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‘Revolution dwells in the heart’: Myanmar’s poets cut down by the military | Myanmar

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His words captured the unflinching determination of the Myanmar public in the face of military brutality: “They shoot in the head, but they don’t know revolution dwells in the heart.”

The poet Khet Thi was taken from his home in Shwebo, in the Sagaing region, last Saturday. The next day, his wife collected his body from a hospital. His organs had been removed, she told BBC Burmese.

Myanmar poet Khet Thi.
Myanmar poet Khet Thi. Photograph: Irrawaddy News

The military has tried to crush any form of dissent over recent months, including writers or celebrities whose words have the power to inspire hope and rebellion.

“Poetry, charisma and courage are a deadly blend against any tyranny,” said Ko Ko Thett, a poet, translator and anthologist of contemporary Burmese poetry, who is based in the UK.

At least 32 writers and poets are in detention, according to PEN International, a global association of writers which has been tracking arrests. Others have fallen victim to military violence on the frontlines of rallies. Two poets – K Za Win and Myint Myint Zin – were shot dead when the military opened fire on protesters in March

On Friday, U Sein Win, a poet, politician and philanthropist, was doused in petrol and burned to death in an attack by an unknown perpetrator. He is the fourth poet to be killed in recent months.

Myanmar soldiers walk along a street during a protest against the military coup in Yangon
Myanmar soldiers walk along a street during a protest against the military coup in Yangon. Photograph: Reuters

Myanmar’s rich poetic heritage is deeply intertwined with politics. Poets used verse to resist British colonial rule, as well as the previous military regime, which censored and imprisoned writers. Poets would meet in tea shops to discuss their works, and use coded language to bypass censorship.

When Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was elected to power in 2015’s historic election – a breakthrough for democracy after decades of direct military rule – 11 poets were among the candidates who won seats.

Though there were still limitations on expression under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, poets were able to write and publish far more freely.

Khet Thi quit his job as an engineer in 2012 to pursue poetry, selling cakes and ice-creams on the side to support himself. He grew up in Pale township in Monywa, where his parents operated a peanut oil press, and first began writing poetry while at school.

Protesters with placards showing the image of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi sit along a street before holding a candlelight vigil during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon
Protesters with placards showing the image of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi sit along a street before holding a candlelight vigil during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

“His poems have always been special and unique because they came from his heart,” said a close friend. They had not been able to meet since the coup, and had avoided discussing the political situation on the phone, in case they were being monitored. Many poets were in hiding, fearing arrest, he said.

“Khet Thi’s virtue was that he only wanted to be friends with people who see people as people [who do not discriminate]. He was a revolutionary with strong beliefs and someone who never steps back,” the friend added.

Khet Thi was possibly the only prominent poet from Myanmar’s Bamar majority who wrote about the 2017 Gu Dar Pyin massacre, said Ko Ko Thett. Discussion of such attacks, where hundreds of Rohingya were killed by security forces and buried in mass graves, was highly sensitive.

Before the coup, he would sell printed copies of his books, but over recent months his words were shared mainly on Facebook. He addressed rallies, telling crowds at a march on 27 March that every protester in Myanmar was a Nobel peace prize winner. “Who does the power belong to?” he shouted into a microphone. “The people!” protesters replied.

Though critical of the NLD, K Za Win also appeared at the front line of protests that swept the country in the wake of the coup, defending the party’s election victory and right to govern. He grew up in Letpadaung near Monywa, and spoke out about land rights after his family lost their land to a mining project pursued jointly by a Chinese and Myanmar military-backed company.

K Za Win was a Buddhist monk but left the sangha, said Ko Ko Thett, because he believed there was little point in being recognised as a learned monk by the military state.

He spent more than one year in prison after he was arrested for taking part in a rally for education reform in 2015. After his release, he published his most famous work, a collection called My Reply to Ramon.

Prior to his death, K Za Win had written on Facebook: “Though I have different views than you, I’ll lay down my life for you all.” Myint Myint Zin and K Za Wi were among 38 people killed during crackdowns on protesters on 3 March.

The poets expressed the emotions that were felt by the people, said May, a professor in Japan. “This revolution is led by all of our sheer will power and we need literary people who speak for us.”

The Burmese language already has a poetic quality, said Ko Ko Thett. “It features euphonies and rhymes frequently. Most Burmese slogans, by the regime or anti-regime groups, are couplets.”

But the verses written by Khet Thi and others are far more than a literary exercise. Security forces have killed 790 people since the coup, according to an advocacy group, including protesters, bystanders and dozens of children. Thousands have been arrested, and are often held in unknown locations. Reports of torture of widespread.

“For many people on the ground in Myanmar, lines such as ‘with what grief I will grieve for you, my martyred son’ by [the poet] A Phaw Khaing have become daily reality. People who are at a loss for words tend to find answers in poetry,” he said.

Many will remember Khet Thi by one of his famous lines, written in response to military violence: “You try so hard to bury us underground, because you don’t know that we are the seeds.”

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The Dolomites: Rescuers search for missing climbers after deadly glacier collapse in Italian Alps | International

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At least six people are dead and eight injured after a glacier collapsed in the Italian Alps on Sunday. The collapse has been blamed on the heatwave gripping Italy, with the warm weather loosening the glacier and causing an avalanche of ice, rock and snow.

Michela Canova, an emergency services spokesperson, told AFP that the avalanche “hit an access path at a time when there were several roped parties, some of whom were swept away.” She said the number of injured “remained a provisional count,” as rescuers continue to search for as many as 15 climbers who could be missing. “The total number of climbers involved is not yet known,” she said. According to Canova, the eight injured climbers have all been transferred to hospital – five to Trento, two to Belluno and one to Treviso.

Four victims were identified on Monday, three of them Italian, including two alpine guides, and another from the Czech Republic, news agency AGI reported, citing rescuers.

A rescue team helps drones at night by illuminating the site, where the collapse of an ice serac killed six people, in the Marmolada mountain.
A rescue team helps drones at night by illuminating the site, where the collapse of an ice serac killed six people, in the Marmolada mountain.PIERRE TEYSSOT (AFP)

The glacier collapsed on the mountain of Marmolada, the highest in the Dolomites, in the eastern Alps, where record high temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius had recently been recorded at an altitude of more than 3,300 meters (10,000 ft).

The situation has caused panic among hikers in the area. According to Italy’s rescue services, 18 people have been evacuated from the summit of Punta Rocca and all hikers at the lowest part of the summit have returned to their place of origin. Reinhold Messner, the first climber to ascend all 14 peaks over 8,000 meters (26,000 ft) above sea level, blamed the tragedy on global warming. “The ice is getting thinner and thinner, and when it falls, pieces break off like skyscrapers,” he said. “Avalanches have always happened, but in the 1960s the danger of them happening was much, much less. Unfortunately, the mountain is also suffering from the pollution of big cities.”

Glaciers and climate change

The Marmolada is the largest glacier in the Dolomites mountain chain and is expected to disappear in 25 to 30 years, or even sooner, if temperatures continue to rise, according to Italy’s National Research Council (CNR). The glacier lost 30% of its volume and 22% of its extension between 2004 and 2015, according to a study by CNR’s Institute of Marine Sciences, in collaboration with several universities.

And the Marmolada glacier is not the only one at risk in Italy. In September 2019, the front of the Planpincieux glacier on the Mont Blanc peak in the Alps began to break loose, putting the populations of the nearby Courmayeur valley on alert. On September 25, 2019, Giuseppe Conte, then Italian prime minister, spoke about the glacier at a UN Assembly and called for action to prevent its disappearance.

Antonio Fosson, the regional head of Italy’s Aosta Valley, which is home to Mont Blanc, has also called for action. He invited all authorities in the country to visit the region and see first hand the effects of global warming. “The Aosta Valley is a laboratory of climate change,” he said. The scientific community welcomed the move, but there was little response from the international community.

The crisis facing Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains is not new. The first warning signs were seen in the mid-19th century, when the Planpincieux and Rochefort glaciers – which were once joined – started to separate due to rising temperatures. If the average temperature continues to rise, the glaciers will continue to retreat and form at higher elevations, where it is colder. Other glaciers in the area, such as the Seracco Whymper and the Gran Croux, face the same risk.

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‘Cancer care can’t stop’: flood-hit Assam hospital uses boats to reach patients | Global development

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When the flood water roared into her home in Assam, Jyoti Bora* saw the morphine pills she takes for head and neck cancer swept away along with all her belongings. At the relief camp she was evacuated to, Bora, who uses a wheelchair, found a boat to take her to the hospital to get more medication.

But when she got to Cacher cancer hospital and research centre she found the entrance flooded – the water was 1.5 metres high. A hospital orderly and a nurse were dispatched in a raft, made from planks of plywood tied to tyre inner tubes, to collect her.

“Initially, she refused to get on. She was very frightened. As it is she is frail. But she knew she could not manage without her morphine injection,” says her doctor, surgical oncologist and deputy director of Cacher, Ritesh Tapkire. “That’s how our outpatients have been coming for radiation, chemotherapy and pain relief for the past week.”

About 5 million people in Assam, in India’s north-east, have been affected by the worst floods in decades, which began in April and show little significant signs of easing. Entire villages have been submerged. More than 114,000 hectares (280,000 acres) of crops have been damaged and 5,000 livestock washed away. The army and relief workers are providing food, medicines and drinking water to 780 camps for those displaced by the flooding.

People wade through thigh-high water, some with their possessions in boats.
Nearly a quarter-million people are now living in emergency relief camps in Assam, and many others have constructed their own temporary shelters and cobbled together basic rafts to escape areas cut off by the floods. Photograph: Anupam Nath/AP

Cacher hospital, which has 150 beds and treats 20,000 patients a year, got off fairly lightly. One building was flooded at the end of June, along with the nurses’ hostel, but the wards were spared as they are built on higher ground. Radiation and chemotherapy have continued for the 100 patients admitted to the hospital, although a lack of anaesthesia meant only four operations were carried out in a week, instead of the usual 20.

Since the floods, the big issue for staff has been ensuring patients continue receiving treatment. People travel to Cacher hospital from all over the state. It is run by a non-profit and most patients are on low incomes and receive free or subsidised treatment. The north-east of India is known as the “cancer capital” of the country, and cases are double the national average. Lifestyle is a big factor – high consumption of alcohol, betel nut and tobacco – combined with low awareness of symptoms, late detection and a lack of oncologists and facilities to diagnose and treat cases.

Cacher staff have been calling patients who have not kept appointments to check they have enough medication. They have also got into boats to collect people from their homes and bring them to the hospital, and made rafts to take them inside. They have also set up a makeshift outpatient department (OPD) on a patch of dry land outside the hospital to give out basic medicines and pain killers. Morphine injections given here too, in the middle of swirling flood waters, for patients too scared of the raft ride into the hospital.

A patients is escorted to hospital on a makeshift raft constructed out of wood and tyre inner tubes.
A patients is escorted to hospital on a makeshift raft constructed out of wood and tyre inner tubes. Photograph: Handout

“A patient with multiple myeloma came for her chemotherapy session and she refused to get on to the raft. She was petrified. Fortunately, her chemotherapy was only one hour long, did not need close monitoring or have side-effects, so after checking her vitals, we administered it on the dry patch,” says Tapkire.

Last Monday, the niece of an elderly woman with metastatic breast cancer called the hospital in tears, asking for help. The hospital director, Dr Ravi Kannan, dispatched a team from the hospital to collect her. The woman had to be lowered from the second floor of her home, where she and her family had sought safety, into a boat and taken to the hospital.

The State Disaster Response Force has now given the hospital inflatable boats and rafts to make ferrying patients to and from the hospital a little easier.

Kannan is worried people are missing out on treatment. On a normal day, the OPD has between 150 and 200 patients. In the past week, it has seen only 40 people. “We need to reach out to every patient who has not been able to come. Cancer care cannot be interrupted. It bothers us no end,” he says.

Ranjita and Babita Singha.
Ranjita Singha, 60, who has cervical cancer, ran out of morphine and was unable to reach her hospital. Her daughter Babita, right, is her main carer. Photograph: Handout

Ranjita Singha, 60, who has cervical cancer, ran out of morphine and was unable to reach the hospital. Her daughter, Babita Singha, is her main carer.

“When the doctor called, I told them that my mother had only one pill left. They arrived here by boat to give me more pills and also gave her a morphine injection for immediate relief,” says Babita.

The woman with metastatic breast cancer who was rescued from the second floor of her home died the next day. Kannan says he wondered if bringing her to the hospital was the wrong decision. Until he received a note from her niece.

“For days they had sat by her, dreading her dying, surrounded by water, in the dark in the middle of the night. By bringing her to hospital, where she had light and medical care; the niece said we had spared the family the agony of living with such a painful memory,” says Kannan.

* Name changed

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Eduardo Zapateiro: Colombian army chief resigns to avoid appearing beside president-elect Petro at inauguration | International

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General Eduardo Zapateiro, the commander of the Colombian army, resigned on Tuesday to avoid appearing beside president-elect Gustavo Petro at his inauguration on August 7. “After 40 years in service, I bid farewell to the Colombian people, giving my heartfelt thanks to all my soldiers,” he announced.

Zapateiro, who comes from the hardline wing of the armed forces, has been a vocal opponent of the leftist leader. During the presidential election campaign, the army commander controversially spoke out against Petro on Twitter – a move that was condemned as unconstitutional. Incumbent President Iván Duque, however, defended Zapateiro, arguing that the general was sharing his point of view – not taking a political stand.

Zapateiro announced his retirement just one day after Petro told EL PAÍS that he planned to change the leadership of the armed forces. “This leadership was deeply imbued by the political line of the executive [of Iván Duque] now reaching the end of its term. But this path is unsustainable and turns our security forces into a victim, as they have been led to perpetrate grotesque violations of human rights. What we are proposing will make our security forces democratically stronger,” he said in the interview.

The Colombian general has often raised eyebrows with his behavior. Following the death of Jhon “Popeye” Jairo Velásquez, a henchman for drug lord Pablo Escobar who had killed dozens of people, Zapateiro sent his condolences to his family and said he was saddened by his loss. To this day, no one has explained why the general made these statements.

In Colombia, the government and the military have a complex relationship. The country has fought for decades against guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). The ongoing armed struggle placed the military in a position of great power. Indeed until the 1990s, the armed forces controlled the Defense Ministry. As in many other countries, the Colombian armed forces are a conservative group that is highly suspicious of leftist ideas. The peace agreement, for example, that ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, divided Colombia’s troops. Zapateiro initially supported the accords, but over time, became an outspoken critic.

What kind of relationship Petro will form with the military remains to be seen. As a politician, he has been very critical of the army’s focus on targeting internal enemies. The Colombian armed forces have been fighting against guerrilla groups and drug gangs for decades. During this conflict, they have often overstepped their bounds and violated human rights.

In the early 2000s, a scandal broke in Colombia when it was revealed that military officers were carrying out summary executions of innocent civilians and listing them as guerrillas killed in combat. These so-called “false positives” took place in different regions of the country between 2002 and 2008 and were used as proof of performance by military units and to collect “kill fees” awarded by the government of former president Álvaro Uribe. A total of 6,402 innocent people are estimated to have been killed in these summary executions. Just a few months ago, several civilians also died in suspicious circumstances during an army operation in Putumayo.

With Petro elected as Colombia’s first leftist president in modern history, it was no longer tenable to have Zapeteiro leading the armed forces. The Colombian newspaper El Espectador published an editorial to that effect, with the headline: “Isn’t it time to retire, General Zapateiro?”

Petro aims to tackle corruption within the army, which he believes is home to extremist factions. “There are currents in the far right that must be eliminated. Some are talking openly about coups and things like that. But look, within the army there are no factions friendly to Petro, there are factions friendly to the Constitution,” Petro told EL PAÍS.

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