Friday, August 17, 2018

Artificial gills for humans for a flooded future.

http://www.cnn.com/style/article/amphibio-underwater-breathing/

(racist) Stephen Miller's uncle, who is anything but, speaks up, from CNN

"I want to convince people to the realities of immigration through their hearts and minds. This is a large country, a wealthy country, and we've been made strong and large and wealthy not just by our natural resources and our geographical situation, but by the strength, the smarts, the muscle, the brains and the enterprise of millions of immigrants," Glosser said. "We can't solve all the world's problems, but we should offer help as we can in proportion to our size, our resources, and our abilities." CNN 8-17-2018

My official website

http://www.kmkaung.com/

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Weekly Highlights: An Unfinished Movement for Democracy and Human Rights

    

An Unfinished Movement for Democracy and Human Rights

A photo depicting a group of Rohingya students participating in the 1988 protests by proudly flying their banner that states the Rohingya student groups' support for the democracy movement. Photo credit: People's Daily Newspaper

 

 

It has been thirty years since the nationwide, society-wide demonstrations in Myanmar, often known as 8-8-88, galvanized the movement for freedom, democracy and human rights, becoming a reference point for democracy activism ever since. Many changes have occurred in the past thirty years, most notably the election victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) - the political party that carried the flag of democracy during the many subsequent years of opposition to military rule. But perhaps what is most significant is what has not changed. The military still has a stranglehold on power, human rights are routinely violated by authorities, and most of all, ethnic and religious minorities across the country, especially in ethnic nationality areas, bear the brunt of violence and civil war.

 

The kindling for the 8-8-88 uprising was the devaluation of the Myanmar Kyat, exacerbating widespread economic discontent, oppression and mismanagement and disillusionment with the ruling regime. An argument in a Yangon teashop and authorities' subsequent biased reaction and excessive use of force against Rangoon Institute of Technology students in March 1988 was the spark, leading to student-led demonstrations, workers' strikes, farmers' revolts, and monks' protests throughout the country, gaining momentum. The demands were for democracy and human rights, including the overthrow of the military-led Burma Socialist Programme Party. The protests peaked on 8 August, 1988 with a nationwide general strike, as called for by student protesters, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, but were brutally ended by military force, with soldiers opening fire on peaceful protesters, killing thousands. The following month, the military took explicit power as the State Law and Order Restoration Council - which later changed its name to the less-sinister sounding State Peace and Development Council - ruling the country until 2010. One of the outcomes of the 8-8-88 was the rise to political prominence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who became the leader of the political party, the NLD, which was founded in the aftermath of the protests.

 

Yet the 8-8-88 protests were not about one political party, they were about democracy and equality for all people in Myanmar, including the ethnic and religious minorities who are still suffering at the hands of the Myanmar military and Government today. For many people - especially the Rohingya - 2018 represents a far worse situation than in 1988, where they have been subject to what the UN human rights chief has labelled 'acts of genocide.' One of the most striking and inspirational elements of 8-8-88 was how all sectors of society came together regardless of ethnicity, religion, class or social standing. This contrasts with the deep divides in the country today, especially around the plight of the Rohingya and the increase in religious discrimination and the spread of hate speech. There is a poignant photo from 1988 of a group of Rohingya students, participating in the protests side-by-side with their brothers and sisters from other ethnic groups, proudly flying their banner that states the Rohingya student groups' support for the democracy movement.  

 

However, it is not just Rohingya that are suffering today. In northern Myanmar, the military still launches offensives in ethnic nationality areas, while ethnic minorities still striving to achieve their basic rights. This is demonstrated by the demand on 9 August, 2018 - the International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples - by displaced communities in an internally-displaced persons camp in Karen State for the Myanmar Government to "honor the global consensus on the rights of indigenous peoples and a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being." That they are still calling for this, thirty years later, demonstrates that while the election of the NLD-led Government was lauded in international circles as a success story of Burmese Democracy, the situation for ethnic minorities remains largely unchanged.

 

It is clear that the demands of 8-8-88 have not been met. The military still retains disproportionate power, it abuses people throughout the country with impunity, and equality for all people of Myanmar remains a distant ambition. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD being in power is simply not enough. As one of the student leaders from 1988, Min Ko Naing remarked when commemorating the anniversary, "Having a parliament and elections was not our goal. We will have to work hard for a parliament filled entirely with elected members and for a government made up entirely of civilians." Much more works needs to be done to fulfill these goals. For that, we must reflect that the strength of 8-8-88 was based on the inclusiveness and equal participation of all peoples from various sectors of society with a unified goal, not based on discrimination, exclusion and marginalization at the expense of vulnerable communities.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.

 

 

 

 

LATEST FROM THE BLOG

 

Commission of Avoidance

By Progressive Voice

 

STATEMENTS AND PRESS RELEASES

 

Joint Submission to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights: Civil Society Organisations Request Meaningful Engagement

By 16 Civil Society Organisations

 

သံလြင္ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးဥယ်ာဥ္ေကာ္မတီႏွင့္ ကရင္သဘာဝပတ္၀န္းက်င္ႏွင့္လူမႈလုပ္ရွားမႈကြန္ရက္အဖဲြ႕ (KESAN) တို႕၏ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္

By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Salween Peace Park Committee

 

Displaced Karen Celebrate International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples along with their Local Solutions and Actions Contributing to Global Conservation Targets and Peace building in Burma/Myanmar

By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network and Salween Peace Park Committee

 

Legal Analysis of the Press Release Issued by the Office of the State Counsellor in Connection with the Jurisdiction of the ICC for Heinous Crimes Took Place in Rakhine and other Ethnic States

By Legal Aid Network

 

UNHCR and UNDP Urge Tangible Progress to Improve Conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State

By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

 

UNHCR's Grandi appeals to Asia-Pacific ministers, business leaders for solidarity with refugees, people of Myanmar's Rakhine State

By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

About Progressive Voice

 

Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."

     


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Manafort Trial, USA. Shell co. dynamics and "consulting" in Ukraine

https://www.salon.com/2018/08/11/you-know-who-is-paying-very-very-close-attention-to-the-manafort-trial-president-trump/ Makes you wonder about the plethora of Burma consultants post 2011. I hear or heard a lot of gossip, 10 acres from the junta, 20 car import licenses. Hope to live long enough to see it all go to International Criminal Court. Even the highly-born one in charge of "historic restoration" is said to have received a sarr pauk (eating hole) as in charge of licenses. Other "rumors" including by eye witness who actually saw ancient Buddha images carried out of Bagan temple wrapped in jute bags by soldiers was about wholesale "legalized" looting of ancient artifacts. But why am I upset? I have seen more old Burma statues overseas than in Burma. First the British colonials, then the 1960s and 1970s, students in orals for Diploma in Economic Planning telling me of certain minister who took home an antique, Buddha images without heads in Mandalay, seen by myself, even a joke told by a poet. Black marketeer calls Burma. Hi, have any old Buddhas? There is one. Does it have a nice head Send it. How about hands, shapely? Send them. How about feet? Send them. Meanwhile in Burma, plastic Buddhas and copper sheathing (supposed to be gold)-- also "renovation" of smaller Bagan temples, sort of license to loot artifacts and jewelry inside. I am sick of it. kmk 8-11-2018 1st photo taken by me, supposed to be 10th century Bagan image, and I think it is. Photo taken with permission in antique shop in Thailand. I don't know the price, did not ask. 2nd photo from Internet of "stupid so-called renovation"

Malcolm Nance, The Plot to Destroy Democracy.

https://www.amazon.com/Plot-Destroy-Democracy-Undermining-Dismantling/dp/0316484814

USA--democracy at work, Paul Manafort Trial--

Saturday, August 11, 2018 USA, Manafort Trial--Rachel Maddow said, due to recesses totaling about 5 hours on Friday-- now prosecution won't rest it's case till Monday 13th Aug or Tues. The recesses with white noise machine on at bench, or in jury room or judge's chambers (out of sight also) could be due to (says Chuck Rosenberg) something to do with a jury member who could 1. have something going on at home (Mr. R said that does not seem to be the case) 2. could have heard something, in the cafeteria or rest room, or at home, and told the judge. Rosenberg says these kinds of things are usual. He has lots of experience as a prosecutor and even in this court with this judge. Please see The Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC 8-10-2018. They are also posted on Youtube. kmk 8-11-2018 Posted by Kyi May at 2:15 AM No comments:

Monsanto the TERRIBLE

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsanto_legal_cases Already in Burma, where everyone has been isolated for decades and cannot read news openly, therefore ignorant or ill-informed. This was relayed to me by a non-profit worker who thought Monsanto was good. Very scary. Also another Burmese activist told me of Burmese agricultural workers harmed by pesticides, probably Monsanto too, in Mahachai, opposite Bangkok in Thailand. Also Burmese refugees whose hormone balance disturbed by eating chicken butts out of poverty. It's not funny, it's scary. 8-11-2018

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Weekly Highlights: Commission of Avoidance

    

Commission of Avoidance

A Rohingya refugee girl reacts to the camera while carry a child at the Kutupalang Makeshift Refugee Camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on July 8, 2017: Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters

 

 

The formation of a Commission of Enquiry (COE), announced by the Myanmar[1] Government on 30 July, 2018, has been criticized by rights groups as another attempt to reduce international pressure without providing the justice that Rohingya and other ethnic nationality victims of the Myanmar military's crimes demand. The international community must view this COE in the context of past failures to investigate in good faith, the lack of independence in the members chosen, and not be fooled by this smokescreen intended to delay and avoid accountability.

 

The membership of the COE already calls into serious question its independence and impartiality. One of its two Myanmar members, Aung Tun Thet, was part of the 2016 national investigation which rejected UN documentation of crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya, and has given many interviews in which he makes clear that he is already convinced that no international crimes were committed by the military. He is also the chief coordinator for the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine – a body which has led the bulldozing of Rohingya villages, destroying not only any remaining Rohingya property but evidence of atrocities committed by the Myanmar military. The presence of someone so heavily involved in denying allegations of rights violations and covering up evidence should be conclusive that this COE will not conduct serious, impartial and independent investigations. In addition, one of the international members, former Philippine deputy foreign minister Rosario Manolo, was involved in negotiations to establish the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, which has been criticized as undermining human rights norms in the region and covering up for government abuses.

 

The COE has no clear mandate or powers, which also calls into question its independence and impartiality, as well as its ability to investigate human rights violations. Instead, the announcement of the formation of the COE mentioned only that the COE will "investigate the allegations of human rights violations and related issues, following the terrorist attacks by ARSA [Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army]." As a joint statement by Progressive Voice, Equality Myanmar and FORUM-ASIA points out, "The absence of any references to mass atrocity crimes by the armed forces of Myanmar or discriminatory laws and policies against minorities throws the impartiality of the Commission into question." The lack of transparency in the mandate also means the public will not be able to monitor whether the commission performs as intended.

 

The Kofi Annan Commission, whose recommendations are often referred to as a blueprint to resolving the Rohingya crisis, recommended that the Government "ensure … that perpetrators of serious human rights violations are held accountable." However, there has been no mention of accountability in the mandate of or during the formation of this COE. Instead, discussions in Parliament and other domestic forums have included the need to create the COE in order to reduce international pressure, but not the importance of finding truth and accountability.

 

In addition to not bringing justice to the victims, the COE could do real harm to victims and witnesses and allow perpetrators to continue their crimes. Without power to compel cooperation from the military, and likely no unrestricted access to Rakhine State for commission members or staff, to the extent that the COE actually investigates, it will rely on the testimony of victims and witnesses. However, reprisals including intimidation, harassment, threats, violence and arrest, are common against those who provide information to media and human rights investigators about military abuses, as well as the journalists who report those abuses. With Reuters journalists still facing charges after investigating the massacre at Inn Din – which the military has already admitted to – will anyone dare to provide information to the COE?

 

Another risk that the COE poses is to ongoing, credible processes to seek justice internationally. The COE does not fill an existing need – there is already an independent, impartial fact-finding mission (FFM) mandated by the UN, which Myanmar has refused to cooperate with. Instead, the COE appears designed to reduce pressure for further UN action including any actions by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is currently deciding whether it has jurisdiction over the forced deportation of Rohingya into Bangladesh. Calls are also growing, from civil society and from high-ranking UN officials, for the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC, so that the court can have jurisdiction over all international crimes against the Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities. On 30 July, 2018, over 20 Karen organizations around the world called on the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC, saying that "[t]he failure of UN Security Council members to uphold their responsibilities and act to end impunity has resulted in many thousands of deaths, thousands of women being raped, and more than a million people across the country being forced to flee their homes."

 

Given this pressure, it is concerning that leading countries such as the United Kingdom, which currently holds the Presidency of the UN Security Council and is the point country on Myanmar on the Council, appear willing to "wait and see" what this COE will do before supporting other international measures. This would be a grave mistake, given that it is already clear that the COE was designed to avoid, not provide, accountability.

 

Myanmar has already conducted a number of purported investigations of human rights violations against Rohingya in recent years, and these investigations have almost entirely absolved the Myanmar military of wrongdoing and focused on alleged abuses by ARSA. The only investigation to find military wrongdoing, in the massacre at Inn Din village, was conducted after Reuters journalists uncovered military abuses. Viewed in this context, Myanmar has given its people and the international community no reason to believe that this COE will be anything more than a smokescreen. Instead of waiting and seeing what results it will produce, the international community must maintain pressure on Myanmar to cooperate with existing international mechanisms including the FFM, and on the Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC. Anything less would be a betrayal of the Rohingya and other victims, who clearly demand justice.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgment that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.

 

LATEST FROM THE BLOG

 

A Stark Warning for Myanmar's Hydroelectric Projects

By Progressive Voice

 

STATEMENTS AND PRESS RELEASES

 

Myanmar: International Efforts for Accountability Should Not Be Weakened by the New Domestic Independent Commission of Enquiry

By Equality Myanmar, FORUM-ASIA and Progressive Voice

 

UN Security Council Members Must Refer Burma to the International Criminal Court

By Karen Communities Worldwide

 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Termination of International Protection for Chin Refugees Violates International Refugee Law

By The South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, the South Asia Forum for Human Rights, the Chin Human Rights Organization, the Chin Refugee Committee Delhi and the Independent Chin Communities Malaysia

About Progressive Voice

 

Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."

     


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

FBR: Syria Report, Part Three: Friendships Across the Lines of War


Syria Report, Part Three: Friendships Across the Lines of War

7 August 2018

Syria

Destroyed church in Tabqa
Destroyed church in Tabqa

Background

Syria is in its seventh year of civil war; 500,000 people have been killed and over 11,000,000 displaced (over 6,000,000 internally and over 5,000,000 refugees have fled the country). The resistance to the Syrian dictatorship of Assad is a complex mix of pro-democracy, radical Islamist, Arab tribal and Kurd forces, some of which are also against each other. And the fighting escalates: Assad's regime with Russian and Iranian support is regaining lost ground and continues to pound rebel-held areas outside of Damascus, Idlib and now has launched an offensive into the southern border areas with Israel.

The Kurd led Syrian Democratic Front (SDF), made up of Kurd and Arab Syrians, are trying to finish ISIS forces in the east. The US supports the SDF, as they are the most effective force against ISIS. Also, the SDF's attempt at a democratic and egalitarian society, freedom for women and a separation of church and state have opened new opportunities of governance in Syria. However, cracks are growing in the SDF Kurd – Arab alliance as some of the Arab groups in the SDF resent Kurd control and have begun to push back. The SDF and Assad's government have an uneasy truce as each fights ISIS, but that is unraveling as Assad gains strength. Recently, the Syrian Democratic Council, the political arm of the SDF, has held meetings with Assad’s regime to discuss deals that would maintain Kurd-controlled areas in Syria.

Pro-Assad forces and Russian mercenaries have already attacked the Kurd-led SDF in the Deir Ez-Zor area of eastern Syria. These attacks have been stopped by the SDF with US air support, but Assad’s government has threatened to attack again unless the SDF submits to Syrian government control. The Russians and Iranians are supporting the Assad regime and helping his forces as they try to regain control of all of Syria.

The Iraqi military and militias are involved along the Iraqi/Syria border in the attempt to crush remaining ISIS strongholds there.  On the Syrian government side in this border area, Iranian militias are also engaged in this fight. They have been hit by Israeli airstrikes in retaliation for Iranian attacks against Israel far to the southwest, in the Golan Heights area.

The Turkish Army, along with elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which includes radical Muslim groups and some remnants of ISIS, has taken over the northwest area of Afrin and are now presiding over an ethnic cleansing in massive proportions there. The Turkish government has led this onslaught in order to crush the Kurds there and to block their access to the Mediterranean Sea. They consider the Kurds a threat to Turkish security and also have no regard for the 3,000 Christians and 35,000 Yezidis they drove out of this area. The Turkish government also supports the FSA against the Syrian government.

Iraq families in Syria trapped between Turkish backed militias and Kurdish backed militias
Iraq families in Syria trapped between Turkish backed militias and Kurdish backed militias

The Syrian regime views the Kurds as a threat to their power, but the Syrian government sent pro-Assad militias to help the Kurd's losing effort against Turk forces in Afrin. While the U.S. stands with the Kurds and is against the Assad regime, Turkey, a NATO ally, is against the Syrian government and the Kurd-led SDF. Now the US and Turkey have agreed to Turkish control of the key city of Membij on the west side of the Euphrates and for the SDF to be moved back along the Euphrates and eventually only be on the east side. All this makes Syria a complex and difficult place to engage and help.

In the midst of this, we believe that God will show the best way for all of us and we go in the power of God's love. As new fronts and fighting develop, the people caught in the middle of it all are trying to rebuild and survive.

Our role

In the midst of this, we share the love of Jesus, provide emergency medical and humanitarian care, support orphanages and playgrounds and work to build friendships across different groups. On the last mission we were in the Deir Ez-Zor, Kobane, Hassaka, Qamishli, Raqqa/Tabqa, and Membij areas of Eastern Syria. We are friends with Arab and Kurd leaders, and in a surprise for both sides, we met some of Assad's Syrian Army. In between, we ride camels and horses with generous Bedouin herders. Below are stories we want to share of what God has done in answer to prayer.

Pete jump ropes with Arab children near Menbij during a Good Life Club program
Pete jump ropes with Arab children near Membij during a Good Life Club program

Crossing the border

Crossing the border from Iraq to Syria is not easy and we thank all of you who pray for us. Once into Syria we coordinate with the SDF, but the control of the border is shifting. On this last trip to Syria in May 2018 we found our way blocked and had no way to cross. There are times to sneak across borders, but due to our relationship of love and respect for the Iraqi Army and the present situation, this was not one of them. I asked Jesus for help and then went to one of our Yezidi friends who lives near the border – this was Eado, the same Yezidi man whom we had taken into Burma in April. We had lived with him on the front lines of Sinjar Mountain during the siege by ISIS while our family and others on our team were up on the mountain in tents with his family and the other Yezidi IDPS.

“The Iraqi commander is a good man, we will pray and ask him,” he said. We drove up to the border together to meet the Iraqi commander.

“Daoud (David), welcome!” he said. He came out and embraced me. I recognized him as a battalion commander whom I had met during the battle for west Mosul in 2017. 

Due to heavy casualties in our brigade, his unit had been sent to reinforce the unit we were with in an attack near the northernmost bridge. We had then been pinned down together and on one of the worst days we rescued and treated 22 of his troops who were wounded and caught out in the open. He was also wounded and Eliya treated him. Now he embraced me and said, “We missed you so much and we thank God we can be reunited. Come into our base for lunch.” I told him how I thanked God we could be reunited and how much of a hero he was to all of us. During the battle he never lost his cool under fire and was a steady, caring and brave commander.

He asked me where I was going. “To Syria to help people,” answered Eado for me.

“Syria? No problem, of course you can go. We have been through tough times together and are brothers. You can go as you like.” We were all amazed and thanked God for this meeting and the open door. We finished lunch and prayed together and then crossed into Syria. For us it felt like God's way of love.

Deir Ez-Zor: a flashpoint on the Euphrates

Deir Ez-Zor city and the surrounding area is one of the main areas of oil production in Syria. The east side of the Euphrates River and the oil fields there are controlled by the SDF while the main city of Deir Ez-Zor on the west side of the Euphrates is controlled by the Syrian Army and was surrounded by ISIS for three years. ISIS has now been defeated in this area and has been pushed up along the Iraqi border. This leaves the Syrian Army poised and ready to reclaim the east side of the Euphrates and the oil fields there.

There have been clashes between Syrian militias and the SDF and in February 2018 an Assad-backed force of Russian mercenaries and Syrian militia tried to take the oil fields on the east side. They were defeated by the SDF who had US air and ground support. We went to visit the SDF there and see how we could help.

We met the local leaders and planned medical support and a playground for kids. It was a very friendly meeting and they told us they felt they were between dangerous forces. “We will be attacked by the Syrian Army, but what can we do but pray and prepare? Please pray for us.”

At the end of the meeting we prayed and the leader came to me and said softly, “I love to read the Bible. Thank you for coming in love and with faith in God.”

Kobane, Raqqa and Tabqa

Kobane is a Kurdish city that was besieged by ISIS and mostly destroyed. The SDF, backed by US and coalition air, held off ISIS and eventually drove them out. Now the people there are rebuilding and we were invited to help support the two small churches and the orphanage there. We have done multiple medical, dental and food outreaches, and with the help of Reload Love we were able to put in a playground and provide beds and furniture for the orphanage. We also met with the two Christian churches, who are helping Christians and others who have fled the attack in Afrin.

In the former ISIS strongholds of Raqqa and Tabqa (across from Raqqa on the west side of the Euphrates) we ran medical and children programs, and with the help of Reload Love we put in playgrounds. When we were in Tabqa in February, after a Good Life Club program the teachers asked us to check what they thought might be an ISIS landmine in the corner of the school yard. We carefully cleared away the dirt around a protruding piece of metal, and as we dug down we discovered it was not a landmine but part of a weapons system. We dug deeper and uncovered an ISIS weapons cache of mortars, RPG rounds, AK and machine-gun ammunition and a US TOW anti-tank missile. We turned all these over to the SDF and the teachers thanked us profusely.

ISIS weapons cache we dug up at a school in Tabqa across the Tigris River from Raqqa
ISIS weapons cache we dug up at a school in Tabqa across the Tigris River from Raqqa

This May we were back in Tabqa, and after we put in one of the playgrounds, a man came up to us holding his child. “Thank you for this playground. It is not only for us, it is for all the children of Syria,” he said with a warm, deep smile. “We have seen so much destruction, our future is so uncertain, this playground, children’s program, and medical care give us a day of happiness and hope for a better future for our children.”

Praying with local school leaders in Tabqa
Praying with local school leaders in Tabqa

Meeting with Assad's Syrian Army

We had finished a children's program in Tabqa, and the Kurds we were traveling with asked us if we wanted to see the Syrian Army positions on the Kurd / Syria Army front. “Sure,” we said. We drove to within a kilometer of the Syrian checkpoint and looked at them through binoculars.

“Can we get any closer?” I asked one of the Kurd soldiers. “If you dare to go, yes!” was his answer.  So we got back into our trucks and drove down to the checkpoint. There our team got out and the Syrian guards looked surprised to see us, and especially our children, Sahale, Suu, and Peter. There we were, an American family and team meeting with the enemy, the Syrian Army of Bashar Assad.

I walked up to them and put out my hand and through our Syria FBR coordinator and translator Bashir, I said, “My name is David and we are here as friends. We believe God sent us and we have been working in Iraq and Syria to help people under attack by ISIS. We believe in God and hope we can be friends.” The Syrian soldiers looked at us with wonder and suspicion. I told them the purpose of our mission and that we hoped not to fight them. “We want to be friends and find a new way for Syria.” We gave out Free Syria Ranger t-shirts, Gospel MP3 players, and GLC bracelets and they began to warm to us.

As we talked, an officer came up and he was very nervous. “No pictures,” he said. I asked him if I could pray and he looked at me quizzically and nodded. “Yes,” he said. I asked God how to pray and what to say and felt impressed to get on my knees. So I got down on my knees on the road at the Syrian Army checkpoint and prayed. Our interpreter Bashir translated, and I asked God to help us all find a new way for Syria. I asked for protection and blessing for the soldiers and love for all of us. I finished the prayer and stood up. I hugged each Syrian soldier and said goodbye. We all got back in our trucks and went back to the SDF lines. We do not know what will happen in the future, but on that day God gave us a gift to be able to meet with and pray with our enemies.

Praying with the Syrian Army as the SDF Kurds look on
Praying with the Syrian Army as the SDF Kurds look on

Iraq families trapped

Later we were doing a family program for Arabs north of the city of Membij, which is on the west side of the Euphrates (northwest of Raqqa) and is contested between the SDF and Turkish forces that invaded Syria in this area in 2016. (As of July 2018, the Turks and the FSA, their proxies there, have taken over the outskirts of Membij, where we were, and there are negotiations between the Turks, FSA, SDF and US forces. The Turks are demanding that the SDF retreat out of Membij and back to the east side of the Euphrates.) But before this happened we were able to get to the front lines between the SDF and FSA and were on the main northern route that goes toward the Turkish border.

There, in 'no-man's land', we met 40 Iraqi families stranded between FSA and SDF positions. They said they fled ISIS in Iraq when ISIS took over Mosul. They went to Turkey, then to Syria, and now are trying to go home to Iraq, but they are trapped between the FSA who will not let them move and the SDF who will not allow them to enter their area in order to proceed to Iraq. For one month they have been stuck living under tarps in the reeds beside a muddy stream in no-man's land. Some of the children were sick and they were all afraid and desperate. One man showed me where he was beaten in the head by the FSA, and they told us that two of their group were taken away by the FSA and have not been heard of.

An Iraqi man, now trapped with his family between two sides and who was tortured by a Turkish supported militia (Free Syrian Army), shows his wounds
An Iraqi man, now trapped with his family between two sides and who was tortured by a Turkish supported militia (Free Syrian Army), shows his wounds

They begged us to help, but when we asked the SDF there they refused to let them cross. Maybe they are ISIS families – we do not know.  We only know they are families with kids in a bad place and need immediate help. They told us that those with money can pay smugglers to get them across, but these families are too poor so they are trapped. We prayed with them and asked Jesus to help them and told them to ask Jesus too. We said we would do our best. We got no response from the SDF in Membij – military or civilian council – except, "No, they cannot cross."

We know it is complex as all things are, but these are people and children and they should be helped to go home. We pray and try for that.

Eliya, a Karen medic, does dentistry for IDPs near Menbij
Eliya, a Karen medic, does dentistry for IDPs near Menbij

Camels and Horses

Syria has a long history and love of camels and horses, and we share that love. The kids prayed to be able to ride both, and we had many opportunities. In between missions when we were driving through the desert and saw camels or horses we would stop and ask to ride. We were always greeted with surprise at first and then welcomed to ride. When the owners of the animals saw the kids could ride well, they would bring out their fastest horses and race us.

Sahale gallops a Bedouin family's stallion
Sahale gallops a Bedouin family’s stallion

'Daughters of the wind,' is what Arabian horses are called, and when you gallop at full speed across the desert you learn why. They love to run, are very fast and we felt and heard the desert wind in our ears in a way we had never experienced. I joined a race and lost to our kids and the Arab riders, but it was a deep joy to race across the desert as the sunset. We have made friends across Syria and brought back bridles as gifts on successive trips. We also got on camels every chance we could, and although we could not control them very well it was fun and unique for us. As we rode, the herders rode with us or ran alongside laughing – they and we were amused to see our team of Karen, Karenni, Kachin, and Americans take turns riding these lumbering desert animals.

Zau Seng, a Kachin teammate from Burma, with Pete on a friend's camel on the way to Dier Ezoir
Zau Seng, a Kachin teammate from Burma, with Pete on a friend’s camel on the way to Deir Ez-Zor

We found the camel and horse people to be open, generous, brave, close to the land and welcoming. We felt at one with them, and even though we could not speak each other’s language, our love of animals and the outdoor life bonded us. 

These people have so far weathered the war, trying to survive as each faction gains, then loses, control. We prayed together and left, each time missing each other.

We thank all of you who make these missions possible. We go there with your love, prayers, and help and could not do this alone. We are thankful to you all and feel you with us as we go. We feel that God is moving in Syria and we love and pray for the people there.

God bless you,

Dave, family, teams and all in FBR

Eliya, a Karen medic, leads kids in song at a new playground built with help from Reload Love
Eliya, a Karen medic, leads kids in song at a new playground built with help from Reload Love
With Bedouin friends
With Bedouin friends
Suu and camel
Suu and camel

Love one another
Unite for freedom, justice and peace
Forgive and do not hate each other
Pray with faith, Act with courage
Never surrender

The Free Burma Rangers’ (FBR) mission is to provide hope, help and love to internally displaced people inside Burma, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Using a network of indigenous field teams, FBR reports on human rights abuses, casualties and the humanitarian needs of people who are under the oppression of the Burma Army. FBR provides medical, spiritual and educational resources for IDP communities as they struggle to survive Burmese military attacks.

For more information, please visit www.freeburmarangers.org

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