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Posts tagged ‘Human Rights Watch’

Obama Drone Strike Murders 15 Innocent Civilians At Wedding Party (VIDEO).

Do you recall what Obama said last year about the drone strikes he orders in Pakistan and in Yemen? If you don’t, then perhaps its a good time to remind you. He is a cold-blooded killer who orders drone strikes on non-military or terrorist targets.

He will soon order them on civilians in America.

The president’s specific words: I’m “really good at killing people,” authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann write in “Double Down: Game Change 2012,” The Daily Mail reported. They get their claim from a Washington Post report that buries the statement as a brief anecdote in an article, in which the president is described as speaking to aides about the drone program and then making the claim.

From Reuters: Fifteen people on their way to a wedding in Yemen were killed in an air strike after their party was “mistaken” for an al Qaeda convoy, local security officials said on Thursday. The officials did not identify the plane in the strike in central al-Bayda province, but tribal and local media sources said that it was a drone.



“An air strike missed its target and hit a wedding car convoy, ten people were killed immediately and another five who were injured died after being admitted to the hospital,” one security official said.

click-here-to-read-the-rest-of-this-story-on-before-its-news-from-now-the-end-begins-nteb-geoffrey-griderFive more people were injured, the officials said. The United States has stepped up drone strikes as part of a campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), regarded by Washington as the most active wing of the militant network. Human Rights Watch said in a detailed report in August that U.S. missile strikes, including armed drone attacks, have killed dozens of civilians in Yemen. source – reuters.

by NTEB News Desk

Nigeria: Boko Haram Abducts Women, Recruits Children Hundreds ‘Disappeared’ by Security Forces; Vigilante Movement on the Rise-HRW.

(Abuja, November 29, 2013) – Boko Haram has abducted scores of women and girls, used children as young as 12 in hostilities, and killed hundreds of people in recent attacks, Human Rights Watch said today. The Nigerian government, meanwhile, has failed to account for hundreds of men and boys whom security forces have rounded up and forcibly disappeared during Boko Haram’s four-year insurgency.

The rise of an anti-Boko Haram group allied with Nigerian security forces, the so-called Civilian Joint Task Force, has added a worrisome new dimension to the violence. Civilian Joint Task Force members inform security forces about presumed local Boko Haram activity; the Islamist group then retaliates against both the neighborhood vigilante group and the broader community.

“For a group that claims to be religious, Boko Haram’s tactics are the most profane acts we can imagine,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The killing and mutilation of ordinary Nigerians, the abduction and rape of women and girls, and the use of children for fighting are horrifying human rights violations.”

In a nine-day November 2013 visit to Kano and Maiduguri, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 60 victims and witnesses, as well as medical personnel, members of local rights groups, Civilian Joint Task Force commanders, and government officials.

Commanders of the Civilian Joint Task Force, working with security forces, said that they had rescued 26 abducted women and girls from a Boko Haram stronghold in Maiduguri and later in Sambisa Forest. Some of the women and girls were pregnant; others had babies. The commanders told Human Rights Watch that a number of the girls had been abducted while hawking wares on the street or working on farms in remote villages. Many girls who were rescued or had escaped were sent off by their families to distant cities like Abuja and Lagos to avoid the stigma of rape or pregnancy outside of marriage, activists said.

Several witnesses said they saw children in the ranks of Boko Haram during attacks. In Maiduguri, Human Rights Watch researchers saw a video recording of the interrogation by security forces of a 14-year-old boy, who described the role he played in Boko Haram operations. Commanders of the Civilian Joint Task Force said they had freed numerous children during a 2013 attack on a Boko Haram base in Sambisa Forest.

Human Rights Watch also observed children who appeared to be aged 15 – 17 manning checkpoints for the Civilian Joint Task Force in Maiduguri; other witnesses described seeing children manning checkpoints elsewhere in Borno and Yobe states.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Boko Haram intensified its attacks on civilians following the state of emergency imposed by the federal government in May in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. President Goodluck Jonathan in November renewed the state of emergency in these states for another six months.

Witnesses described Boko Haram laying siege to towns, villages, and highways; looting and burning houses, shops, and vehicles; and executing and decapitating people, some of whom they accused of aiding the Civilian Joint Task Force. In July, the combined efforts of the security forces and Civilian Joint Task Force appear to have pushed Boko Haram out of Maiduguri. Since then, the group has carried out numerous attacks in the nearby towns of Damaturu, Benisheikh, and Gamboru.

Boko Haram’s September 17 attack on Benisheikh, 74 kilometers west of Maiduguri, killed at least 142 people and was the most lethal incident in Borno State since 2010. A man who went to Benisheikh to look for a colleague on the morning after the attack described what he saw at a checkpoint that had been set up by Boko Haram and that was crowded with burned vehicles:

“There were bodies all over… three here, two there, four near the next – all lying face down, dead next to their vehicle. Then I saw a long line of bodies… about 30 of them. But weirdly, one of the trucks was carrying cows, which were still alive. Who are these people who kill the human beings, yet leave the cows standing?” he said.

Another witness described seeing about 20 women abducted during the September 17 Benisheikh attack. A health worker in Maiduguri told Human Rights Watch that he attended to a 15-year-old girl who had recently returned home pregnant several months after Boko Haram abducted her.

Security forces acting with enhanced powers, particularly during the state of emergency, established frequent screening routines for male youths in Maiduguri, detaining several hundred young men, according to residents. Witnesses described how soldiers pounded on doors in neighborhoods perceived as Boko Haram strongholds beginning at 5 a.m., ordered the young men out, demanded that they stand before a car with its headlights on, and then declared the men either free or under arrest. Scores of those arrested have disappeared, and their family members, despite great efforts, have been unable to locate them.

A woman in Gwange, a Maiduguri neighborhood, described how security forces arrested her seven sons, between the ages of 12 and 30, who had gathered in front of their home with 15 others for evening prayers in May. Another woman told Human Rights Watch that eight soldiers ordered her 10-year-old son to lie down, beat him with batons and tied him up, piled him face down with 22 others in an open-back vehicle, and then drove them away.

Two former detainees and three other witnesses provided detailed statements about the horrific conditions in the security forces’ notorious Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri. They said that hundreds of detainees died as a result of dehydration, illness, and beatings, while many others were executed.

Boko Haram should halt all attacks and release immediately all children and women in its custody, Human Rights Watch said. The Nigerian government should thoroughly and impartially investigate the fate of the disappeared, as well as credible allegations of arbitrary detention, use of torture, and deaths in custody by security forces.

The Nigerian government has a responsibility under international human rights law to take all reasonable steps to protect its residents from violence, but should not use excessive force, mistreat and torture detainees, or conduct arbitrary arrests in quelling the Boko Haram threat.

The Nigerian authorities should prosecute, based on fair trial standards, all those who committed crimes during the conflict, including members of the government security forces and pro-government vigilante groups. The Civilian Joint Task Force, Human Rights Watch said, should end recruitment and use of children in counterinsurgency and intelligence activities.

The federal attorney general’s office, drawing on information from the military, police, and State Security Service, should compile, maintain, and make available a list of detention facilities and detainees. The authorities should give detainees access to lawyers and family members. Detainees should either be publicly and promptly charged with a recognized crime in a civilian court or released.

The government, in coordination with the National Human Rights Commission, should establish a commission of inquiry on “disappearances” in northeast Nigeria; train Civilian Joint Task Force members in human rights norms and standards; and work with child protection agencies to facilitate the rehabilitation of former child soldiers and the return to their families. It should also help provide psychological and medical services to girls and women who have been abducted and raped.

“Many Nigerian families have suffered, even lost loved ones, at the hands of both Boko Haram and the security forces,” Bekele said. “Boko Haram must desist from waging war on ordinary Nigerians, while the government should take urgent steps to hold to account soldiers who have tortured, disappeared, and killed, regardless of rank.”

Fighting Between Boko Haram and Nigerian Security Forces

Since fighting with security forces in the summer of July 2009, Nigeria’s homegrown Islamist insurgent movement, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, popularly known as Boko Haram, has carried out frequent attacks on police, soldiers, politicians, and other symbols of authority, as well as on civilian property such as schools. The group is waging a war against the government to establish an Islamic legal code.

Human Rights Watch for several years has documented Boko Haram attacks and abuses by government security forces against civilians and suspected Boko Haram members. In a 2012 report, “Spiraling Violence”, Human Rights Watch analyzed the pattern and scope of the violence that has engulfed communities in northeast and central Nigeria.

In June 2013, young men in Maiduguri organized into a group known as the Civilian Joint Task Force, or Yan Gora, to monitor and protect their town and neighboring villages from violence. Members interviewed by Human Rights Watch said the youth had grown tired of being targeted by both Boko Haram and the security forces. The group maintains checkpoints; searches pedestrians, vehicles, and residences; and provides intelligence to the security services.

The Civilian Joint Task Force relies on members’ knowledge of the community to identify Boko Haram members for the security forces. The Borno State governor has recruited 1,800 youths, paying them the equivalent of US$100 per month to work with the Civilian Joint Task Force, who are trained by security forces. Recruitment and training of Civilian Joint Task Force members is ongoing.

Boko Haram’s Execution and Decapitation of Civilians in Benisheikh

The September 17, 2013 attack on Benisheikh was Boko Haram’s most deadly attack on civilians in Borno State since 2009. At least 150 members of Boko Haram took over and for several hours held a stretch of the highway near the town, 75 kilometers west of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

During the siege, they killed at least 142 people, according to officials from the Borno State Environmental Protection Agency, which cleared away and buried the bodies. The heavily travelled road connects Maiduguri with Kano, the commercial hub to the west.

Human Rights Watch interviewed seven witnesses with knowledge of the attack, including three detained by Boko Haram during the episode and four others who went to the scene shortly after Boko Haram members fled.

The witnesses described how heavily armed men from Boko Haram set up checkpoints that forced at least 30 vehicles to stop –  private cars, commercial taxis and minibuses, motorcycles, and trucks carrying goods and livestock. The armed men ordered the passengers out of the vehicles and demanded their cash, telephones, and identity cards. Boko Haram separated the women and children from the men, who were ordered to lie down on the road, then executed scores of the men and several boys. During and after the attack, Boko Haram stole merchandise from the vehicles as well as from stores inside Benisheikh.

Witnesses who arrived shortly after Boko Haram fled described seeing several lines of bodies on the road, many with their feet and hands bound. Others were in the grass not far from the road. Most had one or a few bullets to the head and neck; others had deep machete wounds. According to a morgue attendant who picked up the bodies, at least six had been decapitated.

Witnesses said that based on comments from Boko Haram, many of the victims were targeted merely on the basis of where they lived: those from Maiduguri, Damaturu, and other towns in Borno and Yobe states were singled out for execution because of their perceived support for the Civilian Joint Task Force. Many of those from Kano and elsewhere were spared. A driver from Kano said:

At the entrance to the town, I was stopped by a group of 35 men in military uniform and turbans covering their faces. They were heavily armed with AK[47]’s; many had machine guns. They looked in my car and seeing I had mostly women, motioned for me to move on until I was stopped by another big group of  more than 100, at the truck stop [where we usually pray and eat]. I was one of at least 30 vehicles. They ordered us out, yelling at the men to lie down on the road, and for the women to move to one side. They asked the men where we were from….
The driver never again saw his passengers, who were from Maiduguri:

While lying there, I saw them kill 10 men… they walked behind a small house with them, then I heard them in Hausa saying, “Uh huh… you’ve left us, you are Civilian JTF [Joint Task Force], you have chosen your side,” meaning the government. Then a shot… and another and another. Later, after BH [Boko Haram] fled, I saw the 10 bodies where they’d been slaughtered.

Another driver identified the bodies of two of his friends – one in a cluster with nine other bodies, another with four other dead. A third driver, who also searched for his colleague, found his body, but “his head was to one side… completely severed… I couldn’t sleep for days.”

A man who went to Benisheikh on the morning after the attack described what he saw as he searched for the body of his colleague who had failed to return home from Kano:

I saw four big trucks and about 15 cars or minibuses – most of them burned, some still smoldering, and next to them were the bodies… three here, two there, four near the next – all lying face down, dead next to their vehicle. Then I saw a long line of bodies… about 30 of them. Each had his legs and hands bound, and a cloth over their eyes… it was here I found my friend. He, like the rest, had been killed with a bullet to the back of the head.
Boko Haram Abduction and Rape of Women and Girls

A driver detained in September at a checkpoint manned by Boko Haram near the town of Benisheikh told Human Rights Watch that he saw Islamist group members force more than 20 women at gunpoint to get off public transport vehicles and climb onto two other vehicles that sped away with Boko Haram:

At their checkpoint they ordered us out, yelling at the men to lie down on the road, and for the women to move to one side. I remained on the ground for over 45 minutes… I saw them kill many men, but the women, they took them away… I saw two of the vehicles they’d stopped drive up close to us… one 16-seater, the other of about 10 seats. A few of the BH [Boko Haram] went over to where the women were gathered, pointing at which ones they wanted. They didn’t take those with children – mostly, they took young women in their 20s… they picked the fine [pretty] ones. They ordered them inside, at times pointing their guns, saying, “Go, go.” A few other women were ordered to get into one of their Hiluxes [vehicles]… The women were crying and saying, “Oh my God, oh my God,” as they entered the cars. None of the men dared say a word… Then they [Boko Haram] drove away with [the women]…

A woman who works with a local nongovernmental organization told Human Rights Watch that she interviewed a young woman who was saved from abduction during the Benisheikh attack after a former neighbor, now a member of Boko Haram, recognized her. A bus owner said Boko Haram released one of his captured passengers after seeing her walk with a limp.

In Maiduguri, residents told Human Rights Watch that, on several occasions, members of Boko Haram forcefully abducted several teenage girls. One man who had documented several of these cases said, “After storming into the homes and throwing sums of money at their parents, with a declaration that it was the dowry for their teenage daughter, they would take the girls away.” Some of the girls returned months later, showing signs of pregnancy or babies born during their captivity. One witness said his neighbor was shot dead for rejecting the “dowry” thrown at her by insurgents, who took away the neighbor’s daughter.

A Civilian Joint Task Force commander who had participated in a raid that freed some abducted women and girls said:

When we made Maiduguri “too hot” for Boko Haram, they ran away without their wives. Now they are picking up women anywhere and using them to satisfy themselves. Some of the girls we found hiding when we invaded Boko Haram camps around Sambisa [Forest] told us they were dragged into vehicles when hawking on the street. When we return them home, their families are too ashamed to keep them because nobody will marry a girl who has been raped or has a child for these bad people.

Recruitment and Use of Children by Boko Haram and the Civilian Joint Task Force

Several witnesses described the presence of children, a few as young as 12, in the ranks of Boko Haram. Witnesses to the Benisheikh attack observed some children carrying AK47 rifles. Human Rights Watch viewed a video of the interrogation by the military of an alleged child combatant who described the duties children perform for Boko Haram: intelligence gathering, tracking the movements of the security forces, transporting guns, burning down schools and churches, and providing information before attacks.

Other witnesses described seeing several children aged 15 – 17 manning checkpoints for the Civilian Joint Task Force, working with security forces within several towns in Borno State. Civilian Joint Task Force members admitted to having used numerous children in operations. However, one leader noted recently that “the military had advised us not to allow any children to enter into the Civilian JTF [Joint Task Force] as part of our ongoing recruitment drive.”

Nigeria is party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, which bans the recruitment and use in hostilities of children under 18 by armed groups distinct from the armed forces of a country. Under Nigeria’s 2003 Child Act, the government is required to ensure that no child is directly involved in any military operations or hostilities.

Mass Arrests, Detention, and Disappearances by Security Forces in Maiduguri

Former detainees, family members of detainees, human rights advocates, and militia leaders described the detention in Maiduguri of hundreds of men in mass arrests by security forces; the numbers of detentions were particularly high in May and June 2013.

Scores, perhaps hundreds, of these men and boys remain unaccounted for. Witnesses and former detainees credibly assert that detainees died in custody from the appalling detention conditions or were executed by the security services within the 21 Armored Brigade, popularly known as Giwa Barracks. Both the detentions and deaths in custody appear to have slowed since July.

Human Rights Watch documented five major mass arrests, in markets, mosques, and other locations where young men are known to congregate. Witnesses said the security forces appeared to detain the men arbitrarily.

Human Rights Watch spoke with 16 family members of men and boys detained by the security services during sweeps of their neighborhoods in Maiduguri, including Gwange, Gamboru ward, Terminus, and Baga fish market. Many of the relatives saw the mass arrests. Family members and witnesses described how, often after Boko Haram attacks, members of the security forces indiscriminately rounded up and arrested boys and young men in the vicinity who were presumed to be aligned with the group.

Several people in the vicinity of Baga fish market in Maiduguri described how, in May 2013, security forces shot and killed 13 young men and arrested more than 200 others during a major operation. One witness said:

I was attending to customers at my stall on Democracy Day (May 29) when at about 9 a.m. soldiers surrounded the market and locked the gates… They ordered everyone to come out into an open space in the market, then separated the young men from the old… The commander of the soldiers… stood in front of the young men with someone whose head was covered… He would count then point…

Whoever he pointed at would have their shirt immediately torn off by other soldiers and the pieces used to tie their hands at their back. Sometimes he would touch people on their chest and if their hearts were pounding or they moved, their shirt would also be torn off and used to tie them. Some people became nervous, afraid, and tried to move away from the soldiers. They were instantly shot dead… Thirteen dead bodies were taken away by the soldiers when they finished screening us at around 9 p.m. at night…

They piled the young men whose hands they had tied on top of each other in the trucks that brought fish to the market… More than 200 people were arrested from this market that day. We heard later that those at the bottom of the piles were already dead when the trucks arrived at JTF [Joint Task Force] Sector 1. Those that remained alive were taken to Giwa Barracks later that night and we never saw them in the market again.

A man who was detained at Giwa Barracks for six months with 16 other men and boys from his neighborhood, ranging in age from 17 – 60, said he was the only one from the group to survive. Hundreds of his cellmates died at Giwa, the man said:

After reaching Giwa, many of us were chained to the columns – four of us on each one – where I remained for 20 hours while they beat us; an old man chained alongside me died right there, his head hanging limp. I watched as six of my neighbors died while being beaten with sticks and iron rods by soldiers the very first day we got to Giwa Barracks – two of them were brothers. They fell down and never got up again.

Of those in my group, the other 10 died from starvation and illness in the cell, where we were detained with over 1,000 other men… They died one by one like so many others, of illness, of sickness like dysentery or cholera, of hunger… sometimes up to 25 would be taken out of the cell dead. In one day I saw others being dragged off for interrogation, but they never returned.

On several occasions I heard the officers saying, “Just finish him,” and then a shot would ring out. Once I saw the major take out a Beretta [firearm] and shoot a detainee… only they will know what to say to Allah on the Day of Judgment.

Several witnesses described an underground bunker where men thought to be active members of Boko Haram were detained and where the conditions were even worse. Two witnesses described seeing corpses on several occasions brought up from the cellar and loaded onto an ambulance.

The former detainees and witnesses described gross overcrowding, with hundreds of men jammed into a cell: “We were packed so tightly; if you dared stand up, there was no way you’d find the room to sit down again,” one former detainee recalled. The detainees at times urinated, defecated, and vomited on themselves. One detainee said he bathed only twice in six months.

Witnesses attributed the majority of deaths in detention to dehydration and illness, primarily dysentery. They said the pace of deaths increased in the hot months and rainy season. One detainee claimed to have seen up to 20 or 25 dead being taken out per day.An 18-year-old former detainee who was arrested in his home with a friend, also 18 years old, said:

I was handcuffed to my friend for 10 months and had only one free hand to quickly use the toilet and get our meal, which is served directly unto our palms within the five minutes we were opened up in the mornings and evenings [to use the bathroom and get meals]. My friend became gravely ill and weak so our cuff was removed, but he received no treatment or medication except painkillers once in a while. When we were eventually released after two years through the intervention of a benefactor, my friend could no longer hear, speak, or walk… He is still gravely ill now.

A group of 70 women and children from the Terminus area of Maiduguri in early November protested the detention without charge of their family members at Giwa Barracks. One of the group’s leaders told Human Rights Watch that the detainees, aged 15 – 30, had not been permitted to see their family members, who had tried desperately to locate and visit their detained loved ones.

Witnesses at a hospital in Maiduguri described seeing soldiers bring corpses to the hospital on nearly a daily basis, both from Boko Haram attacks and Giwa Barracks. The largest numbers were in May and June, when the military ambulance would sometimes make up to seven trips from Giwa Barracks to the morgue, witnesses said. The corpses that arrived at the morgue were visibly emaciated; some with hands tied behind their backs, or had scars around the wrists, suggesting they had been handcuffed for extended periods of time. Some of the corpses had “necks hanging at strange angles” or gunshot wounds that suggested the cause of death, witnesses said.


Snowden Seeks Temporary Asylum in Russia; Obama, Putin Speak.

Fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, breaking weeks of silence, said in Moscow on Friday he was seeking temporary asylum in Russia and had no regrets about spilling U.S. spy secrets.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Friday, but appeared to make no headway on Washington’s demand that Moscow send Snowden back to the United States, where he is wanted on espionage charges.

Putin has made clear Russia would not extradite Snowden to the United States.

The disclosures have raised Americans’ concerns about domestic spying and strained relations with some U.S. allies.

Meeting with rights activists summoned to Sheremetyevo airport where he has been camped since late June, Snowden assailed Western nations he said had prevented him getting to Latin America. He said he hoped to stay in Russia until he had “safe passage” there.

The State Department repeated its call on Russia to send Snowden to the United States, saying granting the American fugitive asylum would “raise concerns” and criticising Moscow for giving him a “propaganda platform”.

Snowden has not been seen publicly since he arrived at Sheremetyevo from Hong Kong on June 23 and Russian officials say he has not formally entered the country because he has remained in the airport’s transit zone.

Snowden, 30, who lived with his girlfriend in Hawaii and worked at a National Security Agency facility there before fleeing the country, said he had sacrificed a comfortable life to disclose details of secret surveillance programmes.

“A little over one month ago, I had family, a home in paradise,” Snowden said at the closed-door meeting, footage of which was shown on Russian television and a news website with close ties to Russian law enforcement agencies.

“I also had the capability without any warrant to search for, seize, and read your communications. Anyone’s communications at any time. That is the power to change people’s fates,” he said.

A Kremlin spokesman said Snowden should not harm the interests of the United States if he wants refuge in Russia – a condition initially set by Putin on July 1 and which the Kremlin said prompted Snowden to withdraw an asylum request at the time.

“Snowden is serious about obtaining political asylum in the Russian Federation,” said Vyacheslav Nikonov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker who attended the meeting that authorities helped organise at an undisclosed location at the airport.

Snowden, who has been offered asylum by Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, asked for help “requesting guarantees of safe passage from the relevant nations in securing my travel to Latin America”. But it was unclear when that might happen, or how.

“He wants to move further on, he wants to move to Latin America – he said it quite clearly,” Tanya Lokshina, deputy head of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

“But in order to be guaranteed safety here in Russia, the only way for him to go was to file a formal asylum plea.”

South American leaders at a meeting of the Mercosur trade bloc on Friday defended their right to offer asylum to Snowden.


The United States has urged nations not to give him passage to an asylum destination.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, returning from a visit to Russia last week, had to land in Austria after he was denied access to the airspace of several European countries on suspicion Snowden might be on board his plane.

“Some governments in Western European and North American states have demonstrated a willingness to act outside the law, and this behavior persists today,” Snowden told the activists.

“This unlawful threat makes it impossible for me to travel to Latin America and enjoy the asylum granted there in accordance with our shared rights.”

Snowden’s predicament has thrust him into the hands of Russia as Washington and Moscow are seeking to improve relations that soured over issues including Syria and human rights since Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012.

Putin has made a show of impatience over Snowden’s stay, saying twice since he arrived that he should choose a destination and leave. But it had also become clear that he has no easy route to a safe haven from Moscow.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it would raise concerns in the U.S.-Russian relationship if Moscow were to accept an asylum request from Snowden.

“However we are not at that point yet. They still have the opportunity to do the right thing and return Mr. Snowden to the United States and that’s what our hope is,” she said.

A White House statement about the Obama-Putin call offered no indication of a breakthrough over Snowden.

“The two leaders noted the importance of U.S.-Russian bilateral relations and discussed a range of security and bilateral issues, including the status of Mr. Edward Snowden and cooperation on counter-terrorism in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics,” the statement said.

Putin has frequently accused the United States of double standards on human rights and has championed its critics, but he has invited Obama to Russia for a summit in early September and does not want to ruin the chances for that.

Putin’s spokesman repeated earlier conditions that Snowden should stop harming the interests of the United States if he wants asylum.

“As far as we know, he considers himself a defender of human rights and a campaigner for democratic ideals,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said Snowden should “fully refrain from actions inflicting damage on our American partners and on Russian-American relations“, Interfax news agency reported.

Lawmaker Nikonov said that message had got through.

“I asked him if he was ready to give up his political activity against the United States. He said, ‘Definitely, yes, all this activity was in the past’,” he said. He later said Snowden had submitted the asylum request.


After Snowden’s meeting, pro-Kremlin politicians lined up to cast the American as a rights activist who deserved protection because he could be charged in the United States with espionage, a crime that carries the death penalty.

“There is a really great risk that Edward Snowden is facing this very punishment,” Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, told state TV. “We simply can’t allow this.”

Snowden cast himself in similar terms.

“I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell U.S. secrets,” he said.

“That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.”

Lokshina, of Human Rights Watch, said U.S. officials asked her to tell Snowden the United States did not see it that way.

“I was contacted on my phone on my way to the airport on behalf of the ambassador and they asked me to relay to Snowden the official position of the U.S. authorities – that he is not a whistleblower, but had broken the law and should be held accountable,” she said. She said she passed on the message.

A senior U.S. official, however, told Reuters: “At no point, did any U.S. government official ask anyone to convey a message to Mr. Snowden. The embassy officer who was in contact with Human Rights Watch did so to explain that we do not consider Mr. Snowden to be a whistleblower – not to convey any message to him.”

After the activists were led through a grey door marked “staff only”, Lokshina said they were put on a bus, driven around until they reached a different part of Sheremetyevo and taken to a room where Snowden was waiting. (Additional reporting by Alessandra Prentice, Anthony Boadle in Brasilia and Steve Holland and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Steve Gutterman, Thomas Grove; and Peter Cooney; Editing by Alison Williams and Sandra Maler)

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

100,000 Christians Killed Each Year for Faith, Vatican Says.

Egypt clashes between Christians and Muslims
People are seen near a burnt car after clashes between Muslims and Christians about 16 miles northeast of Cairo. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

An astounding 100,000 Christians are killed each year because of their faith, the Vatican reports.

“Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year,” Vatican spokesman Monsieur Silvano Maria Tomassi said Tuesday in a radio address to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders, as it recently happened in the case of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, in Aleppo [Syria],” he added.

Several human rights groups also claim anti-Christian violence is on the rise in countries like Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt. Though these groups have not confirmed the Vatican’s number, some,, say persecution of Christians has been climbing in places like Africa and the Middle East over the last 10 years.

The group’s president, Jeff King, told, “Two hundred million Christians currently live under persecution. It’s absolutely on the rise.

“It’s easing in the old Communist world, and it’s rising in the Islamic world,” he said, pointing particularly to countries like Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria. King also claimed that 10,000 Christians were murdered in Indonesia alone between 1998 and 2003.

Nigeria continues to own the shameful title of being the deadliest place to be a Christian. In 2012, 70 percent of Christians murdered due to persecution were killed in Nigeria. The Rev. Faye Pama Musa was recently killed, being followed home by suspected Boko Haram militants and then shot. News of the murder spread hours after Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three of Nigeria’s northern states most affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Dinah Pokempner, general counsel for the Human Rights Watch, could not confirm the Vatican’s number, but said, “I think there’s little doubt that every week, every day, someone in the world is being persecuted—even to the point of losing their life—based on their religion.

“Persecution is a daily event on the basis of religion,” she added. “This persecution affects Christians just as it does Muslims, Jews, Bahá’ís and people of other faiths.”



Nigerian Forces Target Islamist Strongholds.

MAIDUGURI/YOLA, Nigeria — Nigerian forces attacked Islamist strongholds in the northeast on Thursday, security sources said as an offensive got under way to wrest back territory from increasingly well-armed Boko Haram insurgents.

Soldiers raided areas in the Sambisa Game Reserve, a remote savannah of some 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) in Borno state where Islamists have established bases, said two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. They gave no further details.

Preparing for possible further action across three frontier states where President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, the armed forces also deployed jet fighters and helicopter gunships to the region.

Rights groups said they feared for the safety of civilians from combatants on both sides, but Jonathan’s move enjoys widespread public support after more than three years of trying to contain the insurgency without notable success.

It follows an upsurge in violence against government and Christian targets in the northeast by Islamists who want an Islamic state in Nigeria. Africa’s most populous nation’s 170 million people are split evenly between Christians, who dominate in the south, and Muslims, who are the majority in the north.

Little detail was available from Sambisa. Nigerian forces have attacked Islamist bases in the area of the game reserve before, as recently as February, to rout militants seen as the biggest security threat to Africa’s top energy producer.

The emergency affects the semi-desert states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, which variously border Niger, Chad and Cameroon and cover some 150,000 square kilometers (60,000 square miles) — an area similar to England or Illinois, but with a population of only 10 million.

A Reuters reporter saw two Alpha light attack jets land at Yola in Adamawa state. Air Force spokesman Air Commodore Yusuf Anas confirmed that “air assets,” also including helicopter gunships, had been sent to support ground troops. A military source said there could be air strikes on Islamist bases.


In the 1980s, military leaders used air power to put down religiously inspired protests during a crackdown that left some 5,000 people dead, according to state media at the time.

Telephone connections to Borno and Yobe were almost completely cut on Thursday. In Adamawa, where a new, 12-hour overnight curfew was declared — the other two states were already under curfew — some cautiously welcomed the offensive.

“This state has been under the control of gunmen for so long, it’s been long overdue,” said Audu John, a market trader.

But another man, Ahmed Usman, feared civilians would become targets for killings or torture by a military notorious for abuses. His family was evacuating as soon as possible, he said.

The Islamist insurgency has cost thousands of lives since it began in 2009, when a crackdown killed 800 people, including Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody.

Because it has mostly happened far from economic centers such as the commercial hub Lagos or political capital Abuja — and because it is hundreds of miles away from oilfields in the southeast — it has not been a priority for the establishment.

The offensive ordered by Jonathan, a southern Christian, may answer critics who had accused him of failing to address the crisis: “The federal government has come to terms with the bleak reality that what we are facing is . . . terrorism in its most horrific form,” the Punch newspaper said in an editorial.

“Nigeria is teetering on the precipice of disintegration.

“It is time to act decisively.”

But the United States expressed concern about a worsening “cycle of violence” on Wednesday, a view echoed by human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Thursday.

Both have documented cases of abuses by Nigerian forces, including summary executions and random shootings.

At Human Rights Watch, Eric Guttschuss said: “If the military continues its practice of targeting civilians, there is a risk of massive abuses during this offensive.”

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Central African Republic Mob Kills Child Soldier.

DAKAR, Senegal — An angry mob stoned to death a 17-year-old soldier in Central African Republic who had been freed from a rebel group and moved to the capital for his own safety only to be re-recruited by armed fighters, the U.N. children’s agency said Friday.

The killings came amid growing resentment against the fighters who seized the capital in March and took control of the government. They are roaming the streets and, human rights monitors say, killing people including a priest and a lady carrying a baby.

The17-year-old was among 64 children who had been demobilized from the rebel group known as Convention of Patriots for Justice and Peace (CPJP). They were brought to the capital in December for their protection after a new rebellion was launched in the country’s volatile north, UNICEF said. He was later recruited by the rebel alliance known as Seleka, which was created in December and ousted the president in March.

The boy and a second former child soldier who had since turned 19 were killed by a mob in late April after they reportedly stole a vehicle on the orders of a local rebel commander.

“Action must be taken against those who are recruiting and using children to commit crimes,” said Souleymane Diabate, the country representative for UNICEF.

Even before the latest rebellion, UNICEF said more than 2,000 children in Central African Republic were with the myriad of armed groups destabilizing the country’s north.

Child soldiers were used in some of the heaviest fighting in the battle for the capital. They directly engaged troops from South Africa in and around Bangui from March 22-24, according to South African soldiers who survived the fighting that left 14 of their comrades dead.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch said it had spoken with witnesses who detailed summary executions including of a priest who was shot while calling for calm with a Bible in his hand.

“A woman with a baby on her back was walking down the street past the bridge, when she was shot by a Seleka fighter and left dead in the street with the baby crying on her back,” one witness told Human Rights Watch.

The watchdog also documented the case of nine men who had been abducted by Seleka forces in April and accused of being members of the national military. The men were repeatedly stabbed by rebels before being taken to a river bank.

“After arranging the nine men in a line, the Seleka soldiers shot five of them,” Human Rights Watch said. “Their bodies fell into the water.”

The new government set up by the rebels has blamed much of the recent violence on militias loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize and on fighters who are not officially part of Seleka.

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

Satellite images show 2,275 burnt houses in Baga –HRW.


Baga, Borno State| credits:

An international rights crusader, Human Rights Watch, on Wednesday described as hogwash, military’s claim that the fires that razed thousands of buildings in Baga, Borno State were caused by rocket-propelled grenades  fired by members of the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

HRW,  in a statement on its website, said satellite images showed that soldiers may have  set the fires that razed  down  “2,275 buildings  and left 125 others”  in the town  severely damaged.

Calling on the Federal Government to impartially probe the incident,   it said that the military was covering up something  going by the fact that it had vehemently refused to allow journalists access into the troubled community.

There had been reports that 187 persons were killed and about 2,000 houses torched during the April 16, 2013 clash.

President Goodluck Jonathan had last week directed the Defence Headquarters and the National Emergency Management Agency to investigate the incident.  Both organisations submitted their preliminary reports to the President on Monday.

According to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Dr. Reuben Abati,  DHQ’s   findings showed that 30 terrorists were killed during the crisis.It also said that six bodies were recovered in Lake Chad about three kilometres  from the action spot.

In its report, NEMA stated that a number of buildings and business premises were destroyed in Baga. It claimed that the total number of houses in the community was far less than 1,000.

But the HRW, in the   statement by its Africa Director, Daniel Bekele, said that the area damaged by fires measured about 80,000 sq2.

Stating that the fires were detected by the MODIS sensor aboard NASA satellites Aqua and Terra, the rights organisation said its findings corroborated claims by the residents that 2,000 houses and 183 bodies were burnt  during the mayhem.

The group said, “Because of the number of buildings destroyed as well as their distribution across large sections of the town, we believe that such fires were intentionally set and not inadvertently sparked by the detonation of rocket-propelled grenades or improvised explosive devices.

“Such weapons could not ignite fires on such a wide scale, nor could they set fires to non-attached structures. Small arms and light weapons do not contain the amount of explosive or incendiary material to produce such a scale of damage.”

“Baga residents told HRW that soldiers ransacked their town after the Boko Haram militant Islamist group attacked a military patrol, killing a soldier. Community leaders said that immediately after the attack they counted 2,000 burned homes and 183 bodies. Satellite images of the town analysed by HRW corroborate these accounts and identify 2,275 destroyed buildings, the vast majority likely residences, with another 125 severely damaged.”

The group stated that the damage was widely distributed across the southern half of Baga, with multiple clusters of near total building destruction measuring approximately eight hectares in total area.

It said, “Virtually all identified buildings damaged exhibit signatures fully consistent with fire, including the presence of burn scars, destroyed trees as well as intact load-bearing walls without a roof. Further, damage matches the spatial extent of satellite-detected active fire zones recorded on the night of April 16 and the afternoon of April 17, 2013 strongly suggesting identified buildings damage occurred during this period.

“It is likely that a small percentage of destroyed or severely damaged buildings have not been identified because of tree cover;Total buildings damaged are therefore likely to be higher.”

The HRW said  that the discrepancies between the facts on the ground and statements by the  military  raised concerns of cover-up of abuses by troops.

The group added,  “Since the attack, the military has restricted journalists’ access to Baga, a remote fishing community on the shores of Lake Chad, 200 kilometres northeast of the city of Maiduguri.

“Boko Haram has destroyed mobile telephone towers in the area, claiming that security services used mobile phones to track down its members, making communication particularly difficult for survivors of the attack.

“The Nigerian military has a duty to protect itself and the population from Boko Haram attacks, but the evidence indicates that it engaged more in destruction than in protection.”

When contacted, the   Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen Chris Olukolade, said that the claims by the HRW were unfair and untrue.

Olukolade said that a group of foreign jornalists who requested the JTF to escort them to Baga got positive response.

He said that the foreign journalists could not go to Baga because they were scared of plying the road leading to Baga due to the activities of Boko Haram.

He added  that it was a surprise that the  HRW  could turn round to accuse the military of blocking access to Baga.

Olukolade said, “First of all, I want to say that we stand by the report of the DHQ to the President until it is reasonably and fairly proved otherwise.

“On the allegation by the HRW, I think it is an unfair comment on their part.  As I am talking to you, a number of foreign journalists who came into the country requested to be escorted there and the JTF escorted them there.  We are suprised that they are turning round to accuse us.

“Did anybody stop them from going there? Why did they not excercise their freedom of movement if they were comfortable with the activities of the Boko Haram?

NEMA’s Press Officer,    Ezekiel Manzo, told our correspondent on the telephone that he could not confirm the exact number of destroyed houses identified by a NEMA team that visited Baga.

He said  that the   team was still in the   town trying to  assist  the displaced residents.

Manzo said, “Our team is still in Baga town where they are setting up camp to cater for the displaced residents; you know we are concerned about the welfare of the displaced people.

“I don’t have the number of houses destroyed during the incident, but I will get the figure when I resume work tomorrow (Today).”



Syria regime expands use of cluster bombs: report.


BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian regime is expanding its use of widely banned cluster bombs, an international human rights group said Saturday as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year.

In new violence, rebels detonated a powerful car bomb outside a high-rise building in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, setting off clashes with regime troops, state TV and activists said.

The blast came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against President Bashar Assad. The rebellion had begun with largely peaceful protests but in response to a regime crackdown turned into an insurgency and then a civil war.

In recent months, the regime has escalated airstrikes and artillery attacks on rebel-held areas in the north and east of the country, rights groups have said.

On Saturday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country in the past six months, causing mounting civilian casualties.

Two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, the report said. The group said it based its findings on field investigations and analysis of more than 450amateur videos.

Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long afterwards since many don’t explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.

A senior Syrian government official denied Saturday that regime forces use cluster bombs and said, “Many amateur videos are doubtful.”

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make official statements to the media.

The fighting in Syria has killed some 70,000 people and displaced 4 million of the country’s 22 million people, according to U.N. estimates.

The conflict remains deadlocked, despite some recent military gains by the rebels.

On Saturday, rebels in Deir el-Zour detonated a car rigged with more than two tons of explosives next to the tallest building in the city, known as the Insurance Building, state TV said.

The TV said rebels entered the building after the blast but were pushed out by government forces.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, also reported clashes between rebels and regime troops following the explosion. Regime forces also shelled several areas of the city, the group said.

In an amateur video said to be showing Deir el-Zour, heavy gunfire was heard in the background and a cloud of smoke was visible.

Late Friday, rebel fighters from the al-Qaida-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra and other Islamist factions seized a military base and munitions depot in the town of Khan Touman in the northern province of Aleppo, the Observatory said.

It quoted witnesses as saying rebel fighters drove off with truckloads of ammunitions and weapons. The Khan Touman base is only a few kilometers (miles) from a military engineering academy that is considered a key government stronghold in the province, the Observatory said.

Despite rebel advances, Assad has been digging in, particularly in the densely populated western part of the country. He has armed and mobilized loyalists, and repelled rebel attacks on his seat of power, the capital Damascus.

The rebels have appealed to the West for military aid, including anti-aircraft weapons, to help them break the stalemate.

On Friday, a European Union summit heard an appeal by Britain and France to lift the EU ban on arming the rebels.

The 27 national leaders were unable to reach a consensus and asked their foreign ministers, who will meet late next week in Dublin, to try to hash out a common position.

Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, said he hoped France and Britain would defy the EU if the embargo remains in place.

“I prefer that there is a consensus and a joint resolution,” he said Friday in Istanbul. “But if there’s no consensus, I still think France and Britain will act unilaterally.”

The French foreign minister suggested earlier this week that his country might arm the rebels even if the EU disagrees.


Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.


By KARIN LAUB | Associated Press

Rights Group Fearful of Kenyan Election Violence.

A month in advance of Kenyan electionsHuman Rights Watch has issued a 58-page report warning of the possibility of a return to the kind of violence that marred previous elections, according to a press statement from the organization.

The report, titled “High Stakes: Political Violence and the 2013 Elections in Kenya,” was based on interviews around Kenya. It notes that in 2012 and 2013, there have already been 477 deaths and the displacement of 118,000 people related to intra-communal clashes, violence that has been linked to pre-election maneuvering according to the group.

The following are some of the highlights of the report and related news regarding Kenya and its upcoming elections.

* Elections are scheduled for March 4.

* The report said that local politicians mobilizing support, in conjunction with a lack of police and local authority effort to curb violence or prosecute perpetrators, was a key factor in ongoing violence in the country.

* Human Rights Watch Africa Director Daniel Bekele said that “the government has failed to address the root causes of violence that have marred multi-party elections since 1992, and especially the atrocities of 2007-2008, so urgent steps are needed to protect Kenyans,” according to the group’s statement.

* The report urged authorities to deploy an adequately manned police force in areas of potential conflict and said that the African Union (AU) and Kenya’s key partners should apply pressure on the government to make certain there would be free, fair and peaceful elections.

According to the AFP , tensions in the East African country have escalated with the approaching trial of Uhuru Kenyatta by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

* The ICC indicated that Kenyatta, a key presidential candidate, Deputy Prime Minister, and former Minister for Finance, is allegedly criminally responsible for murder, rape, persecution, deportation or forcible transfer, and other inhumane acts following the 2007 elections.

* Xenophobia is driving Somali refugees from Kenya, Al Jazeera reported on Friday, where they are being harassed by police and are being falsely accused of attacks. There are around 500,000 registered Somali refugees in the country.

* On Friday, another AFP report indicated that cattle raiders had killed at least seven people in the Rift Valley. Cattle rustling and revenge killings between rival groups are common in the area.

Shawn Humphrey is a former contributor to The Flint Journal and an amateur Africanist, focusing his personal studies on human rights and political issues on the continent.


By  | Yahoo! Contributor Network

Myanmar’s graffiti artists test edges of emerging democracy.

Graffiti artists are on the frontline of an ongoing debate over where freedoms begin and end as Myanmar continues its transition.

When he first got word of President Obama’s historic trip toMyanmar this fall, street artist Arker Kyaw stayed up through the night spray-painting a mural of the US leader smiling against a backdrop of American and Burmese flags.

“It was not political, just a way of showing the public new art,” says the lanky 19-year-old.

But in a nascent democracy experiencing a flush of civil freedoms, self-expression and politics are inseparable. The next day, Mr. Arker Kyaw returned to see his mural scratched out. A week later, the government decreed a nation-wide ban on street art.

After more than five decades of oppressive rule, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is awash in free speech on fronts where none was permitted. Breakneck reforms, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners and an end to direct media censorship have allowed stifled voices to emerge in newspapers, art galleries, and theater houses where plain-clothes security agents used to eavesdrop for signs of dissent.

But the government does not yet have a mechanism that grants artists access to work on public spaces, putting them at the frontline in the ongoing debate over where freedoms begin and end as the country continues its transition.

“It’s certainly a good thing that young artists are testing the limits,” says Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch‘s Asia division. It’s not unlike the tests of democracy that have been seen by graffiti artists across the world. At the same time, he warns, “it seems there is a narrowing of tolerance for expression in some areas … and now the government is going after graffiti artists. One wonders: Is this a backlash, or is this political opening as sincere as [Myanmar’s] leaders would have us believe?”

RECOMMENDED: Think you know Asia? Take our geography quiz.

The ban has not stopped dozens of artists steeped in the renegade spirit of American hip-hop culture from working in the shadows. Fresh graffiti, spanning flying television to stencils copied from British street legend Banksy, seem to pop up every other morning under bridges and on construction projects that are tearing up entire blocks and intensifying traffic snarls.


“Of course we’re gonna paint anyway; We just have to be more careful,” says Soe Wai Htun, noting that his crew has plans to a do “an even bigger public exhibition” in the wake of the defaced Obama mural.

Smug defiance toward authorities is one standard practice that Burmese street culture has adopted from the United States; tribalism is another.

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When Arker Kyaw heard that his Obama mural had been attacked, he initially suspected the hand of municipal authorities, as had been done before. Only later did he learn that a rival graffiti crew was responsible for the defeatist phrases “We Quit” and “This is Not Message, Do Not Reply.”

While he is affiliated with a larger crew, Arker Kyaw insists that he stands for the individual and paints alone. “I’m interested in expanding the art form, not revenge,” he says. “I want to be the best.”

Others counter that “battling” is fundamental to graffiti culture, wherever it is practiced, and an affront to stale notions of ownership. “We battle each other like real street artists do, in America,” says one rival, who goes by the nickname Marshall.


While the vanguard Yangon’s art scene generally welcome what they’re seeing as an antidote to old taboos and the crass modern development that is cropping up around the city, some say it understandably lacks the technique and conceptual originality that has elevated street art in cities like New York and Tokyo.

“It’s evolving but there’s not yet enough originality, ” says Aung Soe Min, a prominent gallery owner who works with more than 200 artists in Myanmar, just a handful of them graffitists. But, he adds, the quality of public art is “evolving quickly” and “has symbolic value in a country that always thinks of law and order first.”

In these still uncertain times, a growing number of street artists are organizing private exhibitions as a platform to introduce Burmese urban art to new audiences.

In December, curator Moe Satt hosted a festival entitled, “Beyond Pressure,” featuring the works of top graffiti artists from Yangon and Mandalay. “Rendezvous,” a new exhibition that begins this week, includes work from as far away as the UK in a bid to raise Myanmar’s street art profile in Southeast Asia and promote homegrown artists alongside more established talent, according to organizers, who say it’s the largest urban art event ever held here.


Until public art is embraced in the new Myanmar, Arker Kyaw and company say they plan to walk the line between legal and illegal, alternating between spot-lit galleries and sidewalks by night. Then there are those who prefer to work within the spaces that are permitted – and shout as loudly as they can about their grievances with the new government

On a recent afternoon, Lailone, a some-time street artist with an engineering degree, held his first solo exhibition in the lobby of a tattoo parlor across the street from a five-star hotel. A mixed crowd of Burmese and foreigners enjoyed donuts and coffee, while taking in cartoons under the theme “Not For Sale”: a not-so-subtle indictment of the surge of land grabbing being perpetrated by powerful business interests with ties to the military.

One of his pieces depicts a lawyer asking a poor farmer if he’s reading an agricultural guidebook. The farmer replies, “No, I’m studying land laws ahead of the confiscation that’s coming.” Another piece depicts a farmer hanging from the top of a flagpole, singing the national anthem as foreign companies raze all the land beneath him.

“I’m afraid for my culture, for the environment,” says Lailone.

At least he’s no longer afraid of speaking his mind, say analysts. Looking around at his room full of politically charged creations, he adds, with a wide grin: “Now I can drown [the authorities] with my humor.”

* Susie Taylor contributed to this report from Yangon.


By Jason Motlagh | Christian Science Monitor

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