|BURMA RELATED NEWS - JULY 19, 2012|
BURMA RELATED NEWS - JULY 19, 2012
AP - Myanmar TV broadcasts independence hero ceremony
AP - Myanmar's Suu Kyi to receive congressional award
Reuters - Senate panel votes to renew Myanmar sanctions
Reuters - UK private equity firm cruises into Myanmar as sanctions ease
Bernama - Myanmar Marks Martyrs' Day With Grand Ceremony
Bernama - Rohingya Crisis: NGO Plan For Asean Conference To Find Solution
The Times of India - Myanmar General to get red carpet treatment in India
Asian Correspondent - Burma’s President calls leaders of small parties to join his government
PR Newswire - Frost & Sullivan: How to make smart entry to Myanmar?
The Nation - Myanmar workers held with Thai encroachers
The Star(Malaysia) - Little Myanmar in Penang
ABC Radio Australia - Humanitarian groups warn of increased child trafficking in Burma
Aliran - Rights groups express ‘grave concern’ over US policy on investment in Burma
USA TODAY - Grand Circle Cruise Line to launch river sailings in Myanmar
Aljazeera.com - Myanmar's broken promises
Businessweek - The Race for Rangoon
KVEW - Family from Myanmar reunites in Pasco
Asian Tribune - Sectarian Problem : Killing two birds with a stone or a Win, Win Situation
The Irrawaddy - ‘Federalism’ No Longer a Dirty Word
The Irrawaddy - EDITORIAL: Aung San’s Legacy Lives On
The Irrawaddy - UN Builds 2,500 Shelters for Kachin Refugees
Mizzima News - Burmese lawyer’s license returned after 20-year disbarment
Mizzima News - We are not gods but wounded creatures: A Martyrs Day mantra
Mizzima News - Military security officer denies torture of Kachin man
DVB News - Exiles in Japan back president’s Rohingya plan
DVB News - Farmers call on Thein Sein to settle 30,000 acre dispute
Myanmar TV broadcasts independence hero ceremony
By AYE AYE WIN | Associated Press – 7 hrs ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar state television broadcast a memorial ceremony for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's revered independence hero father for the first time in decades Thursday, the latest sign of change in the former pariah nation.
The day marks the 65th anniversary of the 1947 assassination of opposition leader Suu Kyi's father, Gen. Aung San.
Myanmar's former military junta played down the event for more than 20 years as part of efforts to stem the popularity of Suu Kyi, who has led a pro-democracy movement since 1988 and was kept under house arrest for 15 years. The junta ceded power last year to a civilian government dominated by retired army officers, which has since embarked on a program of major political and financial reforms that have been lauded by the international community.
On Thursday, Martyr's Day ceremonies were broadcast live on state television, and the government dispatched one of the nation's two vice presidents to attend. Last year, the government's top representative was the mayor of the largest city, Yangon.
With flags flying at half staff, Vice President Sai Mauk Hkam joined Suu Kyi as she laid three baskets of flowers in front of her father's tomb in Yangon, near the foot of towering golden Shwedagon pagoda. Sai Mauk Hkam laid a wreath of white orchids and saluted the slain leader as a solemn two-minute silence was observed.
Aung San was 32 years old when he was gunned down on July 19, 1947, along with six Cabinet ministers and two other officials. He is considered the architect of Myanmar's independence from Britain, which it achieved several months after his death.
Sao Kai Hpa, the son of Shan leader Mongpon Sawbwa Sao San Tun — who was gunned down in the same attack — welcomed the fact that the government had decided to send a high-level official to pay its respects.
"It is a change in the right direction and it is a way of showing gratitude to those who gave up their lives for the country's independence," he said.
Myanmar's Suu Kyi to receive congressional award
Associated Press – 19 hrs ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress will present Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
Officials said the ceremony is scheduled to take place Sept. 19 during Suu Kyi's visit to the United States.
Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace laureate and former political prisoner who was unable to leave her home country for more than two decades.
The opposition parliament leader recently was greeted enthusiastically during trips to Thailand and Europe.
In addition to the congressional award, Suu Kyi will be presented with the Atlantic Council's Global Citizen Award on Sept. 21 in New York.
The State Department said Suu Kyi would be invited for meetings with U.S. government officials during her visit.
Suu Kyi, elected in April, will be feted for her long struggle against military rule in her homeland and for championing democracy. She is revered by Republicans and Democrats, has been a guiding force in U.S. policy toward Myanmar over the past two decades, and has been supportive of the Obama administration's engagement of the reformist Myanmar President Thein Sein.
The U.S. recently suspended investment sanctions that had been in force against Myanmar for 15 years. Suu Kyi cautiously supported that move, but it did expose a rare difference between her views and those of the U.S. government. The U.S. decided to allow U.S. companies to invest with Myanmar's state oil and gas enterprise. Suu Kyi has opposed foreign companies working with that enterprise because of its lack of openness.
Senate panel votes to renew Myanmar sanctions
Reuters – Wed, Jul 18, 2012
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday voted to keep pressure on Myanmar to continue economic and political reforms by extending a U.S. ban on imports from the resource-rich Southeast Asian nation for three more years.
The bill updates legislation first passed in 2003 and which expires near the end of this month. It also preserves the White House's authority to waive or terminate the sanctions to reward Myanmar, also known as Burma, for positive steps.
"By reauthorizing the import sanctions for three years, we maintain pressure on the Burmese government to undertake reforms," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said.
Supporters hope the full Senate and House of Representatives will pass the bill before the month-long August recess. The measure was included in broader legislation to renew an expiring trade benefit for sub-Saharan African countries.
The United States imported $356.4 million of clothing and other goods from Burma in 2002, the last full year before the U.S. import ban was imposed. Imports fell to $275.7 million in 2003 and have been zero in most years since.
The Obama administration eased some sanctions last week to allow U.S. companies to invest in Myanmar and provide services in the country.
Two days later, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Myanmar's President Thein Sein at a Southeast Asian nations meeting in Cambodia to continue the country's emergence from nearly a half-century of reclusive military rule.
The United States banned imports from Myanmar in 2003 and expanded the legislation in 2008 to include jewelry from other countries made with jade or rubies from Myanmar.
The law required lawmakers to vote annually to renew the sanctions, subject to a maximum of nine times. The new bill reauthorizes annual renewals through July 2015.
UK private equity firm cruises into Myanmar as sanctions ease
LONDON, July 19 | Thu Jul 19, 2012 4:44pm IST
(Reuters) - The easing of sanctions in Myanmar is encouraging western portfolio investors to start looking at the previously-restricted economy, with one London-based private equity firm planning to invest in pleasure cruisers there.
The country of 50 million people is rich in natural resources such as oil and metals, and its temples and colonial buildings should attract tourists, but Myanmar has major infrastructure needs such as for power generation.
Asian firms already have a presence in Myanmar through direct investment, and a number of Asian private equity firms, who invest in unlisted companies, have said this year they are raising funds to invest there.
But sanctions, only recently eased by the European Union and the United States, have prevented Western investment. With developed markets increasingly correlated and few stellar returns to be had, investors are keen for a new avenue.
High-profile commodities investor Jim Rogers said in an interview last week with oilprice.com that Myanmar was "probably the best investment opportunity in the world right now", comparing it to China when it opened up in 1978.
"Myanmar has received a lot of international attention, there is a renewed effort and focus in trying to get involved in the country," said Zain Latif, head of private equity firm TLG. "There is a lot of infrastructure required, particularly in tourism."
TLG is planning to set up a company operating cruises on the Upper Irrawaddy river, via a similar company in Cambodia in which it invests.
The firm, which concentrates on smaller private equity deals, is going through due diligence at the moment in the hope that it can start operating the cruises next year, and is likely to invest a few million dollars.
Hong Kong's Cube Capital and Marc Faber-backed Leopard Capital are among Asian private equity firms lining up nearly $500 million aimed at Myanmar, hoping to tap into its rich natural resources and fill its infrastructure void.
Sanctions were eased by the United States last week and by the European Union in the last few months following the completion of democratic by-elections in 2012 -- the country's first since the military junta refused to accept opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's victory in 1990.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit late last year to Myanmar and Suu Kyi's tour of Europe last month have sparked interest in doing business in the country, particularly among large corporations.
General Electric Co. became the first U.S. company to restart business in the country when it secured a medical equipment deal with two hospitals in Myanmar a few days ago. MMeannwhile, the British government's trade promotion body, UK Trade & Investment opened an office in Yangon this month.
But with no real stock or bond markets, there has been little to attract fund managers so far.
Julian Mayo, co-chief investment officer at Charlemagne Capital, who visited Myanmar earlier this year, compares the country to frontier market Vietnam in the mid-1990s.
"In 1995, there were a number of asset managers setting up in Vietnam. No-one really made any money for the best part of a decade," he said, adding that in Myanmar:
"There are going to be a lot of frustrated people hanging around hotels and looking for something to invest in."
Real estate, tourism and infrastructure are among the likely favoured sectors for private equity firms, market participants say, but the country lacks a strong regulatory framework and there are concerns about foreign ownership laws.
"Operational and strategic risks will remain a challenge for Western and Asian investors alike," political risk consultants Maplecroft said in a note. "Reforms will ... be pivotal to ensure macroeconomic stability in the long term."
Doing business is by no means an easy task. Myanmar scores 1.5 out of 10 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, placing it at number 180 out of 183 in the rankings.
A foreign investment law to protect foreign investors' assets and clarify rules for foreign companies operating in the country is expected to be endorsed by the end of the month.
Naidah Yazdani, general manager of Cambodian cruise firm Compagnie Fluviale du Mekong in which TLG invests, said Myanmar needs to prove it is open to foreign capital.
"They have to show a commitment to attract more FDI (foreign direct investment)," he said. "As soon as that happens, there'll be investment from all over the world."
July 19, 2012 15:48 PM
Myanmar Marks Martyrs' Day With Grand Ceremony
YANGON, July 19 (Bernama) -- Myanmar held the first state-level Martyrs' Day ceremony in more than two decades here on Thursday to commemorate nine national heroes who sacrificed their lives for the country's independence 65 years ago, reports China's Xinhua news agency.
With national flag flown at half mast, the Martyrs' Day memorial ceremony was held at the Martyrs' Mausoleum underneath the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda and significantly attended by Vice President Sai Mauk Kham and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of late General Aung San, who laid wreaths at the tombs of the martyrs.
The high-profile event also came for the first time since a new elected civilian government headed by President U Thein Sein took office in 2011.
General Aung San was the founder of Myanmar's armed forces when Myanmar was fighting for independence from the British colonialists.
On July 19, 1947 leaders of Myanmar's pre-independence interim government including General Aung San were gunned down by assassins at a meeting in Yangon. Myanmar regained independence on Jan 4, 1948.
"While remembering the founding fathers of our country, all of us need to embrace the future because responsibility for the country falls on us at present," said the editorial of the official newspaper New Light of Myanmar.
On the eve of the Martyrs' Day, President U Thein Sein met with the leaders of 10 small political parties in Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw Wednesday for the first time since taking power.
He stressed that strengthening of democracy is interrelated with peace and stability of the state, saying that the political stability was built through engagement with National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Sharing the same fate as the citizens of Myanmar, the government and the parties has common goal to establish a peaceful and developed society," he said.
Despite differences in politics, he requested the parties to work together on common ground. "Being a fledgling democracy, every step of the country must be taken cautiously. Candid suggestions and engagements in some cases were invited as the government is serving the interest of the country."
"The country belongs to every citizen of Myanmar under the same flag. All stakeholders are doing their bits to bring about prosperity to the country, they are assumed to be founders of a democratic nation," he said.
As for domestic peace, U Thein Sein said steps are being taken to bring armed conflicts to an end by reaching ceasefire agreements and building trust through negotiation.
He noted that truce has been reached with 10 of 11 ethnic armed groups and engagement is being made with Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
Participating in the rare meeting with the President were leaders of National Democratic Force, Democratic Party (Myanmar), Democracy and Peace Party, Peace and Unity Party, Union Democracy Party, Rakhine National Development Party, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, All Mon Region Democracy Party, Chin National Party, and Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party.
July 19, 2012 21:24 PM
Rohingya Crisis: NGO Plan For Asean Conference To Find Solution
KUALA LUMPUR, July 19 (Bernama) -- An international conference on the crisis of violence against Rohingyas in Arakan, Myanmar, will be held on Aug 14 to derive at a solution involving Asean members.
Malaysian International Islamic Cooperation Institute president (Ikiam) Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin said the location of the conference would be decided soon and was expected to be attended by Islamic non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the region.
"The aim of the conference, among others, is to create a big group which can voice out and help the Rohingyas, in terms of supplies and contribution of basic and daily needs.
"Although the crisis of violence had existed for a long time, no power or voice was capable of carrying out a mission on humanitarian aid to the area," he told a press conference here Thursday.
The Times of India - Myanmar General to get red carpet treatment in India
Rajat Pandit, TNN | Jul 19, 2012, 07.42PM IST
NEW DELHI: India will roll out the red carpet for a top military general from Myanmar during his forthcoming visit to India next month, in line with the overall policy to ensure China does not manage to outflank India once again in the region.
General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in Myanmar, will be in India from August 1 to 8. He is scheduled to meet defence minister A K Antony and the three Service chiefs -- Admiral Nirmal Verma, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and General Bikram Singh - in New Delhi on August 3.
Apart from visiting Buddhist sites in Bodhgaya, the Myanmarese general will also be hosted at the Eastern Army Command at Kolkata, Eastern Naval Command at Visakhapatnam and other defence establishments during the visit.
The visit comes soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went to Naypyitaw towards end-May, the first such visit by an Indian PM to Myanmar in 25 years. While a dozen bilateral MoUs were inked, the PM also met Aung San Suu Kyi during his three-day visit to the country which is undergoing a phase of transition from total military control to some sort of political reforms.
India in the late-1990s had gone in for a realpolitik U-turn in its strategy towards Myanmar, after several years of supporting Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and the democratic movement in Myanmar, on finding much to its dismay that Beijing had deftly stepped into the vacuum to forge strategic links with Yangon.
Casting aside western concerns then about supplying military equipment to Myanmar, the only ASEAN country with which it shares land and maritime borders, India had transferred Islander maritime patrol aircraft as well as 105mm light artillery guns, naval gun-boats, mortars, grenade-launchers and rifles to Yangon.
In recent times, even as Myanmar has held elections and moved towards political reconciliation, western countries have also come around to the Indian view of the need to engage with the military leadership in Myanmar.
Asian Correspondent - Burma’s President calls leaders of small parties to join his government
By Zin Linn Jul 19, 2012 7:43PM UTC
President Thein Sein met chairpersons and general secretaries of Group of Friends of Democracy Parties on Wednesday in Pobbathiri Township in Naypyitaw, The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said today.
During the meeting, the President explained policies of the government and basic tasks for the country and the people. It was the first meeting of its kind and similar meetings would be scheduled regularly in appropriate times, the President said.
The President said that the government and the parties has common objective to set up a peaceful and developed society. He called for the parties to cooperate on common ground, even though differences in politics. Being an inexperienced democracy, every step of the country must be taken carefully and candid proposals and activities were invited, he said.
Stability as well as socio-economic development is common aspiration of the whole population, the President emphasized. With regard to the political stability and peace of the entire country, his government has decided to fulfill the desire of the people, Thein Sein promised.
He also said that ‘political stability’ was built through engagement with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party. According to him, his government has planned three steps to bring domestic armed conflicts to an end.
The first step is to seek multilateral ceasefire agreements. The second step is building trust through negotiations based on eight principles, he explained. Agreements have to some extent been reached with 10 among 11 ethnic armed groups, as said by the President.
President briefed about the the armed conflicts in Kachin State. Peace talks are being made with Kachin Independence Army, he said. Kachin State has suffered a lot from this civil war; Local people lost their professions and their children lost educational opportunities as they abandoned their homes due to conflict, he explained.
“Losses of Kachin State are losses of the country. Peace would be built with KIA soon through mutual negotiations,” Thein Sein said.
On the other hand, Kachin Independence Organization delegation met Vice Chairman Aung Min of newly formed Union-level Peace-making Committee at Mai Jayan on Sino-Burma border holding informal talks on June 1, June 19 and 20. KIO had already met Kachin State-level peace committee led by Col. Than Aung for twice and then met with union level peace committee led by Aung Thaung for 3 times and met unofficially with union level peace committee led by Aung Min for 4 times.
The fighting between government armed forces and KIA troops continued in Kachin State and northern Shan State. The two armies had countless armed-clashes in June and both sides suffered several casualties in the warfare. Government delegation led by Aung Min and KIO delegation had a meeting at Maijayan on June 20. During that meeting, they talked about repatriation of swelling war refugees as well as withdrawal government troops from KIO controlled territory.
In addition, without restoration of peace and stability, Thein Sein stated that the nation required investment and technology to become a developed nation, although having natural resources. So, he said that the government invited more investments these days. In conclusion, he said that the government is endeavoring to get success in the above mentioned tasks and invited those present at the meeting to join hands with the government.
Those political party leaders attended the Wednesday meeting sponsored by the President were Chairman of National Democratic Force (NDF) Khin Maung Swe, Party Leader Dr Than Nyein, Chairman of Democratic Party (Myanmar) U Thu Wai, General Secretary Than Than Nu, Demoracy and Peace Party (DPP) Chairman Aung Than, General Secretary Myo Nyunt, General Secretary of Peace and Unity Party (PUP) Tun Shwe, Chairman of Union Democracy Party (UDP) Thaung Win, General Secretary of Rakhine Nationals Development Party (RNDP) Oo Hla Saw, Chairman of Shan Nationalities Democratic (SNDP) Party Sai Aik Paung, Vice-Chairman of All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMRDP) Nai Hla Aung, Chairman of Chin National Party (CNP) Zo Zam and Chairman of Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party (PSDP) Saw Thein Aung.
PR Newswire - Frost & Sullivan: How to make smart entry to Myanmar?
Press Release: Frost & Sullivan – 10 hours ago
BANGKOK, July 19, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Today many businesses representing almost all industry sectors are eagerly seeking opportunities to either invest or expand to Myanmar. With a population of 60 million, the country has recently opened up and attracted many foreign investors due to its becoming pro-investment climate. Gaining further attention, Myanmar is hosting key upcoming events like the SEA Game in 2013 and the ASEAN Summit in 2014.
According to Dr. Monsinee Keeratikrainon, Thailand Country Manager, Frost & Sullivan, currently, the majority of foreign investment in Myanmar comes from China and Hong Kong, followed by Thailand and South Korea.
"Around 80% of foreign investment goes to Power, Energy, Oil and Gas; where as 11% goes to mining and manufacturing. Although the GDP composite in the industrial sector is as low as 20%, with service at 37% and the rest is agricultural, there are highly increasing demand for industrial goods due to many major infrastructure buildups. The key growing segments would be the power & energy, oil & gas, mining & minerals, and construction," she said.
Recently, the Myanmar government promoted property investment in Myanmar, especially hotels, residential, as well as commercial buildings, in order to accommodate the dramatically growing number of business investors. The new property law allows foreigners to lease land directly from Myanmar residents, not necessarily through government like before, whilst the leasing term has also extended from 30 years to 50 years.
According to Monsinee, there are still four key major issues needed to be addressed in making the decision to invest in Myanmar;
Land availability - Currently there is only 50 80,000-SqM leasing space available in Yangon which does not match the demand, causing the price to hike above $80 per SqM whereas the average price in nearby city like Bangkok is not more than $30 per SqM. Visitors may have to pay as high as $250 per night for a 4-star hotel which is always fully booked.
Basic infrastructure – Transportation and logistics as well as utilities like electricity/water and telecom infrastructure are still mostly operated by the government. There are problems in basic infrastructure as witnessed in the quality of roads in suburban areas and regular electric lights-out even in the 5-star buildings in Yangon city. Also access to broadband is very limited and unreliable while data roaming is not available at all. The government has promised to upgrade its ICT infrastructure before the 2013 SEA Game.
Manpower – Although the Myanmar population have high literacy rate (more than 90%), more than a third have lower than primary school education. Therefore, businesses will face problems in skill shortages and lack of manpower, especially for industrial goods where technical skill is a must.
Regulation uncertainties – Whilst the new foreign investment law is expected to be passed within the next month, many investors are speculating dramatic improvement in flexibility and tax benefits. However, there are still many economic-related legislations not yet passed or drafted, leaving uncertainties underway. Therefore the legislative processes are moving slower than the market. Although the government is promising commitment, at the same time, a cautious approach has been taken in changing regulations.
Monsinee advised that the best entry strategy for most businesses would be in forming joint-ventures or partnerships with local players or state-own enterprises which give outsiders the opportunity to invest through product-sharing or profit-sharing models.
"This is the best way to leverage local capabilities and to minimize risks of uncertainties. Also it gives a short-cut and quick win while having access to current know-hows and business networks. Although it might take time at the initial stage to understand market landscape and identify potential partners, it has proven to be one of the smartest moves adopted even by large firms. The big-entry-big-funding model may give more visibility but also take more time and risk. At the end, the success factor of either model lies the same, i.e. how well you understand the market and its dynamics," said Monsinee.
Corporate Communications, Thailand
P: +66 (02) 637 7414
The Nation - Myanmar workers held with Thai encroachers
Ranong July 20, 2012 1:00 am
Myanmar authorities yesterday revealed that 23 Myanmar workers were arrested along with the 92 Thai landencroachment suspects taken into custody on July 4, an informed source reported. Like the Thais, the local workers would be charged with encroaching on forestland without permission.
The Myanmar authorities were processing the case speedily and notified the Thais of five charges against them; illegal entry, encroaching on forestland without permission, growing the narcotic plants marijuana and kratom, possessing war weapons, and obstructing officials performing their duty. They would be brought to court on July 27, the source said.
Thursday July 19, 2012
The Star(Malaysia) - Little Myanmar in Penang
By JEREMY TAN
AT a segment of Komtar, Penang, a thriving ‘Little Myanmar’ brims with shops and cafes offering all kinds of Myanmarese products ranging from handicraft to services.
Located on Level 2 of the old annexe, the area has become a meeting point for the close-knit, local Myanmarese community, as this is where they can catch up with their countrymen, as well as obtain products from home.
Htun Htun, a 28-year-old who manages a convenience store there, said the majority of his customers are Myanmarese working here.
“As most of them live around the town area, the central location makes it easily accessible both on foot and by bus.
“We bring in products, especially traditional items, from back home so they can get a taste of what they’re familiar with,” he said, pointing to snacks like lat fat (pickled tea leaf salad) and betel leaves.
Lat fat, he said, is a popular snack that can be had any time of day, especially when one feels lazy to cook a proper meal.
Apart from traditional garments, Htun’s shop also stocks Indonesian batik, which many of his countrymen, especially ladies, like to buy as gifts to take back home as it is cheaper than that sold in Myanmar.
“We also have Myanmarese newspapers, to ensure our community here can keep up to date with recent developments back in our homeland,” he said, adding that there were some 30,000 of them currently living and working in Penang.
Nearby, is an Internet cafe, catering to those like Addie Ng, 25, and friend Julie Ko, 24, who spent their day off chatting online with friends and family back in Myanmar, and checking their emails.
Ng, who has been working as a waiter here for five years now, said having a ‘Little Myanmar’ in Penang was a great convenience, as they could get all they need in one area.
The presence of several cafes dishing up authentic Myanmarese dishes also allows them to indulge in homely flavours whenever possible.
“As Komtar is centrally located, it’s very easy for us to drop by. There is an atmosphere of camaraderie as all our friends also come here,” he said.
Waitress Ko, who professed a liking for dishes of fried chilli, said she never fails to visit one of the cafes whenever she is not working.
“Our community always comes here to eat. Nowadays, it’s easier for us to find the traditional dishes we grew up with,” she added.
Regardless of what shop it is, a common element are images of Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi, whom they all look up to with reverence.
At a nearby office, travel agent Zey Ya, 27, said travel packages to Myanmar were increasing in popularity amongst Malaysians.
He also showcase a selection of traditional Burmese handicraft items, like tea sets and cups.
ABC Radio Australia - Humanitarian groups warn of increased child trafficking in Burma
Updated 19 July 2012, 14:55 AEST
Burma is well-known for human trafficking.
Humanitarian groups warn of increased child trafficking in Burma (Credit: ABC)
Burmese children are often exploited in neighbouring countries for cheap or free labor.
And as the country continues to open up, humanitarian groups are warning the child trafficking problem could get worse.
Correspondent: Del Irani, Speakers: Ramesh Shrestha, UNICEF; U Win Thein, Rattana Metta drop-in centre
Rights groups express ‘grave concern’ over US policy on investment in Burma
By Aliran, on 19 July 2012
Washington, D.C. — In response to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement on the lifting of restrictions on US investment in Burma, five human rights groups issued the following statement.
We express grave concern regarding the US government’s decision to allow investments into businesses connected to the Burmese regime that are corrupt and help to fuel human rights violations.
As it stands now, investment in many of the most attractive sectors of the Burmese economy is likely to worsen the human rights situation while directly benefiting individuals and entities responsible for rights abuses, who contribute to corruption, or are otherwise acting to obstruct political reform.
The US government has acknowledged that there are many unacceptable business partners in Burma. However, the government has failed in its responsibility to clarify who these actors are, or to prohibit US companies from conducting business with these problematic entities. The Obama administration’s decision-making process has lurched forward without careful thought, strategy or transparency. What little progress has been accomplished in Burma—as well as the prospects for lasting peace, human rights and democracy—is being undermined by failures in US decision-making.”
Groups signing on to the statement include Freedom House, Institute for Asian Democracy, Physicians for Human Rights, US Campaign for Burma and United to End Genocide.
USA TODAY - Grand Circle Cruise Line to launch river sailings in Myanmar
By Gene Sloan, USA TODAY
Updated 2h 22m ago
Grand Circle Cruise Line is hoping to tap soaring demand for tours to Myanmar with new river cruises on the country's Irrawaddy River.
The Boston-based company today will announce it is launching 15-day cruise tours to the long-isolated country, formerly known as Burma, to begin in 2013. The announcement comes as Myanmar continues to shed its pariah image after a brutal, decades-long military rule that sparked a tourism boycott.
"The release of (activist) Aung San Suu Kyi from two decades of house arrest and her election to parliament has helped this once isolated country begin opening its doors to the West," Grand Circle chairman and CEO Alan Lewis notes. "From calling for a boycott of travel to Burma, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is now encouraging responsible travelers to visit her country, and as result, Burma has become the hottest travel destination of the year."
Grand Circle says its sister company, Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), sold out an initial series of small group adventure trips to Myanmar this year with 850 Americans signing up for the outings -- nearly double the 456 travelers the company originally projected.
To be called Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay, Grand Circle's new Myanmar itinerary will start with a four-night stay at a hotel in Bangkok and a three-night stay at a hotel in Yangon (the capital once known as Rangoon) followed by a flight to Bagan -- home to 2,000 ancient temples on a 26-square-mile plain. From there, customers will board a new, 34-passenger river ship for a seven-
night cruise calling on remote villages, trading centers and Buddhist sites. The itinerary ends in Mandalay, one of the country's major cultural centers.
The new vessel, the Paukan, will be under charter to Grand Circle. Departures are available in 2013 from March to May and September to December, with fares beginning at $3,795 per person for the
cruise portion of the trip only and $4,895 for the entire 15-day cruise tour. The price includes international air, airport transfers, government taxes and fees.
Grand Circle also is offering optional, six-night extensions to Vientiane & Luang Prabang, Laos, and The Hill Station of Maymyo & Inle Lake, Myanmar, both priced at $1,395 per person. The company says there is no extra charge for solo travelers on either the cruise tour or a pre- or post-trip extension.
On the cruise portion of the trip a reverse itinerary, from Mandalay to Bagan following the Bangkok and Yangon land tours, also is available.
Aljazeera.com - Myanmar's broken promises
Despite reforms in Myanmar, the situation for many ethnic minorities has deteriorated in the past year.
Corey Pattison (Corey Pattison is a graduate student at Yale University's Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.)
Last Modified: 19 Jul 2012 12:21
"If Burma receives one kyat, you will also receive one kyat." (The kyat is the country's currency.)
During recent visits to some of Myanmar's many ethnic minority communities, I often encountered this historic assurance made by Bogyoke Aung San, hero of the anti-colonial independence movement and father of Aung San Suu Kyi, to representatives of these communities at the signing of the Panglong Agreement in 1947. Failure to fulfill its promise of equitable distribution of resources between Myanmar's Bamar core and ethnically diverse periphery lies at the heart of a violent cycle of conflict that has plagued Myanmar since Aung San's assassination, soon after Panglong was signed. The contours of this conflict continue to define Myanmar's politics, resulting in vast discrepancies in the impact of the current democratic transition.
To be sure, reformers within the semi-civilian government have already achieved remarkable progress in their efforts to democratise, with tangible effects. Government mouthpieces have been replaced by generally uncensored private newspapers, their front pages filled with the now-ubiquitous image of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), outlawed only six months ago, has re-entered the formal political arena for the first time in 12 years and, through relatively free elections, won 43 of the 44 seats for which it ran during by-elections in April.
Yet signs of progress are isolated. In the hinterland, where most of Myanmar's ethnic minority groups reside, the situation over the past year has in fact mostly deteriorated. In these areas, social unrest provides the basis for de facto military rule, where the suffering of many minority groups calls out for attention amid the unguarded political optimism found in so many newspaper headlines today. While the world applauds peace in Myanmar, wars are underway in minority areas that challenge, and could derail, still-nascent democratic reforms.
In the predominantly Christian Kachin State, to the north, a government military offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has displaced as many as 75,000 civilians on both sides of the Chinese border since a tenuous ceasefire collapsed in February 2011. Control of the area is divided between the central government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which administers its territory - in conjunction with the KIA - as a self-governing entity that provides basic social services through parallel health, education and justice departments.
Speaking with residents of Myitkyina, the provincial capital, where electricity is now only available for just four or five hours a day, it is the provision of efficient and affordable services that girds their support for KIO as much as an ethnic affinity. Residents' support for KIO is strong and outspoken, which is striking in a country where decades of state surveillance have smothered public political dissent. Despite nightly governmental television programming in which KIA troops (or groups falsely portrayed as KIA, as many Kachin believe) lay down their arms, the popular opinion is that there is no durable end in sight.
Just outside Myitkyina, a large build-up of government forces has sealed access to KIO-controlled territory, preventing UN and other international aid agencies from distributing much-needed supplies to tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs). In response, local religious-based organisations, like the Kachin Baptist Convention, have transformed themselves into mass emergency-relief providers, serving some 20,000 IDPs by drawing upon a network of over 300,000 members, a powerful example of the potential capacity of civil society organisations in Myanmar society.
During visits to some of the dozens of IDP camps in which these refugees languish, I encountered countless terrifying stories of human rights abuses, including pillaging and burning of villages, torture and rape. Many refugees have been trapped in the camps for more than a year, unable to return to their homes, if they even exist, out of fear of targeting by government forces operating on the assumption that all Kachin are KIA.
At the centre of the conflict is control over the area's vast natural resources. Kachin State is richly endowed with jade, ore, iron and timber. It is also home to the headwaters of the Irrawaddy River, where last fall President Thein Sein unexpectedly announced the suspension of Myitsone Dam, the largest of a seven-dam, multi-billion dollar project. It is widely assumed that the announcement was heavily influenced by rising concerns of Chinese influence in Myanmar: Myitsone would have sent 90 per cent of the electricity it produced to China's Yunnan province.
Locals, however, are quick to remind one that the dam has only been suspended, not cancelled. Citing the muddy red colour of the once clear Irrawaddy River water, they explain how settlements originally constructed for Chinese dam workers, which displaced hundreds of locals, now house new Chinese labourers for gold mining operations following the discovery of large deposits during the dam's construction. Indeed, although Myitsone's suspension marked an important achievement for local environmental community groups, it has done little to slow the massive exploitation of Kachin's resources for export to China and India, with profits for the central government
Oil, gas and geopolitics
The thorny issue of resource extraction by foreign companies is not unique to Kachin State. In Shan State, in Myanmar's eastern region, the China National Petroleum Company is constructing a dual oil-gas pipeline across Myanmar from Kunming to Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal, where it will link to new a deep-sea port and oil extraction facilities. None of the planned energy production is for distribution in Myanmar, despite the fact that fewer than 20 per cent of households in Myanmar have access to regular electricity.
Interestingly, mass protests have not accompanied the displacement of thousands of poor Shan farmers as they did in Kachin. This is partially attributable to a more sensitive approach by the Chinese developers, no doubt aware of the pervasive anti-Chinese sentiment and cautious of repeating the lessons of Myitsone. The calculated approach, including cash payments and television sets, also suggests the important geo-strategic implications of the pipeline for China, as it provides direct access to Middle Eastern oil reserves and the ability to bypass the Malacca Straits, dominated by US allies.
Yet the Shan are hardly indifferent to the dark red pile of upturned farmland that now runs across the province like a fresh wound, or to the broader political arrangement it represents. Violence between government military forces and Shan State Army soldiers has erupted along the pipeline corridor, where the increase in the government military presence is perceived by local armies as a breach of the fragile ceasefire agreements.
For local civilians, the familiar sight of armed conflict reinforces popular distrust of the central government and its many holdovers from the previous regime, which carried out intense military campaigns here in the 1980s and 1990s. As one Kyaukme resident explained: "That time was like a nightmare for us; it will be hard to forget."
Popular distrust by the Shan and Kachin is directed not just at the central government, however, but also the NLD and its predominantly urban, Bamar ethnic makeup. While there is much support for Aung Sun Suu Kyi, there is wide anxiety that beyond her and the abstract democratic principles upon which her party stands, the NLD has little to say, substantively, on the issue of minority rights.
The NLD has done little to mitigate these concerns. During a meeting with an NLD official in Yangon, I was told blandly that the NLD sympathises with minority aspirations. But when pressed on how such aspirations might be addressed, the answer seemed to lie vaguely somewhere on the other side of the 2015 elections, which the NLD is widely predicted to sweep.
A pattern of violence
Of particular concern regarding NLD's position on minority rights is the party's silence following the recent violence in Rakhine State along Myanmar's western border, where clashes between the majority Buddhist Rakhine and the Rohingya, Myanmar's much-persecuted Muslim population, have resulted in more than 60 deaths and 90,000 displaced, according to UN estimates.
The latest episode in this long-running conflict is the direct result of discriminatory government policies. Based upon the mistaken belief that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the government requires Rohingya to provide evidence that they have lived in the country before 1823 to claim citizenship, according to Article 3 of the 1982 immigration law. Born into and mostly confined to squalid, informal refugee camps by legal restrictions on movement, work and study, and subject to arbitrary property confiscations, the vast majority of the some 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar are unable to satisfy this onerous requirement. The Buddhist Rakhine suffer no such restrictions, creating much enmity between the two groups.
As I travelled through the few areas of the region accessible to foreigners just before the violent outbreak, mutual resentment was evident from racial slurs and derogatory remarks widely used by each group against the other. Notably, it was this same racist rhetoric that emerged online as coverage of the conflict spread via Myanmar's increasingly accessible internet.
In June, a match was tossed into this tinderbox when 10 Rohingya were dragged from their bus by a crowd of some 300 Rakhine and beaten to death in apparent retaliation for the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman. Communal violence rapidly escalated, leaving much of the countryside in ashes.
In response, on June 10, President Thein Sein announced a state of emergency, effectively implementing martial law in Rakhine. Military forces poured in. Roads, shops and teahouses were closed. Order, or at least the version on display in Shan State and in government-controlled areas of Kachin State, has been restored.
Social unrest in minority areas presents unique challenges in an uncertain time, but resorting to the heavy-handed policies of the past reinforces a pattern of violence and threatens to put policy-making back in the hands of the military, with retrogressive implications for the reform agenda.
Addressing minority demands for autonomy and full political rights, as promised by the Panglong Agreement, will require increased civilian control of the military, as well as reforming policies designed to centralise control of resources. Neither of these challenges is small; we should temper our expectations and timelines accordingly. But they are not impossible. Success requires the vigilance and support of the international community. Given the importance of the outcome, it is the least we can do.
Businessweek - The Race for Rangoon
By Joshua Hammer on July 18, 2012
(Corrects source of tourism figures; clarifies the “brisk business” attributed to Pepsi, Levi-Strauss and others referred to manufacturing, not sales, and that Myanmar businesses other than the Strand Yangon hotel accept credit cards indirectly; identifies Christian Oram’s early business as an entertainment business; that Chevron was a partner, not operator, in the Yadana pipeline; corrects a geographic reference to civil unrest. Corrects timing of Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest.)
On a sultry afternoon in May, Richard Friedman sits in the back of a 1990s Buick with faulty air conditioning, mired in traffic in downtown Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The rainy season in Myanmar—also known as Burma—has just begun, and the sky is a leaden gray; the temperature is pushing 95F. Friedman, one of the highest-profile American investors to be lured by the siren call of this newly opened Southeast Asian country, peers out at a sweep of colonial-era buildings, many of them derelict. We drive past the old British Customs House and the former Pegu Club, where Rudyard Kipling spent his only night in Burma, in 1889, while traveling from Calcutta to San Francisco. The stories he heard there inspired his poem “Mandalay.”
A short, vigorous 72-year-old who coached the Harvard ski team after graduating from Dartmouth in the early 1960s, Friedman made his name turning neglected but historic properties into top-flight hotels. In 2005 he redeveloped San Francisco’s 1907 Williams Building into a $180 million mixed-used project that includes the St. Regis Hotel, condominiums, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. Two years later he transformed the 19th century Charles Street Jail on Boston’s Beacon Hill into the four-star Liberty Hotel. Friedman is the president and chief operating officer of Carpenter & Co., a Cambridge (Mass.)-based real estate development and management company. He’s also a major Democratic fundraiser. During the 1990s, the Clintons used his beachfront home on Martha’s Vineyard as their summer White House half a dozen times.
Friedman began taking notice of Myanmar’s business potential last year amid the flurry of good news coming out of the country. In late 2010, Myanmar’s ruling junta, known since 1997 as the State Peace and Development Council, released the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest; today she is a member of Myanmar’s Parliament. Democratic reforms have begun transforming the country, and most sanctions, including those imposed by the U.S. in the late ’90s, have been suspended since U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s December 2011 visit. Extrapolating from government data, Thailand receives 18 million tourists a year, while Myanmar,stung by travel-agency boycotts and its lack of infrastructure, gets barely 300,000, according to the Myanmar Ministry of Hotels and Tourism.
Earlier in May, and days after President Barack Obama announced that he was suspending U.S. sanctions on Myanmar, Friedman asked Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) for help procuring last-minute visas. The former presidential candidate is a frequent guest at Henrietta’s Table, the restaurant in Friedman’s Charles Hotel on Harvard Square. “Kerry said he couldn’t do it—there wasn’t enough time,” recounts Friedman’s friend and traveling partner, Patrick Lyons. Instead the two turned to Burmese friends of another acquaintance, the Dalai Lama, who secured them visas on the spot.
Now, after a tour of Inle Lake in Shan State, an obligatory stop on Myanmar’s tourist trail, Lyons and Friedman’s adventure is concluding with a trip to check out potential hotel sites. Their driver pulls up to the curb across the street from a vast complex surrounded by coils of barbed wire. It’s the former Office of the Secretariat, the abandoned government headquarters constructed by Burma’s British rulers in 1882. The elegant red-brick facade, Venetian domes, ornate turrets, and secluded inner courtyards harken to the grandeur of the British Empire during the Victorian era. But peeling plaster and broken and boarded-up windows testify to decades of neglect. Squatters are washing clothes in crumbling annexes scattered over the weed-choked grounds.
Friedman, wearing jeans, New Balance sneakers, and a white-and-blue striped shirt, scrutinizes the building and turns to Lyons. His excitement is palpable. “This is a gigantic complex, man,” Friedman says. “It’s a 500-room hotel.” He does a hasty calculation of renovation costs: “$350,000 to $400,000 a room, maybe more,” and then goes on to say it would be “a $350 million to $400 million project in the U.S., but probably less in Myanmar.” Says Friedman: “This is pretty cool. It would be quite an undertaking.”
Friedman isn’t the first international businessman to dream of Myanmar’s possibilities. Resource-rich and bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, and Thailand, the nation of 62 million is itself an untapped resource. In the 1980s and early 1990s, when the country was called Burma, multinational companies such as Pepsi-Cola (PEP), British-American Tobacco (BAT), Apple (AAPL), and Levi Strauss had manufacturing operations here, in spite of the junta’s nationalization of many industries in the name of the “Burmese Way of Socialism.” Then, starting with a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy activism in 1988, the annulment of democratic elections two years later, and the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi, the country slid into isolation.
In 1997 the Clinton administration, declaring that the “government of Burma has committed large-scale repression of the democratic opposition,” banned Americans from investing in the country. As the regime jailed thousands of dissidents and continued shooting down protesters in the streets, the Bush administration took further punitive measures in 2007 and 2008. Sanctions barred Burmese exports to the U.S., froze all assets of top junta officials and their cronies in the U.S., and prohibited Burmese from carrying out international transactions using U.S. dollars.
In July 2008, Bush signed the Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, freezing more assets and blocking the importation of jadeite and rubies from Myanmar. Other developed countries imposed less-comprehensive sanctions, but the threat of consumer boycotts and shareholder pressure from human rights groups have discouraged all but a handful of foreign companies, including Total (TOT), the French oil giant, from doing business in Myanmar. (Thanks to loopholes in the sanctions laws, American oil company Chevron (CVX) partnered with Total S.A. in the Yadana natural gas pipeline from Myanmar to Thailand.) Myanmar is one of the last places in Asia where Western brands and franchises are virtually nonexistent. There’s no McDonald’s (MCD), no KFC (YUM).
The atmosphere began to change in late 2010, with the freeing of Aung San Suu Kyi following an election carefully stage-managed by the junta. Last year the country’s new president, Thein Sein, instituted sweeping reforms, freeing political prisoners, relaxing censorship laws, and canceling an unpopular dam project financed by China, the country’s biggest foreign investor. (China has invested heavily in extractive industries such as mining and timber, but most of the cash has benefited only a few generals and their business cronies.) Perhaps prematurely, some have compared Thein Sein to Mikhail Gorbachev and F.W. de Klerk.
When Clinton visited at the end of last year, she became the first U.S. Secretary of State to set foot in the country since John Foster Dulles in 1955. After meeting with Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, she urged Americans to visit the country and invest. Clinton’s visit removed the reputational risk, says a Western diplomat in Yangon, speaking not for attribution because the political situation in Myanmar remains sensitive. On April 23 the European Union suspended all sanctions against Myanmar except an arms embargo, and on May 18 the Obama administration lifted most sanctions as well. (The U.S. prohibition against the importation of jadeite and rubies, which are often extracted with forced labor and have benefited a handful of top government officials and cronies, remains in place and is unlikely to be removed for many years, says the diplomat in Yangon.)
If nothing else, Yangon today is proof that money abhors a vacuum. Luxury hotels are packed with business delegations from Europe, the U.S., Australia, Japan, and Korea. Expatriate watering holes buzz with talk of partnerships, market share, and the kyat-to-dollar exchange rate. In April, General Electric (GE) announced plans to open an office in Myanmar as soon as the U.S. government finalizes the suspension of sanctions—which could happen as early as July. In May, Ogilvy & Mather, a division of WPP (WPPGY), acquired a stake in Yangon-based Today Advertising, becoming the first Western ad agency to set up shop there in two decades: Mad Men meets Myanmar.
Executives from Mitsubishi, Myer (MYR:AU) (Australia’s largest department store chain), Saab Automobile, Pepsi, and other multinational companies have visited in recent months, meeting with top government officials and market-research analysts. European cell phone operators ranging from Norway’s Telenor Group (TEL:NO) to Irish-owned Digicel are networking quietly, anticipating the breakup of the telecommunications monopoly now held by the government-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). Venture-capital firms such as Leopard Capital in Hong Kong and Dragon Capital in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, are creating funds with sizable stakes in Myanmar. The managers of the new Indochina Opportunity Fund, a joint venture between Dragon and Frontier Investment & Development Partners, envisions that $50 million of the fund’s $350 million will be invested in Myanmar businesses.
Investing in Myanmar is not for the squeamish. Electricity is sporadic, roads are crumbling, and the country’s cell phone penetration rate—1 million units for 60 million people—is the world’s second-lowest, after North Korea. Only two state-owned banks handle international lines of credit; the rest have no links to regional banks and conduct business with ledger books and bundles of cash piled on the floor. Only one establishment in the country, the Strand Yangon hotel, directly accepts credit cards.
Everybody who’s thinking of investing in Myanmar wants to know the same things, says the Western diplomat. What’s corruption like? What about the ports, roads, phones, and banks? He urges them to try the Internet at their hotels. Does your rental phone work well? The primitive infrastructure has spawned a running joke: The definition of a Myanmar expert, longtime expatriates say, is a guy who knows his BlackBerry won’t work when he gets off the plane.
Backwardness is only part of the problem. In the past if the ruling junta deemed an enterprise to be destabilizing, they simply seized it. Christian Oram, a British expatriate who launched an entertainment company in the late 1990s, later formed a partnership with military intelligence officers. In 2004 the junta seized his company without compensation. “They just grabbed it and jailed the Burmese partners,” he says.
During a May visit to Thailand—her first trip abroad in 24 years—Aung San Suu Kyi urged investors to be aware of the potential dangers of rushing into Myanmar. As guest of honor at a meeting sponsored by the World Economic Forum in Bangkok, she cautioned the corporate executives present to avoid “reckless optimism.” “Even the best investment laws would be of no use whatsoever if there are no courts that are clean enough and independent enough to administer those laws justly,” she said. “This is our problem: So far we have not been aware of any reforms on the judicial front.”
Aung San Suu Kyi sounded a second note of caution accepting her Nobel Peace Prize in June, 21 years after winning it. Too much free-market capitalism too soon could cause chaos. “Burma has been a command economy for far too long. … Now that we are opening up, we want to make sure that we are opening in the right way.” Aung San Suu Kyi’s comments upset Myanmar officials and drew a skeptical response from Joseph Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia University who is helping the government pro bono to further its political and economic reforms. “She had an incoherent view,” he says, citing the apparent contradiction between her calls for creating jobs through foreign investment with her stern admonitions about the absence of rule of law in Myanmar. After meeting with Thein Sein and his top aides, Stiglitz came away convinced of their determination to democratize, remove barriers to foreign investment, and encourage responsible foreign companies that will “safeguard the environment and treat workers well.” The building of institutions is a slow process, he says, “but if you ask the question ‘Is this a reasonable risk?’ then the answer is yes.”
One important step was the April abandonment of the official government exchange rate, which benefited a handful of insiders who could buy U.S. dollars with kyat at a rate much lower than that of the black market, resulting in an artificial price system that discouraged investment. The government decided to unify and float its kyat exchange rates, which should reduce corruption, build investor confidence, and improve economic performance.
Other economists don’t paint as rosy a picture. Sean Turnell, an economics professor and Myanmar specialist at Macquarie University in Sydney, has been struck by the lack of capacity in Myanmar’s government. “They have very few people who can grapple with building the institutions they need—a system of sound property rights, a system to channel funds to productive enterprises. The foundational stuff is missing.” A thicket of banking regulations makes it illegal for farmers to obtain loans and requires enterprises to put up collateral worth more than the loan itself. “It’s a hangover from the old [socialist] ideology and from the militarized economy,” says Turnell. An import-and export-licensing system entrenches and enriches government cronies, who might fight fiercely against reforming the system. “You couldn’t get a better vehicle for corruption,” he says. Myanmar’s economic policymakers are overburdened and sometimes out of their depth. Despite all these obstacles, Turnell says he’s “guardedly optimistic” about the country’s ability to create a sound business environment. “I would tell Western companies to go in,” he says, “but to keep their eyes wide open.”
Every Friday the Strand hotel on Yangon’s waterfront hosts an expatriate night, likely the best milieu for gauging the foreign investment climate in Myanmar. As waiters circulate with trays of pizza and other hors d’oeuvres, Britons, Australians, Americans, and a smattering of non-Anglophone Europeans crowd the bar, trading gossip and impressions. There’s a team from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, which recently established an office in Yangon. The Open Society is promoting economic reform while pressing the government, quietly, for progress on human rights. The regime still has about 400 political prisoners locked up in its jails, and its military is engaged in a brutal war with the Kachin minority in Myanmar’s far north.
Team Soros is joined by Robert Conrad, a Duke University economist who has just arrived from Durham, N.C., to advise the Ministry of Finance on reforming its tax code to make it friendlier to foreign businesses. Beside them at the bar is a delegation of Australian businessmen and academics. They’ve come here under the auspices of Asialink, a University of Melbourne-based organization dedicated to strengthening economic and cultural ties between Australia and Asia. Michael Gill, a publishing czar, rubs shoulders with Sydney Myer, Asialink’s chief sponsor and the chairman of the family-run Myer empire, an Australian conglomerate that in addition to its department store chain (some call it the Down Under Wal-Mart) has agribusinesses and vineyards. Myer is press-shy, but Maureen Aung-Thwin, director of the Open Society’s Burma Project/Southeast Asia Initiative, says the Australian tycoon recently asked her: “‘Is the government sincere about these reforms?’ I said, ‘One true test, as in Mozambique, is if the government reduces its military budget.’” It’s too soon to tell, she says. (Myers’s press agent did not respond to interview requests.)
One group of expatriates residing at the Strand is notably missing from the bar scene: the representatives from Digicel, a cell phone company that owns networks in 28 emerging markets, including Haiti and Papua New Guinea, and has been quietly angling for a license in Myanmar. Digicel’s founder and chairman, Denis O’Brien, a well-known Irish entrepreneur and friend of Bono, first came to Myanmar in early 2010, back in the days when Aung San Suu Kyi was still shut in and the junta was jailing people for dissent. Since then, up to a dozen Digicel officials have been staying at the luxury hotel and working out of an unmarked office in Yangon’s Sakura Tower. They’re reportedly providing technical assistance to MPT and even sponsoring a local soccer team—an attempt, says a Yangon-based former consultant to the company, to get into the same room with regime cronies and government officials.
With the government considering breaking up its phone monopoly and granting a handful of licenses, Digicel is trying to steal a march on its rivals. It has been desperate to keep its name out of the press. “How did you find out what we were up to?” asked one startled executive when I called him in his hotel room. He declined to comment, but Antonia Graham, a company spokeswoman, later e-mailed me a pro forma statement acknowledging that the company had been working here since 2010—and refusing my request to talk to company executives. “Digicel is worried that if they announce too early, they’ll join a long list of failures,” says Oram, the British expat whose Internet company was confiscated by the military regime in 2004. He’s now trying again with a proposal to grant cellular licenses to 25 regional operators—at least one of which would include him as a partner.
Providing that the Thein Sein government doesn’t dial back its reforms, many experts both in Myanmar and overseas say it will take at least another year for the real money to start flowing in. Myanmar is like “the Tasmanian Devil in the zoo,” says Moe Kyaw, the British-educated founder of Myanmar Marketing Research Development (MMRD), Myanmar’s oldest market-research firm. “Everybody is coming to see it, people are chucking in food, but nobody wants to go into the cage yet.”
Moe Kyaw predicts the first companies into Myanmar will be those with both name brands and bases in neighboring Thailand, including Procter and Gamble (PG), Pepsi, and Colgate-Palmolive (CL). After that, he says, will likely come investments in mining, property, and financial services. But the cash flow will remain limited, he predicts, until the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank agree to make substantial loans to improve Myanmar’s decaying infrastructure. The power grid is in terrible shape, and deals struck with China and Thailand oblige Myanmar to export badly needed oil and natural gas instead of using it for domestic consumption.
Lex Rieffel, an economist and Southeast Asia expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, says one danger facing Myanmar is that a rush of foreign investment would overwhelm the government’s ability both to make good policies and to carry them out. “You need good implementation and enforcement,” he says. The introduction of democracy alone, he points out, is hardly a guarantee of effective governance. He compares Myanmar with Indonesia, another Southeast Asian country endowed with rich natural resources. Surrounded by a team of youthful economists educated at the University of California, Berkeley, Indonesia’s longtime dictator, Suharto, devised macroeconomic policies that dramatically lifted incomes and cut unemployment during the 1970s. But Suharto’s one-party state collapsed in 1997, and the democratic government that replaced it has been blighted by corruption and mismanagement. “Indonesia is now 14 years into its transition, and infrastructure and the pace of development is lagging horribly,” says Rieffel. “The legislature is close to dysfunctional, and the judicial system is rotten to the core.”
Myanmar’s reformist government, he says, lacks the depth of expertise that surrounded Suharto, which he calls “worrisome.” Turnell, the Australian economist, compares Myanmar to Russia, where post-Communist-era “shock therapy” gave way to “an economy that’s about resource extraction.” Myanmar, with a trove of resources ranging from oil and gas to timber to precious stones, he fears, could go down the same direction, “with some of the oligarchs becoming so entrenched that economic policy gets distorted toward their interests, rather than a broader reform that would help everyone.”
As analysts and economists try to read the tea leaves, and prospective investors come in ever-greater numbers, many end up seeking the advice of Tony Picon, 47, a husky man who left his home in London’s East End 22 years ago and has never looked back. He taught English in Karachi, sold advertising space in Jakarta, and published an entertainment magazine in Hong Kong. Later he served as the administrator of a soccer team owned by Sadi Al Qaddafi—the dictator’s son—in Tripoli, and brokered condominiums in Vietnam before landing in Bangkok with Collier’s International, a real estate consultant. In early 2011, just after the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, he took the one-hour flight to Yangon to test the business climate here. “We saw a glimmer of light,” says Picon. “But we were skeptical, because moments of brightness in Myanmar have always been followed by long periods of darkness.”
Picon worked discreetly, putting together a research report on the property market. He sold dozens of copies of the $350 document to U.S. and European companies waiting for the green light to set up shop in Myanmar. He now holds court at packed U.S. Chamber of Commerce breakfasts in Bangkok and guides a stream of corporate clients through Yangon’s hyperactive property market. Office and residential rental prices have doubled since January 2012, thanks to speculation and a flood of new arrivals chasing a limited number of properties. “It’s become a circus,” Picon tells me, ordering his sixth Tiger Beer at 50th Street Bar, an expat watering hole in the congested heart of the city. “Ten years down the line,” he says, “I will be sitting in a plush office in Yangon, looking out over the city and telling my kid, ‘Look son, this is all mine.’”
Back at the old Secretariat building in downtown Yangon, Dick Friedman entertains similar ambitions, comparing notes with Patrick Lyons. “Oh my God, look at the roof deck. Look at the courtyard,” Lyons exults, surveying the fixer-upper of their dreams. “I can see a restaurant in that courtyard. I can really visualize it.” Friedman notes the “double-loaded corridors”—rooms on either side of the hallways—an essential design feature for hotel developers. “It looks doable, Patrick,” he tells his business partner. Lyons, a rangy man in his early fifties, grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and founded the House of Blues chain in the early 1990s. His private hospitality company, the Lyons Group, employs 2,500 and had $100 million in revenue last year.
Friedman confers with his guide and interpreter, a young woman named Lei Lei Myint. She’s the niece of a former political prisoner from Myanmar’s Shan State, and serves as managing director of Myanmar Pearl Travel & Tours, one of the country’s upscale travel agencies catering to well-heeled U.S. and European tourists. There are strings attached, Lei Lei Myint warns: In July 1947, General Aung San, the Burmese liberation hero (and Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) was assassinated by rivals in his office here, along with most of his cabinet. Over the years, Burmese entrepreneurs have made attempts to turn the property into a commercial venture, only to run into popular opposition. Many in Myanmar consider the building hallowed ground.
“Where exactly was Aung San shot?” Friedman asks, his curiosity aroused.
“That side over there,” she says, pointing to a second-floor window at the far end of the complex. “Most of the Myanmar people think it should be a museum, but the government is thinking half-museum, half-hotel.”
“Has anybody made an offer for this place?” he asks.
“I think three or four companies,” she says.
“What about the neighborhood? Would this be a good place to sleep if I were a rich American?”
“It is very safe,” Lei Lei Myint replies.
So far the government has been granting foreigners only 30-year leases on commercial properties, with two 15-year options to renew, subject to government approval. The initial 30-year period is not enough to guarantee a return on the initial investment, Friedman says. (He has heard through the grapevine, though, that the government will soon start extending those leases to 60 years, “which would make it doable.”) While Myanmar’s government is dropping a requirement that foreign investors can start a company here only with a local partner, Friedman believes that trying to embark solo on such an endeavor would be courting disaster, anyway. “You need a local partner, otherwise you get killed,” he says. “I mean, guys have been killed getting into Boston.”
Before heading for the airport to catch his flight to Bangkok, he instructs his interpreter to gather the architectural plans and find out about potential competitors for the property. “Now,” he says, as the car plunges back into the traffic-choked streets, “let’s go make some money.”
KVEW - Family from Myanmar reunites in Pasco
By Josh Peterson. Published Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
Two parents from Myanmar living in Kennewick are reunited with their five children, after being apart for nearly three years.
Dozens of family friends gathered at the Tri-Cities Airport last night with balloons and signs to welcome the children to their new home.
They say the process to get the children reunited with their parents was not easy, but the work was well worth it.
After being without their children for nearly three years, Kennewick father and mother Aum Phe and Schwe Pai can now embrace their five kids.
"Right now, I'm so excited" said Aum Phe.
Last night, the three girls and two boys arrived at the airport after 24 hours of traveling from Myanmar.
Family friends gathered to welcome the children to their new home.
"Today is early Christmas for this family of this couple, and a lot of friends, and all of us who have been praying and hoping that they would be reunited" said Peter Bengtson, World Relief Tri-Cities volunteer.
Several years ago, the family tried to escape Myanmar because of the religious persecution they were facing there as Christians.
The parents made it across the border and into America, but the children were caught and couldn't leave the country.
For the past two and a half years, Aum Phe, Schwe Pai and their friends worked tirelessly to get the kids to America.
"When they came to the United States, they started the process to file for the children, unfortunately, it's a slow process, takes a lot of time" said Scott Michael, World Relief Tri-Cities Director.
But hope came last year, when the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon agreed to help the parents reunite with their kids.
A lot of paperwork was filled out, and red tape dealt with, allowing the kids to come to Pasco.
They left their old life behind, as the five of them brought just one suitcase to their new home.
"I can't explain how much I'm happy" said Aum Phe.
Now, the reunited family will start a new life.
Schwe Pai even gave her kids their first snack in America at airport: Sprite and strawberries - a sweet meal this family will never forget.
"Today, we can say that our dream came true. Really, perfectly, completely" said Dawt Cung, family friend.
Volunteers from World Relief Tri-Cities and family friends will now help the children get acclimated to their new home.
They'll set up basic medical appointments and get them ready to go to school.
The United States government takes in more refugees than any other country in the world.
For fiscal year 2011, the government allowed 80,000 refugees to come into the United States.
The Republic - Libraries across Montana donating books to go to people in Myanmar
ED KEMMICK The Gazette
July 18, 2012 - 4:10 pm EDT
BILLINGS, Mont. — Missoula native John Badgley's workout regimen used to be aimed at preparing him for the annual Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane, Wash.
This year, the 81-year-old retired professor increased his fitness schedule to get ready for another event: picking up thousands of donated books from libraries across Montana. The books eventually will make their way to libraries in Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma.
Badgley, who now lives in Edmonds, Wash., put his training to work on a recent July morning outside the library at Montana State University Billings. As campus workers using hand carts brought out 150 boxes of books, Badgley rearranged them in the back of his rental truck, often stooping to lift another heavy box and reposition it.
The local liaison for the project was Bill Cochran, director of the Parmly Billings Library, which rounded up 34 boxes of books. Sixteen more boxes were donated by the Rocky Mountain College Library.
From Billings, accompanied by his old friend and longtime associate David Leuthold of Molt, Badgley set out to collect books from libraries stretching from Columbus to Whitefish. They expected to gather about 15,000 books in all.
The effort is a collaboration between the Montana Library Association and Nargis Library Recovery. Badgley started the recovery project with a colleague in Myanmar after Cyclone Nargis swept through southern Myanmar in 2008.
The cyclone, considered the worst natural disaster in the history of Myanmar, killed nearly 140,000 people and left another 800,000 homeless. It also obliterated more than 1,000 village libraries.
By the end of 2011, the project had distributed 600,000 books to 250 libraries in Myanmar. The project's mission recently expanded thanks to what Badgley called "a perfect storm of good things."
The main thing is that after decades of repressive military rule, Myanmar is making tentative steps toward reform and democracy.
As a result, the U.S. government recently lifted a longstanding embargo on educational and humanitarian shipments to agencies controlled by the Myanmar government.
That means Badgley and his supporters can donate books to Myanmar's college libraries.
Badgley has a particular interest in those libraries. He received his first Fulbright scholarship to work in Burma in 1957. Thirty years later, on his second tour as a Fulbright scholar, Badgley surveyed the resources and needs of every college and university library in Myanmar.
"What they needed was enormous," he said.
Many of the books collected in Montana will go to those institutional libraries, where knowledge of English is common and where technical books in particular are in short supply.
At the village libraries devastated by the cyclone, Badgley said, there is a need for books in English but also in Myanmar. To meet that need, the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, which he co-founded, has sold about 20 percent of the books collected through the Nargis Library Recovery. Proceeds of the sales are used to buy Burmese-language books.
Badgley's parents homesteaded in Hardin and Custer, and he was born in Missoula. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Montana and went on to earn a Ph.D. in political science at the University of California at Berkeley.
He taught at several universities, wrote two books on Myanmar and founded the Institute of the Rockies in 1973 in Missoula with his, wife Patricia. He ran the institute, a public policy education organization, for 12 years before going to Cornell University as curator of the school's Southeast Asia collection.
He met Leuthold in a "Life and Teachings of Jesus" class at UM when they were both young students, and Leuthold went on to earn a political science doctorate from Berkeley at the same time as Badgley.
Leuthold was later an original associate of the Institute of the Rockies and is now chairman of the Nargis Library Recovery board of directors. He manages the family ranch near Molt.
Badgley, the son of a Baptist minister, said he seems to get along best with religious people who have charitable impulses, even though he describes himself as "a jolly atheist."
Among the devout philanthropists he has worked with is a group of relatively young Mormon men who own Thrift Books, a giant Web-based seller of used books. They have agreed to donate 1 million books to the Nargis project.
Badgley said they were easy to work with, especially since they had already tried donating books to other organizations. "They only needed one answer: 'Yes, we can take a million books.'"
Badgley said Myanmar has a long road ahead, with uncertain prospects. One factor in its favor is that it has "an enormous power of tradition" and a people with an unusual degree of pride and cohesiveness.
Though there is widespread poverty and deep divisions along ethnic and religious lines, there is a great respect for knowledge and education, and "libraries are the center of the common ground."
"People can identify with a library whatever their language or religion," Badgley said.
Asian Tribune - Sectarian Problem : Killing two birds with a stone or a Win, Win Situation
Thu, 2012-07-19 02:28 — editor
By Kanbawza Win
As an ethnic survivor of the 7th July massacre, I was rather sad and confused at the success of hardliners of the quasi civilian government in orchestrating and implementing their policy of “Let the minority fights the minority,” in Western Burma.
They have successfully revitalize the importance of military and that in time of crisis only the military is reliable and guarantor of the country and that the pro democracy movement led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi cannot do anything in times like this, has been driven home.
Even though she was treated like a rising Hollywood star, the darling of the media, capturing headlines at every turn, charming the world with her quiet wisdom, and motivating people to be of interest in Burma, the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) have try to tarnish her image not only by revealing her lawsuit with her brother but also insisting in their vain attempt to prove, that dictators can change the name of the country and the national flag without the consensus of the people.
The Tatmadaw is still control by the evil genius, Than Shwe via the hard liners, have deliberately fomented violence not only to place Daw Suu in an awkward position but also to lure the Arakanese (Rakhine) to their side by highlighting the theory of some educated Mujahids and Bengali Intellectuals based in Europe to create a new race call “Rohingya” in 1950s. The Tatmadaw has skillfully and successfully exploited this situation, to create a recent frenzy, to undermine everything that the global leaders, the media and everyday citizens of the world to construe that Burma has changed in the blink of an eye.
History of the Bengali Immigrants
When the British occupied Arakan in the 18th century, the area was scarcely populated, while there was a plenty of place for high-yield paddy fields in the fertile Kaladan and Lemro River Valleys. So the British policy was to encourage the Bengali inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into these fertile valleys of Arakan as agriculturalists. The British East India Company extended the administration of Bengal to Arakan as, there was no international boundary between the two countries and no restriction was imposed on the emigration.
At first, most of them came as seasonal agricultural laborers and went home after the harvest was done. R. B. Smart estimated the number at about twenty-five thousand during the crop-reaping season alone. This is also because the colonial administration of India regarded the Bengalis as amenable subjects, while finding the indigenous Arakanese too defiant, rising in rebellion twice in 1830s. The flow of Chittagonian labor provided the main impetus to the economic development in Arakan and within a few decades along with the opening of regular commercial shipping lines between Chittagong and Akyab became an economic success. The arable land expanded to four and a half times between 1830 and 1852 and Akyab, became one of the major rice exporting cities in the world. Indeed, during a century of colonial rule, the Chittagonian immigrants became the numerically dominant ethnic group in the Mayu Frontier. That is the origin of the Mujahid or the Bengali Immigrants.
The crucial aspect of these Mujahid is that in the period of the independence movement in Burma in 1920s and 1930s the Muslims from the Mayu Frontier were more concerned with the progress of Muslim League in India. This clearly proved that their mentality is not with the Union of Burma but rather with the Muslims of India and from this thesis alone they did not qualify in the ethnic nationalities of the Union of Burma. But the most important point in their history with Burma is that before the beginning of the Second World War a political party, Jami-a-tul Ulema-e Islam was founded under the guidance of the Islamic scholars. Islam became the ideological basis of the party.
During the early post-war years both Arakanese and Bengali Muslims in the Mayu Frontier looked at each other with distrust. Relations between the Muslim Mujahid and the Arakanese have historically been tense. The ethnic violence between Arakanese Buddhists and those Muslim Chittagonians brought a great deal of bloodshed to Arakan during the World War II and after 1948, in the opening decade of independent Burma.
As the British Labor Government promised independence for Burma, some Muslims were haunted by the specter of their future living under the infidel rule in the place where the baneful Arakanese are also living. In 1946 a delegation was sent by the Jami-atul Ulema-e Islam to Ali Jina in Karachi (founder of Pakistan) to discuss with the leaders of the Muslim League, the possibility of incorporation of Buthidaung, Maungdaw and Ratheedaung townships into the then East Pakistan now Bangladesh. This also clearly proved that the Mujahid/Rohingya have no inclination to be in the Union of Burma and is not one of the ethnic tribes of the Union.
When Burma became independent in 1948, the Mujahid engaged in armed attacks in an unsuccessful effort to have the northern part of the state join East Pakistan. But the British ignored their proposal to detach the frontier area to award it to Pakistan.
The failure of their attempts ended in an armed revolt, with some Muslims, declaring a holy war Jihard on the young new Republic of the Union of Burma. A guerrilla army of 2700 fighters was organized. But in the long run they could not match the Arakanese and the Burmese army and in 1950s Prime Minister U Nu declares that if his party win he would grants them a concession and recognize them as an indigenous group so that the Immigrants voted for him but soon they lost their political and constitutional identity when the military coup came in 1962. The first Military government of General Ne Win promulgated the Citizenship Act of Burma in 1982. This effectively denied the Mujahid recognition of their status as an ethnic minority group. As a sign of peaceful disobedience these Mujahids deliberately refuse to speak any Burmese or Arakanese language.
The conclusion is that both the ethno-democratic forces composed of other ethnic nationalities and the Junta forces refuse to recognize them. The word “Rohingya” came into use in the 1950s by the educated Bengali residents who were the second or third generations of the Bengali immigrants from the Chittagong District in modern Bangladesh; this is to differentiate them from the existing Muslim communities inside Arakan, who are living peacefully with their Arakanese Buddhist brethren even before the state was absorbed into British India. Most of the poor uneducated Mujahid farmers, who faced the brunt of the ethnic cleansing policy of the Junta scarcely even knows that he was called a Rohingya.
In the past three decades, there have been significant migrations, forced and voluntary, of Mujahid to neighboring Bangladesh. In 1977, in response to the military government's attempt to identify illegal immigrants, some 200,000 group members sought refuge in Bangladesh. While most of them subsequently returned, in 1981-82 there was another exodus as Rangoon implemented a new citizenship law that required residents to prove that they have lived in the country since 1824. In the mid to late 1990s, further migrations to Bangladesh occurred, many of which were reportedly due to forcible expulsions by the Junta. From a high of 250,000 Mujahids in Bangladeshi refugee camps in the early 1990s, there were some 20,000 left by the end of 2000 after the rest had returned to Burma. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has financially supported the camps.
The Mujahid faced many demographic stresses such as deteriorating public health conditions, declining caloric intake, dispossession from their land, and internal resettlement as a result of government policies. During the 1998-2000 periods, thousands of villagers were evicted in order to transform their rice fields into poppy plantations. Further, some of the land that belonged to Mujahidin Bangladeshi refugee camps was turned over to the local Arakanese.
At the time of this writing, about one million Mujahidlive in the north western parts of Burma, near the Bangladesh border. Hundreds of thousands of Mujahid are currently living in neighbouring Bangladesh, where they are unwanted refugees. Mujahidwomen like any other ethnic race in Burma are frequently subject to sexual abuse and rape by Tatmadaw soldiers. Reportedly, Burma’s military continues to commit atrocities against the civilian population. As such, desperate Mujahids pour across t he borders into Bangladesh every year.
As far as Bangladesh is concerned is that after providing shelter to the Mujahid for nearly three decades, it is now concerned about the annual increase in their numbers. Apart from being an economic burden, the Mujahid involvement in insurgent activities along the Burma-Bangladesh border is feared by the government. Hence to reduce the influx, the government has declared that it will no more consider any asylum seeker as refugee. Anti- Mujahid communities in Bangladesh have also pressurized the government to repatriate the Mujahid. “Bangladesh never signed any kind of international act, convention or law for allowing and giving shelter to refugees, That’s why we are not bound to provide shelter to the Rohingyas.” was said by its Foreign Minister Dipu Moni. .
An Analysis of the Current Situation
(1) The Tatmadaw controlled by the hard liners under the master brain came out as a clear winner, as it can kill two or more birds with a stone. First it was able to win the entire Arakanese population (both inside Burma and in Diaspora) to support the Tatmadaw as it is the lesser of the two evils, if compared to an alien occupiers, threatening their way of life, values and religion. Second, it can discredit Daw Aung San Suu Kyi internationally and nationally pacing her in a very awkward position. Third it prove once and for all that the people of Burma is still unfit for democracy and that a strong arm tactics is still a necessity, as passions always get the better of their reasoning not to mention the free press or free speech as none of them act responsibly. Fourth and most importantly is that it shattered the Burmese ethnic solidarity by forcing them to choose sides.
(2) A few dedicated Mujahid intellectuals based in the West especially in Europe backed by the Bengali Professors in US came out with flying colours as they have successfully lobbied not only to the countries of their residence but also to the UN and most of the INGOs who all shared their perspective and could rally, not only the Mujahid but most of the Burmese Muslims both inside and outside the country. They were also able to organise the so call activist ethnic leaders who are cock eye to business inside Burma and got the support of some Islamic funds from the Middle East. But most importantly they could manage to coin the word, “Rohingya” .internationally as the most persecuted people of the world and count on the world sympathy. In other words they have beaten the Burmese in general, and Arakanese in particular in forcing to use the word Rohingya. Now the next step is that they are appealing to the conscious of the Islamic world, trying to draw them into the conflict and is endeavouring their level best to make Rohigya a global problem. Even now Turkey is seeking to bring the plight of Rohingya onto the international agenda by calling on the global community to end its silence on the situation. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said on Wednesday that Turkey was concerned over the treatment of the Rohingya. “We expect more sensibility from the international community for the Rohingya Muslims, who left their homes, belongings and land,” “Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya:” book written by photographer Greg Constantine became a hit topic at the London School of Economics discussion and no doubt the world sympathy is with the Mujahids as Al Jazeera often highlighted their situation. The strength and strategy of the Rohingya could not be taken lightly, if we do not solve this problem in time.
(3) It also reveal the ideological bankruptcy of the quasi civilian government of Thein Sein, when he foolishly proposed to the UNHCR to let them go to the Third country as refugees, when it was the Military governments of Burma that has been creating refugees all these half a century and sending them to all parts of the world? What, is the civilized world will compel to accept another millions of Mujahids?
(4) It badly tarnished the image of the Burmese in Diaspora especially the pro democracy activists. They themselves have been refugees and have seek asylum in West where they are warmly welcome and now some of them sided with the Burmese military against the Mujahid who are also homo sapiens like them. Burma Campaign UK, put it, “ Is it right that we should receive threats and abuse just for having a different opinion than them? That is the approach and mind set of the dictatorship. It shouldn’t be the way things are done in a democracy. People do need to ask themselves why they are so ready to believe these lies. It casts a long shadow over Burma. Violence and intolerance took hold. Is this the kind of Burma people want to see in the future? Isn’t one of the main reasons for having a democracy that disagreements can be debated and settled politically, not through violence and threats? Burma’s democracy movement is an anti-dictatorship movement, but it must also be a movement for human rights, for tolerance and for equality.”
(5) It also paints the picture that ethnic nationalities leaders are somewhat racist and cannot get along with each other having their own individual agendas and obsessions, the prove of it is that they can never stand together all these half a century even the military can took one by one easily. This will go on for sometimes to come until one day they all will be categorise in the history books as the vanishing tribes and all become Myanmarnese. That is one of the reasons of why the regime is so intent to calling the country Myanmar.
(6) It also highlight that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi needs more intelligentsia who can relate to the past, the present and the future. The baby boomers of Burma are already septuagenarian or octogenarian even though very few of them are active, the X and the Y generations are all brought up in a close Burmese Way to Socialism and are closed with little or no outside knowledge or experience internationally. It is a must to lure the Diaspora community where the Burmese best brains are used by foreign countries. It should appeal to the Diaspora Intelligentsia with nostalgia (numbering 3 to 5 million) to lure back to the country giving them incentives to share their wisdom to the next generations especially the N Generations who will implement the schemes.
(7) The successive military administrations have proven beyond doubt that there is no rule of law. The late General Saw Maung has remarked that “State Law and Order Restoration Council means that Law is in our hands and we can do anything we like.”This was also remarked by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Can we remedy it with this quasi military regime?
(8) It had proves beyond doubt that successive military administrations cannot defend the country’s sovereignty, except by brute force. They were so bent on retaining their power at any cost and using the divide and rule policy among the ethnic nationalities that they are unaware of the encroaching Chinese and Bengalis tigers. Here the Burmese proverb of Nwa Kwe’ Kya Kaik meaning that if the buffaloes do not stand together the tiger will finish them off one by one. The Tatmadaw could not comprehend the internationally complicated and advanced methods used by other countries. Even now they do not have the will or the inkling to tackle it.
(9) It also drives home to every Muslim to respect other beliefs and religions especially in their adopted countries to respect the local laws and belief and that the theory of the Koran or the sword cannot be applied.
(10) But most importantly of all, is that it has a very bad and negative impression on Buddhism especially the Theravada Buddhism, when Buddhism is considered to be the most compassionate religions of the world. How are the followers of Lord Buddha, Burmese Buddhist in general, and Rakhine Buddhist in particular, practice their compassion to the other human being not similar to them, when in face. Lord Buddha has showed several ways to curb their own passion and desires.
Win Win Situation
As I use to hum the tune, “It takes all sorts to make a world as there are so many jobs to do, but the best of the lot is the one that I recommend to you.” we must remember that Burma is under populated of less than 60 million while all our immediate neighbours Thailand in the East and Bangladesh in the West have far more population, even though their land area is much more smaller than Burma. This does not count our giant neighbours of India and China. Naturally all our neighbours want to dump their excess population into Burma with rich natural resources.
The immediate problem where both legal and illegal immigration is concerned is the Chinese in the east and not so much Bengalis in the West. A rough estimate put that there are more than 4 million Chinese immigrants in Burma so much so that Mandalay, the second capital of Burma is called 2nd Beijing as most of the business area and the city has been taken over by the Chinese while the locals have moved to the suburbs. This does not included the illegal Chinese coming across the border areas posing as ethnic nationalities. So why did the Tatmadaw did create this Mujahid problem when it tried its level best to placate the local outburst against the Chinese? The Burmese saying of not being able to conquer Kalar beat up the Rakhine was skillfully turned into being unable to tackle the Chinese turned on to Kalar.
Will the Thein Sein Administration ever challenge the illegal Chinese as many of them have become local quarters and township chairman? The Burmese army is too afraid to tackle on the Chinese, as it has to depend on them not only arms and ammunition but also the diplomatic support without which all of them would now be standing trial in Hague. The Generals security came first then the security of Burma. But at the same time they know the real situation and to tackle this Chinese problem it must get the Western support and this is the main reason of letting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD to come back to the political field. Naturally, the resource hungry West falls into this trap.
So the only hope is that if the Lady wins the election in 2015 with a wide margin other than the army generals then she would be in a position to solve this problem once and for all with a Win Win situation
The country is heading for democracy, equality, free trade and probably federal type with the 2nd Panglong Conference and all its citizens can chose to reside anywhere else in the country provided they respect the local laws and authority. Full Stop. But not the aliens. Since there is much influx of Chinese, the government can confine them to Western Burma where now the majority of the Mujahid resides; this is feasible as China is constructing a fast railroad with the gas pipe line schedule to complete in 2013-14. Confined these China-men to that area of the Rohingya. Then send all these so call Mujahid/Rohingyas to the eastern part of Burma where there are lots of land with a favourable weather and they can eke out their lives there.(as a matter of fact China's top legislature passed a new exit and entry law on June 30 which stipulates harsher punishments for illegal entry, stay or employment of foreigners)
Of course these Chinese and Mujahids must be issued with a special ID card and compel them to respect the local Burmese laws and customs. If anyone refused to go along with this order then he must be persecuted according to law and finally deported to the country of its origin. In this way it will stop the illegal immigrants entering the country by fair or foul means. Just by looking at the features of the person one can pin point that he is an illegal immigrant from China if found in the Mujahid area or Bangali in Chinese dominated area. We will have to take drastic action once caught. This will solve the problem at least for half a century until their children got married to each other or the local population.
Then what will be the cost of this mass exodus? The Burmese government did not need to spend a single pyar (Burmese currency of cents). The 31 INGOs, who do not have the slightest idea of Burmese nation building, not to mention the Burmese psyche or rationale, but requested the Burmese government to repel the 1982 citizenship law will gladly fund. Of course they will be joined by 58 civil societies, since these NGOs and civil societies can view from the humanitarian perspective only, it will be far cheaper and methodical to fund the mass exodus with the cooperation of the Burmese government then resettling them in third countries as persecuted refugees.
It will also paint the picture that Burma accepted all these aliens both Bengalis and Chinese, mercifully and magnanimously in as much the Burmese refugees are accepted in the West in all these 50 years. It will earn credit in taking her rightful place in the family of nations. Even vast countries like Canada, Australia, Germany etc have not accepted these refugees (economic and political) in millions, Burma has accepted them will be categorized as the only nation, to show to the entire world that it had accepted such massive numbers. But it also has to make it clear that it has the limits because she cannot accept any more economic refugees. Obviously, it will be a great challenge to any Burmese administration as it will have to copy and adopt a Thai policy of making anyone who chose to remain in Thailand must speak Thai. Eventually as the years go by all these aliens must become Burmese even though they can maintain their customs, language and values dedicated to the Genuine union of Burma (not only to the big Bamar/Myanmar race)
Obviously the timid and coward quasi military administration of Thein Sein will not dared to implement this scheme as it had harbour many corrupt personals but I am quite positive that once Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to power in 2015 she will have the guts to implement for the sake of the country and people of Burma. Unlike the military administrations of 50 years Burma no longer send out the refugees but have accepted the massive economic refugees from Bangladesh and China.
It is far better for the Burmese to have more visions than more emotions. This is my humble idea of solving this chronic problem and anyone who has a much better idea will let us know so that we can back him up. But for speaking the truth and by endeavouring to solve this national problem I will draw flak with anger from the followings:-
(1) Mujahid /Rohingya and pro Mujahid/Rohingya groups since I draw the carpet out of their feet and there is no way for them to create a new country of Arakanistan.
(2) The Chinese Companies and people residing in Burma will be very upset and put them on the defensive as categorising them as somewhat similar to Mujahid and they will find it be very hard to implement their peaceful colonization of Burma, somewhat like Tibet when their long term goal is that Burma to be 6th autonomous regions of China. Indeed their old map indicates that China owns all the territories East of the Salween river.
(3) The Rakhine Buddhist since they will face a new race which is more numerous and industrious and more business minded than the existing Mujahids.
(4) From the 31 INGOs, who had petitioned the Burmese government to repel the citizenship law as well as some other philanthropic organizations involved in Burmese humanitarian works, since it place the ball into their courts and have no excuse but to help the exodus if they are genuinely humanitarian.
(5) From the Human Rights organizations of the world for the mass exodus from one place to another. But the Wa have moved their whole tribe to areas dominated by the Shan and will be no problem to transfer these less than one million Mujahids and two plus million Chinese.
(6) From the Burmese Diaspora both the anti and pro Rohingay groups since it was a baby boomer and a septuagenarian that got this idea because they are living history and exposed to an open well rounded education.
(7) The so called existing business men together with their retinue of Burmese activists now trying to find a place in the sun as they love the status quo.
(8) Last, but not the least is from the Tatmadaw and the hard liners who after the successful implementation of “Let the minority fight the minority” and is tormenting such communal riots between the Shan and WA, between Karen and Mon will realise that they have no leverage to play a centrifugal role as the saviour, indispensible to the country and that a theory of a strong army is needed to keep the country together was shattered once and for all.
This is by my humble attempt to solve the chronic problem and perhaps if I am not construe as a trouble shooter could be label, as a trouble maker but this is the cheap price which I am willing to pay for my beloved country of the Union of Burma in my dotage stage.
(i) See Charney 1999: 279.
(ii) Smart 1957: 99
(iii) Khin Gyi ;Pyaw Records of the Arakanese Ppeople 1960: 99
See REB45X = 4
(iv) Khin Gyi ;Pyaw 1960: 99; TheNation Daily 1953: April16
(v) This is the only respect where both the Junta and the opposition forces agreed on. The Ethnic forces have asked the Rohingyas to work with the Arakanese opposition forces in order to recognize their identity and the latter refused.
(vi) Siddiqui, Dr Habib; The Rohingya Block in The letter from America. News and Article Covering Rohingya and Burma
(vii) Turkey to Raise Awareness of Rohingya Issue. Irrawaddy Magazine 17-7-2012
(viii) Inky; Mark, Rohingya Plight Highlighted in London in Irrawaddy 18-7-2012
( ix) Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guangxi, Ningxia, and Myen Tien ??(Burma),Myen ? means 'distant and ? Tien means controlled by the Chinese emperor. Directly interpreted means a distant tribe controlled by the Chinese emperor
The Irrawaddy - ‘Federalism’ No Longer a Dirty Word
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| July 19, 2012
The Burmese government has conceded that a federal union is the only way to guarantee peace and stability in the conflict-ridden nation, claim ethnic MPs.
Shwe Mann, the speaker of Burma’s Lower House of Parliament, reported told members on the sidelines of the legislature’s fourth session that a federal union was inevitable but would not arrive any time soon.
“[Shwe Mann] told me that his government agrees to set up federal union in order to have peace in the country,” said Nai Banyar Aung Moe, an MP for the All Mon Regions Democracy Party in the Lower House (Pyithu Hluttaw). “But the government will not agree to have eight federal states.”
Burma currently recognizes 135 distinct ethnic groups but for decades the military has vehemently objected to suggestions of a federal union for fear that different states would attempt to secede if granted regional autonomy.
Nai Banyar Aung Moe said that the federal issue will be raised in the future but it might take another five years to be implemented. He was part of a group of ethnic MPs that visited India earlier this month to study its federal system and how power is shared between state and union levels.
And ethnic MPs insist they will continue to bring up the issue of a federal Burma in Parliament even if the current military-dominated administration refuses to discuss it at the moment.
“We will do whatever we can in order to have a federal country even though we know we cannot manage this and have a real democracy with this Constitution,” said Ba Shein, an ethnic Arakanese lawyer and MP for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party in the Lower House.
Representatives from all parties and ethnic groups must come together to fight for a federal union as it is simply a matter of convincing the top level of government to make the change, he said adding, “It is important to have a goal. One day we will reach our goal if we do not stop fighting.”
Burma has undergone a tentative process of democratic reform over the past year after more than half-a-century of military rule. The Parliament is now home to lively debates from a broad spectrum of society despite having 25 percent of seats reserved for armed forces personnel.
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi joined the legislature along with 42 other members of her National League for Democracy party following a landslide win in the April 1 by-elections. Yet despite tentative democratic reforms, ethnic representatives are still effectively barred from top positions in regional assemblies due to the military’s dominance.
Burmese President Thein Sein met representatives from 10 minority political parties for the first time in Naypyidaw on Wednesday which observers say indicates that his government is keen to work on a more consensual basis in the future.
Zo Zam, a MP for the Chin National Party, apparently proposed a federal union to Thein Sein at the meeting, although his suggestion was not reported in the state-run media.
The Irrawaddy - EDITORIAL: Aung San’s Legacy Lives On
By THE IRRAWADDY| July 19, 2012
For the first time in a generation, Burma today officially commemorated Martyrs’ Day—the occasion marked all the more important by state TV coverage of a poignant ceremony at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon where Aung San Suu Kyi laid flowers at her father’s tomb.
This ceremony and the others like it across the country indicate true signs of change.
With flags flying at half-staff, Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham joined Suu Kyi as she laid three baskets of flowers in front of her father’s tomb. He laid a wreath of white orchids and saluted the slain leader as a solemn two-minute silence was observed.
Sixty-five years ago, a group of armed men loyal to U Saw, Aung San’s political rival, surreptitiously entered the Secretariat Building in central Rangoon, burst through the door into the chamber where Aung San and his cabinet ministers were having a meeting, and sprayed the room with bullets. The nation lost nine martyrs, including the architect of its independence, General “Bogyoke” Aung San.
Some years before, as a student at Rangoon University, the young Aung San was considered somewhat eccentric, often abrupt and desperately anti-social. He nevertheless rose to prominence as a student activist, was a leader within the Thakin (“we master”) movement, and soonafter a fugitive revolutionary wanted by the British colonial authorities.
He sought foreign assistance to end British occupation, and founded the modern Burmese army. His stint in the armed forces was neither long-term nor distinguished; rather he gained popularity as politician and eventually sat down with the British, at home and in London, to negotiate his country’s independence. By his early 30s, he was a statesman who was able and ready to lead the nation once the transition to independence was completed.
That tragic day in 1947 robbed Burma of its moment of glory, and radically altered the country’s destiny. Burma subsequently plunged into civil war, and never again saw such a trusted and able political leader at its helm.
Under successive military governments, Aung San was relegated in status, especially after his daughter, Suu Kyi, returned in 1988 to pick up the torch on his behalf, to continue the struggle toward an independence that was still not tangible.
The military junta acted in self-interest to suppress Aung San’s legacy; its conduct in doing so was undignified and ugly.
Martyrs’ Day ceased to exist. Aung San’s memory was reduced to small and limited gatherings, and the picture of Aung San was removed from Burmese currency as if he had never existed.
In fact, Aung San had never died. Many people still say he lives in the hearts of millions of Burmese. He sacrificed his life for Burmese independence, and his ability to articulate the country’s future and his dreams of fortifying its armed forces were evident in his forthright speeches. Though he was young, he was a visionary who won the trust of people of all ethnicities, and was destined to be the one to lead the new nation.
On a day like today, we cannot help but wonder what would have happened if not for those tragic murders. When we look at what resulted in the coming years and decades—military brutality, misrule, mismanagement, corruption and incompetence—it is easy to second guess that Burma’s future would have been much brighter.
Sadly, the main protagonist of Burma’s downfall was Ne Win, a former colleague of Aung San, who led the country through a dark age for 26 years.
But what the military regime never fully realized was that Aung San was always there in the background, his selfless reputation making a mockery of the generals’ petty jealousies and greed.
No sooner had people felt the first drops of this Burmese Spring, when suddenly old black and white photographs of the Bogyoke began appearing everywhere. Aung San T-shirts were suddenly a big hit with youths, while local movie-makers clamored to stake a claim in producing a comprehensive biopic.
His daughter, an elected MP who spent 15 years under house arrest, has now reached an understanding with the ruling authorities. She was recently allowed to travel abroad for the first time—and return. During her overseas trip, she said that she was ready to lead the nation if her party wins the elections in 2015.
Like Suu Kyi, we are “cautiously optimistic” as the country wades through this transition.
Suu Kyi and her colleagues face an uphill battle. This time, however, the adversary is not foreign colonialism but a home-grown dictatorship which has reduced the resource-rich nation to the ranks of one of the world’s poorest states.
The question now is: can she beat the odds and succeed as her father did, or will her highly principled approach, which contrasts so starkly with Aung San’s pragmatism, doom her struggle to failure?
Either way, we can be sure that the spirit of Aung San continues to watch over his unfinished struggle.
The Irrawaddy - UN Builds 2,500 Shelters for Kachin Refugees
By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| July 19, 2012 |
Amid war the escalating conflict in northern Burma’s Kachin State, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is building 2,500 shelters for civilians displaced by fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels.
“We estimate that more than 48,000 displaced people in Kachin State have received our assistance in the form of mosquito nets, blankets, tarpaulins and plastic floor mats,” Vivian Tan, the spokesperson for the UNHCR in Asia told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.
“We have given them warm clothes to protect their children against the harsh climate, as well as soap, detergent, buckets, pots, plates, cups, cooking and eating utensils,” she added.
Due to hostilities between the government army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA), there are an estimated 70,000 people sheltering in temporary camps in by the Sino-Burmese border. According to KIA sources, 1,640 battles have been recorded since the conflict erupted on June 19, 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire.
Although official causality figures are not available, rebel sources say that every encounter entails some injuries. Despite repeated attempts at peace negotiations over 13 months of hostilities, no end is in sight.
The KIA reports that government reinforcements including artillery and mortars have been called into the areas around Bhamo Township, in southern Kachin State and in Muse, northern Shan State, both close to rebel strongholds.
The KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), last signed ceasefire agreement with the government in 1994 but the truce stood ended on June 19 last year. KIA is thought to have around 15,000 fighting troops and it is Burma’s second biggest ethnic armed group after United Wa State Army (UWSA).
All other major ethnic armed groups—including the Karen National Union, Shan State Army-South, New Mon State Party and Karenni National Progressive Party—have reached ceasefire agreements with Naypyidaw over recent months.
As a result of recent ceasefire agreements, there are reports of more than 150,000 Burmese refugees living in nine camps along Thai-Burma border being repatriated. UNHCR officials have been visiting the area often to discuss the resettlement the displaced.
In May, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies held a repatriation workshop for community-based organizations to be ready to get involved in repatriation program when it comes sometime in the future.
Asked about the return of Burmese refugees on the Thai-Burmese border, Tan told said that the UNHCR is not yet ready to promote their return.
“Like the refugees, we are closely watching developments inside Myanmar and we are supporting efforts to prepare for possible returns if and when the refugees themselves want to go home,” she said.
“There are still many things that need to be done to show the kind of progress that would help refugees decide for themselves whether conditions are right for them to go home.”
Burmese lawyer’s license returned after 20-year disbarment
Thursday, 19 July 2012 12:30 Mizzima News
A Burmese human rights lawyer whose right to practice was removed by the former military government for political reasons can now practice law again in his country.
The Supreme Court informed Robert San Aung by letter on June 9 that it had decided to allow him to practice again, after almost 20 years of disbarment, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which posted a notice on its website.
The AHRC Hong Kong-based director, Wong Kai Shing, said that the return of the lawyer's license was a good sign, but he should never have lost his license because he was only defending his client or expressing his political beliefs, which was his right.
Wong called for further unilateral revocations of licenses by the newly elected government to end, and for no more lawyers to be investigated simply for representing the interests of their clients according to law.
Robert San Aung had his license revoked in 1993 after defending clients in political cases. He said a military intelligence officer conveyed the letter revoking his license. Since 1974, he has also been imprisoned a total of six times for political reasons.
Despite the revocation of his license, Robert San Aung has in the interim continued to work on a wide range of human rights cases, including those concerning child soldiers, forced labour, illegal detention and unlawful confiscation of land, said the AHRC.
In March, the AHRC published an article on the state of law in Burma, saying half a century of one form of direct or indirect military rule has resulted “in a massively dysfunctional justice system.”
“Despite this situation, many lawyers in Burma take a strong interest in social causes, and some in political ones,” it said. “Many undertake their day-to-day professional tasks with eyes towards larger goals for societal change. However, because the legal system through which they must work has deteriorated dramatically over the last half century, it no longer has power to intervene in major events or affairs. It has lost significance in the public imagination and has become profoundly dysfunctional.”
The AHRC said the prospect of government reprisals against lawyers for undertaking their ordinary professional activities is one that acutely affects the legal profession in the country.
The very first item on the code of conduct for lawyers appearing before court is a warning not to engage in any behaviour that may constitute contempt, it said. Once a lawyer has been convicted for contempt, or for practically any other purported infraction, a lawyer can be disbarred.
We are not gods but wounded creatures: A Martyrs Day mantra
Thursday, 19 July 2012 12:16 May Ng
(Commentary) – On a dark and rainy morning on July 19, 1947, hit men sent by Galon U Saw shot past the People’s Volunteer Organizations guards and sprayed bullets into the Governor’s Executive Council, as Aung San, the architect of Burma’s imminent freedom, rose to his feet; instantly killing almost the entire pre-independence cabinet.
Among those killed with Aung San, were Razak – a Muslim politician, Mahn Ba Khaing – a Karen politician, and Sao Sam Htun—the prince of Mong Pawn in Shan State. It was indeed the darkest day in Burma’s modern history and the killer U Saw was a Burman.
U Saw was a dominant politician in the late 1930s under colonial rule, and he was exiled to Uganda during the war after the British discovered his offer to help the Japanese invade Burma. He returned to Burma after the war with a German wife even though he was already married and had a string of mistresses. At the time, U Saw was trying to climb his way back into the mainstream Burmese politics unsuccessfully, with his Myochit Party, which was viewed as pre-war sleaze. According to historians, U Saw feared in the early days of Burma’s independence that without British help the country might wake up to find the Chinese in Mandalay one day, in Sagaing the next, and Rangoon the day after.
The death of Aung San had a profound effect on the future of Burma and the political status of the minority hill tribes. In 1941-42 during the Japanese invasion, the goal of Karens and other minorities was to secure a separate political status.
Still, in 1945 when the British returned to Burma after the war, only a few Karen, Kachin, Shan or Chin radicals were talking about political separation from Burma. But the negotiations in September 1945 made no attempt to integrate the armed minorities with the armed Burmese. There was to be two separate armies within one, with Kachins, Karens and Chins and the Burmese elements in the British army, and a separate 6,000 Burmanized officer corps of a second wing of Burma National Army (BNA). The Karens fears became even sharper when leftist army officers decided to raise yet another irregular force, the Sitwundan, the leaders of which were dacoits, criminals or political chameleons.
By early 1946, the factious nature of Burmese politics was also becoming apparent when there was an implosion of Burmese Communist political party, after Thakin Soe accused Thakin Than Tun and others of compromising Communist purity by making deals with imperialists. Aung San, who had formally surrendered his military rank to participate in politics, was caught between the British and the old guard like U Saw on the one side, and Thakin Soe and the Communists on the other.
And then, only weeks after Burma gained its independence from Britain on January 4, 1948, the Burman Communist faction was already on the warpath planning to cut off Rangoon from Mandalay. But even as the government was relying heavily on the minority forces for survival, an ethnic schism was inevitably formed as the Rangoon government viewed the Communist insurgents who were Burmans as a lesser threat to integrity of the Union than the ethnic minorities clamoring for their autonomous rights.
Today after more than 60 years, the Burmese military continues to use coercion and violence especially in ethnic minority areas, to enforce elusive peace and security, intent on building an ethnically and ideologically pure Burma.
By believing that it alone are the liberators of Burma, the Burmese military continues to control the monopoly on the use of force, leaving out the non-Burmese speaking minorities from the power structure with few exceptions even after convening the military-led Parliament in Naypyitaw today.
The military government’s mishandling of recent ethnic strife in Arakan and the escalation of war in Kachin State are direct results of Burman ethnocentric nationalism.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s belief that it is time for all sides in Burma, first to end bloody conflicts, and to face one another across the negotiating table will be no doubt met with delays, twists and turns, and paranoia.
President Obama and Secretary of the State Hillary Clinton, who are the architects of the latest relaxation of sanctions on Burma, must continue to bear pressure on the military to continue down the path of genuine peace and democracy. Burma’s new President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi are visionary and democrats. But their positions are tenuous in the face of such an entrenched and powerful institution as the Burmese military.
Their vision to turn the army, the only viable institution in Burma, into a positive force for democracy will be only a pipedream without outside interventions, now that the military government will be profiting enormously from financial investments by the United States and others.
The world must be especially vigilant now in what is taking place politically and financially in Burma. Burma is a nation racially and financially segregated by the army in Naypyitaw. The military continues to oppress by confiscating land, depriving farmers, and forcibly removing ethnic minorities to clear up large areas for various economic schemes slated to benefit only the most privileged army elites.
Salman Rushdie once wrote, “We are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses capable only of fractured perceptions, perhaps it is because our sense is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to our death.” No one knows it better than Aung San Suu Kyi, who lost her father a lifetime ago and now has already spent most of her life trying to find a way out for the country, the minority tribes and the army.
Maybe it is not too late for the army to admit that it is not god and that it should not act as one by preventing the Burmese people from mourning openly during Martyrs Day – today and forever.
It is now time that the army returns to the job of really defending the people as was originally intended, at the founding of Burmese Independence.
Military security officer denies torture of Kachin man
Thursday, 19 July 2012 11:35 Mizzima News
A Burmese army officer who said Lahtaw Brang Shawng confessed to working with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) testified on Monday that he did not torture the defendant during interrogation.
Burmese Military Affairs Security Officer Major Kyaw Zwa Lin told the judge he didn’t beat or torture the defendant, according to an article by the Kachin News Group.
Brang Shawng was arrested by Burmese authorities in the Jan Mai Kawng Internally Displaced Persons camp on June 17 under suspicion of involvement in a bombing operation and having contact with the KIA.
In a hearing on July 13, the defendant’s lawyer, Ma Hka, was successful in introducing a list of wounds suffered by Lahtaw Brang Shawng into the court record, including burns on his face, stab wounds and beatings. He said his client was now suffering from a mental problem, illustrated by illogical laughter for no reason.
Major Kyaw Zwa Lin failed to appear at a court hearing on July 11.
Defense lawyer Ma Hka said, “When I cross examined him before the court, I asked if he knew the law does not allow the use of torture. He replied they know they can’t use torture. I asked why he tortured Brang Shawng. He replied that they didn’t really torture him but examined Brang Shawng according to the correct procedures.”
Kyaw Zwa Lin testified that Brang Shawng confessed to being a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) sergeant from 2011 until 2012. He said he participated in a KIA drug eradication operation in Sadung area in 2006 and attended bomb training in 2011.
Lawyer Ma Hka said his client only confessed after suffering days of torture at the hands of military intelligence officers.
“Lahtawng Brang Shawng is not a KIA soldier and has no connection with the KIO. He was forced to confess under serious torture. Military intelligence did not uncover any evidence so they needed to torture him to get a confession to use in court,” said Ma Hka.
Kyaw Zwa Lin said he didn’t think Lahtaw Brang Shawng was involved in a bombing, but it was one of the reasons they arrested him, said Ma Hka.
On July 6, over a thousand Myitkyina residents led by pastors from the Kachin Baptist Church took part in one of the largest peaceful demonstrations in Kachin State while calling for the release of Brang Shawng and other Kachin arrested under Act 17/1, which forbids contact with an illegal association.
On July 12, the Kachin Baptist Convention sent a petition to President Thein Sein asking for his release.
Judge Myint Htoo scheduled another court hearing on Monday and asked Major Kyaw Zwa Lin to return at that time.
DVB News - Exiles in Japan back president’s Rohingya plan
Published: 19 July 2012
Exiled Burmese democracy activists in Japan demonstrated on Wednesday in a rare show of support of President Thein Sein concerning his plan to expel the Rohingya minority group to third countries.
During his meeting with United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on 11 July, Thein Sein mooted a plan to hand over the Rohingyas to the body for resettlement in third countries; however, the UNHCR prompted rejected the idea.
On 18 July, Burmese activists led by the Association of United Nationalities in Japan (AUN) was joined by members from around 30 organisations including National League for Democracy-Liberated Area (NLD-LA) in protesting in front of the United Nations’ office in Tokyo in support of the president’s scheme.
While Burmese democratic activist organisations in Japan have protested against the government’s 2008 constitution, the 2007 crackdown and the formation of the nominally civil parliament in 2011, the activists on Wednesday appeared to be supportive of the plan to resettle about 800,000 Rohingyas outside of the country.
DVB News - Farmers call on Thein Sein to settle 30,000 acre dispute
By NANG MYA NADI
Published: 19 July 2012
Farmers in Magwe division’s Pauk township, who had 30,000 acres of farmland confiscated by the army, are reaching out to the president for a second time and asking Thein Sein to help settle the dispute.
In late 2008, the Burmese Army’s Defence Products Factory-24 under the Western Regional Military Command seized more than 30,000 acres of land from residents in about a dozen villages near Pauk.
Farmers said the army’s factory paid them 5,000 Kyat (around $5.5 USD) per an acre then rented the land back to group where they were able to work as tenants under a one-year contract.
One of the villagers, Tin Tin Kyu said they were ordered by the factor’s deputy-chief Kyaw Myint Naing to sign the contract; however, many of the farmers refused.
Last October, the villagers sent their first letter to president Thein Sein to look into the case, which prompted a group of military officials from Naypyidaw to visit the area.
The officials reportedly promised to help negotiate the dispute to prevent the farmers from being relocated but were unable to stop one of the Lehbinkine village from being relocated.
On 6 July, the group wrote another letter to the president and spoke with representatives from the Union Solidarity and Development Party in the township.
The party’s local parliamentary representative Khin Maung Nyo agreed to raise the issue in the parliament.
“Previously U Tin Htut of Zalun constituency submitted a proposal in the parliament to bring justice to land confiscations,” said Khin Maung Nyo. “I’ve [informed the parliament] to add this to the discussion regarding land confiscations in villages.”
While Burma’s nascent reforms have ushered in ceasefires, the participation of opposition parties and a drop in western sanctions, the country’s political developments have also given more leeway to
farmers seeking redresses for confiscated property.
On 16 July, farmers took to the streets of Rangoon in the first officially approved protests since the military coup in 1962.