Southeast Asia Theater
Despite a democratic opening and hopes for peace with the ethnic insurgencies in the northern hinterlands, horrific accounts of rights abuses continue to emerge from the multi-sided war over Burma's opium production. According to reports from village leaders, Burmese army troops on Jan. 19 tortured, raped and killed two young volunteer teachers. The women were both Kachin and Christians, so may have been targeted for ethnicity or religion. The attacks came when the village of Shabuk-Kaunghka, in Shan state's Mungbaw township, was occupied by a Light Infantry battalion that entered the area following clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). New fighting erupted after three police officers and a local highway administrator were detained by the KIA while carrying out a road inspection in the area. They were released after mediation, but clashes continue.
A Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) operation on Jan. 25 turned into a "dusk to dawn" gun-battle with Moro rebels in restive Mindanao Island. At least 30 police troops were killed in the clash at the village of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano municipality, Maguindanao province. Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) later said the clash was triggered by lack of coordination on the SAF operation. SAF forces were hunting Malaysian national Zulkifli Bin Hir AKA "Marwan"—named by the US FBI as a bomb-maker for the Abu Sayyaf extremist faction. The SAF incursion was resisted by local militia of the MILF and breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
A military court in Thailand on Nov. 24 sentenced web editor Nut Rungwong to four-and-a-half years in jail for publishing an article five years ago that the court ruled defamed the nation's king. Thailand's lese-majeste law, which punishes people who defame, insult or threaten the monarchy, is one of the harshest in the world with jail terms of up to 15 years. Rungwong's sentence was cut in half because he pleaded guilty to the charge. Rungwong edited the Thai E-News website which is now blocked by censors. He was charged for publishing an article in 2009 written by Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a former university political scientist and radical Thai intellectual who fled to Britain in 2009.
George Orwell, and especially his dystopian novel 1984, has long been appropriated by neocons and (before that) Cold War hawks in the West. It's almost heartwarming to know that international despots still consider it dangerous. Seemingly oblivious to their own irony, police in Egypt last week arrested a 21-year-old student near the entrance of Cairo University for carrying a copy of 1984. It is unclear if the student, identified only as "Mohamed T," will face charges. The Egyptian Interior Ministry actually issued a statement explaining the arrest, innocently and not quite accurately saying that the novel "talks about military regimes which rule in corrupt countries." (The Week, UK, Nov. 10)
Protesters in the Philippines this weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the country's worst political massacre—and the world's worst mass killing of journalists. Nobody has been convicted of the massacre of 32 journalists and 26 others in the town of Ampatuan on the southern island of Mindanao. The victims were shot dead and buried in three pits after being ambushed by some 100 gunmen near the town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao province. Mary-Grace Morales lost both her husband and her sister on Nove. 23, 2009, when they were part of a convoy to cover the filing of candidacy papers for a local politician. "I want the world to know my husband and my sister died in the massacre and there were many people killed," she told the Radio Australia form the vigil held at the massacre site. "It's been five years and there is no justice. I don't know if there is any justice." Philippine journalist Nonoy Espina said half of the local media workers were "wiped out" in one day.
Some 500 people gathered Nov. 16 at a Central Luzon property of the family of Philippines President Benigno Aquino to commemorate a confrontation 10 years ago between government forces and striking workers, and to demand justice for the seven men killed. Protesters, all local rural workers, burned an effigy of Aquino riding a bulldozer. In what survivors group Ambala calls the "Hacienda Luisita massacre," police and military troops retook a section of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar complex that had been occupied by members of United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU). Although security forces were acting on a court order, the strikers resisted, saying talks were ongoing with the management of both CAT and Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI), the landowner. Aquino at the time of the massacre was a lawmaker representing the local Tarlac province in Manila, while also serving as manager of the Hacienda Luisita estate. The estate is owned by the Cojuangco family—that of the president's mother, ex-president Corazon Aquino.
Journalist Taing Tri of the local Vealntri newspaper in Cambodia's Kratie province was shot dead Oct. 12 as he attempted to photograph trucks transporting illegal luxury wood near Pum Ksem Kang Krow village. Tri is the 13th journalist to be killed in the line of duty since Cambodia's first democratic elections in 1993, and his death bears a disturbing resemblance to the 2012 murder in Ratanakiri province of Heng Serei Oudom, who was known for his reporting on illegal logging in the region. The Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) condemned Tri's murder and called on local authorities to bring the killers to justice "in order to end the cycle of impunity for those who perpetuate violence against journalists in Cambodia." To date, no one has been convicted for the murder of Oudom or any of the other journalists killed in Cambodia over the last 11 years. (IFEX, Oct. 15)
Leaders of indigenous tribes within the proposed Bangsamoro territory in Mindanao are demanding that their ancestral lands be excluded. "We cannot accept Bangsamoro as our identity. We have our own identity and this is the Erumanen ne Menuvu," datu (traditional elder) Ronaldo Ambangan said as he read the declaration of the Erumanen ne Menuvu tribe at the June 24 congressional consultations on the proposed Bangsamoro in Midsayap, North Cotabato. In Davao City, Timuay Alim Bandara, a Teduray leader, told the June 26 congressional committee hearing in Davao City that the Philippines' Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act had never been resepcted within the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the previous autonomous zone instated following the last peace accords with Moro rebels 15 years ago. He said indigenous peoples are expressing "our discomfort on the previous peace agreement," and demanding that their rights be respected under the new one. (Inquirer, Philippines, June 29)