Narinjara, “Our right to use our own national resources has been ripped off. What’s more, we have lost our land. Women have been assaulted and raped. Even a tiny portion of the benefits of the project is not distributed to us. We want distribution of wealth. The people need it. We are sad that the people are deprived and we came here today to demonstrate for the people.”
Ko Khine Saw Ray, a member of the ALP in Malaysia, also told Narinjara that they are going to send a petition to President U Thein Sein through the Burmese embassy, asking to halt the Shwe Gas Project.
He said, “KMDC Company from Korea and Brilliant Oil Corporation Pte from Singapore are involved in the project. CNPC from China and ESSAR from India are also involved in the gas and oil exploration. We urged every company that is involved to immediately halt the project. We have also sent a petition letter including 1,000 signatures to the Chinese ambassador and we will send the letter to President Thein Sein through the Burmese Embassy.”
The demonstrators peacefully shouted the slogans while wearing t-shirts with the messages “Our Gas, Our Future”, “Stop Shwe Gas”, “Stop Pipelines”, “Stop the Shwe Gas Project”, and “Get out Daewoo and CNPC Companies”.
In Malaysia, two similar demonstrations have been organized twice before – first in early 2011 and then again on 13 October, 2011. This demonstration started at 11 am Malaysia-time and ended successfully at 11:30 am.
Sittwe: Over a hundred local youths have participated in the campaign against the Shwe Gas Project that was held at the Arakanese traditional New Year’s water festival on 17th of April in Sittwe, the capital town in western Burma’s Arakan State.
A local campaign group known as the Rakkha Ahluntan or Arakan’s Ray, was said to have organized the campaign with its members and participant youths taking to the streets in the town wearing the t-shirts that read “Our Gas Our Future” and singing their traditional antiphonal chants that are composed of negative impacts by the Shwe Gas Project and the peoples’ suffering in Arakan State.
“We have joined this campaign because we have become aware that the project will not benefit us and we must oppose to the project”, said Ko Soe Mra Kyaw, one of the participant youths.
“We have taken to every street and have gone to every crowded place and even to the government’s offices demanding the suspension of the project and singing our traditional antiphonal songs in order to raise awareness about the project and our sufferings among our people. No authority has disturbed our campaign”, he said.
Daw Mar Mar Kyaw Zwar, the leader of the campaign group, said the campaign was launched on the first day of their traditional New Year so as to avoid the authorities’ obstruction of their campaign.
“We had already launched a number of campaigns for the suspension of the Shwe Gas Project on the ordinary days before, but those campaigns were obstructed by the authorities. To avoid those obstructions or disturbances, we have chosen the festive occasion on the first day of our traditional New Year for our campaign this time and we have not had any problems or difficulties in this campaign”, said Daw Mar Mar Kyaw Zwar.
She said that her group would accelerate their campaign against the Shwe Gas Project if the Burmese government continues to neglect and ignore the rights and benefits to the Arakanese people stemming from the project.
“We are not the only group in Arakan State campaigning and demanding our people’s rights and benefits from the Shwe Gas Project. Our leading political party the RNDP has been also demanding the supply of 24-hour electricity in the region from the project in all houses of parliaments and by holding public movements. But the Burmese government is still reluctant to respond or fulfill the demands of local Arakanese people from the project. If it continues to neglect our desire and demand, we will intensify our campaign against the project”, she said.
She said that her group has distributed at no charge CDs of traditional antiphonal songs that were sung in the campaign to the people in order raise public awareness of the project and the suffering of people in Arakan State.
It is also learnt that the group launched a similar campaign on 19th of April in Maungdaw as well.
Maungdaw: It has been nearly a month since two young Arakanese women working as day laborers in the forestry department in Maungdaw in Arakan State reported to higher authorities that they were sexually assaulted by the deputy director of the department, but no action has been taken against the assailant yet, said an official from the department.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity told Narinjara that the deputy director has admitted to the assaults on the women while being investigated by the forestry regional higher authorities on 27th and 30th of March, but no action has been taken against him.
“After the young women reported the assaults the deputy director U Maung Maung Naing was investigated by our higher authorities’ team who included U Kyaw Soe Khine, the regional director, U Win Myint, the deputy director of Kyaukpru District, and the director of Buthidaung Township on 27th and 30th of March. He admitted to the assaults on the women during the investigations as well. But no legal or departmental action has been taken against him yet”, said the official.
The official added that the authorities’ team has also investigated the officials of the forestry department in Maungdaw as well as other people who included administrators and members of the village that is situated close to the office concerning U Maung Maung Naing’s case.
One relative of the victims said wife of U Maung Maung Naing came to the victims and asked them to close their cases against him with compensation and threats after he was investigated by the higher authorities.
“The day after U Maung Mung Naing was investigated by the authorities, his wife along with a local NGO worker came to the victims and asked them to withdraw their complaints against her husband, telling them that she would give compensation to them and she also threatened that she would sue them on the charge of defamation if they did not withdraw their complaints”, said the relative.
She said that the victims would continue to lodge their complaints with the organizations of women affairs and would bring their cases to the court of law if the forestry authorities continue to delay to take action against him.
According to sources, the young women were raped by U Maung Maung Naing on separate occasions after they were appointed as day laborers in his department and were persuaded with new clothes and gifts.
A local timber trader also said U Maung Maung Naing has held a meeting with 14 local traders of timber, bamboo, charcoal, firewood and cobble on 7th of April and asked for 20 lakh kyat that was necessary to make an appeal to the director general of forestry U Aye Myint in Naypyitaw and an additional 7 lakh kyat that he has spent receiving the authority investigation team for his cases.
According to the local resident, U Maung Maung Naing’s case with the young women is now the talk of the town in Maungdaw and he has disappeared from public sight.
Narinjara contacted the director of the district forestry department in Maungdaw concerning U Maung Muang Naing’s case, but declined to give any comment.
Kyauk Pru: Many local pilgrims gathered at the festival of Kantkawtaw Pagoda in Kyaukpru in Arakan State from 17 April this year, but faced trouble with taking rest around the pagoda because the grounds are reportedly being used for keeping pipes from the Shwe Gas Project.
The Kantkawtaw Pagoda is one of the famous ancient pagodas in Arakan State and it is situated in Goonshein Village four miles from downtown Kyaukpru, the main hub for the Shwe Gas Project. The festival is traditionally held every year for devotional offerings.
“The pagoda grounds were wide and open and there were no difficulty for the pilgrims to stay or take rest on the ground in the festivals in previous years, but this year there is not enough space on the ground for the pilgrims because it is being occupied by piles of pipes from the Shwe Gas Project,” said a trustee of the pagoda on condition of anonymity.
He also said the road to the pagoda has been heavily damaged after vehicles from the project have driven on it overweight loads, but the project has neglected to repair the road.
“We, the local people, have asphalted the road on our own self-help basis because it is the road going to the pagoda. Now the road is also very badly damaged by the over-weight trucks from the project. The international companies on the project have promised us that they would repair the road before the festival was held, but they have still neglected to do so. Now the road is very dangerous for the pilgrims not only for their travel, but also for their health, because the road is badly ruined and dusty,” he said.
Kantkawtaw Pagoda is noted for a two-fee-deep natural well for drinking water and for the fields of arum plants that have been eaten as vegetables on the premises since ancient times. According to local people, the water in the well never dries up in any season, even when being continually pumped out, and the arum plants are sweet if they are cooked and eaten around the premises of the pagoda, even though they would be itchy if taken home and eaten there.
This year, the pagoda festival was held from 17 to 22 April with cultural events and traditional sports and nearly three lakh people from Kyaukpru, Man Aung, Rambree, Mraybon, Taungup, and Ann Townships made the pilgrimage to the pagoda.
According to the trustee, many pilgrims had to leave from the pagoda before the end of the festival due to the shortage of space on the pagoda grounds.
Ma San San Kyi from Kyauknimaw also said she had to come back from the pilgrimage early after staying just one day at the pagoda grounds because of the shortage of space. “We had come to the pagoda on the morning of 17 April, but we were unable to stay until the festival finished. We could stay for only one day this year because there was not enough space on the pagoda grounds for the pilgrims to stay as in previous years,” she said.
She added that her who body was turned white with dirt when she was traveling to the pagoda because the road to the pagoda was ruined and very dusty.
According to the sources, dissatisfaction with the Shwe Gas Projects is now growing among the local residents following the inconvenience on their pilgrimages to the pagoda festival.
Dhaka: The Arakan Rakhita Group, an exile-based Arakanese patriotic group, has held a devotional ceremony for the elders of the Arakanese revolutionaries on the Arakanese traditional New Year.
The group organized the ceremony on 16 April in Bangladesh, India and Thailand and made devotional offerings to over 70 elders who are sheltering in those countries sacrificing their lives for the freedom of their homeland, Arakan State in western Burma.
U Chite Maung from the Netherlands, a member of the group and a leading organizer of the ceremony, told Narinjara that they held the ceremony to show their respect to those elders who sacrifice their lives for Arakan State, and to pass on their selfless and patriotic spirit to younger Arakanese generations.
“Those elders have sacrificed their whole lives for the Arakanese people, but most of them are now living their remaining lives very poorly in their old age, especially in other countries. Their present sufferings are because of their selfless service for our land and people. We have held this ceremony for them because we feel that we should respect and acknowledge their selfless service, and that their selfless and patriotic spirit are still very important for us and our younger generation“, said U Chite Maung.
He said that his group was able to hold the ceremony on a wider basis than expected as many Arakanese living in foreign countries also cooperated and contributed to the ceremony.
“We had at first planned to hold the ceremony only by our Rakhita Group, but later we decided to urge and invite other Arakanese living abroad because we had seen that such a devotional ceremony for our elders is traditionally accepted as a good deed and that it is also related to the cause of all Arakanese nationals. Many Arakanese responded to our invitations with their respective cooperation and contributions as well. We are very proud of our people because we could hold the ceremony wider than we had expected with their participation”, he said.
U Maung Han, the oldest person who attended in the ceremony that was held in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, said he was very glad to receive recognition from the younger generation, on account for his services in the revolution of Arakan.
“I cannot speak well because I am suffering from pneumonia. But I must express my heartiest thanks to the Rakhita Group, the organizing committee and all Arakanese people for holding this ceremony for people like me. I have never received an offering in recognition of my services as a revolutionary for Arakan, but I have now received respect from the young people and I am very glad and proud of myself to be a patriotic Arakanese revolutionary”, said U Maung Han.
63 elders who are older than 60 years were said to have been invited to the ceremony that was held in Bangladesh, but 50 of them attended the ceremony and were offered 14,000 Taka, a parcel of clothes and a recognition certificate as a revolutionary of Arakan.
Mrauk U: The ancient city walls in Mrauk-U in western Burma’s Arakan State are reportedly being bulldozed to make way for expansion of the Sittwe-Rangoon road.
The city walls are situated in the archaeological zone that is officially recognized by the archaeological department and are being bulldozed to create land for the expanded construction of the road in southeastern Mrauk-U.
“They are earthen city walls situated at the Laethartaung and Mrataung Fortresses near Laksaykan Lake within the archaeological zone. They are now being bulldozed for the earth to be filled for widening the Sittwe-Rangoon road in the area. They will be totally destroyed if all the necessary earth is bulldozed and taken from them for the road construction,” said U Kyaw Tun Aung, a retired Arakanese archaeologist from Mrauk-U.
He added that the destroyed city walls were built during the Mrauk-U period. “The inner city walls were built of brick and rock while the outer ones were built of earth, connecting hills in some places, in the Mrauk-U period. Such earthen walls are substantially being found in Japan and India as well. They are invaluable ancient historic structures and should not be destroyed for anything,” he said.
U Kyaw Tun Aung said that he has already sent photographs of the destroyed city walls to the responsible authorities and the media in an effort to make the situation known, and for immediate action to be taken to protect the ancient heritage from being completely destroyed.
It was learnt that Thein Zaw Company has been undertaking construction to widen the Sittwe-Rangoon road in Mrauk-U Township. The company declined to give any comments regarding the construction when contacted by Narinjara.
Many ancient heritage sites, including Praysoegree Pagoda, Minhla Fortress, Minthamee Wall, Rayhla Garrisons, and the pagodas on Thazintan Hills were destroyed when a path for constructing the Sittwe-Ann Railway was bulldozed through the main archaeological zone in Mrauk-U in November 2010.
Caption: This photo was taken in 2010. The pagoda on Thazintan Hills was destroyed by bulldozer for construction of the Sittwe-Ann Railway.
Mrauk U: Chinese nationals are reportedly planning to extract gold from Peophru Island in the Laymro River in Mrauk-U Township in western Burma’s Arakan State, under the guise of constructing a hydropower project on the island.
Local youth from the regional capital Sittwe, who recently returned from the island after studying the proposed hydropower project, said the equipment that is being brought in by the Chinese to the island are those used for gold mining.
“There is widespread news in our region that a Chinese company will construct a hydropower plant on Poephru Island, but what the Chinese have now brought to the island are the machinery, plastic pipes, and baskets that are used in extracting and panning for gold. That equipment suggests that the Chinese are preparing to find gold on the island and will not be constructing the hydropower plant,” said the youth on condition of anonymity.
U Kyaw Tun Aung, a retired archaeologist from Mrauk-U, also said that Poephru Island is noted for it’s gold deposits in the ancient history of Arakan.
“There are two islands, known as Maung Nyo and Poephru, in the Laymro River. According Arakanese historical records, the islands got their names from a husband and wife who were banished to the islands as punishment for their bad sons during the reign of King Min Htee. At the age of Laymro when King Nankyagree ruled, Poephru Island became famous because gold was found there,” said U Kyaw Tun Aung.
A resident from downtown Mrauk-U also confirmed that some of the Chinese machinery and equipment that will be shipped to the island are still being kept in the town.
“Yes, it has been already a month since the Chinese nationals have arrived in our town and they are still keeping some of the machinery and equipment within a fence on a plot of ground near the Shitetaung Pagoda. I do not know what kind of things they are, but most people here say they are used for extracting gold,” said the resident.
The youth said there will be environmental damage and negative impacts on the local residents if either of the projects – gold mining or a hydropower plant – are carried out on the island in the Laymro River.
“The river banks will collapse and the cultivation along the river will be damaged, and the fish will be wiped out if any of the projects are carried out in the river. Most of the people living along the river are earning their livelihood from cultivation and their lives would be badly affected as well,” said the youth.
There are over 60 villages along the Laymro River and the villagers primarily depend on the river not only for their cultivation but also for their washing and drinking water.
The Laymro River is one of the four main rivers in Arakan State and it is abundant in natural beauty. Many tourists are said to have visited the river to view the natural scenery this year.
Yangon: The Arakan League for Democracy (ALD), the winning party from the 1990 election in Arakan State, was reportedly granted leave to stand as a political party by the Myanmar Union Election Commission on 6 April, 2012.
The ALD was forcibly abolished as an official political party by the military regime in 1991. The party is now again allowed status after submitting its application to the election commission on 27 February, 2012, after the current, nominally elected, civilian regime has taken office.
U Thar Ban, Chairman of the ALD, told Narinjara that his party would work for the future development of politics and society in Arakan State as the party has already regained its official status.
“The ALD will work for the political affairs of restoring democracy, equality, and autonomy in the union as well as for development in the sectors of health, education, and economics in Arakan State, as the party is now a recognized political party. We also have plans to work together with the non-governmental organizations, especially for the development of farmers and fisher folk, the most deprived and majority population Arakan State,” said U Thar Ban.
He also said the ALD will sustain its previous coordination with other ethnic political parties including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy.
“The ALD will also continue its political coordination with other ethnic parties and the NLD like before. As a preliminary step, we will hold political discussions with those parties. We had a discussion with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on 15 July, 1989, on the policies of equality and autonomy in the union and we will hold on to those policies for our current political coordination with other parties,” he said.
U Thar Ban said his party will also cooperate with other local Arakanese political parties for their common regional affairs in Arakan State.
“The ALD had won the 1990 election, but the result was never recognized and its elected members were also arrested. As a party that has been standing straight against the political storms through the ages, it will not be possible to dissolve the name of the ALD. But we are willing to work together with other parties in our state and have also prepared to do so for our common regional affairs in our state,” said U Thar Ban.
When asked his opinion on the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, which won the 2010 election in Arakan State by a landslide, U Thar Ban said, “We respect the RNDP for its efforts for our Arakanese nationalities. We are the same Arakanese people and we will try our best to raise cooperation between us for the interest and well-being of our people and state, but we have no intention yet to merge our party with any other party or dissolving the ALD in name.”
U Oo Hla Saw, Secretary of the RNDP, said he is pleased that the ALD is officially approved again to stand as a political party.
“The ALD is the only party that has been serving our Arakanese national people to the best of its ability since 1988. My father was an MP-Elect from the ALD in Mrauk-U Township and I myself served as the secretary of the ALD as well. We are very glad to know that the ALD is allowed again to establish as a political party,” said U Hla Saw.
When asked of the RNDP’s policy on relations with other local parties, U Hla Saw said, “We hold the policy on the emergence of a strong Arakanese political party that will represent the whole of Arakanese nationalities in 2015. That is why we are ready to work with any other political parties in our Arakan State. We also have plans to work together with the ALD after forming join committees for the suffering and problems facing our Arakan State, which are resulted from forcible land confiscations, unruly oppression, and human rights violations as well as from the gas pipeline constructions.”
The Arakan League for Democracy was established on 27 September 1989 in Rangoon based upon the Arakan National Union that was born in Arakan State during the nationwide democracy uprising in 1988, and was registered with the election commission of the time on 2 October 1989. The party won 11 seats in Arakan State in the 1990 election, but the result was never recognized and the party was forcibly abolished by the then Burmese military regime in 1991.
“He will stay as a monk for nine days. It is a good deed for him to do this on the occasion of New Year in accordance with the Burmese traditions”, said Ven. U Kumara also known as U Belue from Alodawpyei Monastery in Tarmwe Township in Rangoon.
U Kumara said Khin Nyunt was ordained as a monk in his family’s monk ordination ceremony that was held at 8 am last Sunday in his monastery. His two sons, U Zaw Naing Oo and U Ray Naing Win, and his six grandchildren-4 boys and 2 girls- were ordained as monks, novices and nuns in the ceremony as well.
“Our abbot, Venerable Alodawpyei Saradaw, was also re-ordained in the ceremony and over 500 of his followers and supporters attended in the ceremony”, said the monk.
The former military officers who included the former home minister Colonel Tin Hline and the former minister of religious affairs General Myo Nyaunt were said to have attended the ceremony as well.
Rumors are surrounding the former general that he will live the monk life for at least 3 years, and will continue to for his remaining lifetime if he finds happiness in it.
U Kumara however said, “What people are talking about is just a rumor and it is quite impossible. He will stay as a monk only for 9 days taking meditations in the monastery, and then he will leave the monk life. He was ordained as a monk as he held the Shinpyu [the monk ordination] ceremony for his grandchildren according to Burmese Buddhist traditions.”
The monk said it is pleasurable for every Buddhist to have a noble life and to take the Vipassanā meditation on the occasion of Thingyan [New Year].
He said that the former general is named as U Khaeminda after ordination as a monk and he will stay for nine days as a monk taking meditations while his sons and grandchildren will do so for seven days.