Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


Chinese Officials Push for Kyaukphyu SEZ to Move Forward

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 08:58 AM PDT

RANGOON – During a trip to Arakan State's Kyaukphyu Township on Monday, Chinese official Wang Yajun emphasized that his country aims for the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to be up and running as soon as possible, local sources said.

Kyaukphyu Township administrator U Nyi Nyi Lwin said that along with Wang Yajun—who is the assistant minister of the international department of the Communist Party of China's (CPC) central committee—a regional official from the Chinese CITIC investment conglomerate and several diplomats were present on the visit, holding talks with local authorities and businesspeople.

U Nyi Nyi Lwin said that CPC delegates expressed an eagerness to begin the SEZ project without delay, as the state-owned conglomerate CITIC was already awarded the tender to develop a deep sea port and an industrial zone by the previous government.

The visitors also explained how they would promote relationships between locals and Chinese businesspeople.

Local businessman U Tin Aung Soe, who operates May Phone More Hotel near the seashore, said that Chinese delegates and 10 Kyaukphyu businesspeople had a one-hour discussion at his hotel. He also asked Wang Yajun whether the Chinese government would develop a railroad in near future, linking Yunnan Province's Kunming with Kyaukphyu, but was told a that memorandum of understanding on the project had not yet been reached.

Another meeting attendee, U Hla Myo Kyaw, said that the Chinese delegates asked for opinions on the ground regarding the SEZ development. He told them that locals still have not yet recovered from land confiscation suffered during the pursuit of offshore gas terminals and pipelines by the China National Petroleum Corporation.

"Negative images of previous projects could hit the forthcoming SEZ project," he said.

Chinese delegates said they assumed that a lack of interaction between locals and the Chinese officials had contributed to misunderstandings, and promised to arrange more meetings in the future.

Kyaukphyu Rural Development Association coordinator U Tun Kyi criticized the meeting between Chinese delegation and the Kyaukphyu business community as lacking in transparency. He also said that the delegates had highlighted past financial support of a 15 billion-kyat livestock project in 2015 in Kyaukphyu.

However, U Tun Kyi added that until SEZ law more clearly addresses rates for farmland compensation, "there will be no advantages for locals if the government proceeds with the project with the [current] SEZ laws."

Recently, about 100 fishermen were charged with trespassing by the fisheries department in Kyaukphyu and fined 50,000 kyats for being in restricted territorial waters, in an area which is now reserved for international cargo ships docking at the Maday Island deep sea port, said U Tun Kyi.

The start of an SEZ project in the area could further harm livelihoods like these, he predicted.

The Chinese delegates, led by CITIC chairman Chang Zhenming, also met with Burma's State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week and discussed their joint venture projects in Burma's energy and transportation sectors, including the Kyaukphyu deep sea port. Dr. Than Myint, of the ministry of commerce, also reportedly talked with Chan Zhenming separately in Naypyidaw.

In late February, the International Commission of Jurists urged the government to amend SEZ law in order to meet international standards to protect human rights, and also suggested that the government's SEZ body had breached UN principles.

The post Chinese Officials Push for Kyaukphyu SEZ to Move Forward appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Safe Stolen from Mandalay Minister’s Office

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 07:50 AM PDT

MANDALAY — A safe containing cash and personal documents was stolen from the office of the Mandalay regional minister of ethnic affairs U Sai Kyaw Zaw in the regional government building over Thingyan, the minister told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

According to the minister, 100,000 kyats in cash and his vehicle registration documents were inside the safe. "No documents related to my office or the ministry were stolen," he added.

"Although the safe is small [1.5-feet square] it is quite heavy and would take two or three men to carry," he said, adding that he only noticed the safe was missing when he returned to his office from a trip abroad on Tuesday.

Mandalay District Police officer, Police Col Thet Win said a case had been filed and a special team had been formed to investigate, he said.

"It is still too early to say if an insider was involved. We believe we will find the culprits very soon," said the police colonel.

The Minister said he was burgled around April 20, according to security camera footage, although the robbery itself was not recorded as the CCTV cameras were tampered with.

The office of U Myo Thit, the regional minister of natural resources and environment, was also broken into.

"We saw screwdrivers and tools from U Myo Thit's office in my office, I think they [the thieves] tried to open the safe but were unsuccessful and later took away the whole thing," said U Sai Kyaw Zaw.

"I wonder how the thieves knew U Myo Thit's office had screwdrivers and tools," he said, adding that he believed it was an inside job.

News of the incident was shared widely on social media. Netizens argued that if Mandalay police cannot keep government offices secure, there is little hope for the city's residents.

The post Safe Stolen from Mandalay Minister's Office appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Mon Activists Re-Strategize, Launch Signature Campaign to Change Bridge Name

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 07:39 AM PDT

Rights activists from Mon State have launched a signature campaign directed toward the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Union government concerning the bridge named for Gen Aung San in Chaungzon Township.

The petition is asking the government to give the bridge a local name based on the wishes of the area's ethnic Mon people. The campaign, launched throughout all 10 townships in Mon State, started on April 13 and ended on April 25. Signatures were collected from more than 100,000 people, according to organizers of the campaign.

Nai Min Min Nwe, a Moulmein-based campaign committee member, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the signature campaign proved difficult within the Mon communities, as people were initially afraid to participate.

"Some of our local people did not want to give their ID card numbers. They were afraid that the authorities would take action against them if their ID number was on the petition," he explained.

The 21-member committee intends to send all of the signatures from the first round of the campaign to the President, State Counselor, parliamentary chairpersons, and the ethnic affairs minister on April 27.

Nai Wona, another community leader based in Thanbyuzayat Township, said that the campaign there launched on April 23 and that more than 100 local leaders attended the opening meeting, where they collected signature papers to bring to their respective villages.

"Our plan is to let persons who attended the campaign work in their villages to collect signatures. But, most villages have done it already," Nai Wona said.

Initially, hundreds of people in Chaungzon held a protest near the new bridge on March, but the NLD government did not respond to the action, and the Union Parliament approved the naming of the structure after Gen Aung San.

Then, thousands of ethnic Mon from throughout the state held a second protest and asked the government to give the bridge a local name instead.

"This campaign is our new fighting strategy. We will not stop fighting for our ethnic rights, even if the government is ignoring our voices," said Nai Min Min Nwe.

The post Mon Activists Re-Strategize, Launch Signature Campaign to Change Bridge Name appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

RCSS/SSA-S National-level Political Dialogue at a Standstill

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 07:32 AM PDT

NAYPYIDAW — The Burma government and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) have not yet reached an agreement on the venue for holding ethnic-based national-level dialogue in Shan State.

"We've asked to hold the Shan political dialogue in Taunggyi or Panglong but we are still unable to agree on a venue," said RCSS/SSA-S spokesperson Col Sai La.

RCSS/SSA-S leaders discussed the issue at a Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) on Monday, but government authorities only replied that they would consider it, said Col Sai La.

The RCSS/SSA-S has requested that the dialogue be held in the state capital for convenience of transportation, but it was reported that the Burma Army told the RCSS to conduct the public consultations in remote RCSS-controlled towns.

The national-level political dialogue is a mandatory step of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), where regional stakeholders discuss suggestions at large-scale public consultations, the results of which are shared by representatives at the Union Peace Conference.

The RCSS/SSA-S has proposed holding national-level political talks for respective ethnic groups in Shan State, as opposed to dividing the talks by region.

"We don't object to holding talks in respective regions but I'm afraid that such talks will not be complete, as they will not take into account the views of various sub-groups," said Col Sai La.

The RCSS/SSA-S is one of eight signatories of the NCA. The others are the Karen National Union, Chin National Front, Pa-O National Liberation Organization, Arakan Liberation Party, All Burma Students' Democratic Front, Democratic Karen Benevolent Army, and the KNU/KNLA Peace Council.

Ongoing territory disputes between the Burma Army and the RCSS/SSA-S also remain unsolved, adding to the Burma Army's reluctance to allow the RCSS to hold ethnic-based political dialogue in Taunggyi.

The JICM on Monday brought no resolution, leaving the issue at a standstill.

Of eight ethnic NCA signatories, only the RCSS/SSA-S and Arakan Liberation Party have not yet held national-level political talks.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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Commercial Porn Distribution a Hard Swallow for Burmese Authorities

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 07:24 AM PDT

RANGOON — Burmese police are investigating those involved in the local production of a pornographic movie, reportedly the first to be promoted and sold online in the country.

Art of Myanmar, the production group behind the two-hour commercially produced video, has promoted the film—entitled 'Violet of Myanmar'—on their Facebook page. Shooting took place in December of last year.

The company has said that they aim to produce more genre-specific and hardcore porn films in the future.

On Monday morning, Art of Myanmar launched the video through a social media announcement: "We have now proudly launched Burma's first ever [porn] HD," while providing links for a two-minute trailer that shows performers' faces digitally blurred.

The trailer then went viral on Facebook.

The announcement added that customers would be charged 5,000 kyats to gain access to the complete video. In order to view another film, entitled 'Nurse,' they were required to pay 10,000 kyats.

The trailer provides a bank account for the financial transaction, and encouraged customers to place orders from a Viber account that later crashed after it received more than 2,000 messages in 24 hours.

Quoting Burma's President's Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay, local media reported on Tuesday that the police had started investigating the people behind the production. An official from the Crime Investigation Department said that IT police are also following the case.

Article 292 of Burma's Penal Code says that anyone who produces or possesses any "obscene" object shall be punished with a term of imprisonment of up to three months, and/or a fine.

Even though the porn industry has long been taboo in Burma, the country has seen short sex films distributed by voyeurs on social media, particularly since increased internet penetration accompanied the availability of cheap SIM cards after 2014.

The post Commercial Porn Distribution a Hard Swallow for Burmese Authorities appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

How a Two-Week Army Crackdown Reignited Conflict in Arakan

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 05:15 AM PDT

BALUKHALI CAMP, Bangladesh — When army helicopters fired on Rahim's village in northwest Burma one day last November, the Rohingya schoolteacher told his pregnant wife to take their three young daughters and leave. He stayed behind with his 72-year-old mother.

At dawn the next morning soldiers encircled and then entered the village. Rahim and his mother crept into a rice field. Crouching, Rahim said they saw the soldiers set fire to homes and shoot fleeing villagers.

"I thought we were going to die that day," said Rahim, who like many Rohingya identifies by a single name. "We kept hearing gunshots. I saw several people shot dead."

His account, told in a Bangladesh refugee camp where thousands of Rohingya are sheltering, was corroborated by four people from his village.

The attack on Rahim's village, Dar Gyi Zar, on Nov. 12-13, claimed dozens of lives, Rohingya elders said. The killings marked the start of a two-week military onslaught across about 10 Rohingya villages in northwest Arakan State, a Reuters reconstruction of events has found.

Rohingya elders estimate some 600 people were killed. A United Nations report from February said the likely toll was hundreds. At least 1,500 homes were destroyed, Human Rights Watch satellite imagery shows.

Countless women were raped, eyewitnesses and aid workers said. Doctors in Bangladesh told Reuters they treated women who had been raped.

It was the latest round of ethnic bloodletting in Burma, a majority Buddhist country where the roughly one million Muslim Rohingya are marginalized, often living in camps, denied access to healthcare and education and uprooted and killed in pogroms.

Burma's march to democracy, beginning in 2011, uncorked long-suppressed ethnic and religious tensions between Rakhine's Buddhists and the Rohingya. Clashes between the two communities in 2012 killed at least 192 people and displaced 140,000, mostly Rohingya.

This latest eruption of violence drove some 75,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh, the United Nations said. Burma's government has conceded some soldiers may have committed crimes but has rejected charges of "ethnic cleansing." It has promised to prosecute any officers where there is evidence of wrongdoing.

The military assault involving a little under 2,000 soldiers has presented Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with the first major crisis since her party won elections in late 2015.

Many hoped Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, would bring a new era of tolerance after five decades of military rule. While generals remain in control of a significant part of the government, she now faces accusations of failing to oppose human rights abuses.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said some individuals may have committed abuses "in the heat of the confrontation." But he stressed the government did not approve of such conduct. Burma's State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters about events in Arakan.

The army began its "clearance operation" in Arakan after Rohingya militants attacked border posts there on Oct. 9. For a month, it tried to pressure villagers to hand over the rebels, without success. That approach changed on Nov. 12-13 in Dar Gyi Zar and the neighboring village Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, marking a sharp escalation of the military operation.

This article pieces together how events unfolded, drawing on interviews with Rohingya refugees, diplomats, aid workers and Burma government officials. Reuters also gained rare access to Burma security officials and spoke with a Rohingya militant leader.

The reconstruction of the military operation contains previously unreported details about army negotiations with villagers over the insurgents, a shift in military strategy and the army units involved.

Reuters also learned new details about investigations into alleged atrocities that are being conducted by the Burma Army and by the home affairs ministry.

The violence was brutal. A 16-year-old girl assaulted in the village of Kyar Gaung Taung, said two soldiers raped her. Speaking in a Bangladesh refugee camp, she said she still suffers anxiety and trauma after the attack.

"I am angry with myself for being Rohingya," said the teen, whose name Reuters is withholding. "If I had been Bangladeshi or American, I would never have been raped. But they did it to me because I was born Rohingya."

The army has denied there were widespread abuses and said it was carrying out a legitimate counterinsurgency operation. The army and the ministry of home affairs did not respond to detailed questions from Reuters about events in Arakan.

"It is possible that individual security officers or individual policemen may have reacted in an excessive manner," Thaung Tun, the security adviser, said. "But what we want to make clear is that it's not the policy of the government to condone these excesses."

Clearance

After years of persecution, some Rohingya have begun to fight back. A militant group called Harakah al-Yaqin, or "Faith Movement," was formed by Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia after the 2012 violence, according to the International Crisis Group.

Its leader, Ata Ullah, said hundreds of young Rohingya men have joined the ranks of the group, which now wants to be known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Burma's government estimates it has about 400 fighters.

"In 2012, they killed us and we understood at that time, they would not give us our rights," said Ata Ullah, speaking by video link from an undisclosed location in Burma.

Before dawn on Oct. 9, Rohingya militants staged attacks on border police. The army set about trying to capture the rebels. For a month, it attempted to pressure villagers to give up the insurgents, according to Rohingya elders and villagers.

The village of Kyet Yoe Pyin, located on the main road north to Bangladesh in northwest Rakhine, was one of the first to draw the army's attention on Oct. 13, according to a military intelligence source.

Insurgents had used logs to erect roadblocks near the settlement of 1,300 houses, blocking the way for military vehicles, residents and the military intelligence source said. In retaliation, about 400 soldiers burned down a part of Kyet Yoe Pyin and shot several people, according to four villagers.

Officials have blamed insurgents and villagers themselves for the burning of homes.
After a few days of trying unsuccessfully to capture the insurgents, the soldiers asked village elders to negotiate.

The meeting took place in western Kyet Yoe Pyin.
About 300 soldiers crowded the road while four commanders led the talks with five Rohingya men, according to a village elder who attended the meeting. The talks, confirmed by the military intelligence source, were an example of the army's attempts in those early weeks to pressure the villagers to help identify the rebels.

"Their first question was: 'Who cut the trees?' We told them we didn't know," the village elder recounted. "They told us: 'We will give you a chance: You can either give us the names of the insurgents, or we will kill you'."

The officers visited Kyet Yoe Pyin on several further occasions, asking about insurgents and taking money in exchange for leaving the remaining houses untouched, the villagers said.

A variation of this scene was repeated in other villages in the weeks leading up to Nov. 12, residents said.

Two Weeks

On Nov. 12, this low-grade violence escalated abruptly when the army clashed with rebels north of two villages in northwestern Arakan—Rahim's village Dar Gyi Zar, a settlement of more than 400 houses, and Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, with some 600 houses.

Muhammad Ismail, another Rohingya teacher from Dar Gyi Zar, said the army spotted insurgents a few kilometers to the north of his village at around 4 a.m. After a two-hour shootout, the militants fled towards neighboring Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, where fighting resumed in the afternoon. The area is densely forested, and residents could not say how many militants there were.

The leader of the insurgents, Ata Ullah, said he and his men found themselves surrounded. "We had to fight," he told Reuters. He did not say how many insurgents were involved in the clash.

During a day-long battle, some villagers joined the insurgents, fighting the security forces with knives and sticks, according to Ata Ullah and the military. A senior officer was killed and the army brought in two helicopters mounted with guns as back-up, according to official accounts, which described the incident as an ambush by the insurgents.

The helicopters swooped in around 4 p.m., hovering low over the road connecting Dar Gyi Zar and Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son, according to eyewitnesses.

The villagers dispersed in panic as one of the helicopters sprayed the insurgents with bullets. The other helicopter fired indiscriminately on those fleeing, five eyewitnesses said. The military intelligence source confirmed that the helicopters dispersed the crowd but denied they shot at civilians.

It marked the start of an offensive across a section of northwest Arakan that lasted about two weeks, according to villagers, aid workers and human rights monitors and a review of satellite imagery from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Security and administrative officials confirmed the scope of the sweep but said they were not aware of abuses.

Whole communities fled north towards larger villages and then west to Bangladesh, pursued by the army. Women who were raped said the soldiers shouted "go to Bangladesh."

Three doctors from small clinics near refugee camps in Bangladesh have described treating some three dozen cases of Rohingya women whom they say were raped.

"I treated one woman. She was so badly raped she had lost sensation in her lower limbs," said John Sarkar, 40, a Bangladeshi doctor who has worked with Rohingya refugees for eight years.

National Security Adviser Thaung Tun said a commission, set up by the State Counselor in December and chaired by vice president Myint Swe, a former head of military intelligence, needed time to investigate.

"We find it really difficult to believe that the Myanmar military would use (sexual violence) as a tool, sex slaves or rape as a weapon. In Myanmar this is repulsive, it's not acceptable,” he said.

The Dw Aung San Suu Kyi appointed investigation is one of several. The army is conducting an internal probe and the ministry of home affairs, which is controlled by the army, is also carrying out an inquiry.

Separately, the United Nations has ordered a fact-finding mission to examine allegations of human rights abuses.

A senior government source and a senior military source said the commander of the army division that led the operation, Maj-Gen Khin Maung Soe, had been questioned by investigators in the army probe.

The army did not respond to Reuters questions about Maj-Gen Khin Maung Soe's role and Reuters was unable to contact him directly.

The ministry of home affairs, meanwhile, is examining 21 cases, including five suspected murders, six rapes, two cases of looting and one case of arson and seven unexplained deaths, according to police colonel Shwe Thaung. Investigators were seeking the army's cooperation to interrogate soldiers.

Left Behind

When the sun went down on the villages of Dar Gyi Zar and Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son on Nov. 12, the fighting stopped.

"The night was tense. Some people sneaked out to neighboring villages. Others were preparing to move first thing in the morning," said Muhammad Ismail, the Rohingya teacher who witnessed fighting.

But at dawn the next day, soldiers encircled the two villages and set the houses on fire, five eyewitnesses said. Those who could, fled. But the elderly and the infirm stayed. From the rice field where he hid, Rahim said he saw soldiers shooting indiscriminately.

Police reports from the period confirm that security forces focused their attention on about 10 villages—Dar Gyi Zar, Yae Khat Chaung Gwa Son and other settlements nearby.

They detained nearly 400 people between Nov. 12 and 30, according to a senior administrator in the state capital of Sittwe who received the daily dispatches.

The administrator, who briefed Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the reports described a lawful counterinsurgency operation.

One of the villages that bore the brunt of the post-Nov. 12 crackdown was Kyar Gaung Taung, a settlement of about 300 houses in northwest Arakan.

Residents say that for five days starting around Nov. 16, security forces swooped in, searching for men. As in neighboring villages, they arrested or killed most working-age men, and gathered the women in groups, carrying out invasive body searches.

Reuters talked to 17 people from Kyar Gaung Taung from November through March by telephone and in person in Bangladeshi camps, including five rape victims, three close relatives of those raped and several village elders. They corroborated one another's accounts.

Shamshida, a 30-year-old mother of six, was ordered to come out of her house.

"One of the soldiers put a machete to my chest and bit me on the back. Then, they started picking women from the group gathered on the road. I was selected and pulled inside the house. I knelt down thinking that may help and the last thing I remember was one of the soldiers kicking me in the head," said Shamshida, who identifies with a single name.

When her husband and her sister found her several hours later, she was stripped naked, unconscious, covered in bruises and bleeding from her mouth and her vagina.

They carried her to the neighboring village of U Shey Kya several hundred meters away, where she regained consciousness, was showered and taken care of by a village doctor.

After eight days, she returned to her village, where there were no men left and many houses were burned down.

Doctors in Bangladesh said the Rohingya women they treated had torn vaginal tissue and scars inside their mouths from having guns inserted. In some cases, the women couldn't walk and had to be carried by relatives to the clinics. Many were covered in bruises and bite marks.

Sarkar, the Bangladeshi doctor, and others administered abortion-inducing kits, painkillers and antibiotics. In cases where the kits didn't work, they referred the women to regional hospitals for abortions.

Out of the Country

As thousands of Rohingya were fleeing across the river border to Bangladesh, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not in the country. In early December she went to Singapore, attending meetings and a ceremony to have a purple orchid named after her in the city-state's botanic gardens.

The State Counselor's defenders, including some Western diplomats, say she is hamstrung by a military-drafted constitution that left the army in control of key security ministries and much of the apparatus of the state.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may be playing a long game, these diplomats said—back the military for now and coax the generals into accepting a rewriting of the constitution to reduce their power.

During her trip, the State Counselor gave an interview to state broadcaster Channel News Asia, in which she accused the international community of "always drumming up cause for bigger fires of resentment," adding it didn't help "if everybody is just concentrating on the negative side of the situation."

She appealed for understanding of her nation's ethnic complexities, and said the world should not forget that the military operation was launched in response to the Rohingya insurgents' attacks on border posts.

Rahim, the village schoolteacher, and his family were among thousands of Rohingya who made the 2-kilometer (1.2 mile) river crossing to Bangladesh.

On April 8, in a Bangladesh refugee camp, Rahim's wife Rasheda gave birth to their first boy, Futu, or "little son." Rahim doesn't know whether Futu will ever see his homeland.

 

The post How a Two-Week Army Crackdown Reignited Conflict in Arakan appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Trafficked Woman Reunited With Parents After 13 Years

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 03:36 AM PDT

RANGOON — A Mon woman trafficked into China 13 years ago was reunited with her parents on April 23 after escaping her captors.

Mi Khin Si (not her real name) was aged 17 when she took a train from her grandmother's home in Ye Township, Mon State, to her own home in Mudon Township. During the journey she accepted a juice that was drugged, and was taken to Rangoon, where she was forced to work in a restaurant for three months.

Her abductors—yet to be identified—then sold the teenager to a Chinese man in the northern Shan State border town of Muse. It was the first of two forced marriages that she finally managed to flee with the help of human rights activist Nai Ko Thu.

In the first forced marriage, the man bought Mi Khin Si for 60,000 yuan (USD$8,750), said Nai Ko Thu, who is also a member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society. She had two children over 12 years, he added, before the man told her she could visit her parents.

Mi Khin Si did not make it home, as she was trafficked again at the border and forced to marry another Chinese man, who badly abused her. Using the social media app WeChat, she asked Burmese friends for help.

They connected the woman with Nai Ko Thu, who visited her parents and explained the reason behind their daughter's disappearance. They had accepted that she had died or been taken more than a decade before, said the activist, but this time they filed a case at Mudon Police Station.

Mi Khin Si sent her location to Nai Ko Thu, who coordinated with anti-trafficking police on both sides of the border. A lack of action in the case pushed the activist to convince the woman to report to Chinese police.

She was detained and lost contact with Nai Ko Thu when her phone was confiscated after nearly three weeks. Chinese police deported her on April 9, the same day Burmese border police informed Nai Ko Thu of her return.

Burmese police transported her first to Rangoon, then Moulmein, and finally Mudon, where, at the age of 30, she saw her parents again. Her children remain with their father in China.

Five suspects have been arrested and a further five are still at large, said Nai Ko Thu.

"Chinese law does not take action against the person who buys the victim and enslaves her as a wife," he said. "We can only take action against the traffickers."

Thein Zaw Myint, a police officer at Mudon Township investigating the crime, told The Irrawaddy that they would cooperate with Mi Khin Si and border police to find the culprits.

"We will do what we can for the victim," he said.

'Trafficking is Endemic'

There were 85 cases of forced marriage out of 307 victims of trafficking last year, according to government statistics released in January, although the US State Department 2016 Trafficking In Persons shows that the number of victims may be largely underreported.

The Central Body for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons under Burma's Ministry of Home Affairs said a total of 131 instances of trafficking led to 307 victims, of whom 213 were women and 94 were men. Forty-one were children under 16, according to the office.

China topped the list with 88 cases. Twenty-eight people were trafficked within Burma, while nine were trafficked to Thailand and six were trafficked to Malaysia.

"Human trafficking is still endemic throughout Myanmar," said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of human rights advocacy group Fortify Rights. "Social media apps have been a double-edged sword throughout the region. We've seen traffickers use a variety of platforms to communicate during the last few years in particular.

"We've also documented how trafficking syndicates with links to Myanmar have used international banks, particularly in Thailand and Malaysia, to transfer funds in the buying and selling of men, women, and children.

"It's difficult to say whether trafficking is on the rise in Myanmar because it's a crime in the shadows, but the authorities certainly haven't done enough to combat it. Through its ongoing use of forced labor, which constitutes a form of trafficking, the military is still likely the region's worst offender."

Last June, the United States listed Burma as among the worst offenders in human trafficking. It classified Burma as a Tier 3 country in its Trafficking in Persons report—the lowest possible ranking–and stated that thousands of people displaced by conflict within the country were especially vulnerable to trafficking.

The post Trafficked Woman Reunited With Parents After 13 Years appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Union Govt Demands Former Magwe Division Govt Return Missing Development Funds

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 03:25 AM PDT

RANGOON — Magwe Division chief minister Dr. Aung Moe Nyo threatened legal action against his predecessor if missing regional development funds collected in taxes from small-scale oil producers under the previous government were not returned.

The Union government instructed the previous divisional government led by U Phone Maw Shwe to return over 3 billion kyats including over 1.7 billion kyats allegedly spent on the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

Lower House lawmaker U Tun Tun of Magwe's Pwintbyu Township asked Parliament in May 2016 about the alleged embezzlement of regional development funds by the previous Magwe Division government.

The Bureau of Special Investigations under the Ministry of Home Affairs launched an investigation and found that missing funds amounted to 7.5 billion kyats. The investigation's findings were submitted to the President's Office earlier this month.

"The Union government has instructed the missing funds be returned. If they don't comply, we will take legal action as instructed [by the Union government]," Dr. Aung Moe Nyo told The Irrawaddy.

The Union government sent letters dated April 18 to former Magwe Division chief minister U Phone Maw Shwe and chairman of the Magwe Division Development Foundation and Shwe Thukha Microcredit Association U Nyi Tun asking them to answer for the missing funds.

The letter instructed the two to return 1.7 billion kyats, four cars, a digger, and two boats donated to the USDP through the Magwe Division Development Foundation, as well as over 1.5 billion kyats of funds transferred to the microcredit association.

Lawmaker U Tun Tun said the previous divisional government also needed to provide detailed accounts of its so-called development expenditure of over 4.1 billion kyats from divisional development funds.

"Public funds should only be used for the welfare of the public. It is against the laws of the Union Election Commission to spend [public funds] on a particular party," said U Tun Tun.

"Though it can't be called bribery, it is surely misappropriation," he said.

The current government of Magwe Division also levied a tax on small-scale crude oil producers—3,000 kyats per barrel of crude oil—since June 2 last year, and recorded a taxation of over 1.2 billion kyats until April.

It also recorded an increase of over 1.9 billion kyats in revenues from municipal licensing fees in the 2016-17 fiscal year compared to the previous fiscal year.

The Magwe Division government met to discuss the missing funds on Tuesday.

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Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein: ‘I Do Not Think We Can Build Peace Quickly’

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 12:32 AM PDT

Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein is the former vice chairperson of the Karen National Union (KNU). She is a longstanding KNU leader and has served the organization as a schoolteacher, women's rights activist, general secretary and vice chairperson. Recently she lost a KNU election due to a power struggle within the leadership. Because of her cautious approach to the peace process between the KNU and the Burmese government, she is branded by Burmese peace negotiators and some observers as a hardliner. The Irrawaddy's senior reporter Saw Yan Naing sat down with Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein and asked her about the KNU election, newly-elected leaders and the peace process.

MAE SARIANG, Thailand—

You were not re-elected in the KNU congress. What is the overview of that recent congress?

The elected leaders already had plans for this congress. They believed they would move forward with the peace process smoothly if they were elected. People see two groups within the KNU. They think one group goes along with the peace process but they categorize the other as not loving peace. They call us hardliners—including me.

Burmese peace negotiators and outsiders think people like me and Gen Baw Kyaw Heh [second in command in the KNU's military wing] are hardliners and that we don't support the peace process. This greatly impacts the KNU because even our colleagues categorizes us as hardliners, and spread that information.

This congress is worrisome. International governments including the US and the EU worried about who was elected, and the Burma Army and former government worried about hardliners being chosen.

You said propaganda caused people from the Burma Army and the international community to consider you a hardliner. What is your explanation to them? 

We do not see ourselves as hardliners. There is no one within the KNU leadership who does not love peace. But people think of us as hardliners because we stand firmly on our policy. For example, I do not easily agree with the Burma Army. In a dinner meeting with representatives from the Burma Army, they said they would give two cars for use at a liaison office in Pa-an. But before the liaison office opens, the cars will be used for business. I rejected the idea because we have not discussed business among KNU leaders. I do not agree easily if we are not properly consulted. So, they see me as a hardliner.

Why you are cautious with the peace process? What are your concerns?

It has been over 60 years since we began our armed resistance. We cannot find a solution for peace at once. We have to work carefully and be honest in building genuine peace around the country. We need a good foundation and to go step by step. We have been pressured to go quickly but I do not think we can build peace quickly.

When I met a Burmese government delegation for the first time in 2011, I was doubtful because they said we had to rush to bring peace or else the Burma Army would take back power. I feel like we were pressured and threatened even from the first meeting so I hesitated and lost confidence in the process.

What is your expectation of the newly-elected KNU leaders? 

My biggest concern is the Burma Army. It should withdraw its troops from the KNU territories, especially areas near civilians' homes.

My priority is the withdrawal of troops because there should be safety for displaced civilians. If Burma Army troops withdraw from villages, civilians can return home and live without fear. We have asked for this since 2012 and we believed this would happen after we signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). But it has not happened even a year after signing the NCA and no one mentions it. I want to see the new leaders press this issue for the sake of civilians.

Some newly elected central standing committee members lack political experience, while experienced leaders like you were not re-elected. Do you have any concerns about the new leadership?

It is our ethnic Karen way of thinking; people who love to discuss and debate are not wanted. Some elected leaders do not talk much. They do not complain or point out other people's weaknesses. They worry about being disliked if they complain. Leaders who like to debate are not elected so there is no opposition within the leadership.

There are no women serving as KNU leaders. What is women's role as far as leadership?

Some leaders do not think much regarding the role of women. They think if women are skilled, they will be included in the leadership. And if they are not skilled, they will be excluded. They also think women are talkative and curious because women are not like men. Women are outspoken. But men dare not to speak to each other openly. Women are straightforward.

Women suffer in war. Some serve as local community leaders in conflict areas. Civilian safety is related to women's affairs. Men don't suffer like women. Women suffer even after war. But men do not understand. Making peace is not only about stopping the fighting. It is about ensuring safety for civilians, especially women. Women should be included in the leadership.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

 

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New App Allows User to ‘Walk a Mile’ in a Rohingya Refugee’s Shoes

Posted: 25 Apr 2017 12:03 AM PDT

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A ping on Kathijah's phone. The Rohingya girl picks up the message, it is from her brother Ishak in Burma.

"Kat, r u safe?" he writes. "It was a raid, they found us. Had to run," he said, before sending a video message of him running in a jungle that was abruptly cut off.

It was a conversation between Kathijah, a fictional character, and her brother in Burma on a new smartphone app that gives users a glimpse into the daily struggles of Rohingya refugees who flee political persecution back home.

The "Finding Home" app effectively takes over one's phone by recreating the mobile operating system of Kathijah's handset, prompting users to answer phone calls, text messages or scroll through her photo gallery.

Advertising agency Grey, which built the app in partnership with the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said the "revolutionary" app aims to increase public empathy toward the plight of refugees.

"We wanted to find a way of getting people to really empathize what these people go through, to feel it as if they were going through it," Graham Drew, Grey Malaysia executive creative director, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The app focuses not just on her life back home, but also on how the 16-year-old Kathijah is trying to build a new life in Malaysia.

One conversation involves her talking to a friend about how she is taking classes in English and Malay.

There are some 150,000 refugees in Malaysia, about a third of who are Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence and apartheid-like conditions in western Arakan state in Buddhist-majority Burma.

Many are children who experience struggles similar to Kathijah's.

"The refugee story is often a deeply personal one, and difficult for people to understand," UNHCR Malaysia representative Richard Towle said in a statement on the launch of the app on Tuesday.

"We hope that this application will allow a viewer to walk a mile in a refugee's shoes in order to understand what they go through every day in order to find safety."

The interactive conversations featured in the app were constructed based on interviews with refugees, according to Grey.

The plight of the Rohingya hit international headlines again in recent months after Burma security forces were accused of carrying out mass killings and gang rapes during their campaign against Rohingya insurgents.

It sparked international criticism but a senior Burma government official denied there was any ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.

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Chief Minister Absent as Rangoon Parliament Discusses YBS Shortcomings

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:50 PM PDT

RANGOON — Rangoon Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein was conspicuously absent from Rangoon divisional parliament on Monday as lawmakers' called for a transparent review of the Yangon Bus Service (YBS).

Twenty six lawmakers discussed Insein constituency lawmaker U Wai Phyo Han's review proposal that also charged U Phyo Min Thein to respond to criticism of the service as ill-equipped to serve Rangoon's commuters, submitted on April 6, before the Parliament's Thingyan recess.

Several lawmakers, including U Yan Aung of Mingalar Taung Nyunt constituency, noted U Phyo Min Thein excused himself from both parliamentary sessions, claiming official duties elsewhere, and accused the minister of disrespecting Parliament.

U Phyo Min Thein's official Facebook page displayed no engagements on Monday until he met Vice President U Henry Van Thio at Yangon International Airport at 5 p.m.

On Monday, regional lawmaker Daw Kyi Pyar of Kyauktada Township constituency urged the divisional government to rethink the Yangon Region Transport Authority (YRTA) and to consult experts experienced in public transport.

She requested transparency over government and company profits from YBS, decried the government's lack of preparation and consultation before introducing the new system, and said views of experts, lawmakers, and stakeholders were ignored.

"Policy change should be realistic," she said.

Lawmaker U Than Naing Oo cited a cabinet member who proudly said the National League for Democracy-led government was making 600 million kyats each month through YRTA while the previous Ma Hta Tha organization, formally known as Yangon Supervisory Committee for Motor Vehicles, paid only 6 billion kyats to the government between 1962 and its abolishment last year.

U Than Naing Oo noted that under the previous bus system passengers would pay 200 kyats for a long bus ride, but after the YBS reshuffle long routes were changed and commuters now take two or more buses to reach downtown.

Thus, YBS could be expected to make 600 million kyats per day from 2.5 million commuters.

"This news came as the Rangoon public faced inconvenience on the roads. I was really shocked by the government's attitude," U Than Naing Oo said, adding that public transportation should not be about profits but serving commuters.

The regional government's slogan of "YBS for the public" had changed to "YBS for public disappointment" among residents, lawmaker of Dagon constituency No. 2 U Kyaw Zeya joked.

He said Rangoon Parliament is likely to approve the YBS proposal and the government must listen.

"The voice of Parliament should not disappear into the air," he said.

The chief minister will address Parliament on YBS in Thursday's session, according to lawmakers.

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National News

National News


Applications for 2018 ASEAN Scholarship now open

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:53 PM PDT

Students interested in applying for the 2018 ASEAN Scholarship and study in Singapore can get the application forms from their township education offices for free.

Free children’s paper published in honour of journalist Win Tin

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:51 PM PDT

A 10-page free children's newspaper titled "Zar Ti Man" was published in Mandalay on April 21 to mark the 3rd year of commemoration of the late renowned journalist U Win Tin.

Myanmar prepares for Math Olympiad

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:46 PM PDT

Myanmar will be competing in the 58th International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) this July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Mathematical Society of Myanmar (MSM) announced last Saturday.

Second 21st-Century Panglong Conference to begin on May 24

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:41 PM PDT

The Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) between the government and signatory groups, participants agreed to hold the Second 21st Century Panglong Conference beginning on May 24.

Squatters in Sittwe township relocated to new homes

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:33 PM PDT

Illegal residents in Set Yone Su ward, Sittwe township, Rakhine State have been resettled to Min Gan ward following arrangements by the regional government, said Set Yone Su ward administrator U Nyunt Win.

Peace commission to discuss with DPN possible signing of NCA

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:26 PM PDT

The possible signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) by most of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) members will be discussed when the Peace Commission meets with the council members this week.

Gold vein found in west of Kawlin

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:21 PM PDT

A gold vein has been discovered in Larkar village in the west of Kawlin township in Sagaing Region on April 23, prompting residents in surrounding areas to begin their search for gold.

No malaria in Asia Pacific by 2030: APLMA

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:16 PM PDT

The Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) aims to eliminate the disease in the region by 2030 as it marks World Malaria Day today.

Agricultural development strategy to boost productivity

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:15 PM PDT

With technical assistance from Asia Development Bank, United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization and Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) is developing an agricultural development strategy to boost productivity in the agricultural industry.

Over K155 million earmarked for DMH

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 11:14 PM PDT

A total of K155.65 million will be allocated for the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology, according to the Mandalay regional 2017-18 budget year investment plan, financed by regional funds.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


Govt Sets Date for Second Peace Conference Session

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 08:35 AM PDT

NAYPYIDAW – The government has set the date for the second session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference as May 24, after the first Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) on the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was held in Naypyidaw on Monday.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma Army deputy commander-in-chief Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, and Karen National Union (KNU) chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe delivered the opening speeches at the JICM, attended by representatives of the government, the Burma Army, and ethnic armed organizations.

Participants discussed the fact that two NCA-signatories—the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP)—have, as of yet, been unable to hold national-level political dialogues in their respective states. Talks also touched on possibilities for inclusion of all ethnic armed groups in the peace building process.

It was also decided that the United Nations Secretary-General would be invited to the opening of the second round of 21st Century Panglong conference, according to Khun Okkar, the patron of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO).

He told reporters in Naypyidaw that they had agreed to hold political negotiations at the upcoming conference.

Despite the NCA stating that Union Peace Conference (UPC) sessions need to be held every six months or twice a year, the planned date for the next round of talks was postponed from March, citing scheduling conflicts with the KNU congress.

Prior to next month's peace conference, more non-signatories of NCA—particularly those within the ethnic bloc United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC)—are likely to sign, once their proposed terms are negotiated and agreed upon with the government.

In his opening speech, the Burma Army deputy chief said that some ethnic armed groups had misinterpreted the NCA as a disarmament deal.

"The NCA is not about asking ethnic armed groups to disarm. Everybody knows this. However, some organizations misinterpret signing NCA as being asked to disarm," Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win said.

"Now is the critical time for all Burma citizens to make rapid strides toward the goal of permanent peace and democracy," he said, calling peace a precondition for prosperity.

"I would like to urge ethnic leaders of [NCA] signatory groups to exhort, either in person or through their respective organizations, those who don't understand or who pretend not to understand this [to sign NCA]," he said.

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the chairperson of the government's National Reconciliation and Peace Center, reiterated that she hoped all stakeholders would take part in the peace process and provide input.

"When it comes to permanent peace, I hope [every stakeholder] will think about how they can make progress in the peace process and how they can make peace process more successful, regardless of different views," she said.

Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing had stressed at the previous 21st Century Panglong Conference, in August 2016, that ethnic armed groups needed to abandon their policy of armed struggle in consideration of people, peace and prosperity in their respective regions.

"Our military has a six-point peace policy, and there are also provisions in NCA as well as our military code of conduct," said Min Aung Hlaing's deputy, Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win.

"If ethnic armed groups respect each others' views, non-signatories are likely to sign [NCA]. I hope there won't also be big problems with NCA signatories, and that we will achieve the eternal peace that all of our citizens aspire to," he added.

The NLD government is obliged to take over the duty of the previous government—which run by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party—to implement NCA, as is Burma Army, said KNU chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe, who is also the head of the Ethnic Armed Organizations' Peace Process Steering Team.

"As we have signed the NCA, we have committed to implementing it," he said.

Nyein Nyein contributed to this report.

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English Teacher Arrested in Magwe for Alleged Rape

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 07:23 AM PDT

MANDALAY — A volunteer English teacher in Pakokku, Magwe Division was apprehended and sent to Pakokku prison on Monday for rape charges, according to local police.

Myo Zaw Htwe, a volunteer English teacher at a local charity group was arrested last week for allegedly raping his girlfriend and threatening to post indecent pictures of her on the Internet if she went to the police.

"We received his statement, filed a case under Article 376 of Burma's Penal Code and sent him to prison. The case will be brought to court next week," a Pakokku police officer said.

The incident spread on social media, with many saying the National League for Democracy member had defamed the party's image.

Pictures of Myo Zaw Htwe wearing an NLD shirt and participating in election campaigns were circulated, with netizens condemning him and urging the party to take action.

However, the party office in Pakokku issued a statement that said he was not a party member and that according to office records; he had no affiliation with the party office.

The charity group where Myo Zaw Htwe has volunteered as an English teacher also issued a statement to the effect that this case was a personal matter and unrelated to its affiliated organizations.

The post English Teacher Arrested in Magwe for Alleged Rape appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Is Burma Still Exercising a ‘Neutral Foreign Policy’ with China?

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 07:13 AM PDT

Burma's de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will attend China's New Silk Road summit in May. It will be her third official visit to China.

After the visit, the State Counselor plans to hold the second round of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference.

Her push for peace has been bolstered by assurances from China that it will persuade some ethnic armed groups in northern Burma, including the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA), to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

China's Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang told Wa leaders that China no longer has any commitment to back the UWSA and reportedly asked the Wa to consider signing the NCA.

The Wa remained defiant and surprised observers by denouncing the NCA at a summit of ethnic armed groups in the Wa Self-Administered Division capital of Panghsang in February.

Bao Youxiang, chairman of the UWSA's political arm the United Wa State Party (UWSP), criticized the government-led peace process and called on ethnic armed groups to develop a new ceasefire agreement.

It is difficult to say how China will exert its power and influence to pressure the Wa into entering more meaningful negotiations with Burma's government.

Despite a number of connections between China and ethnic armed groups—through respective militaries, diplomats, cultural and community groups, and businesses—China was unable (or unwilling) to prevent coordinated attacks on military targets in northern Shan State by the Northern Alliance in November last year.

China's Premier Li Keqiang with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China in August 2016. (Photo: REUTERS / Jason Lee)

Whatever the influence China has over Burma's ethnic armed groups, the country will continue to be a key player in Burma as it searches for peace and stability under the civilian government.

But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is facing mounting criticism that Burma is coming to rely on China.

Since she became de facto leader of the new civilian government last year, China's active engagement in the country has been visible and one can also see Burma's strategic rebalance toward its powerful neighbor.

During President U Htin Kyaw's first visit to China, the two countries agreed to promote cooperation in trade and investment, infrastructure development, hydropower and energy projects, and border economic cooperation zones.

China and Burma also signed an agreement on a crude oil pipeline running from Kyaukphyu port in Arakan State to southwest China's Yunnan Province. President Xi Jinping also promised to play a constructive role in Burma's search for peace.

China and Russia voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution on a fact-finding mission to investigate alleged human rights abuses by security forces in Arakan State.

It is ironic that Burma's civilian government led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues to rely on China to avoid scrutiny of human rights by the UN.

Looking at recent engagement between the two countries, can we say that Burma remains under the shadow of China as in the past?

And if so, how will the current government manage simmering anti-China sentiment in the country due to China-backed mega projects and their exploitation of natural resources?

The Elephant and the Lamb

In the past, Burma was distrustful of its giant neighbor. Former prime minister U Nu once famously described China and Burma as "the elephant and the lamb," and expressed fear of China's aggression and potential invasion of Burma in the early 1950s.

Thus, Burmese leaders conceived not to antagonize Beijing, but to adopt a policy of "peaceful co-existence." This fear and apprehension also shaped Burma's foreign policy of neutralism during the Cold War.

U Nu and Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1954. (Photo: Unknown)

Burma was once active in the non-aligned movement, known as NAM. This policy was to assure communist China that Burma was not interested in joining a Western bloc.

The policy was not entirely smooth sailing.

Under Gen Ne Win there were anti-China riots in 1967 whereby both Beijing and Rangoon recalled their ambassadors. Gen Ne Win visited Beijing several times to mend ties.

A year later, China-backed Burmese communist troops crossed the border and waged war against Ne Win's regime. Historically, there has been significant distrust of China by Burma's generals.

In the last two decades of Burma's military regime (1988 to 2010), relations between the two countries warmed.

China provided political and diplomatic support to the repressive regime and supplied arms, infrastructure development, and aid.

The international community, including China, waited to see whether Burma was neutral to Beijing when ruling leaders opened up the country in 2011.

Gen Ne Win and Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou En Lai are welcomed by an honor guard in this undated photo. (Photo: Unknown)

Since then, Burma's active and independent foreign policy has been in full swing.

Relations with the West were normalized and EU and US sanctions were lifted. Leaders U Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited the White House. On a visit to Burma, former US President Barack Obama praised Burma's reforms and cemented ties.

Burma is no longer a pariah in international diplomacy. Appearing to move away from China's orbit, U Thein Sein suspended the controversial Myitsone hydropower dam project when he came into power.

Interestingly, newly appointed military commander-in-chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing selected Vietnam as the location for his first official international visit in 2011, conspicuously not choosing to go to China like his predecessors had done.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing visited Germany and Austria this month and last year was invited to take part in the European Union Military Committee meeting in Belgium. It would not be surprising if he was invited to visit the United States soon.

The United States and Burma have had limited military engagement—in 2014 Lt-Gen Anthony Crutchfield addressed the Myanmar National Defense College in Naypyidaw and in March this year US navy ship USNS Fall River made the first port call by US forces since World War II.

Under Gen Ne Win, Burma would seek Beijing's green light when it wanted to engage the West, but today this ceases to be the case.

Burma no longer practices a neutral foreign policy with China. The situation is still that of U Nu's elephant and lamb, but the geo-political strategic re-balance between China and Burma is on full display as it unfolds.

The post Is Burma Still Exercising a 'Neutral Foreign Policy' with China? appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Sniffer Dog Welfare Group Founded in Memory of ‘Sergeant Michael’

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 05:11 AM PDT

RANGOON — A charity group for the welfare of Burma's sniffer dogs will be established following the death of Rangoon's five-year-old German Shepherd bomb squad member during the Thingyan water festival.

Sergeant Michael died of gastrointestinal problems on April 15. His handler family said the cause of his death was possibly intense fatigue, brought on after carrying out continuous missions as the only sniffer dog on duty in the country's biggest city.

Filmmaker Ma Kyi Phyu Shin said she founded the "For Brave Dog" welfare group along with other dog lovers. It will be launched officially on May 15, on the one-month anniversary of Michael's death. The group will use Michael's picture as its logo, she added.

The government had granted a monthly stipend of 40,000 kyats (just under US$30) for Sergeant Michael's care to his handler family. Ma Kyi Phyu Shin emphasized that trained sniffer dogs need thorough care and that the government allowance for their maintenance is not sufficient in even covering the cost of their food.

"[Taking lessons from Michael's death], the group's purpose is to help the welfare of existing and future sniffer dogs like Michael, which are valuable to the country and serve the public," she told The Irrawaddy.

The welfare group plans to donate 30,000 kyats monthly for every sniffer dog that will be on duty after finishing training at the Central Military Dog Training Academy (Mingalardon), Ma Kyi Phyu Shin explained. In addition to monetary donations, the group will provide necessary medical care for the on-duty sniffer dogs with the assistance of veterinarians across the country, she added.

"These dogs might not know that they are serving a duty to the country while performing exactly what their handlers ask them to do."

"Such obedience is very beneficial for the country," she told The Irrawaddy, referring to Sergeant Michael's help in finding four explosive devices in Rangoon last year.

Michael carried out his duties at nearly 600 important events in Rangoon and Naypyidaw during his four-year service with the squad, including working during the 2014 visit of former US President Barack Obama to Burma, as well as the 2013 Southeast Asian Games, state-level events, presidential visits, football matches, and motion picture academy awards ceremonies, according to his handler Lance Corporal Aung Phite.

Rangoon regional government's police authorities have bought two yellow Labrador Retrievers that will be assigned as the city's sniffer dogs after training at the Mingalardon academy for six months starting in August.

There are four sniffer dogs on duty with bomb squad teams in Burma, assigned separately in the capital Napyidaw, as well as in Rangoon and Mandalay. Rambo, a one-and-a-half year old black Labrador, will fill in for Michael until the police have more trained dogs to take on the role.

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Rangoon MP: Owners of Unlawful Game Centers Should be Punished—Not Employees

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 05:01 AM PDT

RANGOON — A lawmaker has called for clearer definitions of illegal gambling machines sometimes found in "game centers" in Rangoon and more accountability for the owners of such firms.

MP U Than Naing Oo of Panbedan Township asked Rangoon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe in a divisional parliamentary session on Monday to specify illegal gambling machines in game centers—also known as amusement arcades—as the 19th century legislation in use is too vague.

He cited the police shutdown of City Center located near Bogyoke Market in his constituency, which was raided on the charge of illegal gambling in early February. Nineteen employees were arrested, all of whom were detained in Insein prison.

U Than Naing Oo said some have been released on bail but did not give an exact number.

City Center owner Dr. Thein Myint, granted a license to run the business in 2009, and the firm's manager were not charged, said U Than Naing Oo, adding that the workers believed the center was legally operating under the permission of the authorities.

He said most of the employees were graduates who had come to Rangoon to seek work.

"Some of them had weddings planned and others were going to attend their graduation ceremonies," he said.

"The people responsible for game centers like these are escaping conviction while the young, innocent people who work there are being jailed. It's a great loss."

The lawmaker told The Irrawaddy that he would raise the issue again in the coming days in parliament and emphasized the need to release the young employees of City Center.

Organized gambling is illegal in Burma under the 1899 Gambling Act, which forbids "advancing or furnishing money for the purpose of gaming" and "using the instruments of gaming for the profit or gain of the person owning."

A person partaking in gambling can be punished with at least six months in prison if found guilty. A business owner allowing gambling can receive one year in prison and have their business license revoked.

Police targeted the game center, said U Than Naing Oo, because it had a fish catching group video game, known as the "Shark Game" locally. The Irrawaddy has observed other game centers in downtown Rangoon that use the same machines.

"The issue of specifying what machines are illegal is the responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce," said U Maung Maung Soe, answering on behalf of the city's Security and Border Affairs Minister Col. Tin Aung Tun.

"We will provide a list [to U Than Naing Oo] of all licensed game centers which are officially operating on the ground."

He said authorities regularly visit the 43 Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC)-licensed game centers in Rangoon to see if they are following rules and regulations.

YCDC began allowing game centers to provide entertainment in the form of video games, arcade games, small rides, dance machines and shooting galleries in 2013.

U Maung Maung Soe added that the government stopped issuing new licenses in 2014 and the game centers required the recommendation of local police and several government departments.

In late October 2016, two National League for Democracy lawmakers asked the regional parliament whether the government would address unlawful game centers.

Border affairs minister Col. Tin Aung Tun promised the lawmakers that if his department discovered game centers acting illegally they would take action against the owners.

He said YCDC would reconsider whether existing permits should be extended or halted and that Rangoon Division Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein would personally supervise the license approval process.

"Call me immediately if officials fail to arrest unlawful game center owners and I will deal with it directly," Col. Tin Aung Tun told the lawmakers.

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NLD Spokesperson Reminds Lawmakers to Act ‘With Dignity’ Following a Recent Incident

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 04:22 AM PDT

The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party spokesperson reminded lawmakers to behave appropriately and in line with the law, following an incident two weeks ago in Tenasserim Division.

A video of a Tenasserim divisional lawmaker slapping a villager during a dispute went viral on Facebook on Saturday.

NLD spokesperson U Nyan Win told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the party has requested that the concerned lawmaker submit a report.

U Nyan Win said he could not comment on the incident until a report was filed and deliberated, adding that laws did not permit the lawmaker's actions.

"Everyone must be treated equally under the law and that applies to the lawmakers," he said. "Thus, parliamentarians must behave better and with dignity."

The incident happened on April 8 when Tenasserim divisional lawmaker U Ye Myint Swe went to inspect a new school building in Pawa village, more than an hour by boat from Tenasserim town, according to U Aung Thu Ra, a Tenasserim lawmaker.

Two weeks later, the short video was posted, widely shared and criticized on social media.

U Ye Myint Swe slapped villager Ko Tun Hla when he allegedly harrassed a woman while a debate regarding school building materials carried on around him.

"As you can see in the video, Ko Tun Hla sexually harrassed a woman and [U Ye Myint Swe] slapped him, but Ko Tun Hla blocked the slap," said U Aung Thu Ra.

The lawmaker later apologized to the villager and they settled the matter.

This incident has raised larger criticisms online regarding the actions of lawmakers.

In early 2014, U Ohn Myint, the former minister of livestock, fisheries and rural development, was under fire in Union Parliament after issuing a verbal threat that he would slap anyone who insulted or opposed the [former] government.

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The Military Ties That Bind

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 02:01 AM PDT

A military delegation led by Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing left on Sunday for a goodwill visit to Germany at the invitation of Chief of Defense of the German Armed Forces General Volker Weiker. It is the senior general's second visit to Europe. He went to Belgium in 2016 to attend the European Union Military Committee, where he stated that Burma Army representation in Parliament was still necessary because of the country's delicate multi-party democracy.

This story, originally published by The Irrawaddy in August 2011, charts the history of close relations between Burma's military rulers and Germany's Fritz Werner GmbH Company.

Geisenheim is a small town in the State of Hessen of the Federal Republic of Germany that hosts a plush old spa of sumptuous beauty, where since Roman times people have bathed amidst lush forests beneath the Taunus Mountains. To the surprise of all visitors, in the middle of a vineyard near the town is a grand, Burmese style house.

The Myitta Paungku Beikman (Love Connection Monument), was built by former Burmese dictator Gen Ne Win and donated to the Fritz Werner GmbH Company (FWG) on Jan. 1, 1971 as a sign of appreciation for the company's assistance in preserving him and his much-hated military regime in power.

FWG is a Berlin-based company which since 1896 has specialized in machinery for the production of small arms and ammunition. The company, which played a vital role in Germany's WW I efforts, has cultivated a unique relationship with the Burmese ruling elite over the years. There is a great deal of mutual trust between FWG and the Burmese regime, whose military-minded leaders look for characteristics such as reliability and discretion in a business partner.

After WW II, FWG was wholly-owned by the West German government, falling under the jurisdiction of the government's Ministry of Economy. The company was bought with money from the Marshall Fund which was meant to rebuild industries that were destroyed during WW II, a war which FWG helped fuel with its machinery for the production of weapons and ammunition.

In 1948, Burma gained independence from Great Britain, and FWG struck up its partnership with the new Burmese government in 1953. The German company's first project was the production of the BA52 submachine gun—aka the Ne Win sten.

Burmese soldiers who violently cracked down on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising were armed with the Fritz Werner GmbH Company's G3 automatic rifles. (Photo: Alain Evrard / Impact Photos)

Beginning at the time of this original contract, Ne Win cultivated friendly relations with FWG, both diplomatically and personally. Fritz Werner technical advisors posted in Rangoon had continuous access to the dictator, a rare privilege not extended to the representatives of other foreign firms. The fact that FWG was owed by the West German government itself created a close personal relationship between the two governments, causing some to say that Burma was the friendliest nation toward West Germany in Asia.

FWG's secretive Burmese operations, which have often been shrouded under a veil of mystery, got into full swing in 1960 when the West German Ministry of Defence gave the company permission to produce G3 rifles in Burma and it later established its first weapons factory on the outskirts of Rangoon with the assistance of the West Germany arms company Heckler & Koch.

The factory was supervised by German engineers from the German Technical Corporation Agency (GTZ). Until the production of that plant started, the Burmese regime used FWG as the middleman to purchase G3 rifles through Düsseldorf based arms producer Rheinmetall, which shared production with Heckler & Koch.

In 1961, West Germany's Foreign Office in Bonn granted permission to export 10,000 G3 rifles as well as four million rounds of ammunition manufactured by Metallwerk Elisenhütte Nassau (MEN), an FWG subsidiary, to Burma. The West German government had "no reservations" about authorizing further transfers, even when Ne Win toppled the democratic government of U Nu in 1962—Rheinmetall received permission from Bonn to sell 12,000 G3 rifles and 800 MG42 machine guns, and MEN received permission to export 18 million rounds of ammunition. Then in 1969, the West German Foreign Office permitted FWG to export machinery for the production of explosives, as well as a complete rolling mill for sheet brass.

With the assistance from West Germany, the self-sufficiency of the Burmese armed forces increased continuously, and the Burmese military often used German-produced weapons to oppress the Burmese people and various ethnic minority groups, especially after Ne Win and the military seized power in 1962.

For example, on July 7, 1962, just three days after the military's Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) was formed, the students of Rangoon University organized a peaceful demonstration inside the Campus. The Burmese military— equipped with G3 automatic rifles—fired into the crowd of thousands of students, killing over 100 and injuring many more. The next morning, the military blew up the Rangoon University Student Union building, which was a treasured historical monument of the Burmese struggle to gain independence from Great Britain. The building was blasted to pieces by heavy explosives, and every trace of it removed.

During the 1988 democratic uprising, over 3,000 people were once again killed by Burmese troops using German-produced weapons. Despite this, the West German government welcomed Ne Win as a guest of FWG in March 1988. In addition, after the military coup by Burmese Gen Saw Maung in Sept. 1988, the West German Federal Ministry of Economics gave permission for FWG to export machinery for the production of ammunition.

Not only did FWG set up three plants in Rangoon and Prome to produce the vast majority of armaments required by the Burmese military, they also served as a conduit for all importation of raw materials, machine parts and chemicals used in explosives production.

Burmese soldiers who violently cracked down on the 1988 pro-democracy uprising were armed with the Fritz Werner GmbH Company's G3 automatic rifles. (Photo: Alain Evrard / Impact Photos)

The cozy relationship between the West Germans and the Burmese military was something of a closely kept secret until 1988, when the democracy uprising and surrounding political crisis blew the lid off the Burmese situation and drew the attention of the whole world. Due to international pressure brought upon the West German government by the horror of the Sept. 1988 coup, it suddenly became one of the outspoken critics of the Burmese regime, as if it didn't know before how many Burmese had died at the hands of Burmese troops firing West German weapons.

The German government did, however, suspend development co-operation activities with Burma, including negotiations regarding Burmese debt cancellation, and ceased authorization of arms shipments to Burma. But regardless of assertions made by the Germans that FWG was no longer participating in the production of weapons and explosives inside Burma, and that technical co-operation had been reduced to a minimum, the manufacture of explosives and weapons continues to date, and German employees of GTZ remain in the country, disguising their true field of expertise.

Despite Germany's hasty withdrawal of economic support from Burma after the 1988 crackdown, it didn't take long before FWG found an opportunity for renewed investment. In 1990, FWG formed a joint venture with the Burmese military, a partnership that was made possible thanks to an old US $500 million loan that the West German government had made to Burma in the 1960's.

FWG stands by itself in Burma, and the joint venture grew out of a very personal relationship between the company and the Burmese generals. This personal relationship has helped preserve the Burmese military regime in power, despite the various insurgencies and unrest in the country.

Following the uprising in 1988, the European Community and the US began imposing economic sanctions on Burma, identifying the high incidence of human rights abuses by the military regime as the primary reason for imposing sanctions. However, the annual reports of the German Federal Office for Export and Trade proves that licences for the export of dual-use-goods were authorized nearly every year, despite an EU arms embargo established in 1991.

In 1999, Germany even allowed the Burmese regime to renovate the notorious "Myitta Paungku Beitman" in Geisenheim.

On May 4, 2011, during a Burma Conference in Berlin, Dr. Markus Löning, Germany's Federal Government commissioner for human rights policy and humanitarian aid, pushed for more engagement with the Burmese military regime and for the modification of sanctions on Burma.

For many Burmese activists, Germany is just paying a lip service to the human rights situation in Burma. A cable revealed in a 2009 Wikileaks report indicated that Germany exported sophisticated equipment to Burma, which was followed by a visit of German diplomats to the factories where the machinery was installed.  In 2009-10, Germany was the biggest trade partner of Burma in the European Union.

The suffering of the Burmese people at the hands of their military rulers is undeniable. The irresponsible investments by foreign firms and others are not benefitting the people of Burma, but only contributing to the torture, persecution and killing of the many ethnic nationals, monks, students and activists who are struggling for democracy inside Burma.

For the Burmese people, FWG's cooperation and partnership with the Burmese regime has been extremely discouraging. It is time for Germany to start listening to the cry of the Burmese people for democracy, and start building a real, people to people, Myitta friendship that will live forever.

The author is a former student activist and chairman of Camp Thaybawboe run by the ABSDF. At present, he is a member of the KNU Foreign Affairs Relations efforts.

The post The Military Ties That Bind appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Police, Army Provide Security After Deadly Elephant Rampage in Irrawaddy Division

Posted: 24 Apr 2017 12:59 AM PDT

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Division — Police and Burma Army soldiers were brought in to provide security in Sin Puu Kone village of Irrawaddy Division's Thabaung Township after two rampaging wild elephants killed a 59-year-old villager on Saturday morning.

Thabaung Township Police Force dispatched over 20 police officers to the village to work alongside the general administration department and forest department in response to the rampage that also damaged local farmland.

"The elephants are still near the forest outside the village—we could not scare them away," chief of Thabaung Police Station police Capt. Myint Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Sunday. "We had to explode firecrackers at night to keep them away."

U Than Win, 59, was trampled to death by the elephants on his way into the forest, he said.

Soldiers from the No. 308 Light Infantry Battalion of South-West Command initially joined police to provide security on Saturday, but left later in the evening.

"Police plan to scare the elephants away in collaboration with the forest department personnel and local residents," said Thabaung Township Lower House lawmaker U Thein Tun.

"If that does not work, police will corner the wild elephants using the forest department's tamed elephants ridden by skilled mahouts, anaesthetize the wild elephants, and transport them back to the forest," he said.

Wild elephants often visit the villages of Thabaung, Ngapudaw, Ngwe Hsaung, and Chaungtha in the Irrawaddy Delta, adjacent to the western Pegu Mountain Range, during the hot and cool seasons in in search of food.

They often damage local race paddies and other crops and cause human casualties.

The post Police, Army Provide Security After Deadly Elephant Rampage in Irrawaddy Division appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Burmese Military Delegation Continues European Goodwill Visit

Posted: 23 Apr 2017 10:26 PM PDT

A delegation led by Burma military chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Austria on Sunday to meet with the Chief of Defense Staff of Austrian Armed Forces as part of the delegation's European trip to Germany at the invitation of Chief of Defense of the German Armed Forces General Volker Weiker.

The delegation, including the senior general's wife Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, Chief of the General Staff (Army, Navy and Air) General Mya Tun Oo and senior military officers from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief (Army), left Burma on Saturday. The Burmese military stated that the purpose of this trip was a goodwill visit.

For Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the trip is his second visit to Europe. He went to Belgium in 2016 to attend the European Union Military Committee, where he stated that Burma Army representation in Parliament was still necessary because of the country's delicate multi-party democracy.

The Burmese military and Germany have had a good relationship in the past. When ex-dictator Gen Ne Win was in power, he inked a partnership with the Fritz Werner GmbH Company (FWG) that got into full swing in 1960 when the West German Ministry of Defense gave the company permission to produce G3 rifles in Burma and later established its first weapons factory on the outskirts of Rangoon with the assistance of the West Germany arms company Heckler & Koch.

The post Burmese Military Delegation Continues European Goodwill Visit appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Environmental Challenges Confronting Northern Chin State

Posted: 23 Apr 2017 10:16 PM PDT

TEDIM and FALAM TOWNSHIPS, Chin State — Chin State is considered one of Burma's least-developed and most impoverished areas, but it is also a region of great natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Project Maje, an independent Burma information project, has conducted research in Tedim and Falam townships and written a report titled Unsheltered Heights: Northern Chin State's Environmental Issues.

As seen in this photo essay, issues facing the region include mining, deforestation, energy needs and watershed protection.

The deadly floods brought by Cyclone Komen in 2015 caused hundreds of people in Chin State to lose their homes in landslides and the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation reported that over 190,000 acres were flooded on the plains of neighboring Sagaing Division.

With climate change, more flood-causing conditions are expected. Protecting northern Chin State's vital watershed is now more urgent than ever.

Northern Chin State is at a crossroads. Its people may be led toward resource extraction and terrible "natural" disasters or it may instead choose a more cautious and well-informed path to sustainability and self-sufficiency.

The full report can be read here.

Edith Mirante is founder of Project Maje, which distributes information on Burma's human rights and environmental issues, and author of "The Wind in the Bamboo."

The post Environmental Challenges Confronting Northern Chin State appeared first on The Irrawaddy.