UN rights envoy warns of risk of starvation in Myanmar’s Kayah State

Locals taking refuge in a jungle area in Demoso, Kayah state, after they fled from conflict zones where fighting between the Myanmar military and members of the People’s Defense Force (PDF) took place. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 June 2021

UN rights envoy warns of risk of starvation in Myanmar’s Kayah State

  • Myanmar’s military has been battling on multiple fronts to impose order since its Feb. 1 coup
  • Power had also been cut in many areas and, along with food, materials for shelter were also desperately needed

Myanmar’s Kayah State could suffer a “massive” loss of life beyond anything seen since the military seized power, with more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes to escape conflict, a UN human rights investigator warned on Wednesday.

Myanmar’s military has been battling on multiple fronts to impose order since its Feb. 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government sparked nationwide protests. Kayah State, which borders Thailand, is one of several regions where volunteer People’s Defense Forces have clashed with Myanmar’s well-equipped army, which has responded with artillery and air strikes, triggering an exodus into nearby forests.

“The junta’s brutal, indiscriminate attacks are threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children in Kayah State,” Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.

“Let me blunt. Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah State absent immediate action,” he said.

An activist in Kayah State said many displaced people could not be reached including in an area east of Demoso town, about 15 km (9 miles) from the state capital, Loikaw.

“Some people to the east of Demoso have to survive on rice broth as we cannot deliver rice bags to them,” said the activist, who asked not to be identified. She said that military authorities had arrested three people trying to deliver aid in the last two weeks.

Power had also been cut in many areas and, along with food, materials for shelter and petrol were also desperately needed, said the activist, who also called for urgent international help.

A spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment.

Thailand, which fears a flood of refugees, has expressed its concern about the fighting in Myanmar and urged the junta to take steps agreed with other Southeast Asian countries aimed at setting a course out of the conflict.

The junta has paid little heed to demands from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to respect a “consensus” agreed in late April to end violence and hold political talks with its opponents.

A rights group says Myanmar security forces have killed at least 857 protesters since the coup, though the army disputes that figure.


At least 3 dead in apparent gas explosion in north China

Updated 15 sec ago

At least 3 dead in apparent gas explosion in north China

  • China is replacing decades-old infrastructure, with gas lines an especially dangerous part of the project
  • That blast appeared similar to one that occurred in the northeastern port of Qingdao in 2013
BEIJING: An apparent gas explosion gutted part of a high rise in northern China on Thursday morning, killing at least three people and injuring 30.
It occurred at a hotel in Shenyang, a city of more than 8 million people and a major industrial center that is in the process of renovating and replacing decaying gas lines, state media reported.
Images posted online by news website The Paper and state broadcaster CCTV showed a cloud of dust and debris blowing onto a busy street, leaving the bottom three floors of the building a gutted shell. Concrete blocks were piled in the street and a three-wheeled delivery vehicle lay on its side.
China is replacing decades-old infrastructure, with gas lines an especially dangerous part of the project. In June, a gas line explosion at a market and residential area in the central city of Shiyan killed 25.
That blast appeared similar to one that occurred in the northeastern port of Qingdao in 2013, in which 55 people were killed when underground pipelines ripped open following a leak.
Along with the deteriorations caused by age, weak adherence to safety standards, poor maintenance and corruption among enforcement bodies are all considered contributors to such disasters. Among China’s worst accidents was a massive 2015 explosion at a chemical warehouse in the port city of Tianjin that killed 173 people, most of them firefighters and police officers.

Flood deaths in India and Nepal cross 150

Updated 27 min 7 sec ago

Flood deaths in India and Nepal cross 150

  • In Nainital, a popular tourist destination in the Himalayan state, the town’s main lake broke its banks
  • India’s federal interior minister Amit Shah is set to survey affected areas on Thursday

NEW DELHI: More than 150 people have died in flooding across India and Nepal, officials said on Thursday, as unseasonably heavy rains across the region led to flash floods in several areas, stranding residents and destroying homes and infrastructure.
The north Indian state of Uttarakhand has been especially badly-hit, with 48 confirmed deaths, SA Murugesan, secretary of the state’s disaster management department told Reuters.
In Nainital, a popular tourist destination in the Himalayan state, the town’s main lake broke its banks, submerging the main thoroughfare and damaging bridges and rail tracks. And rescuers from India’s paramilitary National Disaster Response Force were evacuating residents from communities hit by landslides.
India’s federal interior minister Amit Shah is set to survey affected areas on Thursday.
Some 42 people have died in the last week in the southern Indian state of Kerala, according to a statement from the chief minister’s office.
In neighboring Nepal, at least 77 people have died.
India’s annual monsoon rains usually run from June to September.


Ukraine’s new daily coronavirus cases, deaths hit record

Updated 57 min 17 sec ago

Ukraine’s new daily coronavirus cases, deaths hit record

  • There were also 546 new deaths, surpassing the Oct. 19 record of 538
  • Ministry data showed 22,415 new cases over the past 24 hours

KYIV: Ukraine registered a record daily high of new coronavirus infections and related deaths, the health ministry said on Thursday.
Ministry data showed 22,415 new cases over the past 24 hours, exceeding the previous high of 20,341 on April 3.
There were also 546 new deaths, surpassing the Oct. 19 record of 538.


India administers its billionth COVID-19 jab

Updated 21 October 2021

India administers its billionth COVID-19 jab

  • Around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people has had one shot

NEW DELHI: India administered its billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose on Thursday, according to the health ministry, half a year after a devastating surge in cases brought the health system close to collapse.
According to the government, around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people has had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated.


Democracy languishes 30 years after Cambodia peace deal

Updated 21 October 2021

Democracy languishes 30 years after Cambodia peace deal

  • Hun Sen has amassed vast fortunes for his family, while almost 30 percent of Cambodians live barely above the poverty line, says Australian FM Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the peace deal

PHNOM PENH: Three decades after a landmark agreement ended years of bloody violence in Cambodia, its strongman ruler has crushed all opposition and is eyeing dynastic succession, shattering hopes for a democratic future.
The Paris Peace Agreements, signed on October 23, 1991, brought an end to nearly two decades of savage slaughter that began with the Khmer Rouge’s ascent to power in 1975.
The genocidal regime wiped out up to two million Cambodians through murder, starvation and overwork, before a Vietnamese invasion toppled the communist Khmer Rouge but triggered a civil war.
The Paris accords paved the way for Cambodia’s first democratic election in 1993 and effectively brought the Cold War in Asia to an end.
Aid from the West flowed and Cambodia became the poster child for post-conflict transition to democracy.
But the gains were short-lived and Premier Hun Sen, now in his fourth decade in power, has led a sustained crackdown on dissent.
“We did a great job on bringing peace, but blew it on democracy and human rights,” said former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, one of the architects of the peace deal.

Evans said it was a mistake to agree to Hun Sen’s demands for a power-sharing arrangement after the 1993 election.
“Hun Sen has amassed vast fortunes for his family... while almost 30 percent of Cambodians live barely above the poverty line,” he said.
Rights groups say the veteran strongman maintains his iron grip on the country through a mix of violence, politically motivated prosecutions and corruption.
Exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy said the international community lacked the will in 1993 to stand up to Hun Sen, who had been installed as ruler by the Vietnamese in 1985.
“The West had a tendency to wait and see and look for imagined gradual improvements in governance. That clearly did not work,” he told AFP.
“Cambodian politicians also have to accept some blame. Too many found it easier to accept a quiet but lucrative life in government than to say what they really thought.”
Human Rights Watch said that under Hun Sen, “even the patina of democracy and basic rights” has collapsed in recent years.
In 2017, the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
And since the 2018 election — in which Hun Sen’s party won every seat in parliament — the authorities have arrested scores of former opposition members and rights campaigners.
Around 150 opposition figures and activists are facing a mass trial for treason and incitement charges, while the main opposition leader Kem Sokha is facing a separate treason trial.
Covid-19 has seen more curbs, with over 700 people arrested according to the UN rights body, which has warned that most may not have had a fair trial.
The spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party insisted it was the “will of the people” to have one party in parliament.
“We have peace, we have political stability, it reflects that we correctly implement the principles of democracy, and there is no abuse of human rights either,” Sok Eysan told AFP.

There has been some international censure — the European Union withdrew preferential trade rates last year over rights abuses — but the pressure shows little sign of translating into change.
“The reality is Cambodia has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of China, like Laos next door, and that means Hun Sen has been able to comfortably thumb his nose at any potential economic or political pressure from elsewhere,” Evans said.
Speculation has simmered that the 69-year-old Hun Sen is grooming his eldest son Hun Manet — a four-star general educated in Britain and the United States — to take over the leadership one day.
But in March, the veteran ruler said he would no longer set a date for his retirement, and activists have little hope that a change in leadership will bring a new direction.
“In Cambodia, we don’t have real democracy,” Batt Raksmey told AFP.
Her campaigner husband was jailed in May for allegedly inciting unrest after he raised environmental concerns about a lake on the edge of Phnom Penh.
“People have no freedom to speak their opinion,” she said. “When they speak out and criticize the government, they are arrested.”