Monday, July 16, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Peace Strategy Needed to Achieve National Goals, Suu Kyi Says

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 08:14 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — A peace strategy is required in order to achieve all parties' common goals for Myanmar, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in her closing address to the third session of the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference on Monday.

"We need a peace strategy to implement our common goals for the future. Based on this strategy, we need to adjust the political dialogue framework," she said.

She said the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) had already formed working committees tasked with implementing this strategy, adding that it needed to start work urgently.

The six-day conference ended on Monday with the signing of agreements under Part Two of the Union Accord. These agreements included 14 more principles that were discussed and approved by the UPDJC on Sunday. In May last year, 37 basic principles were approved in Part One of the Union Accord.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairperson of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), thanked the 700 delegates attending the conference for putting their efforts into debating and reaching agreement on the 14 basic principles. Of these, four were in the political sector, one economic, seven social, and two involved land. No agreement has yet been reached on the security sector, she said.

However, some of the delegates told The Irrawaddy they were disappointed with the results.

In the political sector, which was mainly limited to gender equality issues, they were disappointed with the wording, "to encourage the participation of at least 30 percent of women in every sector."

"I am concerned by this; instead of 'encouraging' it should be a specific policy to help enhance [the participation of] women and to guarantee that women are freed from any forms of discrimination," said Naw Hel Lay Phaw, a Karen National Union delegate.

She told The Irrawaddy that there was dissatisfaction over having just two principles in the land sector, adding that many of the demands the ethnic people made were left out during the various stages of the negotiations.

The delegates can only suggest opinions on the UPDJC's already-agreed texts. However, the UPDJC did not make any changes based on these suggestions and on Sunday approved the principles as proposed.

The government plans to convene the UPC every six months. It repeated in its statement on Monday that it plans to hold three more conferences: one later this year and two in 2019. The State Counselor acknowledged that disagreements had resulted in almost a year passing between the two most recent conferences.

She said the "results" of the recent conference were obtained after many negotiations — and the facing of many challenges and disagreements. Thus, she said, the peace process was moving forward.

The number of principles agreed may be less than in the previous sessions, "but we have been able to move the political dialogue process forward," she said, because the negotiations were made through everyone's efforts and mutual trust.

"Our conference is not stopping, it is not reversing; it is moving forward with great difficulty," added the State Counselor.

During the third session of the conference, ethnic armed organizations that have not yet signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement joined the conference at the government's invitation.

The leaders of an alliance of northern- and northeastern-based ethnic organizations — the United Wa State Army; the Kachin Independence Army; the Mongla's National Democratic Alliance Army; the Shan State Progressive Party; the Kokang's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army; the Arakan Army; and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army — observed the conference and separately met the State Counselor and the commander-in-chief of the military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, last week.

The State Counselor added that the northeast-based armed organizations' agreeing to come to Naypyitaw and attend meetings was "one of the good results of this third session of the UPC."

"During these meetings, we discussed openly and warmly, and we are all happy because there is great potential for them to participate in the peace process," she said.

The post Peace Strategy Needed to Achieve National Goals, Suu Kyi Says appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Govt Under Fire For Fatal Electrocution of Yangon Boy

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 07:10 AM PDT

YANGON — The death of a 13-year-old boy by electrocution in Yangon has prompted calls for accountability and safety measures in the city to prevent similar incidents from recurring.

Maung Myo Min Tun, also known as Pouk Soh, from Yangon's South Okkalapa Township, died on Friday evening after stepping on a fallen wire lying in a pool of water along Thanthumar Road while walking with his friend near his home.

Daw Thit Thit Myint, a regional lawmaker from South Okkalapa Township, said neighbors phoned the township electricity department about the fallen wire earlier that afternoon, but the department failed to fix it in time.

"It is because of their negligence, not because the boy was unfortunate. The boy died because they didn't cut the power and fix it," she said.

Photos of the body lying face down in the pool next to the busy road and CCTV footage of the incident from a nearby house were posted online and sparked outrage from some netizens.

Ko Than Zaw Aung, a lawyer, wrote on his page that the authorities must do more than cover the family’s funeral expenses and take responsibility for the incident.

Some social media users have also started an online campaign demanding accountability by changing their profile pictures to an illustration of the dead boy lying face down in the pool of water with the caption, “Sorry mom, I can’t come back home today.”

Daw Thit Thit Myint said Yangon Region Electricity Minister Daw Nilar Kyaw visited the family on Sunday ahead of the funeral. She said the minister acknowledged the department’s negligence and expressed her sorrow for the loss.

According to Daw Thit Thit Myint, the minister also said that authorities were forming an ad hoc committee to investigate the incident starting Monday.

She said Yangon Region lacked the budget to repair and adequately maintain all the city’s power lines.

"Maintenance is not needed only in Yangon but in other cities as well. We already asked about that in Parliament, and the answer we got is that they don’t have enough funds,” she said, adding that she would continue to press the issue.

Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, a former Yangon Region lawmaker, said the Union Ministry of Electricity and Energy must allocate enough funds for the city to fix its broken power lines as a matter of public safety.

She said the regional government should not complain about lacking funds to fix broken wires when it was planning to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a few new vehicles.

Daw Aye Aye Myint, the dead boy’s mother, told The Irrawaddy that her only hope was that no other child suffer the same fate.

"I have lost my son. They promised they won't be careless next time,” she said. “I hope they are not.”

The post Govt Under Fire For Fatal Electrocution of Yangon Boy appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Yangon Chief Minister Slammed for Accepting Donation to City from Accused Fraudster

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 06:49 AM PDT

YANGON — Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein's decision to accept of a 20-million-kyat donation to the city by accused Malaysian fraudster Ong Kean Swan has drawn a strong negative reaction on social media.

Ong, a Malaysian who also goes by Peter Ong, is an accused fraudster, self-styled backer of professional gamblers and the CEO of a multilevel marketing (MLM) company and that has been blacklisted in Taiwan, Malaysia and China.

On Saturday, the Yangon Regional Government's official Facebook account said Ong's family donated money to assist the government's social work, and posted nine photos including one of the chief minister presenting Ong with a certificate of honor

"It is encouraging bad people. That is not acceptable for the head of the [Yangon] government. Actually, it is easy to check a person's background in the media. Before accepting the money, they should have checked [Ong's] background," said Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, a former Yangon Regional Parliament lawmaker.

"The government should not accept 'black money.' It is a small amount of money but definitely ruins the government's image," she told The Irrawaddy.

Many people commented under the photos, some pasting screenshots with information about the donor's background including lawsuits filed against him in Singapore and Malaysia. People advised the Yangon government to conduct serious background checks before accepting donations from external donors.

"If they don't know where the money comes from, it's better not to accept it. If it is black money, it could implicate [the government] in money laundering," said U Tint Zaw Hein, a Magway Region Youth Network adviser.

In Myanmar, multi-level marketing companies have a bad reputation due to a number of cases in which people claim to have been defrauded.

The Myanmar President's Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs ordered the Bureau of Special Investigation (BSI) to investigate MLM companies in Myanmar after receiving reports of fraud from the public. The BSI announced in January that MLM companies take advantage of investors and that it was investigating those currently operating in the country.

According to international media reports, Ong is CEO of the MLM company Dream Success International Sdn Bhd and the Surewin4u corporate website.

Dream Success International claims to sell health and beauty products. Surewin4u is a corporate website run by Dream Success International that promises investors monthly returns plus bonuses from backing "expert gamblers" who play in casinos. The company claims investors have a 99 percent of chance of making money, according to Ong's website.

According to Malaysian and Taiwanese reports, in 2013 Dream Success International and the website were blacklisted by the Central Bank of Malaysia (Bank Negara Malaysia) after they were found to be engaging in unlicensed activities. In 2014, the Taiwanese government shut down Dream Success International's operations there for allegedly defrauding thousands of investors out of millions of dollars.

In 2015, Dream Winners and Surewin4u became the focus of negative media reports for operating a multi-level pyramid scam in Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and China.

According to a report published in The Straits Times on Oct. 21, 2017, a suit filed with Singapore's High Court claimed that around 150 people in Singapore lost 50 million Singapore dollars (about 53 billion kyats) after investing in Surewin4u

Citing court documents, The Straits Times reported that Ong had not been heard from in Singapore since 2014, when the website went dark, leaving investors empty-handed.

A victim filed a lawsuit against Surewin4u for fraud and losing investment. Two representatives from Surewin4u facing at court.

In 2017, a suit was filed in a Singapore court by a plaintiff alleging the loss of their investment to fraud. Two Surewin4u representatives faced the court, as Ong had fled the country.

In September of that year, the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs announced that it was investigating four MLMs about which it had received complaints from the public. A Malaysian-owned MLM company reportedly defrauded Myanmar investors of over USD1 million in that year.

Many critics have urged the government to pass a law regulating MLM companies in Myanmar.

"When the government accepts money from a multi-level marketing scammer, it means they accept the MLM system," U Tint Zaw Hein said.

"The government should not even be meeting these people. Accepting donations goes too far," he added.

The post Yangon Chief Minister Slammed for Accepting Donation to City from Accused Fraudster appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Anti-Graft Panel Files Charges Against 12 Customs Officials

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 06:40 AM PDT

Yangon—The Myanmar Anti-Corruption Commission has filed complaints with the police against 12 officers including three directors of the Customs Department for alleged bribe-taking related to the importation of delivery vans.

The anti-graft body announced on Monday that it had launched an investigation after receiving complaints against customs officials at Yangon Port who had allegedly demanded money from importers to allow for the clearance of the vans.

In addition, the customs officials allegedly took bribes from importers and allowed into the country certain types of vehicles that are banned by the government automobile import supervision committee.

The investigation found that seven customs officials involved in several stages of customs clearance for imported vehicles had received bribes totalling nearly 9 million kyats (USD6,300) for the shipment of five delivery vans.

Moreover, the commission found three directors, a deputy director and another staff officer, assisted or cooperated in the corruption.

The commission on Monday filed complaints with Thilawa Police Station in Yangon's Kyauktan Township against seven customs officials under Section 56 of the Anti-Corruption Law, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment.

It also lodged a complaint against five others under Section 63 of the same law, accusing them of aiding and abetting corruption.

The Customs Department is overseen by the Ministry of Planning and Finance. In May, Finance Minister U Kyaw Win resigned amid a separate corruption scandal.

The Anti-Corruption Law was enacted in 2013 under the previous military-backed government. But it was rarely enforced until Myanmar's new President U Win Myint came to power in March this year. In his inaugural speech, he vowed to crack down on corruption and the illegal drug trade, and to reform the country's weak judicial system. The Anti-Corruption Commission was the first organization he met after his inauguration.

Since then the anti-graft body has been active launching a string of investigations. Its most high profile cases include probing former finance minister U Kyaw Win and the director-general of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for corruption.

Before the latest complaint by the ACC, the country’s President's Office ordered the Ministry of Finance and Planning in May to launch an internal investigation into a department director who allegedly encouraged his staff to take bribes.

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Hundreds Flee Fighting Between Rival Ethnic Groups in Namtu

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 05:50 AM PDT

Hundreds of local villagers fled their homes in Namtu Township, northern Shan State, after fighting broke out this morning between troops of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), and a joint force of the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), according to local sources.

Nang Sam Howm, a Shan State lawmaker from Namtu Township, told The Irrawaddy that the clashes had caused over 400 local people to abandon their villages.

"The fighting broke out at 8 am. And we could still hear the sounds of shooting up until now (4 pm, local time)," she said, adding that she was unsure exactly how many villagers had been displaced.

"A lot of people fled. But, we still need to go out and rescue them so we do not have an exact number yet," she said.

There are currently about 1,000 villagers living in a makeshift IDP camp in Namtu as a result of fighting in recent years. Many of the villagers who fled today sought sanctuary in a Shan Buddhist monastery.

Tai Freedom, a media outlet operated by the RCSS, claimed the TNLA and SSPP launched a coordinated attack against RCSS positions.

"They launched a pre-meditated attack against our troops," Tai Freedom said.

The RCSS media outlet recently reported that the Northern Alliance, which includes the TNLA, SSPP, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and United Wa State Army (UWSA), had been conducting joint military exercises in the Namtu area. But the SSPP issued a statement last week denying the report.

The RCSS said it had withdrawn its troops on four occasions to avoid clashes with Northern Alliance armies, but the joint TNLA and SSPP force pursued and attacked the RCSS units, according to a Tai Freedom report.

The Irrawaddy tried to get details about the fighting from the RCSS and TNLA, but they both declined to comment.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesperson for the RCSS, confirmed that fighting had broken out with the TNLA and SSPP, but he declined to provide any further details.

There are several ethnic armed groups active in Namtu Township, which is a key crossroads between several ethnic townships.

The TNLA, SSPP, KIA, and RCSS are the main armed groups active in the area. According to the TNLA, the RCSS expanded its area of control with help from the Myanmar Army after signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, which caused clashes with the other armed groups.

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Historic ’88 Uprising Photos on Display 30 Years Later

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 03:09 AM PDT

YANGON — Almost 30 years later, the immensity of the crowd he saw still excites him.

On the morning of Aug. 26, 1988, Htein Win picked up a camera that he had borrowed from a friend and headed to the western gate of Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda, where Daw Aung San Suu Kyi began her decade-long campaign against the Burmese military regime by addressing the people and stating that "the entire public entertains the keenest desire for a multi-party democratic system of government."

"Whenever I think about it, the thing that pops into my mind is the sea of people," Htein Win recalled recently.

Mesmerized by the number of people, he knew he had to do something. Shortly before Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's arrival, he climbed onstage and captured the scene with his camera. When she delivered her speech, he clicked the shutter again. Three decades later, both pictures—throngs of people filling the pagoda's compound as far as the eye can see and the then 43-year-old Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivering her speech with students standing guard in the front row—are still some of his favorites.

"I feel that I was able to document some important moments in Myanmar's history," the photographer explained.

People gather at the western gate of Shwedagon Pagoda on Aug. 26, 1988, to listen to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’ speech. / Htein Win

Apart from capturing the democracy icon's political debut, Htein Win, 72, is also one of the few local photographers who documented the popular uprising in 1988 from July until the military's takeover in September.

Out of several hundred pictures that he took at the time—left untouched for more than two decades due to government censorship of all printed materials—he will showcase 100 pictures for the first time at the photo exhibition "8888 The Uprising" in Yangon next month when the uprising turns 30. Some of the pictures have circulated online, but this will be the first exhibition in Myanmar in which they are featured.

Named after a nationwide protest against then Ne Win's single-party dictatorship on Aug. 8, 1988, the 8888 Uprising was a major shift in modern history in Myanmar. Political analysts at home and abroad agree that despite its end in a bloody military coup, it raised the people's political awareness that paved the way for changes that brought the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy to power 28 years later.

Htein Win followed the protests as they gathered momentum while people from every walk of life joined the rallies across Yangon.

"At first, I was reluctant because I thought I might be arrested. But given the intensity of the protests and everyone's participation, I no longer cared about the punishment," he said.

From July to September 18, the day the military staged a coup, he wandered around the streets of Yangon with a camera in hand from morning to dusk. As a result, he was able to take pictures of protests attended by not only students also but actors, actresses, journalists, monks, writers and even soldiers.

Staff from the government newspaper Myanma Alinn join a popular protest in Yangon in August 1988. / Htein Win

He said he covered the protests because he noticed that they were significant, as they were attracting more public participation and becoming a popular uprising.

"In the past, we had some protests by students and workers for their rights. But the '88 ones were more unusual. Nearly everyone joined in and they had one message: Democracy," he explained.

Apart from the '88 Uprising, Htein Win was able to capture another important moment in history. When the government cracked down on a student demonstration calling for a state funeral for the late UN Secretary General U Thant in December 1974, he was at Yangon University campus to witness the violence and shoot some pictures. Those images saw the light of day 40 years later in 2014 when Myanmar no longer practiced pre-publication censorship.

As for the '88 Uprising, he says he doesn't have any photos of the military's bloody crackdown on protesters following the coup. When he heard the takeover announcement on the afternoon of Sept. 18, he knew trouble was on the way. The first thing he had to do was hide several hundreds of negatives taken over months because if he were caught with them, he would face prison and possibly torture. He asked some of his friends to hide some of the negatives but they were too afraid, as the military cracked down on many people on suspicion of involvement in the uprising.

"Some burned the negatives or threw them away," the photographer recalled with an air of sorrow.

It was a fate that other people who covered the uprising faced as well. As a videographer, U Sonny Nyein documented the protests as Htein Win did. His footage included Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's first public speech at Yangon General Hospital on August 24. Most of his videotapes were damaged by the wear and tear of time while being kept in secrecy.

"Most people who covered the uprising destroyed their negatives as they were afraid of retribution. Now we only have Htein Win's pictures. They are historic," U Sonny Nyein said.

Photographer Htein Win (center in the orange shirt) in the Yangon General Hospital compound while covering a popular protest in August 1988. / Supplied

Even though some of his negatives were destroyed, Htein Win managed to smuggle some of them out of the country with some friends' help. They landed at an international archive in Amsterdam until now, and the 100 pictures to be featured at the exhibit were selected from those remaining in the archive to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the uprising.

He believes his pictures are historical records to let young people who were born after 1988 know what happened in the country three decades ago, as images are sometimes more convincing than words.

"I am glad to see the pictures made public before I die," the 72-year-old said.

'8888 The Uprising' photo exhibition will be open to the public from Aug. 8 to 12 at Beik Thano Art Gallery in Bahan Township in Yangon. Admission is free.

The post Historic '88 Uprising Photos on Display 30 Years Later appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

At Least 20 Prospectors Killed in Lone Khin Slag Heap Collapse

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 02:54 AM PDT

MANDALAY — At least 20 prospectors were killed and several remain missing after a waste pile collapsed in the Lone Khin jade mining region of Kachin State on Saturday.

Dozens of people were injured in the incident.

The waste pile near a mine operated by Maha Mining Co. in Lone Khin's Waikhar jade mining area collapsed as about 100 prospectors were searching it for jade residues on Saturday, according to local authorities.

"Fifteen bodies were unearthed and 45 people were injured. Eighteen people with serious injuries were sent to the Myitkyina General Hospital, while those with minor injuries were treated at hospitals in Lone Khin and Hpakant," the duty officer at the Lone Khin police station told The Irrawaddy.

Police officials said the rescue operation was ongoing, adding that heavy rain may have triggered the collapse. The regional administration office provided some financial support to the victims' families.

According to local witnesses, more than 100 prospectors were on the waste pile when it collapsed. They said the death toll was likely to rise above 15, as there were still people missing and several of the injured are in serious condition.

"We've heard that 10 people are missing and we've reported this to the rescue team. The death toll could go higher, as the rescuers are still looking for the missing. Hopefully, there will be no rain and the rescuers will be able to do their jobs and find the bodies," said Ko Nawng Latt, director of Green Land, a local environmental conservation group.

Waste pile collapses are common in the Hpakant and Lone Khin jade mining region, and have claimed the lives of many small-time prospectors who search the huge hills of soil for jade residues.

Collapses are especially frequent in the monsoon season, when the region receives heavy rain and the earth is softened. However, financial need causes the prospectors to risk their lives and search the piles despite the danger.

Local civil society groups involved in environmental conservation in the Hpakant and Lone Khin region said the lack of rule of law in the region means more such incidents are likely.

"Local authorities are weak [on enforcing regulations]; their own security is at risk due to the many armed groups operating in the region," Ko Nawng Latt said.

"The mining companies take advantage of the lawlessness of the region and do not follow the mining rules and regulations. Moreover, as long as the prospectors are willing to risk their lives to search for jade residues, such incidents will continue," he added.

The post At Least 20 Prospectors Killed in Lone Khin Slag Heap Collapse appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The New Yangon City Project: An Urban Planner’s View

Posted: 16 Jul 2018 02:42 AM PDT

In 1988, Yangon measured about 80 sq. miles (around 207 sq. km). The city has grown in the three decades since then and now covers more than 300 sq. miles (777 sq. km). The author of this article has been in the urban planning field for around 50 years and has never come across another city that has more than tripled in size within such a short period. However, the authorities in Yangon are planning to expand the city further by building the “New Yangon City project." A few questions regarding the project are justified, such as:

  • Are we in need of more land for our present and future activities? For example, for industries, commercial activities, etc.?
  • Are land and apartment prices in Yangon soaring so much that we need to develop new areas around Yangon?
  • Is Yangon's infrastructure, such as water supply, sewage and drainage, road networks, etc., satisfactory and functioning well?

Obviously, these major issues confronting Yangon should be addressed when planning the new city. The following are some relevant facts and figures:

  • The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) supplies the city with over 200 million gallons of water daily, which should be more than sufficient for Yangon’s 5.2 million people, assuming a rate of 30 gallons per person per day, the standard for Myanmar's upper income brackets. However, only 330,000 out of Yangon's 1.1 million households (or 28 percent) are connected to the city's water supply; the rest get water from various sources, mostly from underground. It is a known fact that over-extraction of underground water has negative consequences.
  • In the case of the electricity supply, around 660,000 homes (or 61 percent) are connected to the power grid and have meter boxes (based on data from 2014).
  • Approximately 50 percent of the land area in Yangon is prone to flooding during heavy rains; this is not only an inconvenience, but also a health hazard.
  • To improve this situation is imperative; many areas have no proper drainage system and many areas do not even have drainage maps. This situation can only be alleviated by creating an overall drainage master plan for the whole city.
  • In terms of sewage and domestic wastewater, 7 percent of households in the seven townships that comprise Yangon's central business district (CBD) are attached to the central sewer system, 65 percent use septic tanks or fly-proof latrines; and 29 percent use unsanitary disposal systems (based on data from 2014).
  • In terms of solid waste disposal, all collected solid waste is dumped on garbage heaps; there is no system of incineration or any kind of treatment or energy extraction from the solid waste.
  • According to the YCDC's 2014 survey, 85 percent of daily commuters in the city use buses, 8 percent use their own cars, and 5 percent use trains. Thanks to the city authorities of the 1950s, Yangon is fortunate to have a circular rail line, though it is presently not fully utilized. To reduce travel time, pollution and energy, the proportion of commuters using the railway should be increased several fold. (In most cities of comparable size, rail usage is over 50 percent.)
  • Of some 3.5 million daily commuters, around 30 percent must spend more than three hours a day traveling. Added to an eight-hour working day, this leaves breadwinners spending 11 hours or more away from their families. This can cause social estrangement and damage family ties.
  • For historical reasons, 46 percent of all commercial and cultural establishments in Yangon are located in the CBD or areas close to it, like Bahan, Kyimyindaung, Sanchaung, etc. This zone accounts for just 10 percent of the city's total area. Because of this land-use pattern, this high-density commercial zone is the destination for 43 percent of all daily commuters. The main cause of traffic congestion and slow traffic movement is this monocentric use of land. Urban planners and traffic experts have long recommended gradually diversifying this land-use pattern and planning multiple sub-centers in peripheral areas.
  • An associated reason for traffic congestion is the sectorial distribution of the labor force in Yangon. Of the city's work force, 11 percent is employed by the government sector, 80 percent by the tertiary sector (trading and services) and only 9 percent by the industrial sector. This high percentage of tertiary sector employees contributes to the abundance of roadside vendors and also to the traffic problems.
  • Regarding industrial development, the city has around 20,000 industrial plots, only 60 percent of which are occupied and being used. One company has a monopoly on these plots, which it sells for around 600 million kyats per plot. Including infrastructure, one plot can cost around 800 million kyats or around US$600,000 dollars.
  • Research shows that the average investment for a factory employing 700-1,000 workers (for example garment, furniture or other low-tech factories) is between US$1 million and 2 million. This foreign investment-to-land cost ratio of around 2:1 is one important factor hampering the investment flow into the industrial sector in Yangon and in Myanmar in general.
  • Yangon has a very uneven population distribution; the old areas with relatively good infrastructure have population densities ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 people per sq. mile, while the newly developed, poorer areas range between 7,000 and 15,000. Some 40 percent of Yangon's population lives in these poor, low-standard areas. This uneven population distribution contributes to traffic and transportation problems, as well as social segregation.
  • In terms of land requirements, since 1988 around 200 sq. miles, or around 120,000 acres (around 500 sq. km), have been integrated into the city area in the form of town extension projects. Around 17,000 acres in the north-eastern part of the city are still vacant, and there are a few thousand acres assigned to some private companies that are also unused.
  • These vacant areas are all in good locations close to Minglardon Garden City, the circular railway line and on the main highway to the planned Hanthawaddy Airport. Development of these areas means no additional loss of agricultural land and no additional cost for bridges and access roads.
  • Concerning land and apartment prices, Yangon has never had a stable market; fluctuations have been frequent, but since 2014 they have been in decline (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Land prices in Yangon since 1994

Fig. 2. Modes of transportation among Yangon commuters

Of all the arguments made for or against the city expansion project, the most important is "to promote national harmony and unity." Yangon had a population of 5.2 million in 2014, four times larger than Myanmar's second-largest city, Mandalay. Yangon Region has the highest per capita GDP in the Union, and in terms of health care, employment and education facilities, the population of Yangon enjoys the best the Union has to offer. But what are the ramifications of this disparity and inequality between regions for national unity and the Union's long-term future?

Authorities expect about 2 million people to work in New Yangon City, implying a total population of around 8 million. Including Yangon's existing population of around 5 million and accounting for natural growth, this would create a gigantic urban conglomeration with a population of around 14-15 million.

Since World War II, planned towns and extension schemes have appeared worldwide, including Chandigarh in India (present population around 1 million), Brasilia in Brazil (2.5 million), Islamabad in Pakistan 1 million, and Putrajaya in Malaysia (designed for a population of around 200,000). The present plan for New Yangon City exceeds all of these in terms of population size and targeted employment. This is an issue of national concern and requires more thorough and comprehensive investigation and the conducting of feasibility studies. Above all, this scheme requires approval by parliamentary and executive authorities at multiple levels. After this approval phase, cooperation and assistance from Union ministries with specialized knowledge and experience in this field will be necessary from the planning stage.

Dr. Kyaw Lat is an architect and urban planner with work experience in the Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development, Ministry of Construction, United Nations Center for Human Settlements (Habitat), as a professor at Yangon and Mandalay Technological universities, as a professor at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany, and finally before his retirement, as the adviser to the Yangon City and Development Council from 2011 until 2016.

The post The New Yangon City Project: An Urban Planner's View appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Jailed Reuters Journalists to Testify in Myanmar Court

Posted: 15 Jul 2018 09:15 PM PDT

 YANGON — Two jailed Reuters reporters on trial in Myanmar accused of obtaining secret state documents will testify in court from Monday, in a case that is seen as a test of press freedom in the fledgling democracy.

Journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were last week charged with breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act after six months of pre-trial hearings. Both have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo will testify on Monday and Tuesday respectively – the first time since being detained in December that they have had the opportunity to fully tell their version of events in public.

The case has attracted global attention, with many governments and rights groups calling for the reporters’ release. Some diplomats and activists say it is a test of progress towards full democracy under the administration of Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in a country where the military still wields considerable influence.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay has declined to comment throughout the proceedings, saying Myanmar’s courts are independent and the case would be conducted according to the law. He did not answer calls seeking comment on Sunday.

At the time of their arrest, the reporters had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State. The killings took place during a military crackdown that United Nations agencies say led to more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

The reporters have told relatives they were arrested almost immediately after being handed some rolled up papers at a restaurant in northern Yangon by two policemen they had not met before.

The trial phase is expected to last several more weeks. The defense will call witnesses, who will testify and be cross-examined by prosecutors. Both sides will then make their final arguments and the judge is expected to deliver a verdict as early as next month.

A prosecution witness, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing, told the Yangon district court in April that a senior officer had ordered his subordinates to plant the documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.

After his court appearance, Moe Yan Naing was sentenced to a year in jail for violating police discipline by having spoken to Wa Lone, and his family was evicted from police housing. Police have said the eviction and his sentencing were not related to his testimony.

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Wild Boars in Tears After Being Told of Samarn’s Death

Posted: 15 Jul 2018 09:10 PM PDT

The 12 members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach were informed on Sunday of the sacrifice made by Petty Officer 1st Class Samarn Gunan, an ex-Navy SEAL who lost his life during the dramatic rescue operation at the Tham Luang cave complex on July 6.

Dr. Jessada Chokdamrongsuk, the public health permanent secretary, said doctors and psychiatrists looking after the young patients believed that they had been physically and mentally rehabilitated enough to be told of what happened to Samarn, who has been hailed as a hero.

They all broke down in tears upon being told of the sacrifice he made and together stood up in silence to pay tribute to Samarn. They also drew a picture of him to convey their condolences.

They also made a pledge to be good citizens to repay what Samarn and others did to save their lives.  A video clip showing the young soccer players paying tribute to Samarn was also released on Sunday.

A royally sponsored cremation was held for Samarn in Roi-et on Saturday. His Majesty the King posthumously promoted Samarn to the rank of lieutenant commander – an unprecedented rise of seven ranks.

Dr. Jessada said the latest medical report from the director of Chiang Rai hospital showed all 12 patients making a gradual recovery. They are now allowed to have close contact with their visiting families.

The patients, who were rescued in a high-profile operation that captivated the world after being trapped for 17 days in Tham Luang cave, are scheduled to be discharged from the hospital on Thursday.  But doctors have advised against exposing them to the media in the next month, fearing some could develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

The post Wild Boars in Tears After Being Told of Samarn's Death appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Reuters Charges Expose Military’s Power Over Courts

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 09:43 PM PDT

Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! Yangon's West District Court charged two Reuters reporters, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, under the Official Secrets Act on July 9. Did the court make the decision independently? If it did, does it threaten press freedom? U Sein Win, from the Myanmar Journalism Institute, and U Zeya Hlaing, an editor and a member of the Myanmar Journalists Network, join me to discuss this. I'm The Irrawaddy Burmese editor, Ye Ni.

As you know, Ko Wa Lone and Ko Kyaw Soe Oo have been charged under the Official Secrets Act. The court accepted the charge after the two were detained for seven months and 22 prosecution witnesses testified at the court. The president and chief editor of the Reuters news agency immediately released a statement saying that the charge is groundless and there is no legal evidence against the two. According to our own study, the case was not well established by the police. One of the prosecution witnesses, [former] police Captain Moe Yan Naing, testified that the two reporters were set up. And police Corporal Khin Maung Lin was not presented to the court even though he was originally included in the list of prosecution witnesses. This aroused suspicion. State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in her interview with Japanese news agency NHK, said about the case of the Reuters reporters that there may have been violations of the law and that she would wait for the court’s decision. And now the court has accepted the charge. Ko Sein Win, did you see any strong evidence presented to the court against the two by prosecution witnesses?

Sein Win: The testimonies of the prosecution witnesses were predetermined. The police chief might have given instructions that the two be caught anyway. This was revealed by the account of the insider. Despite this, we are shocked by the court's decision to accept the charge for trial. Not only the police, even State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the two were not real journalists and that they had violated the [Official] Secrets Act not only in her meeting with [US diplomat] Bill Richardson but also in her interview with NHK. So their violation was predetermined. And we didn't see any strong evidence against the two presented to the court. Procedures were skipped and the court finally accepted the charge. Yes, it is true that the judge can accept or reject a case based on his reasoning. But in my opinion there was no concrete evidence against the two.

YN: What do you think, Ko Zeya Hlaing? The Home Affairs Ministry has influence [over the judiciary]. What's more, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made such a comment. Would the judge dare to decide independently?

Zeya Hlaing: I know some judges who I became acquainted with at seminars. They said they don't want to handle media cases because they are very wary of them. Frankly speaking, the corruption of the judicial system has already triggered a debate in Parliament. The judges are pressured from various sides. There might be pressure from the press, as in the Reuters case. There might be pressure from authorities. And other organizations are keeping an eye on them. So I'm sure it is stressful for them. Also, they don't get money [from defendants or plaintiffs], so they will be very distressed and may want to conclude the case as soon as possible.

As I've said, authorities are putting pressures on them, and since the case concerns the Ministry of Home Affairs it is quite difficult for them to handle. The Home Affairs Ministry has set the two up in this plot from the very beginning. I said it is a plot because the script had already been written. One of the actors, police Captain Win Yan Naing, spoke about the part he was asked to play and said it was a setup. He was then silenced with imprisonment. It is very simple. And Corporal Khin Maung Lin, mentioned by Ko Ye Ni, was put out of our sight. It is very simple. Our lives are funny, to put it ironically. The Home Affairs Ministry, which plays a big role in the executive and judicial branches, could make [the accused mastermind] of the assassination [of prominent lawyer U Ko Ni] at an airport in front of many people disappear at a herbal park in Naypyitaw and also arrest [the two reporters] without any supporting evidence. This shows that there is no freedom and there is no legal protection for us. [Authorities] have organized a lot of press conferences [about the Rakhine issue]. They [police] called [the two reporters] and gave them documents. And Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested before they even knew what the documents were about.

The case was exaggerated and labeled a breach of state security and a leak of state secrets. And the two were labeled traitors. The two, being journalists, went [to Rakhine State] to find out if there was a massacre of people as alleged by the international community. So if [the authorities] assume the massacre is a state security, then we have reason to rationally suspect that [authorities] support the ism of killing. Society and concerned authorities need to boldly reveal the truth.

YN: Setting aside the legal aspects of the case, I would like to approach it based on democratic norms and values since we are undergoing a democratization process. The best example of this is found in the United States. In the time of President [Richard] Nixon, a 4,000-page report by the US Department of Defense about their failing war in Vietnam was leaked. Newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post made detailed reports about it. And the executive authorities including President Nixon and the Department of Defense put pressure on the court, accusing those newspapers of dangerously exposing state secrets. The court ruled in favor of press freedom, saying it was necessary for the people. In the case of Reuters, [authorities] first said it was a state secret. But after the case [of the massacre] was exposed, the Tatmadaw [military] said it was not a state secret, corrected the label and punished the perpetrators. But then the lawsuit was not withdrawn and instead continued to proceed. Is that a red light sign for press freedom?

SW: It mainly concerns judicial independence. You've mentioned the case during the time of President Nixon in the US. In another case concerning state secrets, politicians asked Congress to take harsh action against [US whistleblower Edward] Snowden. They called him a traitor because US secrets were exposed to its rivals and enemies like Russia and China. They said national interests were undermined by the leaks. They also asked Congress to file lawsuits against newspapers like The Guardian and The Washington Post that reported on the leaks. It is interesting to note that the judge ruled that newspapers had nothing to do with it. The press has freedom. What the press exposes is no longer a secret. The court ruled that only Snowden was responsible for it and declared the press not guilty. Congressmen demanded harsh action against the press, but they lost.

This shows that judicial independence is the most important factor. As Ko Zeya has said, there is no judicial independence in our country. Most of the judiciary has to dance to the tune [of upper-level authorities].  At least that is the public perception. It is bad that it has a negative public image.

But in a democracy there must be judicial independence and press freedom. No democracy will thrive without them. There won't be a functioning democracy without them. There will only be a sham and nominal democracy.

YN: Ko Zeya Hlaing, as the Reuters reporters were charged under the Official Secrets Act for their investigative report, will this deter others from doing the same thing with injustice in the future?

ZH: There are many threats. I mean there is more than one law that threatens press freedom. And the Reuters case is a high-profile case that the international community knows about. Our job is to make sure that authorities and those mandated by the people function well in their positions and to find out if they are violating the trust of people who rely on them. Speaking of the Reuters case, because of the investigative report, responsible officials have been punished. But those who exposed the case have also been put behind bars. So this is injustice. This is a direct threat to [press] freedom and is also intended to produce a chilling effect. It is like saying, ‘Don't try to find out what we don't want you to know; you saw what happened to the Reuters reporters.'”

If they are right, they need to conceal nothing. They should boldly reveal. Since the problem broke out I have said that it is not enough to just shout that my hands are not stained with blood. Rather, our society should have the courage to unfold the hands and show that they are not stained with blood.

Especially if authorities are not brave enough to be honest about the truth, it will be very difficult for us to establish a democratic society. We journalists make investigative reports to seek a balance, and those responsible have been punished as a result. But those who exposed the case are detained and charged. People in our society know if it is reasonable or not.

YN: Thank you for your contributions!

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Women Playing Larger Role at This Year’s Peace Conference

Posted: 15 Jul 2018 12:56 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — Women account for 17 percent of the delegates at the ongoing third session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference, according to figures the government released Saturday, 2 percent more than the proportion of female delegates at the previous session last year.

Of the 700 delegates at the conference, the 120 women are all in decision-making roles, more than the 105 women in similar roles in 2017.

The 700 delegates include lawmakers and government officials, politicians, military personnel and members of ethnic armed groups, who were all allotted 150 seats each, and other civilians including experts in specific fields, who were allotted 100.

Of the 75 lawmakers and 75 government officials, 18 and 22 were women, respectively, the same as last year in total.

Of the 150 military personnel, the government reported that eight were women. However, some of the women told The Irrawaddy that there were actually 10 of them, which would be equal to 2017.

Of the 150 politicians, 28 were women — two more than last year — from 23 parties.

A female military officer arrives at the Union Peace Conference in Naypyitaw on Wednesday. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

There were also 31 women among the 150 delegates at the conference from the 10 ethnic armed groups that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, up from 19 in 2017.

And of the other 100 civilian delegates, 13 were women, three more than last year.

Also, of the total 1,112 people at the conference as delegates, facilitators or technical assistants, 243 of them, or 22 percent, are women. That’s an increase of 5 percent as a proportion of total participants in 2017.

There are also more female observers this year. Of the 204 observers at the conference, 66 are women. That’s compared to the 40 women among the 185 observers last year, an increase of some 10 percent.

Most of the numbers are still far from the 30 percent female participation rates women’s rights groups are aiming for.

But while issues of autonomy, state constitutions and secession rights were abruptly dropped from the agenda ahead of this year’s peace conference, gender issues remain on the table, including discussion of the 30-percent target, discrimination, legislation to combat gender-based violence and women’s empowerment. Some of the delegates said the 30-percent target was likely to be agreed to by the end of the event.

Female delegates attend the Union Peace Conference in Naypyitaw on Friday. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

The data "show that more women are becoming interested in the peace process and that women have the capacity to do so," Mi Kun Chan Non, co-founder of the Mon Women's Organization and chairwoman of the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process, told The Irrawaddy.

She is attending the conference as an observer and supports the proposed 30-percent quote for female participation in the peace process.

"What’s more, the female delegates actively and effectively participated in the discussions," she said.

The post Women Playing Larger Role at This Year’s Peace Conference appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Deputy Finance Minister Named New Chair of Kyaukphyu SEZ

Posted: 14 Jul 2018 07:08 AM PDT

YANGON — Deputy Planning and Finance Minister U Set Aung has been appointed chairman of the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Management Committee amid the government’s ongoing efforts to renegotiate its agreement with the project’s Chinese developer to give Myanmar a larger stake.

The appointment took effect on May 8 and was approved by Vice President and Chairman of the Central Body of Myanmar Special Economic Zones U Henry Van Thio, according to an announcement in the government gazette on Sunday. It said the management committee’s previous chairman, U Soe Win, was now a joint chairman but did not make clear whether the two chairmen would be working as equals.

The announcement could not be found on the websites of the President’s Office or the Ministry of Information, however, where government announcements are usually posted first. But Planning and Finance Minister U Tun Tun Naing confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the announcement in the government gazette was correct.

U Set Aung also currently chairs the management committee of the Thilawa SEZ, Myanmar’s first, located in the southeast of Yangon Region. His latest appointment makes him chairman of the country’s two largest SEZs.

"His performance in Thilawa has been a success. As a result, he has to take responsibility for Kyaukphyu. He has already been involved in the Kyaukphyu SEZ since the government started renegotiating [the project agreement] with China," said U Tun Tun Naing.

Located in Rakhine State, the Kyaukphyu SEZ project includes an industrial park and deep water port. China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) won the bid to develop the SEZ in 2015. The shareholders agreement struck under then-President Thein Sein gave China an 85 percent of stake in the project and Myanmar the rest.

Critics of the project have raised concerns that the deal could land Myanmar in a debt trap with China, however. The government that came to power in 2016, led by the National League for Democracy, has been in talks with CITIC to raise Myanmar’s stake to 30 percent.

Planning and Finance Minister U Soe Win recently told Nikkei Asian Review in an exclusive interview that Myanmar would try to reduce the scale of the Kyaukphyu SEZ and cut all unnecessary expenses to avoid a debt trap.

Government media reported that officials from Myanmar's Commerce Ministry met with CITIC representatives in Naypyitaw last week and that a new agreement would be announced soon.

As chairman of the SEZ’s management committee, U Set Aung is expected to have a say in what that agreement looks like.

"He's experienced in managing special economic zones. With his experiences, I hope we can expect a win-win solution for the Kyaukphyu project," said U Than Lwin, a senior adviser at Kanbawza Bank and a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar.

U Set Aung was a deputy governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar himself until July 2017. He was also a deputy minister of national planning and economic development and an economic adviser to former President Thein Sein.

He was the founder and director of the Myanmar Development Resource Institute and the secretary of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council of Myanmar.

He earned a bachelor's degree and masters in business administration in Myanmar, a second master's degree specializing in economics, banking and finance in Scotland, and a third master's degree specializing in investment management in London.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Govt Approves Sites For 3 New Economic Zones Along China Border

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 06:18 AM PDT

YANGON — The government approved sites for three “economic cooperation zones” in Kachin and Shan states along Myanmar’s border with China on Thursday as part of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, according to the chief minister of Kachin State.

U Khet Aung said the sites were approved at the first implementation meeting of the Economic Cooperation Zones Central Committee in Naypyitaw, and followed a recent trip to China by Commerce Minister U Than Myint.

He said the zones will be built in Kanpiketi town, in Kachin State’s Special Region 1, under the control of the New Democratic Army-Kachin militia; Chinshwehaw, in Shan State’s Laukkai Township, part of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone; and in Shan State’s Muse Township.

Chinshwehaw  and Muse are already major trading hubs along Myanmar’s border with China’s Yunnan Province. Kanpiketi currently does regular trade with China as well.

"The [commerce] minister pushed us to start the projects soon. The zones will be established on both sides of the border. We already started clearing the site in Kanpiketi," U Khet Aung told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

According to a Commerce Ministry spokesman, U Than Myint visited China last week and returned on Tuesday, but the ministry has not released any more official information about the trip. According to U Khet Aung, Chinese officials told the minister that they expected the zones to not only boost border trade but help bring “peace and stability” to the restive regions.

At Thursday’s committee meeting in Naypyitaw, U Than Myint also said that the zones would create local jobs, boost small and medium businesses and support the peace process by promoting stability, and that he urged relevant ministries to support the projects, according to a statement from the Ministry of Information.

The Commerce Ministry spokesman said officials from Kachin and Shan states and from Kokang also attended.

U Khet Aung said the Kanpiketi zone was expected to receive an initial investment of $5 million and be finished by the end of this year.

In 2017 China and Myanmar signed five memorandums of understanding (MoUs), including one between their respective commerce ministries, during State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Beijing to attend a forum on the Belt and Road Initiative.

Since then, the details have been hammered out by a Joint Committee on China-Myanmar Border Economic Zones. Myanmar’s team is headed by U Than Myint, with the chief ministers of Kachin and Shan states and the president of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone serving as deputies.

As part of the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing and Naypyitaw have also agreed to a 15-point MoU on the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, the director of Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, U Min Zaw Oo, told The Irrawaddy last week.

The corridor will reach from Yunnan Province to Mandalay in central Myanmar, from where it will stretch south to Yangon and west to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine State.

Under the MoU, the two governments have agreed to collaborate in many sectors including infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, finance, human resource development, telecommunications, research and science.

Launched in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy project . It aims to build and expand roads, rail lines and shipping lanes linking at least 70 countries from China to Europe through central Asia, the Middle East and Russia to boost trade and investment.

Many see Myanmar uniquely situated along the route as it sits between South and Southeast Asia and offers landlocked Yunnan Province its quickest path to the Indian Ocean.

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Tatmadaw Invites Ta’ang, Kokang and Arakan Armies to Participate in Ceasefire

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 04:54 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar Army made a conditional offer for three rebel ethnic armed groups to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) following a period of dialogue, according to Brig-Gen Tar Khu Lan, vice chairman of the Ta'ang Nationalities Liberation Army (TNLA), one of the groups that has yet to join the peace process.

Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, the deputy head of the Myanmar Army, made the offer during a sidelines meeting with the leaders of the TNLA, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang), and Arakan Army (AA) – on Wednesday at the Office of the Military Commander-in-Chief in Naypyitaw. The three, together with the leaders from four other groups, had flown in to the capital to join the third session of the 21st Panglong Union Peace Conference, which is currently underway.

"He invited us to sign a bilateral agreement first, and then to purse a dialogue until we could reach an agreement on terms for joining the NCA," Brig-Gen Tar Khu Lan, who attended the meeting, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

But the offer was conditional, as the ethnic armed groups would need to make an announcement that they had agreed to disarm before signing the bilateral deal, the TNLA leader said,

Tar Khu Lan said such a commitment would be difficult to make as it's something TNLA members and the Ta'ang ethnic people are opposed to.

"I explained at the meeting that it wouldn't work if the leaders sign (such a disarmament deal) without first obtaining the consensus support of their followers. So I replied that a decision could not be made alone by our chairman but needed to involve our peace-negotiating committee, which would lead us in choosing the right wording."

The Myanmar military's request for the groups to agree to disarm is nothing new. During an informal meeting in August 2016 between the three armed groups and the government's Peace Commission, they were offered a similar terms for joining the NCA.

"They have previously asked us to release a statement [about disarmament]. But in the negotiations, the wording was a problem and now they have raised it again. If there are no changes to the wording (of the agreement) and the same terminology is used, it is not OK for us," Tar Khu Lan said.

Because of the Tatmadaw's insistence that the groups disarm, the negotiations between the Peace Commission and the three EAOs — the MNDAA, TNLA and AA — were postponed for a long time and the groups later joined the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC). Previously, these groups had collaborated with the now-defunct United Nationalities Federal Council, to find ways to join the NCA.

The TNLA said the meeting with the deputy army chief on Wednesday was constructive and that it would help support the peace process. The TNLA vice chair said his group also welcomed the offer to sign a bilateral ceasefire and eventually join the NCA.

"But it is the demand we pledge to disarm, as we were told previously there was no need to give up our guns until the time our desires are met," he said.

The Office of the Commander-in-Chief said on Wednesday evening that matters related to the NCA, such as trust-building and peace-building issues, were discussed during the talks.

On the Tatmadaw side, the deputy army chief was accompanied by Lt-Gen Than Tun Oo from the Commander-in-Chief's Office, other senior generals, and the secretary of the Peace Commission, former Lt-Gen Khin Zaw Oo. The TNLA's Tar Khu Lan, AA Deputy Chief of Staff Brig-Gen Nyo Tun Aung and Phone Win Naing of the MNDAA represented their groups at the Wednesday meeting.

The MNDAA, TNLA and AA are members of the FPNCC along with the United Wa State Army, Kachin Independence Army, Shan State Progress Party and Mongla's National Democratic Alliance Army. The FPNCC has instituted policies of exploring alternatives to the NCA, and to follow an allied position in political talks rather than trying to negotiate on an individual basis.

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China Does Not Have Special Interests in Supporting Myanmar’s Peace Process: Official

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 04:31 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — Chinese Special Envoy Sun Guoxiang said China does not have its own interests in supporting Myanmar's peace process.

"We urge [the stakeholders] to negotiate and discuss. But our country doesn't have any interests regarding that," he told reporters in Naypyitaw’s Horizon Hotel on Thursday.

Sun Guoxiang, the special envoy of Asian Affairs under China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has helped facilitate peace negotiations between the Myanmar government and ethnic armed groups based along the China-Myanmar border.

He told reporters that China is committed to supporting Myanmar in achieving peace for the sake of all Myanmar nationals.

"If peace is not achieved, it is also harmful for stability," he told reporters.

He added that if the country achieved peace, the China and Myanmar border would also be peaceful and stable.

The special envoy met with the army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on Friday and discussed the peace process, border security, the Rakhine crisis and bilateral cooperation.

As Myanmar's largest neighbor, China has been a critical player in the peace process. Since 2013, China became closely involved through the appointment of special envoys and invitations for Myanmar leaders to come to China.

After China intervened, the northeastern-based ethnic alliance the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) led by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) joined the second session of the peace conference in May of last year.

The seven members of the FPNCC are in Naypyitaw this week to participate in the third session of the peace conference. Before the conference, the alliance sought further support from China in ensuring security for the groups that are in ongoing clashes with the Myanmar Army.

The government and military met the FPNCC members separately on Wednesday and Thursday. In regards to those meetings, the State Counselor's Office said it discussed issues related to conflict reduction, peace negotiations and the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.

The post China Does Not Have Special Interests in Supporting Myanmar's Peace Process: Official appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Second Wa Delegate Hospitalized in Naypyitaw Amid Peace Talks

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 03:12 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — Two senior members of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have been hospitalized during their sojourn in Naypyitaw this week to attend the third session of the Union Peace Conference, where government, military and ethnic minority leaders are looking for ways to end the country's decades-long civil war.

UWSA liaison officer Zhao Guo An was hospitalized on Friday morning due to glucose deficiency, according to a government spokesman.

On Thursday, UWSA Vice Chairman Bao Yu Yi fainted ahead of a meeting with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The spokesman attributed the episode to the vice chairman’s heart condition and the difference in climate between Naypyitaw and the cooler temperatures of Wa State.

"U Zhao Guo An is fine now. We put him in the hospital to make sure he is alright," the spokesman told media.

He said both UWSA officials were being treated at the 1,000-bed General Hospital in Naypyitaw.

"For U Bao Yu Yi, we have assigned some cardio specialists from the military [hospital] for better treatment," he added.

The UWSA is the most powerful ethnic armed group among seven that have not signed the government's Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

On Friday afternoon, Myanmar military chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing visited the two Wa leaders in the hospital to ask about their conditions, according to a press release from the commander-in-chief’s office.

Photos posted to his Facebook account show the military chief personally serving Bao Yu Yi  a bowl of bird nest soup.

In his remarks at the opening ceremonies of the peace conference on Wednesday, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the government and the military were actively engaged in the peace process not because they were weak.

Some delegates at the conference expressed concern that his decision to highlight the military’s strength, and his remarks in general, would hinder the negotiations with ethnic armed groups, both with those that have not signed the NCA and those that have.

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12 Tatmadaw Troops, 1 RCSS Soldier Killed in 4 Days of Fighting in Mong Kung

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 03:04 AM PDT

MON STATE — Twelve Myanmar Army troops and one Restoration Council of Shan State soldier have been killed in this week's armed clashes in Mong Kung Township, according to separate reports from the organization and an aligned media outlet on Friday. An undisclosed number of RCSS troops have been injured, according to a spokesperson for the group.

Four days of fighting in Mong Kung have also forced hundreds of ethnic Shan to flee their villages, according to local sources.

The casualty figures were reported by both the RCSS and Tai Freedom, a local media organization under its control.

The RCSS also claimed to have seized some equipment from Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) units, including a drone and artillery shield.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sai Oo, a spokesperson from the RCSS, confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Friday that according to RCSS troops, there had been casualties on the Tatmadaw side.

"Our ground troops' reports are not much different to [Tai Freedom's] reports," Lt-Col Sai Oo said.

He said one of his organization's troops was killed and a number were wounded.

The fighting began on July 9 and continued through Thursday, he said.

Tai Freedom serves as the RCSS's information department. It has reported daily since July 9 on fighting between the Myanmar Army and RCSS in Mong Kung. It has published photos showing RCSS members with seized military equipment.

Tatmadaw aircraft have been seen in the area, but they have apparently only been used to observe the conflict zone and have not fired on RCSS positions, according to a July 12 report from Tai Freedom.

Growing numbers of local ethnic Shan have fled their villages near the conflict zone, which is about 10 miles from Mong Kung town.

Local aide groups put the number of IDPs at over 600 and said they were all sheltering at a Buddhist monastery in Mong Kung Township.

"The situation is deteriorating for IDPs, as the fighting continued [on Thursday]," said a local resident from Mong Kung township who visited an IDP camp Thursday and donated some food there.

Most IDPs fled their villages suddenly and were unable to take food with them, he said.

Some local groups have distributed food to the IDPs, he added.

The RCSS is a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Some of its leaders are currently attending the ongoing third session of the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference in Naypyitaw, even as their troops clash with the Tatmadaw in Shan State.

The location of the line of demarcation between the zones controlled by the Tatmadaw and the RCSS remains disputed, despite the two sides having signed a bilateral agreement to delineate a boundary, and despite the RCSS's signing of the NCA in 2015.

This has led to occasional clashes, usually involving the Tatmadaw attempting to push the RCSS out of territory it claims is disputed.

Just prior to the latest round of fighting, the Myanmar Army warned RCSS troops to return to their old bases from areas in southern Shan that the Tatmadaw claims the group is not permitted to operate in under the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

More Myanmar Army troops have been deployed in RCSS areas recently, and the Tatmadaw has engaged in some large troop movements according to the ethnic organization. The Tatmadaw attack that led to the latest round of fighting was directly related to its warning last week, according to Lt-Col Sai Oo.

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Naga Youth Oppose Aung San Statue in Sagaing

Posted: 13 Jul 2018 02:55 AM PDT

MANDALAY — Amid criticism over the erection of a statue of the late General Aung San in the ethnic region, Naga youth from Khamti, Sagaing Region issued a statement to show their opposition to the statue bring built in their town.

The statement issued by the Council of Naga Affairs and dated July 7 said that the committee to erect the statue did not first seek the opinion of Naga people or youth.

"Instead of emphasizing the promise of General Aung San, erecting statues of the late general without consulting ethnic minorities is just a symbol of Burmese supremacy," said the statement released by Council of Naga Affairs, which was founded by Naga University students to support the welfare of Naga youth.

The Naga youth also said in the statement that building Gen Aung San statues across the country was the opposition of reconciliation and unity in parts of the country where ethnic minorities fear the loss of their dignity and culture.

The statement then urged the Naga people living in Khamti region not to join in erecting the statue or attending the opening ceremony scheduled for July 21.

"We would like to urge the Naga people not to attend the ceremony, especially not with Naga costumes," said the statement, which circulated to the Naga Literature and Cultural Association, which said it did not agree with this view.

"The statement did not comply with our opinion. We've told the Naga people here to make their own decisions and we've given no instructions regarding the ceremony," said U Aung Htet, the president of the Naga Literature and Culture Association, based in Khamti. "The statement did not represent us, the Naga people here in Khamti, by far."

Khamti, located in the upper region of Sagaing Region, is the closest region to the Naga hills, where about 40 percent of the population is Naga.

According to the committee to build the statue of Gen Aung San in Khamti, Naga and other ethnic leaders from Khamti were included in the decision making and it does not understand why the Naga youth issued the statement.

"There were no disagreements when we formed this committee and had discussions a year ago. There were Naga elders who participated," explained U Pho San, the treasurer of the committee.

The committee told The Irrawaddy that the opposition only arose when the bronze statue of General Aung San riding a horse arrived in Khamti in July.

"The council is from Yangon and it seems they didn't know the reality in Khamti," he said.

Although the statement of the Council of Naga Affairs showed its disagreement, the committee said it would hold the opening ceremony as planned.

"Since there are no official complaints and the regional and local governments have already agreed, we will reveal the statue as planned," he added.

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Rise of Robots Fuels Slavery Threat for Asian Factory Workers: Analysts

Posted: 12 Jul 2018 10:30 PM PDT

LONDON — The rise of robots in manufacturing in Southeast Asia is likely to fuel modern slavery as workers who end up unemployed due to automation face abuses competing for a shrinking pool of low-paid jobs in a “race to the bottom,” analysts said on Thursday.

Drastic job losses due to the growth of automation in the region — a hub for many manufacturing sectors from garments to vehicles — could produce a spike in labor abuses and slavery in global supply chains, said risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

More than half of workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines — at least 137 million people — risk losing their jobs to automation in the next two decades, the United Nations’ International Labor Organization says.

The risk of slavery tainting supply chains will spiral as workers who lose their jobs due to increased robot manufacturing will be more vulnerable to workplace abuses as they jostle for fewer jobs at lower wages, said Alexandra Channer of Maplecroft.

“Displaced workers without the skills to adapt or the cushion of social security will have to compete for a diminishing supply of low-paid, low-skilled work in what will likely be an increasingly exploitative environment,” she said.

“Without concrete measures from governments to adapt and educate future generations to function alongside machines, it could be a race to the bottom for many workers,” the head of human rights at Britain-based Maplecroft said in a statement.

Farming, forestry and fishing, manufacturing, construction, retail and hospitality are the sectors in Southeast Asia where workers are most likely to be replaced by robots, Maplecroft said in an annual report, with Vietnam the country at most risk.

Workers in the garment, textile and footwear industry — mostly women in countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam — face the biggest threat from automation in the region, Maplecroft said.

The five countries the report lists are already considered high-risk for modern slavery as labor abuses are rife, wages low and the workforce dependent on low-skilled jobs, the firm said, with automation set to make things worse.

“Automation has always posed a risk to low-skilled jobs, but governments and business can determine how it impacts on workers,” said Cindy Berman of the Ethical Trading Initiative, a group of unions, firms and charities promoting workers’ rights.

“Technology can be disrupting, but it can also be part of the solution by creating opportunities for better jobs,” its head of slavery strategy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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China Chemical Plant Blast Kills 19, Injures 12

Posted: 12 Jul 2018 09:39 PM PDT

SHANGHAI/BEIJING — An explosion at a chemical plant in China has killed 19 people and injured 12, authorities said on Friday, the latest deadly industrial incident in the world’s largest producer of chemicals.

It comes amid a drive to strengthen industrial safety, with China ramping up checks over the last year, in the wake of some high-profile incidents at coal mines and chemical plants.

The cause of Thursday evening’s blast at Yibin Hengda Technology in an industrial park several hours southeast of Chengdu, the capital of the southwestern province of Sichuan, is not yet known, the local government in Jiang’an county said.

The injured are in stable condition and an investigation has begun, state news agency Xinhua said.

The company, which makes chemicals for the food and pharmaceutical industries, did not immediately answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek information.

Photographs on Chinese social media showed a huge fire and plumes of smoke rising from the facility. The fire, which broke out early on Thursday evening, was put out by 11:30 p.m., the government said in its statement.

A trio of three-story buildings was reduced to its steel frames by the explosion, the Sichuan Daily newspaper said, citing eyewitness accounts.

Windows of nearby buildings were shattered by the explosion at the factory, which is surrounded by a sand and gravel plant, it added.

The plant has three production lines, making 300 tons per year of benzoic acid, which is used in food preservatives, and 2,000 tons per year of 5-nitroisophthalic acid, for medicines and dyes, the regional environmental protection bureau says.

China’s breakneck pace of economic growth during the last decade has resulted in a spate of industrial accidents.

In 2015, an explosion in a chemical warehouse in the northern port city of Tianjin killed 165 people. Last year a blast at a petrochemical plant in eastern Shandong province killed eight people and injured nine.

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UN Readies to Send Experts to Myanmar’s Rakhine after Rohingya Return Deal: Official

Posted: 12 Jul 2018 09:33 PM PDT

YANGON — The United Nations is preparing to send teams of experts into Myanmar’s Rakhine State to begin work aimed at eventually repatriating Rohingya Muslims who fled violence last year, the regional head of the UN development agency said on Thursday.

The UN agencies for development and refugees struck an outline deal with Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government at the end of May to allow Rohingya Muslims sheltering in Bangladesh to return safely and by choice.

Haoliang Xu, the United Nations Development Program’s director for the Asia-Pacific region, said UN officials were last week allowed to travel freely around northern Rakhine for the first time since August 2017.

But an initial work plan still needed to be devised with the government before proper assessment could begin, Xu told Reuters in an interview in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.

“You can say we are working with an extreme sense of urgency,” he said. “We're also preparing in parallel to send in teams.”

Those teams would assess the needs of an estimated more than 200,000 Rohingya and other communities who remain in northern Rakhine, he said.

Myanmar’s main government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment.

Myanmar’s military launched a crackdown in the northern part of Rakhine in response to militant attacks in August, driving 700,000 stateless Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian administration defended what it described as a legitimate counter-insurgency operation, and denied allegations of ethnic cleansing. It says it is ready to accept back those who fled.

Xu said that the plan was designed to “create the conditions for return… by undertaking quick impact projects that will benefit the population who are still there,” such as cash-for-work projects, small-scale infrastructure improvements or agricultural schemes.

The deal between the UN and the government was not made public, but a draft was seen by Reuters and also leaked online last month.

Refugee leaders and human rights groups criticized the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for failing to give explicit guarantees that those who return will get citizenship or be able to move freely throughout Myanmar.

The Rohingya, who regard themselves as native to Rakhine State, are widely considered interlopers by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and are denied citizenship.

Xu said tackling these issues required taking “small steps," and said Myanmar had committed to providing a “pathway to citizenship."

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