Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

NLD MPs Elected to Top Local Parliament Positions in 12 of 14 Assemblies

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 04:52 AM PST

A boy waves a National League for Democracy (NLD) party flag during a speech by Aung San Suu Kyi in Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, September 11, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

A boy waves a National League for Democracy (NLD) party flag during a speech by Aung San Suu Kyi in Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, September 11, 2015. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

RANGOON — Burma's local legislatures elected speakers and deputy speakers on Monday, with lawmakers from the National League for Democracy (NLD) assuming the posts in all but two parliaments—in Arakan and Shan states.

In Rangoon Division, Tin Maung Tun, representing Dagon Township, was elected speaker and Lin Naing Myint of Kamayut Township, will serve as deputy.

The Kachin State parliament was a close run affair, with the NLD's Tun Tin edging out Yar Wan Jone of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) for the speaker's chair.

NLD lawmakers U Tar, Aung Kyaw Oo and Aung Kyaw Khaing were elected speakers of the Magwe, Mandalay and Irrawaddy Division parliaments, respectively.

Aung Kyaw Khaing, 56, is a descendant of Bo Aung Kyaw, a prominent student leader who was killed during a police crackdown on students during British rule in 1938.

In his address to the local parliament on Monday, Aung Kyaw Khaing outlined his priority as speaker.

"Around 70 percent of the population in Irrawaddy Division is rural folks. And there are ownership disputes over 300,000 acres of land in the division. It is our first priority to improve the socio-economic lives of these people," he said.

In Sagaing Division, U Than was elected speaker while Khin Maung Aye and Khin Maung Yin will assume the position in Tenasserim and Pegu division parliaments, respectively. Hla Htwe was elected speaker in Karenni State, Saw Chit Khin in Karen State and Zo Bwe in Chin State.

All are lawmakers of the NLD, whose members dominate 12 of the country's 14 state and divisional assemblies.

In Shan State, USDP members Sai Lone Hsai of Kengtung Township and Sao Aung Myat, the incumbent state chief minister, will serve as speaker and deputy speaker.

In Arakan State parliament, where the Arakan National Party (ANP) won 23 seats in last year's general election, San Kyaw Hla and Phoe Min, both of the ANP, were elected as speaker and deputy.

The post NLD MPs Elected to Top Local Parliament Positions in 12 of 14 Assemblies appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Central Bank Says 13 Foreign Banks Vying for Operating Licenses

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 02:13 AM PST

 Singapore's OCBC Bank in Rangoon.  (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

Singapore's OCBC Bank in Rangoon.  (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The Central Bank of Myanmar announced on Tuesday that 13 foreign banks have applied to operate in Burma in a second round of licensing.

In the announcement, which came a day after the Feb. 8 application deadline, the Central Bank said that the final decision would be made by March 31, the final day of President Thein Sein's administration.

Contenders in the second licensing round include the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam; Taiwan's Cathay United Bank, CTBC Bank, E.SUN Commercial Bank, First Commercial Bank and Mega International Commercial Bank; South Korea's KB Kookmin Bank and Shinhan Bank; the State Bank of India; the State Bank of Mauritius; Taiwan Business Bank; Taiwan Cooperative Bank; and Taiwan Shin Kong Commercial Bank.

The announcement said that unsuccessful applicants from the previous round of licensing were eligible to participate in the final stage of the process. Following the preliminary approval of licenses will be an intervening period during which time operations will be set up.

All nine winners that competed for licenses in 2014— the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Australia's ANZ Bank, the Bangkok Bank, Malaysia's Maybank, the United Overseas Bank and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation of Singapore and Japanese lenders Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Sumitomo Bank and Mizuho Bank—are based in the Asia-Pacific.

These banks operate in Burma under rigid conditions. They are barred from competing against local lenders in the retail banking sector and are only allowed to run one branch.

Soe Thein, executive director of the local Asian Green Development Bank, said that he is unconcerned about this latest licensing round because of the restrictions on foreign banks.

"As Burma gradually opens, the Central Bank will issue more foreign bank licenses, but I don't think it will harm the local industry, as foreign banks can't compete in the local market," he said.

"I also don't think that the Central Bank is rushing to issue new licenses before the new government comes to power because it [the Central Bank] stands as an independent body."

However, Zaw Lin Htut, chief executive officer of the Myanmar Payment Union, said that he expects almost a half-dozen foreign banks to receive licenses by the end of March.

"I've heard that four or five more banks may receive licenses before power is handed over to the new government," he said.

"And because more foreign banks are coming into the country, we will also see more job opportunities for banking professionals."

The post Central Bank Says 13 Foreign Banks Vying for Operating Licenses appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Space to Live: Rangoon’s Squatters Place Housing Hopes in NLD Govt

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 01:53 AM PST

Children outside a makeshift shelter in a Hlaing Tharyar squatter settlement. (Photo: Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy)

Children outside a makeshift shelter in a Hlaing Tharyar squatter settlement. (Photo: Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A mother of two children, 34-year-old Thuzar Moe originally hails from the Irrawaddy Delta's Hinthada Township. She has been living for almost two decades in an industrial zone in Hlaing Tharyar Township on the outskirts of Rangoon, since her family migrated to the area when she was 16 years old.

She spoke to The Irrawaddy on November 8, the day of Burma's general election, and exactly four months later in February, following the National League for Democracy's (NLD) victory.

"My family voted for the NLD," Thuzar Moe said, echoing the sentiments of nearly all those interviewed by The Irrawaddy in Hlaing Tharyar on election day. The township is reportedly one of Burma's most densely populated, and home to tens of thousands of squatters like Thuzar Moe, who have eked out a living on industrial and government land for years.

Many feel that a solution to the issue of homelessness and illegal tenancy will be a test of Burma's new government.

But for the time being, things have yet to improve in Shwe Lin Pan quarter, where Thuzar Moe and her family live. Despite recent bulldozing of squatter housing around Rangoon intended to deter undocumented settlements, even more people have arrived in Hlaing Tharyar in recent months: 600 families who Thuzar Moe said have come from Arakan State.

She said she has seen photos of the home demolitions on social media. On Jan. 26, local authorities in Rangoon hired 1,500 men and employed excavators to destroy about 500 houses in Kon Ta La Paung village in the city's Pyinmabin Industrial Zone. They alleged that people living there were trespassers.

"I am also a squatter like them. I know how they feel," she said. "If the authorities are going to remove us, we have no place to run."

No Apartment, No Land

Near Thuzar Moe's house, a white four-story concrete building towers over makeshift shelters. She said they have been built by the government and are classified as "low cost apartments."

Chit San Ko, another squatter who lives near the building, said that government staff live there and bought their apartments through an installment plan. Many owners then lease their rooms to tenants, but the rentals still remain too costly for laborers like Chit San Ko.

"We can't afford to rent those apartments," he said. "Over 70,000 kyats (US$56) for a month is a burden for me."

If migrants had the opportunity to rent space in these buildings, the number of those living on the land as squatters would decrease everyday, he said.

Homeless people have been encouraged to apply for subsidized apartments in Rangoon's South Dagon Township, where Bandula Housing offers rooms for 30,000 kyats (US$24) per month. Yet the demand is much higher than the number of available units, and every applicant must provide a household registration form in order to be considered for tenancy.

"How can the squatters get one of these apartments? They don't have a [household registration] form," said Myat Min Thu, a newly elected NLD regional MP representing constituency number two in Hlaing Tharyar Township.

In Rangoon, this documentation requirement excludes most of the homeless population. The division's electoral sub-commission chief, Ko Ko, estimated in 2015 that up to 100,000 people in the region had not been issued household registration certificates. He pointed out that no up-to-date list of squatter populations in Rangoon existed, but estimated that Hlaing Tharyar had an unregistered migrant population of at least 30,000.

With little hope of landing a government apartment, Thuzar Moe instead looked into renting a plot of land in Shwe Lin Pan quarter. When her family first arrived in the township, they had also rented land; at that time, the leasing fee was a mere 3,000 kyats (less than US$2.50) per month. Now the rate is 50,000 kyats (US$40) and any housing on the land has to be constructed by the tenant.

Mothers like Thuzar Moe end up choosing between schooling their children and paying for legal housing.

"I have to pay for my children [to go to school]. Instead of renting an apartment, I can spend that money on my children's education."

'A Solution in Six Months'

If more opportunities existed in their native towns, fewer people would be tempted to leave them, Myat Min Thu told The Irrawaddy. He hypothesizes that development of the states and divisions outside of Rangoon would decrease the internal migration that leads to squatting.

Better law enforcement will be integral in learning how to address the issue in Hlaing Tharyar, where, he said, many squatters live under the protection of gangs, who collect "tax" in exchange for protection from authorities.

Myat Min Thu also lamented the acceptance of bribes by the local administration in exchange for residency or roadside shop permits, both of which contribute to growing squatter settlements.

Aung Ko Oo, the third Hlaing Tharyar township administrator to serve in the last five years, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Although Myat Min Thu did not describe an NLD strategy to address the squatting issue, he promised to reveal a plan soon.

"I will submit a proposal for the squatter problem within six months," he said.

Hlaing Tharyar is now represented by NLD MPs in the Lower and Upper Houses and in the two constituencies in the regional parliament.

Thuzar Moe believes better living conditions will accompany the party's leadership over the next five years.

"All I need is space to live here," she said.

The post Space to Live: Rangoon's Squatters Place Housing Hopes in NLD Govt appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

FDA Opens Investigation into Nearly a Dozen Coffee Factories

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 01:47 AM PST

Burma's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into nearly a dozen coffee factories in Rangoon over rumors of malpractice. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Burma's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into nearly a dozen coffee factories in Rangoon over rumors of malpractice. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has opened an investigation into nearly a dozen coffee factories in Rangoon over rumors of malpractice.

A joint committee formed last year by multiple local organizations—such as the FDA, Consumer Protection Association, Consumers Union and City Development Committee—made a surprise visit on Saturday to 11 coffee factories in Rangoon's industrial zones, according to Zin Zin Nwe, director of the FDA's Rangoon office.

Factories being investigated include makers of local coffee brands such as Super, Premier, Sunday, Gold Roast and Mikko. Zin Zin Nwe said that the FDA would reveal the laboratory results as soon as possible but that the process could take up to a week.

"Rumor has it that coffee factories were mixing powder made from coconut shells and tamarind seeds into their instant coffee mix," Zin Zin Nwe told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

"Our teams collected traces of raw ingredients from the factories and had them sent to a laboratory to see if they contain any improper substances," she continued.

According to Zin Zin Nwe, 12 coffee factories are registered with the FDA. Investigation teams were unable to check one of the factories because it was closed.

Maung Maung, secretary of the Myanmar Consumers Union, expressed some doubt over the veracity of the rumors.

"The cost of turning coconut shells and tamarind seeds into powder similar to that of instant coffee powder is more expensive than the typical mixing process," he said, explaining that a small packet of instant coffee mix costs only 100 kyats (US$0.08) in Burma.

But the FDA results will ultimately substantiate or dispel the speculation, he added.

According to Article 28 of Burma's 1997 National Food Law, anyone who produces, imports, exports, stores, distributes or sells food that may be poisonous, dangerous or injurious to the health of consumers could be jailed for up to three years or fined 300,000 kyats.

The surprise check was the third such investigation by the committee, and the FDA hopes to carry out similar actions in other parts of the country. Nevertheless, many local consumer organizations have criticized the FDA for not better guaranteeing food safety, though Zin Zin Nwe also explained that a dearth of human resources and laboratories has hampered the FDA's efforts.

The post FDA Opens Investigation into Nearly a Dozen Coffee Factories appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Public Bus Company Plies ‘Rapid Transit’ Route in Rangoon

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 12:07 AM PST

Click to view slideshow.

RANGOON — Rangoon Public Bus Company launched on Monday, with 18 vehicles in service plying a route from Htauk Kyant Junction down Pyay Road, in what is being touted as comprising Burma's first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

The new bus service is being billed as an initiative to reduce traffic congestion and improve the standard of public transportation in the commercial capital. The fare is 300 kyat and passengers can purchase prepaid cards with a value of 1,000, 3,000, 5,000 or 10,000 kyat from a bus company employee.

The buses run daily from 6 am to 9:30 pm.

Maung Aung, an adviser to the Ministry of Commerce who leads a committee responsible for forming the public company, told The Irrawaddy last month that they will expand the routes with the arrival of more buses to be imported from China, South Korea and Sweden.

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New Parliamentary Reporting Guidelines Criticized as Restrictive

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 11:33 PM PST

 Lawmakers at Parliament in Naypyidaw on Feb. 5, 2016. (JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Lawmakers at Parliament in Naypyidaw on Feb. 5, 2016. (JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — In an 18-point statement released on Feb. 5, the Union Parliament Office set out guidelines for the media which reporters say limit their ability to cover parliamentary affairs.

The statement, with a subject line reading "Cooperation related to the media," pointed out that some supposed inconveniences occurred on Jan. 29 during a welcome lunch for first and second session parliamentarians, as well as on Feb. 1, the first day of the Lower House of Parliament.

The office called on the Ministry of Information, the Myanmar Press Council (MPC), the Myanmar Journalists' Association and the local Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday to cooperate in submitting a list of no more than five journalists from each registered media outlet to cover parliamentary affairs.

The press council has helped to compile the list, sending in the names of 454 local reporters and 53 foreign reporters to the Union Parliament's Office, according to MPC secretary Thiha Saw.

However, the secretary said the press council did not take part in helping to formulate the new guidelines.

"[Some] rules, like where journalists should stay, are up to them [the parliamentary office]. But we journalists, if possible, want news freely and want to be able to question freely," Thiha Saw said.

He added that the parliamentary office should have consulted with media groups before issuing the guidelines and prior to the opening of the new Parliament last week.

"We think it is bad management," Thiha Saw said.

In the statement, the Union Parliament Office also told journalists "to dress in clothes suitable for the dignity of Parliament," warning that those who did not would be turned away.

Other constraints included no filming or photography in restricted buildings and certain areas without express permission and limited access to the parliamentary grounds on non-sitting days.

Designated spaces have also been set for interviews with officials. According to an Irrawaddy reporter, this initiative was restrictive as lawmakers or other officials had to be asked to walk to the designated area before being interviewed.

In May last year, journalists were banned from an observation booth above the Union Parliament chamber without explanation, a restriction that was broadened to include sessions of both the Upper and Lower houses.

It was speculated that the decision was prompted by unflattering photos and videos captured in the booth, including an image of lawmakers asleep during a session and a photograph that appeared to show a military lawmaker voting on behalf of his absent neighbor.

Many reporters covering the opening of Parliament last week were forced to gather in a crowded corridor to watch the session on a TV screen. More than 600 journalists were reportedly present at the parliamentary complex on Monday for the opening of the Lower House, outnumbering the chamber's lawmakers.

May Kha, a local reporter for Voice of America, said of the restrictions: "it's more annoying and difficult to cover news at the moment when we [the media] are being suppressed."

The Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) released a statement on Monday rejecting the new reporting guidelines.

"MJN cannot accept the rules released by the Union Parliament Office which treat the media as a lower class," the statement read.

The body urged the parliamentary office to ensure media freedom and negotiate on any reporting rules, stressing that it was the right of all reporters to freely cover affairs of the Parliament.

The post New Parliamentary Reporting Guidelines Criticized as Restrictive appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Lower House Approves Members of Two More Standing Committees

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 10:43 PM PST

 Lawmakers sign in ahead of a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw on Monday, February 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Lawmakers sign in ahead of a parliamentary session in Naypyidaw on Monday, February 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The Lower House of Burma's Parliament convened for its fourth day on Monday, with lawmakers approving the members of two more parliamentary standing committees.

Lower House Speaker Win Myint read the nominated candidates for two 15-member committees—the Lower House Rights Committee and the Government Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee.

Lower House Deputy Speaker T Khun Myat of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will serve as chairperson of the Rights Committee, while National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Dr May Win Myint of Rangoon's Mayangone constituency will assume the chairmanship of the latter body.

State and divisional parliaments also convened on Monday to select speakers and deputy speakers. Members of the NLD filled the majority of the postings, with the exception of the Arakan and Shan state legislatures.

In Arakan State, San Kyaw Hla, an Arakan National Party (ANP) lawmaker from Ponnagyun Township was selected as house speaker and the ANP's Phoe Min from Rathedaung Township will serve as the deputy speaker.

In Shan State, the Union Solidarity and Development Party's Sai Lone Hsai of Kengtung Township claimed the speakership role with Sao Aung Myat, the current Shan State chief minister, to serve as his deputy.

The post Lower House Approves Members of Two More Standing Committees appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Bill Committee Chairman: ‘I Would Like to Change Outdated Laws’

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 10:40 PM PST

Tun Tun Hein, chairman of the Lower House Bill Committee. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Tun Tun Hein, chairman of the Lower House Bill Committee. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Tun Tun Hein, of the National League for Democracy (NLD), was appointed head of the Lower House's Bill Committee last week. Already a member of the NLD's central executive committee and the voter list reviewing committee, the 66-year-old MP representing Nawnghkio Township in Shan State is lauded as an expert on legal issues. He spoke with The Irrawaddy's Htun Htun about his plans to change and propose laws within Parliament.

What preparations have you made to take the helm of the bill committee?

Since I became a Lower House lawmaker, I have talked about my stance: I would like to change outdated laws, enact necessary laws for national development and change the constitution. After I was appointed head of the bill committee, I met the former committee members, mostly to review the draft laws they had submitted. I checked the process and found that we can recommend or draft and submit the laws we want. We have to take cues from the former bill committee and then think about how we can do better.

Which outdated laws will you prioritize changing?

There are many outdated laws, from the time of Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, Burma's Socialist Program Party, to the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council. I learned that around 229 laws were enacted over the past five years, so it would be quite difficult to review all the laws. As the first step, we will divide up that responsibility.

There are draft laws which the previous bill committee could not pass. What will you do regarding those laws?

Yes, there are 23 remaining laws to be passed. We have yet to discuss in which stages they are in before proceeding with them.

What steps have you taken for constitutional amendments?

The NLD wants to amend 168 provisions in the Constitution. We have yet to discuss if we can amend all of them and to which provisions we should give priority. The bill committee alone can't handle this. But then again, it would not be [totally] impossible to change all of them.

What is your view as the chair of the bill committee on suspension of Article 59(f)?

There are different views among the general public and legal experts. The 2008 Constitution itself does not provide for the suspension of a particular provision. However, in the country's history, the 1947 Constitution was suspended for a while, from 1958-59, to form an interim government. Citing this, some argue that that clause can be suspended. But, some are against it, warning that it will lead to frequent demands for [constitutional] amendment unnecessarily in the future. I have no comment on those views. In our view, it is inappropriate if Article 59(f) is targeted at a particular person. A law should be concerned with the entire country; if it concerns only a particular person, it is not a law.

I heard that the NLD will submit a proposal to suspend Article 59(f) in the parliament? When?

I don't know which NLD member said that. I don't know yet if the proposal will be submitted.

Have you held negotiations with the military to amend constitutional provisions related to them?

It is undeniable that the military plays an important role. We just can't do as the people and our party wish overnight. We have to negotiate and we need to build trust, which takes time. The possibility is faint that over 75 percent of the Parliament will vote in favor of changing the Constitution. But it is not that it is impossible. It is a question of how we might need to bargain and make compromises. Though the military says it would not change provisions [for itself] at present, it does not mean that it will never change. It needs to be changed peacefully for the sake of the country.

The NLD has appointed military representatives to the parliamentary affairs committees. Is this part of a compromise?

We do not have such attitude that our party alone can handle rebuilding the nation. We have to collaborate with everyone in the interest of the country. Everyone is valuable. I don't want to use the term 'national reconciliation.' There are small differences between us. We have to accept the reality that there are differences between us; only then can we make conciliatory moves. National reconciliation is important and we have to work with others.

The NLD has appointed Shwe Mann as the head of the legal affairs and special cases assessment commission and most of the members are former lawmakers from the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). Why?

We can't be well versed in every field. For example, we do not know as much about energy as someone in the field. Suppose a bill on energy is submitted, we have to seek the views of the experts. We need people who can give professional advice. All 23 members of the commission are experts in their related fields.

There has been criticism that the NLD has deliberately appointed those who are close to Shwe Mann to the commission.

Let them say that. I have no comment about the criticism. If we can get experience and advice from them, it is an advantage for us. For example, it would be better for our country if we could make use of the experience of the former bill committee. We have to start from the very beginning if we don't utilize their experience just because they are from the USDP. We'll seek their experiences and help. If it needs to be, the commission can be expanded.

Will significant members of the former cabinet, like Aung Min, the peace negotiator from the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), be appointed to the NLD government?

Minister U Aung Min assumes lots of responsibilities in the MPC. We need to seek help from them for peace building. They might be appointed within an NLD government. However, this is just my view and I am not in a position to make a decision regarding this.

The former bill committee was criticized as passing laws contradictory to one another. What will you do about these laws?

Yes, they were. For example, the law about the election of a ward or village administrator states that their terms are equal to that of the Parliament, but the bylaws say that their terms are the same as that of the government. We have to review them.

Do you have any further comments?

I will fulfill my duties to the best of my ability with a commitment to serve the country.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko.

The post Bill Committee Chairman: 'I Would Like to Change Outdated Laws' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

SkyNet Clarifies Broadcast on Suspension of Article 59(f)

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 09:20 PM PST

 Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the first session of the Union Parliament on Monday, February 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the first session of the Union Parliament on Monday, February 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Local broadcaster SkyNet has moved to clarify a news piece that aired on Sunday which many viewers interpreted as expressing support for the suspension of a constitutional clause which effectively bars Aung San Suu Kyi from the presidency.

The same broadcast, run by both SkyNet and Myanmar National Television, aired the opinions of three ethnic leaders on whether Article 59(f) of Burma's 2008 Constitution should be suspended to allow Suu Kyi to assume the country's highest office.

An onscreen caption at one point read "positive results could come out of negotiations for the suspension of the constitutional Article 59(f)."

The program caused a minor storm online, with many Burmese social media users apparently interpreting the content as implying that the military was supportive of the much-rumored plan.

Ye Min Oo, senior general manager of SkyNet's central news bureau, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the broadcast was opinion-based and had been misunderstood by many viewers.

"We just reported the three ethnic leader's opinions. They said the result may be positive, we didn't report that it will be positive. People have misunderstood the report," Ye Min Oo said.

Article 59(f) of the military-drafted charter disqualifies anyone with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president, effectively barring Suu Kyi because her two children are British nationals, as was her late husband.

Since December, debate has surfaced over whether the clause could be suspended, paving the way for Suu Kyi to assume the country's highest office. However, it remains uncertain whether the country's powerful military would support such a plan which some lawmakers have described as possibly unconstitutional.

On Monday, Union Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than announced that nominations for the presidency would begin on March 17, more than four months since the National League for Democracy (NLD) claimed a hefty majority in last year's election.

The post SkyNet Clarifies Broadcast on Suspension of Article 59(f) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

China Offers Rewards for Online ‘Terrorist’ Tip-Offs

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 09:05 PM PST

  Police and civilians take part in an anti-terrorism drill at a college in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, December 10, 2015.  (Photo: Reuters)

Police and civilians take part in an anti-terrorism drill at a college in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, December 10, 2015.  (Photo: Reuters)

SHANGHAI — China has pledged to reward people who report online "terrorist" content up to 100,000 yuan (US$15,200) for each tip off, after giving out 2 million yuan worth of rewards last year, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

"The Internet has become a channel for terrorists to spread extremist religious ideas, provoke ethnic conflicts and advocate separatism," Xinhua quoted an unnamed source from the Cyberspace Administration of China's (CAC) reporting center as saying.

The person said Twitter-like microblogs and popular instant messaging services such as WeChat were among tools used by terrorists to "brainwash" young women and children, and encouraged the public to provide tip-offs via a telephone hotline.

The center's source said the most valuable tip-off could receive 100,000 yuan, Xinhua reported.

Giving unusual details of their efforts last year, the center in 2015 received reports of more than 20,000 cases, and handed out 2 million yuan worth of rewards, it said.

The CAC could not immediately be reached for comment during a public holiday in China.

In December, China called for a crackdown on online audio and video recordings used by "terrorists," after the Islamic State purportedly released a Chinese-language song to recruit militants.

The government says it faces a serious threat from Islamist militants and separatists in energy-rich Xinjiang, where hundreds of people have been killed in violence in recent years.

Rights groups, however, doubt that a cohesive militant Islamist group exists there, saying the violence stems from popular anger at Chinese controls on religion and culture.

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Suspect in Murder of Dismembered Spaniard in Thai Custody

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 08:49 PM PST

 A policeman walks at a sunflower field in Bangkok, Thailand, January 13, 2016.  (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters)

A policeman walks at a sunflower field in Bangkok, Thailand, January 13, 2016.  (Photo: Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters)

BANGKOK — A Spanish man who is the prime suspect in the gruesome murder of a fellow Spaniard was in Thai custody Monday after being arrested in Cambodia, where he fled after the victim's dismembered body was recovered over several days from Bangkok's Chao Phraya River.

The suspect, identified as Artur Segarra Princep, 36, was arrested Sunday evening at a restaurant in the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville, where he had checked into a guesthouse a few days earlier, regional Cambodian Police Chief Gen. Chuon Narin said Monday.

"We received a request from Thai police to arrest this man, and after launching an investigation we found him," Chuon Narin said.

Thai police sent a helicopter to Cambodia and it returned with the suspect Monday evening.

Thai police have identified the victim as David Bernat, who was described as a consultant. They have speculated that he was abducted, tortured and forced to transfer a large amount of money before being killed. Thai police have declined to publicly comment on media reports of large transfers of money from Bernat's bank account to accounts in Spain and Singapore.

At a news conference, Thai National Police Chief Gen. Chakthip Chaijinda told reporters that Segarra "only said that they were friends," referring to him and the victim.

Police obtained records showing that Segarra had withdrawn money from ATM machines in the Bangkok area as recently as Thursday, and also had video of him with an unidentified woman and in a black Isuzu pickup truck. Immigration police said Segarra has visited Thailand frequently, but his latest visa expired late last year.

Records show that Bernat also visited Thailand many times, arriving most recently on Jan. 19 on a flight from Iran. He was last seen alive while leaving his Bangkok apartment on Jan. 20. Medical examiners said they believe he died between Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, with the cause being suffocation.

Thai media reports over the weekend said Segarra's motorcycle was found at the Thai border, and a Thai woman described as his girlfriend was quoted saying that he fled Bangkok after seeing his picture on Thai television news reports.

The post Suspect in Murder of Dismembered Spaniard in Thai Custody appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

North Korea Rocket Launch May Spur US Missile Defense Buildup in Asia

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 08:43 PM PST

North Koreans watch a huge screen broadcasting an official announcement that the country

North Koreans watch a huge screen broadcasting an official announcement that the country "successfully" put an Earth observation satellite into orbit, calling it an "epoch-making" achievement, in Pyongyang, North Korea, February 7, 2016.  (Photo: Reuters/Kyodo)

WASHINGTON — North Korea's latest rocket launch might kick off a buildup of US missile defense systems in Asia, US officials and missile defense experts said, something that could further strain US-China ties and also hurt relations between Beijing and Seoul.

North Korea says it put a satellite into orbit on Sunday, but the United States and its allies see the launch as cover for Pyongyang's development of ballistic missile technology that could be used to deliver a nuclear weapon.

Washington sought to reassure its allies South Korea and Japan of its commitment to their defense after the launch, which followed a North Korean nuclear test on Jan. 6.

The United States and South Korea said they would begin formal talks about deploying the sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, to the Korean peninsula "at the earliest possible date."

South Korea had been reluctant to publicly discuss the possibility due to worries about upsetting China, its biggest trading partner.

Beijing, at odds with the United States over Washington's reaction to its building of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, quickly expressed "deep concern" about a system whose radar could penetrate Chinese territory.

China had made its position clear to Seoul and Washington, the Foreign Ministry said.

"When pursuing its own security, one country should not impair others' security interests," spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

Tipping Point

But the North Korean rocket launch, on top of last month's nuclear test, could be a "tipping point" for South Korea and win over parts of Seoul's political establishment that remain wary of such a move, a US official said.

South Korea and the United States said that if THAAD was deployed to South Korea, it would be focused only on North Korea.

An editorial in the Global Times, an influential tabloid published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper, called that assurance "feeble."

"It is widely believed by military experts that once THAAD is installed, Chinese missiles will be included as its target of surveillance, which will jeopardize Chinese national security," it said.

Japan, long concerned about North Korea's ballistic missile program, has previously said it was considering THAAD to beef up its defenses. The North Korean rocket on Sunday flew over Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Monday the Defense Ministry had no concrete plan to introduce THAAD, but added the ministry believed new military assets would strengthen the country's capabilities.

Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, said the launch would give Japan momentum to deploy THAAD.

Washington moved one of its five THAAD systems to Guam in 2013 following North Korean threats, and is now studying the possibility of converting a Hawaii test site for a land-based version of the shipboard Aegis missile defense system into a combat-ready facility.

Effectiveness Questioned

Some experts questioned how effective THAAD would be against the type of long-range rocket launched by North Korea and the Pentagon concedes it has yet to be tested against such a device.

THAAD is designed to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or just outside the atmosphere during their final, or terminal, phase of flight. It has so far proven effective against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

John Schilling, a contributor to the Washington-based 38 North project that monitors North Korea, said THAAD's advanced AN/TPY-2 tracking radar built by Raytheon Co could provide an early, precise track on any such missile.

David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said that while THAAD could not shoot down the type of rocket launched on Sunday its deployment could reassure the South Korean public.

"Much of what missile defense programs are about is reassuring allies and the public," he said.

Suitable Site Identified

One US official said the North Korean launch added urgency to longstanding informal discussions about a possible THAAD deployment to South Korea. "Speed is the priority," said the official, who asked not to be named ahead of a formal decision.

Renewed missile-defense discussions with the United States could also send a message to Beijing that it needs to do more to rein in North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, another US official said.

South Korean officials have already identified a suitable site for the system, but it could also be placed at a US base on the Korean peninsula, Ellison said.

THAAD is a system built by Lockheed Martin Corp that can be transported by air, sea or land. The Pentagon has ordered two more batteries from Lockheed.

One of the four THAAD batteries based at Fort Bliss, Texas, is always ready for deployment overseas, and could be sent to Japan or South Korea within weeks, Ellison said.

Lockheed referred all questions about a possible THAAD deployment to the US military.

The post North Korea Rocket Launch May Spur US Missile Defense Buildup in Asia appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

National News

National News

Voices of the Magwe Region Hluttaw

Posted: 09 Feb 2016 01:23 AM PST

The first session of the Magwe Region Hluttaw was held yesterday, with U Tar from Salin township elected as hluttaw Speaker and U Zaw Myo Win from Myothit township as deputy speaker

New Speaker flags human rights focus

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

Mandalay witnessed a distinct changing of guard yesterday as its new hluttaw took office, with the newly appointed Speaker stressing the importance of being accountable to the public. He added that human rights and economic and social development will be priorities, and promised to annul outdated laws.

Student leader’s descendant elected in Ayeyarwady

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

A descendant of Bo Aung Kyaw, a student leader killed by British Indian Imperial Police while protesting colonial rule, was elected yesterday as Speaker of the Ayeyarwady Region Hluttaw.

Military MP rules out deal on constitution change, suspension

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

A senior military MP has ruled out changing or suspending the constitution to allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to become president while denying reports that the Tatmadaw is negotiating over the issue.

Speaker warns MPs to avoid extremism

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

The interests of the country and its people must be placed ahead of party, ethnicity, ideology and religion, MPs heard today. The representatives elected last November attending the opening of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw were addressed by Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than.

Ethnic Shan party fails in bid for Speaker position

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy failed yesterday in its bid to elect one of its MPs as Speaker of the Shan State parliament, where a combined majority of the Union Solidarity and Development Party and military ensured that their candidate – the former Speaker – was reappointed.

After feud, ANP scores top posts in Rakhine

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

The Rakhine State Hluttaw yesterday appointed a Speaker and deputy from the Arakan National Party, which emerged as the single largest party in the state legislature at last November's election.

Human rights, federalism on Sagaing hluttaw agenda

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

Democracy dawned in Sagaing Region yesterday as a flood of victorious National League for Democracy representatives took their seats, replacing the defeated Union Solidarity and Development Party.

NLD signals end to squatter crackdowns

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

The sight of bulldozers smashing shanty towns as police drive out squatters from their flimsy homes could be a thing of the past, as National League for Democracy MPs take the helm in Yangon and Mandalay regions, as well as in Nay Pyi Taw.

New jade parliament greets Kachin State’s lawmakers

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 02:30 PM PST

The Kachin State Hluttaw opened its inaugural session yesterday with a fresh cast of faces descending on a new, jade-adorned building.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Thousands Commemorate Shan National Day at SSA Headquarters

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 06:07 AM PST

Click to view slideshow.

LOI TAI LENG, Shan State — With Sunday's dawn came the quiet chanting of Buddhist monks in Loi Tai Leng, the remote mountain headquarters of the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S).

But later that day, the camp's central grounds would be overwhelmed with nearly 6,000 visitors and residents commemorating the 69th Shan National Day with traditional musical performances and a military parade.

For 17 years, Loi Tai Leng has served as the main outpost of the SSA-S and its political wing, the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS). It is also host to a number of ethnic civilians, most of whom are unrecognized refugees who have sought safety on the border after being displaced by civil war throughout Shan State; year after year, residents with the means to do so have set up permanent concrete settlements on the steep mountain range bordering Thailand.

The RCSS chairman, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, addressed the crowd on Sunday and encouraged the diverse ethnic peoples of Shan State to be united. His speech emphasized public collaboration in implementing "genuine peace and prosperity."

He also spoke positively of Burma's controversial Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which was signed in October by eight of 15 ethnic armed groups involved in negotiations, including the SSA-S. The agreement also led to the RCSS's removal from the country's list of unlawful organizations.

"Signing the NCA is a way to unity, as it is signed between the government and the armed groups of both sides who think for the public," he told The Irrawaddy. "When the public cooperates, it will be successful."

The RCSS distributed NCA-related materials in Shan language to attendees of the national day events.

Also present were ethnic Akha, Karenni and Wa observers, as well as delegates from the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), the political affiliate of the Shan State Army-North, a group which opted out of the NCA signing and has endured recent military offensives by the Burma Army.

"Keep yourselves informed of the current situation and keep up with your observations," said Sao Pan Pha, a central committee member within the SSPP, in a short address to the public during the ceremony.

In his speech, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk also urged people to use social media, such as Facebook, productively.

"Today is the media era. Everyone now has access to it and it makes it easier for us to communicate," he said. "So when we post or debate on social media, please keep your mind toward unity and peace."

Nang Hnin May, a 25-year-old migrant worker in Bangkok originally from Shan State's Moe Ne Township, expressed happiness at seeing Shan soldiers for the first time.

“It is different than previous celebrations which I have participated in [in Burma]," she said.

Like many in attendance, Nang Hnin May travelled to Loi Tai Leng specifically to take part in Shan National Day.

The post Thousands Commemorate Shan National Day at SSA Headquarters appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Once-Cancelled Dagon City 1 Project Relocated to New Site

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 05:03 AM PST

Balloons float above the former Dagon City 1 sales office near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon earlier this year. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Balloons float above the former Dagon City 1 sales office near Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon earlier this year. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The government has relocated a controversial international development project to a new site after it was suspended seven months ago following a public outcry over its proximity to the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) on Friday approved a new 17 acre site for Marga Landmark's Dagon City 1 mixed use project, one of five that was suspended last year, according to a commission official.

"We have approved a new site proposed by Marga. The land is owned by the Ministry of Science and Technology at the corner of Kaba Aye Pagoda and Kan Be road," said Min Zaw Oo, a deputy director from the MIC.

Marga Landmark's Dagon City 1 was one of five planned developments that the government cancelled on July 7 last year after critics of the projects claimed that such a major undertaking so close to the pagoda could cause structural damage.

The cancellation announcement also stated that the government would continue negotiations with investors to ensure that they were fairly compensated for their losses.

The approval on Friday of Dagon City 1 marked the first such compensatory move by the government, with the MIC still working on approving new sites for the other companies involved in the original project.

"We still haven't finished yet," Min Zaw Oo said.

Aside from Dagon City 1, four other projects run by Thukha Yadanar, Shwe Taung Development, Adventure Myanmar and Shwe Taung Hyday were suspended in February 2015 amid a reassessment of their design and proximity to the revered Shwedagon.

The post Once-Cancelled Dagon City 1 Project Relocated to New Site appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Thein Sein Tells New Lawmakers: Abide by the Constitution

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 03:50 AM PST

Lawmakers, including Aung San Suu Kyi, attend the first session of the Union Parliament on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Lawmakers, including Aung San Suu Kyi, attend the first session of the Union Parliament on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — In a letter to the Union Parliament, outgoing president Thein Sein has called on Burma's newly minted lawmakers, overwhelmingly members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), to abide by the Constitution in dealing with the country's laws.

The new Parliament convened on Feb. 1 with the start of a Lower House session, and it was followed two days later by an Upper House session.

In the letter sent on Monday, Thein Sein said that he hopes lawmakers will be able to serve the interests of the country and citizens, as well as promote peace, stability and the rule of law, by staying in line with the Constitution.

"Because the Union Parliament, [Burma's] highest legislative body, has pledged to protect the Constitution and abide by the laws of the country, I hope that it will do so in enacting new laws and amending and annulling old ones," Thein Sein said in the letter.

Political commentator Yan Myo Thein told The Irrawaddy the president's letter was probably issued in light of recent speculation the NLD may seek to suspend Article 59(f) of the charter which effectively bars Suu Kyi from the presidency.

The article disqualifies anyone with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president, and both of Suu Kyi's sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.

"I assume it [the letter] is advising lawmakers to abide by the constitutional amendment chapter in talks to amend, suspend or add an exception to Article 59(f)," Yan Myo Thein said.

Chapter 12 of the Constitution, which lays out the process of proposing and adopting constitutional amendments, stipulates that more than 75 percent of lawmakers must approve major amendments, effectively guaranteeing the army, which commands 25 percent of parliamentary seats, a veto over charter change.

Major amendments also require a nationwide referendum, with the amendment carried if it receives a "yes" vote from more than half of the eligible voter population.

The post Thein Sein Tells New Lawmakers: Abide by the Constitution appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Presidential Nominations to be Considered March 17

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 03:45 AM PST

Lawmakers arrive to attend the first session of the Union Parliament on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Lawmakers arrive to attend the first session of the Union Parliament on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Convening for the first time on Monday, the speaker of Burma's Union Parliament announced that presidential nominations would be considered on March 17, more than four months since a general election that saw the National League for Democracy (NLD) win a commanding majority.

Union Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than of the NLD said the Lower House, Upper House and bloc of military-appointed lawmakers, which together constitute the country's electoral college, would discuss their respective nominations on March 17.

The Union Parliament will then meet to elect a president from among the three candidates, the remaining two of whom will become the country's vice presidents.

With the NLD holding a majority in both houses, the party will be able to select two candidates. NLD chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi remains constitutionally barred from the position.

With the March 17 date still more than one month away, observers have speculated that the NLD may be buying time for possible negotiations with the military on amending or suspending Article 59(f), the clause of the charter which effectively rules out a Suu Kyi presidency.

In the previous Parliament dominated by the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a pool of three candidates were selected on Feb. 3, 2011, with Thein Sein appointed president the following day.

The term of Thein Sein's administration will expire on March 31.

The post Presidential Nominations to be Considered March 17 appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Ooredoo Receives Multi-Million Dollar Loan from ADB and IFC

Posted: 08 Feb 2016 01:16 AM PST

People sit at a bus station in front of an Ooredoo advertisement as they wait for a bus in Rangoon, August 1, 2014. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

People sit at a bus station in front of an Ooredoo advertisement as they wait for a bus in Rangoon, August 1, 2014. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

RANGOON — The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have approved a US$300 million loan for foreign telecom operator Ooredoo.

ADB and IFC are contributing $150 million each to the Qatari telecom operator to help with the rollout of a "greenfield" mobile network across the country using 3G technology.

Christopher Thieme, director of ADB's private sector operations department, said in a statement released on Monday that Burma "has one of the lowest rates of telecom connectivity in Southeast Asia, with poor communities and women the least likely to have access to these increasingly vital services."

"This assistance, ADB's largest private sector investment to date in Burma, will help the government meet its target of connecting over 90 percent of the population, including millions of people for the first time."

The network rollout will be carried out through 2019. In addition to boosting economic growth and spurring the creation of more jobs, Ooredoo intends to use the loan to develop mobile applications for banking, agriculture and maternal health.

Burma currently has one other foreign telecom operator, Norway's Telenor, with both firms in competition with state-owned Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). MPT monopolized the country's telecom industry until 2014, when foreign companies were first allowed to gain a foothold in the telecommunications market.

As competition in Burma's market has swelled over the past few years, telecom operators have sought to take international loans to ramp up their presence in the industry.

"This investment shows our continued support to help extend essential and affordable infrastructure services to [Burmese] people," said Vikram Kumar, IFC Resident Representative for Burma, in the statement.

"In addition to providing thousands of direct and indirect jobs to local workers, Ooredoo's nationwide telecom network will help connect people and ease economic activities by applying advanced telecommunication technologies."

Ooredoo was granted an operations license in 2014, and since then, more than 80 percent of Burma's population has been covered by its growing network, with a majority of the company's customers using the network through smart devices.

"Our wide range of telecom services support the socio-economic development of the country through enhanced communication between businesses, organizations and individuals," said Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani, Ooredoo Group CEO.

The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology said at the beginning of February that Burma's fourth and final telecom operator will be revealed later this month, following a hotly contested bid for the last permit.

The post Ooredoo Receives Multi-Million Dollar Loan from ADB and IFC appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

MPs to Donate Daily Stipend to Fire Victims

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 11:25 PM PST

 The aftermath of a fire in Namhsan, Shan State, that destroyed over 200 homes on Thursday. (Photo: Nang Seng Nom / The Irrawaddy)

The aftermath of a fire in Namhsan, Shan State, that destroyed over 200 homes on Thursday. (Photo: Nang Seng Nom / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Union Parliament Speaker Mahn Win Khaing Than forwarded an urgent proposal to lawmakers on Monday requesting that all MPs make a monetary donation to those affected by recent fires in Shan State's Namhsan and Labutta in Irrawaddy Division.

Lawmakers unanimously agreed to the proposal, which will see each MP donate their daily stipend of 20,000 kyat, half of which will go toward food supplies, 5,000 kyat toward accommodation and 5,000 kyat for other general expenses.

The total donation will amount to over 13 million kyat (US$10,290).

A huge blaze razed over 200 homes in Namhsan of northern Shan State on Thursday, leaving an estimated 1,270 people homeless, according to authorities.

A fire on the same day in Irrawaddy Division's Labutta destroyed 179 homes, leave over 700 people without shelter, officials said.

The post MPs to Donate Daily Stipend to Fire Victims appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

ANP Speakers Selected in Arakan State Parliament

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 11:20 PM PST

Lawmakers from the Arakan National Party are seen in front of the party's headquarters in Sittwe, Arakan State. (Photo: Arakan National Party)

Lawmakers from the Arakan National Party are seen in front of the party's headquarters in Sittwe, Arakan State. (Photo: Arakan National Party)

RANGOON — The Arakan State Parliament approved Arakan National Party (ANP) nominations for speaker and deputy speaker as the new regional legislature convened on Monday.

San Kyaw Hla, an ANP lawmaker from Ponnagyun Township was selected as house speaker and Phoe Min from Rathedaung Township will serve as the deputy speaker.

The ANP won 23 state seats in November's general election while the National League for Democracy (NLD) won nine seats and the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won three seats. Military MPs will take 12 seats in the parliament.

ANP released a statement on Sunday reaffirming the sentiments expressed by the party on January 19—that the ANP will stand in firm opposition to the new NLD government if they are denied the right to form their own state-level administration.

In Sunday's statement, the ANP said it has welcomed all suggestions put forward by monks, civil society organizations and voters and that the party held a central executive committee meeting to discuss these submissions on February 6.

The party also announced that it will formally end its affiliation with United Nationalities Alliance (UNA), a coalition of ethnic political parties formed after Burma's 1990 election. Instead, the ANP will partner with National Brotherhood Federation (NBF), another ethnic coalition formed after the 2010 election, stating that the NBF will be better able to understand Arakanese issues and concerns.

After the NLD indicated in December that all chief ministers would be NLD lawmakers, the ANP declared that it "won't join any government organization, but stand as an opposition party for the interests of Arakan people," unless the party is granted an exemption and allowed to form its own government.

The post ANP Speakers Selected in Arakan State Parliament appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

NLD Lawmakers to Forego 25 Percent of Pay Packet for Party Fund

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 11:10 PM PST

Lower House lawmakers attend Parliament during the new chamber's first week on Feb. 4, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Lower House lawmakers attend Parliament during the new chamber's first week on Feb. 4, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The National League for Democracy (NLD) will deduct a portion of its lawmakers' salaries for party funds, according to a statement released last week.

Signed by one of the party's central committee members, Win Htein, the letter outlines that 25 percent of each MPs' monthly salaries will be collected as party funds.

Both houses of Burma's new Union Parliament convened last week, with 390 lawmakers representing the NLD.

The party has implemented a sweeping donation policy to raise funds. Outgoing NLD lawmakers have also agreed to donate the entirety of their "party pension," a state-funded gratuity paid for their time served in Parliament, to a party fund.

More than 40 NLD members that entered Parliament following an April 2012 by-election took a 10 percent pay cut when their monthly salary was at 300,000 kyat. The new 25 percent pay cut comes after lawmakers' salaries increased in April 2015 to 1 million kyat per month.

Following the NLD's convincing electoral victory in November, Suu Kyi told MP-elects that they could expect a drastic reduction in salary—somewhere between 25 and 50 percent.

"Anyone in the top positions will see a 50 percent pay cut," she said, according to a party member present at the meeting.

The post NLD Lawmakers to Forego 25 Percent of Pay Packet for Party Fund appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

With Mining Law Changes, Are Foreign Firms Set to Dig In?

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 11:00 PM PST

Aung San Suu Kyi watches a test explosion during a visit to the Letpadaung copper mine project in Sarlingyi Township on March 14, 2013. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Aung San Suu Kyi watches a test explosion during a visit to the Letpadaung copper mine project in Sarlingyi Township on March 14, 2013. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Long-anticipated revisions to Burma's Mining Law, which were passed by the outgoing Parliament at the end of last year, could spur foreign investment in a sector that is still vulnerable to frontier market perils.

The new law, which was finalized after being stalled in Parliament for more than two years, is significantly more favorable to foreign firms than the legislation previously in effect, which dated back to the days of the former junta in the 1990s. The updated rules officially aim to "promote the development of investment in respect of mineral resources" and are expected by many in the industry to usher in a new wave of foreign investment in Burma's mining sector.

The amended legislation was signed into law by President Thein Sein on Dec. 24, just weeks before he is set to hand over power to a new administration led by the National League for Democracy (NLD).

According to a summary of the regulatory changes released by Valentis Resources, a Rangoon-based exploration and mining services company, the new rules pave the way for foreign firms to buy their way into already existing small- and medium-scale mining projects in joint ventures with local Burmese firms and then expand those projects. The expanded role this will potentially afford foreign companies stands in contrast to the 1994 Mining Law, which in effect only made partnerships between foreign firms and large local companies feasible.

Another key change included in the new regulatory framework concerns production-sharing, which under the previous rules stipulated that some share of what was produced at a mine be given to the government, in addition to paying royalties. Under the new rules, firms can instead enter into a form of profit-sharing with the government or an equity participation that would allow for the government to buy a stake and invest in a given project.

The new regulations were drafted with the input of the chairman of the Upper House Mining and Resources Committee, Nay Win Tun, an ethnic Pa-O businessman affiliated with the Pa-O National Organization (PNO) militia who has a number of investments in Burma's mining sector, including in Kachin State's lucrative jade mines by way of his firm Ruby Dragon. Nay Win Tun's involvement in the drafting of amendments to the law was flagged as problematic by the London-based NGO Global Witness, which last year produced a lengthy exposé on Burma's jade trade. "Effectively, this means that a prominent industry player is involved in setting the rules which will regulate his own business," said the watchdog group's report

The revised rules were also drafted with the advice of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and other international experts. In a 2013 interview with Australia's ABC Radio, Burma's Minister for Mines Myint Aung explained that the changes were being drawn up with the aim of meeting international expectations.

"With regards to the Mining Law, we are still in the revising and reviewing stage and working very much closely with the AusAID to become that law [sic] an internationally recognized and accepted standard," said Myint Aung at the time. Like Thein Sein, Myint Aung is set to leave office next month.

Although party chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures in the incoming NLD government have given few details about how they will deal with the mining industry, it is expected that whomever becomes the next mining minister will follow the course set by the Thein Sein administration's handling of the Ministry of Mines and continue with changes deemed necessary by foreign investors.

That view is shaped in part by the Nobel laureate's handling of the chairwomanship of a parliamentary inquiry into a violent crackdown against land-rights activists at the Letpadaung copper mine site near Monywa in November 2012. The inquiry ultimately concluded that the despite the heavy-handed way government authorities dealt with farmers and monks protesting the seizure of land, the mega mine project involving a partnership between a Chinese state-owned company and Burmese military-controlled firm should continue.

The Ministry of Mines has declared its intention to sell state-owned mining assets. "Privatization of the tin and tungsten mines and mines and industrial mines is also being planned and will be put into effect in the very near future," reads the ministry's website, something that will likely please potential foreign investors, should the incoming NLD government carry out this pledge.

The amended rules are set to be implemented within 90 days of their being signed into law and the Ministry of Mines is tasked with drawing up attendant regulations that comply with the new legislation, including those covering the size of exploration permits and the creation of regionally and state-based permit granting boards.

No Mining Paradise

Despite the rules changes, Burma will remain a challenging place for mining firms to operate and it is likely that ongoing disputes between small-scale landholders and mining firms, which have taken place across much of the country in recent years, will only intensify as mining firms look to expand their activities across rural Burma.

An Investment Climate Assessment released by the World Bank last year painted a bleak picture of industry risks. "When it comes to mining, Myanmar [Burma] currently lacks the necessary laws and enforcement mechanisms to protect its environment and vulnerable populations against the impacts of mining. Over the past two decades, this has led to conflict and severe environmental degradation in the wake of a rapid increase in large-scale mining," the report's author concludes.

Whether Burma's new mining rules, which were clearly drafted to encourage more foreign investment in the sector, will actually lessen these problems remains to be seen.

While Norinco, the giant Chinese state-owned weapons firm and its subsidiary, Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper, have invested heavily in the controversial multibillion-dollar expansion of the Letpadaung mine, most Western mining firms currently operating in the country are only at the preliminary stages of exploration. For the most part, Western firms are relatively small outfits commonly referred to in the mining industry as "juniors."

Although international interest in Burma's mining sector remains strong, large Western mining firms largely are staying on the sidelines despite the lifting of sanctions in 2012. The Mining Law's protracted revision has been blamed in part, as has firms' decision to wait for the adoption of other business-friendly developments like the forthcoming adoption of an Investment Protection Agreement between Burma and the European Union, before fully committing themselves to a country still in flux. That has left the juniors, some of whom are clearly fly-by-night operations, to scour Burma looking for deals in a country whose geology has yet to be fully explored.

Recent regulatory filings from various junior mining firms listed on their respective stock markets suggest that Burma's mining sector has proved to be less promising than they had originally anticipated when they entered the country after political reforms began more than four years ago. This has been compounded by a global glut in mineral prices caused by slowing demand in China.

A case in point is the firm that inked a deal with the chairman of the parliamentary mining committee. In June 2013, Australia's Intercept Minerals Ltd. signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ruby Dragon and its chairman and principle shareholder Nay Win Tun, whom the firm referred to as a "prominent Myanmar businessman," while failing to mention his prominent position on the mining committee or his previous inclusion on the EU sanctions list. The MOU, which in Intercept's words was geared toward the "evaluation of existing mining and exploration opportunities in Myanmar, initially covering tin, tungsten and gold," ultimately failed to pan out. 

Some 13 months after signing the deal with Nay Win Tun, Intercept metamorphosed into an internet TV broadcaster following a reverse takeover of a Silicon Valley startup. The firm now called XTV Networks Ltd. no longer has any involvement in mining.

Another Australian junior mining firm, Avenue Resources, similarly entered Burma in 2013 after merging with Lotus Mining Limited, an unlisted company focused on tin. The tie up was supposed to lead Avenue to a number of "exciting acquisition opportunities" in Burma. But one year later the firm, which by this time had changed its name to Triumph Tin, chose to give up on Burma entirely. "Whilst Triumph Tin maintains that the geological aspects of the exploration potential of Myanmar are exciting, the Company has concluded that the business case of moving forward in Myanmar, at this time, is not as compelling as the business case available in other jurisdictions," the firm said in a report to its shareholders.

Last year the London-listed firm Aurasian Minerals, which is partially owned by US mining giant Newmont Mining Corporation, chose to withdraw the permits it had submitted to the government some 10 months earlier to explore for gold, silver and copper in a jade-rich corner of Kachin State beset by conflict.

But other juniors like the Australian firm Eumeralla Resources Ltd. have opted to stay on in Burma. According to Eumeralla's latest regulatory filings, it continues to wait for government authorities to process the exploration permits its Burmese subsidiary submitted in 2014 to search for tin and tungsten in Karenni State. The application has raised concerns that the firm's activities could re-ignite a long-running conflict in the state.

Another firm, Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Mining Ltd. (APML), which describes itself as the "first Western-led mining company" to be granted a large-scale exploration license in Burma, is focused on exploring a 649-square-kilometer concession in Burma's far north. The firm, headed by an Australian mining veteran, had its permits to explore for lead, zinc and silver in northern Shan State approved in October 2014. Just three days later, heavy fighting broke out near the area.

Clashes between government troops and ethnic armed groups in northern Shan State have continued, which will complicate any effort to fully study the region's potentially lucrative geology.

The post With Mining Law Changes, Are Foreign Firms Set to Dig In? appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Flyovers to Surmount Rangoon’s Traffic Troubles?

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 10:50 PM PST

Click to view slideshow.

RANGOON — Over the past five years, the Rangoon Division government has approved seven overpasses in the city to tackle growing traffic problems. Yet despite completion of five flyovers in the last three years, and at busy city intersections where rush-hour traffic is often at a standstill, it seems dubious that the government will be able to quell traffic woes.

This has not stopped construction of the overpasses at 8-Mile and Tamwe junctions, however. Started last year, the Y-shaped flyover at Tamwe, where five roads meet, is probably the biggest of Rangoon's seven overpasses, stretching across Banya Dala, U Ching Maung and East Equestrian roads. With 60 percent to be completed by month's end, the flyover is likely to be open for public use in April, according to Sein Win, an executive engineer of Shwe Taung Development Co, Ltd., which has invested an estimated 25.5 billion kyats in construction of the overpass. Featured here are pictures of the building site.

The post Flyovers to Surmount Rangoon's Traffic Troubles? appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Taiwan Quake Toll Climbs to 35, President to Visit Disaster Scene

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 10:18 PM PST

Rescue personnel work at the site where a 17-story apartment building collapsed in an earthquake in Tainan, southern Taiwan, February 7, 2016.  (Photo: Pichi Chuang / Reuters)

Rescue personnel work at the site where a 17-story apartment building collapsed in an earthquake in Tainan, southern Taiwan, February 7, 2016.  (Photo: Pichi Chuang / Reuters)

TAINAN, Taiwan — The death toll from an earthquake in southern Taiwan at the weekend climbed to 35 on Monday, with more than 100 people still listed as missing under a 17-story building that collapsed and where all rescue efforts are being focused.

The quake struck at about 4 am on Saturday, at the beginning of the Lunar New Year holiday, with almost all the dead found in the toppled Wei-guan Golden Dragon Building in Tainan city.

Rescuers continued to scramble over the twisted wreck of the building as numbed family members stood around, waiting for news of missing relatives.

Taiwan's government said in a statement 33 of the 35 dead were from that Wei-guan building, with 117 still listed as missing.

President Ma Ying-jeou is scheduled to visit the disaster zone later on Monday, as is Tsai Ing-wen, who won a presidential election last month.

Chinese President Xi Jinping conveyed condolences to the victims, state news agency Xinhua reported late on Sunday, and repeated Beijing's offer to provide help.

China views self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province, to be bought under its control by force if necessary.

The post Taiwan Quake Toll Climbs to 35, President to Visit Disaster Scene appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Firebrand Monks a Powerful Force in Burma Despite Setback

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 10:14 PM PST

Buddhist monks sit during a news conference by the radical Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha at their head office in Rangoon, October 2, 2015.  (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Buddhist monks sit during a news conference by the radical Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha at their head office in Rangoon, October 2, 2015.  (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Dark-skinned and bearded men jump a young woman after she prays at a Buddhist shrine. They push her to the ground and rape her. Then they cut off her ear and slit her throat.

A lurid video recently posted online by a firebrand monk in Burma purports to re-enact the woman's death at the hands of Muslim assailants. Her killing in 2012 set off widespread violence between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in the Southeast Asian nation.

Tens of thousands of people viewed the video until Facebook blocked it on Feb. 1, a sign of the continuing reach of Burma's Buddhist extremists even as the country moves toward civilian rule after five decades of military dominance.

A new report by US researchers finds that a divisive religious group known as Ma Ba Tha, which counts the hardline monk Wirathu among its senior members, is likely to remain a force for some time to come in Burma. Ma Ba Tha's anti-Muslim prejudices resonate in broader Burmese society, according to the report.

The conflict and security research group C4ADS spent several months studying hate speech in Burma. It focused on Ma Ba Tha, or the Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, scrutinizing the social media accounts of the group's leading monks and followers.

"We find a decentralized, but still highly organized, group that operates with unrivaled freedom," the report says. It cites the group's activist rallies, legislative campaigns, powerful media network and pressure directed at judges and police to influence legal cases.

The report concludes that the incoming government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, or NLD, is unlikely to confront Ma Ba Tha, despite the religious group's support for a rival pro-military party that was trounced in November elections. The new NLD-led parliament convened this week.

"While the [election] defeat is embarrassing to an organization whose key leaders had openly advocated against the NLD, it may prove to have little material impact over the long run," the report says.

Experts say the NLD's victory was driven by support for Suu Kyi and a desire for civilian rule. But the party did not field a single Muslim among its 1,151 election candidates—a sign of the political sensitivities surrounding religion.

Also, there is popular support for Ma Ba Tha's campaign to deny rights to stateless Rohingya Muslims, who have been targeted in the religious violence and live in apartheid-like conditions in western Burma, according to the report.

Ma Ba Tha denies spreading hate speech. "We are not telling anyone to hate Muslims or kill them or anything like that. We are just trying to protect our own race and religion and showing love to our country," central committee member Ashin Parmoukkha told The Associated Press in Rangoon, Burma's main city.

Yet even the group's more moderate leaders have espoused an ultra-nationalist outlook in which Muslims, who account for about 5 to 10 percent of Burma's 52 million people, pose an existential threat to the Buddhist majority.

Ma Ba Tha's vice chairman, the renowned monk Sitagu Sayadaw, organized a peace conference last month with participants from more than 50 countries. He told a visiting US delegation in 2014 that Buddhist countries "are living in constant daily fear of falling under the sword of the Islamic extremists."

The ability of Ma Ba Tha leaders to simplify Buddhist teachings has added to the group's popular appeal. It has a nationwide network of offices, oversees newspapers, broadcasts TV sermons and does charitable work.

Wirathu, the monk who posted the video, is Ma Ba Tha's most provocative voice. He served several years in jail for inciting deadly anti-Muslim riots in 2003. In January 2015, he called a UN special envoy on human rights a "whore" and a "bitch" after she criticized a bill restricting interfaith marriage and religious conversions in Burma. It was among four race and religion bills championed by Ma Ba Tha and signed into law last year despite opposition from the NLD party.

The video posted in late January on his Facebook page, which has 131,000 followers, was intended as a teaser for a longer video portraying the May 2012 killing of 27-year-old Ma Thida Htwe in western Rakhine State. A court sentenced to death two Muslim men for robbing, raping and killing the woman. A third man was charged; state media reported that he hanged himself in custody.

The woman's killing triggered the first in several bouts of Buddhist-Muslim violence that has left more than 200 dead and 140,000 homeless.

Wirathu, 47, defended the video in an interview with the Myanmar Times newspaper, saying he wanted to show the incoming NLD government that it "needs to prioritize protecting the race and religion of the country."

Facebook took down the video after complaints from activists, including Burma scholar Maung Zarni, who said its portrayal of Muslim men as blood-thirsty and its use of Buddhist symbolism were clearly intended to resonate with Burmese racists.

The NLD and government officials have also criticized the video, but Maung Zarni contended that authorities have "incubated" Ma Ba Tha and allow it to act with impunity.

Tina Mufford, East Asia analyst for the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the group has grown rapidly in the past two years and she expected its "warped" anti-Muslim messaging would continue.

"The elections may be over, but Ma Ba Tha's inner workings are still in place," she said.

The post Firebrand Monks a Powerful Force in Burma Despite Setback appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

UN Condemns N. Korea launch, Pledges Significant New Sanctions

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 09:20 PM PST

A man looks through a barbed wire fence near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, February 8, 2015.  (Photo: Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

A man looks through a barbed wire fence near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, February 8, 2015. (Photo: Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters)

SEOUL — The UN Security Council condemned North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket that world leaders called a banned test of ballistic missile technology and another "intolerable provocation." The UN's most powerful body pledged to quickly adopt a new resolution with "significant" new sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went ahead with the launch just two hours after an eight-day window opened early Sunday, and a month after the country's fourth nuclear test. He ignored an appeal from China, its neighbor and important ally, not to proceed, and, in another slap to Beijing, he chose the eve of the Chinese New Year, the country's most important holiday.

In a reflection of heightened hostilities between the rival Koreas, South Korea's Defense Ministry said a South Korean naval vessel fired five shots into the water as a warning Monday when a North Korean patrol boat briefly moved south of the countries' disputed boundary line in the Yellow Sea.

Since its Jan. 6 nuclear test, which the North claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb, despite outside skepticism, China and the United States have been negotiating the text of a new Security Council sanctions resolution.

North Korean rocket launches and nuclear tests are seen as crucial steps toward Pyongyang's ultimate goal of a nuclear-armed missile that could hit the US mainland.

At the UN, the US, backed by its allies, Japan and South Korea, wants tough sanctions reflecting Kim's defiance of the Security Council. But diplomats say China, the North's key protector in the council, is reluctant to impose economic measures that could cause North Korea's economy to collapse—and a flight of North Koreans into China across their shared border.

The 15-member Security Council strongly condemned the launch and pledged to "expeditiously" adopt a new resolution with "further significant measures"—UN code for sanctions. The word "robust" referring to the measures was in an initial draft, but was dropped in the final statement.

US Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters that "it cannot be business as usual" after two successive North Korean acts that are "hostile and illegal."

"What's important is that the Security Council unites," Power said. "China is a critical player. … We are hopeful that China, like all council members, will see the grave threat to regional and international peace and security, see the importance of adopting tough, unprecedented measures, breaking new ground here, exceeding the expectations of Kim Jong Un."

However, China's UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, made clear that unprecedented sanctions aren't Beijing's priority.

He said a new resolution should "do the work of reducing tension, of working toward denuclearization [of the Korean peninsula], of maintaining peace and stability, and of encouraging a negotiated solution."

"I believe the council needs to work together for a new resolution," Liu added, indicating that China may want negotiations with the United States to be widened.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, whose country is also a North Korean ally, said: "It has to be a weighty resolution, but it also has to be a reasonable resolution" that doesn't lead to North Korea's economic or humanitarian collapse, or further heighten tensions.

Russia's goal is to see six-party talks aimed at denuclearization resume, he said, but in the current atmosphere that's unlikely because the North Koreans "have been very unreasonable" and are challenging the entire international community.

"We think this is wrong for their national interests … for the Korean Peninsula … for the region," Churkin said.

North Korea, which calls its launches part of a peaceful space program, said it had successfully put a new Earth observation satellite, the Kwangmyongsong 4, or Shining Star 4, into orbit less than 10 minutes after liftoff, and vowed more such launches. A US official said it might take days to assess whether the launch was a success.

Japan's UN ambassador, Motohide Yoshikawa, told reporters the missile, which went over Japan and landed near the Philippines, was "a clear threat to the lives of many people."

The Security Council underscored that launches using ballistic missile technology, "even if characterized as a satellite launch or space launch vehicle" contribute to North Korea's development of systems to deliver nuclear weapons and violate four Security Council resolutions dating back to the North's first nuclear test in 2006.

North Korea under Kim Jong Un has pledged to bolster its nuclear arsenal unless Washington scraps what Pyongyang calls a hostile policy meant to collapse Kim's government.

In a development that will worry both Pyongyang and Beijing, a senior South Korean Defense Ministry official, Yoo Jeh Seung, told reporters that Seoul and Washington have agreed to begin talks on a possible deployment of the THAAD missile-defense system in South Korea. North Korea has long decried the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, and Beijing would see a South Korean deployment of THAAD, which is one of the world's most advanced missile-defense systems, as a threat to its interests in the region.

In a statement, North Korea's National Aerospace Development Administration, in typical propaganda-laden language, praised "the fascinating vapor of Juche satellite trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star."

Juche is a North Korean philosophy focusing on self-reliance; the Day of the Shining Star refers to the Feb. 16 birthday of Kim Jong Un's father, former dictator Kim Jong Il. North Korea has previously staged rocket launches to mark important anniversaries.

The global condemnation began almost immediately.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the launch an "intolerable provocation," saying the North's efforts to advance its missile capabilities were "all about maintaining the regime" in Pyongyang and ignored the hardships of ordinary North Koreans.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan and reaffirmed the United States' "ironclad commitment to the security and defense" of its allies, the State Department said.

The Foreign Ministry in China expressed "regret that, disregarding the opposition from the international community, the [North] side obstinately insisted in carrying out a launch by using ballistic missile technologies."

Noting China's pivotal role in negotiating a new Security Council resolution, Britain's deputy UN ambassador, Peter Wilson, said: "Today is Chinese New Year's eve and if I was a senior Chinese official, I would be pretty annoyed at what's been happening here. I know what I feel like when I'm dragged out of bed on a major national holiday."

Kim Jong Un has overseen two of the North's four nuclear tests and three long-range rocket launches since taking over after the death of his father in late 2011. The UN Security Council prohibits North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity. Experts say that ballistic missiles and rockets in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology.

"If North Korea has only nuclear weapons, that's not that intimidating. If they have only rockets, that's not that intimidating, either. But if they have both of them, that means they can attack any target on Earth. So it becomes a global issue," said Kwon Sejin, a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

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Sri Lanka’s Tamil Leaders Call for UN Help on 4,000 Missing

Posted: 07 Feb 2016 09:11 PM PST

Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of Sri Lanka's United National Party (UNP), waves at the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, August 19, 2015.  (Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters)

Ranil Wickremesinghe, leader of Sri Lanka's United National Party (UNP), waves at the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, August 19, 2015.  (Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters)

JAFFNA, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil leaders on Sunday asked the top UN human rights official to help determine the fate of more than 4,000 civilians reported missing in the country's long civil war amid the government's assertion that most of them are probably dead.

The UN official, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, met with the chief minister of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, the center of the civil war, which ended in 2009. Zeid is on a four-day visit to Sri Lanka to review measures taken by the government to investigate alleged war abuses during the war.

Both the Sri Lankan government and the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels are accused of serious human rights violations. According to UN estimates, up to 100,000 people were killed in the 26-year war, but many more are feared to have died, including up to 40,000 civilians in the final months of the fighting.

The UN Human Rights Council last year adopted a consensus resolution in which Sri Lanka agreed to an investigation with foreign participation.

Zeid said he discussed several issues with Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran and other provincial officials, including the missing people, detentions without trial and military-occupied private land. He said he would take the issues up with the central government.

"The discussions very much focused on the challenges faced by the province, but also the plans and achievements in that regard, and the people who aspire to see more information in terms of those detained and those missing and the issue of release of lands," Zeid said.

He said the discussions would continue during his visit.

Wigneswaran said he gave Zeid a list of the more than 4,000 people reported missing, with dates and places where they were seen last.

Many civilians have not been heard from since they were picked up by police or military personnel at their homes or abducted by pro-government militia during the war. Relatives say there are many whom they personally handed over to the military at the end of the fighting, after the military requested the surrender of anyone who had even the smallest link to the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels, promising their early release.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elected last year, has said most of those reported missing are probably dead. He said that the new government found no secret detention centers being run by the state, as suspected by families of the missing, and that there are only 292 people in government detention.

Wigneswaran said Zeid opposed the suggestion of negotiating an amnesty for Tamil rebel suspects detained for years without trial. Zeid said releasing innocents through a quick and proper legal process would be the best course of action.

Since defeating his nationalist predecessor last year, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has released some land and promised speedy trials for detainees. But Tamils have complained that the authorities are slow in fulfilling their promises.

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