Wednesday, October 7, 2015

National News

National News

'2015 is like the pre-exams … in 2020 it will be very different’: Ko Nay Phone Latt

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 11:33 PM PDT

Ko Nay Phone Latt knows quite a bit about what happens when politics and technology collide. He's a third-generation National League for Democracy member – now running on the party's ticket to take a seat in the Yangon Region Hluttaw. He speaks to Catherine Trautwein about Myanmar's changes and how social media will impact the November 8 election.

Refugees watch election with interest, trepidation

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Outside of Nai Soi village in northern Thailand, more than 14,000 refugees from Kayah State debate elections going on just across the border. While there will be no voting for those in Thailand's largest refugee camp – most lack ID cards – that doesn't mean they don't have opinions about the coming polls.

Heavy rain warning issued

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Monsoon season won't be exiting quite yet, as a low-pressure area continues to hover over the Bay of Bengal. The rain will continue this week, with downpours expected along the coastal and upper reaches of Myanmar, according to the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology.

Big tourism increase forecast for Bagan

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Despite the doubling of the entry fee to the Bagan tourist zone over the past two years, and discouraging news of floods and explosions, officials expect visitor numbers to continue to grow "dramatically" in the near future.

WB funds to light up villages

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Power is coming to the people – the village people, that is.

WWF reveals ‘treasure trove’ of Himalayan species

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Scientists rarely discover mammals anymore – especially not ones as eccentric as noseless monkeys that sneeze every time it rains. But the critically endangered snub-nosed monkeys of Kachin State, discovered in 2010, were one of 211 new species found between 2009 and 2014 in the widely diverse slice of land hugging the eastern Himalayas, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

Relocated villages face water shortages

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

More than 8000 people relocated for a hydropower project near Nay Pyi Taw say they are facing severe water shortages.

Shwe Pyi Thar workers launch hunger strike

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Angered that the establishment of a national minimum wage has led to effective pay cuts of about 30 percent, workers from the Han Jen garment factory in Yangon's Shwe Pyi Thar township have mounted a hunger strike.

Up to 1 million still missing from Yangon voter list

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

Yangon's electoral rolls are still short 1 million domestic migrants, according to the regional election commission's count. Those hoping to jump on the election bandwagon are only being given a very narrow window to amend their absence on the list, however, with officials advising applications to correct the errors be sent in by October 10.

KIO: ‘We can’t sign if the govt does not accept all groups’

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 02:30 PM PDT

The Kachin Independence Organisation is one of the largest groups refusing to join a nationwide ceasefire agreement which the government intends to sign with a minority of armed ethnic factions on October 15. KIO deputy chief of staff Major General Gun Maw spoke to senior reporter Ye Mon of The Myanmar Times at a summit of armed ethnic organisationsin Chiang Mai, held from September 28 to 30, when divisions among them dealt a blow to hopes that a genuine "nationwide" ceasefire would be reached.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

Partial treaty signing cast a long shadow on political arena

Posted: 07 Oct 2015 06:21 AM PDT

Reportedly, the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) is going to take place in Naypyitaw, on 15 October. As the government's long planned, "open book" signing of the NCA becomes a reality, together with its 7 or 8 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), the political battle line is again redrawn, from the all-inclusiveness ceasefire signing to partial-ceasefire arrangement, that is supposed to be sold by the regime as being a nationwide one, to the public and as well, to the international community.

Regarding this controversy, the UNFC and it's leadership came up with a series of rebuttal and spelled out on how flawed the regime's insistence of partial-ceasefire, to be taken as all-encompassing, covering the whole ethnic conflict spectrum.

UNFC Statement

The 7 point United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) Statement of 3 October, argued that the 70 odd years of civil war is due to the fact that political grievances of the non-Bamar ethnic nationalities have been  adequately addressed, to be resolved through political means.

It went on to explain that the UNFC had met twice with the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), the regime's peace negotiation organ, informally twice in 2013 and the UNFC headed, Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) have had a 17 month-long peace negotiation, including the last four months deliberation of the ethnic armed organizations-senior delegation (EAOs-SD) to break the ice, but was derailed, due to the government's rejection of the all-inclusiveness participation of all EAOs, in the NCA.

To pinpoint its concern of the validity regarding the government's undertaking, the paragraph 5 writes: "As the NCA is going to be signed by only some organizations, it cannot be a decisive and  complete one, because  according  to  the  provisions  of  the  NCA,  only  if  all  the stakeholders  participate  in  the  various  levels  of  political  dialogue, including  the formulation of political framework, the Code of Conduct for troops of the two sides, rules  governing  the  ceasefire  etc., the  UNFC  believes  sincerely  that  a  genuine  and meaningful  political  dialogue  can  be  attained  and  lasting  and  durable  peace  can  be established."

The statement accused the regime's offensives of the government on the EAOs, during the entire negotiation process, as a big stumbling block to the peace process and called on the people and international community to support its efforts as follows: "Due  to  the  situations  mentioned  above,  the  people  and  the  international  community are  urged  to  support  and  make  effort  concertedly  for  the  emergence  of  genuine political dialogue and peace in the country. For the achievement of genuine peace and political  dialogue,  from  the  step  of  inclusive  signing  of  the  NCA,  the  UNFC  on  its part, will strive on, after finding pragmatic means and ways."

Nai Han Tha

Nai Han Tha, Vice-Chairman of the UNFC, when asked by the DVB, on 4 October, regarding the intention of the UNFC Statement replied: "We have formed NCCT, SD and negotiated with the government. But it (the regime) don't want to accept our all-inclusiveness (proposal) and opted to go ahead according to its pattern (of signing) with groups it could muster. On the other hand, it couldn't be taken as nationwide ceasefire and it is not appropriate. If ceasefire will be done only with some groups, battles will continue to occur in some places and (I) don't see it as a way to achieve peace, leading to ceasefire. And if political dialogue is to be held, without all-inclusiveness, we foresee that our struggle for genuine peace and long-lasting, stable, peacefulness couldn't be established."

He further elaborated by mentioning the people and international empowerment of the nationwide ceasefire, he meant that the people and international community should help strengthen the real ceasefire that encompass nationwide, leading to all-inclusive political discussion.

He said that this half-baked pattern of undertaking would not be able to speedily materialize a long-lasting, stable peace and development that the people have longed for; and thus, the people should strive for all-inclusive ceasefire and political discussion.

The international community has been urged that it also should, through this appropriate approach, weigh in with various help to achieve the said result.

Major General Gun Maw

In an interview with the The Irrawaddy on 3 October, Major General Gun Maw, Vice Chief of Staff of Kachin Independence Army (KIA), when asked, regarding the issue on how to term the regime's version of NCA, when it is just partial-ceasefire arrangement, replied: " I've talked about this two or three times at the summit meeting. If only a faction of the group is signing, it is not going to be complete and comprehensive. It will be just signing an NCA draft. Only if all signed, it could be called NCA."

Concerning the future cooperation and coordination of the NCCT members, which now are divided in a "signing" and "non-signing" groups, Gun Maw, according to  DVB report on 3 October, said: "We need to discuss about some ideological points. For example, drawing the framework within 60 days and starting political dialogue after 90 days would be meaningful only after the comprehensive signing of NCA. But if some would sign and the others won't do, (we) would need to decide among us, whether this NCA is a comprehensive NCA or not. It will depend on this."

The same report clarified the NCCT position by Gun Maw as: "Since the NCCT is formed by the (EAOs) conference with principles and policy, we need to discuss this separately, for the "signing" group members are still involved in the NCCT. But if NCCT would continue to exist, we would have to ask if the Law Khee Lar and Laiza conference resolutions would be adhered to or not. That's why when the signing group members are ready, we need to find answer to this issue."

The latest DVB interview with Gun Maw of today (7 October) pinpoint and clarify the Kachin and EAOs' position on some of the main unclear issues as below:

·         The government has said very often that it agreed on principle to include these groups (MNDAA, TNLA, AA) in the NCA; and to find a way to make it happen. But to this day, we have not seen them make any effort towards that.

·         The KIO, based on our past experience, suggested that even if we cannot sign the NCA, we are ready to join the political dialogue if it will be genuine. Now, however, the government has said that the groups that refuse to sign the NCA can only join the dialogue as observers. So it is as if the government are blocking us when we try to come up with solutions. At the same time, the government are saying they will allow the groups such as the LDU [Lahu Democratic Union] and [WNO] Wa National Organization to join the dialogue even though they will not be signing the NCA.

·         The ethnic armed groups have often stressed the unlawful association issue. Not because we want to be off the list for our own sake, but because we must prevent harm to the civilians that make contact with us or work with us in the peace process. No group regards themselves as an unlawful association

·         The government often stressed the issue of time. We responded that it is their responsibility to keep with the schedule. We understand that we are still going to have to continue efforts to resolve the country's issues, perhaps with a new government after the elections. We don't see the time factor as a valid excuse to rush the NCA signing. Whether the next government will continue the process or not isn't a question because it will have to. We assume that there are a lot of party interests behind the agenda to rush the NCA signing ahead of the elections.

·          It is unlikely that the KIO would attend (political dialogue phase)as an observer.

Padho Naw Zipporah Sein

Vice-Chairperson of the Karen National Union (KNU), Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein told VOA, on 5 October, that the regime should include Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang national Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), so that the process will become all-inclusive. She went on to stress that ongoing armed conflicts in Kachin and Shan States are  stumbling blocks to the ceasefire process and that drawing up military code of conduct (CoC) and all would be only meaningful, if the peace process is all-inclusive.

CNF Statement

The 2 October, 8 point CNF Statement said that even though all the EAOs cannot participate in the NCA signing, it will continue to strive for all-inclusiveness from within; and that it will try to secure the Union Accord and amendment of the 2008 Constitution through political dialogue, which had failed to amend the constitution during the parliamentary session, a few months ago.

RCSS/SSA debacle

According to SHAN report of 5 October, although the 7 EAOs have agreed to sign the NCA with the government, on 15 October, at Naypyitaw, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) is still not sure to participate.

"When we come to the meeting (in Rangoon), the central committee meeting hasn't decided anything yet. That's why (we) can't be sure to sign on the government's fixed date or made decision to sign it," said RCSS/SSA adviser, Khuensai Jaiyane.

During the month of September, series of battles were fought between the RCSS and the Burma Army, as it made an ultimatum that the RCSS should move back to the east of Salween river to Mong Hta area.

The Burma Army offensive, using helicopter gunships, has angered the RCSS and forced to rethink its position, which normally has been keen to ink the NCA against all odds. Besides, insider sources said that some 30 point agreement made between the military and the RCSS for three years in Kengtung, has never been fulfilled, except for a few points. And it wanted to discussed about it, before making the decision to sign the NCA.

Meanwhile, SHAN report of 6 October said that the Tatmadaw has launched offensives on SSPP/SSA positions around its Wan Hai headquarters, employing hundreds of troopers, making a mockery of U Aung Min's recent assurance that the government won't attack the groups that are not yet signing the NCA, but will honour the bilateral ceasefire agreement already signed. This renewed armed engagement with its northern brethren could also add more doubtfulness to sign the treaty for the RCSS, which is on the verge of deciding whether to say yes or no.

However. the latest RCSS insider report today (7 October) confirmed that it will participate in the government initiated signing of NCA.

Khun Okker

Surprisingly, Joint-Secretary(1) of the UNFC, Khun Okker, who is also the patron of the Pa-O national Liberation Organization (PNLO) that is going to sign the NCA, has quite a different point of view, concerning the UNFC Statement.

He outlined a couple of reasons for signing the NCA of 7 EAOs, in an interview with the Media Initiatives for Democracy News on 5 October.

·         First, the treaty should be signed with the government that has initiated the ceasefire proposal.

·         Second, it is the best situation to sign for the government and military relationship is at best – for the regime also stems from the military – and would strengthen the agreement.

·         Third, the next in-coming government after the election is unknown and also not sure, whether it will carry on with the peace process.

·         Finally, the benefit of being exempted from Unlawful Association Act, Section 17/1 and 17/2, would give the EAOs the opportunity to interact with their people and political parties, during the election period and beyond.

He added, that the big EAOs like Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA) and New Mon State Party (NMSP) are just waiting to see how the NCA will pan out in reality – i.e., if the President and Commander-in-Chief will be involved in the signing -  and that has been the real reason why they have been refraining from signing it immediately.

In the same interview, when asked why battles have been raging in Kachin and northern Shan States with those groups like TNLA and KIA, he replied: "There are four big groups, SSPP/SSA, KNPP, KIA and NMSP that have not consented to sign (the NCA). At this moment battles are occurring in Kachin and northern Shan States. This is called stratagem. By doing that, some groups (might consider) if the NCA is signed the battles could be stopped. But if (they) refused to sign because of the battles, (they) could be left out and could be dangerous for them. It is not known whether the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) would like them to be all involved (in the NCA) or not. Groups that are entitled but left out could be the Tatmadaw's liking. This is dangerous and I see this as Tatmadaw's trap, for by creating troubles (some groups) might not dare to sign. If the NCA is signed, Tatmadaw cannot do anything. If the Commander-in-Chief signed it, armed attacks could not be done. (The military) has created a situation before the signing and those left out groups could be to its liking. (The military) could take military actions by blaming them either with extortion (of the population) or new recruitment (for the EAOs). Whether the left out groups are more secure by signing or not signing is doubtful. I see that we have written the NCA and if after signing, if it is violated, we could make use of the treaty and demand (justice). But without signing, (we) can't ask for ceasefire."

Further questioning on if the Tatmadaw has laid out traps and attacking the EAOs, Khun Okker replied: "It could be, it is pressuring (them) to sign by military attacks and also, out of desperation, (creating a situation) that groups be left out (of signing the NCA), or to mentally (psychologically) disturbed the ethnic leadership."

Karen Civil Society Organizations

Mizzima report of 5 October reported that 41, domestic and international, Karen civil society organizations made a collective, joint statement that they have no confidence and doubtful of the 7 EAOs' NCA signing, which includes three Karen armed organizations. The statement was released on the 4 October.

Mahn Orlando, spokesman for all international Karen organizations and Vice-Chairman of the Australian-based Karen organization told Mizzima that the recent undertaking cannot be called nationwide ceasefire, as only 7 EAOs are involved in the process. He said. "The EAOs have decided in unison (for all-inclusiveness). But now only 7 will sign. Concerning the groups that are not yet ready to sign, U Aung Min self had said that as a first step, the ones that are ready could sign and those that are not ready could follow suit and participate in the political dialogue phase. But now, it is said that groups that are not ready to sign will be only allowed to attend as observers, in political discussion. This kind of mixed statements are unbelievable and make (people) doubtful."

Furthermore, there has been no reduction of armed conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, but seen only escalation, which questions the government's good-will and sincerity on peace process and ceasefire.

"We see the Burmese government is continuing to make use of its traditional system of holding fire in one hand and water in another (carrots and sticks)," stressed Mahn Orlando.

The 41 Karen Civil Society Organizations recommendation are as follows:

For the peace process to succeed in bringing actual peace it should not be rushed or forced. We earnestly recommend that:

1.       It is time for the leaders of the EAOs and the government to find a realistic and acceptable alternative that will bring all conflicting parties into agreement.

2.       Alternatives always exist if firstly there is enough democratic space for all concerned stakeholders to be involved, secondly, there is real commitment to respecting the needs and will of the people, and finally, there is a sincere will to address the root causes of the conflict to bring about lasting peace.

3.       The small group of KNU leaders and the EAOs leaders, who decided to sign, should seriously consider the unifying call for the inclusiveness of all ethnic armed groups.

Perspective and recommendations

In sum, the latest development on NCA deliberation has taken a nasty turn, for the government has to do a lot of explanation on why it's recent undertaking deviates from the original version and aim of nationwide and become just partial-ceasefire signing ceremony.

Some even go so far as to compare the recent government initiated NCA signing as a "still-born" baby.

The likely answers would be the accusation of the regime on the EAOs, who refused to sign and blamed them as unreasonable, denying to give due credit to the government. But at the same time, the regime is striking another reconciliation posture that it has the intention to make it all-inclusive in the course of time, by saying that this is just an initial first step of signing with the 7 or 8 EAOs, which will eventually absorb the rest of EAOs that have so far refused to yield to the regime's initiated signing of NCA.

However, the 10 EAOs that have refused to go along said that it would stick to their all- inclusiveness signing and won't budge from their position, reiterating that only real nationwide participation in the NCA inclusively could formulate the framework for political dialogue (FPD), military code of conduct (CoC) and ceasefire joint monitoring committee (JMC), but not with only the 7 or 8 EAOs that have partial-ceasefire agreement with the regime.

As a result, the diplomatic opinion-making war might have been already started with the UNFC openly soliciting the public and international community to help them achieve a real nationwide ceasefire, rather than the government initiated partial one that would reach nowhere.

At the same time, the regime is busy enlisting the UN, EU, China, India, Thailand and various international observers to attend the ceasefire signing ceremony, scheduled to take place in Naypyitaw, on 15 October.

Given the lessons learned, when the government prematurely hailed the NCA draft outcome of 31 March this year as a final breakthrough, posturing as if the nationwide ceasefire agreement was already sealed, the UN and EU happily jumped to endorse and congratulate the regime, which later have put them in an awkward position, as it turned out to be just the government's manipulation of the situation.

It is hoped that this time around, the world body and concerned international community will be more careful with the government's version of NCA, for actually it is just a partial one in every sense of the word. 

Besides, as recommended by the EU, in its Meeting Report, of 23 May 2014, Yangon, titled "Looking forward in Myanmar's peace process: How can the EU and civil society provide constructive support?", the international community should participate as a "witness" or "monitor" the peace process, with lessons learned from other countries like the Philippines and makes international participation in peace monitoring  more effective.

The EU and the international community should use its funding to support a "level playing field" for all stakeholders involved in Myanmar's peace process.

And most importantly, the EU and the international community should consider providing penalties in addition to incentives. The EU has provided many financial incentives but there are not enough penalties for failures to meet commitments.

Finally, people are at loss, as to why the regime and the military have not follow the repeated, well-meaning suggestions from well-intended quarters, to declare unilateral ceasefire, withdraw their front line units to their respective mother units, lift the Unlawful Association Acts on all EAOs, freeing all political prisoners, who  have been imprisoned because of the Unlawful Association Act, to level the political playing field, once and for all.

Most are convinced, that if the above mentioned suggestions are implemented today, all the EAOs would flock to Naypyitaw to sign the NCA, without even having to woo them, one little bit. Actually, the choice to make it or break it is with the Union Solidarity and Development Party-Military regime.

Flood disaster in eastern Shan State was man-made

Posted: 07 Oct 2015 06:11 AM PDT

The devastating impacts of August's floods in eastern Shan State, which destroyed homes and farms in four villages and killed five people, were the direct result of unregulated logging and rubber monocropping in this remote mountainous area along the Mekong River.

The floodwaters originated in the Loi Phalang mountain range, running east from Tarlay, in Tachileik Township, to the Mekong River. These mountains have been heavily logged since the mid-1990s, with timber exported along the Mekong to China and Thailand. Most of the valuable timber, such as rosewood, has long been stripped off lower slopes, but logs of various species remain piled up on remote hilltops, waiting to be sawn into blocks for export.

On the lower hillsides, biodiverse forests have been replaced by monocrop rubber plantations. Rubber trees carpet the hills all along the 37-mile road from Tarlay to the new Laos-Myanmar Friendship Bridge at Keng Larb.   

These elements laid the foundation for August's flood disaster. On the evening of August 3, heavy rainfall washed heaps of felled timber down from mountaintop logging sites. These logs were pushed along five main streams, where they formed giant log jams. 

As rainfall continued, water pressure built up behind the logs, compounded by fast runoff from the rubber plantations, long stripped of absorbent undergrowth and topsoil.  Finally, in the early hours of August 4, the log jams burst apart, sending a deadly torrent of timber, rocks and mud down into the valley below. 

The Shan village of Wan Kai, directly in the path of the Nam Kai stream, was the worst hit. Residents were awoken by a thunderous crashing, and rushed frantically from their homes to flee the torrent. Four people, including the one-and-a-half year old child of a local schoolteacher, were swept away and perished. Twenty-three houses were completely demolished.

All of the paddy fields of the Lahu village of Nam Wan were destroyed by the deluge of logs and rocks. A young farmer, who had slept in his fields, disappeared that night. His body has not yet been found.

Although Burmese government soldiers from Mong Phyak came to clear mud and rubble from the roads soon after the disaster, there has been no attempt yet to clear the devastated fields. The main local livelihood is rice farming, but villagers now fear, if their fields cannot be restored, they have lost not only this year's harvest but also future harvests.
While local villages are suffering the terrible costs of this disaster, those who authorized and profited from the logging and rubber concessions that caused the tragedy remain unscathed.

This flood disaster must serve as a wake-up call for Burma's policymakers. Current development policies are reckless and unsustainable, serving the interests of only a few outside investors, while destroying the environment, lives and future of local people.  
President Thein Sein, formerly the Triangle Regional Commander, who prides himself on his close links to eastern Shan State residents, should take a long, hard look at the legacy of his presidential term in this area. The deluge of mud speaks volumes.  

By JAPHET JAKUI / Director, Lahu National Development Organisation (LNDO)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

EU-Funded Trade Development Program Launches in Naypyidaw

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 05:38 AM PDT

   A worker stands near crates of fish at a fish export factory at Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone in Rangoon, April 19, 2013. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

A worker stands near crates of fish at a fish export factory at Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone in Rangoon, April 19, 2013. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

RANGOON — A three-year European Union-funded program to help streamline new trading opportunities for Burma was launched during a ceremony in Naypyidaw on Tuesday.

The EU-Burma Trade Development Programme, with a budget of €10.5 million (15 billion kyat), aims to strengthen Burma's economy by "facilitating trade and removing trade barriers," according to an EU press release issued on Tuesday.

"It is essential to make the best use of the opportunities of international trade and preferential market access, such as to the EU, for the widest benefit of the Myanmar people," EU Ambassador to Burma Roland Kobia said in the statement.

Kobia attended the official inauguration ceremony in Naypyidaw on Tuesday alongside Burma's Commerce Minister Win Myint.

According to the EU statement, the program aims to strengthen consumer protection, enhance quality control, simplify customs procedures and modernize trade infrastructure.

The fishery and beans sectors will be the program's initial focus. Fish exports already flow to the EU, while the beans sector requires improvements regarding packaging, post-harvest handling and regulatory compliance, the EU said.

In cooperation with the commerce ministry, the program will run until 2017, with additional funding contributed by EU-member Germany.

The EU exported €500 million (US$561 million) in goods to Burma in 2014, while its imports from the country totaled €400 million (US$449 million), according to European Commission statistics.

The post EU-Funded Trade Development Program Launches in Naypyidaw appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Fresh Clashes in SSPP Territory after Ceasefire Rejection

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 05:22 AM PDT

Shan State Army-North soldiers on the frontline in 2012. (Photo: Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy)

Shan State Army-North soldiers on the frontline in 2012. (Photo: Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Fighting has erupted near the Mong Hsu Township headquarters of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), the armed wing of the Shan State Progressive Party, with no casualties reported so far despite three hours of pitched battle.

Around 300 troops from the military's Eastern Command in Taunggyi clashed with the rebel group between 8:40am and midday on Tuesday, according to SSPP spokesman Lt-Col Sai La.

"The base that was attacked is an important frontline on the route to our headquarters in Wan Hai village," he told The Irrawaddy. "The government's troops were still present in the area until Tuesday afternoon. We are still collecting information as to whether there were any casualties."

The clash is the first since the Burma Armed Forces shelled areas under SSA-N control near Wan Hai on Aug. 7. Sai La speculated that the attack may relate to the SSA-N's decision not to sign the nationwide ceasefire accord, which the government is aiming to conclude on Oct. 15 with the support of seven ethnic armed groups.

“We don’t know the reason why we are being attacked, but it has coincided with the time we have announced our decision not to sign the ceasefire agreement,” he said.

The SSA-N renewed a 1989 bilateral ceasefire with the government in 2012, the year after two of its three brigades agreed to reconstitute themselves as a pro-government Border Guard Force. Since then, the rebel group says it has fought with government troops on more than 100 occasions and has since lost five base camps to the military.

In August and September, areas under the control of the Shan State Army-South, the armed wing of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), also came under attack in Loilen district.

In response to the clashes, the RCSS banned political parties from campaigning in several Loilen townships for the Nov. 8 general election, which was lifted on Thursday. The RCSS has been named as a possible signatory to the nationwide ceasefire agreement, but has yet to commit to the accord.

Sai Kyaw Hla, the secretary of the Shan Nationalities Development Party (SNDP), which is contesting most constituencies in Shan State, told The Irrawaddy that if fighting continued in Loilen district, his party would have to reevaluate its plans to campaign in the area.

"As there is lack of access to communication in thise areas, we have not heard about [Tuesday's] fighting," he said. "But we planned to go there to campaign this week—we will have to reconsider.”

Additional reporting by Kyaw Kha.

The post Fresh Clashes in SSPP Territory after Ceasefire Rejection appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

‘Election’s Coming… Time for Another Amnesty!’

Posted: 06 Oct 2015 03:09 AM PDT

'Election's Coming... Time for Another Amnesty!'

‘Election’s Coming… Time for Another Amnesty!’


The post ‘Election’s Coming… Time for Another Amnesty!’ appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Indian Parliamentarian Charged with Raping 14-Year-Old Maid

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 10:50 PM PDT

  The veiled mother of a teenage girl who was raped and hanged from a tree in an unrelated incident in northern India, May 31, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

The veiled mother of a teenage girl who was raped and hanged from a tree in an unrelated incident in northern India, May 31, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

GUWAHATI, India — A politician in northeastern India has been arrested and charged with raping his 14-year-old maid, police said, after a month-long investigation which triggered public protests by students over the authorities' lack of action.

Police in the tea- and oil-rich region of Assam said state legislator Gopi Nath Das had gone into hiding in early September after his maid accused him of raping her in his car.

"Gopi Nath Das has been arrested today," Indrani Baruah, Kamrup district superintendent of police, said late on Sunday, adding that he was picked up near Guwahati, Assam's main city, after a police search which involved raids at three residences.

The legislator, who is in his late 50s, has been charged under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, Baruah added.

Das, an MP with the opposition party All India United Democratic Front, has denied the charges and said there is a political conspiracy to malign him ahead of state elections next year, police said.

Reports of employers abusing their domestic workers are common in India, including failure to pay them or provide adequate food and shelter, making them work long hours, and even locking them up. Some are subjected to physical and sexual violence.

But the abuse is difficult to detect as it is hidden within the home, and under-reported because victims are often frightened to go to the police.

In November 2013, an Indian parliamentarian and his wife were arrested after their maid was found dead in their Delhi home. The MP was charged with concealing evidence and his wife with murder. The case has not yet come to court.

The post Indian Parliamentarian Charged with Raping 14-Year-Old Maid appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Historic Pacific Trade Deal Faces Skeptics in US Congress

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 10:45 PM PDT

 Melinda St. Louis speaks during a protest outside the hotel where the Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministerial Meetings are being held in Atlanta, Georgia, September 30, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Melinda St. Louis speaks during a protest outside the hotel where the Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministerial Meetings are being held in Atlanta, Georgia, September 30, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

ATLANTA — Twelve Pacific Rim countries on Monday reached the most ambitious trade pact in a generation, aiming to liberalize commerce in 40 percent of the world's economy in a deal that faces skepticism from US lawmakers.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact struck in Atlanta after marathon talks could reshape industries, change the cost of products from cheese to cancer treatments and have repercussions for drug companies and automakers.

Tired negotiators worked round the clock over the weekend to settle tough issues such as monopoly rights for new biotech drugs. New Zealand's demand for greater access for its dairy exports was only settled at 5 am EDT (0900 GMT) on Monday.

If approved, the pact would cut trade barriers and set common standards from Vietnam to Canada. It would also furnish a legacy-shaping victory for US President Barack Obama, who will promote the agreement on Tuesday in remarks to business leaders in Washington.

The Obama administration hopes the pact will help the United States increase its influence in East Asia and help counter the rise of China, which is not one of the TPP nations.

Lawmakers in the United States and other TPP countries must approve the deal. Five years in the making, it would reduce or eliminate tariffs on almost 18,000 categories of goods.

Initial reaction from US Congress members, including Democrats and Republicans, ranged from cautious to skeptical.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, warned the pact would cost jobs and hurt consumers. "In the Senate, I will do all that I can to defeat the TPP agreement," he tweeted.

Many of Obama's Democrats, as well as labor groups, fear the TPP will cost manufacturing jobs and weaken environmental laws, while some Republicans oppose provisions to block tobacco companies from suing governments over anti-smoking measures.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who heads the Senate Finance Committee, was wary. "I am afraid this deal appears to fall woefully short," said Hatch, who had urged the administration to hold the line on intellectual property protections, including for drugs.

US lawmakers can approve the deal or vote it down, but not amend it.

Currency, Drugs, Dairy, Auto Policies

Ministers said the agreement would include a forum for finance ministers from participating countries to discuss currency policy principles. This takes into account, in part, concerns among US manufacturers and critics who suggest Japan has driven the yen lower to benefit its car exporters and other companies.

But Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell from Michigan, home of the US auto industry, said currency has not been fully dealt with. "Nothing that we have heard indicates negotiators sufficiently addressed these issues," she said.

The United States and Australia negotiated a compromise on the minimum period of protection to the rights for data used to make biologic drugs. Companies such as Pfizer Inc, Roche Group's Genentech and Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical could be affected.

The agreed terms fell short of what the United States had sought. Under the deal, countries would give drugmakers at least five years' exclusive access to clinical data used to win approval for new drugs. An additional period of regulatory review would likely mean drug companies would have an effective monopoly for about eight years before facing lower-cost, generic competition.

Politically charged dairy farming issues were addressed in the final hours of talks. New Zealand, home to the world's biggest dairy exporter, Fonterra, wanted increased access to US, Canadian and Japanese markets.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said the deal would cut tariffs on 93 percent of New Zealand's exports to the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Peru. "We're disappointed there wasn't agreement to eliminate all dairy tariffs but overall it's a very good deal for New Zealand," Key said.

The United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan agreed to auto trade rules on how much of a vehicle must be made within the TPP region to qualify for duty-free status.

The TPP would give Japan's automakers, led by Toyota Motor Corp, a freer hand to buy parts from Asia for vehicles sold in the United States, but sets 25-30 year phase-out periods for US tariffs on Japanese cars and light trucks.

The deal between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam also sets minimum standards on issues ranging from workers' rights to environmental protection.

Trade ministers said the TPP would in future be open to other countries, including potentially China.

"There is a real opportunity for China to be a part of this," Malaysian Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said.

Though Obama painted the deal in part as a way of stopping China from writing the rules of the global economy, China's Ministry of Commerce broadly welcomed the agreement in the hope it would "promote and make common contributions to Asia-Pacific trade, investment and economic development."

The post Historic Pacific Trade Deal Faces Skeptics in US Congress appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Thai Junta Picks 21-Member Panel to Write New Constitution

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 10:36 PM PDT

 Thailand's National Reform Council (NRC) members attend a session in which a vote on a draft of a new Thai constitution takes place, at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, September 6, 2015. (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters)

Thailand's National Reform Council (NRC) members attend a session in which a vote on a draft of a new Thai constitution takes place, at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand, September 6, 2015. (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters)

BANGKOK — Thailand's military government appointed a new committee Monday to write a post-coup constitution after an unpopular earlier draft was rejected last month in a move that has delayed elections until at least 2017.

The new 21-member committee will start work Tuesday and has six months to write its draft charter, which needs approval from the legislature before being submitted to a national referendum, said Meechai Ruchupan, a legal expert and former Senate speaker who also led a panel that drafted another post-coup constitution in 2007.

Meechai told reporters that one of the committee's first items of business will be to decide whether to start from scratch or work from the draft rejected last month. A junta-appointed legislature dismissed the proposed charter that sparked strong opposition from almost all sides of Thailand's political divide.

The committee includes lawyers, academics, and civil servants, said Deputy Prime Minister Visanu Krua-ngam.

The junta-appointed legislature's dismissal in Sept. of a draft written by a junta-selected committee marked what analysts called a clear sign of the military government's desire to stay in power longer, despite having initially promised quick elections.

The junta, which seized power in a May 2014 coup that overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has said it will put in place a constitution that protects against corruption and abuse of power before holding new elections.

Critics say that any new charter under the junta will be aimed at preventing a political comeback by Yingluck's brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the revered king. Thailand has remained divided since, with Thaksin's supporters and opponents struggling for power at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

Meechai led a panel that drafted the post-2006 coup's constitution and made clear Tuesday it wasn't his choice to head the latest Constitution Drafting Committee.

"On Friday, Prime Minister Prayuth invited me over," he told journalists Monday, referring to the former army chief who led the coup and is now serving as interim prime minister. "I asked him how necessary is it for me to take the job? And he said, 'It's very necessary. It's unavoidable.'"

One of the most contentious provisions in the draft rejected last month was the amount of power given to the military. It included provisions for a 23-member panel, including military members, that would have been empowered to take over from the parliament and prime minister in times of "national crisis." Almost all parties criticized it, and the draft risked being voted down in a referendum that had been planned for early next year.

The post Thai Junta Picks 21-Member Panel to Write New Constitution appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Cambodia Seeks Way Out of Post “Killing Fields” Mental Health Crisis

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 10:28 PM PDT

Pen Lay, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, is seen in his house in a hamlet in Cambodia's Angkor Chey district, September 21, 2015. (Photo: Astrid Zweynert / Reuters)

Pen Lay, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, is seen in his house in a hamlet in Cambodia's Angkor Chey district, September 21, 2015. (Photo: Astrid Zweynert / Reuters)

PREAH AONG KAR, Cambodia — Hing Phon thought she was losing her mind when night after night terrifying nightmares jolted her awake as she dreamt of her husband, eldest son and 18 other relatives being killed by the Khmer Rouge during their brutal reign in Cambodia.

Pitting poorer farmers against richer ones, the Khmer Rouge inflicted extreme cruelty and violence on people in her village in the southern province of Kampot when they took control of the area in the early 1970s.

"So many nights I could not close my eyes because the memories of my loved ones would haunt me," the 81-year-old said, resting in the shade outside her house in a hamlet some 120 km (75 miles) south of the capital Phnom Penh.

"We lived through a nightmare," she said, her back stooped from years of forced labor in the fields during Pol Pot's "year zero" quest to create a classless, agrarian society.

During the regime's genocidal wave of terror from 1975 to 1979, at least 1.8 million people—about a quarter of the population—died through torture, execution, disease, overwork or starvation.

It is a legacy that left millions of Cambodians with psychological scars the impoverished country is ill-equipped to deal with due to deep-rooted mistrust and a lack of money for reconciliation and mental health treatment, experts said.

Cambodia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, a study by the Royal University of Phnom Penh said, with 27 percent of those surveyed suffering from acute anxiety and almost 17 percent from depression.

It also has more people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder than any other nation, with estimates ranging from 14 to 33 percent, compared to a global average of less than 0.4 percent, according to a study by the US-based Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.

Even though Cambodia is training more health professionals in post-conflict trauma, there are fewer than 50 psychiatrists in the country of 15 million people, the study said.

Living Cheek by Jowl With The Enemy

One of the locals who joined the Khmer Rouge was Pen Lay, the son of a poor farmer in a village just a few minutes' drive away from Phon's.

Lay said he was recruited by force and had no choice but to arrest villagers before they were executed by the Khmer Rouge.

"They ordered me to do these things. I had to do it or die myself," said the frail 58-year-old, speaking in his native Khmer through a translator. He smiled nervously as he related how he almost starved when the Khmer Rouge forced him to clear forests.

Experts say that throughout Cambodia villagers are living side by side with the alleged killers of their loved ones.

Despite Buddhist teachings that help to contain conflict many find it hard to accept that the guilty walk freely among them.

A 2011 study by the University of California, Berkeley found two thirds of Cambodians would like to see perpetrators "hurt or miserable" and that one third would seek revenge if they could.

Amid this apparent desire for vengeance, the "Victim-Former Khmer Rouge Dialogue Project" is a rare attempt to reconcile villagers and heal society.

Run by the local charity Kdei Karuna and the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Cambodia, the project brought former Khmer Rouge soldiers together with civilians in a seven-month-long reconciliation programme.

Tim Minea, executive director of Kdei Karuna, said the process was fraught because of decades-old hostility.

"It is difficult, especially to take the first steps, because often people don't even want to talk to each other," the sociologist said.

Reconciliation is further complicated by the fact that many former Khmer Rouge soldiers see themselves as victims too, a fact many survivors find hard to accept, he added.

"I also lost my father and my brother. My youth was severely disturbed and then I lived in fear [of retribution] for so many years," said Lay, the former soldier.

For Phon the most salient moment in the reconciliation process was when Lay said his actions during the Khmer Rouge regime were wrong and immoral.

Justice But Not Reconciliation

A handful of Khmer Rouge leaders accused of atrocities during the 1970s "killing fields" era are being tried by a UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh. It kicked off in 2006 but has so far only secured three convictions.

While the tribunal has helped to bring some justice, Cambodia still has a long way to go towards reconciliation, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM), the country's leading research centre into the Khmer Rouge atrocities.

"We're stuck in the victim/perpetrator view of our history," he said.

A textbook about the genocide published by DC-CAM and distributed to schools in 2009 has helped to improve understanding but only a few international donors have earmarked funds for reconciliation projects, he said.

Seventy percent of Cambodians were born after the genocide but almost everyone has a family member who was killed, tortured or forced into hard labor by the Khmer Rouge.

Praying Together

Four years after the end of the reconciliation project, participants say it has helped them come to terms with the past and improved relationships between the villagers.

Phon says she still has some sleepless nights but feels more at peace now thanks to the project and her Buddhist faith, which was banned by the Khmer Rouge.

"We all share the same blood. There can't be harmony for future generations if we don't reconcile," she said, watching some of her 21 grandchildren play in the garden.

This month the villagers will gather at the local pagoda to mark Pchum Ben, an annual festival honoring their ancestors, and pray at a stupa built to commemorate the killing of 400 people there by the Khmer Rouge.


Tes Ding, a 65-year-old former monk defrocked by the Khmer Rouge and forced to work in the fields, wants to find funds to extend the area where people can sit to pray around the stupa, surrounded by paddy fields the Khmer Rouge used as mass graves.

"Our country will never be at peace if we feel hatred towards each other," he said.

The post Cambodia Seeks Way Out of Post "Killing Fields" Mental Health Crisis appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

A Place to Call Home for Those Living with Leprosy

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 07:58 PM PDT

Click to view slideshow.

The multi-ethnic residents of Naung Kan leprosy colony in eastern Shan State share surprisingly similar stories.

After contracting the disease, many were forced to leave their mountain villages in the heartland of the Golden Triangle and wander the countryside on their own—in some cases for decades—until arriving at this colony run by Catholic nuns around 5 miles from Kengtung.

After several visits, I became increasingly curious as to how these ethnic minority residents remained so strong after being ostracized from their communities so many years ago.

Dramatic photographs that focused on their sometimes startling deformities would naturally evoke pity. But they deserved more than this. These people weren't helpless victims; they were survivors.

Despite their predicament, they were still fiercely independent and retained their pride. Everyone fended for themselves as much as they could manage.

Most cooked their own meals and kept their private spaces clean. Some residents raised their own chickens. Others rose each day to work in the colony's gardens.

Burma still reports some 3,000 new leprosy cases annually and the capacity to detect cases in remote or conflict-affected regions remains problematic.

The residents of Naung Kan may have lost their place in the world after contracting the disease but, here, they have found a new place to call home.


The post A Place to Call Home for Those Living with Leprosy appeared first on The Irrawaddy.