Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

On the Road to Bagan

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 05:30 PM PDT

Bagan is an ancient city that flourished between the 9th and 13th century. Some 2,000 temples remain scattered among the arid hills of central Burma today. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Bagan is an ancient city that flourished between the 9th and 13th century. Some 2,000 temples remain scattered among the arid hills of central Burma today. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

BAGAN, Mandalay Division — I awoke at 5 am, ready to watch the famous Bagan sunrise for the first time in my life.

I have heard so much about watching the sun rise and set over Bagan's thousands of pagodas. It has always been at the top of my tourism wish-list. Many years ago I purchased a framed picture of a Bagan dawn from an art gallery in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. Every time I looked at it, I dreamed of someday actually visiting the ancient city.

By 5:20 I was ready to leave the hotel. Although Shwe San Daw Pagoda—where most tourists go to see the sunrise—is only a short ride from the beautiful Tharabar Gate hotel where our family was staying, I wanted to get there early. I wanted to feel the morning stillness covered in darkness.

Like many visitors, I watched the sunset the day before from atop Shwe San Daw, an ancient pagoda with five terraces built by King Anawrahta after his conquest of the Mon Kingdom in 1057.

We were unlucky. Though already well past mid-October, the rain lingered. Clouds blocked the sunset, and by dusk it was raining buckets. Hotel staff told me that it was the heaviest rain of the year.

Bagan was still dark at 5:20 am. A young hotel staff member gave me a torch. As I stepped outside, I saw two French tourists who were staying at our hotel. They were on their way to watch the sunrise, too, so I offered them a ride.

We were early, but a taxi or two made it there before us. As I stepped out of the car I was greeted by the call of a rooster from a nearby house. The vendors were already up and selling wares to tourists.

I climbed the first terrace from the south side of the pagoda. In front of me was a family from Kenya with two young girls walking slowly up the steep stairs. After the first terrace, I went around and climbed from the west side.

I took my place atop the highest terrace, among a smattering of other tourists setting up their cameras to capture the dramatic moment. I heard chatter around me in familiar languages: English, Thai, French, German, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Japanese and Myanmar.

The sun would rise at 5:45, I was told, but it was still dark at that time. On the horizon, though, I could see signs of dawn; a glowing sliver of red and orange. Quiet chatter in various languages continued around me as we all waited patiently, soaking up the atmosphere.

At first a small red circle appearing beside a pagoda in the distance, the sun finally rose at 6:15. Suddenly, all conversation stopped and the only sound was the clicking of cameras. The sun rose slowly.

Clouds drifted northward, along with a flock of birds flying past the backdrop of a red dawn. A hot air balloon suddenly appeared to our right. As the sun leveled with a distant pagoda I noticed that it was not just one balloon but three rising above the ruins, still silhouetted in the semi-darkness.

It was so beautiful, the whole scene viewed from a distance. It struck me as surreal, and I lingered long after the sun came up. I was seeing the famous, breathtaking image of Bagan for the first time in my life.

Later on we went to the Bagan viewing tower, a controversial structure built by the military regime in 2005. Designed to resemble an ancient watch tower, it felt like a behemoth rising out of the ground. Though the structure itself is large and unwieldy, the panoramic view from the top was undeniably stunning.

You can see everything from the tower; all of the famous pagodas, the paddy fields and the dirt roads below. We had a clear view of the Tuyin Taung Mountain, just across the Irrawaddy River. We sat sipping coffee on a mezzanine below the tower, observing the tranquil patchwork of greenery and red ruins spreading out across the landscape.

We also visited Mount Popa, a volcano located about an hour from Bagan by car. Even the drive was memorable. Many people, young and old, were begging on either side of the road. Whether it was because they wanted easy money or if it was simply a tradition, we still don't know. But we stopped once or twice to hand out small kyat notes. Each time we did, however, many people swarmed the car, making it difficult and dangerous to drive.

Having learned our lesson, we eventually started signaling to the expectant villagers as we drove by that we had no more money to give away. At one point, a bus filled with Buddhist pilgrims passed by, hurling bank notes out onto the road. Again, hordes of people ran into the road to pick them up. It's really quite dangerous, but we knew that it was a pastime unlikely to end; Myanmar was, after all, recently ranked the second most generous nation in the world by a UK study of charitable behavior.

Once we arrived, we checked into the Popa Mountain Resort. It has the best view of the mountain and its environs. The restaurant rises up above the forest canopy, and at the end of a long walkway we found what could only be described as a "million dollar view."

While there are many things to see and enjoy on the road to Bagan, Myanmar does not yet seem ready for independent travelers like us. We were traveling with children, so we broke up the trip with an overnight stay in Taungoo. The lakeside Royal Kaytumadi Hotel seemed out of place in the provincial town, but it's beautiful nonetheless. I particularly like hotels and buildings by a lake, river or sea.

All was well until we tried to go to Than Taung Gyi. The signs aren't clear, and there is nothing to indicate which direction one has to take. The roads are narrow, and you have to pay close attention to avoid collisions with motorbikes. We took a few wrong turns and wasted a good one and a half hours.

We tried asking many people along the way, but no one could give us clear directions. By the time we finally got there it was almost 6 pm, and we could not enjoy the view anymore.

The motorway to Bagan was alright, but there are no signs indicating how far we were from our destination. There is no sign telling you how far Bagan—Myanmar's biggest tourist attraction—is from either the highway or from Yangon. I had to stop and ask a good many times to be sure I took the right exit. No one could tell us how far Bagan is from the junction, either.

I understand that Myanmar is gearing up for "Visit Myanmar Year" in 2016, but I am not sure that the country is ready for the influx of tourists expected next year. There will be backpackers and independent travelers like myself; people who are curious and want an easy, comfortable travel experience. Many may want to drive and explore on their own, like we did.

If a Myanmar citizen like myself—a first-time traveler—had that much trouble navigating the roads, one can imagine how difficult it will be for foreigners to get around in Myanmar.

Many things could be done to turn this problem into an asset. The motorway could itself become a tourist attraction, as there are many historic towns and sites located just off the main roads. The roads could be widened by adding shoulders. Signage could be written in both Myanmar and English, in large letters with directions and suggested attractions. Litter, the scourge of Myanmar, could be controlled.

Perhaps a large-scale overhaul of the tourism sector is needed. Maybe then travelers—be they Myanmar or foreign—could enjoy this country a little bit more.

The post On the Road to Bagan appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Oct. 25, 2014)

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 05:00 PM PDT

Burma Captures 10% of Global Tin Market as Production Soars

Burma is rapidly becoming one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of tin and could soon undermine the market dominance of the biggest producer, Indonesia.

Tin production in Burma is forecast to grow 12 percent in the next year to reach 28,000 tons, which would represent 10 percent of the global market, the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI) in England said.

Exports are going to Thailand, Malaysia and China, said Bloomberg, quoting the managing director of one of Burma's biggest mines, at Heinda in Tenasserim Division.

The mine is owned by the Thai firm Myanmar Pongpipat, which has been facing legal action by local residents alleging environmental damage caused by mining.

Bloomberg said Burma was exporting more tin at a time when the price was falling and Indonesia, which produced 91,000 tons last year, was seeking to reduce its production and exports to boost market prices.

However, Myanmar Pongpipat managing director Kriangkrai Chavaltanpipat told Bloomberg his firm planned to expand the Heinda mine to meet Chinese demand.

Burma's tin exports to China increased 50 percent between January and August, Bloomberg reported, citing research by Macquarie Bank.

"[Burma] has come from nowhere and suddenly became a major provider of tin to China," Macquarie said. "It's more than filling in the gap for Indonesia already."

London Taskforce to Help Burma's Central Bank Develop Finance Sector

The British government has sent a "taskforce" to Burma to help improve the country's financial institutions and services.

London "wants to encourage and support [Burma's] efforts to remove barriers to becoming a functioning, prosperous, sustainable economy benefitting all of its people and regions," said Tony Preston, the head of a "prosperity team" at the British Embassy in Rangoon.

The UK Financial Services Taskforce includes representatives from Standard Chartered Bank, Prudential Insurance, Allen & Overy, the British Embassy and the Bank of England, a statement from the British Embassy said.

"The vision of the taskforce is to support the holistic development of [Burma's] financial sector," Preston told a financial forum in Rangoon this week.

The taskforce would help the Burma Central Bank's plan for regulation and management of the country's rapidly growing financial sector, he said. It aims to help local industry develop new financial products and services; advise on regulatory structures; and give guidance on effective education, training and qualifications for the sector.

"Supervision of the domestic banking sector here is becoming increasingly important, particularly in light of the institutional change brought about by Central Bank independence, the raft of new laws, new technologies such as mobile banking, nearly 200 recently registered microfinance institutions, new state banks being created and banks entering the market," Preston said.

MOGE to Offer More Oil and Gas Block Development Licences

More oil and gas exploration blocks will be put up for licence bidding in the next year, a report said, quoting the state Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE).

No details on the blocks were given but they are expected to be both offshore and onshore, said Singapore's Channel News Asia (CNA).

"[Burma] will release another 15 oil exploration blocks by the end of next year to international investors," CNA said. It quoted MOGE's director of planning, Than Min, saying "expectations are high to discover more oil and gas."

Several onshore blocks have been awarded to a mixture of domestic and foreign explorers but there have been no major discoveries yet.

MOGE and other state agencies and the Ministry of Energy continue to discuss the terms of contracts for 20 offshore blocks awarded to mostly big foreign firms last March. Thirty offshore blocks were offered in the initial bidding, which began in 2013, but 10 were dropped from the process by MOGE without explanation.

Thai Firm in Deal to Build Large Solar Energy Project Near Naypyidaw

A Thai company and Burma's Ministry of Electric Power have for the second time in 16 months announced plans to build a large solar electricity generating project.

Green Earth Power (GEP) signed an MoU with the ministry in May 2013 to build a 210-megawatt solar panel plant spanning a large acreage at Minbu near the capital Naypyidaw. Green Earth said the project would cost US$275 million and be completed in two years.

Nothing had happened since then until the two sides this week signed another agreement for the project. Electric Power Minister Khin Maung Soe said he "wished for continued cooperation for the successful implementation of the solar plant," according to Eleven Media.

GEP, which has little experience in solar power, has told Bloomberg business news agency it hopes to finance 70 percent of the project with bank loans.

Burma suffers from acute shortages of electricity and in the last two years there have been numerous tentative agreements for new generating capacity projects involving firms from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but few have moved forward.

"The proposed solar plant is a large venture for such a little known company. They key to its success and benefit to the country is being plugged into the electricity distribution grid," energy industries analyst Collin Reynolds in Bangkok told The Irrawaddy. "From what I understand, the grid is in poor shape and urgently needs renovating."

Major US Firms to Fund $7 Million Microfinance Scheme for Women

Giant American companies Coca-Cola and Chevron have pledged millions of dollars to help improve the lives of more women in Burma by giving them access to finance and communications technology.

The two firms, working with the Washington-based microfinance fund Pact, will donate US$7 million to help 65,000 women in six regions of Burma, said Myanmar Business Today.

Pact is already involved in several programs to help provide funding for poor rural communities, especially women, in an effort to lift them out of deep poverty.

The new funds will expand existing programs and "start efforts in two new regions of the country," Pact said.

"One of the key challenges to lifting people out of poverty in Myanmar is inadequate access to capital. With an average per capita income of less than US$2 per day, more than one in four people live in poverty," Pact said.

Chevron is engaged in Burma's offshore gas industry and Coca-Cola was one of the first big US firms to return to the country after Washington lifted economic sanctions.

The post The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Oct. 25, 2014) appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma

Two Burmese arrested for murder of Thai duck farmer & wife

Posted: 25 Oct 2014 03:33 AM PDT

Two Burmese migrant workers have been arrested for the murder of a duck farm owner and his wife in Photharam, about 100km west of Bangkok in central Thailand.

Ratchaburi regional police announced this week that four Burmese migrant workers were involved in the double murder of Chukiat Nimnual, 65, and his 35-year-old Burmese wife, Ma Mee, who were killed on the night of 19 October.

Two of the suspects, named simply as Yao, aged 26, and Ek, 16, have been arrested and charged, while two other Burmese suspects, Sue and Leik, were on the run, police said at a press conference on Thursday.

Police said the suspects had confessed that they killed the couple for money. They said the migrant workers had knocked on the farm house door and called to the farmer's wife that snakes were eating her duck eggs. When Ma Mee came and opened the door, they allegedly stabbed her with a knife, before cutting her husband's neck with a knife while he slept. The suspects then stole around 150,000 baht (US$5,000) from the couple's bedroom, police said, noting that they also recovered three mobile phones, one motorbike and a pickup truck, all presumably property of the duck farmers.

The news comes at the same time as another high-profile murder case in Thailand where two Burmese migrants have been arrested for the 15 September murder of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao.


Rangoon police nab 12,000 drivers in a week

Posted: 25 Oct 2014 03:02 AM PDT

Rangoon traffic police have announced that they charged 12,000 drivers for traffic violations in just one week.

In an announcement on Friday, traffic authorities in the former Burmese capital said that during the previous seven days, they had caught some 12,000 drivers violating traffic regulations within the city. Typical offences, they said, were buses failing to keep to the right-hand lanes; vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road; highway buses driving within the city limits; and driving without a vehicle permit or correct documentation.

Fines for breaking traffic rules generally incurred a 1,500 kyat (US$1.50) fine, police authorities said.

There are around 600,000 registered vehicles in Rangoon Division, but only 1,000 traffic police, only 500 of whom were on patrol at any given time, the announcement said.

Karen musician, 13, dazzles online

Posted: 25 Oct 2014 01:29 AM PDT

At 13 years of age, Jasmin is not your ordinary teenage girl. She has already performed on a Thai talent show while a YouTube video of her singing and playing guitar has already been watched by over 300,000 people. Although Jasmin grew up in Thailand, she is Sgaw Karen and her family is from Burma. Jasmin—whose Thai name is Patchalaware Damrongtamprasroet—can speak Burmese, Karen and Thai. But many of her songs, including her latest YouTube hit, are English-language cover songs.

Burmese women accepts peace award in Bangkok

Posted: 25 Oct 2014 01:19 AM PDT

Two women from Burma's Democracy and Peace Women Network received N-Peace awards in Bangkok on October 24.

Presented by the United Nations Development Programme, a "Peace Generation" award went to ex-political prisoner Wai Wai Nu for "defending the rights of marginalised women", while Mon activist Mi Khin Khin Kyu received the "Untold Stories" award for "working tirelessly to build a voice and fight for the rights of minority women".

In addition, the Democracy and Peace Women Network itself was awarded the title "Thinking Outside the Box" for 2014. The prize was collected by organisation coordinator Naw Ohn Hla, who is renowned in Burma for her leading role in opposing the Latpadaung copper mine in Sagaing Division.

The Democracy and Peace Women Network is a Rangoon-based civil society organisation made up of volunteers, who strive "to connect with those most in need in Myanmar, individuals and communities whose rights and freedoms have been marginalised," according to the N-Peace Network.

The Burmese women travelled to Bangkok to accept the awards at a ceremony from 24– 25 October.

Accepting her award, Wai Wai Nu said, "Firstly, I am proud to get the prize as a Burmese citizen because we need a lot of support during this transition period in Burma. And, if you look around the region, our country was left behind. We need support and recognition. That's why I am happy to receive such an award. I feel this is a form of recognition for us. I will continue working for peace, justice and democracy in our country.”

Wai Wai Nu's entire family has spent time in detention for their activism. She herself was sentenced to 17 years imprisonment when aged just 18. She was released in a presidential amnesty in 2012, and has since continued to campaign for democracy and human rights in Burma.

Accepting the award in Bangkok on behalf of her organisation, Naw Ohn Hla said she too would continue working for peace in Burma.

"In our country, as we all know, human right abuses have been ongoing. There is a lot of things we can do for our country and our people. My aim since the beginning was to achieve peace in the country as well as human rights, rights of equality, and to protect women from oppression. We need to keep working on these issues."

The N-Peace Award was initiated in 2011 and is supported by AusAid.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Demonstration to Call for Investigation Into Journalist’s Killing

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 05:33 AM PDT

A photo of killed reporter Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi. (Par Gyi /Facebook)

A photo of killed reporter Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi. (Par Gyi /Facebook)

RANGOON — Several activist groups said on Friday afternoon that they plan to soon hold a demonstration to call for a full investigation and justice in the case of the reported killing of a journalist by the Burma Army in Mon State.

"We will ask for a transparent investigation, for the officials to take fair [legal] action to account for his death, and to bring his body back to his family for a proper funeral," said Moe Thway from Generation Wave, a youth activist group.

On Friday morning, it emerged that an aide to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing sent a statement to the Interim Myanmar Press Council on Thursday, saying that an unnamed army unit in Mon State's Kyaikmayaw Township had shot dead 49-year-old freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, on Oct. 4.

He said a letter requesting permission to hold the demonstration in front of Rangoon's City Hall had been sent to Kyauktada Township on Friday, adding that the protest was scheduled to start on Sunday at 4 pm.

He said some 200 people from youth activist groups, journalist organizations and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society are expected to join. Moe Thway added that protestors had asked for permission to chant, "Protect reporters!", "Justice must prevail!" and "Down with the oppressive military!"

"He was missing for a month, but it has now been confirmed that he was dead soon after he disappeared. We think it is deceiving," said Moe Thway.

Min Nay Htoo, a youth activist with DPW Network, said he planned to join the protest. He said the journalist's killing "proved that the current government is not a government that is transitioning to a real democracy; the military is still above the law and can do whatever they want."

The post Demonstration to Call for Investigation Into Journalist's Killing appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

E-Visa Service to be Offered for 6 Additional Entry Points

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 05:20 AM PDT

Tourists arrive to a hotel located on Inle Lake, one of the main tourist attractions in Burma, on Sept. 25, 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Minzayar)

Tourists arrive to a hotel located on Inle Lake, one of the main tourist attractions in Burma, on Sept. 25, 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Minzayar)

RANGOON — Burma's Ministry of Immigration and Population will begin issuing electronic visas for tourists at six additional locations, a ministry official told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

The e-visa registration, introduced on Sept. 1, is currently only available to visitors entering the country through the Rangoon International Airport. The ministry said that service will soon be extended to Mandalay, Naypyidaw and four overland crossings along Burma's border with Thailand.

Applicants must complete an online visa form, verify that all information is correct and make a credit card payment for fees. Those approved will receive an emailed document that they can print out and present to immigration officers upon arrival.

Turnaround time averages five days, and the visa is priced at US$50 per person. After approval, travelers have 90 days to enter Burma, where they can stay for up to 28 days.

"We're going to set up the machines, and we'll conduct trials in Mandalay and Naypyidaw. Afterwards we plan to start offering e-visas in four Thai-Burmese border stations," said Maung Maung Than, director-general of the immigration ministry.

The government has only recently allowed overland entry into Burma; four checkpoints along the Thai-Burmese border—at Myawaddy, Tachilek, Kawthaung and Htee Khee—only offered one-day passes or specially issued travel exemptions until just last year. The change effectively meant that visitors can enter through a border station and travel to other parts of the country via land or air, whereas they were previously restricted to areas close to the border and were required to go out the way they came.

The number of people entering Burma has increased dramatically since the overland borders were opened, a trend that the government would like to see continue as the tourism industry begins to take off in the once-closed country.

"As you know, many international airlines now offer direct flights to Mandalay and Naypyidaw," said Maung Maung Than, "and many people are coming in through the border stations. That's why we're going to expand the availability of e-visas."

In the initial phase of implementation, 41 nationalities were eligible for e-visas. Eligibility has expanded to include a total of 67 countries at present.

Ministry figures indicate that 13,283 e-visas have been issued during the trial period, which began on Aug. 10. A total of 16,087 applications were submitted, according to the ministry. The majority of applicants were United States citizens.

Phyo Wai Yar Zar, chairman of Myanmar Tourism Marketing, said that the number of e-visa applicants is still far lower than the total number of visitors entering the country via overland crossings, which demonstrates a demand for expanding availability. He predicts that the service will account for a larger percentage of visas as time goes on.

"The reason for the low number of applicants is simply that e-visas have only been available for a short time. Many tourists don't yet realize that it's even an option, and it's still only available for those entering through the Rangoon airport," he said. Phyo Wai Yar Zar added that his organization, a non-governmental industry promotion and coordination body, will "welcome this expansion of services."

The total number of visitors to Burma topped one million annually for the first time in 2012, after the onset of political reforms. Many foreigners formerly boycotted the country at the request of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, so as to avoid contributing money to the repressive military regime.

But many are now optimistic that tourism could become a major driver of economic development. In 2012, the government created a Tourism Master Plan with the help of foreign consultants, with the goal of 3 million foreign visitors by 2015 and 7.5 million by 2020.

In early October, the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism announced plans for a "Visit Myanmar Year" campaign in 2016, in a renewed attempt to revamp the tourism sector amid chronic complaints of accommodation shortages and weak infrastructure for communications and transit.

The post E-Visa Service to be Offered for 6 Additional Entry Points appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Father of Koh Tao Accused Describes Threats Against His Son

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 05:15 AM PDT

Parents of the Koh Tao murder suspects visit the Koh Samui provincial legal department office on Friday. (Photo: Min Oo / The Irrawaddy)

Parents of the Koh Tao murder suspects visit the Koh Samui provincial legal department office on Friday. (Photo: Min Oo / The Irrawaddy)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Tun Tun Hteik, the father of Win Zaw Htun, one of two Burmese suspects in the Koh Tao murder case, told The Irrawaddy on Friday of threats made against his son by Thai police that led to his confession.

The parents of the two Burmese migrants accused of killing two British tourists arrived at Koh Samui in southern Thailand on Friday morning and were able to meet their sons for the first time since their arrest.

"When I asked him why he confessed [to killing the British tourists], he said that the police and interpreter threatened to kill them—to cut off their hands and legs and throw them into the sea and to pour fuel on them and set them on fire. They then confessed as they were afraid," Tun Tun Hteik said. "So, they have now openly admitted that they didn't kill them."

Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 21 years old, were detained by police on Oct. 2 for the alleged murder of British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, whose bodies were found on the morning of Sept. 15 on Koh Tao in Thailand's Surat Thani province.

Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer assigned by the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok to assist the accused during the legal process, told The Irrawaddy that his group, along with the suspects' parents, met the two migrants from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

"Basically, they [the accused] admitted that they weren't involved in this crime. We submitted documents signed by their parents to the legal provincial office [the prosecutor's office] on Koh Samui to review the case," Aung Myo Thant said.

The Koh Tao murders have made international headlines, with rights groups and other observers, including from within Thailand, openly critical of the Thai police's handling of the investigation.

In early October, Thailand's national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung told reporters on Koh Tao that the two Burmese migrants had confessed to the killings. He also said that DNA samples taken from the two men matched DNA found on the female victim.

Htoo Chit, executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development migrant rights group, also traveled with the suspects' parents to Koh Samui.

"Their parents are happy as their sons officially reported that they didn't commit the crime," Htoo Chit told The Irrawaddy.

Surapong Kongchantuk of the Lawyer's Council of Thailand said on Friday that his legal team would help the suspects to ensure they receive justice in accordance with Thai law.

"We want and hope to see the truth come out in this case in order to arrest those who really committed the crime," Surapong said. The two accused men also told the Thai fact-finding team, who met with the two suspects on Koh Samui, that they weren't responsible for the murders.

"They said they didn't kill [the two British tourists] or rape the female tourist. They said they didn't even know about the incident," added Surapong.

The parents of the two migrants arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday and met with members of the Lawyers Council of Thailand and the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand at the Burmese Embassy.

The post Father of Koh Tao Accused Describes Threats Against His Son appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

AirAsia to Fly Direct to Naypyidaw From Kuala Lumpur

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 05:11 AM PDT

AirAsia planes are seen on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Aug. 19, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

AirAsia planes are seen on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Aug. 19, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — The Malaysia-based low-cost carrier AirAsia will soon fly direct flights between Naypyidaw and Kuala Lumpur as the Burmese capital prepares to host a major regional summit next month.

The maiden flight will take place on Nov. 10, 2014, and will be AirAsia's second direct flight to Burma, after Rangoon-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia state media reported on Friday, citing a press release from AirAsia. Tickets start from 169 ringgit (US$52).

The airline also offers indirect flights from Kuala Lumpur to Mandalay, via Bangkok.

AirAsia will be the first airline to fly directly to Naypyidaw from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, but Win Swe Tun, director general at Burma's Department of Civil Aviation, told The Irrawaddy that the flights would likely only be offered for about a month.

"There is the 25th Asean Summit in November and the AirAsia company is planning the scheduled flights for the delegates to attend the summit," he said. The summit is scheduled to run from Nov. 12-13. The East Asia summit will follow, concluding on Nov. 14.

During the 27th Southeast Asian Games, Thai AirAsia, a joint venture of the Malaysian airline and the Thai firm Asia Aviation, launched a scheduled flight between Naypyidaw and Bangkok for visitors attending the SEA Games, which were held in Rangoon and Naypyidaw. That service is no longer offered.

AirAsia was founded in 2001, and has since flown 220 million guests to more than 88 destinations, according to the company's website.

The post AirAsia to Fly Direct to Naypyidaw From Kuala Lumpur appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burmese Women Honored for Activism

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 04:25 AM PDT

From right to left, Khin Khin Kyu, Ma Thandar and Naw Ohn Hla, along with Wai Wai Nu, far left, will receive awards for their peace advocacy. (Photo: Facebook / Sanda Thant)

From right to left, Khin Khin Kyu, Ma Thandar and Naw Ohn Hla, along with Wai Wai Nu, far left, will receive awards for their peace advocacy. (Photo: Facebook / Sanda Thant)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Two Burmese women activists and an advocacy group will accept awards from the N-Peace Network alongside other Asian peace activists at a ceremony in Bangkok on Friday evening.

N-Peace, a network of peace advocates active in six nations, is honoring 11 advocates from seven Asian countries with the N-Peace Awards 2014, for their work in advancing women, peace and security. The network is not active in Burma, but it does maintain contacts with Burmese advocacy groups.

The Burmese women are also participating in a two-day N-Peace workshop prior to the award ceremony.

"We reflect on, and find solutions to, the persistent challenges of peacebuilding in Asia," Naw Ohn Hla, leader of the award-winning Burmese advocacy group, told The Irrawaddy.

Her Rangoon-based Democracy and Peace Women Network (DPWN) will be honored as winner of the "Thinking Outside the Box" category. Cofounded in 2012 by Naw Ohn Hla and Ma Thandar—both former political prisoners—DPWN raises awareness of human rights among farmers and campaigns against domestic violence. The former is of particular value in Burma, where land disputes and confiscations make headlines regularly.

Ma Thandar made headlines of her own earlier this week when she held a press conference to bring attention to the disappearance of her journalist husband. On Friday, she found out that her husband, Aung Kyaw Naing, was killed by the Burma Army.

"There is still more work to be done in boosting awareness of marginalized people's rights as we, people of Burma, are still under the suppression of the authorities and face human rights violations," said Naw Ohn Hla, whose group is active in lower and central Burma, and in Karen and Mon states in the country's southeast.

Winning individual awards are a young peace activist named Wai Wai Nu and minority women's rights activist Mi Khin Khin Kyu.

Wai Wai Nu is a former political prisoner and currently a peace activist and defender of the rights of marginalized women. Along with a Pakistani man, Shah Zaman, she is co-winner of the "Peace Generation: Young Women and Men Building Peace" award.

Khin Khin Kyu, an ethnic Mon woman who is also known as Kun Chan Non, will be honored under the category "Untold Stories: Women Transforming Their Communities," together with four other women from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan.

The N-Peace Awards were first launched by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in 2011 to recognize and profile women and men leaders and activists effecting positive change from the grassroots to national levels in Asia.

Coordinated by the N-Peace Network across Indonesia, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, the awards spotlight women and men who demonstrate leadership in building peace and community empowerment.

The post Burmese Women Honored for Activism appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

In Arakan State, Concerns Grow Over Rise in Drug Seizures, Abuse

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 04:20 AM PDT

In June, Burmese authorities organized a drug-burning ceremony in Rangoon that destroyed a reported US$19 million worth of illicit drugs. (Photos: Hein Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

In June, Burmese authorities organized a drug-burning ceremony in Rangoon that destroyed a reported US$19 million worth of illicit drugs. (Photos: Hein Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

Recent drug seizures and reports of growing drug abuse in western Burma's Arakan State are causing concern among local residents and state authorities, with some fearing that the developments indicate a rise in drug trafficking through the region to neighboring Bangladesh.

In September, at Nandawgon City Wall of the old Arakan temple complex of Mrauk-U children playing in the area found a hidden haul of some 400,000 methamphetamine pills, Mrauk-U Township police force have said.

Earlier this month, about 600,000 pills were found by Rangoon Division Police hidden in bales of clothes on a bus that was about to leave Rangoon for Arakan State.

Mrauk-U residents said they were surprised to hear that such a large amount of drugs was found in their small community, located some 50 km (30 miles) north of the Arakan capital Sittwe and about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of the Burma-Bangladesh border.

"Police still can't find the owner. It is the largest drug bust in Mrauk-U so far," said local resident Maung Than. "Since most of the people in Mrauk-U are poor they can hardly afford such expensive drug. Some youths use expensive drug, but the number is very limited.

"So, the tablets seized at Nandawgon would have been meant for export to the neighboring country, I think," he said.

Some Arakanese politicians said that in recent years they witnessed an increase in drug abuse among Arakanese youths.

"It can be said drug abuse is the worst in Sittwe. Particularly, the extent to which it has spread among students and youths is a real concern," Sittwe resident and Arakan State Assembly lawmaker Aung Mya Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.

He said he believed the abuse was linked to an increase in drug trafficking to neighboring Bangladesh, adding, "The state authorities do not pay attention to drug problem."

Ba Shwe, an Arakanese resident of Maungdaw Township, said, "Those aged between 18 and 25 are using more [drugs]. Since this is a border area, [abuse] is worse and police and authorities concerned do not give serious attention. Everyone knows who buys and sells drug as our Maungdaw Township is quite small."

Drugs from Shan State, Asia's biggest region for production of methamphetamine and opium, are known to be trafficked from northern Burma into India's northeastern states. Reports of cross-border drug-trafficking to Bangladesh through the Arakan region, although often offering scant detail, have appeared in the Bangladeshi media.

Win Myaing, an Arakan State government spokesman, confirmed that illicit drugs were regularly being seized in the state, but declined to be drawn on whether this pointed to a rise in drug trade.

"There have been frequent drug busts, there were also in the past," he said, adding that most seized drugs were being trafficked from Burma to Bangladesh via Arakan State.

Since 2012, Sittwe and townships in northern Arakan State, such Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Maungdaw, and Buthidaung, have been the scene of outbreaks of bloody inter-communal violence between the Arakanese Buddhists majority of state and the roughly 1 million Rohingya Muslims who live in parts of northern Arakan.

Border townships Maungdaw and Buthidaung are not easily accessible due to a heavy presence of security forces, which have been deployed to guard the border and to enforce a range of harsh restrictions on the stateless Rohingya who make up most of the population in the two townships.

Win Myaing, whose has frequently levelled all sorts of public accusations against the Rohingya, was quick to blame the drug trafficking reports on the stateless minority, especially on the 140,000 displaced Muslims forced to live in crowded, squalid camps around Sittwe and in northern Arakan.

"Since they [displaced Rohingya] have a lot of money provided by international [aid] community, they can deal and use drugs," he claimed.

In Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of Rohinya refugees live in camps near the border, nationalist politicians and media have reportedly also been keen to link the unpopular group to drug trafficking from Burma.

Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific regional representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok, told UN news agency IRIN in June that there had been no confirmed reports of Rohingya involvement in drug trafficking, but he added, "Drug trafficking networks … use people who don’t have much to lose to operate in dangerous border areas—this is what appears to be happening between Bangladesh and Myanmar."

Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze.

The post In Arakan State, Concerns Grow Over Rise in Drug Seizures, Abuse appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Missing Reporter Killed in Custody of Burma Army: Report

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 11:02 PM PDT

Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was reportedly killed in custody of the Burma Army. (Photo: Yamoun Nar / Facebook)

Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, was reportedly killed in custody of the Burma Army. (Photo: Yamoun Nar / Facebook)

RANGOON — A local journalist who was reporting in Mon State on the recent fighting between the Burma Army and Karen rebels was killed while in custody of government soldiers, according to the Interim Myanmar Press Council.

Kyaw Min Swe, editor-in-chief of local newspaper The Voice and the Press Council's general secretary, told The Irrawaddy on Friday morning that the council had received a statement from the Burma Army on Thursday, informing them of the death of Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi.

He was detained on Sept. 30 by the army's Light Infantry Battalion 208 in Mon State's Kyaikmayaw town and had not been heard of since.

The army's statement, which was obtained by The Irrawaddy on Friday afternoon, claimed that the reporter had been in the custody of an unnamed "roving battalion" looking for DKBA rebels in an area outside of the town on Oct. 4, when he "tried to seize a gun from a guard and run away; then he was shot dead the guard" at around 7:40 pm.

The statement also alleged that the journalist had been a "communications captain" of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, the political wing of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).

The statement added that the body of the journalist had been buried in Shwe War Chong, a village some 20 km from Kyaikmayaw, and that his wife would be informed of his death. The statement was not printed on official letterhead of the Ministry of Defense and was undated.

Kyaw Min Swe said he knew that it had come from the army because it was emailed to the Press Council by an aide to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. "We are going to discuss these events with the members of the Press Council soon," he added.

Aung Kyaw Naing had worked with The Voice's reporters based in the Mon State capital Moulmein. The 49-year-old freelance journalist regularly reported on ethnic issues along the Burma-Thai border and contributed to different Rangoon-based papers.

He travelled to Mon State's Kyaikmayaw Township late last month to cover an outbreak of heavy fighting between the DKBA and the army.

It is believed that the army's Light Infantry Battalion 208, based in Mon State's Kyaikmayaw town, arrested Aung Kyaw Naing in order to interrogate him about the whereabouts of the DKBA units, which were on the run from the army at the time.

He was last seen returning to Kyaikmayaw town from an area of DKBA control when was apprehended by authorities, police and soldiers in late September, his wife Than Dar said last week. She is an activist with the Rangoon-based Peace and Women Network and made a public appeal to the army calling for his immediate release.

When The Irrawaddy contacted Than Dar in Bangkok on Friday morning she said that no one had informed her yet of her husband's death. "If he is dead, I want to get his body back," she said in a phone call. "I could not accept that he has died. I will continue fighting for justice.

"I don’t want any wives or daughters to suffer like we suffer. I will proceed with the charges [against the army] for torture and death," said Than Dar, who has one daughter with Aung Kyaw Naing.

The Voice reported the news of the killing on the front page on Friday morning. Kyaw Min Swe said the daily had gone ahead with publishing the news before informing the victim's wife because she was abroad. "We tried to contact her but she is in Thailand," he said.

Saw Lont Lone, the secretary of Klohtoobaw Karen Organization, denied to The Irrawaddy that Aung Kyaw Naing was in any way affiliated with the Karen rebel group, as the army claimed.

"He is just a journalist and we helped him when he came to gather news, that’s all," he said.

Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a reaction on Friday afternoon that the government should publicly address the allegations.

"We are gravely concerned by preliminary reports that journalist Aung Kyaw Naing may have been killed while in military custody. Government authorities must investigate these reports and if founded reveal publicly the circumstances behind his death," he told The Irrawaddy.

Reporting by Lawi Weng, Nyein Nyein and Kyaw Hsu Mon. This story was updated on Oct. 24 at 3 pm.

The post Missing Reporter Killed in Custody of Burma Army: Report appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Protesters in Hong Kong to Vote on Government Proposals

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:56 PM PDT

A large banner hung by pro-democracy protesters is seen at Lion Rock, overlooking Kowloon in Hong Kong, on Oct. 23, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

A large banner hung by pro-democracy protesters is seen at Lion Rock, overlooking Kowloon in Hong Kong, on Oct. 23, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong say they will hold a straw poll on government proposals they had rejected earlier in the week as the campaign in the Chinese-controlled city entered the fifth week on Friday.

With crowds likely to swell at the weekend, student leaders late on Thursday announced a plan for an electronic poll of protesters on reform proposals tabled by senior city government officials in talks on Tuesday that failed to break the deadlock.

"The government always says that the students don't represent the people in the plaza and Hong Kong citizens, so we are here to make all our voices heard and we will tell the government clearly what we think," Alex Chow, one of the students guiding the movement, told protesters late on Thursday.

Demonstrators would be asked whether the government's offer to submit a report to China's State Council, or cabinet, on the Occupy protests that have roiled Hong Kong, would have any practical purpose, with a bid to collating these responses to strengthen their bargaining position.

Friday marks the start of the fifth week since tens of thousands began blocking major roads to oppose a plan by the Chinese central government to let Hong Kong people vote for their leader in 2017 for the first time but limit candidates to those vetted by a panel stacked with Beijing loyalists.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee on Thursday gave a boost to the protest movement by calling on China to ensure universal suffrage in Hong Kong, including the right to stand for election as well as the right to vote. Committee members voiced concerns about the right to stand without unreasonable restrictions, chiming with protester demands for civil nominations for the 2017 poll.

A chasm exists between the government and the protesters who have been calling for open nominations in 2017 and for the current leader, Leung Chun-ying, to step down. The government branded the movement's occupation of streets illegal and has repeatedly said open nominations are not allowed under the laws of the former British colony.

The talks on Tuesday marked a shift in the government's approach from stonewalling to dialogue, although expectations for a breakthrough had been low.

The poll to be held on Sunday would be the first potentially constructive response from the protesters after the student leaders emerged from the talks disappointed. They planned to hand the results to the government on Monday.

The poll will also seek views on the establishment of a platform for dialogue on constitutional development, and whether it should come into effect before 2017 as student leaders want.

"I am ready to vote any time. My demands have never changed but my expectations from the government have been lowered," said Lau Wah, a 21-year-old protester helping to man a provisions station amid a sea of tents at a major protest site.

Protesters would register for the poll, which would be restricted to occupied areas, with their phone number and Hong Kong identity card.

"We will use these figures to bargain with the government on Monday. We will be able to better represent the people and take the initiative on behalf of them," said Benny Tai, a law professor and one of the organizers of the "Occupy" movement.

A massive yellow banner with an umbrella symbolizing the people's movement and calling for "real universal suffrage" was hung from the iconic Lion Rock mountain on Thursday by a group of climbing enthusiasts, in a prominent symbol of the movement that could be clearly seen from the city below.

The post Protesters in Hong Kong to Vote on Government Proposals appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

A Divisive Dialogue

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:35 PM PDT

A Divisive Dialogue

A Divisive Dialogue

The post A Divisive Dialogue appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Three Major Nations Absent as China Launches Asian Bank Rival

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:31 PM PDT

China's President Xi Jinping, front center, poses for photos with guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 24, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

China's President Xi Jinping, front center, poses for photos with guests at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 24, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

SHANGHAI — Australia, Indonesia and South Korea skipped the launch of a China-backed Asian infrastructure bank on Friday as the United States said it had concerns about the new rival to Western-dominated multilateral lenders.

China's US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is seen as a challenge to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, both multilateral lenders that count Washington and its allies as their biggest financial backers.

China, which is keen to extend its influence in the region, has limited voting power over these existing banks despite being the world's second-largest economy.

The AIIB, launched in Beijing at a ceremony attended by Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei and delegates from 21 countries including India, Thailand and Malaysia, aims to give project loans to developing nations. China is set to be its largest shareholder with a stake of up to 50 percent.

Indonesia was not present and neither were South Korea and Australia, according to a pool report.

Japan, China's main rival in Asia and which dominates the $164 billion Asian Development Bank along with the United States, was also not present, but it was not expected to be.

Media reports said US Secretary of State John Kerry put pressure on Australia to stay out of the AIIB.

However, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "Secretary Kerry has made clear directly to the Chinese as well as to other partners that we welcome the idea of an infrastructure bank for Asia but we strongly urge that it meet international standards of governance and transparency.

"We have concerns about the ambiguous nature of the AIIB proposal as it currently stands, that we have also expressed publicly."

In a speech to delegates after the inauguration, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the new bank would use the best practices of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

"For the AIIB, its operation needs to follow multilateral rules and procedures," Xi said. "We have also to learn from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and other existing multilateral development institutions in their good practices and useful experiences."

The Australian Financial Review said on Friday that Kerry had personally asked Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to keep Australia out of the AIIB.

"Australia has been under pressure from the US for some time to not become a founding member of the bank and it is understood Mr. Kerry put the case directly to the prime minister when the pair met in Jakarta on Monday following the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo," the paper said.

South Korea, one of Washington's strongest diplomatic allies in Asia, has yet to say it will formally participate in the bank. Its finance ministry said last week it has been speaking with China to request more consideration over details such as the AIIB's governance and operational principles.

"We have continued to demand rationality in areas such as governance and safeguard issues, and there's no reason [for Korea] not to join it," South Korean Finance Minister Choi Kyung-hwan said in Beijing on Thursday.

The Seoul-based JoongAng Daily quoted a South Korean diplomatic source as saying: "While Korea has been dropped from the list of founding members of the AIIB this time around, it is still in a deep dilemma on what sort of strategic choices it has to make as China challenges the US-led international order."

The AIIB is expected to begin operations in 2015 with senior Chinese banker Jin Liqun, ex-chairman of investment bank China International Capital Corp, expected to take a leading role.

Last month, China's finance ministry said Australia and South Korea had expressed interest in the AIIB.

On Thursday, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) chief said he did not welcome a China-backed rival bank that will have a virtually identical aim.

"I understand it, but I don't welcome it," said bank president Takehiko Nakao. "I'm not so concerned."

The ADB, created in 1966, offers grants and below-market interest rates on loans to lower to middle-income countries. At the end of 2013, its lending amounted to $21.02 billion.

China has a 6.5 percent stake in the ADB, while the United States and Japan have about 15.6 percent each.

The post Three Major Nations Absent as China Launches Asian Bank Rival appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Foreign Policy Question Mark Over Indonesia Leader

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:26 PM PDT

New Indonesian President Joko Widodo walks with heads of the military, police and intelligence to address the media at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Oct. 22, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

New Indonesian President Joko Widodo walks with heads of the military, police and intelligence to address the media at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Oct. 22, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The remarkable rise of Indonesia's new president has captured popular imagination at home and won praise internationally, but Joko Widodo still needs to prove his foreign policy prowess. The United States is looking for him to sustain Jakarta's role as a regional leader in Southeast Asia.

US Secretary of State John Kerry attended the inauguration this week of Jokowi, as he is better known, whose personal story is symbolic of Indonesia's own transition from autocracy to democratic rule. After he was sworn in, the leader of the world's fourth-most populated country traveled to the presidential palace by horse and cart, underscoring his credentials as a champion of the poor.

The United States and other foreign governments will be willing Jokowi to do well. The 53-year-old, who previously served as governor of the congested capital, Jakarta, must make tough decisions, and soon, to boost economic growth in the sprawling, island nation of 250 million people. Washington will be hoping for a more welcoming climate for foreign investors.

Jokowi is poised to announce his cabinet line-up, including the key position of foreign minister, amid lingering questions about the president's own dearth of experience in foreign affairs, and whether his ambitious domestic agenda, facing hostile political opposition, will preoccupy him.

The Obama administration is paying close attention to how Jokowi fares, and his management of Indonesia's relations. The United States has made engagement with Southeast Asia a centerpiece of its attempt to rebalance its foreign policy toward the fast-growing economies of the Asia-Pacific, and has been supportive of Indonesia's activist role.

President Barack Obama, who has a personal connection with Indonesia because he spent part of his childhood there, visited twice in his first term, and Kerry pulled out the stops to attend Monday's inauguration, taking 26 hours of trans-oceanic flights from Boston.

Bilateral relations have thrived during the tenure of outgoing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, although the trade and investment ties with the United States have been difficult because of Indonesian protectionism, including in the mining industry, said Murray Hiebert, deputy director of the Southeast Asia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Indonesia has emerged as de facto leader of Southeast Asia's regional bloc, best known by its acronym, Asean. Indonesia mediated when a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia flared; it nudged Burma toward greater openness; and it helped patch up differences among Asean's 10 members after an embarrassing public dispute in 2012 over its stance to maritime disputes involving China.

Indonesia performs a balancing act in its relations between strategic rivals China and the United States. Indonesia doesn't count itself among nations contesting for islands in the South China Sea, but it is concerned that China's expansive maritime claims extend to the Indonesian-held Natuna Islands. Indonesia's military chief in April said it was strengthening its forces there.

The United States also views Indonesia, the country with the highest population of Muslims, as a voice of moderation and important partner in countering Islamist militancy. Indonesia has outlawed membership of the Islamic State group that has taken control of a swath of Iraq and Syria. Washington wants Jakarta to stop any flow of fighters from Indonesia and tighten controls on terrorist financing.

Aaron Connelly, an Indonesia specialist at the Australian think tank Lowy Institute, predicted a continuation of Indonesia's slight lean toward the West. But he said Jokowi was likely to show less leadership on foreign policy than Yudhoyono and delegate more to advisers, which could lead to competition among them and give greater influence for nationalist voices at the margins.

"For the first time in 10 years, the Indonesian state will lack a paramount policy-maker on foreign affairs at its apex," Connelly wrote in a recent commentary.

Jokowi, formerly a furniture maker, has risen to prominence on the back of his hard work as Jakarta governor. He has a chance to make his international mark at a sequence of regional summits coming in November, to be hosted by China, Burma and Australia and attended by Obama.

In the meantime, he has plenty to grapple with at home.

The transition to democracy after the dictatorship of Suharto, who was toppled in 1998, took root during Yudhoyono's 10-year tenure. But economic growth on the back of a commodities boom has slowed. Infrastructure is fraying and corruption is rife.

Economists say Jokowi must soon decide how much to cut fuel subsidies that will cost the government US$30 billion this year unless they are trimmed—a move likely to stoke street protests. Jokowi's supporters have already expressed concerns any reforms he tries to enact could be blocked by an opposition led by the Suharto-era general he defeated in July elections.

Legislators loyal to that defeated candidate voted last month to scrap direct elections for local officials, seen as a setback to the democratic system that enabled Jokowi to rise in politics.

The post Foreign Policy Question Mark Over Indonesia Leader appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

US Think Tank Faults Burma on Arakan Response

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:03 PM PDT

Burma on Arakan Response

Burmese President Thein Sein, right, and US President Barack Obama share the stage in Bali on Nov. 19, 2011. Relations between the two countries have improved rapidly since this first meeting between the two leaders. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — An influential Washington think tank is criticizing Burma's government for presiding over a "humanitarian catastrophe" in western Arakan State and doing little to track down perpetrators of Buddhist-on-Muslim violence around the country.

Those criticisms come in a very mixed assessment by the Center for Strategic and International Studies of the situation in Burma, three years after it began a historic transition to democracy from decades of oppressive and ruinous military rule.

The centrist think tank, which has the ear of the Obama administration, visited Burma in August and issued its report on Wednesday. President Barack Obama, who counts US support of the Southeast Asian nation's reforms as a foreign policy success, will make his second visit to Burma in two years when it hosts a summit of regional leaders in November.

The report points to some hopeful signs in Burma, which is gearing up for elections in late 2015. It cites prospects for a nationwide cease-fire in long-running ethnic conflicts, improvements in a woeful health care system and economic reforms that have spurred rapid growth.

But the report also says power is deeply skewed in favor of the military, and that decision-making on key political reforms has stalled. It says that likely reflects a struggle between "reformists" allied to President Thein Sein — the former general who has overseen the shift to democracy — and establishment interests who fear losing privileges through more change.

"It is not yet clear that the military's overwhelming dominance will diminish significantly as the current government approaches the end of its formal tenure in April 2016," the think tank says.

The report says massive human suffering continues in Arakan, where 140,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have been rounded up into barbed-wire-enclosed camps after sectarian violence erupted in mid-2012 with majority Buddhists. It said for months the Burmese government has "abdicated its leadership responsibilities" as worsening violence drove international humanitarian groups out.

The government's action plan to address the situation in Arakan State — criticized by human rights groups as discriminatory — puts forward ideas for peaceful coexistence, citizenship and resettlement, but it remains to be seen if the government can defuse the crisis, the report says.

In the past three years, the United States has led the charge as Western nations have re-engaged with Burma and rolled back sanctions, and Wednesday's report advocates continued American engagement despite congressional concerns over Burma's "backsliding" on reforms.

The report calls for the US to double health aid to Burma, including in the fight against drug-resistant malaria, and to sustain limited US engagement with the military. It says however, those ties shouldn't be expanded before it is clear the military hasn't intervened in the elections.

The post US Think Tank Faults Burma on Arakan Response appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma

Missing journalist allegedly killed by Burmese army

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 07:51 AM PDT

Par Gyi, a Burmese journalist who went missing in Mon State one month ago while covering the armed conflict between government forces and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) has been killed by the Burmese army, according to a report obtained by DVB that was allegedly written by the Burmese military.

The report documents the series of events surrounding the journalist's death and is dated 23 October, but it does not contain a letter-head or the name of the report's author. The report says the missing journalist, whose real name is Aung Naing, was actually a captain responsible for "coordinating information" for a unit of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO), the political wing of the DKBA.

According to the report, Aung Naing's KKO unit had been cooperating with another KKO unit which had detained and stolen weapons from Burmese police officers in Mon State's Kyeikmayaw Town on 26 October. After the incident, the report says a combined force of police officers and soldiers from Burma's 204th Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) was organized to search for the KKO members.

The report then says the government posse eventually found Aung Naing on a boat while inspecting river jetties in Kyeikmayaw Town on 30 September. Aung Naing was allegedly all wet and muddy when he was found and subsequently detained by the Burmese army's 208th LIB, which reportedly "investigated" Aung Naing and discovered that he was working for the KKO.

DVB reported this week that Aung Naing's wife, Ma Thandar, held a press conference on 21 October calling on President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to help bring her husband home. Ma Thandar began searching for her husband in late September as soon as he went missing though, and the military “report” says she eventually went to the 208th LIB base near Kyeikmayaw to find her husband.

Ma Thandar's case was then relayed to the Regional Military Command, according to the report, which then "inquired with units under its supervision" and discovered that Aung Naing had already been killed during an apparent escape attempt. The report states as follows:

"Aung Naing, under pretext of going to latrine, wrestled a soldier on guard and tried to make off with his firearm. He was shot and captured dead by the guard and his body was buried in a respectful manner [near] Shwewachaung Village."

Neither the Burmese government nor military has yet made any official statement about the incident, but Ma Thandar told DVB she will do everything in her power to confront the army and obtain justice for her husband.

"I can accept that people die, but this is different. There is no explanation for it at all. They perversely killed my husband, and the whole town of Kyeikmayaw saw him being detained," she said.

When we filed a missing person report with the police, a police officer at the station said he also saw Aung Naing being detained, and that the journalist didn't have a scratch on his body at the time."

During her press conference on 21 October, Ma Thandar said that Burmese army captain San Min Aung admitted to her that Aung Naing had been arrested, but the captain also said he didn't know where the journalist was being detained. Now Ma Thandar is convinced the Burmese army killed her husband while he was being detained, and she is planning do whatever it takes to find out exactly what happened and obtain justice.

"I will speak to my lawyer and stand up to the army as much as I can, both mentally and physically."

DKBA Maj. Saw Lonlon denied that Aung Naing was a captain in the KKO—he said the KKO has no military ranks in its structure since it's only the political wing of the DKBA armed group. The major also said the DKBA knew Aung Naing, but only because he had previously contacted them to obtain information for his news reports.

"We are often contacted by journalists and usually we show them around, but Aung Naing couldn't film much because there was fighting taking place," said Maj. Saw Lonlon

In an e-mail to DVB, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Southeast Asia Representative, Shawn Crispin, said: “We are gravely concerned by reports that journalist Aung Kyaw Naing has been killed while being held in military custody in Burma. Government authorities must investigate these reports, reveal publicly the circumstances behind his death, and prosecute the perpetrators under the fullest extent of the law.”

The civic group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) also released a statement on Friday strongly condemning the army for summarily executing a civilian, labelling it as a lawless act.

The 88GPOS's leader, Mya Aye, said the army is responsible for the murder of Aung Naing and the group will demand justice against the perpetrator.

"As soon as we heard news that Ko Par Gyi was missing, we reached out to government officials and stressed that he is entitled to legal rights, and that they can't just arbitrarily detain him and take him away to unknown places," said Mya Aye.

The 88GPOS leader then added, "We learned from Aung Naing's family that when they first went to look for him [in Kyeikmayaw], the army told them they would be allowed to see him and that he could be released if his family bails him out. But later they backtracked on their promise and began avoiding the family.

"According to the statement released today, the army conjured up a far-fetched story about him, claiming that he was shot dead for trying to rob a gun while escaping from detention. But we do not accept that. From a legal point of view, the army has committed a crime and we demand to see effective legal action against the perpetrator(s). We will stage public protests if necessary," said Mya Aye.

Before he began working as a freelance journalist, Aung Naing was a political activist and a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's personal security team during the 1988 uprising. He was also one of the first National League for Democracy (NLD) Youth members and acted as the group's Karen state coordinator.

Eventually, Aung Naing was forced into exile in Thailand, where he started working as a freelance reporter based in Mae Sot. Prior to his death, Aung Naing was working for at least three different publications, according to his wife Ma Thandar.

Pegu protesters demand hospital transfer for ill prisoner

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 06:39 AM PDT

Members of the All Burma Federation of Students Unions held a candlelight protest in Pegu earlier this week.

They demanded that land protestor Daw Nyo be transferred from prison to hospital.

The demonstration was met by both doctors and police.

Bullet Points: 24 October 2014

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 06:24 AM PDT

On tonight's edition of Bullet Points:

  • Missing journalist allegedly killed in Burmese army custody
  • Koh Tao murder suspects describe alleged torture threats
  • Burmese migrants to be paid after Bangkok fraud arrests
  • Sagaing farmers demand land return

You can watch Bullet Points every weeknight on DVB TV after the 7 o'clock news.


Posted: 24 Oct 2014 03:43 AM PDT


Ups and downs

The Burmese currency has weakened; it was selling on Friday at 1,000 kyat to the US dollar, while buying at 993. The price of gold is at 657,900 kyat per tical. Fuel prices remain constant: petrol 820 kyat; diesel 950 kyat; octane 950 kyat per litre. High-quality Pawsanhmwe rice is still 1,300-1,700 kyat per basket, while low-quality Manawthukha rice is set at 900 kyat per basket at most Rangoon Markets.


2015 elections to be held late Oct/ early Nov: UEC

The chairman of Burma's Union Election Commission, Tin Aye, said on Sunday that next year's general elections will be held at the end of October or beginning of November. In response, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told reporters on Monday that the government must ensure "not only free and fair, but timely elections" if Burma is to progress on the path to democracy.


Thai steel giant announces factory in Thilawa

Thai steel company Milcon Steel Plc (MILL) has announced a new steel factory at Thilawa Industrial Estate in Burma as a base for commercial grade production.MILL is reported to have bought a 2.3 hectare site for the factory along with Thai concrete manufacturer General Engineering Plc, according to the Bangkok Post. Earlier in June, MILL signed a joint venture agreement with Thiha group to set up construction operations in Burma.


50 billion invested in Burma by 780 firms

Burma's Directorate of Investment and Company Administration announced today that, as of 30 September, Burma has received around US$50 billion in total investment from over 780 enterprises registered in over 36 countries since the country opened up to foreign investment in 1989. Topping the list were entities registered in Singapore, 134 of which have invested in Burma since 1989.  Recently, the largest investment projects have been in the manufacturing and energy sectors.


JICA backs Rangoon-Mandalay railway upgrade

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is helping Burma's Ministry of Railway Transportation upgrade the Rangoon-Mandalay railway and make it suitable for trains which travel 100km/hour. Although the project is nearly 75 percent complete, local engineers will need to undergo training courses in land measurement and assessment in order to complete the track upgrade, according to Deputy Minister of Rail Transportation Myint Thein.


CNG-run power plants to be built in Dawei SEZ

Two compressed natural gas (CNG) fired power plants,will be built in the initial zone of the Dawei special economic zone (SEZ). This was confirmed by Minister Aye Miyint, who is the chairman of the Central Working Committee for the implementation of the Dawei SEZ, in The Global New Light of Myanmar.


Chinese firm to build platforms for Zawtika gas field

A Chinese Offshore Oil Engineering Company has been contracted to build US$367 million well-head platforms for the Zawtika gas field in Burma's Andaman Sea. The gas field is operated by Thai-state owned oil firm PTT Exploration and Production.


Hilton Naypyidaw opens

Luxury chain of hotels Hilton Worldwide opens first hotel at Naypyidaw in a joint venture with Burmese conglomerate Eden Group. Earlier in July Hilton announced its plan to launch five hotels within the next three years in Burma.


Everyone will benefit from Myeik power plant, says Burmese developer

The Managing Director of Ayar Hinthar, a Burmese company involved in the US$ 3.5 billion coal-fired Myeik power plant consortium, has said that within a year Burma will link up with Thailand’s electrical grid and distribute electricity in Burma at low prices.

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Koh Tao murders: ‘Thai police threatened to burn my son alive’

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 02:12 AM PDT

The father of one of the detained suspects in the Koh Tao murder case has told DVB that at their family reunion this afternoon, his son told him that he and his friend confessed to rape and murder only after Thai interrogators threatened to kill them, and that they did not commit the alleged crimes.

Htun Htun Htike, the father of Win Zaw Htun, said, "My son and his friend [Zaw Lin] told me that they were subjected to physical torture by the Thai police and their translator.

"The interrogators told them to confess to the crime, and threatened to cut off their limbs, put them in a bag, and dump them in a river if they did not.

"The police also threatened to tie the two boys to a tire, pour petrol on it, and set it alight," he told DVB's Aye Nai in an exclusive interview on Friday. "My son said they were terrified and confessed. But now that we [their parents and Burmese officials] are present, they can speak the truth – that they did not commit the murder.

"My son also told me that the police threatened to use tasers on them."

Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 21, from Kyaukphyu in Arakan State, had been living and working on the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand when, on 15 September, the bodies of English tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, were found on Sairee Beach.

Both had been bludgeoned to death while Miss Witheridge was also raped.

The case generated immense media interest around the world and the Thai police and government has been under diplomatic pressure to find the killers.

Both the Thai police chief in charge of the investigation and the Thai prime minister have claimed that the case was handled correctly and that the two Burmese migrants were not scapegoats.

ABSDF, 88 Gen discuss constitutional reform

Posted: 24 Oct 2014 12:58 AM PDT

The All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) held a two-day meeting in Rangoon to discuss political issues in Burma, including constitutional amendments, electoral voting systems and the ongoing peace process.

Ko Ko Gyi, a member of the 88GPOS, said, "The 88GPOS and ABSDF were both born out of the 1988 uprising—we landed in prison and the students wound up along the border in the jungle. So this meeting is a reunion of sorts for those involved in the 1988 uprising, and we believe that together we will continue to be a political force in Burma's reform process."

At the meeting, ABSDF was represented by Than Khe and Myo Win, while the 88GPOS was represented by Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi.

The ABSDF was born out of the 1988 students' uprising in Burma and subsequent military coup. Up to 10,000 students, many from middle-class families in the main cities, travelled to border areas to join the armed resistance to military rule. Many have fought for years alongside hardened Karen and Kachin guerrillas in the malaria-infested jungles of eastern and northern Burma.

Civil society group 88GPOS was likewise formed by the students who led the 1988 uprising against the military regime. It recently assisted the opposition National League for Democracy in campaigning across the country for constitutional reform.

UNFC questions Burmese military commitment to peace

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 10:37 PM PDT

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) ethnic alliance has expressed its doubts over the Burmese military’s commitment to the peace process.

"We have urged the government to negotiate with ethnic armed groups by peaceful means, but we have not yet heard any positive response from their side," said Khu Oo Reh, the UNFC general-secretary, adding that the ongoing outbreak of hostilities could effectively halt the peace process.

Speaking to DVB on Thursday, the UNFC general-secretary said, "Moreover, we are hearing mixed statements from government leaders with regard to the peace process and the 2015 elections."

The UNFC held its first plenary meeting from 20- 22 October at an undisclosed location near the Thai-Burmese border where it discussed political and military issues related to the ongoing peace process and ceasefire negotiations, as well as matters related to humanitarian relief and the rehabilitation of internally displaced persons.

The ethnic bloc released a statement at the conclusion of the summit expressing doubts that peace will prevail; it cited Burmese army offensives against ethnic positions in Kachin, Shan and Karen states as reasons for the mistrust.

Concluding last week's conference, the UNFC said it had agreed to continue with peace and ceasefire talks.

The umbrella group is made up of 12 ethnic militias and has sat with government delegations in recent months for several rounds of talks aimed at securing a nationwide ceasefire. One of its main partners, the Karen National Union, in September suspended its membership from the bloc.

Thailand, Burma press ahead with Dawei SEZ

Posted: 23 Oct 2014 08:41 PM PDT

Burma and Thailand are expected to announce next month the development of the initial phase of the delayed Dawei development project.

Arkhom Termpitayapaisith, the National Economic and Social Development Board secretary-general, said two Thai companies — Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) and Rojana Industrial Park Plc — have proposed developing the road network linking the Thai border with the Dawei project and industrial estate.

Mr Arkhom said Dawei SEZ Development Co, a joint venture between Burma and Thailand, had invited Japan to bid for development of Dawei’s initial phase, but only the two companies approached it.

He said Dawei SEZ Development was considering the companies’ proposals, with the deals expected to be signed after the ASEAN Summit on 12- 13 November in Naypyidaw, the capital of Burma, officially known as Myanmar.

The deals, once officially signed, should help create more confidence among foreign investors that the Dawei project will actually be built, he said.

Mr Arkhom said two new committees to supervise the Dawei project would soon be set up, one of which will be a policy committee chaired by the deputy prime minister, while the other will be a working committee chaired by the permanent secretary of state and relating to ports, roads and industrial estates.

The previous government had set up a three-layered system — policy, high-ranking and coordinating committees — to supervise the project.

The meeting of the policy committee will be held soon to discuss the next step of development.

Thailand and Burma agreed early this month to revitalise the Dawei project by allowing Thai companies to play a bigger role in the much-delayed special economic zone scheme when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha paid an official visit to Myanmar.

The Thai government is keen to press ahead with the long-delayed project and hopes the Japanese government will eventually become a joint developer in Dawei, Mr Arkhom said.


This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on 24 October 2014.