Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Govt Unveils Detailed Economic Policies

Posted: 22 Oct 2016 01:54 AM PDT

NAYPYIDAW — Long-awaited detailed economic policies were announced by the government in Naypyidaw today with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi pledging a secure business environment for both local and foreign investors.

"I would like to invite all business people to work with us," the state counselor said. "That is why we host this meeting."

"I agree that economic development during the last six months has been slow, we now invite investors and promise it is secure to work here in Burma," she said.

The meeting, co-hosted by the Minister of National Planning and Finance U Kyaw Win, came two months after broad economic policies were released.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that the government will develop a skilled work force in the country to promote economic development. She added that law enforcement will also play a key role in the development of Burma.

"We will focus on anti-corruption in the country. If business leaders come across corruption cases, they should complaint to the State Counselor's Office and we will investigate," she said.

With these new investment policies, the government will focus on strategies to use Burma's assets in the right way and at the the right time, said minister U Kyaw Win in the meeting.

"We would like to invite responsible investors to come here and promise that we can support them effectively in time," he said.

He said that the government "will never grab private businesses unfairly."

U Kyaw Win added that the government will promote investment in agriculture, small and medium sized enterprises, banking, health care and infrastructure projects.

He detailed promotion plans for each sector in the meeting such as to focus on technology in the agricultural sector, new payment cards to be issued in banks, inviting the local business community to invest in health care, and new infrastructure projects.

The minister added that with the newly enacted Myanmar Investment Law he believes economic growth could increase by two or three times.

"I believe the current slow economy will speed up within the next six months," he said.

Both Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and U Kyaw Win admitted that economic growth in Burma for the first six months of their government had been slow.

They encouraged business people to pay their taxes to help development speed up.

"Business people should be leaders in paying tax, that's why we have 158 top tax payers attending this meeting," Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she will chair a committee to manage local and foreign investment in Burma as many international organizations are eyeing up investment in the country. She said "a detailed plan will follow."

In the meeting chairman of Myanmar Bankers Association U Khin Maung Aye welcomed the promise of a secure business environment in Burma.

He said that the government must focus on trade policies, fiscal and monetary policies, investment policies and rural development and poverty reduction policies.

"These sectors are related to each other and should be tackled as soon as possible," he said.

As the country is facing a higher inflation rate that could impact economic growth, the governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar U Kyaw Kyaw Maung said the bank is now selling treasury bonds and bills to public and private sector to reduce the inflation rate.

The meeting was attended by ambassadors from Rangoon-based embassies, members of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers and Commerce Industry (UMFCCI), leading business people and government officials.

Those presenting at the meeting included the governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar U Kyaw Kyaw Maung, Singapore's ambassador to Burma Robert Chu, president of the UMFCCI U Win Aung, Chairman of CB Bank U Khin Maung Aye, Ma Nang Lai Kham of the KBZ group of companies, Nick Cumpston of the Australian Embassy, and Nobuyasu Akagi of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

The post Govt Unveils Detailed Economic Policies appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (October 21)

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 08:41 PM PDT

Singapore's SMI sells Burma telecom tower business

Singapore Myanmar Investco (SMI) is selling its telecoms business for about US$12.7 million to Hong Kong's Shining Star Holdings, which is involved in real estate, tourism, healthcare and education in China and Burma.

"With Myanmar set to benefit further from favorable trends such as tourism, foreign investments and urbanization, the proposed divestment of our telecom tower business will result in a greater concentration of our efforts behind our highest-potential growth opportunities in Myanmar," Mark Bedingham, president and chief executive officer of SMI told

SMI has partnered with Royal Golden Sky Ltd to operate retail stores at Rangoon's International Airport and it is investigating retail opportunities at a $300-million Junction City mixed-used development in Rangoon by the Shwe Taung Group.

 Burma and India sign MoUs

According to the Global New Light of Myanmar, three agreements were signed between Burma and India during State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's visit this week to the neighboring country, following President U Htin Kyaw's visit in August.

The agreements were in the power, banking and insurance sectors, Indian external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told the newspaper. They were signed on Wednesday following delegation-level talks headed by the State Counselor and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on cooperation in the power sector, another between the Reserve Bank of India and the Central Bank of Myanmar on banking supervision, and a third on designing an academic and professional building program for Burma's insurance industry, according to the report.

Massive Jade Stone Hard to Move

The massive 174-ton piece of jade unearthed recently in Kachin State will not be moved quickly due to lack of adequate equipment and accessibility by road, according to a lawmaker in the area quoted by AFP.

The 5.8-meter- (19-feet)-long stone was found buried 60 meters deep in a mountain in Hpakant Township in mid-October.

''When the edge of the stone was scratched we could see the quality of the jade inside—it is very good,'' the lawmaker U Tint Soe, 56, posted on his Facebook page.

But the value of the rock might be closer to US$5.4 million, he added, rather than some earlier estimates which put it at $170 million.

Global Witness valued the annual jade trade in Burma at $31 billion in 2014—equivalent to around half the country's GDP.

Jade mining comes at a high human cost as accidents are common. Around 100 people died in a major landslide in November last year.

 KBZ Bank introduces credit cards

Kanbawza Bank (KBZ) has followed other Burma banks with the introduction of local forms of credit cards on Oct. 18, in partnership with UnionPay International (UPI).

The cards will allow holders to purchase products and services from certain points of sale, make payments and withdraw cash, KBZ said.

Under the offering, one type of card can be applied for by those earning a monthly salary of 300,000 kyats and above. Those earning more than 2 million kyats per month can apply for a "platinum" card. Users will be exempt from paying interest for a certain period and will subsequently pay interest at a rate of 13 percent.

Ayarwaddy (AYA) Bank introduced local credit cards in July and Asian Green Development Bank (AGD), the Cooperatives Bank (CB), Myanmar Oriental Bank (MOB) and Ayeyarwady Bank (AYA) also offer co-branded MPU-UPI cards.

Jade mining tax rates under negotiation

Jade mining companies are in negotiations with the government to cut in half the taxes they already pay, according to a report in the Global New Light of Myanmar.

Mining companies must pay taxes on the basis of the value of extracted jade stones, according to the report.

Firms are seeking a reduction of up to one-half the proposed rate, according to U Myint Pe of the Yadana Thein Gay Har company from the Kani area in Sagaing Division.

The state body, the Myanmar Gems Enterprise, has been tasked with responsibility for overseeing mining sector operations, including taxation, measuring mining blocks, setting the terms for mining permits and reporting the number and type of heavy machinery used, the report said.

A mining block is equivalent to one acre. Previously, companies could bid for up to 50 blocks, and the price for a block with a floor price of 1 million kyats could rise by up to 50 times that value, according to U Myint Pe.

The new government has decided that permits will be given to three different sizes of enterprise—heavy, mid-sized and small. This year, the bidding process may change to allow more small-sized firms to participate, he told the newspaper.

The post The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (October 21) appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘Journalists Have an Important Role to Play’

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 08:27 PM PDT

Ye Ni: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. This week, we'll discuss the Maungdaw attacks, the resultant military operations, the news released by the government and media coverage. Member of Myanmar Press Council U Myint Kyaw and documentary producer Daw Mon Mon Myat will join me for the discussion. I'm Irrawaddy Burmese editor Ye Ni.

As you know, police border posts in Maungdaw in northern Arakan State came under attack on Oct. 9. The Burma military then carried out security operations in response to the armed violence and both sides have suffered casualties. Initially there were four casualties from the Burmese military but more recently the number has risen to 13, while at least 26 suspected attackers have been killed, including two women according to the latest report [on Monday]. The incident has grabbed headlines in both local and international media. But when it comes to coverage of the developing situation, local and foreign news outlets present the story from their respective points of interest. Local media tend to focus on nationalism while foreign media highlight alleged human rights abuses. Ko Myint Kyaw, are you satisfied with the new government's news releases and the ability of the media to cover the incident?

Myint Kyaw: The news released by the new government is adequate to a certain extent. When the identity of the attackers was not yet clearly known, the government asked [the people] to wait until Oct. 15 for more information. Then, the authorities investigated the arrested suspects and gave a comprehensive news release on the details and suspected cause of the attacks. What we need, however, is [coverage] by independent media. The government needs to arrange for local private media or foreign media outlets to cover incidents as much as possible. Only a few local journalists—possibly five or six—have been on the ground in recent days. Coincidentally, some journalists from Rangoon were in the area for other reasons when the incident took place. But the more media outlets can report on the ground, the better.

While their coverage may be restricted by their budget or time or other factors, the government should cater to journalists' requests and take them to locations when safe to do so. I understand that the government may not be able to take them to the front line of the operations. It would be best if the government provided a security plan, if it can, for journalists to go to safe places in the area and collect information. In the Ducheertan case [of racial violence in Arakan State in 2014], no matter how many statements the government released, only coverage by independent media was trusted both locally and internationally. This is an important point and the government should give greater attention to it.

YN: Soon after the attacks took place, there were reports or rumors of the attacks on social media while local and foreign journalists still could not access the area. That reminded me of coverage of Arakan State between 2012 and 2014 when we also saw lots of rumors and unconfirmed news of racial violence shared on social media. The difference is that the response of netizens to these recent incidents is not as chaotic as it was at that time. Netizens have responded with greater restraint this time. Ma Mon Myat, you have completed a lot of research on social media coverage, what is your assessment?

Mon Mon Myat: I agree with your view. The digital literacy of people has developed a lot in the four years between 2012 and 2016. It is because more than half of the population now have access to a mobile phone. Consequently, people have a greater grasp of the internet and Facebook, and have begun to gain information from many different sources. As a result, they can now differentiate between right and wrong information to a certain extent, though not completely.

For example, in 2012, after the photo of [rape victim] Ma Thida Htwe went viral on the internet, even the print media made reports based on unconfirmed sources. At that time, the media had less awareness about how their reporting can lead to conflict. As far as I am concerned, there was no training about responsible and sensitive reporting at that time in Burma, which should have been a contributing factor [to how the situation was reported]. At that time, the print media still had a big influence and there were reports based on rumors and online photos. Media also made reports based on groundless news without knowing the background of the region and reasons behind the conflict. As a result, the coverage exasperated how people viewed the situation to the extent that it became sectarian violence in the mind of the people. Comparing the past and 2016, this time the media exercised caution as soon as the attacks took place to avoid affecting religious and racial sensitivities. [Netizens] wait and verify which news is right and which is wrong, and respond depending on it. So, it is fair to say that the [digital] literacy of the people has developed to a certain extent.

YN: You make an interesting point. When we get into conflict areas, it is important to verify the authenticity of information because both sides may propagate that they are right. I think journalists on the ground play an important role here. So, Ko Myint Kyaw, what are your suggestions for journalists reporting on the conflict on the ground with regards to their professional duties and their security?

MK: Media agencies, if they are to send journalists to conflict areas, should send professional journalists. By professional I mean they have knowledge about verifying information as well as other journalistic skills. Some journalists have only been engaged in the field for a few months or a few years and they don't understand the sensitivities at play. Professional journalists should understand which information is sensitive and if a particular piece of information should be included or not in their report. They must also understand that anything that one side says is just their claim and statement, and they have to verify it.

If they personally witness a scene, they should only report that scene, not the reason behind it because each side will claim a different reason. Journalists need to understand that what they say is just their claims and journalists have a responsibility to verify their claims. Again, they should be able to report independently amid other pressures such as racial and religious pressures—journalists who know how to resist those pressures and who do not let such pressures influence them. Such journalists should be dispatched.

Unprofessional journalists will find it difficult to produce news stories that can explain the situation to the public well. If journalists are not professional enough, lobbying or advocacy of one side may be included in their reporting. Sometimes if they don't mention that it is just a statement, the readers might interpret it claims as reality. Some experienced readers understand that it is statement, but most of them don't. Therefore, journalists have an important role to play. If a journalist fails to verify information and his reporting is unintentionally biased toward a side, it can inflame a situation. They have to take extra caution. While they should be professional, they should also understand the sensitivity of the situation.

On the other hand, if they don't write anything, people will not be informed about the problems, and the government will not feel pressured to take accountability. The government must always take accountability because in some cases, it might [unintentionally] use force or power excessively. The media also has a role to play to reveal [perpetrators of] the violence. Of course, the government is mainly responsible for this but the media also have to take responsibility. Therefore, we need to dispatch experienced, professional journalists who understand all these things. They should not just be satisfied with taking photos and reporting the incidents, but they need to work to understand the situation.

YN: What are your suggestions for sending female journalists to conflict zone?

MMM: Female journalists may find it easier to interview local civilians, women and children in covering situations. While male journalists tend to focus on military matters, women journalists are more likely to focus on humanity and their reports may represent the voices of women and children. For example, in a recent news report by AFP, it not only quoted the government-provided information, but also quoted the voices of civilians. We need such news stories.

YN: Ko Myint Kyaw, Ma Mon Mon Myat, thank you for your contributions.

The post Dateline Irrawaddy: 'Journalists Have an Important Role to Play' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Earthquake Committee: A Rangoon Quake Would Be ‘Devastating’

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 08:23 AM PDT

The Myanmar Earthquake Committee was founded in 1999 and conducts seismological research on active fault lines and past earthquakes in Burma. Until significant earthquakes hit the country in the last few years, including a 6.8-magnitude quake in Bagan in August this year, the public had not recognized the importance of the committee and its research. Led by seven seismologic academics and researchers, the committee has produced seismic hazard maps for Burma and, most recently, for the populous former capital Rangoon.

Burma's central areas are prone to seismic activity mainly because of the Sagaing Fault—a 1,200 km (750-mile) fault line that transects the country from north to south, passing through major cities before dipping into the Gulf of Martaban. Aside from Bagan this year, historical records show that nowhere along the line has experienced a major tremor since 1930 when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit Pegu (Bago), a city 80 km (50 miles) from Rangoon. The quake claimed more than 500 lives.

According to geological research, a powerful quake tends to strike on the fault line every 80 to 110 years. The Irrawaddy sat down with one of the committee's three secretaries, U Thura Aung, to talk about Rangoon and the risks it faces from a powerful earth tremor.

Could you tell us what research the committee has conducted over the past years?

The first piece of research we did was the Seismic Zone Map of Myanmar. A draft version was issued in 2003 and the revised version was released in 2005. When the Tsunami hit in 2004, we did field research in the country's coastal areas. From 2006-07, we have been consistently doing research in both paleoseismology (past earthquakes) and active faults, especially the Sagaing Fault.

Please tell us about research that the committee has done on Rangoon.

After releasing the Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis (PSHA) Map of Myanmar in 2012, we co-conducted a hazard assessment for Rangoon with UN-Habitat and which was finished in 2015. The hazard map was developed based on a four-step methodology of characterizing potential hazards. Unlike our 2012 analysis, we also included both soil density and rock level while investigating the city's ground during the analysis. We studied how dense the soil of each area is.

The next bit of research we are going to conduct in the near future is a risk assessment of Rangoon. We will especially be assessing buildings in the city. We will conduct a pilot project of at least two townships first and collect data on the strength of the buildings there.

What we are going to do with this research is to create a model that will guide us how to respond when there is a risk. We need to collect a lot of data to prepare this model so it will take at least two years. After, we need to analyze and process this data and create a proper mode appropriate to this country.

Can you tell us about Rangoon's soil?

Most of the Eastern townships of Rangoon and the ones close to the Hlaing River have soft soil. Geologically, the areas along the river were formed from silt and were built on after many years, that's why they have soft soil. Some parts of Kyimyindaing Township and downtown townships like Latha and Pabedan also have soft soil. North and South Okkalapa and East Dagon townships were originally farmland and also have soft soil. The distance from the ground level to rock in these areas is also quite large and soft soil areas have a high risk during seismic activity. The area around Shwedagon Pagoda is composed of pretty hard rock. Bahan Township and some parts of Sanchaung and Mingaladon townships have the same situation and will be relatively resistant to seismic waves.

Are Rangoon residents aware of the risks?

This analysis was only finished in December 2015 and is yet to launch, so very few people know about the situation and this research.

If there's a tremor in Rangoon, what is the most important emergency response?

For an earthquake, the most important emergency response is to create a place where many people can assemble or gather. Individuals need to be aware of how we should protect ourselves. After that, it is essential that people go to a safe temporary shelter or a building which is not very far from their home.

Does Rangoon have such temporary shelters or areas of assembly?

As far as I know, there isn't such a plan provided for the public to gather when there is a fire, flood or storm in the whole of Rangoon. It is not enough to create a space where a crowd can gather and shelter, the structure has to be earthquake resistant and there should be food and medical supplies.

In many countries, such shelters are not used for disaster purposes only. It can be used in other ways in day-to-day use, for example a church. Sometimes, sports stadiums become makeshift shelters during emergency situations. Most importantly, these buildings should be built to be earthquake resistant. If not, everyone using the shelter will be at risk.

What kinds of buildings are at risk from earthquakes?

Generally, buildings that are not built according to national building codes are at risk. But we can't judge this by our eyes.

Buildings of wooden frames and bricks [constructed through brick nogging] are the most at risk of collapsing due to earthquake tremors. This type of building is very common. People think the bricks are secured to the wooden frame but actually they are not so they can fall down very easily when an earthquake hits.

If reinforced concrete buildings, in which steel bars are embedded in the concrete, are built according to regulatory standards we can say they are relatively resistant. Wooden houses and bamboo houses have the least possibility to kill people when there is an earthquake.

Different sized apartment buildings also have different resistance to quakes. Tall and thin high-rise buildings have less balance than square-shaped high rises and resistance to strong earthquake waves.

Do you have any advice to Rangoon's public?

The devastation caused from a quake in Rangoon is unimaginable. With the current urban development and population growth, Rangoon has a high possibility of damage and casualties in the event of an earthquake. It is a result of bad management, a lack of public awareness about disasters, and the fact that many of the buildings have not been engineered to withstand a quake.

I want to alert every individual to always prepare an emergency kit and food in case of an unexpected seismic disaster. Storms can be forecasted; floods give you time to prepare. The only disaster that doesn't give preparation time is an earthquake. You can't rely on the government to save you while the earth shakes, because it happens in seconds. You have to prepare for yourself.

Earthquakes can't be forecasted either naturally or technologically. Things that exist above the ground can be studied but seismic waves happen under the ground. There are limitations to how much we can study about earthquakes—it's still impossible to forecast an earthquake.

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Burma Army Obstructs Media Access in Northern Arakan State

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 08:05 AM PDT

While attempting to cover the manhunt and security clampdown in northern Arakan State, independent journalists have faced movement restrictions imposed unilaterally by the Burma Army, following attacks by purported Islamic militants on border guard posts on Oct. 9.

With most of the estimated 250 attackers still on the run, the situation on the ground as the police and Burma Army conduct joint operations in the Muslim-majority villages of Maungdaw Township has been difficult to assess, given continued blocks on media access—justified on the grounds of safety—which were seen not to apply to local civilians.

On Monday, reporters and photographers from The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Times, 7 Day Daily, The Voice, Democratic Voice of Burma, Kumudra and Narinjara were stopped from traveling further north of the Kyikanpyin Border Guard Police headquarters on to the site of current security operations.

Border Guard Police patrol near Kyikanpyin village, Maungdaw Township. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)
Border Guard Police patrol near Kyikanpyin village, Maungdaw Township. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

The journalists traveled to Kyikanpyin—where five police officers were killed and 51 firearms seized on Oct. 9—with Border Guard Police officers, and were permitted to spend 20 minutes documenting the scene, with the broken doorways and dried pools of blood.

They were discovered by Burma Army soldiers, who were surprised to see members of the media present. As the journalists were about to leave, an army officer demanded that they stay until he conferred with a senior officer. He then ordered the journalists to delete their photographs, which they refused to do, before driving off.

The journalists, attempting to drive further north, were stopped at a nearby army checkpoint. The captain present also ordered that they delete any photographs taken so far; again they refused. The journalists were not allowed to pass, for their own "safety," in line with higher-level army orders issued on Sunday.

"Fighting could break out at any time," said the captain, who refused to give his name or that of his senior officer.

The journalists protested that they had received the permission of the Home Ministry to travel to areas subject to security operations, and the argument lasted over two hours. The captain tried to take down their names, but the journalists refused to give them. Meanwhile, locals were seen traveling freely past the checkpoint. The journalists turned back.

These restrictions were a new development: a reporter and photographer from 7 Day Daily, and a photographer from The Voice, were able to access villages further north in Maungdaw Township on Friday of last week, Oct. 14, where, that evening, they saw the smoldering ruins of some 20 burned-down houses in Wonbait village along the highway, as well as smoke rising from two other nearby villages, the Voice photographer told The Irrawaddy.

There are sharply conflicting reports over who was responsible for burning the houses.

A Muslim community leader in Maungdaw town, Hla Maung, provided The Irrawaddy with what he claimed were lists of houses burned down by the Burma Army in Muslim villages, where the majority self-identity as Rohingya. He claimed that markets and mosques had also been burned down, and that Rohingya civilians had been killed.

Dried blood and a smashed doorway seen on Monday at the Border Guard Police headquarters in Kyikanpyin village, Maungdaw Township, where five police officers were killed on Oct. 9. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)
Dried blood and a smashed doorway seen on Monday at the Border Guard Police headquarters in Kyikanpyin village, Maungdaw Township, where five police officers were killed on Oct. 9. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

President's Office spokesman U Zaw Htay firmly denied that the Burma Army was burning down houses. Rather, he claimed that the Ministry of Information had photographs—which have not been seen by The Irrawaddy—showing Burma Army soldiers putting out fires in villages that were started by others.

U Zaw Htay said that doctored photos purporting to show Burma Army soldiers setting fire to houses were being circulated on social media, and should be dismissed as fake.

Continued restrictions to media access in northern Arakan State, such as experienced by The Irrawaddy, made it difficult to independently verify these competing claims.

Meanwhile, Buddhist Arakanese civilians continue to flee rural areas of Maungdaw Township, finding shelter in Maungdaw town, in neighboring Buthidaung Township, and in the state capital Sittwe further south. The government has been providing food relief, and facilitating some evacuations.

Rohingya men work in paddy fields near Kyikanpyin village in Maungdaw Township. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)
Rohingya men work in paddy fields near Kyikanpyin village in Maungdaw Township. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

This aid has not been extended to Muslim Rohingya, who form some 90 percent of the population in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, and according to Hla Maung, have reportedly also been fleeing their homes. Muslims from rural areas have been restricted from entering Maungdaw town, where fleeing Buddhist Arakanese have found shelter in Buddhist monasteries.

Muslim community leader Hla Maung told The Irrawaddy that Rohingya communities were hiding in jungle areas, fearful of being caught up in the security operations.

"Our displaced people have not gotten any help from the government," he said. "They also have problems finding food."

The post Burma Army Obstructs Media Access in Northern Arakan State appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Government to Accelerate Political Dialogue

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 06:10 AM PDT

RANGOON — Amid fighting on the ground in Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese government's peace negotiation body is planning to hold a national-level political dialogue with or without all ethnic armed organizations in November.

According to regulations within the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), only the eight ethnic armed organizations who are signatories, alongside the Burma Army, are eligible to attend the political dialogue. Those who didn’t sign the NCA, including the seven-member United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), are not qualified to participate.

Hla Maung Shwe, a spokesperson for the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), said that the Burmese government will move forward with the plan, and hinted that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi could be open to including UNFC members.

"The State Counselor even said that we were late in holding the [peace] conference," Hla Maung Shwe said, in reference to the 21st century Panglong event held at the end of August. "While opening one door, we will continue what we need to do."

During meetings in Rangoon this week, the Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN), a committee that represents the UNFC, agreed to hold another meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi early November. If they reach an agreement with the State Counselor, it has been speculated that the UNFC would sign the NCA and join the national-level political dialogue.

Representatives of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and leaders of ethnic armed groups—both signatories and non-signatories to the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA)—held meetings this week in Rangoon where they reviewed the political framework in preparation for the dialogue to be held in all of the country's seven states and seven divisions in late November.

Dates for the political dialogue will be announced by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—who also serves as chairperson of the Union Peace and Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC)—on October 28, when a meeting with government peace negotiators is planned in Naypyidaw.

Khun Okkar, an advisor for the Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), said, "It is neither accelerating nor slowing. We are going according to the NCA process. In the NCA, we are supposed to hold national-level political dialogue."

"We can’t take time to reach an agreement to build a federal union. There will be conflicts. It is not possible to wait until the end of the conflict to build a federal nation. We accept that there are conflicts, but, we can’t wait. So we move in accordance with the plan," said Khun Okkar.

He added that it is expected that conflicts will be ongoing during a political transition, and that he feels the political dialogue will lead the country toward an official end to the civil war.

Leading members of the UNFC, such as the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) pointed that they are not ready to sign the NCA as there is ongoing fighting in Kachin and Shan states, according to sources at the recent meeting.

On the one year anniversary of the NCA signing on October 15, Burma Army chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said that ethnic armed organizations who did not sign the agreement should not be able to participate in the national-level political dialogue, as it would be against the NCA regulations.

If the UNFC again opts out of signing the NCA, only eight NCA signatories including Karen National Union (KNU) and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) will be eligible to participate in the political dialogue.

According to the observers and sources at the meeting, the UNFC attempted to access the political dialogue without signing the NCA, but failed. The government peace delegation told them that they could participate in the political dialogue only after they sign the NCA.

The post Government to Accelerate Political Dialogue appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Govt to Crack Down on Begging Gangs

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 06:04 AM PDT

RANGOON— The government has announced a crackdown on gangs that profit from children and the elderly begging on the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay.

An action plan to arrest and charge those forcing vulnerable people to beg was drafted last month according to U Soe Kyi, spokesperson of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

He said that the ministry will first implement the plan in six areas in two of Burma's biggest cities, Rangoon and Mandalay, where the practice takes place.

Yangon Central Railway Station, Pansodan Township, Dala Township, Danyingone market, Aung Mingalar Highway bus station and Thiri Mingalar market in Rangoon are on the ministry's list.

In Mandalay, Chanmyathazi, Pyigyitagon, Chanayethazan, Maha Aung Myay, Aungmyaythazan and Amarapura townships have been selected.

U Soe Kyi said mobile teams of staff from the ministry, the city authorities, the police and medical staff will be formed in each area.

"We are now starting an education program about forced begging," he said.

"After that, in collaboration with ward administrators of the selected areas and the mobile teams, we will expose the gangs and take action," he added.

He said that they will also help to reunite families, provide healthcare, provide schooling and vocational training for homeless children, and organize accommodation for the elderly.

Daw Win Pa Pa Than is a protection manager at World Vision Myanmar—a non-governmental organization working for child protection—and said vulnerable children and poor families are exploited by being made to work on the streets.

"We have seen people begging while carrying sleeping children the whole day," she said, "it is widely assumed of they are using sleeping pills to drug the children."

"There are also instances of parents who force their children to ask money from passers-by while they wait in another place."

"I'm happy to hear the government's plan to take action against those who use vulnerable children for profit," she added.

Daw Win Pa Pa Than said that rule of law and cooperation from communities will be important in the plan as residents will need to be alert and cooperate with the authorities to expose those who exploit children and old people.

"It will be hard to trace the ringleaders by asking parents and children as they are afraid of the gangs. Authorities will need to monitor the groups carefully," advised Daw Win Pa Pa Than.

U Soe Kyi from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, admitted that it would be difficult to eradicate begging completely but that they aim to reduce the numbers.

"This this initial plan will take immediate action against the gangs," he added.

Under Section 66(c) of Burma's 1993 Child Law, sentences of two years in prison or a fine of 10,000 kyats can be handed to anyone who: employs a child to beg for their personal benefit; fails to prevent a child under their guardianship from begging; makes use of a child in any manner in his livelihood of begging.

The post Govt to Crack Down on Begging Gangs appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

The Specter of Sectarian Violence Looms Large in Arakan State

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 05:56 AM PDT

Videos of fundamentalist Muslims appearing to urge Rohingya and other Muslims in Arakan State to become jihadists and to "save" their family and home have recently gone viral. Unsurprisingly, emotions ranging from fear to anger have flared across Burma, especially within the government and among intelligence agencies. Indeed, many see these tensions as thick with the potential to turn Arakan State into a theater of sectarian violence once more.

Something surely needs to be done, and quickly. But the question we ought to be asking is this: are the right steps being taken to stem current hostilities? Since fresh violence erupted in northern Arakan State on Oct. 9, creating a tinderbox of anxieties, the answer seems to be "no." State security's reactions have been knee-jerk at best, and lacking any sort of foresight.

For instance, Police Chief Maj-Gen Zaw Win has merely stated that security measures along the 271-kilometer riverine and land border with Bangladesh are weak. His assurances of deploying forces and using helicopters would likely add little to the Burma Army's security capabilities.

We don't have to look far to see how these situations can play out. The social unrest, communal strikes, and cross-border "terrorism" in neighboring India—particularly in the country's northeastern states and in the Kashmir region—are sterling examples of the complexities and long-simmering challenges of containing such issues. States such as Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and several others have struggled with large inflows of migrants from nearby Bangladesh: smoldering resentment of Bangladeshi migrants metastasized to communal unrest before eventually transforming into insurgency and violence hinged on fundamentalism.

The Sept. 18 attack by Pakistan-based "terror" groups on an Indian army camp—which occurred near the de facto border and military Line of Control in the Uri area near Kashmir—killed 18 Indian army soldiers, and it perhaps bears the most resemblance to what happened at border guard outposts in northern Arakan State's Maungdaw and Rathedaung Townships.

If the Uri attack, which was carried out with immaculate precision, is anything to go by, then it is anyone's guess as to how the story might unfold if the attackers in northern Arakan State have grander plans in mind. While the videos showing the armed men calling for jihad in Burma have not been traced to a specific terrorist organization, there is the possibility that these groups were influenced by or have links to Jaish-e-Mohammed, a jihadist group active in Kashmir that allegedly masterminded the Uri attack, or even to larger groups such as the Islamic State.

The attack on police in Maungdaw Township's Pyaungpit Village by hundreds of people wielding pistols and swords is certainly not how a terrorist group would choose to operate. Moreover, the violence in the nearby village of Taung Paing Nyar, where the dead bodies of seven men who had been killed with rudimentary weapons were found, is perhaps also a dark indication of the communal animosities that continue to pervade areas of Arakan State.

These incidents have given rise to a different form of apprehension among residents of Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State, and other cities. "We fear a repeat of 2012"—when communal strife between local Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingya came to a head—"but we also feel that it'd be more devastating [if violence continued] with terror groups trying to get a foothold here," is how Tin Aung, a resident of Sittwe, reacted when asked to reflect on the current situation.

On the other hand, one of the viral videos shows a cleric asserting that Burma's new government has made promises to protect Muslims but that the state's so far empty words have forced Muslims to ensure their own safety—"to pick up the gun and save [themselves]."

So would a military-led offensive against an unidentified "terrorist" group work? Let's not forget that Arakan State is already heavily militarized, a reality felt most acutely by residents in the northern part of the state. Deploying more armed forces there would likely only make an already  precarious situation even worse. While the recent incidents in Maungdaw and Rathedaung Townships and the curfew that has followed share similarities to what has been happening along India's northern borders, government actions—or inactions—don't have to be the same.

Following the Uri terror attack India responded with a surgical strike across the Line of Control on Sept. 29. These strikes have evoked mixed responses. Critics in India have questioned whether it would further escalate the conflict in Kashmir, but there's been strong support from Indian civil society, and foreign governments have defended India's position on stemming cross-border terrorism. But violence in Kashmir is multifarious, and Indian efforts to fight terror across its borders are doing everything possible to turn the Kashmir movement into a jihad.

Burma could take a cautionary lesson from India in deciding what's good for Arakan State. There's a need to de-escalate conflict in northern Arakan. Securing the borders is one possible way, the other surely is to take the people—that includes the Rohingya and other Muslims—into confidence and provide them with a sense of security. This perhaps is a better way forward than allowing the armed forces to stoke the embers.

For now, perhaps we ought to be content with what U Kyaw Tin, deputy minister of foreign affairs, recently said: that an investigation is underway to see if the assailants had links to Bangladesh and that, if necessary, the Bangladeshi ambassador to Burma would be summoned. And he reiterated State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's suggestion: respond within the law.

Burma's State Counselor is perhaps confident that the advisory committee she has instituted under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan will get to the crux of the conflict in Arakan State and ultimately discover a lasting solution. That will be easier said than done. But looking ahead, we should give her the benefit of the doubt, and distill key lessons from Kashmir and other areas in the region as Burma seeks to bring peace to Arakan State once and for all.

Bidhayak Das is a political analyst and an independent journalist. His research focuses on peace and conflict. The views expressed above are his. He can be reached at

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72-Year-Old Man Shot by Burma Army in Kachin State

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 01:46 AM PDT

A 72-year-old man is in hospital after being hit by two bullets in gunfire from a military camp in Kachin State's Waingmaw Township on Wednesday afternoon.

U Hlkawng Bawk was at his home in Shwe Nyaung Bin village when gunfire from locally-based Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 321grazed his head and throat.

Soldiers rushed the man to the military hospital of Northern Command in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.

"We heard gunshots and were hiding in the house," Ma Seng Hkawng, granddaughter of the victim, told The Irrawaddy. "There was continuous gunfire and bullets whistled past his head. We don't know the reason for the gunfire."

She said that her grandfather had now gained consciousness and that no gunshots were heard on Thursday.

Despite the shooting, there were no clashes reported near Shwe Nyaung Bin village on Wednesday, U San Aung from the Kachin Peace Talk Creation Group told The Irrawaddy.

"I still don't know the details yet. He is at the military hospital," said U San Aung.

The Irrawaddy were unable to reach the Burma Army press officer for comment.

Waingmaw Township police station confirmed the case. "Yes, it is right that an old man was shot, he is now at the 300-bed military hospital in Myitkyina," the police officer told The Irrawaddy.

But the police officer refused to comment on the reason behind the shooting.

The post 72-Year-Old Man Shot by Burma Army in Kachin State appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

National News

National News

19 more suspected attackers arrested over two days in northern Rakhine

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 11:13 PM PDT

Nearly 20 additional suspects were rounded up by security forces in the two-day period from October 18 to 19, detained for their alleged links to the deadly attack earlier this month on three border guard posts in northern Rakhine State.

Teenage maid is first to testify in Ava tailoring shop abuse trial

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 11:11 PM PDT

One of the teenage victims who spent years as a tortured captive at a Yangon tailoring shop was the first witness called in the trial of six family members accused of abusing their housemaids. Ma Tin Tin Khine, 18, yesterday spent three hours recounting her experience for the court.

As 96 refugees prepare to return from Thailand, Karen groups say it is too early for repatriation

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 11:06 PM PDT

Nearly 100 Karen refugees will be repatriated to Myanmar from a camp in Thailand next week, according to government officials.

Capsized ferry did not have proper permits: vessel groups

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 11:04 PM PDT

Operators of the capsized Aung Soe Moe Kyaw 2 ferry did not have the appropriate licence to run the Chindwin River's Homalin-Monywa route on which it sank last week, according to local vessel associations.

Gem scavengers protest crackdown

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 10:58 PM PDT

Demanding a "beggars' charter", thousands took to the streets of the country's jade capital yesterday. Hpakant township resident U Kyaw Myint said more than 2000 people demonstrated in Lone Khin, near Hpakant town, against the nation's Gems Law.

WJP study: Rule of law improves slightly, still 98th out of 113

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 10:55 PM PDT

Myanmar is failing slightly less egregiously to maintain rule of law this year, according to the World Justice Project's annual Rule of Law Index, which was released yesterday.

Fanning fears and demonising Muslims: President’s Office propaganda reveals who is running the Rakhine State show

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 10:54 PM PDT

Among all the murky reports to emerge from Rakhine State this week, one thing that is clear: When it comes to the biggest crisis to hit Myanmar since Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian led administration was elected, the military is undoubtedly running the show.

49 Kachin youths detained after attending agricultural training

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 10:53 PM PDT

The Tatmadaw has arrested 49 young people from Kachin State on their way back to their homes in Puta-o township after they visited the Kachin Independence Army-controlled border town of Mai Ja Yang.

Charter change lies at the heart of the peace process stalemate

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 10:47 PM PDT

Which comes first: amending the constitution and laying out the details of the long-promised federal Union? Or surrendering arms in a truly nationwide ceasefire? This chicken-and-egg quandary hits at the very centre of the peace process, which has come no closer to resolution even as the government and the Tatmadaw last weekend vaunted the one-year anniversary of the nationwide ceasefire agreement's signing.

Shan Herald Agency for News

Shan Herald Agency for News

2 injured in Muse landmines explosion

Posted: 21 Oct 2016 06:14 AM PDT

Two people – a Burmese army officer and a firefighter – were reported injured after a landmine exploded on Thursday in northern Shan State's Muse Township, an important border crossing for trade between Burma and China.

Sai Hin Lek, a local resident in Muse, said that the incident took place in Bok Mai, Jelant tract, as a bomb disposal team from Burmese Army Division 33 was working on a landmine clearance program.

The ordnance devices were found by local villagers who had gone to hunt for wild food in the forest near Bok Mai, he said. They then informed the village headman, who reported it to the local military unit.

"Two people got injured – a Burmese army officer and a firefighter – and a truck was slightly damaged," he said. "Fireman Sai Yi Song Kham was wounded on his right leg.
"Five mines exploded while the bomb disposal team were trying to clear them," he said. "Another one went off this morning."

He added that, to date, the soldiers had only been able to remove three devices.
Locals in the area say they suspect the mines were remote-controlled devices.
At the time of reporting, no further information had been provided by local authorities about the blast.

Last year, The Myanmar Times reported that on 24 August 2015 an individual on a motorbike threw a bomb at a local bank in Muse Township. Local ethnic armed groups were accused of involvement.
According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), a non-governmental organization active in some 100 countries around the globe, Burma is the third-worst country in the world for annual landmine casualties.
Between 1999 and the end of 2014, landmines had affected 3,745 people: 396 killed; 3,145 injured; and 204 unknown, according to an ICBL report on 25 November 2015.However, it noted that the real figure could be much higher.
The ICBL said that state-owned Myanmar Defence Products Industries still produces landmines at a facility in Nyaung Chay Dauk, Bago Region.

Several ethnic armed groups are also believed to still produce or use landmines.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Clamped and Towed Vehicles Damaged by Rangoon Authorities

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 07:26 AM PDT

RANGOON — Rangoon Car owners who commit traffic violations are being left to foot the bill for damages incurred to their vehicles when impounded by city authorities.

There are 144 streets in Rangoon in which car parking is prohibited and rules apply on many of the city's roads, including no double parking on Anawrahta Street, Maha Bandula Road and Bogyoke Aung San Road, according to traffic police officer Lt-Col Aung Ko Oo.

Vehicles found in violation of these rules are instantly clamped then towed to a government parking lot on Shin Saw Pu Street in Myaynigone Township. Owners are fined 25,000 kyats for the violation and charged another 50,000 kyats for the towing service.

City car owners told The Irrawaddy about bad experiences they have had with the traffic authorities.

Filmmaker U Thet Oo Maung said that his car was seized by authorities in Yankin Township and he was fined 75,000 kyats including the fee for the tow truck. Later he heard a cracking sound from his wheels and sent his car to be serviced where he discovered that the ball bearings were damaged.

"The size of the truck is too small, it should be big enough to carry the car without causing any damage," he said.

He asserted that 50,000 kyats for a towing service is very expensive, especially compared to the size of the fine. He also noted that storing all vehicles in Myaynigone Township is a big inconvenience to car owners and that authorities should consider opening facilities in different townships.

Rangoon's traffic authority has hired a towing service company and formed a team with traffic police, Yangon City Development Committee's staffers and the towing operators that patrol downtown areas to catch drivers violating traffic rules. The aim is to alleviate the city's traffic congestion.

Road users agree that people should be punished for violations, but that cars should be impounded by city authorities without incurring damage.

During Rangoon parliament's Wednesday session, National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker, U Nay Phone Latt—also known as Nay Myo Kyaw—asked the mayor whether the regional government will adopt a new system of simply clamping the cars rather than towing them long distances.

U Nay Phone Latt was told by several car owners about their losses. He explained that the towing service company clamps the front wheel and loads half of the car on to the back of the truck.

The back wheels of some cars automatically lock when the engine is switched off. However, the authority towed the cars regardless, resulting in ball bearings being damaged and even breaking the car's camshaft.

"Towing a car that is violating traffic rules is correct but [the city authority] has no right to destroy cars," said U Nay Phone Latt. "And how will they take responsibility if the car was damaged?"

City mayor and Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) chairman Maung Maung Soe replied, "my car was also towed that way so I empathize with them."

At the moment, however, some say that towing cars to the designated parking lot remains the most practical approach for Rangoon. U Nay Phone Latt's suggestion of simply clamping vehicles and leaving them on the road would create worsening traffic conditions as owners do not always pay fines promptly, said the city's mayor.

He also thanked U Nay Phone Latt for bringing the issue to attention and said he would discuss it in YCDC workshops.

MP Nay Phone Latt pointed out that if a new approach is not possible, at least the YCDC and towing service company should compensate the owner for car damages or the authorities should strictly supervise the towing process to ensure no damage is done.


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Burma Army Blocks Food Supplies to Kachin IDPs

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 07:19 AM PDT

The Burma Army has stopped a local environmentalist group from sending food relief to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State's Hpakant Township on suspicion that the supplies were intended for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Fifteen members of Green Land, an environmentalist civil society group based in jade-rich Hpakant, were in the process of transporting 130 bags of rice, 40 jerry cans of oil and six bags of salt to IDPs in Jahtu Zup village on Tuesday afternoon, when they were stopped outside of Hpakant town by soldiers at the Lawa security gate in the area of Kar Mai, Green Land director U Naung Latt told The Irrawaddy.

"A captain called Aung Thu Hein stopped us and said we had to seek approval from higher authorities. So, we phoned the brigade commander, and he said we would have to ask for permission from Northern Command [based in the state capital Myitkyina]. Next, we called the Kachin State chief minister and he told us to ask permission from the security and border affairs minister [for Kachin State]," said U Naung Latt.

Army officers justified the blocking of the food relief by stating that some organizations have been sending food supplies to the KIA, according to U Naung Latt.

Since mid September, the Burma Army has stepped up offensives against the KIA, using air strikes and artillery bombardment.

Soldiers at the Lawa security gate have since taken charge of the food supplies. Four senior members of Green Land, leaving behind 11 members to remain near the supplies, traveled to Myitkyina to meet with the Kachin State security and border affairs minister—a serving military officer—but failed to obtain permission.

"He said he would report [the matter] to Northern Command and asked us to continue waiting. What else can we do?" said U Naung Latt.

The food relief was intended for more than 200 IDPs taking shelter at a monastery, two churches and a primary school, said U Naung Latt, and permission had successfully being sought from the Hpakant Township administrator, in line with apparent procedure.

"[The soldiers] implicitly accused us of sending food supplies to the KIA, and so did the security and border affairs minister. If so, then is the World Food Programme, which is helping war victims, violating Article 17(1) [of the Unlawful Associations Act]?" he said, referring to a colonial-era law used to criminalize contact with Burma's ethnic armed groups.

"We are providing food supplies on humanitarian grounds. This is no political trick. It is just because they [IDPs] are extremely short on food," he added.

U Naung Latt said he would wait at the Lawa security gate until permission is obtained.

The Irrawaddy contacted an officer at the police station in Kar Mai, where the security gate is located, but he said he was not authorized to comment on matters related to the military.

However, he said that the Burma Army had tightened security on roads since clashes in August, when their soldiers fell prey to KIA landmines.

The Irrawaddy also phoned the Kachin State chief minister and the security and border affairs minister but was unable to obtain comment.

Htwel Awng, a pastor with the Kachin Baptist Convention in Jahtu Zup village, where the IDPs are sheltering, told The Irrawaddy, "Yes, it is true that those food supplies are for us. And we heard that the military has taken hold of them. But, we don't know the latest developments."

In Jahtu Zup village, the World Food Programme provides 14,000 kyats (US$10.85) per month for each IDP, which is simply not enough, he said.

Some 214 IDPs have been sheltering at four locations in the area since July 31, after fleeing clashes between the KIA and the Burma Army, prompted by alleged Burma Army encroachment on KIA outposts while attempting to seize control of illegal gold mines in Tanai Township, north of Hpakant.

Since the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire between the Burma Army and the KIA in 2011, more than 100,000 civilians have been displaced. Most still remain in camps or temporary shelters, in both government and KIA-controlled areas.

The World Food Programme, in cooperation with local civil society organizations, has been providing food to IDPs since 2011, but rations were cut by more than 50 percent at the end of 2015. IDPs have since faced shortages.

The Kachin State government issued a notice in September, requiring groups to seek its permission before supplying food to IDPs.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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Dalai Lama Calls for Narrowing the Gap Between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 05:32 AM PDT

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel peace laureate the Dalai Lama has urged Burma's State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to bridge the gap between Buddhist and Muslim communities in the country.

The Dalai Lama conveyed the message while being interviewed by The Irrawaddy on the sidelines of a panel discussion entitled "The World and Its Current Challenges" at the 20th Forum 2000 Conference in the Czech capital of Prague on Tuesday.

"Now, she's got the opportunity to work. And I think she should pay some attention to reduc[ing] some gaps [between] the Buddhist community and the Muslim community," the Dalai Lama told The Irrawaddy, in reference to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Buddhist monk highlighted the importance of inner peace as a means to end conflicts between different communities.

"If we can develop inner peace, we can build on it to create world peace. What we require is a more universal approach to human values that can appeal to everyone. There are grounds for optimism," said the 81-year-old.

Buddhist and Muslim communities in Arakan State remain largely segregated since anti-Muslim violence swept the region in 2012 and 2013, which killed scores and displaced around 140,000 people, the majority of them self-identifying Muslim Rohingya—a group that the government labels as "Bengali."

Most recently, fatal attacks against police border outposts allegedly committed by Muslim militants have led to a joint police and Burma Army manhunt in the area, displacing many.

When questioned on the topic of terrorism, the Dalai Lama warned against associating such acts with any religion.

"Extremists have no religion," he said.

While on an official visit to India, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was quoted in the Hindustan Times discussing a similar issue.

"Terrorism is rife all over the world, so I think it is terrorism we need to isolate and to eliminate. I do not like to think in terms of individuals or organizations or countries, although these come into the equation as well," said the state counselor.

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New Investment Law Enacted

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 05:23 AM PDT

RANGOON — The long-awaited Myanmar Investment Law was signed into being by President U Htin Kyaw on Tuesday after both houses approved the bill earlier this month

The local business community is now waiting for State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to reveal the government's more detailed investment policies this coming Saturday. The release of vague policy outlines in late July had failed to satisfy investors and businessmen craving detail and substance.

The new law combines the Myanmar Citizens Investment Law and the Foreign Investment Law, and was made public on Wednesday. However, some rules and regulations still await approval, observers have said.

Rules and regulations including clear "dos and don'ts" for the business community are expected to be announced within a month of the new law, Dr Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMCCI), told the Irrawaddy.

"Before the rules and regulations are revealed, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the Ministry of National Planning and Finance will make government policy clear," he said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will deliver a speech on government investment policies and meet with local businessmen, ambassadors, government and private bankers, government officials and international and local non-governmental organizations on Saturday in Naypyidaw.

The newly enacted Myanmar Investment Law was tentatively welcomed by Dr Soe Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Rice Federation. He claimed that the law gives equal rights for local and foreign investors and that he is waiting to see how the government manages foreign investment.

"If government policy places both foreign and local investors on an equal footing, it means local investors could struggle," he said.

According to the agenda for Saturday's meeting the National Planning and Finance Minister U Kyaw Win will deliver the government's future plans for releasing economic policies as well as detailed investment policies and processes.

The meeting will be attended by the governor of Burma's Central Bank U Kyaw Kyaw Maung, Singapore's ambassador to Burma Robert Chu, president of the UMCCI U Win Aung, chairman of CB Bank U Khin Maung Aye, Ma Nang Lai Kham of the KBZ group of companies, Nick Cumpston of the Australian Embassy, and Nobuyasu Akagi of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation.

The post New Investment Law Enacted appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

All Unquiet on the Western Front

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 02:52 AM PDT

RANGOON — The border attacks in northern Arakan State were troubling. And there is no doubt that the attacks will only generate more fear, insecurity, and suspicion among Burma's general population. Also certain is that, if the attacks continue, the Muslim population in the state will face a government crackdown and, in turn, a murky future.

We can only hope that these well-coordinated, ostensibly "terrorist" attacks won't fuel more violence and a repeat of communal violence that, in the past, has spread to other parts of Burma. Indeed, the authorities must restore calm—and must themselves keep a cool head while trying to extinguish the thorny issues in northern Arakan State that have since convinced observers both within and beyond Burma's borders that there is some sort of radical element afoot.

A curfew has been extended in affected areas, and Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe, minister of home affairs, has warned locals to abide by the law, asking them not to leave the area. Buddhist Arakanese there have also reportedly asked security forces to provide them with arms and to form a local militia.

The attacks appear to have been well planned and coordinated. According to some Asian intelligence sources, military training was provided near the Burma-Bangladeshi border area; similar information was released during the government's press briefing, based on the confessions of those arrested so far in northern Arakan State.

Ten days before the attacks, militants, looking to join groups in Arakan State, allegedly crossed the Naf River that marks the Burma-Bangladeshi border. Aqa Mul Mujahidin, a group unknown previously, carried out the attacks, the President's Office said, and has links to the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, a group that has seemingly been defunct for some 20 years but which is often invoked in Burma by those fearful of Islamic extremism. Indeed, the government is under the impression that the organization receives financial backing from global Islamic terrorist networks and is led by a 45-year-old living in Maungdaw Township's Kyauk Pyin Seik village who attended a "six-month Taliban training course in Pakistan," according to the press release.

However, Burma's de facto leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, currently in India, told the Hindustan Times: "We don't know the full details. We don't know when those six months were. And we are also told he had been receiving funding from various Islamic countries. That is information from just one source. We can't take it for granted that it's absolutely correct."

The government has asked for cooperation from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said "Bangladesh has been very cooperative…they have given us information when there was an attack looming and we were able to make necessary preparations."

When questioned on the the issue of terrorism, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate treaded carefully while talking about new challenges facing her country.

"Basically what we're trying to get rid of is terrorism, the use of terror to achieve one's ends… I'm certainly not in favor of violence, let alone terrorism and I think we all need to work together to find the answer to why people resort to terrorism. What is it about, it's not as easy as some people think it is, people resort to terror because they like terror—no, it's not like that," she said.

The Rohingya—the country's oft-persecuted Muslim group—has swiftly been caught up in the hunt for suspects.

Richard Horsey, a political analyst, told the Brussels-based International Crisis Group last week that "there is clear evidence that many of the attacks were from the Rohingya community, who make up 90 per cent of the population in this area of [Arakan] State. But it is not clear how they were organized."

The Rohingya are not an officially recognized ethnicity in Burma. Indeed, even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, "We think that saying 'Muslims in the [Arakan] State' is a factual [position]."

Soon after the attacks, the military sent troops to the area, and Burma's Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing reportedly gave the green-light to use air assistance to evacuate Buddhist Arakanese locals and civil servants who had been trapped by the unrest, as well as to deploy more troops, a decision backed by a majority of Burma's overwhelmingly Buddhist population.

Given the country's past experience with Mujahideen separatist outfits, the attacks have alarmed many Buddhist Burmese and more moderate Muslims. In 1948, Mujahideen violence erupted in Arakan State soon after Burma regained its independence; the rebellion received support in parts of Eastern Pakistan (what is today Bangladesh). Some Muslim leaders in northern Arakan State who had served under the British took part in the rebellion. In April of 1942, when Japanese troops occupied Burma, British soldiers who had retreated to India set up the V Force to gather intelligence, in the process recruiting Muslims to work on the frontline.

There were Arakanese Muslims who played key roles in reconnaissance missions, the rescuing of downed aviators, and raids on Japanese collaborators. British officers serving in V Force provided assistance, particularly medical aid, to the Muslim populations, wrote Moshe Yegar, author of the book "Muslims of Burma."

It took years to quell Mujahideen movements in the course of the 1950s under late Prime Minister U Nu's government. In 1961, the Burma Army finally forced Mujahideen forces to surrender.

In any case, news of alleged militant attacks and security forces' response has taken center stage in the media, siphoning away attention from Burma's north, where skirmishes between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army have flared up over the past several weeks.

The recent attacks in Arakan State have no doubt provided more authority to armed forces and to police to tighten security, set up checkpoints, send more troops to seal the border area, and even prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching refugee camps along the border.

Also of note is that the attacks took place only one month after former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's controversial visit to Arakan State. Before her official visit to the United States and prior to delivering her first speech at the United Nations in her capacity as foreign minister, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gave the go-ahead to establish an advisory commission—headed by Annan—that would look for solutions to conflict in Arakan State. Local Arakanese strongly opposed the Annan-led commission and staged protests during his visit. In light of the attacks, there is now fear among diplomats, some Burmese, and the international community that the commission is in jeopardy.

Last week, President Htin Kyaw, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing held a meeting at the presidential residence in Naypyidaw. Deputy Army Chief Gen Soe Win, Defense Minister Gen Sein Win, and Minister of Home Affairs Lt Gen Kyaw Swe also attended.

They discussed overall security issues, including the recent attacks, clashes in Kachin and northern Shan states, the actions of National Ceasefire Agreement signatory the Restoration Council of Shan State, the conditions in the Wa and Mongla autonomous regions, and plans for improving the combat-readiness of the Myanmar Police Force.

But the issue in Arakan State is different, and it received special attention. The security forces seemed to have information to feed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw.

The meeting was itself an interesting development, as the country has the National Defense and Security Council, a powerful body comprised of 11 members including the two vice presidents, the two speakers of the Parliament, and the foreign affairs minister. But the two vice presidents and the parliamentary speakers were not at the meeting. According to the constitution, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Htin Kyaw are members of the council, in addition to Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, Gen Soe Win, and Gen Sein Win.

This meeting took place as Burma's government struggles to transform the old system and steer the country in a new direction, and as a new security crisis unfurls on the country's western flank, in northern Arakan State, a situation made precarious by the competing sympathies of Arakanese and the international community when it comes to the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

Looking ahead, Burma's six-month-old government will need the full cooperation of the security forces and as much reliable information on the ground as possible if it wants to contain a perfect storm of events that could muddy the country's much-lauded democratic rebirth.

The post All Unquiet on the Western Front appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

DKBA Splinter Group Clashes with Burma Army, Casualties Reported

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 02:18 AM PDT

RANGOON — Casualties were reported in fighting between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) and a joint force of the Burma Army and the allied Border Guard Force (BGF) on Wednesday in Kawkareik Township of Karen State.

"During the attack, four of our soldiers died," Maj Saw San Aung, a leader of the DKBA splinter group—which calls itself the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army—told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. "The fighting lasted over 30 minutes and we heard that one civilian was injured."

He said there was fighting yesterday between his troops and the joint force but that that no civilians fled their homes because the fighting broke out far from local villages.

The Burma Army and the BGF launched joint offensives against the DKBA breakaway group in Myaing Gyi Ngu and Mae Tha Waw areas of Hlaingbwe Township in Karen State in September. About 5,000 civilians remain displaced after fleeing the conflict.

After the September offensive, the Burma Army gained full control of Myaing Gyi Ngu and Mae Tha Waw, where the DKBA splinter group was previously based. The DKBA splinter group switched to guerrilla tactics: basing themselves in remote jungle mountain areas and launching surprise attacks on their opponents.

The largest ethnic Karen armed organization the Karen National Union (KNU), which signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) with the Burmese government last year, recently invited the DKBA splinter group to "rejoin" them under its military wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).

Maj Saw San Aung told The Irrawaddy that he appreciated the offer by the KNU but his group is not ready to rejoin the organization because they remain engaged in battle in remote areas.

"We are happy that they made this generous offer," said Maj San Aung. "But it's difficult to rejoin as KNLA members. We would prefer for a common name such as the Kawthoolei Armed Force." Kawthoolei is a Karen language name for their ethnic homeland.

Maj Saw San Aung's DKBA splinter group is estimated to have 200 troops. It broke away from the main DKBA last year after DKBA leaders agreed to sign the NCA, along with the KNU, in October of last year.

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The Dilemma of Ceasefires Without Peace

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 01:24 AM PDT

"Do not put your trust in man. Rather, trust the constitution that we will be drafting." These were the very words that Bogyoke Aung San used to address the deep mistrust expressed by Shan, Kachin and Chin representatives about certain ethnic Bamar leaders when he persuaded them to sign the historic Panglong Agreement in February 1947.

 With such agreement, it was hoped that the independence generation of national leaders would resolve the deep political and ethnic challenges facing the new union without armed struggles breaking out. But, looking back at the continuing state of conflict in our country, it needs to be asked whether there was really a sincere opportunity for political solutions by peaceful means at that time? And if so, what does it warn of now when military operations are expanding again under a new incarnation of central government when peace hopes have recently been so high?

To understand our sense of concern, the Kachin experience is sadly poignant. Kachin leaders have always been in the forefront of initiatives to give peace and reconciliation a chance in our country. It was Kachin representatives who encouraged other nationality leaders at Panglong to reject a British offer of Home Rule and rally behind the national independence movement led by Aung San. The Panglong Agreement, however, was never honored and, in the rush to independence, armed struggle rapidly spread across the country.

Since this time, the Kachin people have never wavered in their search for peace. At every change of government in the post-independence era, Kachin organizations—armed and unarmed together with faith-based and community groups—have never failed to support peace negotiations in the hope that they will lead to political solutions. Such desire has continued through every political era, whether military, quasi-civilian or elected government.

Hopes were especially high in 1994 when a bilateral ceasefire agreement was reached with the military government of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. Many Kachins for the first time felt that there was political light at the end of the tunnel, and the Kachin Independence Organisation subsequently participated in the National Convention to draw up the country's new constitution.

Expectations, however, of national peace and inclusion were ultimately dashed. So it is important to stress that the failure of the 17 years of ceasefire was not for a want of local efforts. Within the confines of military rule, Kachin organizations sought every avenue to address the dire needs of the conflict-affected after decades of civil war. Community-based activities multiplied and the KIO, along with other peace groups, promoted regional development while advocating constitutional reform and a new general election to institute peace and a representative system of government in the country.

In pursuit of these aims, the KIO—together with 12 other peace groups—submitted a joint vision to the National Convention for a federal system of government to guarantee the equality and autonomy promised by Aung San and the Union's founders at Panglong in 1947. Their proposals, however, were ignored, with only a promise that they would be put on file.  Meanwhile new forms of exploitation and corruption emerged, including environmental destruction, land-grabbing and other human rights abuses. Equally concerning, the efforts by Kachin people to form representative parties to stand in the 2010 general election were blocked. In consequence, few citizens saw improvement in the security or quality of their lives, causing many Kachins to ask: "War or Peace: what's the difference?"

The 17-year ceasefire was broken immediately after President U Thein Sein took the helm of a quasi-civilian government under the aegis of the 2008 Constitution. The unprecedented use of sophisticated weaponry, including fighter jets, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, has since caused over 100,000 Kachins to flee from government troops. Most continue to languish in internally-displaced persons camps until this very day. At the same time, despite President Thein Sein's suspension of the Myitsone Dam, the exploitation of natural resources such as jade and timber has only increased. Such ill-treatment and oppression have only furthered a new generation of grievances, and many Kachins are now firmly entrenched in the opinion that they should not abandon armed struggle unless there is a real political solution in sight.

Kachin leaders have nevertheless continued to engage in peace negotiations at every opportunity. From the time of renewed hostilities in 2011, they entered into new peace talks with the government of President Thein Sein, and a breakthrough of sorts appeared to be reached during meetings in Oct. 2013. A new agreement offered the KIO opportunity to get together with other ethnic armed organizations to collectively negotiate with the central government for a political settlement.

Divisive trends, however, in national politics quickly began to emerge; first, the political reform process was separated between parliament and ethnic peace talks; and second, a division developed between the eight ethnic armed organizations that signed a "Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement" with the Thein Sein government last October and a majority of nationality forces, including the KIO, that want to wait until the national peace process is truly inclusive.

Despite these differences, hopes really grew that a new era of peace and reconciliation could be at hand when Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy came into government office last March. Optimism developed in spite of the fact that the form of national government remains a centralized, unitary system and the 2008 Constitution is still in place. The reality is that, since 1962, there has been only one party in power, the national armed forces or Tatmadaw, and its presence in government is pervasive and indomitable. Nevertheless hopes of peaceful change further increased at the recent "21st Century Panglong Conference" which the KIO also attended. For a brief moment, it appeared that the parliamentary and ethnic peace processes would finally be brought together on the same track in the interest of all peoples.

The potential for peace, however, presently appears short-lived. Tatmadaw operations have once again increased around the holding of peace talks, with offensives escalating from mid-September—including air strikes and artillery shelling—during attacks on KIO positions. On Oct. 14, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien, expressed concern that humanitarian aid was being blocked by the authorities in some areas. "I spoke with people who fled violence more than five years ago and who are simply waiting for the guns to go silent before they can go home," said Mr O'Brien.

This only serves to highlight the long-standing conundrum for the Kachin people: they know only too well that, if the government and Tatmadaw truly wanted, a halt to military offensives would have been achieved a long time ago. This was amply demonstrated during the 17 years of ceasefire and previous times of peace talks. But for over five years now, every peace announcement or initiative has seen no let-up in Tatmadaw operations and build-up. It is almost as if peace talks and ceasefires are being used as a stratagem of war.

Worries, too, are now being felt over the apparent silence and ambivalent position towards the Tatmadaw's operations by the new NLD government. Fears over the NLD's lack of understanding or ability to confront these issues increased this week at the first anniversary of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signing at Naypyidaw when State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi seemed to suggest that, as long as the NCA is signed, the ethnic conflicts will be over. But if this is the government's belief, it disregards the fact that neither is the NCA open to all groups nor does the Tatmadaw appear to be bound by it. Recent Tatmadaw operations in the Karen state, an area supposedly covered by the NCA, as well as attacks on the Restoration Council of Shan State, an NCA signatory, further underline this point.

Of course, political transition in Burma was always likely to be a formidable task after decades of conflict and military government. It is also recognized that all countries in the world face difficult challenges in achieving democratic political systems that represent the people. Such institutions as the European Union, for example, have problems with centralism and disparity between member states. But while the context might be different, the challenge of such inequalities reflects the experiences in our country where the Tatmadaw has become an inherently authoritarian political and economic structure and successive governments, whether military or elected, support this by positioning themselves close to the status quo.

For the Kachins, who are co-founders of the Union, it is a challenge to overcome this unrepresentative system on their own. But no matter how their actions are viewed by others, the Kachins will continue to defend their rights and repel military aggression wherever it occurs. As experience since independence has long shown, it is a matter of survival. And such sufferings, which afflict many nationalities in our country, cause real harm to inter-community relations. As a new government, once again led by ethnic Bamars, now seeks to resolve the country's challenges, it is sad to say that a prevalent view among many Kachins about the Bamar elites is: "When there is discord within their ranks they will try to sow division amongst us and exploit the situation; and when they are united, they will direct their energies to annihilating us."

Burma's future could still be bright. But as military offensives continue, it is vital to recognize that the recourse to armed tactics is not just a Kachin issue but a national issue as well. If there is a reversion to military rule, it might not make much difference for the Kachins who have been living under this reality for many decades, but it must give real cause for concern to everyone who supports democracy. Political solutions will never be achieved on the battlefield. Under such a scenario, there will be no winners but just losers. Military-first tactics will never end, and the present political landscape will not mark a step in transition towards peace and democratic change. Rather, the country will remain enmeshed in the unending cycles of conflict, ceasefires and broken promises that underpin state failure and national under-achievement.

The task of finding peaceful solutions thus falls to us all: political parties, ethnic armed organizations, community and civil society groups, media, faith-based groups, individual activists for peace, and coalitions of interest groups. It is time to say that "enough is enough" to military offensives. At a time of critical national change, the attitude of waiting until armed conflict is over to settle things will not work.

Popular momentum is building. What is now needed is to forge a national movement in the same way as the "Save the Irrawaddy" campaign that halted the construction of the Myitsone Dam under the Thein Sein government. People of all ethnic, political, religious and geographical backgrounds need to come together in one voice to stop the war before it is too late.

In the meantime, tens of thousands of Kachin civilians have come out in protest against the war in recent days. Their protests were echoed in an appeal letter sent to State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by the NLD's Ethnic Affairs Committee Chairperson for the Kachin state, Sheila Nang Tawng, and signed by her fellow MPs. Protests against the Kachin war are also being carried out in Hakha, Yangon and Mandalay by other ethnic brethren, including the Bamar.

Thus this is a call for all civilians, political parties, faith-based and civil society organizations across the country, as well as those abroad in their adopted nations, to come together in solidarity with the Kachin and other nationality peoples in their suffering and demand:

  • an immediate stop to military offensives in the ethnic regions
    •    initiation of a comprehensive peace process
    •    provision of unhindered access to humanitarian aid
    •    a halt to large-scale mega development projects until a political solution is achieved.It would be a tragedy if our silence brought only suffering for our children, and posterity came to see us as the tacit enablers of military aggression in our lands.Lahpai Seng Raw is a 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and co-founder of the Metta Development Foundation and Airavati. She was also a delegate at the recent 21st Century Panglong Conference.

 Article republished with the kind permission of the Transnational Institute. See the original here.

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Termination of Myitsone Dam the Only Option, Say Local Kachin

Posted: 20 Oct 2016 12:21 AM PDT

RANGOON — It has now been five years since the Myitsone Dam project was suspended, but local ethnic Kachin Mung Ra is still not satisfied. He wishes that the project had been entirely terminated.

He frequently laments the loss of his farm and bamboo plantation—he had to leave these behind when he was forcefully relocated for the project.

Mung Ra used to live in Dawn Ban, one of over 20 villages that were relocated to make space for the Myitsone Dam. He and his fellow villagers had to leave Dawn Ban behind in 2011 because the village lies in an area designated for a sluice gate.

Bamboo trees are not useful to urban residents, but to people like Mung Ra—who live alongside the "Myitsone" confluence of the Mali and N'mai rivers, which forms the Irrawaddy River 26 miles north of the Kachin State capital Myitkyina—bamboo is a crucial source of income.

A boat in the Myitsone river confluence.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)
A boat in the Myitsone river confluence.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)

"Bamboo is the source of our livelihood. We sell bamboo in towns to producers of bamboo matting. And we use this money for our household expenses," said Mung Ra.

In 2011, locals were ordered to move as farmlands and bamboo trees were cleared for the dam project. Each household only received 100,000 kyats (about US$78) for moving expenses, and the authorities compensated villagers 5,000 kyats ($4) for each cluster of bamboo plants cleared. No compensation was given for the actual farmland left behind.

"A bamboo plant is sold for at least 1,500 kyats [US$1.18] in town [Myitkyina]. But the compensation we receive is only 5,000 kyats for the entire cluster of bamboo plants. On my bamboo plantation, the smallest cluster has at least 50 bamboo plants, and the largest cluster has about 300 plants," Mung Ra said.

Dawn Ban villagers were relocated to new homes in Mali Yang village, where new spaces were created by clearing farms and bamboo plantations—which of course had been a source of income and indeed livelihood for the villagers of Mali Yang. Moreover, Mali Yang locals had to give up their farms in order for roads, also part of the project, to be constructed.

Shops on the banks of the Myitsone.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)
Shops on the banks of the Myitsone.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)

Brang Mai of Mali Yang village recounted his experiences: "I'll never forget the day when Chinese men came to check terrain conditions for road construction in December 2011. We were drying paddy on the embankment, and because they didn't want to walk in the mud, they stepped on the paddy with their shoes."

Since then, Mali Yang residents have reclaimed bushes for farming, but even so, those lands are not fertile enough.

Farms were previously close to the Mali Yang village, and it only took approximately three months to farm for the year. But now, the new farming site is some 10 miles away from the village, presenting a great inconvenience to villagers.

This story is not unique. About 3,000 people from some 20 other villages face hardships similar to those of Mung Ra and Brang Mai.

An agreement on the China-backed $3.6 billion-dollar Myitsone Dam was signed under the military regime of former Snr-Gen Than Shwe, and construction of the project started in 2009. The China Power Investment Corporation is the developer. Under the agreement, China would receive about 90 percent of the power generated.

A boat in Myitsone.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)
A boat in Myitsone.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)

Yet in the face of opposition from local ethnic Kachin and environmental and political activists, former president Thein Sein suspended the project in Sept. 2011.

The previous government, however, granted licenses to gold mining companies along the confluence after the relocation process. The Irrawaddy visited this area earlier this month and found that some companies are still digging for gold, despite an official ban.

The previous government built two new villages in Waingmaw Township, east of Myitkyina, for those 3,000 people who were relocated from over 20 villages. They had no choice but to start new yet difficult lives with the small houses given by the government—and without proper compensation. In some cases, locals were even coerced by authorities to move.

Lu Ra, a villager from Tang Phare village who is now living in the newly constructed Aungmyintha village, said: "We didn't want to move, and we decided to stay, no matter what came. But police and Chinese men came and said that even if we didn't move, we wouldn't be allowed to live in the village, and that we wouldn't be given a new place. I have children and a family, [so] I agreed to move."

Some Tang Phare villagers, because they could not immediately find a source of income in the resettlement area, continued to grow crops on their farms in their old village. But they were quickly arrested, though the authorities later released them.

Locals who have been affected by the dam said that they voted for the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the Nov. 2015 general election because they believe that the party will listen to their voices and ultimately terminate the project.

Locals staging a demonstration against the dam in 2015.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)
 Locals staging a demonstration against the dam in 2015.(Photos: Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint / The Irrawaddy)

"If the dam breaks, it will sweep away the people to the south of it [downstream of the Irrawaddy River]. This isn't a wild guess, but an actual possibility," said Dr. Manam Tu Ja, chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party (KSDP).

Ethnic Kachin oppose the dam not only because it puts lives at risk, but also because it endangers the historically valuable Irrawaddy River, the KSDP chairman said.

"Weighing the pros and cons, the dam has more disadvantages than advantages. That's why we're calling for its termination. Even President U Thein Sein’s government listened to the wishes of the people; the new government shouldn't continue it," he added, saying that the NLD government should take decisive steps toward terminating the project.

In March, China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the Chinese media that the Myitsone Dam deal is still in force, and that the project is crucial for China. China is upset that the project has been suspended and has urged for its continuation.

At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Burma's de facto leader, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, visited Beijing in August. In a joint statement, the two leaders vowed to enhance cooperation between their governments and promote neighborly ties.

The statement only mentioned cooperation in vague terms regarding the economy, trade, agriculture, water resources, and power generation; it did not touch on the Myitsone Dam.

However, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that she would like to work out a solution to the project that is acceptable to both sides without negatively affecting their mutual interests.

A 20-member commission was formed by presidential order in August, ahead of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Beijing, to review proposed hydropower projects on the Irrawaddy River, assessing the potential benefit to Burmese citizens and making recommendations on whether they should proceed. The first report is due by Nov. 11.

Promising to listen to locals, the commission conducted a field survey in September.

The Irrawaddy made phone calls for three consecutive days to Kachin State Chief Minister Dr. Khet Aung, who is a member of the commission, to ask about the body's findings but was unable to obtain comment.

Dr. Manam Tu Ja of the KSDP said the commission should take the people's opinions into serious consideration.

While conducting the survey, however, commission members only met with a few locals and failed to meet most of the ethnic Kachin displaced by the dam project, said La Awng of Hkan Bu village.

Mung Ra, Lu Ra, and La Awng were among those who voted for the NLD, believing that it would not ignore their wishes. But now they are not so sure.

"We'd like to tell [NLD] lawmakers what we face on the ground. But they no longer come to us," said Mung Ra.

Lu Ra said that she, along with her fellow villagers, had asked to meet Kachin State's chief minister in September to talk about the dam project—but he refused their request, saying that he had no time.

Looking to the future, La Awng called the project "a big weapon that threatens locals every day."

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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Sagaing Chief Minister Pledges to Enforce Ferry Safety Laws

Posted: 19 Oct 2016 08:47 AM PDT

RANGOON — Sagaing Division's chief minister has pledged to take "effective" legal action against ferry operators who violate restrictions set by regional government, in the wake of the tragedy of the overcrowded ferry that capsized on the Chindwin River on Saturday.

Regional chief minister U Myint Naing visited the location of the rescue operations in Kani Township's Michaung Dwin village on Wednesday and told reporters that the regional government would plan a proper policy to tackle such violations, given that similar accidents have happened in the past.

He also confessed that regional legislation on the issue is "flawed" and assured that it would "be amended."

U Myint Naing added that the regional government would hold a press conference concerning the incident on Friday, detailing updates on the situation based on reports and investigations.

"Once the sunken ferry is salvaged and we get precise reports, we will proceed with legal procedures as soon as possible," he said.

The privately owned Aung Soe Moe Kyaw-2 ferry was reportedly carrying 300 passengers. As of Wednesday, the rescue team had recovered 48 bodies, but the death toll is expected to climb as several people remain missing.

According to the Sagaing Division's Department of Marine Administration, the ferry was registered as having a seating capacity of only 36 passengers.

The vessel left Homalin for Monywa on Friday evening. However, the Marine Administration Department restricts ferries from navigating after dark. Police have since brought charges against the helmsman of the ferry.

Lower House lawmaker U Tun Tun Naing of Kani Township told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that he would raise questions to the government about its plan to undertake and enforce regulations on privately owned ferries.

There were also two recent fatal boating accidents in Arakan State, killing four schoolgirls in Rathedaung Township and six women in Taungup Township. According to police investigations, the deaths were a result of an insufficient or total lack of life jackets provided for passengers on board.

On March 13, 2015, the government-owned Aung Ta Kon (3) ship, running between Sittwe and Kyaukphyu in Arakan State, sank in Myebon Township, reportedly killing at least 160 people, but with only 72 bodies recovered. The boat was reportedly overloaded with various goods. The Arakan State government has since suspended the route after facing criticism for being unable to enforce regulations.

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Chinese Nationals Arrested in Northern Shan State for Illegal Mining

Posted: 19 Oct 2016 07:43 AM PDT

Four Chinese nationals were arrested for illegal silica mining in Namkham Township in northern Shan State on Monday afternoon.

Local residents joined authorities to apprehend the four men along with two trucks transporting silica—a mineral extracted from sand—in Wen Kam village of Namma village tract in the township, Namkham resident U Sai Yi told The Irrawaddy.

He said locals had long opposed mining in their area. "There were previous cases of Chinese men taking away mineral stones with trucks," he said.

U Kyaw Kyaw Tun, the lead administrator of Muse District, which includes Namkham Township, told The Irrawaddy that authorities had already suspended silica mining, including by licensed companies, in Namkham Township—after sustained local activism and petitioning.

"We arrested four Chinese men and seized two trucks carrying stones. We are investigating where they dug those stones from, and to which company they belong. They are now being detained at Namkham Township police station," U Kyaw Kyaw Tun told The Irrawaddy.

The Department of Immigration and Population is investigating how the Chinese nationals entered Burma. Authorities are also checking whether or not the two trucks are licensed.

Due to grievances that silica mining was harming the local environment and damaging farmland, on Sept. 5, 2014, more than 3,000 people demonstrated in Namkham demanding an immediate stop to mining in the area.

On Sept. 8 of that year, 10 Shan community-based organizations released a join statement saying that mining should be halted until mining practices are reformed and peace is secured in the area, which has seen recurrent clashes between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups in recent years.

"The [silica] mining has led to floods, damaging more than 100 acres of nearby land and crops there," activist Nang Muay Noom Hom told The Irrawaddy at the time. "Roads were also damaged by the floods and there have been fatal road accidents."

Six mining companies started to operate silica mines in Namhkam in 2012, exporting the mineral across the nearby border with China's Yunnan Province, said Nang Muay Noom Hom.

Silica, or silicon dioxide, is a chemical compound that exists naturally as quartz and as a major component in sand. It is used commercially around the world in soaps and cosmetic products.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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Election Tribunal Dismisses Ex-Minister’s Fraud Allegations

Posted: 19 Oct 2016 07:31 AM PDT

RANGOON — A Union Election Commission (UEC) dispute tribunal has dismissed the objection filed by former minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development U Ohn Myint against the electoral victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo.

Former military general U Ohn Myint ran as a Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) candidate in the November 2015 general election for a Lower House seat in Rangoon's Kyauktan Township. He was defeated by Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo by more than 10,500 votes.

In December, he filed a complaint with the UEC against Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo, alleging electoral fraud and accusing her of blocking him from campaigning. He asked the tribunal to declare him the rightful lawmaker of Kyauktan, claiming that he had obtained the majority of votes.

In an announcement published on Wednesday, the election commission said that the tribunal—which is made up of senior UEC members—had decided to dismiss the objection, and ordered the petitioner U Ohn Myint to pay 200,000 kyats (US$157) compensation to his opponent, Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo.

U Ohn Myint will be allowed to appeal the tribunal's decision if he chooses.

Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the commission had cleared the objection as there was no reliable evidence for the accusation.

"He accused me of blocking his way during the campaign. But I was acting in accordance with the commission's approval, for which we seek permission in advance. So the commission decided that his accusation is not valid," she said.

The Irrawaddy previously reported that more than 40 tribunal cases have been filed with the UEC against winning candidates in November's election: 26 by USDP, and eight by the NLD. At the Union level, the cases involved 14 Lower House seats and seven Upper House seats; 25 regional parliamentary seats have also been disputed. Objections range from allegations of intimidation to misconduct at polling stations to defamation and misuse of religion.

Daw Aye Mya Mya Myo told The Irrawaddy that Myo Chit, U Ohn Myint's election agent, also sued both her and polling booth officials for electoral fraud. She was charged under Article 341 of Burma's Penal Code, which states that the "wrongful restraining" of any person shall be punished with one month in prison or with a fine. The case is still ongoing at the Kyauktan Township Court.

U Ohn Myint has previously made headlines after he was caught on video threatening to slap a group of villagers for insubordination. The incident occurred during a visit to Thityarkaut village in Magwe Division in 2014, while he was serving as a Union minister. He described himself as "the one who slapped people's faces around the country" and added that he was "brave enough to slap anyone in the face."

On Wednesday, the UEC also released the designated schedule for by-elections which will be held on April 1 to fill vacant parliamentary seats. It said that the names of candidates will need to be submitted from Nov. 28 until Dec. 7 and that the candidate lists will be announced on Jan. 2. The election campaign period is scheduled from Jan. 30 until March 30.

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Rangoon MP Raises Questions About Previous Govt’s Land Leases

Posted: 19 Oct 2016 04:56 AM PDT

RANGOON – Near the end of his tenure as Rangoon's chief minister, U Myint Swe—now serving as Union Vice President (1)—issued 232 land lease contracts to private companies at special rates; local lawmaker has raised questions about why information about these initiatives appears to have been blacked out.

National League for Democracy (NLD) regional legislator U Nay Phone Latt—also known as U Nay Myo Kyaw—asked during Wednesday's parliament session about the rental rates decided upon for these projects during 2015-2016 fiscal year, and called for the agreement between the previous government and the companies involved to be unveiled.

He claimed that such land leasing practices had occurred not only in Rangoon but also in Mandalay Division. When a Mandalay NLD lawmaker proposed that the parliament scrutinize these non-transparent projects, the move was approved and an investigative committee was formed.

Like Mandalay, he said, Rangoon also needs to examine whether public lands were involved in the dealings.

"Will the Rangoon government review these projects?" asked U Nay Phone Latt. "If the government has a plan to check, when would it inform the parliament of the findings? If there is no plan to inform us, let me know why."

Rangoon Mayor U Maung Maung Soe said, "We don't have plan to cancel 232 land [contracts]," and described the projects as "impossible to shelve."

He added that the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) would carry out an inspection, but that challenges remain, as the land was given out in individual deals under the previous government.

U Nay Phone Latt again stated: "We want to know the land types involved in the 232 [projects] and who they were given to."

Arguably brushing off the MP's inquiry, the mayor said the question had been answered.

After the parliamentary session, U Nay Phone Latt told reporters that he felt the mayor had ignored his question as to how much profit the government gets from land leases.

"We know nothing of such information," he said.

MP U Nay Phone Latt said he believed that YCDC might have the list of lands leased in this manner, although the mayor declined to comment on these details in parliament. Both citizens and lawmakers have the right to know the activities of the government, he added, and said that he would continue to try to learn more about the case.

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Senior Party Figure U Win Htein to Appear Before NLD Tribunal

Posted: 19 Oct 2016 04:23 AM PDT

Burma's ruling party the National League for Democracy (NLD) on Wednesday launched an internal investigation from Naypyidaw into the controversial purge of senior leaders in the Shan State chapter of the NLD.

U Win Htein, an NLD central executive committee (CEC) member and leading party figure, expelled the NLD Taunggyi District chairperson U Tin Maung Toe in a verbal order and demoted Shan State NLD chairperson Daw Khin Moe Moe and two others during his visit to Shan State in September.

The expelled and demoted members subsequently filed an appeal, prompting the CEC to launch an internal investigation.

NLD auxiliary CEC member U Kyaw Ho, a practicing lawyer, heads the three-member party tribunal charged with the investigation, serving alongside Mandalay Division NLD chairperson U Tin Htut Oo and CEC member Daw Lei Lei.

"Today, the tribunal started hearings. But U Win Htein couldn't come because he is on a trip. We will examine the evidence at the next session," U Kyaw Ho told the media.

U Win Htein has been on a tour of local NLD offices in Chin State.

Daw Khin Moe Moe told reporters that she suggested that the tribunal question U Win Htein when she originally filed the appeal. The tribunal assented and plans to question U Win Htein, alongside witnesses, on Oct. 24-25.

"I explained to [tribunal] head U Kyaw Ho that it wouldn't be fair if we were questioned before U Win Htein. U Win Htein has to present an official justification [for having expelled the members] in front of the tribunal, and then we can defend it," said Daw Khin Moe Moe.

U Win Htein has claimed he has evidence that Daw Khin Moe Moe told locals to vote for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy [with whom the NLD refused an electoral alliance] in the 2015 general election and failed to campaign for the NLD in Shan State.

U Tin Maung Toe, the Taunggyi District NLD chairperson, told the media: "I have been in this party since 1988 [when it was founded]. We understand all the rules and regulations of the party. I have never heard of a 'verbal' dismissal. The party is currently the ruling party and also formed the government. So, I would like for it to go by the rules. I want it to become a model party for the country."

The two other Shan State NLD members to have faced demotion, Daw Mee Mee and Daw Yumi Zaw, were also accused of failing to campaign for the NLD in the lead-up to the 2015 election. Their demotions will be investigated as a single case. U Tin Maung Toe's expulsion and Daw Khin Moe Moe's demotion will each be considered as separate cases.

"When [U Win Htein] came to Shan State, I wrote a Facebook post that he considered insulting towards him," U Tin Maung Toe told the media, to explain his demotion, saying he would defend his case "with evidence."

Though Daw Khin Moe Moe was made to forfeit her position as NLD Shan State chairperson, she remains a central committee member.

"We called for the formation of an investigation commission to punish whoever is guilty," Daw Khin Moe Moe told the media.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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Burma’s Disappointing New Investment Law

Posted: 19 Oct 2016 12:30 AM PDT

A new investment law has been rushed through Burma's Parliament, with the Upper House giving its approval on Oct. 6. According to the Myanmar Investment Commission, the law is expected to take effect soon.

EarthRights International and other civil society groups are concerned that the consultation period for the law was too short, and the law itself is incomplete and too weak to secure responsible investment in many of the country's most destructive industries. Despite the ruling National League for Democracy's rhetoric of responsible investment in the lead-up to the 2015 general election, the Investment Law is a significant disappointment.

The NLD government's new sense of urgency in passing the Investment Law came in the wake of State Counselor and Foreign Minister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the United States, during which President Obama announced that the US would end its economic sanctions program and Responsible Investment Reporting Requirements for US investment into Burma. In response, lawmakers in Burma's Upper and Lower houses felt pressured to enact the new Investment Law as soon as possible, leaving no time to properly debate the law's terms and understand its implications.

Typically, a draft law will be debated in the Lower and Upper houses over a period of two to three months. In the case of the Investment Law, the draft was passed by both houses in under two weeks.

The Law represents a missed opportunity to introduce an investment framework that decentralizes decision-making power over large-scale investment projects, and ensures that the voices of local communities affected by massive development projects are heard. Despite paying lip service to investors' environmental and social responsibilities, the new law fails to recognize affected communities' right to an effective remedy against investors for breaches of the law.

Burma's new investment law also gives the Investment Commission broad decision-making powers with little guidance and no effective oversight. This means that many projects in industries with enormous environmental and social footprints, such as mining, oil and gas, coal and hydropower may be approved without any meaningful constraints on the investment permit process, which is not clearly defined. When an investment is likely to have a significant impact on the environment and local populations, the commission is merely directed to give the proposal "necessary scrutiny" to determine whether it is "strategic for the Union." This represents wide-ranging discretion, which should be bounded by strict rules that further define the terms of acceptable, responsible investment.

What is more, under the new law, only one among the new nine-member Investment Commission must be a democratically elected official—creating the risk that the majority will be drawn from private industry.

Crucially, the new investment law also fails to ensure transparency. The law does not oblige the Investment Commission or investors to make any information on investments publicly available. This is a critical oversight, particularly in light of Burma's history of cronyism and corruption linked to investment in Burma's wealth of natural resources.

As the government rushes to revise laws and procedures that impinge on investment—including those related to land tenure and the environment—little is being done by lawmakers to ensure consistency. For example, it is unclear in the new investment law how procedures for acquiring investment permits interact with the duties of investors to submit Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). So far, a lack of understanding over this relationship has meant that EIAs are not properly reviewed—yet permits from the Investment Commission signal a green light to investors for their projects.

Environmental and human rights groups in Burma, such as EarthRights International, had petitioned lawmakers to delay the enactment of the Investment Law until these issues were clarified and the terms of the law could be strengthened. However, it appears the NLD was more concerned with pushing the law through to encourage US investment.

The NLD has missed an important opportunity to strengthen participation in the legislative process and to enact a law that promotes responsible investment. Most disappointing of all, the Investment Law leaves the citizens of Burma vulnerable to multiple forms of harm at the hands of improperly regulated investment.

Kate Taylor is a Rangoon-based legal fellow at EarthRights International, an environmental and human rights organization headquartered in Washington DC.

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Board of Trustees Formed to Spearhead Secretariat Renovations

Posted: 18 Oct 2016 10:57 PM PDT

RANGOON — The Rangoon Division government has formed a board of trustees to manage renovations on one of Burma's most famous colonial-era buildings, the Secretariat, said Rangoon Division Minister for Electricity, Transport and Communication Daw Nilar Kyaw.

The head of the trust told The Irrawaddy that the seven-member board, peopled primarily with architects and engineers, will manage the 126-year-old complex's conservation process—being carried out by the Anawmar Group—as well as certain aspects of the group's operational procedures, including the selection of Anawmar's partners.

Anawmar, which is owned by family members of former junta general Tun Kyi, won rights from Burma's Investment Commission in 2012 to restore the building's architecture and preserve it in the long term as a historical museum and arts and cultural center.

Daw Nilar Kyaw said that, given the Secretariat's towering historical significance, handing over renovations to a private organization had to be handled differently. She added that the trust intends to use Somerset House in London as a model to develop the red brick complex—which sprawls across 16 acres of land in downtown Rangoon—into an arts center.

"That's why we've created the trust to assist Anawmar—the main operator—with the conservation and operational processes. We'll work hand in hand with the Yangon Heritage Trust and Anawmar to make sure everything is right," she said.

Built in 1890, few colonial structures in present-day Burma are as historically important as the magisterial Victorian-era complex located at No. 300 Thein Phyu Road. It served as the headquarters for the British-Burma administration during colonial times. In 1947, Burma's independence hero Aung San, father of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and his colleagues were assassinated in an upstairs room in the west wing of the complex.

Aerial view of the Secretariat, Rangoon, Aug. 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)
Aerial view of the Secretariat, Rangoon, Aug. 2016. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Standing in the center of the Secretariat courtyard is a flagstaff where the flag of a newly independent Burma was first raised on Jan. 4, 1948. After the 1962 military coup, the complex became the Minister's Office. It was used in this capacity until 2005, when it was abandoned as the military regime suddenly made Naypyidaw its administrative capital.

Anawmar eventually stepped in to save the Secretariat from years of neglect.

U Soe Thiwn Tun, managing director of the group, said that he welcomed the formation of a board of trustees because it is an authoritative body with decision-making power.

"The Secretariat is a part of [Burma's] national heritage. And so we have to take a great care when it comes to renovation. The trust will be very helpful [in this regard], as [its members] will be able to make decisions regarding dos and don'ts," U Soe Thiwn Tun said.

Still, Anawmar was criticized this past year for its privatization of the colonial structure. Because its significance is so tightly stitched into Burma's national memory, critics argued, the Secretariat should belong to the public.

In response to the public tussle, U Soe Thiwn Tun assured skeptics that the group's intention is to open the complex to the public, not to develop a hotel or a shopping mall.

He also explained that even though Anawmar secured tender four years ago, the group had until recently done little in the way of renovations because it was awaiting approval from the Rangoon Division government, only receiving the go-ahead in 2015.

"During that time we could only clear the site," U Soe Thiwn Tun said.

But with the completion of the Conservation Management Plan, which was commissioned by the Yangon Heritage Trust, last September, evidence of renovations is impossible to miss—scaffolding surrounds most parts of the complex.

East Wing of the Secretariat, Rangoon, seen in July 2015 while facade cleaning was underway. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)
East Wing of the Secretariat, Rangoon, seen in July 2015 while facade cleaning was underway. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

"Facade cleaning is now in progress. However, we've been told to suspend additional work until we get further instructions from the trust," U Soe Thiwn Tun said.

He also outlined his blueprint for the refurbished Secretariat: the upstairs rooms in the south and west wings, as well as the old parliament building, will be transformed into public cultural and historical museums and an art gallery; the east wing will be rented out as office space; and small buildings in the complex's north will be turned into restaurants.

"One-third of the complex will be used for commercial purposes since it won't be easy to cover the cost of renovating and maintaining the building. For office spaces and restaurants, I've invited an international partner," he said. He declined to reveal the name of the partner, saying he was awaiting approval from the Rangoon Division government. He insisted that such partnerships were within the terms of the contract.

One of the trust members, Daw Moe Moe Lwin of the Yangon Heritage Trust, which has been providing renovation training to Anawmar, said the formation of the trust made sense.

"The government's involvement in a state-level project like this will have advantages for management as well as for ensuring progress with implementation," she said.

Anawmar's contract stipulates a 50-year lease to the group for renovations, along with the possibility of two, 10-year extensions. The total investment is US$50 million.

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