Friday, June 23, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


Outgoing ICRC Head Weighs in On Progress, Challenges in Myanmar

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 08:35 AM PDT

YANGON — Outgoing head of the Myanmar delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Jurg Montani has emphasized progress made in recent months regarding improved humanitarian access to conflict affected areas.

At a press briefing on Thursday at the ICRC office in Yangon, Montani, who is set to finish his four-year duty at the end of June, cited the organization's growing operations in northeastern Myanmar as a success, adding that the organization was now able to work in civilian hospitals in Laiza and Mai Ja Yang in the Kachin Independence Army-controlled areas of Kachin State.

"I think that is the result of the dialogues we have with the Tatmadaw when our president was here. We have good access as well in the northern part of Rakhine, where we were among the first to be operating in the areas most affected by the military operations," he said.

ICRC President Peter Maurer visited Myanmar in May and met with the military's commander-in-chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing. The two agreed to strengthen the dialogue between the Tatmadaw and ICRC.

In 2016, access to conflict areas in northern Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states was limited by Myanmar Army checkpoints and government policy, leaving displaced people without aid for several months.

The ICRC is engaging with the Tatmadaw's engineering unit, which is leading mine clearance operations from the armed forces' side, as well as non-state armed groups.

Montani said mine clearance operations remain difficult to discuss, as landmines are still being used in northeastern Myanmar. The ICRC is encouraging the government to sign the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, as it would open the door for further international support and funding for mine clearance.

"I think over the years, we really gained the trust of all stakeholders—be it the civilian government, military, police, non-state armed groups, civil society organizations–which really allows us today to access [more] areas in Myanmar and to do humanitarian operations in Myanmar."

He said it is important that the access continues not only for the ICRC, adding that humanitarian aid plays a role in stabilizing the community and reconciling communities, using Rakhine State as an example.

"This is where we can see that it is possible to achieve longer term stability and peace. For that, we need to be able to work with those communities," Montani said.

The outgoing head said he believes his organization will be beneficial to the National League for Democracy government's peace process, by contributing to the resilience and stability of local populations and by strengthening infrastructure, as well as by addressing the immediate needs created by displacement.

Montani emphasized revisions to Myanmar's outdated prison law concerning the country's detention centers—where health care and medical services are widely reported as inadequate, and prisoners live in overcrowded conditions, alleging various rights violations and corruption. Changes to this law are underway, and Montani described them as a central point on which to build upon the improvement of the prison system as a whole.

"I think the country really needs a modern prison law which will allow the prison department to implement the changes that need to be implemented," he said.

He urged the Myanmar government to look into the judiciary system, including laws and sentencing statutes, as a way to address overcrowding in prisons.

The Ministry of Home Affairs appears to want to reform the prison system, he said, and to implement the ICRC's recommendations based on their findings during visits to detention centers. He added that the organization has seen some improvements because of these visits.

In Rakhine State, the outgoing head said that at community level it is possible to find solutions, and to develop reconciliation and trust between the divided communities there, as the ICRC has several project areas where different groups are interacting, using the same markets and health facilities.

"It's slow progress but this is possible… Some of the very nationalist talk, of course doesn't help the reconciliation," he said. "The two communities lived side by side for a long time… I want to believe it can work again."

The post Outgoing ICRC Head Weighs in On Progress, Challenges in Myanmar appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Maung Moe Thu Dances With Colors

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 05:51 AM PDT

In his advanced years, Moe Thu, better known by his penname of Maung Moe Thu, has already become inseparable from his walking stick, but is still dancing—on canvas.

The 80-year-old's solo exhibition "Dancing with Colors" is being held at the Myanmar Art Center Gallery in Chin Chaung Nandaw—Chin Chaung Palace—in Yangon's Bahan Township from June 24-26.

"I used to draw pagodas, stupas and landscapes, but I don't want to draw these now. I only want to draw colors. And I feel free and happy to draw colors," he explained of his recent work.

Since the 1960s, Maung Moe Thu has been a close friend of other pioneers in Myanmar's modern art movement: Win Pe, Paw Oo Thet, Kin Maung Yin, and Ko Shwe Aung Thein. But it was only in 2007 that he started drawing.

"I wanted to make paintings since that time. But they didn't like me drawing," he said, referring to his old friends. "Because I used their paints," he added with a smile. "You couldn't buy paints as you wished at that time. Also, my career was writing and shooting films," said the author of more than 30 translated books, who still writes articles in weeklies.

While working as a writer, publisher, director and scriptwriter, he joined the National League for Democracy when it was established after the 1988 pro-democracy movement. He was later jailed for seven years for his political activities, and his wife passed away while he was behind bars.

His first two pictures after his release in 2000 were a portrait of his wife Ma Amar and a work depicting the small prison cell where he spent so many years.

His third solo exhibition will feature 34 pictures, two feet by three feet in size, each priced at US$400. He held his first and second solo shows entitled "Emotion" in Yangon and Mandalay.

Maung Moe Thu, who is affectionately referred to by many as Bagyi Moe or Uncle Moe, told The Irrawaddy: "Artist Bagyi Thet, master of Paw Oo Thet and Win Pe, said that drawing is a happy thing. I still remember his words. I made these paintings because I'm happy. I believe that the viewers will feel something."

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

The post Maung Moe Thu Dances With Colors appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar Rock Stars Arrested After Alleged Late-Night Violence

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 05:40 AM PDT

YANGON – Two well-known rock stars, Htoo El Lynn and Cobra, were arrested by police after they allegedly physically assaulted a taxi driver and a woman on the corner of U Wisara and Shwedagon Pagoda roads in Yangon on Thursday night, according to Yangon Police.

The police report stated Soe Hlaing Shein and Nay Lin Thin—the real names of Htoo El Lynn and Cobra, respectively—were swearing at residents when police arrived, and were arrested for possession of an axe.

Local reporter Lumin Thaung Tun said on his Facebook page that the private car of the two singers collided with a taxi near the traffic lights at the junction, prompting the two singers to leave their vehicle and for Htoo El Lynn to smash the windshield of the taxi with an axe from inside his car.

According to the reporter, local Dagon Township residents said a woman who emerged from the taxi was pleading with Cobra to stop the attack after Htoo El Lynn punched the driver in the face.

Htoo El Lynn, who was reportedly very drunk and aggressive, went on to attack the woman.

Locals who attempted to mediate the quarrel were reportedly cursed at by the singers. After police were called they reportedly applauded the officers and chanted "act in line with law."

The Yangon Police statement said they visited the scene after an emergency call from residents and detained two suspects at Dagon Township police station on Thursday night.

The Yangon Police Act Section 30 states that any weapon or material which could be used to commit a crime could be held by police without a warrant and those in possession imprisoned for at least three months, if the person cannot give a reason for the possession.

The police did not see the alleged victims of the crime but have opened a case against the two singers, according to the Friday afternoon statement.

An officer from Dagon Township police station told The Irrawaddy on Friday afternoon that the suspects had appeared in court but he did not know if they were granted bail or not. After a medical examination the pair were found to be drunk.

Some netizens commented under the police statement on Friday that the two singers are known for abusing drugs. Some said they should have been arrested with a harsher charge as possession of an axe is not the same as using it as a weapon.

Both singers came to prominence in the early 2000s: Htoo El Lynn with his debut album Angel Violin and Cobra became well known for his hit singles.

The post Myanmar Rock Stars Arrested After Alleged Late-Night Violence appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Yangon: My City at Breaking Point

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 05:31 AM PDT

These days, I see Yangon floundering before my very eyes.

As a Yangon native, I have seen the transformation of my city alongside Myanmar's metamorphosis from the Socialist era to the military regime to the quasi-civilian government in 2011 to the present democratically elected administration.

While people heartily welcome the latest changes in the country's political landscape, Yangon's people feel uneasy about the unruly urban growth they are now facing. For myself and others, the Yangon we see today is not the city we were once familiar with.

Gone are the wide pavements downtown—the previous government widened the roads, prioritizing cars over people. Gridlocked traffic has become an everyday ritual, causing a dramatic increase in commuting time. Monsoon rains regularly leave parts of our city inundated. Public spaces are being converted into shopping malls, all in the name of urban development.

Yangon, home to 5.2 million residents, has become a truly dysfunctional city after decades of poor management.

Downtown Yangon in 2014. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Experts point out that all the aforementioned chaos is the result of a lack of any real planning of urban development by previous governments. The absence of any plan became palpable when the country opened to the outside world in 2012 and the city began its rapid changes.

In the changing urban tide, new buildings mushroomed across the city. With the lack of proper construction guidelines and zoning ordinances at the time, the safety of the buildings was questionable—putting residents' lives at risk in the event of fire or earthquake.

A Yangon City Development Council (YCDC) official told me last year that the municipal body allowed for shoddy building practices in order to "speed up development." When it came to building nine stories and above, he said, a lack of any zoning laws or guidelines meant developers were given permission to construct anything as long as they could find 10 neighbors living around the site that had no objections to the plans.

"If we waited for a zoning law, it would be too late for Yangon's development," he said. I was speechless.

As a result, nearly 4,000 residential condominium units were launched in 2015 alone and YCDC approved 138 new high rises of nine floors or above that same year when the previous government was in power, according to global real estate firm Colliers International.

As more people arrived in Yangon in search of opportunities, population density soared. In some parts of the city, more than 1,000 people lived in one hectare, double the 500 per hectare of one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Bangladesh's Dhaka.

The 2014 Census shows Yangon is home to more than 5.2 million people, about 35 percent of Myanmar's urban population. Given to the development chaos, architects and town planners fear that Yangon is "bursting at its seams." There is no surprise that the city's already dilapidated infrastructure is under stress while residents are suffering from negative social, commercial and health impacts of rampant development.

A road in Yangon inundated after rains in June 2017. (Photo: Thet Tun Naing / The Irrawaddy)

The most palpable daily urban suffering was bestowed upon Yangon in 2013 after the previous government relaxed car import regulations instead of upgrading the city's rundown public transport system. Since then, chronic traffic congestion has become one of the city's trademarks with the majority of Yangon's workforce commuting to offices and businesses in the downtown.

As the roads became more cramped with cars and brawls over parking spaces became increasingly common, the then city authorities slashed the city's spacious pavements to widen the roads and create parking spaces. Now, pedestrians jostle with one another and the myriad hawkers on the city's shrunken sidewalks. Bus stops on the pavement were rendered redundant by the new parking spaces, and commuters now wait for buses in the road. And, drivers still complain of extended journey times caused by the traffic.

Not everyone in the city is turning a blind eye to the issues, however.

Three years ago, urban experts pushed the then government, requesting "urgent action" to rein in unruly urbanization projects that have had negative consequences because of a lack of "systematic urban planning controls" in the city. Their requests fell on deaf ears with the authorities, but raised public awareness of how the city and its residents were suffering.

Shwedagon Pagoda seen among the buildings in Yangon on September 23, 2015. REUTERS

They were the ones who successfully pushed the then government to cancel a controversial international development project near the Shwedagon Pagoda, fearing that the construction project would threaten the strength of the religious structure and would create an eyesore adjacent to a piece of important national heritage.

Yangon is lucky enough to have heritage conservation groups like the Yangon Heritage Trust fighting for our centuries-old colonial buildings, the largest collection in Southeast Asia. The Trust convinced the previous government of the importance of these buildings and persuaded it to keep them safe.

Experts predict a population of 10 million people in Yangon by 2040. The London School of Economics (LSE)'s International Growth Center says it will grow faster than many other urban centers in the region, including Bangkok.

With that projection, Yangon is at a critical juncture—facing rapid social, economic, and environmental changes that cry out for a well-rounded strategic policy response. Bangkok's lack of a development plan and zoning regulation has led to haphazard urban growth. It is not too late for Yangon to learn from Bangkok's mistakes.

The former Irrawaddy Flotilla Company building on Pansodan Road, where several British colonial-era buildings remain. (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

To make it happen, now is the time for the Yangon Regional Government to put things right. Despite criticism of its poor management of the public bus system reform earlier this year, the government seems committed to making it successful, and is improving the system bit by bit. That kind of willingness is needed to make Yangon livable again. I was informed that the government is now reviewing, upgrading, and drafting policies to harness unruly urban development in the city.

Regional Chief Minister U Phyo Min Thein seriously needs to take experts' suggestions into account when it comes to urban planning to make the right judgment for Yangon. His decisions will have an impact on future generations to come. Making decisions is hard, especially when there are many different interested parties and you don't want to hurt anyone. The people's government, however, must act for the good of the majority of the people.

Yangon used to be considered one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia. With proper regulation, planning, and a little effort, experts believe the city could regain its former glory. Of course, it is not just the government's responsibility—we, as residents, should also do our bit to make the most of the city by respecting its streets and keeping them clean. I long to see my Yangon be great again.

The post Yangon: My City at Breaking Point appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Muse Locals Protest Chinese Bank Account Closures

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 05:10 AM PDT

YANGON — More than 100 people in the Shan State-China border town of Muse protested against Chinese banks on Friday for locking them out of their accounts for nearly 10 days, according to local sources.

Chinese authorities confirmed that banks had locked a total 5,000 accounts on June 15 in what they called a crackdown on money laundering, gambling, and crime, in an attempt to increase border trade stability.

Of these accounts, 320 were locked by the China Agriculture Bank, and the rest were locked by the China Construction Bank, said U San Hlaing, the deputy district administrative officer of Muse Township.

The protesters held posters and slogans calling on Chinese banks to reopen their accounts as soon as possible.

Protester Daw Htwe Kyi told The Irrawaddy that she believed nearly 1,000 people in Myanmar were affected by the move, and that authorities from the banks told them that they were preparing to unlock the accounts but that they were not given an exact date when their funds would be accessible.

Chinese bank officers and the deputy governor of Yunnan province told the Myanmar border authorities at a meeting last the weekend that they would reopen the accounts, but they also did not mention when this would occur, according to U San Hlaing.

"From the side of our government, we are working on it. From the side of China, they were also checking when the accounts could be reopened," he said.

Chinese ambassador to Myanmar Yang Shouzheng met with Burmese Interior Ministry police in Naypyidaw on June 22 to discuss the issue.

A statement from the Chinese embassy said that Yang Shouzheng informed Myanmar authorities at the meeting that the crackdown, meant to halt online gambling, was a reasonable response from the Chinese government, and that it would not damage trade relations, or anti-crime initiatives with its southern neighbor.

The statement also said that China aimed to promote border trade stability with Myanmar in order to protect border traders in the region.

The post Muse Locals Protest Chinese Bank Account Closures appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Diver Dies From Injuries in Military Plane Crash Search

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 03:02 AM PDT

YANGON — A diver who was injured in the search for the crashed Y-8 military aircraft died on Thursday evening, according to the Facebook page of the office of the commander-in-chief of Myanmar's military.

U Saw Naing of Ana-Wa-Min diving service from Yangon's Dala Township joined the Tatmadaw in order to find the plane, which crashed in the Andaman Sea on June 7.

However, U Saw Naing and his colleague from the service, U Thant Zin Oo, was placed in an intensive care unit at the military hospital in Yangon's Mingaladon Township after experiencing problems with the change in pressure.

U Thant Zin Oo is still receiving treatment in intensive care. The statement from the commander-in-chief's office expressed condolences for the family of U Saw Naung.

According to initial figures from the Tatmadaw, 122 people—14 crew and 108 military staff traveling with their families—were on board when the plane crashed during its journey from Tanintharyi Region's port town Myeik to Yangon.

Later, military said there were two more children on board, raising the number to 124. Ninety-three bodies have been recovered so far, according to military figures released on Tuesday.

The plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were retrieved on June 18. parts of the aircraft's tail have also been found. The cause of the crash is not yet known.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

The post Diver Dies From Injuries in Military Plane Crash Search appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Sacked Factory Workers Plan Yangon City Hall Protest

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 12:33 AM PDT

YANGON —Workers from a garment factory in Mingaladon Industrial Zone opposing the firing of more than 400 employees this month will protest outside Yangon City Hall on Saturday.

About 1,500 workers of the factory run by Honeys Garment Industry Ltd (1) will join the rally, according to its organizers. The factory workers have been protesting outside the factory since Monday.

The employees said they were sacked after they failed to meet the demands of the Japanese factory's management, which reportedly ordered each employee to make 75 pieces of clothing per hour.

Workers said they toiled for 10 hours each day without breaks in order to meet the demands.

"We had to tailor 750 pieces of garment each per day," said Ma Zin Poe Ei, one of the dismissed workers. "We had to work against time to meet this demand."

The management refused the workers' request to set the rate at 500 and also reduced meal allowances and bonuses, she added. Employees failed to meet the demand because of changes to the design of the garments, she explained, and the dismissals soon followed.

The workers filed a complaint with the Mingaladon Township Industrial Dispute Arbitration Committee, which then intervened, but the management stated it would only return the jobs if the workers could meet the demand.

Some other employees joined the sacked factory workers in their protest outside the workplace this week, but the factory is still in operation.

"We are demanding all the workers get their jobs back. We resort to a protest because it is the only way to make our voices heard," said factory worker Ma Yin Myo Thu.

"In fact, we wanted to stage a protest in front of the Japanese embassy, but the police said that it would impact the friendship between the two countries, so we had to plan the protest in front of the city hall," added Ma Zin Poe Ei.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

The post Sacked Factory Workers Plan Yangon City Hall Protest appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

UN Rejects Reports of Myanmar Coordinator’s Removal

Posted: 23 Jun 2017 12:24 AM PDT

YANGON — The UN labeled media reports on UN Resident Coordinator Renata Lok-Dessallien's removal from her post as "false and inaccurate," in a statement released Wednesday, as UN officials confirmed the search for her replacement.

The BBC reported last Tuesday that internal documents prepared for the new UN Secretary General described the Myanmar office as "glaringly dysfunctional" with "strong tensions" between different parts of the UN system and suggested Lok-Dessallien was being moved on for failing to prioritize human rights.

Wednesday's statement, however, said Lok-Dessallien's "performance has been constantly appreciated" and that she will continue in the position "until further notice."

UN information officer U Aye Win told The Irrawaddy on Friday that Lok-Dessallien "remains in the post at the moment."

"A successor has not yet been named," said U Aye Win, adding she would not be leaving "immediately."

U Aye Win told The Irrawaddy last week the position had been advertised, though he refused to comment on the reason behind Lok-Dessallien's departure.

Lok-Dessallien had been criticized for not doing enough regarding human rights abuses in Myanmar. She is three and a half years into the usual five-year tenure as a coordinator.

In November last year she blocked journalists from recording a press conference held after the UN and foreign ambassadors visited Rakhine State amid accusations of human rights abuses by government security forces.

The Canadian citizen began the job in January 2014 and was the first woman to take up the role. She previously worked as resident and humanitarian coordinator in Bhutan, Bangladesh, and China.

The post UN Rejects Reports of Myanmar Coordinator's Removal appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Trump Appoints Policy Specialist on Myanmar to UN Job

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 10:38 PM PDT

YANGON — US President Donald Trump has appointed longtime Myanmar and Asia policy specialist Kelley Currie to be the US representative on the Economic and Social Council of the UN, with the rank of ambassador.

Currie is a senior fellow with the Project 2049 Institute, a think-tank focusing on Asia policy. She was a founder of the institute's Burma Transition Initiative which includes a project to promote the reintegration of former Myanmar political prisoners into society. Chin civil society activist Cheery Zahau is listed on the Project 2049 website as the organization's country program director in Myanmar.

Currie previously held senior policy positions with the US Department of State and worked for the International Republican Institute and other international and non-government organizations, often on rights and policy issues related to Myanmar and Tibet.

She also served as foreign policy adviser for Republican congressman John Porter of Illinois.

In the new appointment with the Trump administration, she will become, in addition, the alternate representative of the US to sessions of the UN General Assembly.

Currie's background as a Republican party-linked advocate for human rights in Myanmar contrasts with an earlier Trump appointment with links to the country.

Last year Trump named former lobbyist Jim Murphy as his political director. Murphy worked with the lobbying firm the DCI Group from 2002 to 2012, first as managing partner and then as president.

The firm was hired in 2002 to work for the then Myanmar military government, with part of its remit to counter allegations that the military was responsible for more than 100 rapes of ethnic minority women. The allegations were made in a report jointly released by the Shan Women's Action Network and the Shan Human Rights Foundation titled "License to Rape" and were vehemently denied by the then government.

Last year, the Daily Beast website reported that Kelley Currie said the report "had enormous significance."

"It was the first, most authoritative report on that," she told the website. "It was so comprehensive—it was so well-researched, to an international standard in terms of human rights research—that it led the State Department to conduct their own investigation of the charges." That probe corroborated the Shan groups' findings.

In 2017, Myanmar is back on the UN's radar in relation to similar allegations of grave human rights abuses. In May the UN named the members of a fact-finding missing to investigate alleged serious abuses, including killings and rape, by security forces in Rakhine State and northern Myanmar. The National League for Democracy-led government has rejected the mission.

"It will not help solve the problems Myanmar is facing in Rakhine State … We are ready to work with the international community on any advice or arrangements should they constitute part of the solution, not part of the problem," ambassador to the UN in Geneva U Htin Lynn said earlier this month.

The UN's Economic and Social Council is focused on international economic and social policies, including international development cooperation. One of its key missions is the promotion of sustainable development.

The post Trump Appoints Policy Specialist on Myanmar to UN Job appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Dead Irrawaddy Dolphin Found in Mandalay Region

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 09:43 PM PDT

MANDALAY — Local fishermen found the dead body of an Irrawaddy dolphin near Madaya Township's Thone Sae Pay village in Mandalay Region on Wednesday, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

"After studying the body, we found it was a 30-year-old male with no injuries, so we took the cause of death to be old age," said deputy project manager of WCS U Kyaw Hla Thein, adding that the dolphin probably died a few days before it was discovered.

Local environmental activists, however, blamed the death on electric-shock fishing, a major threat to the endangered species.

"Although there is prohibition of electric-shock fishing, some fishermen are still using the method as the supply of fish is declining in the Irrawaddy River," said U Maung Maung Oo, a member of the Natural Green Society, which is researching Irrawaddy dolphins.

Electric-shock fishing, especially in the Irrawaddy River's protection zone, is prohibited by the Freshwater Fisheries Law, enacted by the Department of Fisheries, and violators face three years in prison or a 300,000 kyats fine.

"To effectively protect this endangered species, the local government should restrict fishing in the Irrawaddy River and stop gold miners polluting the river upstream," said U Maung Maung Oo.

According to WCS, in 2012 there were 86 dolphins. By 2014, however, the population was just 63. In 2015, 58 were counted in the protection zone, which spans from Mandalay to Bhamo.

The population of dolphins was counted as 65 in 2016, despite three dolphins, including a pregnant female, being found dead that year.

A WCS survey in February this year found 69 dolphins in the protection zone. At the end of April, a male dolphin was found dead with injuries on his fins believe to be caused by a boat's propeller.

The post Dead Irrawaddy Dolphin Found in Mandalay Region appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Alternative School Near Inle Reimagines Primary Education

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 07:41 PM PDT

NYAUNG SHWE, Shan State — On a four-acre plot of land in Chaung Sauk village, surrounded by the Shan hills and near one of Myanmar's most popular tourism locales, three bamboo buildings resembling spaceships draw nearly every passerby's attention.

At first glance, these bamboo and earthen structures northeast of Inle Lake could be mistaken for another new hotel or guesthouse. But seesaws and slides in front of the compound reveal that it has been built with children in mind.

Inle Heritage Private School is situated in Chaung Sauk village in Nyaung Shwe Township, Shan State. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

It is the very first private school in Nyaung Shwe—an area known in Shan as Yawnghwe—and is open to any child in the local community, with an affordable price tag and run by the non-profit Inle Heritage Foundation.

The founder of Inle Heritage, Ma Yin Myo Su, is also managing director of two resorts: Inle Princess Resort near Inle Lake and Mrauk-U Princess Resort in Rakhine State, and has been recognized for efforts to preserve her ancestral ethnic Intha traditions and conservation of the natural beauty of Inle Lake. The 45-year-old's most recent contribution concerns an investment in education.

Ma Yin Myo Su, the founder of Inle Heritage Private School, is seen inside a classroom at her school. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

"When I see that there are many babies in the families of my team and in my community, I wanted these children to have a childhood that I wanted myself as a child in this area," said Ma Yin Myo Su, who guided The Irrawaddy's reporters around the Inle Heritage Private School.

She stressed the need to have an alternative school in the area—recognized by the Ministry of Education, but with more activities than typical government-run schools—such as art, sports, storytelling, and innovative and creative talks about the environment, heritage, culture, nature and community.

"I live here. I was born here and I make my living here. So I want to give back in any way that I can, especially when the country is changing," she explained.

In 2012 when Myanmar started allowing private schools, more than 60 schools registered. In the 2016-17 academic year, there were 585 private schools registered with the Ministry of Education, U Kyaw Thu, of the ministry's department of basic education, told The Irrawaddy.

In a time when the private and international school sector is growing rapidly, fees for Myanmar's most expensive international schools can run up to US$2,000 per month, per child. Private schools with a government-drafted curriculum start at around 50,000 kyats ($37) per month.

It took Ma Yin Myo Su and her team one year to complete the construction of the Inle Heritage Private School's first three buildings. The school then launched its first class on June 1. It currently has a total of five classrooms hosting 118 students, from nursery to second grade, and boasts two playgrounds in the compound.

She plans to expand the school to host up to 12 buildings, eventually providing middle and high school education as well. The school's monthly fees are 35,000 kyats ($25) for nursery and kindergarten and 40,000 kyats (US$30) for first and second grades.

Bamboo As A Building Material

The unique architecture of the school is another reason why it stands out from other standard school facilities in Myanmar, which are typically multi-story concrete buildings with limited play space. Yin Myo Su described it as a mix of contemporary and traditional architectural forms that fits into the local culture and remains close to nature.

To have a school that is made up of funky, strange and irregular shapes yet still stands in harmony with the surrounding area and environment inspired Ma Yin Myo Su's fundamental vision to use bamboo as a building material for the project.

The school’s founder Ma Yin Myo Su said she wanted to build a school that was funky, strange and had irregular shapes but was still in harmony with the surrounding area. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

While Asian cultures have been building with bamboo since the 10th century, the medium has become increasingly popular in modern architecture and interior design as a sustainable and cheaper alternative to timber. Its advantage is that it is fast growing and does not contribute to deforestation, Ma Yin Myo Su explained.

"I want children to start thinking about sustainability, from the building itself, up to anything that they can see and imagine," she said. "Whoever is going to build either businesses or schools or clinics or houses, it is possible to build in the most sustainable way possible, and there is alternative material that we could use with what we have around us."

Not only the school’s buildings, but also its facilities are made out of bamboo. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

With proper insecticide treatment, bamboo structures can last several decades. It is non-polluting and, according to architects, arguably more earthquake resistant than cement and timber.

Ma Yin Myo Su also highlighted the school's construction as a chance for her employees to learn how to preserve bamboo and how to treat it so that it is more resistant and durable for longer periods. The project was completed in partnership with Thailand-based architectural and design company Bamboo Family.

 Building Children's Character

The school of five classrooms currently runs with a total of 17 staff including eleven teachers, two academic consultants and the principal.

Being the first private school in the region, one of the challenges it faces are the expectations from parents who want their children to be outstanding students in terms of grades and distinctions, Ko Aung Kyaw Swar, the school's principal told The Irrawaddy.

Ko Aung Kyaw Swar, principal of Inle Heritage Private School, talks to The Irrawaddy on June 19, 2017. (Chanson/ The Irrawaddy)

The principal explained that the school's first ambition is to train children to be morally sound and disciplined persons, while cultivating an attitude of care for the community.

"Education to me is beyond the recognitions of degrees or certificates," he said. "I personally do not [put] a lot of grand visions or objectives on our kids, but I want them to become responsible for themselves on their own and to at least care for their community."

The school’s design is a mix of contemporary and traditional architectural forms that fit in to local culture. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

After only the first two weeks of the school's operation, Ko Aung Kyaw Swar said he was initially afraid that parents would give up on the school and that no children would show up to attend anymore. However, he had received positive feedback from parents that their children had become more independent in their daily lives.

"It's the very, very first step of a long journey and [parents] need to believe in what we are doing, so we also try to closely collaborate with them," he added.

Ma Yin Myo Su also said that she dreams of having a small animal farm and vegetable garden in the school compound where students can learn respect for animals, responsible consumption, and environmentally friendly habits.

"We have to give our children the best education, since they are going to lead our country's next generation one day and decide its future," she said.

Inle Heritage Private School is the first institution of its kind in Nyaung Shwe and Ma Yin Myo Su plans to expand the school to up to 12 buildings, eventually providing high school education. (Photo: Chanson / The Irrawaddy)

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National News

National News


Government considers amending Section 66(d) to be bailable offence

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:59 AM PDT

Discussions are under way to amend Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law to become a bailable offence, Post and Telecommunications Department, Ministry of Transport and Communications director U Myo Swe told The Myanmar Times.

Hluttaw to debate Inle Lake conservation measures

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:55 AM PDT

A proposal to have conservation rules and procedures for the Inle lake, the second largest in Myanmar, has been submitted by U Win Myint Oo (or) U Nay Myo, Pyithu Hluttaw representative for Nyaungshwe, Shan State.

‘Sun Ye’ campaign aims at preventing crime

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:52 AM PDT

A crime prevention campaign called Sun Ye operation has been launched in the Yangon Region said Deputy Minister Major General Aung Soe of the Ministry of Home Affairs, on June 21.

Political prisoners given amnesty at right time: deputy minister

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:48 AM PDT

Political prisoners have been granted amnesty at the right and appropriate time, said Major General Aung Soe, the Deputy Home Affairs Minister, at the Amyotha Hluttaw session on June 21.

Caves, falls in Pyin Oo Lwin set to become tourist draw

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:44 AM PDT

The discovery of a series of limestone caves and waterfalls in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay, by the Sein Lan Pyin Oo Lwin Environmental Conservation Group, has created excitement and interest to make it a potential tourist destination.

Former first president’s son free to enter Myanmar

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:40 AM PDT

The Ministry of the State Counsellor's office director-general U Zaw Htay denied rumours on June 21 that the son of the first president of Myanmar Sao Shwe Thaik had been barred from re-entry into Myanmar by the government.

Traders face devastation after China freezes accounts

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:36 AM PDT

The Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) in Yunnan province froze more than 100 bank accounts belonging to Myanmar citizens last week for allegedly being linked to online gambling, illegal transfers, illegal deposits and drawings in three provinces, including Inner Mongolia.

UN strongly rejects reports of removal of top official in Myanmar

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:33 AM PDT

The United Nations rejected media reports about the reshuffle of Renata Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar, in a statement issued late Wednesday.

Terrorist camp, tunnel found in Rakhine

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:31 AM PDT

A tunnel, guns and a terrorist camp have been found in the Mayu Mountains in the Buthidaung-Maungtaw area, Rakhine State, during a clearance operation on June 20.

Tech transfer clause linked to enactment of IPR law

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 11:30 AM PDT

The inclusion of the technology transfer clause in contracts inked in Myanmar by foreign firms will only take effect after the Intellectual Properties Right (IPR) law is enacted, said Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Planning and Finance U Maung Maung Win.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy

The Irrawaddy Magazine


UN: Myanmar Must Enable Women’s Entry Into the Workforce

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 07:18 AM PDT

YANGON – Myanmar needs to realize the potential of women and enable their entry into the labor market in order to generate economic growth driven by a "gender dividend," said the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Thursday.

The UN said the conclusion was based on the findings from a series of 14 papers from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Thematic Report, which examines the total labor force participation rate of both men and women. The department of population completed the Thematic Report on the Labor Force—the seventh paper out of 14—in June.

Although men and women make up almost an equal ratio of Myanmar's population, according to the census data, just 50.5 percent of women are working, compared with 85.6 percent of men.

"ILO agrees these figures highlight the untapped potential of women in the workforce and how creating jobs for women could really boost economic development," Rory Mungoven, Liaison Officer with the International Labor Organization in Yangon—the UN's labor agency—told The Irrawaddy in response to the UNFPA report.
The UNFPA has maintained that women "are critical to Myanmar's development," and that they "hold the key to Myanmar's future prosperity."

The agency highlighted that if more women were to join the jobs sector, Myanmar would experience "a dramatic rise in the country's per capita income."

"The gender dividend can be unlocked immediately if jobs are created. But for this to happen, women need equal rights to education, jobs, credit, land, and decision-making positions," said Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar, in Thursday's statement.

"A better and safer working environment for women is a real need, in addition to providing vocational skills development for women to enter the labor market," echoed Daw Thet Thet Aung, the in-charge of the Future Light Centre, who has been helping laborers mostly in Yangon's industrial zones.

She told The Irrawaddy that she estimated that the vast majority of the total workforce in factories are women. She added that more women are entering employment, both domestically and internationally, as migrant workers.

She highlighted that many domestic workers may not be enumerated in the census as their jobs are in the home, and that, as a society, Myanmar "tends not to consider them as laborers."

Many women in the workforce also need greater support to build their capacity, Daw Thet Thet Aung added.

"It will be a significant challenge for Myanmar to build the skills of an inadequately educated population to the level required for an expanding modern economy," said Janet Jackson.

"Young people in particular require targeted policies and interventions,” she said, reiterating the argument from January, when the UNFPA released findings that one million new jobs were needed to ensure employment for Myanmar's young population over the next four years.

The UN agency said youth unemployment in Myanmar contributes to the low labor force, and the causes are linked to socioeconomic status and education.

In Myanmar, from age 19, joblessness is the highest within the richest fifth of the country's population. People with graduate diplomas have the highest unemployment rate, almost five times greater than those with no education.

One in four people aged 15-24 (25.6 percent) are not engaged in education, employment or training, a figure which is more than double for young women (34.9 percent) than for young men (15.8 percent).

However, those in then skilled labor sector, numbering almost 12 million, are underqualified for the work they perform, according to official census report.

Myanmar's labor force is amongst the lowest in Asean, according to the UNFPA. Only 63.6 percent of the population is economically active, compared to 80.9 percent in Cambodia and 77.4 percent in Laos.

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Yangon Govt Bans 66(d) Opposition Signature Campaign Near Military Command

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 07:12 AM PDT

YANGON — The Yangon divisional government banned a signature campaign organized by journalists to oppose Article 66(d) of the Telecommunication Law that was going to be held near Yangon Region Military Command, stating that the area was restricted for national security concerns.

A letter from the government came after organizers were previously pressured to change the venue to a location in the same township but away from military command. It then deemed that location restricted as well.

Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet, who works at the Democratic Voice of Burma and is a member of the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists, said organizers have now been told to move the campaign to Yangon's City Hall.

"We are still processing the venue but we will continue the signature campaign as planned on Friday," he said.

The signature campaign to repeal Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law is the second phase of the Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists movement against the article, following 10 days of wearing white armbands in solidarity.

The first phase – which involved hundreds of journalists wearing white armbands and marching from a Bahan Township courthouse to The Voice Daily's office in support of the newspaper's detained staff members – faced no objection from authorities.

Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet said the military had pressured the committee members through authorities and also by contacting reporters close to members of the campaign to advise them not to collect signatures in front of the military compound.

The journalists wanted to launch the signature campaign in front of Yangon Region military command in Mayangone Township to show their opposition to the military for opening a case against two journalists from The Voice Daily for a satirical article that was published last month.

Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet went to the Mayangone Township police station on Wednesday morning and gave notification of the event to local authorities in advance, in line with the Peaceful Assembly Law.

The chief of the Western District Police Force and the chief of the Mayangone Township Police Force summoned the committee members on Wednesday afternoon and told them to change the venue.

On Thursday, the township administration summoned them again to negotiate the venue.

"We can't say the military pressured us directly. Authorities applied the pressure," said Ko Tha Lun Zaung Htet.

"If they [the military] want to stop this, they should drop all lawsuits against journalists and citizens under 66(d). If not, we won't stop," he added.

After the signature campaign ends on July 11, the petition will be submitted to President U Htin Kyaw, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and the speakers of the Lower House and Upper House.

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Myanmar Army Warns Four Kachin Villages of Operations

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 04:19 AM PDT

YANGON — In a further escalation of the conflict in northern Kachin State, the Myanmar Army has ordered locals of four Kachin communities to remain in their villages, as the military prepares for battles in the area.

The Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have clashed every day in the lands surrounding Hpakant and Tanai townships since June 4, forcing thousands to flee their homes and their work in the area's amber and gold mines.

In a written statement issued on Wednesday, the Myanmar Army's 297th Infantry Battalion ordered the village heads of Nawng Mi, Warazup, and Shaduzup in Hpakant Township, and Tingkawk in Tanai Township to tell residents not to leave their villages, including for activities such as farming, logging, fishing, hunting, and tending vegetables.

The order started on Thursday and will run until July 2, according to the statement, which put responsibility for any injuries endured by locals who leave the villages on the community leaders. All four villages are on Ledo Road, a highway passing through Hpakant, Tanai, and Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital.

Many residents are aware of the statement, as it is spread on social media, although the order was first sent to the villages' heads, according to Kachin Baptist Church member Nor Seng from Tanai Township.

"We tried to find out from the villagers about the letters, and they told us that it was true," said Nor Seng.

The Northern Alliance, to which the KIA belongs, detailed clashes with the Tatmadaw in La War village in Hpakant and Kunsawyan village in Tanai on June 21. Local people said the two forces clashed five times on Ledo Road between Tanai and Hpakant on June 20.

La Daw, an ethnic Kachin taxi driver who works the route from Tanai to Myitkyina, said the number of cars and buses making the 190-kilometer journey from Tanai to Myitkyina were dwindling as the conflict intensifies.

The Karen Baptist Church reported that 513 internally displaced people (IDPs) have arrived in Tanai since June 9—most of whom were Kachin who fled from mining areas.

They abandoned their villages after the Myanmar Army ordered them via letters dropped from a military helicopter to leave the area by June 15 or else be "recognized as insurgents."

Nine villages in the Hugawng Valley region were abandoned, according to a joint statement from 28 Kachin civil society organizations.

The statement accused the Myanmar Army and the locally elected National League for Democracy politicians of wanting to drive out residents and seize the lands and farms of: Nam Byu/Nam Hkam; Nam Gawn; N'Ga Ga; Hkan Ja; Tung Mali; Kawng Ra; Ding Hkun 1; Ding Hkun 2; and Mung Hkawm.

"It is clear that the Tatmadaw's current military offensive is aimed at seizing local lands to make way for Naypyidaw-approved mining companies, agricultural companies and so-called environmental conservation organizations, and preventing the thousands of local inhabitants from ever returning," read the statement.

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Harn Yawnghwe Not Blacklisted by Myanmar Govt: Spokesperson

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 03:46 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — Harn Yawnghwe, an influential figure and son of Myanmar's first President Sao Shwe Thaike, was not blacklisted by the Myanmar government but instead has had his visa changed from multiple-entry to social, presidential spokesperson U Zaw Htay told the press on Wednesday evening.

"U Harn Yawnghwe can enter Myanmar anytime, but with a social visa. We've informed the [concerned] embassies," said U Zaw Htay.

Harn Yawnghwe, who holds a Canadian passport, is the executive director of the Brussels-based Euro-Burma Office (EBO), an organization that provides funding to ethnic and civil society organizations.

The previous government issued him a multiple-entry visa because of his active role in the country's peace process, but he is not participating in the peace process under the new government, said U Zaw Htay.

"The new government has not signed any agreement or contract with EBO regarding the peace process. And he does not cooperate with the current government on the country's peace process. We have not denied him a visa; he will just be on a different visa than he was in the past," U Zaw Htay told reporters.

There were rumors in the second week of June that Harn Yawnghwe had been blacklisted by the Myanmar government, which close friends of his confirmed.

"We have informed him about his visa. But rumors spread in the media and the government has been widely criticized for this. This has impacted the peace process so we wanted to explain," said U Zaw Htay.

Harn Yawnghwe is an ethnic Shan from Myanmar who has played a major role supporting and advising ethnic armed organizations both in exile and inside the country for decades. Due to his influential role in ethnic affairs, critics claim his involvement is controversial. Some criticize him for dividing the unity of ethnic armed groups.

Established in 1997, the EBO has been one of the main donors to Myanmar's democracy movement. In 2011, it was permitted to open a branch office in the country.

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Lawmaker Urges Government to Release All Political Prisoners

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 02:17 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — A lawmaker questioned the Upper House on Wednesday on why there were still political prisoners in Myanmar more than one year after the National League for Democracy (NLD) assumed office.

Lawmaker U Kyaw Kyaw of Rakhine State (4) Constituency cited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who once said there should be no political prisoners in a democracy, as he urged the government to release such prisoners.

"Political prisoners are not the enemies of the government except when the government is authoritarian. In fact, political prisoners should participate in establishing a democratic nation," the lawmaker argued.

Myanmar has more than 80 political prisoners and 100 more facing trial, he told the Upper House.

Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Maj-Gen Aung Soe said the government has no definition of political prisoners or political offenses. It takes action against lawbreakers according to existing laws, he added.

"The incumbent government has said it still has no plans to define 'political prisoner.' At present, we take action in response to the violation of existing laws. And for the time being, we don't treat cases as political offenses or not," Maj-Gen Aung Soe told reporters after the parliamentary session.

In line with the military-drafted 2008 Constitution, the president has granted amnesty when he has believed it to be appropriate. Since taking office, the new government has released 286 Myanmar prisoners and 73 foreigner prisoners in six amnesties, he told Parliament.

Lawmaker U Kyaw Kyaw gave his definition of political prisoners as "those who are imprisoned by the government for their political activities that run outside the government's political beliefs."

While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was the opposition leader, she said, "one political prisoner is too many in a democracy," added U Kyaw Kyaw.

"The State Counselor has the full authority—higher than the president. She has many opportunities to release all political prisoners in cooperation with the president and the home ministry," he said.

The government of former President U Thein Sein formed a committee to define 'political prisoner,' but did not finish the task before it left office. Of the incumbent lawmakers in Myanmar's bicameral parliament, more than 100 are former political prisoners, said U Kyaw Kyaw.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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CSOs Oppose Karen State Coal-fired Power Plant

Posted: 22 Jun 2017 02:10 AM PDT

MAWLAMYINE, Mon State — Nearly 150 civil society organizations (CSOs) across the country denounced a coal-fired power plant project in Karen State's Hpa-an Township as a state minister confirmed plans for 11 new plants with an aim to source 33 percent of Myanmar's energy consumption from coal by 2030.

"According to the energy ministry, the country's electricity consumption is increasing by 14 percent per year," said U Soe Hlaing, electricity and industry minister of Karen State, confirming plans for new plants in Yangon and Irrawaddy regions and Karen State.

"So, if there is no new production, there will be a shortage of electricity, and people will be in trouble," he said.

Thirty-three CSOs based in Karen State prepared a statement denouncing the use of coal to generate power when there are renewable energy options available. Another 114 national CSOs signed in support.

The Karen State government allowed Thailand-based Toyo-Thai Corporation to establish a 1280-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Karen State's Hpa-an.

The initial survey will be conducted until December this year and will include a feasibility study, an environmental impact assessment, and consultations with locals, according to a manager of the power plant project U Htet Aung Mon.

"We don't know when the project will begin, we are still in the stage of conducting feasibility studies," he told The Irrawaddy. The project is planned for outside Hpa-an, but the location has not been decided yet, he added.

Toyo-Thai will use coal from Indonesia and apply "ultra-supercritical clean coal technology" to minimize environmental impact, he said.

"It is about the technology and environmentally friendly facilities that remove sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide particles," he said.

Environmental activists are not convinced.

"The company [officials] said in a meeting with locals that they guarantee the plant does not affect the environment—it is a lie," said coordinator of Karen River Watch Saw Tha Bo, one of the statement's signatories.

"Clean coal is just a technical term—the plant still has an impact on the environment," he added.

Company officials met locals of two villages on Monday and Tuesday, and Hpa-an town residents on Wednesday, to discuss the project.

According to minister U Soe Hlaing, Toyo-Thai plans to start construction in early 2018, and the power generated will go to the national grid.

Toyo-Thai also attempted to establish a 1280-megawatt coal-fired power plant in the village of Inn Din in Mon State's Ye Township in 2014, but the project was suspended after of opposition from locals.

The government's energy plan from 2012-2030 aims to generate more electricity from coal power plants—up to 30 percent—and solar power—up to five percent—while trying to reduce reliance on hydropower and gas.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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Sixty Years After Fleeing Tibet, Refugees in India get Passports, not Property


Posted: 21 Jun 2017 10:34 PM PDT

DHARAMSALA/NEW DELHI, India — Event organizer Lobsang Wangyal has to travel overseas often, but as a Tibetan refugee born in India, he did not have a passport and sometimes had to wait days to get the mandatory permits every time he went abroad.

So Wangyal, whose parents fled Tibet as teenagers, went to court to demand his right to an Indian passport.

In response to his petition, the Delhi High Court said authorities must abide by an earlier ruling that all Tibetans born in India between January 1950 and July 1987 are Indian citizens by birth, and can be issued passports.

The order came into effect in March, and Wangyal got his Indian passport shortly thereafter, using it to go to Thailand. For the first time, he was spared the additional scrutiny that his documents always got from immigration officials.

"I feel like a real person now, having obtained a passport," said Wangyal, 47, who was born in a Tibetan settlement in eastern Odisha state and now lives in the hill town Dharamsala.

"Tibetans are seen as refugees and as stateless in India. Being seen that way after having been born and lived our whole lives in India is unfair and impractical," he said.

Emotional Turmoil

Tibetans have been seeking asylum in India since the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese occupation.

The Tibetan spiritual leader has since lived mostly in Dharamsala in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, where his supporters run a small government in exile and advocate for autonomy for Tibet by peaceful means.

More than 100,000 Tibetans live in 39 formal settlements and dozens of informal communities across India. They generally arrive via Nepal, after a perilous trek across the Himalayas.

The Indian government has funded schools to provide free education for Tibetans, and reserved seats in medical and engineering colleges. Those eligible can get voter identification cards.

But Tibetans do not have citizenship rights, which limits their access to government jobs and freedom of movement within and outside India. They cannot own land or property.

In some states, they cannot get driving licenses or bank loans. Those without identity documents are at risk of harassment, arrests and deportation to China.

"The status of statelessness is demoralizing and frustrating. There's a lot of emotional turmoil," said Tenzin Tselha, an activist with Students for a Free Tibet, whose father served in the Indian Army.

"Sometimes I eat rice and daal [lentils] more than thukpa [Tibetan noodle soup], but I never feel Indian; I am Tibetan. It drains my energy, this struggle to always prove who I am and where I am from," she said.

Foreigners by Law

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which spells out refugee rights and state responsibilities to protect them. Nor does it have a domestic law to protect the more than 200,000 refugees it currently hosts, including Tibetans, Sri Lankans, Afghans, Bangladeshis and Rohingyas from Myanmar.

They are all considered foreigners by law. Tibetan refugees get "enough rights and benefits," and not everyone wants citizenship, said Sonam Norbu Dagpo, a spokesman for the Central Tibetan Administration, the government in exile.

"Even those Tibetan refugees who qualify for Indian citizenship do not apply for citizenship," he said.

While the number of refugees across the world has risen in recent years, the number of Tibetans arriving in India has fallen significantly since 2008, following a crackdown by China which considers Tibet a renegade province.

Only 87 Tibetans registered in Dharamsala in 2015, compared to about 2,500 each year before 2008.

"India's policy towards refugees has always been dictated by geo-political compulsions," said Saurabh Bhattacharjee, a professor at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata.

But beyond ensuring basic protections and civic amenities for all refugees, India must consider the status of Tibetan refugees more carefully, he said.

"Will they always remain refugees, or should they be given some sort of permanent resident status, as they have been here for so long, and have little chance of being repatriated?"

Decent Life

Recent court orders and the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014 promise more rights and benefits.
The policy proposes, for the first time, to give refugees welfare benefits on par with Indians, subsidies for some college courses, more job options and greater ease in getting documents.

It does not address property ownership, getting government jobs, or travelling freely within and outside India.

But the issue of rights and citizenship is also an emotional one that divides the community.

"I don't think it's important to have citizenship rights or to have an Indian passport," said Dorjee Tsering, 28, who works in a store in Dharamsala selling Free Tibet T-shirts and sweatshirts.

"We may face some problems, but we should sacrifice a little to preserve our heritage and identity."

But for Wangyal, who fought for a passport, more rights are necessary.

"I would like the right to own property. A little house and a small business would be good to live a decent life," he said.
"Tibetans will fight on for Free Tibet, but at the same time we have to live our lives now."

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 appeared first on The Irrawaddy.