Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 
Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger sign of defiance during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 

Anti-junta protesters ready for armed resistance as Myanmar violence mounts 
  • People have started to join combat training camps run by paramilitary groups in eastern Karen State
  • National League for Democracy members are reportedly in talks with ethnic groups to form an army against the Myanmar military 

YANGON: A 24-year-old medical student who never imagined he would ever kill anyone, as his vocation was to save lives, did so in late March after Myanmar security forces shot dead dozens of protesting civilians in one of Yangon’s neighborhoods.

“They even used hand grenades and some kinds of explosive ammunition in cracking down on us,” the Yangon University of Medicine student, Swe Min, told Arab News.

At least 739 protesters have been killed by police and military personnel since the beginning of nationwide demonstrations against the junta that ousted the country’s elected National League for Democracy (NLD) leaders in a coup on Feb. 1, according to Friday’s data from Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma.

The incident in South Dagon township, where more than 30 people were killed on March 29, happened two days after the deadliest crackdown on protesters, when security forces killed 114 people across the country.

Footage shared on social media showed how a barricade built by protesting South Dagon residents was blown up with explosives by security forces.

Witnessing the state violence was beyond Swe Min’s threshold of endurance.

“There were randomly shooting and brutally assaulting residents,” he said.

Swe Min and other protesters seized a plainclothes police officer near the main demonstration site and started beating him indiscriminately.

“Seeing the slaughter of civilians, we got very upset and angry,” he recalled.

“We were out of our minds, and we have beaten and kicked him to death.”

As night raids followed the officer’s killing, Swe Min managed to escape Yangon the next morning with a group of friends.

Earlier this month, they joined a militant training camp in the mountainous eastern Karen State that borders Thailand.

“We have joined combat training a week ago,” he told Arab News over the phone from an undisclosed location. There is not much choice left for us. We have to choose to kill or to be killed.”

Arrest, torture and the daily forced disappearances of protesters since the military regime took power have pushed many like Swe Min to take up arms as they no longer seem to believe in non-violent resistance.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest insurgent group fighting for the eastern state’s greater autonomy, said that thousands of people who are against the regime have sought refuge in their control area.

Padoh Man Man, a spokesperson for one of the KNU’s brigades, told Arab News that many are eager to join their combat training.

“Since they came here, most are determined to take up arms. After witnessing the momentum of brutality by the regime, it is understandable why they are in favor of armed resistance,” he said over the phone earlier this week.

The group, he added, had trained hundreds of volunteers alongside new KNU members in basic guerrilla warfare over the past two months.

“They are, therefore, more or less ready to join armed resistance,” he said.

Not only ordinary citizens but also dissident politicians are considering the option.

The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers ousted in the February coup that formed a parallel government in mid-April, has reportedly also been in negotiations with ethnic rebel groups in the hope of forming an army against the Tatmadaw — the armed forces of Myanmar.

However, this may not happen soon as, although opposed to the regime, ethnic minorities do not entirely trust NLD, which during its rule had alienated them, Sai Tun Aung Lwin, an ethnic affairs analyst and a researcher with the Yangon-based Pyidaungsu Institute, told Arab News.  

“Small community-based defense units have been formed across the country, but it seems only to defend themselves at the moment,” he said. “People are doing what they have to do. They are dutiful.”

Some are even ready to abandon their monastic life.

A Buddhist monk known for his charity work in Yangon’s Hlaing Thar Yar township, who now identifies himself with a changed name, Ashin Rsara, took off his religious robes and completed combat training in Karen State.

“The regime considers us their enemy, and I witnessed the merciless crackdown in Hlaing Thar Yar last month. Then I realized that we would never have peace as long as it is in power,” he told Arab News.

“Buddha teaches us to love each other in any situation. I have been trying to follow Buddha’s teachings my whole life, but I can’t this time,” he said. “I have to live with hate till the resistance prevails or I die.”


Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded
Updated 19 min 3 sec ago

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded

Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded
  • Last month, Gaza’s daily coronavirus cases and deaths hit record highs
  • In the bomb-scarred territory where the unemployment rate is 50 percent, the need for personal survival often trumps the pleas of public health experts

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.
Then, the bombs began to fall.
This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 103 Palestinians, including 27 children, and wounded 530 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.
Doctors across the crowded coastal enclave are now reallocating intensive care unit beds and scrambling to keep up with a very different health crisis: treating blast and shrapnel wounds, bandaging cuts and performing amputations.
Distraught relatives didn’t wait for ambulances, rushing the wounded by car or on foot to Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. Exhausted doctors hurried from patient to patient, frantically bandaging shrapnel wounds to stop the bleeding. Others gathered at the hospital morgue, waiting with stretchers to remove the bodies for burial.
At the Indonesia Hospital in the northern town of Jabaliya, the clinic overflowed after bombs fell nearby. Blood was everywhere, with victims lying on the floors of hallways. Relatives crowded the ER, crying out for loved ones and cursing Israel.
“Before the military attacks, we had major shortages and could barely manage with the second (virus) wave,” said Gaza Health Ministry official Abdelatif Al-Hajj by phone as bombs thundered in the background. “Now casualties are coming from all directions, really critical casualties. I fear a total collapse.”
Gutted by years of conflict, the impoverished health care system in the territory of more than 2 million people has always been vulnerable. Bitter division between Hamas and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority and a nearly 14-year blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt’s help also has strangled the infrastructure. There are shortages of equipment and supplies such as blood bags, surgical lamps, anesthesia and antibiotics. Personal protection gear, breathing machines and oxygen tanks remain even scarcer.
Last month, Gaza’s daily coronavirus cases and deaths hit record highs, fueled by the spread of a variant that first appeared in Britain, relaxation of movement restrictions during Ramadan, and deepening public apathy and intransigence.
In the bomb-scarred territory where the unemployment rate is 50 percent, the need for personal survival often trumps the pleas of public health experts. While virus testing remains limited, the outbreak has infected more than 105,700 people, according to health authorities, and killed 976.
As cases climbed last year, stirring fears of a health care catastrophe, authorities set aside clinics just for COVID-19 patients. But that changed as airstrikes pummeled the territory.
Nurses at the European Hospital in the town of Khan Younis, frantically needing room for the wounded, moved dozens of virus patients in the middle of the night to a different building, said hospital director Yousef Al-Akkad. Its surgeons and specialists, who had deployed elsewhere for the virus, rushed back to treat head injuries, fractures and abdominal wounds.
If the conflict intensifies, the hospital won’t be able to care for the virus patients, Al-Akkad said.
“We have only 15 intensive care beds, and all I can do is pray,” he said, adding that because the hospital lacks surgical supplies and expertise, he’s already arranged to send one child to Egypt for reconstructive shoulder surgery. “I pray these airstrikes will stop soon.”
At Shifa, authorities also moved the wounded into its 30 beds that had been set aside for virus patients. Thursday night was the quietest this week for the ICU, as bombs had largely fallen elsewhere in Gaza. Patients with broken bones and other wounds lay amid the din of beeping monitors, intercoms and occasional shouts by doctors. A few relatives huddled around them, recounting the chaotic barrage.
“About 12 people down in one airstrike. It was 6 p.m. in the street. Some were killed, including my two cousins and young sister. It’s like this every day,” said 22-year-old Atallah Al-Masri, sitting beside his wounded brother, Ghassan.
Hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia lamented the latest series of blows to Gaza’s health system.
“The Gaza Strip is under siege for 14 years, and the health sector is exhausted. Then comes the coronavirus pandemic,” he said, adding that most of the equipment is as old as the blockade and can’t be sent out for repairs.
Now, his teams already strained by virus cases are treating bombing victims, more than half of whom are critical cases needing surgery.
“They work relentlessly,” he added
To make matters worse, Israeli airstrikes hit two health clinics north of Gaza City on Tuesday. The strikes wreaked havoc on Hala Al-Shawa Health Center, forcing employees to evacuate, and damaged the Indonesian Hospital, according to the World Health Organization. Israel, already under pressure from an International Criminal court investigation into possible war crimes during the 2014 war, reiterated this week that it warns people living in targeted areas to flee. The airstrikes nonetheless have killed civilians and inflicted damage on Gaza’s infrastructure.
The violence also has closed a few dozen health centers conducting coronavirus tests, said Sacha Bootsma, director of WHO’s Gaza office. This week, authorities conducted some 300 tests a day, compared with 3,000 before the fighting began.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, ordered staff to stay home from its 22 clinics for their safety. Those now-closed centers had also administered coronavirus vaccines, a precious resource in a place that waited months to receive a limited shipment from the UN-backed COVAX program. Those doses will expire in just a few weeks and get thrown away, with “huge implications for authorities’ ability to mobilize additional vaccines in the future,” Bootsma said.
For the newly wounded, however, the virus remains an afterthought.
The last thing that Mohammad Nassar remembers before an airstrike hit was walking home with a friend on a street. When he came to, he said, “we found ourselves lying on the ground.”
Now the 31-year-old is hooked up to a tangle of tubes and monitors in the Shifa Hospital surgical ward, with a broken right arm and a shrapnel wound in his stomach.


Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women
Updated 14 May 2021

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women
BANGKOK, Thailand: Beaten, kicked in the groin and threatened with sexual violence — a young Myanmar teenager detained by the junta’s security forces has described the treatment suffered by some women and girls behind bars.
Shwe Yamin Htet, 17, and her mother were arrested on April 14 in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, which has been blanketed with heavy security since the military seized power in a coup.
As they were walking to a friend’s house from a morning protest, she said, they were stopped by two security trucks.
“They forced us to crouch face-down on the ground,” Shwe Yamin Htet told AFP.
The high school student then faced six days of fear and anxiety, held with women who alleged torture and abuse by police behind closed doors.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she herself had to endure a police officer molesting her during an interrogation session.
The teenager was released on April 20, but her mother was not as fortunate — Sandar Win was instead taken to Yangon’s Insein prison.
“My mother is my only family,” she said. “I’m very worried for her safety and life.”
To secure her release, she said, she had to sign documents saying she suffered “no torture” behind bars.
“It’s the opposite of what they have done,” Shwe Yamin Htet said. “It is totally unacceptable and unfair.”

Political prisoners
Her mother is among more than 3,800 civilians arrested and still languishing behind bars since the February 1 coup, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Little is known about the conditions of detainees across Myanmar, as those released rarely speak out about it.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she and her mother were taken first to a local police station where they were questioned separately.
“I was touched by a police officer, who told me he could kill me and make me disappear,” she said.
“If I didn’t push his hand away, I’m sure he would have continued.”
She added that her mother was slapped twice during her interrogation.
The following day, they were taken to a detention center on Yangon’s northern outskirts where they met other women, some of whom had bruises all over their bodies.
One of them — a woman who had been in a relationship with a foreigner — was beaten so badly she could barely talk or eat, Shwe Yamin Htet said.
“We had to feed her fried egg and rice,” she said. “She told us she couldn’t urinate because her women parts had been kicked during the interrogation.”
The National Unity Government — an underground group of ousted lawmakers opposing the junta — has announced it is investigating the “allegations of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in unlawful detention.”
“These cases are indicative of the wider pattern of sexual and gender-based violence committed by Myanmar’s military that has persisted for years with impunity, particularly against ethnic minority women and girls in armed conflict areas,” it said in a statement.

Rights and dignity violated
Another woman held in the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet recalled similar experiences.
Ngwe Thanzin — a pseudonym to protect her identity — told AFP she and four others were protesting in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township when they were arrested.
“I was kicked in my face for having a black mask in my bag,” she said, adding that security forces also yelled misogynistic abuse at them.
The women were then taken to the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet, where Ngwe Thanzin said she was handcuffed so tightly it left marks on her wrists.
“They also threatened us saying they could kill us and make us disappear without anyone knowing it,” she told AFP.
During her three-night detention, she said she saw a 19-year-old girl bruised so badly she could barely stand.
“They don’t beat or torture in front of other people. But when people were individually interrogated, they came out with bruises.”
AFP was unable to independently verify the allegations made by Shwe Yamin Htet and Ngwe Thanzin.
Repeated attempts to contact the junta spokesman for a response went unanswered.
And junta-appointed Minister of Social Welfare Thet Thet Khine — who chairs a National Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence in Conflict — could not be reached for comment.
Ngwe Thanzin said the least the junta could do was have female security personnel available to interrogate them, instead of men.
“All our rights and dignity were violated and abused,” she said.
“Since we have no rights, I felt we were like water in their hands.”

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict
Updated 14 May 2021

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict
  • The travel advisory level was stepped up to Level 3, out of a maximum of four

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Thursday urged citizens to “reconsider travel to Israel” due to the recent surge in violence between the Jewish state and Palestinians.
The travel advisory level, which had been lowered in recent weeks due to improvement in the country’s Covid-19 situation, was stepped up to Level 3, out of a maximum of four.
“Reconsider travel to Israel due to armed conflict and civil unrest,” the department said in a statement.
“Rockets continue to impact the Gaza periphery and areas across Southern and Central Israel, including Jerusalem,” it said.
“There has been a marked increase in protests and violence throughout Israel.”
Washington was also advising that Americans “do not travel” to Gaza due to “Covid-19, terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict,” as well as avoiding the West Bank due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
The travel advisory came as Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border Thursday as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back, with the death toll in the enclave on the fourth day of conflict climbing to over 100.
 

 


London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer
Updated 13 May 2021

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer
  • Usman Khan killed two people in 2019, less than a year after his release from jail on terror charges
  • An inquest into the deaths aims to determine whether the attack could have been predicted

LONDON: A senior officer from MI5 on Thursday denied that the British security agency could have prevented a deadly terror attack in London, despite receiving warnings that the terrorist wanted to “die and go to paradise.”

Usman Khan, 28, killed two people and wounded three with a knife near London Bridge in November 2019 before being shot dead by police. The attack happened less than a year after his early release from a prison sentence for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

An inquest into the deaths of Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at a prisoner-reform event in Fishmonger’s Hall, next to London Bridge, has heard that Khan was allowed to attend the event despite concerns from some officials that he posed a security threat.

But the senior MI5 officer, referred to as Witness A for legal reasons, said the attack could not have been prevented. She said the intelligence services had been aware of Khan since 2008, when he was a member of British terror group Al-Muhajiroun, and knew he had been involved in violent incidents while in prison.

Asked by the counsel for the coroner whether there was also evidence that Khan “wanted to die and go to paradise,” Witness A said: “There was information to that effect.”

The court also heard that while in jail Khan had remained in contact with his co-defendants from the failed Stock Exchange bomb plot, and other terrorists outside of prison.

But in 2015, MI5 decided to close its investigation into him. Witness A said she felt the decision was the right one.

“We had carried out quite a significant period of investigation while he was in prison, we received a steady stream of intelligence while in prison, and we saw no activities of national security concern, therefore it was the right time to close the investigation,” she said, adding: “We cannot investigate people forever.”

She also told the court that MI5’s review of the case after the attack concluded that it “could not have taken any actions or materially changed the outcomes of this case. The investigative and operational decisions taken by MI5 in this case were sound.”

Since the attack, Britain has introduced stricter counterterrorism measures for dealing with known extremists and offenders. New laws have removed the possibility of early release for convicted terrorists, and stepped up the level of monitoring of after they are released from prison.

The inquest continues.


From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’
Updated 13 May 2021

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’
  • Aziz Ullah Shahwani and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini are physics students at the University of Balochistan
  • Self-funded robot took them six months to make from scratch with ‘zero support’

QUETTA: It’s an unlikely trio in an unlikely place — two smart young Baloch students stand proudly outside their university in Quetta with an all-white, 5-foot, 4-inch humanoid robot between them.

Aziz Ullah Shahwani, 24, and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini, 25, are physics students at the University of Balochistan, and the robot they created, named Bolani, is their final project.

“I didn’t take any interest in technology-related experiments until I graduated school due to the absence of a physics teacher in my native district Kalat, but when I came to Balochistan for my master’s degree in physics I decided to invent something new, something no other student in the history of the university has done,” Shahwani told Arab News.

Coming from the remote Kalat and Sorab districts in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province, Shahwani and Rodini are largely self-taught, and said that they received close to no financial support during their endeavor from their university or the government of Balochistan.

The two boys from distant Pakistani towns worked for six months to conquer the impossible, working on advanced 3D software, and even welding and painting the body of their robot themselves.

“While making Bolani, I learned the use of new software and 3D printing,” Shahwani said.

“Because I have designed Bolani by myself on solid work software, it was an unforgettable experience,” he continued.

Bolani is named after the famed mountain pass Bolan, roughly 127 km from the capital Quetta, south of the Hindu Kush mountains.

For now, Bolani can move forward and backward, he can move his eyes, neck and jaw and can shake hands with human beings when Shahwani gives him the command through an app installed on his mobile phone.

Rodini, who assisted Shahwani in building Bolani, said they wanted to create something new instead of submitting research papers like everybody else.

“We took assistance and guidance from our professors because after thorough searching we could not find robotic circuits and motors in Quetta ... later we installed locally purchased motors in order to finalize Bolani,” said Rodini.

“Bolani cost us Rs50,000 ($326) and due to the lack of financial assistance, we used iron and steel to shape the humanoid robot,” Rodini said.

He added there had been “zero support” from the university’s higher authorities and provincial government.

Shahwani and Rodini are now planning to upgrade Bolani with additional features like voice and face recognition sensors that will allow the robot to talk.

Prof. Ajab Khan Kasi, head of the physics department at the University of Balochistan, supervised the students while they built Bolani and said their creation was a “milestone” in the history of the university.

“It took six months to complete the robot and during this period, Aziz and Mukhtiar have done all the processes with their own hands ... even the welding, coloring and mechanical work on Bolani,” Kasi told Arab News.

“The humanoid robot has been working in nine-degree freedom, which allows him to move his hands, neck and eyes,” he said.

Shahwani said he will continue with his studies and hunt for support from the government and his university to add the sensors.

But until that happens, he added, they would not feel disappointed.

“Because we are inspired by Pakistan’s Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdul Salam and the young Dr. Yar Jan Baloch who works as a space scientist in Cambridge University,” he added.

“We are following in their footsteps.”