Burma

Tamils and Muslims in Manaar, a town in the north of Sri Lanka, rallied on September 5 in solidarity with the Rohingya people of Myanmar. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar in recent weeks due to military attacks.

Many Tamils and Muslims see similarities between the situations in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In both countries, Buddhism is the dominant religion and Buddhist monks have helped incite hatred against religious and ethnic minorities.

The victory of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the November 2015 national elections in Burma (Myanmar) was hailed by Western leaders as heralding a new era of democracy and respect for human rights in the country.

Once isolated by sanctions imposed on the pretext of the widespread human rights abuses by previous military regimes, Burma is now a profitable destination for Western investment. By September, the US had lifted its last remaining sanctions.

The entire population of Burma supported Aung San Suu Kyi when she fought to get rid of the military dictatorship of Burma (Myanmar) during the 1990s.

She received tremendous support from all communities, including non-Buddhist ethnicities and Muslim communities. No one considered what her policy on other religions and ethnic areas was. People just wanted to get rid of the regime.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has won a crushing and historic victory in the November 8 election in Burma (also known as Myanmar).

Results were not final at the time of publication, but the NLD was on target to win more than 270 of the 330 elected seats (82%) in the People's Assembly, and more than 150 of the 168 elected seats (90%) in the House of Nationalities.

With elections due on November 8, a loud call for change in Myanmar (formerly Burma) can be heard in the streets.

All commentators predict victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) over the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Several factors, however, indicate it will not be a landslide.

Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, known throughout the country simply as “the lady”, came to political prominence in 1988 when she returned to Myanmar to support her ailing mother and became embroiled in the students' struggle against the military regime.

Campaigning kicked off on September 8 for the first competitive elections in Myanmar (Burma) since the 1950s. The November 8 poll will pit the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) against more than 100 opposition parties, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Myanmar’s military ceded power to a quasi-civilian government through 2010 elections that were boycotted by the NLD, ending a military dictatorship that spanned from 1962.

The toll of Australia's bipartisan anti-refugee policies in death and suffering is rising. In the past fortnight more than 3000 Rohingya refugees from Arakan state in Burma (Myanmar) have turned up on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, having either swum ashore or been rescued by local fishing boat crews. An estimated 7000 more are trapped on boats that have been described as “floating coffins”.

One cannot but feel privileged and awed to meet three of Burma's “88 Generation” student uprising leaders: Min Ko Naing who has spent most of the years since 1988 uprising jailed by the Burmese military dictatorship for his opposition activities; Ko Jimmy, who spent 20 years as a political prisoner and who was recently thrown back into what he wryly describes as “our second home” for protesting against fuel price hikes; and Ko Ko Gyi who spent 17 years in prison for opposing the military regime.

Je yang camp, located a 30 minutes drive on often unpaved or rocky road from Laiza, the capital of rebels in Kachin State in northern Burma, accommodates about 8000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

The wild landscape around the camp suggests the scenery would have been far more stunning without the presence of humans.

Jani Alam, a 25-year-old, is walking slow and painfully. Having slightly swollen feet, this “exercise” is the only treatment available from 60-year-old traditional doctor, Guramia Saiyid.

Both Alam and Saiyad are stateless refugees from the Rohingya ethnic minority from Arakan state in western Burma. They now live in Malaysia.

Saiyad has lived in the country for 11 years, while Alam has arrived four months ago.

“In the past months, dozens of refugees arrived almost every day,” said 41-year-old Jamar Udin, a neighbor and also a Rohingya.

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