Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack

Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in February. Above, security forces during a crackdown against a demonstration on March 27, 2021. (Myitkyina News Journal via AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack

Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack
  • Charred remains were found in a village in Sagaing, an area which has seen fierce fighting

BANGKOK: Myanmar government troops raided a small northwestern village, rounding up civilians, binding their hands and then burning them alive in apparent retaliation for an attack on a military convoy, according to witnesses and other reports.
A video of the aftermath of Tuesday’s attack showed the charred bodies of 11 victims, some believed to be teenagers, lying in a circle amid what appeared to be the remains of a hut in Done Taw village in Sagaing region.
Outrage spread as the graphic images were shared on social media over what appeared to be the latest of increasingly brutal military attacks in an attempt to put down stiffening anti-government resistance following the army takeover in February.
Human Rights Watch called Thursday for the international community to ensure that commanders who gave the order are added to targeted sanctions lists, and more broadly, efforts are stepped up to cut off any source of funding to the military.
“Our contacts are saying these were just boys and young people who were villagers who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” a spokeswoman for the group, Manny Maung, said.
She added that similar incidents have been occurring regularly, but that this one happened to be caught on camera.
“This incident is quite brazen, and it happened in an area that was meant to be found, and seen, to scare people,” she said.
The images could not be independently verified, but an account given to The Associated Press by a person who said he was present when they were taken generally matched descriptions of the incident carried by independent Myanmar media.
The government has denied that it had any troops in the area.
The military ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was initially met with nonviolent street protests, but after police and soldiers responded with lethal force, violence escalated as opponents of military rule took up arms in self-defense.
The killings in Done Taw were decried by Myanmar’s underground National Unity Government, which has established itself as the country’s alternative administration in place of the military-installed government.
The organization’s spokesperson, Dr. Sasa, said a military convoy had been hit by a roadside bomb and troops retaliated first by shelling Done Taw, then assaulting the village, rounding up anyone they could capture.
He said victims ranged in age from 14 to 40.
“Sickening scenes reminiscent of the Islamic State terrorist group bore witness to the the military’s escalation of their acts of terror,” he said in a statement.
“The sheer brutality, savagery, and cruelty of these acts shows a new depth of depravity, and proves that despite the pretense of the relative détente seen over the last few months, the junta never had any intention of deescalating their campaign of violence,” said Sasa, who uses one name.
The witness who spoke to the AP said about 50 troops marched into Done Taw village at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, seizing anyone who did not manage to flee.
“They arrested 11 innocent villagers,” said the witness, who described himself as a farmer and an activist and asked to remain anonymous for his own safety,
He added that the captured men were not members of the locally organized People’s Defense Force, which sometimes engages the army in combat. He said the captives had their hands tied behind them and were set on fire.
He did not give a reason for the soldiers’ assault.
Other witnesses cited in Myanmar media said the victims were members of a defense force, though the witness who spoke to the AP described them as members of a less formally organized village protection group.
In recent months, fighting has been raging in Sagaing and other northwestern areas, where the army has unleashed greater force against the resistance than in urban centers.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed deep concern at the reports of the “horrific killing of 11 people” and strongly condemned such violence, saying “credible reports indicate that five children were among those people killed.”
Dujarric reminded Myanmar’s military authorities of their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians and called for those responsible “for this heinous act” to be held accountable.
He reiterated the UN’s condemnation of violence by Myanmar’s security forces and stressed that this demands a unified international response. As of Wednesday, he said security forces have killed more than 1,300 unarmed individuals, including more than 75 children, through their use of lethal force or while in their custody since the military takeover on Feb. 1.
The allegations follow Monday’s conviction of Suu Kyi on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and sentencing to four years in prison, which was quickly cut in half. The court’s action was widely criticized as a further effort by military rulers to roll back the democratic gains of recent years.
In New York, the UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed “deep concern” at the sentencing of Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint and others and reiterated previous calls for the release of all those arbitrarily detained.
“The members of the Security Council once again stressed their continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar, and underlined the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, pursue constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law,” a council statement said.

No peace in Myanmar 1 year after military takeover

No peace in Myanmar 1 year after military takeover
Updated 12 sec ago

No peace in Myanmar 1 year after military takeover

No peace in Myanmar 1 year after military takeover
  • The military’s use of deadly force to hold on to power has escalated conflict with its civilian opponents
  • The costs have been high, with some 1,500 people killed by the security forces
BANGKOK: The army takeover in Myanmar a year ago that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi not only unexpectedly aborted the country’s fledgling return to democracy: It also brought a surprising level of popular resistance, which has blossomed into a low-level, but persistent, insurgency.
Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of Myanmar’s military — known as the Tatmadaw — seized power on the morning of Feb. 1, 2021, arresting Suu Kyi and top members of her government and ruling National League for Democracy party, which had won a landslide election victory in November 2020.
The military’s use of deadly force to hold on to power has escalated conflict with its civilian opponents to the point that some experts describe the country as being in a state of civil war.
The costs have been high, with some 1,500 people killed by the security forces, almost 8,800 detained, an unknown number tortured and disappeared, and more than 300,000 displaced as the military razes villages to root out resistance.
Other consequences are also significant. Civil disobedience hampered transport, banking services and government agencies, slowing an economy already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. The public health system collapsed, leaving the fight against COVID-19 abandoned for months. Higher education stalled as faculty and students sympathetic to the revolt boycotted school, or were arrested.
The military-installed government was not at all anticipating the level of resistance that arose, Thomas Kean, an analyst of Myanmar affairs consulting for the International Crisis Group think tank, told The Associated Press.
“We saw in the first days after the coup, they tried to adopt a sort of business-as-usual approach,” with the generals denying they were implementing any significant change, but only removing Suu Kyi from power, he said.
“And of course, you know, that unleashed these huge protests that were brutally crushed, which resulted in people turning to armed struggle.”
The army has dealt with the revolt by employing the same brutal tactics in the country’s rural heartland that it has long unleashed against ethnic minorities in border areas, which critics have charged amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.
Its violence has generated newfound empathy for ethnic minorities such as the Karen, the Kachin and the Rohingya, longtime targets of army abuses with whom members of the Burman majority now are making common anti-military cause.
People opposed the army takeover because they had come to enjoy representative government and liberalization after years of military rule, said David Steinberg, a senior scholar of Asian Studies at Georgetown University.
Youth turned out in droves to protest despite the risks, he said, because they had neither families nor careers to lose, but saw their futures at risk.
They also enjoyed tactical advantages that previous generations of protesters lacked, he noted. Myanmar had caught up with the rest of the world in technology, and people were able to organize strikes and demonstrations using cellphones and the Internet, despite efforts to limit communications.
A driving force was the Civil Disobedience Movement, founded by health care workers, which encouraged actions such as boycotts of military products and people not paying electricity bills or buying lottery tickets.
Kept in detention by the military, Suu Kyi has played no active part in these developments.
The ruling generals, who have said they will probably hold a new election by 2023, have tied her up with a variety of criminal charges widely seen as trumped-up to keep her from returning to political life. The 76-year-old Suu Kyi has already been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, with the prospect of many more being added.
But in the days after the army’s takeover, her party’s elected members of parliament laid the groundwork for sustained resistance. Prevented by the army from taking their seats, they convened on their own, and in April established the National Unity Government, or NUG, which stakes a claim to being the country’s legitimate administrative body and has won the loyalty of many citizens.
The NUG has also sought to coordinate armed resistance, helping organize “People’s Defense Forces,” or PDFs, homegrown militias formed at the local and neighborhood levels. The military deems the NUG and the PDFs “terrorist” organizations.
With urban demonstrations mostly reduced to flash mobs to avoid crackdowns, the battle against military rule has largely passed to the countryside, where the badly outgunned local militias carry out guerrilla warfare.
The army’s “Four Cuts” strategy aims to eradicate the militias’ threat by cutting off their access to food, funds, information and recruitment. Civilians suffer collateral damage as soldiers block essential supplies, take away suspected militia supporters and raze whole villages.
When the military enters a village, “they’ll burn down some houses, maybe shoot some people, take prisoners and torture them — the sort of horrific abuses that we’re seeing on a regular basis,” said analyst Kean.
“But when the soldiers leave, they lose control of that area. They don’t have enough manpower to maintain control when 80 percent to 90 percent of the population is against them.”
Some ethnic minority groups with decades of experience fighting the Myanmar military offer critical support to the PDF militia movement, including supplying training and some weapons, while also providing safe havens for opposition activists and others fleeing the army.
“We never accept a coup at all for whatever reason. The position of our organization is clear,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the chief of the Karen National Union’s foreign affairs department, told the AP. “We oppose any military dictatorship. Therefore, the automatic response is that we must work with those who oppose the military.”
He said his group began preparing immediately after the takeover to receive people fleeing from military persecution and noted that it played a similar role in 1988 after a failed popular uprising.
There is a quid pro quo — the NUG says it will honor the minority ethnic groups’ demands for greater autonomy when it takes power.
The military, meanwhile, keeps the pressure on the Karen with periodic attacks, including by air, that send villagers fleeing for safety across a river that forms the border with Thailand.
The support of the ethnic groups is seen as key to sustaining the resistance, the thought being that as long as they can engage the army, its forces will be too stretched to finish off the PDFs.
No other factors are seen as capable of tilting the balance in favor of the military or the resistance.
Sanctions on the ruling generals can make them uncomfortable — US actions, especially, have caused financial distress — but Russia and China have been reliable allies, especially willing to sell arms. The UN and organizations such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are seen as toothless at best.
“I see the stage sort of set for a prolonged conflict. Neither side seems willing to back down or sees it as in their interest or a necessity to back down or to make concessions in any way to the other,” said analyst Kean.
“And so it’s just very difficult to see how the conflict will diminish, will reduce in the near term, even over a period of several years. It’s just very difficult to see peace returning to many areas of Myanmar.”

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing
Updated 29 January 2022

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing

South America squid left exposed amid surge in China fishing
  • The number of Chinese-flagged vessels in the south Pacific has surged 13-fold from 54 active vessels in 2009 to 707 in 2020, according to the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization

MIAMI, US: Negotiators from the US, China and 13 other governments failed to take action to protect threatened squid stocks on the high seas off South America amid a recent surge in activity by China’s distant water fishing fleet.
The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization, or SPRFMO, is charged with ensuring the conservation and sustainable fishing off the west coast of South America.
At the SPRFMO’s annual meeting that ended Friday, Ecuador and the European Union proposed measures that would require all ships to have observers on board by 2028 and mandate they unload their catches only in ports instead of at sea to giant refrigerated vessels — both considered key tools in limiting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
There were also competing proposals, one of them from China, to limit the amount of squid that could be caught.
However, none of the proposed measures were adopted during the closed-door meeting, thwarting the efforts of environmentalists and some seafood importers in the US and Europe who have been pushing for restrictions of fishing on the high seas that make up about half of the planet.
CALAMASUR, a group made up of squid industry representatives from Mexico, Chile, Peru and Ecuador, attended the four-day virtual meeting as an observer and said it was deeply disappointed by the results, which it said expose the SPRFMO to being seen as “non-cooperative” in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,
“This situation cannot be accepted as an outcome,” the group said in a statement.
Craig Loveridge, the executive secretary of the New Zealand-based SPRFMO, did not respond to a request for comment.
The number of Chinese-flagged vessels in the south Pacific has surged 13-fold from 54 active vessels in 2009 to 707 in 2020, according to the SPRFMO. Meanwhile, the size of China’s squid catch has grown from 70,000 tons in 2009 to 358,000.
Biologists warn that the boom has left the naturally bountiful Humboldt squid — named for the nutrient-rich current found off the west coast of South America — vulnerable to overfishing, as has occurred in Argentina, Mexico, Japan and other places where squid stocks have disappeared in the past.
An investigation by The Associated Press and Spanish-language broadcaster Univision last year revealed how the traditionally lawless area has become a magnet for some of the seafood industry’s worst offenders, many of them Chinese-flagged vessels with a history of labor abuse accusations and convictions for illegal fishing.

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers
Updated 29 January 2022

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers

A year after Myanmar’s coup, families of detainees search for answers
  • The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are detained in Myanmar prisons and interrogation centers
  • More than 1,500 were estimated to have been killed, some after they were placed behind bars

Nearly a year after his son was last seen being hauled away by Myanmar junta troops, 66-year-old Win Hlaing says he just wants to know whether he is alive.
One night last April, a neighbor phoned to tell him his son, Wai Soe Hlaing, a young father who ran a phone shop in Yangon, had been detained in connection with protests against the Feb. 1 military coup.
They traced the 31-year-old to a local police station, according to Win Hlaing and The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit that has been documenting arrests and killings.
Then the trail went cold. He had vanished.
Reuters called the police station but was unable to determine the whereabouts of Wai Soe Hlaing, or the missing relatives of two other people who were interviewed for this article.
A spokesman for the junta did not respond to emailed requests for comment and did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
Wai Soe Hlaing is among many people who activists and families say have disappeared since Myanmar was plunged into turmoil after the military overthrew the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The AAPP estimates more than 8,000 people are detained in prisons and interrogation centers, including Suu Kyi and most of her cabinet, while about 1,500 have been killed. Reuters was unable to independently verify the figures from the AAPP.
They say hundreds have died after being detained. The junta has said the figures are exaggerated and that the AAPP spreads false information. The junta has not disclosed the number of people in detention.

Search for loved ones
The military does not notify relatives when a person is arrested and prison officials often do not do so when they arrive in jail, so families laboriously search for their relatives by calling and visiting police stations and prisons or relying on accounts from local media or human rights groups.
Sometimes they send food parcels and take it as a sign their relative is being held there if the package is accepted, a Human Rights Watch report said.
In many cases, AAPP co-founder Bo Kyi said, the organization has been able to determine someone has been detained but not where. Tae-Ung Baik, chair of the United Nations’ working group on enforced disappearances told Reuters the group had received reports from families in Myanmar of enforced disappearances since last February and was “seriously alarmed” by the situation.
In a border town, 43-year-old activist Aung Nay Myo, who fled there from the northwestern Sagaing region, said junta troops took his parents and siblings from their home in mid-December and he does not know where they were.
He believes they were detained because of his work as a satirical writer. Among them is his 74-year-old father, left disabled by a stroke.
“There is nothing I can do but worry every moment,” Aung Nay Myo said.
Two police stations in the town of Monywa, their hometown in Sagaing region, did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
In some areas, resistance to the junta has spiralled into conflict, with fighting displacing tens of thousands of people across the country, according to the UN Thousands have fled across borders to Thailand and India.

Viral image
In the northeastern Kayah state, where fighting has been fierce, Banyar Khun Naung, director of the non-profit Karenni Human Rights Group, said at least 50 people were missing.
The group is trying to help families search, asking recently released prisoners any names they remembered.
“The families of missing people are in great pain, especially mentally, as it is exhausting not to know where their loved ones are,” he said.
Myint Aung, in his mid-50s and now living in a camp for internally displaced people in Kayah, said his 17-year-old son Pascalal disappeared in September.
The teenager told his father he was going to travel to their home in the state capital Loikaw to check on the situation, but never came back, Myint Aung said.
Instead, he was detained by security forces, Myint Aung told Reuters by phone, saying that local villagers told him. When he visited the station to deliver food, he found soldiers guarding the area and ran away.
Since then, Myint Aung has heard nothing of his son, but the rights group told him he was no longer at the police station, citing conversations with several people recently freed. Reuters was unable to independently verify this information.
Banyar Khun Naung, the Karenni rights group director, said the teenager was one of two young men pictured making the “Hunger Games” salute adopted by protesters as they were detained kneeling by the side of a road, lashed together with rope by a soldier, in an image widely circulated on social media. His sister confirmed by phone it was Pascalal.
The photo appeared in a viral post from an account that appeared to belong to a high-ranking soldier, with the caption, “While we let them do what they want before we put bullets through their heads.” The account was subsequently deleted and Reuters was not able to reach its owner for comment.
“He’s an underage civilian boy and he didn’t do anything wrong,” his father Myint Aung said.
Police in Loikaw did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment.
In Yangon, the family of Wai Soe Hlaing tell his four-year-old daughter her father is working somewhere far away. Sometimes, Win Hlaing said, she murmurs about him: “My papa has been gone too long.”

One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
Updated 29 January 2022

One of three suspects accused of murdering British imam pleads not guilty

Shamam Chowdhury. (Supplied)
  • The other two defendants failed to appear for a scheduled hearing at Southwark Crown Court in London on Friday
  • One of them had been moved to another prison and his papers were ‘lost in transition,’ the judge said, while a lawyer for the other said his client was unwell

LONDON: A 22-year-old man accused of killing a British-Bangladeshi imam in East London has pleaded not guilty. Muzahid Ali, one of three men charged with murdering Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, appeared at Southwark Crown Court on Friday and was remanded in custody.

The other defendants, Majid Ahmed, 18, and Abul Kashem, 28, did not appear for their plea hearings. Ahmed had been transferred to the Category-A Belmarsh prison and his “papers had been lost in transition,” said Judge Deborah Taylor.

Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC said Kashem was listed as “not attending.” His attorney, Benjamin Gordon, said his client was “unwell and complaining of stomach pains.” Judge Taylor said Kashem was “fit to attend court” and there was “no justification” for not doing so.

Ahmed and Kashem were ordered to attend their arraignment, which was set for May 6, days before the time limit on their custody is due to expire. All three of the accused were previously refused bail and have been in custody since they were charged on Nov. 10.

Mohammed Aqil Mahdi, 22, was in his second year at Greenwich University, studying accounting and finance. (Supplied/Shamam Chowdhury)

Ali spoke only twice during his court appearance on Friday, once to answer “yes” when asked by the judge whether he had spoken to counsel, and then to plead “not guilty.”

Paramedics found Mahdi, 22, who lived in north London, with stab wounds on Nov. 6, police said. He was unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene.

Mahdi was in his second year at Greenwich University, where he was studying accounting and finance. He also taught the Qur’an in his spare time and had led Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan at various mosques around London for the past nine years.

“He wanted to dedicate his time by making a difference and impacting young children and teenagers’ lives by teaching the Qur’an alongside his studies,” his mother, Shamam Chowdhury, told Arab News.

An online fund has been set up in Mahdi’s memory to raise money for a mosque in Egypt where he studied in 2019 to receive his ijazah, a license for those who want to teach Islam’s holy book.

“Aqil was a very special student of mine whom I had the blessed opportunity to teach and mentor for the past 10 years,” said Ishaaq Abu Rahmiyyah Jasat, Mahdi’s Qur’an teacher. “Words cannot describe how much he meant to me.”

He added that his student always tried hard and excelled in his Islamic journey, and recited the Qur’an in a melodious and soothing tone.

“Despite his hardships, he always had a good heart and cared so much for others,” he said.

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
Updated 29 January 2022

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’

Senior US official to visit Lithuania in show of support over Chinese ‘coercion’
  • China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year

WASHINGTON: A senior US official will visit Lithuania next week to discuss enhancing economic cooperation with the small Baltic nation, which has faced pressure from China for boosting ties with Taiwan.
Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Jose Fernandez will be in Vilnius from Sunday to Tuesday, and in Brussels from Wednesday to Friday, where he will also discuss efforts to counter economic “coercion” with EU officials, the State Department said in a statement.
In Vilnius, he will discuss bilateral economic cooperation, and US “strong support for Lithuania in the face of political pressure and economic coercion from the People’s Republic of China,” the statement said.
Fernandez will be accompanied by US Export-Import Bank officials to discuss implementation of a $600 million memorandum of understanding to expand opportunities for US exporters and Lithuanian buyers in areas such as high-tech manufacturing, business services and renewable energy, according to the statement.
In Brussels, Fernandez will discuss transatlantic trade and investment through the US-EU Trade and Technology Council, the statement said.
The United States, which is seeking to push back against growing Chinese influence worldwide, has backed Lithuania in its dispute with China over Taiwan, a self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
China downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Lithuania and pressed multinationals to sever ties with the country after Taiwan opened a representative office in Vilnius last year called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania, rather than using the word Taipei as is more common.
EU authorities launched a challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on Thursday, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against EU member Lithuania that they say threaten the integrity of the bloc’s single market.
Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it hopes its trade dispute with China will be solved with consultations between China and the EU.
Commenting on the WTO case, Taiwan’s Cabinet’s Office of Trade Negotiations said late Friday it “fully supports” the EU and Lithuania and opposes China’s “inappropriate economic coercion.”
“Our country will work with other like-minded partners such as Lithuania and the EU to prevent China from using coercive economic and diplomatic measures, to maintain a rules-based international trading system,” it added in a statement.