Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma


DVB Bulletin: 17 December 2014

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 04:22 AM PST

On tonight's bulletin:

  • Tension over Tavoy land dispute
  • Students demand rebuilding of Student Union building
  • Chin authorities struggle to stamp out opium cultivation
  • Karen rebels play football with Burmese army troops

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

The post DVB Bulletin: 17 December 2014 appeared first on DVB Multimedia Group.

Malaysia to check Burmese migrants for criminal records

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 03:42 AM PST

Burmese nationals seeking work or who hope to visit Malaysia will be screened for criminal records, the Malaysian Home Minister has announced.

According to Malaysian daily The Star, Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that only Burmese citizens without a criminal history will be permitted entry to the country following a series of brutal murders involving Burmese nationals.

Twelve Burmese men are currently being detained in connection with two recent murders, the latest in a spate of violence in which 18 Burmese nationals have been murdered in the northern state of Penang in the last year.

There has been a series of crackdowns by Malaysian police on Burmese migrant workers in recent years. In 2013, more than 900 migrants from Burma were detained following the deaths of two Burmese individuals.

Many believe violence involving Burmese nationals in Malaysia is connected to ongoing religious and ethnic tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma.

The Malaysia government is looking to improve its border controls, such as investing in facial imaging software and high-definition CCTV cameras, as they become increasingly concerned with monitoring Burmese citizens entering the country.

Last month, the Burmese parliament complied a report into targeted violence against Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia. The report urged the Malaysian government to take steps to protect Burmese nationals after a Burmese construction worker was murdered in a palm oil plantation in Penang. It was noted that if Malaysia did not respond to the report, Burma's parliament would raise the issue with ASEAN's Inter-Parliamentary Assembly.

The Burmese embassy in Kuala Lumpur also released a statement in July saying that Burmese nationals were being targeted by "extremist groups" in Malaysia.

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Tavoy farmers in land dispute stand-off

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 02:04 AM PST

A stand-off was continuing on Wednesday between farmers and construction company workers at a development project in Tavoy, in Burma’s southern Tenasserim Division.

The farmers claim the 300 acres of land on which the project is being built was seized from them by the Burmese government in 1990.

Situated in Sanche ward in Tavoy, officially known as Dawei, the construction project was contracted to Toe Tat Kaung Construction Company by the government to make way for new government offices.

On Tuesday, a group of about 20 farmers confronted the construction workers who had arrived to erect markers on the land.

"We grow crops on this land every year," said Shwe Zin Yu, a local farmer. "We just started cultivating the land for this year's harvest and the company have arrived to dump soil on the land to prevent us from using it."

Su Su Swe of the Tavoy Women's Union said the company is dumping soil on a plot of land originally owned by a local woman by the name of Mu Mu San, whose husband was jailed after confronting local authorities in June when they came to segregate the land.

"As the bulldozers rolled in, Ma Mu Mu San sat down on the ground and told them that she would rather they kill her. She didn't even go back to her home for lunch as she was worried they might begin work he moment she left," said Su Su Swe.

As of 1pm on Wednesday, the company workers were laying fences around the plot, while Su Su Swe and several villagers maintained a vigil inside the perimeter. Another group of farmers became embroiled in an argument with company staff, according to Sai Khe Hseng of a local environmental NGO.

Nine farmers, including Mu Mu San's husband, were jailed and 10 others were fined 10,000 kyat (US$10) each in July after they confronted local authorities the month before.

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DVB Debate: ‘Nationalism is exploited for political gain’

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 01:19 AM PST

On this episode of DVB Debate, the panel questions whether nationalism is exploited for political gain in Burma.

Panelists agreed that nationalism is a powerful force in Burma, and needs to be carefully monitored if peace, harmony and democracy are to flourish.

Watch the Debate clip in English here, then visit the website: dvbdebate.net

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Students ask for symbol of the 1962 protests to be rebuilt

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 12:18 AM PST

The newly formed Rangoon University Students Union will call on the Burmese government to rebuild the Student's Union building that was blown up by the military under dictator Gen. Ne Win's rule in 1962.

At its launch event on 16 December, the group, whose stated objective is to campaign for students' rights, said they will soon release a statement with their stance on the controversial National Education Bill.

Rangoon University maintains a highly symbolic status in Burma, particularly among students.

The Student's Union building was blown up by the military during the July 7 Rangoon University protests in 1962, when students demonstrated against unjust university rules.

The demonstrations saw dozens of students being shot dead by government forces, and though the exact number remains unknown it is believed to be in the hundreds. The military brought the protests to an end by dynamiting the Student's Union building where many protestors had been taking refuge.

Last July, students organised a peaceful demonstration at the university to mark the 52nd anniversary of the demonstration. The group carried flags, banners and laid wreaths of flowers, remembering those who had lost their lives 52 years ago.

In his visit to Burma in November, US President Barack Obama gave a speech at Rangoon University where he addressed the political reforms in Burma. He spoke to students about the importance of bringing about positive social change in their country as Burma’s democratic reforms continue to receive international scrutiny.

Considering the legacy of the 1962 protests and symbolism of the building, if the government were to rebuild the Student's Union due to student-lead pressure this would be seen by many as the Burmese government's commitment to renewed discourse with student activist groups.

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UNOCHA announces $190m budget

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 10:38 PM PST

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has announced that more than 536,000 people in Burma – about one percent of the country's population – have been affected by conflict or inter-communal violence and are in need of protection.

It said some US$190 million would be required to support those affected throughout next year.

The UNOCHA's Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan 2015 said the aid will target 416,600 people in Arakan State and 119,800 in Kachin and northern Shan states.

It said 65 percent of the $190 million budget will be used to provide security, clean water, sanitation, education and health assistance.

Doi Pyisa, chairman of the Kachin Refugee Committee, said supplies of aid to IDP camps in areas under control of the rebel Kachin Independence Army around Laiza have been halted as of October.

He said residents in the camps are in need of housing materials.

"Their makeshift huts are made of bamboo and getting quite rickety as they were built back in 2011. We need to rebuild homes for them," said Doi Pyisa.

Zaw Zaw, a committee member for a Muslim displacement camp in Arakan State's Myebon Township, said the camp has not received any supplies for eight months other than monthly food rations from the World Food Programme (WFP).

"People in this camp have no jobs and no income – we struggle to survive," he said. "We have not been getting anything apart from rations of rice, cooking oil, salt and beans, which is provided by the WFP."

He said he worried that the prospect of malnutrition.

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The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


In Pictures, Rangoon’s Rich History Revealed

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 04:05 AM PST

In this photo on display at the

More than 120 photos are on display at the "Global City: Yangon's Past, Present and Future" exhibition in Rangoon. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) is showcasing a collection of more than 120 photos that help tell the story of Rangoon's cosmopolitan past and rapidly changing present.

The exhibition, "Global City: Yangon's Past, Present and Future," offers rare and unusual photos providing historical context, anecdotes, documentation of high-profile events and links between Burma's former capital and the wider world. The exhibit is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm through March 2015 at the YHT office on Pansodan Street's lower block.

"The objectives of the exhibition are to raise awareness and enhance the understanding of both local residents and international visitors of the unique nature of the urban heritage of Yangon and its importance as a significant part of Myanmar's history," said a press release from YHT last week.

Among the notable moments captured on film are a picture of the politician and eventual US President Richard Nixon, sporting a longyi and the traditional Burmese headdress known as gaun baung, sitting beside Burma's then President U Nu; an aerial image of a section of the Rangoon riverbank, taken shortly after it was decimated by airstrikes during World War II; and the chaotic scene in downtown Rangoon after a powerful earthquake rocked the capital in the 1930s.

And as for the future of the city? The exhibition also features a large conceptual rendering of the Rangoon riverfront—currently the site of little other than the country's largest port and other shipping infrastructure—envisions neatly trimmed green terraces and walking paths, with a shimmering, distant pocket of high-rise office towers trumped in skyline prominence only by the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The post In Pictures, Rangoon's Rich History Revealed appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

NLD Member Denied Bail at Religious Offence Trial

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 03:24 AM PST

Htin Lin Oo at an event in October. (Photo: Htin Lin Oo / Facebook)

Htin Lin Oo at an event in October. (Photo: Htin Lin Oo / Facebook)

MANDALAY — Spurned by his party and vilified by nationalist groups, prominent columnist Htin Lin Oo has now been denied bail and is in custody on charges of offending religious feeling.

The author, who was sacked from his position as an information officer for the National League for Democracy (NLD) after he was denounced by Buddhist organizations, appeared at the Chaung-U Township court in Sagaing Division on Wednesday.

"The court said he can apply for bail and he prepared the application," said Thein Than Oo, his lawyer. "But when he submitted it, the court refused it suddenly and told him he would be detained."

"The power to grant bail rests in the hand of the court. He is not a serious criminal. To detain him like this is too much," he added.

Htin Lin Oo has been charged under Article 295a of the penal code, which prohibits "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings", and Article 298, which bans "uttering words [...] with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings". Both charges are punishable by fines or custodial sentences of two years and 12 months respectively. He has been transferred to Monywa Prison and will next appear before court on Dec. 24.

According to lawyers and the local journalists, approximately 30 Buddhist monks and up to 50 of their supporters intimidated a group of journalists gathered outside the court building.

"The group took our pictures and behaved belligerently. A female journalist was surrounded by them for a while and now she is afraid to write the news," said a journalist at the scene, who requested not to be named. "They even asked our names, the names of our organizations and threatened us by telling us we could not cover the trial without permission from the authorities."

At a literary event in Chaung-U Township on Oct. 23, Htin Lin Oo delivered a speech, during which he criticized the use of Buddhism as a tool for discrimination and extreme nationalism.

An excerpt of his speech was widely shared over social media, leading to condemnation from nationalist monks and affiliated groups. The NLD launched an investigation after a statement by the Patriotic Buddhist Monks Union urged the party to take disciplinary action, leading to Htin Lin Oo's dismissal as information officer.

Tun Khaing, an official from the Department of Immigration's office in Chaung-U Township, filed a lawsuit against Htin Lin Oo last week under Articles 295a and 298.

At the time, U Wirathu, a Mandalay-based monk and prominent member of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, said that his organization had planned to sue Htin Lin Oo before Tun Khaing took action.

The post NLD Member Denied Bail at Religious Offence Trial appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Govt to Tighten Car Import License Requirements

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 03:18 AM PST

Traffic jams in Yangon are becoming a major downside of the rapidly expanding car market. (Photo: Reuters)

Traffic jams in Yangon are becoming a major downside of the rapidly expanding car market. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — Per January 1, the Ministry of Commerce will require car importers to apply for import licenses prior to shipping as part of a government effort to reduce the storage of vehicles at Thilawa Port, state media announced on Wednesday.

Thousands of cars have been parked for months at the port area because importers tend to wait with seeking a license and picking up cars until they have found buyers for their vehicles, according to ministry officials cited in The Global New Light of Myanmar.

Currently, importers are allowed to ship in cars to Thilawa Port and apply for an import license upon arrival of their vehicles, which in the meantime can be parked at docks. Parking cars at the port benefits some of the importers as they lack storage space or a showroom.

"Though some people have received a [import] permit from the ministry, they didn't pick up their cars from the docks. Also, some importers keep their cars there while correcting their import permit submissions, so there are many cars crowding the docks," a Commerce Ministry official was quoted as telling state media.

Once an import license is granted, a car has to be picked up from the port area within three months, or customs authorities may impound the vehicle. Authorities hope that by requiring importers to apply for licenses prior to shipping, car dealers would pick up the vehicles sooner.

Myo Zin Win, the general secretary of Myanmar Car Dealers Association, estimated that currently some 6,000 vehicles have been parked for months at Thilawa Port. He said both local car dealers as well as foreign-owned businesses were contributing to the problem.

Most cars imported into Burma are second-hand vehicles from Japan, which are popular due to their quality and affordability.

Myo Zin Win said many of the parked vehicles were being imported by Pakistani businessmen based in Japan, adding that they would register as a Burmese company with the help of a local business partner. These importers, he claimed, often lack storage facilities for cars and prefer to keep them at Thilawa Port.

"Many foreigners import many cars from Japan first, and then they don't pick them up from the docks while they look for buyers," he said, adding that these businesses were involved as car import requirements are less strict for foreigners than for Burmese nationals.

"We welcome the new policy restrictions on import permits," Myo Zin Win said. "It will be take time if the new policy starts next year, but it's good for local importers."

President Thein Sein's reformist government in 2011 began easing junta-era car import restrictions that had put foreign vehicles out of reach for the vast majority of Burmese. The years since have seen imported cars flood the market, the vast majority of which have been used vehicles from Japan.

According to Ministry of Commerce figures from November, there are about 600,000 vehicles on Burma's roads, some 100,000 of which are trucks.

Tun Myat Nyunt, a businessman from Rangoon who helps connect car importers with buyers, said the new government measures would raise the costs of importing cars, especially for smaller dealers who lack space to store vehicles.

"Many importers can only afford to invest in car buying and shipping charges right now, so starting next month… small importers will face problems," he said.

Tun Myat Nyunt said falling consumer demand and prices for cars is another factor that caused importers to keep their vehicles at Thilawa Port.

"There is less demand, that is one reason that prices are falling," he said, adding that prices had fallen with about 10 percent compared to last year.

The Burmese government maintains a complex set of rules on car imports, with different arrangements for individual importers, companies, foreigners and Burmese nationals. It also has a so-called substitution system that allows the owner of an old car to import a new vehicle if he disposes of the old one.

Car dealers have complained that government rules on imports are cumbersome and subject to frequent change.

The post Govt to Tighten Car Import License Requirements appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Govt Delays Aid Distribution in Northern Burma: UN

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 02:27 AM PST

A camp for internationally displaced persons is seen in Kachin State. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

A camp for internationally displaced persons is seen in Kachin State. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — As winter approaches in northern Burma's Kachin State, some 27,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are without necessary assistance such as blankets and clothes, according to the United Nations.

In a monthly aid bulletin, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the "volatile security situation and bureaucratic delays" have prevented UN convoys from being authorized to travel into rebel territory, where they regularly deliver aid to IDPs.

The bulletin said that UN convoys have been unable to reach some cross-line areas since September, and called for regular, sustained humanitarian access to all persons affected by the conflict.

The latest UN data estimates that 98,000 people remain displaced in parts of Kachin and northern Shan states, three years after a ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down.

OCHA said that some 50,000 are still displaced in areas that are not under government control. Of the estimated 27,000 people that are currently inaccessible, about 12,000 are "particularly vulnerable" children, the bulletin said. Those unreachable communities are located near KIA headquarters in Laiza and east of Bhamo.

Pierre Péron, a spokesperson for OCHA, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that some aid from local organizations is reaching the IDPs, but there have been no UN cross-line missions since September. The United Nations is currently working with the government and local NGOs to ensure that aid will be delivered to all people in need, whether they are in IDP camps or host communities.

"International organizations support and supplement the activities of local NGOs by providing assistance and technical support through cross-line convoys. These cross-line convoys are cleared through administrative procedures involving both the Myanmar [Burma] authorities and the KIO [the political arm of the KIA], and we are currently waiting for the finalization of this process,” said Péron.

An emergency aid coordinator based in Muse, on the border with China, told The Irrawaddy that local NGOs are planning an emergency meeting to discuss solutions for food and other shortages.

"Our aid convoy could get to the 105-mile gate [still within government territory], but the Burma Army wouldn't let our mobile team carry the aid inside to distribute it to displaced people," said Zau San, who works with the Kachin Baptist Convention. "This is the policy of the Burma Army. They want to restrict aid for refugees."

Conflict continues in Kachin and Shan states between the government and a number of ethnic armed groups. Two of the area's largest armed groups, the KIA and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, are the only major non-state armies that have yet to secure bilateral ceasefires with the government as it aims to reach a nationwide peace pact.

The government cited sporadic clashes near a road leading to Bhamo as the impetus for several artillery "warning shots" that landed on a KIA military academy near Laiza in November. The blast, which the government said was not intended to target the academy, killed 23 cadets.

The OCHA bulletin proposed a US$192 million budget to provide assistance for the some 240,000 people currently displaced by communal conflict and civil war throughout Burma.

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‘The Bubble Will Definitely Burst’

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 02:15 AM PST

Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma Strategic Holdings. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma Strategic Holdings. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

The Yoma Strategic Holdings conglomerate has cultivated an enormous portfolio of real estate, agriculture, tourism, banking, automotive and retail businesses in Burma over the last two decades. As of December this year, the company's market capitalization was US$692 million, and it ranks in the top five percent of Singapore Exchange-listed companies on the 2014 Governance and Transparency Index. Yoma recently secured a $100 million loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for infrastructure development projects in Burma.

Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma Strategic Holdings, spoke to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday to discuss the recent ADB loan, the resumption of full services at Yoma Bank, and the need to balance the rights of landowners and the needs of developers in an overheated property market which is also seeing an increasing number of land disputes.

Question: How were you able to secure a loan from the ADB for your business projects?

Answer: The ADB has aimed to support Myanmar's development projects before. They required us to satisfy criteria before granting us a loan, including corporate governance, social responsibility, and measures to avoid corruption and money laundering. We're satisfied to be working with them.

Q: Why did Yoma Bank resume banking services after an 11-year suspension? Is it true that the International Finance Corporation is now assisting Yoma Bank with the provision of banking services?

A: As you would know, after the bankruptcy in 2003 [which occurred during Burma's banking crisis], we halted banking services and only offered money transfers across the nation because the government revoked our banking license. Our license was restored in the middle of this year. We have assistance from the International Finance Corporation now. But we're 10 years behind [our competitors] so we're trying to catch up now.

Q: You have significant real estate investments in Burma. Do you believe that current land laws in Burma are suitable for both landowners and developers?

A: There are many land issues, and there will be definitely many conflicts between landowners and developers while the problems are solved. Other countries are also facing similar problems; the main thing is how to find a solution. It would be good to see a land rights bill passed by the Parliament. It's the right time.

Many farmers who have worked the same paddy fields for decades do not have ownership records, so they can't mortgage their properties and get financial assistance from other organizations. In the [current Farmlands Act], farmers can get ownership records and do more than they could in the past. It's a good law but it should not be used to force developers to pay unfair compensation to landowners.

There are many things to do to further the country's development. For example, connectivity: if the highway system doesn't improve, it will take more time for trade to flow from one place to another.

While some people will benefit from development, there are risks for some people. We will have to decide that these people will be treated fairly by the law. We will have to see how to solve the problem posed when some people want their land to remain unaffected by development—by law, if they are motivated by individual interest, they will have to make a sacrifice.

Q: Have you ever had these kinds of issues before or are you currently working through such problems?

A: I've seen a lot of land issues before. Landowners [subject to seizures] said they want the "current market price"—but what is the current market price? Where does it come from? For example, there is a project underway in Dala Township, and people have been making significant purchases of land there. They will inflate the market, selling to each other. What did these people do to help develop Dala Township before? They did nothing but they're likely to get a profit because of market speculation.

Farmers who say they want market prices…is it possible to give them these amounts? If we pay this amount, no one will be able to buy an apartment on the land later. When we started working on real estate in Hlaing Tharyar Township 20 years ago, it only cost three million kyats (US$2,910). Right now, the market value is 600 million kyats ($582,000), so nobody will come to invest in the industrial zone.

The government needs to know and be made aware of the needs of business people. If we're implementing a project, we have to fairly compensate farmers. There should be a body formed to decide appropriate compensation amounts.

Q: Do you think the real estate market in Burma is currently experiencing a bubble?

A: The definition of a bubble is fake demand in a market. It's not a real market, it's a speculative market. We have a very strong labor-intensive industry but we don't have the infrastructure for high tech industry. Low cost labor-intensive industries can't support expensive land plots. [So] the bubble will definitely burst.

There is some demand in residential areas, but if developers build apartments on expensive land, following standard building codes, will that stay affordable for buyers? Who will buy them? As long as buyers can pay, it will continue, but when they can't buy, the bubble will burst.

Q: Are people still paying exorbitant amounts for land in Burma?

A: Yes, some people are still able to afford to pay these amounts in residential areas. For example, at my Star City housing project in Thanlyin Township, the land prices are about 150,000 kyats ($145) per square foot. In our experience, this is about the maximum [that property buyers can afford].

Office rental costs are another issue; rental prices in Yangon today are higher than in Singapore. It has stayed this high because of low supply and high demand. The rental price downtown is nine dollars per square foot. Some people can afford to pay, but most can't.

The post 'The Bubble Will Definitely Burst' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Crafting Livelihoods: Traditional Works on Display in Rangoon

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 02:00 AM PST

Hand-weaving machine on display at 'Made in Myanmar textile and crafts exhibition' at River Ayeyarwaddy Gallery (Photo: Hein Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

Hand-weaving machine on display at 'Made in Myanmar textile and crafts exhibition' at River Ayeyarwaddy Gallery (Photo: Hein Htet/ The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — An elegant spread of Burma's traditional handicrafts and textiles is on view this week at the River Ayeyarwaddy Gallery in Rangoon.

"Made in Myanmar," the second installation of a new annual exhibit, will showcase the works of 13 social enterprises from Dec. 13-19.

Organized by Sunflower Group, a collective of organizations promoting sustainable and traditional livelihoods, the show will offer a range of finely crafted shawls, tapestries, garments, soaps and other natural products from several parts of the country.

Custom knitwear produced by Kachin women displaced by conflict will be available for purchase, with proceeds channeled directly back to isolated camps in northern Burma.

Other products, including handmade soaps and accessories, are sourced from government-operated vocational schools in Amarapura, Rangoon and Taunggyi, where young students are learning how to generate income while preserving Burma's fine-quality traditional arts and crafts.

Ei Ei Phyo, a 23-year-old alumnus of a weaving school in Taunggyi, said she makes about five shawls per day, bringing in about US$80 each month. Just one year of training gave her top-tier skills in hand-weaving, machine-weaving and natural dye production.

Handsome merchandise isn't the only thing on offer this week at River Ayeyarwaddy. Visitors are welcome to observe demonstrations of natural dying methods, watching cloth masters transform mango, almond and other raw materials into gorgeous color palettes. Traditional weaving techniques will also be showcased.

The premier "Made in Myanmar" exhibit was held in April 2013, to great success. Sunflower Group has also organized five other shows of Burma's textiles and crafts in Tokyo, Japan.

The post Crafting Livelihoods: Traditional Works on Display in Rangoon appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Southeast Asian Olympics Possible After IOC Reforms: Indonesia

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 09:23 PM PST

Indonesia's Tontowi Ahmad (R) and Liliyana Natsir play against Denmark's Christinna Pedersen (L) and Denmark's Joachim Fischer (not pictured) during their mixed doubles badminton bronze medal match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Photo: Reuters)

Indonesia’s Tontowi Ahmad (R) and Liliyana Natsir play against Denmark’s Christinna Pedersen (L) and Denmark’s Joachim Fischer (not pictured) during their mixed doubles badminton bronze medal match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Photo: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Indonesia is optimistic about bringing the Olympics to Southeast Asia in collaboration with one of its neighbors after the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) revamp of the bidding and hosting processes.

Earlier this month, IOC members voted to allow multiple cities and countries to host events at future Games, one of a number of sweeping reforms to the Olympic movement brought by President Thomas Bach.

Changes were also approved to reduce costs for potential bidders, with prospective candidates allowed to discuss plans with the IOC before formally launching a bid after a troublesome 2022 Olympic race led to six runners withdrawing citing finances.

"We strongly support these proposals and are very optimistic about hosting the Olympics in ASEAN in the future," Indonesia’s Olympic Committee president Rita Subowo told Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper on Tuesday.

"All the potential is there if we can overcome certain limitations.

"The IOC has very high standards and it’s hard to build 20 plus world-class facilities from scratch. Hence, having it spread across two countries makes it more realistic in terms of costs."

Japan, South Korea and China are the only Asian nations to host the Summer or Winter Olympics, but the Qatari capital of Doha has bid for the last two Summer Games and declared its intention to try again for 2024.

That is the next opportunity for a Southeast Asian bid although whether the IOC would be willing to go back to Asia again after South Korea’s Pyeongchang host the 2018 Winter Games and Tokyo the 2020 Summer Olympics seems unlikely.

Thai IOC member Nat Indrapana saw other issues.

"Co-hosting in principle is a good idea but the practical implementation of this proposal also creates a lot of other problems," he told the paper.

"With two countries involved, who gets what can become an issue."

Whether the IOC would trust any of the 11 Southeast Asian nations to work together or individually is an issue.

Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia came together to host the 2007 Asian Cup soccer tournament in Southeast Asia, but then Asian Football Confederation President Mohammed bin Hammam said after it was a mistake to do so.

Vietnam are unlikely to be involved in an Olympic bid after they pulled out of hosting the 2019 Asian Games earlier this year citing costs, with Indonesia stepping in to take over.

Singapore hosted the inaugural Youth Olympics in 2010 and has just opened a $1 billion Sports Hub but would rely on the much larger Indonesia, Thailand or Malaysia to host the bulk of the sports.

The post Southeast Asian Olympics Possible After IOC Reforms: Indonesia appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Korean Air to Be Sanctioned for ‘Nut Rage’ Cover-Up

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 09:01 PM PST

A Korean Air's Boeing 777 is seen in this photo taken by Kyodo in April 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Kyodo)

A Korean Air's Boeing 777 is seen in this photo taken by Kyodo in April 2013. (Photo: Reuters / Kyodo)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea's transport ministry said Korean Air Lines Co. will face sanctions for pressuring employees to lie during a government probe into the nut rage fiasco that highlighted the tyrannical behavior of a top Korean business family.

The ministry said Tuesday it will also evaluate if the airline's corporate culture poses safety risks after its chairman's daughter Cho Hyun-ah overruled the captain of a flight to force the plane back to the gate in the incident early this month.

Cho, who was head of cabin service at Korean Air, ordered a senior flight attendant off a Dec. 5 flight after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of on a plate, in what she thought was a breach of service protocol in first class.

Transport ministry director Lee Gwang-hee said Korean Air could face 21 days of flight suspensions or a US$1.3 million fine for violating aviation law. The punishment will be determined by a separate committee that could decide to increase or lessen it.

Cho family members have a direct 10 percent stake in Korean Air, which is part of the family's Hanjin conglomerate.

Park Chang-jin, the crew member who had to disembark from the plane, told South Korea's KBS television network on Friday that Cho had shamed and insulted crew members. A first-class passenger told Yonhap News Agency that Cho yelled at flight attendants who kneeled before her, pushed one flight attendant's shoulder and threw an object at the cabin wall.

The incident, now dubbed "nut rage," hogged headlines around the world and enraged the South Korean public, leading to Cho's removal from all executive roles at the airline.

The 40-year-old and her father apologized last week, but a new furor has erupted over Korean Air's attempt to foil government investigators and local media reports that exposed how Korean Air employees were treated like servants of the Cho family.

"If the incident itself were not beastly enough, Korean Air's response has been abominable," Korea Herald said in an editorial. "In attempts that are akin to feudal servants trying to protect their lord's daughter, Korean Air staff rallied to the rescue of Korean Air CEO Cho Yang-ho's daughter."

Park, the crew member, was visited by Korean Air Lines officials who pressured him to give a sanitized version of events to investigators.

The airline will be punished because Cho and Park lied during the probe and because the captain was negligent in his duties, according to the ministry.

However, the captain won't face any sanction as he was powerless to refuse a member of the family that controls the airline, said Lee, the transport official.

The ministry's statement indicated other airline employees also faced pressure to lie to the investigators. It did not identify them.

Its investigation found Cho used abusive language to flight attendants but could not ascertain if she used violence. It will file a complaint against Cho with prosecutors later in the day.

Prosecutors earlier launched a separate investigation into the Korean Air case after receiving a complaint from a civic group. Prosecutors summoned Cho to be questioned on Wednesday, according to Yonhap.

The incident also highlighted the risks of investing in family-controlled companies where the primary goal is to further the interests of the family, not that of the shareholders or employees. Shares of Korean Air closed 0.3 percent lower after dropping nearly 6 percent in Seoul after the government announced its plan to sanction the airline.

The post Korean Air to Be Sanctioned for 'Nut Rage' Cover-Up appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

132 Children Killed in Pakistan Attack

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 08:42 PM PST

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar yesterday. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, 15, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar yesterday. (Photo: Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — In the deadliest slaughter of innocents in Pakistan in years, Taliban gunmen attacked a military-run school Tuesday and killed 141 people—almost all of them students—before government troops ended the siege.

The massacre of innocent children horrified a country already weary of unending terrorist attacks. Pakistan’s teenage Nobel Peace laureate Malala Yousafzai—herself a survivor of a Taliban shooting—said she was “heartbroken” by the bloodshed.

Even Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan decried the killing spree, calling it "un-Islamic."

If the Pakistani Taliban extremists had hoped the attack would cause the government to ease off its military offensive that began in June in the country’s tribal region, it appeared to have the opposite effect. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pledged to step up the campaign that—along with US drone strikes—has targeted the militants.

"The fight will continue. No one should have any doubt about it," Sharif said. "We will take account of each and every drop of our children’s blood."

Taliban fighters have struggled to maintain their potency in the face of the military operation. They vowed a wave of violence in response to the operation, but until Tuesday, there has only been one major attack by a splinter group near the Pakistan-India border in November. Analysts said the school siege showed that even diminished, the militant group still could inflict horrific carnage.

The rampage at the Army Public School and College began in the morning when seven militants scaled a back wall using a ladder, said Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa, a military spokesman. When they reached an auditorium where students had gathered for an event, they opened fire.

A 14-year-old, Mehran Khan, said about 400 students were in the hall when the gunmen broke through the doors and started shooting. They shot one of the teachers in the head and then set her on fire and shouted "God is great!" as she screamed, added Khan, who survived by playing dead.

From there, they went to classrooms and other parts of the school.

"Their sole purpose, it seems, was to kill those innocent kids. That’s what they did," Bajwa said. Of the 141 people slain before government troops ended the assault eight hours later, 132 were children and nine were staff members. Another 121 students and three staff members were wounded.

The seven attackers, wearing vests of explosives, all died in the eight-hour assault. It was not immediately clear if they were all killed by the soldiers or whether they blew themselves up, he said.

The wounded—some still wearing their green school blazers—flooded into hospitals as terrified parents searched for their children. By evening, funeral services were already being held for many of the victims as clerics announced the deaths over mosque loudspeakers.

The government declared three days of mourning for what appeared to be Pakistan’s deadliest attack since a 2007 suicide bombing in the port city of Karachi killed 150 people.

"My son was in uniform in the morning. He is in a casket now," wailed one parent, Tahir Ali, as he came to the hospital to collect the body of his 14-year-old son, Abdullah. "My son was my dream. My dream has been killed."

One of the wounded students, Abdullah Jamal, said he was with a group of eighth, ninth and 10th graders who were getting first-aid instructions and training with a team of army medics when the violence became real. Panic broke out when the shooting began.

"I saw children falling down who were crying and screaming. I also fell down. I learned later that I have got a bullet," he said, speaking from his hospital bed.

Another student, Amir Mateen, said they locked the door from the inside when they heard the shooting, but gunmen blasted through anyway and opened fire.

Responding to the attack, armored personnel carriers were deployed around the school, and a military helicopter circled overhead.

A little more than 1,000 students and staff were registered at the school, which is part of a network run by the military, although the surrounding area is not heavily fortified. The student body is made up of both children of military personnel as well as civilians.

Most of the students appeared to be civilians rather than children of army staff, said Javed Khan, a government official. Analysts said the militants likely targeted the school because of its military connections.

"It’s a kind of a message that 'we can also kill your children,'" said Pakistani analyst Zahid Hussain.

In a statement to reporters, Taliban spokesman Mohammed Khurasani claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was retribution for the military’s operation in nearby North Waziristan, the northwestern tribal region where the group’s fighters largely have been based.

"We targeted their kids so that they could know how it feels when they hit our kids," Khurasani said. He said the attackers were advised not to target "underage" children but did not elaborate on what that meant.

In its offensive, the military said it would go after all militant groups operating in the region. Security officials and civilians feared retribution by militants, but Pakistan has been relatively calm.

The attack raised the issue of whether this was the last gasp of a militant group crippled by a government offensive or whether the militants could regroup.

Hussain, the Pakistani analyst, called the attack an "act of desperation."

The violence will throw public support behind the campaign in North Waziristan, he said. It also shows that the Pakistani Taliban still maintains a strong intelligence network and remains a threat.

The attack drew swift condemnation from around the world. US President Barack Obama said the "terrorists have once again showed their depravity."

US Secretary of State John Kerry added: "The images are absolutely gut-wrenching: young children carried away in ambulances, a teacher burned alive in front of the students, a house of learning turned into a house of unspeakable horror."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, Pakistan’s longtime regional rival, called it "a senseless act of unspeakable brutality."

"My heart goes out to everyone who lost their loved ones today. We share their pain & offer our deepest condolences," Modi said in a series of tweeted statements.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was a "an act of horror and rank cowardice to attack defenseless children while they learn."

The violence recalled the attack on Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman outside her school in the Swat Valley for daring to speak up about girls’ rights. She survived to become a global advocate for girls’ education and received her Nobel Peace Prize last week, but has not returned to Pakistan in the two years since the shooting out of security concerns.

"Innocent children in their school have no place in horror such as this," the 17-year-old said. "I condemn these atrocious and cowardly acts."

The post 132 Children Killed in Pakistan Attack appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

China’s Dalian Wanda Prepares for the End of Urbanization

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 08:32 PM PST

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Chinese property developer Dalian Wanda Group, pictured on Sept. 22, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Wang Jianlin, chairman of Chinese property developer Dalian Wanda Group, pictured on Sept. 22, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

HONG KONG — The billionaire behind shopping mall developer Dalian Wanda says China's era of rapid urbanization will end within a decade, so he is speeding up his company's shift toward tourism and entertainment after a $3.7 billion initial public offering.

Wang Jianlin became China's fourth-richest man in part by following the migration of 300 million people into cities. His Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Co Ltd, which debuts on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Dec. 23, owns 159 Wanda Plaza shopping centers across 109 Chinese cities, including 88 projects under construction.

"The industry has to seize the last 10 years to transform," Wang told a business summit in Beijing on Saturday. "Once the urbanization rate hits around 70 percent, urbanization will be basically completed. Then there may be no more chances."

About 54 percent of China's 1.4 billion people now live in cities, and Beijing has set a target of 60 percent by 2020. City dwellers earn and spend more, which is critical as China shifts to consumption-led growth instead of manufacturing.

Wang's view is more bearish than some of his property industry peers who see the benefits of urbanization lasting longer. Yu Liang, president of China's biggest residential developer, China Vanke Co Ltd, said in May that the "golden era" was over although migration to cities would boost the industry for another 15 years.

The number of people moving to cities has slowed to 17 or 18 million annually, down from 20 million at the peak, said Tang Wang, a China economist at UBS in Hong Kong. A big obstacle for workers wanting to move to cities from the countryside is that the government restricts the number of people who can obtain "hukou" residency benefits such as affordable housing and schooling in metropolitan areas.

"It's not really about people going to the city but people staying in the city," Tang said.

In the boom years, Dalian Wanda opened malls primarily in fast-growing provincial cities instead of focusing on Shanghai and Beijing. Close ties with local governments helped Wang obtain cheap land for malls, and he expanded quickly.

Dubbed "Nouveau Riche Plaza" by netizens, Wanda Plazas—which typically house a cinema, children's arcade, karaoke bar and hypermarket— are dominated by premium local and mid-tier international fashion brands.

A 27 percent drop in first-half 2014 revenue illustrates why Dalian Wanda is keen to change course now. The company blamed fewer project completions and lower selling prices, a symptom of China's weakening property market.

"This path [of rapid expansion] cannot be sustained," Wang said. "China's land resources, China's fiscal resources and China's markets won't be able to support it."

Beverly Hills

In the hope of luring more middle-class consumers, Dalian Wanda is investing 325 billion yuan (US$53 billion) in upscale entertainment and tourist-focused facilities, including mega projects called Wanda Cities, to be opened in the next few years.

"This pioneering design emphasizes the concept of culture and tourism and aims to place Wanda Cities among tourist destinations by offering a wide range of entertainment and retail services," Dalian Wanda said in its IPO prospectus.

It has spent over 135 billion yuan on cultural resorts in tourist destinations such as Changbai Mountain, Yunnan and Hainan. It will open its new show theatre and movie theme park in the central city of Wuhan on Saturday.

It's also speeding up expansion overseas to dilute the impact from China's slowest economic growth in 24 years, with plans to build more than 150 luxury hotels globally by 2018.

Earlier this year, the company bought land in Beverly Hills, California, and agreed to jointly develop a hotel, residential and commercial project near Chicago's Millennium Park.

However, Dalian Wanda's IPO price shows investors are wary over the outlook for China's commercial property sector and uncertain about the company's diversified model. The company initially hoped to raise as much as $6 billion but cut the offering because of lukewarm interest from investors.

"Wanda needs new growth momentum, but overall demand is weak," said Geng Chen, a Philips Research analyst based in Shanghai.

The IPO values Dalian Wanda at 8.6 times 2015 earnings forecasts, which puts it higher with mixed-used property company China Resources Land, and residential property giant China Vanke, at 7.5 times.

The post China's Dalian Wanda Prepares for the End of Urbanization appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Price is Right at ‘The Phayre’s’

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 04:00 PM PST

The Phayre's offers affordable fare in the heart of the city. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

The Phayre's offers affordable fare in the heart of the city. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

YANGON — In Yangon, where a plate of Lok Lak about half as good as you'd get in Phnom Penh costs US$10, a handful of veneered restaurants and bars slap on an extra couple of thousand kyat, every few months, for diminishing portions of an exponentially-depreciating quality of fare.

Refusing to join the race to the bottom is The Phayre's, a new restaurant with nighthawk aspirations next door to the famous Pansodan Gallery.

Wings and chips might not be Michelin star material, but at 4,000 kyats there's not much of an argument to be made with a pyramid of sizzling chicken doused in Korean-style sauce—enough to make it hard to spot the half-buried clump of paprika and cajun dusted fries that peek out from beneath the pile.

"In Myanmar most of the restaurant[s] say their food is good, but sometimes it's not, and usually [it's] so expensive," said Ko Htoo Kyaw. He is one of three young Myanmar who returned home from the United States and teamed up to found The Phayre's, so-named as Pansodan Street was previously called Phayre Street, after Arthur Purves Phayre, the first British Commissioner of colonial-era Myanmar.

The pun on 'fare,' which has already caught on around Yangon, was inadvertent, conceded Ko Htoo Kyaw. Fair play to him for admitting that.

The sandwiches—again a 4,000 kyat outlay—are hefty enough to warrant a snake-like jaw-unhinging, though the 3,000 kyat beef salad is a bit light, even as salads go. A bit of ballast—some of that thick sandwich bread perhaps—wouldn't go amiss. But the oil-drizzled foliage does come with some tender, drool-inducing strips of meat that should awaken the senses of even the most ardent veggie.

A Phayre warning should be given to coffee addicts: If you are looking for a lunchtime jolt of java, you might want to keep walking. At the time of writing, The Phayre's served only brewed coffee, with no shiny Italian espresso machine behind the bar just yet.

That will soon change, however, according to Ko Myint Thein Oo, another of the three co-founders, who said they were hoping to install a coffee machine in the coming weeks.

Ko Htoo Kyaw and Ko Myint Thein Oo both came home recently after years working in the United States, cutting their business teeth with big names like Macy's and Gap.

Why come back to start a business in a city where office space is rarer than sparrows on Jupiter and where land prices are so high that units should be offered in cm²?

"Just the business opportunities here," said Ko Htoo Kyaw, suggesting that for those in the know, Yangon is the place to be. Only three months after opening, the idea is to open more branches elsewhere in town. But there's no schedule for this yet, alas.

On the Friday night when The Irrawaddy visited, there were just a half-dozen drinkers in The Phayre's, suggesting that for now the place is more of a daytime eating spot.

"We get the lunch crowd from some offices, [including] from Sakura Tower," said Ko Myint Thein Oo. There's also a weekly spillover of beard-stroking expats from the Tuesday night Pansodan Gallery gatherings.

The team behind The Phayre's renovated the former Chinese restaurant's interior with austere-looking timber—similar to the look of Fatman's about a half mile away on Yaw Min Gyi St.

There should be movie nights soon—downstairs a whitewashed wall serves as a big screen for a projector parked across the room. Upstairs there are some couches you can sink into while sinking a few Myanmar draft or maybe a signature Pegu Cocktail.

The split levels and glass facade help keep the place well-lit. But if you're waiting for your friends upstairs, don't go yelling through the glass if you spot them shuffling in through the front door. The upstairs area is sound-proofed—making The Phayre's a handy venue for a private party or a work gathering.

The Phayre's is located at 292 Pansodan Street in downtown Yangon.

This review first appeared in the December 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy Magazine.

The post Price is Right at 'The Phayre's' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

National News

National News


Domestic workers head to HK despite govt ban

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 08:22 PM PST

A local employment agency is still sending Myanmar women to Hong Kong as domestic workers despite a government ban, labour activists say. Labour Rights Clinic says it has reported the case to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Low turnout for Mandalay judiciary protest

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 07:55 PM PST

Mandalay-based political groups staged a protest against judicial bias last week but failed to attract anywhere near the 100 demonstrators they had expected.

Aid stalls in Kachin

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 07:03 PM PST

The United Nations says it had been unable to reach thousands of displaced people in rebel-held areas of Myanmar's war-torn northern Kachin state for two months as soaring tensions after recent clashes raise international alarm.

MCDC plans cheap apartments for eviction victims

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 06:29 PM PST

Families evicted by municipal authorities in Mandalay for the visit of Norwegian royals could soon be offered cheap apartments in an apparent effort by Mandalay City Development Committee to make amends for the public relations disaster.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News


Thai seminar on Burma in Pitsanulok tomorrow

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 06:18 AM PST

A two-day seminar on Thai-Burma Studies in Asean Community will be held tomorrow at Pitsanulok, where the Third Regional Army is headquartered, according an invitation by the organizers.





It is being organized by Thammasat University's Social Sciences and Humanities Textbook Foundation, headed by one of the kingdom's most respected scholar Dr Charnvit Kasetsiri. The venue will be at the Ekathosarot Building at the University of Naresuan.

One of the panelists for the topic: Problems and the Way Out for Ethnic groups along the Thai-Burmese Border Areas on the seminar's second day is Khuensai Jaiyen, Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) founder-president and managing director of the 1 year old Pyidaungsu Institute (PI) for Peace and Dialogue.

Other speakers include prominent scholars: Dulayapark Preecharach, Somrit Luechai and Moragotwong Phumplab and celebrated social activist Tuenjai Dettes.

"I hope that the seminar will promote better understanding of Burma by its neighbors," says Khuensai. "The better the understanding is, the smoother and faster the ongoing peace process will be."

The Third Regional Army was on 13 November assigned by Bangkok to monitor and coordinate the activities of the border-based ethnic armed movements with regards to the peace process launched by President Thein Sein on 17 August 2011.

Other topics include:
18 December 2014
Asean East-West, North-South Economic Corridors
Tourism in Ping-Wang-Yom-Nan and Salween Basins
Ethnic Diversity along the Thai-Burmese Border Areas
Transnational Migrant Labor
Thai-Burmese Trade
19 December
Construction of National Heroes and Heroines in Southeast Asia

The seminar will be conducted in Thai.
For more information, please contact Khun Torm 089 484 6655 and Ajarn Somrit 081 696 6003.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


Presidential ‘Press Corps’ to Improve Media Access

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 05:20 AM PST

Burmese President Thein Sein (left) speaks during a quarterly meeting of senior government officials in Naypyidaw. (Photo: President's Office website)

Burmese President Thein Sein (left) speaks during a quarterly meeting of senior government officials in Naypyidaw. (Photo: President's Office website)

RANGOON — Minister of Information Ye Htut has said that a group of journalists from independent media will soon be able join a so-called press corps that will be granted access to the Presidential Palace and public events involving the president and other cabinet members.

Ye Htut discussed the plan during a meeting in Rangoon on Tuesday with around 20 representatives from the interim Myanmar Press Council, the Myanmar Journalists Network, the Myanmar Journalists Union and the Myanmar Journalists Association.

Representatives of the organizations said the minister had told them that one journalist and one camera man from every print, online or broadcast media organization would be allowed to register with the press corps.

Those selected to join would reportedly be given working spaces with internet connections in the Presidential Palace and would be allowed to cover official public events involving President Thein Sein and other cabinet members—a privilege that until now was reserved for only state-owned media.

Ye Htut "negotiated with us to define the qualifications and restrictions for the President's Office press corps," said Pho Thauk Kya, vice-chairman of the Press Council, who welcomed the initiative as a way of gaining greater media access to Burma's government.

"I like it. Now, since the President's Office allows us entry, the ministries will have to allow us too. There is good potential [for greater media access]," he said.

Journalists who want to join the press corps will need to have at least three years' work experience, or have a statement from their media employer stating they will take responsibility for the reporter's writing, Pho Thauk Kya said, adding that changes to membership of the corps can only take place every six months.

Myint Kyaw, of the Myanmar Journalists Network, said the minister had proposed to implement the plan before the end of January.

"Journalists would be able to cover the President's Office events and state-level ceremonies," he said, adding that until now "only state media are allowed to report and meet with the ministries there, and currently it is difficult to get an interview."

In remains to be seen, however, how much media access will improve with the creation of the press corps.

Gaining media access to the government and the secretive and powerful Burma Army has been difficult in recent years, despite the introduction of wide-ranging reforms by the Thein Sein administration.

Many officials holding political office or senior government positions are former army members and shun journalists. President Thein Sein rarely gives a press conference, although he has held a few meetings with media representatives.

Minister of Information Ye Htut mostly communicates by posting announcements on his Facebook page and frequently ignores requests for media comments.

The post Presidential 'Press Corps' to Improve Media Access appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Public Mostly Hopeful About Burma’s Development, Elections: Survey

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 04:53 AM PST

NLD supporters in Rangoon celebrate the party's landslide victory in the April 1 by-election in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

NLD supporters in Rangoon celebrate the party's landslide victory in the April 1 by-election in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A new nationwide public survey has found that 62 percent of the people of Burma are generally positive about the direction the country is heading in, while 77 percent believe that planned democratic elections will bring about positive change as Burma emerges from decades of military rule.

However, public knowledge of the structure and functions of government institutions is low and understanding of democratic principles and processes is limited, according to the survey, which was carried out by The Asia Foundation and released on Tuesday.

The foundation said it conducted interviews with more than 3,000 respondents in Burma's regions and ethnic states, asking a wide range of questions concerning government, democracy, and the political, social and economic values of people from various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

"The survey results show that in the early stages of Myanmar's transition to democracy, people are generally hopeful about the future, though that optimism is tempered by a number of challenges," the foundation summarized one of its key findings.

"A majority (62 percent) of all respondents believed things in Myanmar are going in the right direction… The level of optimism is markedly higher in the regions (67 percent) than in the states (49 percent)," the report said. "People most frequently cited the building of roads and schools, and overall economic development and growth as reasons for their optimism."

On the issue of public knowledge of governance, the survey found that "Overall…basic knowledge about the structure and functions of the government is very low. A significant 82 percent of respondents are unable to name any branches of the government."

Few people have a proper understanding of the appointment process for key government positions. Most wrongly believe that the president and chief ministers of states and regions are elected, the survey found. Only 12 percent correctly stated that the president is elected by Parliament representatives, while 22 percent knew that chief ministers are appointed by the president. Only 15 percent understood that Parliament passes bills into laws.

Knowledge of the political powers of the military—which is guaranteed direct control over a quarter of Parliament and state and regional legislatures through the controversial 2008 Constitution—was also low. Only 39 percent of respondents knew that the military has representatives in Parliament and local legislatures.

Despite such shortcomings in public knowledge of government processes, hopes for the 2015 democratic elections promised by Burma's nominally-civilian government of ex-generals were high.

"People are eager to exercise their right to vote, with 77 percent believing that voting can lead to improvements in the future," the report said. "When it comes to the 2015 general elections, 68 percent of all respondents thought that they would be free and fair."

The elections are tentatively scheduled for late October or early November next year, and if they proceed as planned would be the first democratic poll since 1990, when the army ignored a landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

Although fears of expressing political views publicly continue to linger following years of military rule, 93 percent of respondents said they would vote in the upcoming elections.

"People express a strong preference for democracy in the abstract and a high level of expectation that voting will bring about positive change, but they possess a limited understanding of the principles and practices that underpin a democratic society," the survey said.

When people were asked an open question about what it means for a country to be a democracy, only 3 percent mentioned "government of the people," while 53 percent associated it with "freedom," 15 percent with "rights and law" and 11 percent with "peace."

The survey also noted a surprisingly low level of awareness of country's ethnic conflict and the slow-moving nationwide ceasefire process aimed at resolving it.

"A little more than half of all respondents (55 percent) believed that there are ongoing, armed conflicts in Myanmar, while one third (34 percent) said there are none," the survey said.

When told about the peace process, 64 percent expressed confidence in its success, although very few had heard of the term "federalism," a key point of political discussions between the government, Burma Army and ethnic armed groups.

The post Public Mostly Hopeful About Burma's Development, Elections: Survey appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

ADB to Loan Burmese Conglomerate Yoma $100Mn for Connectivity Projects

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 04:44 AM PST

Christopher Thieme, left, of the Asian Development Bank, at a loan signing ceremony with Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma Strategic Holdings, in Rangoon on Tuesday. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Christopher Thieme, left, of the Asian Development Bank, at a loan signing ceremony with Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma Strategic Holdings, in Rangoon on Tuesday. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The Asian Development Bank will provide a loan of up to US$100 million to local conglomerate Yoma Strategic Holdings to improve infrastructure connectivity in Burma, according to Christopher Thieme, director of ADB's private sector operations department.

As the regional lender's first engagement with a local business group, the loan will be dispersed in two tranches, with the first used to build telecommunication towers, develop cold storage logistics and modernize vehicle fleet leasing. The second tranche will fund subprojects in transportation, distribution, logistics and other sectors.

"Investment in connectivity infrastructure is a key factor in creating better access to economic opportunities, reducing costs, promoting trade, and attracting private investment into diverse geographic areas and sectors," said Thieme, at a loan signing ceremony in Rangoon on Tuesday.

"It is a privilege to be chosen by ADB as a partner to work on improving Myanmar's infrastructure," Serge Pun, executive chairman of Yoma, said at the ceremony.

"ADB's loan will help support our goal of improving the country's connectivity, which in turn will strengthen local markets, boost productivity, and create jobs," he added.

The terms of the loan were not disclosed. Pun said the loan would be used to help fund ongoing projects.

"For example, building towers: We have agreed to build 1,280 towers around the country. About 800 towers are already built, so these loans will be used for ongoing projects," Pun said.

An ADB statement said the projects would support sustainable economic growth in Burma, a global laggard in terms of connectivity metrics such as mobile penetration and road density,

The loan would help offset the fact that "private sector financing for much-needed infrastructure projects to boost connectivity remains a challenge due to an underdeveloped banking sector and capital market, and a lack of alternative funding sources," the ADB said.

Yoma has property, agriculture, tourism, automotive, and retail businesses in Burma. Its market capitalization was $692 million, as of Dec. 2, 2014.

The ADB loan is not the first time the company has benefited from the support of an international lender: In May, the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) gave a $30 million loan to a Yoma small and medium enterprises (SME) lending program.

The post ADB to Loan Burmese Conglomerate Yoma $100Mn for Connectivity Projects appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

The Irrawaddy’s Response to New Ministry of Information Naming Requirements

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 04:34 AM PST

RANGOON — TheMinistry of Information has indicated that it will not accept our publications' use of the English spelling "The Irrawaddy," a trademarked and registered company in Burma, as we apply to renew our publishing licenses this month.

An MoI statement, published in state-run dailies in Burmese and English on Tuesday, said use of The Irrawaddy in the application for a license for our print publications was in contravention of the Adaptation of Expression Law.

The MoI will, however, still allow use of our present spelling, "[The] Irrawaddy, for its trademark and logo in its publications."

In light of this, we will continue to use "The Irrawaddy" in branding our publications—the Burmese-language The Irrawaddy Weekly Journal and the English-language news magazine The Irrawaddy.

In the application for license extensions of both publications, we will spell the name in Burmese (ဧရာ၀တီ) as requested.

The Irrawaddy sees the MoI's order as an inappropriate interference in the operations of our media enterprise, which as a private company should not be subject to state control in this way. Established as an independent news organization in Thailand in 1993, The Irrawaddy believes in freedom of expression, including the freedom to choose our own name.

This is the second time the publication has faced pressure from the ministry over the issue.

In January of this year, the ministry's Copyrights and Registration Department asked The Irrawaddy to change the name of its Burmese-language journal from "Irrawaddy" to "Ayeyarwaddy," as the former was "the spelling used in the British colonial days." After we responded that The Irrawaddy is a trademark as well as a brand, the department indicated that it would allow use of the name.

The Irrawaddy has been operating inside Burma since 2012, at which time the MoI accepted the use of "The Irrawaddy" in initial publishing registration forms without complaints.

In 1989, Burma's former military regime, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, put forward the Adaptation of Expression Law to change some English names used inside the country to conform with what the ruling junta deemed to be their more accurate Burmese pronunciations. Passed undemocratically, the controversial law changed "Burma" to "Myanmar," "Rangoon" became "Yangon" and "Irrawaddy," the name of the country's largest river, became "Ayeyarwaddy."

# # #

 

Contact:

Aung Zaw, founder and editor-in-chief

+66 (0)8 1882 1309

 

Kyaw Zwa Moe, English edition editor

+95 (0)9 4500 67631

 

Yeni, Burmese Weekly Journal editor

+95 (0)9 5083 707

 

Win Thu, senior manager

+95 (0)9 4500 61945

The post The Irrawaddy's Response to New Ministry of Information Naming Requirements appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burmese Nationals Detained by Malaysia Return to Rangoon

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 02:55 AM PST

Returning Burmese migrant workers queue at the immigration checkpoint of Rangoon International Airport in 2013. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Returning Burmese migrant workers queue at the immigration checkpoint of Rangoon International Airport in 2013. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — 52 Burmese nationals, sentenced to yearlong prison terms for using forged visas in an attempt to enter Malaysia, have thanked embassy staff in Kuala Lumpur as they returned to Burma yesterday.

After being detained by Malaysian immigration authorities on July 8, the group met their families at Rangoon International Airport on Monday after five months' imprisonment.

Maung Oo, a 30-year-old citizen of Mon State who was among the group, said that they were unaware they were using forged visas, which had been provided by an agent in Rangoon.

"The visa agent is my friend," said Maung Oo. "We used to work together in Malaysia in the past."

Maung Oo told The Irrawaddy that he coincidentally bumped into the agent this morning while staying at a Mon Buddhist Monastery in Rangoon's Bahan Township.

"I asked him, 'how dare you hurt me by doing this?' But I didn't show my disappointment. He took my passport and told me he would give me a real [visa] this time in order to appease me, but how could I trust him?"

A total of 72 Burmese nationals were detained at Kuala Lumpur Airport after immigration officers raised concerns about the provenance of their visas to police. 12 were subsequently found to have valid tourist visas.

Of the remaining Burmese, 52 were sentenced to one year's imprisonment under the country's immigration law on Aug 12. An elderly detainee and seven children, along with the 12 valid visa holders, were not charged but remained in immigration detention for more than a month.

Maung Oo said that police threatened to prevent the group's return to Burma if they refused to admit their visas were forged during their court hearings.

"All of us had to say we used fake visas and they sentenced us one year in prison," he said. "They told us if we confessed our mistake, we would only have to stay three months in jail, which is why we admitted it at court."

The Burmese Embassy in Malaysia's intervention in the case last week led to the group of 52 being released and deported to Burma on Sunday.

Maung Oo was incensed by his treatment during his time in prison, where he says poor conditions and physical violence were rampant, and decent food and clean water non-existent.

"They beat and slap faces of the people if they do not like someone," he said of prison authorities. "They treated us Burmese very badly."

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Political Prisoners Committee Criticizes Govt Inaction

Posted: 16 Dec 2014 12:05 AM PST

Political prisoners released from Insein Prison in May 2013. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Political prisoners released from Insein Prison in May 2013. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Members of the Committee for Scrutinizing Remaining Political Prisoners have complained that efforts to assess the cases of prisoners jailed for political reasons are stalling due to a lack of government cooperation.

"We are doing our job, making a list of inmates who we consider political prisoners, but the problem is the government doesn't call meetings," said Ye Aung, a member of the committee. "We can't discuss the issue, and all our work has stalled."

The committee was founded in May 2013, with government assistance and at the urging of the United States, to release political prisoners as part of the country's democratic transition. The committee is comprised of cabinet members, political party representatives, civil society organizations and former political prisoner associations.

The last meeting of the committee was held in July.

After scrutinizing a number of cases, the committee formally recognized 27 prisoners as political prisoners after scrutiny in December last year, and all of them remain behind bars, according to Ye Aung.

"Not all political prisoners were prosecuted on political charges," said Ye Aung. "They didn't receive a fair trial. They were also charged with criminal charges. That's why they still remain behind bars."

Government representatives on the committee said that the 27 prisoners were prosecuted with criminal charges and are thus exempt from President Thein Sein's amnesty for political prisoners, citing testimony from the Correctional Department.

This year, nearly 40 people jailed under various laws have been labeled political prisoners, including activists charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, journalists, and farmers protesting against land confiscations.

Committee member Sai Nyunt Lwin, a representative of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, told The Irrawaddy that plans are underway to reconstitute the committee to be able to operate more effectively.

Last year, a total of 420 political prisoners were released with the assistance of the committee.

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Drug-Resistant Malaria in Burma: The World’s Next Big Health Crisis?

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 10:36 PM PST

Children living on the Thai-Burma border visit a malaria clinic to get tested in Sai Yoke district, Kanchanaburi Province, in October 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

Children living on the Thai-Burma border visit a malaria clinic to get tested in Sai Yoke district, Kanchanaburi Province, in October 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

MIN SAW, Karen State — Ka Lar Nar caught malaria for the sixth time when he was working away from home on his small farm in the jungle of southeastern Burma, but this time it was a lot harder to get rid of it.

After testing positive for malaria he got a three-day course of drugs from a community health volunteer in his village but even though his fever subsided, he continued to be plagued by headaches and another test still showed positive results.

Experts say his case could be an indication of drug resistance to the mosquito-borne disease, which has been spreading in Burma and other countries in the Mekong River basin in what threatens to become the next big global health emergency if it marches on to India and Africa.

"This was a missed opportunity," said Eisa Hamid, an epidemiologist working with the United Nations in Burma, who specializes in monitoring and evaluating malaria programs.

Normally, after three days of treatment the farmer's blood should have been clear of malaria-transmitting parasites.

"With any patient showing positive test results after three days of treatment, we have to suspect drug resistance, and more sophisticated blood testing should have been done as he could still carry the parasites that cause malaria in his blood."

Malaria's New Ground Zero

Malaria death rates dropped by 47 percent between 2000 and 2014 worldwide but it still killed some 584,000 people in 2013, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Much of the success in fighting the disease is due to the use of combination therapies (ACTs) based on artemisinin, a Chinese herb derivative, which is now under threat as malaria parasites have been building up resistance to the drugs.

Experts say Burma, which has the largest malaria burden in the region, is the next frontier in the spread of resistance to artemisinin.

Positioned between the Andaman Sea and the Himalayas and bordering India and China—home to 40 percent of the world's population—Burma is in a unique position to halt the spread of resistance to India and Africa.

"We need to act fast to avoid a big catastrophe," said Pascal Ringwald of the WHO's Global Malaria Program. "The consequences could be disastrous."

If the problem spreads beyond the region, history would repeat itself for a third time, as resistance to other malaria drugs developed in the area before and spread to Africa to claim the lives of millions, especially children.

But the urgency is far greater this time as new drugs to replace ACTs are not yet available.

"Artemisinin resistance could wipe out a lot of the gains we've made in containing malaria and there is nothing yet to replace it," said Nyan Sint, an epidemiologist and regional malaria officer working with the government's national malaria control program.

Before being identified in Burma in 2008, signs of resistance were found in Cambodia and since have also been confirmed in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, according to the WHO.

Why parasites become resistant to drugs is not entirely clear but prolonged civil conflict, dense jungles, migration and poor quality drugs are all believed to play a part.

The human and economic cost of failing to stop the spread would be huge, according to a model published in the Malaria Journal last month.

The study estimated an extra 116,000 deaths per year if artemisinin resistance is not stopped. Medical costs could exceed US$32 million per year, while productivity losses from a rise in cases and deaths are estimated at $385 million.

Worse Than Ebola?

Francois Nosten, a French malaria expert who has been studying the disease along the Burma-Thai border for about three decades, said drug-resistance is a quiet menace that is at risk of being overlooked as world attention focuses on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

"You don't see people dying in the streets, like with Ebola, but the consequences of it spreading further could be a lot worse," he said.

In Burma the partner drugs in ACTs are still working, but they are already failing in western Cambodia, a sign that the clock is ticking fast in the fight against drug-resistance.

Some 60 percent of Burma's 51 million people live in malaria-endemic areas, many of them migrants and people in hard-to-reach rural areas.

The number of people dying from the disease fell sharply after ACTs became more widely available but the country still recorded 333,871 malaria cases in 2013 and 236 deaths, WHO data shows.

In Karen State, much progress has been made since a January 2012 ceasefire between the government and the Karen National Union (KNU), halting one of the world's longest-running civil wars.

Villages like Min Saw used to have lots of malaria cases but better access to health care workers since the ceasefire, ACTs, rapid diagnosis tests and mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets led to a sharp drop.

"We used to have much higher incidence rates," said Saw Ohn Myint, a community health worker. "But we need more training and more equipment to continue to make progress."

International aid organizations have been working with ethnic groups and the government to set up a network of 1,500 village health volunteers that can dispense ACTs.

But thousands of Karen State's 1.5 million people remain uncovered because they are in hard-to-reach areas, sometimes still controlled by armed ethnic groups restricting access for government health workers.

Mistrust following five decades of military rule in Burma still runs deep in Karen State as its people recover from shelling, land mine explosions and forced displacement.

The situation is also complicated by fake or low-quality anti-malaria medicines dispensed at village shops, which instead of killing the parasites only make them stronger.

"This is a big problem," said Karen State Health Minister Aung Kyaw Htwe. "We're trying to educate shopkeepers not to sell these drugs and people not to take them."

In Min Saw, where a package of colorful tablets purportedly containing anti-malaria drugs sells for as little as 10 cents, villagers like Ka Lar Nar say sometimes it is easier to buy medication from the "village quack" than to see a health worker.

All-Out Assault

Under a $100 million, three-year initiative in the Greater Mekong region, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has allocated $40 million to Burma to fight artemisinin resistance.

Part of the plan is an all-out assault to eliminate plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite, as containment through bed nets, insecticides and treating only those who test positive no longer works.

Villages with a high number of infected people will be flooded with drugs to be taken by everybody, well and sick, to eliminate falciparum before treatments fail completely. The plan has received ethical clearance from the Burmese government.

Nosten, whose team is mapping 800 villages on the Thai-Burma border for potential mass treatment, says elimination is a challenge, in particular as malaria is worst in remote rural areas and because of a large number of migrants in the region.

"Some of these villages are five days' walk from the nearest road," said Nosten, director of the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. "But if we don't do it quickly, it will be too late and millions of people will die."

Mass drug treatments have been tried before with varying success. If the parasites are only cleared from half the population, the plan could backfire and boost resistance rather than eliminate it.

It also requires consent of the population but Nosten is confident that most villagers will participate.

Screening points have also been set up at key locations frequented by migrant workers where everyone can be tested, no matter whether they show malaria symptoms.

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Developing Nations Losing Record $1 Trillion a Year in Dirty Money: Report

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 09:59 PM PST

China sees the largest outflow of illicit fund, representing 40 percent of the global total. A general view of buildings in Beijing on July 3, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

China sees the largest outflow of illicit fund, representing 40 percent of the global total. A general view of buildings in Beijing on July 3, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON — Crime and corruption are draining a record US$1 trillion a year from poor and middle-income nations with the disappearance of dirty money hitting some of the world’s poorest regions hardest, a report showed on Monday.

A record $991 billion in unrecorded funds left 151 developing and emerging economies in 2012, up nearly 5 percent from a year earlier, according to U.S.-based watchdog Global Financial Integrity (GFI) that exposes financial corruption.

GFI’s sixth annual report found between 2003 and 2012, the estimated amount of illicit funds shifted from developing countries totaled $6.6 trillion and rose at an inflation-adjusted 9.4 percent a year – roughly double global GDP growth.

China, Russia, Mexico, India, Malaysia saw the largest outflow of dirty money – the proceeds from shady business, crime and corruption – over the decade and also in 2012.

Sub-Saharan Africa suffered the biggest loss as a share of its economy, with the disappearance of dirty money averaging 5.5 percent of GDP. Nigeria and South Africa were among the top 12 nations with the largest volumes of illicit outflows.

GFI President Raymond Baker said the estimated losses were conservative but were still more than 10 times the total amount of foreign aid these countries received. He called the growth rate "alarming", having surged from about $297 billion in 2003.

"Illicit financial flows are the most damaging economic problem plaguing the world’s developing and emerging economies," Baker said in a statement.

"It is simply impossible to achieve sustainable global development unless world leaders agree to address this issue head-on."

Asia was the region of the developing world with the greatest flow of dirty money over the decade, accounting for 40.3 percent of the world total, driven by China.

But the researchers found growth of illicit flows was faster in other parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa, where the growth was seen at 24.2 percent and 13.2 percent respectively.

The GFI research found fraudulent mis-invoicing of trade transactions was the most popular method to move money illegally and accounted for nearly 78 percent of illicit flows in 2012.

Money is moved overseas through trade mispricing by fraudulent underbilling or over-invoicing for goods to avoid tax or to hide large transfers.

Baker called for the United Nations to next year include a target to halve all trade-related illicit flows by 2030 as it negotiates a new set of global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

The GFI research tracks illegal money flowing out of 151 developing countries using trade and balance of payments reports filed with the International Monetary Fund. Its data provides an estimate as illicit flows cannot be precisely measured.

One of the report’s authors, GFI’s Joseph Spanjers, said the trillion dollars lost from these economies in 2012 could have been invested in local businesses, healthcare, education or infrastructure.

"This is a trillion dollars that could have contributed to inclusive economic growth, legitimate private-sector job creation, and sound public budgets," he said.

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Death Toll from Indonesian Mudslide Rises to 56

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 09:08 PM PST

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo visits the village of Sampang on Sunday after a landslide hit Banjarnegara December 14, 2014 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. (Photo: Idhad Zakaria / Antara Foto & Reuters)

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo visits the village of Sampang on Sunday after a landslide hit Banjarnegara December 14, 2014 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. (Photo: Idhad Zakaria / Antara Foto & Reuters)

BANJARNEGARA, Indonesia — The death toll from a mudslide that flattened much of a village in central Indonesia rose to 56 on Monday before rain forced rescuers to halt their search for dozens of missing people, officials said.

Seventeen bodies, including those of four children, were recovered Monday, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for Indonesia’s Disaster Mitigation Agency. Fifty-two people were still missing, three days after Friday’s disaster.

More than 3,000 rescuers, including soldiers, police and volunteers, were mobilized to dig through the mud and wreckage after the landslide buried more than 100 houses in Jemblung village in Central Java province’s Banjarnegara district.

Many people in the remote farming village heard a deep rumbling sound just after dusk Friday and managed to flee to safer ground, while others were either at home or in the local mosque when mud, rocks and trees tumbled onto their village.

The search for the missing was halted Monday as rain prompted fears of another mudslide. Local army chief Lt-Col Edy Rahmatullah said it would resume Tuesday.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who visited the area Sunday, pledged to relocate hundreds of people left homeless by the disaster and promised government aid for the injured. Eleven villagers were hospitalized.

Seasonal rains and high tides cause frequent floods in Indonesia. Many of the country’s 250 million people live in mountainous areas or fertile, flood-prone plains near rivers.

According to the national Disaster Mitigation Agency, about 41 million Indonesians live in regions prone to landslides.

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Accused of Rights Abuses, N Korea Urges UN Meeting on CIA Torture

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 08:52 PM PST

 

A group of people bow at the base of the giant bronze statue of the state founder and late

A group of people bow at the base of the giant bronze statue of the state founder and late "Great Leader" Kim-Il Sung in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang on February 26, 2008. (Photo: Reuters)

UNITED NATIONS — North Korea on Monday asked the United Nations Security Council to add the issue of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency to its agenda as the council prepares to hold a meeting next week on alleged human rights abuses by the Asian state.

The council is due to meet on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23 on human rights in North Korea after two-thirds of the 15-members pushed for the issue to be added to the body's agenda. A UN report in February detailed abuses in North Korea that it said were comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.

Once an issue is on the Security Council agenda, it can be discussed at any time. Majority support is needed to add an item to the agenda and cannot be blocked by the five veto-wielding powers—China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain.

Diplomats said it was not likely that enough countries would support a council meeting on torture by the CIA.

"The so-called 'human rights issue' in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) is politically fabricated and, therefore, it is not at all relevant to the regional or international peace and security," North Korean UN Ambassador Ja Song Nam wrote in a letter to the council.

"The issue of CIA torture crimes committed by the United States needs to be urgently addressed in the Security Council since it threatens to have an imminent and destabilizing impact on the maintenance of international peace and security," he added.

A US Senate report released last week found that the CIA misled the White House and public about its torture of detainees after the Sept. 11 attacks and acted more brutally and pervasively than it had acknowledged.

North Korea called for the Security Council to establish "an ad-hoc investigation commission mandated to make a thorough probe into the CIA torture crimes and hold those responsible to account for their most serious human rights violations."

A UN committee last month urged the council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court, alleging crimes against humanity. China, likely supported by Russia, would probably veto any referral to the international court based in The Hague, diplomats say.

China's UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi said he opposed adding human rights in North Korea to the Security Council agenda.

"The situation on the Korean peninsula is so complex and so precarious [that] what the council should do is work towards maintaining peace and stability on [the] Korean peninsula and not to do something on the contrary," he told reporters on Monday.

Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the issue should be dealt with by the UN Human Rights Council.

"If they have the meeting, I won't be heartbroken over it, but I think it's improper to do it at the Security Council," Churkin said on Monday.

 

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At Gaw Wein Jetty, Squatters Struggle to Rebuild

Posted: 15 Dec 2014 04:00 PM PST

Two squatters on the riverbank near Gaw Wein Jetty rebuild a hut after municipal authorities demolished homes in the area last month. (Photo: Zarni Mann / The Irrawaddy)

Two squatters on the riverbank near Gaw Wein Jetty rebuild a hut after municipal authorities demolished homes in the area last month. (Photo: Zarni Mann / The Irrawaddy)

MANDALAY — More than a fortnight after being evicted from the Irrawaddy River foreshore, hundreds of people living around Mandalay's Gaw Wein jetty are struggling to rebuild their small bamboo huts, bulldozed by municipal authorities.

In preparation for a royal visit from Norwegian King Harald and Queen Sonja on Dec. 4, the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) served eviction notices to the motley community of day laborers and their families living in huts on the riverbank.

Now permitted to return, squatters around the jetty have begun the daunting task of attempting to rebuild the homes knocked down by the MCDC.

"Only some bamboo posts and plastic sheets were left behind. The bamboo curtains which we used for the walls were destroyed," said Sein Hla Yee, 50, as she helped her son fashion an old plastic sheet into a makeshift roof for their new, improvised home.

Municipal authorities banned ships and boats from embarking from the jetty for several days before and after the royal visit. Among those displaced from Gaw Wein, those whose livelihoods depend on port labor have been affected the most.

"We laborers are paid daily and our earnings depend on the jetty," Sein Hla Yee said. "When the ships are not allowed to embark or to unload goods, our pockets are empty—so are our rice pots and our stomachs."

Although Sein Hla Yee and the 200 or so families in her neighborhood are now moving back to where their homes used to stand, many are still without shelter and have nothing left save a few personal belongings.

"My whole hut was destroyed and I have no money to build a new one," said Maung Aye, a father of four and port laborer, as he waited to carry cement bags onto a barge docked at the jetty. "We are still trying to save some money to build a new home. All of our money was spent during the King's visit. These days, there are not many jobs to do and we earn only a little."

Like Maung Aye, most of the Gaw Wein squatters are the general laborers and porters who earn on average around 3000 kyats ($US3) per day by loading and unloading port traffic.

Gaw Wein Jetty is Mandalay's main pier, where ships and boats transport construction materials, food and other products across the country along the Irrawaddy River's shipping channel.

This jetty is home to many laborers like Maung Aye and Sein Hla Yee who came from different corners of Burma seeking work. Many of them have been on and around the riverbank for decades, their meager earnings not enough to rent a home in town.

"At first, we rented a home in a quarter near the jetty," said Ma Khine, who came from a village near Bagan to work as a laborer 20 years earlier. "Later, we moved here as the rent increased and the landlords wanted a down payment of at least one year, which we couldn't afford."

"At my home village it was hard to get 3000 kyats a day. Here, we don't need to worry about rental fees. If we work hard, we can earn around 10,000 kyats in a day sometimes, and then we can cook meat."

Although officially homeless and occupying the riverbank illegally, members of the community has a long tradition of banding together to support each other, when they can.

"We got no help from the authorities or the individuals, said Myo Myo, the mother of a newborn baby. "We have to look after each other and help if someone has health problems. Some send their children for basic education but others can't afford it."

However, when the whole community was hit by the relocation and closure of the jetty for five days, few had money to spare.

"Five days might be a short period for some but for us, it was ages. Now we have to work really hard to earn more so that we can build back our huts, and we can't even think about our health," said Myo Myo.

Locals said that the recent eviction was not the first time they've been forced from the area, and is unlikely to be the last. Rumors of compensation and land grants on the outskirts of town have percolated throughout the community numerous times. They have never come true.

"The king or the president or the VIP—whoever comes whenever, we will be shooed away like stray dogs," said Aye Kyaing, a resident of the riverbank for about 25 years.

"We heard the [Norwegian queen] was saddened after hearing our news. We want to tell them not to worry about us because this is not because of her, and we are used to such incidents," she added.

Other, more ominous rumors are circulating amongst the squatters. Locals say a new ship dock will be constructed near Gaw Wein jetty, potentially precipitating a more permanent eviction from the area. While The Irrawaddy was unable to confirm the rumors with municipal authorities, workers have fenced off an area of the foreshore in anticipation of a new building project.

"To receive some compensation or a proper home is just a dream," said San San Myint, a 40-year-old mother of four whose children all work on the jetty. "But to be moved out of this place for VIPs or a new project is the reality. We were told not to stay in the line of the fence they have some projects to do. If the authorities want us to move out again, we are prepared."

"The authorities remember us when they want us to participate in their events, like the election in 2010, opening ceremonies, public gatherings. During those times, they invited us cheerfully, politely, and even transported us with big buses," she added.

"But most of the time, we were forgotten. For the authorities, we are not human."

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