Paulau offers refuge to 11 Burmese

Photo by Associated Press

June 15, 2009

Palauan President Johnson Toribiong has not only offered to accept Uighurs from Guantanamo Prison, but has taken in 11 asylum seekers from Burma. The monks and one woman fled from their county going first to Malaysia, then to the Philippines, and finally to Palau. They have been cared for by the Catholic Church since their arrival in February 2009 and will now live at the farm house of the president's brother who is a senator according to the AP.

Burma, which some call Myanmar, has been in the spotlight for human rights abuses and most recently for the arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. (See this post: Free Aung San Suu Kyi). The Burmese reportedly fled to Palau because the island nation offered visa-free entry. From the AP:
"It's our age-old tradition to receive those in need whenever they somehow arrive on our shores," President Johnson Toribiong said in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday. He said that idea is behind the decision to accept the Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, and rejected criticism that the move is somehow tied to U.S. aid.
The Myanmar asylum seekers say in tropical Palau, one of the world's smallest countries, they finally feel free.
"We were going to be arrested by the military government (in Myanmar)," said Aye Aye Thant, a former English teacher who openly opposes Myanmar's ruling junta.
She decided to leave after a family friend and police officer warned her father that she appeared on a government arrest list. She had made unauthorized trips to the Irrawaddy Delta region, hit hard by last year's Cyclone Nargis, to pass out donated supplies and money.
Her cousin Agganana, another asylum seeker who goes by one name, said he led various anti-government demonstrations at home.
All but one in the group, which includes two Buddhist monks, are members of the overseas offshoot of the National League for Democracy led by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi currently is on trial on charges of violating terms of her house arrest by harboring an American who swam uninvited to her lakeside home.
In Palau, a tropical island nation of 20,000 people, local residents approach them from time to time, offering what they can to help.
Their main benefactor from the Catholic church, Father Rusk Saburo, stopped by Sunday afternoon to check on them before their move.
They immediately swarmed him, with smiles and greetings that transcended the language barrier.
Saburo, one of Palau's three Roman Catholic priests, said the church has been paying $500 a month for the apartment. It also has provided groceries and medical care.
Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will turn 64 this Friday June 19, 2009. Celebrities including Yoko Ono, Julia Roberts, and Kevin Spacey have sent messages to her on the web site: 64 for Aung San Suu Kyi. You can sign a petition to free Aung San Suu Kyi at Action Burma.

President Obama has joined the voices of those appealing for the freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi in a statement released May 26, 2009. From the Voice of America:
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Burma's military government to free Democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from detention immediately and without conditions.

In a statement issued by the White House Tuesday, Mr. Obama condemned her continued house arrest. He said her current trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest is a "show trial based on spurious charges."

At that trial Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged that she did not inform Burmese military authorities when an American intruder swam across a lake and arrived at her Rangoon home in the early morning hours of May 4. She said she allowed American John Yettaw "temporary shelter" until he left the next day.
President Obama said the proceedings cast serious doubt on Burma's willingness to be a responsible member of the international community.

Asian and European Union foreign ministers meeting in Vietnam issued a joint statement Tuesday that mentioned Aung San Suu Kyi. The ministers wrote that, in light of her trial, they are calling for the early release of all those under detention in Burma and for the lifting of government restrictions on political parties.

Several members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, have expressed grave concern about Aung San Suu Kyi's trial. A group of ASEAN lawmakers called for Burma's membership in the regional bloc to be suspended if she continues to be detained.
Dozens of leaders including France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo are also appealing for her immediate release. Meanwhile her trial has been delayed according to The Voice of America:
The trial of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been adjourned until June 26.

The court ordered the two-week postponement during a brief hearing Friday at the notorious Insein prison near the main city of Rangoon.

Lawyers for the Nobel Peace laureate filed an appeal Thursday with Burma's Supreme Court to allow two more defense witnesses to testify at her trial. The court hearing her case barred three of her four witnesses from testifying, while the prosecution was allowed 14 witnesses.

An appeals court this week reinstated one of the witnesses, but upheld the ban on two others, who are senior members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

The international community has condemned the trial, calling it a pretext for Burma's ruling military junta to keep her in detention through next year's elections.
"It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it." -Aung San Suu Kyi