Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Irrawaddy Division Residents Concerned After Officials Discuss Coal Plant

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 07:29 AM PDT

A1 Company Chairman Yan Win speaks at a public consultation meeting about a planned coal plant in Irrawaddy Division on Nga Yoke Kaung Township on Saturday. (Photo: Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy)

A1 Company Chairman Yan Win speaks at a public consultation meeting about a planned coal plant in Irrawaddy Division on Nga Yoke Kaung Township on Saturday. (Photo: Salai Thant Zin / The Irrawaddy)

NGA YOKE KAUNG TOWNSHIP —Irrawaddy Division officials and a Burmese construction company met with residents of villages in Nga Yoke Kaung Township last weekend to inform of them of a plan to build a 300-megawatt coal-firedpower plant in the coastal region.

They ensured the local population that they would not be negatively affected by the environmental impacts of the proposed plant, which they said would be funded by Japanese firms and overseas development bank loans.

"We guarantee 100 percent that the power plant that we are building together with a Japanese company doesn't cause any harm to people, animals andenvironment, as it utilizes advanced technologies,"said Yan Win,chairman of A1 Group of Companies, a Burmese conglomerate.

"We have studied coal-fired power plants in Japan and found that they
are built in town centers and in residential areas. We decided to work with [Japanese] partners only after we studied [coal plant designs] and were sure they are safe," hetold hundreds of villagers who had gathered at Dhammi Kayone Monastery in Nga Yoke Kaung Sub-township on Saturday.

Irrawaddy Division's Electricity and Industry Minister Saw Mya Thein said local residents would benefit from the project as it would provide electricity for the roughly 35,000 people in Nga Yoke Kaung Sub-township, adding that it would also provide much-needed power to Maubin, Myaungmya and Pathein industrial zones, and millions of villagers in Irrawaddy Delta.

The announcements by the businessman and senior Irrawaddy Division officials were met with skepticism by local villagers and activists, however.

"Can they guarantee that it is not harmfulto people and environment? Because we won't be able ask them to closedown the power plant after it is built and we find that it is hazardous to our health," said Aung Than, a resident of Kywegyaing village who attended the meeting.

"The major problem is that we dare not trust them. That's why we do
not agree with the project," he said, adding, that he believed that "the fumes and ash from coal can be hazardous."

Myint Aung, an activist of the environmental group BeautifulLand, said he believed that the coal plant would have a heavy environmental impact on the coastal region.

"No matter what technology is used,coal does produce arsenic and mercury when burned. Therefore, the placeis bound to suffer sooner or later," he said. "If there are 50 arsenic particles in one million particles of water,one in 100 people who drink that water can get cancer," Myint Aung claimed.

Large investment projects in Burma are regularly accompanied by heavy social and environmental impacts on local communities, such asforced land confiscation without fair compensation. Authorities often side with the well-connected companies in any disputes that arise from suchproject impacts.

A1 Company Chairman Yan Win said the coal plant would be part of a deep sea port located in Nga Yoke Kaung Bay, adding that the plant would be built by a joint venture involving the Ministry of Electrical Power, A1 Company and a consortium of Japanese firms.

Yan Win said his company had yet to choose a site for the plant, adding that this would be done after social and environmental impact assessment for the project were completed in consultation with local communities. He said farmers would receive fair compensation in case of any land confiscation.

It is unclear whether work has started on social and environmental impact assessments for the project.

Between 100 and 200 acres of land are reportedly required for the plant's construction and local residents said they feared that their farmlands would be forcibly confiscated.

Yan Win claimed that financing for the project would be provided by A1 Company and the Japanese firms, adding that the latter would take out loansfrom the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

The meeting on Saturday provided scant detail about the unnamedJapanese firms involved. A search on the websites of the international development banks found no reference to the coal plant project in Nga Yoke Kaung Township.

Last year, media reports said that Singaporean consultant Super Axis Development Pte Ltd had signed a memorandum of understanding with the government to conduct a feasibility study for the Nga Yoke Kaung deep sea port. The study would reportedly include assessments of the environmental, social and economic impacts of the project.

Burma's reformist government has been keen to attract foreign investment to set up large industrial zones, such as deep sea ports and special economic zones (SEZ), in order to boost the country's economic growth. Italso wants to build hydropower dams andcoal- and gas-fired power plants in order to meet Burma's fast-growing energy needs.

However, many of the high-profile mega-projects, such as the Thailand-backed Dawei SEZ in Tenasserim Division or Japan's Thilawa SEZ near Rangoon, have been dogged by complaints of land-grabbing or have suffered from a lack of foreign funding.

The post Irrawaddy Division Residents Concerned After Officials Discuss Coal Plant appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Second Bomb Found in Thai-Burma Border Town

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 07:23 AM PDT

Authorities in Myawaddy Township gather around an explosive device discovered in the border town on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Karen National Media)

Authorities in Myawaddy Township gather around an explosive device discovered in the border town on Tuesday morning. (Photo: Karen National Media)

RANGOON — Two bombs in two days have been discovered in eastern Burma's Myawaddy Township, with the second explosive device uncovered on Tuesday morning in the busy trading hub on the Thai-Burma border.

Maung San, a police officer in Myawaddy, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that township authorities had bolstered security following the discovery of the two bombs.

"We have deployed more security forces. We also have plainclothes security forces deployed in the town," Maung San said. "They are on duty all day and night to find the perpetrators. We have opened a case at the court already, but we have not been able to arrest any perpetrators yet."

"All people were scare of it when they found the bomb," said a lawyer who works near the courthouse where the bomb was discovered. "They put the bomb in a small cart and it was in a public place. Obviously, they wanted to threaten the people by doing it."

A reporter from The Irrawaddy based in Myawaddy said that second bomb was found at about 7 a.m. on Tuesday.

"Many people were panicked when they found it. But the situation is now stable, and all border trade continues to cross as normal," he said by phone.

He said the first bomb was discovered on Monday near the main Friendship Bridge linking Thailand and Burma, and was defused by the Burmese Army.

The bomb scares come amid increasing border tension between an ethnic Karen armed group and Thai border authorities, according to sources on the border. However, no one from any of the armed groups based in the town has claimed responsibility for the explosive devices.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and a splinter group of the KNU—the KNU/Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNU/KNLA-PC)—all have a presence in Myawaddy.

The KNU/KNLA-PC has accused Thai border authorities of mistreating and extorting Burmese migrant workers, citing the daily bribes that migrants crossing the border to work in Mae Sot are forced to pay as an example.

The group has asked Thailand to respect the rights of migrants, most of whom are ethnic Burman and Karen. Last week, the KNU/KNLA-PC temporarily blocked 30 trucks that were attempting to transport Thai goods across the border in a show of force meant to draw the attention of Thai authorities to the issue.

The group has called on both the Burmese and Thai governments to meet with them to address migrant workers' mistreatment, but so far those calls have been met with silence.

The Karen rebels have threatened to stage another blockade if they are not granted the requested tripartite meeting.

"They [Thai authorities] don't respect our country and our citizens and therefore we need not respect them. We are humans and so are they. Our citizens are much degraded in Thailand and our government officials are just standing by and watching them suffer," said Col. Tiger of the KNU/KNLA-PC.

The post Second Bomb Found in Thai-Burma Border Town appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Beach Town Residents Reject Mangrove Deforestation Plan

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 07:16 AM PDT

 Souvenir shops and food vendors in Chaung Tha, Irrawaddy Division. (Photo: Ko Khaing)

Souvenir shops and food vendors in Chaung Tha, Irrawaddy Division. (Photo: Ko Khaing)

RANGOON — Villagers from Chaung Tha in Irrawaddy Division have rejected a planned land reclamation project that would see mangrove forests cleared to make way for housing plots in the beachside village.

Locals say the mangroves have protected them from natural disasters, including when Cyclone Marlar hit the area in 2006. The targeted mangrove forest is located inland from Chaung Tha's main stretch of beach, which is the site of a designated hotel zone.

Despite the objections, a company called Sunlight appears to be moving forward with the project, and has already begun cutting down mangroves on two-and-a-half acres slated for reclamation. The land filling itself is due to start at the end of the month, with developers planning to eventually sell residential plots measuring 40-by-60 feet on the reclaimed land.

If the mangroves are cleared, local residents are afraid that erosion in the village will accelerate due to a twice-daily tidal ebb and flow.

Last year, Sunlight sought to build a housing project on about 15 acres of land in eastern Chaung Tha, at the base of Daw Na Mountain. Villagers also rejected that proposal and the project is currently on hold, according to Aye Hlaing, the National League for Democracy's community chairman from Chaung Tha.

Locals say they do not oppose the projects in principle, but fear their potentially negative long-term impacts.

"We don't want the environment to be damaged," Aye Hlaing told The Irrawaddy. "Chaung Tha experiences the sea tide, in and out. The water reaches to the current land-filling place. The waters stay about six hours per tide.

"The water will come into the village when the mangroves are gone," he added. "The village has lowland areas. The roads will be damaged."

Ownership of the mangrove forest is split between local villagers and Burma's Ministry of Forestry. Nipa palm trees are cultivated in the area, and some locals catch fish and crabs in the watery lowlands.

Hin Bi, the owner of Sunlight, told The Irrawaddy that the development plans would be a net positive for the community.

"The region's value will increase and will develop after the project as people will buy the land and build houses," he said.

Maung Maung Than, the Burma project coordinator from the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC), said the integrity of Chaung Tha's coastline could be at stake if the plan proceeds.

"An acre or two of [mangrove forest] can have a lot of impact," said Maung Maung Than, whose RECOFTC is an international environmental NGO.

"The disappearance of mangrove forests can reduce protection from natural disasters like the Marlar storm for villagers—3,000 to 4,000 households," said Maung Pu, a Chaung Tha villager, acknowledging that Sunlight's plans would likely lead to a significant rise in property prices.

"The price of land, if it's worth about 25 lakh [US$2,580], will rise to up to 100 lakh after the land is filled," said Maung Pu, who is also an information and communications officer for the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

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Timber Elephant Camp Falls Quiet, Sets Hopes on Tourism

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 07:03 AM PDT

At Myaing Hay Wun logging camp, 21 elephants and their handlers have become jobless after an April 1 ban on the export of raw logs caused a sharp drop in timber trade. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

At Myaing Hay Wun logging camp, 21 elephants and their handlers have become jobless after an April 1 ban on the export of raw logs caused a sharp drop in timber trade. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

TAIK GYI, Rangoon Division — Nestled at the foot of Pegu Yoma mountain range in the northwestern part of Rangoon Division, Myaing Hay Wun used to be a camp for timber elephants.

But after the government banned the export of logs in April, much of Burma's timber business has been forced to change its production methods, causing a sharp decline in timber trade and leaving elephants like those at Myaing Hay Wun without work.

The ban is part of a government effort to reduce deforestation and the outflow of unprocessed timber; now only sawn wood can be exported.

In an ironic twist, the elephants who once lived in the jungles, have become victims of efforts to save Burma's dwindling forests and put its timber industry on a more sustainable and profitable footing.

Across Burma, thousands of elephants—by some estimates as many as 5,000—have been employed in the timber industry since British colonial times to extract logged trees from the forest. State-controlled agency the Myanmar Timber Enterprise is believed to employ about half of all timber elephants.

In the logging camps, the handlers, called oozies, live together with their elephants in the forest, washing them in the river and relying on the surrounding jungles for food and medicine for the pachyderms.

At Myaing Hay Wun, a 10-acre camp of the Myanmar Timber Enterprise located some 120 km north of Rangoon, plans are now under way to turn it into a tourist attraction. It is one of 21 elephant logging camps that were recommended for such a transformation by the Ministry of Forestry last year.

So far, Burma has one government-run elephant camp that has been turned into a tourist site, at Pho Kya in Yedashway Township in Pegu division, while Green Hill Valley in Kalaw, Shan state, is a privately-owned camp that was successfully turned into a tourist attraction.

Aung Chient, a forester at Myaing Hay Wun camp, said the government issued an order earlier this year instructing him to prepare the camp for tourist visitors in order to create jobs for both people and animals.

"If the elephants are unemployed for some time, they tend to get wild," said Aung Chient. "Plus, we need jobs for people here too. If not, the camp will be reclaimed by the forest."

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2 British Tourists Found Dead on Beach in Thailand

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 11:13 PM PDT

A view of a beach on the island of Koh Tao, a popular diving destination in southern Thailand's Surat Thani province. (Photo: Wikicommons)

A view of a beach on the island of Koh Tao, a popular diving destination in southern Thailand's Surat Thani province. (Photo: Wikicommons)

BANGKOK — Two British tourists were found battered to death Monday on a beach on a scenic island in southern Thailand that is one of the country's most popular diving destinations.

Police described the two as a 23-year-old woman from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and a 24-year-old man from Jersey, Channel Islands. Their nearly naked bodies were discovered on Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand.

A bloodied hoe was found near the bodies and is believed to have been used as the murder weapon, police Col. Prachum Ruangthong said.

"The man was chopped in the back and on the side of his head, while the woman was chopped in her face," he said. "It's very gruesome."

An initial investigation found that the two had traveled separately to Koh Tao, where they met while staying at the same seaside hotel, police Maj. Gen. Kiattipong Khawsamang said.

"They went out to a bar and left together after 1 a.m., according to closed circuit TV camera footage," he said.

Police said they had no immediate suspects and were checking more camera footage in search of the attacker.

"We don't know who the suspect might be yet but we have talked to different witnesses who might lead us to some clues," Kiattipong said. He said the woman was traveling with three other friends.

Local media reported that outraged residents of the island, which is home to about 2,000 people and survives on tourism, had blockaded its piers to help police prevent the killer from escaping.

The attack came amid government efforts to revive Thailand's tourism industry after a military coup in May ended prolonged, sometimes violent political protests. Martial law remains in effect.

Koh Tao, an island in Surat Thani province, is a quieter destination than the neighboring islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, where "full moon" parties attract travelers from Thailand and abroad. It is 410 kilometers (250 miles) south of Bangkok.

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Ghosts of Ethnic Conflicts Past Haunt Fiji Vote

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 10:30 PM PDT

An election poster for Voreqe

An election poster for Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama can be seen in the rear window of a taxi as a man gestures from the doorway of a local gymnasium in the Fiji capital of Suva August 26, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

SYDNEY/SUVA — When voters in Fiji head to the polls on Wednesday for the first time in eight years, they will be voting not only for a leader, but also testing the success of one of their military junta’s key justifications: ending a history of ethnic conflict.

Fiji, a chain of more than 300 tropical islands in the South Pacific, has suffered four coups since 1987, the latest in 2006 led by former army chief Voreqe "Frank" Bainimarama, whose Fiji First Party has a strong lead heading into the general election.

Bainimarama seized on a long-simmering rivalry between indigenous Fijian nationalists and the descendants of ethnic Indian laborers, brought by the British to work sugarcane fields, to justify his coup.

In 2000, ethnic Fijian nationalists held the country’s first Indo-Fijian prime minister hostage in Parliament for 56 days, which led to riots in the streets of the capital, Suva.

Bainimarama quickly abolished traditional, rival power bases such as the ethnic Fijian Great Council of Chiefs while steadily pushing for equal rights culminating in a 2013 constitution, helping him to consolidate his popularity amongst Indo-Fijians.

But while new laws mean equality has improved on the surface, in reality, the animosity festers under the surface, said Professor Brij Lal, an expert on Fiji at the Australian National University.

"Decreeing that political parties ought to have multi-racial membership is one thing, but the reality on the ground, as everyone will tell you, is that ethnic relations are much more fraught now than before," he told Reuters.

Of paramount importance was the instability inherent in dictating equality by fiat, whether or not one believed that Bainimarama embraced multi-ethnic policies out of genuine belief or political expediency, he said.

"The question that you have to ask is: how widely is that view shared by members of his own party? Does the military share that view, which is 99 percent ethnic Fijian?"

"So how genuine is this transformation, if there is one?"

Ethnic Indians make up about 40 percent of the population of about 900,000. Indigenous Fijians fear political domination by the minority ethnic Indians who dominate the sugar- and tourism-based economy.

The Exception Is the Rule

Fiji’s much-delayed vote is being closely watched by neighbors Australia and New Zealand, the region’s economic and diplomatic powerhouses, eager to welcome the country back to the fold of normal relations after eight years of isolation.

In Fiji, ensuring a return to democracy after years of military rule seems foremost on people’s minds.

"What’s in an anglicized name," asked Asaeli Tamanitoakula, referring to a decree that all citizens be addressed as Fijian regardless of ethnicity.

"The land is protected and so is everything else. What is not protected is a return to democracy, and that’s why we need the elections. Otherwise we have not progressed as a nation."

Sunil Ram, an Indo-Fijian, told Reuters that although ethnicity was not a major factor in his vote, he was looking forward to the freedom that came with the abolition of ethnic voter lists used in the past.

"Before I felt like an outsider to my own country by voting in your own racial groups," he said. "This time we will all be voting in one line, all as Fijians."

Ultimately, the best gauge of Bainimarama’s success may be that the military – Fiji’s most powerful institution – remains almost 100 percent ethnic Fijian, said Jenny Hayward-Jones, a regional expert at Sydney think-tank the Lowy Institute.

And since the 2013 constitution granted the military broad powers to interfere in politics, that leaves the fate of the country in the hands of a powerful, ethnic-Fijian institution.

"I think that exception to the rule is actually the greatest demonstration that he hasn’t done as much as he could have, because that was something that was within his reach," she told Reuters.

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India Tightens Vietnam Defense, Oil Ties Ahead of China Xi’s Visit

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 10:24 PM PDT

 India's President Pranab Mukherjee, back right, reviews a guard of honor with Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Sept. 15, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Kham)

India's President Pranab Mukherjee, back right, reviews a guard of honor with Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Sept. 15, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Kham)

NEW DELHI — India extended a US$100 million export credit to Vietnam for defense deals and tightened energy ties on Monday, signaling a more confident foreign policy ahead of a visit this week by China's President Xi Jinping.

India's new accords with one of China's rivals for influence in the South China Sea came as Xi visited the nearby islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, a reminder of the geostrategic jostling that is becoming an increasing feature in Asia.

During a visit to Vietnam by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, the two countries said in a joint statement that the credit line would open new opportunities for defense cooperation and that details of what Vietnam would buy were being finalized

"The leaders agreed that defense and security cooperation was an important pillar of the strategic partnership between the two countries," the statement said.

They also agreed to "consolidate" energy cooperation following a 2013 agreement under which PetroVietnam offered India's ONGC oil and gas blocks for exploration and production.

India and Vietnam have deepened military cooperation over the past decade and under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is pushing ahead with a new strategy to establish itself as an arms exporter using export credits to leverage foreign sales.

The money may help slow-moving talks to sell Brahmos cruise missiles to Hanoi.

Vietnam is building a naval deterrent to China with Kilo class submarines from Russia and it would like to add India's missile technology to its defenses.

India and Vietnam have both traditionally depended heavily on their mutual Cold War partner Russia for military knowhow. The Brahmos itself was developed with Russian help.

Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam's military at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, said he believed Vietnam was seeking India's ship attack variants of the missile.

Indian tests showed the supersonic cruise missile could be successfully fired from ships, which matched Hanoi's goal of creating a meaningful deterrent against China.

"This is leading-edge technology that would further complicate the ability of the Chinese navy to operate off the Vietnamese coast with impunity, particularly in the south of the South China Sea," Thayer said.

"The Vietnamese do not want to be in a situation where they wake up one morning and discover the Chinese navy has surrounded one of its bases in the Spratlys," he said, referring to a disputed island chain.

Business is growing fast between India and China, but the rising powers' ties are also defined by competition for energy and regional clout, as well as a border dispute that led to war 50 years ago.

Long insecure about China's strength, India elected Modi in May partly because of his promises to build an economically strong nation that could hold its own on the world stage.

The timing of Mukherjee's visit to Vietnam may not have been planned to coincide with Xi's South Asia tour, but it underlined India's new twin track diplomacy, foreign policy analyst C Raja Mohan wrote in the Indian Express newspaper on Monday.

"Much like China, which does not limit its strategic relationship with Pakistan because of Indian concerns, the Modi government apparently believes it can build a partnership with Vietnam on its own merits without worrying too much about what Beijing might think," Mohan said in his column.

Also on Mukherjee's trip, India's Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines agreed to start flying between Delhi and Ho Chi Minh City from Nov. 5, via Bangkok.

Xi will be in India from Sept. 17-19.

Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Hanoi and Greg Torode in Hong Kong.

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Building an Egalitarian Economy in Myanmar

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 05:00 PM PDT

Laborers work at a construction site in downtown Yangon. (Photo: Reuters)

Laborers work at a construction site in downtown Yangon. (Photo: Reuters)

As Myanmar embraces democratic governance, people are aspiring to equal opportunities in all aspects of the country's political economy, which at the moment remains dominated by a small group of elites. Myanmar's long-term stability depends on how effectively the government is able to translate its reform program into far-reaching economic benefits. Well into the fourth year of the country's reforms, a major question looms over the next four years and beyond: Can Myanmar develop its economy on an egalitarian basis and fend off predatory international pressure and practices wherein the privatization of national assets has become the norm?

Income inequality is already severe in Myanmar and could get worse if national economic policies are dictated solely by a private sector whose interests are largely based on exploitation of natural resources and cheap labor. Myanmar is often referred to as a latecomer to the development arena. While the country's long isolation certainly has brought many negative effects, being a latecomer also provides a good opportunity to learn from countries that have already traveled the turbulent path to democracy. There are also lessons to be learned from failed economies in middle- and high-income countries. An inclusive national economic policy that benefits all citizens is key to resolving Myanmar's political problems, and the country's notable progress toward national reconciliation will be complemented by sound economic management.

Myanmar geographically links South Asia, Southeast Asia and China, giving it geopolitical sway in the realms of trade, tourism and regional economic cooperation. Because the country is at the crossroads of a market of 3 billion consumers, a well-planned economic policy with a long-term perspective could yield unprecedented benefits for Myanmar, but could also increase its vulnerability. There are many policy advisors representing diverse interest groups who see Myanmar through a purely geopolitical lens, with no consideration for the development aspirations of its people. Myanmar's leaders must weigh all offers of assistance against the risks that they bring.

Myanmar is under pressure to deregulate, cut red tape and open up for businesses. It is indeed necessary to simplify its labyrinthine bureaucracy but at the same time steps must be taken to strengthen public institutions to protect Myanmar's citizens, the majority of whom will not benefit from an unshackled private sector, at least in the immediate future. The government must ensure that the right investments are being made and that the returns from such investments are beneficial to the people and the country, not just to the few who are partnering with foreign and local investors.

Free trade is en vogue among a majority of today's economists because it provides choices. But for countries and people who are just getting out of poverty, guaranteeing basic necessities should be prioritized ahead of having a choice.

Moreover, free trade does not work between a strong partner and a weak partner. Free trade encourages choice, promotes wastage and further widens social divisions. Modern day free trade encourages developing countries to sell their resources to affluent nations and expects them to then import fancy products from these countries to improve living standards. It is not a free trade—it is a way of creating dependency.

This is why strong regulatory mechanisms are still necessary to protect developing countries' economies. Even in fully developed economies, the private sector often employs strong lobbies to help shape the regulatory environment, resulting in a variety of abuses that was perhaps most spectacularly manifested in the 2008 collapse of the US financial system.

As Myanmar develops economic policies it must realize that trade should be free but mindful of the predatory actions of multinational investors pushing consumption to no end.

The world continues to witness but not fully accept the fact that growth by any means is based on greed of the few and is responsible for economic inequality everywhere. There are many examples of newly democratized countries where free market-driven economic policies have gone very wrong, with markets controlling societies and not societies controlling the market.

Myanmar's economic policies and regional interactions must be based on a shared political vision and mutual benefit. It should not be lured by promises of bilateral aid tied to hidden agendas. It would be a catastrophic mistake to be driven by the immediate benefits of a myopic focus on extractive industries. Many an environment has been ravaged by a rush for quick profit.

Opponents of an egalitarian economic approach might argue that it is at odds with notions of democracy and freedom, but in fact it is about creating an equality of opportunity for all. There is ample space for a discussion about how best to go about this, and an exchange of ideas and criticism is a healthy democratic process, as long as the government makes decisions based on transparency and takes accountability for its actions. Though there is a strong desire for results now, people must be made to understand that it takes generations to develop a stable egalitarian economy that will benefit all.

Ramesh Shrestha is a former Unicef country representative to Myanmar.

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Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma

Bullet Points: 16 September 2014

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 05:05 AM PDT

On today's edition of Bullet Points:

    • Myawaddy border crossing closed after bomb scare
    • Muslim IDPs in Arakan cut off from education
    • Burmese migrants detained after murder on Thai island

You can watch Bullet Points every weeknight on DVB TV after the 7 o'clock news.

Thegon MP low-balled amount of confiscated land, say farmers

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 03:26 AM PDT

Farmers from Thegon, Pegu Division, announced on Monday that a local authority grossly under reported the amount of land confiscated in Aungon village, the site of an on-going and occasionally violent property dispute.

The farmers claimed that Thegon's elected lower house parliamentarian,Soe Aung,a member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), only reported 200 acres of confiscated land to parliament's Farmland Investigation Commission. Villagers claim that the actual area stands around 1,100 acres.

"MP Soe Aung of Thegon, when reporting to the Farmland Investigation Commission last week, cited the acres of land confiscated around Thegon as 200, but the real number is more than 1,100 acres," said Min Thwe Thit, secretary of the All-Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU), which co-hosted a press event with the villagers in Rangoon.

He added that, "the villagers gave him [Soe Aung] paperwork with details about the confiscated land and he pledged to give it to the commission. As it turned out, he didn’t take the papers to Naypyidaw, he left them in the local USDP office".

Min Thwe Thit said that when villagers asked for an explanation, SoeAung said that it was not feasible to ask the commission to handle so much land at once, so he decided to begin with just 200 acres.

According to locals, more than 1,100 acres of land were confiscated by the Burmese military in 1997.

Villagers have staged several sit-ins and protests to demand that the land be returned. In February of this year, their initial protest site was raided by about 60 police and 100 plain-clothed accomplices thought to have been hired thugs.

Four farmers were subsequently charged under Burma's controversial assembly law.

In response to the charges, a group of villagers invoked a curse upon the government, prompting authorities to then charge five people with defamation of the state under article 505(b) the country's penal code.

The defamation charges sparked further demonstrations on 6 May, when at least one villager was injured in a scuffle with police outside the local prison.

Less than two weeks later, about 20 protestors were allegedly beaten by police as they marched to commemorate the three-month anniversary of the February crackdown and renew their demands to have the lands returned.

Upper House approves plan to ‘make life more pleasant’ for Arakanese

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 03:14 AM PDT

A parliamentary proposal urging a set of policies "to make life more pleasant" for people in Arakan State was approved by Burma’s upper house on Monday.

The proposal, submitted by MP Hla Swe, who represents the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party in Sagaing Division, was passed with 152 votes in favour, 10 against and 12 abstaining.

Following the proposal's passage, Deputy Minister of Border Affairs Maj-Gen Tin Aung Chit briefed the upper house on the government's plan to improve health and education, as well as road and bridge construction and electricity supply in the impoverished western region of Burma.

MP Hla Swe told DVB that while the minister's outline was "satisfactory", the government should make sure its plans are implemented objectively.

"The minister explained from A to Z the policies to be undertaken in Arakan State, including long-term and short-term plans for multi-sectoral development," he said. "That is precisely the information we wanted, so I am satisfied with his response. However, I need to stress that the government must follow up and implement these plans objectively."

Dr Aye Maung, deputy leader of the Rakhine [Arakan] National Party and an upper house member, seconded Hla Swe's comments.

"I believe that the proposal to make life more pleasant for Arakanese should be welcomed because it makes it clear that for years the government has not done anything for ethnic people," he said.

"Most international loans and project grants are centralised, and the Union government has not sought significant international aid or loans for developing ethnic regions," Aye Maung continued.

"Under such circumstances, and in view of the ugly scenes taking place in Arakan since 2012 and the international attention given to them, we welcome U Hla Swe's proposal to the Union Parliament to make life more pleasant for the people of this state, and for making this a national objective."




NLD ‘not invited’ to political conference

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 01:13 AM PDT

A recent meeting of political party leaders to discuss a framework for post-ceasefire dialogue was carried out without Burma's two biggest parties, giving rise to theories that past rivalries are resurfacing.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), were not among the 52 political parties represented at a conference held in Rangoon from 13-14 September. An ethnic political coalition closely allied with the NLD, the United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), was also absent.

A senior NLD official told DVB on Monday that the party was not formally invited, contrary to the organisers' claims that they were.

"Firstly, we did not receive an invitation to the event," said NLD Central Executive Committee member Tun Tun Shein. "We learnt from news journals that it was being hosted at Green Hill [Hotel], but it wasn't clear who was organising the event, whether it was the NDF [National Democratic Force] or the NBF [Nationalities Brotherhood Federation]."

He said that because they had received only secondary and partial information about the event, the NLD opted not to attend.

Pu Zo Zam, chairman of the Chin National Party and spokesperson for the NBF — an ethnic alliance that co-hosted the event with the NDF — said that he was under the impression that the NLD was among the invitees.

"The NDF said that they sent out invitations, but it is not within our right to investigate whether this is true or not. We instructed the organisers to invite everyone to the event," he said, adding that the NDF was the main organiser of the event while the NBF provided most of the expenses.

"My assumption is that the ruling party [USDP] may have their own plan for the political framework since they are the government, so there was no need for them to work with us," he said. "As for the NLD and the UNA, we are working on a framework but we welcome them to draft one of their own."

The conference concluded with an agreement to form a 15-member committee to draft a framework proposal. As a nationwide ceasefire agreement nears, politicians have complained of being excluded from the peace process, which has primarily been carried out by the government's peace negotiators, the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), and their counterpart, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).

The UPWC invited politicians for a briefing on the peace process in mid-August 2014. Tripartite political dialogue is expected to begin within 90 days of reaching a nationwide ceasefire agreement.

As politicians scramble to prepare their version of a framework for carrying out political dialogue, some said that the exclusion of the NLD reveals a growing divide among the nation's opposition policymakers.

Aye Maung, chairman of the Arakan National Party, said that the apparent sidelining can be traced back to old bitterness between the NLD and and the NDF, which was originally a splinter group established by former NLD members who left the party to contest the 2010 elections.

"In my opinion, this is similar to the situation between the east and the west blocs of the cold war era," he said. "Here we have a bloc of parties that participated in the 2010 elections, and a bloc that was established during the 1990 general elections. The 2010 bloc are generally regarded as closer to the USDP."

Fresh population data will affect voting: NLD

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 05:25 AM PDT

This year's census showed nine million fewer people in Burma than expected. In 2010, Burma's Union Electoral Commission (UEC) stated that there were around 29 million enfranchised citizens in Burma, based on an estimated population figure of around 60 million. That has now been revised to 51.4 million.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) says that the surprise result requires that electoral constituencies now be reexamined and potentially redrawn across Burma. The opposition party is calling on the UEC to do so well in advance of next year's general election.

"The number of enfranchised people in Burma is now very different," said NLD spokesperson Nyan Win."Therefore constituencies based on township populations are inaccurate. The changes expected will probably be very large. That is why it is so important to advise voters in advance."

On 7 September, the UEC cancelled by-elections slated for late November. That leaves 35 parliamentary seats across Burma unfilled until the general election scheduled for late 2015. The NLD welcomed the decision, despite accepting that they expected to win a majority of the 35 seats on offer across the Union upper and lower houses and regional parliaments.

"We're preparing for the regular [general] election in 2015," Nyan Win told DVB by telephone on Monday. "That is what is important for the future of Burma."

The party also confirmed that leader Aung San Suu Kyi was consulted by the UEC before the decision to cancel the by-election was made, and that she agreed it was the right move. Last week the NLD stated, "political parties believe the gap between elections is too close and the campaign rules are inconvenient. By canceling, we feel there is less of a burden on us."

Minister for Population Khin Yi has advised that full population figures will be publicly available by April next year.

Bullet Points: 15 September 2014

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 04:49 AM PDT

On today's edition of Bullet Points:

    • Burmese maids blocked from jobs in Singapore, Hong Kong
    • Political parties draw framework for govt talks
    • NLD say census data calls for redrawing of Burma’s electorates
    • Hkakabo Razi rescue effort stalls

You can watch Bullet Points every weeknight on DVB TV after the 7 o'clock news.

National News

National News

Chinese team withdraws from Kachin State rescue operation

Posted: 16 Sep 2014 04:33 AM PDT

A Chinese team that had offered to help find two missing climbers in northern Kachin State has abandoned the search from the Myanmar side after rescue coordinators told them they would prefer to work with a Japanese climbing team in the area.

Myanmar nationals questioned over Koh Tao murders

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 08:00 PM PDT

Thai police Tuesday questioned three Myanmar men over the murder of two British tourists on the southern resort island of Koh Tao, as their bodies were due to arrive in Bangkok for forensic tests.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Police Detain Student Activist, Allege Involvement in Chinese Workers’ Kidnapping

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 05:36 AM PDT

A photo posted on Facebook shows student activist Phyu Hnin Htwe and calls for her release. (Photo: Oo Aung / Facebook)

A photo posted on Facebook shows student activist Phyu Hnin Htwe and calls for her release. (Photo: Oo Aung / Facebook)

A student activist was arrested on Saturday and is facing charges for her alleged involvement in the illegal detention in May of two Chinese workers by local villagers who oppose the Chinese-backed copper mine in Monywa, Sagaing Division, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) said.

The student group has called for the immediate release of Phyu Hnin Htwe, 20, and said she is being falsely accused under the Penal Code's articles 364 and 368, which set prison terms of up to 10 years for kidnapping and abduction.

Phyu Hnin Htwe has been following a long-distance studying course at Mandalay's Yadanabon University. She is an ABFSU member and activist who has been visiting communities near the Letpadaung copper mine to offer her support, according to Ye Yint Kyaw, an ABFSU representative for Upper Burma.

He said she was arrested at her home in Patheingyi Township in Mandalay Division on Saturday at the request of Monywa Township police, who took her to Monywa Prison on Saturday. "Police said she would have to appear at the Yinmabin Township Court next Monday," he added.

An officer at Monywa Police Station confirmed that Phyu Hnin Htwe had been arrested, but declined to discuss the case in detail.

Yinmabin Township is one several townships where communities have been affected by the copper mine of Chinese firm Wanbao. The company has been granted huge swathes of farmland by the government, but thousands of farmers claim they have not been properly compensated for the confiscation of their land. They have been holding protests against the project during the past two years.

In May, villagers in Yinmabin Township were angered when they saw Chinese Wanbao employees carrying out survey works on recently seized lands. Villagers believed the aim of the company was to later fence in the area.

They consequently brought the two men, along with a Burmese Wanbao employee, to Hsete village. The Burmese national was released the same day, but the Chinese employees were held for about 30 hours.

A total of seven people were charged with abduction in May; five were arrested and later pardoned by the court.

Phyu Hnin Htwe and Win Kyaw, a local villager, were also charged but did not show up for the trial. Until recently, Monywa authorities had made no attempt to arrest the two. Win Kyaw still remains at large.

Ye Yint Kyaw, the ABFSU representative, said Phyu Hnin Htwe had played no role in the events involving the Chinese employees, adding that she only taught some extra classes for grade 10 students in Hsete village.

The post Police Detain Student Activist, Allege Involvement in Chinese Workers' Kidnapping appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

3 Rohingya Drown After Police Fire Rubber Bullets at Boat

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 04:38 AM PDT

Two Rohingya women and a man drown near the Arakan State capital Sittwe after jumping from a boat because police fired rubber bullets at them. 

Two Rohingya women and a man drown near the Arakan State capital Sittwe after jumping from a boat because police fired rubber bullets at them.

RANGOON — Two women and a man of the Rohingya Muslim minority drowned near the Arakan State capital Sittwe on Friday after they jumped from a boat because police fired rubber bullets at them, a local officer said.

Sittwe Police Col. Tun Oo told The Irrawaddy on Monday that a group of about two dozen Rohingya was travelling on a small boat in an estuary near Sittwe at around 8 pm Friday when a police patrol boat caught sight of them and approached the vessel. He claimed the passengers acted hostile and police were forced to draw their weapons.

"They held knives and prepared to defend their boat. And then we opened fire, shooting [warning shots] into the air first, but they still did not let us get into their boat. Finally, we used rubber bullets like we were trained to and we shot at them," he said. "They became afraid and jumped out of the boat into the water."

On Saturday morning, police found the washed up bodies of two women and a man, all in their early 20s, Tun Oo said, adding that eight Rohingya were picked up out of the water and arrested.

"We don't know what happened to the rest—they disappeared. We could only arrest eight people," he said, adding that the police were formulating charges against the detainees and would bring them to Sittwe Township Court.

Asked what charges authorities would bring against the Muslim civilians because of their alleged resistance against the police patrol, he said, "We will see, at least we can charge them with travelling without the right documents."

The stateless Rohingya minority in northern Arakan, which numbers around 1 million people, are denied citizenship rights by the Burmese government. The Rohingya say they have lived there for generations, but authorities claim they are illegal "Bengali" immigrants from Bangladesh and impose numerous restrictions on the group, such as limiting their right to travel and access to health care and education.

International human rights group accuse the government of persecuting the Rohingya and say police regularly carry out rights violations, such as extrajudicial killings, with impunity.

Many Rohingya try to flee the dire conditions in their impoverished communities and the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Sittwe townships. Some 140,000 Rohingya have been living in dirty, crowded camps since mid-2012 when they were displaced by clashes between Muslims and the Arakanese Buddhist population.

The UN has said that last year an estimated 86,000 Rohingya fled by boat on a perilous journey through the Bay of Bengal in an effort to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist and community leader in Sittwe's Muslim neighborhood Aung Mingalar, said he had heard that the Rohingya on the boat had been trying to flee from Ohn Taw Gyi 1 camp in Sittwe Township, a site which according to the UN houses some 6,200 IDPs.

"Many of them tried to get out from the camp. Unfortunately, the police found their boat," he said, adding that the group were travelling in a small boat and probably trying to reach a bigger boat waiting off the coast, which would take them to Thailand and on to Malaysia.

Tun Oo, of the Sittwe police, however, claimed that his patrol boat had tried to stop the boat because the Rohinya passengers were trying to enter Ohn Taw Gyi 1 camp.

"Usually, if we know they are trying to get out of the camp by boat we just ignore it and let them get out… but there are also people who come inside the camp. We have a duty to arrest them if they come inside the camp, this is why we tried to arrest them," he said.

Sources at Ohn Taw Gyi 1 camp could not be reached for comment.

The post 3 Rohingya Drown After Police Fire Rubber Bullets at Boat appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

A Bid for Better Health Care

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 12:27 AM PDT

Parasols up for auction are displayed at Pansodan Scene in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Parasols up for auction are displayed at Pansodan Scene in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A silent auction for traditional Burmese parasols splashed with colorfully painted designs is offering Rangoon's philanthropically inclined the chance to help build a sustainable health care system for local communities in the commercial capital.

Organized by Better Burmese Health Care (BBHC), "The Parasol Project" at Pansodan Scene in downtown Rangoon presents 91 vibrant parasols painted by 37 Burmese artists.

"The Parasol Project is a fundraising activity of BBHC because we see a surge in the number of patients," said Thiri, the coordinator of the group, which provides free and cost-sharing health care services to nearly 900 patients every month on the outskirts of Rangoon.

The floor price for each parasol is US$200. Prospective buyers can make a play for any of the parasols on auction by writing their bid on a corresponding sheet of paper beside the displayed works.

BBHC is a private group founded in 2005 by a handful of Burmese physicians who have since provided regular health care services to people who lack the financial means to pay for their own medical costs.

The auction runs from Sept. 13-19. Bidding closes at 8:30 p.m. on the last day.

Pansodan Scene

No. 144, Second Floor

Pansodan Street (Middle Block)

Kyauktada Township, Rangoon

The post A Bid for Better Health Care appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burma’s Rohingya Stuck in Refugee Limbo in India

Posted: 14 Sep 2014 11:06 PM PDT

A woman, who says she belongs to the Rohingya community from Burma, washes clothes as children play in a camp in New Delhi on September 13, 2014. (Photo: Reuters). 

A woman, who says she belongs to the Rohingya community from Burma, washes clothes as children play in a camp in New Delhi on September 13, 2014. (Photo: Reuters).

NEW DELHI — When Kohinoor, a stateless Rohingya Muslim, fled her home in Burma after a wave of attacks by majority Buddhists, she hoped for a chance to rebuild her life in a new country.

She knew she would have to trek for days with little food and water and risk her life being smuggled across borders by traffickers. But she and her family did not imagine their present life of destitution and discrimination in India, the country they had chosen as their refuge.

"We were chased out of Burma. We were chased out of Bangladesh. Now we are in India, the people here tell us that India is not our country. So where will we go?" asked Kohinoor, 20, sitting in a makeshift tent on a patch of wasteland in southern Delhi.

"We don't have any land of our own. Our children don't go to the government schools as they refuse us admission. When we go to the hospital, they don’t admit people from our community," said Kohinoor, who fled Burma two years ago with her 2-year-old daughter and her sister's family.

Though the Rohingya minority have lived for generations in Burma’s western state of Arakan, the largely Buddhist government passed a citizenship law in 1982 which excluded them, denying them the identity cards required for everything from schooling and marriage to finding a job and getting a birth or death certificate. They became stateless.

Hundreds died in communal violence between Buddhists and Rohingya in 2012, worsening their plight, and in the last two years more than 86,000 Rohingya have left, fleeing to countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, India and Bangladesh.

The Rohingya are among an estimated 10 million stateless people worldwide. Their plight will be discussed during the first global forum on statelessness opening in The Hague on Monday, ahead of an ambitious U.N. campaign starting in November to eradicate statelessness worldwide within a decade.

India, despite hosting some 30,000 registered refugees, has no legal recognition of asylum seekers, making it difficult for them to use essential services like schools and hospitals, human rights groups say – and the Rohingya community is among the most vulnerable.

In Need for a Home

According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), there are around 9,000 Rohingya registered in Delhi. Thousands more, unregistered, are living in other parts of the country such as Jammu and Hyderabad.

In Delhi, most of them lead impoverished lives in tented settlements dotted around the city, eking out a meager existence collecting and selling garbage or doing manual work for Indians, often underpaid and exploited.

Because they have no identity documents, they cannot send their children to school or use health services at government hospitals. They cannot rent accommodation and face problems getting work.

Many say they have been forced to sleep under plastic sheets on roadsides or patches of wasteland for weeks or months, before local residents or authorities move them on.

"Our home is Myanmar but they chased us out," said 21-year-old Abdul Sukur at a camp housing some 60 families in Delhi’s Okhla district.

"Here also we don’t belong. People abuse us for living on the streets and say we are making the place dirty. We have to shift constantly. We need permanent land in India where we can settle and have proper identity documents which we can show," he said.

Haven for Some

Considered a haven in a volatile region, India has for decades hosted refugees fleeing conflict or persecution in countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan, China and Burma.

But its refugees have no legal status. Decisions about refugees are taken on an ad hoc basis and some groups, such as Sri Lankan Tamils and Tibetans, have been given certain rights and support.

Others, such as the Rohingya, have been less fortunate.

Dominik Bartsch, UNHCR India’s chief of mission, said the UNHCR identity cards given to registered refugees are often not recognized as they are not issued by the government. The agency is partnering with non-governmental organizations which are going into refugee communities to help them negotiate access to basic services, he added.

"Overall if you look at how India looks after refugees, it is a functioning protection regime. There are no big violations of refugee rights, although there are lots of things that could improve," Bartsch said.

"There is differential treatment of refugees. You have to analyze the period when they arrived and also look at the bilateral relationship with the country of origin. These are the two factors that shape how India has treated refugees over time."

New Delhi has twice blocked draft laws on refugee recognition. Because of its porous borders, often hostile neighbors and external militancy, it wants a free hand to regulate the entry of foreigners without being tied down by any legal obligation, analysts said.

UNHCR’s Bartsch said the inability of refugees to state their claim to asylum was actually driving them underground, making them more exposed to militancy.

"Currently, there is no channel available to present a case to the government," he said. "Anyone who runs away from their country is forced to go underground and that results in people being off the grid, bereft of any support and subject to criminal activity and, worst case, even fundamentalism."

For Kohinoor, little of this makes sense.

"I don’t know about laws," she said. "Every country is kicking us around like a football. From one country to another, people are playing with us. We want the world to make a decision about us. We want them to give us some land in any country which we can then call home."

The post Burma's Rohingya Stuck in Refugee Limbo in India appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

US Man in North Korea Given 6 Years of Hard Labor

Posted: 14 Sep 2014 10:16 PM PDT

US citizen Matthew Todd Miller, second right, sits in a witness box during his trial at the North Korean Supreme Court in Pyongyang on Sept. 14, 2014, in this photo released by Kyodo. (Photo: Reuters / Kyodo)

US citizen Matthew Todd Miller, second right, sits in a witness box during his trial at the North Korean Supreme Court in Pyongyang on Sept. 14, 2014, in this photo released by Kyodo. (Photo: Reuters / Kyodo)

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea's Supreme Court on Sunday convicted a 24-year-old American man of entering the country illegally to commit espionage and sentenced him to six years of hard labor.

At a trial that lasted about 90 minutes, the court said Matthew Miller, of Bakersfield, California, tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang's airport upon arrival on April 10 and admitted to having the "wild ambition" of experiencing prison life so that he could secretly investigate North Korea's human rights situation.

Miller, who looked thin and pale at the trial and was dressed completely in black, is one of three Americans being held in North Korea.

Showing no emotion throughout the proceedings, Miller waived the right to a lawyer and was handcuffed before being led from the courtroom after his sentencing. The court, comprising a chief judge flanked by two "people's assessors," ruled it would not hear any appeals to its decision.

Earlier, it had been believed that Miller had sought asylum when he entered North Korea. During the trial, however, the prosecution argued that was a ruse and that Miller also falsely claimed to have secret information about the US military in South Korea on his iPad and iPod.

Miller was charged under Article 64 of the North Korean criminal code, which is for espionage and can carry a sentence of five to 10 years, though harsher punishments can be given for more serious cases.

The Associated Press was allowed to attend the trial.

A trial is expected soon for one of the other Americans being held, Jeffrey Fowle, who entered the North as a tourist and was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at a sailor's club in the city of Chongjin. The third American, Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae, is serving out a 15-year sentence for alleged "hostile acts."

All three have appealed to the US government to send a senior statesman to Pyongyang to intervene on their behalf.

During a brief interview with The Associated Press in Pyongyang last week, Miller said he had written a letter to President Barack Obama but had not received a reply.

Following Sunday's court verdict, the US State Department urged North Korea to release Miller, as well as Bae and Fowle.

"Now that Mr. Miller has gone through a legal process, we urge the DPRK to grant him amnesty and immediate release," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, using North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Fowle, a 56-year-old equipment operator for the city of Moraine, Ohio, said his wife, a hairstylist from Russia, made a written appeal on his behalf to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said the Russian government responded that it was watching the situation.

The United States has repeatedly offered to send its envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to Pyongyang to seek the freedom of the detainees, but without success.

Former President Bill Clinton came in 2009 to free a couple of jailed journalists. Jimmy Carter made the trip in 2010 to secure the release of Aijalon Gomes, who had been sentenced to eight years of hard labor for illegally crossing into the country to do missionary work.

In 2011, the State Department's envoy for North Korean human rights managed to successfully intervene in the case of Korean-American businessman Eddie Yong Su Jun.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against traveling to the country.

Uri Tours, a New Jersey-based travel agency specializing in North Korea tourism that handled the arrangements for Miller, said in an email Sunday that it was working to have Miller returned to his parents in the United States.

"Although we ask a series of tailored questions on our application form designed to get to know a traveler and his/her interests, it's not always possible for us to foresee how a tourist may behave during a DPRK tour," the travel agency said in a statement on Friday. "Unfortunately, there was nothing specific in Mr. Miller's tour application that would have helped us anticipate this unfortunate outcome."

The agency said that as a result of the incident, it now routinely requests a secondary contact and reserves the right to contact those references to confirm facts about a potential tourist. It has also added advice warning tourists not to rip up any officially issued documents and "to refrain from any type of proselytizing."

Associated Press National Security Writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report from Paris.

The post US Man in North Korea Given 6 Years of Hard Labor appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Philippines Starts Inquiry Into Filipino Militants in Syria

Posted: 14 Sep 2014 10:10 PM PDT

Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province on June 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

MANILA — The Philippines is investigating the involvement of Filipino Islamists in the three-year civil war in Syria after two locals were reported killed fighting for Islamic State militant group, an intelligence official said over the weekend.

A senior police intelligence official said Manila was also monitoring young Filipino Muslims who have gone to Syria and Iraq, and then tried to radicalize others on their return home.

The Philippines has been battling its own small but violent Islamist militant group, Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings in the south. Since 2002, a US special forces unit has been advising and training local troops.

Thousands of fighters from dozens of countries have traveled to Syria and Iraq to fight with extremist groups, prompting the United States to draft a UN Security Council resolution demanding countries "prevent and suppress" the recruitment and travel of foreign fighters.

"These are disturbing developments that could affect our internal security situation," the intelligence official, who declined to be named because he was not allowed to talk to the press, told Reuters on Saturday.

"We have scant data based on intermittent information made available from different agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs. We are now exchanging intelligence with our foreign partners so we can build our own data base."

Based on these exchanges, he said they have noted a gradual increase of foreign fighters heading to Syria coming from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Xinjiang, a troubled province in western China.

But the movement is not only one way, he said. Some locals who saw action in Syria, labeled themselves as "veterans" had returned to the south of the mainly Catholic state to spread extremist Muslim ideologies.

Documents seen by Reuters showed two Filipino Muslims had died in the Syria conflict in March. The foreign ministry also reported in May that about 100 Filipinos traveled to Iran to undergo military training and were subsequently deployed in Syria.

"One of them was raised in Syria and the other was a local passport holder," said the intelligence official.

Rommel Banlaoi of the Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies said the threats from Islamic State militants in the Philippines "is real rather than imagined."

"ISIS is replacing al Qaeda as the champion of the world Islamic caliphate," Banlaoi said, adding that a video on YouTube last month indicated an Islamic caliphate in the Philippines has been established.

Militants from Abu Sayyaf, Khilafa Islamiyah Mindanao, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Muslim convert group Rajah Solaiman Islamic Movement had pledged support to Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

On Wednesday, Washington authorized airstrikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq in a broad escalation of a campaign against the Islamic State, which has seized large stretches of Iraq and Syria.

The post Philippines Starts Inquiry Into Filipino Militants in Syria appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

With Eye on China, Modi’s India to Develop Disputed Border Region

Posted: 14 Sep 2014 10:00 PM PDT

 India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, walks past China's President Xi Jinping, right, during the 6th BRICS Summit in Fortaleza on July 15, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Nacho Doce)

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, center, walks past China's President Xi Jinping, right, during the 6th BRICS Summit in Fortaleza on July 15, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Nacho Doce)

NEW DELHI — India has eased restrictions on building roads and military facilities along its disputed border with China, as the new government seeks to close the gap on its neighbor's superior transport network and take a stronger stance on Beijing.

Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar told Reuters he had relaxed environmental rules within 100 km (62 miles) of the contested border in remote Arunachal Pradesh in order to speed up construction of some 6,000 km of roads.

The move, which also allows for the construction of army stations, arms depots, schools and hospitals in the sparsely populated Himalayan region, was announced days before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits India on Sept. 17-18.

"This is about defense preparedness," said Javadekar. "On the Chinese side of the border, not only have they built good roads, they are building up their railway network. Our army faces problems because of the bad quality of roads," he added.

Work on the roads will start in the coming months.

India's shift is consistent with expectations that Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power in elections four months ago, would take a tougher line on territorial disputes with neighboring countries.

Asian great-power diplomacy stirred to life when Modi made clear his intention to play an active role on the world stage by inviting regional leaders to his inauguration in May.

His first bilateral visit outside the region was to Japan, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a two-stop tour of South Asia earlier this month, pre-empting Xi's trip to the region this week.

After taking office, Modi moved quickly to appoint a former army chief as a minister for the northeast border region to accelerate development.

The road building plan marks a significant expansion of infrastructure in far-flung Arunachal Pradesh, a rugged, mountainous, 84,000 square km (32,400 square mile) region that China calls South Tibet.

China has vastly improved roads and is building or extending airports on its side of the border in Tibet.

According to a 2010 Pentagon report, it had placed nuclear-capable intermediate missiles in the area and deployed around 300,000 troops across the Tibetan plateau.

The Modi government's roads program could aid plans to establish a mountain strike corps of 80,000 troops who can move easily along its border.

The world's two most populous nations fought a brief frontier war in the area in 1962, and Chinese maps still show all of Arunachal Pradesh within China's borders.

Indian efforts at development in the region have been relatively restrained in recent years. In 2013, Modi's predecessor announced plans for 850 km (530 miles) of new roads in the border region, and proposals to upgrade airfields made little headway.

Previous governments deliberately neglected infrastructure in Arunachal Pradesh, partly to create a natural buffer against any Chinese invasion. That policy was dropped when the extent of development on China's side became clear.

"This is a complete shift in strategic thinking," said Namrata Goswami, a research fellow at the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

The neighbors have a complicated relationship marked by growing economic ties but also distrust, particularly over their unresolved territorial disputes.

The two armies were locked in a three-week standoff in May 2013 in the western Himalayas after Chinese troops set up a camp at least 10 km (6 miles) inside territory claimed by India, triggering calls that India should stand up to its neighbor.

Speaking in Beijing recently, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, a hawkish former spy chief who has in the past expressed doubts about China's motives, said the two nations' disputed border would be discussed during Xi's visit.

"Both sides have agreed to take steps to ensure the peace and tranquility of the border, and seek a fair, reasonable resolution both sides can accept on the basis of peaceful, friendly talks and consultations," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing on Thursday.

Under the easing of environmental rules, Javadekar said road building within 100 km of the "Line of Actual Control"—the de facto but disputed border between India and China—would be brought under a single general approval scheme, while the amount of reforestation required would be lowered.

India is also pushing ahead with a proposal for electricity projects in states bordering China, and has said it will continue even if international development agencies that had earmarked cash to support the underdeveloped region do not back schemes in areas claimed by China.

Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing.

The post With Eye on China, Modi's India to Develop Disputed Border Region appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Northern Thai Style

Posted: 14 Sep 2014 05:00 PM PDT

 Nacha's dishes are as authentic as any to be found in the northern provinces of Thailand. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Nacha's dishes are as authentic as any to be found in the northern provinces of Thailand. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

YANGON — "As the youngest of six children, the kitchen was my playground," said the owner of Yangon's Nacha Thai Restaurant, Panida Ponlabute, who goes by the nickname "Air" (which incidentally means "littlest one" in Thai).

For 30 years, Air's mother ran an ever-expanding restaurant in Chiang Mai and Air asserts that Nacha's dishes are as authentic as any to be found in the northern provinces of Thailand.

That's because her mother, an excellent cook, trained the restaurant's three Thai chefs (who also hail from Chiang Mai and are culinary school graduates) as well as passing on her recipes to them. Nacha has also trained up two Myanmar chefs.

Many of the spices used to create the curry pastes are sourced from markets in Chiang Mai, despite the fact that most are available locally.

"The spices I've bought in Yangon taste different from home. I don't know why—perhaps it's the soil or the climate," Air said.

Nacha opened almost exactly three years ago and initially served up European fare in addition to Thai and Myanmar classics.

However eight months later, Air decided that Nacha should change course. It began specializing in Thai food (as well as retaining some Myanmar dishes) because the cost of ingredients for Western food was high and some items were difficult to source.

Furthermore, Air said that the number of high-quality European restaurants in Yangon made competition intense, whereas Nacha remains only one of two restaurants offering northern Thai cuisine (Sabai Sabai is the other) in the former capital.

This may in part be the reason why Nacha's northern Thai set menu is more popular than the central Thai set menu (both are priced at 29,000 kyat, about US$29, and easily feed two people). For those who prefer to sample all three cuisines, it's possible to order individual dishes from Nacha's extensive menu, which also contains a wide variety of options for vegetarians.

Given that northern Thailand or the Lanna kingdom was ruled by Myanmar for some 200 years, this country has had a distinctive influence on northern Thai cuisine. The most notable example is the hang-le curry, which resembles an Indian-style curry. Thai variations on the original Myanmar dishes use less oil and add palm sugar as a sweetener in hang-le.

Air asserts that northern Thai cuisine is healthier than central or southern Thai food because coconut milk is never used and fresh vegetables are a more plentiful component in every meal. As many as 12 spices are included in a single curry to create a naturally full flavor.

Northern Thai cuisine is also spicier than that of the central provinces (where well-known dishes such as pad thai originate) and milder than that of the south.

While Air says that cooking is "in her blood," she is also a trained beauty therapist and has 20 years' experience in the industry. Thus she opened Nacha Spa within three months of the restaurant's debut in 2011. The spa is just a few steps away from Nacha's outdoor eating area and both are immaculately maintained.

"My idea was to create the perfect weekend experience," she said. "Sleep in late, come to Nacha to enjoy a delicious lunch and then get pampered at our spa."

Treatments are reasonably priced: a 60-minute foot spa costs 15,000 kyat while a 90-minute hand and foot spa is 20,000 kyat. For those who opt to experience both Nacha's food and Thai-style spa treatments, you may come out feeling so relaxed that Yangon's manic traffic during your journey home will simply blur into the background.

Nacha Thai Restaurant is located on 86/A Shin Saw Pu Street, Sanchaung Townshi, Yangon, and is open for lunch from 11 am to 2 pm. Dinner is from 6 pm until 11 pm.

This article first appeared in the September 2014 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.

The post Northern Thai Style appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.