Monday, March 19, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Hpakant Landslides Continue to Kill

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 04:28 AM PDT

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — At least four jade prospectors have been killed and dozens are reportedly missing after a waste pile collapsed in jade-rich Hpakant on Friday night.

The collapse happened around 10:45 p.m., while prospectors searched the mining waste for gems.

It is the same location where deadly landslides happened in November 2015, claiming more than 100 lives.

Seik Mu village tract local U Shwe Thein told The Irrawaddy on Monday that four bodies were found on Saturday and that two injured men were being treated at the Hpakant Hospital.

The death toll estimated by locals at the Kan Kham jade mines in La Maung village of Seik Mu village tract, Lone Khin, is more than 40, U Shwe Thein said, but the search for bodies is likely to halt due to bad weather and the risk of further collapse in the area. Two bulldozers from a company called Kyauk Sein Taung were also buried in the collapse but later removed.

"There is a risk of further collapse. There were strong winds and rain on Sunday and authorities and elders at an emergency meeting advised that the search should be halted to avoid further loss [thought it resumed on Monday]," he said.

The Lone Khin police officer on duty told The Irrawaddy that four people were currently thought to be missing with the search ongoing.

Ko Khun Aung, a Hpakant resident, said a search was carried out over the weekend with at least five bulldozers combing the area for bodies but to no avail.

Hpakant jade mines – controlled by Myanmar Army troops and companies backed by both the Myanmar Army and the Kachin Independence Army – are vulnerable to landslides at mining waste sites sometimes piled hundreds of feet high.

The landslides continue and searches often stop after a few days. Many bodies are believed to be left uncounted under the waste.

"It is because we don't have rule of law in the area, and the lives of prospectors who come from different parts of the country are not treated as valuable," said U Shwe Thein.

The post Hpakant Landslides Continue to Kill appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

UWSA Denies Reports It Plans To Sign NCA

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 04:04 AM PDT

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has denied claims by a member of the government's Peace Commission that it planned to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and accused him of trying to mislead the public.

The UWSA issued a statement on March 15 saying that contrary to comments by U Aung Soe, it had never accepted the nationwide ceasefire, and was not ready to sign the NCA. This followed comments by U Aung Soe reported in some Burmese-language media that the UWSA had agreed to sign the ceasefire agreement.

"His statement was specious and we suspect it was made to deliberately confuse the public. This was very irresponsible and confuses fact and fiction. It has caused unnecessary disruption to the peace process in Myanmar, which already has problems," the UWSA said.

Democratic Voice of Burma and the Yangon-based News Watch both reported that the UWSA had agreed to sign the NCA, based on an interview with U Aung Soe on March 14. However, when other news media followed up on the story, it emerged that his claim was untrue. The actual story was that the government Peace Commission and the UWSA were meeting as part of the regular peace process.

The UWSA, NLD-led government and Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) have differing views on how to proceed over the NCA. The UWSA was not involved in discussing the draft of the agreement. Nonetheless, both the former and current governments have pressured the group to sign.

The UWSA wants to sign alongside other ethnic armed groups who are fellow members of the Northern Alliance: the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Arakan Army (AA) and Shan State Progress Party.

"A dialogue is needed to overcome this major difference of views. The three parties must be involved, and the channels of communication between the three must also be unimpeded, but this dialogue does not mean that the UWSA has accepted the NCA," the statement reads.

The UWSA has said it would sign the NCA only if the government and military allowed amendments to parts of the agreement relating specifically to its region. The current draft NCA is not suitable, according to the UWSA, which seeks an autonomous region that would be different in nature from those run by other ethnic armed groups.

The UWSA remains firmly opposed to some of the terms of the NCA.

"Making efforts to promote peace in Myanmar is the consistent position of Wa State. Force and war are not the priority options for Wa State," the ethnic armed group said.

The UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 1989, and has not engaged in fighting with the Tatmadaw since then. The region has experienced some development thanks to border trade with China. The UWSA has at least 40,000 troops, making it the largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar.

The UWSA has tried to lead the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultation Committee (FNPCC) into peace talks with the government and Tatmadaw, but the latter refuses to include the TNLA, AA, and MNDAA in the peace process. Fighting between the Tatmadaw and Northern Alliance members has erupted in areas near UWSA-controlled parts of northern Shan State. This has caused concern within the UWSA that the Tatmadaw will attack it as well.

Commenting on the UWSA's response to U Aung Soe, some Burmese peace process observers said it could be intended to placate the other ethnic armed groups in the alliance. The Northern Alliance members have agreed that they will only sign the NCA as a block.

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Police Hand Over Fatal Crash Case Involving Army Driver to the Military

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 03:18 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — Police have handed over to the army an investigation into a fatal crash in which a journalist was hit by a car driven by a military officer.

U Tin Lin, a senior reporter at The Voice Journal, was killed instantly as he rode his motorcycle near the Naypyitaw Central Railway Station in Pobbathiri Township in the administrative capital after being hit from behind by a car driven by an army major at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

"We have investigated the case, and handed it over to the concerned battalion as [the offender] is an army official," said police lieutenant Thaung Htike Oo of the Pobbathiri Township police station.

U Tin Lin lived alone in Pobbathiri Township, away from his family in Yangon. He had worked as a reporter for more than 15 years.

In the 2010 general election, he had unsuccessfully contested a Lower House seat for the National Democratic Force (NDF) representing his hometown in Yangon's Kungyangon Township.

"We will bring the body to back to Kungyangon Township and organize his funeral. And the rest [lawsuit against the army officer] is up to his family," Ko Aung Soe, executive editor of The Voice, told The Irrawaddy.

The driver, who was identified as Major Kaung Htoo Lwin from the Health and Disease Control Unit in Zayarthiri Township, was sent to the 1,000-bed No. 2 Military Hospital to undergo a blood alcohol test to check if he was drunk while driving, but the result is still unknown, lieutenant Thaung Htike Oo said.

Kyi Taung Kan police station in Pobbathiri Township has opened a case against Maj Kaung Htoo Lwin for reckless driving and causing death.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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New Air Force Chief Has Risen Rapidly Through the Ranks

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 03:12 AM PDT

The leadership of Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, has seen frequent reshuffles in recent years, with more new blood and new faces being injected into the top ranks.

One of them is General Maung Maung Kyaw, who became the new commander-in-chief of the air force in January. Gen Maung Maung Kyaw replaced General Khin Aung Myint, who retired from the post.

In January, soon after his appointment, Gen Maung Maung Kyaw accompanied Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw, in paying a courtesy call on President U Htin Kyaw. He worked closely with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing on last month's military drills on Hsinbyushin Island in the Irrawaddy Delta, the largest since 1997.

Gen Maung Maung Kyaw is widely tipped by defense analysts in Myanmar to be a likely candidate to move into an even more senior role eventually.

He is seen as close to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing and is known to be a capable and experienced air force officer.

Gen Maung Maung Kyaw's background also seems solid. He is the youngest son of General Kyaw Htin, who served as commander-in-chief of the armed forces in the 1980s.

Kyaw Htin was close to former dictator Gen Ne Win. He joined the army in the 1940s and fought against the Japanese in World War II. Raised in Pyay, Kyaw Htin in his early days served in the famous 4th Burma Rifles, which was regarded as Ne Win's most trusted and favored regiment. Many officers from the 4th Burma Rifles rose rapidly through the ranks of both Ne Win's socialist government and the armed forces after Ne Win staged a coup in 1962.

Kyaw Htin resigned from the top army post in 1985 but continued to serve in the Burma Socialist Program Party until 1988 as deputy prime minister. He resigned along with Ne Win and died in 1996 at the age of 70.

His eldest son U Thant Kyaw served as deputy foreign minister in former President U Thein Sein's administration.

Maung Maung Kyaw has been steadily promoted through the ranks to become Air Force chief. Previously, he served as commander of the Meikhtila Air Force headquarters. As Myanmar's Air Force is planning to expand and upgrade its capabilities and capacity in coordination with the army and navy, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing saw Gen Maung Maung Kyaw's potential.

Maung Maung Kyaw also accompanied the senior-general on overseas trips in 2017. They visited Israel together in 2015.

In 2017, observers noted that Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, who is known to have political ambitions, appointed several new commanders to the top ranks.

Major-General Myo Zaw Thein, who served as chief of the Yangon Command, was promoted to lieutenant-general and became head of the military's Bureau of Special Operations 5 (BSO-5). He is the youngest among the heads of the BSO.

Lt-Gen Moe Myint Tun, former commander of BSO-5, became army chief of staff and Maj-Gen Myint Maw became head of the Naypyitaw Command. He previously served as principal of the Defense Services Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin.

The post New Air Force Chief Has Risen Rapidly Through the Ranks appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Heart of an Artist Showcased at National Museum

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 03:06 AM PDT

YANGON — Min Kyi left this world some 10 years ago. When the inevitable happened, the artist left behind his hearts, which now hang at the National Museum in Yangon. Those hearts are not made of blood or vessels, but with paint and brushwork.

Whenever he had to sell his paintings for money, Min Kyi told his family: "I had to pull my heart out to feed you."

Those hearts now fill the hall of the National Museum for the exhibition 'Min Kyi's Retrospective.' Min Kyi was known for his brilliant depiction of rural Myanmar culture and landscapes.

He quit working as a civil servant, losing his steady income and choosing to eke out a living as a full-time artist. Though his paintings were popular, he hated selling them and tried to hold on to as many as he could. Unfortunately, he lost some 300 paintings when his house caught fire.

Johnny Wuke Kah Pok, a Singaporean art collector, was able to collect more than 600 of Min Kyi's paintings, which he is showcasing at the exhibition.

"I fell in love when I saw his paintings at the Traders Hotel. So, I asked for his address and went to his home and purchased all of his paintings," said Pok.

The art exhibition at the National Museum commemorates the 10th anniversary of Min Kyi's death. Paintings will not be sold, but visitors will be presented with books featuring photos of more than 150 of his works. The exhibition will be held through this month.

"I will showcase his paintings in France in 2019. He struggled, and dedicated his life to his art. He deserves a place in the art history of Asia," said Pok.

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Naypyitaw Council Member Dismissed Over Corruption Scandal

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 01:34 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — The Myanmar government has removed a member of the Naypyitaw Council, an executive body under the direct control of the president that administers the Naypyitaw Union Territory, over a corruption scandal.

"He was sacked because of a scandal. He was mainly responsible for tenders and projects, as well as reporting to Parliament [about the projects]," a member of the Naypyitaw municipality told The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity.

The President's Office released a notice on March 15 stating that Naypyitaw Council member U Tin Htut was dismissed according to the 2008 Constitution, Union Government Law, and Naypyitaw Council Law. But the notice did not explain the reason for the dismissal.

U Tin Htut is the highest-ranking official to be dismissed in Naypyitaw under the National League for Democracy (NLD) government. In January 2018, U Myo Tint, a former military officer, also resigned from the Naypyitaw municipality.

"U Myo Tint was asked whether he wanted to resign or be dismissed. There was a lot of evidence of corruption against him. He could not deny it. U Tin Htut denied the corruption allegations. So, he was sacked," said the municipal official who asked for anonymity.

U Tin Htut did not know of his dismissal in advance, said U Myo Thant, a personal staff officer of U Tin Htut.

U Tin Htut is not an NLD member. He resigned as an assistant secretary of the Ministry of Energy in 2015 and was assigned to the Naypyitaw Council in 2016, the staff officer said.

Some lawmakers in the Naypyitaw Council area said that U Tin Htut was too close to businessmen and that his close relationships had led to a bribery scandal.

Lower House lawmaker U Kyaw Tint from Tatkon Township in the Naypyitaw Union Territory said he had worked with U Tint Htut, who was responsible for his constituency, and witnessed both his strong and weak points.

"I checked and balanced him as his actions could have undermined the image of the government. As a colleague, I gave him brotherly advice in some cases. I would say he was sacked because of some weakness in his actions," U Kyaw Tint told The Irrawaddy.

"He was dismissed because he could not perform his duties well," said an Upper House lawmaker on condition of anonymity who declined to elaborate.

U Tin Htut had switched off his mobile phone at the time of reporting this story. The NLD-government also fired two municipal officers who were sued under the 2013 Anti-Corruption Law for taking bribes from butchers in October 2017. The two are still facing trial at the Mandalay Region high court.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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11 Arrested After Mob Attacks Police to Demand Rape Suspect’s Handover

Posted: 19 Mar 2018 12:39 AM PDT

MANDALAY — Police in Mandalay Region’s Aungmyaythazan Township said they arrested 11 people on Sunday accused of joining a mob that attacked a police station holding a suspected child rapist arrested earlier in the day.

"When the crowd got bigger, the police blocked the road to the police station. Some angry men destroyed the bamboo barriers and started shouting to the police to hand over the rapist," said U Paw Lu, a township administrator.

"Later they threw stones and bricks at the police who tried to dispersed the crowd by opening fire into the air to scare them away," he added.

Police say they arrested 11 of the rioters and have filed related charges against them.

Earlier in the day, police arrested Kyaw Soe, 38, for the rape of a 7-year-old girl in Aungmyaythazan Township’s Amarahtarni quarter on Thursday. According to a neighbor, Daw Khin Khin, the girl complained of pain and bleeding to her mother on Sunday and was rushed to a doctor who discovered that she had been raped.

"The girl told her mother only on Sunday afternoon and police arrested him. We are waiting here to find out how the police will charge him. We want the death sentence for rapists like him," she said in front of the police station.

Police said they filed a rape charge against Kyaw Soe and were keeping him in custody.

Coincidentally, a campaign group advocating for tougher penalties for rapists had visited Amarahtarni on Sunday. The national campaign has picked up steam following a number of child rape and rape-murder cases in recent months.

In February, a 2-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Mandalay’s Madaya Township by a 23-year-old man. Locals staged a protest to urge authorities to sentence the man to death.

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Aung San Suu Kyi Spoke at Length About Myanmar Troubles: Turnbull

Posted: 18 Mar 2018 09:38 PM PDT

SYDNEY — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at length about her country’s troubled western state of Rakhine at a Sydney conference on Sunday and appealed to Southeast Asian neighbors for help, Australia’s prime minister said.

“We discussed the situation in Rakhine state at considerable length today,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the end of a summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australia, much of it held behind closed doors.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the matter comprehensively at some considerable length herself… She seeks support from ASEAN and other nations to provide help from a humanitarian and capacity-building point of view,” he said, using a Burmese honorific.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, was not immediately available for comment on Turnbull’s comments.

Turnbull did not tell reporters whether Suu Kyi gave details of what support she was seeking or whether she spoke specifically about violence against the Rohingya, however ASEAN’s Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance has been providing some aid since October.

UN officials say nearly 700,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after militant attacks on Aug. 25 last year sparked a crackdown, led by security forces, in Rakhine that the United Nations and United States have said constitutes ethnic cleansing.

The UN independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said in Geneva this month she saw growing evidence to suspect genocide had been committed.

Myanmar denies the charges and has asked for “clear evidence” of abuses by security forces.

Since coming to power in 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle for democracy – has failed to condemn the violence against the Rohingya.

Australia’s attorney general on Saturday rejected a private bid by activist lawyers to have Suu Kyi face charges for crimes against humanity, saying she has diplomatic immunity.

In response to questions posed by Reuters about the lawyers’ move, Suu Kyi spokesman Zaw Htay said earlier in the day such “pressure” was unhelpful in solving the conflict in Rakhine, which he called “the Bengali problem” – using a term to describe the Rohingya that suggests they are interlopers from Bangladesh.

Militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had instigated the violence with attacks on government forces in October 2016 and August 2017, said Zaw Htay, director general at the State Counselor’s Office in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.

“All of this happened because of ARSA. The government did nothing,” he said in response to a question about the legal move.

“Those who are putting pressure like this need to be careful that doesn’t become encouraging terrorists.”

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was a “complex inter-communal situation” which ASEAN leaders would continue to discuss "frankly."

“It’s an issue which is also in the public attention and it’s one of those where intense public attention sometimes makes it more difficult to solve,” he added.

Suu Kyi’s attendance at the ASEAN summit, hosted by Australia despite it not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, drew street protests in Sydney on Saturday.

The post Aung San Suu Kyi Spoke at Length About Myanmar Troubles: Turnbull appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Australia AG Rejects Lawyers’ Bid to Prosecute Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Posted: 18 Mar 2018 09:32 PM PDT

SYDNEY — Australia’s attorney general said that Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has diplomatic immunity, rejecting a bid by activist lawyers to have her face charges for crimes against humanity over the country’s treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims.

Lawyer Alison Battisson said she filed the private prosecution on behalf of Australia’s Rohingya community on Friday in Melbourne Magistrates Court and had not had a formal response from Attorney General Christian Porter.

“As it is an ongoing matter that’s about all I can say,” she told Reuters by phone.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, said on Sunday such “pressure” was unhelpful in solving the conflict in the troubled western state of Rakhine, which he called "the Bengali problem."

Many in Myanmar refer to the Rohingya as Bengalis and insist they are immigrants from Bangladesh.

Militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) had instigated the violence with attacks on government forces in October 2016 and August 2017, said Zaw Htay.

“All of this happened because of ARSA. The government did nothing,” he said in response to a question about the legal move.

“Those who are putting pressure like this need to be careful that doesn’t become encouraging terrorists.”

According to UN officials, nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after militant attacks on Aug. 25 last year sparked a crackdown led by security forces in Rakhine that the United Nations and United States have said constitute ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar denies the charge and has asked for “clear evidence” of abuses by security forces.

Porter said he would not allow the prosecution of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who arrived in Sydney on Saturday for regional talks, citing diplomatic immunity provisions, which protect foreign heads of state from being arrested, detained or served with court proceedings.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has complete immunity, including from being served with court documents, because under customary international law, heads of state, heads of government and ministers of foreign affairs are immune from foreign criminal proceedings and are inviolable,” Porter told Reuters by email.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is foreign affairs minister as well as state counselor.

The lawyers’ case argues that Suu Kyi “failed to use her position of authority and power” to prevent the “deportation” of Rohingya people from Myanmar, according to a statement emailed by Battisson.

Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which is recognized in Australia, courts can try individuals suspected of crimes against humanity or war crimes regardless of where they were alleged to have been committed, although it requires the permission of the attorney general.

The legal action coincided with the start of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings in Sydney.

Australia hosted the meetings, despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region amid China’s rising influence.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi’s invitation sparked protests, which included about 100 activists gathering on Saturday in Sydney’s Hyde Park where they chanted "Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you."

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at length about Rakhine at a conference on Sunday and appealed to Southeast Asian neighbors for help, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.

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China’s ‘Silver Fox’ Foreign Minister Promoted

Posted: 18 Mar 2018 09:24 PM PDT

BEIJING — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi retained his job and was also promoted to a state councilor on Monday, meaning he now has the country’s two top diplomat roles, in a vote of confidence for his strong defense of China’s interests.

Sources had previously told Reuters that Wang would probably become a state councilor with responsibility for foreign affairs, and that he may also keep his job as foreign minister.

He has been likened to a “silver fox” in China’s state media, and online, for his looks and his staunch defense of Chinese positions, which has won him a loyal following. Foreign diplomats say he can be suave and charming, as well as tough.

Unusually friendly to the foreign media for a senior Chinese official, Wang has won plaudits in China for his tough line on issues like the disputed South China Sea and quick-witted – sometimes bad-tempered quips – to counter criticism of China.

Wang, 64, has been China’s foreign minister since 2013. A career diplomat and fluent Japanese speaker, Wang has also served as China’s ambassador in Tokyo and head of China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office.

The country’s largely rubber stamp parliament approved Wang’s job in a mostly ceremonial vote in the Great Hall of the People with reporters present.

State councilors, who report to the Cabinet, are more senior than the ministers responsible for the same portfolio. While unusual, it is possible to be both a minister and state councilor at the same time.

It was not immediately clear what position former state councilor Yang Jiechi would get. Diplomatic sources said previously he may have become a vice premier, but his name was not included in the list for that position.

Yang still sits on the Communist Party’s Politburo, the second-largest of the party’s elite ruling bodies, meaning he will retain an influential voice in China’s foreign policy.

Previously China’s foreign minister himself, Yang speaks perfect English but has a low-key public profile and rarely talks to foreign reporters.

Yang has served as one of China’s main go-betweens with the Trump administration, with his deep knowledge of the United States coming from previous stints in the Chinese embassy in Washington, including as ambassador from 2000-2004.

Newly appointed Vice President Wang Qishan, a key ally of President Xi Jinping, is likely to have handling the Trump administration and festering trade tensions between the two countries as part of his job.

China also gets a new defense minister, Wei Fenghe, who already sits on the Central Military Commission, which runs China’s armed forces. Wei has been appointed to a state councilor as well.

The defense minister is more of a figurehead position, as real power rests with Xi and the Central Military Commission. Wei is the fourth-ranked member of that seven-man body.

The post China's 'Silver Fox' Foreign Minister Promoted appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

30 Years Since Myanmar’s Pro-democracy Uprising

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 08:33 PM PDT

Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! For Myanmar, it is fair to say that March is the Month of Revolution. Taking a look back at history, Myanmar fought back fascist Japan on March 27, 1945. This revolution finally led to independence in 1948. Looking back to 1988, Ko Phone Maw, a student at RIT [Rangoon Institute of Technology], was shot and killed by riot police on March 13. On March 16 and 17, students staged protests on the campus of Rangoon University, which led to the 8888 [pro-democracy] popular uprising. That event will have its 30th anniversary this year. Ko Sanny and Ko Ye Naing Aung, also known as Ko Wa, who joined the student movement in March 1988, join me to discuss how far the student movements we initiated have come and the challenges we have encountered along the way. I'm Irrawaddy English editor Kyaw Zwa Moe.

30 Years Since Myanmar's Pro-democracy Uprising

DATELINE IRRAWADDY30 Years Since Myanmar's Pro-democracy UprisingThe Irrawaddy discusses achievements and challenges in that time with two veterans of the student and pro-democracy movements.

Posted by The Irrawaddy – English Edition on Friday, March 16, 2018

It has been 30 years. The Tiananmen Square incident, to make a comparison with neighboring countries, happened in 1989. In terms of the political freedoms in our country at present, I find that we are ahead of China in that regard. Ko Phone Maw died in March, and Ko Sanny, you joined the student protests on March 16 and 17. What did you do, and why?

Ko Sanny: We were students at that time, and I participated as a student in the protests. We got acquainted with RIT students during the banknote crisis [the government's demonetizing of banknotes without warning] in September 1987. We went to RIT after we learned about [the police shooting of Ko Phone Maw] on March 13. We lived in Insein [Township], and RIT was not far from us. RIT students had formed a committee and posted a notice [on the wall] listing their demands. One of the demands was [for the government] to reveal the truth since [the government] claimed that [Ko Phone Maw] died while fighting other students. They asked us to distribute the papers at other schools such as Rangoon University, Hlaing University, Kyimyindaing University and RC [regional college] 1. We Rangoon University students could not stand [the killing], and we felt that we should also join them. On March 14, we posted demand notices at universities.

KZM: So, you joined the protest because you could not put up with it. What were your other aims?

Sanny: We came to realize that the congress [of the Burma Socialist Program Party] was a rubber-stamp body; that the education system was not a good one; and that it was the outcome of the political system. We still didn't know the exact causes and effects, but understood that it was the result of a lack of political liberty. We wanted to change the political system. We felt sad about their suppression of students and their hiding the truth, so we decided to fight back.

KZM: So, it could be said that protests broke out because of people's dislike of single-party dictatorship, the poor education system, and economic hardship. Ko Wa, you were an RIT student then. How did you come to join the student protests in March?

Ko Wa: On March 14, 1988, the RIT incident spread to the campus of Hlaing University, which was then called Regional College (2). We saw crowds of students gathering at the university canteen. While we were sitting at a teashop of the canteen, someone fixed a paper to the bamboo pole near us. From the words on the paper, we guessed that the student movement had become an anti-government movement. So, we realized that this had become the very first place, in the more than 260,000 square miles of Myanmar's territory, to enjoy the democratic right of freedom of expression. Political repression was quite harsh at that time; we were not even allowed to form community-based religious groups to offer alms to monks or make criticisms during the rule of the Burma Socialist Program Party. To us, it was the moment that marked the transition from student movement to political movement. Students launched the movement not because they had strong political awareness, but because they felt that the injustices created by the political system would destroy the future of the country. At first, students living nearby or studying in the same class would gather; for example, in my case, I and with my friends wrote statements and fixed them on buses and distributed them to passers-by. Later, students in each community gathered across the country; it had become a popular revolution.

KZM: It has been 30 years now. Ko Sanny and Ko Wa, you were both imprisoned for years. Ko Wa was arrested two, three times. Ko Sanny spent eight, nine years in prison. Thirty years later, the one-party dictatorship has ended. And we now have an elected government and a certain degree of democracy. Are you satisfied with the situation today, given the sacrifices of the students?

Sanny: Frankly speaking, I am not satisfied. Compared with other [democratic] countries, ours is not yet a democratic country—I don't mean development and prosperity, but in terms of political liberty. Our expectation was to abolish the one-party system influenced by military dictatorship.

KZM: There is no longer such a system.

Sanny: Though there is no such system, they [the military] have officially taken seats in the Parliament. Furthermore, there is a considerable amount of unseen control [by the military]. So, I feel that our expectations have not yet been fulfilled, as there is still no open political system.

KZM: Ko Wa, do you think Ko Sanny's expectations are too unrealistic? Are you satisfied with what your sacrifices have achieved?

Ko Wa: Generally speaking, the country has not yet reached the goal I anticipated, but I am somewhat satisfied. Because, as I've said, there was only a bamboo's space of liberty in the past. At that time, the press censorship board imposed draconian censorship on the media, and it was therefore even dubbed as a press "kempeitai" [referring to the military police of the Japanese Army during World War II, known for its brutal torture of detainees]. Now, we can publish newspapers and journals freely.

KZM: Perhaps to a certain extent [there is press freedom].

Ko Wa: Yes, to a certain extent. There is no censorship board now and we are free to form, support and run civil society organizations. Compared to the situation then, we are enjoying things that we didn't dream of at that time. But comparing the current situation against the yardstick of genuine democratic norms and the fundamental rights of society, we are lagging far behind. For example, the 2008 Constitution must be amended. We don't like it. But the Constitution at least confirms the rights and entitlements of citizens. So, I'd say there has been some progress, but it is not yet satisfactory, and we have not reached our goal. But I believe we have a good foundation from which to move forward.

KZM: Since the death of Ko Phone Maw in 1988, we have demanded democracy as our political cause. The democracy we have achieved has never been a complete one. I mean we now enjoy a certain degree of democracy. The fact that we have an elected government is a sign of democracy. But this democracy is subject to restrictions, like the 2008 Constitution and other political controls. So, the democracy we have now is limited. There are problems such as establishing a ceasefire, achieving internal peace and the Constitution. Our country could be compared to a patient with a chronic illness. My question is, how much has our country recovered after 30 years, and what has yet to be healed?

Sanny: There has been a certain amount of progress as Ko Wa has mentioned. But problems remain. There was no 2008 Constitution in the past. It imposes a barrier for us. In the past, there was greater potential for political reforms because there was no 2008 Constitution. But while the 2008 Constitution provides fundamental rights for citizens, it has also become a new hurdle to us. We have Parliament now, but it is not yet strong, which is understandable. However, there are more complex issues now. For example, the issues we face today didn't exist before. Twenty years ago, there were no ultra-nationalists. There are radical forces now. What's more, we political forces were united in the past. There was a degree of unity among student activists and political parties, but that unity has gradually disappeared now. These are great obstacles for us.

KZM: We have entered a democratic transition period since Myanmar opened the door in 2011 under President U Thein Sein's government. In other words, Myanmar has been trying to recover, but has not yet fully recovered. In terms of the political system, there are obstacles like the Constitution. At the same time, there are disagreements. We have not yet even reached a ceasefire agreement to achieve internal peace. And there is still no equality and self-determination. So, there are many problems. At times like this, political and religious tolerance is important. Ko Wa, what steps can the current government take to promote such tolerance?

Ko Wa: Personally, I think the 2008 Constitution needs to be amended. I'm not satisfied with it, but it does provide fundamental rights. To answer your question, suffice it to say that our country is faced with countless problems in the economic, social, health and education sectors. Individuals, political parties and groups may have different views about how to handle those issues. But I think the government or a political party should take the lead role to design a national strategy to address all those issues together. I mean if we try to solve problems separately, we will never solve them. If we solve this problem, that problem arises. So, we need a comprehensive strategy to address those issues together. If we can make that happen through dialogue and negotiation, there are good opportunities for us to move forward, I'd say.

KZM: There are provisions that restrict liberty and don't meet democratic norms in the 2008 Constitution. So, this hampers democratic transition. The Tatmadaw [Myanmar's military] has traditionally played a role in politics because of the part it played in the country's history as well as the position it secured by creating the 2008 Constitution. If we don't consider these — the Tatmadaw did play a role in the country's history because it was formed before independence — but if we remove it from a political role, what will happen? Because some argue that Myanmar is not yet ready to enjoy complete democracy and complete liberty.

Sanny: Yes, the Tatmadaw played a role in the country's history. Tatmadaw leaders seized power in 1962, and they ruled the country for many years. So, they might feel that they are well versed in managing the country. At the same time, they might look down on civilians and politicians. And their low opinion of them didn't change even after the 2015 election. It has not changed much. After the NLD won the 1990 election, there was a call for dialogue. Dialogue means an open discussion between two sides—democratic forces and the military. There are third-party stakeholders, like ethnic groups. But, at first, there must be bilateral discussions. I think there is still no genuine dialogue between the two sides so far. The meetings and agreements so far are the result of personal ties between the two sides rather than the result of an open dialogue. This won't work, I believe. Our country didn't undergo a normative democratic transition. Both the Tatmadaw and the political forces, especially their leaders, are responsible for this. It is important that the democratic transition is transparent and meets norms. It is highly important that [agreements] are transparent and accurately documented in a transition. We still can't make that happen. And people are not informed by the authorities about their agreements. So, agreements which come as the outcome of personal ties are not good for the country as a whole. As Ko Wa has said, we need dialogue based on documented and true agreements between all political forces. We need to persuade the military and mobilize political forces to make that happen.

KZM: Given the current situation, can we say it is unlikely?

Ko Wa: It is unlikely that the Tatmadaw will easily give up the political power they have held. It is said that civil society organizations and political parties are weak in political transition. But that is the result of the restrictions on political rights from 1962 to 2010. That is the reason behind our problems today. Our country lags behind on the economy, education, technology and so on, and only when civil society and political parties are strong will we be able to catch up. If the Tatmadaw really wants to establish modern armed forces that are on a par with those of other countries, it needs to change its attitude and let civil society and political parties grow. They Tatmadaw needs to seriously consider this. Even if the Tatmadaw alone is capable, it can't promote the interests of itself and the country given the current economic and technological inferiority and lack of unity among people in the country. More importantly, there will be tough competition in the region when the One Belt One Road Initiative and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) are implemented. If there is no unity among the forces including the Tatmadaw, we won't be able to overcome those challenges.

The Tatmadaw should start taking steps now. It has accepted federal Union in principle, and though it has not officially said when it will give up political power, the Constitution implies that it must give up some time in the future. So, the Tatmadaw should be thinking about how to build capable armed forces, how to strengthen civil society and political parties that support building strong armed forces, and how to facilitate the national economy.

Without doing this, it won't be able to build a modern, capable and professional army that can be on a par with those of other countries. Tatmadaw leaders need to make changes now for the future of the country in cooperation with political parties, civil society and organizations that represent the people. On behalf of people who want democracy, I would like to say that we don't view the Tatmadaw as the enemy. Our country needs the Tatmadaw. I personally want to see a highly modern and capable Tatmadaw. For that to happen, I would like to urge the Tatmadaw to boldly join hands with the people in trust.

KZM: Ko Sanny, Ko Wa thanks a lot!

The post 30 Years Since Myanmar's Pro-democracy Uprising appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

This Week in Parliament (March 12-16)

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 08:23 PM PDT

Monday (March 12)

U T Khun Myat, deputy speaker of the Lower House, submitted a report on the Myanmar parliamentary delegation to the 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in October 2017. The IPU Assembly "urges the global parliamentary community to take concrete steps to put an end to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya from Rakhine state, and to end further human rights violations." U T Khun Myat said that the Myanmar delegation raised objection to the resolution and responded to accusations of 'ethnic cleansing.'

Tuesday (March 13)

In the Lower House, the defense ministry refused to hand over to farmers more than 100 acres of land it confiscated in Shan State's Kyethi Township in the 1990s, citing security reasons and farmers' lack of ownership documents.

In the Upper House, six lawmakers discussed the bill amending the Anti-Corruption Law. Khun Win Thaung of Kachin State Constituency (11) called for rewriting the law, saying that corruption is still rampant in the country despite the fact that the law came into effect in 2013. More lawmakers are set to debate the bill on March 20.

Wednesday (March 14)

In the Lower House, Dr. Maung Thin of Meiktila Township urged the government to explain in detail the repatriation of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh. Deputy Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement U Soe Aung replied that Myanmar and Bangladesh signed the 'Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State' on Nov. 23, 2017, and that the repatriation process would be carried out according to the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law and 1993 agreement between the two countries.

In the Upper House, lawmaker U Kyaw Htwe of Yangon Constituency (8) asked about private banks and Vice Governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar U Soe Thane replied that there are currently 24 private banks in the country. The Central Bank of Myanmar is considering the applications of five new private banks and has suspended accepting new applications.

Thursday (March 15)

In Union Parliament, lawmakers discussed the report on the Myanmar parliamentary delegation to the 137th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly in October 2017. Dr. Than Win of Mandalay Constituency (1) said that an IPU resolution to urge governments to put diplomatic pressure on Myanmar exaggerates the issue and does not solve the problem.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications sought approval from Parliament for a 56.622 billion yen ($536 million) loan from Japan to upgrade the country's rail system.

Friday (March 16)

Four lawmakers discussed the report of the Government’s Guarantees, Pledges and Undertakings Vetting Committee in the Lower House, which agreed that there is a need for greater checks and balances to make sure government-funded projects meet standards and deliver value to the public

The post This Week in Parliament (March 12-16) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

From ‘Beauty Queen’ to Beach Bum? Ngapali Loses its Sparkle

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 09:01 AM PDT

NGAPALI, Rakhine State — Daw Khin Myo Nwe, 48, can recall as a child spying the white sand of Ngapali beach, in southern Rakhine State’s Thandwe Township, rolling gently into the turquoise waters of the Bay of Bengal through the row of coconut trees separating the scene from the Mazin-Geiktaw road.

But that scene started to change quickly in late 2010, when developers began building upscale resorts along the beach, erecting brick walls blocking the view from the road and raising retaining walls along the shore to block the rainy-season waves that threatened to damage their properties.

On a recent visit to the beach, The Irrawaddy saw foot-high banks in the sand along the beach in several locations, which some blame on the retaining walls.

"Once, the landscape of the beach was almost like a horizontal floor and even if you went about 30 feet into the water it was about as deeps as your waist. Now, If you walk just four or five steps into the water it almost reaches your chest. I can't believe my eyes," said Daw Khin Myo Nwe.

She is not the only one who has noticed the change.

Loi Kham Pang, an ethnic Shan who recently visited Ngapali, said he noticed that the seafloor close to the beach was often uneven with large sandy bumps but smooth much further out.

U Chan Thar, the state’s social welfare minister and a native of Thandwe, was highly critical of the walls the hotels were building along the shore during a sustainable tourism meeting on Sunday in Ngapali joined by union Hotels and Tourism Minister U Ohn Maung and state Chief Minister U Nyi Pu.

He said Ngapali beach was not a rocky place when he was a child but now had many rocks below the surface of the water in several places.

"The retaining walls make the Ngapali shoreline ugly," U Chan Thar said.

While locals and officials blame the retaining walls for making the incline of the beach increasingly steep, some of the hotel owners blame it on villagers who dig up the beach sand.

"We clearly understand that the impact is huge. This issue must be resolved effectively," said May Myat Thu, managing director of the Jade Marina Resort.

Beachgoers pose for a selfie by a bank of sand on Ngapali beach. / Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy

A “Queen” Dethroned

In 2016, holidaymakers voted Ngapali the top destination in Asia in TripAdvisor’s Traveler's Choice Awards. It was named one of the top 10 beaches in the world and even dubbed a “beauty queen” by some fans.

Since then, however, it has fallen to third among 25 Asian beaches, drawing a variety of complaints. India's Agonda beach came out on time, followed by the Brocay seashore in Malaysia. Ngapali no longer even makes TripAdvisor’s list of the top 25 beaches in the world.

"Ngapali’s global ranking has declined, which is very upsetting to me. That's reality; we cannot deny it," said U Nyi Pu.

It's not clear how many travelers decided not to vote for Ngapali because of the Rohingya refugee crisis, which saw the military sweep through the state’s northern Maungdaw Township in late 2017 in what the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” driving nearly 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Rights activists have called on the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar’s army chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to the International Criminal Court.

During the weekend meeting in Ngapali, U Nyi Pu said the crisis had greatly impacted the entire nation and that he learned that some diplomats and visitors believed it was affecting the whole state. He said even Japan, Myanmar’s second largest loan provider, has labeled the country a dangerous place to visit.

"In fact it’s happening in a part of northern Rakhine State, not in the entire state. We have repeatedly explained this to them," he said.

State Planning and Finance Minister U Kyaw Aye Thein listed a litany of other troubles facing Ngapali, from expensive hotel rooms to poor beach maintenance, limited public spaces, an inadequate waste management system, tensions between the hotels and local fishermen, late-night parties, traffic accidents and summertime congestion.

"Dropping from top 10 to 25th place indicates that we are in a very critical situation. We have to tackle [the problem] to not fall further," he said.

During the meeting, the tourism minister repeatedly urged hoteliers and stakeholders to keep Ngapali pristine and law enforcement authorities to enforce the law. Myanmar Tourism Federation chairman U Yan Win also suggested heavy penalties for lawbreakers.

Rocks at low tide on Ngapali beach. / Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy

Well Connected

Some lodge owners complained that little had been done to improve the situation despite several stakeholder meetings over the years emphasizing law enforcement. Some blamed the developers’ powerful connections.

According to the Tourism Ministry’s Thandwe department, 35 local resorts and guesthouses are operating with tourism license. But at least a dozen are not. Documents show that the majority of high-end hotels in Ngapali are linked to relatives of the country’s former military dictators and senior army officers or to tycoons such as Edin U Chit Khine, AGD bank owner U Tay Za, and Fortune International owner U Mya Han. Almost all the resorts have built concrete walls on prime beachfront property.

For example, the new Pristine Mermaid Resort — owned by Nanda Aye, daughter of the previous military regime's vice chairman, Maung Aye — has been operating illegally without a permit since early this year. Many tons of beach sand were used to fill in much of the six-acre project in Mya Pyin village.

The Irrawaddy found that some villagers and hotels have been stealing the salty, white beach sand for construction. Along the road in Mazin-Geiktaw village, some hotels keep a large pile of the sand out front. Even Ngapali Bay — where the union minister and state chief minister stayed over the weekend — had a pile cover with tarpaulin.

Thandwe Municipal Committee chairman U Than Tun complained that none of the hoteliers apply to his office for construction permits to build their retaining walls even though the tourism minister officially instructed them to do so last year.

However, nearly all the beachfront hotels have already built retaining walls along the shore. But whenever tourists complain, the chairman said, the businesses simply blame villagers for digging up the beach sand.

"The lack of the rule of law in the region is the main reason why Ngapali beach is being spoiled," he said.

A retaining wall in front of the Merciel and Hilton Hotel on Ngapali beach. / Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy

Unlawful Construction

U Ohn Maung has instructed hoteliers to secure permits from the municipal board before building retaining walls. And though municipal law allows for such walls to be no more than one foot above the sand, some of the walls stretch six feet and up.

"In my opinion, the hotels’ beachfront retaining walls should not exist," said U Than Tun, pointedly accusing some of the hotels of digging up beach sand themselves.

According to the Tourism Ministry’s guidelines on coastal beach resort areas, construction sites must be 50 meters back from the high-tide mark, avoid building walls or fences that block views of the beach, and not use beach sand.

Hotel Paradise, a public-private venture involving the Civil Aviation Department, appears to have violated all three rules but has secured a tourism license regardless.

Despite the municipal committee chairman’s tough words, however, the weekend meeting on sustainable tourism came to a close without any orders or instructions being issued. The Irrawaddy tried to ask U Ohn Maung about the concerns that were raised, but government employees blocked the reporter’s path.

Local government officials and guesthouse owners told The Irrawaddy it would be “impossible” to get the hotels to tear down their walls.

“Because of power and money,” said Daw Khin Myo Nwe, who owns the Kyaw Ngapali Lodge. “For instance, Pristine Mermaid has very strong backing. They have a brother and sister relationship. So whatever we demand, there is no result."

Ngapali Paradise Hotel, located well within 50 meters of the high tide mark, where development is prohibited by law. / Moe Myint / The Irrawaddy

A Better Way

In the US, a government report on shoreline stabilization by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation says that vertical retaining walls are not recommended to block tides and waves because they can reflect wave energy rather than dissipate it. The report recommends softer stabilization approaches such as placing rocks along the shore to reduce wave velocity.

U Maung Maung Aye, a river morphologist and chief adviser at the Myanmar Environment Institute, said that on a river a retaining wall can, by disrupting the waves, alter the slope of the riverbed over time.

"When the river [bed] becomes steep, the river starts the process of erosion instead of deposition," he said.

Considering what was happening at Ngapali beach, he said. "I think the retaining walls are one of the causes in this case."

But he added that it was difficult to tell how much other factors were also playing a part and recommended that geomorphologists and coastal experts collaborate with the nearest university on a research project to find out.

The post From ‘Beauty Queen’ to Beach Bum? Ngapali Loses its Sparkle appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Cycling a Great Way to See Nyaung Shwe

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 08:25 AM PDT

Nyaung Shwe is the main access point to Inle Lake and the most popular place for tourists to stay.

Hotels in Nyaung Shwe are cheaper than those built on Inle Lake and the township has many good restaurants and bars.

Many people use bicycles as transportation to nearby spots. Cycling is made easy by Nyaung Shwe's paved and mostly flat roads.

When I visited Inle Lake, I cycled around Nyaung Shwe and went to a nearby winery at sunset after taking a boat tour on the lake on my first day.

Some hotels provide free bicycles for their guests. If yours doesn't, don't worry — there are many bike rental shops in Nyaung Shwe, with fees of 3,000 to 5,000 kyats.

A bicycle rental shop in Nyaung Shwe/ Zaw Zaw/ The Irrawaddy

Myanmar has many tourist attractions, but few can be explored on a bicycle. So this is a rare opportunity and a nice way to experience the life of the local communities around Inle Lake.

My friend and I left our hotel at around 3pm, with plans to cycle to two destinations: the Red Mountain Estate Winery and the Coffee House.

The weather never really gets that cold, but between 11am and 3pm it's quite hot. So the best time for biking is in the morning and after 3pm, when the sun isn't so hot and the ride is more pleasant.

The sweeping view of the lake from Red Mountain Estate Winery/ Zaw Zaw/ The Irrawaddy

It takes about 45 minutes to get the Red Mountain Winery from Nyaung Shwe; all you need to bring is water and a camera.

On the way, you can stop at some interesting places to take photographs and the road is really nice, with a lovely view.

Very soon, we reached the sign for the winery and turned left onto the entrance road. This is a fairly long, dusty stretch of road.

We found ourselves on a plateau facing a mountain. It was too steep to ride up so we got off and pushed our bikes all the way to the entrance. We passed the vineyard and came across more beautiful scenery.

The winery has two main buildings; one is for wine tasting and the other is a restaurant where you can order wine and snacks. The outdoor area is the best place from which to take in the sunset.

At our backs was pretty Shan Hill, and before us was the panoramic view across the vineyard to Inle Lake. It was a pretty cool sight.

Visitors chill outside of the winery./ Zaw Zaw/ The Irrawaddy

Red Mountain's wines are made from their locally grown grapes. Wine tasting is 5,000 kyats until 6pm, including 4 glasses of red and/or white wine.

While the wine was too dry for my taste — maybe I just picked the wrong one to taste — the visit was still worth it, as we spent time wandering around the vineyard and watching the sunset amid beautiful surroundings.

Sunset is the best time to go, but the winery does get a little crowded at this time. So, when visiting Inle, Red Mountain is a must-see place for a beautiful sunset moment.

Locally grown grapes from the vineyard at Red Mountain/ Zaw Zaw/ The Irrawaddy

However, we didn't have enough time to watch the sun go down. Leaving the winery, we continued on to the Coffee House by Pleasant Garden near the Inle Horse Club. It takes about 45 minutes to get there from Red Mountain Winery.

We were hot and sweaty by the time we got there, but riding turned the journey into an adventure.

After another long and dusty ride, we reached the entrance of the coffee shop. This nice, quiet, private coffee house is built in the middle of a garden.

Even that area is dusty; we chose to sit outside and ordered a couple of strawberry juices and snacks.

Coffee House by the Pleasant Garden/ Zaw Zaw/ The Irrawaddy

Its nice to sit and drink a juice, with the view of nature and the mountains, which never fail to relax me. The scenery is stunning — the juice is good, too.

Sunset is just as beautiful from this place, but this shop is less crowded as it's less well known and a little harder to reach than Red Mountain.

It was getting dark and our bicycling tour was over. We headed back to Nyaung Shwe, which only took 30 minutes.

When you're visiting Inle, this bike tour around Nyaung Shwe is a must, after you've done a boat trip on the lake. I'm sure you won't regret it.

The post Cycling a Great Way to See Nyaung Shwe appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Tatmadaw Offensive Forces KIA Battalion to Abandon Base in Tanai

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 05:10 AM PDT

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has withdrawn its Battalion 14 from its base in a mining area in Tanai Township amid a renewed offensive against it by the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw), according to local sources.

"We have withdrawn because the Tatmadaw keeps attacking the location. They attacked with a large force," KIA spokesman Colonel Naw Bu told The Irrawaddy today.

Battalion 14 withdrew from its permanent base last week, though some of its units continue to patrol the area.

"As a rebel force, it is difficult to maintain our battalions in permanent locations. In fact, it is not always our policy to defend bases at all costs; depending on the situation, we can withdraw a battalion to another area," he said.

The Myanmar Army launched its second offensive on KIA-controlled areas this year starting in the first week of March. During the first attack, launched in January, it seized some mining areas in Tanai from the KIA.

According to the KIA, the withdrawal is not a defeat, but a strategic retreat that will allow it to prepare an attack.

The Myanmar Army continues to base itself in mining areas, according to local sources, but KIA troops also remain active in these areas, leading to occasional clashes.

The Tatmadaw has ordered the KIA to withdraw its battalions 12, 14, and 24 from Tanai and Mansi townships, but the KIA has refused.

It has not reached Battalion 14 yet, but KIA troops have already destroyed their base, according to the KIA.

The Tatmadaw launched a major offensive against KIA-controlled areas in Kachin, and TNLA areas in northern Shan. Clashes are frequent between the Myanmar Army and the ethnic armed forces. The KIA has not signed the NCA yet.

The post Tatmadaw Offensive Forces KIA Battalion to Abandon Base in Tanai appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Sick Reuters Journalist Still Waiting For Proper Medical Care

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 04:15 AM PDT

MANDALAY — Permission for one of two detained Reuters journalists to receive treatment for jaundice and other medical conditions at a hospital outside of Insein prison has yet to be granted more than a week after his family requested it.

Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, is in such bad health that his worried family asked the prison authorities to allow him to undergo a medical examination and receive proper treatment at an outside hospital.

"He is weak and has suffered from jaundice for about 20 days. His doctor said his liver is affected and gave him some medicine," Ma Nyo Nyo Aye, sister of Ko Kyaw Soe Oo told The Irrawaddy.

According to his relatives, Ko Kyaw Soe Oo was able to have a brief medical checkup during a court hearing on Wednesday. However, the limited amount of time meant the doctor could not give him a proper examination.

"His office arranged the doctor, but he had very little time. We want to do more tests and get proper treatment for him. Moreover, the prison authorities only allowed him to take certain medicines with him and in a limited amount," Ma Nyo Nyo Aye said. "We are worried that he will not recover because he did not receive the full dosage of the drugs the doctor gave him."

The family said they requested permission a week ago for Ko Kyaw Soe Oo to be sent to an outside hospital, however, the prison authorities have yet to respond to them.

"Everyone knows the healthcare in the prison is not perfect and sanitation and hygiene are not good. We are worried for our brother's health. He has no history of hepatitis but we are worried that he will be infected in the prison," Ma Nyo Nyo Aye said.

The journalist's lawyers said they are trying to push the prison authorities to provide proper healthcare to him.

Ko Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone were arrested on Dec. 12 by plainclothes officers after being handed some papers by a policeman. They stand accused of possessing confidential government papers and have been charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. They are facing a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison for the alleged crime.

The post Sick Reuters Journalist Still Waiting For Proper Medical Care appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

USDP Complains of ‘Democratic Bullying’

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 03:13 AM PDT

NAYPYITAW — The opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) said on Thursday that it has been subject to "democratic bullying" by the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

U Pike Htwe, secretary of the USDP central executive committee, claimed that the NLD-dominated Parliament has restricted the USDP's parliamentary actions and also turned a deaf ear to the opposition party's recommendations.

"This has raised the question of whether Parliament is ignoring the needs of people today because of partisanship, personality cults and egoism," said U Pike Htwe, at a USDP press conference on Thursday.

"To put it simply, it is democratic bullying," remarked U Pike Htwe, referring to the fact that the legislature is dominated by the NLD.

This is not the first time that the USDP has used this term. In April 2016, both the then-ruling USDP and the military bloc cried "democratic bullying" when the Lower House passed the 'State Counselor Bill' which gave NLD chairperson Daw Aung San Suu Kyi a position 'above the president' as she was barred by the military-drafted 2008 Constitution from the presidency.

Military lawmakers claimed that the bill was unconstitutional, and they boycotted the proceedings by refusing to cast ballots during the session.

The press conference on Thursday was attended by senior members U Pike Htwe, U Hla Thein, Dr. Nanda Hla Myint, Dr. Pwint Hsan and U Thein Tun, all of who criticized the actions of the NLD-led government.

"Our party's attempts to ask questions about the interests of the country and citizens were restricted [by the NLD] in Parliament for various reasons. Our proposals were also rejected by vote because of their numerical superiority in Parliament," said U Pike Htwe.

He called Parliament "unreliable" and said that the negligence of the NLD-led government had led to economic decline, hardship for the poor, an increase in crimes, and worsened problems in northern Rakhine State.

"In fact, it is they who have bullied since they staged a coup," said Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesperson of the NLD, referring to the military coup in 1988.

"It is quite funny that they say we bully them. Who was really bullied?" he asked.

He said there is no 'bullying' in a democracy. "Democracy is about the minority yielding to the majority, and the majority respecting the minority," he said.

Though the NLD said time and again while it was still the opposition that there should not be state-run media, the party is now using it as a propaganda tool, said U Pike Htwe, who served as deputy information minister under U Thein Sein's government.

He referred to the speeches of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi aired and published on state-owned television and newspapers just before the by-election in April 2017.

"They don't report the news that the public should be informed about. And they say different things in Myanmar and English language papers. This is real cause for concern," said U Pike Htwe.

"It is time the media pointed out what the government, which called itself a democratic government together with the people, is doing today," he said.

Unlike the NLD, the USDP organized stakeholder meetings between the government, Parliament, Tatmadaw and ethnic groups as well as meetings with other political parties from time to time under former President U Thein Sein's government, he added.

"The USDP set aside differences and cooperated with other parties for the interest of the country," he said.

"We presented recommendations to the president [U Htin Kyaw, to hold such meetings]. But, we are sorry that he has not made any reply," U Pike Htwe said.

The USDP's membership has increased by 30,000 since 2015, and the party now boasts a membership of more than 5 million across the country, said Dr. Nanda Hla Myint.

However, he declined to answer The Irrawaddy's questions about the party's financial sources. "The economy of our party is its internal affair. No party will tell what it does [for financing]," he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

The post USDP Complains of 'Democratic Bullying' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar Human Rights Defenders Honored by EU

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 03:07 AM PDT

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — "One of the growing difficulties these days is intolerance and hostility toward different races and nationalities being cultivated as a political weapon—a very potent as well as very dangerous political weapon I would say," said Ko Swe Win, the editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now.

He is one of three human rights defenders along with Cheery Zahau and Daw Khin Than Htwe who received this year's Schuman Award for Human Rights from The European Union in Myanmar on Thursday.

Ko Swe Win said [in his speech], "Only the promotion of human rights can help us contain this deplorable trend. It's also quite important that we should not get too obsessed with different identities we grow up within our different geographical locations. Whether we identify ourselves as European or Indian or Christian or Buddhist, we should not forget that we all belong to the same human family."

The EU's Schuman Award—named after former French Foreign Minister and one of the founding fathers of the European Union Robert Schuman—was established last year to recognize Myanmar citizens who are agents of change in their community. Last year's recipients were U Aung Myo Min of Equality Myanmar, Janan Lahtaw of the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation and U Ko Ni, the slain lawyer of the National League for Democracy.

EU ambassador Kristian Schmidt said in his opening remarks at the award ceremony on Thursday night: "This year, we are proud to honor three Myanmar activists with the Schuman Award. They are the winners, but to all the activists, let me say this, activists and journalists fighting for human rights and freedom of expression are the backbone of democracy."

He added, "We need that courage, your courage, to hold government accountable."

Ambassadors from Germany, France and Denmark presented the medals to the recipients.

Civil society groups and the press in Myanmar have been active agents of change in Myanmar's democratization process, which started under the former President U Thein Sein eight years ago. However, freedom of expression, the right to information and the right to be protected still remained challenged in the country.

Daw Khin Than Htwe, Cheery Zahau and Ko Swe Win (front row, L to R) with the European Union ambassadors in Myanmar at the awards reception ceremony in Yangon on Mar. 15, 2018. /European Union in Myanmar / Facebook

The awardees emphasized that widespread human rights violations and safety for human rights defenders are still issues in the country, and highlighted that various difficulties faced by Myanmar and other countries stem from an absence of genuine democracy and human rights values.

A former political prisoner who spent seven years in prison under the military regime, Ko Swe Win fights for press freedom and challenges wrongdoing in society.

"We are still unprotected under the law, as Myanmar does not have a healthy political system which hinders the improvement of the judiciary," Ko Swe Win told The Irrawaddy.

His work revealing the abuse of domestic workers at the Ava tailor shop in 2016 raised public attention and brought justice to the victims.

But because of his fight to defend human rights, he has been sued by a follower of the banned nationalist group Ma Ba Tha over an article posted on Facebook that criticized ultranationalist monk U Wirathu.

Cheery Zahau, who has been a human rights advocate for 20 years, is the founder of the Women's League of Chinland and promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women through trainings that challenge patriarchal stereotypes. The ethnic Chin woman is also the recipient of the UNDP N'Peace award for 2017.

"We are in a very squeezed political environment and there are fewer and fewer of us," Cheery Zahau said in her speech regarding the work of the human rights activists, adding, "We need encouragement from all of you."

The human rights defender added, "I still strongly believe when human rights norms and standards are institutionalized in our political institutions, in our economic policies and programs, and in our social affairs; democracy will foster, prosperity will come and peace will be sustained."

Another woman honored for her commitment to the advancement of women was Daw Khin Than Htwe. She is the chair of local civil society organization (CSO) Mon State Women and Children Upgrade Conduct Team in Moulmein, Mon State.

She helps trafficking victims, women facing domestic violence, and child victims of rape. She also empowers women through human rights and rule of law trainings in the communities and advocated for legal protections for women.

Daw Khin Than Htwe said that the award proved that if CSOs worked for their communities, the world would recognize their efforts, adding that the recognition gave her the confidence and strength to continue her mission.

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Parliament Ponders Japanese Loan to Continue Railway Upgrades

Posted: 16 Mar 2018 03:02 AM PDT

YANGON — The Ministry of Transport and Communications on Thursday sought approval from Parliament for a 56.622 billion yen ($536 million) loan to continue upgrading the country's rail system.

The loan would be used to buy locomotives, carriages and sleepers and to improve the signal and control system, Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications U Tha Oo told Parliament.

He said the ministry borrowed 20 billion yen from Japan in September 2014 and another 25 billion yen in March 2017 to improve the rail network.

The ministry has been upgrading the Yangon-Mandalay rail line with the two earlier loans — the 267 km Yangon-Toungoo section in Phase 1 and the 354 km Toungoo-Mandalay section in Phase 2, which is scheduled to be completed in 2020.

The upgrades will reduce travel times as trains will be able to run at a speed of 100 km per hour. Trains currently run at 64 km per hour, the deputy minister said.

"Currently it takes around 15 hours from Yangon to Mandalay, and the deputy minister said upgrading the railroad was estimated to reduce the travel time to eight hours. If so, I support taking the loan because it will improve commodity flow," lawmaker U Thant Zin Tun, of Naypyitaw’s Dekkhinathiri Township, told The Irrawaddy.

Myanma Railways is also upgrading the Yangon circle line with financial support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Of the more than 400 locomotives operated by Myanma Railways, nearly half are past their service life and a quarter of the roughly 1,200 carriages in operation are in poor condition.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation also sought approval from Parliament for a 30.469 billion yen loan from JICA.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.


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Irrawaddy Govt to Pay For Local Chin National Day Celebrations

Posted: 15 Mar 2018 11:54 PM PDT

PATHEIN, Irrawaddy Region — The Irrawaddy Region government will fund the celebration of Chin National Day, which has been held in the region since 2012, in the coming 2018-19 fiscal year.

Region Planning and Finance Minister U Htay Win made the announcement in response to a question from lawmaker U Htein Win, Kyaunggon Township, during a session of the regional Parliament on Wednesday.

"We will set up a fund in our 2018-19 fiscal year budget in line with Article 13 of the Ethnic Rights Protection Law in order to promote the literature, language and culture of Chin ethnic people," U Htay Win said.

Article 13 states that region or state governments shall establish funds in their annual budgets to address ethnic interests.

Since 2012, Chin National Day has been celebrated alternately in Kyangin and Myanaung townships in Irrawaddy Region. The 70th anniversary of Chin National Day was held as a regionwide event for the first time in the region’s capital, Pathein, on Feb. 20 this year with donations from the Irrawaddy government and Parliament, Chin residents and other individuals.

"We celebrated Chin National Day out of our own pockets in Irrawaddy Region with difficulty. We are glad that the region government will officially allocate funds for future celebrations. We are grateful to it," Salai Myat Thu, patron of the committee organizing Chin National Day, told The Irrawaddy.

The region’s ethnic Chin live mainly in Kyangin, Myanaung, Ingapu and Ngapudaw townships and less so in Maubin, Myaungmya, Labutta, Pathein and other areas, totaling more than 20,000 people, according to the committee.

On Feb. 20, 1948, more than 5,000 Chin delegates gathered in Chin State's Falam Township and agreed to abolish their hereditary feudal system of administration. Since then, the day has been celebrated as Chin National Day.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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Tibet Can Exist With China Like ‘European Union’: Dalai Lama

Posted: 15 Mar 2018 10:42 PM PDT

BEIJING — Tibet can exist within China in the same spirit as the European Union sticks together, the territory’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, considered a dangerous separatist by Beijing, said.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and set up a government in exile in the foothills of Dharamsala. Chinese troops had seized control of Tibet nine years earlier.

He says he only seeks autonomy for his homeland, not outright independence. He has also expressed a desire to return to Tibet.

“I always, you see, admire the spirit of [the] European Union,” the Dalai Lama said in a video message to the International Campaign for Tibet on the Washington DC-based group’s 30th anniversary on Thursday.

“Common interest [is] more important rather than one’s own national interest. With that kind of concept, I am very much willing to remain within the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese word, ‘gongheguo’ [republic], shows some kind of union is there.”

China says Tibet in an integral part of its territory and has been for centuries. Beijing also says its rule ended serfdom and brought prosperity to what was a backward region, and that it fully respects the rights of the Tibetan people.

Beijing insists that the Dalai Lama is a “splittist” in a monk’s robes and has warned foreign leaders against meeting him, even in a personal capacity.

Donald Trump has not met with the Dalai Lama since become president in January last year. All recent US presidents before Trump had held meetings with the Dalai Lama.

While the Dalai Lama reiterated his desire for reconciliation as Xi Jinping begins his second five-year term as China’s president, he also said the Tibetan issue was not about to go away.

“Among the Chinese hardliners, in their mind, it seems some kind of dilemma is there about their present policy — whether, you see, it can solve Tibetan problem or not,” he said.

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Australia to Raise Rights Concerns with Myanmar, Cambodia at ASEAN Summit

Posted: 15 Mar 2018 10:21 PM PDT

SYDNEY — Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she will raise human rights concerns with Myanmar and Cambodian leaders during a three-day summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that begins in Sydney on Friday.

Australia is hosting the special meeting, despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region amid China’s rising influence.

Bishop said that Australia would “very seriously” consider any formal invitation to join the grouping, a move advocated by Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Asked whether the meeting was a direct counter to China’s growing interest in the region, Bishop said Australia believed the bloc brought it “peace, stability and security."

“We don’t see it as having a role to balance the powers in the Indo-Pacific but rather be at the heart of the engagement collaboration with other countries,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio ahead of the opening of the summit.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route and which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas, and has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and air strips. Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, all of which are members of ASEAN, and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

The inclusion of Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen in the meeting has drawn criticism, and large protests are planned against both.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is under pressure to publicly condemn the deaths and expulsion of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State in recent months.

“It is in our interest to engage all ASEAN members including Aung San Suu Kyi at this summit because it gives us the best chance of influencing outcomes and making our concerns known, so these are matters that we would be discussing with the Myanmar delegation,” Bishop said.

Hun Sen, meanwhile, stirred anger in the local Cambodian expat community when he warned potential protesters against burning effigies of him in Sydney, saying: “I will follow you all the way to your doorstep and beat you right there … I can use violence against you.”

Asked about the threat, Bishop said Australia was “certainly going to raise our concerns with the Cambodian delegation.”

Officially, the summit will focus on fostering closer economic ties among the 10 members of ASEAN and Australia, and countering the threat of Islamist militants returning to the region from the Middle East.

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Infested Chinese Garlic Imports Kick Up a Stink in Indonesia

Posted: 15 Mar 2018 10:16 PM PDT

JAKARTA — Indonesia has impounded more than 200 tons of garlic imported from China, warning that a microscopic worm infestation found in the shipment could put at risk plans by the Southeast Asian country to boost its own garlic crop.

Since coming to power in 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pursued self-sufficiency policies to protect farmers, but efforts to rely on domestic supplies of everything from beef to rice have at times caused shortages and price spikes.

Chinese food imports have previously proved sensitive in Indonesia. In 2016, Beijing’s embassy in Jakarta expressed alarm at media reports accusing China of using a "biological weapon" against Indonesia, after four Chinese nationals were arrested for planting imported chili seeds contaminated with a bacteria.

The 232 tons of garlic were imported from China in mid-February and after arriving at Jakarta’s port were shipped to the island of Sumatra, the country’s Agriculture Ministry said.

This could be “very damaging to our garlic farming when we are trying to achieve self-sufficiency,” the ministry said in a statement on March 12.

Despite being certified as free of pests in China, samples of the shipment contained ditylenchus dipsaci, a microscopic worm that infects onions and garlic, the ministry said.

The nematology department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln describes the worm as “one of the most devastating plant parasitic nematodes.”

When quarantine officials reported the discovery to the importer, the garlic had already been sent to North Sumatra, the agriculture ministry said.

The controversy even stirred a heated debate in parliament this week when a member of President Widodo’s ruling party called for a police investigation.

Soetrisno, the chief executive officer of PT Tunas Sumber Rejeki, the company that imported the garlic, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Chinese embassy in Jakarta declined to comment.

The garlic is currently being stored at a warehouse in Belawan Port, Sumatra, that has been sealed by police and the quarantine agency.

Banun Harpini, the head of quarantine at the agriculture ministry, said on Wednesday the importer would be blacklisted. It was not immediately clear what other penalties would be levied.

Indonesia plans to be self sufficient in garlic in 2019 by increasing the growing area for the crop by more than 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres), but this may be an ambitious target since last year the country imported 434,000 tons of garlic, more than ten times the amount grown domestically.

This year, the agriculture ministry expects 392,000 tons will be imported, mostly from China and India.

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Accused Gunman in U Ko Ni Case Appears In Court After Completing Immigration Sentence

Posted: 15 Mar 2018 09:53 PM PDT

Yangon—Kyi Lin, the accused assassin of U Ko Ni, a constitutional lawyer and legal adviser to the ruling National League for Democracy party, appeared at the Yangon North District Court on Thursday having completed his sentence for violation of the Immigration Act. He was noticeably wearing normal clothes and not prison garb.

Kyi Lin, who is accused of fatally shooting U Ko Ni outside Yangon International Airport in January 2017, was sentenced to one year in prison on Aug. 30, 2017 by Mingalardon Township Court for breaching Article 13 (a) of the Immigration Act.

The reason for his early release is not clear, but it appears to be for good behavior in prison.

Kyi Lin officially left Myanmar for Thailand's Mae Sot through the Myawaddy border gate with a border pass on Sept. 15, 2016, but returned to the country via an illegal route and was subsequently charged under the Immigration Act.

He was also charged under Section 302 of the Penal Code for killing U Ko Ni and fatally shooting taxi driver U Ne Win, as well as under the 1878 Arms Act for illegal possession of a firearm.

Police detained four suspects in connection with the crime: Kyi Lin and three alleged co-conspirators, Zeya Phyo, Aung Win Zaw and Aung Win Tun.

After nearly a year of preliminary hearings, the court charged Aung Win Tun under the Penal Code's Article 212, which prohibits harboring an offender, but allowed him to stand trial on bail last month after he deposited 50 million kyats (about US$37,300) as a surety for his release from custody. The other three suspects were indicted for premeditated murder, which carries a life sentence.

The man accused of masterminding the murder, former Lieutenant-Colonel Aung Win Khaing, remains at large. The court also ordered the confiscation of Aung Win Khaing's movable and immovable assets under the Criminal Procedure's Article 88.

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