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Posts tagged ‘Burma’

Spirit-Led Prayer Helps Divert Cyclone Mahasen.


 

Rohingya people in Arakan State, Burma
Some 140,000 Rohingya refugees living on the shoreline of Burma’s Arakan State were threatened by last week’s Cyclone Mahasen. Partners Relief and Development is now engaged in the recovery process. (Partners Relief and Development, Facebook)

In Matthew, Jesus says faith can move mountains. Updates from Southeast Asia show it can move cyclones too.

Early last week, Cyclone Mahasen was expected to bring death and destruction to the coastlines of Burma and Bangladesh.

“Last time we talked, I asked people to pray for the weather to change and for the damage to be minimal,” says Oddny Gumaer of Partners Relief and Development (PRD). “We were very worried because there were all these internally displaced people, refugees, living on the beach in really primitive shacks.”

Some 140,000 Rohingya refugees living on the shoreline of Burma’s Arakan state were facing certain death. In Bangladesh, 1 million people were evacuated from the coastline in preparation for the storm.

Cyclones are an annual occurrence in the Bay of Bengal. Some communities are still trying to recover from past storms and the damage they’ve inflicted, such as 2008’s Cyclone Nargis. That severe storm stands as one of the worst in Burma’s recorded history and killed over 130,000 people in four countries.

Gospel for Asia’s (GFA) K.P. Yohannan says that as storm clouds approached Bangladesh last week, “Lots of people were gathering in our churches and otherwise; people [were] praying for God to have mercy.”

However, “just hours before the cyclone was supposed to hit the shores … it changed direction,” Gumaer reports.

Mahasen made landfall in Bangladesh on Thursday as a tropical storm. Though half the storm it used to be, Mahasen still managed to cause significant damage in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.

The storm surge destroyed thousands of small huts and shacks, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless or displaced. GFA says the 13 deaths reported so far may be grossly underestimated, because Mahasen ripped through mainly rural areas.

Trained and equipped for rapid response, GFA missionaries are delivering food, clothing and temporary shelter. But the real work hasn’t even begun yet, says Yohannan.

“The rebuilding process takes a long time, and that’s what our people are engaged in,” he says. “It will take a minimum of six months, after the waters subside and land is cleared, for these poor people to come back and find out they have nothing left.”

That’s where GFA Bridge of Hope centers and national missionaries come in.

“People need to hear hope, and that’s what our people do,” Yohannan says.

In neighboring Burma, PRD is engaged in the recovery process too.

“We are now in the process of bringing all the thousands of people back into their camps from the places they were evacuated to,” Gumaer says.

But they’re not coming back to “home sweet home.”

“Even though the storm didn’t wipe them out, they are still in a very, very difficult place,” he says. “They do need a lot of help; they need a lot of prayer; they need a change to their situation. And the government really needs to get involved in helping these people.”

Yohannan points to Cyclone Mahasen as a lesson for the body of Christ.

“Any of these situations around the world—when we see earthquake or war or cyclone or tsunami—we need to engage in prayer. God does intervene in the affairs of men,” he says.

Source: CHARISMA NEWS.

MISSION NETWORK NEWS

EU Lifts Syria Oil Embargo to Bolster Rebels.


LUXEMBOURG — The European Union (EU) on Monday lifted its oil embargo on Syria to provide more economic support to the forces fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime.

The decision will allow for crude exports from rebel-held territory, the import of oil and gas production technology, and investments in the Syrian oil industry, the EU said in a statement.

Any export or investment initiatives will be taken in close coordination with the leaders of the Syrian opposition, the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers decided at a meeting in Luxembourg.

The move marks the first relaxing of EU sanctions on Syria in two years as governments try to help ease shortages of vital supplies in areas held by the opposition in the civil war-struck Arab state.

“We wish for good economic development in the areas controlled by the opposition, therefore we lift the sanctions that hinder the moderate opposition forces’ work,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said ahead of the meeting.

The oil exports could open an important revenue stream for Syria’s opposition, even though it is still unclear when and how much crude could be exported.

EU officials hinted the move was in part aimed at laying the legal groundwork to get investment and crude flowing rapidly as soon as the security situation on the ground improves.

“The security situation is so difficult that much of this will be difficult to do, but it is important for us to send the signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

While Syria was never one of the world’s major oil exporters, the sector was a pillar of Syria’s economy until the uprising, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels a day and exports — almost exclusively to Europe — bringing in more than $3 billion in 2010. Oil revenues provided around a quarter of the funds for the national budget.

Since the start of the uprising, Syria’s oil industry has faltered as the rebels have captured many of the country’s oil fields, with wells aflame and looters scooping up crude. That has deprived Assad’s government of much-needed cash and fuel for its war machine as it fights the two-year-old uprising.

The government has not released recent production figures, but exports have ground practically to a standstill, and Assad’s regime has been forced to import refined fuel supplies to keep up with demand amid shortages and rising prices.

Imports of fuel or crude to Syria have not been targeted by the sanctions.

Some EU members, such as Britain and France, are also pushing to lift the bloc’s arms embargo against Syria to allow weapons shipments to the rebels. But other major EU players, such as Germany, remain opposed to that step, fearing it might set off a regional arms race and deepen the conflict.

The arms embargo expires May 30, and the EU foreign ministers aren’t expected to make a decision on it before their next meeting in May, EU officials said.

“We need to do more to support the opposition,” said Britain’s Hague. “In the U.K., we increase humanitarian assistance, we are sending shipments of body armor, bullet-proof vehicles, communications equipment and other means of saving lives,” he added.

The conflict in Syria has left more than 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations.

The violence in Syria has forced more than 1 million Syrians to escape their homeland to seek safety abroad, and more are seeking refuge by the day, putting an immense burden on neighboring countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.

“There is a risk that at the end of the year 2013, we’ll have three million refugees”, warned Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. The EU as a whole is already the single-biggest donor of humanitarian aid but more must be done to alleviate the suffering in Syria and reduce the burden on its neighbors, he added.

At their meeting, the ministers were also set to drop sanctions against Myanmar, also referred to as Burma, to support the country’s transition toward democracy.

“The problems of Burma are not over, but the progress that has been made is substantial,” said Hague, adding the EU must strengthen its engagement with the authorities to stop the ongoing ethnic violence in Myanmar that particularly targets Muslim minorities there.

The sanctions were suspended last April for one year after the country’s military rulers handed over power to a civilian government that launched democratic reforms. The measures had targeted more than 800 companies and nearly 500 people, and also included the suspension of some development aid.

An embargo on arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression, however, will remain in place.

The end of the bulk of the sanctions should encourage firms from the 27-nation EU — the world’s largest economy — and development organizations to strengthen their engagement in Myanmar, EU officials said.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Source: NEWSmax.com

Myanmar president calls for religious harmony.


Thein Sein is leading a transition towards democracy but Myanmar remains plagued by conflict [AFP]
Myanmar’s president says his country needs to learn from the violence and instability that has wracked the country over the last two years if it is to overcome the challenge of democratising the nation.

Thein Sein says nation can learn from recent tension between religious and ethnic groups as citizens celebrate New Year.

Thein Sein spoke on Sunday to mark the start a day earlier of a traditional New Year holiday that is celebrated across Southeast Asia with friendly water fights.

“Our society has overcome many difficulties and challenges together so we can emerge as a society in which multiple races and religions coexist harmoniously, while still preserving our own customs and traditions,” he said in a televised speech.

Sein, a former general, took office two years ago after Myanmar’s long ruling junta stepped down.

He has led a transition towards democratic rule since then, but the country has been plagued by a war with ethnic Kachin rebels in the north, sectarian violence in western Rakhine state, and anti-Muslim clashes in central Myanmar last month.

Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead, mostly minority Muslim Rohingya.

March memories

The riots in March left 43 people dead, thousands displaced and saw homes and mosques destroyed.

Three people including a gold shop owner were last jailed for 14 years in connection with the riots that began in the town of Meiktila in central Myanmar on March 20.

Radical monks have been linked to the subsequent unrest, which observers said appeared to be well organised.

Rights groups have accused security forces of standing by while the attacks took place.

Myanmar’s efforts at democratisation had been hampered by “black spots such as disunity, conflict and instability,” Sein said.

Political changes should be targetted with “patience, tolerance and persistence”, he urged citizens.

The situation has calmed since Thein Sein on March 28 vowed a tough response against those behind the violence.

Myanmar’s New Year, known as the Thingyan, is a hugely popular mass celebration in which people throw water at each other to symbolise the washing away of the previous year’s bad deeds.

Festivities, increasingly raucous as the country opens to the world, have been marred by bloodshed in the past, with a series of blasts in 2010 that left 10 people dead and about 170 wounded.

Source: ALJAZEERA
Agencies

Myanmar’s Army Takes Over Ruined Central City.


MEIKHTILA, Myanmar — Myanmar’s army took control of a ruined central city on Saturday, imposing a tense calm after clashes between Buddhists and Muslims left piles of corpses in the streets and buildings ablaze in the worst sectarian bloodshed to hit the Southeast Asian nation this year.

Truckloads of soldiers patrolled Meikhtila, taking up positions at intersections and banks as authorities delivered food and water to some 6,000 displaced Muslims who fled to makeshift camps at a local stadium and a police station. The government put the death toll at 32, according to state television, which reported that bodies had been found as authorities began cleaning up the area on Saturday.

President Thein Sein, a former general who vowed to bring democracy to Myanmar after half a century of military rule, imposed a state of emergency in the region Friday in a bid to end clashes that began two days earlier.

The unrest was the first of its kind in the country since two similar episodes shook western Rakhine state last year, and the spread of sectarian conflict has underscored both the challenges of reform and the government’s failure to rein in anti-Muslim sentiment in a predominantly Buddhist nation. Even monks have armed themselves and taken advantage of newfound freedoms to stage anti-Muslim rallies.

It was not immediately clear which side bore the brunt of the latest unrest, but at least five mosques were torched, and terrified Muslims, who make up about 30 percent of Meikhtila’s 100,000 inhabitants, have stayed off the streets as their shops and homes burned and Buddhist mobs carrying machetes and hammers tried to stop firefighters from dousing the flames.

Residents complained that police had stood by and done little to stop the mayhem. But “calm has been restored since troops took charge of security,” said Win Htein, an opposition lawmaker from Meikhtila.

Some residents, who had cowered indoors since the mayhem began Wednesday, emerged from their homes to inspect the destruction.

Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighborhoods, though, where the legs of victims could be seen poking out from smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, charred cars and motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burned-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos that swept the town.

Local businessman San Hlaing said he counted 28 bodies this week, all men, piled in groups around the town, including beside a highway.

The struggle to contain the violence has proven another major challenge to Thein Sein’s reformist administration, which has also faced an upsurge in fighting with ethnic Kachin rebels in the north and major protests at a northern copper mine where angry residents — emboldened by promises of freedom of expression — have come out to denounce land grabbing.

The devastation was reminiscent of last year’s clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left hundreds of people dead and more than 100,000 displaced — almost all of them Muslim. The Rohingya are widely perceived as illegal migrants and foreigners from Bangladesh; the Muslim population of Meikhtila is believed to be mostly of Indian origin.

This week’s chaos began Wednesday after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. Once news spread that a Muslim man had killed a Buddhist monk, Buddhist mobs rampaged through a Muslim neighborhood and the situation quickly spiraled out of control.

Residents and activists said the police did little to stop the rioters or reacted too slowly, allowing the violence to escalate. “They were like scarecrows in a paddy field,” San Hlaing said.

Khin Maung Swe, a 72-year-old Muslim lawyer who said he lost all his savings, also complained authorities did nothing to disperse the mobs.

“If the military and police had showed up in force, those troublemakers would have run away,” he said, inspecting the remains of his damaged home. “There would have been no violence if the security forces had just fired shots into the air to scare them away.”

San Htwe, a 39-year-old housewife, said she could see police and soldiers “everywhere” in Meikhtila on Saturday but did not feel at ease. “I’m afraid that the situation will be like in Rakhine” — where sectarian tensions have split an entire state and Buddhist and Muslim communities live in near-total segregation, constantly fearing more violence.

San Htwe said her 8-year-old son was already traumatized by the riots and could barely eat. “Whenever he hears shouting, he says, in panic, ‘Mom, let’s run! The kalar are coming.” Kalar is a derogatory word for Muslims.

“I think most children here have experienced trauma,” she said. “I worry that it will remain in their minds forever.”

Residents said rescue workers and volunteers were arriving from other towns to help, and that local Buddhists were giving food and water to displaced Muslims. Some Buddhists sought shelter at local monasteries.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was deeply concerned about communal violence, loss of life and property damage in Meikhtila, and that U.S. Ambassador Derek Mitchell had raised the concerns with senior Myanmar government officials.

“We welcome and encourage the efforts of government authorities, community leaders, civil society and political party leaders to restore calm, to foster dialogue and increase tolerance in a manner that respects human rights and due process of law,” Nuland told a news briefing.

Occasional isolated violence involving Myanmar’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades, even under the authoritarian military governments that ruled the country from 1962 to 2011.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: NEWSmax.com

UN envoy says abuses still go on in Myanmar despite reforms.


YANGON (Reuters) – Human rights abuses are still occurring in Myanmar despite reforms by the quasi-civilian government, a U.N. rights envoy said on Saturday, singling out arbitrary arrest and torture of alleged ethnic Kachin rebels.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, was speaking at the end of a five-day mission to the country, where President Thein Sein has pushed through reforms since the end of military rule in 2011.

“While this process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed,” Quintana told reporters, calling for urgent action before the problems became entrenched.

The quasi-civilian government has agreed ceasefires with most of the ethnic rebel groups fighting for autonomy. But fighting flared up in Kachin State in June 2011 and the conflict escalated late last year when the military used air strikes to thwart what it said was rebel aggression.

Peace talks were held over the border in China this month and Quintana said he was encouraged by this. He also welcomed the government’s decision to allow a U.N. humanitarian convoy access to areas controlled by the rebels.

But he added: “I am concerned about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army.”

Another area, Rakhine State, suffered two bouts of deadly sectarian violence last year between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas.

Around 120,000 people are now living in camps, according to Quintana. Although conditions had improved since his last visit in August, there was still a lack of adequate healthcare in the bigger Muslim camps, he said, adding that harassment of medical staff by Rakhine Buddhists was one of the reasons.

The government needed to address the problem of freedom of movement in the camps, he said, noting that one “felt more like a prison than a camp”.

The government says the Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and does not regard them as citizens. Bangladesh also denies them citizenship and the estimated 800,000 in Rakhine State are therefore effectively stateless.

Quintana said the two communities remained divided by fear, distrust, anger and hatred.

“Mutually respectful dialogue cannot be had while discrimination based on grounds of ethnicity and religion remains unaddressed,” he said, recommending that the government amend citizenship laws to end such discrimination.

(Reporting by Min Zayar Oo; Writing by Alan Raybould; Editing by Jason Webb)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

ReutersReuters

Australia eases defence curbs as Myanmar leader visits.


Australia boosted aid and eased restrictions on defence cooperation with Myanmar as Thein Sein became the southeast Asian country’s first head of state to visit Canberra since 1974.

As the once pariah country approaches the second anniversary of a quasi-civilian regime led by ex-general Thein taking power, Canberra said it was increasing its support to recognise reforms.

“As a close neighbour, Australia will benefit from a more open and prosperous Myanmar that is fully integrated into the region,” said Prime Minister Julia Gillard of the country formerly known as Burma.

“Australia’s commitment to expand its constructive engagement with Myanmar recognises the unprecedented process of change under way there towards political freedom and the new opportunity this brings to help promote the prosperity of Myanmar and its people.

“It also recognises President Thein Sein’s leadership in driving these critical reforms.”

While Canberra said its arms embargo would remain, it announced an easing of restrictions on defence cooperation including humanitarian and disaster relief activities, as well as peacekeeping.

It will also appoint a defence attache to Myanmar as well as a trade commissioner.

Gillard said Aus$20 million (US$20.7 million) would be provided over two years for “strengthening democratic institutions, promoting human rights, improving economic governance and advancing the rule of law”.

Thein Sein said he was proud to be the first head of state to visit since 1974.

“My visit to Australia is one that I have looked forward to for a very long time,” he said.

“This is because I know that Australia and Myanmar are destined to be good partners and more importantly the people of Myanmar and Australia are destined to be good friends.

“I hope that you appreciate that what we are undertaking has no equal in modern times. This is not just a simple transition… but a transition from military rule to democratic rule,” he added.

Myanmar has surprised observers with a series of reforms following the end of nearly half a century of military rule in 2011, leading Western nations to start rolling back sanctions.

Australia last year lifted all its remaining targeted travel and financial sanctions against the country.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

AFPBy AFP | AFP

Suu Kyi meets more anger over Myanmar mine.


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MONYWA, Myanmar (AP) — With rare hostility, villagers sharply criticized opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday as she traveled in northwestern Myanmar to explain why she supports a mining project opposed by many local residents.

Suu Kyi failed to persuade the villagers to accept the findings of an official panel she headed that the Letpadaung copper mine should be allowed to continue operating to encourage foreign investors to help the lagging economy.

At one point, residents barricaded their village in Monywa township with thorny brush and only allowed Suu Kyi to enter after she had shed some of her police escort and accompanying journalists.

The unwelcome reception was virtually unprecedented for the much-honored heroine of the country’s pro-democracy movement. In the past, mobs organized by the military had tried to intimidate her, but most of her countrymen regarded her practically as a saint.

Suu Kyi’s responsibilities have become more complicated now that her National League for Democracy party is no longer an embattled David fighting the Goliath of a military government, and instead is a competitor in the electoral politics of a fledgling democracy.

Last weekend, her party began a restructuring process for a 2015 general election in which Suu Kyi will face opposition from the army-backed party of President Thein Sein on one flank, and from hard-core anti-military activists on the other.

One of Suu Kyi’s closest lieutenants, veteran journalist Win Tin, said she should heed the feelings ofMonywa’s residents, and that her failure to do so spurred anger and opposition.

Suu Kyi “may have her own good intentions, but she has failed to listen to the sentiments of the villagers,” said Win Tin, 86, a co-founder of her party who like Suu Kyi was detained for years for his political work. “Money cannot always appease the people, because sometimes it is their pride and love for their hometown that will prevail over money.”

The villagers in the Monywa area would once have been Suu Kyi’s natural constituency — downtrodden farming people tired of oppressive military rule that failed to deliver prosperity. And not all the villagers were disenchanted Thursday. After a day of confrontations, as she arrived at the Monywa hotel where she was staying, a crowd of about 100 people greeted her with flowers, shouting, “We support you.”

But the day — the second of her tour — had been a rough one for her.

Suu Kyi’s panel concluded that honoring the mine contract was necessary, both to keep good relations with China because of the mine’s Chinese joint venture partner, and to maintain the confidence of foreign investors whose help is needed to power economic growth.

Those seeking to stop the project contend that the $997 million deal, signed in May 2010, lacked transparency because it did not undergo parliamentary scrutiny under the previous military regime. They say the mine causes social and environmental problems and desecrates their mountain landscape.

Suu Kyi failed to change the minds of many villagers, who were also upset that her commission made little criticism of police who broke up an anti-mine protest in November using smoke bombs containing white phosphorous that severely burned scores of protesters, mostly Buddhist monks.

In its report made public Tuesday, the commission faulted police for failing to understand how the smoke bombs worked and recommended that they receive riot-control training, but failed to hold any officials accountable.

At Hsede village, a hotbed of opposition to the mine where villagers set up barricades of thorny brush, Suu Kyi spent more than an hour talking with angry protesters but failed to win them over.

Many villagers ran after her motorcade as it left, shouting, “Stop the project.”

She encountered more anger at Tone village, where hundreds of furious residents shouted, “We want our Letpadaung mountain.” In tears, women blamed Suu Kyi for the recommendation to continue the project and expressed regret for supporting her, saying they had harbored high hopes that her commission would call for the mine’s closure.

Suu Kyi tried unsuccessfully to calm the crowd by explaining the potential benefits.

“Whether she can upgrade our living standard or not, we want our mountain. Even if they give many jobs to us, we don’t want to be the servants of the Chinese,” said Nyo Lay, referring to the mine’s operators. “They took our land and will earn a lot. It’s hurtful that the money they give to us is from what they get from our own land.”

She said she lost her 10-acre (4-hectare) plot to the project, and now is a farm worker, earning less than a dollar a day.

Before leaving Monywa, Suu Kyi reflected on the villagers’ reaction, saying it was not a matter of whether they made her feel bad.

“They want me to do what they want. I simply said no,” she told reporters. “Anyone engaged in politics should have the courage to face animosity. It is not right to engage in politics to win popularity.”

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By YADANA HTUN | Associated Press

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