Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

This Week in Parliament (September 19-23)

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 07:52 PM PDT

MPs attend the first day of the Lower House of Parliament in Naypyidaw on Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

MPs attend the first day of the Lower House of Parliament in Naypyidaw on Feb. 1, 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Monday, September 19

In the Lower House, U Khin Zaw of Kawthaung Township asked if the government planned to update The Police Act of 1945.

The Lower House debated the bill to amend the Ward or Village Tract Administration Law.

In the Upper House, U J Yaw Wu of Kachin State Constituency 1 asked about government actions against illegal logging in Kachin State on the Sino-Burma border.

Tuesday, September 20

The Ministry of Finance and Planning submitted the "Burma Investment Bill" to the Lower House and the bill committee put forward its report on the draft law.

Lawmakers debated the "Bill to Protect Citizens' Privacy and Security" submitted by the bill committee.

The Upper House approved the bill to amend the Civil Service Law.

The Union Parliament approved the proposal to get loans from the ADB and the French Development Agency for the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health and Sports.

Wednesday, September 21

In the Lower House, U Kyaw Aung Lwin of Sidoktaya Township submitted a proposal calling on the Union government to take prompt action to care for abused and exploited Burmese migrant workers in foreign countries in cooperation with concerned governments. The Lower House approved discussion of the proposal.

The Upper House passed the bill to annul the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act. The bill had already been approved by the Lower House.

Thursday, September 22

U Htay Win Aung of Daw Pone Township submitted an urgent proposal to the Lower House to take action against the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) for their insufficient handling of a high-profile abuse case against two underage domestic workers. Parliament decided to debate the proposal.

Parliament approved discussion of the proposal submitted by U Than Nyunt of Pyu Township which urged the Union government to bring the country's rail transportation sector up to an international level.

In the Upper House, U Kyaw Thiha of Mandalay Division (12) submitted a bill to amend the Myanmar Gemstones Law for debate.

Friday, September 23

Dr. U Maung Thin of Meiktila Township, submitted a proposal to the Lower House calling on the Union government to organize an inclusive seminar on basic education that enables people from of all walks of life to give their input and feedback in order to design a comprehensive basic education law. Parliament approved discussion of the bill.

In the Upper House, U Aung Thein of Pegu Division (12) asked if the Union government would relax some provisions in the Myanmar Citizenship Law to enable Burmese expatriates to return to the country. Minister for Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe replied that since 2013, the government has issued appropriate ID cards for 143 of 198 Burmese expat applicants and that from January 2015 to August 2016, the permanent residency system management committee and central work committee formed by the President's Office have issued permanent residency certificates to 264 of 319 applicants. The two committees have been reconstituted by the new government.

In the Union Parliament, lawmakers debated the bill to amend the Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law, over which the two houses have differing views. Further action will be taken in line with Parliament's laws and regulations to pass the bill.

The post This Week in Parliament (September 19-23) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘We Can’t Expect to See Results Overnight’

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 07:46 PM PDT

phptoKyaw Hsu Mon: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy! The United States pledged to lift economic sanctions against Burma during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's visit last week. We'll discuss to what extent it will impact Burma's economy and citizens. MKT Construction chairman U Myo Myint and economist U Khin Maung Nyo join me for the discussion. I'm Irrawaddy senior reporter Kyaw Hsu Mon.

US President Barack Obama has promised to lift sanctions against Burma, but will it benefit Burmese citizens or only big businessmen?

Khin Maung Nyo: It will benefit Burmese citizens but only after some time. There won't be immediate impacts. We should not talk about businessmen and citizens separately. If it benefits businessmen, it should also benefit citizens. The more foreign investment that comes into the country, the more job opportunities emerge, the more incomes increase. We can expect to find more trade opportunities by loosening trade with the United States, so we can expect to increase exports and earn greater export revenues. But these things will not happen immediately.

KSM: U Khin Maung Nyo said we will have to wait for sanctions to benefit Burma. U Myo Myint, what do you think?

Myo Myint: I agree. We can't expect to see results overnight. Our country's preparation in terms of human resources and other resources is not yet adequate [to receive benefits from lifting sanctions]. We have made some preparations for the AEC [Asean Economic Community] and AFTA [Asean Free Trade Area], but there is still room for improvement. If capable businessmen who want to serve the country take a leading role in leveraging the lifting of sanctions, everyone will benefit.

KSM: Military-owned businesses such as Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) dominate many markets in Burma. They will also benefit. To what extent will lifting sanctions impact military-owned businesses?

KMN: There has been constant criticism of military-owned business dominating many markets. But what is more interesting is that most of the military-owned businesses are taking a loss due to mismanagement. Although there is a saying that "whoever starts a business dominates it," [referring to the Burmese acronym for MEHL— Ooe-Pai: 'ooe' meaning to do something ahead of somebody else and 'pai' meaning 'own' in Burmese]. There are many examples in which they don't dominate the market even though they enjoyed many privileges. They came into existence under the circumstances of the time. The times have changed, and they have to change along with them—which they are already doing.

For example, they did not pay taxes before and now they do. They now have to compete with others on an equal footing. Foreign investors will choose business partners based on their management, business model, transparency, responsibility and accountability—not on whether or not they are owned by the military.

KSM: Many doubt that local businesses can compete with foreign businesses when foreign investment enters the country.  U Myo Myint, as a builder, do you think local businesses are ready? What difficulties do they face?

MM: We are not yet ready in terms of technology and human resources. Local businesses are very weak in that regard. Before talking about foreign investment, I would like to point out the tender systems of international organizations like the UNDP and UNICEF. Their tender system is very different from local systems as they take into consideration the amount of tax we have paid, greening measures, environmental conservation, CSR [corporate social responsibility], index of transparency and capital. So, we have a lot to prepare. Frequent policy changes have been a continual challenge to businessmen in our country, but I hope this will not happen in the future.

Regarding the construction industry, the new government has abolished policies adopted by the previous government [referring to high-rise building policies]. If this continues, it will deter potential foreign investors. If every new government fulfills the pledges of its predecessor, potential foreign investors will not be hesitant to invest. No government will be in office for eternity. There will be changes. We don't mean that policies should not be changed, but if they take effect retroactively, there will be negative impacts.

KSM: What do you think government employees need to do in order to adopt good policies?

KMN: Their duty is to do whatever they are asked by the current administration. Typically, government staff do not take initiative or practice discretion. They do as they are ordered. Now, the new government has come into power and it does not know what instructions to give. That is not its fault, as it has no [administrative] experience. On the other hand, staff members are waiting for instructions. They can't just take initiative because procedures restrict them from doing so. They are not supposed to overstep the boundaries of procedure.

There are also cases of government staff exploiting weak procedures for their own benefit. While the upper echelon is shouting for continuous improvement and inclusive economic growth, I wonder to what extent the lower echelon grasps that notion. I heard there were policy clarifications in the ministries lately. Previously, the idea was simple: the goal was economic development. But now the goal is sustainable, inclusive economic growth. I'm afraid that the government has work to do to educate its staff and the public.

KSM: Cronies will see greater opportunity after the United States lifts sanctions. How should the government hold them accountable?

KMN: Previously, cronies who were close to the government enjoyed lucrative business concessions and there was only domestic competition. Now they will have to compete with foreign competitors. Foreign investors will consider norms regarding employees' rights, environmental friendliness, CSR, auditing, management and so on. There will be a lot of challenges in that regard. Burma has joined the AEC and while some have prepared for it, some haven't and some don't even know what AEC is.

After sanctions are lifted, we will have to compete with international companies. Can we compete? If we can't, how can we cooperate and are we ready to cooperate? We will have opportunities, but the benefits will depend on how capable we are of taking advantage of these opportunities. The government has already changed and [unlike the previous ones] it does not award contracts to those who are closely associated with it, but instead lets them compete. Businessmen used to pay under the table to win contracts because the government allowed them to do so. If the government does not allow it, they won't. If the government has changed, businessmen also have to change. If they can't, they will be left behind.

KSM: What will be the main challenge facing local businessmen in controlling the quality of their products if the generalized scheme of preferences (GSP) is granted by the United States?

MM: It involves technique and human resources. We have to try. If we don't try, we will be swallowed by them when they come in. For example, Max brand soft drink has been swallowed by Coca Cola now. Likewise, a toothpaste brand was swallowed by Colgate since it couldn't compete. We have to try to be able to work shoulder to shoulder with them, rather than being swallowed up by them. We have to do a lot to catch up with them both in terms of quality and capacity. Only when we exert greater efforts will we benefit.

KSM: The United States has promised to grant the GSP for about 5,000 items. How will this affect the country?

KMN: The garment industry is not included in the GSP and manufacturers say they won't be able to export as much as people expect, but we will be able to export more items at low duties. I'm concerned that we might face the same problem with the EU. The EU has granted us the GSP, but our exports do not meet its standards. If we are going to take advantage of the GSP, we need to make sure our production meet international norms.

MM: The GSP allows us to export 3,500 items and since we are a LDC [least developed country], we are allowed to export 1,500 items [duty-free], totaling 5,000 items.  But one of the challenges is quality control regarding agricultural and fishery products. In the case of fruits, we have to be mindful of quality and packaging and in the case of fishery products, we need to take care of freezing techniques and packaging. We only have a few mass-produced export items. In the case of agricultural produce, we currently only buy from farmers for export. If we can establish firms and farm on a larger scale, like in foreign countries, we will benefit from the GSP.

KSM: U Myo Myint, U Khin Maung Nyo, thank you for your contribution.

The post Dateline Irrawaddy: 'We Can't Expect to See Results Overnight' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Sept 23)

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 07:39 PM PDT

Employees work at the Myanmar Central Bank headquarters in Naypyidaw on May 17, 2012. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

Employees work at the Myanmar Central Bank headquarters in Naypyidaw on May 17, 2012. (Photo: Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters)

State Counselor to Meet Business People

State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will meet members of the business community in Naypyidaw's MICC-2 building on September 28, according to Myo Myint Maung, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information.

The meeting follows the State Counselor's return from her recent visit to the United States, during which US President Barack Obama announced that American economic sanctions against Burma would soon be removed.

It is expected that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will share her experiences in the US and convey messages and information from US business representatives at the Naypyidaw gathering.

Meanwhile, the new Myanmar Investment Law is also expected to be released in the coming week after it is discussed in Parliament.

Five Sectors Highlighted for Thai Investors

The most attractive sectors for Thai investors in Burma include infrastructure, information technology, agriculture and related processing, manufacturing and tourism, according to Thai business leaders quoted in a report in the Bangkok-based Nation newspaper this week.

A large number of infrastructure projects including roads, ports and postal services are being planned in Burma with the aid of foreign assistance, according to Nattawin Pongpetrarat of the Thai Business Association of Myanmar, speaking at a seminar hosted by the Bangkok Bank.

Due to poor road infrastructure and a shortage of skilled labor, many companies are investing hugely in information and communications technology (ICT), promising potential for e-commerce and online services, Nattawin said.

Agriculture is one of the top ten contributors to Burma's economy and there was demand for expertise from Thai companies in this sector, he added.

With more than 20 daily flights connecting Yangon International Airport and Thailand, tourism companies in the neighboring country should consider increasing excursion services for Myanmar-bound tourists, he said.

"Thai companies should capitalize on their expertise. If they combine this with local experience [local partners], they will prosper," said Nattawin, who has operated a furniture and garment business in Burma for more than 10 years.

"The Myanmar economy is very dynamic. Conditions change rapidly and it is necessary to have someone on the ground to point you in the right direction," he told the Thai audience.

Sanan Angubonkul, head of the Thai government's private-sector team tasked with boosting exports and overseas investment projects, advocated setting up manufacturing operations in Burma to supply the local market, as well export markets.

"The reinstatement of the United States' Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) tariff system for Myanmar will benefit exports," he said.

Sanan warned that losses were largely unavoidable for the first three years of a typical new business, but future prospects were bright, as "Myanmar is the darling of the world."

Structural Reforms Required to Unleash Banking Sector

A major shake-up of the banking sector is predicted in a new study released this week.

Burma's banking sector will expand eightfold in almost a decade, to around US$247 billion by 2025, according to an analysis titled Myanmar Banking Sector 2025: The Way Forward, by the Roland Berger consulting group. Around 120,000 jobs are also likely to be created, it says.

However, important obstacles remain to achieving these numbers, and local banks and smaller banks will face many challenges in the coming period, according to the study.

It identifies five vital structural reforms necessary for the banking sector.

First, an active interbank market that enables banks to lend to one another instead of going to the Central Bank for funds needs to be urgently developed.

"A vibrant interbank market with standard instruments will provide comfort to the banks in their ability to refinance their credit and facilitate the transmission of the Central Bank monetary policy. In short, it is the bedrock of any modern banking system," according to the report.

Second, banks and the regulator must foster access to credit through a range of regulatory adjustments and a change in lending practices, it says.

Third, the regulator should take many steps to improve current low trust in the overall banking system. Public disclosure obligations on banks should be strengthened, the report advocates.

Fourth, reform of state-owned banks must be expedited. The largest state-owned banks currently operate as commercial banks "without the required capabilities" and do not abide by the same sets of rules and regulations, the report says.

Lastly, shoring up the independence of the Central Bank and building its capacities will be critical to steer reforms, the report states.

Given the "massive" changes ahead, local banks will have to work hard to seize opportunities and overcome problems. Smaller banks will struggle even more.

"Size matters when it comes to banks, smaller ones may not survive what's to come," the report warns.

South Korea's Shinhan Bank Opens Branch

South Korea's Shinhan Bank opened an office in Rangoon's Myanmar Plaza building this week, mainly to provide services to South Korean companies in Burma.

The bank opened a representative office in the former capital in 2013 and won a preliminary license to operate six months ago.

Shinhan Bank is the only South Korean bank to receive a license to operate in Burma.

IFC to Double Burma Investment Portfolio

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the investment arm of the World Bank, will nearly double its investment portfolio in Burma between now and the end of this year, according to a report in DealStreet Asia.

The current accumulated investment figure of $386 million will increase to around $600 million by the end of 2016, according to Vikram Kumar, the IFC's country manager in Burma.

Investments on the horizon include a $40 million loan for the combined-cycle gas turbine plant Myingyan by Sembcorp Utilities and MMID Utilities. The IFC is also set to invest in agriculture-related ventures as well as in a variety of other sectors, according to the report.

The post The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Sept 23) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Burma Army Offensive Continues in Kachin State: KIA Spokesman

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 08:30 AM PDT

KIA soldiers on the front line in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

KIA soldiers on the front line in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Burma Army conducted airstrikes on Friday in Kachin State's Waingmaw Township, continuing a weeklong offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a KIA spokesperson has told The Irrawaddy.

Offensives against the KIA's Brigade 5 have been ongoing since earlier this week, while military maneuvers have increased against other KIA brigades—2, 3 and 4—in Kachin and northern Shan states for months, according to KIA spokesman Lt-Col Naw Bu.

Naw Bu said "two helicopter gunships shot at the Lai Hpau Bum [or Lai Hpau post] for about 30 minutes, starting at 2 p.m." on Friday.

He told the Irrawaddy that since Tuesday, Burma Army troops used 120 mm and 105 mm artillery to attack Lai Hpau and nearby outpost Nhkaram, which are about three kilometers away from the Myitkyina-Bhamo highway.

The KIA troops are a security unit, used to defend the KIA headquarters in Laiza, which is about 30-40 kilometers from the current area of engagement.

Since fighting renewed in June 2011—after a 17-year ceasefire between the former military government and the KIA—the Burma Army has used its air force and artillery to attack the Laiza headquarters and its surrounding units numerous times.

The KIA has not yet signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), which is a necessary step to take part in the national political dialogue at the decision-making level. However, leaders from the KIA's political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, joined the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference—also called the Union Peace Conference—held in late August.

Naw Bu said that the offensives could be an effort to "put pressure on the KIA" to sign the NCA, in order to "implement the Burma Army's plan to bring the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of non-state armed groups," which was raised by military representatives during the Union Peace Conference.

He added that the KIA "would have to continue defensive actions against the Burma Army troops." The combined forces of the government's Light Infantry Battalion (LIB) 381, LIB 121, Infantry Battalion (IB) 360, IB 50, IB 260 and IB 29 are stationed in the area. Since mid-2011, many locals in the area have fled their homes and those displaced are still unable to return.

The Irrawaddy tried to contact the government, its National Reconciliation and Peace Center and military spokespersons but they could not be reached for comment.

The post Burma Army Offensive Continues in Kachin State: KIA Spokesman appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Insiders Share Mixed Opinions About Future of Real Estate and Construction Sectors

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 06:40 AM PDT

High-rise construction can be seen in the distance behind the Olympic Tower in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

High-rise construction can be seen in the distance behind the Olympic Tower in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Contrasting expectations have emerged from Burma's real estate industry as the National League for Democracy-led government attempts to persuade more foreign investors to enter the country's market.

After State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to US last week, marked by President Barack Obama's promise to lift economic sanctions on Burma, some of those working in property development described experiencing new hope for their sectors.

"The real estate and construction market is developing rapidly," said U Kyi Lwin, a member of the Myanmar Engineering Society, at a press conference on Thursday for the upcoming Myanmar Build & Décor Exhibition, scheduled to be held in Rangoon in early October.

U Kyi Lwin cited reports that total investment in real estate and construction had reached US$8.2 billion in 2015 and it is expected to increase to $13.5 billion by 2020.

But while rapid growth in Burma's real estate market is expected by some, many are still waiting to see results, said U Than Oo, managing director of Mandine Real Estate Agency.

"The construction and real estate market is still cooling down, as demand is low due to the slow economy here since last year," he said, predicting that "FDI [foreign direct investment] will not come rapidly to the country. I don't think many investors will come [in the near future]—the market situation is not good at the moment."

Demand is down, too, U Than Oo said.

"Some say the real estate market has gone back to normal because of the country's change, but its not true: the market is still declining even though prices are not going up," he said.

U Myo Myint, managing director of MKT Construction Co., said he feels that a rapid change in governmental policies on construction could harm the industry and concern foreign investors, who fear a market stagnancy later down the line.

The new government, he said, has abolished some construction policies practiced by the previous government, which he said could deter potential international partners.

"If every new government fulfills the pledges of its predecessors, potential foreign investors will not be hesitant to invest," U Myo Myint said. "No government will be in office for eternity. There will be changes. We don't mean that policies should not be changed, but if they take effect retroactively, there will be negative impacts," he added.

The post Insiders Share Mixed Opinions About Future of Real Estate and Construction Sectors appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

One More Suspect Arrested in Tailor Shop Abuse Case

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 04:37 AM PDT

One of the two suspects arrested by police on Friday, Ko Yazar Htun. (Photo: Yangon Police / Facebook)

One of the two suspects arrested by police on Friday, Ko Yazar Htun. (Photo: Yangon Police / Facebook)

RANGOON – The Rangoon Police Force on Friday detained another member of a family accused of the trafficking and abuse of two underage domestic workers at a downtown tailoring shop, according to a statement released on Facebook.

Ko Yazar Htun was arrested on Friday afternoon, according to the police report. His sister, Ma Thiri Latt, remains at large.

On Tuesday, police first arrested Daw Tin Thuzar, the mother in the family, while father U Ko Latt, daughter Ma Su Mon Latt and another family member, Ko Tin Min Latt, were apprehended Wednesday.

The police statement said the two victims, San Kay Khaing, aged 16, and Tha Zin, aged 17, had suffered five years of abuse at the hands of owners of the six-floor tailor shop and factory on 40th Street.

The two girls were beaten with wooden rods and broom handles, scolded with boiling water, jabbed and scratched with scissors, and had their fingers bent back painfully. The victims have a large number of scars and marks reportedly caused by members of the family.

Burma's Anti-Human Trafficking Unit filed charges against six offenders as per Burma's Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law.

According to Article 24 of the law, anyone found guilty of trafficking in persons can be punished with a minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Article 32 imposes the same punishment for anyone who "prepares, attempts, conspires, organizes, administers or abets" in any of the offenses stated in the law.

On Thursday, Dr. Win Myat Aye of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement announced the ministry is currently taking care of the two victims. It will act as a plaintiff and file a case under Section 66(d) of Burma's 1993 Child Law, which states that willful mistreatment of a child can be punished with two years in prison and/or a 10,000 kyats fine.

 Aye Yu Aung of Kyaukgyi Township was badly burnt by her employer. (Photo: Facebook)

Aye Yu Aung of Kyaukgyi Township was badly burnt by her employer. (Photo: Facebook)

The case has received a lot of online attention. Netizens believe there are many similar trafficking, abuse, and torture cases behind closed doors. Unfair and corrupt employers taking advantage of young or uneducated employees and then settling the case with cash compensation are commonplace in Burma, they said.

The Irrawaddy reported in May 2012 the case of 15-year-old Aye Yu Aung of Kyaukgyi Township, Bago Division, who was burnt with an iron by employer Daw Phyu Win Thet, wife of deputy township judge Aung Phone Win of Bago.  The victim's mother filed a case against Daw Phyu Win Thet in 2012 but as the family was too poor to hire a lawyer or attend court, the case never went to court.

In August 2016, the owners of Pandora weight loss center in Pyin Oo Lwin town of Mandalay Division were found to have physically assaulted eight female employees, locking them in dog cages and slapping them repeatedly. The victims were all paid below the government's minimum wage.

Women's rights activists from Mandalay rescued the women from Pandora and filed a case against the owners. Police hesitated to take action, however, as the family allegedly is linked with an ethnic armed group.

Correction: This story originally reported that both Ko Yazar Htun and Ma Thiri Latt had been apprehended on Friday. It has since been updated to both clarify family relationships and to show that, at the time of publication, Ma Thiri Latt had not been arrested.

The post One More Suspect Arrested in Tailor Shop Abuse Case appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Sule Square Developers Face $1.6 Million in Fines

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 04:27 AM PDT

Sule Square, in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

Sule Square, in downtown Rangoon. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — In what is believed to be one of the first large punishments handed down to Rangoon's developers, the city's municipal body has said that Sule Square project developers will face fines of more than 2 billion kyats (about US$1.6 million) for breaching building regulations in the construction of the 23-floor structure.

The Sule Square commercial complex—being built adjacent to the existing Sule Shangri-La Hotel, formerly known as Traders Hotel—included two extra floors for which the developers did not have permission to add.

The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC)'s initial approval for the project was issued in January 2013 and was based on the original project proposal, comprising two basements, 20 floors and a penthouse. The revised plan submitted by the developer just before the end of March this year included one basement and 23 floors, though the building maintained the same height—just over 302 feet—at which the YCDC's approval was granted.

Apart from the two extra floors, the most apparent differences are smaller scales of a public space and public toilets. The project's original proposal promised a public space of over 5,000 square feet and nearly 900 square feet for public restrooms. But the project's revised plan scaled down both of those designs—with only 1,300 square feet allotted for public space and 500-600 square feet for restrooms.

But after negotiating with the YCDC in last month, the developers agreed to modify the public space and public restrooms as originally proposed.

"They will pay over 2 billion kyats in fines for all the differences from the initial approval that they were constructing," U Than Htay, head of Yangon City Development Committee's (YCDC) building department, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

Aung San Win, secretary of the YCDC's High-Rise Inspection Committee, said last month that there had been about ten findings which were different from the plan YCDC initially approved.

The complex is expected to open in late 2016.

The post Sule Square Developers Face $1.6 Million in Fines appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Rights and Wrongs, Rangoon 2016

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 12:35 AM PDT

Rights and Wrongs, Rangoon 2016

Rights and Wrongs, Rangoon 2016

The post Rights and Wrongs, Rangoon 2016 appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

National News

National News

From a violent beginning to a tragic end: The story of a Rohingya woman called Raysuana

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 12:21 AM PDT

On August 30, Amnesty International called for an independent inquiry into the death and possible sexual assault of a young Rohingya woman who was found at a military compound in the Rakhine State capital Sittwe. In a two-part series that highlights the plight of Rohingya women and the lack of medical support and justice for gender-based violence available to them, The Myanmar Times asks: Who was Raysuana and why did she die?

President’s Office to investigate rights body following botched child abuse case

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 12:13 AM PDT

Outrage against the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission continued to gain momentum yesterday with a pending lawsuit and the President's Office announcing it would review the rights body's involvement in a child torture case.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asks international community for patience in Rakhine

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:55 PM PDT

State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to promote human rights in Rakhine State as she made her UN debut as her country's de facto leader on September 21.

Villagers released after detention by RCSS

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:53 PM PDT

Fifty-two villagers arrested by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), an ethnic armed group, were set free on September 21, according to Shan State Police Brigadier General Aung Aung.

Bill seeks to make gem extraction more equitable

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:53 PM PDT

The Amyotha Hluttaw's Natural Resources and Environment Conservation Committee yesterday introduced a bill amending Myanmar's Gemstone Law with the aim of preventing monopolisation of the industry.

An oasis in Myanmar’s dry zone

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:53 PM PDT

A car stirs up a cloud of dust as it drives along a dirt road through a wilting, dried-out forest. The heat is so intense that the trees are nothing more than stems, their leaves lying in piles on the ground.

Authorities decline to intervene in Bagan taxi racket

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:45 PM PDT

Tourist coming to visit ancient Bagan are being subjected to extortionate prices and predatory behaviour by taxi drivers at the Nyaung-U bus station, according to a bus company official.

Lawmaker requests return of land occupied by USDP

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:43 PM PDT

An attempt to seize the Mandalay Region head office of the former ruling party and to restore it to public use has been rebuffed by the regional government. The value of the land, almost 1 acre in extent, in Chan Aye Tharzan township, is estimated at billions of kyat.

Traditional medicine practitioners seek to upgrade regulatory council

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:42 PM PDT

Traditional medical practitioners are calling for an overhaul of the supervisory council responsible for regulating and representing the sector.

Ministers get tough on ‘erring’ monks

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 11:42 PM PDT

A drive to "cleanse" Yangon Region's Buddhist clergy will receive high-level official support, government officials have assured senior clerics.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

New center for Tai studies to open in Taunggyi

Posted: 23 Sep 2016 02:30 AM PDT

A new research center for Tai studies will launch on Monday in Shan State capital Taunggyi, according to an executive member.

Photo SHAN- Sai Kham Mong, director of the Center for Tai Studies (CTS).
Sai Kham Mong, director of the Center for Tai Studies, or CTS, said that the goal of the center is to research ethnic Tai heritage, culture and traditions, as well as other indigenous cultures in Shan State.

Although an opening ceremony has been planned for 26 September, the CTS is still lacking in several key areas – namely, an office, a library and human resources.
"Our Tai people are still not so interested in studying these subjects," said Sai Kham Mong. "But we will very much welcome each and every Tai person from around the world to come and join us."

He added: "I want not only Tais, but all other people to know that this center has now opened in Shan State."

The CTS says it aims to produce a twice-yearly English newsletter, which will be distributed abroad so that people around the world can know and learn about the Tai and other ethnic groups in Shan State. The center will also conduct workshops, seminars and distribute other publications.

Sai Kham Mong said he wished to urge all ethnic Tai people to share their thoughts and opinions with the center.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

AmCham Urges US Companies to Practice CSR in Burma

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 07:43 AM PDT

A factory worker inspects bottles on a conveyor belt in a new Coca-Cola plant in Rangoon in 2013. (Photo: Sean Havey / The Irrawaddy)

A factory worker inspects bottles on a conveyor belt in a new Coca-Cola plant in Rangoon in 2013. (Photo: Sean Havey / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON—The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) Myanmar is currently surveying business practices in order to give annual awards recognizing corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities by US companies in Burma.

After AmCham Myanmar was founded in 2013, more than 140 US businesses and local Burmese partners joined the group.

As numbers grew, the organization began surveying adherence to CSR principles and delegating honors to those who they deemed exemplary players in 2015.

"We're doing a survey for the CSR recognition awards of 2016. The results will be out in November," said Clara Tang, Burma chapter coordinator for AmCham. In order to receive an award, programs must receive high marks regarding business objectives, societal needs and the creation of sustainable long-term economic and social gains.

The first round of awards one year ago recognized the work of eight companies, including British American Tobacco (BAT), Chevron, Coca-Cola, General Electric (GE) and Procter and Gamble.

Three awardees—BAT Myanmar, GE, and Coca-Cola—have shared information on their "best practices" and experiences with CSR initiatives with other companies already.

"Another five companies will share their experiences in the coming months," Tang said.

Daw Khine Wai Thwe, head of legal and external affairs at BAT Myanmar, said in a meeting on the topic on Thursday that BAT carried out CSR-related work in Mandalay Division's Natogyi Township in 2015.

"There were no other local or international non-governmental organizations working for the local community in that area," she claimed.

BAT Myanmar said they have spent around US$100,000 on outreach activities in five villages in the township and plan to expand their work to at least 12 villages this year. The tobacco company says that up to 6,000 people have benefited from their projects in Mandalay Division.

International tobacco giant BAT has invested US$35 million in Burma since 2013. London and Lucky Strike brand cigarettes are distributed by the company.

More US companies are expected to arrive in Burma, after the White House pledged to lift remaining economic sanctions on the country on Sept. 14, after meeting with State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2015, US exports to Burma were valued at $227 million and imports at $144 million, according to DICA figures. Since 1988, total approved US investment in Burma has been $248 million.

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SNLD Urges Govt Transparency on Salween Dam Projects

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 07:35 AM PDT

A boat travels along the Salween River in Shan State, the slated site of the Mongton hydroelectric dam. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

A boat travels along the Salween River in Shan State, the slated site of the Mongton hydroelectric dam. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)

The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) has urged the government to be transparent and to ensure accountability and responsibility regarding large hydropower dam projects proposed on the Salween River in eastern Burma.

Six large hydropower dams are planned to be built along the river in Shan, Karenni and Karen states, which would collectively generate 10,000 megawatts of electricity—most of which would be exported to neighboring countries.

The SNLD also backs the demands of Shan civil society organizations (CSOs) and environmentalists to halt the dam projects, because of the local authorities' non-transparent environmental and social impact assessment conducted last month without public consultation.

On Tuesday, Nang Khin Htar Yee, a SNLD lawmaker from Shan State's Hsenwi Constituency, raised the issue of the Salween River dams in the Shan State Parliament.

But Soe Nyunt Lwin, the Shan State minister of national planning and finance, said the regional government was only permitted to manage smaller dam projects, which generate less than 30 megawatts. The minister suggested lawmakers raise the issue at the Union level, as the projects were beyond their control.

Sai Wan Hlaing Kham, an Upper House lawmaker from Lashio district, said SNLD parliamentarians were attempting to raise the issue in the Union Parliament, which is about to conclude its second session. Parliament will be unable to act on this issue until after its scheduled break.

With a plan to export up to 90 percent of the electricity from the hydropower dams to China, environmentalists and CSOs have continually protested the projects since their initial proposals, citing the harm that could be inflicted on local environments and livelihoods.

Locals worry that the halt of the Irrawaddy River's Myitsone Dam project will push the Salween Dams through in order to appease the Chinese companies invested in the project.

"We will not accept the Salween Dams as a replacement for the Myitsone Dam," said SNLD spokesman Sai Leik.

Sai Leik urged the government to focus on the potential which could be created by smaller hydropower dam projects on the Salween River.

"We understand that our country needs electricity, but we should think about self-sufficient hydropower dams, which would have less impact on our natural environment but fill the local need for electric power," he said.

He said the SNLD will continue to push the government on this issue—first in Parliament and then through national dialogue—before the next Union Peace Conference to be held around February.

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Ministry to Restrict New Hotels

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 05:30 AM PDT

The press conference held by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism in Rangoon on September 20. (Photo: May Soe San / The Irrawaddy)

The press conference held by the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism in Rangoon on September 20. (Photo: May Soe San / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON – The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism will impose restrictions on new hotel projects in several major tourist spots including Rangoon.

The ministry has started negotiations with divisional and state governments in order to restrict new hotel projects in Rangoon and Mandalay as well as Taunggyi, Inle, Kalaw and Yawnghwe in Shan State, said Deputy Director General of the ministry U Hlaing Oo.

"We have asked divisional and state governments to restrict future hotel projects in certain places with many hotels," said U Hlaing Oo. "High-rise hotels are being constructed in places like Inle Lake. While we can do nothing about existing projects, we ask governments to seriously consider new projects," said U Hlaing Oo.

New hotels in those areas are unnecessary as occupancy rates in existing hotels are low, Hotels and Tourism minister U Ohn Maung said in a press conference on Tuesday in Rangoon.

"We have made this decision through discussions with experts who have a lot of experience in the industry. At present, there are around five hotels that have more than seven stories in Yawnghwe. Those buildings do not complement the countryside," said U Ohn Maung.

Since they came into power in 2012, Burma's previous government was liberal with permission for new hotel projects. As a result, the number of hotels exceeds the number of visitors coming into the country, which calls for a restriction of new hotel projects in the future.

Minister U Ohn Maung also warned potential investors in the hotel industry not to be deceived by official tourist figures as foreign visitor numbers include those entering the country on other visas and for other reasons.

"Next year, we will release the tourist figures in different groups," he said, promising to give more accurate tourist figures.

"If people are convinced to invest in hotels based on those numbers, they are looking for trouble. Only banks will benefit from lending money to them," he added.

According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, there have been 48 hotel projects with foreign investment amounting to over 9,000 rooms in Burma. Of the 48 projects, 34 are already in operation, 11 are under construction and three have not yet been started.

The Ministry of Hotels and Tourism has approved a total of 17 hotel projects since April: Seven in Rangoon, one in Ngwe Saung Beach in Irrawaddy Division, two in Mon State's Moulmein, one in Arakan State's Gwa, one in Shan State's Kalaw, one in Chin State, and two in Karen State. Another five proposals are still being assessed, according to U Ohn Maung.

Ministry statistics said there are 1,373 registered hotels with 53,783 rooms in Burma—346 hotels with 16,783 rooms in Rangoon, 184 rooms with 7,416 rooms in Mandalay, 88 hotels with 2,729 rooms in Inle, 32 hotels with 888 rooms in Taunggyi, and 38 hotels with 814 rooms in Kalaw.

The occupancy rate of these hotels from April to July is 52 percent in Rangoon, 54 percent in Mandalay, 28 in Inle, 47 percent in Taunggyi, and 40 percent in Kalaw.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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Lawmaker Calls for MNHRC Members to be Replaced

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 05:26 AM PDT

U Zaw Win, member of the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, pictured at a press conference in Rangoon on Sept. 21, 2016. (Photo: J Paing)

U Zaw Win, member of the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, pictured at a press conference in Rangoon on Sept. 21, 2016. (Photo: J Paing)

RANGOON – A Lower House parliamentarian submitted an emergency proposal to the legislature calling for action to be taken against members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) for their insufficient handling of a high-profile abuse case against two underage domestic workers.

U Htay Win Aung, representing Rangoon Division's Daw Pone Township, criticized the MNHRC for recommending that the families of the young victims—aged 16 and 17—accept an informal cash settlement totaling US$4,000 from the accused abusers, instead of pushing for action prescribed by law.

The girls, San Kay Khaing and Tha Zin, originally from Rangoon's Kawhmu Township—also known as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's constituency—escaped from the household of a prominent tailoring family earlier in September, after five years in domestic servitude.

MP U Htay Win Aung accused the MNHRC members of ignoring existing laws in Burma, despite having worked in law enforcement. U Zaw Win, an ex-military member of the human rights commission, once served as the director general of the corrections department at Burma's notorious Insein Prison.

"Why did the commission not try to treat this as a case of torture?" he said. "Did [Zaw Win] not know the articles [of the law] when he served in the corrections department?"

"As times change, we need to change the people," U Htay Win Aung said in reference to the commission members. "That is the reasonable thing for lawmakers to do."

With National League for Democracy lawmakers voicing support for the proposal, House Speaker U Win Myint gave a nod toward holding a debate session on the issue in Parliament.

On Wednesday, the MNHRC held a press conference at its headquarters in Rangoon, where the commissioners defended their response in the case.

Four members of the family accused of the abuse have been arrested and detained by the Rangoon police. Daw Tin Thuzar was arrested on Tuesday while Ko Tin Min Latt, Ma Su Mon Latt, and Lat U Ko Latt were arrested on Wednesday.

The anti-human trafficking unit of the police force filed charges against the four offenders under Article 24, which states that anyone convicted human trafficking shall be penalized with one to 10 years imprisonment, or up to life imprisonment.

On Thursday, Dr. Win Myat Aye of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement announced the ministry is currently taking care of the two victims. It will act as a plaintiff and file a case under Section 66(d) of Burma's 1993 Child Law, which states that willful mistreatment of a child can be punished with two years in prison and/or a 10,000-kyat fine.

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Mandalay Election Criticized for Unrestricted Campaign Spending

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 04:02 AM PDT

A municipal campaign in Mandalay. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

A municipal campaign in Mandalay. (Photo: Zaw Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Mandalay municipal elections have come under fire as candidates are allowed unrestricted campaign spending.

Observers have pointed out that the election for seats on the Mandalay City Development Committee will not be fair, citing the unrestricted spending.

U Maung Maung Oo, a member of a local environmental conservation organization in Mandalay who has been observing the municipal election, said, "I found that a candidate's spending has exceeded the salary he would earn as a municipal committee member. Suppose it is a gambling, he is already losing a lot. Candidates say they just want to serve the town, which is quite doubtful."

Candidates have ramped up campaigning—often in decorated cars bearing vinyl self-portraits that blare slogans and songs, as the municipal poll is scheduled for Sunday.

"It is disappointing that candidates are campaigning like that rather than showing the people what they can do," criticized U Maung Maung Oo.

U Khin Maung Tun, a candidate running in Maha Aung Myay Township, has also criticized the campaign spending.

"I have seen the personal competition between some candidates who have high spending power. I am concerned it will lead to bribery and voting irregularities," said U Khin Maung Tun.

Thirty-five candidates vie for six seats on the committee, according to the municipal election commission. The ballots will be counted overnight and the results will be announced in newspapers the following day.

U Zaw Tin Moe, secretary of the municipal election commission, told The Irrawaddy, "We are afraid that there will be more complaints about this year's election. If disputes arise about campaign expenses, we will file a report after the election."

According to the regulations governing municipal elections, only the head of each household will be allowed to vote.

Under the law, candidates must be at least 30, be born of parents who are both Burmese citizens, hold a bachelor's degree and have lived in the township in which they are standing for election for at least 10 years.

The municipal election is estimated to cost 20 million kyat ($US16,000). There are 180,000 households that are eligible to vote, and there will be 232 polling stations and 2,000 polling station staff, according to the municipal election commission.

The 11-member committee will have six elected representatives—one from each township—and five unelected members, who will be mostly technocrats, including engineers, doctors and lawyers, to be appointed by the regional government. The mayor of Mandalay will act as the chairman of the Mandalay municipality.

This article was translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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Civilians Bear the Brunt of Ongoing Karen State Conflict

Posted: 22 Sep 2016 03:48 AM PDT

 Children take a nap at a shelter providing a temporary home for displaced persons in Myaing Gyi Ngu village. (Photo: Hsa Moo)

Children take a nap at a shelter providing a temporary home for displaced persons in Myaing Gyi Ngu village. (Photo: Hsa Moo)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – "I feel sad when I see villagers fleeing for their lives; it reminds me of my childhood. Every time I see people displaced due to war, I remember when I fled my own home," said Hay Plah, a former refugee who recently visited a displaced persons shelter in Myaing Gyi Ngu village in Karen State.

Fighting that broke out on Sept. 2 in Karen State between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) armed group and a joint force of the Burma Army and the  Tatmadaw-backed Border Guard Force (BGF), has forced nearly 4,000 civilians to flee their homes and seek shelter elsewhere in the area. Many of the displaced are children and women.

At a shelter known as Aye Lin Thar Yar field in Myaing Gyi Ngu, children were lying on the floor while women breastfed babies and talked idly with one another. "They seem full of fear, they daren't talk about the fighting," Hay Plah said.

The conflict-torn Myaing Gyi Ngu and Mae Tha Waw area of Hlaingbwe Township in Karen State's Hpa-an District is partially controlled by different armed groups, including the Burma Army, the BGF, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and the DKBA as well as DKBA splinter groups.

Last week, joint forces of the Burma Army and the BGF seized several military bases of one splinter group. In response, the faction said that it is now using guerrilla tactics to launch counter attacks against the Burma Army and the BGF.

Maj. Saw San Aung of the group said "we are outnumbered so we don't keep permanent bases. We will lose soldiers if we keep defending them, as we are outnumbered. Now we will stay mobile."

The recent fighting in Karen State, also known as Kayin State, began with a disagreement over a business deal that led to the death recently of former splinter group leader Maj. Na Ma Kyar. The conflict soon escalated, with the faction releasing a statement saying that it would be opening more frontline battles. As a result, thousands of civilians have fled their homes and abandoned their houses, farmland, and belongings.

The fighting has caused the road connecting Mae Tha Waw and Myaing Gyi Ngu villages to be closed, affecting small-scale border trade businesses.

Shopkeeper Ma Kyi who runs a store in the Thai border town of Thaw Leh Hta, about three hours' boat ride from Mae Tha Waw, said fighting has impacted her business. "It's very quiet these days, we are not selling much. Our customers haven't ordered any goods since the road closed," Ma Kyi told the Irrawaddy.

Villagers in the conflict-torn area have previously accused the armed groups of extortion and coercion, for example collecting tolls or forcing villagers to carry supplies.

In 2014, clashes between a DKBA splinter group and the BGF forced 200 villagers in Mae Tha Waw village to flee across the border to Thailand. Villagers said they were threatened, arrested, detained and forced to work for the armed groups.

"I got arrested for carrying the group's passengers," said Pa Baut, a driver for a local transportation business. "The BGF threatened me at gunpoint, saying that they would spray my truck with bullets like rainfall if I carried those soldiers."

"It is very hard to deny any group. They can do anything they like to us and we have no choice, all we want is to live in harmony."

Sources close to the concerned armed groups said that the Burma Army might have other interests rather than simply attacking DKBA splinter group leaders such as Maj. Saw San Aung and Lt. Kyaw Thet who are on the Burma Army's wanted list.

The fighting in Karen State has gained attention from the overseas Karen community. Members of the community have condemned the fighting and are angry at BGF soldiers, who are ethnic Karen, for doing the job of the Burma Army.

Meanwhile, local residents are tired of conflict that affects their safety and disrupts their daily lives.

The Mae Tha Waw area witnessed a huge military offensive by the Burma Army in 1995, forcing more than 70,000 villagers to flee. Many crossed the border to Thailand where they sought refuge in camps in Thailand's Tak Province.

The offensive of 1995 led to the fall of the Karen National Union's headquarters at Manerplaw, less than one hour north of Mae Tha Waw.

A Thai volunteer aid worker, Suwin, who delivered food and clothes to refugees who crossed the border into a Thai village in Tha Song Yang District, said that the refugees told him that the BGF forced young people to act as porters.

"I heard gunfire when I visited the displaced villagers. They told me that they worried that if the fighting continued they would be arrested and used as porters," said Suwin. "Civilians are always the most vulnerable in war."



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Suu Kyi Speaks at UN General Assembly

Posted: 21 Sep 2016 10:43 PM PDT

 Burma's State Counselor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, United States on Wednesday. (Photo: Reuters)

Burma’s State Counselor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Daw Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the 71st United Nations General Assembly in Manhattan, New York, United States on Wednesday. (Photo: Reuters)

NEW YORK, United States — Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made her first speech Wednesday at the UN General Assembly since forming a democratically elected government and called for international understanding as Burma grapples with sectarian tensions.

She addressed concerns about the situation in troubled Rakhine State, where longstanding discrimination by majority Buddhists against Muslim Rohingya exploded into bloody violence in 2012. More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingya, are still in displacement camps.

Burma's State Counselor said the new government was "standing firm against the forces of prejudice and intolerance." She said that as a responsible nation, "we do not fear international scrutiny. We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the state."

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticized by some human rights activists for not speaking out forcefully in support of the Rohingya, did not mention the group by name in her speech. It’s a contentious issue among Buddhists in Rakhine, who consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and customarily call them "Bengali."

The Nobel peace laureate said that through last year's election, the people of Burma exercised their right to fashion their dreams and aspirations for their country. She said national reconciliation in Burma is her government’s highest priority.

Speaking later at the Asia Society, she said that Burma was only at the "beginning of the road" on its transition to democracy and to realize that goal required constitutional reform so that the military does not retain a quota of a quarter of parliamentary seats.

She defended the recent appointment of a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan as the government seeks to relieve communal tension and strife in Rakhine State.

She said some political parties started protesting that "we were dragging a domestic issue onto the international stage but we explained that it had been on the international stage for some time and we had not been able to do anything about it."

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the nine-member commission will address humanitarian, development, basic rights and security issues.



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