- Hpakant Landslides Continue to Kill
- UWSA Denies Reports It Plans To Sign NCA
- Police Hand Over Fatal Crash Case Involving Army Driver to the Military
- New Air Force Chief Has Risen Rapidly Through the Ranks
- Heart of an Artist Showcased at National Museum
- Naypyitaw Council Member Dismissed Over Corruption Scandal
- 11 Arrested After Mob Attacks Police to Demand Rape Suspect’s Handover
- Aung San Suu Kyi Spoke at Length About Myanmar Troubles: Turnbull
- Australia AG Rejects Lawyers’ Bid to Prosecute Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
- China’s ‘Silver Fox’ Foreign Minister Promoted
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 04:28 AM PDT
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — At least four jade prospectors have been killed and dozens are reportedly missing after a waste pile collapsed in jade-rich Hpakant on Friday night.
The collapse happened around 10:45 p.m., while prospectors searched the mining waste for gems.
It is the same location where deadly landslides happened in November 2015, claiming more than 100 lives.
Seik Mu village tract local U Shwe Thein told The Irrawaddy on Monday that four bodies were found on Saturday and that two injured men were being treated at the Hpakant Hospital.
The death toll estimated by locals at the Kan Kham jade mines in La Maung village of Seik Mu village tract, Lone Khin, is more than 40, U Shwe Thein said, but the search for bodies is likely to halt due to bad weather and the risk of further collapse in the area. Two bulldozers from a company called Kyauk Sein Taung were also buried in the collapse but later removed.
"There is a risk of further collapse. There were strong winds and rain on Sunday and authorities and elders at an emergency meeting advised that the search should be halted to avoid further loss [thought it resumed on Monday]," he said.
The Lone Khin police officer on duty told The Irrawaddy that four people were currently thought to be missing with the search ongoing.
Ko Khun Aung, a Hpakant resident, said a search was carried out over the weekend with at least five bulldozers combing the area for bodies but to no avail.
Hpakant jade mines – controlled by Myanmar Army troops and companies backed by both the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army – are vulnerable to landslides at mining waste sites sometimes piled hundreds of feet high.
The landslides continue and searches often stop after a few days. Many bodies are believed to be left uncounted under the waste.
"It is because we don't have rule of law in the area, and the lives of prospectors who come from different parts of the country are not treated as valuable," said U Shwe Thein.
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 04:04 AM PDT
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has denied claims by a member of the government's Peace Commission that it planned to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and accused him of trying to mislead the public.
The UWSA issued a statement on March 15 saying that contrary to comments by U Aung Soe, it had never accepted the nationwide ceasefire, and was not ready to sign the NCA. This followed comments by U Aung Soe reported in some Burmese-language media that the UWSA had agreed to sign the ceasefire agreement.
"His statement was specious and we suspect it was made to deliberately confuse the public. This was very irresponsible and confuses fact and fiction. It has caused unnecessary disruption to the peace process in Myanmar, which already has problems," the UWSA said.
Democratic Voice of Burma and the Yangon-based News Watch both reported that the UWSA had agreed to sign the NCA, based on an interview with U Aung Soe on March 14. However, when other news media followed up on the story, it emerged that his claim was untrue. The actual story was that the government Peace Commission and the UWSA were meeting as part of the regular peace process.
The UWSA, NLD-led government and Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) have differing views on how to proceed over the NCA. The UWSA was not involved in discussing the draft of the agreement. Nonetheless, both the former and current governments have pressured the group to sign.
The UWSA wants to sign alongside other ethnic armed groups who are fellow members of the Northern Alliance: the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Arakan Army (AA) and Shan State Progress Party.
"A dialogue is needed to overcome this major difference of views. The three parties must be involved, and the channels of communication between the three must also be unimpeded, but this dialogue does not mean that the UWSA has accepted the NCA," the statement reads.
The UWSA has said it would sign the NCA only if the government and military allowed amendments to parts of the agreement relating specifically to its region. The current draft NCA is not suitable, according to the UWSA, which seeks an autonomous region that would be different in nature from those run by other ethnic armed groups.
The UWSA remains firmly opposed to some of the terms of the NCA.
"Making efforts to promote peace in Myanmar is the consistent position of Wa State. Force and war are not the priority options for Wa State," the ethnic armed group said.
The UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 1989, and has not engaged in fighting with the Tatmadaw since then. The region has experienced some development thanks to border trade with China. The UWSA has at least 40,000 troops, making it the largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar.
The UWSA has tried to lead the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultation Committee (FNPCC) into peace talks with the government and Tatmadaw, but the latter refuses to include the TNLA, AA, and MNDAA in the peace process. Fighting between the Tatmadaw and Northern Alliance members has erupted in areas near UWSA-controlled parts of northern Shan State. This has caused concern within the UWSA that the Tatmadaw will attack it as well.
Commenting on the UWSA's response to U Aung Soe, some Burmese peace process observers said it could be intended to placate the other ethnic armed groups in the alliance. The Northern Alliance members have agreed that they will only sign the NCA as a block.
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 03:18 AM PDT
NAYPYITAW — Police have handed over to the army an investigation into a fatal crash in which a journalist was hit by a car driven by a military officer.
U Tin Lin, a senior reporter at The Voice Journal, was killed instantly as he rode his motorcycle near the Naypyitaw Central Railway Station in Pobbathiri Township in the administrative capital after being hit from behind by a car driven by an army major at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"We have investigated the case, and handed it over to the concerned battalion as [the offender] is an army official," said police lieutenant Thaung Htike Oo of the Pobbathiri Township police station.
U Tin Lin lived alone in Pobbathiri Township, away from his family in Yangon. He had worked as a reporter for more than 15 years.
In the 2010 general election, he had unsuccessfully contested a Lower House seat for the National Democratic Force (NDF) representing his hometown in Yangon's Kungyangon Township.
"We will bring the body to back to Kungyangon Township and organize his funeral. And the rest [lawsuit against the army officer] is up to his family," Ko Aung Soe, executive editor of The Voice, told The Irrawaddy.
The driver, who was identified as Major Kaung Htoo Lwin from the Health and Disease Control Unit in Zayarthiri Township, was sent to the 1,000-bed No. 2 Military Hospital to undergo a blood alcohol test to check if he was drunk while driving, but the result is still unknown, lieutenant Thaung Htike Oo said.
Kyi Taung Kan police station in Pobbathiri Township has opened a case against Maj Kaung Htoo Lwin for reckless driving and causing death.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
The post Police Hand Over Fatal Crash Case Involving Army Driver to the Military appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 03:12 AM PDT
The leadership of Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, has seen frequent reshuffles in recent years, with more new blood and new faces being injected into the top ranks.
One of them is General Maung Maung Kyaw, who became the new commander-in-chief of the air force in January. Gen Maung Maung Kyaw replaced General Khin Aung Myint, who retired from the post.
In January, soon after his appointment, Gen Maung Maung Kyaw accompanied Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, in paying a courtesy call on President U Htin Kyaw. He worked closely with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on last month's military drills on Hsinbyushin Island in the Irrawaddy Delta, the largest since 1997.
Gen Maung Maung Kyaw is widely tipped by defense analysts in Myanmar to be a likely candidate to move into an even more senior role eventually.
He is seen as close to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and is known to be a capable and experienced air force officer.
Gen Maung Maung Kyaw's background also seems solid. He is the youngest son of General Kyaw Htin, who served as commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the 1980s.
Kyaw Htin was close to former dictator Gen Ne Win. He joined the army in the 1940s and fought against the Japanese in World War II. Raised in Pyay, Kyaw Htin in his early days served in the famous 4th Burma Rifles, which was regarded as Ne Win's most trusted and favored regiment. Many officers from the 4th Burma Rifles rose rapidly through the ranks of both Ne Win's socialist government and the armed forces after Ne Win staged a coup in 1962.
Kyaw Htin resigned from the top army post in 1985 but continued to serve in the Burma Socialist Program Party until 1988 as deputy prime minister. He resigned along with Ne Win and died in 1996 at the age of 70.
His eldest son U Thant Kyaw served as deputy foreign minister in former President U Thein Sein's administration.
Maung Maung Kyaw has been steadily promoted through the ranks to become Air Force chief. Previously, he served as commander of the Meikhtila Air Force headquarters. As Myanmar's Air Force is planning to expand and upgrade its capabilities and capacity in coordination with the army and navy, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing saw Gen Maung Maung Kyaw's potential.
Maung Maung Kyaw also accompanied the senior-general on overseas trips in 2017. They visited Israel together in 2015.
In 2017, observers noted that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who is known to have political ambitions, appointed several new commanders to the top ranks.
Major-General Myo Zaw Thein, who served as chief of the Yangon Command, was promoted to lieutenant-general and became head of the military's Bureau of Special Operations 5 (BSO-5). He is the youngest among the heads of the BSO.
Lt-Gen Moe Myint Tun, former commander of BSO-5, became army chief of staff and Maj-Gen Myint Maw became head of the Naypyitaw Command. He previously served as principal of the Defense Services Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin.
The post New Air Force Chief Has Risen Rapidly Through the Ranks appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 03:06 AM PDT
YANGON — Min Kyi left this world some 10 years ago. When the inevitable happened, the artist left behind his hearts, which now hang at the National Museum in Yangon. Those hearts are not made of blood or vessels, but with paint and brushwork.
Whenever he had to sell his paintings for money, Min Kyi told his family: "I had to pull my heart out to feed you."
Those hearts now fill the hall of the National Museum for the exhibition 'Min Kyi's Retrospective.' Min Kyi was known for his brilliant depiction of rural Myanmar culture and landscapes.
He quit working as a civil servant, losing his steady income and choosing to eke out a living as a full-time artist. Though his paintings were popular, he hated selling them and tried to hold on to as many as he could. Unfortunately, he lost some 300 paintings when his house caught fire.
Johnny Wuke Kah Pok, a Singaporean art collector, was able to collect more than 600 of Min Kyi's paintings, which he is showcasing at the exhibition.
"I fell in love when I saw his paintings at the Traders Hotel. So, I asked for his address and went to his home and purchased all of his paintings," said Pok.
The art exhibition at the National Museum commemorates the 10th anniversary of Min Kyi's death. Paintings will not be sold, but visitors will be presented with books featuring photos of more than 150 of his works. The exhibition will be held through this month.
"I will showcase his paintings in France in 2019. He struggled, and dedicated his life to his art. He deserves a place in the art history of Asia," said Pok.
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 01:34 AM PDT
NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar government has removed a member of the Naypyitaw Council, an executive body under the direct control of the president that administers the Naypyitaw Union Territory, over a corruption scandal.
"He was sacked because of a scandal. He was mainly responsible for tenders and projects, as well as reporting to Parliament [about the projects]," a member of the Naypyitaw municipality told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.
The President's Office released a notice on March 15 stating that Naypyitaw Council member U Tin Htut was dismissed according to the 2008 Constitution, Union Government Law, and Naypyitaw Council Law. But the notice did not explain the reason for the dismissal.
U Tin Htut is the highest-ranking official to be dismissed in Naypyitaw under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. In January 2018, U Myo Tint, a former military officer, also resigned from the Naypyitaw municipality.
"U Myo Tint was asked whether he wanted to resign or be dismissed. There was a lot of evidence of corruption against him. He could not deny it. U Tin Htut denied the corruption allegations. So, he was sacked," said the municipal official who asked for anonymity.
U Tin Htut did not know of his dismissal in advance, said U Myo Thant, a personal staff officer of U Tin Htut.
U Tin Htut is not an NLD member. He resigned as an assistant secretary of the Ministry of Energy in 2015 and was assigned to the Naypyitaw Council in 2016, the staff officer said.
Some lawmakers in the Naypyitaw Council area said that U Tin Htut was too close to businessmen and that his close relationships had led to a bribery scandal.
Lower House lawmaker U Kyaw Tint from Tatkon Township in the Naypyitaw Union Territory said he had worked with U Tint Htut, who was responsible for his constituency, and witnessed both his strong and weak points.
"I checked and balanced him as his actions could have undermined the image of the government. As a colleague, I gave him brotherly advice in some cases. I would say he was sacked because of some weakness in his actions," U Kyaw Tint told The Irrawaddy.
"He was dismissed because he could not perform his duties well," said an Upper House lawmaker on condition of anonymity who declined to elaborate.
U Tin Htut had switched off his mobile phone at the time of reporting this story. The NLD-government also fired two municipal officers who were sued under the 2013 Anti-Corruption Law for taking bribes from butchers in October 2017. The two are still facing trial at the Mandalay Region high court.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.
The post Naypyitaw Council Member Dismissed Over Corruption Scandal appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 19 Mar 2018 12:39 AM PDT
MANDALAY — Police in Mandalay Region’s Aungmyaythazan Township said they arrested 11 people on Sunday accused of joining a mob that attacked a police station holding a suspected child rapist arrested earlier in the day.
"When the crowd got bigger, the police blocked the road to the police station. Some angry men destroyed the bamboo barriers and started shouting to the police to hand over the rapist," said U Paw Lu, a township administrator.
"Later they threw stones and bricks at the police who tried to dispersed the crowd by opening fire into the air to scare them away," he added.
Police say they arrested 11 of the rioters and have filed related charges against them.
Earlier in the day, police arrested Kyaw Soe, 38, for the rape of a 7-year-old girl in Aungmyaythazan Township’s Amarahtarni quarter on Thursday. According to a neighbor, Daw Khin Khin, the girl complained of pain and bleeding to her mother on Sunday and was rushed to a doctor who discovered that she had been raped.
"The girl told her mother only on Sunday afternoon and police arrested him. We are waiting here to find out how the police will charge him. We want the death sentence for rapists like him," she said in front of the police station.
Police said they filed a rape charge against Kyaw Soe and were keeping him in custody.
Coincidentally, a campaign group advocating for tougher penalties for rapists had visited Amarahtarni on Sunday. The national campaign has picked up steam following a number of child rape and rape-murder cases in recent months.
In February, a 2-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Mandalay’s Madaya Township by a 23-year-old man. Locals staged a protest to urge authorities to sentence the man to death.
The post 11 Arrested After Mob Attacks Police to Demand Rape Suspect’s Handover appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 18 Mar 2018 09:38 PM PDT
SYDNEY — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at length about her country’s troubled western state of Rakhine at a Sydney conference on Sunday and appealed to Southeast Asian neighbors for help, Australia’s prime minister said.
“We discussed the situation in Rakhine state at considerable length today,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the end of a summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia, much of it held behind closed doors.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the matter comprehensively at some considerable length herself… She seeks support from ASEAN and other nations to provide help from a humanitarian and capacity-building point of view,” he said, using a Burmese honorific.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, was not immediately available for comment on Turnbull’s comments.
Turnbull did not tell reporters whether Suu Kyi gave details of what support she was seeking or whether she spoke specifically about violence against the Rohingya, however ASEAN’s Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance has been providing some aid since October.
UN officials say nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after militant attacks on Aug. 25 last year sparked a crackdown, led by security forces, in Rakhine that the United Nations and United States have said constitutes ethnic cleansing.
The UN independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said in Geneva this month she saw growing evidence to suspect genocide had been committed.
Myanmar denies the charges and has asked for “clear evidence” of abuses by security forces.
Since coming to power in 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for democracy – has failed to condemn the violence against the Rohingya.
Australia’s attorney general on Saturday rejected a private bid by activist lawyers to have Suu Kyi face charges for crimes against humanity, saying she has diplomatic immunity.
In response to questions posed by Reuters about the lawyers’ move, Suu Kyi spokesman Zaw Htay said earlier in the day such “pressure” was unhelpful in solving the conflict in Rakhine, which he called “the Bengali problem” – using a term to describe the Rohingya that suggests they are interlopers from Bangladesh.
Militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had instigated the violence with attacks on government forces in October 2016 and August 2017, said Zaw Htay, director general at the State Counselor’s Office in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.
“All of this happened because of ARSA. The government did nothing,” he said in response to a question about the legal move.
“Those who are putting pressure like this need to be careful that doesn’t become encouraging terrorists.”
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was a “complex inter-communal situation” which ASEAN leaders would continue to discuss "frankly."
“It’s an issue which is also in the public attention and it’s one of those where intense public attention sometimes makes it more difficult to solve,” he added.
Suu Kyi’s attendance at the ASEAN summit, hosted by Australia despite it not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, drew street protests in Sydney on Saturday.
The post Aung San Suu Kyi Spoke at Length About Myanmar Troubles: Turnbull appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 18 Mar 2018 09:32 PM PDT
SYDNEY — Australia’s attorney general said that Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has diplomatic immunity, rejecting a bid by activist lawyers to have her face charges for crimes against humanity over the country’s treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims.
Lawyer Alison Battisson said she filed the private prosecution on behalf of Australia’s Rohingya community on Friday in Melbourne Magistrates Court and had not had a formal response from Attorney General Christian Porter.
“As it is an ongoing matter that’s about all I can say,” she told Reuters by phone.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, said on Sunday such “pressure” was unhelpful in solving the conflict in the troubled western state of Rakhine, which he called "the Bengali problem."
Many in Myanmar refer to the Rohingya as Bengalis and insist they are immigrants from Bangladesh.
Militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had instigated the violence with attacks on government forces in October 2016 and August 2017, said Zaw Htay.
“All of this happened because of ARSA. The government did nothing,” he said in response to a question about the legal move.
“Those who are putting pressure like this need to be careful that doesn’t become encouraging terrorists.”
According to UN officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after militant attacks on Aug. 25 last year sparked a crackdown led by security forces in Rakhine that the United Nations and United States have said constitute ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar denies the charge and has asked for “clear evidence” of abuses by security forces.
Porter said he would not allow the prosecution of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who arrived in Sydney on Saturday for regional talks, citing diplomatic immunity provisions, which protect foreign heads of state from being arrested, detained or served with court proceedings.
“Aung San Suu Kyi has complete immunity, including from being served with court documents, because under customary international law, heads of state, heads of government and ministers of foreign affairs are immune from foreign criminal proceedings and are inviolable,” Porter told Reuters by email.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is foreign affairs minister as well as state counselor.
The lawyers’ case argues that Suu Kyi “failed to use her position of authority and power” to prevent the “deportation” of Rohingya people from Myanmar, according to a statement emailed by Battisson.
Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which is recognized in Australia, courts can try individuals suspected of crimes against humanity or war crimes regardless of where they were alleged to have been committed, although it requires the permission of the attorney general.
The legal action coincided with the start of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Sydney.
Australia hosted the meetings, despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region amid China’s rising influence.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi’s invitation sparked protests, which included about 100 activists gathering on Saturday in Sydney’s Hyde Park where they chanted "Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you."
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at length about Rakhine at a conference on Sunday and appealed to Southeast Asian neighbors for help, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
The post Australia AG Rejects Lawyers' Bid to Prosecute Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 18 Mar 2018 09:24 PM PDT
BEIJING — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi retained his job and was also promoted to a state councilor on Monday, meaning he now has the country’s two top diplomat roles, in a vote of confidence for his strong defense of China’s interests.
Sources had previously told Reuters that Wang would probably become a state councilor with responsibility for foreign affairs, and that he may also keep his job as foreign minister.
He has been likened to a “silver fox” in China’s state media, and online, for his looks and his staunch defense of Chinese positions, which has won him a loyal following. Foreign diplomats say he can be suave and charming, as well as tough.
Unusually friendly to the foreign media for a senior Chinese official, Wang has won plaudits in China for his tough line on issues like the disputed South China Sea and quick-witted – sometimes bad-tempered quips – to counter criticism of China.
Wang, 64, has been China’s foreign minister since 2013. A career diplomat and fluent Japanese speaker, Wang has also served as China’s ambassador in Tokyo and head of China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office.
The country’s largely rubber stamp parliament approved Wang’s job in a mostly ceremonial vote in the Great Hall of the People with reporters present.
State councilors, who report to the Cabinet, are more senior than the ministers responsible for the same portfolio. While unusual, it is possible to be both a minister and state councilor at the same time.
It was not immediately clear what position former state councilor Yang Jiechi would get. Diplomatic sources said previously he may have become a vice premier, but his name was not included in the list for that position.
Yang still sits on the Communist Party’s Politburo, the second-largest of the party’s elite ruling bodies, meaning he will retain an influential voice in China’s foreign policy.
Previously China’s foreign minister himself, Yang speaks perfect English but has a low-key public profile and rarely talks to foreign reporters.
Yang has served as one of China’s main go-betweens with the Trump administration, with his deep knowledge of the United States coming from previous stints in the Chinese embassy in Washington, including as ambassador from 2000-2004.
Newly appointed Vice President Wang Qishan, a key ally of President Xi Jinping, is likely to have handling the Trump administration and festering trade tensions between the two countries as part of his job.
China also gets a new defense minister, Wei Fenghe, who already sits on the Central Military Commission, which runs China’s armed forces. Wei has been appointed to a state councilor as well.
The defense minister is more of a figurehead position, as real power rests with Xi and the Central Military Commission. Wei is the fourth-ranked member of that seven-man body.
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