Southeast Asia Theater
The government of Indonesia this month responded to UN recommendations to recognize the rights of its indigenous peoples by claiming that none live in the country. In a response to the UN's Universal Periodic Review, a four–year human rights check-up for all countries, Indonesia said, "The Government of Indonesia supports the promotion and protection of indigenous people worldwide… Indonesia, however, does not recognize the application of the indigenous peoples concept… in the country."
Hundreds of residents of Van Giang district of Hung Yen province on the edge of Vietnam's capital held a protest Oct. 8 in front of the Central Office of Public Relations building in downtown Hanoi, demanding the return of land they say was illegally confiscated from them to develop a controversial satellite city. After villagers rallied in front of the building for some time, officials emerged to meet with them for about 30 minutes, but protest leader Dam Van Dong, told Radio Free Asia's Vietnamese service their complaints were not resolved. "We have made clear in our requests that the land which Hung Yen authorities of every rank have taken from us be returned," he said.
A prominent Cambodian radio broadcaster and rights activist was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on Oct. 1 after being convicted of insurrection and inciting rebellion against the state. Mam Sonando, 71, runs the independent Beehive radio station and has been an outspoken critic of the Cambodian government. He was arrested in July on accusations of being involved in a plot to incite villagers in eastern Kratie to rebel against the Cambodian government in an effort to establish an autonomous region in the province. The court held that Sonando had been instrumental in inciting villagers in May to form their own state in the eastern province. An additional 13 people were convicted on similar indictments. Rights groups have denounced the charges and Sonando's supporters say he is being persecuted for criticizing the government. Several hundred people assembled outside the court in support of the rights activist as his sentence was being handed down. The Phnom Penh court also fined Sonando 10 million riel ($2,500). His wife has indicated that he plans to appeal the sentence.
Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the US last week won wide media attention as she met with Hillary Clinton, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and addressed the US Institute of Peace. (VOA, Daily Beast, Sept. 18) The world paid little note as, simultaneously, fighting flared in Burma's northern Kachin state between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army, leaving at least 150 displaced. Villagers fleeing the fighting have taken refuge in the town of Hpakant in the west of the state, with local relief groups struggling to provide assistance to displaced residents. Pastor Naw Ja of a Catholic church in Hpakant said there are about 1,000 displaced persons being sheltered in his parish after fleeing fighting in nearby villages over the past months. "There are many difficulties—there are outbreaks of diseases such as flu, diarrhea, malaria and it's getting increasingly difficult to continue providing them with food and shelter," said Naw Ja. (Democratic Voice of Burma, Sept. 25)
Six men accused of murdering 13 crew members of two Chinese merchant ships on the Mekong River last year pleaded guilty Sept. 20 at their trial in Kunming, capital of China's Yunnan province. The defendants included Naw Kham (also rendered Nor Kham), purportedly one of the most powerful warlords in the Golden Triangle opium-growing region that straddles the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos. The crew were massacred by an armed gang that attacked two cargo ships last October. Chinese media said the gang was involved in kidnapping as well as international drug running.
Despite a ceasefire signed earlier this year, new fighting broke out last week between Burma's army and both the southern and northern factions of the Shan State Army. Two Burmese soldiers were killed in a four-hour fire-fght with Shan State Army-North June 17 in Monghsu township, Loilen district. The SSA-S reported a clash with Burmese soldiers June 15 in Mongton township, Monghsat district. In both cases, the Shan State forces say government forces were the aggressors, with the SSA-S relinquishing a "forward operating base" to Burmese troops. "This puts doubt in our minds regarding building peace," said SSA-S spokesman Sai Lao Hseng. "How could we manage this if we cannot even build trust?" The SSA-S has sent a complaint letter to the government's Peace Making Committee.
More than 500 villagers held a march in eastern Cambodia's Kompong Cham province June 29 to protest a controversial dam project on the Mekong River in Laos that they charge is under construction despite a pledge to halt progress while officials conduct a new impact study. The protest against the $3.8 billion Xayaburi Dam was led by monks and included students, peasants, and activists nongovernmental organizations. The protesters called on the leaders of the four nations downstream from the dam—Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam—to demand a halt to construction at the site, citing concerns that the project would negatively impact millions of people in the region and irreparably damage the environment. Laos committed to the review by a Japanese firm in December at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia after drawing criticism that its own environmental impact study was inadequate.
Burma's President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in western Rakhine (formerly Arakan) state June 10 following an uprising by the Muslim Rohingya people, in which hundreds of homes of Buddhist villagers were put to the torch. At least seven have been killed since the incident that sparked the violence. The rape and murder of a Buddhist woman was blamed on Rohingyas; a bus full of Muslim pilgrims was then waylaid by a mob, who beat 10 of the passengers to death. The pilgrims, who were returning to Rangoon from Thetsa Masjid in the Rakhine town of Thandwe, appear not to have even been Rohingyas. The Rohingyas are a stateless people; the Burmese government maintains they are "illegal" immigrants from Bangladesh, and periodically rounds them up by the hundreds to deport them across the border—where, far from being welcomed, they languish in refugee camps. (See map.) In Burma, they face harsh restrictions on their movements, and are denied the right to have more than two children per family by law. "The government needs to recognize...that its discriminatory policies against the Rohingyas that [have] denied them citizenship and subjected them to such restrictions need to be lifted," said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. "They need to be treated as people of Burma and recognized as such." (Radio Australia, The Telegraph, June 11; AFP, June 9; The Voice of Rohingya, June 4)