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Indigenous no-state people

Indigenous no-state people

How Thai forces killing minorities: the story of Billy and a Karen village

Billy, Muenoor and their child
An oil barrel discovered at the bottom of a reservoir in a nature reserve in Thailand in April 2019 has cast a light on a story some would rather stayed hidden. It is a tale of powerful men and the lengths they will allegedly go to keep their crimes covered up. But it is also the story of one woman’s determination to get justice for the man she loved and the community he was fighting for.

Pinnapa “Muenoor” Prueksapan remembers the words that her husband told her back in 2014 as if it happened yesterday.

“He told me: ‘The people involved in this aren’t happy with me. They say that if they find me they’ll kill me. If I do disappear, don’t come looking for me. Don’t wonder where I’ve gone. They’ll probably have killed me’.

“So I said to him: ‘If you know you’re in danger like this, why can’t you stop helping your grandfather and the village?’.

“And he said to me: ‘When you’re doing the right thing, you have to keep fighting, even if it means you may lose your life.’.

“And after he said that, I couldn’t ask him to stop,” she recalls.

When Porlajee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen left for work on 15 April that same year, Muenoor didn’t ask any questions. He left just like any other day, grabbing the overnight bag his wife packed for him and walking out the door without saying goodbye.

He told Muenoor that he was going to meet with people in his role as a locally elected official – but that wasn’t the whole truth. In fact, Billy had gone to meet his grandfather and members of his village to collect evidence to take to lawyers in Bangkok – evidence he hoped would prove once and for all local authorities in this remote part of southern Thailand were illegally evicting indigenous communities.

Three days later, Muenoor got a phone call from Billy’s brother asking if he had arrived home safely. But he still wasn’t home. Suddenly she remembered Billy’s words.

Perhaps that phone call would never had happened had it not been for another tragedy three years earlier.

Billy came from a forest on the Thai-Myanmar border
In July 2011, three military helicopters crashed in a remote part of Kaeng Krachan National Park, near Thailand’s southern border with Myanmar. They went down one after the other in a series of accidents blamed on bad weather.

The tragedy was further compounded by the fact the last two helicopters had been sent to collect the remains of the first.

Seventeen people lost their lives in the three accidents: 16 soldiers and one member of Bangkok’s press.

The crashes drew the attention of the country’s media. Soon journalists from all over Thailand were descending on the area, which meant, for the first time, all eyes were focused on this quiet, rural region – and the dark secrets it hid.

In the end, a tip-off led the journalists to a remote location, far into the dense green jungle of the country’s biggest national park, and to the very secret the soldiers had seemingly died trying to protect.

Because there, deep in the forest, were the charred remains of a village.

The village had once been home to a small indigenous community, made up of about 100 families from the Karen minority. They were farmers, living a simple life, in balance with their surroundings.

It was where Billy had grown up with his grandfather, Karen spiritual leader Ko-ee Mimee.

Their existence, in some ways, sounded idyllic. But the 352,000 Karen people who live in Thailand are seen as outsiders. The majority of the world’s five million Karen people live in neighbouring Myanmar.

But decades of persecution and a long-running civil war with the government in Myanmar have forced thousands of Karen civilians to cross the border, where the Thai authorities have labelled them a foreign threat, said to be associated with drug smuggling and militant insurgencies.

And that is apparently why locals say national park rangers turned up, evacuated the village and burnt everything to the ground weeks before the doomed helicopter flights.

The military helicopter is understood to have been on its way to the village to ensure it had been completely and utterly destroyed.

Park rangers arrived in May 2011, villagers say
Billy wasn’t there the night the park rangers arrived in 2011. He had married Muenoor and moved away to a village nearer her family.

But his grandfather, a spiritual leader and a well-respected member of the village, was at home, and allowed the rangers to stay the night in his hut.

“On that day, there were three helicopters flying above the village,” a Karen man, who wishes to remain anonymous, told the BBC.

“That first day there were 15 park rangers. They went into Billy’s grandfather’s house. They spoke to him and asked to stay for the night.”

Image copyright HANDOUT A hut begins to burn
Image caption The village was evacuated, and the rangers set light to the homes
Ko-ee Mimee had no idea what was about to happen.

“The park rangers didn’t say or do anything that felt threatening, except for the fact they came with guns. The following day, at 9am, the helicopters returned. The village chief told Billy’s grandfather to pack his clothes and walk with the park rangers to the helicopters,” the Karen man recalls.

Even when the villagers were told to get into the helicopters, there was no panicking: they still didn’t understand what was happening.

It was only as they rose up above the trees that the enormity of what was taking place finally became clear.

“As we took off I started to see smoke and I could hear the crackling of the wood from the fire,” the villager tells the BBC. “When the helicopter was high above the village I looked down and saw my whole house in flames.

“Everything inside Billy’s grandfather’s house was burned. All he had was one bag with his hat and a shirt inside. The rest of the villagers weren’t able to bring any of their possessions.

“Everything we had ever owned was burned down along with our homes.”

The farmer who fought back

Chaiwat Limlikidacsorn, then the national park chief, would later tell journalists the families were invaders, and that the village was used as a transit point for Karen drug smugglers coming over the border from Myanmar.

Under Thai law, he would argue, permanent structures could not be built inside protected national parks, and that year Chaiwat’s team of rangers were applying for Kaeng Krachan to become a Unesco World Heritage site.

Billy’s community denied the allegations. They said military maps dating from 1912 even showed their village had existed in the same location for at least a hundred years, and long before the forest became a national park in 1981.

“The way we lived and farmed was in harmony with the forest,” Abisit “Jawree” Charoensuk, a local Karen from the village, tells the BBC. “We Karens respect nature as our God. We worship a water God, a forest God and every living thing in the forest. Our farming technique is environmentally friendly. And we grow things we can consume all year round.

“We catch fish in the river, we catch small animals in the forest and we grow rotation crops. We grow rice to sell and the women weave clothes to sell.”

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But after the village was burned, when park authorities moved the community to the outskirts of Kaeng Krachan, things were very different.

“There is no rice for us to harvest because there is no land for us to grow rice on. The land they moved us onto is all rock,” Billy told journalists in 2011. “Since we cannot make a living, we don’t know how to survive. Some of us don’t have Thai citizenship so we can’t look for jobs in the city.

“Many are afraid if they leave the area they’ll be arrested by the police. We can’t make a living down here; we need to go back to where we were.”

The destruction of his village was a turning point for Billy, transforming the young farmer into a human rights activist. He and his grandfather got in contact with lawyers in the capital, Bangkok, some two and a half hours drive away.

A map showing the national park
But it was the helicopter crash which finally gave their plight the attention it needed.

Billy became more and more passionate about getting justice. He organised seminars about Karen community rights, and travelled the country explaining what had happened to his village. He spearheaded attempts to sue the park rangers for compensation.

“Billy acted as an assistant to the lawyer representing the villagers,” Muenoor explains. “He collected evidence for them, spoke to the villagers and found out what happened and what exactly they lost. He took his grandfather to the administrative court so he could sue the national park rangers who burned down their village.”

The disappearance

The last time Billy was seen alive, he was being arrested for taking wild honey out of the forest.

The arrest itself was not unusual: it is illegal to take anything from the forest, but most people pay a fine and are let go.

But Billy had more than just wild honey on him that day. He also had the evidence from the Karen villagers and his grandfather – the same documents he hoped to use in court to sue the park rangers.

When Muenoor tried to report her husband’s disappearance to local police, she says they dismissed her concerns. But she knew in her heart what had happened.

“I thought he was dead because if he was still alive or in hiding he would have found a way to contact me or his family because that’s what he was like – he was a smart guy. He would have found a way to contact me that first day he went missing.”

Billy had been, as the saying goes in Thailand, “carried away”. Human rights groups say thousands of activists have disappeared like this over the decades, although the United Nations puts the number at just 82. Many families are too afraid to go to the police to report their loved ones are missing.

Muenoor, however, was not scared. In the months and years that followed, with the help of lawyers in Bangkok, she launched repeated requests for a judicial investigation into Billy’s unlawful detention.

But time and time again they were rejected on the grounds of a lack of evidence – even though police couldn’t find any record of Billy’s release from custody.

Muenoor was forced to dedicate herself to finding out what happened to her husband
And although traces of human blood were found in a vehicle belonging to the park office, it wasn’t possible to verify if the blood belonged to Billy because the vehicle was cleaned before forensic experts could examine it.

But then again, without a body, there was not much anyone could do: no one has ever been brought to justice for making someone disappear, for carrying them away. In fact, the crime of enforced disappearance doesn’t exist in Thailand.

Muenoor’s fight for justice suffered a further blow when Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI), which looks into high profile cases like those involving government officials, said they wouldn’t be taking up Billy’s case.

Meanwhile, Chaiwat, the national park chief, was promoted and moved out of the area.

The oil drum and the reservoir

But then, in an unexpected development, the DSI, under pressure from international human rights groups, suddenly announced they would start investigating Billy’s disappearance in June 2018.

Less than a year later, Muenoor received a strange phone call: investigating officers asked her to go to the reservoir in Kaeng Krachan National Park. They told her to bring incense, the smoke of which Karen people believe connects this world to the next.

When she arrived, they asked Muenoor to pray next to the water.

“Billy, if you are here under the bridge, please reveal yourself or show me a sign so that I and everyone here trying to help can bring you justice and find evidence,” she prayed. “Then we can take your case to the next step to reveal the truth about what really happened.”

With the help of an underwater robot, a team of divers set about searching the reservoir.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES A bridge going over a reservoir in the national park
Image caption Eventually, police brought her back to the park, and to a resevoir
What they found was a rusty, 200-litre oil drum. Inside were burnt fragments of bone. That in itself was unsurprising: oil drums have been used since World War Two to torture and burn alive those who defy the government. They have become symbolic of a culture of impunity.

A DNA test indicated it was Billy inside the drum.

Afterwards, officials sent Muenoor a picture of a skull fragment – burnt, cracked and shrunken after being exposed to heat as high as 300 degrees Celsius. Whoever did this, it seemed, had tried to conceal the crime.

“What kind of person could do something like this to another person?” Muenoor asks. “It’s not human. I was devastated that he had to go through something like that. Whoever did this never thought about Billy’s family or how this would affect us. If this had happened to the killer’s family, how would he have felt?”

The game changer

In November 2019, the DSI issued an arrest warrant. It was for Kaeng Krachan National Park’s former chief, Chaiwat Limlikidacsorn, and three other park rangers. They deny any wrongdoing.

The arrest came as a shock for many in Thailand. It is unusual for someone in a senior role working for the state to be arrested on such serious charges.

And Chaiwat has made his feelings clear.

“Ever since it happened, the DSI and the media have depicted me in a negative way,” Chaiwat has complained to reporters. “It’s ruined my simple life as a government official, along with my three junior colleagues. They’ve also destroyed my family.

“Instead of being an honest government official and protecting the forest I am forced to stand in front of all of you here today. I’ve devoted my entire life, strength and energy to help this nation.”

Chaiwat and the three park rangers are charged with six offences, including premeditated murder, unlawful detention and the concealment of Billy’s body.

Enforced disappearance is not one of them.

Even so, if Chaiwat and the other park rangers are found guilty of Billy’s murder, it will be the first time one of the so-called disappeared gets justice.

Muenoor and a photo of her family
Image caption Muenoor says it has turned her world upside down
People like prominent human rights lawyer Surapong Kongchantuk believe enough pressure will be generated to force the Thai government to pass an enforced disappearance law.

“Patterns have emerged in these disappearance cases,” Mr Surapong tells the BBC. “In most cases, people disappear in broad daylight. And a lot of people are around as witnesses. But the bodies are never found, so they can’t prosecute.

“If we can find justice for Billy, this will be a game changer for Thailand.”

But while Billy’s death may change Thai law, the reason he is said to have lost his life – the fight for his village – has not been won. Even though the Karen villagers won the case against the Department of National Parks and got compensation of 50,000 baht ($1,600; £1,200) for each family, they haven’t been allowed back.

And years of struggle have taken their toll on Muenoor as well. She admits it’s been hard for the whole family to lose Billy, especially the children.

“His case was on the news so much that one day they asked me how come the person who did this to our dad isn’t in jail? What did dad do to him? Why did he have to kill dad?” Muenoor says.

“It’s been difficult. I’ve had to stay strong. I have to take care of everything at home. I have to work to earn a living, and on top of that I’m still trying to get justice for Billy. When he was still here, he supported me.

“My life has turned upside down, from day into night.                                                   —-  

Indigenous no-state people

Over 120 Chinese arrested for illegally staying in Nepal

Kathmandu: Over 120 Chinese nationals were arrested from Kathmandu for staying in the country without proper working permit and visa.

Raids to apprehend Chinese nationals illegally staying in Nepal were launched by a joint team of Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD) and Metropolitan Police Range apprehended 122 Chinese from various locations around the capital of Kathmandu. The raids were conducted over a period of three days from Saturday to Monday.

“We have arrested them from Gongabu, Thamel and other locations. They are found to be involved in various professions including hospitality, agriculture and ICT to name some. They do not have a working permit and have overstayed in the nation as their tourist visa has already expired,” Chief at MPCD Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Sahakul Thapa confirmed.

The arrested Chinese are currently held inside Metropolitan Police Range, Teku, for further investigation. Apart from their illegal stay in the nation, they also are being probed for various criminal activities in recent days.

The crackdown over the illegal stay of Sino nationals started from Sunday afternoon at 1 pm as the police got into action over it working on the tip-off it received about it.

In the first raid, around 72 Chinese nationals were arrested.

Sino nationals were time and again detained in Nepal for carrying out various illegal activities. On September 2, Nepal Police rounded up six Chinese nationals in capital Kathmandu for allegedly system hacking and withdrawing millions of rupees from various ATM booths. (ANI)

Indigenous no-state people

Changes coming to the land of Brahmis

Aum Dema, 84, in the traditional attire

Neten Dorji | 


The people of Thongrong Village in Phongmey Gewog, Trashigang are called Dakpas or Brahmis. Their origins are linked to the northern part of Arunachal Pradesh, India and they dress like the highlanders of Sakteng and Merak.

This once remote community is now connected with road and changes have come with it.

Sangla, 87, has a story to tell about the community. He said their ancestors were from Mon Tawang. They came and settled here to avoid huge tax burden. “There could have been only about three households then. People were cattle herders mostly,” he said.

Their interaction in the olden day was only with the highlanders, mostly with Dakpas. People practised subsistence farming. The clear evidence of the community having undergone change is that their Chupa, Shingkha, Pishu, Toedung and Zhamu are being replaced by gho, jeans and kira.

Only 15 to 20 percent the population, mainly the elders still communicates in Dakpakha. They do not even speak or understand Tshangla, the language widely speak in the east. Apart from Thongrong, Dakpakha or Brahmilo (the language of the Brahmis) is also spoken in places Chaling, Tokshimang and parts of Shongphu in Trashigang.

Thongrong Tshogpa Sangay Wangchuk said that only a few elders wore Dakpa dress today. And, that too, only during special occasions.

Every household had a minimum of 20 sheep back then and the community was largely self-sufficient. With decreasing , the practice of rearing sheep is waning fast. They now have to buy clothes from Merak and Sakteng.

Tashi Chophel, 58, said it was a sad reality but the Dakpas could do little to save their language and culture. “The young are increasingly leaving the village.”

Indigenous no-state people


Fiona’s rebellion against the People’s Republic of China began slowly in the summer months, spreading across her 16-year-old life like a fever dream. The marches and protests, the standoffs with police, the lies to her parents. They’d all built on top of her old existence until she found herself, now, dressed in black, her face wrapped with a homemade balaclava that left only her eyes and a pale strip of skin visible. Her small hands were stained red.

It was just paint, she said, as she funneled liquid into balloons. The air around her stank of lighter fluid. Teenagers hurled Molotov cocktails toward police. Lines of archers roamed the grounds of the university they’d seized; sometimes, they stopped to release metal-tipped arrows into the darkness, let fly with the hopes of finding the flesh of a cop.

Down below Fiona, rows of police flanked an intersection. Within a stone’s throw, Chinese soldiers stood in riot gear behind the gates of an outpost of the People’s Liberation Army, one of the most powerful militaries on the planet.

Fiona joined her first march on June 9, a schoolgirl making her way to the city’s financial district on a sunny day as people called out for freedom. It was now November 16, and she was one of more than 1,000 protesters swarming around and barricaded inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Because of their young age and the danger of arrest, Reuters is withholding the full names of Fiona and her comrades.

Night was falling. They were wild and free with their violence, but on the verge of being surrounded and pinned down.

The kids, which is what most of them were, buzzed back and forth like hornets, cleaning glass bottles at one station, filling them with lighter fluid and oil in another. An empty swimming pool was commandeered to practice flinging the Molotov cocktails, leaving burn marks skidded everywhere.

When front-line decisions needed to be made, clumps of protesters came together to form a jittering black nest – almost everyone was dressed from hood to mask to pants in black – yelling about whether to charge or pull back.

They were becoming something different from what they were, a metamorphosis that would have been difficult to imagine in orderly Hong Kong, a city where you line up neatly for an elevator door and crowds don’t step into an empty street until the signal changes. With each slap up against the police, each scramble down the subway stairs to avoid arrest as tear gas ate at their eyes, they hardened. They shifted back and forth between their old lives and their new – school uniforms and dinners with mom and dad, then pulling the masks over their faces once more. It was a dangerous balance.

“We may all be killed by the police. Yes,” said Fiona.

At the crucible of Polytechnic University, Fiona and the others crossed a line. Their movement has embraced the slogan of “be water,” of pushing forward with dramatic action and then pulling back suddenly, but here, the protesters hunkered down, holding a large chunk of territory in the middle of Hong Kong. In their hive of enraged adolescence, they were risking everything for a tomorrow that almost certainly won’t come – a Hong Kong that cleaves greater freedom from an increasingly powerful Chinese Communist Party.

In doing so, Fiona found moments bigger than what her life was before. “We call the experience of protest, like at PolyU, a dream,” she later explained.

But to speak of such things out loud, without the mask that she hid behind, without the throbbing crowds that made it seem within reach, is not possible outside, in the real Hong Kong.

The protesters have left traces of their hopes, confessions and fears across the city, in graffiti scrawled on bank buildings and bus stops alike. One line that’s appeared: “There may be no winners in this revolution but please stay to bear witness.”

After the U.S. Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, protesters were delighted, carrying American flags and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the streets of Hong Kong. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The impact of Hong Kong’s protests, as they pass the half-year mark, is this: Kids with rocks and bottles have fought their way to the sharp edge between two nation states expected to shape the 21st century.

The street unrest resembles an ongoing brawl between police and the young men and women in black. Police have fired about 16,000 rounds of tear gas and 10,000 rubber bullets. Since June, they’ve rounded up people from the ages of 11 to 84, making more than 6,000 arrests. About 500 officers have been wounded in the melee.

Hong Kong’s police officials have said all along that their operations are guided by a desire to maintain public order, rejecting accusations they use excessive force. They issued a plea as recently as Thursday, saying, “If rioters don’t use violence, Hong Kong will be safe and there’s no reason for us to use force.”

After the U.S. Congress was galvanized by the plight of the protesters, it passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which President Donald Trump signed last month. The law subjects Hong Kong to review by the U.S. State Department, at least once a year, on whether the city has clung to enough autonomy from Beijing to continue receiving favorable trading terms from America. It also provides for sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against officials responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong.

The protesters were delighted, carrying American flags and singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the streets of Hong Kong. Beijing was furious. China has had sovereignty over Hong Kong since the British handed it over in 1997. The Chinese government quickly banned U.S. military ships from docking in Hong Kong, a traditional port of call in the region.

The protesters, including many as young as Fiona, had changed the course of aircraft carriers and guided-missile destroyers.

Reporter Tom Lasseter exchanges Telegram messages with Lee. REUTERS/Tom Lasseter

Chinese state media describe the unrest as the work of “rioters” and “radicals,” accusing foreign governments of fanning anti-China sentiment in the city. Beijing’s top diplomat has demanded that Washington “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

The stakes for the kids of Hong Kong go well beyond a moment of geopolitical standoff. When Britain passed the city to China, like a pearl slipping from the hand of one merchant to another, there was a written understanding that for 50 years Hong Kong would enjoy a great deal of autonomy. Known as “one country, two systems,” the agreement suspended some of the blow of a global finance center coming under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. The deal expires in 2047. For Fiona, this means that in her lifetime she will live not in the freewheeling city to which she was born, but, quite possibly, in a place that’s just another dot on the map of China.

Chants at marches revolve around five protester demands, such as universal suffrage, with “Not one less!” the automatic refrain. But conversations soon turn to a larger, more difficult topic at the root of their complaints. China.

During interviews with more than a dozen protesters at Polytechnic and another university besieged at the same time, and continued contact with many of them in the weeks that followed, the subject sprang up repeatedly. It’s never far, they said, the shadow of Beijing over the Hong Kong government’s policies.

“They’re all involved with this shit,” said Lee, who gave only her last name. The 20-year-old nursing student covered her mouth after the obscenity, embarrassed to have said it out loud in the middle of a cafe, and quickly continued. “Of course China is the big boss behind this.”

“If China is going to take over Hong Kong, we will lose our freedoms, we will lose our rights as humans,” she said. Police had taken down her information when she surrendered outside Polytechnic University. She didn’t yet know whether that would lead to an arrest on rioting charges, which could bring up to 10 years of prison.

“In my view, violence is the thing that protects us,” Lee said. “It is a warning to those, like the police, who think they can do anything to us.”

The acceptance of violence isn’t limited to the barricades. Joshua Wong, the global face of the movement’s lobbying efforts, said he understood the need for protesters “to defend themselves with force.”

As Wong spoke during an interview in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the headline on the front page of the South China Morning Post on the table next to his elbow read: “BOMB PLOTTERS ‘INTENDED TO TARGET POLICE AT MASS RALLY’”

If a group of protesters had indeed planned to bomb police, would that have been a step too far?

“I think the fundamental issue,” he said, “is we never can prove which strategy is the most effective or not-effective way to put pressure on Beijing.”

Thousands of legal professionals wearing black march against the proposed extradition bill on June 6. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

When Fiona first heard about a bill that would allow criminal suspects to be shipped from Hong Kong to mainland China, the initial trigger of the protests, she wasn’t concerned. It was the sort of thing that troublemakers worried about. “The extradition bill seemed good to me,” she said.

Her mother, a housewife from mainland China, is the product of a Communist education system that, as Fiona puts it, doesn’t “allow them to think about politics.” She is still unaware, for example, that there was a massacre around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Fiona’s father, from Hong Kong, drives a minibus taxi. He has concerns about creeping mainland control, but his urge to “treasure our freedom” leaves him afraid of anything that might provoke Beijing’s wrath: “He keeps saying we should not do this and we should not do that.”

They live together in a sliver of a working-class district in Kowloon, the peninsula that juts above Hong Kong island. It is a place of tiny apartments and people just trying to get by.

It was much better, everyone in her household agreed, to avoid politics.

“We may all be killed by the police. Yes.”

Fiona, protester involved in the standoff at Polytechnic University

On weekends, Fiona, who has a cartoon sticker of Cinderella on the back of her iPhone, usually went shopping with girlfriends from high school. They looked for new outfits. They chatted and had tea together.

But when Fiona saw the news that more than 3,000 Hong Kong lawyers dressed in black had marched against the proposed extradition bill on June 6, she wondered what was going on.

She clicked through YouTube on her cell phone. She stopped on a Cantonese-language video uploaded about a week before by a young, handsome guy – hair cropped close on the sides and in a sort of thick flop on top – sitting on the edge of a bed. The video was speeded up so the presenter spoke in a fast blur, delivering on what he billed as, “Extradition bill 6 minute summary for dummies.”

The idea of the bill, on its face, wasn’t a problem, the young man said – public safety and rules are important. The issue was that the judiciary in the mainland and the judiciary in Hong Kong are two totally different things.

The Chinese Communist Party, he said, might use this new linkage between the court systems to come after ordinary people who were exercising their freedom of speech, something protected in Hong Kong but not Beijing: “You may be extradited to China because of telling a joke.”

Fiona was alarmed.

Just a few days after her YouTube awakening, on June 9, she took the subway with a group of friends from high school over to Hong Kong island. The crowd filled the march’s meeting point, Victoria Park, and soon flooded outside its boundaries. Between the glimmering towers of commerce, they yelled: “Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!” They yelled: “No China extradition! No evil law!” Fiona was astonished. She couldn’t believe so many people had shown up.

The swell of the crowd, the boom and crash of its noise, was adrenaline and inspiration – “all of us were having the same aim,” Fiona said.

The city’s leader, Beijing-backed Carrie Lam, would have to relent, Fiona thought. Faced with the will of so many citizens – a million came out that day, in a city of about 7.5 million – Lam had no choice but to meet with protesters and address their concerns.

That’s not what happened.

Three days later, the Hong Kong police shot rubber bullets and tear gas into a crowd.

On July 1, protesters wearing yellow construction hats and gauze masks stormed the city’s Legislative Council building on the 22nd anniversary of the handover from the British. They smashed through glass doors with hammers, poles and road barriers, spray-painting the walls as the chaos churned – “HONG KONG IS NOT CHINA.”

Pak, center, checks his mobile phone as he guards a bridge during the standoff at Polytechnic University. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

On the night of November 16, as Fiona sat on the terrace at Polytechnic, a teenager slouched at his post on a pedestrian bridge on the other side of the school. Reaching across a highway between the back of the university and a subway stop, the bridge could be a point of entry for police, the protesters feared.

The road underneath the bridge led to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, a main artery linking Hong Kong island and the Kowloon Peninsula. The protesters had blocked that route, hoping to trigger a citywide strike. It was becoming clear that would not happen.

The teenager on the bridge, whose full name includes Pak and who sometimes goes by Paco, had the sleeves of his black Adidas windbreaker rolled up his arms. His glasses jutted out of the eye-opening of his ski mask. The 17-year-old, thick-set and volatile, recently had gotten kicked out of his house after arguing with his parents about the protests. They’re both from mainland China, Pak explained. “They always say, ‘Kill the protesters; the government is right.’”

There was a divide between him and his parents that couldn’t be crossed, he said. As a student in Hong Kong, he received a relatively liberal education at school, complete with the underpinnings of Western philosophical and political thought.

“I was born in Hong Kong. I know what is freedom. I know what is democracy. I know what is freedom of speech,” Pak said, his voice rising with each sentence.

His parents, on the other hand, were educated and raised on the mainland. His shorthand for what that meant: “You know, we should love the Party, we should love Mao Zedong, blah, blah, blah.”

In his downtime, Pak hunched over an empty green Jolly Shandy Lemon bottle and poured lighter fluid inside. He gestured to containers of cooking and peanut oil and said he added them as well because they helped the fire both burn and stick once the glass exploded.

He couldn’t count how many he’d filled in the past two days at Polytechnic. Pak was working a shift as a lookout on the bridge. He guzzled soda and coffee to stay awake, lifting his mask to slurp, revealing a round chin and an adolescent’s light dusting of hair on his upper lip. There was a mattress on the floor around the corner for quick naps. On a board leaning against the side of the walkway in front of him, a message was scrawled in capital letters: EYES OPEN!

Where did he think it was all headed? Pak put the bottle down and said he saw nothing but struggle ahead. “I think the violence of the protests will be increased; it will be upgraded,” he said. “But we have no choice.”

When Pak was 12 years old, he watched news coverage of a massive, peaceful protest in Hong Kong, the 2014 “Umbrella Revolution,” a sit-in that called for universal suffrage. The movement ended with protesters being hit by tear gas and hauled off to jail.

The nonviolent tactics, Pak said, got them nowhere.

Did he worry that the violence was taking place so near to a People’s Liberation Army barracks?

Not at all. That morning, a separate barracks in Hong Kong was in the news when some of its soldiers, in exercise shorts and T-shirts, walked out to the road carrying red buckets and helped clean up debris left by protesters near the city’s Baptist University. The event made both local and international headlines for the rarity of PLA soldiers’ appearance in public. Under the city’s mini-constitution, the Chinese military can be called by the Hong Kong government to help maintain public order, but they “shall not interfere” in local affairs.

“I think they are testing us. If we attack the PLA, the PLA can shoot us and say, ‘OK, we were defending ourselves,’” Pak said. “If we don’t attack the PLA, they will cross the line, again and again.”

But, he said, if the protesters continued ramping up violence against the cops, maybe the PLA would be called in. And that, he said, would hand the protest movement victory.

“Other countries like [the] British and America can protect human rights in Hong Kong by sending troops to protect us,” he said. It was, under any reading of the situation, a far-fetched idea. Hong Kong is by international law the domain of China; the Chinese Communist Party can send in troops to clamp down on civil unrest. There’s not been a hint of any Western power being interested in intervening on the ground.

Pak was right about one thing, though. Police officers later massed on the other side of the bridge, piling out of their vehicles and walking in a long file to the head of the structure. The protesters lit the bridge ablaze. People screamed. Flames leapt. A funnel of black smoke filled the air.

The next night, Pak didn’t reply to notes sent by Telegram, the encrypted messaging app he used. A day later, he still didn’t answer notes asking where he was. The day after that, the same. Pak was gone.

Protesters throw Molotov cocktails during clashes with police during the Polytechnic standoff. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The young man lay his hands down on the table. They were bandaged and his fingers curved over in an unnatural crook. He’d not been out of his family’s house much in two weeks. Tommy, 19, shredded his hands on a rope when he squeezed it hard as his body whooshed down off a bridge on the side of Polytechnic University.

They were better now, his fingers. A photograph he sent just after, on November 20, showed a deep pocket of flesh ripped from his left pinkie, close to the bone by the look of it, and skin shredded across both hands. “I didn’t wear gloves,” he explained.

After hitting the ground, he’d rushed to a line of waiting vehicles, driven by “parents” – protester slang for volunteers who show up to whisk them away from dangerous situations.

On the morning of November 18, while still inside Polytechnic, he had sent a note saying his actual parents knew he was there and he couldn’t find a way out.

“Worst case might be the police coming in polyu arresting all the people inside and beat them up,” he said in a note on Telegram, the chat platform. “I’m like holy shit and i gotta be safe and not arrested.”

That evening, he was still there. He didn’t see a way to escape. Tommy went to the “front line” to face off with the police, not far from the ledge where Fiona sat a couple nights before. Tommy carried a makeshift shield, a piece of wood and then part of a plastic road barrier, to protect himself from the blasts of a water cannon. He didn’t make it very far.

Unlike most of the protesters who were around him, Tommy is a student at Polytechnic. He has worked hard to get there.

He’s a kid from a far-flung village up toward the border with the mainland, where both of his parents are from. Everyone in his village opposes the protests, he said, and there are “triads” in the area, members of organized-crime groups that are seen as sometimes doing Beijing’s bidding.

Was he sorry that he’d put himself in danger?

“No regrets,” came the first text message response, at 7:29 p.m., even as police continued to mass outside Polytechnic and fears grew of a violent storming of the campus.

“They are wrong”

“We’re doing the right thing”

“It’s so unforgettable and good”

Hours later, he went down the rope.

Now, meeting to talk after a visit to a clinic for his hands, Tommy said he wasn’t sure what would come next for his city. Or himself. Although the university was still closed, he’d been keeping up with his studies, emailing professors and working on a paper about Hong Kong’s solid-waste treatment policy. Unable to go to the gym because of the hand injury – his athletic frame sheathed in an Adidas jogging suit – Tommy had been feeling restless.

It was obvious the troubles would continue, he said. “Carrie Lam will not accept the demands, the protesters will keep going, people will keep getting arrested,” he said. “The government wants to arrest all the people.”

But the future would still arrive and he had his own dreams: of a wife and a family, and being a man who provided for them. Tommy said he’d been thinking of applying for a government job after graduation. They’re steady and have good benefits.

He would also remain a part of the protest movement.

How could he manage both?

Tommy paused a moment before answering. Then, he said:

“I have to become two people.”

A flag calling for Hong Kong independence, a cause that greatly angers Beijing, flies at a protest. REUTERS/Tom Lasseter

On the afternoon of December 1, life was sunshine and breeze at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Inside, a youth orchestra was scheduled to play its annual concert, billed  as “collaging Chinese music treasures from various soundscapes of China.” Out front, facing the water, a band played cover songs – belting out the lyrics to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Couples strolled on the boardwalk. The palms swayed. A shop sold ice cream.

And there was Pak, sitting on a bench. He’d been arrested trying to flee Polytechnic in the early morning hours of November 19. After a day spent in a police station, he made bail and moved back in with his parents.

Out in the open, in blue sweatpants and a grey sweatshirt, he was a pudgy teenager with the awkward habit of pushing his eyeglasses up the bridge of his nose as he spoke. He had a couple pimples above his left eye. Also, he was now facing a rioting charge, and had to report back to the police station in a few weeks.

Since his disappearance, the siege at Polytechnic had ended. The protesters simmered down. There was an election for local district councillors, and pro-democracy candidates won nearly 90% of 452 seats.

But two weeks after his arrest, Pak had shown up ready to protest again. A march was slated to start in a couple hours. He’d taken a bus down from one of Hong Kong’s poorest districts, with a black backpack that held his dark clothes and mask.

The lesson of the elections, he said, was that most Hong Kong citizens not only back the protests but “accept the violence level.” Otherwise, he said, they would have rebuked the reform ticket and cast their lot with pro-government candidates.

“I think,” he said, “the violence of the protesters needs to upgrade to setting off bombs.”

He’d been reading about the Russian Revolution and Vladimir Lenin. If he saw irony in studying the architect of the Soviet communist dictatorship while contemplating his own fight against the world’s preeminent Communist Party, he didn’t say so.

“The protesters, I think, will need some weapons, like rifles,” he said.

If it wasn’t possible to buy them, he said, it seemed easy enough to ransack police cars or even stations to steal them. He described how that could be done.

The protests that day veered back to confrontation. A black flag with the words “HONG KONG INDEPENDENCE” flapped above the crowd. The scene to the north, in Kowloon, “descended into chaos as rioters hijacked public order events and resorted to destructive acts like building barricades on roads, setting fires and vandalising public facilities,” according to a police account. Any hopes that the elections might bring peace seemed fragile. December was off to a turbulent start.

 A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask waves a flag during a march in Hong Kong on December 8. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

In the weeks after walking out of Polytechnic University, slipping past the police, Fiona kept coming back to the heat of the protests. An assembly to support those who protested at Polytechnic. A rally to stop the use of tear gas, which featured little children carrying yellow balloons and a march past the city’s Legislative Council building.

And on a Saturday afternoon, the last day of November, a gathering of students and the elderly at the city’s Chater Garden. The park sits among thick trappings of wealth and power – the private Hong Kong Club, rows of bank buildings and, just down the street, luxury laced across the store windows of Chanel and Cartier. Fiona was with a friend toward the back, on the top of a wall, out of sight of the TV cameras. Her face was hidden behind a mask, as usual. Even between protesters, they usually pass nicknames and nods, with nothing that identifies them in daily life.

Her friend, a boy who goes to the same high school, held forth on revolution and the perils of greater mainland China influence in Hong Kong. Fiona listened, quietly. She nodded her head. She looked out at the crowd. It felt good to see that she was not alone, Fiona said. Though, she said, it was hard to tell where the movement was headed.

It could grind into the sort of underground movement that Tommy hinted at. It could erupt in the boom of Pak’s bloody fantasy.

“The protesters, I think, will need some weapons, like rifles.”

Pak, a young protester

For Fiona, she knew there was always the danger that police might track down her earlier presence at Polytechnic, ending her precarious dance between homework and street unrest.

But sitting there, as the chants echoed and the sun began to slide down the sky over Hong Kong, Fiona said there was no choice but to keep fighting.

A week later, on Dec. 8, Fiona was at Victoria Park, almost six months to the day since her first protest started there. Hundreds of thousands of people had come for the march. It took Fiona an hour just to get out of the park as the throngs slowly squeezed onto the road outside.

When they saw messages on their cellphones that police had massed down one side street, Fiona and three friends threw on their respirator masks and goggles. As they jogged in that direction, a stranger in the crowd handed them an umbrella; another stranger gave them bottles of water. They joined a group of others, clutching umbrellas and advancing toward police lines, then coming to a halt.

No tear gas or rubber bullets came. The police looked to have taken a step back.

Fiona and her friends dawdled, unsure of what to do. They joined the march, a great mass of people churning through Hong Kong, at one point holding cell phones aloft, an ocean of bobbing lights. They screamed obscenities at police when they saw them, with Fiona showing a middle finger and calling for their families to die. They watched a man throw a hammer at the Bank of China building and heard the crash of breaking glass.

Someone pulled out a can of black spray paint. In the middle of the road, Fiona and her friends took turns writing on the pavement. They left a message: “If we burn, you burn with us!”

Indigenous no-state people

Children of the revolution: the Hong Kong youths ready to ‘sacrifice everything’

Twelve-year-old Samuel was arrested one summer evening while trying to flee from riot police at a protest. He was tackled to the ground, sat on and handcuffed by officers and accused of taking part in an illegal assembly. During the arrest, an officer stepped on his hand.

In custody, Samuel was terrified. Police found in his bag a gas mask, helmet, spray paint and gloves. Officers shouted at him and called him a “junior cockroach”, a name used to put down protesters.

“I was so frightened and thought they might beat me to death,” he said. It was nearly midnight, several hours after his arrest, when police notified his parents and sent him to a hospital for his injuries.

Samuel* is one of tens of thousands of youths who have taken part in Hong Kong’s anti-government movement, now in its sixth month. Filled with a passion to “save Hong Kong”, many say they are willing to give up their lives to fight for democracy and freedoms in the Chinese-ruled city, where Beijing has been increasingly asserting its political and economic influence.

Recent weeks have seen the most violent incidents so far, with thousands more arrested after clashing with police around university campuses after protesters blocked roads and threw molotov cocktails. On Sunday police made arrests – including a secondary school girl and a 16-year-old boy – as small groups of pro-democracy activists targeted some of the city’s shopping centres.

Officials said as of 5 December, of the 5,980 people arrested since the movement started in June, 2,383 or 40% were students and 367 of them have been charged. Among them, 939 were under 18, with the youngest being only 11, and 106 have been charged. Suspects have been arrested for a range of offences including rioting, unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers and possessing offensive weapons.

Legal experts say Hong Kong law’s definition of “illegal assembly” and “rioting” – defined as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where any person “commits a breach of the peace” – is vague and ill-defined.

If the authorities hoped arresting young protesters would deter them, it is having the opposite effect. Samuel, who was released on bail, said his hatred for the police had deepened since his detention. He said he had not participated in violent acts himself but he endorsed other protesters’ actions, including attacks on police officers.

“The police beat protesters like mad. They deserve it,” he said. “Don’t hassle me and I don’t hassle you.”

High school students protest during a lunchtime rally in Hong Kong.
 High school students protest during a lunchtime rally in Hong Kong. Photograph: Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

Samuel acknowledged that taking part in the increasingly violent movement was risky but insisted he was driven by his love for his home.“It’s my responsibility to do something for Hong Kong,” he said. “I’ve been scared once already. What else is there to be scared of?”

‘I want to give all I have to Hong Kong’

Samuel’s sentiments are echoed by other young protesters. James, 13, and Roderick, 16, from elite schools and middle-class families, are among the youngest people to have been charged over the protests. They were arrested in a protest shortly after others had thrown molotov cocktails – a scene that would be defined as a “riot” under Hong Kong law.

They said an incident on 21 July when thugs indiscriminately attacked passengers at the out-of-town metro station while police were nowhere to be seen had led to a breakdown of their trust in the authorities. After that, they went to the frontline of the protests, braving teargas and confrontations with police.

The teenagers said the police’s escalating use of force – including more than 16,000 canisters of teargas, water cannon, 10,000 rubber bullets and live rounds – and the authorities’ refusal to investigate police’s abuse of power were what prompted them to take part in the increasingly violent protests. They see protesters’ attacks on riot police as justified because they can no longer trust the police to deliver justice.

“We don’t attack unless we’re attacked,” James said. “We can’t just stand there and not do a thing.”

Both boys carried wills when they went out to protest. “I was always scared – whether I would get shot, get arrested or even lose my life. But if we don’t come out because we’re afraid, there would be even fewer people out there,” James said.

“I really want to give all I have to Hong Kong,” the 13-year-old said, his eyes welling up in tears. “When you pursue freedom, sacrifices are unavoidable. “We are halfway into the gate of hell. We’ve put our future and career on a line, but it is worth it.”

If convicted, James is unlikely to be jailed because of his age, but he risks being sent to a children’s home and having a criminal record.

Roderick said the solidarity, unity and mutual support he had experienced were the key attractions of the movement. “To see young people working towards the same ideal and same goal – that’s the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen.”

Police have fired tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray at protesters in Hong Kong.
 Police have fired teargas, water cannon and pepper spray at protesters in Hong Kong. Photograph: Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

At 16, Roderick also faces an uncertain future, but said he would not give up on the goal of democracy for Hong Kong. “It’s a gamble, but if we don’t even try, we would lose for sure,” he said.

Dr Jeffrey Murer, an expert on youth mobilisation at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said it was often young people’s overwhelming desire to change the world for the better and their profound lack of trust in institutions that prompted them to gamble on their future.

“The social contract has broken down and people feel obligated to defend their rights and identity,” he said. “These young people have taken on a strong Hong Kong identity and feel the institution is not defending them.”

He said the political crisis had also shaken their sense of stability. Their feeling of “no future” and the profound threat to their identity had prompted them to take risks to defend themselves.

Stephen Chiu, a sociology professor at the Hong Kong Education University, said ideology and mutual emotional support among young people had sustained their high-risk and high-cost social actions.

When they perceived “so much absurdity on the government’s part and the other side is acting excessively, they question why they have to be constrained by their normal moral standards,” he said.

“It’s a war situation – they are willing to die for their homeland. There are many examples in history. Whether you agree or not, there is a higher call and the protesters have a set of values some feel it’s worth dying for.”

*All of the youths’ names in this article have been changed to protect their identities

The Guardian

Indigenous no-state people

From tweet to street: New generation joins Thai protest

BANGKOK: It wasn’t only the moves to ban Thailand’s most vocal opposition party that brought Gift onto the street for the first time.

The 25-year-old landscape architect was also stung by taunts that her generation was not brave enough to go beyond online comments in challenging the army-dominated establishment’s enduring hold since elections to end military government rule.

She and other first-timers joined veterans of Bangkok’s turbulent decades of street protest as thousands rallied at the weekend in the biggest demonstration since a 2014 coup.

Supporters react at a sudden unauthorised rally by the progressive Future Forward Party in Bangkok
Supporters react at a sudden unauthorised rally by the progressive Future Forward Party in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Reuters/Matthew Tostevin)

“They say the new generation only exists on social media, so we’re out here to show we have a voice too,” said Chattip Aphibanpoonpon, who like many Thais goes by her nickname.

“The conflict used to be about people on two sides. Now it’s a battle between the military and the people. It’s not fair.”

In a country long roiled by bloody protests – and punctuated by coups in the name of ending them – Saturday’s (Dec 14) peaceful rally was a reminder of the tension that is building again rapidly between the establishment and those seeking change.

At the forefront is 41-year-old auto-parts billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who was recently banned as a member of parliament and whose Future Forward party faces dissolution.

In both cases, party supporters believe the legal grounds are spurious and designed to eliminate a challenge to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the former military government leader who stayed on after March elections the opposition says were manipulated.


“This is just the beginning,” Thanathorn told protesters who spilled in afternoon sunshine across walkways and staircases between a Bangkok shopping mall and art gallery.

The protest was called just a day before as a “flash mob” by Thanathorn’s Facebook Live and a single tweet that got nearly 67,000 retweets and 41,000 likes.

Pisit holds up a placard during a sudden unauthorised rally by the progressive Future Forward Party
Pisit Lewlatanawadee, 29, holds up a placard during a sudden unauthorised rally by the progressive Future Forward Party in Bangkok, Thailand, Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Matthew Tostevin)

It is Future Forward’s social media heft – as well as pledges to change the army-drafted constitution and to end conscription – that have the army worried.

Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has said Thailand faces a situation of “hybrid war” against a movement he accuses of seeking to use social media to rally people against the army and the powerful palace.

“The young people are enthusiastic and determined and full of energy, but they don’t see through politicians’ tricks,” said Warong Dechgitvigrom, a right-wing politician who sees Future Forward as an existential threat to Thailand and its monarchy.

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat said the party should express its opinions through parliament rather than on the street, but she did not expect the situation to escalate.

The turnout was a reflection of growing political engagement among young people, but would not necessarily spiral, said Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University.

“I don’t see it becoming a serious movement like in the past or on the scale of Hong Kong,” he said.

Widespread coverage on social media underscored the extent to which the opposition leads the government on that front.

Thanathorn has 1.1 million Facebook followers and 670,000 on his @Thanathorn_FWP Twitter account, compared with Prayut’s 770,000 and 55,000 for @prayutofficial on Twitter.

Chattip speaks with Reuters during a sudden unauthorised rally by the progressive Future Forward Pa
Chattip Aphibanpoonpon, 25, speaks with Reuters during a sudden unauthorised rally by the progressive Future Forward Party in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: Reuters/Matthew Tostevin)

That social media heft helped Future Forward into third place in the March election, after the traditional opposition party Pheu Thai and a pro-army party backing Prayut.

The question has been whether online activism would translate into a readiness to take to the street. And it hasn’t only been establishment parties casting doubt.

Before Saturday’s rally, veteran activist Anurak Jeantawanich challenged Future Forward supporters as “only using hashtags, but afraid to take to the streets”. If fewer than 2,000 people showed up “you might as well just let your party be disbanded”, he said.

Several thousand gathered, if not the 10,000 plus claimed by organisers.


“I’m come from social media,” read a placard held by Pisit Iewlatanawadee, a 29-year-old business owner from Nakhon Pathom in central Thailand.

“We’re not only good at typing,” he said. “We also want to participate in opposition to authoritarian government.”

Rafah Supanphong, 25, told Reuters: “They keep saying we are only brave on online platforms, it encouraged me to come out.”

Bangkok rally Dec 14, 2019
A supporter of Thai politician and leader of the opposition Future Forward Party Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit attends a rally in Bangkok, Dec 14, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

The younger protesters joined many older “red shirts” who recalled years of street clashes and bullets in their support for ousted populist prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in clashes with pro-establishment “yellow shirts”.

At the weekend protest, veteran Thaksin protesters sat munching sticky rice from wicker containers as young professionals took selfies nearby.

Earlier, the Pheu Thai party of the self-exiled Thaksin said it backed the rally by “younger brother” Thanathorn.

A small group of police challenged the rally organisers for holding a demonstration without notice, but they made no attempt to stop it. On Monday, police said they were investigating whether the law had been broken.

Future Forward said it had not been a political rally so it did not need to give notice.

The next challenge for the authorities is a “Run Against Dictatorship” that activists are organising for Jan 12. A run Facebook page already has more than 28,000 likes.

Like many of those who joined Saturday’s protest, Chattip is no radical tempered by hardship in a country where the traditional political fault-line has been between a Bangkok-based elite and the poorer north and northeast.

She works at a company that prides itself on harmonious garden and landscape designs. Her Instagram feed tracks good food, smiling friends and foreign adventures.

“The middle-class tend to not want to participate because we can afford to live normally no matter who the government is. But that’s not the way it should be,” she said.

“We want democracy back … Now is the time.”

Source: Reuters/zl

Indigenous no-state people

Climber shocked by climate change effects in Himalaya

By Ben Morse and Celine Ramseyer, for CNN

A former special forces soldier has taken the notion that “records are meant to be broken” to a whole new level.

Nepalese climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja smashed the record for taking the shortest time to climb all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter-high mountains (about 26,300 feet).
The previous mark was just under eight years, but Purja took six months and six days, even finding time to rescue several fellow climbers. He also had to contend with having his oxygen stolen while on Lhotse, a neighboring peak to Mt. Everest.
Earlier this year, Purja shot to prominence when he photographed the “traffic jam” on the upper slopes of Everest (8,848m/29,029 feet) — bringing global attention to the mountain’s overcrowding.
But during his expeditions, the 36-year-old Purja says has also became acutely aware of the environmental changes the world is undergoing.

The queue on Everest, taken on May 22, 2019 and released by Purja's Project Possible expedition.

Over the space of a few years, the Nepalese has climbed several mountains in the Himalayas more than once. In doing so, Purja says he has seen the damaging effect of global warming.
“I climbed Dhaulagiri (8,167m) in 2014 and I went back again this year, the glacier is melting,” Purja told CNN Sport. “You can see a huge difference. And even on Everest as well, the Khumbu glacier.
“In 2014, I climbed Ama Dablam (6,812m). In 2018, I was there again to climb Ama Dablam but the difference was that in 2014 we had snow at camp one, which we could melt and obviously cook food and drink.
“But in 2018, it was completely different. We had to carry gallons and gallons of water from the base camp. It was so hard. At that point, I realized this is really not on, and I have been raising awareness about it. The Earth is our home and we should look after it.”

Nims Purja on Manaslu, the world's eighth highest peak at 8,163 meters.

Bigger than him

Purja scaled the first peak of his record attempt — the notoriously treacherous Annapurna 1 (8,091m) — on April 23 and his last — Tibet’s Shishapangma (8,027m) — on October 29.
With the help of his team, whom he now calls “brothers,” Purja broke another seven world records during “Project Possible.”
“The whole project, and I’ve said from day one, wasn’t about me,” he said.
“It’s about showing the world, our generation and the generation that comes ahead that anything in life is possible. The project was to establish a paradigm shift in perception of human potential.”
He also wanted to highlight the skills of Nepal’s Sherpa people and the homegrown climbing community.
“Even though they were top climbers, they didn’t get the right recognition,” he added. “Hopefully, I thought I could uplift their names.”

Nims Purja stands atop Nanga Parbat (8,126m).

The importance of the mind

Previously, the fastest-known time for conquering the “8,000ers” was seven years, 10 months and six days, a record set by South Korean Kim Chang-ho in 2013.
Kim broke the first known record — set by Polish climber Jerzy Kukuczka in 1987 — by a month and eight days.
Climbing just one “8,000er,” let alone all 14, is challenging enough given climbers are exposed to the “death zone” — a mountaineering term that describes altitudes over about 8,000m where the human body is exposed to insufficient levels of oxygen.
In the build-up to Purja’s attempt — which he describes as an “extremely, horrendously good experience” — he found he couldn’t do much psychological preparation.
“I don’t think you can really mentally prepare,” he said. “There’s not really set goals to it. In bigger missions like this, there will be so many obstacles, hurdles. There will be situations where you’re like, ‘OK, it’s enough.’ But if you just work around it, you need to have a positive mindset.
“My oxygen was stolen on Lhotse (8,516m) when I was going for the world record. If I would have gotten mad and said, ‘Oh, somebody stole my oxygen,’ and [been] just blaming people and just losing control of my mind, that would have a negative effect.
“But what I thought was I had to physically and positively inject in my mind for me to believe, ‘Hey, that oxygen could have been used to save someone’s life.’
“That’s the positive message I had to feed through in my brain by myself in order to mitigate the negatives.”

Purja at the summit of the 8,586-meter-tall Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain.

Helping others

Purja is a relatively inexperienced climber in comparison with his peers, having only completed his first major climb in 2012.
Previously a Gurkha soldier — a Nepalese contingent of the British Army — Purja progressed to the Special Boat Service (SBS), a British special forces unit under the auspices of the UK’s Royal Navy, eventually quitting the military in 2018 as a Lance Corporal.

16 years of Service with the British Millitary: 6 years with the Gurkhas: 10 years with the Special Boat Service .

I woke up this morning and found some old pics, the 1st one is 16 year old, which was taken during my basic training with the .

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
Since focusing on climbing completely, Purja admits that he’s become “addicted,” partly because it has helped put things into perspective. Such was his love for the expedition, he’s also had the 14 “8,000ers” tattooed across his back.
“When I was in the Special Forces, you do really high value tasks,” he recalls. “But the joy and the stuff and the pride that you do in that point was still the same, but nobody knew about it then.
“I still had three world records when I was in the Special Forces. Nobody knew, but now it’s out and everybody kind of knew about it. Being completely honest, I don’t really like this kind of popular life, but hey, I think it’s part of life now.”
Whilst speed was obviously of the essence during Purja’s effort, the safety of the other climbers was always his priority.
The former soldier and his team also carried out a number of daring rescues, often putting their own lives in danger.

Purja on his ascent of Annapurna 1, the 10th highest mountain in the world at 8,091m.

Just days into his journey, Purja and his team rescued Malaysian climber Chin Wui Kin after he had been reported missing on Annapurna.
“We opened the route that has never been climbed since 1970, summitted, got back to base camp and it was only three hours,” he remembers. “We made the decision that we’re not going to go to our next mountain, even though for this project, I had sacrificed my job, my pension, sold my house, everything.
“But for me, nothing is more important than life. We went and conducted the rescue. From where we’re dropping down to where he was, on the summit day, it had taken us 18 hours to reach there, but actually when we did the rescue, we took only four hours.
“We were giving 100% of everything we had. We brought him down alive.”
Tragically, after initially being treated in a hospital in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, Chin was airlifted to a hospital in Singapore, where he eventually succumbed to his injuries.

A band of brothers

Purja has been assisted during the remarkable 189-day feat by his all-Nepalese team, comprised of some of his most trusted climbing companions.
On top of helping Purja, his team have also been able to break their own records. One of his colleagues, Mingma David Sherpa, became the youngest person to complete all 14 peaks at the age of 30.

Purja at the summit of Dhaulagiri with members of his team.

But after spending so much time together, Purja believes they are more than a team now.
“We started as a team, but now we are like brothers, we are like a family,” he explains. “The bond and the relationship we have is unique.
“We kind of have a similar mortal mindset and aim. Everybody didn’t really think that it was ‘Nims’ project’, everybody thought that this is ‘our project.’
“Some of the guys have climbed eight 8,000-meter peaks with me and that’s an opportunity for them as well. Soon I think most of my team should finish all the 14 highest mountains.”
Indigenous no-state people

Rohingya Muslim group says they are not ‘Bengalis’

Rohingya group condemns Myanmar rebel coalition for referring to them as ‘Bengali Muslims’

A Rohingya group has strongly rejected a joint statement by a coalition of rebels in Myanmar in which the persecuted Muslim community was described as “Bengali”.

Mohammed Ayyub Khan, president of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), termed the joint statement as “baseless, falsification and misrepresentation of the word Rohingya”.


Rohingya Muslim group says they are not 'Bengalis'

A coalition of rebel groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — said on Thursday they are ready to provide international courts with evidence of war crimes by the Myanmar military between 2009 and 2019 against ethnic people, including “Bengali Muslims”, referring to the Rohingya Muslim community in the western Rakhine state.

“But the irony is that the statement mentioned the word Bengali instead of Rohingya,” Khan said in a statement, adding that the statement “hurts the feelings of Rohingya in particular and Muslims in general”.

He urged the rebel groups — which have been fighting against the Myanmar army in Shan and Rakhine state — to “concentrate their energies in their struggle against the Burmese [Myanmar] army instead of the concocted campaign against Rohingya”.

“We are Rohingya Muslim, not Bengali Muslim,” Khan told Anadolu Agency.

Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim community in Rakhine state of Myanmar, has long been facing systematic persecution and genocide by the military, according to several UN reports.

Amnesty International said that more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women, and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

Sorwar Alam, Anadolu Agency 


Indigenous no-state people

Massive gap in action needed to avert catastrophic climate change: UN report

Days ahead of United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 25) at Madrid, a United Nations Environment Programme report has said with the current pledges to reduce carbon emissions there is a 66% chance that warming will be limited to 3.2 degree C by the end of this century.

This would mean displacement, destruction owing to catastrophic climate change impacts in the coming decades across the world.

The 2015 Paris Agreement has a goal of keeping global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Emissions Gap Report 2019 released on Tuesday said a “dramatic” strengthening of the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) is needed in 2020 to prevent dangerous climate change impacts. Countries will have to increase their NDC ambitions threefold to achieve the well below 2 degree C goal and more than five-fold to achieve the 1.5 degree C goal.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have risen at a rate of 1.5% per year in the last decade. There is no sign of GHG emissions peaking in the next few years after which they can start declining rapidly, the report said indicating a large gap in current emissions and action needed to avert climate change crisis.

By 2030, emissions would need to be 25% and 55% lower than in 2018 to put the world on a pathway to meet the 2 degree C target.

The G20 countries account for 78% of all emissions, but 7 of them do not have policies yet to achieve their current NDCs. On the progress of G20 economies, India along with China, the EU, Mexico, Russia and Turkey are on track to meet their goals, the report highlighted. Among them, India, Russia and Turkey are projected to over-achieve their NDC emission targets.

“These results suggest that the three countries have room to raise their NDC ambition significantly. The EU has introduced climate legislation that achieves at least a 40% reduction in GHG emissions, which the European Commission projects could be overachieved if domestic legislation is fully implemented in member states,” the report said.

The delay in arriving at a global consensus to limit global temperature rise to 2 degree C has led to a situation where countries will need to make large cuts in CO2 emissions immediately.

The report projects that had climate action begun in 2010, the cuts required per year to meet the projected emissions levels for 2 degree C and 1.5 degree C would only have been 0.7% and 3.3% per year on average.

Due to the delay in making an agreement the required cuts in emissions are now 2.7% per year from 2020 for the 2 degree C goal and about 7.6% per year on average for the 1.5 degree C goal.

The World Meteorological Organisation on Monday said greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere had reached a record high in 2018.

The globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017.

by Jayashree Nandi