- Activists Call for Constitutional Change to Empower Women
- Villagers Urge Reopening of Rangoon Access Road for Students
- Burma’s Catholics Celebrate 500th Jubilee With Events in Rangoon
- Rice Prices Reverse Recent Slump After Heavy Rains
- Cadet Casualties Were Trainees From Allied Armies, KIA Says
- Burma to Boost SME Access to Capital Through $50Mln Loan From Singapore, Vietnam
- Over 20 Journalists May Face Charges for Unlawful Prayer Service
- Thai Police Extend Remand of Burmese Koh Tao Murder Suspects
- Sri Lanka President Seeks Third Term, Critics Want Powers Curbed
- Thai Leader Pats Reporter on Head, Tugs His Ear
- Prominent China Rights Lawyer Could Face Harsher Charges: Attorney
- The Forgotten Frontier
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 05:30 AM PST
Burmese women's rights advocates added their voices to the contentious debate on amending Burma's Constitution this week, urging charter changes to promote gender equality during the Beijing+20 regional review forum held in Bangkok.
Burmese women's representatives, both from the government and civil society organizations, as well as exiled women's activist groups, attended the Asia-Pacific Conference on Beijing+20 in the Thai capital from Monday to Thursday. The Beijing+20 gathering offered a review of Asia-Pacific countries' progress on women's empowerment and gender equality.
Nyo Nyo Thin, a Rangoon divisional lawmaker, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that "the Burmese government's report that was shared at the regional review meeting is incomplete and raised a lot of questions legally and practically."
According to Nyo Nyo Thin, an official from Burma's Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry presented the country's report.
"Not only this, its report does not reflect the actual conditions that most Burmese women are facing," the lawmaker added.
Nyo Nyo Thin and other women's rights advocates in attendance said the government's report for the review revealed that many Burmese, especially in government, do not understand the extent of discrimination against women that persists in Burma. She called for "special temporary measures" in the Constitution aimed at achieving gender equality in Burma.
Burma signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1997, and the 2008 Constitution does specifically state that "the Union shall not discriminate [against] any citizen of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, based on race, birth, religion, official position, status, culture, sex and wealth."
Still, many women in Burma continue to face discrimination, whether in the job market, or as victims of sexual abuse by the military or street harassment.
Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, the director of Pan Tee Eain and a leader of the Burma-based Women's Organization Network, called for the creation of a new ministry "focusing on gender equality and women's empowerment," saying the Social Welfare Ministry currently responsible for such matters was handling such a broad portfolio that its effectiveness was diminished.
She added that raising awareness about women's issues was desperately needed at all levels of society, from the grassroots to civil society organizations and government bureaucrats.
As discussions in Burma have turned to constitutional reform in recent years, women's groups have lobbied for amendments that would protect and empower women.
But Shwe Shwe Sein Latt said their efforts had not elicited any response from the parliamentary committee tasked with considering amendments to the Constitution. "We have raised the issue for over a year, but have received no reply. We just keep sending our concerns to them."
The Beijing Declaration, also known as the Beijing Platform for Action, was adopted in 1995 and "constitutes a global framework for realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls," according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
The post Activists Call for Constitutional Change to Empower Women appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 05:13 AM PST
RANGOON — Villagers from Kyi Myin Dine Township have spent the past five days urging the reopening of an access road, the closure of which has added an hour to the commute of school students each morning.
The children of Oo Mya Ngar Sin Village, on the western bank of the Rangoon River, are regularly ferried to Ahlone Township to attend the No. 7 High School, the closest institution catering to primary, middle and high schooling. At the Ahlone ferry terminal, students walked 250 meters along an access road to reach the school.
That changed on midnight Saturday, when the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) erected a chain link and barbwire fence to block the access road. The MEC is in the process of constructing a furniture factory on the southern side of the road.
"We have used this access road since 1983," said Thein Aung, one of the ferriers. "There are 60 of us. We all put our children through school by doing this work."
The access road is the primary point of entry into central Rangoon for theresidents of Oo Mya Ngar Sin and nearby villages who travel to and from the city each day, including a total 350 students from the area attending No. 7 High School.
With the road's closure, ferries must stop at a gate further south on the eastern bank of the river, in a muddy area prone to sudden flooding that parents said was too dangerous for young children traveling to the school.
Previously, the boat journey from Kyi Myin Dine to the Ahlone access road took about 10 minutes. Parents told The Irrawaddy that travel to the new gate takes 45 minutes across the river, with a further 20 minutes voyage by trishaw for students traveling to class.
Students from Kyi Myin Dine have not attended school for the past week as a result of the road closure, and locals said that income for the ferriers had collapsed since the barrier was erected.
"[The road] was blocked so that all parents and public cannot cross it," said one of the parents from Oo Mya Ngar Sin. "They have made all ferry drivers jobless."
The closure of the access road comes despite an assurance from the Rangoon Division government to Kyi Myin Dine residents that the access road would remain open for public use.
In a letter sent to the Myanmar Port Authority (MPA) on May 6, villagers requested the moving of a ferry dock slightly south to bring boat arrivals directly to the terminus of the road.
The Rangoon government wrote back to the MPA, stating that it had no objections to the moving of the dock and an explicit guarantee that the access road was for public use.
The headmistress of No. 7 school has attempted to negotiate with villagers, offering an arrangement in which students are allowed passage along the road at certain times of the day while chaperoned by teachers.
At the same time, the school's administration has threatened the students with expulsion, warning other students not to allow their Kyi Myin Dine classmates to copy their notes.
Villagers have refused the compromise.
"If we can get access to this road again, we will take ferry to come here," said Mya Mya Thwe, a mother of a No. 7 student and wife of one of the ferry drivers. "Our children will have more time to read. It's safer too. That's why we are asking this."
The post Villagers Urge Reopening of Rangoon Access Road for Students appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 04:54 AM PST
RANGOON — The Roman Catholic Church in Burma is celebrating the end of its 500th jubilee year this week with musical and dance events. Tens of thousands of people from across the country are expected to attend the events, which will end on Sunday.
At Rangoon's 100-year-old St. Mary's Cathedral on Friday, Christian hymns filled the air as Catholics from various ethnic backgrounds congregated to celebrate their religion.
People sang peaceful songs in Burma's largest church, which was filled to its 1,500-seat capacity, and many more people gathered outside. An estimated 30,000 people from various states, such as Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Mandalay, Mon, Bago, Shan and Sagaing, are expected to attended the events, organizers said.
The Bishops Conference of Burma started celebrations for the "500th Great Jubilee Year" on Nov. 24, 2013 and with a number of events in the coming days the jubilee year will officially come to a close coming on Sunday, Nov. 23.
"I am very happy. An event like this I can only hold once in my life and all my brothers and sisters from different regions can pray together to our God and Jesus. I am very satisfied with my life," said Father Wilfred Nefsut Soe of St. Mary's Cathedral.
Organizers of the jubilee year said Catholicism was first brought to Burma's shores by Portuguese sailors in 1511, but the 500-year jubilee could not be held in 2011 because of repression of religious minorities by the then-military regime, which has long promoted a nationalist, Buddhist identity for Burma.
As the political reforms of recent years have created more space for some religious minorities, the church chose to mark the jubilee this year.
"The Catholic Church came to Burma in 1511 and we needed to celebrate in 2011. But there are some problems [at the time], but we can celebrate now," said an event organizer named Charlie.
"This celebration will be a historical gathering of Catholics from across the country in one place," he said, adding that tens of thousands of people were attending.
Among the events held are mass prayer services in the morning and afternoon, and musical entertainment will be organized in the evening; performances will include traditional dances by some of the country's Christian minorities.
Singers such as Nwat Yin Win, Chit Thu Wai, Chan Chan, Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, and Ni Ni Khin Zaw will be performing.
On Sunday, the events will wrap up with a prayer service at the 32,000-seat Thuwunna Youth Training Centre Stadium, where thousands of Catholics will join. A Kachin Manaw dance performance will close the celebrations.
Khin Saw, a dancer from Kachin State who will participate in the event, said she was very proud her dance troupe would be performing at the closing ceremony. "There are many ethnic dances in Myanmar but the Manaw Dance has been chosen and I felt very proud of my ethnic dance and religion," she said.
Archbishop of Rangoon Charles Bo has said that Burma has around 770,000 Catholics spread across 16 dioceses, representing around a fifth of the country's total Christian population, which he estimated at about 7 percent of the total population of around 51 million.
Burma is believed to be 80 percent Buddhist and the religious majority has long dominated state institutions and the army. During military rule, ethnic and religious minorities were discriminated against or persecuted, problems that continue to some extent to this day.
The United States Congress' report on religious freedom 2014 ranks Burma as one of the worst in the world for religious freedom, in particular due to state-sponsored persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State. Christian minorities like the Kachin, Karen and the Chin have long complained of being discriminated against, and face problems when they try open new churches or organize seminars.
However, Catholic Church leaders this week emphasized the new openness in Burma following reforms and have been at the forefront of promoting religious harmony and organizing interfaith dialogue.
Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe was invited to the jubilee events, as were national leaders of the Buddhist sangha and other religious leaders.
Father Mawyit, secretary of Myanmar Catholic Bishops association, said attempts had been made to invite Pope Francis to Burma for the celebration but he added, "The Pope cannot come to Myanmar. Pope is the leader of Vatican City State and he can only come when our Myanmar president invited him and I think there are some troubles to get the security assurances for the Pope."
He said Father Oswald Gracias, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, is attending the jubilee in Burma instead.
Joseph, a catholic from Shan State, said he was eager to see the head of the Roman Church in Asia. "It is a rare chance to pay respect to His Eminence Oswald Gracias and this is my first time I came to Yangon. I am very happy to be here and the 500th jubilee is an once-in-a-lifetime event," he said.
The post Burma's Catholics Celebrate 500th Jubilee With Events in Rangoon appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 03:46 AM PST
RANGOON — Rice prices have pulled back from a sharp slump in recent days, amidst a predicted rise in exports and expectations that recent heavy rains could reduce the size of this year's crop.
Prices bottomed out at US$280 per 100 baskets (about 1.5 tons) in the middle of October, rising to $380 per 100 baskets this week.
"Due to the heavy rains earlier this month, traders thought there might be a rice shortage in the market," Chit Khaing, the chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), told The Irrawaddy on Friday. "That's why the slumped rice prices have been increasing in the last few days."
Aung Chan, the owner of a 30-acre paddy field in Rangoon's Mingaladon Township, said that his paddy production will be less than last year's yields once he finishes harvesting next month.
"I expect that the paddy prices won't decrease next month due to the heavy rain—there will be less production, which will increase prices," he said.
The collapse in rice prices came right before the start of the harvest season, threatening a severe impact on the livelihood of farmers, already one of the poorest sectors of Burmese society.
Soe Tun, the chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Association, said that his organization had enacted a scheme to buy paddies at a fixed price above the market rate to alleviate an impending production crisis—a plan that has now been rendered unnecessary by the boost to prices.
"Prices have increased about 10 percent in the last week [from 350,000 to 380,000K], so farmers will be happy, they won't want to sell us with our prices," he said.
China has taken steps this year to regulate the import of Burmese rice, demanding a trade agreement guaranteeing that most rice is milled and meets certain quality and hygiene requirements.
As a result, warehouses have retained higher than usual stockpiles of rice, depressing prices to the levels seen last month.
China has long been one of Burma's biggest customers for rice, much of which is harvested in Burma's Irrawaddy Delta and shipped over land borders in Shan and Kachin States.
A bilateral agreement on rice standards would allow the MRF to legally export some 200,000 tons of milled rice to China, starting from early January next year. At the same time, the MRF has attempted bolster the market by encouraging a swift conclusion to the export deal.
"We've been encouraging to China to buy as much as earlier than January to pull up prices," Chit Khaing said.
In October, the Myanmar Rice Federation reached an agreement with Indian rice traders to supply two states in northeastern India with 240,000 tons of rice per year at US$400 per ton, although Burmese traders will incur all costs for transporting the goods to the Indian border.
The tender for the Indian export deal will close on Nov. 26. Anticipation over the commencement of trade, along with the impending Chinese deal, has buoyed the market rate for rice this month, according to Soe Tun.
Despite the recent increase, rice prices are still well below the 2013 season rate of US$400-450 per 100 baskets.
Chit Khaing said he expects rice prices to rise to 2013 levels once export arrangements with China are finalized.
"A delegation will come here soon to check the quality of export rice to China," he said. "I hope that paddy prices will increase as soon as the China and Myanmar bilateral trade agreement is a success."
According to recent MRF figures, Burma exported 900,000 tons of rice to China, Europe, Japan and South Africa from April to October. The government has set an export target of 1.5 million tons for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.
The post Rice Prices Reverse Recent Slump After Heavy Rains appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 03:39 AM PST
Twenty-three cadets killed by Burmese artillery fire on Wednesday were not members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) but trainees from four other non-state armies, the KIA confirmed.
La Nan, a spokesperson for the KIA, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that four Kachin commanders were among those injured, but that all of the deceased were newly arrived trainees from armed groups allied with Kachin rebels: All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF); Arakan Army (AA); Chin National Front (CNF); and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
All four armed groups released public statements this week condemning the attack and questioning the government's commitment to peace.
Two of the armed groups have not reached bilateral ceasefires with the government, while the ABSDF and the CNF reached agreements within the last two years.
The TNLA, which is believed to number around 1,500 troops, has frequently clashed with the Burma Army in its territories in northern Shan State. Fighting between the TNLA and the government resumed as recently as Thursday, when fire was exchanged between rebels and the Burma Army's 88th Brigade in Mong Tong and Namatu townships.
Tah Ban La, a TNLA spokesperson, said that Thursday's clashes were the sixth exchange of fire this month. More than 150 clashes between the two armies have been reported since the start of this year, he said.
Thursday's exchange left no casualties, but the military academy attack left 11 TNLA soldiers dead, he said. According to statements released by the respective groups, eight of the deceased were Arakanese, two were Chin and two were members of the ABSDF.
"Such attacks undermine trust, which ethnic people are trying to build with the government. It is doubtful that the government is committed to peace-building," said Tah Ban La.
On Wednesday, government troops fired several artillery shells near the Kachin rebel headquarters in Laiza. The munitions landed on a KIA officers training facility about 10km from the town. Twenty cadets died in the initial blastand three others later died from their injuries. Another 20 wounded are still in hospital.
Four of the injured were KIA commanders who were conducting an officers' training session, and two are in critical condition, according to La Nan of the KIA.
Kachin State Minister of Border Security Col. Than Aung said at a press conference on Thursday that the shots were fired as a "warning" after Kachin soldiers ambushed government troops while they were building a road. He said that the academy was not the army's intended target, troops were unaware of the training session and needed no higher approval to launch the munitions.
The KIA denied that its troops wrongfully attacked Burmese soldiers and insisted that the deadly attack was targeted and intentional. Other ethnic representatives have also expressed skepticism of the army's statement and concerns about the incident's impact on peace negotiations.
The Burmese government has been at war with a number of ethnic armed groups seeking greater autonomyfor more than 60 years. Since the military transferred power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, ceasefire agreements have been reached with 16 of the country's most powerful insurgencies, though the KIA and the TNLA remain reluctant to sign bilateral pacts.
Government and ethnic negotiators are currently refining a draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and framework for subsequent political dialogue, though talks have recently suffered setbacks.
Wednesday's attack is believed to be the single most deadly assault by the Burma Army on armed rebels since the peace process began three years ago.
The post Cadet Casualties Were Trainees From Allied Armies, KIA Says appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 02:59 AM PST
RANGOON — Burma's Ministry of Industry signed an agreement last month to borrow US$20 million from a Singaporean private bank and $30 million from a Vietnamese state-owned bank so that it can increase government loans to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a ministry official said.
Aye Aye Win, deputy director-general of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Center, said a total of $50 million in capital had been secured by the ministry and would be loaned out through its Small and Medium Industrial Development Bank (SMIDB) next year.
"We signed a MoU [memorandum of understanding] in October. We'll borrow 20 million US dollar from Singapore and the rest from Vietnam," he said.
Aye Aye Win said the funds would be borrowed from the overseas bank at a 4 percent interest rate, adding that loans will be made available to Burmese businesses at "between 6 percent and 8.5 percent, but we are considering the possibility of setting the interest rate at 6 percent."
Aye Aye Win declined to reveal the name of the foreign banks, but local media previously reported that a Singaporean private bank and the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV) would provide the capital.
This year, the SMIDB has provided about $20 million in loans to local SMES at an interest rate of 8.5 percent, according to Aye Aye Win.
The government has been drafting a new SME Bill that was brought before Parliament earlier this year, but scant details have been made available about the bill. An estimated 88 percent of all businesses in Burma are small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is reportedly also cooperating with the government to help scale up government loans to SMEs in Burma. JICA plans to provide funds to this end through the Finance Ministry, but few details have been released about the plan.
The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank group’s private-sector arm, announced in September that it will provide $5 million to Serge Pun's Yoma Bank so that it could provide funds to SMEs.
Small and medium-sized businesses in Burma struggle to gain access to capital as a result of decades of economic mismanagement under the former military government. Its policies left the country with an underdeveloped financial sector, a decrepit economy controlled by conglomerates and an anachronistic system of government banks and state cooperatives that provide loans to farmers and SMEs.
Improving access to capital is seen as key economic reform measure by the government, which last year took a $100 million loan from China to provide microfinance loans to farmers through its state cooperatives.
International microfinance institutions are, meanwhile, also eyeing Burma's underserved rural economy and in the hope of providing microloans, often on a commercial basis, to the country's millions of farmers.
In early November, Burma's state-owned Rural Development Bank announced that it threatening to sue 15,000 farmers in Irrawaddy Delta as they had not repaid their microloans on the time.
The post Burma to Boost SME Access to Capital Through $50Mln Loan From Singapore, Vietnam appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 21 Nov 2014 02:37 AM PST
RANGOON — Police in Rangoon may charge more than 20 Burmese journalists who held an unauthorized prayer service on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in the commercial capital early this month.
"They went to Sule Pagoda and to [Maha] Bandoola Park, which we did not permit them to do. We are going to charge them under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law," said Police Col. Win Tin from the Kyauktada Township police office.
Police say the journalists were permitted to demonstrate only at a sports field in Tamwe Township. The accused will receive one to three months' imprisonment if found guilty.
Article 19, a sister clause to the better-known and controversial Article 18 of the Peace Assembly Law, stipulates punishment for violating a separate provision in the legislation requiring protestors to remain within the area authorities have authorized.
The journalists counter that their presence in downtown Rangoon on Nov. 2, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, was not to demonstrate but rather to pray for journalists in Burma facing threats, oppression or violence due to their profession.
On Nov. 2, in collaboration with members of some civil society groups, prayer service participants called for an end to crimes against journalists, both in Burma and worldwide.
"Since every country is doing a lot of movements for press freedom on that day, we felt that we also needed to do something for Burmese journalists who are facing criminal charges, who are being killed and who are being oppressed," said Shwe Hmone, one of the event organizers.
Win Tin the Kyauktada police colonel said Shwe Hmone would be charged under Article 19, as would "the party" involved in the prayer service, which included more than 20 journalists.
Participants decided to go to Sule Pagoda after complaining about the venue proposed by local authorities, as the location had no pagoda around which to conduct a prayer service, Shwe Hmone said.
"As Buddhists, we seek refuge through the Lord Buddha and pray for freedom in the country. Since the law is not on the side of people and is oppressing freedom of speech, there is nothing we can do but face it," she said.
Media freedoms in Burma, which have deteriorated this year, were dealt their heaviest blow last month when the journalist Aung Kyaw Naing was shot dead while in military custody. More than 10 members of the media have been imprisoned this year and at least two publications currently have defamation cases against them pending.
The journalists involved in the prayer service, however, said that they had not yet received police or court notice of impending charges as of Friday afternoon.
The post Over 20 Journalists May Face Charges for Unlawful Prayer Service appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 20 Nov 2014 09:14 PM PST
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thai police have requested the court to extend the remand of two Burmese migrant workers accused of murdering a pair of British tourists, as they continue to search for enough evidence to start a trial, an official at the Burma Embassy in Thailand has said.
Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer who is part of an embassy team working on the high-profile case, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday evening that the court on the island of Koh Samui had extended the remand until Dec. 2, 2014.
"The police can still not file a case because they don't have enough evidence," he said, adding that it was the fifth time that police have extended the remand.
The accused, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21-year-old Burmese migrant workers, have now been held for 49 days in Koh Samui Prison.
The police can request the court to extend the remand for a maximum of 84 days. The court has set bail for each of the accused at 500,000 baht (about US$15,500).
Aung Myo Thant said the embassy team dealing with the case returned to Bangkok on Thursday night to discuss the possibility of collecting enough money to pay the bail.
The pair were arrested by Thai police two weeks after the badly beaten bodies of British tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found on the beach in Koh Tao in the early hours of Sept. 15.
The Thai police's handling of the case and allegations of forced confessions and torture have sparked criticism worldwide, raising suspicions that the Burmese migrants were being used as scapegoats. Thai police have denied the torture claims.
The families of the accused and rights activists have called on Thai authorities to ensure a fair trial.
British newspaper The Guardian reported on Thursday that the accused had sent a letter to the families of the murder victims in which they expressed their grief at the deaths and insisted they are innocent. They reportedly also asked the families to help them gain access to information that the British government has "in order that the truth can be revealed."
An investigation team of Britain's Scotland Yard visited Koh Samui earlier this month to assist Thai police in the investigation, but their involvement has so far not led to new developments in the case.
The post Thai Police Extend Remand of Burmese Koh Tao Murder Suspects appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 20 Nov 2014 09:08 PM PST
COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Thursday he would seek an unprecedented third term as president, prompting one of his lawmakers to join the opposition with a call to curb the presidency’s "draconian powers".
Rajapaksa, 69, came to power in 2005 and won a second six-year term in 2010 on a wave of popularity after the military defeated Tamil Tiger separatists, ending a 26-year civil war.
His poll ratings have fallen sharply since, however, and critics, including his coalition partners, say Sri Lanka’s "executive presidency"—introduced by a 1978 constitution—gives him and his family too much power.
"I am declaring a secret today. I have signed the proclamation calling for the election, for re-election for the third time … That is democracy," Rajapaksa said, addressing a gathering shown on state television.
An Election Commission official said the poll would be held in early January.
Hours after the announcement, ruling party legislator Wasantha Senanayake defected to the main opposition party, saying he wanted to "change the draconian powers of the executive presidency and bring good governance".
"I believe that all (Sri Lankan) Presidents exercised dictator-like powers to a certain extent," he added.
Senanayake said other legislators might also quit Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to try to unseat him, although a strong challenger has not yet emerged.
Hardline nationalist Buddhist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is in coalition with the UPFA, has also demanded that Rajapaksa cede some powers.
"We’ll definitely defeat him if he doesn’t abolish the executive presidency before the election," Athuraliye Rathana, a Buddhist monk and a JHU legislator warned last week.
Rajapaksa will be banking on Sinhala Buddhists, who account for around 70 percent of the population, to re-elect him. But his voter base could be split by a prominent Buddhist monk who also opposes the executive presidency.
Maduluwawe Sobitha, who heads the National Movement for Social Justice, has brought together most of the opposition parties to agree on a common candidate and demand the abolition of the executive presidency within six months after the polls.
Rajapaksa has said he will abolish the additional powers after the election, but made the same pledge in 2005 and 2010.
In moves seen as wooing voters, Rajapaksa announced many handouts and salary hikes in the 2015 budget, and has harped in speeches on the war victory under his leadership in May 2009.
But Rajapaksa’s popularity is fading: his party won a recent provincial poll, but with 21 percent less support than in 2009.
Many accuse him of nepotism, corruption and politicization of the judiciary and foreign services, charges he rejects.
Campaigning for the election is likely to coincide with a Jan. 13-15 visit to the island by Pope Francis, which Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has already asked all parties not to exploit for political advantage.
The post Sri Lanka President Seeks Third Term, Critics Want Powers Curbed appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 20 Nov 2014 08:59 PM PST
BANGKOK — Thailand's military-installed prime minister, known for scolding journalists, is trying a new tack: patting their heads and tugging their ears.
A video posted on Facebook by Bangkok Post reporter Wassana Nanuam shows Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha chatting Wednesday with reporters in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen. Some journalists kneeled in front of him to allow cameras a clear view.
Prayuth patted the baseball cap-clad head of a journalist directly in front of him, then nonchalantly tugged and twisted the man's ear as he took questions.
Deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Thursday the gesture was good-natured teasing of reporters with whom he has become familiar.
"It came across as cute. He was smiling. They were also smiling," he said. "It's not weird for him to be playful with them."
Wassana's Facebook comments suggested that while the reporters did not appear to take offense, some Thai people might be put off, since the head is traditionally considered a semi-sacred part of the body that strangers should not touch.
It was the second glimpse that day of an apparently kinder, gentler Prayuth. Earlier, he smiled from a podium when five university students wearing T-shirts saying "Don't Want a Coup" stood up and gave a three-fingered salute, a symbol of protest against the May 22 military takeover that Prayuth led as army commander.
"Anyone else wants to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech," Prayuth said as the audience chuckled.
Prayuth is generally uncomfortable with the media. In one case, two Thai newspaper reporters were summoned by the army for asking "inappropriate" questions about when and whether Prayuth would appoint a prime minister and organize elections. In another, he pounded a podium and lambasted a senior reporter who criticized his long-winded answers to questions.
Last week, public broadcaster Thai PBS replaced the host of a TV program after a visit by army officers who complained that the show's content was provocative. The government, which can shut the station under martial law, insists the officers merely expressed their concerns.
Posted: 20 Nov 2014 08:51 PM PST
BEIJING — Chinese prosecutors could upgrade the charges against a prominent human rights lawyer, saying that he incited “ethnic hatred and discrimination” when he wrote a microblog post criticizing the government’s account of a mass knife attack, his lawyer said on Thursday.
The new charges against Pu Zhiqiang add to evidence that the case against him is politically motivated, his supporters say. They come amid what rights groups say is the most severe clampdown on human rights in decades.
Pu, one of China’s most outspoken dissidents, was arrested in June on charges of causing a disturbance and illegally accessing personal information in a case that drew international condemnation.
Prosecutors are considering adding charges of inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination and separatism, a more serious crime, said Pu’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping. He said he was less certain of the more serious separatism charge.
“That charge [of separatism] is extremely unusual,” Mo said.
Mo said the charge of inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination stem from a blog post Pu wrote about a violent attack in the southwestern city of Kunming that killed 29 people in March. China blamed the attack on Islamist militants, sometimes referred to as East Turkestan separatists, who it says seek to split the country by seeking an independent state in the country’s far west region of Xinjiang.
"You [the party] just give me one line—extremely heavy casualties with too brutal consequences—but to say you bear no responsibility for Xinjiang separatists’ cruelty, I am not satisfied with that," Pu wrote in his Mar. 2 microblog post.
Inciting ethnic hatred or discrimination carries a prison sentence of up to three to ten years in serious cases.
Authorities have transferred Pu’s case to prosecutors who now have to decide how to proceed.
Pu, 49, a free-speech lawyer, has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei and activists of the "New Citizens’ Movement", a group that has called on Chinese leaders to make their wealth public.
He also opposed forced labour camps, which the government has abolished, and he was featured prominently in state media for that campaign—unusual for a government critic.
Pu was detained in May after he attended a meeting in a private home to commemorate the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Police could not be reached for comment.
The post Prominent China Rights Lawyer Could Face Harsher Charges: Attorney appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 20 Nov 2014 04:00 PM PST
There is no shortage of coverage in local as well as regional media of the ongoing armed conflict in Myanmar's Kachin State in the north, the activities of the heavily armed United Wa State Army (UWSA) in the northeast or the still volatile situation in areas of Kayin State along the border with Thailand. However, hardly a word is written about the host of armed rebel groups that are active in some of the country's wildest and most remote mountain ranges which form the more than 1,600 kilometer-long border with India. Yet, this is where the rivalry between Myanmar's two mighty neighbors, India and China, has often played out and where there is potential for even more trouble in the future.
In the mid-1950s, a rebellion broke out among ethnic Naga tribesmen in India's northeast. Being a predominantly Christian tribe of Mongol stock, they did not feel that they belonged to India and demanded independence. Not surprisingly, they received support from India's arch-enemy Pakistan and training facilities were provided in what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. But more significantly, much more aid came from China.
In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising against the Chinese who had invaded his homeland, Tibet. Asia's two giants were on a collision course and, three years later, China attacked India and a short but fierce war was fought along a disputed border in India's northeast.
From 1967-76, nearly 1,000 Naga rebels trekked from northeast India through northern Myanmar to China, where they received military training. They were sent back to India equipped with assault rifles, light machine-guns, rocket launchers and other modern Chinese weapons. The Naga were escorted by rebels from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which, in return for their services, kept some of the Chinese weapons.
Various other insurgent groups in India's northeast also sought Chinese assistance. In the early 1970s, about 200 Mizo rebels—a tribe then fighting for self-determination in what is now the state of Mizoram—were trained in China; in 1976, a group of insurgents from the Indian state of Manipur made it to Tibet, where they received political training and some military instruction; and in the late 1980s, rebels from the state of Assam attempted to reach China through northern Myanmar, but ended up staying in areas controlled by the KIA—which trained some of them in guerrilla warfare.
It was clear the rebellions in India's northeast were not solely an internal affair and that Myanmar, the land in the middle of the two regional powers, would inevitably be drawn in. This became even more evident in the 1970s when the Indian army managed to drive the Naga rebels out of their bases on the Indian side of the border. They regrouped in the rugged Naga Hills of the northern Sagaing Region. There, beyond the reach of the Indian army, they could launch cross-border raids into India.
Myanmar's military, preoccupied with ethnic insurgencies elsewhere in the country, paid little attention to the Indian Naga who linked up with a group of Naga in Myanmar led by S.S. Khaplang. Manipuri as well as Assamese rebels also sought sanctuary on the Myanmar side of the border.
The only fall-out came in 1988 when the Naga from Myanmar, simply tired of being treated as serfs by their Indian cousins, drove them out of the area. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) then split into two factions: the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), led by Khaplang, and the National Socialist Council of NagalimIsak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the Indian faction led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah which adopted the name Nagalim, a new term for a "greater Nagaland" encompassing the state of Nagaland as well as most of Manipur, a chunk of Assam, and the Naga Hills of Myanmar. In July 1997, the NSCN-IM entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government and in 2001, the NSCN-K did the same. In April 2012, NSCN-K also struck a ceasefire deal with the Myanmar government, making it the only insurgent group to have ceasefire agreements with the governments of two sovereign states.
But none of this means that the conflicts are over. Hundreds of rebels from various outfits in Manipur as well as the once powerful United Liberation Front of Asom [Assam] (ULFA) are based at Khaplang's headquarters at Taka near the Chindwin River, north of Singkaling Hkamti in Sagaing Region. As late as December 2011, the Indian journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya, who had trekked to Taka, observed ULFA forces taking delivery of a major consignment of weapons that most probably had been smuggled to the base from China. According to other sources, there is a booming trade in weapons acquired along the Sino-Myanmar frontier that are smuggled via Mandalay and Monywa to the Indian border. Old stocks from the UWSA's vast arsenal of weapons and other military equipment have also been found in areas along the Indo-Myanmar border.
In late 2012, it emerged that the Myanmar army had obtained Swedish-made 84mm Carl Gustaf rocket launchers most probably supplied by India and intended for use against the ULFA and other Indian insurgents. They were instead employed against the KIA and a major scandal ensued during which questions were raised in Sweden's parliament and the Indian ambassador in Stockholm was summoned by the Swedish foreign ministry for an explanation. Ultimately, India submitted a report stating that the weapons, which according to their serial numbers had been delivered by Sweden to India, had not been transferred to Myanmar through conventional channels, and New Delhi promised the Swedes that it would not happen again. For years, India has urged Myanmar to close down the camps that insurgents have established inside Myanmar's Sagaing Region, but to no avail. It is clear that fighting India's rebels is not a priority for Myanmar's military.
And China? When ULFA commander Paresh Barua is not inspecting his troops at the Taka camp, he is in China. Obtaining weapons there does not seem to be a problem. Beijing appears to reason that if India can shelter one of its main enemies, the Dalai Lama, then Barua is welcome to stay in China. The situation promises to become even more entangled as the NSCN-IM continues to express frustration over the direction that 17-year-long negotiations with Indian authorities are headed. Barred from entering Khaplang's area, NSCN-IM cadres in October this year were reported to have been scouting the hills east of Manipur for potential new sanctuaries in anticipation of a breakdown in talks.
New Delhi, of course, wants to see peace established along its entire border with Myanmar so it can implement its so-called "Look East Policy"—aimed at linking India with the booming economies of Southeast Asia. Myanmar's Wild West may be almost forgotten in today's discussions about the country's ethnic issues, but the number of armed groups in the area with conflicting agendas makes it the country's messiest frontier.
This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.
|You are subscribed to email updates from The Irrawaddy Magazine |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States|