Ethnic allies of Myanmar resistance capture government base

Soldiers sit in an army truck outside the Central Bank of Myanmar, as people gathered to protest against the military coup, in Yangon on February 15, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 April 2021

Ethnic allies of Myanmar resistance capture government base

  • The base was attacked and burned down by the KNU
  • The KNU, which controls territory in eastern Myanmar, is a close ally of the resistance movement against the military

BANGKOK: Ethnic Karen guerrillas said they captured a Myanmar army base Tuesday in what represents a morale-boosting action for those opposing the military’s takeover of the country’s civilian government in February.

A spokesman for the Karen National Union, the minority’s main political group seeking greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government, said the group’s armed wing attacked the base at 5 a.m. and burned it down just after dawn.

Casualty figures were not yet known, the KNU’s head of foreign affairs, Padoh Saw Taw Nee, said in a text message. There was no immediate comment from Myanmar’s military government.

The KNU, which controls territory in eastern Myanmar near the border with Thailand, is a close ally of the resistance movement against the military takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Video shot from the Thai side of the border showed flames rising from the government position on the banks of the Salween River, amid the sound of heavy gunfire. The river marks the border with Thailand.

A report by the Karen Information Center, an online news site, quoted an unnamed villager on the Thai side of the river saying he saw seven government soldiers trying to flee the camp, which is opposite Thailand’s Mae Sam Laep village.

Fighting between the KNU’s armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, and Myanmar’s military has been intense since February.

Myanmar jets have bombed and strafed Karen villages and its army has deployed fresh battalions to the area, in possible preparation for a large-scale offensive.

Up to 25,000 villagers have fled their homes and are hiding in jungles and caves, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian aid group that is active in the area.

In response, the KNLA has kept up guerrilla attacks on Myanmar patrols and bases. The KNU has also given shelter to activists against military rule who have fled the government’s crackdown on the resistance movement in the cities.

There is a similar situation in northern Myanmar, where the Kachin minority has claimed to have captured several government outposts and been the object of air attacks.

The Karen and the Kachin are two of the bigger minority groups that have been seeking greater autonomy for decades, during which there have been periods of armed conflict punctuated by cease-fires.

The city-based resistance movement against the current ruling junta has wooed the ethnic guerrilla groups in hopes that they can form a federal army as a counterweight to the government’s armed forces. A parallel National Unity

Government established by elected lawmakers prevented from taking their seats by the army has appointed representatives of several minority groups to ministerial posts.


Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

Updated 28 November 2022

Mexican asylum seekers set their sights north — on Canada

  • Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists

MONTREAL: Pedro Meraz says living in Colima, Mexico, was like living in a war zone, with shootings, burning cars and dismembered bodies being left outside of schools.

When his wife Rocio Gonzalez, a 28-year-old lawyer who worked with abused women, began receiving death threats from a cartel and the local authorities ignored her pleas for assistance, they knew they had to leave.

“They knew where we lived and what car we drove,” said Meraz, 41, who taught at The University of Colima, near the Pacific Coast and about 485 kilometers west of Mexico City. “Feeling that you are going to lose your life, or one of your daughters, I don’t mind starting from scratch.”

The family is part of a surge in the number of Mexicans who have requested asylum in Canada this year. Due to the relative ease of obtaining asylum in Canada compared to the US, visa-free travel between Mexico and Canada, and the threat of violence back home, more than 8,000 Mexican nationals have sought refugee status in 2022. That’s almost five times as many as last year and more than twice as many as in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions that accompanied it.

The vast majority of them are flying in to Montreal, which has many direct flights to and from Mexico.

Among them is Viviana Tapia Gonzalez, a human rights activist and mother of four from Aguascalientes, about 425 kilometers northwest of Mexico City, who said she left Mexico in January after being attacked by the military. She said her work with the families of missing and murdered women and girls made her a target.

“Death threats were constant,” she said. “I thought it was the last option I had to be safe. I work for many causes and help many people. I did not want to stop helping, but I must also protect (and) take care of myself.”

Tapia Gonzalez has been living in a Montreal women’s shelter while awaiting a decision on her asylum claim, which she fears might get rejected.

If her claim is turned down, she wouldn’t be alone.

In the first nine months of 2022, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, an independent tribunal that investigates and decides asylum cases, finalized more than 2,700 claims by Mexican asylum seekers. Of those, 1,032 were accepted, 1,256 were rejected; and the remaining 400-plus were either abandoned, withdrawn, or had other outcomes, said Christian Tessier, an IRB spokesperson.

In Canada, claimants must meet the United Nations’ definition of a “convention refugee,” meaning they are outside of their home countries and have a well-founded fear that they would be persecuted if they returned based on their race, religion, political opinions, nationality or affiliation with a social group. Otherwise, they must prove that they need protection and can’t safely return to their home countries without risking torture, cruel or unusual punishment, or death.

Despite the risk of rejection, though, the surge in Mexicans seeking refugee status in Canada persists.

The Welcome Collective, a Montreal-based charitable organization that provides essential goods to new asylum seekers, said half of the group’s current clients came from Mexico — a 300 percent increase compared with earlier this year.

“They had to run away because of violence and other humanitarian reasons. To find a better place for their children,” said Flavia Leiva, the group’s volunteer and social outreach coordinator.

As for what is causing the increase in applicants, Leiva suggested that social media is playing a role.

“There have been YouTubers and some videos on TikTok talking about how easy it is to come to Canada,” she said.

At least one YouTube video that was published 10 months ago and made for a Mexican audience explains the Canadian immigration process in Spanish and has more than 4 million views.

It has been harder for Mexicans to seek asylum in the US since the start of the pandemic. A US public health rule that suspends the right to seek asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19 has fallen disproportionately hard on Mexicans. Title 42 authority has been used to expel migrants more than 2.4 million times since it was introduced in March 2020.

Further adding to Canada’s allure is that Mexicans haven’t needed a visa to travel to the country since the Canadian government lifted the requirement in late 2016.

Leiva also suggested that more Mexicans might be choosing to come to Canada instead of the US because they think it’s safer.

“In the US, they are put in cages, the conditions are not as good,” Leiva said. “People do not feel safe or protected.”

Meraz said he and his family decided that Canada would offer them the best chance to start over.

“My wife investigated the existence of international treaties to protect people who are at risk,” he said.

He referenced Canadian policies and regulations protecting women and children in addition to the country’s comparatively low crime rate.

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Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce

Updated 27 November 2022

Kidnappings, looting cited in Ethiopia’s Tigray after truce

KAMPALA: Allies of Ethiopia’s federal military are looting property and carrying out mass detentions in Tigray, according to eyewitnesses and aid workers.
The accounts raise fresh concern about alleged atrocities more than three weeks after the warring parties signed a truce that diplomats and others hoped would bring an end to suffering in the embattled region that’s home to more than 5 million people.
Tigray is still largely cut off from the rest of Ethiopia, although aid deliveries into the region resumed after the Nov. 2 cease-fire deal signed in South Africa. There’s limited or no access into the region for human rights researchers, making it difficult for journalists and others to obtain information from Tigray as Ethiopian forces continue to assert control of the region.
Eritrean troops and forces from the neighboring Ethiopian region of Amhara — who have been fighting on the side of Ethiopia’s federal military in the Tigray conflict — have looted businesses, private properties, vehicles, and health clinics in Shire, a northwestern town that was captured from Tigray forces last month, two aid workers there told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.
Several young people have been kidnapped by Eritrean troops in Shire, the aid workers said. One said he saw “more than 300” youths being rounded up by Ethiopian federal troops in several waves of mass detentions after the capture of Shire, home to a large number of internally displaced people.
“There are different detention centers around the town,” said the aid worker, who also noted that Ethiopian federal troops were arresting people believed to be “associated” with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, the political party whose leaders led the war against the federal government.
Civilians accused of aiding Tigray forces are being detained in the southern town of Alamata, according to a resident there who said Amhara forces had arrested several of his friends. A former regional official said Amhara forces are also carrying out “mass” arrests in the town of Korem, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Alamata, and in surrounding rural areas.
Both the Alamata resident and the former regional official, like some others who spoke to AP, requested anonymity because of safety concerns as well as fear of reprisals.
The continuing presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray remains a sore point in the ongoing peace process, and the US has called for their withdrawal from the region.
The military spokesman and government communications minister in Ethiopia didn’t respond to a request for comment. Eritrea’s embassy in Ethiopia also didn’t respond.
Eritrea, which shares a border with Tigray, was not mentioned in the text of the cease-fire deal. The absence of Eritrea from cease-fire negotiations had raised questions about whether that country’s repressive government, which has long considered Tigray authorities a threat, would respect the agreement.
A subsequent implementation accord, signed by military commanders in Kenya, states that the Tigray forces will disband their heavy weapons “concurrently with the withdrawal of foreign and non-(federal) forces from the region.”
Yet aid officials, diplomats and others inside Tigray say Eritrean forces are still active in several areas of Tigray, hurting the peace process. Eritrean troops have been blamed for some of the conflict’s worst abuses, including gang rapes.
Tigrai Television, a regional broadcaster based in the Tigrayan capital of Mekele, reported on Nov. 19 that Eritrean soldiers killed 63 civilians, including 10 children, in an area called Egela in central Tigray. That report cited witnesses including one who said affected communities were being prevented from burying their dead.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the importance of implementing the peace deal, “including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the concurrent disarmament of the Tigray forces” in a phone call Monday, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Four youths were killed by Eritrean forces in the northwestern Tigray town of Axum on Nov. 17, a humanitarian worker told the AP. “The killings have not stopped despite the peace deal … and it is being carried out in Axum exclusively by Eritrean forces,” the humanitarian worker said.
A statement from Tigray’s communication bureau last week said Eritrea’s military “continues committing horrific atrocities in Tigray.” That statement charged that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki “is bringing more units into Tigray though (he is) expected to withdraw his troops” following the cease-fire deal.
The brutal fighting, which spilled into the Amhara and Afar regions as Tigray forces pressed toward the federal capital last year, was renewed in August in Tigray after months of lull.
Tigray is in the grip of a dire humanitarian crisis after two years of restrictions on aid. These restrictions prompted a UN panel of experts to conclude that Ethiopia’s government probably used “starvation as a method of warfare” against the region.
Ethiopian authorities have long denied targeting civilians in Tigray, saying their goal is to apprehend the region’s rebellious leaders.
Despite the African Union-led cease-fire, basic services such as phone, electricity and banking are still switched off in most parts of Tigray. The US estimates hundreds of thousands of people could have been killed in the war marked by abuses on all sides.
The cease-fire deal requires federal authorities to facilitate “unhindered humanitarian access” to Tigray. The World Food Program said Friday it had sent 96 trucks of food and fuel to Tigray since the agreement although access to parts of central and eastern Tigray remains “constrained.”
Unhindered access into Tigray has not yet been granted despite the number of trucks going into the region, with several restrictions remaining in place, an aid worker said Friday. There are limits on the amount of cash humanitarian organizations can take into Tigray, while checkpoints and military commanders impede the movements of aid workers within the region, the aid worker said.


Protests over China’s COVID-19 controls spread across country

Updated 27 November 2022

Protests over China’s COVID-19 controls spread across country

  • President Xi Jinping’s government faces mounting anger at its ‘zero-COVID’ policy
  • The ruling Communist Party faces growing complaints about the economic and human cost

BEIJING: Protests against China’s pervasive anti-virus controls that have confined millions of people to their homes spread to Shanghai and other cities after complaints they might have worsened the death toll in an apartment fire in the northwest.
Shanghai police used pepper spray against about 300 protesters, according to a witness. They gathered Saturday night to mourn the deaths of at least 10 people in an apartment fire last week in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region in the northwest.
Videos posted on social media that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south and at least five other cities showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighborhoods. Witnesses said a protest occurred in Urumqi, but The Associated Press was unable to confirm details of other videos.
President Xi Jinping’s government faces mounting anger at its “zero-COVID” policy that has shut down access to areas throughout China in an attempt to isolate every case at a time when other governments are easing controls and trying to live with the virus.
That has kept China’s infection rate lower than the United States and other countries. But the ruling Communist Party faces growing complaints about the economic and human cost as businesses close and families are isolated for weeks with limited access to food and medicine.
Some protesters were shown in videos shouting for Xi to step down or the ruling party to give up power.
Party leaders promised last month to make restrictions less disruptive by easing quarantine and other rules but said they were sticking to “zero-COVID.” Meanwhile, an upsurge in infections that pushed daily cases above 30,000 for the first time has led local authorities to impose restrictions residents complain exceed what is allowed by the national government.
The fire deaths in Urumqi triggered an outpouring of angry questions online about whether firefighters who needed three hours to extinguish the blaze or victims trying to escape might have been obstructed by locked doors or other controls. Authorities denied that, but the disaster became a focal point for public anger about anti-disease restrictions, ruling party propaganda and censorship.
In Shanghai, protesters gathered at Middle Urumqi Road at midnight with flowers, candles and signs reading “Urumqi, November 24, those who died rest in peace,” according to a participant who would give only his family name, Zhao.
Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed. He said police stomped on his feet as he tried to stop them from taking his friend away. He lost his shoes and left barefoot.
According to Zhao, protesters yelled slogans including “Xi Jinping, step down, Communist Party, step down,” “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock China,” “do not want PCR (tests), want freedom” and “press freedom.”
Around 100 police stood in lines to prevent protesters from gathering or leaving, Zhao said. He said buses with more police arrived later.
Another protester, who gave only his family name, Xu, said there was a larger crowd of thousands of demonstrators, but police stood in the road and let them pass on the sidewalk.
Internet users posted videos and accounts on Chinese and foreign social media showing protests in Shanghai, Nanjing, Chengdu and Chongqing in the southwest and Urumqi and Korla in Xinjiang.
A video that said it was shot in Urumqi showed protesters chanting, “Remove the Communist Party! Remove Xi Jinping!”
Protests in Xinjiang are especially risky following a security crackdown against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities that has included mass detentions.
Most protesters in the videos were members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group. A Uyghur woman in Urumqi said Uyghurs were too scared to take to the streets.


Trump faulted for dinner with white nationalist, rapper Ye

Updated 27 November 2022

Trump faulted for dinner with white nationalist, rapper Ye

NEW YORK: Former President Donald Trump is renewing attention to his long history of turning a blind eye to bigotry after dining with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West just days into his third campaign for the White House.
Trump had dinner Tuesday at his Mar-a-Lago club with West, who is now known as Ye, as well as Nick Fuentes, a far-right activist who has used his online platform to spew antisemitic and white nationalist rhetoric.
Ye, who says he, too, is running for president in 2024, has made his own series of antisemitic comments in recent weeks, leading to his suspension from social media platforms, his talent agency dropping him and companies like Adidas cutting ties with him. The sportswear manufacturer has also launched an investigation into his conduct.
In a statement from the White House, spokesman Andrew Bates said: “Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America — including at Mar-A-Lago. Holocaust denial is repugnant and dangerous, and it must be forcefully condemned.”
Trump, in a series of statements Friday, said he had “never met and knew nothing about” Fuentes before he arrived with Ye at his club. But Trump also did not acknowledge Fuentes’ long history of racist and antisemitic remarks, nor did he denounce either man’s defamatory statements.
Trump wrote of Ye on his social media platform that “we got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’” He added, “Why wouldn’t I agree to meet?”
The former president has a long history of failing to unequivocally condemn hate speech. During his 2016 campaign, Trump waffled when asked to denounce the KKK after he was endorsed by the group’s former leader, saying in a televised interview that he didn’t “know anything about David Duke.” In 2017, in the aftermath of the deadly white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump was widely criticized for saying there was “blame on both sides” for the violence. And his rallies frequently feature inflammatory rhetoric from figures like US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who spoke earlier this year at a far-right conference organized by Fuentes.
The latest episode, coming just one week after Trump launched his third run for the Republican nomination, also underscored how loosely controlled access to the former president remained, particularly without a traditional campaign operation in place.
Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club came under intense scrutiny amid revelations that Trump was storing hundreds of documents with classified markings there — sparking a federal investigation. But the club — and the people it gave access to Trump — had long been a source of consternation among former White House aides.
Mar-a-Lago is not only Trump’s home, but also a private club and event space. Paid members and their guests dine alongside him and often mingle with him; members of the public can book weddings, fundraisers and other events, and Trump often drops by.
Ye first shared details of the dinner in a video he posted to his Twitter account Thursday. Ye said he had traveled to Florida to ask Trump to be his 2024 running mate, and that the meeting had grown heated, with Trump “perturbed” by his request and Ye angered by Trump’s criticism of his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian.
“When Trump started basically screaming at me at the table telling me I was gonna lose. I mean, has that ever worked for anyone in history, telling Ye that I’m going to lose?” Ye asked in the video. “You’re talking to Ye!“
Ye also said Trump was “really impressed with Nick Fuentes,” whom he described as “actually a loyalist” and said he’d asked Trump, “Why when you had the chance did you not free the January 6th-ers?” referring to the defendants who were alleged to have participated in the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump released a series of statements Friday trying to explain the circumstances of the meeting.
“Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about,” Trump said in his first statement released by his campaign.
Not long after, Trump took to his social media network to say that Ye and “three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about” had “unexpectedly showed up” at his club.
“We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport,” he wrote.
Hours later he again posted, saying he had told Ye that he “should definitely not run for President,” and that “any voters you may have should vote for TRUMP.”
“Anyway, we got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’” he added. “Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”
Fuentes, meanwhile, said after the trip that, while he couldn’t rule out that Trump had heard of him, “I don’t think he knew that I was me at the dinner.”
“I didn’t mean for my statements and my whole background to sort of become a public relations problem for the president,” he added on his show.
The meeting drew immediate criticism from Trump critics as well as some supporters, including David Friedman, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Israel.
“To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this. Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable,” Friedman wrote in a tweet. “I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong.”
On Saturday, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a potential 2024 rival, also denounced antisemitism, without directly referencing the dinner or the president under whom he served.
“Anti-Semitism is a cancer,” Pompeo wrote, adding: “We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world’s oldest bigotry.”
Biden, asked about the Trump dinner meeting while vacationing in Nantucket, Massachusetts, replied, “You don’t want to hear what I think.”


UN warns 500,000 more people will need humanitarian aid in South Sudan

Updated 27 November 2022

UN warns 500,000 more people will need humanitarian aid in South Sudan

  • Conditions worsened by violence, public health challenges, climate change

JUBA, South Sudan: Some 9.4 million people in South Sudan will need humanitarian assistance and protection services next year, half a million more than the current number, the UN  has said in a report.

According to the 2023 South Sudan Humanitarian Needs Overview report, more people will face food insecurity in 2023. Currently, nearly a third of 12.4 million people living in South Sudan are facing severe food insecurity.

Humanitarian conditions have been worsened by endemic violence, conflict, access constraints, operational interference, public health challenges and climate change effects such as flooding and drought, the report said.

The need for assistance will be greatest in counties in the Upper Nile and Western Equatoria States that have been facing conflict.

“Something has to change in South Sudan because the number of people in need continues to rise every year and the resources continue to decrease,” said Sara Beysolow Nyanti, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, in a statement. Nyanti appealed to the government to ensure conditions of peace and to foster development in order to reduce the need for humanitarian aid.

Violence continues to plague the country, posing a threat to a peace deal signed in 2018 by former rivals President Salva Kiir and deputy Riek Machar.

Machar has in recent times accused Kiir of violating the peace agreement.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced in a civil war before the peace deal was signed.