Friday, August 29, 2014

National News

National News


Human rights less important than ‘nationalism’, says senior monk

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:38 PM PDT

A Senior Buddhist monk has urged political parties to prioritise "nationalism" – or "the interest of national ethnic groups and citizens" – over human rights.

City of dreams: Regional govt draws fire on city expansion contract

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:33 PM PDT

The Yangon Region government's proposal for a massive city expansion project with a mysterious public company linked to Chinese interests has sparked intense debate.

Peace team to get hluttaw approval for ceasefire text

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:19 PM PDT

The government has promised armed ethnic groups that agreements arising out of the nationwide ceasefire and subsequent political dialogue will be enshrined in legislation, peace negotiators from both sides say.

Govt backtracks on city expansion project

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:16 PM PDT

The Yangon Region government has backtracked on its controversial decision to award the contract for a 30,000-acre city expansion project to a little-known public company, announcing that it would instead conduct a tender.

Health ministry proposes higher alcohol taxes to reduce drinking

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:12 PM PDT

Health chiefs are planning to rein in alcohol use through a five-point plan to improve the nation's health – and maybe cut crime. 

Senior general orders investigation into Lahu militia death

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 07:34 PM PDT

Commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has launched an investigation into the killing of a member of a Lahu people's militia in eastern Shan State in June, sources in the area say.

US firm’s $480m investment to tackle Mandalay power woes

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 07:25 PM PDT

Myanmar will see a boost in power from a solar project that backers say could produce up to 12 percent of the country's power generation when it becomes fully operational.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News


Will the Foreign Policy Success of Obama place Burma in the Proxy Hot War?

Posted: 29 Aug 2014 01:26 AM PDT

President's Obama's foreign policy struggles in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestine and most of the Middle East, not to mention Ukraine and the Pacific rim nations is a cause for "a palpable sense of disappointment on the world stage as well."[1] Having failed elsewhere in the world, Obama finds his foreign policy assailed by critics, and his legacy on the global stage in doubt. [2] Details of Secretary of State John Kerry's talks with both Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, were kept Hush even though Kerry offered a slightly more critical assessment in remarks at the East-West Center in Honolulu following his trip to Burma, with the remark that in the end the leadership will have to make the critical choices.[3]



Next year's elections will be a key indicator of how Burma want to move forward, with many an assessment of the reform process hinging on the outcome "all in" on a questionable hand? [4]Among those who will be keenly watching the election returns will be no doubt President Barack Obama, as his stakes are the highest in its foreign policy barometer, as underneath all the rhetoric of democracy, human rights, and free and fair elections, land grabbing, crony economy there is major US commercial and strategic interest in resource-rich country with a growing energetic young population vis a vis China.

American businesses are coming to Burma in what looks like an increasingly unstoppable tide, and to facilitate investment, most of the blacklisted tycoons will be whitewash as Secretary of State Kerry demonstrated by putting up in a blacklisted tycoon's hotel.[5] It is also known that a senior State Department officials met privately with some of these tycoons, known by their acronym as SDNs (Specially Designated Nationals) telling them to put forward a request to have their names cleared.[6] At least in name they would have to sever ties with the military, avoid involvement in land seizures and respect civilian rule. And they will be removed from the blacklist, having been sufficiently rehabilitated in the eyes of US officials at the Treasury Department. But whether they would be posthumously be granted to the two gentlemen of Rangoon (Khun Sa and Lo Hse Han) is still to be seen. However, Canada has rolled out the red carpet welcome to Lo Hse Han's son Stephen Lo. Such is the North-American standard of "Business always overrules the conscience", the established arsenal of democracy.

           But it is a fact that 58 percent of Americans disapproving of his foreign policy, according to a June poll, claiming credit for the move toward democracy, such as it is, won't sit well with the skeptics who assert that reforms remain incomplete and the military and its former generals are still calling the shots in a country that is far from a success story. Many in the dissident's circles have warned that there should be a Plan B.[7]

Indeed, many Burmese were counting on the United States to inject some life into a reform program increasingly viewed as stalled. Whatever lingering moral authority remaining in the administration of Barack Obama may fell to dust. In a country like Burma; one is immediately struck by the staggering glibness that tore a great many people to pieces, among them many innocents, particularly the non Myanmar ethnic nationalities. As bad as the "some folks" gambit was, this, this right here, is where the moral authority of the American president and his administration became a dumpster fire. The moral failure on Burma in this is so vast as to be bottomless. President Obama isn't going to get any static from them on the issue; which the Myanmar had inflicted on their enemies.

President Obama has done nothing to bring those responsible to justice surely he knows that former Generals now in mufti, have never admitted their mistakes, nor asked for forgiveness, let alone punishing them, this explicitly means that they will repeat the same atrocities, as they had done for more than half a century, if things doesn't go their way. Now by lining up with and defending these Generals, he has added his name to the roll call of shame that continues to dishonor the American nation whose hall marks is democracy and human rights. The cruel and despicable a practice which the Burmese Junta has imposed on its own people is not yet lost and it acted that these people are the "real patriots." "The administration can do more on this issue. As we tie a nice bow on what we call a success story, we need to make sure we aren't a cheap date when it comes to human rights." said representative, Jim McGovern of Worcester.[8] And warned conditions in Burma had taken "a sharp turn for the worse" and urged more restrictive measures, such as targeted sanctions. More than 70 lawmakers signed on, including all House members from Massachusetts. The Worcester congressman pushed a separate resolution through the House in May that highlighted the Rohingya's plight, a move he labeled a "friendly reminder" for the White House.

Unblemished it is no more. The legalised assault on Unity Journal's brave journalists was just like the bad old days. Courageous journalism who had known all the time that the Tatmadaw has used chemical weapons against the ethnic freedom fighters was made bare. Now in Burma suddenly became very much harder to report the truth because as I have often described that the corner stone of the Tatmadaw was "To tell lies against the very concept of truth." is their unwritten rule in the Tatmadaw. Now that the sanctions are all gone but the job of reform is only half done?[9] In the past three months, a coalition of opposition forces has been holding rallies to demand radical reform of the 2008 Nargis Constitution, designed to cut back the dominating role of the military – they hold 25 per cent of parliamentary seats, and remove the arbitrary rule that prevents Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president.[10] A petition demanding these changes has gathered five million signatures.[11] But Thein Sein and his colleagues have shown no interest whatsoever in even discussing them and yet President Obama is said to be considering a second visit later in the year to this lonely outpost of presidential achievement.

As the United States insists that military engagement with Burma is crucial to promote political reforms, human rights activists and ethnic nationalities are raising who will take responsibility if US assistance to Burma's armed forces is used to oppress, rather than help, the Burmese people? The ethnic nationalities combined together which formed the majority of the population has been victims of brutal military campaigns and have sent a letter to the US Consulate in Thailand's Chiang Mai last month, saying they believed US military engagement in the country was premature. "We don't even know what will happen in 2015. We don't know whether the election will be free and fair. Now, proportional representation (PR) is being debated and we don't know how things will develop,"[12] said Khun Htun Oo and there is every possibility that the American technologies will be used for ethnic cleansing as they have done in the past. The classic example is the Tatmadaw has signed bilateral ceasefires with most ethnic armed groups since 2012, but over the past three years clashes in northern Burma have left more than 100,000 people displaced. Cherry Zahau, an ethnic Chin human rights activist accused the US that it is due to the geopolitical importance of Burma for US national security and that the Tatmadaw has continuously been a hindrance to reforms by waging battles "It is ridiculous that the US is engaging with the Burmese military to encourage reforms,"[13] she said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is also very disappointed with US policy in Burma, especially its policy of military-to-military engagement.[14] Not only the United States, but also the United Kingdom and Australia appear convinced that military engagement is crucial in this time of political reform. They have all already sent military leaders to meet with top-brass officials from the Tatmadaw, Obviously, the Obama administration and other Western countries are eager to work with Burma's quasi-military government (if they can work with Assad of Syria in face of ISIS threat Burma is a small fry). After half a century of military dictatorship, their rationale is that they want to encourage political reforms and more equitable development for the country's people. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other dissident leaders clearly do not oppose these goals, or the diplomatic engagement that is likely necessary to achieve them. But whether the international community should go so far as to engage with Burma's military is a major question, especially lately, when it increasingly appears that the government's political reforms have stalled.

           In the past, when Suu Kyi said something, world leaders listened. Their policy reflected well on her words.[15] But now, the situation is different. It is sad to witness that these days, Washington and other Western governments seem to need Thein Sein more, while Suu Kyi is becoming a mere symbol for the international community. Foreign diplomats aren't missing meetings with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, but their meetings are more and more appearing as courtesy calls. It is important to listen to both sides. Burmese officials are skilled manipulators, that genuine democracy is not on their agenda, and that the military here still enjoys economic and political privileges. If the United States and others in the international community do not pay attention to these warnings—if they continue to court the president and the armed forces—sooner or later they will witness a proxy hot war.

            It's a pity that Obama and his experts did not know what is the crux of the Burmese problem? The Myanmar race which control the imperial Tatmadaw wanted to colonise all the non-Myanmar ethnic nationalities and that is the sole reason of the struggle as every ethnic race in Burma is fighting against the Myanmar dominated central government (note there is no horizontal struggle between the ethnic like in former Yugoslavia). A vertical struggle indicates that all these want some sort of genuine federalism. More than half a century since 1962, the Myanmar military dominated central government refused to grant them and now because of the unsurmountable pressure from China it has no choice but to go along with the Western democratic standards and began to negotiate grudgingly with the ethnic nationalities. The successful "Divide and Rule" policy of the Burmese government was able to coax the Southern Alliance composed of Karen, the Chin, the Mon, the Karenni and the Southern Shan and the All Burma Student Democratic Front to a cease fire after bribing their leaders outright and giving them some autonomy and economic incentives, however, the Northern Alliance composed mainly of Kachin, WA, the Palong (Tang), the Nagas, the Northern Shan and perhaps the Arakanese want genuine federalism and once it is clear that the Myanmar will not grant them may form their North Federal Military Alliance to resist the pressure. What proof is more wanted when the Central Government has waged an all-out war against the Kachin?

It is also a fact that Northern alliance have to rely on the narco-production to finance their war efforts and Burma ranks only second to Afghanistan in narco-production.[16] So with the active support of the US, (now that there is a military cooperation between the two countries of USA and Burma) it may launch an all-out war against the Northern Alliance as the imperial Tatmadaw has done to the Kachin. But the WA traditional supporters are the Chinese who has already given them some sophisticated weapons including helicopters gunships. Hence, there is every possibility that President's Obama's foreign policy on Burma will lead to a proxy hot war in the impending Cold War with China just like Korea. In an address at West Point in May, President Obama claimed, "We're now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment through coaxing and, at times, public criticism. And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds, we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot."

Mr. President, the ethnic nationalities of Burma desire genuine federalism within the Union of Burma and does not want to be a slave in an ivory tower of development but rather be a free man staying in a small hut. We are not asking development or even democracy what we want is to live a free men and die a free men even though we may be poor and wretched. Neither your development scheme prevails or democracy establish as the narco production will not lack until and unless it is tackle at the source of it by listening to the local leaders and giving them a better choice. It's time to rethink you foreign policy objectives in Burma.

To Hopeland and Back - Day 4

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:26 PM PDT

Day Four. Wednesday, 20 August 2014.

Unlike most Shans, I'm not a lover of festivities. Some may say that's because I'm only three-quarter Shan. The remaining one-quarter is Chinese from my father's side.

However, I had decided to attend the preparatory meeting for the Shan New Year 2109 which falls on 22 November for this year. The reason is simple: this year's celebrations will be joined by Shans far and near. And since Taunggyi is the capital of Shan State, they will be observed by people from neighboring states and countries as well as tourists visiting there.

 Most importantly, how Shans run the show will greatly affect the ongoing peace process, even though it is no more than a cultural event.

The meeting, attended by some 150 participants, is held at the Meeting Hall of the Shan Literary and Culture Society on the Main Road (now renamed Bogyoke Road during my 40 year plus absence) at 09:00.

It is presided over by Sai Tun Mya, 64, one of Burma's construction tycoons. For three successive years, he has been elected as chairman of the Shan New Year Festival Steering Committee, as he has been able to collect huge financial contributions for the society.
He opens the meeting by declaring the upcoming festival must be an event of substance and that he has invited the Shan Vice-President of U Thein Sein's union government Sai Mawk Kham to preside over the New Year ceremony.

Sai Kham Nood, joint secretary of the Steering Committee (who happens to be my nephew-in-law), then reads out the 35 planned activities that will be carried out by 35 sub-committees.

They include, among others:
Information and documentation
Health
Accommodation for guests coming from afar
Entertainment
Cultural seminar
Miss Shan Culture contest
Transportation
Games
Cultural Exhibitions
Sanitation

The participants, most of who are from southern Shan State, with only 4 from eastern Shan State, report the preparations that have been undertaken, the problems they are facing and suggestions.
Among them, many useful suggestions come from eastern Shan State, where the 4 participants had been part of the steering committee that had organized the first all Shan State New Year festival two years earlier. They explain the problems that they had beset them, notably in the fields of  entertainment, transportation, sanitation and cultural seminar. "(For instance,) the date we had chosen for the seminar," he says, "was on the last day of the festival. Naturally, there were only few attendees, because most of them were returning home."

My contribution is little. Quoting Sun Wu's "Governing a large number as though governing a small number is a matter of division into groups", I suggest that the 35 sub-committees be regrouped into 5-7 sections to be supervised by vice chairpersons and assistant secretaries. "All of you know the famous Shan saying: If you want chaos, organize a festival. If you want to sleep alone, have a minor wife." They all laugh but I cannot be sure whether they'll take my suggestion seriously though I hope so.

We have a pleasant dinner party afterward.  I don't eat after three, but drink a little with them, before taking leave.

Shan IDPs petition President Thein Sein for Burma Army withdrawal from their homes

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 09:22 PM PDT

About 300 displaced villagers sent a petition letter today to President Thein Sein, calling for the withdrawal of Burma Army troops from their village Wan Pasaung in Ke See township, and demanding compensation for damage to their homes and farms during the past two months.
 SHRFlogo
Since June 2014, about 3,000 Burmese government troops have been deployed to Ke See, Murng Hsu and Tangyan townships, in an offensive to seize territories of the Shan State Army-North/Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), in violation of an existing ceasefire agreement. On June 26, the Burma Army began occupying and firing shells from the village of Wan Pasaung, causing about 300 people to flee to the nearby village of Wan Warp. Over 500 heavily armed troops remain stationed in Wan Pasaung until today, causing destruction of property and crops.

On August 7, 14 Shan community based organisations sent an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, requesting him to raise concerns about this new offensive in Shan State during his visit to Burma. However, the Burma Army continued their military operations during his visit, clashing with SSPP on August 8 and 9 only four miles south of Wan Pasaung. Most recently, on August 22, Burmese government troops again intruded into SSPP territory, firing mortar shells at SSPP troops about six miles
north of Wan Pasaung.

The IDPs are sheltering in a temple in Wan Warp, relying on donations of food and other supplies. They are being guarded and their movements restricted by Burmese troops. A deaf villager was beaten and kicked when he was unable to hear an order from the troops. In their petition to President Thein Sein, 291 IDPs have requested compensation for damage caused by the occupation of their village, including destruction of 422.5 acres of farmlands, such as rice, peanut and corn fields, and loss of cattle, pigs and chicken, which have been killed and eaten by the Burma Army troops.

Copies of the letter have also been sent to the Burma Army Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, the four Regional Military Commanders in Shan State, the Shan State Chief Minister, as well as to the Shan political parties.

A copy of the petition is attached, and can also be viewed on www.shanhumanrights.org
Contact person: Nang Kwarn Lake: +66: (0) 84-668-0984 / 66: (0) 93-297-7754 (Burmes, English)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma


Bullet Points: 28 August 2014

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 04:56 AM PDT

On today’s edition of Bullet Points:

Lawyers acting on behalf of four jailed journalists from Unity Weekly make their final appeal to Magwe High court.

Shan Police s close in on suspects involved in a high-profile case of human trafficking.

One dead and one missing in refugee camp landslide.

United Nationalities Federal Council continue talks.

You can watch Bullet Points every weeknight on DVB TV after the 7 o’clock news.

 

 

Landslide devastates Karenni refugee camp: 1 dead, 1 missing

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:41 AM PDT

A landslide induced by continuous heavy rains has killed at least one man at a Karenni refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province, northern Thailand.

More than 100 refugee homes were damaged in the deluge, camp officials said.

"Heavy rain fell throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, destroying a clinic, a school and a women's shelter, and damaging more than 100 houses in Zone B of the camp," said vice-chairperson Naw Khu Paw.

“Twenty-five houses were destroyed, and 98 sustained substantial damage," she said. "The school was flooded, and one house was completely carried away in the flood."

The dead man was identified as Tay Reh, 40, while Toe Reh, 53, has been reported missing. Both were working in paddy files 20 km from the camp when a flash flood hit.

Though water levels had dropped by Thursday, debris has littered the camp, forcing more refugees to relocate to shelters or houses on higher land.

The value of the losses has not been calculated, the camp committee said.

There are about 3,000 refugees in Karenni refugee camp number 1.

Thai news agency Manager Online reported that military personnel and township volunteers had formed rescue teams to assist.

Foreign banks to be selected in September, official says

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 01:58 AM PDT

Out of the 25 foreign banks that applied to operate in Burma, the government will only allow about five to ten companies, which will be selected in September, said an official from the Banks and Financial Development Subcommittee on Wednesday.

Currently there are 43 foreign representative banks in Burma, which mainly act as liaisons to their home country's investors but rarely do banking transactions. However, 25 banks applied to the Myanmar Central Bank in order to operate fully in Burma's banking system.

Win Myint, secretary of the Banks and Financial Development Subcommittee, said that the selection process is still pending and will resume when parliament restarts on September 11.

"We called for interested parties and 25 banks applied. We are now analysing the applicants before choosing," Win Myint said. "When parliament starts, I hope the selection board will submit our preparation analysis to the parliament. We have told parliament that between five and ten banks would be selectded."

Local banks are not part of the selection process, said Than Lwin, vice-chairman of private Burmese firm Kambawza Bank Ltd.

"Some are saying to compete with the foreign banks. We are currently in the cooperation stage; it is normal to be working together," Than Lwin said. "When the local banks become more established and we have more skilled staff and techniques, then we can compete with them."

Land prices skyrocket after unveiling of Rangoon development plan

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 01:46 AM PDT

The announcement on Friday that Rangoon's divisional parliament had approved a proposal to implement a city expansion plan has caused land prices to skyrocket overnight in areas earmarked for development west of the city.

The proposal to construct residential and commercial property on 30,000 acres of farmland – located west of the Rangoon River in townships stretching from Kanaungto to Twante – was not previously disclosed to the public, local residents and MPs have said.

But within days of the announcement of the US$15 billion project, land prices have increased exponentially.

"Four years ago, the land alongside the highway to Twante was one million kyat [$1,000] per acre," said a land broker in Rangoon, speaking to DVB on Wednesday. "Then in recent years it increased to more than 20 million kyat. This week, land prices are increasing every day. I believe some plots are going for more than 100 million kyat [$100,000] per acre now."

He said that riverbank plots are also skyrocketing in price, and he noted that even rural and forested areas are now trading at grossly inflated values.

Rural townships scheduled to be affected by the city expansion include Kyi-Myin-Taing, Seik-Gyi-Kha-Naung-To and Ton Tay, all located five to 15km southwest and west of the Rangoon River.

Signposts offering plots of land for sale have been reported along the Twante highway, and several brokers are advertising their services in the area.

Some villagers have suggested that that several speculators "looked Chinese", and that many carried cash to offer as deposits.

Farmer Win Myint said that about 75 percent of the land from the 55 hamlets in Ton Tay Township has already been sold.

"Only a quarter of the land remains," he told DVB. "The rest has been sold, mostly this week. Many people have sold all their farmland, others are keeping hold of a few fields to cultivate."

Ko Ye Aung from Seik-Gyi Kha-Naung-To said he still wanted to live on his farm, but was willing to sell it if the price was right.

"This new city project is going to take over our villages," he said. "But if I get a good price, I will sell everything."

Meanwhile, several Rangoon divisional parliamentarians have complained that the development project was not disclosed publicly and that the bidding process and allocation of the contract were not transparent.

U Kyaw, an MP for the New Democracy Party, said he was unsatisfied as the divisional assembly was not informed about the project.

"Without transparency, there will always be difficulties and delays," he said. "History will tell whether the [Rangoon] government was acting in accordance with the rules or not."

Dr Nyo Nyo Thin, an MP representing Rangoon's Bahan Township, said she believed the project could seriously hurt local people, and questioned whether many of them had accepted the development on their own free will.

“It is unacceptable to implement this type of project so secretly," she said. "For example, years ago in Cambodia and Indonesia, when government ministers were informed beforehand about a development, they ran out to buy the land around the project. We do not wish for that situation to happen to our country."

Parliamentarians should have been given the opportunity to discuss the proposed city plan, she added.

However, a representative of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, Kyi Kyi Mar, argued that the project will create job opportunities and said she believed the government would explain more details about the development at the appropriate time.

Other Burmese media reports have indicated that the Myanma Setana Myothit Public Company has been awarded the contract to develop the city expansion project, and that it is investing some $8 billion.

China inspects Burma’s rice in advance of trade agreement

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 01:44 AM PDT

Chinese technicians arrived in Rangoon on Wednesday to kick-start implementation of rice-inspection protocols as the two countries move closer to reaching a trade agreement.

Led by the director-general of China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the four-member delegation was sent to inspect paddy fields, rice mills, sea ports and germ-eradication programmes.

According to the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF), the team will make an additional stop in the capital city of Naypyidaw to meet with Burma's minister of agriculture and irrigation.

"We have been trying to make this happen nearly three years, since the new government took power," said Dr. Soe Htun, secretary of the MRF.

"This is the first step, and hopefully everything will be all right soon. But it's not as simple as people think; the visit alone will not make everything ready. We have many more steps to take," he added.

An agreement on quality inspection will be signed following sufficient negotiations, and then the two sides will begin talks on an export agreement, Dr. Soe Htun said.

Discussions will focus on cross-border trade more generally, and will include an agreement to legalise rice imports via land crossings to China, which is an important source of revenue for many small- and medium-sized agricultural enterprises.

Roughly 80 percent of Burma's rice exports are believed to go to China. While it is legal for Burmese farmers to export to China, it is illegal for Chinese merchants to import the products.

Illicit cross-border trade has had a devastating effect on value. Frequent large seizures of illegally imported rice have caused prices to nose-dive, causing hardship among farmers living along China's borders with both Burma and Vietnam.

Tenasserim to allot land for refugees, officials say

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 11:46 PM PDT

Government officials of Tenasserim Division [Tanintharyi Region] claimed that refugees residing in a camp in Thailand would soon be able to return to Burma as they are scouting for land for their resettlement.

The camp in question is Tham Hin, located in Thailand's Ratchaburi province bordering Burma, which houses about 6,000 refugees. Karen Ethnic Affairs Minister Saw Harry visited the camp and said that 75 percent of the refugees wish to return home, so the divisional government is now looking for plots of land in Tenasserim Division to accommodate them.

"We thought one plot near Maw Taung in Tanintharyi Township's border gate and one to the east of Myittar in Tavoy would be good places," Saw Harry said. "We are still searching for the exact places."

He added that a resettlement committee will be there to assist the refugees.

"If they come back, we would ask for assistance from one of the NGOs and prepare rations," Saw Harry said.

Regional government secretary Tin Thein claimed that land would be given to the refugees when they return, though there are no plans to build houses yet.

"When they come back to stay, we have plans to give them the land. Most of them may have families in their respective villages," Tin Thein said. "When they get back to their villages, we will help them together with the NGOs."

"We cannot build the houses without them coming back first," he said.

Saw Ramond Htoo, Tham Hin refugee camp committee chairman, said that refugees have no immediate plan to return.

"We are not going back now," Saw Ramond Htoo said, adding that refugees mistrust whether the government's land offer is legitimate. "They came and took the land before and there was no land for us."

Thailand currently hosts nine refugee camps where more than 130,000 refugees from Burma reside, having escaped armed and ethnic conflict from their home states.

While the Thai and Burmese governments have expressed the desire to repatriate refugees from Thailand's nine refugee camps, aid agencies, including The Border Consortium, have said that the conditions are not right for refugees to return yet.

Regional officials emphasised that they are only in a scouting stage and no decision has been reached about where and when repatriation might be possible.

Mandalay students protest education bill

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 11:34 PM PDT

Students amassed at Mandalay's Yadanabon University on Wednesday in a second round of protest against Burma's newly approved education reform package.

The National Education Bill awaits the president's signature since being approved by both houses of parliament in late July. Controversial from the outset, the bill's detractors claim that it was drafted unilaterally and without enough transparency.

On Wednesday, a crowd of about 100 students gathered to oppose several aspects of the bill, claiming that it creates excessive restrictions on the formation of student unions and centralises Burma's education system.

The National Network for Education Reform (NNER) — a non-governmental group of education policy advocates comprising teachers, politicians and religious figures — has consistently hounded the drafting committee for changes. While some recommendations were conceded by the committee, the NNER said as recently as Thursday that they reject the legislation and demanded that key features be amended before it can be implemented.

The bill mandates the formation of a National Education Commission, which the NNER fears will grant the government too much control over the nation's schools. They also claim that the new legislation doesn’t actually reform the education system, but rather re-brands the institutions that have crippled Burma's schools for decades.

Many have also taken issue with a lack of transparency throughout drafting and parliamentary procedures. Students at the demonstration said that while they were told that the bill was reconsidered and amended to address complaints, the public was never made aware about this.

"We were informed that there were 71 amendments made to the law, but students were not informed clearly," a spokesperson for the Yadanabon Students Union told DVB on Wednesday, adding that students ought to be involved in the drafting process.

"We don’t know enough about it. That's why we are protesting,” he said.

Wednesday's demonstration was organised by students of Yadanabon University and was joined by others from Sagaing, Monywa and Kyaukse. A smaller protest was also held at Yadanabon on 21 July, just days before the bill was passed. While the first demonstration drew a crowd of about 50 people, Wednesday saw that number doubled.

Participants vowed to maintain their opposition to the law and ramp up awareness through a poster campaign.

Burma's education system was stymied under decades of military rule, a period which also saw the imposition of policies geared towards disenfranchisement of the nation's minorities. The country is sorely short of highly-skilled instructors and the budget allocated for the school system is under six percent of national spending.

 

Thailand expects trade surplus with Burma by 2016, says bank exec

Posted: 27 Aug 2014 08:00 PM PDT

Thailand expects to have a bilateral trade surplus with Burma by 2016, fuelled by solid economic and cross-border trade growth, says a senior executive of Bangkok Bank (BBL).

Executive vice-president Kobsak Pootrakool said the company forecasts increasing demand for Thai products from neighbouring countries thanks to improving economic sentiment.

Thailand recorded a first-half trade deficit of 40 billion baht (US$1.33 billion) from its neighbours, but the figure is expected to dip to 20 billion baht by the end of this year, he said.

There is increasing demand for Thai goods in Burma, especially fuel oil, food and beverages, textiles, electronic equipment, steel and vehicles.

In the past several years, Thailand recorded a trade deficit of 70 billion baht with neighbouring countries, mainly from natural gas imports. Thailand imports around 100 billion baht worth of natural gas from Burma per year, accounting for 94 percent of the country’s total, Mr Kobsak told a seminar yesterday entitled “A Trusted Partner and Reliable Close Friend for the AEC”.

But Thailand has lowered its trade deficit with Burma in recent years, helped by strong growth of cross-border trade at 17 percent average annual growth, he said.

Bilateral trade between Thailand and Burma is worth 200 billion baht a year, making it the second-largest trade value among Thailand’s ASEAN partners behind Malaysia.

Burma’s economy is projected to grow by 7.5 percent this year, rising to an annual average of 10 percent over the next five years, said Mr Kobsak.

“This growth will further stimulate our bilateral trade volume,” he said, adding border trade makes up 80 percent of total trade between the two countries.

Mr Kobsak said mid-sized Thai companies are gearing up to expand in Burma in order to capitalise on huge business opportunities now that the country is more open.

Agricultural businesses, processed food, natural resources, mining, and building and construction are key sectors with potential in Burma, he said.

Many large Thai companies have already jumped into neighbouring countries.

BBL, the country’s largest bank by total assets and a regional leader in international banking, is ready to support local customers with overseas business expansion, said Mr Kobsak.

 

This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on 28 April 2014.

 

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine


Young Model Stabbed to Death in Burma

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 05:42 AM PDT

Aye Chan Myat Moe, 20, started modeling this year. (Photo: Aye Chan Myat Moe / Facebook)

Aye Chan Myat Moe, 20, started modeling this year. (Photo: Aye Chan Myat Moe / Facebook)

RANGOON — A man has been arrested in Rangoon for allegedly stabbing a young model to death in the stairwell of her apartment.

The motivation for the alleged stabbing remains unclear, but the police say 20-year-old Aye Chan Myat Moe is believed to have been murdered by a friend, Ant Phyo Paing.

The attack on Tuesday evening took place as Aye Chan Myat Moe was walking up to her family's third-floor apartment in Dagon Township, according to her older sister, Aye Chan Myat Phyo, who said Ant Phyo Paing was waiting in the stairwell.

"I don't know why he killed my sister," she told The Irrawaddy. "I heard a loud noise from the second floor. My sister's throat was covered with blood. …She passed away when she got to the emergency unit because she had serious blood loss."

Neighbors apprehended Ant Phyo Paing at the apartment and brought him to the police. "The details of the crime are still under investigation," Zarni Htut, the police chief at the Dagon-Myoma station, The Irrawaddy, adding that the suspect had been charged with murder.

Family members say they have known Ant Phyo Paing for a long time but had been avoiding him prior to the attack because they did not like his attitude. They denied reports that he was Aye Chan Myat Moe's boyfriend.

"This is absolutely not a fight between couples, as the Thit Htoo Lwin blog mentioned. As we can see from her phone message, their relationship was a normal one," said Aye Chan Myat Phyo, who speculated that the suspect had an unrequited love for her sister.

Aye Chan Myat Moe started modeling this year. She was studying at the Laurel Art Academy in Rangoon and had been featured in some advertisements and magazine covers.

A funeral will be held at Yay Way cemetery on Saturday.

The post Young Model Stabbed to Death in Burma appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Arakan Govt Clarifies Budget Confusion After Uproar

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 05:34 AM PDT

The Arakan State government has sought to dispel what it says were erroneous reports that it had returned a surplus 13 billion kyats (US$13 million) from the state budget to Burma's central government.

During a meeting on Wednesday, the state's Chief Minister Maung Maung Ohn told Arakanese civil society groups, town elders and the media that those reports were based on a misunderstanding of state- versus Union-level appropriations in Burma's second-poorest state.

Aung Mra Kyaw, an Arakan State lawmaker, said an Aug. 23 report from the state's budget department listed 13 billion kyats out of 109 billion kyats allocated for the 2013-14 fiscal year's total budget as "extra," with the state revenue minister inaptly referring to the funds as having been "returned" to the Union government.

The report sparked widespread criticism in the impoverished state this week, apparently fueled by the inability of the Arakan revenue minister to explain the origins of the "extra" money when pressed by lawmakers.

"But on Wednesday, the director of budget/expenses came [to the state parliament] to explain about how it worked, after the whole country had heard about the situation," Aung Mra Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.

The Arakan government representative noted on Wednesday that the initial fiscal report had led to confusion, and submitted an amended budget that made clear the money had not been "returned."

Aung Mra Kyaw said lawmakers were told that while the last fiscal year's total budget was 109 billion, Arakan ministries and departments were only allocated 96 billion. The "extra" 13 million kyats referred to projects in Arakan State that were under the jurisdiction of the Naypyidaw government.

"The chief minister said the money has still been used for Arakan State projects, under the control of the Union [government]," according to Than Htun, an Arakanese town elder in Sittwe who attended the meeting with the chief minister.

Than Htun said those in attendance on Wednesday were told that the state government was limited by law in the scale of projects it could pursue, citing as an example a prohibition against constructing bridges any longer than 150 feet. Larger projects are the purview of the Union-level government, it was explained.

"This year's budget [198 billion kyats] is more than last year," said Aung Mra Kyaw. "We do not want such confusion in the next financial report. So the ministries and the department heads in Arakan State should pay attention to their works."

Since becoming chief minister on July 2, the former general Maung Maung Ohn has met frequently with different groups of politicians, lawmakers and civil society groups to update them on his government's initiatives.

Maung Maung Ohn on Wednesday said Arakan State had made progress more than two years after communal violence tore through the state, but added that his government was taking precautions to ensure continued stability, according to Than Htay.

Than Htay said the public was updated on a "citizenship scrutiny" pilot project underway in the state's Myebon Township, an effort to resolve the controversial question of citizenship for Burma's stateless Rohingya Muslims.

The pilot began in June and is based on Burma's 1982 Citizenship Law. In order to be eligible for citizenship, state officials are requiring Rohingya Muslims to identify themselves as "Bengali," the government's term for the group, which implies that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

It appears the Muslims—many of whom trace their Burma roots back generations and prefer to self-identify as Rohingya—will not have the chief minister's blessing if they should choose not to cooperate in the citizenship scrutiny process.

"If the Muslims there continue to call themselves 'Rohingya,' there is nothing more to talk about," Maung Maung Ohn was quoted as saying on Wednesday. "But if they perceive themselves as Bengalis, as they are, and seek citizenship, they could be considered under the Citizenship Law. … It will only lead to bad impacts if they stay outside the law."

During Wednesday's meeting, Maung Maung Ohn also reassured attendees that any resettlement program for displaced Muslims in Arakan State would not proceed without consultation with local Arakanese Buddhists.

Two bouts of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 forced about 140,000 people from their homes in Arakan State. Most of the victims were Rohingya who have lived in squalid camps, primarily on the outskirts of the state capital Sittwe, ever since.

The post Arakan Govt Clarifies Budget Confusion After Uproar appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burma’s Realtors, Bankers Asked to Report Potential Money Laundering

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 05:14 AM PDT

Piles of Burmese kyat in Rangoon. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Piles of Burmese kyat in Rangoon. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) this month encouraged real estate agents and bankers to report transactions involving large sums of cash, amid suspicions that money laundering is rife in both the country's property market and financial institutions.

The unit's chief said last week that the FIU was stepping up activities to identify where the ill-gotten gains of Burma's drug traffickers, corrupt officials and other criminals are being invested.

But new rules and regulations relating to the Anti-Money Laundering Law are not expected until October, so the FIU appears to be relying for now on voluntary reporting from those who potentially stand to benefit from money laundering.

People in the country's booming real estate sector told The Irrawaddy that they were told they should inform the FIU, part of the Ministry of Home Affairs, about any property transactions worth in excess of 100 million kyat, or about US$100,000.

"The FIU told us to report to them if a property contract is worth more than 100 million kyat. Also, if one person purchases three or four properties in a year, we have to report them too," said Moe Moe Aung, Secretary of Myanmar Real Estate Association.

It is unclear whether a duty to report such transactions will be included in the forthcoming rules and regulations. Neither is it known what, if any, sanctions anyone failing to report would face.

Moe Moe Aung said the FIU's chief, Police Colonel Kyaw Win Thein, told her that the reporting was for the purpose of "surveying" where money in the market is coming from. However, she quoted the police colonel as saying, "If they [the FIU] doubts them [the buyer], we're authorized to investigate."

Under the current law, the government collects tax on property transactions—the combined income tax and stamp duty combined is 35 percent on transactions worth more than 300 million kyat—but buyers are not obliged to divulge the source of the money.

"By law, the government doesn't ask buyers the source of their money, that's why the real estate sector has becomes the best place for money laundering," Moe Moe Aung said.

"The property market has been stronger in recent years. This [money laundering] is not the only reason real estate prices have been skyrocketing in cities, but it's one of them."

The FIU's Kyaw Win Thein told reporters last week that banks would also be asked to report savers with large amounts of cash. "In the banking sector, we are going to announce soon how much is the exact figure above which banks will need to report us," he said.

Burmese tycoon Chit Khine—the chairman of Eden Construction and Myanmar Apex Bank who has been linked to members of Burma's former military regime—said he welcomed the move, but warned that if the FIU investigates all large-scale deals, those doing business with clean money could face delays.

"They will have to check out who owns the money, whether it's in the hands of local businessmen or not—they will have to question that. But there might be disadvantages for some people," Chit Khine said.

"For example, though it's good [to investigate] dirty money owners who invest in the real estate industry, it's not good for other clean people. If they investigate where the money comes for every contract to buy a house, it may take time for everyone."

Additional Reporting by Thit Nay Moe

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‘They Have Talent and Love for Their Motherland’

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 03:18 AM PDT

The chairman of Burma's football federation, Zaw Zaw, center, with members of his U-19 football team, on Aug. 24 in Rangoon. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy) 

The chairman of Burma's football federation, Zaw Zaw, center, with members of his U-19 football team, on Aug. 24 in Rangoon. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Burma's Under-19 men's football team triumphed at a regional tournament in Brunei over the weekend, showing remarkable spirit as they ended a miserably long history of defeat. The win came on Saturday, as the team beat their Vietnamese counterparts 4-3 in the final of the Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy. After the match, the chairman of the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF) Zaw Zaw, a prominent businessman, caught up with The Irrawaddy.

Question: Why do you think Burma was able to clinch the win this weekend?

Answer: Preparation was the major contributing factor. The players worked hard and the coaches taught them to act with discipline and observe fair play. Another contributor was the cooperation of football club owners, who nurtured these players in their respective football clubs or football academies before allowing them to join the tournament. The support of Burmese fans was a driving force for our players. The victory was indeed the result of a deep hunger to win, good preparation and teamwork, plus strong cooperation among the head coach, assistant coaches and team leaders.

Q: Will U-19 players be selected for the national team? What's the plan?

A: Our main target is the Asian (AFC) U-19 Youth Championship. We won't give the players to any other team before the championship. We plan to take a risk and play the Thai U-19 team that will compete in the Asian Games. In sports, we won't improve if we don't play stronger teams. We'll leave here on the 30th of this month to play against the Thai team and train in Bangkok. Then we'll proceed to Vietnam. We'll compete in the Asian U-19 Youth Championship in October.

Q:Burmese people are quite happy about the victory in Brunei. How will MFF help maintain a winning record in the future?

A: In football, there are three levels for us—the Asean, Asian and international levels. Now we are going to test our strength at the Asian level, to see if we can break into the international level.

We'll lag behind if we can't do what other countries are doing. For example, in countries like Thailand, every football club has a football academy. Football clubs and schools jointly organize a lot of football tournaments, and brilliant players at inter-school tournaments are selected to football academies. Inter-academy football tournaments are held and outstanding players are selected for the national league. But for that, we in Burma would need facilities, financing and sponsors. If the infrastructure is built as the country sees economic growth, our football standard will improve. And once we have the infrastructure, it is also important that our football team can play 10 to 12 football matches in a year abroad. Only then will there be results.

The professional league must also guarantee a decent livelihood for football players. If the salary at the professional league is just 50,000 to 100,000 kyats (US$50-$100) per month, no parents will let their children play football because there will be no guarantee for their lives.

We need to upgrade the grassroots-level league to a national league and then a professional one. We have ideas for how to do this, but we need people with the time and money to act on these ideas. We can't transform overnight. Just take a look at how much Thai football clubs spend—six times more than we do, while the expenses of Vietnamese clubs are five times greater than our own. Vietnamese clubs have their own football academies and each club has U-14, U-16 and U-19 teams. They have their own pitches. We have to compete with them.

We compete with other countries while we have next to nothing in resources compared with them. We have struggled. In the past, we competed in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President's Cup and now in the AFC Cup. To play in the Asian Champions League (ACL), we'll need club licenses. Otherwise we won't be able to take part in Asia's highest competition, and we can only daydream about becoming an Asian champion.

In Thailand, a football club gets support equivalent to the assistance given to a national team by the national football federation. Their improvement therefore is very good. We were able to clinch victory only because our U-19 football players have talent and love for their motherland. We are still lacking in many things.

The post 'They Have Talent and Love for Their Motherland' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

How to Salvage the Bell

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 03:10 AM PDT

A salvage team works at the Rangoon and Pegu rivers' confluence on Tuesday. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

A salvage team works at the Rangoon and Pegu rivers' confluence on Tuesday. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

As I served in the Burmese navy for decades, I am very familiar with tidal currents in the Rangoon River and I have followed the story of the Dhammazedi Bell with great interest as controversial news has been appearing in our daily papers.

According to recent news in the local Standard Times, U San Lin, the leader of the salvage team declared that the missing bell has been found using local technology, and will soon be brought up on an auspicious day announced by Natsintayar Sayadaw.

I would very much like to believe this news, which has been keenly anticipated by the general public.

However, I do have my own reservations. I do not claim to be a salvage expert. But as a professional seaman of 70 years, a retired first-grade Rangoon harbor pilot who has frequently navigated maximum 29-foot fully laden ships of 10,000 tons across the treacherous Monkey Point channel with barely 1-foot clearance under ship's bottom, I am quite familiar with tidal currents and the seasons of the year at this confluence where the four rivers meet.

I subsequently served as Harbor Master of the Port of Rangoon for five years and I have experienced some salvage jobs in the river carried out by the port's diving section under my charge. The largest salvage operation we successfully undertook was the lifting of IWT (Inland Water Transport) double-decker steamer "Wei-Bu-La," which sank in the Twante Canal and blocked navigation of all river traffic including teak rafts destined for export. This operation took three months, despite clearer water and weaker tidal currents than the location where the bell is thought to be located.

Without modern underwater photographic equipment, it would be extremely hard to identify the object—even if it is found—as the waters are completely muddy.

There were a few A-Class ship-mooring buoys (as seen in a photo in the Standard Times) sunk in this vicinity during World War II that in size could be similar to the bell, were never salvaged after the war and are deeply embedded in the silt along with mooring chains and anchors. These buoys also have a ring on top, and perhaps the hardworking Salone (Moken) divers might have found one of these rings and put through their lifting ropes awaiting a lift on the next auspicious day!

Incidentally, I know of no capable crane or derrick on a local floating barge that can do the job. The "lifting" operation can only be achieved by using what we call a "tidal lift Camel"—using mother nature’s gift of high and low tides, and fully tightening wires or nylons around the sunken object during the lowest tide, letting the rising tide do the lifting. You would need to repeat this method a few times by raising the object about six feet each tide, tightening the ropes again and again, and moving the object nearer to the shore, until it can be visible. This is an age-old salvage method adopted all over the world before the hi-tech age.

I trust this information helps, and hope it is not another "Spitfire" wild-goose chase.

Captain Kyaw Thein Lwin is a master mariner (ex-first grade Inner Pilot 1954-59, ex-Rangoon Harbor Master 1959-63) and former principle at the Institute of Marine Technology.

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Invest in Burma’s Small-Scale Farmers, Says Development Group

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 03:06 AM PDT

RANGOON —Land confiscations, profit-hungry middlemen and sexism are all among the daily challenges faced by small-scale farmers in Burma's dry zone, home to about 25 million people.

Their needs must be taken into account as the government attempts to boost farming output through private investment in agriculture, which is by far the country's biggest source of employment, an international aid and development agency says.

In a report released on Thursday, the UK-based agency Oxfam said small-scale farmers in the dry zone have been largely neglected by government agricultural policies as the country's economy rapidly opens to foreign investment after decades of isolation.

Burma was once known as the "rice bowl" of Asia, and 70 percent of its workforce is still employed in agriculture today. But after half a century of military misrule, Oxfam said the country's overall agricultural productivity is low compared with other countries in Southeast Asia, while poverty in its rural areas is twice as severe as that in the cities.

The reformist government that took power in 2011 has "set out a vision of creating a 'modern industrialized nation' through agricultural development," the development agency wrote in the report, noting a focus on boosting private investment. Only 0.44 percent of total foreign private investment in the country currently goes to agriculture, it said.

"Modernization of the country's agricultural sector is, rightly, a priority. However, mechanization and large-scale agricultural investment is not the only possible path," it said. "It is crucial that [Burma] promotes the right type of agricultural investment—one which supports the country's millions of small-scale farmers and farm laborers, as well as their families."

Agriculture contributes an important but declining share of Burma's gross domestic product, at about one-third of GDP in 2010, according to the World Bank.

But government expenditure on agriculture as a percentage of GDP was just 1.5 percent in 2010, compared with a regional average of 7.3 percent, Oxfam reported, citing the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute.
Farming the Dry Zone

In the central dry zone, where farmers see low levels of annual rainfall, nearly half of all households live in poverty and are food insecure, Oxfam reported. "Every year, planting seems to get later due to lack of rain—and yields fall as a result," a farmer in Thazi Township, Mandalay Division, was quoted as saying in the report.

The development agency spoke with small-scale farmers and officials in Thazi as well as Minbu Township, Magwe Division, to ask what challenges they face. In Thazi—where paddy, cotton, pulses and sesame are the main crops—many farmers said they could not afford seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, forcing them to rely on brokers who give credit. As payment, the brokers often collect crops after harvest from the farmers for a low price, before re-selling at much higher prices for a profit at markets.

Even if they are not bound to deals with brokers, farmers in Thazi said they struggle to bring crops to market on their own due to poor roads that are too muddy to pass during rainy season.

In Minbu, farmers reported easier access to seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. But they complained that the government provides five times more finance for paddy farmers than for the crops they grow, including sesame, groundnuts, green gram, black gram, sunflowers, pulses and cotton.

Farmers in both townships reported limited or no consultation by the government on new agricultural plans and policies. "The parliamentarians elected for our area never come to see us," one resident in Thazi was quoted as saying.

Land rights are also a major problem, throughout the country.

According to the Constitution, all land in Burma is owned by the government, but farmers with lease rights can use land, rent and borrow against their holdings. Two laws passed in 2012 strengthen land tenure and promote the redistribution of unused land among landless farmers, but the situation is still pretty grim, Oxfam reported.

"Overall, land tenure remains insecure for most smallholder farmers due to the complex registration process, weak protection of registered rights, land classification that does not reflect existing land use, poor land administration, lack of recognition of customary land rights and large scale land allocations without adequate safeguards," it said.

Earlier this month in Sagaing Division, about 1,000 farmers staged a protest to demand back land that was confiscated by the military in the 1990s. They also urged the government to release and end the prosecution of about 300 farmers in the state who have been imprisoned or face charges after plowing land that was being used by a sugar cane company. Farmers around the country have been charged in similar cases over the past three years.

Women farmers face particular difficulties, with very few owning land in Thazi and Minbu townships, Oxfam reported. That's largely because land registration and access to credit are directed to head of households, who are usually men. Some women also said they earn 20 percent less for a day's work than their male counterparts.

Relatively More Productive

These problems should be prioritized as the government tries to boost investment in the agricultural sector, Oxfam said, adding that it would pay to support small-scale farmers.

Citing a study in Burma by the Harvard University, it said smaller farms ranging from a few acres to a few dozen acres were relatively more productive—with higher yields, greater use of labor and less use of capital compared with very large farms under similar land and water conditions.

Oxfam urged the government to prioritize agricultural spending in the public budget, and to offer better financial services, including for non-paddy crops. It called for reforms to simplify land registration, and for support to help farmers develop agricultural cooperatives that boost their market power and lower transaction costs. To respond to climate change, the development agency recommended crop diversification and access to better irrigation technology, as well as price and weather information. It said road development would assist with access to markets.

"Gender-based inequalities such as land ownership, community leadership and access to credit, also need to be tackled, recognising and supporting women to realise their potential in farming and agriculture more broadly," it added.

The post Invest in Burma's Small-Scale Farmers, Says Development Group appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

In Democracy and Disaster, Emerging World Embraces ‘Open Data’

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:59 AM PDT

 Ainun Najib, an Indonesian IT consultant based in Singapore, shows a table of voting results that was used in his work on the Indonesian elections as he waits to break fast at a friend's house during Ramadan in Singapore on July 26, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Ainun Najib, an Indonesian IT consultant based in Singapore, shows a table of voting results that was used in his work on the Indonesian elections as he waits to break fast at a friend’s house during Ramadan in Singapore on July 26, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — "Open data"—the trove of data-sets made publicly available by governments, organizations and businesses—isn't normally linked to high-wire politics, but just may have saved last month's Indonesian presidential elections from chaos.

Data is considered open when it's released for anyone to use and in a format that's easy for computers to read. The uses are largely commercial, such as the GPS data from US-owned satellites, but data can range from budget numbers and climate and health statistics to bus and rail timetables.

It's a revolution that's swept the developed world in recent years as governments and agencies like the World Bank have freed up hundreds of thousands of data-sets for use by anyone who sees a use for them. Data.gov, a US site, lists more than 100,000 data-sets, from food calories to magnetic fields in space.

Consultants McKinsey reckon open data could add up to $3 trillion worth of economic activity a year—from performance ratings that help parents find the best schools to governments saving money by releasing budget data and asking citizens to come up with cost-cutting ideas. All the apps, services and equipment that tap the GPS satellites, for example, generate $96 billion of economic activity each year in the United States alone, according to a 2011 study.

But so far open data has had a limited impact in the developing world, where officials are wary of giving away too much information, and where there's the issue of just how useful it might be: for most people in emerging countries, property prices and bus schedules aren't top priorities.

But last month's election in Indonesia—a contentious face-off between a disgraced general and a furniture-exporter turned reformist—highlighted how powerful open data can be in tandem with a handful of tech-smart programmers, social media savvy and crowdsourcing.

"Open data may well have saved this election," said Paul Rowland, a Jakarta-based consultant on democracy and governance.

Culture Club

Indonesia, home to 247 million people and some of the world's largest Facebook and Twitter populations, has been a few steps ahead in embracing open data. It's one of eight founding members of the Open Governance Partnership (OGP), a government-led initiative to free up data that now has more than 64 members.

The embrace of open data has had few tangible benefits, but created a buzz and fostered a culture that prodded Indonesia's election commission to tweak the way it handles vote results.

"There was nothing in this OGP stuff that said you had to put up results from each village," said Kevin Evans, a Jakarta-based governance consultant. "But it provides a culture where the commission says, 'Why don't we try a bit of transparency?'"

While it was not allowed to speed up or ditch the manual tabulation of votes—where much of electoral fraud takes place—the commission provided equipment for tallies from nearly half a million polling stations to be scanned and uploaded to its servers, and from there to its website.

Those scans prompted some volunteers to start the laborious process of sifting through them to look for signs of fraud. As the country waited for an official vote count, the rival candidates both claimed victory, based on whichever unofficial poll suited them. Indonesians feared at best a stalemate, at worst fraud and a collapse in public confidence in the election process.

A Third Way

This worried Ainun Najib, an Indonesian IT consultant based in Singapore. "I could see a situation where both sides claimed they'd won, based on their quick counts," he said, adding he feared a quick descent into confrontation. "I saw we'd need a third alternative."

Ainun reached out to two friends at Google, and between them they cobbled together a solution: a way to automatically download all the scanned files from the election website, and a website where volunteers could easily transcribe the key numbers from each tally into a spreadsheet.

This marrying of open data, programming savvy and crowdsourcing was the key. Within a few days—well before the official result was available—700 volunteers were able to tabulate more than 90 percent of the vote on a website that could be viewed by anyone.

It was decisive in convincing Indonesians that the election had been fair—a verdict upheld by the country's highest court last week.

By short-circuiting the long and fraught manual tallying process, it played a "very important" role in restoring public faith in the process and deterring fraud, said Marcus Mietzner, associate professor at the Australian National University. "It allowed the media and citizens to check whether data was manipulated as it traveled from the polling station to the center. This had never happened before."

At a ceremony honoring inspiring young leaders last week, Indonesia's President-elect Joko Widodo thanked Ainun and his colleagues for helping make the election more transparent.

Hashtagging a Typhoon

It's not the first time open data and crowdsourcing have been used in elections, but it's probably the most decisive. And it hints at the potential if officials, geeks and others play their part in leveraging open data to take on the big issues of the day.

"The idea is we can see the data of the state and do things with it, and that expertise doesn't just live inside bureaucracies," said Tim Davies, a researcher at the World Wide Web Foundation who is compiling a report on open data in developing countries. "These are powerful ideas and important ones for building new visions of how we do governance."

It might not just be politics.

Neighboring Philippines, another founder member of the OGP, combines open data with social media and crowdsourcing to minimize the impact of typhoons and storms that ravage its shoreline. Twitter users are encouraged to label their messages with specific hashtags, for example, making it easier for relief officials to quickly identify those who need help.

"That's been a very big deal," says Patrick Meier, who works with UN and Red Cross organizations on using crowdsourcing and open data in crises, and is now working with Manila-based start-up Rappler to better predict where help might be needed.

Politicization

But Indonesia and the Philippines are outliers in Asia.

The Asian Development Bank website, for example, contains a single reference to open data, against the World Bank's more than 85,000.

Singapore, despite describing data as a "natural resource," has been cautious, and it has taken open data evangelist Daryl Arnold a couple of years to help persuade officials and executives to free up significant chunks of data for programmers to build apps around.

He points to dozens of apps as evidence of progress, including a recent "hackathon" where programmers explored 65 million rows of data released by port-related companies and agencies to figure out how to make Singapore's port more efficient. One problem, he said, was that despite technological advances there is often an eight-hour delay between when a ship is due to arrive and when it actually berths—disrupting the mini-industry of tugs, cleaners and caterers that serve such vessels.

While Singaporean agencies and businesses warm to the idea of freeing up data, Arnold cautions that it must be used responsibly. "It's still critical that people use it in a respectful fashion," he says.

Indeed, the very success of open data in Indonesia's election may give pause for thought among more conservative countries of Asia.

Waltraut Ritter, co-founder of Opendata Hong Kong and a researcher on the knowledge-based economy, reports a tension over open data in some less developed countries, where officials worry advocates would focus solely on issues like corruption.

"In developed countries, data and information is seen more as an ingredient or commodity for everything you do, whereas in Asia everything around information and data can easily be politicized," she said.

"There's so much more baggage in terms of about how people think about information."

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India’s Modi Eyes Breakthrough Nuclear Pact on Japan Trip

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:54 AM PDT

NEW DELHI— India is hoping to win Japanese backing for a nuclear energy pact during a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and lure investment into its US$85 billion market while addressing Japan's concern about doing business with a nuclear-armed country.

India has been pushing for an agreement with Japan on the lines of a 2008 deal with the United States under which India was allowed to import US nuclear fuel and technology without giving up its military nuclear program.

But Japan wants explicit Indian guarantees not to conduct nuclear tests and more intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities to ensure that spent fuel is not diverted to make bombs.

India, which sees its weapons as a deterrent against nuclear-armed neighbors China and Pakistan, has sought to meet Japan's concerns and over the past month the two sides have speeded up negotiations ahead of Modi's visit.

"Serious efforts are being made to resolve any special concerns that Japan has. Whether it will be fully resolved and ready for signing before the end of the PM's trip is unclear," said a former member of India's top atomic energy commission who has been consulted in the drafting of the energy pact.

"I would give it a little better-than-even chance at this point," he said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.

Modi travels to Japan on Saturday for a five-day visit, his first major bilateral trip since taking over in May. The visit is being billed as an attempt by the two democracies to balance the rising weight of China across Asia.

Modi and host Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are also expected to boost defense ties, speeding up talks on the sale of an amphibious aircraft to the Indian navy.

Another focus is infrastructure, with the Indian leader seeking Japanese backing for the high-speed "bullet" trains he promised to voters in his election campaign.

But it is the nuclear pact that can transform ties in a way the deal with the United States did by establishing India as a strategic partner, although nuclear commerce with the United States has since foundered because of concern over India's liability laws.

Officials in Japan were tight-lipped about prospects for a nuclear deal.

'Foundations'

A civil nuclear energy pact with India would give Japanese nuclear technology firms such as Toshiba Corp and Hitachi Ltd access to India's fast-growing market as they seek opportunities overseas to offset an anti-nuclear backlash at home in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

India operates 20 mostly small reactors at six sites with a capacity of 4,780 MW, or 2 percent of its total power capacity, according to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited. The government hopes to increase its nuclear capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032 by adding nearly 30 reactors.

India is considering a Japanese proposal for a separate commitment not to test nuclear weapons over and above a self-imposed moratorium it declared after testing in 1998.

Another possibility is that Modi gives a personal assurance to Abe on India's nuclear weapons programme to help allay concern in Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack and which has since been a champion of non-proliferation and disarmament.

"India and Japan are laying the foundations of a bigger deal," said former vice chief of Indian army Lieutenant General A.S. Lamba, an expert on ties with Japan.

"It's no use rushing into something that fails to get off the ground, which is what happened to the India-US agreement. This is being constructed slowly, this is a defining moment."

The post India's Modi Eyes Breakthrough Nuclear Pact on Japan Trip appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Asia’s Old Communities Vanishing Amid Rapid Growth

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:47 AM PDT

A traditional Chinese lion dancer leaps in the air during Lunar New Year festivities in 2000 at a gate welcoming visitors to Bangkok's Chinatown district. (Photo: Reuters)

A traditional Chinese lion dancer leaps in the air during Lunar New Year festivities in 2000 at a gate welcoming visitors to Bangkok's Chinatown district. (Photo: Reuters)

BANGKOK — Century-old shop houses, twisting alleyways and temples scented with incense still pulsate with the pursuit of old trades and time-honored rituals of families who have lived in Bangkok's Chinatown for generations. But probably not for much longer.

Jackhammers and cranes are closing in on one of the last historic quarters of Thailand's capital as developers and city authorities aim to carry out plans to modernize the area by building subway lines and high-rises—with little thought to preserving local cultural heritage.

The story is a common one across much of Asia amid the region's rapid economic development that has raised incomes and living standards for millions. But the relentless drive to build, modernize and emulate the West—combined with a mindset that equates the old with backwardness—has already consigned vast expanses of traditional communities to rubble, and with them a way of life.

"There is more than just the architecture to preserve in the community. If these old buildings are demolished, the people will go. So will the lifestyle and culture. And that is irreplaceable," says Tiamsoon Sirisrisak, a researcher on culture at Bangkok's Mahidol University.

Authorities often say that clearing of old city quarters is justified because living conditions among the often decrepit structures are unsanitary. And indeed those who move are usually pleased with the more modern housing, running water, proper toilets and cleaner surroundings, while also often regretting the loss of their old neighborhoods.

Rapid urbanization, weak legislation, and city planning laced with corruption have all contributed to the trend. Most Asian cities have not heeded recommendations to leave their traditional cores intact and bring modern development to outer areas as many European cities such as Prague and Paris have done. Even some religious beliefs contribute to the destruction.

Old Phnom Penh survived war and the Khmer Rouge terror but more than 40 percent of some 300 French colonial buildings that gave the Cambodian capital its unique character have been destroyed over the past two decades. In 2004, Prime Minister Hun Sen abruptly tore up a zoning law that had kept the city low and green, giving the go-ahead to erect high rises anywhere in the capital. He criticized conservationists for trying to stop modern development, and one of his ministers commented that tall buildings would attract tourists.

In neighboring Vietnam, demolition of Rue Catinat, a street in the historic heart of Ho Chi Minh City, is proceeding, block by block, driven as elsewhere by skyrocketing land prices. A Vietnamese-French urban research agency has found that at least 207 heritage buildings have been destroyed or defaced in the last decade. The city's last colonial-era department store is to be replaced by a 40-story complex this year.

Only slivers of an earlier Hong Kong remain, hemmed in by a dense cityscape. In a model that China itself has followed, Hong Kong's transformation was propelled by the former British government selling off land to developers who rooted out both the traditional Chinese quarters and the legacies of Imperial Britain.

Experts generally agree that China, which boasts the longest continuous architectural lineage in history, ranks first when it comes to wholesale eradication of material heritage. Raging against the feudal past, the Red Guards destroyed thousands of historic sites during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and '70s. In the economic boom that followed, the destruction continued, if not intensified.

The flattening of the historic cores of cities across China, from Kunming in the south to Kashgar in the far west, is Asia's greatest "cultural atrocity," said James Stent, an American involved in heritage preservation in China and Thailand.

The bulldozing of old Kashgar, a fabled way station along the Silk Road and regarded as one of the world's finest examples of a traditional Islamic city, began in 2009 and is all but complete. City authorities said the clearance was necessary because earthquakes could topple the old houses.

A 2011 survey revealed that 44,000—or a fifth—of some 225,000 important cultural sites in China have fallen victim to construction. And a broader definition of cultural heritage that includes ordinary communities is new for many Asians.

"In China, they will preserve a temple but raze everything around it," Stent said. "You don't want little islands of culture, you need to protect larger areas and the whole fabric within them but make them vibrant so people can make a living there."

In Beijing, modern structures and roads have now replaced some 60 percent of the inner core of the city, with its narrow alleyways and traditional courtyard residences, says Matthew Hu, a leading Chinese conservationist who heads The Prince's Charity Foundation China.

"Modernity is really defined by modern Western culture, so when people consider modernity they want to get rid of things from the past," said Hu.

Although the scale and speed of this destruction appears greater than in Western countries, in many respects Asians are "simply mirroring similar dynamics from the West," says Erica Avrami, director of research and education at the New York-based World Monuments Fund. "It's just that the periods of rapid urban development in the US and Europe happened much earlier."

In New York, elegant homes and public buildings in mid-town Manhattan were razed in the early 20th century. And while many European cities have preserved historic city centers, German researchers in 1975 found that bulldozers had leveled more historic buildings on the continent in the 30 years since World War II than were lost to bombs during the conflict.

Asia's younger generation in particular seems far more interested in moving forward than preserving the past.

In tropical Thailand, only palaces and religious structures were constructed of substantial materials and deemed worth of preservation, while domestic architecture, mostly of wood, deteriorated rapidly and is rarely renovated, then and now.

"The idea that you preserve the old wooden house of your grandfather or grand-grandfather is not in the Thai psyche," said Euayporn Kerdchouay of the Siam Society.

Scholars note that a basic Buddhist tenet views the world as a place of constant change, and thus the faithful tend to downgrade the notion of permanence. Many Buddhists also believe donating to build a new pagoda or shrine, rather than renovating old ones, will earn greater merit for the giver.

In Bangkok's Chinatown, 40 old shop houses have been torn down to make room for a subway station. City authorities, who say the subway will lighten Chinatown's traffic congestion, have designated the area a commercial zone, allowing for structures of up to 12 stories.

Sirinee Urunanont, a third-generation Chinatown resident and community leader, says that the Chinese media have come to film and report on traditions and lifestyles that don't exist in their country anymore. Her quarter, Charoen Chai, is famed for handcrafted joss paper products used in festivals and funerals. These include replicas of gold bars, limousines and other creature comforts to accompany the dead into the next world.

"The culture, traditions, you don't see them anymore. They have been lost. So the Chinese media comes here to see them," said Sirinee.

Some excellent examples of preservation do exist, often driven by tourism. These include the 17th century "machiya" townhouses in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, Beijing's The Temple Hotel, an award-winning, four-year restoration effort, and the campaign to save the British colonial buildings of Rangoon, Burma.

But even some success stories have their downsides. Malaysia's George Town was named a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2008 for its blend of Asian and colonial architecture, and tourists flocked in and probably saved it from demolition. But longtime tenants were also replaced by boutique hotels, cafes and restaurants, and the population dropped from 50,000 to less than 10,000.

"People don't understand that the inner city residents have kept our traditions alive," says Khoo Salma, a leading Malaysian conservationist. "This has happened to many world heritage sites, where they have become a playground for others and no longer the people's city. We don't want the soul of [our] city to die."

The post Asia's Old Communities Vanishing Amid Rapid Growth appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Shambolic Campaign Leaves Indonesia’s President-Elect Much to Prove

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:42 AM PDT

Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo gestures to supporters a day after he was named winner in the presidential election on July 23, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Darren Whiteside)

Indonesia's presidential candidate Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo gestures to supporters a day after he was named winner in the presidential election on July 23, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Darren Whiteside)

JAKARTA — When he was nominated in March as a candidate for Indonesia's presidential election, polls showed Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had a 30-point lead over the man who would become his main challenger, former army general Prabowo Subianto.

But after three months of shambolic and lackluster campaigning, the wildly popular governor of Jakarta was staring at defeat.

"If you continue like this, it's clear we will lose," prominent businessman Sofjan Wanandi told Widodo and senior members of his Indonesian Democratic-Party of Struggle (PDI-P) at a crisis meeting on June 16.

With Election Day less than three weeks away, Widodo had just been given a poll showing Prabowo trailed by only 1.8 points.

"'No more discussion. We have to start fighting,'" Widodo told the stunned gathering at a Jakarta hotel, according to Wanandi, a key financier of Widodo's campaign, recalling the drama in a recent interview with Reuters.

That meeting was the turning point. Galvanized by an army of young, social media-savvy volunteers, and by what one advisor called "fear of losing," Widodo's campaign kicked into gear. He eventually beat Prabowo by about six percentage points, with 53.15 percent of the 130 million votes cast on July 9.

Alleging "massive cheating," Prabowo still disputes the result and has so far refused to call Widodo to congratulate him on his win. On Aug. 21, Indonesia's constitutional court unanimously rejected his last-ditch bid to overturn it.

Decade of Experience

Aides insist Widodo's amateurish campaign does not presage an equally tepid and directionless presidency. A close media advisor said the near-miss will make him a stronger leader.

"This will be a president who takes risks but who has learned a lot about the country through the campaign," he said. "He's like a sponge. He learns from people and from his experiences."

Lukewarm support from the PDI-P and its long-time leader Megawati Sukarnoputri—a former president who had coveted a return to power—blighted Widodo's early campaign. Many now wonder what influence Megawati will exert over the presidency.

"The campaign indicates there are certain key constituencies he will have to handle very deftly," said Jakarta-based political analyst Douglas Ramage.

Less than two years ago, Widodo was mayor of Solo, a city of 500,000 in Central Java. On Oct. 20, he will be sworn in as president of the world's fourth most populous country.

Despite this meteoric rise, some experts believe he has the skills to run Indonesia after winning plaudits for his business-like management of the teeming capital over the past 18 months and for transforming crime-ridden Solo into a center for art and culture.

"He might be inexperienced on the national stage, but what we often miss is that he's 53, with a decade of experience in executive positions," said Ramage.

Widodo assumes the presidency at a critical time, with Indonesia's growing confidence abroad matched by an unfulfilled domestic yearning for clean government and a more equitable society.

Indonesia under Widodo will be more "inward-looking, but that's not a bad thing," said Achmad Sukarsono, a political analyst at the Habibie Center, a Jakarta think tank. "We have a president who [understands] our interests, not just the interests of the few elites."

'Puppet President'

Widodo's campaign got off to a late start. The PDI-P didn't nominate him until mid-March, only then scotching speculation Megawati would run despite losing two previous presidential elections. By contrast, Prabowo's bid was years in the planning.

The rift between Widodo and the PDI-P widened after the April 9 parliamentary election. The party performed worse than expected. Its campaign, run by Puan Maharani, Megawati's daughter and heir apparent to the PDI-P chair, failed to capitalize on Widodo's popularity.

Instead, it promoted the notion that Megawati controlled the party—and, by implication, Widodo. This was a gift to Prabowo, who would urge people not to vote for a "puppet president."

Widodo later told Reuters he respected Megawati. Agitated, he added: "If there is someone who says that I'm a puppet, that is a big mistake."

Even so, Megawati's debatable influence over Widodo was a drag on the campaign. "The party machinery was not working," said the close media advisor, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue. "There was no coordination and everyone was just very relaxed."

On May 19, Golkar, Indonesia's second-largest party, unexpectedly threw its support behind Prabowo, and a Widodo presidency no longer felt like a sure thing.

Smears and Volunteers

A smear campaign was also in full swing. Rumors spread on social media that Widodo, a Javanese Muslim, was an ethnic Chinese Christian—a tough sell in the country with the world's largest population of Muslims.

"The most frustrating part of the campaign was spending 70 percent of our time in Islamic boarding schools, countering the black campaign about Jokowi being ethnic Chinese and Christian," vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla told Reuters in a post-election interview.

As Prabowo gained in the polls, more volunteers got involved. Among them was Melany Tedja, an energy consultant.

She had assumed most educated Indonesians would gravitate toward Widodo. "In fact, surveys showed that the more privileged you are, the more likely you are to vote for Prabowo," she said. "They really bought the whole concept of Prabowo being this firm, tough leader."

Tedja felt the campaign was focusing too much on the folksy affability of Widodo, a former furniture salesman.

"What got lost was that his team is full of people who are strong on economics, energy, foreign affairs," she said.

So Tedja joined an army of volunteers she estimated would swell to 2 million people. They countered smears and promoted his platform on social media, urging undecided voters to choose Widodo.

When it came to presidential debates, however, Widodo appeared to be on his own. His forgettable performance in the first debate on June 9 was followed by a spiritless one six days later.

Then came the June 16 crisis meeting attended by Widodo, his running mate Kalla, Megawati, her daughter Puan and heads of other parties that supported his candidacy.

They were presented with a poll by the Jakarta-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showing Widodo's lead over Prabowo had shrunk to 1.8 points.

The results were never published for fear of further eroding that lead, said businessman Wanandi.

Widodo's team "finally woke up," said Wanandi. "They didn't take [winning] for granted anymore. Even Megawati got into action and started campaigning."

Final Push

While the party machinery had idled, campaign volunteers had become a potent force. On July 5, four days before the election, tens of thousands of Widodo supporters gathered at a Jakarta stadium for a free concert by famous Indonesian musicians.

That "final push" by volunteers helped swing many middle-class voters, said Anies Baswedan, Widodo's spokesman. "[The volunteers] convinced them that they had to be part of this history."

For many Indonesians, Prabowo revived memories of long-ruling dictator Suharto—once his father-in-law—who was overthrown in 1998.

"People realized that if Prabowo became president, the kind of Indonesia they had become used to could disappear," said the close media advisor.

On the evening of July 5, Widodo—wearing his signature checked shirt—was relaxed and confident in the third and final presidential debate, while Prabowo looked flustered.

Campaigning was forbidden by law for three days before the election. Widodo made a quick trip to Mecca, helping silence those who questioned his faith.

President Widodo

President-elect Widodo faces huge expectations, particularly from ex-campaign volunteers. "Because we made this happen, it's like we are the government," said Melany Tedja.

As a candidate, Widodo has promised to avoid shady political horse-trading and appoint a technocratic cabinet. Keeping that promise will be tough.

"Already there are people in the coalition screaming, 'Why am I not in the transition team? I want this or that ministry!' Jokowi has to deal with that pressure," a member of Widodo's transition team told Reuters.

A senior campaign advisor insists Widodo's victory has prompted "a fundamental shift" in his relationship with Megawati.

"He has delivered a victory she could only dream of," he said. "That gives him a lot of power, and with that kind of power you can't be pushed around."

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Postponed Planting for Delta Rice Farmers

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:30 AM PDT

A farmer wearing thanaka on her face holds a bundle of rice shoots. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A farmer wearing thanaka on her face holds a bundle of rice shoots. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

IRRAWADDY DELTA — With its vast tracts of paddy fields, the Irrawaddy Delta is aptly nicknamed "the rice bowl of Burma." Farmers—mostly women—planting sprouts in roadside paddy plots are a common sight in the delta, where the annual rice growing season generally begins in late May.

But unusually heavy rains and flooding this year prevented some farm workers in the delta from planting three months ago, forcing them to wait for floodwaters to subside. When they finally did, only recently, the farmers found themselves planting at a time generally marked as the end of the rice growing season.

"All I could do was sit and wait for the waters to subside last month," said one of the

women, who I met at a paddy field beside the Rangoon-Pathein highway.

She was one of nearly 10 farmers, wearing longyis hiked up to avoid getting them wet in the calf-deep water, who were planting rice shoots last week. With the monsoon season not over yet, the women would don plastic sheets approximating ponchos and carry on with their planting as rains intermittently swept across the delta. In defense against the equally intermittent sunshine, the women's faces were thickly smeared with thanaka, a popular traditional cosmetic in Burma.

In a typical year, the farmers will work only in the morning, but the late plant this season has forced them to toil in the fields all day, from 6 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock at night, stopping only for lunch.

And, they say, their misfortune will not end with the completion of planting.

"Because we started late, the rice yields for this year will surely be late," another farm worker explained. "As a result, the rice will arrive to market late and farmers will get a lower price."

The post Postponed Planting for Delta Rice Farmers appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Spirits, Prayers Mark Hunt for Burma’s Lost Bell

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 05:00 PM PDT

Dredgers operate as part of a salvage team attempting to retrieve the Great Bell of Dhammazedi from the Rangoon River on Tuesday. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Dredgers operate as part of a salvage team attempting to retrieve the Great Bell of Dhammazedi from the Rangoon River on Tuesday. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Divers stand on the edge of a small wooden fishing boat gazing at the murky, choppy waters below. After receiving blessings from Buddhist monks, they lower their masks and plunge one-by-one into the mighty Rangoon River, clinging to garden hoses that will act as primitive breathing devices during their dizzying descent into darkness.

From the shoreline, thousands of spectators look on, some peering through borrowed binoculars, praying the men will find what other salvage crews have not: The world's largest copper bell, believed to have been lying deep beneath the riverbed for more than four centuries.

Weighing an estimated 270 tons, the mysterious bell is a symbol of pride for many in this country of 60 million that only recently emerged from a half-century of military rule and self-imposed isolation. And for the first time, search crews are largely relying on spirituality rather than science to try and find it.

Burma's superstitious leaders have, in years past, been part of a colorful cast of characters who believe reclaiming the treasure is important if the nation is ever to regain its position of glory as the crown jewel of Asia.

It's a story of myth and mystery: King Dhammazedi, after whom the bell was named, was said to have ordered it cast in the late 15th century, donating it soon after to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's most sacred temple which sits on a hilltop in the old capital, Rangoon.

The bell remained there for more than 130 years, when it was reportedly stolen by Portuguese mercenary Philip de Brito, who wanted to take it across the river so it could be melted down and turned into cannons for his ships. With tremendous difficulty, his men rolled the massive bell down a hill and transferred it to a rickety vessel, which sank under the weight at the convergence of the Rangoon and Pegu rivers and the Pazundaung Creek. The bell never reached its destination of Thanlyin, then called Syriam, which was part of Mon Kingdom and subsequently became a port of the Portuguese and French in the 16th century.

Most people in Burma believe the bell is still lying deep beneath the riverbed, buried under layers of silt. But numerous efforts to locate it with the help of sonar imaging and other high-tech equipment have failed, and some historians now question whether it even exists.

The latest operation—which is expected to last up to 45 days and cost $250,000 raised through donations—is being headed by a former naval official, San Lin, who believes the copper treasure is protected by a curse.

When he told reporters at a press conference in July that he was one of the reincarnations of the 14 guardians of the bell and could speak to the spirits of those who have blocked past retrieval efforts, many local reporters laughed, ignoring the story altogether.

But accounts of the extravagant recovery efforts have since captured imaginations—the prayers, the offerings to "nats," or spirits, the vegetarian diets adopted by the diving team in deference to Buddhist principles. Now, the stories grace the local papers' front pages. And thanks to social media, unsubstantiated rumors that the bell has been spotted have sent thousands of curious spectators flocking to the banks of the Rangoon River.

For small boat owners, shuttling passengers to within a few meters (yards) of the divers' boats has become a brisk business, with dozens of wooden, canoe-like vessels lining the rocky banks.

On shore, men and women charge 200 kyat (20 cents) for photocopied pamphlets describing the bell and its remarkable history. Food and drink stalls have popped up.

"We came because, as Buddhist people, we are responsible to pray for the bell to get it back to its original place," said Tin May, 43, dressed in her finest pagoda-wear: a traditional longyi, or sarong, and a crisp, white blouse. "I don't live far from here. But I keep getting calls from relatives living in the countryside asking for the latest news. Finally, I decided I better get a firsthand look."

Chit San Win, a historian who has taken part in several of the searches in the last two decades, wants to believe the story of the bell.

But as divers plunge into the water, some of them resurfacing within minutes because the currents are so strong, he's starting to have his doubts.

Three major historical records written about that period do not mention the bell, Win said, and King Dhammazedi, who carefully recorded all his donations, did not document gifting a bell that would have weighed more than 100 Asian elephants. The only record Win has found that mentions the bell was written by an Italian merchant, Gasparo Balbi, who came to Burma in the 16th century and wrote that he saw it.

And as for the new supernatural search technique? Win has little faith.

"The bell cannot be located with the help of astrology or spirits," he said. "It is just like consulting an astrologer to find a lost cow who would ask you to look for it in all four directions."

The post Spirits, Prayers Mark Hunt for Burma's Lost Bell appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

$17m Ecstasy Haul Is Burma’s Biggest-Ever Drug Bust: Police

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 05:14 AM PDT

Ecstasy pills are pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo: Reuters / U.S. DEA)

Ecstasy pills are pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. (Photo: Reuters / U.S. DEA)

RANGOON — Burmese authorities off the coast of Tenasserim Division say they have seized nearly 2.4 million Ecstasy pills valued at more than US$17 million, the largest drug bust in Burma's history.

Border guard police officers intercepted the Ecstasy-laden boat at around 4 pm on Aug. 19, according to Police Brig-Gen Kyaw Win, as the ship was headed to Malaysia from Kawthaung, the southernmost port town in Burma. Police said they believed Burma was being used as a transit point for the drugs, which were destined for Malaysia and eventually the United States.

"The name of the drug is Ecstasy. It amounted to 2.385 million tablets," Kyaw Win told The Irrawaddy. "There are two kinds of logos on the Ecstasy. One is Nike, and the other is RM."

Police seized 297 bags of the "Nike" branded pills and 180 bags of the "RM" variety, with each bag containing 5,000 Ecstasy tablets, according to Kyaw Win, who serves on the Ministry of Home Affairs' Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control.

All 15 men who were onboard the boat have been detained.

Police calculated the total value of the seizure at nearly 16.7 billion kyats, equivalent to about $17.2 million. However, Kyaw Win also said the value per pill was 70,000 kyats, which, if accurate, would put the total drug haul at 167 billion kyats.

Pressed by The Irrawaddy to clarify the discrepancy, Kyaw Win insisted that the numbers provided by police were correct.

Kyaw Win claimed the Ecstasy was not produced in Burma, though he did not indicate where authorities suspected the pills originated from, and said the investigation was ongoing.

"We are still investigating them [the 15 men] in Kawthaung," he said. "We are checking who allowed them to travel on this boat, and who else belongs to this illegal drug syndicate.

"They were heading to Malaysia. They were to land at a Penang Island harbor, according to a tip we received," he said, adding that 90 tons of illegal timber was also found on the boat.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last week hailed the signing of a "landmark" agreement to cooperate with Burma's government to "strengthen the rule law and address significant crime and drug issues," while also warning that the illicit narcotics trade in Burma posed a domestic and transnational threat. Burma is Southeast Asia's largest producer of synthetic drugs, according to the UNODC.

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Britain Will Boost Aid to Burma by More Than a Third

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 05:07 AM PDT

UK Department for International Development (DFID) Minister Desmond Swayne (left) visits a social enterprise in Rangoon's Hlaing Tharyar Township where handbags are made. (Photo: Kyaw Hsu Mon / The Irrawaddy)

UK Department for International Development (DFID) Minister Desmond Swayne (left) visits a social enterprise in Rangoon's Hlaing Tharyar Township where handbags are made. (Photo: Kyaw Hsu Mon / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Britain's newly appointed international development minister said on Monday that the United Kingdom will increase its development aid to Burma by more than a third in the next fiscal year.

Minister of State at the Department for International Development (DFID) Desmond Swayne is visiting Burma for the first time after his appointment last month, and told reporters in Rangoon that the former colonial power would be increasing its aid to Burma to US$136 million.

Britain, which has embraced the reformist government of President Thein Sein, has already doubled its aid to Burma from $50 million in 2013-14 to $100 million for the current fiscal year.

"We are increasing the budget because we believe this is a very important time for your country, and there are great opportunities to be had here, and that's why we're very keen to be able to assist more," Desmond Swayne said.

Swayne is visiting the country from Monday to Wednesday this week, spending one day in Rangoon before traveling to Kachin State, where he will visit a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army, according to Gavin McFillivray, head of DFID's Burma office.

"Minister will be visiting an agricultural project by the LIFT project, and he is going to an IDP camp and a voter registration pilot project for the general election in Myitkyina tomorrow," he said.

Swayne will also meet with Health Minister Than Aung and President's Office Minister Soe Thane in Naypyidaw and pay a visit to Burma's Parliament.

During his stay in the former capital, Swayne met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and visited a social enterprise making handbags in Hlaing Tharyar Township that received a microfinance loan from World Vision, which DFID funds.

He also visited a reproductive health clinic in Shwe Pyi Tha Township run by Marie Stopes International with funding from DFID,

"It’s a very impressive setup," Swayne said of the clinic. "I’m very interested to see that it's a free service and that there are satisfied customers.

"Certainly our intention is to see an extension of health care services available to a large element of the population, that's certainly one of our objectives."

Marie Stopes has opened four clinics in Rangoon since 2009, and DFID has pledged more than $5 million of funding to the project from 2011 to 2016.

The post Britain Will Boost Aid to Burma by More Than a Third appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burma’s Financial Intelligence Unit Probed Ne Win Family’s Investment

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 05:01 AM PDT

Bank staff in Rangoon count piles of Burmese kyat. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Bank staff in Rangoon count piles of Burmese kyat. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has investigated an investment in one of the country's biggest banks by the grandson of the late dictator Gen. Ne Win, according to a senior official, who declined to disclose the results of the probe.

Last month a 1.5 percent stake in Asia Green Development (AGD) Bank was transferred to Kyaw Ne Win in a purchase thought to be worth more than US$555,000. The bank's founder, Tay Za, has said he is looking to offload more of the bank, likely to the Ne Win family, due to difficulties resulting from his blacklisting by the US Treasury.

Police Colonel Kyaw Win Thein, the FIU's deputy chief, told media last week that the unit had assessed the investment before it became public knowledge in July. He refused to say if the investigation turned up anything, but the transaction was allowed to go ahead.

"The investigation has now finished but we can't publicly disclose it," Kyaw Win Thein told reporters at a meeting on Thursday on anti-money laundering and financing of terrorism in Rangoon.

The FIU deputy chief did not say why the transaction was investigated, but news of the share transfer raised questions over whether the Ne Win family's wealth was gained through illicit means.

At the time, Aye Ne Win, another grandsons of the ex-dictator, told The Irrawaddy that the China National Corporation for Overseas Economic Corporation (CCOEC), which is part of a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, was using the family company, Omni, to invest US$4.9 billion in various business sectors in Burma.

Aye Ne Win also said the family had agreed with Tay Za to buy a 60 percent stake in AGD Bank. However, Tay Za told reporters on Aug. 12 that he was reconsidering the deal for unspecified reasons.

The FIU deputy chief said that the unit—part of the Ministry of Home Affairs—had for the past two months been investigating a number of suspicious transactions and deposits in Burma's banks as part of renewed efforts to tackle money laundering.

The FIU receives about 1,000 reports of suspicious transaction each month from the banks themselves, Kyaw Win Thein said, adding that more than 70 cases had been opened involving more than $200 million.

"Most of the money laundering is connected with the drugs trade and human trafficking. Some includes the trading of antiques too," he added.

Thit Nay Moe contributed reporting to the story.

The post Burma's Financial Intelligence Unit Probed Ne Win Family's Investment appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Suu Kyi Asks Artists to Expose How Reforms Have Stalled

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 04:53 AM PDT

Aung San Suu Kyi, left, gives a certificate to a publisher who donated books to her late mother's Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, during a meeting with artists at the Royal Rose restaurant in Rangoon on Monday. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Aung San Suu Kyi, left, gives a certificate to a publisher who donated books to her late mother's Daw Khin Kyi Foundation, during a meeting with artists at the Royal Rose restaurant in Rangoon on Monday. (Photo: Thaw Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON— Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is urging Burmese artists and writers to help the world understand that their country's political reforms have stalled and are not leading to democracy.

The chairperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) met with nearly 100 artists and writers on Monday at the Royal Rose restaurant in Rangoon.

She said foreign governments were wrong in describing Burma as a democratic success story.

"We can't get development unless the real situation is known. So I would like to urge artists to expose the country's real situation publicly, and to show in a visible way that our country is not still on a real path to democracy," Suu Kyi told the group of well-known writers, cartoonists, painters, poets, photographers, editors, translators, publishers and bloggers.

She said political activists had worked with artists to promote democracy since the 1988 nationwide uprising against the then-military government. "Only if we can change the spirit is it a real revolution, and only if we see democracy as a culture, not as a political system, can it be firm," she said.

Among those in the crowd were prominent writers Chit Oo Nyo, Ah Yoe, Ah Kyi Taw, Juu and Ma Thida, as well as blogger Nay Phone Latt, artist Kyaw Thaung, cartoonists Myay Zar and Aw P Kyel, and the founder of Rangoon's Free Funeral Services Society, Kyaw Thu.

Htet Myat, chairman of the Myanmar Writers Union, said writers and artists had opposed dictatorship for over 50 years but were imprisoned many times in the process, and that they continued to face restrictions today under the reformist government that took power in 2011.

He said he was disappointed earlier this year when Suu Kyi and other NLD lawmakers accepted the government's proposed publishing law, which has been criticized as overly restrictive. "I would like to request a democracy leader and party that stand beside artists, poets, writers and the media," he said.

Suu Kyi said Parliament's passing of the Printers and Publishers Registration Law was a sign of poor communication. "I admit that with the print law, the NLD did not fully stand up for what we should have," she said. "But the media didn't negotiate with us. We agreed on that proposal because we understood that the ministry [of information] submitted the law after finishing its own negotiations with the media and reaching an agreement. It shows we need more connection to avoid misunderstandings."

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Rangoon Expansion Plan Criticized for Poor Transparency

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 03:25 AM PDT

A view of the traffic near Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon. The city is expected to grow to 10 million inhabitants in 2040. (Photo: Reuters)

A view of the traffic near Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon. The city is expected to grow to 10 million inhabitants in 2040. (Photo: Reuters)

RANGOON — The Rangoon divisional government has awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to a largely unknown public company to implement the Rangoon expansion plan, a development plan that will see Burma's biggest city grow by tens of thousands of acres.

Rangoon Mayor Hla Myint revealed during a session of the divisional parliament on Friday that Myanma Setana Myothit company had been awarded the contract. But the news raised concerns among lawmakers, who said they had not been consulted.

"The company alone will carry out the project, and we have chosen it because it is financially strong. We have done it secretly to avoid unnecessary problems," Hla Myint told lawmakers, reading a message by Rangoon Chief Minister Myint Swe.

The expansion plan will see the official city limits of Rangoon expanded by some 30,000 acres, including farmland, from Kyee Myin Daing, Seik Gyi Kha Naung To and Twante townships.

According to Myint Swe, the public company will complete 70 percent of the project within three years at a cost of US$8 billion. It will construct affordable apartments, a school for 1,000 students, a home for the aged, and five six-lane bridges.

Myint Swe said local residents had consented to the project, and that farmland had lawfully been claimed as urban property by a government order. Other development projects across the country, including the Thilawa Special Economic Zone near Rangoon, have led to widespread accusations of land confiscations without proper consent or compensation.

"The company will take sole responsibility to ensure land owners in the planned new town area are compensated properly. It will also supply utilities and build other infrastructure," the Rangoon mayor said.

However, lawmakers were not pleased by a lack of transparency in the deal, saying they did not know the company's background or how the contract had been awarded.

U Kyaw, a lawmaker representing Thingangyun Township, said the parliament was left in the dark during tender process. "We've only just been informed, which is really bad. It is important to check whether the people will benefit and whether the contract was given fairly," he said.

Nyo Nyo Thin, a lawmaker from Bahan Township, agreed. "It is not compliant with democratic norms that [the Rangoon government] kept it a secret until putting it on the table at the assembly. And once it's on the table, lawmakers should have a right to discuss it, but they didn't allow us to do so," she said.

"We don't know how the company was selected, and it is unacceptable that a single company was awarded the entire contract. I think [the Rangoon government] is not being honest by implementing the project without seeking public approval. The project area covers farmland and it is not yet clear whether farmland owners really agreed to it."

The ninth regular session of the Rangoon divisional parliament began Friday and ends Sept. 5.

The post Rangoon Expansion Plan Criticized for Poor Transparency appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

For Burma’s Rohingya, a Permanent Segregation?

Posted: 28 Aug 2014 02:22 AM PDT

A 25-year-old Rohingya Muslim sits in front of her hut at a camp outside Sittwe. (Photo: Reuters)

A 25-year-old Rohingya Muslim sits in front of her hut at a camp outside Sittwe. (Photo: Reuters)

There was a time when ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Burma lived and worked together. They were once neighbors, albeit uneasy ones, sharing a tense but relatively stable existence.

Then in June 2012, religious clashes between the two groups drove them apart and forced 140,000 people—mostly Rohingya—from their homes.

When I first met the displaced Rohingya in May 2013 in makeshift camps outside the Arakan State capital Sittwe, I thought their displacement would be temporary, the conflict somehow eventually resolved. But when I went again two months ago, I was struck by how these camps—home to two-thirds of those displaced by the violence—had started to look like permanent segregated ghettos.

Houses, clinics and schools were larger, sturdier. There were newly opened shops and pharmacies, where the displaced—whose movements are tightly restricted and who have lost all property and any means for making a living—sold their aid rations to buy medicines and other goods.

There is little sign of reconciliation or effort to bring the two communities together again: More than two years after they were driven out, Muslims who used to live and work in Sittwe are still barred from entering the city, and thousands of Rohingya may spend the rest of their lives in prison-like displacement camps, with no hope of going home and a perilous voyage by sea as the only way out.

"We're concerned that segregation is becoming permanent and not enough is being done to change it, let alone protect the fundamental rights of the displaced," said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a group that monitors Rohingya issues.

"Members of government at all levels still feel as though the Rohingya don't belong in the country, and that's part of the reason why the Rohingya remain segregated in ghettos."

Further deteriorating the situation, Arakanese leaders have proposed a plan that would make the segregation permanent—on paper—and force all undocumented Rohingya to live in detention camps.

Local leaders are organizing a public meeting this week to drum up support for the plan, which would apply to Rohingya who were driven from Sittwe into displacement camps, as well as those who were not forced from their homes and still live in nearby villages, according to Than Tun, a Sittwe resident and member of the government's Emergency Coordination Committee set up to scrutinize humanitarian aid workers.

This would basically mean detention for all Rohingya—a minority group of around 1.3 million who are stateless despite living in Burma for generations. Critics say Burma's 1982 Citizenship Law makes it almost impossible for them to become citizens.

As Arakanese leaders push the segregation plan, the government is conducting a "verification process" to determine the citizenship status of Rohingya, but this is more or less a pointless exercise that forces Rohingya to identify themselves as Bengalis—a label that many Rohingya reject because it amounts to an admission that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

In another sign I spotted of the Rohingya settling in for the long haul at the displacement camps, there were small, dusty shops selling snacks and plastic bags of milk powder, pharmacies with shelves full of medicines with faded labels, mobile phone charging stations and people selling fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.

Some analysts see optimism in such commerce because it points to the resumption of small-scale trade between the Rohingya and the Arakanese, who are the main source of goods from the outside world.

Others say it underscores the irreconcilable differences that may separate them forever.

"As long as Rakhine [Arakanese] extremists continue to monitor and target anyone in their community who reaches out to the Rohingya, it's going to be hard to see how reconciliation can get started," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

In the meantime, their lives are precarious.

While at The Chaung camp outside Sittwe in June, I met Sayed Hussain, who used to work as manual laborer in Sittwe market and now lives with his wife and four children in a displacement camp outside town. Their mud-floored hut was a patchwork of walls made of sodden cardboard and old rice sacks, and a roof of ragged plastic and thatch.

"My wife has kidney problems and my children have coughs and diarrhea, but we have no money to go to the hospital," 60-year-old Hussain told me.

As the early monsoon drizzle turned into a downpour, I wondered if his ramshackle shelter—and for that matter, his family—would survive the most ferocious rains of the monsoon season.

Additional reporting by Min Zayar Oo and Paul Mooney.

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Floods Displace Over 1,000 People in Hpakant

Posted: 25 Aug 2014 12:20 AM PDT

A panoramic view of Hpakant, Kachin State, in March 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A panoramic view of Hpakant, Kachin State, in March 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

MANDALAY — More than 1,000 residents of Kachin State's Hpakant Township have been displaced by flooding over the past few days in the area, known for rich jade deposits that have spawned a veritable Wild West in illegal mining activities.

The Ayemya Tharyar, Myoma and Ngatpyawdaw quarters of the town have been hardest hit, with floodwaters forcing people from their homes and into monasteries offering temporary shelter to the displaced. Locals said everything from churches to private banks had also been flooded by water and mud.

"Heavy rains are to be blame. The rain was pouring all day and night and the waters could not drain from the town fast enough," said La Htaung, a pastor whose church has been inundated.

Local residents say the basin of the Uru River and tributary streams near the town have been filled with sedimentary runoff from jade mining operations in the area, affecting water flows and exacerbating the flooding problem.

"We've faced the floods since 2005 and it is getting worse each year," said Nang Lao Seng, a local volunteer who is helping the flood victims. "If the miners continue to pile the soil like this, our town will face serious floods in future, for sure. The authorities should take serious action against this."

Last year, more than three dozen homes were damaged due to flooding in Hpakant, a jade mining hub in Kachin State. Landslides in the area—some due to mining and others blamed on heavy rains—have killed scores of people over the last several years.

Local volunteers are helping the recent flood victims to move to shelters, as well as providing food supplies. Town authorities are reportedly attempting to unblock clogged drainage canals.

"We cannot calculate the damages yet. There are many houses in the three biggest quarters that have been flooded with mud, and the water is still pouring in," said a duty officer from the township administrative office.

Legal mining in the area was halted in 2012, after a ceasefire between the Burmese government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke down. Since then, thousands of illegal small-scale miners have rushed to fill the void.

The government has said it plans to restart large-scale jade mining in the area next month.

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