- Shunned NLD Election Hopefuls Question the Party’s Selection Process
- Flood Aid Ramping Up But Faces Delivery Hurdles
- 48 Trapped for a Week in Flooded Kale School
- Over 10,000 Villagers Washed Out in Irrawaddy Division
- Rice Federation Calls for Export Halt on Flood Shortage Fears
- 35 Dead in Arakan State After Cyclone Komen Drowns Coast
- Flood Turmoil Pushes Back Election Registration Deadline
- Burma’s Other Rare Gems: Old Titles Top Sales at Seikku Cho Cho Book Fair
- Still Flying High as Competition Closes In: Myanmar Airways International
- Severe Flooding Leaves Thousands Displaced in Kale in Burma’s Northwest
- Thai election could be delayed to 2017 if charter rejected: Minister
- To End Sexual Violence, British Government Can’t Avoid Elephant in the Room
- Malaysia Seeks Help in Finding More Possible MH370 Debris
- I Think the Coast is Clear for Now!
- Taiwan School Textbook Row Highlights Antipathy to ‘One China’
- From Open Sewage to High-Tech Hydrohub, Singapore Leads Water Revolution
- Heavy Rains Cause More Flooding, 9 Dead
- NLD Shuns Key Players in Election Candidates Roster
- Govt Declares Disaster Zones as Flooding Ravages Countryside
- We’re All in This Together
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 07:02 AM PDT
RANGOON — Rumblings of discontent have begun to emerge after over a dozen high-profile parliamentary hopefuls were shunned by Burma's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), from running in the upcoming general election.
The NLD released a list of 1,090 candidates to contest in constituencies across the country over the weekend. But the party omitted several prominent would-be candidates, including 88 Generation student leader Ko Ko Gyi and outspoken Rangoon Division lawmaker Nyo Nyo Thin.
Of over a dozen nominations put forward by the 88 Generation group, Pyone Cho was the sole successful candidate. Free speech advocate Nay Phone Latt and women rights activists Susanna Hla Hla Soe and Zin Mar Aung were also prominent inclusions.
The party intends to put forward at least 30 more candidates, predominately in Chin, Arakan and Shan States, before the newly announced August 14 deadline, according to NLD central executive committee member Win Myint.
Nyo Nyo Thin said that since January this year, she was led to believe she would be selected by the NLD, while Ko Ko Gyi told Reuters last month that he aimed to contest the election as an NLD candidate.
"I want to ask them on what criteria they chose the candidates. They should follow the rules they have set on candidate selection," Nyo Nyo Thin told The Irrawaddy on Sunday.
Generally, the NLD's selection criteria are based on a given candidate's qualifications, with priority given to youth, women and people of an ethnic minority background, she explained.
"They have to give me an explanation. They approved my application at township level and now the central committee says no to me," the lawmaker said.
Of the 1,090 approved NLD candidates, 163, or 15 percent, are women.
The NLD's selection process has triggered broader discontent within the party, with one snubbed candidate claiming he and several other colleagues had resigned in protest.
Myo Khin, a long-time member of the party from Rangoon Division's Yankin Township who was not on the list of new candidates, told The Irrawaddy that he had resigned from the party along with 20 fellow party members.
"This is not a problem between old loyalists and new members. If the newcomers are good enough to be MPs, we are more than happy to welcome them," said the now former NLD member who joined the party in 1988.
"Sadly, many people were not chosen in accordance with the party's criteria. They have no proper political background or [record of] engagement with the people. They are not qualified to be MPs. I feel sorry for our political colleagues like Ko Ko Gyi and Dr Nyo Nyo Thin. [The party's] image has been affected," he said.
NLD spokesperson Nyan Win rejected accusations the party's selection process was flawed, saying that while he understood the criticism, the issue was an ordinary internal matter.
"All of them, including Ko Ko Gyi and Dr Nyo Nyo Thin, were taken into consideration on fair grounds like other NLD members. They are not included on the list as they were not selected," he told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that he couldn't state the reasons for their rejection.
When asked about accusations that some candidates were not suitably qualified, the spokesperson said "that's impossible" and that he hadn't received any complaints about it.
Ko Ko Gyi was not available for comment on Monday.
Political analyst Yan Myo Thein questioned why the NLD had rejected some candidates held in high esteem by the general public.
"I strongly urge Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders to remove the candidates who should not be on the list and revise with a new one that contains [people] who should be there," he wrote on his Facebook.
"If they fail to do so, there will be dim hopes for the NLD for a landslide victory in the upcoming election," he added.
The post Shunned NLD Election Hopefuls Question the Party's Selection Process appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 06:54 AM PDT
RANGOON — As word has spread on social media of the widespread flooding that has devastated parts of Burma in recent weeks, local donors are scrambling to get to affected populations with humanitarian aid in tow, but face logistical challenges in delivery relief supplies.
Thousands of people from 30 villages in Magwe Division's Pwintbyu Township are standing pat in their inundated homes awaiting aid, according to Naw Ko Ko, a local from Pwintbyu Township who has been distributing food supplies daily to people in villages located along the Mone Stream to Irrawaddy Delta.
About 50,000 people have taken refuge at the ceremonial grounds of Kyaung Taw Yar Pagoda in the township, while others have opted to remain in their flooded homes, with some refusing to leave behind livestock.
Naw Ko Ko said governmental rescue crews or aid supplies had not yet been seen reaching the area, though some helicopters had been seen overhead.
The main items needed by affected populations are rice, noodles, flashlights, drinking water, fish paste, lighters and candles, he added.
Local philanthropic groups have also responded to the crisis by collecting money on the streets of Rangoon, trying to make up for delays in the provision of government and international aid.
The Individual Philanthropic Network, an organization based in Rangoon, said it has been sending out aid supplies since floodwaters began rising last month in hard-hit Kawlin Township, Sagaing Division.
The group has distributed aid to flood victims to Pwintbyu, Kale and other parts of Sagaing Division, as well as Arakan State, and says it has received tens of millions of kyat (tens of thousands of dollars) in donations.
The 88 Peace and Open Society also took the weekend to begin collecting donations in Rangoon for flood victims, and had sent aid in the form of food and clothing to flood-affected areas.
Meanwhile, the Gender Development Initiative (GDI) has amassed food and medicine to be sent to Chin State, were major damage resulting from landslides has been reported. Overland travel in parts of Chin State is currently impossible, however, after landslides in the rugged region made access by helicopter the only option.
Naw Demona Khoo, head of GDI-ERC, said the group has sent a letter to President Thein Sein requesting that helicopters be deployed.
"We are trying to send aid through Kale. We are connecting with the Hakha rescue committee [formed of local civil society groups] and will try to send off in any way possible. We are trying for these aids to reach to Kale. We have goods on stand-by," Naw Demona Khoo said, adding that about 15,000 people in Hkaha were in urgent need of aid.
A flood response team headed by the monk Sitagu Sayadaw has sent relief to Kale, Hpa-an and has plans to send off aids KyunnHla, Wuntho and Kawlin, with 100 Lakh, 50 sacks of rice, noodles, drinking water, clothes and other items.
The team will also help flood victims in Chin and Arakan states, as well as Pwintbyu.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) has also started their donation campaign, while its chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi visited Pegu Division on Monday to meet flood victims there and deliver rice, bottled water and other supplies from her Daw Khin Kyi Foundation.
Burma's Relief and Resettlement Department has said that more than 156,000 people nationwide had been affected by flooding as of Sunday. A state of emergency was declared by Thein Sein on Saturday for Arakan and Chin states, and Magwe and Sagaing divisions.
Air KBZ and Myanmar Airways International on Saturday began offering limited free chartered flights to flood-affected areas in Kale from Rangoon and Mandalay, with those planes carrying items from donors and NGOs.
State-run Myanmar National Airlines said it had increased the frequency of flights being offered to Kale from Rangoon and Mandalay, and would carry donated relief supplies free of charge.
The Burmese government, meanwhile, has announced that two of its three international airports were preparing to field international relief supplies, which have begun to trickle into the country.
Burma's Information Minister Ye Htut posted on his Facebook account on Monday evening that the Ministry of Transport had designated Tada-U International Airport in Mandalay as the primary hub and Naypyidaw International Airport as a secondary drop-off point for aid.
Myint Htay, an assistant general manager from Tada-U Airport, told The Irrawaddy that a committee had been organized to handle international aid arriving at the airport.
"They will unload, check and send the reliefs to relevant relief organizations," he explained.
Ye Htut said in his post that international aid was beginning to trickle in, and relevant ministries were now collaborating with international organizations in accordance with Burma's 2013 Natural Disaster Management Law, which includes provisions on international involvement in relief operations.
"Today, assistance from China was delivered by the Chinese ambassador personally," he said.
With additional reporting by Kyaw Hsu Mon.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 06:43 AM PDT
Click to view slideshow.
RANGOON/MANDALAY — About 48 people have been stranded on the grounds of a university for nearly a week in Sagaing Division's flood-ravaged Kale Township, students told The Irrawaddy, surrounded by a sea of rainwater and cut off from nearby towns.
"The students, teachers and staff who lived in hostels at the [Kale Computer] University are blocked in at the compound," said Lian Boy, vice president of the Chin Students' Union and a friend of some of those trapped inside.
Lian Boy said about 20 students and 28 staff members, including the school's headmaster, have been stuck there since Tuesday of last week.
Located about 14 miles from the town of Kale and housed deep in a valley, the grounds were almost entirely cut off from aid until water had subsided. Though some supplies have reached the group by air, the nearby Myitthar River has overflowed with heavy rains and completely submerged the only road entering the area.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, a female student trapped inside assured us that they have plenty of food and water inside the grounds.
"Don't worry about food; we have plenty of food for the next three weeks. All the people are fine," she said by phone on Monday.
"Only one foot of the [three storey] main building is flooded," she continued, "but beyond the compound the depth is, like, one man high."
Water levels have already begun to subside, dropping a whole four inches since yesterday, she said.
Despite her confidence that supplies were plenty, friends on the outside have made appeals to rescue them or deliver aid. When President Thein Sein visited the devastated area on Friday, a group of about 30 peers briefed him on the trapped students and faculty and requested that they receive aid immediately, according to Lian Boy.
On Sunday, he said, police attempted to deliver food and basic commodities to the school by boat, but they were unable to reach the premises due to rapid river currents. A military helicopter successfully delivered some supplies on Monday morning, he said.
About half of the township is still under several feet of water, with most roads remaining blocked. Access to the area is currently limited to air travel.
About 10,000 people in the township have been evacuated to emergency shelters while some 2,000 others are confined to their villages in northern Kale, according to Thant Wai, a member of the local chapter of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Other parts of the state have begun to see some relief as water levels receded in Monywa, though the situation remained dire in most areas east of the Chindwin River. Villages in Salingyi, Yinmabin and several other townships remained submerged as of Monday afternoon.
Villagers in Htanaung and Yonepin said the most pressing need was drinking water. Zaw Win Soe of Yonepin said water levels were still up to the roof in most homes, and that only one rescue crew, which was not affiliated with the government, had yet come to their aid.
Food and water are also in short supply for those stranded at the Mahasi Sasana Yeiktha monastery in Khin Zaung village. The abbot, Sayadaw Waryamina, told The Irrawaddy that about 100 people are currently taking refuge there, though no aid has yet arrived. The abbot warned that "food and water will run out soon, and we hope the rain will stop and the water levels will drop."
Heavy rains have caused landslides and severe flooding throughout the country in recent weeks, particularly as Cyclone Komen narrowly missed Burma's western coast on Thursday. The torrential rains are believed to have directly impacted some 200,000 people, while dozens have already lost their lives as a result of the crisis.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 06:22 AM PDT
PATHEIN — Over 10,000 locals across more than 30 villages in Hinthada District, Irrawaddy Division have had their homes inundated as floodwaters from northern Burma make their way through the Irrawaddy Delta.
Floods hit the district on Saturday, forcing thousands of people from their homes. Those displaced by the flooding have taken refuge at monasteries and schools, according to Kyaw Thet Oo of the Hinthada-based Human Rights Defenders and Promoters.
Locals from Myanaung Township said that 5,000 people from 10 villages had been forced to leave their homes.
"Ooe Boe, Daunt Gyi, and Ye Bu Su villages are worst hit by the floods. Houses are inundated and all the people and cattle there had to move to inland areas. All of Thabyaygon village is inundated and around 1,000 households have moved from there," said local Than Myint Htike.
More than 3,000 people were affected by floods in Kyangin Township, though no casualties had been reported so far.
Political parties, civil society groups and locals are helping flood victims in Kyangin, Myanaung and Hinthada townships, and well-wishers are helping flood victims at relief camps in Kyangin, Myanaung and Hinthada townships. Volunteers claim that government aid has not yet reached those forced to leave their homes.
"We have not yet seen any aid from the government for flood victims," said Kyaw Thet Oo. "We and other organizations have had to ask for donations from our friends and relatives. Food supplies are gradually running out."
A further 2,000 left their homes in Hinthada Township, and floods have also hit the nearby townships of Yegyi, Thabaung and the divisional capital Pathein.
Around 40 households were evacuated in Thabaung's Ta Loke Gon village while residents of Phayani village were preparing to move to the local monastery on Monday afternoon as a result of rising water levels, according to township administrators.
In 2012, Irrawaddy Division experienced severe floods in Pathein, Thabaung and Kagyidaunt townships, inundating over 270,000 acres of farms and destroying nearly 80,000 acres of crops.
The post Over 10,000 Villagers Washed Out in Irrawaddy Division appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 05:56 AM PDT
RANGOON — The Myanmar Rice Federation has asked its members to stop exporting until mid-September, after dramatic rice price rises in flooded areas and fears of a sharp drop in harvest yields across the country.
Soe Tun, the joint secretary of Myanmar Rice Federation, said in a Facebook post that the federation had the Myanmar Rice Traders Association and exporters to stop exports until Sept. 15 in order to protect domestic consumers from price volatility.
Flooding in recent weeks has ruined rice crops across northern Burma. On Sunday, the MRF announced that it would provide food relief to inundated areas and would work to prevent rice shortages.
Min Htet Aung, secretary of federation's Mandalay Division branch, said the MRF had sent around 45 tons of rice to Arakan State on Monday, as the staple was in short supply and local prices had soared.
"We've donated many rice bags to Sagaing Division already," he said. "Today, some have been sent to Arakan State, and soon we'll send some up to Magwe."
The rice will be distributed by the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs at a subsidized rate of 22,000 kyats per 50kg bag. According to reports from Sittwe, the same amounts were selling for $50-80 [60,000-96,000 kyats] over the weekend.
"We've heard that prices are increasing in some flooded areas," Min Htet Aung told The Irrawaddy. "Even in Rangoon, bags have increased in cost by more than 2000 kyats. Now we're controlling prices to prevent them from getting higher and sending rice to areas in need."
He added that federation member traders had so far agreed to halt export plans and sell at regular prices to buyers in urgent need. Min Htet Aung said that the federation had stores of around 85,000 bags in Rangoon and 15,000 in Mandalay that could be directed towards relief efforts.
The MRF announced separately that farmers, millers and traders to have suffered from the flooding will be supported by the federation, and promised to provide seeds, fertilizers and equipment to those in need.
The post Rice Federation Calls for Export Halt on Flood Shortage Fears appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 05:22 AM PDT
RANGOON — At least 35 people have died due to recent flooding in western Burma's Arakan State alone, according to the state's information department, as the cumulative death toll continues to rise across the country's inundated central plain.
Arakan State Information Department Director Hla Thein told The Irrawaddy on Monday that dozens are known to have died and six people are still unaccounted for in the northern reaches of the state, near the border with Bangladesh.
"The numbers will change later because we are still investigating," Hla Thein said on Monday afternoon.
Cyclone Komen narrowly missed the state when it made landfall late last week, though the storm dropped heavy rainfall on the impoverished state. The full extent of the damage has not yet been assessed as disparate numbers of dead and displaced roll in.
In a Facebook post on Monday afternoon, Hla Thein said a total of 5,979 houses had been damaged and more than 7,000 paddy fields destroyed. Dozens of schools and monasteries throughout the state were also greatly destroyed.
Mrauk U resident Maung Chay said his relatives had rushed to nearby Than Thayar village to assist those whose houses had been completely submerged. According to his relatives, "Than Thayar village was underwater and only a few people are still alive."
Further north in Kyauktaw Township, which is home to a number of remote camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), thousands remained at risk as rescuers struggled to provide emergency medical care and food.
More than 100,000 IDPs have been displaced since inter-communal violence broke out between the state's Buddhist and Muslim communities in 2012, most of them stateless Rohingya Muslims who are still confined to the camps.
"Food shortages are the main problem," said Dr. Tun Aye, who has been coordinating deliveries to about 10 camps and several nearby villages whose supplies had been drowned and spoiled by the downpour. He estimated that between 60 and 80 villages had suffered serious damages to crops and stored foodstuffs.
"It will be terribly difficult to return to normal, everything was ruined within a few hours," he said.
Volunteers said they had observed a storm surge of about eight to 10 feet, approximately what was forecast by the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology late last week.
Director of the Arakan Social Network, Khin Zaw Win said thousands of people have been evacuated to emergency shelters as their homes filled up with water. The biggest priorities for flood victims right now are clean water, rice, paddy seeds and clothing, he said.
Reports have surfaced that some traders have jacked up the prices on basic goods in the wake of the disaster. The state's Ethnic Affairs Minister Zaw Aye Maung said the price of white rice has gone from its usual US$20 per 50 kilogram sack to a staggering $50-80.
Zaw Aye said the Rangoon Regional Government had taken measures to avoid price gouging by subsidizing the ministry's purchase of some 30,000 bags of rice at market prices from the Myanmar Rice Federation, which it will resell at local markets for $20 per sack.
Two well-known monasteries—Alo Daw Phyae and Yadana Man Aung— are also contributing to relief efforts, he said.
Heavy rains throughout western, central and southern Burma have devastated farms and villages in recent weeks, leaving dozens dead as of Monday afternoon. Officials said the toll is expected to rise.
In the past week alone, several regions in Burma have been hit by torrential rains which have left at least 27 people dead. Some 200,000 others are believed to be directly affected by the downpour.
The President's Office on Friday designated Chin and Arakan states, Magwe and Sagaing divisions as disaster zones.
Elsewhere in the region, local media reports said an entire village was wiped away by a landslide in Manipur, Northeast India over the weekend leaving an estimated 20 people dead. More than 100 people have died so far in India as a result of the storm, according to The Associated Press.
High death tolls are expected to soon emerge from Bangladesh, as well, where Komen made landfall on Thursday before weakening and moving northwest.
The post 35 Dead in Arakan State After Cyclone Komen Drowns Coast appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 04:45 AM PDT
RANGOON— The Union Election Commission (UEC) will leave candidate applications for the November election open for another week, as large swathes of northern and western Burma continue to be ravaged by flooding.
UEC director Thaung Hlaing told The Irrawaddy on Monday that as a result of the flood crisis, the commission had decided to extend the deadline for candidate submissions from the coming Saturday to Aug. 14.
"We decided to extend the period as wide parts of the country have seen difficulties for transportation and the weather is bad," he said, adding that some parties had argued that an extension was necessary, as they had been unable to submit candidate lists in affected areas.
Parties and independent candidates are required to lodge application forms with district commission offices. The UEC said on Monday that candidates unable to lodge application forms as a result of transport difficulties could contact the commission for assistance.
The postponement of the nomination deadline has also pushed back the deadline for withdrawal of nominations to Aug. 17, and the commission will now scrutinize candidates from Aug. 18-27.
The Union government on Saturday declared disaster zones in four regions, including Chin and Arakan states and Sagaing and Magwe divisions.
Tin Oo, chairman of the UEC's Sagaing Division office, said that so far there had not been significant obstacles for election preparations in flood-affected areas. He told The Irrawaddy that his office, which is currently preparing voter lists for public display, has not suffered any loss of data on voter information despite the flooding some UEC offices in the division.
"Some township offices were flooded and couldn't open, so they moved to other places or to the offices of the district commission," he said. "I believe all election preparations will be finished in time, as the water level is expected to drop in one week."
The UEC has legal authority to postpone elections in specific townships in the event of natural disasters or local conflict. Asked whether the UEC would consider delaying polls in flood-affected areas, Thaung Hlaing told The Irrawaddy that the move had not been considered.
"For now, we will only focus on accepting candidate forms," he said.
A total of 40 parties and 42 independents filed candidate applications with the commission between July 20 and Aug. 1, with a total of 868 candidates submitted for the country's 1,171 state, divisional and Union seats. Another 49 registered political parties have yet to put forward candidates.
Meanwhile, Shwe Mann took to Facebook on Monday to announce that the coming parliamentary session will be postponed.
The Union Parliament speaker said that lawmakers were busy collaborating with government departments and aid organizations to deliver relief to areas hit by flooding and landslides. The date for the next session of parliament will be announced later.
The post Flood Turmoil Pushes Back Election Registration Deadline appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 01:47 AM PDT
RANGOON — Book lovers from near and far spent the rainy holiday weekend perusing long-lost titles in the shadow of Shwedagon Pagoda, where the Seikku Cho Cho publishing house holds an annual book fair.
Most popular, said the owner, San Oo, are the rare tomes of days gone by, which the publisher has breathed new life into with fresh editions that seemed impossible to produce only a few years ago.
"Today's best-sellers are not new-comers," San Oo said. "People like the old, rare books that were not allowed to be reprinted before."
Marking the 16th anniversary of Seikku Cho Cho the 12-day fair features more than 2,000 titles and offers major discounts for big purchases. The sale will continue until Aug. 12 at the east corner of the Shwedagon.
Most of the books on offer are older novels that were popular in the 1950s and 60s.
"It's obvious," San Oo observed, "people like books that represent the poor, and rare books that were out of print for the last 30 or 40 years. These books can now be republished, and they're turning into best-sellers again."
Today's authors aren't as popular, he figured, because they lacked the practice and functioning industry that the old masters had. Decades of censorship created a climate of fear and little incentive for creative writing and political non-fiction. But with the easing of press restrictions—such as abolishing pre-publication censorship in 2012—San Oo thinks it may be time for a Burmese literary renaissance.
"I hope in the next 10 years or so, new authors will come about more and more," he said.
His immediate concern is that extreme weather in recent weeks will have a longer term impact on sales. Many customers turned up over the weekend to stock up on reading material because of the promotional discounts, he said, but they might not come back throughout the year.
Pa Pa, a regular customer, said she always comes to the book fair to get a good deal. An avid reader and lover of rare literary treasures, said she appreciates the sheer variety of titles on offer in one place. Year after year, Pa Pa said, "I always come here to buy many books altogether and get a discount from the normal prices. I like it."
San Oo knows the old titles will stay popular, he said so he can take a few risks with newer publications. Oftentimes, he said, new chooses to promote content he thinks will be useful to readers, like books about politics, and well-known figure in Burmese history—both good and bad. They may not be best-sellers at first, but they almost always pick up as word gets around.
The Seikku Cho Cho book fair will run until Aug. 12 at Anawar Damayone, Yaytarshay Street, Shweadgon Pagoda East Wing, and is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
The post Burma's Other Rare Gems: Old Titles Top Sales at Seikku Cho Cho Book Fair appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 01:46 AM PDT
RANGOON — Founded in 1993, Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is a veteran of Burma's airline scene. In 2010, the KBZ group acquired an 80 percent stake in the airline and assumed full ownership from January 2014. The airline plies several international routes, including to Thailand, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, and is eyeing expansion. Aye Mra Tha, a senior executive at MAI, spoke with The Irrawaddy about the company's future plans and how it will meet stiff competition from other regional airlines.
Burma is expected to draw more tourists now it has concluded several visa exemption deals with ASEAN countries, including most recently Thailand. Which regional airlines are likely to enter the local market?
Now regional airlines are coming to operate in Burma. For example, most of the airlines in Thailand have now entered Burma and so has the Vietnamese airline VietJet Air. Airlines from other regional countries will also come to Burma soon.
From which countries do most travellers to Burma come from?
Most foreign visitors enter Burma by transiting in Bangkok, Thailand. Most business travelers are from Thailand and Singapore. Usually, most tourists are from these two countries also.
The ASEAN open skies policy will take effect at the end of the year, what challenges are local airlines likely to face in 2016?
Though it is scheduled [to take effect by the end of 2015], the policy might take two more years to be implemented. However, local airlines need to start preparations now. Local airlines are already facing competition from international airlines. As soon as that policy takes effect, a large number of international airlines will come into Burma and there will be fairly tough competition on the market. MAI is facing tough competition even now, and every airline has to step up their promotion, such as giving away discounted tickets and providing better services.
Our citizens want to travel with low ticket prices. So we have to reduce prices to meet competition from other low-fare airlines. At present budget airlines are providing more services. It seems they are vying for market share.
Does MAI have a plan to transform itself into budget airline?
No, not yet. But we are improving our services. MAI is usually chosen by Burmese citizens as it flies regionally from point to point.
Many budget airlines have entered Burma. To which countries does MAI plan to extend its flights?
For the time being, we are flying to countries including Thailand, Singapore, India and China. We have launched charter flights since 2013. We have plans to expand our network through code-sharing with other airlines. Airlines can't just stand alone. They have to cooperate with as many other airlines as possible. Now we have agreed to code-sharing with Korean and Malaysian airlines and Indonesia's Garuda so that we can survive for a long time. As for charter flights, we fly to Japan and Korea and also to Hong Kong if there are gems emporiums. At present, we operate with four planes.
Some airlines have reported losses in recent times. What has been the overall situation for MAI over the past 22 years?
It depends on management. Airlines need huge investment to launch and additional investments are also needed. Now with increasing competition, it is not easy to survive. An airline can survive for a long time only with massive injections of cash from various sectors. It is not easy to attract and retain customers. It calls for service and a large amount of money.
The post Still Flying High as Competition Closes In: Myanmar Airways International appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 01:44 AM PDT
Click to view slideshow.
Kale in northwest Sagaing Division is one of many townships in Burma that has been inundated for days by torrential rains and flooding that has affected more than 150,000 people nationwide.
State-run newspaper The Mirror reported on Monday that more than 7,000 people had been affected by severe flooding in the township, and more than 20,000 acres of farmland were under water.
In the past week, several regions in Burma have been hit by torrential rains which have left at least 27 people dead.
The President's Office on Friday released a statement declaring Chin State, Arakan State, Magwe Division and Sagaing Division as disaster areas.
The post Severe Flooding Leaves Thousands Displaced in Kale in Burma's Northwest appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 03 Aug 2015 01:35 AM PDT
BANGKOK — A general election in Thailand could be delayed until April 2017 if a newly drafted constitution is rejected by a national reform assembly due to convene next month, a deputy prime minister said on Monday.
The military government established after a coup last year initially said it wanted an election to restore democracy in late 2015 but later said it had to be delayed until 2016 to give more time for reforms which the military says should bring stability after a decade of factional rivalry.
The United States and other allies are keen to see democracy restored as quickly as possible but the deputy prime minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, raised the possibility of a further delay if proposed reforms meet opposition.
"If the reform assembly votes down the newly drafted charter, new constitutional drafters are to be set up followed by a referendum," Wissanu told reporters.
"It would delay the election by about 19 months [from next month]."
If the new draft won approval from the council, a referendum on whether to promulgate it would be held on Jan. 10, followed by the election in September 2016, Wissanu said.
The military government has most recently said an election would be held in September 2016.
It agreed recently to put the draft constitution, which would be Thailand's 20th since becoming a democracy in 1932, to a referendum to seek a public mandate and ward-off criticism that it was forced upon the country.
The constitution is expected to be another divisive issue in Thailand's long turbulent politics.
Some critics say the latest draft is designed to weaken elected governments and neuter the power of parties controlled by the dominant Shinawatra family, which have won every election since 2001 and have twice been overthrown by the military.
The post Thai election could be delayed to 2017 if charter rejected: Minister appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 11:17 PM PDT
Last week the British government arranged for Angelina Jolie to visit Burma, in part in her capacity as co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI). The British government certainly deserves praise for how it has taken up the issue globally, put it on the international agenda, and in some countries developed projects that are making a noticeable difference on the ground.
On the face of it, it looks like the UK is also doing good work in Burma. They persuaded Burma to sign the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, have provided funding for sexual violence projects, invited women from Burma to last year's global summit on sexual violence, and, as the Angelina Jolie visit demonstrates, are eager to raise awareness about this issue. For all of this, they deserve praise.
It is also apparent, however, that the British government are going to great lengths to avoid the elephant in the room: that the vast majority of incidents of sexual violence in conflict in Burma are perpetrated by the Burma Armed Forces.
When it launched the PSVI in 2012, the British government faced a real problem with Burma. Reports of sexual violence were increasing as a result of the military breaking ceasefires in Kachin and Shan States.
This is exactly the kind of situation that the PSVI was set up to take action on, but while these reports were emerging, the British government was embracing the Burmese government and country's reform process. They were praising President Thein Sein, supporting the end of international sanctions and shifting their priorities from human rights to trade.
The British attempted to reconcile these contradictory positions by excluding Burma from the PSVI. After pressure from activists and the British Parliament, the government reluctantly included Burma in the initiative, and had to be further pressed to fund survivor and women's organizations documenting sexual violence by the military.
Whether these funding commitments actually benefit survivors of military sexual violence is highly debatable. For instance, the government pointed to a legal project in Thai refugee camps to help survivors of sexual violence, but admitted after further questioning that the program was targeted to victims of domestic and other forms of violence, rather than tailored to the unique needs of victims of sexual violence in conflict.
Though they are linked, sexual violence in conflict situations and sexual violence in border society are different things, which is why the British government set up the PSVI in the first place. As former British Foreign Secretary William Hague said when launching the initiative, "The aim of PSVI is the eradication of rape as a weapon of war."
If the British government is serious about meeting this aim, it must stop avoiding the fact that most sexual violence in conflict is being committed by the Burma Armed Forces. Instead, it refuses to support proposals to establish a UN Inquiry into sexual violence in conflict within Burma. In an attempt to rebuff criticism, they say that UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee has a mandate to report on sexual violence cases, but the truth is that she has no resources to conduct detailed investigations into these cases, and the British government does not provide her funds to do so.
When the British government offered to provide free training to the military—to the tune of $400,000 in funding—they set no preconditions before providing the training, such as ending the culture of impunity around sexual violence. The British government claimed that the training was about human rights, and then attempted to withhold details of the training from Burma Campaign UK. These details revealed that in the course of a sixty-hour training program, just one hour was dedicated to human rights.
In some countries, implementing the PSVI can be done in partnership with governments, but in other countries it is the governments that are the problem. This is the case in Burma, where the government's forces are responsible for the vast majority of sexual violence in conflict.
When the British government persuaded the Burmese government to sign the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, they were warned that without sustained and high level pressure, this would become yet another international commitment which the Burmese government would fail to honor. The British government ignored these warnings, and did virtually nothing to persuade the Burmese government to implement it. A year later, no steps have been taken to implement the Declaration.
It is welcome that Ms. Jolie's visit will put the issue of sexual violence back on the agenda in Burma this week. It is an issue that receives scant attention from Burma's government, political parties and civil society organizations, and the UK should be commended for helping to raise awareness.
Nonetheless, more needs to be done. If the British government is serious about ending instances of sexual violence in conflict, difficult choices will have to be made. A comprehensive commitment would require making it clear that future support to the government, training for the military, and good relations between Burma and the UK depends on concrete action to end the culture of impunity around sexual violence in the military. If the Burmese government refuses, the British government must honor the promise they made when they launched the PSVI, and use every available means, including international law, to help stop sexual violence by the Burma Armed Forces.
Zoya Phan is Campaigns Manager at Burma Campaign UK. Her autobiography is published under the title 'Undaunted' in the USA and 'Little Daughter' in the rest of the world. She has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
The post To End Sexual Violence, British Government Can't Avoid Elephant in the Room appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 11:07 PM PDT
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysian officials said Sunday that they would seek help from territories near the island where a suspected piece of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet was discovered to try to find more plane debris.
A new piece of debris, meanwhile, found on Sunday on the French island of Reunion in the western Indian Ocean turned out to be a "domestic ladder," and doesn't belong to a plane, Malaysian Director General of Civil Aviation Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told The Associated Press amid media reports that a new plane part was found.
Malaysian government officials will ask territories near Reunion to alert them if they find any debris that could be from a plane, a transport ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
A wing flap suspected to be from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was found Wednesday on Reunion. It arrived Saturday at a French military testing facility, where it will be analyzed by experts.
Air safety investigators, including one from Boeing, have identified the component as a flaperon from the trailing edge of a Boeing 777 wing, a US official has said. Flight 370 is the only missing 777 and many are convinced the flap comes from the ill-fated jet.
The new piece of debris found on a beach near the town of Saint-Denis on Sunday morning had nothing to do with the investigation involving the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Rahman said.
"I'm the one leading the investigation in France for the analysis of the [wing flap] piece brought back. I read all over media it [the new debris] was part of a door," he told the AP by phone from France.
"But I checked with the Civil Aviation Authority, and people on the ground in Reunion, and it was just a domestic ladder."
Malaysia's transport ministry confirmed Sunday that the flaperon that was found has been identified as being from a 777, saying it had been verified by French authorities together with Boeing, the US National Transportation Safety Board and a Malaysian team.
Experts will try to establish whether the part comes from Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
The experts are expected to start their inquiry on Wednesday. On Monday, an investigating judge will meet with Malaysian authorities and representatives of the French aviation investigative agency, known as the BEA.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a statement Sunday that representatives from Malaysia, the United States, China, France and Boeing would take part in the verification of the flaperon.
Liow said Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation was reaching out to authorities in territories near Reunion to allow experts "to conduct more substantive analysis should there be more debris coming on to land, providing us more clues to the missing aircraft."
"I urge all parties to allow this crucial investigation process to take its course. I reiterate this is for the sake of the next of kin of the loved ones of MH370 who would be anxiously awaiting news and have suffered much over this time," Liow said. "We will make an announcement once the verification process has been completed."
The post Malaysia Seeks Help in Finding More Possible MH370 Debris appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 10:19 PM PDT
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 10:10 PM PDT
TAIPEI — Protests in Taiwan over textbook revisions which students say aim to brainwash them into accepting a “one China” view of history underscore the island’s growing sense of independence from its vast neighbour and geopolitical foe.
Hundreds of youths stormed the Ministry of Education compound on Friday and dozens were still camped out in the courtyard on Monday in a bid to repeal changes to history books likely to hit school shelves this week.
The move follows months of smaller protests in which students have thrown paint balloons, shouted slogans and staged sit-ins in front of the ministry. Last month, dozens were arrested for scaling ladders and breaking into the building. One later committed suicide, though the motivation was unclear.
The protests, the largest in over a year, reflect a surge of nationalism among Taiwan’s youth, who are far more likely than their elders to identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese.
They also come ahead of January elections in which the youth movement will likely help sweep in a party which leans towards independence from China, something Communist Party rulers in Beijing will never condone, even though the island is self ruled.
“We are Taiwan. China is China,” Liu Tzuhao, 18, said in front of a makeshift memorial to the suicide victim at the protest site.
Taiwan’s ruling Nationalist Party fled to the island after losing the civil war against China’s communists in 1949. China has since viewed Taiwan, which goes under the official name of Republic of China, as a renegade province and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.
“We are Taiwanese and should study Taiwan’s history,” 17-year-old Keanu Hsu declared during a forum hosted by the ministry before school begins at the end of August.
When ministry officials at the forum light-heartedly asked the students what name could replace Republic of China, they shouted “Taiwan” in response.
History teacher Chang Wen Lung said the textbooks warped historical episodes such as agreements establishing Republic of China sovereignty over Taiwan after World War Two and denigrated the influence of Japan, the island’s colonial ruler for decades prior and traditional foe of Beijing.
The protests echo last year’s Sunflower Movement, in which thousands of young people occupied parliament for weeks to oppose growing economic ties with China.
They also reflect the same fears about Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and which Beijing aims to impose upon Taiwan.
Months of pro-democracy protests on Hong Kong streets last year threw that formula under a harsh light and became a huge embarrassment for Beijing.
The ministry has called for dialogue and the two sides are expected to meet later in the day, though hopes for a breakthrough are not high. One student threw a rubber sandal at Education Minister Wu Se-Hwa on Friday when he emerged to address them. Over the weekend the ministry website was inaccessible after a suspected hacking.
“We understand there’s controversy behind the textbooks,” Wu told Reuters in a recent interview. “We hope it can contribute to positive discourse in the classroom rather than on the street.”
Wu said teachers could choose how much of the revised books should be used and said that points of controversy would not be part of national examinations.
Such concessions have yet to appease opponents, who say the revision process lacked transparency and the committee was stacked with unification advocates under China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou, who has overseen a number of trade deals with the mainland.
“It’s ridiculous,” said protester Peng Cheng, 18. “One country cannot have two kinds of history.”
The post Taiwan School Textbook Row Highlights Antipathy to 'One China' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 09:47 PM PDT
Fifty years ago Singapore had to ration water, and its smelly rivers were devoid of fish and choked with waste from shipbuilding, pig farms and toilets that emptied directly into streams.
But it's a very different story today. The world's most densely populated country now collects rainwater from two-thirds of its land, recycles wastewater and is even developing technology that mimics human kidneys to desalinate seawater.
"In about a lifetime, we have transformed Singapore," said George Madhavan, an engineer who has worked for the national PUB water agency for 30 years and is now communications director.
"It's not rocket science—it is more political will… The key success factor is really government—the leadership to pull different agencies together to come up with a plan …"
As governments around the world wrestle with water crises from droughts to floods, many are looking to the tiny Asian city-state of Singapore for solutions.
In many countries, a flood prevention agency focuses on quickly draining away storm water, while another manages drinking water.
In Singapore, PUB "manages the entire water loop," Madhavan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Its aim is to capture every drop of rain it can and recycle as much used water as possible.
"That means that ideally, we don't sell you water. We rent you water. We take it back, we clean it. We're like a laundry service. Then you can multiply your supply of water many, many times," Madhavan said.
"The water that you drink today is the same water that dinosaurs drank. We don't create or destroy water. It just goes around. So we are using engineering to shorten the loop."
Beware of Crocodiles
Following independence on August 9, 1965, the new 700 sq km country relied on three reservoirs and water imported from neighboring Malaysia.
Today, it collects rainwater through an 8,000-km drain network that empties into 17 reservoirs, and reclaims used water from a deep tunnel sewerage system up to 60 metres below ground.
Singapore, which is recognised as a global leader in water technology, set up a water planning unit in 1972. Unlike Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, it does not have land outside the city to act as huge catchment areas.
Eleven government agencies joined up from 1977 to 1987 to clean the heavily polluted Singapore River and Kallang Basin in the main commercial area.
The city relocated 610 pig farms and 500 duck farms (later barring such farms), transferred 5,000 street hawkers to food centres, and moved boats east to the Pasir Panjang area.
Madhavan said the biggest challenge was relocating 46,000 squatters living in squalid conditions without sewers into housing blocks.
More than 260 tonnes of rubbish were removed, the area was landscaped, and in 1987, fish returned to the waters.
Worried about pollution, authorities initially kept people away from the waterways.
"We even had warning signs about crocodiles [which had been spotted in the reservoirs] to keep people away," Madhavan said.
Singapore has since shifted its stance, opening waterfront areas such as Marina Reservoir, where people kayak, bike and fly kites against a backdrop of the city's highrise skyline.
Holy Grail of Desalination
Singapore's "four national taps" supply 400 million gallons each day for 5.4 million people.
The island's two natural sources are rain and, through an agreement that expires in 2061, up to 250 million gallons per day from Malaysia's Johor River.
As climate change makes nature's sources less reliable, Singapore is focusing on its reclaimed and desalinated water taps.
NEWater, introduced in 2003, is the name for used water from the sewerage system, treated and further purified through microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet disinfection.
Meeting 30 percent of demand, NEWater is potable but mainly used by industries and during the dry season to top up reservoirs. Singapore aims for NEWater to meet 55 percent of demand by 2060.
The island's first desalination plant opened in 2005, and desalinated water meets a quarter of demand.
Desalinated water and NEWater are fairly independent of the weather but on the downside, require more energy to produce, Madhavan said.
Conventional reverse osmosis requires 3.5 to 4 kilowatt-hours (kWh) to squeeze seawater through a membrane to make 1,000 litres of freshwater.
Singapore is now building a demonstration plant to scale up tests on electrochemical desalting, which uses an electric field to pull salt out of seawater. Madhavan said PUB hopes to halve energy use.
University researchers are also developing "the holy grail of desalination"—technology that imitates the kidneys, he said.
"This will take some years… They more or less understand how the kidney works to do desalting. But it's now how to engineer it, how to build it, the enzymes that are key to this process."
The post From Open Sewage to High-Tech Hydrohub, Singapore Leads Water Revolution appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 04:03 AM PDT
RANGOON — Heavy rains in Burma have caused more flooding and left nine people dead, devastating several townships and forcing more than 18,000 people into temporary shelters, officials said Saturday.
Much of the country has been hit by flooding and landslides over the last few weeks. The Relief and Resettlement Department estimates that 110,000 people have been severely affected by the floods, particularly in the Sagaing region and Kachin and Shan states, accounting for 21 deaths in July.
On Saturday, local officials reported nine more deaths, most of them from a boat that capsized in Kachin. They said seven townships had been devastated by flooding.
President Thein Sein visited Kale township in Sagaing, one of the four regions that were declared disaster zones on Friday.
Thein Sein had been coming under criticism, especially on social media, for not doing more to deal with the emergency.
On Thursday, he urged Cabinet ministers to go out into the field to supervise flood relief operations, saying that since July 16, some areas of the country had become inundated by heavy rains that destroyed farmland, roads, rail lines, bridges and houses. Roads from central to northern Burma have been especially affected.
An Information Ministry announcement late Friday said Thein Sen had issued an emergency declaration covering the Magwe and Sagaing divisions and Chin and Arakan states, some of the hardest-hit areas. The announcement did not specify what practical measures would be taken.
There is particular concern about Arakan, where a tropical storm was moving from neighboring Bangladesh. The situation in Arakan is considered especially dangerous, because more than 100,000 internally displaced people who fled their homes due to civil conflict in recent years live in poorly built and badly situated camps.
Posted: 02 Aug 2015 03:48 AM PDT
RANGOON — The party of Aung San Suu Kyi has rejected bids by 17 members of Burma's respected "88 generation" to join its ranks and contest November's election, a controversial omission of a group that was expected to galvanize its bid to dominate the ballot.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) party selected only one member of the popular crop of activists, who suffered years of persecution after leading nationwide student protests in 1988 that were brutally crushed by the ruling military.
Their rebellion mushroomed into a pro-democracy uprising that thrust Suu Kyi, the daughter of late independence hero Aung San, into Burma's political spotlight.
The most high-profile exclusion was the charismatic protest leader Ko Ko Gyi, who spent more than 17 years in and out of prison before his 2012 release. He declined to comment.
Some experts said the decision risks dividing groups that have a shared vision of a more democratic Burma under which the military, which is guaranteed three ministerial positions and a quarter of legislative seats, has no political role.
Pyone Cho was the sole member of the group selected to represent the party in the ballot. The NLD received 3,000 applications and will field 1,090 candidates.
The NLD's candidate list does include several intellectuals and activists, including free speech advocate Nay Phone Latt and Susanna Hla Hla Soe, who heads a female empowerment group.
Party spokesman Nyan Win said it was the prerogative of the NLD's central committee to choose who it wanted for its members of Parliament.
"We are choosing the most suitable MPs for the country," he said. "Everyone have the right to apply as candidates but the committee needs to choose the best people."
Among those absent from the list were rector of Rangoon University Aung Thu, a democracy activist who is pushing for education reform, and Nyo Nyo Thin, a prominent lawmaker in the Rangoon divisional parliament.
Political analyst and National Youth Congress member Thet Swe Win said the NLD's exclusion of most 88 generation applicants would fragment the pro-reform camp.
It meant prominent people now had a race against time to register by the Aug. 8 deadline to form a new party or run as independents, he said.
"This is an insult and their decision will make the opposition force shatter," he said. "It's such a shame for them to make this kind of decision without even thinking for the country."
The post NLD Shuns Key Players in Election Candidates Roster appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 01 Aug 2015 04:18 AM PDT
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RANGOON — The Burmese government has declared disaster zones in several states and divisions after relentless heavy rains inundated villages across the country.
The President's Office released a statement on Friday declaring that Chin State, Arakan State, Magwe Division and Sagaing Division were disaster areas, with the scale of flooding posing substantial difficulties in returning flood-affected settlements to normalcy in the short term.
Up to 110,000 people have been severely affected by flooding across Burma, with 21 deaths reported in July, according to an update released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on July 30, citing government statistics.
According to figures released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and published in state media on Thursday, more than 50,000 acres of farmland are underwater in Irrawaddy Division. In Sagaing Division, more than 100,000 acres of farmland are reportedly inundated.
As of Saturday morning, many residential areas in Sidoktaya, Magwe Divisioon are still inundated as the water level continues to rise from torrential rains and discharge from the nearby Mone Creek reservoir, hindering rescue work, according to the Ministry of Information.
In the Sagaing Divison township of Kale, more than 6000 people were affected by unprecedented floods as of Friday, after the Myit Tha River began overflowing on Tuesday. Irrawaddy Divison, Kachin, Karen and Mon states were also hit by floods, the Ministry says.
On Saturday morning, President Thein Sein left for Sagaing Divison to oversee the situation in flood-hit areas.
The post Govt Declares Disaster Zones as Flooding Ravages Countryside appeared first on The Irrawaddy.
Posted: 01 Aug 2015 01:02 AM PDT
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