Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

2 Injured Amid Explosions in Mong Hsu Near Ongoing Military Clashes

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 03:37 AM PST

A man injured in the blasts is sent to hospital in Mong Hsu. (Photo: Nan Kaung Kham / Facebook)

A man injured in the blasts is sent to hospital in Mong Hsu. (Photo: Nan Kaung Kham / Facebook)

RANGOON — Two separate explosions rocked Shan State's Mong Hsu Township on Tuesday, injuring two men and causing panic throughout the town.

The first explosion was heard around 8am and resulted in two injuries. The second blast was reported just over an hour later at a nearby location, without any casualties reported. Both explosions, believed to be caused by small bombs, went off in Ward 4 along the Mong Hsu-Tangyan road.

The two injured men have been identified as Ai Shwe, 25, and Ai Bao, 19, also known as Maung Nu. Ai Shwe suffered a head injury while Ai Bao sustained damage to his face, right leg and abdomen, according to an official from the township office of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD).

"The two were sent to Kho Lam Hospital," said Nan Kaung Kham of the SNLD, adding that the blast was the third to strike the town. "Mong Hsu locals are now so afraid that the sound of a door closing might scare them if it is loud."

On Oct. 21, an explosion in the same ward killed a 70-year-old woman while injuring two novice monks and another woman. Last week, two men threw a grenade at a house and another was found undetonated near the same site, according to Mong Hsu Police Lt. Hsan Lwin.

The officer confirmed Tuesday's explosions, adding that police "are still investigating the case to find out who is responsible."

Conflict has continued between the Burma Army and the Shan State Army-North in Kyethi and Monghsu townships since Oct. 6. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 6,000 people have fled their homes in the ensuing six weeks, while local civil society groups estimate the number could be as high as 10,000.

Nang Kaung Kham of the SNLD said the town is not near any camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), which are located further east.

The post 2 Injured Amid Explosions in Mong Hsu Near Ongoing Military Clashes appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Challenges Remain for Bagan Heritage Recognition

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 03:17 AM PST

Tourist buses near pagodas in Bagan. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Tourist buses near pagodas in Bagan. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

BAGAN, Mandalay Division — "Hotel Project, No Trespassing," reads the signboard in front of a wide expanse of land, the whir of heavy machinery drowning out birdsongs and the flutter of breeze through the nearby trees.

Scenes like this are increasingly common in Bagan, the site of an incalculable repository of cultural and historical heritage in the plains of central Burma, as development ramps up in anticipation of a tourism boom.

Among the people of Burma, the area evokes an image of beautiful pagodas and stupas set against still fields, a link to the era of the Pagan Kingdom of the 9th century.

But today, Bagan teems with passenger coaches and cargo trucks. Its outlying villages are crowded with shops and hotels, its restaurants vying eagerly for foreign visitors. The sheer scale of development over a short period of time has alarmed locals.

"The developers dig the earth, doing as they please," said one Bagan resident, pointing at a new 100-acre hotel project. "This place is said to be the burial ground of royal families and King Anawratha. But they don't value it."

"They have turned this place into a hotel zone. Every business here is dominated by cronies. I don't know who sold the land. We can't stand seeing this."

In response to concerns over the impact of tourism development, the Bagan Lovers' Association was formed in 2005 to help keep the area around the archeological zone clean, perform philanthropic works and raise awareness around heritage issues. Their representations to the government have routinely fallen on deaf ears.

"We filed reports and complaints to government officials along with the evidence, but they do not take action," said Min Naing, chairman of the Bagan Lovers' Association. "You can't replace this heritage. It is high time we preserve it now."

"I have evidence that the Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library have approved construction projects without scrutinizing them first," said Chin Bo, a fellow member of the association. "Why do they allow five or six feet from ancient stupas? I can't understand."

Burma's tourism industry has experienced significant growth since the nominally civilian government of President Thein Sein took office in 2011, and Bagan has entrenched itself as one of the top tourist destinations for foreign travelers.

In this respect, the government has accomplished a long-cherished ambition of the previous military regime, which evicted many villagers from the epicenter of the old city and embarked upon a crude effort to restore a large number of damaged temples.

The junta's 1996 effort to secure a UNESCO World Heritage listing fell flat at a time when the country was internationally isolated by the events surrounding the military takeover, tourist arrivals remained stagnant as a result of a boycott called by the National League for Democracy.

Thein Lwin, the deputy director-general of Bagan Department of Archaeology, said that many of the concerns surrounding the area's conservation and heritage protection dated to the construction approvals given to hotel owners during this period.

"All of those things were done in the time of previous government," he told The Irrawaddy. "At the time there were no laws and that is why those kinds of hotels were permitted. These things are not done in this age."

He added that the law prevented pagodas on the grounds of private hotels from being reserved for the exclusive enjoyment of hotel guests.

"Anyone can visit freely the pagodas and stupas in those hotels. Entry is not barred and hotel gates are not closed. Where we have heard about fencing in of pagodas, we are preparing to take actions against this."

Burma's Ministry of Culture is currently working with a number of international agencies to draw up a master plan for the conservation of Bagan's archeological zone.

Though the 1996 push for World Heritage recognition was rejected, in October the Myazedi Stone Inscription in Bagan was last month included UNESCO Memory of the World register.

Bagan locals have criticized the department's attempts to lay blame solely at the feet of the previous regime, saying that authorities have not taken swift action to address the potential threat of unsustainable tourism growth in the area.

"It does not matter who did this," said Min Naing. "What we need it prompt action because heritage is irreplaceable."

The post Challenges Remain for Bagan Heritage Recognition appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Authorities Order Miners to Move as Death Toll Rises from Hpakant Landslide

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 02:56 AM PST

 Rescue workers look for bodies of miners killed by a landslide at a jade mine in Kachin State's Hpakant Township, November 24, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Rescue workers look for bodies of miners killed by a landslide at a jade mine in Kachin State's Hpakant Township, November 24, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Local authorities have told small-scale miners living near the site of a deadly landslide at a jade mine in Kachin State's Hpakant Township to move immediately, as the official death toll from Saturday's disaster continues to rise.

Around 200 people from approximately 80 households were believed to be residing in a mining encampment that was buried when a man-made mountain of earthen waste collapsed near a mine in the jade-rich region on Saturday morning.

Around 200 more small-scale miners, mostly internal migrants who sift through piles of waste soil by hand in the hope of striking the highly sought gem, reportedly live in an encampment near the site of the landslide.

Local hand-pickers told Upper House MP-elect Khin Maung Myint on Tuesday they had been instructed to move from the area within three days.

"They told me that soldiers told them on Monday to move from their huts within the next three days," he said, adding that they were informed their dwellings would be destroyed.

Kyaw Htin, a police officer in Hpakant, confirmed the authorities wanted the residents "to move as soon as possible" as there was a danger of further landslides.

"They do not see the danger but we want them to move immediately. The sooner the better," Kyaw Htin told The Irrawaddy. "There are about 70 huts with over 200 people. They can easily move as they live in temporary makeshift huts."

The police officer added that some people had expressed opposition to the move.

"We have provided a place which is about 1,000 feet from there. They just think of getting the precious stones when living near the dump soil piles, but they don't see they are risking their lives," he said.

According to Khin Maung Myint, who was elected to Kachin State constituency No. 9 for the National League for Democracy in the recent general election, nine bodies were recovered on Monday and another body on Tuesday morning, bringing the death toll to 114, with dozens more unaccounted for.

Khin Maung Myint said the grim search for bodies was being aided by over twenty diggers, or excavators, supplied by local mining companies.

Kachin State's chief minister La Jon Ngan Hsai is currently visiting the site and meeting with victims' families, whom the government plans to support, according to the state chief's spokesperson.

Around half of the victims recovered cannot yet be identified, according to a local free funeral service, but authorities are collecting fingerprints to aid the identification process.

In light of Saturday's disaster, the most deadly of five such incidents this year, local activists in Hpakant are urging large mining companies to reconsider their operations, which have led to serious environmental degradation and the loss of lives.

The NLD alluded to plans to tighten regulations at jade mines on Tuesday, with senior member Nyan Win telling Reuters the party would "review the existing regulations and if necessary will require the companies to have safe and adequate dump sites when they apply for licenses."

Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed reporting.

The post Authorities Order Miners to Move as Death Toll Rises from Hpakant Landslide appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Kachin Farmer Remains Jailed Despite Successful Supreme Court Appeal

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 02:43 AM PST

Lashi Lu, left, and Hkawn Nan, the wives of Lahpai Gam and Brang Yung. (Photo: Bai Rui Ming / The Irrawaddy)

Lashi Lu, left, and Hkawn Nan, the wives of Lahpai Gam and Brang Yung. (Photo: Bai Rui Ming / The Irrawaddy)

MYITKYINA — Nearly a month after the Supreme Court overturned his convictions, 25-year-old Kachin farmer Brang Yung remains locked away in a Myitkyina prison.

Prison officials have not taken action to rectify the problem, which arose after documents filed in the case misprinted his serial number by one digit, according to Mar Hkar, a prominent rights activist in Myitkyina acting as Brang Yung's lawyer.

With the clerical error since rectified, Brang Yung's jailers now say they are waiting for a release order from Naypyidaw. Mar Hkar told The Irrawaddy that will discuss with local authorities the continued detention of his client, who has now been jailed for more than three years.

The Supreme Court’s decision to throw out Brang Yung’s multiple convictions, which earned him a 21-year sentence, was a highly unexpected move by Burma's highest court, which has been criticized by numerous observers for its subservience to the wishes of the country's political and military establishment.

Hkawn Nan, Brang Yung's wife and mother to his three children, said her husband's initial happiness upon hearing about his legal victory quickly turned to despair when it became apparent he would not be released as expected. She said his health had noticeably deteriorated over the last fortnight.

"I feel very unhappy because he continues to be in prison", she said, fighting back tears, adding that she wondered whether the error was a deliberate ploy to keep her husband behind bars.

Like countless thousands of others, Brang Yung’s family was forced to flee their village shortly after hostilities resumed between the military and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in June 2011, following the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire. They eventually took shelter in the Shwe Zet refugee camp on the outskirts of Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital.

One year later, Brang Yung and Laphai Gam, a fellow resident of the Shwe Zet camp, were arrested by troops from the military's 37th Infantry Battalion while working as hired cattle hands south of Myitkyina.

According to the men’s wives, their lawyer and a report on the case by Burma Campaign UK, the weeks that followed their arrest involved days of brutal interrogations at the hands of Military Affairs Security (MAS) agency. Brang Yung and Laphai Gam, 57, were allegedly subjected to long torture sessions: beaten, kicked, forced to drink water adulterated with fuel, and forced to have sexual intercourse with each other.

Government authorities alleged that both men were high-level operatives in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) that had been sent to plant explosives across the state, a claim that both men's families say is completely baseless.

In separate decisions released in 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that both Brang Yung and Laphai Gam’s convictions were flawed and their continued imprisonment was illegal under international law.

During hearings into the matter, Burmese officials did not refute the suggestion of Brang Yung’s defense team that that the father of four endured torture sessions that included having his "genitals burnt with candle fire."

"The [Burmese] Government has not rebutted the allegation that Mr. Brang Yung was arrested in order to extract a confession under torture in detention," the working group concluded.

Both cases were brought before the UN working group by Timothy Straker and Sappho Dias, two London based lawyers working with Burma Campaign UK. The British advocacy group has cited the government’s failure to release both men as proof of the Thein Sein’s government’s lack of commitment to human rights.

Split Decision Leaves Co-Accused Devastated

According to Mar Hkar, the defense case at the Supreme Court focused largely on the means by which confessions were obtained by MAS. In both cases, the defense argued that MAS had no authority to obtain confessions for use in criminal proceedings under Burmese law.

While the court agreed to vacate all of Brang Yung convictions, it chose to uphold the convictions for Lahpai Gam, which were based on a written confession that his lawyer says was fabricated by his interrogators.

Mar Hkar told the Irrawaddy that he strongly disagrees with the Surpeme Court’s decision to uphold Laphai Gam’s convictions while vacating those of Brang Yung, as both men were "totally innocent".

Lahpai Gam’s wife Lashi Lu, says her husband was devastated to learn that the court had ruled against him. He is suffering numerous health issues, including a possibly malignant growth on his ear that had received little medical attention.

"He’s very sick and depressed," she said.

Mar Hkar said he hoped that Lahpai Gam’s case would be considered by Burma's next government, which will have the authority to issue a formal pardon and order his release, when the next president takes office in March.

The post Kachin Farmer Remains Jailed Despite Successful Supreme Court Appeal appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

ADB to Provide Loan for Rangoon Power Upgrade  

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 02:35 AM PST

 Candles are seen in front of a sign from the Yangon Division Electricity Distribution office during a protest against the government's decision to increase the prices for electricity in Rangoon, November 7, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Candles are seen in front of a sign from the Yangon Division Electricity Distribution office during a protest against the government’s decision to increase the prices for electricity in Rangoon, November 7, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in a statement on Tuesday that it would provide a US$80 million loan to "upgrade [Rangoon's] electricity transmission ring line system," a project forecast to benefit more than one million customers.

This is a welcome announcement for many residents in heavily populated Rangoon, where more than half of Burma's total supply of electricity is consumed. The Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation (YESC) previously stated that, starting in October, electricity would be available around the clock, though residents claim that this has yet to happen. The YESC also said last week that technical errors would temporarily cut off electricity in some townships.

ADB's new initiative, called the Power Transmission Improvement Project, aims to upgrade the Thida-Thaketa-Kyaikasan transmission ring lines from 66 kilovolts (kV) to 230 kV. It will also build two additional substations at South Okkalapa and West University. The Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise is conducting related upgrades to Rangoon's electricity infrastructure.

Bui Duy Thanh, senior energy economist at ADB's Southeast Asia department, said in the statement that "the aging and overloaded transmission network requires urgent improvements to provide stable and ample supplies of power to support the country's economic growth targets and poverty reduction objectives. [Rangoon] plays a central role as an economic hub for the country and this assistance will help the government ensure reliable power supplies are provided to the city and surrounding areas."

Chief engineer of YESC Yan Lin said ADB's loan will be its first for electricity transmission in Rangoon and that it will focus largely on repairing the city's outdated transmission lines and constructing overhead conductor covers in densely populated areas.

"Overhead conductor covers can prevent electricity loss from falling trees, as well as protect residents from fallen lines and potentially fatal shocks," Yan Lin said.

Construction is expected to begin once necessary equipment arrives in Rangoon in early January. For the most crowded townships, the target completion date is before next summer, when electricity consumption typically increases.

Rangoon currently consumes about 1,200 megawatts (MW) of electricity per day, which is more than half of the country total of 2,000 MW per day, and these amounts increase each year. To keep up with the mounting demand for power, ADB recommends that the government develop new generation sources and expand and strengthen its current transmission and distribution networks.

A 2014 census revealed that only 32.4 percent of respondents use electricity as their primary source of energy for lighting, while nearly 70 percent said that their main source of energy for cooking comes from firewood, with electricity trailing at 16.4 percent.

In addition to ADB's loan, $3.3 million will be contributed to the project by the government to cover administration costs, environmental and social safeguard measures, and the construction of access roads and staff housing in substation areas.

ADB expects to complete the multi-million dollar project in June 2019.

The post ADB to Provide Loan for Rangoon Power Upgrade   appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Anti-Corruption Commission Says ‘No Plans’ to Examine Assets of Govt Employees

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 01:03 AM PST

 A view of Burma's Parliament in Naypyidaw. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A view of Burma's Parliament in Naypyidaw. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's Anti-Corruption Commission has "no plans" to scrutinize the assets of government employees in order to guard against potential graft, the agency's head told lawmakers on Monday.

During a Lower House session on Monday, outgoing lawmaker Tin Maung Oo asked commission chair Mya Win what measures had been taken against cases of bribery and corruption, and whether these measures had been successful.

In his reply, Mya Win stated that the commission had not made any plans to audit the possessions of government officials, citing the 18-month delay in the passage of parliamentary bylaws to determine the commission's remit.

"I understand that the commission has difficulty in doing its functions while the bylaws are not in place," Tin Maung Oo, a Union Solidarity and Development Party lawmaker for Shwepyithar Township in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy after the session.

"Many have said that the commission cannot do anything. That's why I asked the question."

Numerous lawmakers have criticized the commission, which is largely composed of retired high-ranking military officers directly appointed by President Thein Sein, claiming that the body is ill equipped to tackle rampant corruption in the bureaucracy.

The commission was formed in March 2014 following the promulgation of Anti-Graft Law in August 2013. More than two years after the law was enacted, bylaws reviewed by the Attorney General's Office are still awaiting parliamentary approval.

Mya Win told the Lower House on Monday that the commission had so far taken legal action against nine government employees, with a further 125 people reprimanded for violating the civil service code of conduct.

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MP Appeals for Aid to Displaced in Conflict-Riven Shan State

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:12 AM PST

 Members of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee and Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) meet in Lashio, Shan State, in 2012. (Photo: Facebook / Hla Maung Shwe)

Members of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee and Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) meet in Lashio, Shan State, in 2012. (Photo: Facebook / Hla Maung Shwe)

RANGOON — A lawmaker from conflict-stricken Shan State sought government aid for civilians displaced by ongoing hostilities there between ethnic rebels and the Burma Army during a meeting of Parliament on Monday, as negotiators from the warring sides met in Rangoon to discuss fighting that began early last month.

The urgent Lower House parliamentary proposal and Rangoon dialogue came even as fighting flared again near Mong Ark village in Mong Hsu Township, according to Maj. Sai Kham of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).

Hostilities between the Burma Army and SSA-N lasted about four hours beginning at 8 am on Monday, Sai Kham told The Irrawaddy, adding that "government troops opened heavy fire with 105 mm and 120 mm" artillery rounds.

Meanwhile in Naypyidaw, Sai Awm Sai Maing, a representative from neighboring Kyethi Township, put forward a proposal seeking government assistance to a displaced population that numbers in the thousands.

Four other lawmakers voiced support for the proposal, which was put on record but did not go to a vote, after deputy ministers from Defense and Home Affairs defended the government's humanitarian response as adequate.

That view was evidently not shared by Nang War Nu, an ethnic Shan lawmaker.

"There were pregnant women who have birthed children in displaced areas, at markets or in the jungle, while they were hiding from the fighting," she told Parliament on Monday.

"They do not have enough food and they have many problems that they are struggling with. There are some civic groups, including Shan youth, monks and political parties, that have donated food to displaced people, but this is not enough."

Zaw Lin Htet, a lawmaker for the National League for Democracy (NLD), echoed that sentiment, saying the only aid to date being provided to internally displaced persons (IDPs) was nongovernmental.

"Therefore, I want to say that the government has a duty to provide to displaced people, and even has a duty to stop this fighting."

Also on Monday, members of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee including President's Office Minister Aung Min, the government's chief peace negotiator, held talks with central committee members of the SSA-N and its political wing, the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP).

The SSA-N/SSPP is one of several ethnic armed groups that have thus far refused to sign a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government, which eight non-state armies and the government committed to on Oct. 15.

Tin Htay, spokesperson for meeting attendee Thein Zaw, the UPWC vice chairman, was tight-lipped about Monday's talks, saying only that the recent conflict was discussed and that the two sides were due to meet again on Tuesday.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, fighting in Shan State that began in October has displaced about 6,000 people, though locals have claimed that figure could be as high as 10,000.

The displaced population is spread across a large swath of Shan State, including at temporary shelters as far away from the conflict as Lashio and Taunggyi, located some 70 miles north and 90 miles southwest of the fighting, respectively.

The conflict has centered on the headquarters of the SSA-N, Wan Hai in Mong Hsu Township, which was attacked by the Burma Army on Oct. 6. Subsequent government offensives have included heavy artillery fire and aerial bombardments.

The SSA-N's Gen. Say Htin told The Irrawaddy that fighting continued because the Burma Army had demanded that the Shan rebel group withdraw from a position, an order that the latter refused to follow.

"If we have to withdraw from our base located on the east side of the motorway [at Wan Hai], our headquarters will collapse. They could block all our troop movements. This is why we have to fightback," Say Htin said.

The post MP Appeals for Aid to Displaced in Conflict-Riven Shan State appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Future Unclear for State-Backed Peace Body

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:03 AM PST

  Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center (far right) talks with ethnic leaders in Rangoon on Dec. 22, 2014. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Hla Maung Shwe of the Myanmar Peace Center (far right) talks with ethnic leaders in Rangoon on Dec. 22, 2014. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The future of the government-backed Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), headed by President's Office Minister Aung Min, will hinge upon the approach of the next government, an MPC spokesperson said on Monday.

The MPC was established in November 2012, with the support of international donors including the Norway-led Peace Support Donor Group, and tasked with assisting negotiations between the government and ethnic armed groups.

"The participation of the people who have been involved in the current peace process depends on the decision of the new incoming government," Hla Maung Shwe, an MPC spokesperson, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

"We will hand over what we have done to the new government even if we are not allowed to join the peace process."

Speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone last week, Win Htein, a senior member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) which won a resounding victory in Burma's Nov. 8 general election, said ethnic armed groups were committed to working with the incoming government to push the peace process forward.

"The peace process will be led by Suu Kyi, don't think about the others," Win Htein said, without elaborating on what role Aung San Suu Kyi might assume or whether the MPC would continue to function.

The MPC has been involved in facilitating ceasefire negotiations between Naypyidaw and non-state armed groups that culminated in the signing of a "nationwide" ceasefire agreement in mid-October. The pact was only inked by eight armed groups, with major fighting force's including the Kachin Independence Army and the Shan State Army-North opting not to sign on.

Additional reporting by Kyaw Phyo Tha.

The post Future Unclear for State-Backed Peace Body appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

‘Unearth’: The Stories Behind Burma’s Extractive Industries

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 09:30 PM PST

   Unearth will be on view from Nov. 24 to Dec. 19 at Myanmar Deitta in Rangoon. (Photo: Lauren DeCicca)

Unearth will be on view from Nov. 24 to Dec. 19 at Myanmar Deitta in Rangoon. (Photo: Lauren DeCicca)

RANGOON — Early reports of a deadly landslide near a jade mine in Kachin State surfaced on Saturday afternoon, stirring confused chatter among a small crowd at a Rangoon gallery. It wasn't until the following morning that the magnitude of the disaster was clear; a pile of earthen waste had swept the hillside and buried an entire settlement, leaving more than 100 dead and as many others missing.

The images on view at Unearth, a new photo exhibition at Myanmar Deitta, in a sense foretold the tragedy. One of the show's six featured photographers, Minzayar, is one of the only journalists with access to Burma's shady and secretive jade trade, a multi-billion dollar industry associated with corruption, conflict and social ills among the ethnic Kachin minority in the country's far north.

Minzayar's photos provide some context for what transpired on Saturday, as well as a perceptive insider's view on the lives touched by the trade. One image shows a hillside—likely similar to the one that recently gave way—peppered with lanterns as rogue miners sift through rubble in the darkness, in search of precious debris. In another, a Chinese trader sits surrounded by enormous chunks of the green gem in a hotel room of an establishment that serves as a safe haven for dealers.

A recent investigation put the value of Burma's jade industry as high as US$31 billion in 2014 alone—nearly half the country's GDP. The research, conducted over the course of a year by the NGO Global Witness, alleged that the sector was controlled by "networks of military elites, drug lords and crony companies associated with the darkest days of junta rule."

On Monday morning, Minzayar was traveling back to Hpakant, the heart of Burma's jade reserves and the site of the devastating landslide. It will be his sixth visit to the area since he began documenting the trade in 2013, a project that has taken him into mines, informal settlements, drug dens and louche commercial towns straddling the China border.

Each time he returns to Hpakant, he told The Irrawaddy, the landscape is transformed. Wholly new formations take shape, as "mountains become lakes." As the natural hillsides are picked apart, new mounds made of waste pile up in their place. Locals and domestic migrants, who have never been the main beneficiaries of the trade, adapt to their shifting surrounds by building temporary settlements between and around the lucrative deposits. Minzayar said that a landslide like the one that occurred on Saturday could easily happen again, as it has in the past on a smaller scale.

"It's full of these kinds of waste piles," he said. "I have always seen cracks along the mountains, and people walk there. It's very normal for them."

Much Remains Buried

Jade is just one of the many resources examined by the works in Unearth. Other featured photographers traveled to various reaches of the country to document small-scale oil extraction, coal and copper mines, and pipelines that cut across the country's heartland. Despite their breadth, the works on display barely scratch the surface of Burma's extractive projects, which also include timber, hydropower and rare earth metals.

Lauren DeCicca, an American photographer, set out for central Burma to document the fallout of the Letpadaung copper mining project, a China-backed mega-development that has prompted outrage among affected communities and religious leaders. Opposition peaked in November 2012, when a months-long sit-in protest was dismantled by police firing white phosphorus into an encampment in the early hours of the morning. In one image, a woman's blurred face shows scars from the violent crackdown. Others illustrate the scale of the site and the impact it has had on land rights. Many viewers surely remember that just last year a villager was shot dead by police over a land dispute near the site.

Supported by the Natural Resource Governance Institute, Unearth was envisioned as a way to draw out information about underreported extractive projects and their impacts. The six stories gleaned from the project will be used to "inform officials, industry professionals and the wider public," according to a spokesperson for Myanmar Deitta, a non-profit documentary organization which is supporting the project and hosting the exhibition.

The social, economic and environmental impacts of Burma's notoriously opaque extractive industries are just beginning to be examined. For years, while Burma was isolated from much of the global economy, the ruling junta exploited the country's rich resource reserves with virtually no oversight, shallow development commitments and an abysmal human rights record.

Last year, Burma was accepted as a candidate country for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an international protocol geared toward establishing strong fiscal reporting practices and empowering civil society to influence resource policy. An initial report is set to be submitted to international auditors in January 2016, and Burma is expected to become a fully compliant EITI member state by January 2017.

Unearth features photography by Minzayar (Burma), Yu Yu Myint Than (Burma), Lauren DeCicca (USA), Andre Malerba (USA), Suthep Kritsanavarin (Thailand) and Matt Grace (UK). Works will be on view from Nov. 24 to Dec. 19 at Myanmar Deitta, located on the third floor of No. 49, 44th street, in downtown Rangoon. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm.         

The post 'Unearth': The Stories Behind Burma's Extractive Industries appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

China’s Anti-Graft Watchdog Demotes Four Banking Regulators

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 09:24 PM PST

 China's President Xi Jinping waves upon arrival at the international airport in Manila, November 17, 2015, to attend the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Meeting. (Photo: Romeo Ranoco / Reuters)

China's President Xi Jinping waves upon arrival at the international airport in Manila, November 17, 2015, to attend the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders Meeting. (Photo: Romeo Ranoco / Reuters)

BEIJING — China's top graft-buster agency has demoted four bank regulators for violating Communist Party rules and procedures, in the latest punishment issued to the country's financial sector in President Xi Jinping's three-year anti-corruption campaign.

Wang Yanyou, Communist Party secretary at the China Banking Association and former head of innovative supervision department at the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC), was removed from his position for concealing the fact that his wife had become a US citizen, and for attending conferences without approval, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in an online statement late on Friday.

Wang was also accused of accepting compensation and treatment beyond the level of his position, the CCDI said.

Jiang Fengli, former head of CBRC office in Nanyang, Henan province, was demoted for appointing staff against Communist Party procedure and taking cash gifts from CBRC staff at his daughter's wedding, according to the statement.

Two other regulators, both working at the CBRC's office in northern Liaoning province, were demoted respectively for gambling and promoting staff in violation of Communist Party procedure, the CCDI added.

In October, the CCDI launched its latest round of anti-corruption inspections, targeting 14 major financial institutions, including the central bank, banking regulator, insurance regulator, securities regulator, and the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

China's biggest policy and commercial banks, led by China Development Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, are also on the list of inspections.

The post China's Anti-Graft Watchdog Demotes Four Banking Regulators appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Rangoon Court Fines 5 Men for Printing ‘Rohingya Calendar’

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 09:18 PM PST

Kyaw Printing House in Yangon's Panzundaung Township was raided and sealed off by police for printing a calendar with the word

Kyaw Printing House in Yangon's Panzundaung Township was raided and sealed off by police for printing a calendar with the word "Rohingya." (Photo: Swe Win / Myanmar Now)

RANGOON — A court has used a printing and publishing law to fine five men $800 each for their involvement in printing a calendar which stated that Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic-religious minority living in Burma.

Pazundaung Township police chief Maj. Khin Maung Lat informed Myanmar Now of the sentence, which was passed on Monday evening, adding that police charged the men on Saturday. A sixth suspect remains at large.

The 2016 calendar mentions the word Rohingya and contains a statement that there used to be a "Rohingya radio channel" in the 1950s Burma of Prime Minister U Nu. It said U Nu himself had publicly used the word Rohingya.

"This is an activity that threatens the law and order of the country," Khin Maung Lat said in an interview at his office. He added that an investigation was started after police heard about the calendar "on Facebook".

The men were charged with breaking Article 4 of the 2014 Printing and Publishing Law, which bars individuals from publishing materials that could damage national security and law and order. It stipulates a fine of between $800 and $2,400.

Myanmar's government vehemently denies the approximately 1 million-strong Muslim minority the right to identify themselves as Rohingya. The government insists they are called "Bengalis" and are illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

It fails to recognize the group—who claim to have lived in the north of Rakhine State for generations as Rohingya—and keeps them stateless and disenfranchised. Human rights groups and Western governments have urged Naypyidaw to end persecution of the group, which has fuelled large-scale human trafficking out of Arakan.

Khin Maung Lat said police raided Kyaw Printing House on 54th Street in Pazundaung and charged Kyaw Kyaw, the owner of the facility and his manager Ye Thu Aung, both of whom are Buddhists. He said two other Muslim men were charged, while the identity of the fifth man was unclear.

A Muslim man called Aung Khin from Yangon's Shwepyithar Township is being sought for assigning the printing task. Police seized calendars and some printing plates before sealing off the printing house.

On Sunday, radical Buddhist monks of the nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement held a full-day meeting in North Dagon Township's Magwe Pariyatti Monastery during which they condemned the calendar. In the days before, members of the movement had spread word of the existence of the calendar on social media.

Monk Pamaukha told the gathering that Ma Ba Tha members in Panzundaung and Shwepyithar townships should file a legal complaint with police against those who produced it.

On Monday morning, he told Myanmar Now, "Rangoon regional authorities have agreed to take action in the case and therefore the nationalists are not getting involved for now."

Officer Khin Maung Lat said he had first consulted the Ministry of Information over the calendar but received no reply, until an order came "from above" to take legal action in the case.

This article first appeared in Myanmar Now.

The post Rangoon Court Fines 5 Men for Printing 'Rohingya Calendar' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Bangladesh Angry over Pakistan’s Criticism of Executions

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 09:12 PM PST

 Bangladesh's Attorney General Mahbubey Alam (C) leaves the Supreme Court in Dhaka after the court's verdict on appeals by two opposition leaders, November 18, 2015. Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected final appeals from two opposition leaders against death sentences for atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence. (Photo: Ashikur Rahman / Reuters)

Bangladesh's Attorney General Mahbubey Alam (C) leaves the Supreme Court in Dhaka after the court's verdict on appeals by two opposition leaders, November 18, 2015. Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected final appeals from two opposition leaders against death sentences for atrocities committed during the 1971 war of independence. (Photo: Ashikur Rahman / Reuters)

NEW DELHI — Bangladesh accused Pakistan on Monday of interfering in its internal affairs by criticizing the execution of two opposition leaders for alleged war crimes during the country's 1971 war of independence.

Bangladesh Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Shahriar Alam said a "strongly worded protest note" was handed to Pakistan's envoy saying the criticism was unacceptable.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry earlier said the men's trials were flawed and that it was "deeply disturbed" by their executions on Sunday.

Bangladesh was the eastern part of Pakistan until the 1971 war in which it became independent. Two war crimes tribunals set up by the government in 2010 and 2012 have convicted 18 people, mostly leaders of an opposition Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami. There has been international concern about the legal process.

The party openly campaigned against independence for Bangladesh during the war. Bangladesh's government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the fighting.

Bangladesh was on high alert Monday against any violence in response to Sunday's hangings, with thousands of security personnel patrolling its cities.

Jamaat-e-Islami called for a nationwide strike to protest the executions of its general secretary, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury.

Mujahid, 67, was found guilty of genocide, conspiracy in killing intellectuals, torture and abduction during the independence war, while Chowdhury, 66, was convicted of torture, rape and genocide.

Few were expected to heed the call to strike. The Islamist party has only about 3 percent of the country's vote. While traffic was lighter on Monday, government offices and services remained open.

Nevertheless, authorities said they were increasing vigilance after a series of killings claimed by Islamist extremists this year, including the murders of four secular bloggers, a publisher and two foreigners.

A reporter was also shot and wounded Sunday after covering Chowdhury's funeral in Chittagong district. The journalist for Mohana TV, Rajib Sen, was on his way back from the funeral when his car was sprayed with bullets, the station said. Three other journalists in the car were unhurt.

It was not immediately clear who attacked the car. The TV station is owned by a member of the ruling Awami League party.

Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the trials were politically motivated, an allegation Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has denied. Two other senior Jamaat-e-Islami party leaders have already been executed.

The post Bangladesh Angry over Pakistan's Criticism of Executions appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Crime-Fighting Philippine Mayor Jumps into Presidential Race

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 08:58 PM PST

  President Benigno Aquino, Liberal Party candidates for President Mar Roxas (L) and for Vice President Leni Robredo flash the

President Benigno Aquino, Liberal Party candidates for President Mar Roxas (L) and for Vice President Leni Robredo flash the "Laban" (Fight) sign with their supporters outside a church before Roxas and Robredo filed their Certificates of Candidacy for the May 2016 national elections, in Manila, October 15, 2015. (Photo: Erik De Castro / Reuters)

MANILA — A seven-term Philippine mayor who has built a reputation fighting crime plunged into the presidential race on Monday, a surprise move that could shake up the election, analysts said.

Rodrigo Duterte, a 70-year-old lawyer, better known as the "the Punisher" for dealing with criminals in southern Davao City, vowed to clean up politics in one of Asia's most graft-ridden countries.

"Yes, I am running," Duterte told reporters in Manila after holding off on appeals by his supporters for weeks to join the race to succeed President Benigno Aquino next May.

The election is being closely watched by investors who fear the political succession in one of Asia's fastest growing economies could derail gains made during Aquino's rule.

Grace Poe, a senator who was abandoned as a baby, is leading the race, surveys showed. Vice President Jejomar Binay is running second while Aquino's choice as successor, former interior minister Manuel Roxas, is in third place, the latest poll showed last week.

Duterte said he decided to run for president to stop Poe from becoming one, saying she wasn't a natural-born Filipino and therefore ineligible to take the highest job in the country.

Poe, the adopted daughter of a late popular movie action hero, last week defeated a legal bid to unseat her from the Senate, boosting her chance to win other cases seeking to block her presidential run.

But Duterte said the election tribunal had overstepped its authority in giving that decision.

"We Filipinos belong to different tribes but a piece of paper called the constitution holds us together," he said. "We should respect the constitution. The election tribunal has set aside the constitution to favor Poe."

Under Aquino, the Philippines has seen economic growth of more than 6 percent on average, its best 5-year record in four decades. He has also battled to rein in corruption.

Duterte missed an Oct. 16 deadline to register his candidacy but the rules allow him to stand as a replacement candidate by December when the election authorities start printing ballot papers.

Political analyst Ramon Casiple said Duterte's anti-crime crusade resonates among poor Filipinos, bringing drama to the election next May.

"He's a threat to everybody," he said. "It's an entirely new ballgame with Duterte joining the fray."

The post Crime-Fighting Philippine Mayor Jumps into Presidential Race appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

National News

National News

The fighting peacock spreads its tail: Final results graphics

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 04:36 AM PST

Twenty-five years ago, the fall of socialism brought a stunning election victory for the National League for Democracy. But it would be two decades before the nation voted again, and a full quarter-century until the NLD could repeat its sweep to power. The Myanmar Times visualises the results of the 2010, 2012, and 2015 polls to help chart the NLD's climb to power.

‘The government is in the wrong’

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:21 AM PST

Throwing out the case against student protestors and setting them free is the best thing the government can do for its legacy, says U Robert San Aung, the lawyer for the students beaten and arrested at Letpadan last March.

Hopes fade for jade mine landslide missing

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:16 AM PST

Rescuers are losing hope of finding survivors buried under a giant landslide at a jade mine in the northern township of Hpakant as only one more body was retrieved by yesterday afternoon, taking the confirmed death toll to 105 after three days of searching.

Fighting resumes as MPs call for aid

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:10 AM PST

Clashes between the Tatmadaw and the Shan State Army-North have displaced an estimated 9000 people, who have fled as far as Lashio and Taunggyi to escape the conflict and who are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance, parliamentarians say.

Parties agree common points for ceasefire dialogue

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:09 AM PST

Nearly 50 representatives from political parties meeting to push forward the peace process have agreed on common points to form the basis of political dialogue with the ethnic armed groups that signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement last month.

Landmine toll climbs as slow steps are made on de-mining

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:08 AM PST

Deaths and injuries caused by landmines continue to rise in Myanmar, one of the world's most heavily mined countries, according to an annual report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Government targets restart of migrant registration

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 12:01 AM PST

Thailand and Myanmar still seem to be at odds over how and when the migrant workforce will be regularised and given legal papers.

Woman questioned over alleged housemaid abuse

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 11:58 PM PST

Police are questioning a woman in connection with the alleged abuse of an eight-year-old housemaid who worked at the Bahan township home of a military MP.

Israel, Myanmar to tighten defence ties

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 11:57 PM PST

After Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing's visit to Israel earlier this year, the two countries are looking to further cement defence ties with a formal agreement that will head to parliament later this week.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

Peace committee meeting in Yangon, renewed military offensives and IDP abuse in Shan State

Posted: 24 Nov 2015 04:10 AM PST

While Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army-North (SSPP/SSA-N) representatives continued meeting with government officials in Yangon yesterday regarding ongoing armed conflict, the Burma Army renewed attacks near the group's headquarters and abused a returned IDP.

The fighting occurred on two fronts within five miles of Wan Hai, the SSPP/SSA-N base in Kesi Township. For four hours yesterday morning, ground troops engaged in an offensive near the neighboring Mong Hsu Township villages of Mong Ark and Wan Lwe, while artillery was fired from Pang Wo, Loi Yu and Kiu Mawk Khao.

The villages are located in between Mong Hsu and Kesi's Mong Nong sub-township, territory which the Burma Army allegedly ordered the SSPP/SSA-N to abandon on November 19. The area was once home to 6,000 civilians, many of whom have fled, contributing to the current displacement of more than 10,000 people in Shan State.

Some speculate that the attack was aimed at clearing the area, rather than destroying specific targets.

"The Burma Army shelled indiscriminately," said one SSPP/SSA-N soldier who witnessed yesterday's siege.

Sai Mong, an SSPP/SSA-N officer based in the conflict area, admitted that he could not identify which group the Burma Army soldiers represented. He suspected they were a combination of those from battalions within the military's Eastern Command and from within Za-Ka-Ka, the Military Operation Command, a government armed wing which SHAN reportedhad fired on a known IDP site in Kesi Township on November 10.

"They attacked us in large numbers, but we didn't see any airplanes," Sai Mong added; eight Burma Army air attacks have been documented in the area in less than two months, as well as over 40 ground offensives.

At the same time as the attacks occurred, SSPP/SSA-N representatives were engaging in a second round of talks with members of the government's Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) in Yangon. The first discussion was held on Friday, when an informal ceasefire was also negotiated and then broken three days later.

Although official statistics on injuries or casualties is not known, at least one IDP returned to Mong Ark yesterday afternoon, following the three-day lull in fighting. Lung Bee, 32, had fled to an IDP camp in Kesi Township and came back to his farm alone to harvest his rice.

He told SHAN that he was approached and questioned by Burma Army soldiers, who allegedly bound his hands with rope, beat him with sticks, and interrogated him about possible connections to the SSPP/SSA-N, an allegation which he denied.

Lung Bee, an IDP beaten by Burma Army soldiers, reveals wounds he sustained to his head. (Photo: Citizen Reporter)

"I told [the Burmese soldiers] I escaped like the others did. I thought the war was over, so I came to do my harvesting," Lung Bee said.

He escaped later that night and returned to an IDP camp, where he is recovering from his injuries.
Since fighting in central Shan State began on October 6, the area has only experienced four days without clashes: November 8—the day of Burma's general election—and November 19-21, when an informal ceasefire was agreed between the SSPP/SSA-N and the Burma Army. During this time, the Burma Army allegedly reinforced its troops in Mong Hsu, and on the evening of November 22, the offensive started again. 

By SIMMA FRANCIS and ZAAI ZAAI LAO MURNG (Shan Herald Agency for News / S.H.A.N)

Reporting by NANG HOM and SAI YIPHONG (Shan Herald Agency for News / S.H.A.N)

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Kyat Continues Slide as Central Bank Mulls Options

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 03:44 AM PST

 A girl holds an umbrella decorated with Burmese kyat banknotes in Bagan, 2013. (Photo: Damir Sagolj / Reuters)

A girl holds an umbrella decorated with Burmese kyat banknotes in Bagan, 2013. (Photo: Damir Sagolj / Reuters)

RANGOON — Two weeks since Burma's general election on Nov. 8, the country's reference foreign exchange rate has slid further against the US dollar, sitting at just under 1,300 kyat against the dollar as of Monday.

While the exchange rate hovered at around 1,270 kyat during the election period, as of Monday it was 1,299 kyat against the dollar, while the black market rate was believed to have tipped over 1,300 kyat for the first time since late October.

"The black market rate is over 1,300 kyat today because of the [higher] Central Bank rate," said one speculator in Rangoon Division's Pabedan Township.

At a meeting with tourism operators on Saturday, Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) deputy governor Sett Aung told reporters the bank was seeking to reverse the local currency's months-long depreciation in several ways, including by selling US dollars to local private banks in an attempt to drive down the value of the greenback.

The kyat has seen a 30 percent slide against the US dollar since January, partly as a result of the country's widening current account deficit.

On Oct. 13, the CBM announced the revocation of foreign exchange licenses that had permitted holders to accept transactions in US dollars to encourage use of the ailing local currency. Some observers however voiced concern that the move would only drive demand for dollars on the black market.

"Export earnings are less than in the past and dollar demand is higher in the market," said Than Lwin, a senior consultant with Kanbawza (KBZ) Bank. "The Central Bank has to be flexible with the rate, so the black market rate will be higher than the central bank's rate. This will happen until the country has an open market, but I think this exchange rate will be the highest. It won't reach higher than 1,300."

Burma was expected to see a massive drop in agricultural export revenues after torrential floods inundated more than one million acres of farmland from July. In early October, the World Bank forecast a slowdown in economic growth for the 2015-16 fiscal year, due in part to flooding and a lack of new investment.

Than Lwin said the country's economic outlook would brighten when the new government is formed in 2016, with the expectation of more international loans for local private banks and new investment.

Sett Aung also struck a positive note on Saturday, predicting a period of sustained growth ahead. To tackle inflation, he said the finance ministry should increase taxes, reduce government expenditure and offload government bonds.

However he admitted the process would not be easy, as a tax increase would not be broadly welcomed and the government would struggle to reduce expenditure as reforms continue.

"Here, the economy is growing by leaps and bounds. That's why inflation is high," he said.

The post Kyat Continues Slide as Central Bank Mulls Options appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Tourism Chief: ‘Interest in Our Country Has Grown’

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 02:58 AM PST

 Phyo Wai Yarzar, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Committee. (Photo: May Soe San / The Irrawaddy)

Phyo Wai Yarzar, chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Committee. (Photo: May Soe San / The Irrawaddy)

On the back of the Nov. 8 elections, tour operators say there has been a surge the number of foreign tourists considering a trip to Burma. Phyo Wai Yarzar, the chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Marketing Committee, recently sat down with The Irrawaddy to talk about the current state of the tourism industry in the aftermath of the poll.

What potential do you see in the tourism market now the election is over?

Before the election, potential tourists were concerned that their visit might coincide with the election and that they might encounter an uprising. But there was not even an uprising during the 2010 election. And there was no problem this time, either. There was no confrontation between the ruling party and the opposition, even in the run-up to the election. This has set the best example.

We learned that some foreign ministries issued warnings to their citizens not to visit our country in the two weeks before and after the election. But the fact that there was no violence or rioting has made international headlines. The news about the election and the decisive victory of the opposition has spread to countries around the world. This is good news for us. Because this is the news that Western democratic countries want to hear. Their interest in our country has grown. This bodes well for the potential of tourism, and I think the tourism industry will see progress soon.

The hotels and tourism industry expects to draw about five million foreign visitors this year, but there are also predictions that it might fall short of this target. What do you think?

The hotels and tourism minister [Htay Aung] said at a ceremony a couple of days ago that Myanmar had received 3.9 million foreign visitors by the end of October, including arrivals through airports and border gates. So I think the target is achievable.

Which countries do you think will drive a rise in Burma's tourism arrivals?

It is difficult to say. It does not depend on our country alone, but also on the visitor countries. They will travel only when they have extra cash.

Previously, the UK market did not usually sell trips to Myanmar during its tourism fair, usually held in November, but this year they have been keenly selling trips to Myanmar. So I think we can expect a good increase in UK visitors to Myanmar. But we need to do more to attract EU countries. We need to get information about what might arouse their interest in Myanmar.

The tourism market has opened up here and the government has started to provide assistance. It is important that the next government continues to give assistance. Being new, the next government will need to do some public relations work. I would suggest that rather than spending large sums on public relations, the new government promote tourism instead. If more tourists come and they subsequently recount their experiences, foreign countries will have greater trust [in the new government].

How much revenue has the tourism industry generated in Burma this year?

We do not know exactly. The private sector does not know. It is difficult to get those figures. The World Trade Organization (WTO) carried out tourism satellite accounting in Myanmar, but it might take time for the government and the private sector to carry this out. We can't accurately calculate the revenue generated from the tourism industry using GDP. I am afraid that the current financial system in Myanmar can't precisely calculate the revenue of tourism-related businesses such as tour companies, tour guides, and souvenir shops. However, the president said that the tourism industry generated US$3 billion last year. I think it might increase this year.

Where do you plan to develop new tourism sites in Burma?

I don't think we need to develop new sites in the country. But there is a three-year tourism development project being carried out in Karenni State.

The post Tourism Chief: 'Interest in Our Country Has Grown' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Ongoing Cases of Abuse Put Child Rights in the Spotlight

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 01:21 AM PST

Children play in a creek in Naypyidaw, November 14, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Children play in a creek in Naypyidaw, November 14, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Whether at home, school or in the workplace, it is not uncommon for children in Burma to be hit or slapped for an indiscretion. This type of physical admonition—in other words, corporal punishment—is not currently prohibited under Burmese law.

According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 47 countries have explicitly prohibited all corporal punishment of children and at least 51 states have committed to a full ban.

The Global Initiative calls for the repeal of provisions in Burma's 1993 Child Law and of the Penal Code that may be interpreted as sanctioning corporal punishment and for a clear prohibition to be enacted.

Many adults in Burma, including parents and guardians, seem to believe they have the right to physically admonish a child for his or her benefit, particularly inside the family home. Adults slapping or beating their children is regarded as normal among most conservative members of Burmese society.

Children from poor backgrounds suffer most egregiously. Many are forced to drop out of school and enter the workforce at an alarmingly young age, working in tea shops, restaurants or as domestic helpers where they are vulnerable to physical punishment or other abuse by unscrupulous employers.

Unfortunately, only a handful of cases of child abuse gain media attention.

A recent case involved an eight-year-old girl living in the home of a military lawmaker in Rangoon Division's Bahan Township who was repeatedly beaten while naked by a household maid.

Pictures of the abused young girl went viral on Facebook on Thursday and the Bahan Township police have since pressed charges against the housemaid under Article 66 of the Child Law for maltreatment.

Nyo Nyo Tin, a Rangoon Division lawmaker, said further charges were likely after prosecutors gathered more evidence. However, she said the maximum punishment of two years imprisonment under Article 66 was too lenient.

"It shows the legislative sector still needs to focus on enacting laws that are effective," she said.

Increased use of social media and mobile phone technology has enabled citizens to more easily highlight alleged evidence of injustice, share information and implore the authorities to take action.

Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, an independent consultant with the Gender Equality Network, said the public was more actively speaking out against incidents of child abuse and behavior was gradually changing. However she noted the prevailing view that adults' slapping or beating a child "to correct them for misbehaving" was generally deemed acceptable.

Burma's military government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991 and enacted the Child Law in 1993.

Article 19 of the former mandates states to protect the child "from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child."

However, Article 66(d) of Burma's Child Law outlaws willful mistreatment of the child, "with the exception of the type of admonition by a parent, teacher or a person having the right to control the child, which is for the benefit of the child."

Rights groups have cited clear and robust legal protection as vital to protecting children's rights. Outspoken lawmaker Thein Nyunt has initiated several unsuccessful attempts to amend the Penal Code and the Child Law to provide better protections for children from sexual abuse—including proposals to apply capital punishment to rape offenders.

"If such cases of abuse are increasing, we have to reconsider amending the Child Law in order to protect children," said Thein Nyunt, who leads the New National Democracy Party, adding that legal complaints regarding the abuse of young domestic workers were rarely filed.

"We will have to wait and see how the new legislators take up the issue [of child rights] in the parliament."

Thein Nyunt did not win reelection in Burma's Nov. 8 general election but pledged that he and his party would continue to work for better child protection measures.

Despite the hurdles to legal reform, with Burmese citizens beginning to pay more attention to child rights issues, Nang Phyu Phyu Lin hopes behavioral and attitudinal change will follow.

"As we were hit in our childhood, we tend to treat our kids the same way as we suffered," Nang Phyu Phyu Lin said. "Only with more awareness for children's rights can we stop ourselves from treating them that way."

The post Ongoing Cases of Abuse Put Child Rights in the Spotlight appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Explosion Kills 6 in Chin State Capital

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 01:07 AM PST

A car overturned in Sunday night's blast. (Photo: The Hakha Post)

A car overturned in Sunday night's blast. (Photo: The Hakha Post)

RANGOON — Six people have died and another five are wounded after what appears to be an accidental explosion sparked Sunday night at a home in Hakha, the capital of Chin State.

Five of the deceased were members of the same family, who lived as tenants in the home where the explosion occurred in Hakha's Zae Thit quarter. Investigators believe that the gunpowder stockpile belonged to one of the deceased. The explosion leveled the home with such force that it knocked a truck parked nearby onto its side.

"We are still investigating what happened on the ground," Hong Ngai, the chief minister of Chin State, told The Irrawaddy "I think a witness can say exactly what happened there, he is now at the hospital."

Hakha police confirmed that six had died in the inferno but declined to give further details, saying that an investigation was ongoing. Local authorities had earlier suggested the household lit a small bonfire for heat on the cool evening, which then accidentally spread to the gunpowder cache.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Zabiak Thawn, the deputy editor of the local Hakha Post newspaper, said the deceased family had recently moved into the home after their previous home collapsed during the August landslides.

The post Explosion Kills 6 in Chin State Capital appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Death Toll Rises to 104 at Jade Mine Collapse in Hpakant

Posted: 23 Nov 2015 12:48 AM PST

Small-scale miners in Hpakant scour a mountainside stripped bare by heavy machinery in search of jade. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Small-scale miners in Hpakant scour a mountainside stripped bare by heavy machinery in search of jade. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Recovery of bodies at the site of a massive jade mine landslide in Kachin State's Hpakant Township continued on Monday, with the death toll rising to 104 by the evening prior.

The landslide happened early Saturday morning when the piled tailings from a large-scale mining operation collapsed, burying an estimated 80 huts in an area where hand-pickers had settled to sift through the debris in search of the precious stone.

Dah Shi La Seng, a Kachin State legislature MP-elect for Hpakant constituency, said the search for bodies was continuing and progress would be known later Monday, with many still missing.

"As of Sunday evening at 6 pm, the total number [of deaths] reached to 104, as 26 more bodies were found on Sunday and 78 bodies were found on Saturday," the incoming National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker said, adding that most of the bodies recovered were men, with about three being women.

Among the dead, most are internal immigrants who had traveled to Hpakant to try their luck at small-scale, illegal mining in the jade-rich region.

The disaster, near Hpakant's Seik Mu village, is the fourth such incident to claim lives this year, according to local resident Shwe Thein, though Saturday's catastrophe far eclipsed previous landslides.

"About two-thirds of the bodies of the hand-pickers are not yet identified, but the bodies are of those hand-pickers and local vendors around the mines," he said.

The bodies are being taken to the Hpakant hospital first to record the deaths before being sent to two villages and Hpakant town for burial, Shwe Thein said.

An uptick in deadly collapses of mining debris has been linked to the government's decision to allow companies to resume large-scale mining operations in the area in 2014, after suspending the practice in 2012 amid fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

About a dozen people died due to landslides in the same area between January and March of this year.

"This is the biggest, deadliest accident affecting those hand-pickers," Shwe Thein said.

"Not only in terms of people's deaths, our environment too has been destroyed a lot by the waste pilings," Shwe Thein added, highlighting rising pollution affecting the Uru River.

Locals and environmentalists say the once pristine Uru River, which flows into the nearby Chindwin River, has become contaminated with wastewater runoff from mining sites and has also seen its water level drop.

The post Death Toll Rises to 104 at Jade Mine Collapse in Hpakant appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Govt Spokesman Rejects Calls for Rohingya Citizenship

Posted: 22 Nov 2015 10:18 PM PST

Minister of Information and spresident's spokesperson Ye Htut. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Minister of Information and spresident's spokesperson Ye Htut. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A spokesperson for President Thein Sein took to social media on Saturday to reject recommendations that Rohingya Muslims be granted a path to citizenship.

"Our government's stance is that we wholly reject use of the term 'Rohingya'. We will grant citizenship rights to Bengali people who have stayed within the boundary of Rakhine [Arakan] State based on the 1982 Citizenship Law," read a Facebook post shared by Minister of Information Ye Htut, using the government's preferred term to refer to the stateless minority.

"We will not grant the right of citizenship if it is not suitable to the 1982 law, even when there is pressure on us. This is our own sovereign power. There are laws in America and Britain and other Western countries about the right to grant citizenship. If it is not suitable to the rule of law in their countries, they do not grant citizenship."

The minister's comments were made in the wake of the United Nations' Universal Periodic Review, a comprehensive human rights examination comprising recommendations from foreign governments, rights groups and civil society.

The Burmese government rejected more than half of the review's 281 recommendations, including all those related to restoring civil and political rights to the country's stateless Rohingya Muslim minority, estimated to be 1.1 million people overwhelmingly concentrated in northern Arakan State.

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Hong Kong Democracy Movement Sees Mixed Results in Polls

Posted: 22 Nov 2015 10:04 PM PST

A supporter of pro-democracy group Civic Passion stands in front of supporters of other candidates during a district council election campaign rally on Sunday. (Photo: Bobby Yip / Reuters)

A supporter of pro-democracy group Civic Passion stands in front of supporters of other candidates during a district council election campaign rally on Sunday. (Photo: Bobby Yip / Reuters)

HONG KONG — Two democracy veterans lost their seats but at least six candidates who took part in crippling protests last year won office at district elections in Hong Kong on Sunday, the first real test of the city's pro-democracy movement since the demonstrations.

The mixed results from the elections, in which a record number of people voted, will not significantly change the numerical make-up of pro-democracy and pro-government groups, but the election of six so-called Umbrella Soldiers reflects continued support for the pro-democracy movement.

Poll results were being announced on Monday.

District councilors wield little power, acting more in an advisory role in which they can push forward policies for the government in the Chinese-controlled city to consider.

But the poll results may provide insight into how elections for the city's powerful Legislative Council, due next year, and a controversial leadership poll in 2017 could pan out.

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho, who faced stiff competition in the gritty new town of Tuen Mun in the western New Territories, lost his seat. So, too, did Frederick Fung, another pan-democratic candidate who ran in the working-class district of Sham Shui Po.

The government said about 1.468 million registered electors, representing a cumulative turnout rate of about 47 percent, had cast their votes.

"We believe that we got the highest number of voters ever turned out in a district board election," Chief executive Leung Chun-ying said late on Sunday. "This suggested that people are paying more attention to their voting right."

About 900 candidates competed for 431 seats in 18 district councils, where pro-Beijing parties hold a majority, at a time when people are divided over the pace of political reform.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that gives it substantial autonomy and freedoms, with universal suffrage promised as an "ultimate goal".

The 79-day protests last year, when activists streamed on to highways to demand full democracy for the former British colony, became the biggest political challenge to Beijing's Communist Party leaders in years. The protests failed to persuade China to allow a fully democratic vote in 2017. Beijing says city voters have to choose from a list of candidates it has approved.

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Bangladesh Executes Two Opposition Leaders for 1971 War Crimes

Posted: 22 Nov 2015 09:55 PM PST

 Protesters, some of whom participated in the 1971 war of independence, rally outside the Supreme Court in Dhaka during the court's verdict on appeals by two opposition leaders, November 18, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Protesters, some of whom participated in the 1971 war of independence, rally outside the Supreme Court in Dhaka during the court's verdict on appeals by two opposition leaders, November 18, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh executed two opposition leaders on Sunday for war crimes committed during the 1971 war to break away from Pakistan, a senior police official said, in a move likely to draw an angry reaction from supporters.

Islamist opposition leaders Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a former legislator from former premier Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), were hanged shortly after President Abdul Hamid rejected their appeals late on Saturday for clemency.

"Both of them were hanged simultaneously on two separate platforms," the police official said.

Mujahid, 67, of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, and Chowdhury, 66, were hanged at Dhaka Central Jail. The Supreme Court had previously rejected their appeals against a death sentence imposed by a special tribunal for genocide and torture of civilians during the conflict.

The Border Guard Bangladesh paramilitary force has been deployed across the country to tighten security.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh, until 1971 East Pakistan, has seen a rise in Islamist violence in recent months, with two foreigners and four secular writers and a publisher killed this year.

Mujahid was found guilty on five charges including torture and the murders of intellectuals and minority Hindus while he commanded Al Badr, an auxiliary force of the Pakistani army, during the war to break away from Pakistan.

Chowdhury, former legislator from former premier Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was convicted in Oct. 2013 on charges of genocide, religious persecution, abduction and torture during the war.

"While we are saddened that we have lost our father by way of a motivated and predetermined trial and where the country is gagged from speaking out, we find hope in the fact that the international community recognizes the injustice and that fairness and truth shall be restored in Bangladesh," Humam Quader Chowdhury, a son of Chowdhury, told Reuters.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opened an inquiry into crimes committed during the war in 2010, paving the way for prosecutions by a war crimes tribunal that Islamists have denounced as part of a politically motivated campaign aimed at weakening Jamaat-e-Islami's leadership.

Two Jamaat leaders have been executed, one in Dec. 2013 and another in Apr. They declined to seek clemency from the president.

BNP spokesman Asaduzzaman Ripon said: "Salauddin has fallen victim to persecution because of his political identity, and he has been denied justice."

Osman Farruk, a senior leader of the BNP, said that until there was political dialogue, the violence would continue.

Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of rights group Citizens for Good Governance, agreed.

"Otherwise the ongoing killings and attacks will not be stopped," he told Reuters.

Moqbul Ahmed, acting Amir of Jamaat, said in a statement that Mujahid was a victim of government conspiracy. He called a day-long general strike on Monday across the country.

The government denies accusations of interference in the judiciary.

East Pakistan broke away to become independent Bangladesh after a war between India and Pakistan. About three million people were killed.

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Nepal Police Fire on Ethnic Protesters Blocking Road; Two dead

Posted: 22 Nov 2015 09:43 PM PST

   Nepalese police personnel stand guard to stop the protesters near the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal September 30, 2015. (Photo: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters)

Nepalese police personnel stand guard to stop the protesters near the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal September 30, 2015. (Photo: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters)

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Police in southern Nepal opened fire on ethnic protesters blocking the nation's main highway, killing two in fresh violence that threatened to escalate political tensions, officials said Sunday.

Police were trying to stop the protesters from blocking the main East-West highway when they were attacked with petrol bombs, spears and bricks around midnight, police official Bhim Dhakal said. He said that 25 policemen and several protesters were injured in two separate attacks.

The two protesters were killed in the Bhardaha and Rupani areas, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of the capital, Kathmandu, Dhakal said.

A curfew was imposed to stop further violence.

The clashes are expected to escalate the tensions, just as months- long protests by the Madeshi ethnic group over Nepal's new constitution had eased over the past few weeks during a series of festivals in the Himalayan nation.

The Madeshi say the new constitution unfairly divides Nepal into seven states with borders that cut through their ancestral homeland. The Madhesis and other small ethnic groups also want the states to be larger and to be given more autonomy over local matters.

The protesters have imposed a general strike in southern Nepal since September and blocked the main border crossings with India, resulting in severe fuel shortages across Nepal.

At least 48 people have been killed in the protests since August. There is no official count of the injured.

India, which has close cultural ties with the Madhesi community, has expressed concern over the new violence.

Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted that his government was "distressed at [a] loss of lives in police firing," and that a political solution was required.

Nepalese authorities have been rationing gasoline for taxis and public buses, but there's been no fuel for private cars.

Police have been escorting trucks through south Nepal at night to bring both passengers and cargo to cities in the north, including Kathmandu.

Talks between the protesting groups and government have made little progress, but both sides have said they would continue.

Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli called a meeting of the main political parties later Sunday to discuss the Madhesi demands.

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