Friday, September 4, 2015

National News

National News

Thousands out of work as minimum wage kicks off

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 09:09 PM PDT

September 1 was a dark day for some 200 employees turning up to work at their garment factory in Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone.

Media industry readies for its own election

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 09:07 PM PDT

Candidates wishing to contest elections for the Media Council have until October 2 to register, the election commission said yesterday.

NLD adds new media ban ahead of manifesto release

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 09:05 PM PDT

The National League for Democracy will release its election manifesto in the coming days, senior members say.

NLD reports break-in at Nay Pyi Taw MP’s office

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 09:04 PM PDT

A leading National League for Democracy MP says a person who broke into her Nay Pyi Taw office on September 1 was searching for a document rather than items of monetary value.

KTVs ordered to close early during campaign

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 09:00 PM PDT

Police have announced special security measures in Nay Pyi Taw in advance of the start of campaigning for the November 8 election.

Millions abroad to miss out on chance to vote on November 8

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 08:56 PM PDT

Just a fraction of Myanmar citizens living abroad have signed up to vote in the November 8 election.

Funding shortfalls hinder new development bodies

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 08:10 PM PDT

Set up since 2011, self-funding township development affairs organisations are a rare case of decentralisation.

Project to focus on flood-hit livestock

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 08:09 PM PDT

About 8000 livestock in Ayeyarwady Region's Ingapu township that are suffering a range of flood-related maladies will receive a three-month-long program or treatment and food supplements, a township veterinary official said.

FDA seeks out civil society help

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 08:04 PM PDT

The Food and Drug Association has invited civil society groups working on food safety to join it in forming a network for consumer rights.

Hkamti braces as Chindwin breaches danger level

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 08:02 PM PDT

Hkamti residents say floodwaters have already spilled over from the Chindwin River and invaded the town, beginning September 1, with some moving to higher ground.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

At least 14 killed as boat overloaded with migrants capsizes off Malaysia

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 07:12 AM PDT

 Foreign workers from Indonesia chat outside a cabin at their quarter in Kuala Lumpur June 19, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

Foreign workers from Indonesia chat outside a cabin at their quarter in Kuala Lumpur June 19, 2011. (Photo: Reuters)

KUALA LUMPUR — An overloaded wooden boat believed to be carrying dozens of Indonesian illegal immigrants sank off the coast of Malaysia on Thursday, killing at least 14 people, among them 13 women, maritime officials said.

The boat, which maritime officials estimated had about 70 people aboard, had left Sabak Bernam in Malaysia's western state of Selangor for Sumatra in neighboring Indonesia when the accident happened.

Initial conversations with survivors led officials to believe the passengers were Indonesian, said Muhammad Aliyas Hamdan, an official of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).

"If they are legal, they would not leave [the country] that way," Muhammad said, when asked if the people were illegal migrants. The boat sank due to overloading and bad weather, he added.

Thousands of migrants from Indonesia work at construction sites, on palm plantations, in factories and domestic service across Malaysia, some without legal employment documents.

The number of survivors stood at 19, the agency's director of search and rescue operations, Captain Robert Teh Geok Chuan, told Reuters, including 15 rescued by fishermen earlier, though the death toll could rise.

"We fear the casualty numbers will rise as it's been several hours since the boat sank," he added.

Search operations would continue through the night, Teh said, with ships, boats and a helicopter deployed in the hunt for survivors. Indonesia's search and rescue agency said it was on standby to assist its Malaysian counterpart.

Southeast Asia faced a huge migrant crisis after Thailand cracked down on people-smuggling gangs in May, with more than 4,000 people landing in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand. Hundreds are believed to have drowned.

A fresh surge of refugees and migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh is expected to set out in boats for Southeast Asia when the monsoon season ends in about a month, the United Nations has said.

Thursday's accident happened as Europe faces its biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, and has yet to find a common response. Thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia and Africa have died making the journey across the Mediterranean and on land in Europe.



The post At least 14 killed as boat overloaded with migrants capsizes off Malaysia appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Family of Missing Kachin Man Claims He Was Killed by Army

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 06:22 AM PDT

 Ung Sau Tu Ja's wife, children and mother-in-law. (Photo: Mar Khar)

Ung Sau Tu Ja's wife, children and mother-in-law. (Photo: Mar Khar)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The family of an ethnic Kachin villager who went missing from Hpakant's  Ka Mai village earlier this year alleges that he was killed while in custody of the Burma Army and has demanded the return of his body.

Ung Sau Tu Ja, 48, was one of four villagers arrested by the Light Infantry Battalion 250 on June 19. The three others—Than Lwin, Poe The and Zaw Htun, also called Maung Kyiang—were released on June 28, according to Tu Ja's family members who claim to have spoken with one of the freed men.

The witness alleged that Tu Ja was killed in custody on June 25 and his body was removed from the detention site the following day, Tu Ja's family members told The Irrawaddy through an interpreter.

On Thursday, Tu Ja's family sent a letter to President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing demanding that his body be returned and that an investigation be carried out to obtain justice.

A spokesperson for the President's Office declined to comment on the allegations, referring The Irrawaddy to inquire with the military. Neither the local battalion nor the Northern Command could be reached by our reporters on Thursday.

In July, however, Ye Kyaw Thu, commander of LIB 250, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that at least three of the aforementioned men had been arrested by his troops over allegations that they had connections to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an ethnic armed group in active conflict with the Burmese government.

The commander said the men had already been released, but at the time none of them had yet returned to their families more than a month after they were apprehended.

Tu Ja's disappearance is just the latest in a string of unresolved missing persons claims in the war-torn northern state, where more than 100,000 people have been displaced by armed conflict since the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire in 2011.

In another high profile case, a Kachin woman named Sumlut Roi Ja was abducted along with her husband and his father while they were working in the family's corn field near four years ago. While her family narrowly escaped, Roi Ja is believed to have been taken to a Burma Army base. She has not been seen or heard from since and efforts to seek justice through civilian courts have thus far been unsuccessful.

Mway Phu Thu, Tu Ja's mother-in-law, said she hopes to avoid the agony and uncertainty experienced by others who have lost loved ones throughout the conflict.

"If we can see his body and are told the truth, we can forgive them," she said. "But so far the Tatamaw [Burmese armed forces] keeps lying about Tu Ja's death. We just want justice."

The post Family of Missing Kachin Man Claims He Was Killed by Army appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar Payment Union Forms Public Company

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 03:08 AM PDT

Burma's sole domestic provider of card-based payments, Myanmar Payment Union, announced in early September the formation of a public company. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Burma's sole domestic provider of card-based payments, Myanmar Payment Union, announced in early September the formation of a public company. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's sole domestic provider of card-based payments, Myanmar Payment Union, has formed a public company comprised of its 23 member banks, according to the organization's chief executive officer Zaw Lin Htut.

Myanmar Payment Union (MPU) had planned to form a public company in 2014 and Burma's Directorate of Investment and Companies Administration gave approval in mid-July, Zaw Lin Htut said.

Mya Than of Myanmar Oriental Bank is chairman of the new company and Than Win Swe of United Amara Bank, owned by the son of recently deceased ruling party lawmaker Aung Thaung, is secretary. Twenty-one directors currently sit on the board.

"We will not be selling shares right now, but we plan to, [pending] agreement by the board of directors. We are interested because the stock market in Burma will operate soon," Zaw Lin Htut said.

The first Yangon Stock Exchange, which is being developed by the Central Bank of Myanmar and two Japanese partners, is scheduled to open in the first week of December, following the country's November general election. More than 50 public companies have initially applied to be listed.

After decades of economic mismanagement under the former military regime, the MPU was founded in 2011, under the Central Bank of Myanmar, to establish the country's first local ATM card system.

Its membership includes 23 local banks, three of which are state-owned (the Myanmar Economic Bank, the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and the Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank). Two others are military-backed—Inwa Bank and Myawaddy Bank.

Each bank was required to invest 200 million kyat upon entering the organization.

"As part of our business plan, we'll try to develop the country's payment sector by expanding investment and technology, as well as working with other international payment unions," Zaw Lin Htut said.

From late 2012, MPU has signed cooperation agreements with China's UnionPay International, the Japan Credit Bureau, MasterCard and Visa.

Although the organization currently has around 1.2 million card users around the country, its services have been plagued by technical difficulties.

"Some users have complained about card errors, so we know that MPU cards can't provide 100 percent service, but we will continue to try our best. We will try to raise user awareness too," Zaw Lin Htut said.

Thet Ko Ko Myo, deputy general manager of Kanbawza (KBZ) Bank, a member bank of the MPU, said as a public company, MPU could play a key role on the stock exchange soon.

"With the stock exchange in Burma soon to be launched, with increased public awareness, it will develop fast," he said.

He added however that banks in Burma still lacked the infrastructure to develop card based payment systems, citing the technical difficulties encountered under the MPU system.

Earlier this year, MPU announced that local cardholders would be able to make online purchases after companies enrolled with one of the firm's then 20 local banking partners.

MPU cards can be used to make purchases at three branches of the country's biggest retail chain City Mart. The organization expects all branches to be covered by the end of the year.



The post Myanmar Payment Union Forms Public Company appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Two Police Officers Stabbed to Death in Rangoon

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 02:25 AM PDT

Policemen undergoing EU-provided training in February, 2014. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

Policemen undergoing EU-provided training in February, 2014. (Photo: J Paing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Two officers attempting to apprehend a wanted criminal in eastern Rangoon were stabbed to death by the suspect on Wednesday, according to police sources.

Col. Aung Naing and Cpl. Thura Lwin, both stationed at Thanlyin Police Station, sought to arrest Tin Myint at the nearby Natural Beauty Guesthouse but were allegedly stabbed to death by Tin Myint as he tried to evade arrest.

Tin Myint, who has been wanted for violent assault since last year,is alleged to have used a 9-inch blade to stab the police colonel in the throat and the police corporal in the chest, killing both men on the spot. Tin Myint was apprehended at the scene, and Col. Kyi Lwin of the Rangoon Police Force's southern district office told the Irrawaddy that a murder case had been opened against the suspect.

The Burma Police Force told The Irrawaddy it would provide compensation to the families of the two victims.

The two deaths come after the July murder of Cpl. Chit Ko Ko Maung, a member of the Rangoon Police Force's northern district crime squad, who was stabbed to death in Insein Township while seeking information on a suspect. It is unknown whether his death was connected to Tin Myint.

Last year, the Rangoon Police Force began a program to track down escaped convicts, criminals on outstanding warrants, and members of the military and police force who were absent without official leave. According to police statistics, a total of 3,564 people were apprehended between September 2014, and the middle of July.


The post Two Police Officers Stabbed to Death in Rangoon appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

After Landmine Tragedy, a Life Reconstituted

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 02:01 AM PDT

Mya Win, now 30, lost her legs after stepping on a landmine in Karen State in 2000. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

Mya Win, now 30, lost her legs after stepping on a landmine in Karen State in 2000. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

MAE SOT, Thailand — The explosion knocked Mya Win out as her teenage body went flying. When she regained consciousness, she found herself at a hospital in Mae Sot, the Thai border town long known for its ties to neighboring Burma.

When a doctor delivered the grim news of what had transpired and its implications, she could not contain her despair.

"I burst into tears when I learned that both of my legs were amputated," Mya Win recounted. "I was so sad and felt helpless."

It was in 2000 that Mya Win stepped on a landmine near a creek in the village of Shwe Kokekko, Myawaddy Township. Those who heard the blast arrived to the scene and found the 15-year-old lying in a pool of her own blood. She was rushed across the border to the hospital in Mae Sot, where doctors performed the surgery to remove what was left of her mangled lower limbs.

Born into a poverty-stricken family, Mya Win's upbringing was marked by hardship and destitution. The Karen woman's childhood dream was to become a teacher, but in a cruel irony, she never got a chance to go to school. She passed most of her childhood days doing household chores as her family eked out a living.

Mya Win was born in Chaung Na Kwa village, Mon State, where she lived in a thatched bamboo hut for most of her childhood. But entering her teens, she wanted to escape the grinding poverty of home life while contributing to the family's meager income. As is the case for many young people in Burma, that meant leaving home to follow the money, wherever that might be.

A recruiter who came to her village promised Mya Win's mother that the girl would be taken to Mae Sot. Instead, she was brought to Shwe Kokekko village near the Thai-Burma border, where she was tasked with babysitting and household chores at the residence of the recruiter. It was a seemingly innocuous request to fetch bamboo shoots for cooking that led Mya Win to the creek that fateful day 15 years ago.

To this today, Mya Win does not know who, or which organization, planted the landmine that forever changed her life. She does not expect that someone would claim responsibility, she hopes only that no more people meet the same fate.

On the hospital bed in Mae Sot, Mya Win's thoughts turned with dread to her future. But then, unexpectedly, her fortune turned two weeks after her hospitalization, when she was transferred from Mae Sot Hospital to the Mae Tao Clinic, a well-known health facility run by Dr. Cynthia Maung. The Mae Tao Clinic put a roof over her head, and has provided her with a purpose ever since: Mya Win helps out at the facility as much as she can, whether it's changing bandages or keeping lonely patients company.

Four years after she left her home village, she returned to see her mother. Before the landmine incident, she had been filled with hope at the life that awaited her. And while she did eventually end up in Mae Sot as the recruiter had promised, the circumstances of her arrival were a tragic deviation from the life she'd envisioned.

Her mother and friends treated her with compassion, but she said a strange guilt accompanied her return to village life; despite the obvious landmine trauma and its aftermath, her new life at the Mao Tao Clinic took on a privileged hue in light of the poverty that persisted back home.

"We are poor and we live a hand-to-mouth existence. Now, I live here [at the Mae Tao Clinic] with Doctor [Cynthia Maung]," said Mya Win.

She is 30 now, having spent the first half of her life in the bosom of a loving family that nonetheless struggled to provide, and the latter half in the care of Mae Tao Clinic founder Cynthia Maung, dubbed "Burma's Mother Teresa."

The clinic was largely a product of Burma's nationwide pro-democracy uprising in 1988, catering to migrant workers along the border and the flood of Burmese refugees fleeing oppression in the aftermath of the former regime's brutal crackdown.

For more than 25 years, the clinic has provided free medical care for people from all walks of life, and on any given day offers treatment to up to 300 patients suffering from various ailments. It has also provided prosthetic limbs for not only civilians like Mya Win, but also members of ethnic armed groups and even government soldiers.

Mya Win is at peace with the fact that she will never again walk with her own two feet. She does not know that the conflict in Burma is the world's longest running civil war. She does not know that the government and ethnic armed groups are involved in ongoing peace talks to try to bring that war to an end.

She does not know that landmines are a problem not just in Karen State, but in many other ethnic regions as well.

With the country's peace process moving forward, albeit haltingly, discussions are underway over how to go about demining areas wracked by decades of ethnic conflict. Very little substantive has come of this to date, however, and for Mya Win and many others, any eventual campaign to eradicate the scourge will have come too little, too late.

The post After Landmine Tragedy, a Life Reconstituted appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Govt Should Condemn Discrimination Against LGBT Community: HRW

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 01:53 AM PDT

 Participants in an LGBT event in Rangoon. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Participants in an LGBT event in Rangoon. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Human Rights Watch on Wednesday called on the Burmese government to publicly condemn discriminatory remarks about gay and transgender people made by officials in Mandalay.

In a letter to Mandalay Division Chief Minister Ye Myint, the group pointed out "misinformed, discriminatory, and potentially inflammatory statements" made recently in the divisional Parliament, urging the government to ensure equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Last month, divisional lawmaker Tin Tin Mar tabled a discussion about action being taken against gay and transgender people "acting inappropriately," prompting the division's Minister of Border and Security Affairs, Myint Kyu, to call on police to arrest gay people.

"The existence of gay men who assume they are women is unacceptable and therefore we are constantly taking action to have the gays detained at police stations, educate them, then hand them back to their parents," the minister told the divisional Parliament.

"The Burmese government should immediately condemn the statements made by a member of the regional parliament and a regional minister, and should pledge publicly to protect the fundamental rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity," Graeme Reid, director of the rights group's LGBT program, wrote to Ye Myint.

The letter also pointed out that authorities in the central Burma division have a history of discriminatory profiling practices. In July 2013, police arbitrarily arrested 10 gay men and transgender women who were reportedly abused in detention.

Burma's colonial-era penal code criminalizes same-sex sexual behavior under Section 377, leaving the LGBT community highly at risk of arrest and abuse. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that such laws "should be repealed."

"Construing LGBT people as criminals and investigating them simply on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity violates Burma's international human rights obligations," read Reid's letter to the minister, who was not immediately available for comment.

"The Burmese government, including its regional governments, have an obligation to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of LGBT people and ensure no one is subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention."


The post Govt Should Condemn Discrimination Against LGBT Community: HRW appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Bertil Lintner: ‘They Don’t Just Want a Ceasefire, They Want to Talk About the Future of the Country’

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 01:52 AM PDT

The Irrawaddy's founding editor Aung Zaw speaks with journalist and author Bertil Lintner, August 2015. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

The Irrawaddy’s founding editor Aung Zaw speaks with journalist and author Bertil Lintner, August 2015. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Swedish-born journalist and author Bertil Lintner has written countless articles and several books on Burma during a distinguished decades-long career. He is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and currently contributes to various new outlets, including The Irrawaddy. In this excerpt of an interview with The Irrawaddy's founding editor Aung Zaw, Lintner discusses the prospects for peace in the conflict-wracked country, the role of foreign interests and intermediaries, and the issue of federalism.  The full interview can be found here.

The next round of talks on the nationwide ceasefire agreement have been set for September 9. It seems it may be signed soon. It has been a long process even to get this far. Can you share your opinion?

Well, commentators sometimes refer to this as a peace process, but that's a misnomer. They're not talking about peace. They're talking about the technicalities of the ceasefire agreement. And normally, a ceasefire can just be announced. They stop shooting at each other, they sit down, they talk, you reach a consensus, you sign an agreement on political issues. Here, they're putting the cart before the horse, and they want to talk about an agreement before they've even discussed any political issues. That's not going to work.

So even the starting point is wrong?

Yes, the whole concept is wrong. Let's say that they sign this thing. Is it really going to lead to even a ceasefire? The crucial point here is that they expect details for how that ceasefire should be implemented and monitored on the ground to be discussed after they sign the agreement, not before. So this is just going to lead to more conflict. I cannot possibly see how this will lead to lasting peace.

You said that this is going to lead to more conflict. What do you see happening after signing the NCA? Some fear that it will be the same as before, and some expect that more fighting will break out in the north.

There could be more fighting in northern parts of the country. There could also be severe problems between those who sign the ceasefire agreement in a certain ethnic group and those who are opposed to it. Look at the KNU [Karen National Union], for instance, where some of the leaders would like to sign this agreement and others in the group are against it. So you're going to have splits and infighting, as well as conflicts between the government and the ethnic groups.
People are talking about the ceasefire being inclusive, but that seems doubtful.

They call it a nationwide ceasefire agreement, but it doesn't cover the whole nation. For instance, you have groups in Shan State that are excluded from the whole process. But let's say that they sign this agreement. It just means,

OK, leave us alone for another 10-20 years, we can manage ourselves. That's nonsense. We have to remember that this whole idea of a ceasefire is nothing new. In the late '80s, early '90s, the government entered into ceasefire deals with about 20 armed resistance groups. Now that the whole idea has been revived, the only thing that's different is that they want everyone to sign this agreement—once again—and you get a whole machinery of foreign peacemakers getting involved in this whole process. I call it the peace industrial complex.

Before going into that area, it's quite intriguing to see that President Thein Sein, a former general, is very eager to sign this ceasefire agreement before the election. To me, it's more like a ceremonial thing, but there are also foreign embassies and Western governments and donors who are very much excited and optimistic—including those peacemakers. Why is that?

One can expect that the government would like to finish this before the election so that it can leave behind a legacy of establishing peace in the country. But also, I think that they believe that if they can get a ceasefire agreement before the election, it would strengthen their chances of doing quite well in the election. They think that they will get a lot of support from the general public…

There's also the foreign diplomatic community [that are] putting immense pressure on the various ethnic armed organizations to sign this agreement, and I think that it's totally shameful. First of all, they shouldn't interfere in this process; it's not their business. And moreover, I don't think they understand the complexities on the ground.

What about the UN, Norway and other donor countries? It seems like they're siding with the government and the Myanmar Peace Center.

Yes, they are. And as you know, the European Union, of which Norway is not a member, is the main financial backer for the Myanmar Peace Center. And what have they achieved? Nothing.

I [would] single out Norway because it's not the first time that Norway has gotten involved in an ethnic conflict in Asia. They were involved in the absolutely disastrous process in Sri Lanka, which ended in a blood bath. And I was actually told by two friends from Oslo that when Norwegian tourists go to Sri Lanka these days, they can't say that they're from Norway because they'll probably end up with a punch in the face. So they'll actually say that they're from Sweden. Norway's name is that bad in Sri Lanka, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see the same thing in Myanmar within a couple of years.

Why has Norway been so eagerly involved in this peace process? Is it tied to business interests?

It's business interests. Norwegian oil companies want to go in there and invest and so on. But it's also kind of the legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize. Norway believes it's the peacemaker of the world, that it can go anywhere and solve problems. But so far, to the best of my knowledge, it hasn't managed to solve a single conflict anywhere in the world.

The US and China also have a big stake in this peace process. If you look at the ethnic conferences that have been held over the past few years, the ambassadors of both countries have attended and talked to both sides.

Well, this is the first time we have the whole international community getting involved in the peace process in Burma… The most interesting partner in this whole process is actually China, and they're actually outsmarting everybody else. They know what they want, and they're playing many different games at the same time. They're not just taking a moral high ground like Norway or doing nothing like the United Nations. On the one hand, they're encouraging the peace talks… and at the same time, what about the Wa? They're armed to the teeth with weapons from China, and this is not the type of stuff that just falls off the back of a truck.

It seems to suggest that China will play a bigger role because, on the other hand, China wants stability along the border area.

Of course, they want stability but they don't want to see Myanmar drift into the Western camp and become an ally of the United States. And if you look at it from a much broader perspective, this might be one reason why China is playing this double game with the carrot and the stick. But we shouldn't forget, either, America's interests in Myanmar. Are we to believe that democracy and human rights are the most important guiding principles for America's foreign policy? Well, I can't say I believe that. I think here the China card is a bit more important. The fact that President Thein Sein managed to move away from China and open the door to the Americans really got Washington on board. And that's why America is so careful: They don't want to criticize the government, no matter what the government does, because they think that then they will push Myanmar back into China's embrace.

You believe that these peacemakers have no idea of the complexities on the ground?

They're completely clueless. Which is sad because it just makes the situation messier and much more difficult to tackle. If the foreign community wanted to make a contribution to peace in Myanmar, it should not be sending these people who are talking about things they have no understanding about. The weakness of this whole process is not only on the part of the government; it's also on the part of the ethnic groups. They say that they want to have a federal system—you ask them, what kind of a federal system, and they say, a genuine federal system, but that's not really an answer. If the foreign community could make any contribution to peace and prosperity in Myanmar, it'd be to sit down with these ethnic groups and work out the parameters for a federal system which would be suitable to the specific conditions in Myanmar.

I want to go back to these peacemakers. We assume that they're well paid and that the donors whom they receive money from have their own agenda. Can these peacemakers be neutral and impartial?

They can, but the peacemakers in Myanmar are not neutral and impartial. They're definitely on the side of the government, and they're also putting pressure on ethnic groups to sign an agreement which they don't really want to sign, because they don't just want to see a ceasefire; they want to talk about the future of the country—What kind of country should we live in? Should it be a unitary state or a federal state?

There's also a persistent criticism that ethnic armed groups lack unity and that there are business interests involved in this conflict.

First of all, what we have to remember is that ethnic conflict in Myanmar is not just between the majority Burmans and all the other ethnic groups. It's also between the various ethnic nationalities.

Will there ever be a genuine federal union in Burma? And what about the role of the military? It seems to be sending very mixed signals toward the demands of ethnic groups.

There was real enthusiasm when Aung Min took up the word "federalism." But actually, one shouldn't be too excited by that. People have been talking about federalism since it was abolished in 1962, so it's nothing new. Still, the fact that he actually said it made the international community excited. It's always been a taboo word in military circles. From what I've heard, the military was not happy when Aung Min made that slip of the tongue in discussions with ethnic armed groups. The army sees federalism as a first step toward the disintegration of the country. Why they think that, well, one has to ask them, because the unitary state obviously hasn't worked and something else has to be tried. I can't see any way out of the country's problems other than some kind of structure where all ethnic groups have their rights and where their cultures and languages are respected. And that would be in some kind of federal system.


The post Bertil Lintner: 'They Don't Just Want a Ceasefire, They Want to Talk About the Future of the Country' appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Indian Village Council Denies Ordering Rape of Sisters

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 10:39 PM PDT

Meenakshi Kumari, 23, one of the two sisters allegedly threatened with rape by a village council in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, adjusts her headgear as she sits inside her lawyer's chamber in New Delhi, India, September 1, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

Meenakshi Kumari, 23, one of the two sisters allegedly threatened with rape by a village council in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, adjusts her headgear as she sits inside her lawyer’s chamber in New Delhi, India, September 1, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)

SANKROD, India — A village council in northern India has denied allegations that it ordered two young sisters to be raped because their brother eloped with a higher caste woman. The council's purported ruling led to an international outcry and hundreds of thousands of people have demanded their safety.

Now, members of the village council in the Baghpat region of northern India have told Reuters they passed no such order. Family members of the two sisters also told Reuters they are unsure if the ruling was made. And local police deny any such directive was given.

When the accusations first emerged last month, they spread like wildfire. An online petition by Amnesty International seeking justice and protection for the low-caste sisters gathered more than 260,000 signatures, mostly in Britain.

But family members said in interviews with Reuters the information that the council made such an order may have just been gossip.

"It is all hearsay, we don't know if this actually happened," said Dharam Pal Singh, 55, the women's father and a retired soldier. "We heard it from other villagers."

He identified one of the villagers, a man who also said he had heard it from others.

The incendiary allegations were contained in a petition to the Supreme Court filed last month by a lawyer for the Singh family seeking protection for the sisters. It said one of Singh's sons fell in love with a married woman of a higher caste, leading to a row between the two families.

In its most sensational claim, the court filing said Meenakshi Kumari, 23, and her 15-year-old sister fled their home after being told they would be stripped naked and paraded with their faces blackened before being raped to atone for their brother's transgression.

'These Things Can Happen'

Rahul Tyagi, the lawyer who brought the case to the Supreme Court, was hired by the family when the row over the affair started some months ago.

Tyagi said he stood by the petition, which the family filed because of fears for the safety of the sisters, and denied failing to check the facts. However, he said he had never visited the village, nor spoken to any members of the council who supposedly issued the rape order.

"We have documentary evidence for nine out of 10 things in the case," he said. "The other things people will not come out with unless there is an independent investigation."

Kumari, the elder sister, admitted she didn't know if the council had issued a ruling but said she took the threat seriously because women are often punished in India for things they have not done. "It is very tough life for women," Kumari said in an interview at Tyagi's office in the relative security of the capital. "These things can happen."

She said she had heard of the threat to rape her from her father.

Unelected village councils like the one in Baghpat do mete out rough justice in many parts of rural India, ruling on matters of marriage, property and how women should dress. In rare instances the councils have ordered rape as a punishment.

However, it typically is difficult to confirm such rulings because village councils usually only issue verbal orders, and no record is kept of proceedings.

This case appeared to fit a familiar narrative. It combined some of rural India's most tenacious problems: entrenched hierarchies built on prejudice and the ancient Hindu caste system colliding with more modern values, a history of weak governance and increasing violence towards women.

No Proof

Reuters interviewed more than 20 people involved in the incident in the village of Sankrod, in Baghpat district, an hour's drive away from the capital New Delhi, where closely packed concrete homes are surrounded by corn and cane fields.

There were many discrepancies in the accounts offered by the families of the sisters and the married woman, members of the village council, the lawyer who drew up the Supreme Court petition, and police officials.

But no one said they had any evidence that the council had handed down the rape punishment, as alleged in the court petition. The petition said the council was comprised of upper caste men.

The village council is actually more than 80 percent female and headed by a woman who, like the sisters, is from the bottom of the caste hierarchy.

"How many times do I have to tell you that there was no meeting?" said Bala Devi, 55, who has run the council for the last five years. "We spend our time discussing mundane things like fixing the roads or water pumps."

Sharad Sachan, a police superintendent, concluded after interviewing council leaders and other villagers that no such order had been issued. "The Supreme Court asked us to investigate and we plan to tell them our findings later this month," Sachan said.

The Supreme Court is not due to rule on the case until later this month.

Amnesty said it did not investigate the case or visit the village, and instead relied on the court submission. Gopika Bashi, a women's rights campaigner at Amnesty International India, said that despite the doubts cast over the story there were no plans to withdraw its petition.

"We will continue to push for protection for the family," she said.


The post Indian Village Council Denies Ordering Rape of Sisters appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Efforts ‘Undermined’ by Scandal Questions

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 10:27 PM PDT

Protesters take a 'selfie' during a rally organised by pro-democracy group "Bersih" (Clean) in Malaysia's capital city of Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2015. Thousands of protesters are rallying in Kuala Lumpur for a second day calling for electoral reform and Prime Minister Najib Razak's resignation over a multi-million-dollar payment into an account under his name. REUTERS/Olivia Harris. - RTX1QAFD

Protesters at a rally organised by pro-democracy group Bersih in Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 30. (Photo: Olivia Harris / Reuters)

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s commitment to fighting corruption cannot be taken seriously as long as it does not explain how millions of dollars ended up in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank account, the head of the world’s largest anti-graft organisation said on Wednesday.

Jose Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, said Malaysia had taken many measures and initiatives to tackle corruption but that none of its claims to tackle corruption would be credible until it provided answers to the finance scandal.

“We want to see more progress but that cannot happen while there are unanswered questions about the…millions that made its way into the prime minister’s personal bank account,” Ugaz told the International Anti-Corruption Conference.

A media report in July said investigators looking into alleged mismanagement at debt-laden state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) traced a payment of more than $600 million to an account under Najib’s name.

“There are two questions that need to be answered: Who paid the money and why? Where did it go?” Ugaz, a Peruvian lawyer with a history of tackling grand corruption, said.

Ugaz said that one man could answer that question, referring to Najib, who had pulled out of giving a keynote speech at the conference, which is attended by more than 1,000 delegates from 130 countries.

“If that does not happen then only a fully independent investigation, free from political interference, can uncover the truth,” Ugaz told the conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s federal administrative capital.

The scandal sparked a political crisis in the Southeast Asian nation. A rally at the weekend drew tens of thousands of people to the streets of the capital Kuala Lumpur to call for Najib’s resignation.

Government Under Fire

Fighting back against his critics, Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, sacked his deputy and other ministers who had publicly questioned him, and the attorney-general who was investigating 1MDB was replaced.

Authorities also suspended two newspapers and blocked access to a website that had reported on 1MDB.

“These are not the action of a government that is fighting corruption,” Ugaz told the audience.

Datuk Paul Low, a minister in the prime minister’s cabinet, said Malaysia’s economic success, with growth rates above the global average and low unemployment, had not kept pace with the development of its political institutions.

“Malaysia has had strong growth but what we have not done is to reform our political institutions, that is our weakest point,” he told delegates.

A committee set up by Najib last month to set guidelines on political funding and ensure any money received for the purpose of politics is done so with “integrity” was a step in the right direction to address this weakness, he said.


The post Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Efforts 'Undermined' by Scandal Questions appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

China Puts on Huge Show of Force at WWII Parade

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 10:14 PM PDT

A screen displays Chinese President Xi Jinping reviewing the army at Tiananmen Square, at the beginning of the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. (Photo: Damir Sagolj / Reuters)

A screen displays Chinese President Xi Jinping reviewing the army at Tiananmen Square, at the beginning of the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. (Photo: Damir Sagolj / Reuters)

BEIJING — China put on its biggest display of military might on Thursday in a parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War Two, an event shunned by most Western leaders but which underscored Beijing’s growing confidence in its armed forces.

President Xi Jinping, speaking on a rostrum overlooking Beijing’s Tiananmen Square before the parade began, offered an unexpected olive branch by saying China would cut its troop levels by 300,000. That would streamline one of the world’s biggest militaries, currently around 2.3-million strong.

Xi gave no timeframe for the troop cut, adding China would always “walk down the path of peaceful development”.

He then descended to Beijing’s main thoroughfare and inspected rows of troops, riding past them in a black limousine and bellowing repeatedly: “Hello comrades, hard-working comrades!”

More than 12,000 soldiers, mostly Chinese but with contingents from Russia and elsewhere, then began marching down Changan Avenue, led by veterans of World War Two carried in vehicles.

They will be followed by a range of ballistic missiles, tanks and armoured vehicles, many never seen in public before. Advanced fighter jets and bombers are also due to fly overhead.

Among the weapons China will unveil for the first time is an anti-ship ballistic missile, the Dongfeng-21D, which is reportedly capable of destroying an aircraft carrier with one hit.

Lined up in a sidestreet were also several intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the DF-5B and the DF-31A as well as the DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), dubbed the “Guam killer” in reference to a US Pacific Ocean base.

For Xi, the parade is a welcome distraction from the country’s plunging stock markets, slowing economy and recent blasts at a chemical warehouse that killed at least 160 people.

Xi was joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of several other nations with close ties to China, including Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

Most Western leaders rebuffed invitations to attend, diplomats said, unhappy about the guest list and wary of the message China is sending to a region already rattled by its military assertiveness, especially in the South China Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is not attending the event, which is being held one day after the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender in World War Two.

The Chinese government has repeatedly said the parade is not aimed at today’s Japan, but to remember the past and to remind the world of China’s huge sacrifices during the conflict. However, it rarely misses an opportunity to draw attention to Japan’s wartime role.

“As for the claim that China intends the event as a sabre-rattling occasion to instil fear, it is nothing but nonsense since China has always insisted on resolving disputes via peaceful means,” state news agency Xinhua said in a commentary.

Chinese Navy in Bering Sea

Xi has set great store on China’s military modernisation, including developing an ocean-going “blue water” navy capable of defending the country’s growing global interests.

In a sign of that emerging capability, five Chinese Navy ships are sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea off Alaska, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, at a time when US President Barack Obama is touring the state.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said it was the first time the United States had seen Chinese navy ships in the Bering Sea.

It was not clear whether their presence was timed to coincide with Obama’s visit or if it followed a recent Chinese-Russian navy exercise. Chinese state media has said nothing about the Bering Sea deployment.

“It is living up to what the Chinese have been saying, ‘We are now a blue water navy. We will operate in the far seas and we are a global presence’,” said Dean Cheng, a China expert at the Heritage Foundation think-tank in Washington.

Xi will meet Obama in Washington for talks later this month that will be dominated by a host of thorny issues, including China’s growing military reach.

Beijing has been put under lock-down to ensure nothing goes wrong at the parade, with much of the downtown off-limits, a three-day holiday declared and ordinary people kept well away.

“This parade and patriotism are two separate things,” said Mi Guoxian, who had come to Beijing for a wedding, standing on a nearly deserted street behind a line of police.

“This is for the national leaders.”


The post China Puts on Huge Show of Force at WWII Parade appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Post-bomb Bangkok Moves on, But With New Sense of Insecurity

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 10:04 PM PDT

Thai Army officers walk outside the military barracks believed to be holding two arrested bomb suspects involved in the recent blast at a Bangkok shrine, September 2, 2015. (Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters)

Thai Army officers walk outside the military barracks believed to be holding two arrested bomb suspects involved in the recent blast at a Bangkok shrine, September 2, 2015. (Photo: Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters)

BANGKOK — One Bangkok resident says he can't shake the horrid sight of what he saw, or the smell of death. Another says the initial shock is gone and he's returned to his old routine—work, happy hour and taking selfies.

Two weeks have now passed since the bombing at a central Bangkok shrine, giving residents of the Thai capital time to digest what authorities call the deadliest attack the country has ever experienced.

On the surface, the bustling city of food vendors, traffic jams and raucous nightlife is back to normal. But many feel a gnawing sense of fear and insecurity, especially in tourist areas like the Erawan Shrine, where the Aug. 17 bombing left 20 people dead and more than 120 injured.

Police have arrested two suspects, and issued arrest warrants for others. But they have not said if any of them is the bomber. The motive is unknown and police discoveries of apartments filled with bomb-making materials have left many wondering if violence will strike again.

Here's what people in Bangkok are saying:


"I don't know when I'm going to die. I don't know if this will happen again. But I have to come to work and do my job."

AEK CHIMKAM, MOTORCYCLE TAXI DRIVER, works across the street from Erawan Shrine

"I was here when it happened. I helped move injured people to the hospital. I saw dead bodies and people covered in blood. There was a human organ on the street, I think it was a liver. I couldn't sleep for two nights. Now it's better, but sometimes I have to drink to get to sleep. I still remember the smell. I can't explain it. It was like flesh on a grill."

"I'm still concerned. I don't know if there will be another bomb. I don't want to get stuck at that traffic light," he points to the corner where the blast occurred. "I'll go out of my way not to stop there."

RUDEE JIAMJAIRAT, FLOWER VENDOR, has worked outside Erawan Shrine for past 44 years

"We're not afraid. We believe the spirit of the shrine will protect us. But we're looking out for foreigners with light skin who look like the bombing suspect. When we see people carrying backpacks we tell each other to keep an eye on them. If anyone is standing around here for too long, I tell the security guard and he tells them to leave."

NAKUL PORNPIRIYAKULCHAI, ASSISTANT MANAGER at an electronics company, having after-work drinks with friends at an upscale bar near the shrine

"For the first two days after the attack, I was quite traumatized. But after a week, things returned to normal. It happened in phases on social media, too. Phase one was everyone sending those photos around (of the bombing suspect). Then people stopped sharing photos. Now it's gone quiet. We're back to taking selfies with food, and drinking beers," he paused. "But we still don't know who did it. I still want to know what the motive is."

CRISTINA RUNGARUNVASIN, THAI-AMERICAN ACTRESS, with friends at a waterside restaurant

"I still feel worried. Like today, I had to stop at an intersection, and I'm thinking every second that the light is red, 'If a bomb goes off which way should I run?' I still feel scared if I'm in the car or walking outside, especially in tourist areas."

GUNYOOTAPONG NOPAKUN, DJ, having lunch at popular shopping mall Terminal 21

"Thai people forget things easily, and a lot of things are returning to normal. But what if bad things happen? There's a big chance that bad things might happen again. And I'm sure that they don't have enough security to watch suspicious people or find suspicious objects. You never know if you are safe enough, you never know if the CCTV cameras above you work properly. And if you die you don't even know that the government will report the news with 100 percent truth, or not. This is Thailand."


The post Post-bomb Bangkok Moves on, But With New Sense of Insecurity appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

National News

National News

NLD reports break-in at Nay Pyi Taw MP office

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 07:15 AM PDT

A leading National League for Democracy MP says a person who broke into her Nay Pyi Taw office on September 1 was searching for documents, rather than items of monetary value.

Fugitive kills two police in Thanlyin

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 07:11 AM PDT

Two police officers were killed when trying to arrest a fugitive at Bawa Ahla Inn at Phayar Kone village in Thanlyin Township on September 2.

Ma Ba Tha to celebrate passage of race & religion laws

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 06:30 AM PDT

The adoption by parliament of controversial "protection of race and religion laws" – criticised by human rights advocates both in Myanmar and overseas for provisions they believe target minorities – is to be celebrated with events nationwide by hardline Buddhist organisation Ma Ba Tha.

Race against time to clear damaged water sources

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:51 PM PDT

Unless ponds and wells are cleaned before the end of the monsoon, villages will lack water for the dry season.

Strongest El Niño in decades expected

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:48 PM PDT

One of the strongest El Niño weather patterns in more than six decades is set to impact Myanmar this year and the director of the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology has warned to be prepared.

Election in doubt in flood-hit Chin State

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:43 PM PDT

The upcoming election may be up to three months late in landslide-ravaged Chin State.

USDP candidate donates big to Ma Ba Tha

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:39 PM PDT

A Union Solidarity and Development Party candidate has donated tens of thousands of dollars to an infamous Buddhist nationalist group.

Minister faces vote-buying allegations in Kayah State

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:38 PM PDT

As heat builds on U Soe Thein, other former government ministers splash the cash in their constitutencies.

Koh Tao defendant tells court of torture

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:32 PM PDT

As the first of two Rakhine State migrants took the stand in the Koh Tao murder trial yesterday, the court heard how the police allegedly tortured the slightly built 22-year-old into confessing.

‘Some people’ can’t accept parliament, says Speaker

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 08:30 PM PDT

Speaker Thura U Shwe Mann has launched an attack on the parliament's opponents, saying they are struggling to "adapt" to checks and balances on their power.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

Govt to Select Final Telecoms Partners in September

Posted: 02 Sep 2015 03:46 AM PDT

 A year after two foreign operators revolutionized Burma's mobile market, the government is seeking a local company to spearhead the fourth and final telco license. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

A year after two foreign operators revolutionized Burma's mobile market, the government is seeking a local company to spearhead the fourth and final telco license. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma's communications ministry will announce this month which local firms will comprise a consortium that will become the country's fourth and final telecoms operator, according to a ministry official.

Chit Wai, deputy permanent secretary of Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the winning bidders will be announced by the end of September.

Last July, a year after two foreign operators revolutionized Burma's mobile market, the government called on local companies to bid for the country's remaining telecom spot.

Seventeen local firms have entered the bid to become part of a newly formed public company, Chit Wai said,, and the government is now looking into which have met the prerequisites set by the ministry. Those approved for inclusion in the public company will partner with an overseas firm selected by the ministry.

"I can't say how many local companies will be rejected. That's why we're checking details. The committee expects to announce winners at end of the month," he said. He declined to say which companies applied, however.

The ministry requires that firms demonstrate possession of adequate financial capabilities –at least 3 billion kyats (US$2.3 million—as well as enough capital reserves to form a new public telecommunications company.

"There's no limit for how many companies can apply. As long as they're following the rules and meet the criteria, we will select them," Chit Wai said.

Interested companies do not have the opportunity to choose their overseas counterpart. The successful bidder is expected to accept the selection committee's decision regarding a foreign partner. The winner is also responsible for providing technical services, market strategies, and a share of both the licensing fees and consulting fees to help in the selection of a foreign partner.

In the local telecom market, two foreign operators—Telenor and Ooredoo—and state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunication (MPT) have  been providing fierce competition by offering various services to users in Burma.

Among these services are reduced competitive call rates and attempts to build more towers across the country.

Thiri Kyar Nyo, a communication officer for Ooredoo, welcomed the competition, remarking that "it's good for the country, too, since all operators will try to attract users with new services."

"Moreover, building more towers will bring additional improved services," she said.

In late January, MPT claimed to have reached 11 million subscribers, well ahead of Telenor's 3.4 million and Ooredoo's 2.2 million at the end of last year.

All three firms are concentrating on expanding telecommunications infrastructure into the country's northern hinterlands and border areas, with combined funding commitments currently totaling around US$4 billion.



The post Govt to Select Final Telecoms Partners in September appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Australia’s Secretive Refugee Camps Run into New hurdle: Ethical Investors

Posted: 01 Sep 2015 09:51 PM PDT

 A woman holds a poster during a 2013 rally in support of asylum seekers in central Sydney. (Photo: Daniel Munoz / Reuters)

A woman holds a poster during a 2013 rally in support of asylum seekers in central Sydney. (Photo: Daniel Munoz / Reuters)

SYDNEY — Investors in the company that runs Australia’s secretive refugee camps are starting to flex their muscles in a way that may achieve what refugee advocates and politicians have failed to for years—greater transparency and oversight.

Australia’s offshore immigration detention system, which involves intercepting refugee boat arrivals and processing applications for protection visas on islands outside the migration zone, has earned the criticism of the United Nations because of near-nonexistent access for outside observers.

Transfield Services Ltd, which operates the camps, told local media it would consider taking fund managers to its centres on the Pacific island nation of Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island—an offer that activist groups say they have been denied since 2012.

“Sure, we can go, we will go,” Simon Mawhinney, managing director of Australian fund manager Allan Gray Australia Pty Ltd, told Reuters on Monday. “But it’s important for other people to go and for us to seek their advice and counsel upon their return, because they’re the ones who know more.”

Mawhinney told Reuters his firm plans to use its position as Transfield’s biggest shareholder to fight for better access for human rights groups.

Transfield has faced an especially harsh backlash since taking the contract to run the Manus centre in 2014, including being forced to cancel its sponsorship of the Sydney Biennale when artists refused to participate because of its involvement.

Allegations of detainee abuse prompted Australian health industry-focused HESTA Super Fund to dump its 5 percent Transfield stake last month.

HESTA Super Fund said it sold its stake because the “mandatory, prolonged, indefinite, and non-reviewable nature of detention at asylum seeker processing centres breaches the fundamental principles of international human rights law”.

Australian teacher pension fund NGS Super said it was selling its Transfield shares on “moral grounds”.

Transfield said on Monday it expects the immigration department to renew its AU$1.2 billion (US$849.48 million) detention centre deal for five years. Its current 20-month contract expires on Oct 31.

A Transfield spokesman said while the company is the preferred contractor, it hasn’t signed a new contract, and it would be inappropriate to comment on future plans.

An Australian Senate committee meanwhile recommended speeding up the removal of asylum seeker children and their families from the Nauru detention centre, saying it was “not adequate, appropriate or safe”, and demanding an audit of allegations of sexual abuse.

It also recommended more access for journalists and rights groups.

Next Battlefront

Shares in Transfield have fallen 34 percent so far this year. They closed more than 7 percent lower on Tuesday.

The pressure on Transfield suggests refugee treatment will be the next battlefront in the conflict between companies in ethically ambivalent industries and shareholder activists.

Allegations of detainee abuse have also generated talk of possible legal retribution, though any legal backlash will not directly affect shareholders.

“It’s one of the basic principles of corporate law that the company’s liabilities don’t become the shareholder’s liabilities,” said Professor Stephen Bottomley, dean of law at Australian National University in Canberra.

“Shareholders are liable only to pay any money they owe on their shares. The only impact they feel from the company’s wrongdoing is through a drop in share value.”

Australian Shareholders’ Association Chair Diana D’Ambra said she expects Allan Gray’s pressure on Transfield to force the company to disclose better information at least.

“It may well be that this sort of thing will become more front of mind for fund managers, and that’s a good thing,” she added.

Transfield Services was previously part of privately held Transfield Holdings, founded by two Italian immigrants. Transfield Holdings said in September last year it had sold its entire stake in the services company.


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Rioters Rampage Against Residence Law in Northeast India

Posted: 01 Sep 2015 09:44 PM PDT

The Indo-Burmese bridge at the border town of Moreh, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. (Photo: Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters)

The Indo-Burmese bridge at the border town of Moreh, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. (Photo: Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters)

GAUHATI — Rioters set fire to the homes of seven lawmakers during a rampage to protest new legislation defining who can claim to be from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, police said Tuesday.

One person died while trapped in a burning house on Monday night, and two died when police fired to disperse the arsonists. On Tuesday, hundreds of people angry about the deaths circled the town’s police station and protested. The police, outnumbered, opened fire again. Two people were killed and another three were hospitalized with critical injuries.

Police imposed a curfew Tuesday night and deployed paramilitary forces amid heavy tension in Churachandpur town 70 kilometers (42 miles) southwest of the state capital of Imphal.

Lawmaker N. Biren Singh said the law demanding people provide proof that their families lived in Manipur before 1951 is aimed at keeping “outsiders” including migrants from settling in the state bordering Burma. But Singh said authorities had no plans to begin checking documents soon.

“Those who are protesting may be harboring fears the authorities might now start looking at relevant documents to see if anyone has settled down in the state after 1951,” Singh said.

The protesters said that setting such a limit excludes many who arrived legitimately after that date or who don’t have proper documents.

India’s remote northeastern region comprises a patchwork of ethnic and tribal communities who are distributed unevenly across seven states and spilling over into neighboring Burma. Tensions have erupted in recent years as those in India worry about refugees from Burma taking jobs and land.


The post Rioters Rampage Against Residence Law in Northeast India appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Sri Lanka Leader Calls for Reforms to Promote Ethnic Harmony

Posted: 01 Sep 2015 09:35 PM PDT

President Maithripala Sirisena, front, stands for the national anthem during a ceremony to swear in Sri Lanka's new prime minister in Colombo, Aug. 21. (Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters)

President Maithripala Sirisena, front, stands for the national anthem during a ceremony to swear in Sri Lanka’s new prime minister in Colombo, Aug. 21. (Photo: Dinuka Liyanawatte / Reuters)

COLOMBO — Sri Lanka’s president asked the country’s newly elected lawmakers on Tuesday to draft political reforms to promote ethnic reconciliation and economic development in the post-war era.

President Maithripala Sirisena said the new parliament’s responsibilities are to make the political decisions that had been delayed and to draft reforms. He has previously acknowledged that Sri Lanka has failed to heal its deep ethnic divide since the civil war ended six years ago.

The speech was Sirisena’s inaugural address to the 225-member parliament at its first meeting since the election on Aug. 17.

The island’s two main political parties have agreed to form a government of consensus with view to address national reconciliation and overcoming economic hardships borne from the conflict.

Sirisena said he would give his leadership and support to the lawmakers to build ethnic and religious harmony.

His speech came nearly a week after the United States, in a major shift of their policy, said that it wants to sponsor a resolution at next month’s UN human rights session that is supportive of Sri Lanka’s intent to conduct its own investigation into alleged war crimes.

Relations between the US and Sri Lanka were strained under previous President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who oversaw a military campaign that defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and ended a decades-long civil war.

Both sides were accused of serious human rights violations amounting to war crimes, and an earlier UN report said some 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in just the last few months of the fighting, largely as a result of the government’s shelling.

US-Sri Lanka bilateral relations have improved since Sirisena broke away from Rajapaksa’s government and won the Jan. 8 presidential election, defeating Rajapaksa with support from the opposition political parties.

To promote national reconciliation, Sirisena has started releasing private lands occupied by the military during the civil war in the northern region where civil raged.


The post Sri Lanka Leader Calls for Reforms to Promote Ethnic Harmony appeared first on The Irrawaddy.

Post-Coup Ties Firm across the Burma-Thai Divide

Posted: 01 Sep 2015 06:59 PM PDT

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha toasts during a business luncheon in Tokyo, Japan, February 9, 2015. (Photo: Toru Hanai / Reuters)

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha toasts during a business luncheon in Tokyo, Japan, February 9, 2015. (Photo: Toru Hanai / Reuters)

In June last year, Chiang Mai-based fortuneteller Warin Buawiratlert—the Thai military establishment's soothsayer of choice over many years—proffered his take on the rise of Thailand's then newly installed coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Prayuth was a trusted soldier for King Naresuan the Great in a past life, Warin advised, citing the revered warrior-king and bane of the Burmese who ruled Siam from 1590 to 1605.

The following week, the fifth installment of a film biopic on King Naresuan—played by Wanchana Sawatdee, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Thai army—opened in cinemas across the country. The junta, in power for less than a month following the May 22 coup, gave away free tickets.

The film franchise plays to a familiar trope of Thai popular culture and nationalist readings of Thai history: of the heroic Siamese defending or reclaiming the Kingdom from the invading Burmese hordes.

"This is part of how the nation state has been created in Thailand… the process of national identity building. We need to have an enemy," Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun told The Irrawaddy.

But while this time-honored casting of Thai heroes and Burmese villains remains a feature of some nationalistic films and school history textbooks, it is a narrative far removed from the present state of bilateral relations.

 Relationship at its 'Strongest'

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Burma's Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung, a former major in the Burmese army, echoed what officials on both sides have been at pains to point out in recent months.

That today, "the relationship between Thailand and Myanmar has reached its strongest point."

Burma's army chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, did little to dispel this view during a visit to Bangkok last week when he praised "progress" in Thailand under the junta during a meeting with Prayuth and talked up cooperation between both nations' armed forces.

Win Maung said the current state of relations was the product of years of diplomacy spanning various Thai administrations.

"It has been five years of building up. I have been here for seven years. We have been in a good relationship with Thailand since ex-prime minister Abhisit [Vejjajiva] and Yingluck [Shinawatra] until the current government," he said.

But behind the cozy rhetoric, perennial issues such as the registration process for hundreds of thousands of undocumented Burmese migrant workers, appear no closer to resolution.

Indeed, the Thai junta has shown an aptitude more for brief, periodic crackdowns on the issue of the moment, rather than addressing problems at their core.

"Essentially Thai-Burma relations have always been erratic. There's mutual distrust over issues like ethnic insurgencies, the drug trade, border demarcation, the Rohingya leaving Burma for Thailand… there are so many questions and obstacles in this bilateral relationship," Pavin recently told The Irrawaddy.

"They still have to work out which issues they want to tackle and which issues they want to put aside, for the sake of good relations."

Clear Priorities

Relations have centered primarily on the economic realm, where the pledges and agreements—many aspirational—have flowed liberally in recent months.

In July, the two countries inked a visa exemption deal, Burma opened a new consulate in Chiang Mai and a tripartite pact involving Japan was signed in Tokyo on developing the long-stalled Dawei special economic zone—an ambitious and controversial undertaking that would include a deep sea port, power plants and an industrial estate in the coastal capital of Burma's Tenasserim Division.

Both countries have vowed to boost two-way trade, worth US$8.15 billion in 2014 according to the Thai commerce ministry, to US$10-12 billion by 2017.

While bilateral meetings continue to feature vague pledges of cooperation on cross-border issues including trafficking, illegal migration and the narcotics trade, border affairs are increasingly viewed through the lens of economic development.

Among the junta's first decrees was to revive a decade-old initiative to establish a series of special economic zones in border areas, including in Mae Sot, Tak province, as well as Chiang Rai and Kanchanaburi provinces, to encourage investment from Thai firms backed by incentives such as low-cost migrant labor.

A ceremony inaugurating construction of a second "Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge" connecting Mae Sot to Karen State's Myawaddy was held on Sunday.

Political Sympathies

The economic imperatives around which both nations have found cause for collaboration are also buttressed at present by, as Thai scholar Thongchai Winichakul put it to The Irrawaddy, "mutual political sympathies."

Both countries' militaries have long wielded significant political clout—a status quo that appears unlikely to change in the short term.

Burma's 2008 Constitution enshrines the army's influential role in the legislature and executive and mandates the commander-in-chief's "right to take over and exercise State sovereign power" in a state of emergency.

The Thai junta now appears to be following the Burmese example.

A new constitution currently being drafted by a handpicked National Reform Council provides for a partially unelected senate, permits a non-lawmaker to be appointed prime minister and would allow for a special committee stacked with military officers to intervene in case of national crisis.

As Thai legal scholar Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang recently wrote in an article for New Mandala, under the new junta-drafted charter, "the military does not have to carry out a coup d'état because the coup has already been written in to law."

If the charter is a window into Prayuth's vision of "Thai-style democracy," it appears eerily similar to Burma's own "disciplined" variety.

The Irrawaddy's Nyein Nyein contributed reporting.

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