Southeast Asia Theater
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)
Cambodia's most outspoken voice against illegal logging was shot dead April 27 while escorting journalists near a protected forest in Koh Kong (Kaoh Kong) province, where he has repeatedly attempted to expose outlaw timber rackets that include military officials. Chut Wutty, director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, was killed after military police apprehended him at Veal Bei in Mondul Seima district—reportedly on behalf of a logging company that asked the officers to stop him from shooting photos of their operations. When Wutty refused orders to put down his camera, a solider opened fire with his AK-47. The solider then turned the gun on himself, committing suicide on the spot, authorities said.
Following Burma's democratic opening, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) to take seats in parliament, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is set to visit the country—the first visit by an Indian leader in 25 years. But India and Burma have been quietly cooperating on the Tamanthi and Shwezaye power projects on Burma's Chindwin River. The projects have been thrown into question following last year's cancellation of the Myitsone hydro project on Burma's Irrawaddy River, which was similarly backed by China, and would have mostly supplied electricity to the Chinese grid. The cancellation came after an activist struggle by local tribal peoples that would have been impacted by the project. (Indrus, April 23) The Tamanthi project is emerging as an obstacle to winning peace with the Naga, a people whose homeland is bisected by the India-Burma border, and have for decades waged an insurgency for independence from both countries.
Some 5,000 Malaysians staged a protest against a refinery for rare earth elements being built by the Australian mining company Lynas in Kuantan, Pahang state, Feb. 26. The protest—dubbed Green Gathering 2.0—featured green-clad activists beating drums as well as opposition MPs. Many protesters wore green T-shirts with the words "Stop Lynas," and some shouted "Destroy Lynas!" Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said his alliance will seek an emergency motion in parliament to urge the government to cancel the project, and pledged that the opposition would scrap the plant if it won elections expected by June. "We don't want [this project] to sacrifice our culture and the safety of the children," he told the crowd. The Lynas website was also hacked, with a Malaysian flag and the slogan "Stop Lynas, Save Malaysia" replacing the corporate logo.
Some 50 black-clad gunmen armed with grenades and bombs stormed the city jail at Kidapawan, North Cotabato province, in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao Feb. 20. They were repulsed by police in a chaotic night battle that killed three—two civilian by-standers and an ambulance driver. Of the 15 wounded, most were civilians caught in the crossfire. As the armed men withdrew, they fired rocket propelled grenades at a nearby Karaoke bar. Military and police officials blamed former members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), attempting to free leader Datukan Sama, AKA Kumander Lastikman, who is charged with kidnapping. A spokesman for the MILF denied the claim. (AP, Xinhua, Feb. 20)
The first trial of alleged Indonesia bomber Umar Patek began Feb. 13 in the West Jakarta District Court over his role in several terrorist plots including the Jakarta church bombings in 2000 and the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. Patek was arrested in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011, just a few weeks before US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in the same town. If convicted Patek could face life imprisonment or a death sentence. Patek is not facing "terrorism" charges under Indonesia law, since the terrorism law came into effect in 2003 after both bombings and cannot be applied retrospectively. Patek is believed to be a member of the alleged al-Qaeda-linked organization Jemaah Islamiyah, which claimed responsibility for the Bali nightclub bombings. His trial is expected to last months.
Burmese authorities reportedly detained a Buddhist monk who was just recently freed from prison. Shin Gambira was taken early Feb. 10 from a monastery in Rangoon, apparently for "questioning." Shin Gambira, a leader of the 2007 "Saffron Revolution" protests, was sentenced to 68 years in prison after the movement was crushed, including 12 years of hard labor. He was among 651 political prisoners released from detention last month by Burma's new, military-backed civilian government. Western powers have imposed the freeing of political dissidents as a condition for the lifting of economic sanctions. (VOA, AFP, Feb. 10)