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News Headlines - September 18, 2012 PDF Print E-mail

September 18, 2012

News Headlines

1.  Intl media mostly ignores Kachin conflict

2. Myanmar: a land of opportunity and inequality

3. Myanmar facing growing drug challenge

4. Myanmar's Nobel laureate Suu Kyi to miss Canada as she tours U.S.

5. Burma frees 514 prisoners, including political detainees, foreigners

6. Mission of Burma - Dan's Silverleaf - 9/14/12

7. Parkson ventures into Myanmar

8. Myanmar reforms press council after criticism

9. 'State to benefit from ties with Myanmar'

10. MYANMAR: No Retreat

11. Burma plays the race card

12.  Fledgling reforms in Myanmar marred by ethnic clashes


Intl media mostly ignores Kachin conflict
KIO Chairman Lanyaw Zawng Hra (left) and Burmese President Thein Sein
In Analysis   

Despite plenty of fighting, refugees and bloodshed the international media has largely ignored the ongoing conflict between Burma's army and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which has now entered its 14 months.

Most of the global coverage about Burma over the past year has focused instead on Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) entering the military dominated parliament and a series of limited reforms that Thein Sein's government has so far implemented.

On the relatively rare occasion that the Kachin conflict is mentioned in global news coverage, far too often the journalists doing the reporting fail to mention that the army chose to end its 17-year ceasefire with the KIO, three months after Thein Sein's nominally civilian government took power.  A key indicator that not all of the changes that have occurred during Thein Sein rule have been positive.

Several journalists have even confused the historical background of the KIO with that of the Karen National Union (KNU), Burma's oldest armed ethnic group.  While the 50 year-old Kachin fight for autonomy mirrors the Karen struggle in many ways, there are some key differences that must not be overlooked.

Journalists such as Financial Times correspondent Gwen Robinson do their readers a major disservice when claiming as she did on March 21 that the KIO's conflict with the government “began shortly after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948”.

While the KNU's armed insurrection began in 1948 the KIO's armed rebellion did not begin until much later in 1961.  One of the reasons there was no immediate uprising by Kachin forces following independence is because senior figures from the Kachin community signed a potentially far reaching agreement with General Aung San on February 12, 1947, after a week-long conference which was boycotted by the Karen leadership.

The Panglong agreement also signed by traditional leaders from the Chin and Shan communities promised these groups a fair amount of autonomy over their own affairs in exchange for their support for Burma's independence. Aung San's death just months later brought an end to the dream of Panglong, his successor U Nu never fully implemented the agreement in particular the promise of local autonomy.  In 1953 U Nu did pay superficial homage to the Panglong agreement by making the annual anniversary a national holiday.

Throughout his rule many of U Nu's policies antagonized those ethnic nationalities who took part in Panglong, this includes making a major pillar of his 1960 re-election campaign goal of constitutional amendment declaring Buddhism the state religion.  A move that helped fuel the beginning of the KIO's armed rebellion in February 1961. U Nu against the advice of even some of the country's most prominent Buddhists including Burma's first President Sao Shwe Thaike, nevertheless pushed the controversial amendment through parliament in August 1961.

The fact that several of the most important points agreed to Panglong were never put into effect by the U Nu or his military successor Ne Win remains a major point of contention for the KIO, whose leadership have frequently invoked Panglong during the series of negotiations they have had over the past 8 months with Burmese government representatives.

Few if any international journalists who cover the Kachin conflict bother to mention Panglong despite the fact that it is a key talking point for KIO spokespeople. One notable exception was a feature article written by photographer and filmmaker Nic Dunlop that published in June in Britain's Daily Telegraph.

Dunlop's article which went into some depth about the Kachin conflict and importantly detailed how the army has ignored President Thein Sein's public orders that the Kachin offensive be halted, was quite rare.  Unlike Dunlop's article more often than not when the Kachin conflict is mentioned at all it is cited as a minor issue of little importance when compared with the much publicized but limited reforms that have occurred so far under Thein Sein's watch.

Western audiences have also been saturated with a steady stream of op-eds heralding the change in Burma which devote less than a line or two to the Kachin conflict.  The including an article published last month that was authored by the former head of Amnesty International USA, William F Schulz, in which he suggests that the mere fact he received a visa to go to Burma is a strong indication of the level of change underway.

On wonders however if Schulz receiving a visa had less to do with any changes that have taken place in Burma and more to do with the fact that the human rights organization he currently heads the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, is not on the Burmese government's radar because has not released any statement or reports criticizing Burma's armed forces for committing continued human rights abuses in Kachin state or condemning the alleged collusion between anti-Muslim mobs in Arakan state and the army, as Schulz's former employer Amnesty International has done. 

Schulz and others like him who downplay or completely ignore the Kachin conflict in their upbeat analysis on developments in Burma, appear completely unaware that the more than 75,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the Kachin conflict began last year, triggering the largest upheaval to hit Kachin state since the Second World War.

Meanwhile Financial Times writer Robinson who remains one of the few international correspondents regularly sent to Burma to report on what is going on can't even manage to cover the peace negotiations accurately.  In a June 26 article she claimed incorrectly that the just concluded round of peace talks in Mai Ja Yang were the first such talks to take place on Burmese soil.  In fact a previous a round of talks were held in Mai Ja Yang a few weeks before, these talks like the follow-up Mai Ja Yang meetings were covered by Burma's exiled media.

One is left to wonder if Robinson is deliberately misrepresenting the Kachin conflict or just incompetent.  A blog posting on the Financial Post website from March 13  that co-authored by Robinson suggested that NGO's are to blame for sowing discontent among local people living in the vicinity of the now stalled Myitsone dam.  The blog largely dismissed the well founded fears held by local residents that large scale gold mining and harvesting of sand for cement are continuing to ruin the environment at the confluence of the Mali Hka and N’Mai Hka rivers, a site sacred to many Kachin.

Instead of examining these reports in details Robinson and her co-author smugly claimed “It’s quite a stretch from dam-building to gold-panning. No wonder, Chinese state companies find NGOs difficult.” A questionable conclusion when Burma's government continues to refuse to allow more than 2,000 people forcibly displaced from the area to return home and large trucks can be seen moving in and out of the Myitsone area on a regular basis.

But at least Robinson in her reporting does cover the Kachin conflict from time to time.  When New York Times Reporter Jane Perlez traveled to the Kachin state capital Myitkyina in April to report on the potential for US Burmese cooperation in the search for the remains of World War Two era US war dead, she omitted any mention of the Kachin conflict.  This despite the fact that much of the Kachin countryside where the US airman's bodies lie is now a conflict zone.  It is hard to see how Perlez upon arriving in Myitkyina could have missed obvious signs of tension in Myitikyina, including numerous army checkpoints.

In an similarly myopic March 31 article filed by Perlez from the northern Shan State town of Hsipaw, the author claimed that the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) which is building a hugely controversial pipeline that going from Burma's Arakan coast to Yunnan had learned from the unpopular and now officially stalled Myitsone dam and was compensating villagers who would be relocated by the construction of South East Asia's longest pipeline.

Perlez failed to mention that just a quick drive north of Hsipaw fighting between the Burmese army and the KIO has been taking place for months along a long stretch of territory slated to be the route of the pipeline. 

The ignorance displayed by Perlez about the pipeline stands in sharp contrast with a May 2009 article written by her New York Time colleague Thomas Fuller which quoted senior KIO leader Major General Gam Shawng warning that the pipeline would be used by Burma's military for its own strategic purposes to crush groups like the KIO.  “The pipeline will be a tool and an opportunity for the [Burmese regime] to eliminate the armed groups,” Major General Gam Shawng said, a prediction that has now come true. 

That Perlez is unaware of the fact that the Shwe pipeline's projected path heads through a stretch of traditional KIO territory which is currently the location of regular heavy fighting is hardly surprising given her other equally shallow reporting on Burma.  Perlez and other foreign journalists who travel to Burma without bothering to learn any background about the ongoing Kachin offensive are sadly all too common these days.


Myanmar: a land of opportunity and inequality

Inisde the vast Nay Pyi Taw airport, which was just opened early this year.Inisde the vast Nay Pyi Taw airport, which was just opened early this year.
In other parts of the city and elsewhere in Myanmar, people are living in extremely poor conditions. In Yangon, visitors are frequently stopped on the street, as locals ask for money. Poorly maintained buildings are everywhere: clothes hang here and there, suggest a number of people living in small rooms.

Yet, some locals are seen with mobile phones, though a SIM card costs US$250 against average monthly wage of 15,000 kyat (about $20 or Bt600). In the country where the telephone penetration rate is only 5.8 per cent, visitors must rent SIM cards at the airport on arrival, while many Burmese can only afford one-time SIMs with a number that expires after a few days when credit runs out. SIM cards are made prohibitively pricey to prevent the tiny network from becoming overloaded, while e-mailing and web-surfing is rare.

While Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital, is supplied with 24-hour power, most offices of foreign companies in Yangon rely on power generators as public supply is frequently cut off. Yangon's domestic airport is in extremely poor condition, lined with rows of chairs showing the Thai Airways logo (which reminded me of chairs at Don Muang Airport). The international terminal at Nay Pyi Taw is brand-new, big and properly air-conditioned, looking much like international airports elsewhere, though it caters to only a few airlines and a few daily flights.

A three-hour delay is usual, though. That is considered lucky. One local man told me that years ago he waited a whole day for a domestic flight, only to learn that it was cancelled. "Cancellation is rare now, with the number of foreigners visiting the country. At worst, flights are just delayed."

Along the expressway to Nay Pyi Taw, lampposts stand with just a few thin electric wires. In some places the single wire is cut off and the post is covered with weeds. Elsewhere in the world, lampposts are lined up in straight lines; here, they veer right and left across vast green fields.

Despite the poor condition of infrastructure, Yangon is a magnet drawing foreign investors from all over the world, including Thais. Compared to 15 years ago when I first visited the city, Yangon is today busier and promises to get even busier as the country lifts an iron curtain in place for over 50 years.

Over 600 participants attended the "Euromoney Conference on Myanmar Global Investment Forum" in the capital last week. Discussed at the recently-completed Myanmar Convention Centre was the progress of reform, as well as Myanmar's potential and promise. Enthusiasm was apparent among the foreigners who attended the sessions.

If you plan investment in the country, here is some basic info from Bangkok Bank:

Myanmar still has limited trade with the international community, with Thailand accounting for 37 per cent, followed by Hong Kong and China.

Myanmar now reaps 32 per cent of its export income from natural gas.

The country is attractive for investment in mining, construction (particularly with massive financing from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund expected), fisheries (ahead of the much-anticipated Generalised System of Preferences from the US), as well as industrial parks and serviced apartments.

A visit will be valuable with a good local guide. Titbits, underlining local sentiment towards the government and the future, are there to be shared. Here are some:

Myanmar's government is believed to have built the new capital on the order of China, which has played an influential role in the country for years. Against the traditional concept that a capital city needs a port, Nay Pyi Daw is inland, just like Beijing.

Myanmar is actually a rich country, with huge gold reserves confiscated during military rule, which will be returned when the country is truly democratic. Natural resources are abundant (trucks at Yangon port can be seen loaded with teak).

Myanmar now possesses a more open political climate. Over the past three decades, locals couldn't talk politics; you could be whisked away to police stations and disappear for days, months or years.

Myanmar, with abundant resources, will soon narrow the economic gap with Thailand. It lags 35 years behind, and the gap will widen without reforms.

President Thein Sein is considered the least corrupt general. His commitment to reform for the sake of the country makes it a good time to invest in Myanmar.

Myanmar's future president is expected to be Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero General Aung San. How long she can be in power is uncertain, given her age of 67. Still, all Myanmar people hope that "as long as she lives, she will remain in parliament, to speak for the people".

Myanmar is not expected to reverse the reforms, but the possibility is there. Still, the general feeling is that the government will not undo the reforms so far, "or Myanmar could become another Syria".

Go and see for yourself. But plan well, as flights are busy. Rates at a decent hotel can be over $300 per night while a one-bedroom serviced apartment costs $3,500 a month. Notably, in this cash-based society, bring enough folding money.


Myanmar facing growing drug challenge

By Shwe Yinn Mar Oo (AFP) – 4 hours ago

TAUNGGYI, Myanmar — Surging production in the poppy fields and methamphetamine factories of Myanmar's remote borderlands is stoking fears of a drug crisis that is sweeping young people into addiction.

Authorities in the former pariah nation say the problem is getting worse, while the flow of drugs from often rebel-held areas of western Shan State is reviving Myanmar's old reputation as a hub for narcotics production.

Although there are few available statistics, residents and aid workers in Shan State's bustling capital of Taunggyi say increasing numbers of young people are succumbing to the plethora of opiates and synthetic drugs produced locally.

The drug of choice is known as 'formula' -- a potent cocktail of cough medicine and opium that is taken as a drink -- although methamphetamine and heroin are also popular.

Addicts get high at university campuses, homes and even openly in some teashops, while residents report surging drug use during local festivals.

"It is like they can be popular only if they use drugs," said Taunggyi resident Ye Naung, 33, of a new and growing generation of young users.

Myo Aung Zan of the HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Program (HAARP) said "hero" worship of older addicts had created this burgeoning group of users -- many still teenagers.

"The number of under-18 users is quite high now," he told AFP.

A 2011 UN report on the Asia-Pacific region found methamphetamine use rose in Myanmar each year since 2005, while heroin and opium showed a declining trend -- although there has never been comprehensive research on the subject.

Rough government estimates put the number of drug users at 150,000, half of whom inject.

"I would strongly suspect that this is an underestimate but in the absence of any data on the situation it is hard to say for certain," United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime country director Jason Eligh told AFP, adding his organisation is planning the first national study.

"If you visit different communities in this country where there are drug users... you will probably find them saying that they know more people that use drugs," he said.

Myanmar last year grew 23 percent of the world's opium, second only to Afghanistan, with UNODC figures showing the area cultivated for poppy increased every year from 2007 to 2011.

In response to its drug problem, the US last week kept Myanmar on its annual drug trafficking "black list" accusing the country -- along with Bolivia and Venezuela -- of having "failed demonstrably" to fight the drug trade.

The country is also facing a surge in the production of methamphetamine -- popular in the region in a tablet form known as "yaba" that is often crushed and smoked -- made in small factories that are difficult to detect.

Methamphetamine "has a long history in the region", Eligh said, explaining it is popular among people working long hours such as bus drivers, fishermen and factory employees.

Drug seizures in Myanmar have increased, with more than 1.4 million amphetamine pills and 116 kilos of heroin captured in July alone.

A police official in the drugs control department, who asked not to be named, told AFP in August the narcotics problem was "very dangerous now" and getting worse, with stimulant use spreading in Yangon and the border regions.

Thailand has also turned up diplomatic pressure on its neighbour -- blaming armed groups on the border for a flood of drugs into the kingdom.

The drugs trade is closely linked to Myanmar's long-running insurgencies, with ethnic minority rebels widely thought to use drug profits to fund operations.

In May the government signed a deal to wipe out opium and other drug production in Shan State with a number of rebel groups currently engaged in ceasefire talks.

But authorities still face the "huge development challenge" of providing an alternative income for the estimated quarter million households that grow poppy, according to Eligh.

He says the government estimates that over the next four years alone it will need half a billion dollars to support poor farmers in opium areas.

The drug issue also dovetails with a wider problem of chronic neglect of social care under the former junta, while the UN estimates that over a third of injecting drug users have HIV.

Over-stretched authorities give little help to addicts in Taunggyi, according to HAARP, and fail to provide heroin substitute methadone.

Drug-takers said the lack of methadone was helping to embed a culture of unsupervised substance abuse among the young.

"It will be harder to control them," said Sai Kyaw, a gaunt but chatty heroin addict whose name AFP has changed to protect his identity.

Sai Kyaw believes he contracted HIV from sharing needles due to a widespread superstition that if you take your own syringe to buy heroin, the dealer would not have any drugs.

After experimenting with drugs when he was 15, he started injecting heroin four years later.

Now 32, Sai Kyaw says his life has been marred by addiction, illness and prejudice.

"My father always told other relatives not to give money to me because it was like nurturing a poisonous plant," he said.


Myanmar's Nobel laureate Suu Kyi to miss Canada as she tours U.S.

By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press September 17, 2012

OTTAWA - Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi will bypass Canada as she kicks off a marathon 17-day visit to the United States.

Suu Kyi, an internationally recognized symbol of peaceful political resistance, is taking a pass six months after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird travelled to Myanmar to personally confer honorary Canadian citizenship on the Nobel laureate.

Suu Kyi arrived in Washington on Monday for a tour that will include high-level meetings and visits with members of the Burmese diaspora in subsequent stops in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Louisville, and Fort Wayne, Ind.

A trip north of the 49th parallel to Canada is not on her itinerary.

Tin Maung Htoo, executive Director of the Canadian Friends of Burma, said the group is disappointed Suu Kyi won't be making it to Canada, which has conferred honorary citizenship on only four other people.

"People are talking about why she cannot visit for a short time, even for a day or two, when she will be in the States for 17 days," he said in an interview.

The government hopes that a mutually agreeable time can be found in the future for Suu Kyi to visit Canada. Baird personally extended an invitation to the 67-year-old on his trip to Myanmar, also known as Burma.

"Aung San Suu Kyi is an amazing woman whose time is very much in demand," said Baird's spokesman Rick Roth.

"When the minister was in Burma in March and presented her with her honorary Canadian citizenship, he invited her to visit Canada when her schedule permits.

"She has expressed regrets that a visit is not possible this time."

Baird described his meeting with Suu Kyi at her lakeside Yangon residence, where she spent 15 of 23 years under arrest by her country's military junta, as a career highlight.

One month after his visit, Suu Kyi was elected to Myanmar's parliament in a historic election.

Buoyed by the progress shown by Myanmar's new civilian leadership, Canada has since lifted onerous sanctions on the resource-rich South Asian country, and is set to open an embassy there staffed with a full-time trade commissioner.

Suu Kyi left Myanmar for the first time since her house arrest was lifted earlier this year when she travelled to Norway to accept her Nobel Peace Prize and to Britain.

Maung Htoo said he was hopeful that because she added Ireland and France to that trip, a visit to Canada might be added this time.

But when he saw her detailed itinerary a few days ago, he realized that wasn't going to happen.

"I didn't see any room left unless she really changed her schedule."

In recent weeks, Maung Htoo said he wondered whether his group and the Canadian government had done enough to try to arrange a visit.

"I feel like we failed to bring her to Canada. That is my feeling," he said. "Of course, this is the government's job … but we are ready to help the government in any possible way."

On her U.S. tour, Suu Kyi is to receive Congress' highest honour and will meet U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also called on her in Myanmar late last year. She may also visit the White House.

Suu Kyi has already managed to accomplish a rare feat in American politics — she has the united bipartisan support of Republicans and Democrats.

Indeed, when Parliament granted her honorary Canadian citizenship in 2007, it too was a unanimous vote.


Burma frees 514 prisoners, including political detainees, foreigners

Published on Monday September 17, 2012

Burma announced on Monday that it is releasing 514 prisoners under an amnesty, including political detainees and some foreigners.

The Information Ministry did not name the prisoners, so it was unclear how many political detainees were among them, although almost 50 were identified by fellow activists who had been in touch with them.

Many political prisoners are in remote areas where communications are difficult, so the extent of the release may not be known for several days. Prominent activist and former detainee Ko Ko Gyi said he expected about 100 political prisoners to be covered by the amnesty.

The announcement came the same day that Human Rights Watch urged Burma’s government to immediately release all remaining political prisoners and lift travel and other restrictions on those who have already been freed. At least 300-500 political detainees are believed to remain behind bars.

The New York-based group also asked that independent international monitors be allowed access to prisons to allow a full accounting of all remaining political prisoners.

The government of President Thein Sein has made freedom for political prisoners a centerpiece of its reform policies, seeking international favour after almost five decades of repressive army rule. Earlier amnesties helped convince Western nations to ease sanctions they had imposed against the previous military-led regime.

The latest release comes a week before Thein Sein is to travel to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly. The ministry said the prisoners were released so they can participate in nation-building, and to help maintain friendly ties with neighbouring countries.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party had estimated that about 330 political detainees remained jailed in Burma, while other activists said the total may be at least 100 more.

In July the government granted an amnesty to 80 prisoners including more than 20 political detainees.

“While another prisoner amnesty is welcome in principle, like everyone else we’re left waiting to see the list before we assess how many political prisoners are included, what it means and how significant it is,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The problem is there is a lack of transparency from the Burma government about who is a political prisoner, where they are, and how many are left — and to date, our recommendation that the Burma government work with the international community to devise a clear and transparent process to access, assess and immediately release political prisoners has fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

Han Tha Myint, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said party members in the central city of Mandalay reported 45 political prisoners being freed there.

Also released was a retired schoolteacher, Shwe Htoo, who had been serving a 42-year sentence after being convicted of attempting to incite rebellion and charges involving explosives, said Zaw Thet Htwe, a journalist who monitors prisoner releases.

Robertson said aid donors seeking to promote reforms in Burma should press its government “to meet its human rights commitments by immediately freeing the remaining political prisoners and lifting all restrictions against them.”

The group said the Home Affairs Ministry “has refused to issue passports to many former political prisoners, including democracy and human rights activists, public interest lawyers, and journalists.” Some have also been prevented from resuming their university studies, it said.


Mission of Burma - Dan's Silverleaf - 9/14/12

By Andy Odom Mon., Sep. 17 2012 at 7:00 AM
IMG_1503blog.jpgAndy Odom
Mission of Burma's 1982 album, Vs., is a classic, but they've now reached a unique tipping point. Their output since 2002's reunion has surpassed that of when they were initially active in the early '80s, and the praise for each album, the latest being Unsound, has been consistent. Such a late-career renaissance is unique, especially when vitality and urgency is preserved.

In fact, their set at Dan's appeared to be a celebration of the band as a unit. This was particularly apparent when deciding what song to play for their encore, which ended up being "Academy FIght Song." A rather obvious choice considering it's one of their signature songs, but all the more interesting considering another signature song, "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," went missing, even after making appearance the night before in Houston." Drummer Peter Prescott even commented on how sad it was that a bunch of old men couldn't remember their own song titles. Don't trust anyone over 30? Screw that.

That could have worked as a slogan for the evening. Denton's excellent Shiny Around the Edges and Austin's punchy The Gary opened the show, each highlighting some aspect of Mission of Burma's sound. Shiny's dark songs were a great ice-breaker, and Mike Forbes' sax, already a known commodity, pushed that affect over the edge with his jagged trills and runs, as singer/drummer Jenny Seman pounded her floor tom.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the evening was watching the crowd, which did trend slightly younger. While Dan's has the unfair reputation of being a country bar by some, one doesn't often see a mini-mosh pit in front of the stage, like the one that broke out during Mission of Burma's set.


Tuesday September 18, 2012

Parkson ventures into Myanmar

SINGAPORE: Seven years after entering Vietnam, South-East Asian department store owner Parkson Retail Asia Ltd is battling headwinds, but that isn't deterring it from expanding into Myanmar in search of growth.

Singapore-listed Parkson, which has 54 stores criss-crossing Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, was one of the first to enter the Indochina market, and now hoped to apply some of the lessons learnt from Vietnam to Myanmar, where it expected strong consumer spending and economic reforms.

“We are dealing with a country with a huge population and very little services provided. Retail is still very much, compared to neighbouring countries like Vietnam, in the backwaters,” Parkson's group managing director Alfred Cheng told Reuters.

Parkson competes with regional players such as Robinson Department Store PCL, AEON Co Bhd and Ramayana Lestari Sentosa Tbk PT, but is the largest player in Vietnam.
<B>Cheng:</B> ‘We are dealing with a country with a huge population and very little services provided.’
Cheng: ‘We are dealing with a country with a huge population and very little services provided.’ Cheng: ‘We are dealing with a country with a huge population and very little services provided.’

Comparing his experience in Vietnam, Cheng expected Parkson to see double-digit sales growth in Myanmar in the first four to five years, potentially in the 20% to 30% range.

Parkson's early years in Vietnam could give it an upper hand in understanding consumer spending trends in Myanmar a similar emerging market, Cheng said, adding that many businesses in Myanmar were already familiar with Parkson due to trading activity between the two countries.

Although Cheng conceded that Myanmar was not ready for a full-fledged department store now, it planned to open a relatively small one at 40,000 sq ft in Yangon before March 2013 to test consumer behaviour and train local staff. After years of isolation, resource-rich Myanmar has sped up policy changes, prompting companies to express interest in investing in the country. Reuters


Myanmar reforms press council after criticism

(AP) – 16 hours ago

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government on Monday replaced a press watchdog agency criticized as repressive with a new more liberal council in another boost for freedom of expression.

The action came at the initiative of new Information Minister Aung Kyi, whose predecessor was more closely identified with the hardline policies of the former military government.

The new council reduces the powers that the earlier agency, established Aug. 9, had to vet foreign publications and initiate criminal and civil complaints against journalists. Aung Kyi took office at the end of August.

There has been an easing of restrictions on freedom of expression since last year, when the elected nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein began political and economic reforms after almost five decades of repressive military rule.

The abolition in August of direct media censorship was the most substantive move so far toward freedom of the press. However, several laws still exist that pose legal threats to the media, and daily newspapers remain a state monopoly.

The new council, like the old one, is an interim body pending establishment of a permanent press council after a new media law is passed by parliament.

The defunct interim council had 20 members, while the new one has 28, including some from the old body and an increased number of journalists, and is chaired by a retired supreme court judge.


'State to benefit from ties with Myanmar'

TNN | Sep 18, 2012, 05.02AM IST

KOLKATA: Though India alone can't limit Chinese influence in the country, it can be done if ties between India and Myanmar improve, feel experts. Moreover, West Bengal and Kolkata will also can benefit greatly from it. if relations between India and Myanmar improve.

Speaking at a seminar organized in Kolkata by the Centre for Eastern and North Eastern Regional Studies - Kolkata (Ceners-K) and The Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi, on Monday, Major General (retd) Arun Roye of Ceners-K said that the major projects of India in Myanmar were yet to take off.

"India should concentrate on projects with the private sector where large scale funds and investment are required. Indian companies could go for be encouraged to set up joint projects with ASEAN and Japanese companies that as they are likely to have an increased presence in the region. As India alone can't limit Chinese influence in the country, engagement with these countries will help in reducing Chinese influence," he said.

This was felt by experts at a seminar organized in Kolkata by the Centre for Eastern and North Eastern Regional Studies - Kolkata (Ceners-K) and The Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi, on Monday.

In 2002, the Indian Consulate General in Mandalay was re-opened and the Consulate General of Myanmar was set up in Kolkata. Apart from Myanmar's strategic importance, there are immense possibilities for trade ties between the two countries and West Bengal - being the gateway to the northeast - would pay an important role. However, for this, the situation in the northeast first needs to improve.

Speaking at the event, Major General (retd) Arun Roye of Ceners-K said, "The major projects of India in Myanmar are yet to take off. India should concentrate on projects with the private sector where large scale funds and investment are required. Indian companies could be encouraged to set up joint projects with ASEAN and Japanese companies, as they are likely to have an increased presence in the region. As India alone can't limit Chinese influence in the country, engagement with these countries will help in reducing Chinese influence.

"A serious study therefore must be conducted in India on the ethnic issues plaguing Myanmar. that have resulted in a continuing state of internal conflict in that nation, including ones that have in the past been exploited by the People's Republic of China. This would also contribute to resolving India's ethnic problems.

The border regions are also involved in the production of opium poppy and it appears that Chinese interests have got involved in the heroin trade. India may even like to co-operate with the Government of Myanmar to develop programmes promoting socio-economic development within the ethnic areas of the border regions," added Roye.

He pointed out how the Indian and Myanmarese Armies had co-operated in 1995 to strike against insurgent groups. Even as the ambushes were on, the Indian government announced an award for Aung San Suu Kyi. The ruling military junta in Mynamar immediately called off the operations.

According to Lt Gen (retd) J R Mukherjee, if development of the northeast is to take place, the security situation will have to improve.

"Assam is the hub of the northeast and we have to develop this state. Recently, there were ethnic clashes between the Bodos and immigrants in lower Assam. There were also ethnic clashes in Myanmar between the Buddhists and Rohingyas and the latter entered Mizoram, Assam and Tripura. The Rohingyas weren't provided shelter by Bangladesh and nearly 50,000 fled. Many of them entered Mizoram, Assam and Tripura. Elsewhere in the country, there were threats of retaliatory attacks on people from the North East.

Things his is how things are interconnected. In Nagaland and Manipur, everybody pays tax to militants. A truck moving to the Indo-Myanmar border at Moreh, Manipur, has to pay nearly Rs 1 lakh to insurgent groups. Automatically, the commodity pricing goes up.

The security situation will have to improve if we are to think of better relations with Myanmar and development of the northeast," he said.


MYANMAR: No Retreat

Myanmar Article Index : Current 2010 2011 2012


SUBMARINES: Miami Survives The Heat

ETHIOPIA: Under New Management

ARTILLERY: Looking At The DF-16


MYANMAR: No Retreat

LIBYA: Facing The Consequences

CHINA: The Assimilation Wars

MURPHY'S LAW: The Armies Of Ignorance

SURFACE FORCES : Is This The End Of Sejong?

SUBMARINES: Vietnamese Kilo Hits The Water

LEADERSHIP: The Bill For Independence Comes Due

SYRIA: The Bloody Long Shot

NAVAL AIR: Hull Number 16 Replaces Shi Lang

SOMALIA: Kismayo Saved By Attacker Greed

COUNTER-TERRORISM: India And The Sinister Saudi Connection

ATTRITION: The Long Goodbye

SUBMARINES: The Cocaine Boats Head For Europe

YEMEN: Al Qaeda Fleeing UAVs For Safety In Syria

AIR WEAPONS: The Mavericks Of Indonesia

NBC WEAPONS: Once More Anthrax Is Back

NIGERIA: A Fatal Mistake


WARPLANES: Low, Fast And Out Of Control

MURPHY'S LAW: Chinese Culture Clash In India

ATTRITION: Heron TP Grounded No More

POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS: Well And Truly Pissed In Mali


THAILAND: Less Violence, More Negotiation In The South

KURDISH WAR: Iran Invades Turkey

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No Retreat
Next Article → LIBYA: Facing The Consequences
September 17, 2012: China is not happy that its $3.6 billion dam project in the northern tribal lands is still stalled because of popular opposition. Pipeline building projects (to get Persian Gulf oil to western China more cheaply) are also under pressure. Because of that, and the recent switch from dictatorship to dictator-approved democracy, finding the right people to bribe in Burma has been difficult. The Chinese will keep trying until they find the right combination of Burmese officials they can buy or coerce.

Meanwhile, the military keeps fighting tribal rebels in the north. Peace deals are frequent and don't last mainly because the army continues its aggressive patrolling and tend to fight any armed rebels it encounters. Even with the new democratic government, there is not a lot of trust between the tribal groups and the more numerous lowland Burmese.

Another intractable situation concerns the Moslems in northwest Rakhine State. In the last three months violence there has caused over a thousand casualties, most of them Moslem, and left thousands of buildings destroyed. This has displaced nearly 100,000 people (about 75 percent Moslem). The Moslems and Buddhists have never gotten along in Rakhine State and there's always been some tension. Until recently the military government suppressed any open talk of these problems. But since the elections last year, there's been more freedom of the press and that has included more public discussion by Buddhists about how much they dislike the Moslem Rohingyas. Burma is about 70 percent ethnic Burmese (Burman) and 90 percent Buddhist. Only four percent of the 60 million Burmese are Moslem and a little over half of the 2.4 million Moslems are Rohingyas. Burma and neighboring Thailand and parts of Vietnam are an island of Buddhism surrounded by Moslems who are seen as aggressive and threatening. That fear goes back for centuries, even though most of the Moslem converts to the south and east were obtained by persuasion, not conquest. India, to the west, was a different story, the Moslems there have been fighting for nearly a thousand years to force Hindus (and any other non-Moslems) to convert. The current wave of Islamic terrorism is seen as another chapter in that sad story.

Most of the current Burmese ethnic and religious violence is in Rakhine State, which has a population of 3.8 million with about 800,000 of them Moslems, mostly Rohingyas. These are Bengalis, or people from Bengal (now Bangladesh) who began migrating to Burma during the 19th century. At that time the British colonial government ran Bangladesh and Burma and allowed this movement, even though the Buddhist Burmese opposed it. Britain recognized the problem too late, but the Bengali Moslems were still in Burma when Britain gave up its South Asian colonies after World War II (1939-45).

Bangladesh has refused to take these Moslems back as Bangladeshis, and the Rohingya have come to consider themselves a separate group. Burma never let the Rohingya become citizens, which helped stoke tensions between the Moslems and Buddhists. Bangladesh has long had too many people and illegal migration to neighboring areas (mainly India) has been a growing problem. In the 1990s, an outbreak of violence led to over a quarter million Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. Some 28,000 are in refugee camps in Bangladesh, another 200,000 live outside the camps in Bangladesh and some are in Thailand, where they are considered economic migrants and thus illegal. The Rohingya have the support (for being allowed to stay in Burma) of the worldwide Moslem community. This makes the Burmese more determined to defeat this "Moslem invasion" and the more militant Buddhists are demanding that the Rohingya be expelled from Burma. That won't work because no one will take them. Moslem countries don't believe in that kind of retreat and that scares the Burmese Buddhists even more.  Despite the stand-off, thousands of Rohingya are fleeing, mostly to Bangladesh, which does not want them. The Burmese are forcing Rohingya in the northwest to move to all-Rohingya communities and encouraging Rohingya to stay away from non-Moslems.

There is similar fear of the non-Burmese (and often non-Buddhist) tribes in the north. In this case it's the Burmese who are invading the thinly populated tribal territories and the tribes don't like it. The tribal areas were not part of Burma until Britain made it so when their Burmese colony was granted independence after World War II. That bit of post-colonial nation building has never worked out. 

The generals who ran the half-century old military dictatorship are still key players in the new democracy. The reform minded generals (who convinced their fellow generals to allow democracy or face eventual economic collapse and civil war) got themselves and many of their allies elected to the new parliament. Other generals still control the military, police, and large chunks of the economy. While the generals have given up a lot of power, they still hold onto a lot of it and are unwilling to give it all up. The democratic reformers, who have been fighting the generals for decades are proceeding carefully, as they also want to avoid provoking the hardline generals into another military takeover and civil war.

The generals are slowly giving up a lot of their power, along with the tools they used to maintain their dictatorship. The parliament is passing laws, despite many pro-military members, that attack military privilege and control. With more long-time reformers in the government many aspects of military rule are being torn down. This includes censorship and tools like a secret blacklist, that named Burmese who were not to be allowed to travel abroad and foreigners who were never to be allowed to enter Burma. The pro-military members of the government are fighting complete elimination of the blacklist, and pro-military officials can still make it difficult for reformers to get passports.

August 28, 2012: President Thein Sein pardoned three Burmese Moslems employed by the UN who were recently convicted by a Rakhine State court of aiding Rohingya rioters and inciting unrest.

August 26, 2012: India believes that several tribal separatist groups have fled to Burma after Bangladesh security forces attacked the camps they had long used along the Indian border.


Burma plays the race card

Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has extolled Buddhism for allowing her a sense of inner freedom during her 15 years of house arrest. She's also said that Buddhist precepts can guide her country's democratic transition, encouraging reconciliation with the military instead of anger and revenge.

But the more nationalistic face of this Buddhist tradition, brought into focus by recent violence directed against Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, could yet derail democratic reforms in Myanmar (also known as Burma).

In fact, Suu Kyi has a Buddhism problem, specifically the chauvinism and xenophobia of Burma's Theravada Buddhist culture, which encourages a sense of racial and religious superiority among majority ethnic Burmese Buddhists (60% of the population) at the expense of ethnic and religious minorities. The resulting tensions could leave the country politically fragmented and strengthen the military's hand just as it has been forced to loosen its grip.

This is why Derek Mitchell, the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years, was right in August to call the fate of the ethnic nationalities the country's "defining challenge." It is also why this issue should be on the top of the agenda this week when Suu Kyi comes to Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. So far, Suu Kyi's response to treatment of the stateless Rohingya Muslims in Burma has been disappointing.

The anti-Rohingya violence, which took place in June, led to scores of deaths, the burning of settlements and a refugee exodus of 90,000 people into neighboring Bangladesh. There, more than 200,000 refugees from Burma still languish in makeshift camps from the last anti-Rohingya pogrom 20 years ago. According to the United Nations, the Rohingyas, who number about 800,000 worldwide, are one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

They are subject to forced labor, extortion, police harassment, movement restrictions, land confiscation, a de facto one-child policy and limited access to jobs, education and healthcare. A 1982 Burmese law denies them citizenship, based on the presumption that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Burma for generations. There's also their darker skin color, which makes them "ugly as ogres" by comparison to the "fair and soft" complexion of native Burmese, as a Burmese consul general stated in 2009.

Burmese President Thein Sein has said that the solution to the Rohingya problem is to put them into internal U.N.-administered camps, or to expel them. This proposal already has enhanced his popularity as a defender of the Buddhist faith, with monks taking to the streets in support.

But other minorities have been put-upon by Buddhist nationalism too, which views them as threats to "the land, the race and the religion." Many of these groups, such as the Karen, the Shan, the Mon and the Kachin, have been in a state of rebellion off and on against the central government since Burma gained independence in 1948.

Buddhism played a key role in undermining the military's grip on power. Opposition of monks to the regime, which boiled over in 2007's Saffron Revolution, posed a significant challenge to the military's popular legitimacy by depicting it as an enemy of Buddha sasana, or righteous moral rule. To deflect that challenge, the government has played the race card, largely through propaganda stressing that Buddhism is the religion of "true Burmese" and that the health and purity of a uniquely Burmese form of Buddhism are at risk from "outside" contamination.

Although this strategy wasn't successful enough to fend off assaults on the military's legitimacy, it was effective at feeding Buddhist chauvinism and insecurity. The result has been a rising tide of nationalism in which the Buddhist majority might rally behind Suu Kyi and her monastic allies for greater democratic rights, but still sees other groups in a subordinate and often racist light.

As the violence against the Rohingyas played out, the newly liberated Internet lit up with racist invective. Using a pejorative for the darker-skinned Muslims, one commenter declared, "We should kill all the Kalars in Burma or banish them, otherwise Buddhism will cease to exist." A nationalist group set up a Facebook page entitled "Kalar Beheading Gang," which attracted 600 "likes" by mid-June. Meanwhile, monks in Rakhine state distributed pamphlets urging Buddhists not to associate with Rohingyas.

In Europe in June to receive her belated Nobel Peace Prize as the crisis peaked, Suu Kyi seemed at a loss to respond. Asked whether the Rohingya should be treated as Burmese citizens, she answered, "I do not know," followed by an equivocating statement about citizenship laws and the need for border vigilance. Neither she nor her National League for Democracy party denounced the attacks or the racist vitriol that followed them. NLD spokesman Nyan Win simply said: "The Rohingya are not our citizens."


Fledgling reforms in Myanmar marred by ethnic clashes


SITTWE, MYANMAR — Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Sep. 16 2012, 10:19 PM EDT
Policemen stand guard as firemen work to extinguish fire during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe June 10, 2012. Northwest Myanmar was tense on Monday after sectarian violence engulfed its largest city at the weekend, with Reuters witnessing rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torching houses and police firing into the air to disperse crowds. Picture taken June 10, 2012. (Reuters Staff/Reuters)
By day, before the government curfew chases everyone inside, this bustling port town on the western coast of Myanmar appears eerily normal and ominously empty.

Since a spasm of deadly sectarian violence in June, the city’s Muslims – estimated at 40 to 50 per cent of the population – are nowhere to be seen. The biggest Muslim-majority neighbourhood, Narzi, is deserted. The conflict has driven some 100,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority long reviled in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, into crude refugee camps or hiding.
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Ms. Suu Kyi speaks during a meeting with members of the Myanmar community at the Royal Festival Hall in central London on June 22, 2012.

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The plight of the long-persecuted and stateless Rohingya is likely to intrude on an otherwise triumphant visit to the United States by Myanmar’s opposition leader and democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi. She has remained silent in the face of pressure from Britain, the United Nations and human rights groups to support their demand for citizenship.

The Rohingya issue will also shadow Myanmar President Thein Sein, who will make his debut at the UN General Assembly later this month. While his fledgling political reforms have prompted many western nations to ease their sanctions on Myanmar, his recent call for the Rohnigya to be expelled en masse to another country drew international condemnation.

Some 800,000 Rohingya live among two million Rakhine Buddhists in Arakan state and its capital, Sittwe, and periodic outbreaks of violence have erupted for decades. The government has now allowed some journalists there in recent weeks, in an apparent desire to show a certain openness to the world. The scars of the ethnic hatred were visible in a visit last month.

The latest clash was triggered by the reported rape and killing of a Buddhist girl in late May. Three Muslim men were detained and a week later, a Rakhine mob set upon a bus and killed 10 Muslim passengers. Soon Buddhist and Rohingya mobs went on a rampage of retaliatory killing and burning of each other’s homes, sending thousands of each group fleeing for refuge.

Human Rights Watch, which investigated the clashes, said the security forces – mostly Rakhine – did not intervene at the outset of the violence on behalf of either group, and then participated, committing killings, rapes and mass arrests of Rohingya.

Refugees on both sides confirmed that account in interviews.

Thoung Ngwe, a 45-year-old Rakhine woman living in the Budawmaw monastery refugee camp, said that when a group of Rohingyas attacked her neighbourhood, residents called the police, but they arrived only after five hours when the clashes were over and 70 seventy houses had been destroyed.

In the Tat Kal Pyin camp for Rohingya refugees, a man from Dwa Myaung village said, “the [Rakhine] and the Buddhist monks tried to set fire to the Muslim houses in my village. Then the Muslim community tried to stop the fire and the police forces started to shoot at the Muslims, so it was impossible for them to stop the fire.” The man, 34, had worked for a French non-profit group and was afraid to be identified by name.

The government eventually sent in troops to separate the communities and prevent renewed violence. But they are not merely separated: the Muslim population is caged into specific areas – refugee camps outside the city and confined to small ghetto-like quarters heavily guarded by the police and the army – while the Arakanese can move freely.

Those “Muslim quarters” were closed to foreigners. But some residents reached by phone said they were essentially prisoners, forced to buy food from the policemen guarding them at as much as 10 times the market price.

“This is not a religious conflict,” said Lieutenant Colonel Myo Min Aung, a stout man in his 30s in charge of the security force sent to Arakan. “This conflict was created by foreign extremists.”

It is a view that has widespread currency among the Buddhist population in Arakan and across Myanmar, where the Rohingya are often described as foreigners. While 135 minority groups are legally recognized as citizens, a 1982 law excluded the Rohingya.

A handful of prominent figures have supported them since the clashes. Ashin Gambira, a Buddhist monk and pro-democracy leader of the 2007 Saffron revolution, recently publicly condemned racism against Rohingya. But they are a distinct minority: two weeks ago, hundreds of Buddhist monks demonstrated for days in support of the President’s suggestion to deport the Rohingya.

Ms. Suu Kyi has kept silent on the issue, which arose repeatedly during her recent European tour, except to say that she does not know whether the Rohingya should be considered citizens or not. But U Win Tin, a founding member and leader of her political movement, was more direct. In an interview, he dismissed the Rohingya as “illegal immigrants” whose “human rights” should be respected but who should nevertheless be “contained” in camps.

The crisis in Arakan state opened a rift for the first time between a large part of the democratic opposition in Myanmar and their supporters abroad.

The Rohingya “pretend they suffer so much,” said Ko Ko Gyi, one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Organization. But, he added, “if the international community makes force or pressure on this Rohingya issue, it will have to face not the military government but most of our people.”


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Release All Political Prisoners and Stop War in Burma

Lifting Sanctions on Burma's Regime would be a Mistake

Mr. Sa Long

New Delhi,  India

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