Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


Suu Kyi Strikes Agreements With Thailand On Labor and Borders

Posted: 25 Jun 2016 02:04 AM PDT

 Burma's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha witnessed the singing of agreements on labor cooperation and cross border affairs in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Burma's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha witnessed the singing of agreements on labor cooperation and cross border affairs in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

BANGKOK, Thailand — Burma's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has told Burmese migrant workers in Thailand they would be protected under new agreements signed between the two countries.

She also said jobs would be created in Burma for thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand who stand to be repatriated, and that the two countries would cooperate over border issues.

Suu Kyi was speaking at a joint press briefing with the Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok on Friday.

After a bilateral meeting, the two leaders witnessed the signing by respective ministers of agreements on cross border affairs and the employment of workers, and a memorandum of understanding on labor cooperation.

These may help address the vulnerabilities—and lack of adequate legal protection—faced by what is estimated to be several million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Suu Kyi said, "I am confident that, because of mutual understanding between us, we will be able to address all the issues and problems of our people in the right way through consultation and through constant contact between decision makers."

She guaranteed the protection of Burmese migrant workers' rights, which would also help them to contribute to the host country's economy.

She said, "I recognize that we in [Burma] are responsible for our people here. We will never neglect them."

Suu Kyi on Thursday went to meet with Burmese migrant workers from all over Thailand in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon province. Tens of thousands showed up to demonstrate their support for her and to share experiences of labor exploitation.

Her visit to Thailand has not all gone to plan. At Mahachi, she was permitted by Thai authorities to meet with less than 500 workers, leaving thousands disappointed. Also, her trip to the Tham Hin camp for Burmese refugees on the Thailand-Burma border in Ratchaburi province on Saturday was cancelled on the grounds of her security.

Job creation for refugee return

Despite being unable to visit the refugee camp, Suu Kyi stressed her appreciation of Thailand's support to Burmese refugees over decades.

She said, "Of course, what we all want is for people displaced from our country to come back to us." But, she said, it was not enough say to "come back"—jobs have to be created for them.

"Job creation is of the greatest importance for the country. On every trip I have been on in [Burma], people talk about the need for jobs," she said.

"Our people want work. They don't want charity. They want to have the opportunity of standing on their own two feet and feeling proud," they said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut said they had achieved "concrete results" on bilateral affairs, including the protection and promotion of the basic rights of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, a three-year development cooperation framework (2016-18) for border areas, and issues of connectivity and economic cooperation.

They also touched briefly on Thailand's continued support for Burma's peace process, as well as the development of the Dawei special economic zone in Burma's Tenasserim Division, which the leaders agreed would creates jobs and further connectivity (and which has received substantial Thai pledges of investment).

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies in Chulalongkon Univeristy, told The Irrawaddy that Thailand supports Suu Kyi's peace initiative with ethnic armed groups in Burma—now branded the "21st Century Panglong Conference"—"but they agreed not to discuss the matter [during Suu Kyi's trip] because it is too sensitive. Thailand, as you know, supports the peace process fully."

Education key for Asean

On Friday morning, Suu Kyi , who is Burma's Foreign Minister as well as State Counselor, met with the Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, before giving a lecture to Thai students at the ministry office, which emphasized the importance of education.

During Suu Kyi's lecture, "Myanmar, Asean and the World: The way forward," she received questions on economic and social issues, drugs and Burma's peace process, students told The Irrawaddy.

Sasicha Chaiphanonwit, an International Relations student from Chulalongkon University, said, "it was good to learn [Burma's] policy on Asean."

Over 200 Thai students from a variety of universities and some international students from Burma, Cambodia and Bhutan expressed clear excitement at meeting with Suu Kyi.

Mu Sel, a Burmese student from Rangsit University who attended, said, "She questioned us on what we want to be in in the future and how we can contribute, while talking about further connectivity and networking in the region."

Kavi Chongkittavorn told the Irrawaddy that Thai-Burmese relations were of great importance to Southeast Asia. "For some 50 years," he said, "Thailand did not have normal relations with Burma because of mistrust."

The post Suu Kyi Strikes Agreements With Thailand On Labor and Borders appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (June 25, 2016)

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 07:56 PM PDT

A Heineken Beer factory outside Rangoon in 2015. Recent years have seen the entry of big international brewers, European and Japanese, into Burma's thirsty beer market. (Photo: Reuters)

A Heineken Beer factory outside Rangoon in 2015. Recent years have seen the entry of big international brewers, European and Japanese, into Burma's thirsty beer market. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma Makes UN List of Top Investment Destinations

Burma is one of the top 15 prospective destinations for investment among the executives of companies operating globally, a survey by a UN agency has found.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD, released its annual World Investment Report this week, which included the results of a survey of multinational enterprises (MNEs).

Reflecting increasing interest in Burma's economy, the country featured among the 15 "top prospective host countries" for investment for the first time. The survey found that 4 percent of MNE executives who responded to the survey selected Burma among their three most promising countries for future foreign direct investment (FDI) for the years 2016-18.

Burma was the eighth ranked developing economy in the list and the 14th ranked out of all countries. The United States was ranked first, followed by China, which was first in last year's survey.

Burma also featured elsewhere in the UNCTAD report, which refers to the massive growth of in FDI approvals the country has seen. The government reported that approved projects in the last fiscal year, from April 2015 to March 2016, were altogether worth US$9 billion. That included a last-minute rush of deals signed by the outgoing administration, some of which may be reviewed by the new government.

According to UNCTAD, which looks at the foreign exchange records and other sources to analyze FDI, the actual inflow of investment was $3 billion during 2015 (the report looked at calendar years), an increase of almost 200 percent compared with the previous year.

UNCTAD also predicted positive things for investment in Burma in the future.

"In August 2015, the Governments of [Burma] and Thailand signed an agreement to develop the Dawei Special Economic Zone in the former, for a total investment of $8.6 billion, to be implemented in two phases," the report said. "FDI flows to [Burma] are therefore set to continue performing well, as the construction of such foreign-invested industrial zones will help boost FDI into both infrastructure and manufacturing."

Reuters reported earlier this month that new FDI approvals had been on hold since the transfer of power to the new government at the end of March.

A fresh Myanmar Investment Commission had now been formed, however, and its secretary, Aung Naing Oo, told the newswire that about 50 foreign investment proposals worth a total of around $2.3 billion had been submitted during the commission's downtime.

 Hong Kong Trade Body Sees Manufacturing Potential

Improving political conditions in Burma could make the country more attractive to firms in southern China looking to move manufacturing to Southeast Asia, a Hong Kong trade body has said.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council said in a statement that a delegation of researchers visited the country recently to study the potential for production.

Facing rising wages for Chinese workers, manufacturers in the Pearl River Delta—a sprawling conurbation that includes the cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou—are "relocating their production lines to Southeast Asia," it said.

The researchers said the transfer of power to the National League for Democracy-led government in late March should "usher in national policy reforms and lay the groundwork for the development of the country’s manufacturing sector."

The government's commitment to reform could make Burma "Asean's next low-cost manufacturing powerhouse, a hotspot increasingly drawing the attention of international sourcing companies," the statement said.

On the plus side, Burma has plentiful and cheap labor, the statement said, noting "a ready pool of young workers for manufacturing industries including garment, footwear, timepieces and food processing."

However, training and skills were lacking, and the water supply, sewerage and power supply they found in Burma were poor, HKTDC's researchers warned. "In terms of infrastructure, the country is still at a starting point compared with more advanced Asean countries."

"The market expects that the receding of political risks and the smooth transition of government will attract a new wave of investment from overseas," Dickson Ho, HKTDC principal economist for Asian and emerging markets, said in the statement.

"During our fact-finding trip, both government departments and private companies that we met were invariably quite optimistic about the economic prospects of the country."

 Myanmar Brewery to Sell Kirin Ichiban Beer Brand

As competition increases among beer producers to tap the Burmese beer-drinking market, Myanmar Brewery Limited will begin bottling and widely distributing the Japanese beer brand Ichiban in the country, according to a report.

European brewers Heineken and Carlsberg both started making beer in Burma last year, entering a market dominated by the military-linked Myanmar Beer brand.

Also last year, Japanese company Kirin reportedly paid US$560 million for a 55 percent stake in Myanmar Beer's producer, Myanmar Brewery, after Singapore's F&N offloaded its share following a legal dispute with the local shareholder, Union Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL). The conglomerate was founded by the Burmese military and recently became a public company—although most shares in UMEHL are expected to remain in the hands of serving or retired military personnel.

Nikkei Asian Review reported that Myanmar Brewery and Kirin will "produce canned and bottled Ichiban"—the Japanese company's signature beer, whose name means "Number One."

It said the beer would be a "premium offering" in Burma, selling for prices comparable to Heineken.

"With a target of having 200 retail stores carry Ichiban by the end of the year, Kirin will step up marketing to supermarkets and other businesses in urban areas," the report said.

 Thai Lion Air Gets Approval for Busy Rangoon Route

Thai-Indonesian low-cost airline Thai Lion Air has now received approval to begin flights on the already competitive route between Bangkok and Rangoon, according to reports.

Trade publication Routes Online said the new flights would begin on July 22. It said there would be two flights daily each way between Bangkok's Don Mueang airport and Rangoon's international airport.

The airline had jumped the gun and announced it would begin flying in May, before being censured by the Thai government for advertising tickets for flights on the route before it was approved by Burma's Department of Civil Aviation.

The Bangkok Post on Wednesday cited insiders who said the delay was the result of attempts by Burmese airlines to oppose the entrance of a foreign competitor.

The route is already well served, with Thai AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways, Thai Smile and Nok Air, as well as Myanmar Airways International and the Burmese flag carrier Myanmar National Airlines currently connecting the two cities.

 JetStar Adds Singapore Flights After Visa Move

Singapore-based budget airline JetStar Asia will increase its number of flights on the Rangoon-Singapore route to 13 per week when a new visa rule comes in, according to The Straits Times.

From Dec. 1, Singaporeans and Burmese will be able to visit each other's countries for 30 days without a visa.

JetStar Asia CEO Bara Pasupathi reportedly said three new flights between Singapore and Rangoon would be added to the airline's schedule at that time.

"The announcement of a visa waiver for travel between the two countries is indeed welcome news for boosting further tourism and more convenient business travel," Pasupathi told The Straits Times.

"We have served a million customers on this route thus far, and our additional services will cater for the expected increase in people flow between Singapore and [Rangoon]."

The post The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (June 25, 2016) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Kachin Warlord Loses Parliamentary Seat in Post-Election Tribunal

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 07:42 PM PDT

A view of the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw during its opening session on February 8, 2016. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A view of the Union Parliament in Naypyidaw during its opening session on February 8, 2016. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Veteran Kachin militia leader Zahkung Ting Ying will have to forfeit his seat in the Union Upper House, according to a decision reached by a post-election dispute tribunal under the Union Election Commission (UEC) in Naypyidaw on Friday morning.

Zahkung has the option of appealing the tribunal's decision, although it is not currently clear whether he will do so.

Zahkung was defending two cases involving intimidation, defamation and alleged violence during the election campaign period last year. The cases in question were filed by rival independent candidate Yaw Na and a National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate, San Wai Khaung Lwan, who competed in another constituency in the same area of eastern Kachin State.

As an independent candidate in the November election, Zakhung won the Upper House seat of Kachin State-5, covering Chipwi, Tsawlaw and Injingyang townships, a sparsely populated area home to fewer than 20,000 people, according to the 2014 census. He was lawmaker also under the previous government, from 2011.

Zahkung's NLD competitor, Kyaw Kyaw Oo, who was among those targeted by the alleged intimidation and violence, did not file a tribunal case himself out of fear for his safety, according to his colleagues. This prompted his party colleague San Win Khaung Lun to do so on his behalf.

As was reported previously by The Irrawaddy, Zahkung sent a letter to NLD candidates on Sept 22, early on in the election campaign period, forbidding them from campaigning in "Kachin State Special Region 1"—an area coinciding with his electoral constituency controlled by Zahkung's own militia, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), which is firmly allied with the Burma Army and became a Border Guard Force in 2009.

Although the Kachin State Election Sub-Commission negotiated a settlement between Zahkung and the NLD, allowing the latter's candidates to campaign in the area, on Oct 12 the NLD candidates abandoned a planned campaign event in Chipwi Township after its members were attacked by around 30 men allegedly linked to Zahkung and the NDA-K.

Zahkung issued two more threatening letters on Oct 21 and Nov 1, calling the NLD "invaders" and "public enemies," and personally attacking Aung San Suu Kyi for "betraying her people" by marrying a foreigner. Copies of the letters were available for public view outside the UEC during the tribunal sessions.

The UEC tribunal on Friday ruled in favor of the two cases against Zahkung Ting Ying, citing his breach of Article 66 of the Upper House Election Law, which outlines electoral "malpractices" including "creating violence, making false accusation or writing, creating public unrest to a party or person for the purpose of electing a [parliamentary] candidate."

San Wai Khaung Lun, who filed one of the cases, told The Irrawaddy: "The commission ruled that Zahkung Ting Ying committed malpractices in the election. So, we won."

"Zahkung Ting Ying has been recalled from Constituency 5 [of Kachin State] and will be replaced with U Yaw Nar," Tin Tun Thein, a lawyer representing the NLD at the tribunal session told The Irrawaddy, since independent candidate Yaw Nar was the runner up in the poll with around 3,000 votes to Zahkung's approximately 5,000.

The lawyer representing Zahkung Ting Ying, who was absent at the tribunal session, said he would discuss with his client whether or not they would appeal the decision.

In another UEC tribunal decision on Friday, Zahkung Ting Ying's son Zahkung Ying Seng—the winning candidate for Chipwi Township (2) in the Kachin State parliament for the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State—successfully defended a case brought against him by Kaw Baung of the NLD. Although the accusations of intimidation linked to the NDA-K militia were similar to the cases filed against his father, his culpability was purportedly less clear.

"We lost the U Zahkung Ying Seng case. He will remain the lawmaker," said NLD's lawyer Tin Tun Thein.

The Friday tribunal session at the UEC, attended by The Irrawaddy, was open to the public and had an audience of around 30. There were no indications of bias, or restrictions placed on the individuals pursuing or defending the electoral dispute cases.

Due to Zahkung Ting Ying's close allegiance with Burma's military and his clout as a local power broker in Kachin State, this tribunal case was a test of the fairness of the UEC's post-election dispute resolution process. That the case was decided against him will likely bolster confidence in Burma's election commission, after it administered a general election widely perceived as free and impartial.

The tribunal process falls short of international standards in lacking structural independence from the UEC. Tribunal judges in all cases have been senior members of the UEC; although they had the option to appoint independent legal experts as judges, the UEC chose not to do so. Appeals against tribunal decisions go only to the UEC, whose decision is final. There is no judicial or parliamentary oversight.

Forty-five tribunal cases were filed with the UEC against winning candidates in the November election, 26 of which were filed by the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the former ruling party that lost heavily in the election, and eight by the NLD, which won by a landslide. Cases involved 14 Union Lower House seats, six Union Upper House seats and 25 seats from state and divisional parliaments, with the largest number coming from Shan and Kachin states. Allegations vary between intimidation, polling station staff misconduct, defamation and misuse of religion.

Only a minority of tribunal cases has been settled so far. As with tribunals after the 2010 election—governed by the same framework—individual cases have extended over many sessions since the process began in December. For a brief period, tribunal sessions were moved out to state and divisional capitals, to facilitate testimony from a substantial number of witnesses.

The cost of traveling repeatedly to Naypyidaw—including from remote areas of Kachin State—and hiring lawyers over a period of many months has been substantial for those pursuing or defending cases. Those filing cases also had also to pay a fee of 500,000 kyats (US$420) at the outset, which reportedly deterred some individuals from filing.

Earlier sessions of the cases pursued against Zahkung Ting Ying revealed a complex backstory to the feud between the militia leader and the NLD. According to witnesses questioned during tribunal sessions in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, NLD members competing in the townships concerned were linked to a faction that broke away from Zahkung's NDA-K militia, and later engaged in hostilities with the NDA-K with the help of the Kachin Independence Army.

Due to devastating rates of drug addiction among Kachin youth, Zahkung Ting Ying's alleged involvement in opium production has earned him the enmity of members of Kachin civil society as well as Pat Jasan, an anti-drugs vigilante group in Kachin State backed by the Kachin Baptist Convention. In February, hundreds of local Kachin protested outside Zahkung's house in Myitkyina as well as the offices of the Kachin State government, after an attack by armed opium farmers on Pat Jasan volunteers undertaking poppy-eradication in Waingmaw Township.

The post Kachin Warlord Loses Parliamentary Seat in Post-Election Tribunal appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Dateline: ‘There Will Not Be Public Spaces Left if Action is Not Taken’

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 07:29 PM PDT

PHOTOKyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! This week, we'll discuss public spaces in Yangon. Public spaces like gardens, sports grounds, streets and lakes used for firefighting purposes were grabbed through various methods under Yangon's previous government. We'll discuss how we can get those public spaces back and prevent similar land grabbing in the future. Yangon divisional lawmaker U Nay Myo Kyaw (aka) U Nay Phone Latt of Thingangyun constituency and Irrawaddy senior reporter Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha will join me for the discussion. I'm Irrawaddy English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.

Ko Nay Phone Latt, last week you put forward a proposal to Yangon divisional parliament to ensure that people get public spaces back. Fifteen lawmakers seconded your proposal and it was approved. I read your article in which you said inhumane housing projects that do not take public spaces into consideration have mushroomed in our country. Public spaces were grabbed and used for commercial purposes by businessmen who worked hand in glove with civil servants of the previous government, and also probably with municipal staff. Public spaces are rare now in Yangon, and so you submitted the proposal. How bad do you think the situation is?

Nay Phone Latt: I submitted the proposal based on my experiences in Thingangyun constituency. I carried out a survey and listened to the voices of my constituents. Most of them complained that there was no children's playground. I asked if there aren't any and they replied that there used to be playgrounds. There are four wards—16/1,2,3,4 in our neighborhood and there used to be a pitch in each ward. But now, pitches in wards 1, 2 and 4 are gone. [Concerned authorities] developed those pitches into plots, authorized them as residential and sold them. Now all the pitches have turned into residential buildings.

KZM: Who sells and who buys?

NPL: I don't know exactly. The seller can either be the municipality or the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development [under the Construction Ministry]. In our country, public spaces are registered under departmental ownership under municipalities, the Human Settlement and Housing Development Department, the War Veterans Organization, the Cooperatives Department and so on. Perhaps, they really think they own them and therefore sell those lands, which has been the case in ward 16. Now only ward 16/3 has public space.

In my proposal, I mentioned the case of AKK Shopping Mall in Thingangyun Township as an example. There is a street by AKK Shopping Mall where the municipality [Yangon City Development Committee] has built a two-story office. A total of 15 lawmakers debated the proposal, mentioning similar cases in their respective constituencies. In the case of Kantharyar Garden in North Okkalapa Township, there is a statue of Bogyoke [Gen Aung San] riding a horse. The statue has been neglected [since the garden has been turned into an amusement park]. As for Theinbyu sporting ground, the British used it as a shelter in case of disaster. It is not that public spaces are kept with no purpose. It is not that spare lands are named as sport grounds. They have certain purposes.

KZM: For the sake of people?

NPL: Yes, they are very important for the people. Playgrounds and gardens are important. And lakes are also important—they can be used to put out fires and for drinking. [Authorities] only care for money and even sell the lakes, filling them with earth. We have seen many cases. I'm worried that gradually there will not be any public spaces left if no action is taken.

KZM: We have constantly covered this issue. Drawing a conclusion from what Ko Nay Phone Latt has said, it seems that there are many private companies, businesses and restaurants doing business in public spaces. Can you name some of them for public knowledge, Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha?

Kyaw Phyo Tha: There are many of them, but to name a few significant ones in Yangon, the first one is Theinbyu Stadium, which Ko nay Phone Latt has mentioned.

KZM: What is being constructed there?

In picture, a high-rise condominium is under construction at Theinbyu Sporting Ground. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

In picture, a high-rise condominium is under construction at Theinbyu Sporting Ground. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

KPT: A condominium is being constructed there. It is substantially complete. It is a really high building. We don't know who the developer is, but it is almost complete. The second one is Mya Kyun Tha. It was a pure park when we were young. But now, there are construction sites along its two sides and the place no longer looks like a park. Another one is People's Square. Shops are rented there.One of the most striking buildings there is Culture Valley [shopping mall]. Public spaces should be only for members of the public. Mainly, they should be places where the public can exercise, have social gatherings and where children can play freely. As far as we are concerned, amusement centers will be built in Mya Kyun Tha. So, those places are no longer meant for needy people to use?

KZM: Because operators of those amusement centers will charge, right?

KPT: Yes, this has raised question.

KZM: Speaking of Mya Kyun Tha, we have learned that there are eight companies operating on large areas of land there and they have rented the land for 60 years. How can this be solved? Is it easy to claim it back for public use as Ko Nay Phone Latt has proposed? Cronies who have strong ties with the previous government have taken all those places. For example, People's Square houses Yangon Gallery which is said to be owned by the son of army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. How can the Yangon divisional government and chief minister Ko Phyo Min Thein claim them back through negotiations?

Yangon Gallery, which is believed to be owned by the son of Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, lies in People's Square. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Yangon Gallery, which is believed to be owned by the son of Burma Army Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, lies in People's Square. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

NPL: In my proposal, I mainly urged for two things—one is to prevent commercial use of public spaces in the future, to prevent it by law so that no one can touch public spaces like sports grounds and gardens [for their personal benefits]. Another thing is—as Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha has said—many public spaces have been turned into buildings, and some of them are already established now. I understand that the government has difficulties handling these cases. So, I asked in my proposal to do whatever possible to probe into these cases and give public spaces back to the public.

KZM: Unless those buildings are big, high-rises—such as 20 stories. But if they are just small buildings like 1-story or otherwise, the government should take back the land and give the businessmen another place.

NPL: In my proposal, I said they could take action in line with what is possible. I don't want the Yangon divisional government to be concerned about the cost of demolishing those buildings, but I want them to consider the potential benefits—as far as health, education and socializing—of returning those public spaces to the people. Some [government officials] think it is a waste of money to demolish those buildings. Let it be if they are really high and big structures. But those that are not high should be given back to the public. They have more important value than the monetary value of the buildings built on them.

KZM: They have value to public health and have, in other words, been stolen from the people. Ko Kyaw Phyo Tha, you have talked to urban planning experts. Do you see any means to get them back?

KPT: It is not that gardens and playgrounds are built with no purpose. As Ko Nay Phone Latt has put it, the land that is left after building a town is used as public space, playgrounds or parks. They are designed for the public because people really need them. The government and concerned companies should compensate a place for the people.

KZM: Companies have full responsibility.

KPT: Yes, they do. Green spaces are necessary for a city to achieve systematic development.

KZM: Yangon Chief Minister Ko Phyo Min Thein has told reporters he would rebuild Yangon as a green and people-friendly city. But, he alone can't do this. It concerns the entire divisional government. Yangon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe raised objections when you submitted your proposal. It seems that he thinks that building municipal buildings in public spaces must be accepted. He has a different view.

NPL: When the mayor said so, I immediately responded because this view is potentially dangerous. Public spaces and public areas can't be used in the interest of individuals, organizations or departments. They must be for the public. So, I don't accept the view that it is fair for the Human Settlement and Housing Development Department or municipality to build state-owned buildings in public spaces. That view can't be accepted. If we accept that view, government departments will build offices in public spaces in the future; for example, township administrators might build offices in parks and municipalities on streets. As it is a potentially dangerous concept, I reacted immediately that day.

KZM: The Yangon divisional parliament has approved your proposal with a majority of votes. But if the government can't handle it in short time, what are you planning to do?

NPL: The parliament has a Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee. The committee will check if the promises made by the government in response to our proposals are fulfilled. And personally, I'll do checks and balances on it. If nothing happens, I as a lawmaker can ask questions or submit proposals again at the next session of parliament. There is no specific law regarding public spaces in our country. There are some provisions in municipal law that say no one shall build buildings overlooking or overhanging public streets without the approval of the Yangon City Development Committee. It can be interpreted that it could be done if the committee approves. Such provisions should be changed. I am thinking parliament should adopt a law to protect anyone from using public spaces for commercial purposes.

Once a public park, Mya Kyun Tha is now being developed for commercial purpose. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Once a public park, Mya Kyun Tha is now being developed for commercial purpose. (Photos: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

KZM: Not only to mention public spaces, there is no transparency in the business transactions of cronies. Ko Nay Phone Latt, how do you define public spaces?

NPL: I like Singapore's definition of public spaces. They really care about public spaces. They define 'places' as—'P,' for people plus programming. They don't just grow trees in public spaces. They feature programs such as skiing and cycling contests. This practice has become slightly popular in our country—singing songs and playing guitars. 'L' is for lush landscaping. 'A' is for accessibility. Even if there are parks, it is not convenient if parks are not easily accessible.  'C' stands for comfort—those places must enable people to relax comfortably. 'E' means excellence in design—they are designed beautifully to attract passersby.

KZM: They are made to be attractive!

NPL: Yes, attractive designs are incorporated. 'E' also stands for eye for details—it means every detail is considered to engage the people, to attract even the people who do not want to take a rest. 'S' stands for sense of delight—it means public spaces must be able to make people happy. And it also stands for sharing of spaces. We have to learn this and it will be good if we can apply it here.

KZM: Ko Nay Phone Latt, I am afraid we have to wait some time before this happens. Thank you for your contributions.

The post Dateline: 'There Will Not Be Public Spaces Left if Action is Not Taken' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


After Rioters Destroy Mosque, Muslims Are Wracked With Fear

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 08:51 AM PDT

Muslim residents of Thuye Thamain village flee to the police station in the village at 4 p.m. local time on June 24. (Photos: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy) Muslim residents of Thuye Thamain village flee to the police station in the village at 4 p.m. local time on June 24. (Photos: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy) Muslim residents of Thuye Thamain village flee to the police station in the village at 4 p.m. local time on June 24. (Photos: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy) Muslim residents of Thuye Thamain village flee to the police station in the village at 4 p.m. local time on June 24. (Photos: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy) Muslim residents of Thuye Thamain village flee to the police station in the village at 4 p.m. local time on June 24. (Photos: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

THUYE THAMAIN, Pegu Division — At first, Ohn Lwin, police chief of Thuye Thamain village in Pegu Division, said the situation was stable. But when he saw nearly 20 Muslims running inside his police station at 4 p.m. on Friday, he realized he had been wrong.

They had sought refuge in the police station the night before after Buddhist rioters destroyed a mosque and a house belonging to a Muslim family. But by Friday afternoon, they had rushed back to the police station, a sign that the Muslim villagers were still afraid of the rioters.

"Rumors are circulating that a mob is coming again. So we don't dare stay at home. That's why we are heading back to the police station," a local man told The Irrawaddy. Some women were crying when they reached the police station, fear written on their faces.

Win Shwe, a Muslim community leader, said: "You see the situation now. It's not stable."

The police said there had been no violence on Friday, just rumors. Some Muslims who had run into the station admitted that they did not see anyone trying to attack them; they fled because they had heard rumors of attacks.

One police officer recalled that he told some locals: "I will shoot you guys. Don't make problems!"

Situated in Waw Township of Pegu Divison, Thuye Thamain is a small village with a Buddhist majority comprised of 1,500 households while the Muslim population is around 250. The tensions between the communities reached a flashpoint on Thursday when a fight broke out between a Buddhist and a Muslim.

The altercation drew a mob, leading some local Buddhists to destroy the Muslim individual's house, which also served as a storefront for construction equipment and hardware. The violence then snowballed into a riot, with Buddhists targeting other Muslim households in the village, as well as a mosque and a warehouse.

The police said no one was injured, and that they were conducting an investigation into the two families who had the initial dispute. The police chief Ohn Lwin said "No one has been detained yet," adding that his police force has been able to maintain stability.

Win Shwe, the Muslim leader, was upset with the police inaction.

While talking to an Irrawaddy reporter, he exclaimed, "Those two guys! I recognize them," pointing at two men he claimed participated in destroying the mosque. "You see, they are still driving around on motorbikes!"

The post After Rioters Destroy Mosque, Muslims Are Wracked With Fear appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

NCA Signatories Discuss Peace Agenda in Chiang Mai

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 08:45 AM PDT

 Leaders and representatives of eight ethnic armed organizations that signed the NCA held a two-day meeting in Chiang Mai. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

Leaders and representatives of eight ethnic armed organizations that signed the NCA held a two-day meeting in Chiang Mai. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Representatives of eight non-state ethnic armed groups who signed last year's nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the previous government held a two-day meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand to review their peace program agenda, according to ethnic leaders.

Leaders of the eight ethnic groups, including Saw Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU) and Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, chairman of Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), joined representatives from the respective groups at the meeting.

No official statement was made and the leaders would not speak to media, but participants said that the eight groups reviewed their peace agenda and terms of reference for the Union-level Joint Monitoring Committee of the NCA.

"We [the eight groups] have a peace process steering team [PPST] to represent us and lead peace talks. So, they are reviewing our work thus far," said one participant who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Khun Okkar, an ethnic Pa-O leader and spokesperson for the groups, said that a meeting with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi will take place in Naypyidaw on June 28 to discuss an upcoming peace conference and that representatives from each of the eight NCA signatory groups have been selected to attend.

Additionally, ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan leaders will hold a meeting in Thailand next week to discuss the upcoming "21st Century Panglong Conference," which will be modeled after an original interethnic summit in Panglong, Shan State, in 1947; Chin, Kachin and Shan representatives were once signatories—along with Suu Kyi's father, independence leader Aung San—to the original 1947 Panglong Agreement, which promised equal rights to Burma's ethnic minorities.

Some current leaders have expressed their willingness to continue dialogue with the government and the Burma Army, saying that it appears to be the only option to resolve ongoing conflict between the military and Burma's ethnic armed groups, who have been fighting for federal reform and greater autonomy.

One ethnic leader said, "We know that there are weaknesses in the NCA, but it is impossible to rewrite a new one to replace it. We will keep discussing it to see if we can sort it out and improve it."

When asked about the Burma Army's suggestion that ethnic armed organizations disarm, demobilize and reintegrate—a process known internationally as DDR—the ethnic leader said there was no pressure to implement these steps in the near future, as they still needed to hear Suu Kyi's stand on the process.

When asked why the Burma Army had excluded groups like the Arakan Army (AA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA),  and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) from peace talks, the source speculated that the Burma Army remains angry after suffering heavy attacks by the MNDAA last February; it is believed that the AA and TNLA assisted the MNDAA in the conflict.

In February of 2015, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported that 47 Burma Army soldiers died during those battles.

The post NCA Signatories Discuss Peace Agenda in Chiang Mai appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Cinemas Built to Resurrect Stagnating Film Industry

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 08:05 AM PDT

The Thwin Theater on Bogyoke Aung San Road in downtown Rangoon in 2014.  (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Thwin Theater on Bogyoke Aung San Road in downtown Rangoon in 2014.  (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A private cinema developer will build 100 cinemas in Burma within the next two years to encourage the country's stagnating film industry, the Information Ministry said.

Representatives from local cinema developer Maze Co. Ltd., chaired by former actor Lwin Moe, met with information minister Pe Myint on Thursday. They outlined the company's business plan to build cinemas throughout the country, the ministry's permanent secretary Tint Swe—who was also present at the meeting—told The Irrawaddy.

Tint Swe said that in Burma, the disappearance of theater venues has contributed to the film industry's downfall—a sentiment with which many industry insiders agree.

Despite the industry's golden era from the 1950s until the 1970s, Burma's once-grand cinema halls were sold off to the private sector and torn down for other purposes or were privatized in the 1990s as part of the government's economic policy.

"Establishing more cinemas is a critical factor in redeveloping the country's film industry," Tint Swe said.

The number of theaters nationwide has declined to just 49 from its peak of more than 200, according to the information ministry's Motion Picture Development Branch (MPDB). Tint Swe said that only 27 cinema halls throughout the country are ministry-owned theaters.

"To revitalize the cinema culture in Myanmar, there must be enough platforms to showcase films," he said.

The company sought assistance from the Ministry of Information to act as a negotiator between the development company and other ministries if the land where the company wants to build a theater is government-owned, he explained. But he clarified that the ministry will not be involved in other business aspects.

The Irrawaddy could not reach cinema development company chairman Lwin Moe at the time of reporting, and the projected timeline and start date for the venture are yet to be announced by the company.

Tint Swe also said that the information ministry is preparing to hand over ministry-owned cinemas to respective regional governments for further management and that there is no plan to privatize in the future.

The post Cinemas Built to Resurrect Stagnating Film Industry appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Spat Breaks Out Between Arakanese Armed Groups

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 06:19 AM PDT

ALP leaders visit Arakan Army camps in Laiza, Kachin State in 2014 (Photo: Arakan Army / Facebook)

ALP leaders visit Arakan Army camps in Laiza, Kachin State in 2014 (Photo: Arakan Army / Facebook)

RANGOON — Arakan Army spokesman Lt-Col Kyaw Han claims his forces have detained an Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) Column 9 soldier who stole their military armor, weapons and other supplies in Chin State near the borders with India and Bangladesh on Tuesday.

The Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), the political wing of the ALA, released a statement on Thursday saying that the Arakan Army had ambushed their forces and one soldier had been arrested while another is missing in action.

The ALA is one of the signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the previous government, but the Arakan Army was excluded from the peace process.

The ALA stated that armed clashes between the two armed groups, both of which are ethnic Arakanese forces, were a shameful matter within the Arakan community; the ALP believes they will be able to solve the problem without further casualties.

ALP Joint Secretary Khaing Aung Soe Than said the incident occurred near Phone Nyat Wa and Mike Wa villages in Paletwa Township, where ethnic Chin and Khamee live.

The Arakan Army's Kyaw Han rejected the ALA assertions and argued that ALA troops had been stealing from local residents. Moreover, he claimed ALA soldiers had disturbed villagers who had worked for the Arakan Army carrying supplies, adding that several villagers and Arakan Army soldiers had collaborated to hunt down the ALA soldiers.

Of the ALA, Kyaw Han said, "We are not foes, but this incident could harm reconciliation efforts."

Rumors are spreading on social media that two ALA soldiers were killed in Wednesday's fighting.

But Kyaw Han said there was no fighting between the Arakan Army and ALA, and there were no injuries on either side. Now the Arakan Army is calling on ALA leaders to return the reportedly stolen goods, although details on such items were not forthcoming.

"We didn't kill anyone. Our comrades didn't pull the trigger," Kyaw Han said. "Trying to disrupt our logistics is like cooperating with the enemy [the Burma Army]."

The ALP's Khaing Aung Soe Than defended his soldiers, arguing that they had not stolen anything.

"[This is] an untrue accusation. How could we rob the Arakan Army?" he said. "That's funny. Impossible."

The post Spat Breaks Out Between Arakanese Armed Groups appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Govt Allows 14 Items for Re-Export

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 05:22 AM PDT

A worker unloads rice from a boat on a jetty on the Rangoon River, October 23, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

A worker unloads rice from a boat on a jetty on the Rangoon River, October 23, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

RANGOON — The Ministry of Commerce has allowed re-export items that were previously restricted in a government effort to boost export volume three-fold this year.

Exporters will be permitted to re-export 14 previously restricted commodities including car tires, edible oil, cosmetics, foodstuff and clothes to China, through the Muse border trade post in Shan State, as well as by sea. The list excludes arms and drugs, and will be dependent on domestic supply and demand, according to the ministry.

"In the past, the government restricted certain re-export items due to low demand in the market, but we have reconsidered as we're expanding our export market," said Myint Cho, director of the Ministry of Commerce.

Agricultural products and fuels are especially high in demand, he added.

Re-exportation will help reduce the trade deficit, increase taxation and help small and medium enterprises expand their businesses, said Myint Cho, adding that Burma currently exports fewer items than other counties, and is able to increase both market and export volume in line with the government's wishes.

Maung Aung, senior economist at the Ministry of Commerce, said the main reason for allowing re-export items is to increase trade volume and promote exports while the trade deficit continues to grow.

"The government has an export oriented policy now. By doing so, they will be able to reach their export volume goals. But we also have to consider engaging in value-added processes," said Maung Aung.

Burma's main exports are commodities like rice, timber, jade and gems, oil and gas, and beans and pulses.

According to the ministry, the total trade volume reached US$25.7 billion between April 2015 and March of this year. Import volume hovered around $15.5 billion, while export volume reached only $10.2 billion. The fiscal year ended on March 31.

The post Govt Allows 14 Items for Re-Export appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Looking Back At Gen Aung San’s Address to a Thai Delegation

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 04:02 AM PDT

Gen Aung San in his military uniform. (Photo: public domain)

Gen Aung San in his military uniform. (Photo: public domain)

As Aung San Suu Kyi conducts her first tour of Thailand as Burma's State Counselor, The Irrawaddy looks back at an address to a Thai delegation given by her father, Gen Aung San in 1947. The speech was delivered at the luncheon party given in honor of the Thai delegation at the Orient Club in Rangoon on April 17, 1947.

Thailand was still often referred to as Siam at that time.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our thanks are due to the Siamese delegation for honouring us with a visit. The delegation is led by no less a person than Phya Anuman Ratchathan, Director of Fine Arts of University of Chulalornkorn. Anuman holds a high place in the world of literature and arts in Siam, besides being a historian of international fame. An author of voluminous works, his "History of Faiths of Siam and Neighbouring Countries" has been regarded as an authority on the subject of comparative religion. It is a matter for gratification that a leading exponent of Siamese art and culture has come to this country and it is hoped that the contacts made would have important results in the national life of our two countries.

Our country before the war has had the privilege of welcoming goodwill missions from our eastern neighbour. And although our own preoccupation with our affairs had prevented our
paying her return visits, the relationships between Burma and Siam have always been characterized by the greatest possible cordiality and goodwill. A number of Burmans are
residing in Siam; and during the last war, quite a number of Burmese families evacuated to that country.  The result is that the ties of friendship are even stronger now than ever before, and there are now many in Burma who have come to regard Siam as a kind of second home. Those of us who have visited Siam have been impressed by the overwhelming hospitality extended to us at all times by the Siamese. We appreciate these unfailing proofs of sincerity and friendship on the part of those, whom we regard as our kinsmen, and with whom we have many things in common.  Our beliefs and traditions are in many respects similar.  We have leamt to respect one another and to admire each other’s prowess.

The national heroes that excite our utmost admiration are Alaungpaya and Phya Naret.  Both the Shwedagon and the Wat Arun are the objects of our common veneration, while the mighty Irrawaddy and the lordly Menam Chao Phaya with their myriad streams of life-giving waters will always command a sense of eternal gratitude and affection both in the Burman and the Siamese. These common institutions, traditions and aspirations are significant, for they have helped to overcome one difference that exists between us—the difference in language. But this difficulty is overcome for practical purposes in the course of a short stay in Siam. For the Siamese spoken word is partial to the foreigner.

The one overriding factor however that had in the past kept, and that should in the future always keep, our two peoples united is of course our spiritual affinity. It is the religious bond that binds Burma and Siam so closely.  As you know, Buddhism is the prevailing faith—the State religion—in Siam. Siam takes pride, and quite rightly so, in her orthodoxy; and after Burma,
Ceylon [Sri Lanka] and Cambodia ceased one after another to be independent, Siam has had the honor of being regarded as the defender of the Buddhist faith. The Siamese government has set an example to Buddhist countries by the far-reaching legislations introduced in the recent years calculated to enlist Buddhism in the cause of national unity.

As regards to our future, our mutual interests and our past experience require that we should stand together. There must be no occasion for any misunderstanding between us, and no effort should be spared to foster still better and closer relations between our two countries. We believe that such close friendship can be maintained only by constant and intimate contact. With this end in view, and for the mutual benefit of our two countries, we propose to appoint a diplomatic
representative of ours in Siam at an early date.

In conclusion, I wish to thank Phya Anuman Ratchathan and the distinguished members of the Siamese delegation again for giving us this opportunity of showing our high esteem for them, on the auspicious occasion of our Burmese New Year, our fraternal greetings to the Siamese people.

The post Looking Back At Gen Aung San's Address to a Thai Delegation appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Wa Military Leader Arrested For Drug Trafficking

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 03:11 AM PDT

Wa leader Tat Ma Har, also known as Ma Ma (seated left), at a press conference at a narcotics control office in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Thursday.

Wa leader Tat Ma Har, also known as Ma Ma (seated left), at a press conference at a narcotics control office in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Thursday. (Photo: Manager Online)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ma Ma, a leader of the Wa National Organization (WNO), the political wing of an ethnic Wa armed group, was arrested by Thai narcotics police in Chiang Mai, Thailand this week.

Thai police officials from the Office of Narcotics Control Board held a press conference at their Chiang Mai branch office on Thursday, saying they arrested the Wa leader with 10 kilograms of pure methamphetamine, 7.5 kilograms of raw opium and 26,400 methamphetamine pills.

The police also seized 6.8 million baht (Nearly US$200,000) in cash during the arrest, which took place on Tuesday this week in Tambon Pa Daet in Chiang Mai. Thai police identified the Wa leader as Ma Ma.

The Wa leader, who is known in Burmese media as Tat Ma Har, serves as vice-chairman of the WNO, a member organization of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups who are engaging in peace talks with the Burmese government, but have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

The NCA is a peace pact that was signed last year under the former government of President Thein Sein and includes eight ethnic armed groups as signatories.

The arrest resulted from an insider report that Ma Ma and his cohorts were part of a major drug trafficking ring. The drugs were smuggled from Burma to Thailand for distribution to customers, according to a Thai media outlet, Manager Online.

The WNO has long been involved in the illicit drug trade, and one of its past leaders, Mahasang, was also arrested in Chiang Mai and died in prison.

The WNO's military wing, the Wa National Army (WNA), operates in northern Shan State and near the Thai-Burma border.

When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Friday, two UNFC leaders declined to give comments.

Observers, however, said the UNFC may have no connection with the drug trade run by members of the WNO. The UNFC’s relationship with the WNO is simply for political purposes, said observers, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

In early June, the UNFC leaders met with a Burmese government peace delegation, led by Dr. Tin Myo Win, in Chiang Mai where they were invited to participate in both a political framework development meeting and the Union peace conference—branded by the new government as the "21st Century Panglong Conference"—which is scheduled to take place in late July.

The first Panglong Conference, convened by Gen Aung San in 1947, resulted in an agreement between the leaders of some of Burma's major ethnic groups, guaranteeing autonomy for "frontier areas" in exchange for joining the soon-to-be independent Union of Burma.

The UNFC leaders have expressed willingness to participate in the "21st Century Panglong Conference" but have not made a final decision

The post Wa Military Leader Arrested For Drug Trafficking appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Thai PM Supports Delayed Burmese Refugee Return

Posted: 24 Jun 2016 02:48 AM PDT

Mae Lae camp in Thailand, home to Burmese refugees, including many from Karen State. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Mae Lae camp in Thailand, home to Burmese refugees, including many from Karen State. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Burma should be given more time to prepare to take back refugees, said Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army.

Speaking ahead of Burma's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s three-day visit to Thailand, which began on Thursday, Gen Prayut said talks between Thailand and Burma over refugee matters began during the previous administration and the government believes that, when Burma is ready, it will take the refugees back.

"[Burma] is willing to take back the refugees but we have to give them more time to prepare for such considerations as securing land to accommodate those who return. We understand each other," the Thai prime minister said.

There are currently about 100,000 Burmese refugees in nine camps and shelters in Thailand, he said.

In the meantime, Gen Prayut said Thailand would continue to take care of the refugees on humanitarian grounds although this will inevitably result in an increased burden on the country.

To handle these refugees, Thailand is considering adopting the same approach as it did with the return of Hmong refugees from Tham Krabok to Laos several years ago, said the prime minister.

"At this time, as a representative of the [Burmese] government, Ms Suu Kyi will be received on a government-to-government basis," he said.

Suu Kyi previously visited Thailand as a pro-democracy activist in 2012, he said.

Burma's de facto leader will meet Gen Prayut at Government House on Friday.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said Suu Kyi, who is also Burma's foreign minister, has cancelled a visit to a Burmese refugee camp at Ban Tham Hin in Ratchaburi province on Saturday after a potential for bad weather raised safety concerns.

Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang, deputy spokesman of the National Police Office, said yesterday the Thai police were ready to ensure Suu Kyi's safety throughout her visit.

Ahead of the meeting between Gen Prayut and Suu Kyi, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) issued a statement expressing concerns regarding the Thai government’s "poorly" planned, short-term migration policy.

The Thai government has been accused of being too focused on the seafood industry and fishing boats despite the fact that systematic migrant exploitation exists across the country and in most industrial sectors. The European Union has threatened the government with a potential seafood ban to Europe if it does not mend its ways in the fishing industry.

The migrant group recommended a national development plan with a long-term migration policy to be developed in line with economic and human security principles. In addition, a migration authority should be established under the Prime Minister’s Office to develop Thailand’s migration policy and issues relating to migrant workers.

Thailand should ensure proper enforcement to prevent corruption and ensure compliance with human rights, labor rights and social protection laws in labor matters, the group said.

The post Thai PM Supports Delayed Burmese Refugee Return appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

NLD Lawmaker’s House Burglarized, Mother-in-Law Stabbed

Posted: 23 Jun 2016 11:44 PM PDT

Bo Bo Oo, a National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker representing Rangoon's Sanchaung Township. (Photo: Bo Bo Oo / Facebook)

Bo Bo Oo, a National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker representing Rangoon's Sanchaung Township. (Photo: Bo Bo Oo / Facebook)

RANGOON — A National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker's house in Rangoon's Sanchaung Township was broken into early Friday morning and his mother-in-law was stabbed.

Bo Bo Oo, a Lower House representative from Sanchaung Township, said his house was burglarized and his mother-in-law, 73-year-old Khin Than Nwe, was stabbed three times in the back and hand after she saw the offender entering the house through a window.

Sanchaung Township Police told The Irrawaddy that Friday at 2:45 am, the offender attempted to break into the house on Aung Chan Tha (6) Street in Aung Chan Tha ward, and Khin Than Nwe was stabbed although nothing was stolen.

"We are now trying to catch the offender," said a policeman, adding that the case was now open under the Penal Code's section 459 which punishes anyone who "whilst house-breaking causes grievous hurt to any person or attempts to cause death" with up to ten years imprisonment.

The break-in comes soon after the Rangoon government has widened its crackdown on crime under its 100-day plan.

Rangoon chief minister Phyo Min Thein said during a regional government meeting last month that the government is set to bring the full strength of the police force in order to ensure public safety.

The post NLD Lawmaker's House Burglarized, Mother-in-Law Stabbed appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Tourism Industry Observer: ‘The Government’s Tourism Statistics Are Misleading’

Posted: 23 Jun 2016 11:18 PM PDT

Sabei Aung, chairwoman of Nature Dream Travel and Tours (Photo: Sabei Aung / Facebook)

Sabei Aung, chairwoman of Nature Dream Travel and Tours (Photo: Sabei Aung / Facebook)

RANGOON — In 2015, Burma's former quasi-civilian government announced that the country had received more than 4 million visitors; however, industry observer Sabei Aung, chairwoman of Nature Dream Travel and Tours, criticized the statistics as misleading.  The Irrawaddy spoke with Sabei Aung about her take on the current state of the travel industry.

The government said Burma received more than 4.5 million foreign travelers last year, but you say those figures are impossible. Why?

I'm referring to figures collected by the Pacific Asia Travel Association. They stated the number of foreign travelers who came into the country was slightly more than 1.3 million. There is a huge gap between the two figures. Of the government's stated 4.5 million visitors, 3.4 million crossed the border by land. There is a gap because the association does not count visitors who came across land borders as real tourists. The association assumes those figures are wrong.

The government expects to receive 7 million foreign visitors in 2020, but the association estimates that the number may only reach 2 million. We are suffering from misinformation released by ministries from the previous era.

Can those huge gaps between the actual figures and government-released figures affect the entire tourism industry?

Investors will be affected. After 2010, international investors came to learn about the market but they found that the data was wrong. Singaporean investors came in, but European investors backed out.

Also, hotels have mushroomed domestically but hoteliers have built hotels with their own money and loans.  Those hotels do not receive enough guests and suffer huge losses. The incorrect data mislead local businessmen as well.

How many foreign visitors do you estimate Myanmar may receive this year?

The number will be less than 1.4 million. But I only count those who come on a tourist visas, visit tourist destinations, stay at least 24 hours and stay overnight in the country.

Everyone knows that 3.4 million visitors crossing the borders is totally impossible. There is not sufficient infrastructure, like airlines or hotels, at the border. Even the major cities with large numbers of hotels only received 1.3 million visitors. So the figure of 3.4 million cross-border travelers is not realistic. We went to border areas but did not see many tourists.

So you mean the supply for flights and hotel rooms exceeds the demand?

Yes, it does. The supply is high and demand is low now. This is proven by the continuous promotions run by hotel and tour operators. Some operators and tour guides have had to close their businesses for the time being.

Do you think the new government can handle the legacy left by the previous government?

The new government has been in office less than 100 days. We want to wait and see because the new hotels and tourism minister has been in this industry for 30-40 years and his hotel business has a good reputation. I think he is a good man but I'm worried that he might easily believe what other people say. He is the only person who has changed in the tourism ministry; the rest of the team remains the same.

The ministry is now talking about disbanding tourism associations. I am afraid that doing so would impact the industry. I am against disbanding the associations and in favor of collaboration. Tourism associations still have cronies who look out for their self-interests and we will still have to work with them. The minister needs to handle this shrewdly and ensure unity.

Do you believe the current government can be implement the previous government's tourism master plan?

The entire industry is working together to implement the tourism master plan. Supporting groups have hired experts to analyze the industry on ground; the problem is whether these experts are qualified to do so. I doubt it. Are they really qualified to survey anything on the ground? Here, some experts don't even know industry terminology. How can we believe them? There are many people working solely for self-interests.

What advice do you have for the new government as a first priority?

The new government needs to change policies and people at the same time. The new minister should see who works hard and keep them, and he should approach working with tourism associations carefully.

The post Tourism Industry Observer: 'The Government's Tourism Statistics Are Misleading' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Despite Criticism, Suu Kyi Offers Hope to Rohingya

Posted: 23 Jun 2016 11:00 PM PDT

Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State on May 3, 2016. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / REUTERS)

Boys stand among debris after fire destroyed shelters at a camp for internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State on May 3, 2016. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / REUTERS)

If we see each other as humans and show mutual respect, then it is easy to solve problems. But when one side looks at the other as if they are sub-human, it is almost impossible to come up with a solution. This is what is happening in Arakan State, where the UN has accused Burma of human rights violations.

The Rohingya are Muslims and are also perceived as having darker skin than the local ethnic Arakanese Buddhists, who believe that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They call them "Bengali," despite their own wish to be identified as "Rohingya." This has left the government and the UN powerless to bring the two communities together.

Their ancestors may have come from Bangladesh a long time ago, but most of the Rohingya were born in the region, and some—although by no means a majority—even have ID cards. They want to return to their homes after staying more than four years in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, but that is still impossible.

If we see them as human beings, we should give them citizenship, and let them return to their homes with dignity. Then, not only would this problem be addressed, it would improve the image of our country and that of the government.

lawei

Lawi Weng is a Senior Reporter for The Irrawaddy English edition.

Zaw Htay, deputy spokesman for the President's Office, admitted that the previous government violated the human rights of the Rohingya who are living in IDP camps, but because the new government is undergoing reforms, he asked that the UN and the international community be less rigid when addressing this issue.

Suu Kyi revealed her new stance when she said her government would only use the term "Muslim community in Arakan State," and avoid both "Rohingya" or "Bengali" when referring to the group. This was intended to improve the image of the government, and could be seen as an attempt to address the conflict within the community. But both Arakanese and Rohingya have voiced their anger over this new term, showing how difficult it is to deal with the issue.

Over the last few years, nearly every time conflict broke out on the ground, I went to Arakan State. My last trip was in 2014. While I was in Ohn Daw Gyi IDP camp, a middle-aged man brought me inside a small hut because he wanted me to help his father, who was in such poor health that he could not walk and had to lie on the ground. The old man thought I was a doctor, and he wanted me to give him an examination to see what was wrong. I told him I was a journalist, not a doctor.

This experience showed me how bad the healthcare situation is in the camps.

I could not sleep well whenever I returned home from the camps in the region, and I sometimes felt that I did not want to go back there. They are all human beings. Why do they have to live in such poverty as if they are sub-human? If everyone could see them as humans, we could solve this problem.

Suu Kyi may understand this; she may provide some human rights protection for the Rohingya. But her new stance did not get support from the Arakanese people. And many on the Rohingya side do not like the new term her government has introduced either.

In the meantime, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights Yanghee Lee visited Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, on Wednesday. The Rohingya have high expectations whenever she visits because they view her as a person who will stand up for their human rights; in this regard, the Rohingya trust her more than Suu Kyi.

Burma has experienced political reform, and we finally have a civilian-led government. But the military still has influence and power, so the situation is not yet ideal. The Rohingya should have a little more faith in Suu Kyi and see that she, like Yanghee Lee, is someone who could help them.

Lawi Weng is a senior reporter for The Irrawaddy.

The post Despite Criticism, Suu Kyi Offers Hope to Rohingya appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

UN Rapporteur Meets Muslim and Buddhist Communities in Sittwe

Posted: 23 Jun 2016 10:50 PM PDT

UN rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee meets with Muslim residents of Sittwe's Aung Mingalar ward on Tuesday. (Photo: Phoe Thiha / The Irrawaddy)

UN rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee meets with Muslim residents of Sittwe's Aung Mingalar ward on Tuesday. (Photo: Phoe Thiha / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Yanghee Lee, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, met on Thursday with Muslim community leaders of Aung Mingalar quarter in Sittwe, the Arakan State capital.

Aung Mingalar is the last Muslim enclave in Sittwe, after most of the town's sizeable Muslim population fled sectarian violence in 2012. However, it functions effectively as an internment camp, with access in and out restricted by heavily armed police, and the total segregation of the Muslim community from the town's Buddhist majority.

The meeting took place at the Ma Dar Hsa Arabic School at 10 a.m. and lasted around 10 minutes. A dozen community leaders attended.

Yanghee Lee asked the Muslim residents, many of whom identity strongly as Rohingya, for their views on the new, purportedly "neutral" term for the Rohingya—"Muslim community in Arakan State"—floated by the government at a recent session of the UN Human Rights Council. She also sought their thoughts on the government's recently resumed citizenship verification drive targeted at stateless Muslims in Arakan State.

The Muslim community leaders responded that they did not accept the government's new term for them, and said they still hoped to gain official recognition from the government as Rohingya, according to Zaw Zaw, a Rohingya resident who was present at the meeting.

Muslim residents also expressed distrust towards the government's citizenship verification drive. This has involved the handing out of "national verification cards" to those who will later be assessed for citizenship eligibility under the 1982 Citizenship Law, which discriminates heavily against the Rohingya as a "non-recognized" ethnic group in Burma.

Yanghee Lee then asked which they considered to be a greater priority: gaining citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law, by whatever means, or continuing to fight for the official recognition of their identity as Rohingya.

"We told her that if the Rohingya are designated as one of the [officially recognized] ethnic minorities of Burma, we will automatically become citizens," said Zaw Zaw.

He said that Yanghee Lee also enquired about their current situation and their experiences over the last four years. The Muslim community leaders stressed that material conditions had improved for them, but the high level of police surveillance had not changed.

"[Beforehand] we were not allowed to go to markets but now we can go everyday with police guards. That's a small change", said Zaw Zaw.

The Muslim residents of Aung Mingalar were not entirely satisfied with the meeting, however, because the UN rapporteur did not make any commitments towards them on behalf of the UN and merely took notes, according to Zaw Zaw.

According to state government sources, Yanghee Lee visited only one other place in Sittwe, Ming Gan quarter, where Buddhist Arakanese displaced by the 2012 violence have been settled.

Arakan State government spokesman Min Aung confirmed that Yanghee Lee did not visit any further displaced communities or camps around Sittwe. He said she would return to Rangoon on Thursday evening.

Yesterday, according to state government sources, she visited Pa Nyar Wa camp in Kyauktaw Township, which is sheltering members of non-Muslim ethnic minority groups—including the Mro and Daingnet—displaced by fighting in recent months between the Burma Army and the Arakan Army.

State government spokesman Min Aung expressed his thanks towards the local Arakanese community for not staging any protest rallies, as they had done in previous years.

Thar Pwint, a local Arakanese resident, said, "This is not the time to protest against Yanghee Lee. This is the time to protest against the government. Yanghee Lee is not our guest. She is the guest of the Union government."

He expressed suspicion over the timing of the deployment of the government's new term—"Muslim community in Arakan State"—to coincide with the UN rapporteur's visit, suggesting it was a move to placate the international community. He objected to the term strongly, because it suggested that "Bengali" Muslims "originated in Arakan State."

This reflects a widely held view among Arakanese Buddhists, and the Burmese public more generally, that the Rohingya are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Yanghee Lee intended to consult with civil society groups and political parties drawn from the Arakanese Buddhist majority, but they refused to meet with her. The Arakan National Party, which holds the largest number of seats in the Arakan State parliament, released a statement to that effect on Wednesday.

According to local sources, Arakanese nationalist groups in the state are planning to stage demonstrations against the government's recent use of "Muslim community in Arakan State."

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Seven Indonesian Sailors Kidnapped in Philippines: Foreign Minister

Posted: 23 Jun 2016 10:31 PM PDT

 Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi makes a statement at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 21, 2016. (Photo: Darren Whiteside / Reuters)

Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi makes a statement at the Foreign Ministry in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 21, 2016. (Photo: Darren Whiteside / Reuters)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Seven Indonesian sailors have been taken hostage in the Sulu Sea in the southern Philippines, Indonesia’s foreign minister said on Friday, the latest in a string of abductions in the waters between the two Southeast Asian neighbors.

Indonesian authorities have voiced concerns that piracy in the Sulu Sea area, a major sea traffic lane for the world’s top thermal coal exporter, could reach levels previously seen in Somalia.

Analysts say $40 billion worth of cargo passes through those waters a year, including supertankers from the Indian Ocean that cannot use the crowded Malacca Strait.

"We got confirmation [on Thursday] of an incident of kidnapping involving Indonesian crew of a ship," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters. She said the hijackings were carried out by two different armed groups in attacks on a tugboat towing a coal-carrying barge.

Six of the 13 crew on board were freed, Marsudi said, and were on their way back to Indonesia.

"We absolutely do not tolerate this. The government will try all options to free the hostages," Marsudi said.

Up to 18 Indonesians and Malaysians were kidnapped in three attacks on tugboats earlier this year in Philippine waters by groups suspected of ties to the Abu Sayyaf militant network. All 14 Indonesian citizens were later released.

The Philippine military has said the militants have been targeting foreign crew of slow-moving tugboats because they can no longer penetrate resorts and coastal towns in Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state due to increased security.

The rise of sea hijackings prompted Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia to agree last month to carry out coordinated patrols to secure the region’s busy waterways.

However, coordinated patrols are yet to get underway.

Abu Sayyaf, known for amassing tens of millions of dollars from kidnappings, has beheaded two Canadian nationals in recent weeks after ransom deadlines passed.

The group is still holding Malaysian seamen and Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, and Philippine citizens.

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