Friday, November 21, 2014

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Activists Call for Constitutional Change to Empower Women

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 05:30 AM PST

Women's activists Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, left, and Nyo Nyo Thin stand in front of a banner for the Asia-Pacific Conference on Beijing+20 in Bangkok. (Photo: Facebook / Shwe Shwe Sein Latt)

Women's activists Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, left, and Nyo Nyo Thin stand in front of a banner for the Asia-Pacific Conference on Beijing+20 in Bangkok. (Photo: Facebook / Shwe Shwe Sein Latt)

Burmese women's rights advocates added their voices to the contentious debate on amending Burma's Constitution this week, urging charter changes to promote gender equality during the Beijing+20 regional review forum held in Bangkok.

Burmese women's representatives, both from the government and civil society organizations, as well as exiled women's activist groups, attended the Asia-Pacific Conference on Beijing+20 in the Thai capital from Monday to Thursday. The Beijing+20 gathering offered a review of Asia-Pacific countries' progress on women's empowerment and gender equality.

Nyo Nyo Thin, a Rangoon divisional lawmaker, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that "the Burmese government's report that was shared at the regional review meeting is incomplete and raised a lot of questions legally and practically."

According to Nyo Nyo Thin, an official from Burma's Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry presented the country's report.

"Not only this, its report does not reflect the actual conditions that most Burmese women are facing," the lawmaker added.

Nyo Nyo Thin and other women's rights advocates in attendance said the government's report for the review revealed that many Burmese, especially in government, do not understand the extent of discrimination against women that persists in Burma. She called for "special temporary measures" in the Constitution aimed at achieving gender equality in Burma.

Burma signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1997, and the 2008 Constitution does specifically state that "the Union shall not discriminate [against] any citizen of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, based on race, birth, religion, official position, status, culture, sex and wealth."

Still, many women in Burma continue to face discrimination, whether in the job market, or as victims of sexual abuse by the military or street harassment.

Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, the director of Pan Tee Eain and a leader of the Burma-based Women's Organization Network, called for the creation of a new ministry "focusing on gender equality and women's empowerment," saying the Social Welfare Ministry currently responsible for such matters was handling such a broad portfolio that its effectiveness was diminished.

She added that raising awareness about women's issues was desperately needed at all levels of society, from the grassroots to civil society organizations and government bureaucrats.

As discussions in Burma have turned to constitutional reform in recent years, women's groups have lobbied for amendments that would protect and empower women.

But Shwe Shwe Sein Latt said their efforts had not elicited any response from the parliamentary committee tasked with considering amendments to the Constitution. "We have raised the issue for over a year, but have received no reply. We just keep sending our concerns to them."

The Beijing Declaration, also known as the Beijing Platform for Action, was adopted in 1995 and "constitutes a global framework for realizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls," according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

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Villagers Urge Reopening of Rangoon Access Road for Students

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 05:13 AM PST

Students at the blocked access gate in Ahlone Township on Monday. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Students at the blocked access gate in Ahlone Township on Monday. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Villagers from Kyi Myin Dine Township have spent the past five days urging the reopening of an access road, the closure of which has added an hour to the commute of school students each morning.

The children of Oo Mya Ngar Sin Village, on the western bank of the Rangoon River, are regularly ferried to Ahlone Township to attend the No. 7 High School, the closest institution catering to primary, middle and high schooling. At the Ahlone ferry terminal, students walked 250 meters along an access road to reach the school.

That changed on midnight Saturday, when the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) erected a chain link and barbwire fence to block the access road. The MEC is in the process of constructing a furniture factory on the southern side of the road.

"We have used this access road since 1983," said Thein Aung, one of the ferriers. "There are 60 of us. We all put our children through school by doing this work."

The access road is the primary point of entry into central Rangoon for theresidents of Oo Mya Ngar Sin and nearby villages who travel to and from the city each day, including a total 350 students from the area attending No. 7 High School.

With the road's closure, ferries must stop at a gate further south on the eastern bank of the river, in a muddy area prone to sudden flooding that parents said was too dangerous for young children traveling to the school.

Previously, the boat journey from Kyi Myin Dine to the Ahlone access road took about 10 minutes. Parents told The Irrawaddy that travel to the new gate takes 45 minutes across the river, with a further 20 minutes voyage by trishaw for students traveling to class.

Students from Kyi Myin Dine have not attended school for the past week as a result of the road closure, and locals said that income for the ferriers had collapsed since the barrier was erected.

"[The road] was blocked so that all parents and public cannot cross it," said one of the parents from Oo Mya Ngar Sin. "They have made all ferry drivers jobless."

The closure of the access road comes despite an assurance from the Rangoon Division government to Kyi Myin Dine residents that the access road would remain open for public use.

In a letter sent to the Myanmar Port Authority (MPA) on May 6, villagers requested the moving of a ferry dock slightly south to bring boat arrivals directly to the terminus of the road.

The Rangoon government wrote back to the MPA, stating that it had no objections to the moving of the dock and an explicit guarantee that the access road was for public use.

The headmistress of No. 7 school has attempted to negotiate with villagers, offering an arrangement in which students are allowed passage along the road at certain times of the day while chaperoned by teachers.

At the same time, the school's administration has threatened the students with expulsion, warning other students not to allow their Kyi Myin Dine classmates to copy their notes.

Villagers have refused the compromise.

"If we can get access to this road again, we will take ferry to come here," said Mya Mya Thwe, a mother of a No. 7 student and wife of one of the ferry drivers. "Our children will have more time to read. It's safer too. That's why we are asking this."

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Burma’s Catholics Celebrate 500th Jubilee With Events in Rangoon

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 04:54 AM PST

Burmese Catholic church leaders are welcomed by their congregation at St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Rangoon on Friday during the 500th year jubilee celebrations. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Burmese Catholic church leaders are welcomed by their congregation at St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Rangoon on Friday during the 500th year jubilee celebrations. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — The Roman Catholic Church in Burma is celebrating the end of its 500th jubilee year this week with musical and dance events. Tens of thousands of people from across the country are expected to attend the events, which will end on Sunday.

At Rangoon's 100-year-old St. Mary's Cathedral on Friday, Christian hymns filled the air as Catholics from various ethnic backgrounds congregated to celebrate their religion.

People sang peaceful songs in Burma's largest church, which was filled to its 1,500-seat capacity, and many more people gathered outside. An estimated 30,000 people from various states, such as Chin, Kachin, Karenni, Mandalay, Mon, Bago, Shan and Sagaing, are expected to attended the events, organizers said.

The Bishops Conference of Burma started celebrations for the "500th Great Jubilee Year" on Nov. 24, 2013 and with a number of events in the coming days the jubilee year will officially come to a close coming on Sunday, Nov. 23.

"I am very happy. An event like this I can only hold once in my life and all my brothers and sisters from different regions can pray together to our God and Jesus. I am very satisfied with my life," said Father Wilfred Nefsut Soe of St. Mary's Cathedral.

Organizers of the jubilee year said Catholicism was first brought to Burma's shores by Portuguese sailors in 1511, but the 500-year jubilee could not be held in 2011 because of repression of religious minorities by the then-military regime, which has long promoted a nationalist, Buddhist identity for Burma.

As the political reforms of recent years have created more space for some religious minorities, the church chose to mark the jubilee this year.

"The Catholic Church came to Burma in 1511 and we needed to celebrate in 2011. But there are some problems [at the time], but we can celebrate now," said an event organizer named Charlie.

"This celebration will be a historical gathering of Catholics from across the country in one place," he said, adding that tens of thousands of people were attending.

Among the events held are mass prayer services in the morning and afternoon, and musical entertainment will be organized in the evening; performances will include traditional dances by some of the country's Christian minorities.

Singers such as Nwat Yin Win, Chit Thu Wai, Chan Chan, Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein, and Ni Ni Khin Zaw will be performing.

On Sunday, the events will wrap up with a prayer service at the 32,000-seat Thuwunna Youth Training Centre Stadium, where thousands of Catholics will join. A Kachin Manaw dance performance will close the celebrations.

Khin Saw, a dancer from Kachin State who will participate in the event, said she was very proud her dance troupe would be performing at the closing ceremony. "There are many ethnic dances in Myanmar but the Manaw Dance has been chosen and I felt very proud of my ethnic dance and religion," she said.

Archbishop of Rangoon Charles Bo has said that Burma has around 770,000 Catholics spread across 16 dioceses, representing around a fifth of the country's total Christian population, which he estimated at about 7 percent of the total population of around 51 million.

Burma is believed to be 80 percent Buddhist and the religious majority has long dominated state institutions and the army. During military rule, ethnic and religious minorities were discriminated against or persecuted, problems that continue to some extent to this day.

The United States Congress' report on religious freedom 2014 ranks Burma as one of the worst in the world for religious freedom, in particular due to state-sponsored persecution of the Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State. Christian minorities like the Kachin, Karen and the Chin have long complained of being discriminated against, and face problems when they try open new churches or organize seminars.

However, Catholic Church leaders this week emphasized the new openness in Burma following reforms and have been at the forefront of promoting religious harmony and organizing interfaith dialogue.

Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe was invited to the jubilee events, as were national leaders of the Buddhist sangha and other religious leaders.

Father Mawyit, secretary of Myanmar Catholic Bishops association, said attempts had been made to invite Pope Francis to Burma for the celebration but he added, "The Pope cannot come to Myanmar. Pope is the leader of Vatican City State and he can only come when our Myanmar president invited him and I think there are some troubles to get the security assurances for the Pope."

He said Father Oswald Gracias, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, is attending the jubilee in Burma instead.

Joseph, a catholic from Shan State, said he was eager to see the head of the Roman Church in Asia. "It is a rare chance to pay respect to His Eminence Oswald Gracias and this is my first time I came to Yangon. I am very happy to be here and the 500th jubilee is an once-in-a-lifetime event," he said.

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Rice Prices Reverse Recent Slump After Heavy Rains

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 03:46 AM PST

Rice farmers sow their crops in western Burma's Arakan State. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Rice farmers sow their crops in western Burma's Arakan State. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Rice prices have pulled back from a sharp slump in recent days, amidst a predicted rise in exports and expectations that recent heavy rains could reduce the size of this year's crop.

Prices bottomed out at US$280 per 100 baskets (about 1.5 tons) in the middle of October, rising to $380 per 100 baskets this week.

"Due to the heavy rains earlier this month, traders thought there might be a rice shortage in the market," Chit Khaing, the chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), told The Irrawaddy on Friday. "That's why the slumped rice prices have been increasing in the last few days."

Aung Chan, the owner of a 30-acre paddy field in Rangoon's Mingaladon Township, said that his paddy production will be less than last year's yields once he finishes harvesting next month.

"I expect that the paddy prices won't decrease next month due to the heavy rain—there will be less production, which will increase prices," he said.

The collapse in rice prices came right before the start of the harvest season, threatening a severe impact on the livelihood of farmers, already one of the poorest sectors of Burmese society.

Soe Tun, the chairman of the Myanmar Farmers Association, said that his organization had enacted a scheme to buy paddies at a fixed price above the market rate to alleviate an impending production crisis—a plan that has now been rendered unnecessary by the boost to prices.

"Prices have increased about 10 percent in the last week [from 350,000 to 380,000K], so farmers will be happy, they won't want to sell us with our prices," he said.

China has taken steps this year to regulate the import of Burmese rice, demanding a trade agreement guaranteeing that most rice is milled and meets certain quality and hygiene requirements.

As a result, warehouses have retained higher than usual stockpiles of rice, depressing prices to the levels seen last month.

China has long been one of Burma's biggest customers for rice, much of which is harvested in Burma's Irrawaddy Delta and shipped over land borders in Shan and Kachin States.

A bilateral agreement on rice standards would allow the MRF to legally export some 200,000 tons of milled rice to China, starting from early January next year. At the same time, the MRF has attempted bolster the market by encouraging a swift conclusion to the export deal.

"We've been encouraging to China to buy as much as earlier than January to pull up prices," Chit Khaing said.

In October, the Myanmar Rice Federation reached an agreement with Indian rice traders to supply two states in northeastern India with 240,000 tons of rice per year at US$400 per ton, although Burmese traders will incur all costs for transporting the goods to the Indian border.

The tender for the Indian export deal will close on Nov. 26. Anticipation over the commencement of trade, along with the impending Chinese deal, has buoyed the market rate for rice this month, according to Soe Tun.

Despite the recent increase, rice prices are still well below the 2013 season rate of US$400-450 per 100 baskets.

Chit Khaing said he expects rice prices to rise to 2013 levels once export arrangements with China are finalized.

"A delegation will come here soon to check the quality of export rice to China," he said. "I hope that paddy prices will increase as soon as the China and Myanmar bilateral trade agreement is a success."

According to recent MRF figures, Burma exported 900,000 tons of rice to China, Europe, Japan and South Africa from April to October. The government has set an export target of 1.5 million tons for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

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Cadet Casualties Were Trainees From Allied Armies, KIA Says

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 03:39 AM PST

Kachin Independence Army spokesman La Nan speaks to The Irrawaddy in Laiza in January 2013. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Kachin Independence Army spokesman La Nan speaks to The Irrawaddy in Laiza in January 2013. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Twenty-three cadets killed by Burmese artillery fire on Wednesday were not members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) but trainees from four other non-state armies, the KIA confirmed.

La Nan, a spokesperson for the KIA, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that four Kachin commanders were among those injured, but that all of the deceased were newly arrived trainees from armed groups allied with Kachin rebels: All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF); Arakan Army (AA); Chin National Front (CNF); and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

All four armed groups released public statements this week condemning the attack and questioning the government's commitment to peace.

Two of the armed groups have not reached bilateral ceasefires with the government, while the ABSDF and the CNF reached agreements within the last two years.

The TNLA, which is believed to number around 1,500 troops, has frequently clashed with the Burma Army in its territories in northern Shan State. Fighting between the TNLA and the government resumed as recently as Thursday, when fire was exchanged between rebels and the Burma Army's 88th Brigade in Mong Tong and Namatu townships.

Tah Ban La, a TNLA spokesperson, said that Thursday's clashes were the sixth exchange of fire this month. More than 150 clashes between the two armies have been reported since the start of this year, he said.

Thursday's exchange left no casualties, but the military academy attack left 11 TNLA soldiers dead, he said. According to statements released by the respective groups, eight of the deceased were Arakanese, two were Chin and two were members of the ABSDF.

"Such attacks undermine trust, which ethnic people are trying to build with the government. It is doubtful that the government is committed to peace-building," said Tah Ban La.

On Wednesday, government troops fired several artillery shells near the Kachin rebel headquarters in Laiza. The munitions landed on a KIA officers training facility about 10km from the town. Twenty cadets died in the initial blastand three others later died from their injuries. Another 20 wounded are still in hospital.

Four of the injured were KIA commanders who were conducting an officers' training session, and two are in critical condition, according to La Nan of the KIA.

Kachin State Minister of Border Security Col. Than Aung said at a press conference on Thursday that the shots were fired as a "warning" after Kachin soldiers ambushed government troops while they were building a road. He said that the academy was not the army's intended target, troops were unaware of the training session and needed no higher approval to launch the munitions.

The KIA denied that its troops wrongfully attacked Burmese soldiers and insisted that the deadly attack was targeted and intentional. Other ethnic representatives have also expressed skepticism of the army's statement and concerns about the incident's impact on peace negotiations.

The Burmese government has been at war with a number of ethnic armed groups seeking greater autonomyfor more than 60 years. Since the military transferred power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, ceasefire agreements have been reached with 16 of the country's most powerful insurgencies, though the KIA and the TNLA remain reluctant to sign bilateral pacts.

Government and ethnic negotiators are currently refining a draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and framework for subsequent political dialogue, though talks have recently suffered setbacks.

Wednesday's attack is believed to be the single most deadly assault by the Burma Army on armed rebels since the peace process began three years ago.

The post Cadet Casualties Were Trainees From Allied Armies, KIA Says appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burma to Boost SME Access to Capital Through $50Mln Loan From Singapore, Vietnam

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 02:59 AM PST

The Small and Medium Industrial Development Bank. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

The Small and Medium Industrial Development Bank. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's Ministry of Industry signed an agreement last month to borrow US$20 million from a Singaporean private bank and $30 million from a Vietnamese state-owned bank so that it can increase government loans to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), a ministry official said.

Aye Aye Win, deputy director-general of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Center, said a total of $50 million in capital had been secured by the ministry and would be loaned out through its Small and Medium Industrial Development Bank (SMIDB) next year.

"We signed a MoU [memorandum of understanding] in October. We'll borrow 20 million US dollar from Singapore and the rest from Vietnam," he said.

Aye Aye Win said the funds would be borrowed from the overseas bank at a 4 percent interest rate, adding that loans will be made available to Burmese businesses at "between 6 percent and 8.5 percent, but we are considering the possibility of setting the interest rate at 6 percent."

Aye Aye Win declined to reveal the name of the foreign banks, but local media previously reported that a Singaporean private bank and the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV) would provide the capital.

This year, the SMIDB has provided about $20 million in loans to local SMES at an interest rate of 8.5 percent, according to Aye Aye Win.

The government has been drafting a new SME Bill that was brought before Parliament earlier this year, but scant details have been made available about the bill. An estimated 88 percent of all businesses in Burma are small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is reportedly also cooperating with the government to help scale up government loans to SMEs in Burma. JICA plans to provide funds to this end through the Finance Ministry, but few details have been released about the plan.

The International Finance Corporation, the World Bank group’s private-sector arm, announced in September that it will provide $5 million to Serge Pun's Yoma Bank so that it could provide funds to SMEs.

Small and medium-sized businesses in Burma struggle to gain access to capital as a result of decades of economic mismanagement under the former military government. Its policies left the country with an underdeveloped financial sector, a decrepit economy controlled by conglomerates and an anachronistic system of government banks and state cooperatives that provide loans to farmers and SMEs.

Improving access to capital is seen as key economic reform measure by the government, which last year took a $100 million loan from China to provide microfinance loans to farmers through its state cooperatives.

International microfinance institutions are, meanwhile, also eyeing Burma's underserved rural economy and in the hope of providing microloans, often on a commercial basis, to the country's millions of farmers.

In early November, Burma's state-owned Rural Development Bank announced that it threatening to sue 15,000 farmers in Irrawaddy Delta as they had not repaid their microloans on the time.

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Over 20 Journalists May Face Charges for Unlawful Prayer Service

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 02:37 AM PST

Journalists hold up candles as part of a prayer service in downtown Rangoon's Sule Pagoda during International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on Nov. 2. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Journalists hold up candles as part of a prayer service in downtown Rangoon's Sule Pagoda during International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on Nov. 2. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Police in Rangoon may charge more than 20 Burmese journalists who held an unauthorized prayer service on International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in the commercial capital early this month.

"They went to Sule Pagoda and to [Maha] Bandoola Park, which we did not permit them to do. We are going to charge them under Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly Law," said Police Col. Win Tin from the Kyauktada Township police office.

Police say the journalists were permitted to demonstrate only at a sports field in Tamwe Township. The accused will receive one to three months' imprisonment if found guilty.

Article 19, a sister clause to the better-known and controversial Article 18 of the Peace Assembly Law, stipulates punishment for violating a separate provision in the legislation requiring protestors to remain within the area authorities have authorized.

The journalists counter that their presence in downtown Rangoon on Nov. 2, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, was not to demonstrate but rather to pray for journalists in Burma facing threats, oppression or violence due to their profession.

On Nov. 2, in collaboration with members of some civil society groups, prayer service participants called for an end to crimes against journalists, both in Burma and worldwide.

"Since every country is doing a lot of movements for press freedom on that day, we felt that we also needed to do something for Burmese journalists who are facing criminal charges, who are being killed and who are being oppressed," said Shwe Hmone, one of the event organizers.

Win Tin the Kyauktada police colonel said Shwe Hmone would be charged under Article 19, as would "the party" involved in the prayer service, which included more than 20 journalists.

Participants decided to go to Sule Pagoda after complaining about the venue proposed by local authorities, as the location had no pagoda around which to conduct a prayer service, Shwe Hmone said.

"As Buddhists, we seek refuge through the Lord Buddha and pray for freedom in the country. Since the law is not on the side of people and is oppressing freedom of speech, there is nothing we can do but face it," she said.

Media freedoms in Burma, which have deteriorated this year, were dealt their heaviest blow last month when the journalist Aung Kyaw Naing was shot dead while in military custody. More than 10 members of the media have been imprisoned this year and at least two publications currently have defamation cases against them pending.

The journalists involved in the prayer service, however, said that they had not yet received police or court notice of impending charges as of Friday afternoon.

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Thai Police Extend Remand of Burmese Koh Tao Murder Suspects

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 09:14 PM PST

Parents of the Koh Tao murder suspects visit the Koh Samui provincial legal department office in late Octover. (Photo: Min Oo / The Irrawaddy)

Parents of the Koh Tao murder suspects visit the Koh Samui provincial legal department office in late Octover. (Photo: Min Oo / The Irrawaddy)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thai police have requested the court to extend the remand of two Burmese migrant workers accused of murdering a pair of British tourists, as they continue to search for enough evidence to start a trial, an official at the Burma Embassy in Thailand has said.

Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer who is part of an embassy team working on the high-profile case, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday evening that the court on the island of Koh Samui had extended the remand until Dec. 2, 2014.

"The police can still not file a case because they don't have enough evidence," he said, adding that it was the fifth time that police have extended the remand.

The accused, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21-year-old Burmese migrant workers, have now been held for 49 days in Koh Samui Prison.

The police can request the court to extend the remand for a maximum of 84 days. The court has set bail for each of the accused at 500,000 baht (about US$15,500).

Aung Myo Thant said the embassy team dealing with the case returned to Bangkok on Thursday night to discuss the possibility of collecting enough money to pay the bail.

The pair were arrested by Thai police two weeks after the badly beaten bodies of British tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found on the beach in Koh Tao in the early hours of Sept. 15.

The Thai police's handling of the case and allegations of forced confessions and torture have sparked criticism worldwide, raising suspicions that the Burmese migrants were being used as scapegoats. Thai police have denied the torture claims.

The families of the accused and rights activists have called on Thai authorities to ensure a fair trial.

British newspaper The Guardian reported on Thursday that the accused had sent a letter to the families of the murder victims in which they expressed their grief at the deaths and insisted they are innocent. They reportedly also asked the families to help them gain access to information that the British government has "in order that the truth can be revealed."

An investigation team of Britain's Scotland Yard visited Koh Samui earlier this month to assist Thai police in the investigation, but their involvement has so far not led to new developments in the case.

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Sri Lanka President Seeks Third Term, Critics Want Powers Curbed

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 09:08 PM PST

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa (in white) inspects a parade during the War Victory parade, in Colombo May 18, 2013. 

Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa (in white) inspects a parade during the War Victory parade, in Colombo May 18, 2013.

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Thursday he would seek an unprecedented third term as president, prompting one of his lawmakers to join the opposition with a call to curb the presidency’s "draconian powers".

Rajapaksa, 69, came to power in 2005 and won a second six-year term in 2010 on a wave of popularity after the military defeated Tamil Tiger separatists, ending a 26-year civil war.

His poll ratings have fallen sharply since, however, and critics, including his coalition partners, say Sri Lanka’s "executive presidency"—introduced by a 1978 constitution—gives him and his family too much power.

"I am declaring a secret today. I have signed the proclamation calling for the election, for re-election for the third time … That is democracy," Rajapaksa said, addressing a gathering shown on state television.

An Election Commission official said the poll would be held in early January.

Hours after the announcement, ruling party legislator Wasantha Senanayake defected to the main opposition party, saying he wanted to "change the draconian powers of the executive presidency and bring good governance".

"I believe that all (Sri Lankan) Presidents exercised dictator-like powers to a certain extent," he added.

Senanayake said other legislators might also quit Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to try to unseat him, although a strong challenger has not yet emerged.

Hardline nationalist Buddhist party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is in coalition with the UPFA, has also demanded that Rajapaksa cede some powers.

"We’ll definitely defeat him if he doesn’t abolish the executive presidency before the election," Athuraliye Rathana, a Buddhist monk and a JHU legislator warned last week.

Rajapaksa will be banking on Sinhala Buddhists, who account for around 70 percent of the population, to re-elect him. But his voter base could be split by a prominent Buddhist monk who also opposes the executive presidency.

Maduluwawe Sobitha, who heads the National Movement for Social Justice, has brought together most of the opposition parties to agree on a common candidate and demand the abolition of the executive presidency within six months after the polls.

Rajapaksa has said he will abolish the additional powers after the election, but made the same pledge in 2005 and 2010.

In moves seen as wooing voters, Rajapaksa announced many handouts and salary hikes in the 2015 budget, and has harped in speeches on the war victory under his leadership in May 2009.

But Rajapaksa’s popularity is fading: his party won a recent provincial poll, but with 21 percent less support than in 2009.

Many accuse him of nepotism, corruption and politicization of the judiciary and foreign services, charges he rejects.

Campaigning for the election is likely to coincide with a Jan. 13-15 visit to the island by Pope Francis, which Sri Lanka’s Catholic Church has already asked all parties not to exploit for political advantage.

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Thai Leader Pats Reporter on Head, Tugs His Ear

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 08:59 PM PST

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha salutes members of the Royal Thai Army after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief, General Udomdej Sitabutr, on Sept. 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha salutes members of the Royal Thai Army after a handover ceremony for the new Royal Thai Army Chief, General Udomdej Sitabutr, on Sept. 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

BANGKOK — Thailand's military-installed prime minister, known for scolding journalists, is trying a new tack: patting their heads and tugging their ears.

A video posted on Facebook by Bangkok Post reporter Wassana Nanuam shows Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha chatting Wednesday with reporters in the northeastern city of Khon Kaen. Some journalists kneeled in front of him to allow cameras a clear view.

Prayuth patted the baseball cap-clad head of a journalist directly in front of him, then nonchalantly tugged and twisted the man's ear as he took questions.

Deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Thursday the gesture was good-natured teasing of reporters with whom he has become familiar.

"It came across as cute. He was smiling. They were also smiling," he said. "It's not weird for him to be playful with them."

Wassana's Facebook comments suggested that while the reporters did not appear to take offense, some Thai people might be put off, since the head is traditionally considered a semi-sacred part of the body that strangers should not touch.

It was the second glimpse that day of an apparently kinder, gentler Prayuth. Earlier, he smiled from a podium when five university students wearing T-shirts saying "Don't Want a Coup" stood up and gave a three-fingered salute, a symbol of protest against the May 22 military takeover that Prayuth led as army commander.

"Anyone else wants to protest? Come quickly. Then I can continue with my speech," Prayuth said as the audience chuckled.

Prayuth is generally uncomfortable with the media. In one case, two Thai newspaper reporters were summoned by the army for asking "inappropriate" questions about when and whether Prayuth would appoint a prime minister and organize elections. In another, he pounded a podium and lambasted a senior reporter who criticized his long-winded answers to questions.

Last week, public broadcaster Thai PBS replaced the host of a TV program after a visit by army officers who complained that the show's content was provocative. The government, which can shut the station under martial law, insists the officers merely expressed their concerns.

The post Thai Leader Pats Reporter on Head, Tugs His Ear appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Prominent China Rights Lawyer Could Face Harsher Charges: Attorney

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 08:51 PM PST

Protesters carry a portrait of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang in Hong Kong on Jul. 1. (Photo: Bobby Yip / Reuters)

Protesters carry a portrait of detained Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang in Hong Kong on Jul. 1. (Photo: Bobby Yip / Reuters)

BEIJING — Chinese prosecutors could upgrade the charges against a prominent human rights lawyer, saying that he incited “ethnic hatred and discrimination” when he wrote a microblog post criticizing the government’s account of a mass knife attack, his lawyer said on Thursday.

The new charges against Pu Zhiqiang add to evidence that the case against him is politically motivated, his supporters say. They come amid what rights groups say is the most severe clampdown on human rights in decades.

Pu, one of China’s most outspoken dissidents, was arrested in June on charges of causing a disturbance and illegally accessing personal information in a case that drew international condemnation.

Prosecutors are considering adding charges of inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination and separatism, a more serious crime, said Pu’s lawyer, Mo Shaoping. He said he was less certain of the more serious separatism charge.

“That charge [of separatism] is extremely unusual,” Mo said.

Mo said the charge of inciting ethnic hatred and discrimination stem from a blog post Pu wrote about a violent attack in the southwestern city of Kunming that killed 29 people in March. China blamed the attack on Islamist militants, sometimes referred to as East Turkestan separatists, who it says seek to split the country by seeking an independent state in the country’s far west region of Xinjiang.

"You [the party] just give me one line—extremely heavy casualties with too brutal consequences—but to say you bear no responsibility for Xinjiang separatists’ cruelty, I am not satisfied with that," Pu wrote in his Mar. 2 microblog post.

Inciting ethnic hatred or discrimination carries a prison sentence of up to three to ten years in serious cases.

Authorities have transferred Pu’s case to prosecutors who now have to decide how to proceed.

Pu, 49, a free-speech lawyer, has represented many well-known dissidents, including artist Ai Weiwei and activists of the "New Citizens’ Movement", a group that has called on Chinese leaders to make their wealth public.

He also opposed forced labour camps, which the government has abolished, and he was featured prominently in state media for that campaign—unusual for a government critic.

Pu was detained in May after he attended a meeting in a private home to commemorate the bloody suppression of pro-democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Police could not be reached for comment.

The post Prominent China Rights Lawyer Could Face Harsher Charges: Attorney appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

The Forgotten Frontier

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 04:00 PM PST

A hilltop village in the Naga Hills in northern Sagaing Region was the headquarters of the former National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1985, and is now thought to be abandoned. (Photo: Hseng Noung Lintner)

A hilltop village in the Naga Hills in northern Sagaing Region was the headquarters of the former National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1985, and is now thought to be abandoned. (Photo: Hseng Noung Lintner)

There is no shortage of coverage in local as well as regional media of the ongoing armed conflict in Myanmar's Kachin State in the north, the activities of the heavily armed United Wa State Army (UWSA) in the northeast or the still volatile situation in areas of Kayin State along the border with Thailand. However, hardly a word is written about the host of armed rebel groups that are active in some of the country's wildest and most remote mountain ranges which form the more than 1,600 kilometer-long border with India. Yet, this is where the rivalry between Myanmar's two mighty neighbors, India and China, has often played out and where there is potential for even more trouble in the future.

In the mid-1950s, a rebellion broke out among ethnic Naga tribesmen in India's northeast. Being a predominantly Christian tribe of Mongol stock, they did not feel that they belonged to India and demanded independence. Not surprisingly, they received support from India's arch-enemy Pakistan and training facilities were provided in what was then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. But more significantly, much more aid came from China.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising against the Chinese who had invaded his homeland, Tibet. Asia's two giants were on a collision course and, three years later, China attacked India and a short but fierce war was fought along a disputed border in India's northeast.

From 1967-76, nearly 1,000 Naga rebels trekked from northeast India through northern Myanmar to China, where they received military training. They were sent back to India equipped with assault rifles, light machine-guns, rocket launchers and other modern Chinese weapons. The Naga were escorted by rebels from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which, in return for their services, kept some of the Chinese weapons.

Various other insurgent groups in India's northeast also sought Chinese assistance. In the early 1970s, about 200 Mizo rebels—a tribe then fighting for self-determination in what is now the state of Mizoram—were trained in China; in 1976, a group of insurgents from the Indian state of Manipur made it to Tibet, where they received political training and some military instruction; and in the late 1980s, rebels from the state of Assam attempted to reach China through northern Myanmar, but ended up staying in areas controlled by the KIA—which trained some of them in guerrilla warfare.

It was clear the rebellions in India's northeast were not solely an internal affair and that Myanmar, the land in the middle of the two regional powers, would inevitably be drawn in. This became even more evident in the 1970s when the Indian army managed to drive the Naga rebels out of their bases on the Indian side of the border. They regrouped in the rugged Naga Hills of the northern Sagaing Region. There, beyond the reach of the Indian army, they could launch cross-border raids into India.

Myanmar's military, preoccupied with ethnic insurgencies elsewhere in the country, paid little attention to the Indian Naga who linked up with a group of Naga in Myanmar led by S.S. Khaplang. Manipuri as well as Assamese rebels also sought sanctuary on the Myanmar side of the border.

The only fall-out came in 1988 when the Naga from Myanmar, simply tired of being treated as serfs by their Indian cousins, drove them out of the area. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) then split into two factions: the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), led by Khaplang, and the National Socialist Council of NagalimIsak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the Indian faction led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah which adopted the name Nagalim, a new term for a "greater Nagaland" encompassing the state of Nagaland as well as most of Manipur, a chunk of Assam, and the Naga Hills of Myanmar. In July 1997, the NSCN-IM entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government and in 2001, the NSCN-K did the same. In April 2012, NSCN-K also struck a ceasefire deal with the Myanmar government, making it the only insurgent group to have ceasefire agreements with the governments of two sovereign states.

Soldiers from the former National Socialist Council of Nagaland in Naga territory in Myanmar in 1985. (Photo: Hseng Noung Lintner)

Soldiers from the former National Socialist Council of Nagaland in Naga territory in Myanmar in 1985. (Photo: Hseng Noung Lintner)

But none of this means that the conflicts are over. Hundreds of rebels from various outfits in Manipur as well as the once powerful United Liberation Front of Asom [Assam] (ULFA) are based at Khaplang's headquarters at Taka near the Chindwin River, north of Singkaling Hkamti in Sagaing Region. As late as December 2011, the Indian journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya, who had trekked to Taka, observed ULFA forces taking delivery of a major consignment of weapons that most probably had been smuggled to the base from China. According to other sources, there is a booming trade in weapons acquired along the Sino-Myanmar frontier that are smuggled via Mandalay and Monywa to the Indian border. Old stocks from the UWSA's vast arsenal of weapons and other military equipment have also been found in areas along the Indo-Myanmar border.

In late 2012, it emerged that the Myanmar army had obtained Swedish-made 84mm Carl Gustaf rocket launchers most probably supplied by India and intended for use against the ULFA and other Indian insurgents. They were instead employed against the KIA and a major scandal ensued during which questions were raised in Sweden's parliament and the Indian ambassador in Stockholm was summoned by the Swedish foreign ministry for an explanation. Ultimately, India submitted a report stating that the weapons, which according to their serial numbers had been delivered by Sweden to India, had not been transferred to Myanmar through conventional channels, and New Delhi promised the Swedes that it would not happen again. For years, India has urged Myanmar to close down the camps that insurgents have established inside Myanmar's Sagaing Region, but to no avail. It is clear that fighting India's rebels is not a priority for Myanmar's military.

And China? When ULFA commander Paresh Barua is not inspecting his troops at the Taka camp, he is in China. Obtaining weapons there does not seem to be a problem. Beijing appears to reason that if India can shelter one of its main enemies, the Dalai Lama, then Barua is welcome to stay in China. The situation promises to become even more entangled as the NSCN-IM continues to express frustration over the direction that 17-year-long negotiations with Indian authorities are headed. Barred from entering Khaplang's area, NSCN-IM cadres in October this year were reported to have been scouting the hills east of Manipur for potential new sanctuaries in anticipation of a breakdown in talks.

New Delhi, of course, wants to see peace established along its entire border with Myanmar so it can implement its so-called "Look East Policy"—aimed at linking India with the booming economies of Southeast Asia. Myanmar's Wild West may be almost forgotten in today's discussions about the country's ethnic issues, but the number of armed groups in the area with conflicting agendas makes it the country's messiest frontier.

This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.

The post The Forgotten Frontier appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma

DVB Bulletin: 21 November 2014

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 04:00 AM PST

On tonight's bulletin:

  • Multiple armed groups suffer casualties in Laiza shelling
  • Than Shwe no longer plays a role, USDP leader says
  • Countdown to Shan new year
  • 500 years of Roman Catholicism in celebrated in Rangoon

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

Koh Tao murders: Burmese suspects may apply for bail

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 02:39 AM PST

A Thai judge on Thursday extended remand for two Burmese men suspected of murdering two British tourists, but indicated that they may each apply for bail at a bond of 500,000 baht (US$15,500).

Local police applied at Koh Samui Court on Thursday to extend the remand of the Burmese migrants by 12 more days. Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer attached to the Burmese embassy who attended the court hearing, confirmed the judge's decision to extend the pair's detention.

Defence lawyers argued that the suspects should not be held any longer on the grounds that they have already been in custody for 48 days. According to Thai law, suspects can be held for 84 days – seven consecutive periods of 12-day remand.

"The judge decided to extend the remand on the grounds that the inquiry is not yet complete, but indicated that the defendants may seek bail," Aung Myo Thant told DVB.

He said the two suspects, Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, were brought to the court house in a prison truck for the hearing on Thursday morning, and that both appeared in good health.

Upon meeting their defence team, the Burmese youths handed over handwritten notes, maintaining their innocence and calling for justice.

"Dear citizens of the word," said one letter. "We want you to know that we did not have anything to do with this crime. We plead with you all to help secure our release from prison."

Meanwhile, The Guardian has reported in an interview, Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin urged the families of murdered tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller to help them clear their names.

They also asked UK authorities to share with their lawyers the results of a Metropolitan police review of the Thai investigation, the report said.




Posted: 21 Nov 2014 02:14 AM PST


Boeing to provide 737s to Air Mandalay

The world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing, has announced a deal with Burmese firm Air Mandalay to provide an unspecified number of 737 aircraft. Representatives of Boeing and Air Mandalay signed a memorandum of collaboration on 8 November; Burma's Minister of Transport Nyan Htun Aung and US Ambassador Derek Mitchell witnessed the signing ceremony.

Read more


Demurrage fees to increase at Burmese ports

Myanmar Port Authority announced on Wednesday that the demurrage charges for containers, heavy machinery and vehicles at terminals will increase from 15 January 2015 onwards. The increases in the demurrage prices are to improve storage capacity at terminals, it said. Demurrage, in shipping terms, is the charges incurred while a ship lies in port while not loading or offloading cargo.


Singapore now Burma's top investor (or is it USA?)

Singapore has emerged as the top foreign investor in Burma, leapfrogging ahead of previous frontrunner China. However, Burmese Deputy Minister of Finance Maung Maung Thein says he believes the result comes from American companies registering in Singapore to avoid the remaining US sanctions on Burma. Direct foreign investment in Burma this year will rise by about a quarter to more than US$5 billion, according to Naypyidaw.


Amara Bank introduces new scheme after blacklist scare 

Amara United Bank said that beginning on 13 November it will introduce "Super Call Deposit Accounts" which provide customers with interest rates that compound on a daily basis. The rates vary between 4.0 and 8.35 percent depending on the amount of money deposited. The new campaign comes after unusually large amounts of money were withdrawn from the bank following the US Treasury Department's decision to blacklist Burmese MP Aung Thaung for attempting to undermine recent reforms in Burma and his involvement in attacks on democracy advocates.


Jalux, Mitsubishi to run Mandalay airport

Japanese firms Jalux Inc and Mitsubishi Corp have signed a joint venture to operate Mandalay International Airport, according to Japan Times, citing the transport ministry. The joint venture, named MC-Jalux Airport Services Co, will be owned 45.5 percent each by Japan Airlines affiliate Jalux and Mitsubishi, with the remainder going to an unnamed domestic firm. The contract is for 30 years, starting as soon as early 2015, the report said.


East Asian leaders commit to eliminating malaria

Leaders of the 18 East Asia Summit countries committed last week to an ambitious goal of eliminating malaria from the region within the next 15 years. According to a statement by the Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance: "The bold move shows strong leadership on health security and responds head-on to concerns about growing resistance to the drug artemisinin, the mainstay of worldwide treatment for the most dangerous form of the disease." Resistance was first reported in western Cambodia several years ago and was more recently detected in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma.


Foreign investors invited to consider SEZ projects

International investors have been invited by the Myanmar Investment Commission to signal their interest in three of Burma's upcoming special economic Zones: Thilawa, Dawei  and Kyaukphyu. At the 11th ASEAN Summit on 12 November, the secretary of the MIC , Aung Naing Oo, extended the offer to the foreign delegations present and stated that the first priority for investors should be labour-intensive industries, followed by value-added and hi-tech sectors.

Bill committee seeks to lay ground rules for referendum

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 01:32 AM PST

A representative of Burma's parliamentary Bill Committee on Thursday raised in the lower house the issue of the constitutional referendum that has been slated for May 2015, saying that such a proposal would require the adoption of a National Referendum Bill.

Saw Hla Tun, secretary of the Bill Committee, said, "At the moment, the Union Parliament is debating constitution reform, and if the plan goes ahead, a national referendum will be held next year in accordance with constitutional Article 436.*

"We propose that a National Referendum Bill be established to facilitate procedures and regulations for the referendum and the formation of relevant committees."

Speaking to DVB on Thursday, Supreme Court lawyer Ko Ni said Burma has previously held two national referendums without systematic procedures or regulations.

"Two referendums were held in the past and no law was passed that regulated either," he said. "In the 1974 referendum on the socialist Constitution, people were simply told to go cast their votes at polling stations. In 2008, procedures and regulations were issued by a Referendum Commission," he said.

"So it is a bit strange that parliament now wants to adopt a set of laws for a national referendum – it could be that they want to be more systematic – but we won't be able to judge that until we see the text in the bill."

Earlier this week, Parliamentary Speaker Shwe Mann said at a press conference in Naypyidaw that a referendum on constitution amendments would be held in May.

The ongoing parliamentary debate on constitutional reform continues and is due to conclude on 25 November.

*Article 436 stipulates that any constitutional amendment requires the approval of 75 percent of parliament. Pro-democracy groups complain the clause is undemocratic because it provides the military – which is appointed 25 percent of parliamentary seats – effective veto power on any proposed amendments. 


Cadet killings a ‘cowardly’ act, says ethnic bloc

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 11:16 PM PST

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) has condemned Wednesday's killing of 23 cadets at a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) training camp near Laiza as a "cowardly" act, as has the US-based Kachin Alliance. The Burmese military has, however, declared that the direct strike was a mistake and that the artillery shell which hit the camp was meant as a warning shot.

The 23 were members of other armed groups who were conducting training exercises at the KIA base. The Palaung State Liberation Front (11), the Arakan Army (8), the Chin National Front (2) and the All Burma Students Democratic Front (2) have each issued statements confirming they lost young men in the attack.

In addition to 23 cadets killed, another 20 were injured when, just after midday on 19 November, the Burmese army's 389th Light Infantry Battalion shelled a KIA training camp with 105mm artillery.

"The Tatmadaw [Burmese military] carrying out sneak attacks and applying military pressure on ethnic armed groups while at the same time trust-building efforts are ongoing to bring about internal peace have made questionable whether the Tatmadaw really has a genuine will for peace. This incident could gravely hinder such trust-building," the UNFC said in a statement.

The ethnic bloc also questioned the "coincidence" that the attack came so shortly after Union Parliament House Speaker Shwe Mann had announced that the Constitution could only be amended after next year's general elections. The UNFC said the move can be assumed to be "an orchestrated political and military conspiracy".

The UNFC is made up of 11 ethnic armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), Karen National Union, New Mon State Party, Karenni National Progressive Party and the Chin National Front (CNF).

Burma's military on Thursday rejected blame for the incident, saying that the artillery shell fired was a "warning shot", which was taken shortly after KIA troops attacked a Tatmadaw column providing security at roadworks along the Sama Junction-Gagun route.

In a report published by Burma's military-run newspaper Myawaddy, the Tatmadaw claims it requested the KIA to desist from firing at the unit on Wednesday morning and had issued "repeated warnings" in recent weeks on several occasions after the Kachin rebels launched unprovoked attacks on Burmese military positions.

"The Tatmadaw column that was building a road for food supplies also warned the KIA troops not to launch attacks on the Tatmadaw column and [said that] the Tatmadaw column would respond if attacked," Myawaddy reported on Thursday evening. "However, KIA troops attacked the Tatmadaw personnel and the bulldozer that were building Sama Junction-Gagun road section for food supplies at about 11am on 19 November. The Tatmadaw column on security duty had to respond to the attack.

"As the KIA failed to control its troops and increased its military activities despite the repeated warnings by the Tatmadaw not to attack Tatmadaw personnel who were discharging national defence [duties] such as providing security for the safe travel of the local people, changing personnel at security posts, and repairs of roads, the Tatmadaw camp fired a warning shot of a large-calibre weapon which fell and exploded at a KIA camp, causing causalities," the report said.

It listed similar incidents in Momauk Township on 1 June, 13 and 26 September, and 27 and 28 October. It said Kachin soldiers ambushed one of its columns in Mansi on 16 November, and near Magiguam Village on 17 November, leaving one Burmese personnel injured.

The report said the Tatmadaw contacted the KIA to object to these assaults, and that it had also complained to the group's peace-negotiating team as recently as 18 November.

Myawaddy further reported that the Tatmadaw is cooperating with both the government's Union Peace-Building Work Committee and their ethnic counterparts, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, "in order to reduce military activities without starting an attack and to forge political agreements for sustainable peace."

The Kachin Alliance, a network of Kachin communities and organisations in the US, has issued a statement calling Wednesday's attack "unprovoked and deliberate" and "in blatant violation of the agreement reached between the government and the KIO on May 13, 2014, to de-escalate military tensions".

It accused the Burmese army of engaging in military maneuvers, encroaching upon KIO territory, taking control of frontline positions and fortifying them with heavy artillery, "even in the midst of nationwide ceasefire talks".

For the sake of the safety of innocent civilians, the Kachin Alliance said, it demanded an "immediate and complete withdrawal" of Burmese government forces from the positions in question.

"We demand that President Thein Sein, if he is to claim credibility for the peace process his government is currently engaged in, take full responsibility for the Nov. 19 killings, and take steps to prevent any such violations that would derail the peace talks," the group said in its statement on Thursday.

It also called on the US, the UN and others in the international community to pressure the Burmese government to keep to its reform promises and to "find solutions to the decades-old ethnic conflict through political negotiations rather than military means".

Meanwhile, the Palaung State Liberation Front Central Committee on Thursday issued a statement promising its 11 fallen cadets that it will "continue fighting until a Palaung State is established."

The 11 Palaung trainees were all aged between 18 and 25.

The Arakan Army and CNF announced that they had each lost eight and two cadets respectively.

The All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) announced that two of the group's members – Hein Htet and Thet Zaw – were among the cadets killed in the shelling.

Than Khe, chairman of the ABSDF, said the attack "could cause negative impacts on the peace-building and national reconciliation processes", and that it indicates an "ignorance of the efforts being put in by all parties to implement these goals."


Than Shwe no longer plays a role, USDP leader says

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 09:10 PM PST

Burma's former military dictator Than Shwe no longer plays a role in the country's politics, but is instead devoting his retirement days to religious activities.

That was the message the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party's Deputy Chairman Htay Oo gave reporters when asked outside parliament on Thursday.

"He has already handed over power confidently to the rest of us," said Htay Oo. "Now we must continue the work. Everyone has a role to play in politics, and so does he [Than Shwe], but the only question is whether he still holds influence.

"Political affairs are now in the hands of representatives in parliament, the government, the Tatmadaw [military] and citizens. He [Than Shwe] too is a citizen, but is no longer in charge."

Than Shwe was the chairman of the State Peace and Development Council military junta until his retirement in 2011 when he he officially resigned from his position as head of state in favour of his hand-picked successor, Thein Sein.


National News

National News

Confusion following charter change delay announcement

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 10:11 PM PST

Opposition parties have reacted with shock and confusion to the announcement by the powerful hluttaw speaker, Thura U Shwe Mann, that no amendments will be made to the constitution until after next year's elections.

Nay Pyi Taw boosts Rakhine border budget amid security, abuse fears

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 09:07 PM PST

The national parliament has approved a massive increase in funding for security on the border between Rakhine State and Bangladesh, amid growing concerns about insurgent and possibly terrorist activity in the area.

Police agree to investigate dam construction company

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 08:04 PM PST

Police have agreed to investigate allegations from residents of a village in rural Mandalay Region that a flash flood in September that left three dead was caused by the failure of a nearby dam.

Myanmar murder accused remanded again

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 07:35 PM PST

Koh Samui district court in Thailand has allowed Thai police to continue to hold two Myanmar migrant workers accused of murdering a British couple.

Military to meet Press Council again

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 07:33 PM PST

The Myanmar Press Council (Interim) was scheduled to meet the Ministry of Defence over the weekend to discuss the military's plan to disseminate information to journalists.

Electoral roll overhaul begins in Yangon

Posted: 20 Nov 2014 06:36 PM PST

Voter registration for next year's general election started last week in Yangon Region, with electoral officials launching a scrutiny of voter rolls in the region's 10 least-populated townships.