Friday, July 25, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Environmental Impact Study on Thilawa 2nd Phase Due in October

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 06:11 AM PDT

Japan Burma business

Consultants explain their approach to the EIA study on the second phase of the Thilawa SEZ to local villagers. (Photo: Ko Ye)

RANGOON — Consultants for the Japan-backed Thilawa Special Economic Zone (SEZ) being built near Rangoon said that they expect to release the findings of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project's 2,000-hectare second phase in October.

Environmental Resources Management Japan and Burmese company E-Guard Environmental Services are conducting the Strategic Environmental Assessment, which is being funded by Japan.

On Friday, the consultant firms met with residents of villages that are living in the planned second phase area of the project, located southeast of Rangoon, as part of a stakeholders meeting to inform locals about the study.

"We have started the study since last year, it takes time. The draft report will be out in October. We will be sending it to the Environmental Conservation Department," Aye Thiha, managing director of E-Guard Environmental Services, told the meeting.

"All data will be announced to all stakeholders after taking a considerable time to analyze the data," said Myo Lwin, director of the Environment Conservation Department of the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry. He added that his department would determine whether the scope and quality of the report would be sufficient or if further study is required.

The consultant firms held a first stakeholders meeting about the EIA late last month.

The social impact assessment for the second phase, which is expected to involve the resettlement of some 4,500 residents, will be carried out by Japanese firm Nippon Koei and implemented by the Thilawa SEZ Management Committee and Rangoon Divisional authorities.

Nippon Koei prepared the EIA study, the social impact assessment and resettlement plan for the first 400-hectare phase of Thilawa SEZ, together with Burmese Company, Resource & Environment Myanmar Ltd.

The previous EIA assessment on the first phase of the Thilawa development found that out of 28 social and environmental factors assessed, the vast majority of impacts due to the project would be negative or required further study.

Despite the fact that only seven factors evaluated were considered to have a neutral or positive impact on the affected area, the project went ahead as planned.

The relocation of some 80 families under the resettlement plan for the first project phase was implemented by Thilawa SEZ Management Committee and Rangoon Divisional authorities and has run into considerable trouble.

Residents have said they have not received proper compensation for their loss of farmland. They said they received only six years' worth of harvest in compensation and were not paid the value of their land against current market prices, which have risen sharply after the SEZ plan began.

Three villagers have launched an official complaint with Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), saying it had violated its own guidelines during its involvement in the project.

JICA, Japan's international aid body, has a 10 percent stake in the SEZ and offers technical support, while three Japanese companies hold 39 percent stake. The Burmese government and a joint venture of nine Burmese companies have invested the remaining 10 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

The Thilawa SEZ is Burma's most advanced economic zone involving foreign investors, and it is at the center of Naypyidaw and Tokyo's expanding political and economic relations.

The post Environmental Impact Study on Thilawa 2nd Phase Due in October appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Mon Activist Wins Asian Women’s Award

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 05:01 AM PDT

Mi Khin Khin Kyu

Khin Khin Kyu speaks at the Mon National Conference in Moulmein in September 2013. (Photo: Facebook / Hintar Nee)

RANGOON — An ethnic Mon women's rights activist, Khin Khin Kyu, has won the N-Peace Award, given by the multi-country N-Peace Network in recognition of her efforts to advance the rights of ethnic minority women in Burma.

The N-Peace Award was given to five women's rights activists on Friday by the network, which focuses on advancing Women, Peace & Security (WPS) issues. Other awardees of the "Untold Stories –Women Transforming Their Communities" category hailed from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan.

The 48-year-old Khin Khin Kyu has been fighting for the rights of women for more than 15 years in Burma. Her worked was originally based in territory controlled by ethnic Mon armed rebels, but she later moved to Moulmein after the New Mon State Party (NMSP) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1995.

"We've never heard of one of our people getting an international award before. This is first time," Khin Khin Kyu told The Irrawaddy on Friday. "The recognition will serve as a bridge for me. This award will help in my work for women's rights and my CSO [civil society organization] work. I will keep working hard to get recognition for the rights of women.

"In our culture, women are considered to be only homemakers. They are not people who take initiative or lead in the community. We need to fight to change this," she added.

Khin Khin Kyu formerly served as a member of the NMSP, fighting for that rebel group's cause beginning in 1982. She resigned after 17 years in service of the armed struggle waged by the NMSP against Burma's central government.

Five Burmese women were nominated for the award by the N-Peace Network, which tallied more than 8,100 online votes to determine the five winners from a candidate list of 37 women. Four other women from Burma and one Burmese civil society organization will also be considered for three other categories whose winners will be decided by an N-Peace Network panel.

Also known by her Mon name, Kun Chan Non, Khin Khin Kyu will receive the N-Peace Award in October in Bangkok. The activist said N-Peace representatives will visit her next week in Moulmein to document her activism in Mon State, where she currently serves as director and deputy chairwoman of the Mon Women's Organization.

"They will come do some video record about my daily life," said Khin Khin Kyu.

The activist said there is much still to be done to empower women in Burma, adding that although the country has made strides in recent years in efforts to bring about peace after decades of ethnic conflict, women's voices remain largely absent from the process.

"Our women have asked repeatedly that they be allowed to participate in the peace process in the country, but the voices of women still are not heard. Our country needs to have many women. The more the international community recognizes women, the more the rights of women will get recognition in the country," she said.

The N-Peace Network was founded in 2010 and supports women's leadership in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building. The group is active in Nepal, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines and Afghanistan.

"Our members represent civil society, government, non-government organizations, academia, United Nations agencies, religious groups and the media," according to the group's website, which adds that more than 800 practitioners are connected through the network.

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Chin Activists Sentenced to Fines for Protest Against Alleged Rape Attempt

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 04:09 AM PDT

Burma sexual violence

Mai T. Sui Leng, director of Women's Hand Myanmar Foundation, speaks at a press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A Chin State Court has sentenced eight Chin rights activists to a US$30 fine each for holding a protest over an alleged rape attempt by a Burma Army soldier.

The court said on Wednesday that the activists—six men and two women—were guilty of violating the Peaceful Assembly Law's Article 18, as they held an unauthorized protest.

Women's rights campaign groups had asked the court to drop charges as the women are human rights activists who had sought official permission for the protest, but were turned down by local authorities.

"They are sentenced on Wednesday to a fine or one month imprisonment by the court in Chin State's Matupi Township. Activists have chosen to pay the fine to avoid the prison sentences," said Mai T. Sui Leng, director of Women's Hand Myanmar Foundation, which assisted activists throughout the trial.

Ngai Sak, the activists' lawyer, said, "Although the eight activists are sentenced for demonstrating without obtaining permission first in accordance with the law, they staged protests against sexual violence and to call for justice, which is the duty of officials."

He added that she requested the court to consider punishing the activists with fines rather than prison sentences.

On June 10, a soldier from the Burma Army's Light Infantry Battalion 269 allegedly attacked and attempted to rape a 55-year-old woman near Razua, Matupi Township, Chin State. According to a local women's group, the victim was badly injured and admitted to hospital in Razua.

About 600 Chin women in total staged protests in both Razua and Matupi on June 23 and 24, demanding that the soldier, who has been arrested, be properly punished.

Eight activists from Razua Women's group, Matupi Women's Association and the Matupi Youth Association were charged separately on July 4 and July 16 for staging protests without permission in Razua and Matupi.

Although accusations of rape and sexual assault by soldiers are frequently made in Burma's ethnic regions, activists say few cases are properly investigated, and soldiers are often given light punishments under the military's internal disciplinary system.

Burma's government signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London last month, but rights groups are openly questioning its commitment to implementing the declaration and have pointed to the case against the Chin activists as evidence of its intransigence.

Mai T. Sui Leng said that although the rape suspect was arrested it remains unclear what charges have been brought against him and how he will be punished as the military has taken over the case from the police.

"We would like to have justice since this is not the first time there has been a rape case by a soldier [in Chin State] and in the former cases there was no justice," she said, adding that authorities "instead of delivering justice, punish those who ask for justice.

"It shouldn't be like this; we feel unsafe and it is really unfair," she added.

May Sabe Phyu, senior coordinator from Gender Equality Network, said that in Burma it is often human rights defenders who get punished, while those in power who commit rights abuses walk free. "The criminal in the recent case of attempted rape must be sentenced," she said.

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Dozens More Farmers Imprisoned in Sagaing Division Over Land Protest

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 03:24 AM PDT

Burma land rights

A defendant waves at fellow villagers as she and other farmers are taken away in a police truck after a court hearing at Kantbalu Township Court on July 14. (Photo: Min Naing Thu / The Irrawaddy)

MANDALAY — Sagaing Division authorities have taken further harsh action against farmers in Kantbalu Township who claim their land was grabbed, as a court sentenced another 47 villagers to prison terms last week, according to families of the detained, who said that 15 of the men have been transferred to remote prisons.

On July 17, Kantbalu Township Court began handing down the verdicts in a mass trial against some 300 farmers and sentenced 18 farmers to prison terms varying from three years to 3 months on charges of trespassing and causing losses or damage because they had plowed land that is being used by a sugar cane company.

In the days that followed, another 47 farmers were convicted for similar charges and at least three men were sentenced to three years' imprisonment, villagers told The Irrawaddy on Friday, adding that most were sentenced to three-month prison terms.

In a further punishment for the impoverished families, authorities decided to transfer at least 15 prisoners from Shwe Bo Township Prison to serve time in remote prisons in Mandalay and Pegu divisions.

"They've sentenced the farmers with harsh punishments without giving back their confiscated lands," said Ko Gyi, a land rights who is helping the farmers to submit an appeal.

"Now, moving them to prisons far away from Kantbalu is like further humiliation for the farmers and their families. They did this to frighten the farmers and it is meant like a warning not to protest for the return of their lands," he said.

Tun Aung, a family member of one of the jailed farmers, said, "Some were transferred to Pakokku Prison; some were even transferred to prisons in Myingyan, Pegu and Taungoo.

"It will be very difficult for us to go a place that far. Some families do not even know about the prison transfer and some broke down after they found out," he added.

The farmers and the families are planning to submit an appeal to the harsh sentences at the Sagaing Divisional Court. Roughly 240 other farmers are awaiting their verdicts in the trial in coming days and weeks, and many could face imprisonment.

Authorities have come down hard on residents of eight villages in Kantbula Township after a businessman filed a lawsuit for trespassing and causing damages to his sugar plantation during a communal protest by farmers in May.

Government officials decided to charge some 300 farmers involved in the protest during which they began plowing land, a popular form of protest by farmers trying to defend their land rights in Burma these days.

The land in Kantbula Township was part of some 3,500 acres that was forcibly confiscated by a local army unit in 1997 and later leased to local businessmen, who have since been planting it with sugar cane.

The farmers have been trying to reclaim the land for several years and filed complaints with authorities. They had some success after the Ministry of Defense announced in March 2013 that it would hand back most of the land. However, the company who leased the lands has reportedly refused to vacate the sugar plantation, sparking tensions that led to the May protest.

Under the former military regime, hundreds of thousands hectares of land were seized from communities all over Burma and any dissent against the land grabs was brutally crushed.

After President Thein Sein's government introduced political reforms, farmers across Burma have come forward to reclaim their seized land. Meanwhile, agro-industry businesses are rapidly expanding in the country, leading to new cases of land-grabbing.

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Kyaukphyu-Kunming Railway Not Dead Yet: Chinese Envoy

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 10:54 PM PDT

Myanmar, Burma, The Irrawaddy

Yang Houlan, the Chinese ambassador to Burma, speaks during a press conference at his residence in Rangoon on Thursday. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Beijing intends to push ahead with plans to build a railway linking western Burma with China, but will do so only with the support of the Burmese government and people, according to China's envoy to Burma.

The stalled railway and road project linking Kyaukphyu in Arakan State to Kunming, the capital of southern China's Yunnan Province, was envisioned as a major transportation link to facilitate development at an economic zone in Burma's impoverished west.

It was reported earlier this week that the plan was being scrapped, but China's envoy to Burma said on Thursday that opposition to the project had been overstated.

China's state-owned Railways Engineering Corporation and Chinese government officials have met local people along the project area, but tallied no significant resistance to the project as Burma's government has claimed, according to Yang Houlan, the Chinese ambassador to Burma.

"The Kyaukphyu-Kunming railway project is important not only for the development of areas along the railway but also for the growth of the whole country," stressed the Chinese ambassador during a press conference at his residence on Thursday. "According to our study, we've heard no voices against the project. The only thing we've heard was dispute over relocation of houses.

"Most of the locals support the project," he claimed. "We also want to know if the people really do not support the project because we have seen in newspapers that government officials alone are speaking against the project. However, we respect the decision of the Burmese government and people."

In 2011, Burma signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China's state-owned Railways Engineering Corporation to construct the Kyaukphyu-Kunming railway. However, with no construction yet carried out, the MoU has lapsed and the project would not be continued, according to a Railway Transport Ministry official.

Among the factors working against the project, its projected expenditure of US$20 billion was not enough to get the job done, negative environmental impacts were feared and opposition from local residents had been voiced, the official, who asked for anonymity, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

"We just made a memorandum of understanding between the two parties. Now, we haven't made any new agreement to start operations, so what I can say is that we aren't working on this project," said the official.

Under the terms of the 2011 deal inked between Burma's government and the Railways Engineering Corporation, the company was to bear the bulk of the $20 billion price tag. The railway would function on a build-operate-transfer basis, with the Chinese firm handing over the infrastructure to the Burmese government after 20 years.

Civil society groups and activists have pointed out potential negative environmental and social impacts of the project, and protests against it have been staged.

China has long been the dominant foreign investor in Burma, but the flow of Chinese money into the neighboring Southeast Asian nation has slowed in recent years with the installation of President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government in 2011. Opposition to Chinese projects has increasingly given investors headaches, most notably the decision by Thein Sein to suspend construction of the multi-billion dollar Myitsone hydroelectric dam in September 2011.

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800 Civilians Newly Displaced by Fighting in Shan States: Group

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 10:35 PM PDT

Burma ethnic conflict

Ethnic Palaung villagers who fled Burma Army operations stay at camps in northern Shan State in this photo from 2013. (Photo: PWO)

More than 800 ethnic Palaung villagers in northern Shan State's Namkham Township have fled their homes in recent days to avoid the growing number of clashes between the Burma Army and Palaung rebels, according to a local NGO.

De De Poe Jeing, secretary of the Ta’ang Women’s Organization, said more than 800 people had fled Mong Poe village and arrived at nearby Namkham town, located on the Burma-China border, on Monday.

She said some 800 displaced were registered and given temporary shelter at a factory hall used for tea leaf processing and supported by local residents, adding that another 200 people who fled were believed to be staying with relatives or friends in the town.

"They fear for their safety, while the whereabouts of three detained villagers from Mong Poe are not known yet," she said.

The villagers fled after fighting between government troops and the Ta'ang (Palaung) National Liberation Army (TNLA) broke out near their village from July 19 to 21.

De De Poe Jeing confirmed reports by the TNLA from earlier this week stating that two civilians were killed and 10 injured during the fighting. She added that the injured were getting treatment at hospitals in Muse, Namkham and Mandalay.

She said her organization's relief team is on their way to Namkham from Lashio, but heavy rains along the road from Khutkhai, Muse and Namkham has hindered their travels.

Sai Htun La, secretary of the Shan Nationalities Development Party and a Namkham resident, said, "The displaced Palaung are in desperate need as their villages are in the conflict areas." He said local residents had donated bags of rice and some money to the displaced.

He added that the area around Mon Poe village appeared quiet in recent days, but villagers were still too fearful to consider returning to their homes.

The recent incident has pushed the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Palaung villages up to 4,600s, said De De Peo Jeing.

Since October 2012, the 3,800 Palaung villagers have been taking shelters in six camps in Namkham, Mang Tong and Khutkhai townships in northern Shan State to avoid fighting between the Burma Army and the TNLA and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA.)

The two rebel groups are allies and unlike many armed groups they do do not have a bilateral ceasefire with the government. In recent months, fighting has spilled over from Kachin State into northern Shan State, where clashes between government troops and KIA, TNLA and several other groups have become more frequent.

Casualties on the government side from the clashes are unknown, but the TNLA claimed last week that it had killed 178 Burma Army troops in more than 100 clashes since January.

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Senior US lawmaker: Burma Must Reform Before More Sanctions Easing

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 09:54 PM PDT

Burma US sanctions

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican party’s leader. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Jade and rubies from Burma will remain banned from the United States unless the Asian nation moves to end a provision in its constitution that bars opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president, a senior U.S. senator said on Thursday.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican party’s leader in the Senate, said there is little appetite in the U.S. Congress to reinstate stiff trade sanctions that were imposed on Burma during its decades of tough military rule.

However, he said in a Senate speech, if the country does not make further reforms – and address human rights concerns – he cannot see an ending of further restrictions, including the ban on jade and ruby imports and sanctions on individuals deemed to be hindering further reforms.

"It is hard to see how those provisions get lifted without there being progress on the constitutional eligibility issue and the closely related issue of the legitimacy of the 2015 elections," said McConnell, who has taken a long-term interest in Burma and visited two years ago.

Improving relations with Burma has been a priority with the U.S. government, but lately Washington has been concerned that the Asian nation is backing away from its reform agenda. This included releasing political prisoners, releasing Suu Kyi from house arrest and easing restrictions on freedom of the press.

"In light of these democratic reforms—many of which I witnessed firsthand when I visited the country in January 2012—I believe that to no small degree Burma has been a remarkable story among many dark developments in the world today," McConnell said.

Burma has a by-election late this year and a parliamentary election in 2015. But its constitution bars anyone from running for president who has immediate family members who are foreign nationals. Suu Kyi’s late husband and two sons are British, and many observers believe the provision was written specifically to keep the Nobel prize winner from seeking the office.

McConnell said a parliamentary committee is working on a constitutional reform proposal, and that he is concerned it would not change the provision. He said he the provision would "cast a pall over the legitimacy of the election in the eyes of the international community and members of the Senate."

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Rohingya in Arakan Suffer Worsening Health Crisis

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 09:49 PM PDT

Rohingya health crisis

A relative holds the malnourished Nurfasa at a village in Maungdaw, northern Arakan State, on June 6, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

INN DIN, Arakan State — Visitors to the medical facility in one of Burma's poorest and most remote regions are greeted by a padlocked gate and a sign reading: "Clinic closed until further notice."

A vehicle that used to ferry around doctors and patients parked next to the neat compound of bamboo and brick buildings in the western state of Arakan is covered in thick dust.

Since international aid groups were forced out of the area in February and March, members of the minority Muslim Rohingya community who relied on them say basic health care services have all but disappeared.

Worst affected are those in northern Arakan State, home to most of Burma's 1.3 million Rohingya who are stalked by sickness and malnourishment and as yet untouched by reforms under a semi-civilian government which took power in 2011.

Many people in and around the village of Inn Din, a collection of bamboo houses with thatched roofs and earthen floors a two-hour drive from northern Arakan State's biggest town Maungdaw, speak of disease and preventable death.

Nurfasa, born in late May, fidgeted in her grandmother's arms, her chest rising and falling with labored breaths. The desperately weak infant opened her mouth wide as if to cry, but no sound came out.

For the first 20 days of her life, all Nurfasa had for nutrition was ground-up rice powder mixed with water, because her mother, legs swollen and womb racked with pain, could not produce enough milk to feed her.

"We don't have the money to go to Maungdaw and the MSF [Medecins Sans Frontieres] clinic here is closed," said her grandmother Montai Begum. "We showed the baby to the government midwife in the village, but she asked for money."

Glimmer of Hope?

The expulsion of international aid organizations stems from the violence that erupted across Arakan State in 2012 between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, killing at least 200 people and displacing 140,000, most of them Rohingya.

When Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland said it had treated people it believed were victims of sectarian violence near Maungdaw in January, the government expelled the group for favoring Muslims. Burma denies the attack took place.

And after a foreign staff member from another aid organization, Malteser International, was rumored to have desecrated a Buddhist flag, NGO and UN offices in Arakan came under attack and groups withdrew.

MSF's departure has had "a major humanitarian impact," said Pierre Peron, spokesman for the United Nations' coordination agency UNOCHA.

"MSF had built up a program over 20 years and it was reaching places that were very difficult to reach, and that's not something that can be done overnight," he said.

MSF hopes it can return soon after the government announced on Thursday that the group could go back to Rakhine, a decision the organization welcomed.

Whether that commitment is fulfilled, and under what conditions, may be questions for talks over the coming days.

Some aid workers fret that the announcement has more to do with politics than resolving the humanitarian crisis.

Yanghee Lee, the new UN human rights envoy to Burma, is in the country on a 10-day visit that included a trip to Arakan.

US Secretary of State John Kerry may visit Burma for the Asean foreign ministers' meeting in August, and President Barack Obama is also expected before the end of 2014.

Timing is crucial. The health crisis could worsen as monsoon rains set in, making sanitation more difficult, and experts warn of the risk of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis spreading in the absence of reliable medical care.

Than Tun, a Buddhist community leader and member of the Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) set up by the government to oversee international NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), confirmed MSF-Holland would be allowed back to northern Arakan State.

But he underlined the level of mistrust between the Buddhist community and anyone it suspected of siding with Muslims.

"Although we have agreed to allow them in, we are rather worried that they will not cooperate with us with full transparency like other INGOs," he told Reuters. "We find it difficult to trust them."

Trust Is Scarce

Rohingya, who are stateless because the government considers them to be illegal Bengali immigrants, often do not dare go to state-run hospitals and clinics for fear of what may happen.

Aisyah Begum, 25, was still mourning for her husband, Kamal Husor, who was injured while working in the forest in May.

According to Aisyah, the private doctor in Maungdaw, a bone-jarring two-hour drive away, said he could not help.

She decided against going to the public hospital—she had heard Rohingya die there—and treated the wound with medicine from a make-shift pharmacy. Nineteen days later, Husor, 55, passed away from what was probably a treatable infection.

"Had MSF been open, I would have taken him there," she said, looking forlorn. "I trusted them."

Assessing the impact of the aid group's exit is difficult, with no one to provide reliable data on disease and death rates.

But in the last quarter of 2013, MSF treated about 9,000 patients every month, and about 1,000 pregnant women in the six clinics it ran in northern Arakan State. Over the same period, it referred 160-200 people monthly to hospitals for life-saving treatment.

Rakhine officials play down the role of international aid organizations.

Government medical teams have been making limited visits to Rohingya areas, but foreign aid workers say they are inadequate.

"The Ministry of Health has been providing better health care than MSF or Malteser," Than Tun said. "And we can see this with our own eyes."

Access Restricted

Access to northern Arakan State is severely restricted and only a handful of foreign reporters have been there.

A Reuters team travelled seven hours by boat and car from Arakan's capital Sittwe on a recent visit, one of the few times an international news organization has been allowed into northern Arakan State.

They witnessed evidence of a growing health crisis in a region where Rohingya say their basic human rights are denied.

International news coverage of the Rohingyas' plight has focused on sprawling, squalid camps outside Sittwe where those displaced by violence live. In northern Arakan State, many more Rohingya exist in what they call apartheid-like conditions.

The maternal mortality rate in the state's north is double Burma's national average—which, at 200 deaths per 100,000 live births, is already one of Asia's worst.

In Buthidaung and Maungdaw, two of northern Arakan State's three townships, malnutrition rates rival those in war-torn regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

Burma was a military dictatorship for almost 50 years until a semi-civilian government took power in 2011, but reforms have largely passed northern Arakan State by—many Rohingya cannot travel, marry or seek medical treatment without official permission.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the fight for democracy while the military ran the country, has faced rare criticism abroad for her failure to defend the Rohingya.

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UN Panel Tells Japan to Compensate ‘Comfort Women’

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 09:42 PM PDT

Comfort women

Participants carry the portraits of Korean women who were made sex slaves by the Japanese military during World War Two, during a requiem ceremony for former comfort woman Lee Yong-nyeo in central Seoul August 14, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

GENEVA — A United Nations human rights panel called on Japan on Thursday to undertake independent investigations of wartime sex slavery and apologize to the women who were victims before it was too late.

Some historians estimate that as many as 200,000 so-called comfort women, many from China and South Korea, were forced into the Imperial Japanese Army's brothels before and during World War Two.

Last month, South Korea accused Japan of trying to undermine a landmark 1993 apology to the women when a Japanese panel reviewing the apology found that South Korea worked with Japan on its wording. China accused Japan of refusing to face up to its history, and even trying to "whitewash" it.

The UN Human Rights Committee, which was looking at the issue as part of a regularly scheduled review, said that all reparation claims brought by victims before Japanese courts have been dismissed, and all complaints seeking criminal investigations and prosecutions have been rejected on grounds of the statute of limitations.

"We want Japan to make the kind of statement that the families, the women themselves, the few who are still surviving, can recognize as an unambiguous, uninhibited acceptance of total responsibility for compelling them to engage for a part of their lives in something that could have only destroyed their lives," said Nigel Rodley, the British expert chairing the panel.

The panel urged Japan to "ensure that all allegations of sexual slavery or other human rights violations perpetrated by Japanese military during wartime against the 'comfort women,' are effectively, independently and impartially investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and if found guilty, punished."

Such acts carried out against the will of the victims meant Japan had a "direct legal responsibility," it said.

Secret government records should be opened to investigators, who could include non-Japanese to strengthen the independence of the investigation, according to Rodley and Dutch committee member Cornelius Flinterman.

The panel also said Japan's position on the issue was "contradictory," in that it says the comfort women were generally recruited and transported through coercion, but they were not "forcibly deported."

"But given that the 1993 Kono declaration admitted that it was forcible, we have no doubts about it," Rodley said, referring to the government statement on comfort women.

"And what is troubling is that the delegation now seems to need to speak out of both sides of its mouth," he said.

Japan has said compensation for women forced to work in the brothels was settled by a 1965 treaty establishing diplomatic ties with South Korea. Japan also set up a fund to make payments to the women from private contributions in 1995, but South Korea has said that was not official and so not good enough.

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Very Bad Week: Airline Disasters Come in a Cluster

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 09:38 PM PDT

Plane crash

An Emergencies Ministry member works at putting out a fire at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Nearly 300 passengers perish when their plane is shot out of the sky. Airlines suspend flights to Israel's largest airport after rocket attacks. Two airliners crash during storms. Aviation has suffered one of its worst weeks in memory, a cluster of disasters spanning three continents.

Industry analysts and safety experts say they can find no common themes. Nor do they think the events indicate that flying is suddenly becoming less safe.

Less than one in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident in which the plane was damaged beyond repair, according to the International Air Transport Association. That includes accidents involving cargo and charter airlines as well as scheduled passenger flights.

"One of the things that makes me feel better when we look at these events is that if they all were the same type event or same root cause then you would say there's a systemic problem here, but each event is unique in its own way," said Jon Beatty, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, an airline industry-supported nonprofit in the US that promotes global aviation safety.

But Beatty said he also finds the disaster cluster "a cold reminder" that airline accidents are likely to increase because the industry is growing, especially in developing countries. The more flights there are, the more potential for accidents, he said.

The misfortunes began July 18 when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine with 298 people on board. It's still not clear who fired the missile that destroyed the plane, but Ukrainian officials have blamed pro-Russian rebels.

The mysterious disappearance in March of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people on board, combined with the destruction of Flight 17, added up to more than twice the total global airline fatalities in all of last year, which was the industry's safest year on record. Ascend, a global aviation industry consulting firm based in London, counted 163 fatalities in 2013 involving airliners with 14 seats or more.

Global aviation leaders will meet in Montreal next week to initiate discussions on a plan to address safety and security issues raised by the shoot-down of the Malaysia Airlines jet, an aviation official said late Thursday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly by name.

On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan in stormy weather trailing a typhoon, killing 48 passengers, injuring 10 others and crew and injuring five people on the ground. On Thursday, an Air Algerie flight with 116 passengers and crew disappeared in a rainstorm over Mali en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital. The plane was operated for the airline by Swiftair, a Spanish carrier.

Together, the disasters have the potential to push airline fatalities this year to over 700—the most since 2010. And 2014 is still barely half over.

Aviation industry analyst Robert W. Mann Jr. said he doesn't expect the recent events to deter travelers from flying.

"They're all tragic, but the global air travel consumer has a very short memory, and it's highly localized to their home markets where they fly," he said.

Airline passengers interviewed by The Associated Press said they weren't overly concerned about their safety.

"It could be happening every day or never again," said Bram Holshoff, a Netherlands traveler at Berlin's Tegel Airport. "It's a bit much that it happened three times this week, but for me nothing will change."

Lam Nguyen, 52, of Tahiti, who was headed to Los Angeles from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, said he considers flying "a very safe mode of transportation."

"And if it has to happen, it will happen. … It doesn't prevent me from taking planes," he said.

The shootdown of Flight 17 has raised questions about whether airlines, and the aviation authorities in their home countries, are adjusting flight routes quickly enough when unrest in troubled parts of the world threatens the safety of planes. But aviation safety consultant John Cox, a former airline pilot and accident investigator, said he sees no connection between that event and the other disasters.

"I don't know how you could respond to anything when there is not a commonality of events," he said. "We don't have a full understanding of the Taiwan accident, and certainly not on the" Air Algerie plane.

Cox attributed the US Federal Aviation Administration's decision Tuesday to prohibit flights to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv to "hypersensitivity" to the possibility of another shootdown. The FAA issued the order after a Hamas rocket exploded about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the airport. The prohibition was lifted 36 hours later.

Aviation is "fundamentally safe and getting safer, but can it can always fall prey to the mistakes or ill will pof man," said former FAA chief counsel Kenneth Quinn. "We sometimes forget the magic of flight, or the fragility of life, but this week has brought home the need to appreciate this more and protect both better."

The post Very Bad Week: Airline Disasters Come in a Cluster appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Inside Xi Jinping’s Purge of China’s Oil Mandarins

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 09:33 PM PDT

China oil mandarins

Former Chinese Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang attends the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2012. (Photo: Reuters / Jason Lee)

BEIJING/HONG KONG — Oil executive Jiang Jiemin rose to power in Communist China in time-honored fashion: by hitching his star to a mighty mentor.

In Jiang's case, that patron was another oil man, Zhou Yongkang, who went on to become the chief of China's internal security apparatus and one of the country's most powerful men.

Like Zhou before him, Jiang rose to the top of the country's biggest oil producer, China National Petroleum Corporation. In return, say people familiar with his career, Jiang helped Zhou build power by using the oil giant to dispense patronage. In March last year Jiang ascended even higher, when he was named to run the agency that oversees all of China's biggest state-owned companies.

Their relationship was on display ahead of the party's 18th congress in November 2012, when both attended a banquet for CNPC veterans of a 1980s drive to find oil in remote western China. In toasts and remarks, Jiang continually referred to Zhou as "the leader" and urged the oil men to "accept the leadership of the Party's central committee" and of Zhou himself, says an executive who was at the banquet. The flattery, the executive says, "was so obvious."

Today, the retainer's loyalty to Zhou has backfired. In September, Jiang was sacked and arrested, a victim of a seismic power struggle as Chinese President Xi Jinping sets out to crush Zhou, the most senior leader targeted in a corruption probe since the Communist Party took power in 1949.

In a bid to isolate his rival, Xi is steadily taking down Zhou's extensive web of colleagues, political allies, relatives, staff and business associates of his family, according to people familiar with the investigation. Corruption investigators are swarming the CNPC group, where Zhou, 71, a geophysical engineer, built a vast network of friends and allies over the decades.

Jiang, 58, is the most senior executive to fall in an ongoing purge of current and former managers of the petroleum giant. He is accused of using his position and CNPC's massive budget to help Zhou buy political favors and maintain his network of supporters across China, according to people with ties to the Chinese leadership.

The campaign against Zhou is roiling the entire Communist Party. A Reuters examination of the oil-industry component of the crackdown shows the extent of the purge, a drama that will have repercussions well beyond China.

An 'Unprecedented' Probe

"The scale of the probe into CNPC is unprecedented, but perhaps the severity of corruption at the company is also unprecedented," says Qing Yi, a Beijing-based independent economist.

CNPC is one of the world's largest companies, with global operations and 2013 revenue of US$432 billion. Its publicly listed subsidiary, PetroChina, trades in Hong Kong, Shanghai and New York and is the world's fourth-biggest oil producer by market capitalization. Jiang ran both the parent and PetroChina from 2007 until last year, when he briefly headed the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC).

Interviews with senior CNPC officials, statements from the authorities and an analysis of the positions held by the arrested executives indicate that investigators are scrutinizing offshore and domestic spending, including oil service contracts, equipment supply deals and oil field acquisitions.

The investigation has already touched CNPC group operations in Canada, Indonesia, China and Turkmenistan, say people familiar with the proceedings. In addition to Jiang, the Chinese authorities have confirmed the arrests of CNPC vice president Wang Yongchun, PetroChina vice presidents Li Hualin and Ran Xinquan, and the listed unit's chief geologist, Wang Daofu.

Criminal prosecutors are now investigating Jiang and Wang Yongchun for bribery, the official Xinhua news agency reported July 14, without giving details. In China, the announcement of a criminal probe means charges are almost certain to follow. Acquittals are rare.

SASAC, the state-owned company regulator, said last year that Li, Ran and Wang Daofu were under investigation for "severe breaches of discipline." In China, this phrase is often a euphemism for corruption, but SASAC did not go into details.

Six More Arrests

Oil industry sources have told Reuters that another six senior CNPC group executives have been detained and are under investigation, but there have been no public announcements of these cases. Dozens of other managers have been questioned as investigators methodically unravel Zhou's petroleum faction, according to senior officials at CNPC in Beijing.

The authorities have yet to reveal any specific evidence against Jiang or any of the other detained CNPC managers. CNPC and PetroChina did not respond to questions for comment on the investigation or arrests. The party hasn't made any public announcement about Zhou's fate.

As is routine in Chinese corruption cases, Jiang, Zhou and the other people named in this article as suspects couldn't be reached for comment, nor could their lawyers be identified.

While not dismissing the graft allegations, some Chinese say the purged officials appear, in part, to be victims of a brutal struggle within the Communist Party. "All this is not transparent, so people are suspecting that's the case," says Mao Yushi, an advocate of economic reform and honorary president of a private Beijing-based consultancy, Unirule Institute of Economics. "I share the suspicion."

Anxiety now grips the non-descript offices inside CNPC's steel-and-glass Beijing headquarters, according to staff working at the building. Managers are being regularly taken away for questioning, company officials say. Some prominent executives have returned to their desks after the interrogations, while others remain in custody. Senior staff told Reuters they expect more arrests.

To spearhead his crackdown, Xi has enlisted a close ally: Wang Qishan, a veteran official with a reputation as the Communist Party's top trouble-shooter and an implacable corruption fighter. Wang heads the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which as the party's internal watchdog division is the most powerful investigative body in China. On June 30, the commission said Jiang had been expelled from the party for corruption. The commission did not respond to requests for comment.

Relentless Networker

Xi is determined to bring down Zhou for allegedly plotting an audacious power grab ahead of the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, people familiar with the probe say. Zhou is accused of attempting to promote his supporters into the leadership so that he could rule from behind the scenes after he retired, they say. He has been under virtual house arrest in Beijing since late last year.

Zhou was a relentless networker over his decades at the top of Chinese industry and politics, oil industry veterans say, cultivating supporters throughout China. Jiang was one of his agents in building these connections. Some of this support for Zhou involved tapping the pork barrel.

At the helm of CNPC, Jiang recruited political allies for Zhou by approving proposals to build refineries in a number of provinces, a person with ties to the leadership told Reuters. "Local governments were grateful because the refineries helped boost their economies and created jobs," the source said, without pinpointing specific deals. "Through Jiang Jiemin, Zhou Yongkang won over their loyalty."

Under Jiang, one of CNPC's most controversial moves was a 2008 decision to build a $6 billion refinery and petrochemical project at Pengzhou, near Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. Zhou was party secretary in Sichuan between 1999 and 2002 and established a political stronghold in the southwestern province. Investigators have made many arrests in Sichuan in the campaign against Zhou.

From the start, there were strong environmental protests against building a refinery in the earthquake-prone area. Some critics of the deal also questioned the wisdom of situating the complex so far inland, in an area far from ports and without major nearby oilfields. Most of China's major refineries are on the coast with easy access to imported crude.

Without mentioning Zhou, a CNPC official with knowledge of the project told Reuters that Jiang backed the plant because he wanted to please political leaders. "It doesn't make much sense to build the project there," the CNPC official said. "Where do you source your crude oil?"

In its project proposals, CNPC said the Sichuan refinery would process oil from Russia, Kazakhstan and western China. Some industry analysts say southwest China has very little refining capacity, and the Pengzhou project fills that gap.

An earthquake devastated Sichuan in 2008. Undeterred, Zhou prodded local officials to beef up safety measures and press ahead with the refinery. "Build up Sichuan's heavy petrochemical industry," he urged on a 2010 visit to the province, according to reports in the state-run media. When the refinery started production this year, China's economic planning agency said it would boost the regional economy.

Spending Binge

PetroChina, with a market capitalization of about $225 billion, is China's dominant oil and gas producer, with global operations including oilfields, refineries, pipelines and petrochemical plants. It is a subsidiary of CNPC, and yet a power in its own right: PetroChina holds most of its parent's assets on its balance sheet.

While Jiang was at the helm of both companies, PetroChina launched a spending bonanza, heeding a political command to secure access to more offshore oil as part of Beijing's campaign to boost energy security. Annual capital expenditure almost doubled to about $57 billion over the six years to 2012. In the five years to 2013, the company also spent $25 billion on overseas assets. These outlays are now under the microscope.

CNPC vice-president Wang Yongchun was the first senior oil executive to fall, late last August, as part of a wider campaign to roll up Zhou Yongkang's network.

Days later, in early September, the probe into Jiang was made public. More than 300 of Zhou's relatives, allies and business associates have been arrested, detained or questioned, according to people briefed on the investigation. Authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) from Zhou's family members and associates, they said.

Zhou's last public appearance was in Beijing on Oct. 1. He has been under virtual house arrest since late last year, people briefed on the probe say.

The Dominoes Fall

The purge then broadened:

* About the time Jiang was arrested, the former head of PetroChina's Indonesia operations, Wei Zhigang, was recalled from his post and is now under investigation, three Chinese oil industry sources told Reuters. Senior CNPC sources in Beijing say investigators may probe two oilfield acquisitions in Indonesia, where it appears the company overpaid for assets.

* In December, investigators detained CNPC's chief accountant, Wen Qingshan, two people with direct knowledge of the probe told Reuters. Wen was also chairman of PetroChina's Hong Kong-listed natural gas distribution arm, Kunlun Energy. In statements to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the companies said Wen had resigned because of unspecified "personal matters."

* Early this year, Zhang Benquan, head of PetroChina's operations in Iran, was taken away for investigation, said two Chinese oil industry sources familiar with the situation.

* In May came the arrest of PetroChina's overseas operations chief, Bo Qiliang. Company sources told Reuters that investigators visited his Beijing home and took him away for questioning. In a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange on May 16, the company said Bo left his post due to an unspecified change in his role. Earlier, he was chief of PetroChina's operations in Kazakhstan.

* An oil industry official in Beijing confirmed a report this month in the financial news magazine Caixin that two other top oil men were under investigation: Li Zhiming, the head of CNPC and PetroChina operations in Canada, and Beijing-based Song Yiwu, deputy head of CNPC's overseas operations.

The investigation of Jiang also involves his alleged role in the use of CNPC funds to cover up a politically embarrassing tragedy.

A Car Crash

Investigators have questioned Jiang over the transfer of CNPC funds to pay off the victims of a March 2012 car crash involving the son of Ling Jihua, a top aide to then-President Hu Jintao, three sources with ties to the Chinese leadership told Reuters.

Ling's son, Ling Gu, in his twenties, was killed while driving a Ferrari in Beijing. One of the two young women passengers was also killed and the other injured.

At the behest of Zhou Yongkang, Jiang arranged payments of millions of yuan to the dead woman's bereaved family and the surviving passenger in a bid to buy their silence, said the sources. All three sources, who are not political rivals of Zhou, said they were briefed by investigators or senior officials.

In helping cover up the crash, they said, Zhou wanted to gain influence over Ling. When President Hu belatedly learned of the affair, he was disappointed and demoted Ling to head the United Front Work Department, a lower-level ministry. Ling and Hu could not be reached for comment. The United Front Work Department did not respond to requests for comment.

In expelling Jiang from the party, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection didn't mention the Ling case or any specific findings against him. It said Jiang was guilty of taking advantage of his post to benefit others and extort huge bribes.

For a time after the car crash, Jiang's career appeared on track. At the 18th Party Congress in November 2012, Xi took over as party boss. Zhou retired. Jiang was elevated to the Communist Party's Central Committee, the elite, 200-odd member group which includes the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme decision making body headed by Xi.

The Fix-It Man

If Jiang felt any disquiet about the crash probe, he showed no sign when he appeared that month at an assembly of bosses of state-owned firms in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Dressed in a black suit and pink tie, he readily answered questions about CNPC's plans.

Xi, however, was gathering his forces against Zhou and the oil faction.

At the congress, Xi's fix-it man, Wang Qishan, was promoted to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee and named head of the party watchdog commission. That made Wang the second-most powerful leader in China behind president Xi, according to political insiders in Beijing. Wang immediately sharpened the watchdog's bite with extra investigators, publicly warning that no corrupt official was safe, no matter how senior.

The rolling purge has left PetroChina's board scrambling to keep markets informed as authorities ensnare top executives in the investigation.

"As soon as the news spread, the audit committee consulted hired lawyers in order to decide what appropriate course of action should be taken," says Franco Bernabe, the former head of communications giant Telecom Italia SpA, who served for some 10 years as an independent director of PetroChina until May. Bernabe declined to discuss specific allegations against the arrested executives.

Bernabe said management has tightened guidelines and procedures to limit the potential for graft. But some senior managers say the sheer size of the oil empire Zhou and Jiang built will make change very difficult. The CNPC-PetroChina group has dozens of subsidiaries and employs more than 1.6 million people.

One sign of the murk: Some senior PetroChina managers familiar with the investigation say they aren't even sure where in the sprawling conglomerate – parent CNPC, listed subsidiary PetroChina, or the other units – each of the many alleged offenses is supposed to have taken place.

The post Inside Xi Jinping's Purge of China's Oil Mandarins appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Relax, Enjoy, and Make a Difference

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 05:30 PM PDT

Visitors wait for their meal at Shwe Sa Bwe restaurant. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Visitors wait for their meal at Shwe Sa Bwe restaurant. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

YANGON — For a sophisticated restaurant with heart and social conscience, head to Shwe Sa Bwe in Mayangon Township. You'll find delicious nouvelle

cuisine, exceptional service and beautiful surroundings. Yes, I find no downsides here!

Dine among the chic red interiors with stylish furniture, cozy corners and cute curios or alfresco in the secluded magic garden of bamboo, palms and bougainvillea. Throughout, the ambience is cool charm. The music is contemporary, audible but unobtrusive. It all says, "Relax and enjoy."

The set three-course menu is a thrilling challenge. Enticing selections of starters, mains and desserts each offer a choice of four tempting dishes for dinner (26,000 kyat) and two for lunch (14,000 kyat). You might choose a two-course meal (dinner 23,000 kyat, lunch 11,000 kyat), tax and service inclusive. The menu changes monthly and can be explored online beforehand.

Our group of merry diners made a point of trying them all, to great satisfaction. Starters included a creamy and delicate beetroot and goat-cheese mille-feuille with herbs and tomato salad; fresh fish and seafood salad served with pomelo dressing; and chicken-liver cake with supreme sauce; or chilled minestrone soup. Interesting creative combinations delight the palate with artfully balanced flavors.

The variety of mains included sea bass and tomato filled with ratatouille, leek compote and red wine sauce; tender, grilled long squid with chorizo risotto and saffron sauce; pot-au-feu (a French beef stew) with port, seasonal vegetables and herb sauce; and roasted veal medallion, croquette potato, snow beans, and green pepper sauce. Each was a work of art, cooked to perfection and received with joy.

Desserts included the delectable pineapple tart with pineapple sorbet, a popular strawberry bavarois with strawberry coulis, a wickedly rich chocolate charlotte with coffee sauce, and a crème brûlée with bourbon vanilla to die for. The mighty cheese platter (dinner 10,000 kyat, lunch 7,000 kyat) might also fit your bill.

Shwe Sa Bwe makes its business to nourish not only diners but also the young people of Myanmar. When Francois Stoupan came here and fell in love with the country in 1998, he saw a need and decided to create a French-style hotel and restaurant training center.

Opening at the end of 2011, Shwe Sa Bwe invites young people from all over the country to apply for scholarships to participate in the intensive full-time one-year courses in cooking and restaurant and hotel service.

Mr. Stoupan explains: "Our trainees are selected based on their willingness to learn and their commitment to stay in Myanmar at the end of the program, to be part of the country's growth and help to develop and feed others. We don't want to give this quality training so people leave the country or their family. We encourage respect and kindness to parents."

The best two students from each year are retained at the center and encouraged to share and multiply the valuable learning in a "training of trainers" model. The dining room features a wall of graduate portraits, a testament to the effort by all. Today Shwe Sa Bwe is self-funding, paying for the 15-20 annual scholarships and program operation from the restaurant income.

Learning from top French chefs and service trainers, the young students get quality instruction and seem to love the opportunity. Ko Nyi Nyi, 20, from Kachin State, looks forward to finding work in a five-star hotel. "There are possibilities to head to Dubai or Qatar to get some more experience but most important is to work here in Myanmar," he says.

Ko Salai Chit Tin from Myeik, also 20, is also excited about taking part in the program. "Part of the great thing is making new friends. We come from all different parts of the country and learn to get along, to help each other and work together. Boys and girls stay in two separate houses provided nearby. We've done eight months of the course by now and I've really enjoyed it all."

Shwe Sa Bwe has a full bar with mixology as part of the education. It's perfect for a night out or a peaceful afternoon meeting. There's an eclectic selection of books and welcoming sofas, decaf coffee and herbal lime blossom and peppermint tea. Do visit the exciting bathrooms to freshen up: gentlemen's in zebra, ladies' in golden leopard, minus the spots. For an all-round wonderful dining experience, take yourself to Shwe Sa Bwe.

Shwe Sa Bwe
20 Malikha St., Mayangon Township
01-661983, 09421005085
Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Sunday (closed for Sunday lunch)

This story first appeared in the July 2014 print edition of The Irrawaddy Magazine.

The post Relax, Enjoy, and Make a Difference appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

‘The Plane Crash Has Caused a Change in the Global Political Landscape’

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 05:00 PM PDT

The Irrawaddy's editor, Aung Zaw, is pictured during the filming of Dateline Irrawaddy. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy's editor, Aung Zaw, is pictured during the filming of Dateline Irrawaddy. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

In this week's Dateline Irrawaddy, panelists discussed the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine on July 17.

Aung Zaw: This week, we'll discuss Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was destroyed by a missile near the Russian and Ukrainian border. I'm Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy Magazine, and Irrawaddy reporters Yan Paing and Lin Thant will join me to discuss this tragic event. MH17 was hit at 33,000 feet by a missile. According to a report from The New York Times, some witnesses saw passengers falling down from the sky in the crash. Western governments have been talking about the case and especially US President Obama has talked about it twice. They said that pro-Russian separatists shot down the plane. The Buk system, which is a radar-guided system, can shoot down a plane flying at an altitude of over 30,000 feet. Flight 17 was shot down with the Buk system. In the past, there have been cases of choppers and military aircraft being shot down over that area. So, there have been questions that whether the attack is deliberate or accidental. As the relations between US and Russia have soured over the former's occupation of Ukrainian territory and the US is imposing sanctions, there is speculation that there is going to be a war. Lin Thant, would you tell us about the plane crash?

Ko Lin Thant: Flight 17 was hit at 33,000 feet en route from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur on July 17. There were a total of 298 passengers and crew on board. Most of the passengers are from the Netherlands. Malaysians were also among the passengers. One thing to point out is the plane was carrying a number of AIDS researchers that were going to attend an ongoing HIV/AIDS conference in Australia. It was flying at an altitude of more than 30,000 feet. According to weapon specialists including from US, the plane was hit by Buk system antiaircraft missile produced during the Soviet Union era. The crash was an awful tragedy not only for the family members of the victims but also for entire international community, sparking serious criticism from international leaders. Most experts concluded that the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists. US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power harshly judged that the attack was not possible without the help of Russian experts, directly accusing Russia of involvement in the attack. There are also criticisms from other governments.

AZ: As far as I know, there were many delays in the investigation of the crime scene by independent experts and the Malaysian government, which owns the airline. There were delays in searching for the bodies, black boxes and other evidence. There are allegations and concerns that evidence might have been tampered with. What do you think of it, Yan Paing?

Yan Paing: The plane was shot down at the Russian and Ukrainian border held by pro-Russia separatist militants. Since it was the rebel-held region, there is no security there. [The Malaysian government] had to negotiate with rebel leaders to go into the area to recover the bodies. The Malaysian government also wanted to get the black boxes. Last night, the Malaysian prime minister talked to the rebel leaders on the phone. I heard that rebel leaders then agreed to hand over the black boxes. Again, it was extremely sad to see the images of people recovering the bodies among masked gunmen. That place was just terrifying.

AZ: What is more saddening is the family members of victims have not yet got back the bodies for funerals.

YP: Family members of Dutch victims are taking actions to take the bodies back to Netherlands. 272 bodies were recovered and some of them were incomplete.

LT: News reports said that Ukrainian separatist rebels moved the bodies to destroy evidence. It is said that they moved the bodies to carriages at a train station, some miles away from the crash site.

YP: The separatist rebels even fired warning shots to reporters and security teams from European countries. We also find that they are attempting in many ways to destroy the evidence.

AZ: World-famous newspaper The New York Times reported that weapons experts are sure that the MH17 was hit by the Buk system missile. Weapons experts cited pictures to strengthen their conclusion. One of them shows the part of airplane was hit by a missile. It is undeniable. But then it is again said that it was Russia that supplied such deadly weapons to the separatists who used them to shoot down airplanes in the past. So there has emerged a question—whether the Buk system has already been deployed in Ukrainian territory a long time ago or was deployed just a few days before the crash. This weapons system needs to be carried on a truck. Burma also has missiles—middle-range missile I think—which I have seen during the military parade on Armed Forces Day. The Buk missile system is that kind of thing, but bigger. US weapons experts and intelligence agencies are investigating whether the weapons system was deployed in Ukrainian territory just a few days ago.

YP: Some news reports say that since a week ago, vehicle convoys from Russia were seen crossing the border into Ukrainian territory. Some suggested that the Buk missile system was carried with those convoys. It is now also said those convoys went back to Russia. Some suggested they went back to hide the evidence after the attack.

LT: President Obama in his speech made it clear that he has strong evidence that the plane was shot down by Ukrainian separatist militants trained and equipped by Russia. US remarks have been quite blunt in this regard.

AZ: The phone conversations of separatists were intercepted, and some voices said "we shot down a passenger plane by mistake." Separatists that use social media posted "we shot down a plane," but then deleted the post after they knew that it was a passenger plane. First of all, I see the blame game after the plane crash. Some said that it may be Ukrainian army or government that shot down the plane. Meanwhile, Putin was strangely silent. He then issued a statement as the plane crash triggered international criticism and anger. He didn't say clearly in his statement what actions he would take as regards the plane crash. After he issued the statement, Russian top military officers suggested that the attack might also be launched by Ukraine side. However, inevitably, the blame has fallen on Putin and Western governments, including the US, have been putting pressure on him. At the same time, Foreign Policy magazine assessed that the days of pro-Russia separatists are numbered now as they have make a very serious mistake.

LT: There was a big change in the global political landscape after 9/11. The plane crash has also caused a change in the global political landscape now. US Senate Intelligence Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein even said after the plane crash that Cold War has been revived between US and Russia.

AZ: Feinstein is the chairwoman of US Senate Intelligence Committee. When asked if she thinks the world is going back to Cold War period, she said only word "Yes." But before this, she challenged Putin. She told him to be a man and confess his mistake, and that it was a wrong that should never be committed again.

YP: There can be a cold war because Russia and Ukraine used to have close ties in the past. There are lots of Russian factories in east Ukraine. Then, Ukraine gained independence and is getting closer to the EU these days, which may incur the displeasure of Russia. So, it is sure that there is going to be a Cold War. Russia is even helping a country like Syria. So, it is not that strange if it backs Ukrainian separatists.

AZ: The last point we need to discuss is concerned with the EU. The Obama administration has begun imposing sanctions against Russia after the plane crash and is likely to impose tougher sanctions. Meanwhile, some EU countries have to rely mainly on Russia for their energy security and are also trade partners of Russia. So there arises a question—to what extent will those countries involve in putting pressure on Russia? This is the main point, I think.

YP: European countries will run into trouble if Russia cuts its gas supplies to them. That's why they have been silent, I think.

AZ: If these developments would lead the world into a Cold War period again, this may increase proxy wars and intensify the regional instability, I reckon. We'll conclude our discussion there.

The post 'The Plane Crash Has Caused a Change in the Global Political Landscape' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma

Burma Business Weekly: 25 July 2014

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 04:50 AM PDT


Ups and Downs

The Burmese currency remains stable, with the buying rate finishing on Friday at 970, up from 968 kyat, while the selling rate sits at 974, up one kyat from last week. The price of gold dropped slightly from 682,000 kyat per tical to 672,500. Fuel prices mostly remain the same, with petrol selling at 820 kyat per litre, diesel at 950 kyat per litre, and octane up from 920 kyat to 950 kyat per litre. The price of rice did not fluctuate, with high-quality Pawhsanmwe rice selling for 1,300 to 1,700 kyat per basket at most Rangoon markets and low-quality Manawthukha rice going for 900 kyat per basket.


Rangoon cyber-city given go-ahead

Burma's President Thein Sein has given the green light to the Rangoon divisional government to build a cyber-city similar to that of Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay Region. No site has yet been announced for the proposed IT centre, which is expected to cover 500-600 acres and include facilities for software production, electronics factories and IT colleges.


Malaysia's CIMB Bank eyes Burma licence

Malaysia’s second largest bank, CIMB Group, is planning to obtain banking licences in Burma and Vietnam, Channel News Asia reported on Wednesday. The news agency cited chief executive Nazir Razak, who told reporters that CIMB aims to open branches in all Southeast Asian countries by 2015 when a planned partial integration of the ASEAN economies will be completed.


Finance Ministry to release citizens' budget

Burma's Ministry of Finance has pledged to introduce a "citizen's budget" which it says will offer transparency so the public can see where government expenditures are allocated. The project is supported by the World Bank. Currently, spending on the military is four times that for health and double that for education.


Chinese transport plan derailed?

Plans for a railway connecting western Burma's Arakan coast with Yunnan, China, have been cancelled due to strong public opposition, DPA reported on Wednesday. The agency cited an unnamed official stating that no progress has been made since signing an MoU for the project in 2011. However, at a press conference on Thursday, China's ambassador to Burma, Yang Houlan, denied that the project had been scrapped.


Burma's businesses still lack transparency: MCRB

Probing Burma's largest businesses on their commitment to transparency, the Myanmar Centre for Responsible Business, or MCRB, said it found that the majority of domestic firms are unwilling or unable to disclose information on their own human rights standards. That list includes Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, a military-owned firm that holds joint ownership of the controversial Latpadaung copper mine. "What we haven't been able to do through the survey is check that even if they talk the talk, do they walk the walk," said Bowman, a former British ambassador to Burma.

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Ne Win's grandson to buy into AGD Bank

The grandson of late Burmese dictator Ne Win revealed on Tuesday that he plans to purchase the majority of shares of Asian Green Development Bank (AGD Bank), which is owned by Tay Za, a well-known tycoon with links to Burma's former military junta. Kyaw Ne Win, the oldest grandson of the former president, told DVB that he has bought up 60 percent of the AGD Bank's shares, and plans to purchase more – up to 85 percent. His purchase of AGD Bank shares comes as the bank is looking to list on the Rangoon Stock Exchange, which is expected to be launched in 2015.

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Wolfowitz received $75,000 for Burma work from anti-Beijing tycoon: leaks

Media and garment mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-Ying, well-known for his anti-Beijing sympathies and support for the Hong Kong democracy movement, paid former World Bank president and US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz US$75,000 last year for "services in regards to Myanmar," leaked documents show. The nature of the services provided by Wolfowitz to Lai in Burma are unclear. Wolfowitz currently works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank, and is the chairman of the US-Taiwan Business Council.

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China demands hygiene standards on Burmese rice to legalise trade

The Chinese government is demanding a formal sanitary and phytosanitary agreement on rice standards with Burma, according to local sources. The agreement is required by China to legalise its rice trade with Burma, the joint-secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation was quoted as saying. Though China accounts for about 60 percent of total unprocessed rice exports from Burma for the last two years, Chinese authorities view the trade as illegal due to the absence of a formal sanitary and phytosanitary agreement on rice standards between the two countries. Such an agreement would require Burma's milled rice exports to follow China's plant quarantine rules, including a third-party guarantee that they are free of disease or pests.

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British Chamber of Commerce launched in Rangoon

The British Chamber of Commerce launched on Tuesday in Rangoon, paving the way for UK businesses to foster and promote investments in Burma. According to the Chambers' website, UK exports to Burma increased from US$17 million in 2012 to almost $60 million in 2013. The British government anticipates that exports to the country will increase to $1.35 trillion by 2020 – a benchmark that the newly launched Chamber of Commerce will assist by identifying market opportunities for potential investors.

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Bullet Points: 25 July 2014

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 04:04 AM PDT

Today on Bullet Points:

Charges were brought against Korean shoe manufacturers Master Sports in Lanthaya court in Rangoon on Friday.

The UN refugee agency says that Burmese refugees living in Thailand will face various challenges if they are repatriated.

US Senator Mitch McConnell has called on Burma to amend its constitution and allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president.

A complete lack of garbage removal services in Rangoon's Thaketa township has resulted in a rapid deterioration in the health of its residents.


You can watch Bullet Points live on DVB TV after the 7 o’clock news. 



Mutu Say Poe to lead Laiza ceasefire talks

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 03:53 AM PDT

Burma's ethnic leaders convened in Laiza, Kachin State, on Thursday for the next round of discussions on a nationwide ceasefire agreement, where they established a leading committee to oversee political aspects of the peace process.

The 16-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) established the committee in a closed-door meeting, postponing the group's discussions on the text of the ceasefire, which resumed on Friday under its supervision.

"The committee is tasked to lead political affairs," said Khun Okkar, a member of the NCCT representing the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation. "The conference will proceed as planned and the committee will oversee, supervise and provide political leadership — like the US Senate — while the NCCT's duty is to report its undertakings."

The committee will be chaired by Mutu Say Poe, commander-in-chief of the Karen National Union. Lt-Gen Gam Shawng, chief-of-staff for the Kachin Independence Army, was appointed as deputy chairman of the leading committee. Vice-chairman of the Karenni National Progressive Party Khu Oo Reh will serve as secretary. Representatives of each NCCT member organisation have also been appointed to serve on the committee.

The conference in Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation, is the third summit held by NCCT members as the nation works towards achieving an inclusive, state-level peace accord. While the Burmese military initially created an August deadline for signing the pact, disagreements between the government's Union Peace-Making Work Committee (UPWC) and the NCCT have caused delays. Sources close to the process have estimated that the two sides will reach an agreement in September.

Meetings began on Friday centred on the second draft of a single-text ceasefire agreement, which combines independent demands made and agreed upon by union-level stakeholders and the NCCT. Discussions were originally scheduled to begin on 24 July, but were postponed to accommodate Thursday's private meeting and appointment of the leading committee members.

Representatives of most NCCT member organisations are present at the summit, though the United Wa State Army (UWSA) abstained, as they did during a similar session in October 2013. The group's spokesperson, Aung Myint, told DVB that its absence was due to short notice. The UWSA was not given enough time to thoroughly read the new ceasefire draft, he said, adding that while the group also desires an agreement that would establish a federalist system, the creation of a federal army will require time.

Shan NGO presents human rights report to new UN rapporteur

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 03:19 AM PDT

Members of the Shan Ethnic Affairs Organisation (SEAO) met with the new United Nations human rights rapporteur on Burma, Yanghee Lee, during her visit to Kachin State on 23 July when they presented her with details of alleged human rights violations in the northern Burmese region.

Sai Htein Lin, liaison coordinator of the SEAO, said, "We mainly want to highlight the plight of the ethnic Shan population who are caught in the crossfire between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). We urge the UN to address this issue."

He said small-time business people, such as local noodle-makers, were extorted to the sum of 200,000 kyat (US$200) each by the KIA, which also kidnapped two youths in Mansi Township for the purposes of forced recruitment.

The SEAO said Shan villages have been subject to harassment and human rights violations by the KIA for many years. It said it has documented more than 70 people who were forcibly recruited in 2014 alone and who are yet to be released despite the group's promise to the SEAO.

Sai Htein Linn said that Lee promised to include this information in her human rights report.

Lee's delegation will meet on Friday in Naypyidaw with government ministers, parliament speakers, the Union Election Commission, the Attorney General and constitutional court members.

The new UN rapporteur is due to hold a press conference at Rangoon airport on Saturday, when she is expected to address issues of human rights violations across the country.

Master Sports employees say they were coerced to give up severance

Posted: 25 Jul 2014 12:08 AM PDT

Former employees of a South Korean footwear factory said on Thursday that they were coerced into signing predatory agreements relinquishing severance pay.

During a press conference held at the now-defunct Master Sports factory in Rangoon's Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone, workers told reporters that the company's management had negotiated with the employees individually instead of using official channels, which caused confusion about their rights.

"Instead of going through official negotiation channels, and by conducting individual agreements, the factory owners have created confusion among the workers," said Saw Nanda Aung, an advisor for the Labour Unions Network, which has been assisting the workers with their claims.

"They were promised salaries for June," he said, "but when they tried to retrieve it there was a lot of disagreement among the workers."

More than 750 workers were left jobless when the factory abruptly shut down in June. When the workers claimed that they were suddenly dismissed without pay, Burma's Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Welfare stepped in by writing a letter to the South Korean embassy, which mediated a solution whereby the company agreed to pay the employees their June salaries.

Only 56 of the workers agreed to accept the one-month salary payment; the rest demanded additional compensation.

On 17 July, the workers marched to the South Korean Embassy in Rangoon to demand both their salaries and compensation for dismissal.

Tun Naing, one of the organisers of the demonstration, said that company officials coerced the workers into signing agreements that forbade them from demanding further remittance if they accepted a one-time salary payment. Many of the workers accepted the agreement out of urgent financial need.

Master Sports' management has to date been unreachable for comment and the South Korean Embassy remains unresponsive to media inquiries on the matter.

The company is now facing a lawsuit levied by Burma's labour ministry on the grounds that their management violated employment contracts.


20 Kanbalu plough protestors transferred to distant prisons

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 11:54 PM PDT

Around 20 farmers from Kanbalu, central Burma, jailed for holding a "plough protest" in March, have this week been transferred to prisons far from their homes.

Some 400 farmers from the remote Sagaing Division township of Kanbalu have been on trial locally under various charges for staging the plough protest – whereby farmers return to cultivate lands they claim were confiscated by the military many years ago. Around 50 of them have so far been handed sentences of up to three and half years in prison which they were previously serving in Shwebo Prison, less than 100km south of Kanbalu.

A local villager told DVB this week that 20 of the jailed farmers serving these longer terms have now been transferred to prisons in Myingyan in Mandalay (300 km from Kanbalu), Magwe's Pakokku (325 km) and Pegu (750 km) .

"Those serving longer prison terms were transferred," he said. "Farmers indicted on several charges and sentenced to two or three years in prison– around 20 inmates in total – those were the ones who were transferred to prisons in Myingyan, Pakokku and Pegu."

Eighteen other farmers are expecting verdicts on 28 July.

Activist group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society on Thursday released a statement strongly condemning the jailing and prosecution of farmers demanding the return of lands confiscated by the military, mostly in the 1990s.

According to Myo Thant, the farmland affairs coordinator of the group: "These land dispute issues would have been resolved if the government had managed their return when they came into office. Most of the land would now be cultivated in the hands of original owners.

"There were various options to systematically return seized lands but the government did not explore them because they clearly have no desire to see this through."

He said some 1,200 farmers across the country are currently on trial for protesting land dispute cases, while around 100 have already been jailed.

UNHCR raises concerns over Burmese refugee repatriation

Posted: 24 Jul 2014 11:35 PM PDT

Burmese refugees living in Thailand will face challenges if they are repatriated, the UN refugee agency said on Wednesday.

The comments follow an announcement made by Thailand's military government in June that said it would send home around 120,000 refugees who have been living in camps – some for more than two decades – on the Thai-Burmese border.

But non-governmental organisations say they are concerned by a lack of infrastructure to help returnees rebuild their lives.

Thailand’s military government started taking a census on 21 July in the country's largest camp, Mae La, north of Mae Sot. Authorities said the process is expected to finish at the end of July.

The Border Consortium, which coordinates NGO activity in the camps, has said the camp is home to around 43,000 refugees.

The army said the rare exercise was aimed at controlling illegal migrant workers but could benefit the repatriation process. Currently, the Thai army and NGOs record different numbers of refugees living in the camp.

“The census will have a long-term benefit for the repatriation. In the future, we will have the same database to share with UNHCR and other organisations.” said Col. Terdsak Ngamsanong, the commander of the 4th Infantry Regiment, who oversees border security in Tak province where the camp is located.

The UNHCR's Bangkok-based spokesperson, Vivian Tan highlighted some of the challenges refugees would encounter if repatriated in the near future.

“Some of the challenges include the absence of a permanent ceasefire, the present of mine fields that never been marked. There is a critical shortage of infrastructure and services. There is limited livelihood opportunity, so all of these affects the sustainability and the safety of the refugee returns,” she said

Burma is emerging from nearly five decades of isolation under repressive military rule.

An estimated 120,000 Burmese refugees live in 10 camps along the Thailand-Burmese border, The Border Consortium has said. Many fled persecution and ethnic wars as well as poverty and have lived in the camps for decades with no legal means of making an income.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 July noting that “a possible return of these displaced persons has always been raised”, and the most recent discussion “was in general terms with no specific timeframe”.

Many refugees still do not trust the political situation in Burma.

“I don’t think the Burmese government has changed. We hear that there was fighting in Kachin and Karen states recently. I don’t believe the Burmese government will offer us peace,” said A Shwe, 49 year-old Karen refugee.