- Rangoon University: A History of Protest
- Situation Tense in East Rangoon, as Land Protestors Defy Govt Ultimatum
- What Burma Should Learn From Nelson Mandela
- Intellectual Property Group to Be Formed Ahead of Expected Law
- Shwe Taung Company’s $150-Mln Real Estate Project Yet to Start
- Joint Ventures, Branch Offices First on Offer to Foreign Lenders: CB Official
- ‘We Can Also Serve our Community as Entrepreneurs’
- Burma’s Footballers Defeat Cambodia in SEA Games Opener
- Thailand Will Help With Any Rohingya Investigation – PM
- Arsenal’s Momentum Halted by Everton; Fulham Wins
- North Korea Says Kim’s Uncle Dismissed For ‘Criminal Acts’
- Singapore Hit by Rare Outbreak of Rioting, 27 Arrested
- Thai PM Calls Snap Election, Protesters Press On
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 05:41 AM PST
RANGOON — As part of a program of reforms to reopen a country tightly confined for half a century, Burma's government last week reopened Rangoon University to undergraduates.
Most of the institution, once among the most prestigious schools in Asia, has been locked up and left empty for years. The university's long history of radical campus politics has been on hold since it was shuttered in response to recurring student-led uprisings.
Hnin Hnin Hmway, a former political prisoner who was arrested in 1989 after taking part in demonstrations as a student, said it was important that as the university is reopened, restrictions were not placed on the new intake of students.
"We welcome that they have reopened the campus, but the university must be a place where the students are happy to learn, with free thought and creativity," she said.
Hnin Hnin Hmway stressed the importance of an independent administrative body for the university, and said that more than the current intake of 1,000 students should be allowed to enroll.
"The number of students admitted is very low; we have a big campus. Why don't they dare to have students on campus? I think they worry because students always protest against the government."
Hnin Hnin Hmway, who spent three years in prison for her student activism, recalled that when she began studying at the university in 1988, it was a hub of debate and ideas.
"We exchanged news, information and knowledge there. The campus was a lively place where students enjoyed freedom," she said.
But 1988 saw perhaps Burma's most famous student-led protests, when the Rangoon University campus was ground zero for an uprising that almost toppled the government. Student demonstrations were violently put down by the military regime, but anger over the brutality of the authorities led to public discontent and popular protests. Those demonstrations were in turn met with more violent suppression by the ruling junta.
Amid a widespread crackdown on dissenters, the regime first closed the university and later dismantled it, as well as other centers of learning across Burma.
More protests in 1996 led the regime's spy chief, Khin Nyunt, to shutter the university almost entirely.
"When Gen Khin Nyunt decided not to allow hostels on campus for students and locked up the university in 1996, the campus was left without students," she said, pointing out the absurdity that Rangoon's was probably the only university in the world to be devoid of students.
"The dictators did it to keep their power without considering the future of the country."
In order to prevent students from gathering—and potentially organizing further uprisings—the regime in the 1990s created "remote and newly built universities" further from the center of Burma's commercial capital, such as Dagon University, the University of East Yangon and University of West Yangon.
Protests took place sporadically from the start of military rule, which only gave way to a nominally civilian government, still dominated by former generals, in 2011.
Rangoon University students held peaceful demonstrations against "unjust university rules" on July 7, 1962, the year Gen Ne Win's socialist government took power. The military ruler had security forces disperse the protesters and dynamited the Students' Union building.
Gen Ne Win revoked the autonomy of the previously independent Rangoon University, and put the university under the control of the Directorate of Higher Education. The language of teaching was also changed from English to Burmese.
Hla Shwe, who edited the student magazine Oway (peacock's call) in the 1960s—until it was banned under censorship—remembers repeated student protests on the campus from 1953 up to 1963.
The main concern for the new class of students was still academic independence, he said. "The problem is they need to allow academic freedom in education. That's the most important thing," Hla Shwe said.
According to Khin Zaw, a retired professor at Rangoon University, before government control, the university was staffed by a small number of highly qualified academics. But from 1964-65, as a system of education in line with Gen Ne Win's "Burmese way to socialism" was brought in, the standard of education dropped.
"They focused on discipline. They didn't give the students freedom," said Khin Zaw. "Freedom comes first in a democratic system, and then discipline follows. So they controlled [the students]."
Even before independence, Rangoon University was a hotbed of radical politics. The country's prominent anti-colonial leaders, including Gen Aung San, the country's first prime minister, U Nu, and United Nations Secretary General U Thant, all studied at the university. It also produced prominent ethnic figures like Shan leader Khun Htun Oo and Mon leader Nai Ngwe Thein.
Until last week, only a handful of postgraduate students were using the vast leafy campus near Rangoon's Inya Lake.
But the newly-reopened undergraduate program at Rangoon University is accepting 1,000 students for 19 arts and science degrees. Subjects include a political science program, although only a handful has reportedly signed up to the potentially controversial course. Students will have their subjects of study allocated based on their scores in a matriculation exam.
And students will now be allowed to stay in hostels on the university campus, which were once the breeding ground for political activism. Amid unprecedented reforms and the opening up of political freedoms in Burma today, it remains to be seen if the new contingent will repeat the political activism.
In the classroom, observers doubt that the university can relive its former glory straight away. Nationwide, the level of education is now regarded as among the lowest in the region. Many students now study their degrees by distance learning, and most learning is by rote. Wealthy Burmese, not least those ran the former military regime, often send their children abroad for school.
"A university degree [in Burma] is just taking a photograph and putting it on the wall. Graduates can do nothing," said one student who graduated in Burmese from University of East Yangon.
"It's a sham if universities just hand out degrees to unqualified students," added Nai Ngwe Thein, a prominent ethnic Mon politician. "In my opinion, qualified teachers need to be recruited."
Burma's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has long campaigned for educational reform and for the reopening of Rangoon University. U Myint, economic adviser to President Thein Sein, last year sent an open letter to the president requesting its reopening to undergraduates.
Aung Lin, an alumnus of the Rangoon Institute of Technology, said the reopening of Rangoon University was only part of the broad reforms needed to bring higher education in Burma up to standard.
"Even when the university is reopened, it will take another 30 years to catch up with current educational developments," he said.
"It cannot fully function like it did 20 years ago. There are no teachers now. No lab equipment.
"One generation has been missed. This is now only the first step to train the teachers-to-be to run the university, and to be those who reform education in Burma."
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 05:28 AM PST
RANGOON — Tensions were high in Thingangyun Township, eastern Rangoon, on Monday as dozens of land protestors defied a government warning to leave the area by sundown or face a crackdown by security forces.
A public announcement distributed in Michaungkan village area over the weekend carried an order by Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe instructing protestors to vacate the area by Monday 6 pm.
Shortly after the ultimatum expired, more than 50 protestors continued a sit-down protest outside the gate of a fenced-off area controlled by the military. The protestors chanted slogans, while security forces stood nearby.
Protestors vowed to resist any attempt to end their demonstration, which has called for the return of lands confiscated by the Burma Army in the early 1990s.
Several lawmakers attempted to mediate negotiations between protestors and local authorities.
Phone Myint Aung, an Upper House MP with the Myanmar Democratic Force, told reporters, "I cannot guarantee that we can prevent a crackdown. But I would like to request authorities not to do so because older people are participating in this protest."
"If they crackdown I will report it to Parliament and the president," he added.
Zaw Tun, a protest leader, told The Irrawaddy earlier on Monday, "If they shoot us during the crackdown, we have not choice except to prepare to suffer."
Democratic Voice of Burma reported that hundreds of local protestors received funeral rites from Buddhist monks last week, indicating their readiness to die for their demands.
Several hundred people from Michaungkan village have set up protest camps since last week. Angered protestors demand compensation or the return of land from which they were evicted in 1991, when the Burma Army confiscated the land and cleared hundreds of homes belonging to several thousand residents.
The villagers have held recurrent protests this year to underline their demand and several protest leaders have been prosecuted and sentenced to several months' imprisonment for holding protests without government permission, which is punishable under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Processions Law.
Over the weekend, tensions were further heightened as government security forces were deployed near protest camps and villagers said notorious government-backed thugs, known as the Swan Arshin, attacked protestors, some of whom were injured.
In the early 1990s, the Burma Army ruled the country with an iron fist and crushed any local dissent against land grabs.
Protestors at Michaungkan village said they felt emboldened by political reforms under President Thein Sein's nominally-civilian government and were determined to now reclaim the land.
"They [the military] had power at that time, and they could take however much land they wanted," said Zaw Tun.
"We are now calling for a commission to give us a clear message and to reach an agreement that will benefit all victims. After we got what we need, we will withdraw our camps," he added.
The post Situation Tense in East Rangoon, as Land Protestors Defy Govt Ultimatum appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 05:23 AM PST
Madiba passed away on Thursday night. Though it was expected for some time, given his long hospitalization, I was saddened, and guilty. I owed him an apology.
I had the opportunity to enjoy a one-on-one conversation with Nelson Mandela in 2003, when MTV was preparing a 60-minute special feature in honor of his 85th birthday.
I was one of four young people selected to speak with Mandela and seek his advice during the special. We were chosen because our stories resonated with Mandela's life and the South Africa he sought to change. My own life was meant to parallel his experiences under the Apartheid regime and, more generally, we were both familiar with the struggle of building democracy. When my country's army executed a military coup in 1988, I was deeply invested in the student-led, pro-democracy movement. Since then, Burma has struggled to establish democracy, as the decades-long conflict between the military and ethnic minorities continues. Mandela and I exchanged our stories: his life in prison and my life on the run, evading arrest by the Burmese military junta.
We both had family members that suffered from the persecution of ruling regimes because of our political activities. I explained to him that my dad was arrested because of my activism, and held hostage while the military came to my home and tried to arrest me. It was 1989, and I was 15 years old. Since then, almost all of my family members have been arrested and interrogated. I asked Mandela, whose family suffered a similar fate during his imprisonment, whether he felt guilty—and if so, how he had transformed his feelings of guilt into moral strength and positive action.
His answer was firm and encouraging. He told me that we should not take persecution personally, or feel guilt for the pain repressive governments inflict on our families. With his resolute voice, Mandela urged me to reconnect with my cause—which is larger and more worthwhile than I am—whenever I feel frustrated with personal misery or the lack of progress in the political struggle. After he finished speaking, he offered me a reassuring, broad smile and comforting nods; that struck me most of all. I still remember how fatherly Mandela was in his treatment of me.
Our conversation became a bit tense when I insisted that he speak out, publicly, in support of the Burmese democracy movement. My meeting with Mandela took place a few weeks after Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was attacked by state-organized thugs on May 30, 2003. An unknown number of people died in the attack, and Suu Kyi only narrowly escaped the alleged assassination attempt.
I therefore requested that Mandela release a public statement denouncing the Burmese junta, and urged him to pay attention to the civil war and the miseries of ethnic minorities in my ill-fated country. I wore a T-shirt featuring a well-known student political prisoner, Min Ko Naing, under my shirt, and gave Mandela a gift of a traditional bag made by a Karen ethnic refugee woman. I begged him: "Please join your fellow Nobel laureates and do something public for Burma." In response, he looked me carefully in the eyes and said, slowly: "Min Zin, it is sometimes not a good idea to climb up to the top of the mountain and scream." When I gave him a puzzled look, he continued, "We often need to work on quiet diplomacy and engagement."
I responded to his words with disappointment and irritation. I thought it was a rude response. Mandela, however, stressed the importance of strategy in politics. He advised me to envision a positive outcome, rather than becoming stuck in the vicious circle of political polarization. Mandela used imagination and vision, rather than memory, to break out of the apartheid system. It's been 10 years since I met Mandela, and though I still believe he could have done more for Burma's cause, I have now come to realize the core wisdom of his words, and the lesson Burma could learn from it.
These days, Burma's transition from tyranny to democracy is partly stymied by the opposition's attempt to institutionalize the memory of our past political divisions. Instead of putting forward a vision for the future and policies to make that vision a reality, the opposition leadership tends to employ a "good-versus-evil" political narrative as a key frame of reference in mobilizing the public. The opposition, of course, can gain a significant advantage by using this polarizing ploy. The public's distrust and hatred of the previous junta still poisons its opinion of the current pseudo-civilian government. However, using history as a campaign instrument has only encouraged dark forces within the establishment to defend themselves using "biology" in campaigns advocating racial and religious purity. These have ranged from an attempt to prohibit interfaith marriage, to rampant anti-Muslim hate speeches, to outright communal violence. The country is gradually sliding into a history-versus-biology political battle as it approaches the 2015 elections. What we really need is a truly democratic contest of vision and policy. The country lacks a sense of unity. True reconciliation and healing remain elusive in this fragile transition.
Mandela was right. When invoking memory becomes a political strategy, society suffers from a lack of imagination. Without a new vision for the future, we cannot move on and be reborn.
After our conversation ended, he introduced me to his grandchildren. He said to them, "Although Min Zin disagreed with me on some issues, I respect him." After a short pause, he continued: "Because he is a freedom fighter." His words electrified me. Now Mandela has passed away. I have had 10 years to learn to appreciate the value he placed on vision and imagination over history and memory. I understand now. I owe him an apology—but Madiba has already gone.
Min Zin is the Burma blogger for Foreign Policy's Transitions, where this article first appeared on Dec. 7, 2013.
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 05:17 AM PST
RANGOON — The Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) will launch a Myanmar Intellectual Property Association ahead of the expected passage of an Intellectual Property Law by Burma's Parliament, according to a UMFCCI official.
Aye Lwin, joint secretary general of the UMFCCI, said at a seminar on intellectual property (IP) awareness over the weekend that his federation would form the association "very soon." He invited well-known Burmese brands such as Shwe Pyi Nan, seller of the traditional cosmetic known as thanaka, and Zawtika, a prominent maker of monk robes and other paraphilia sported by the religious order, to join the association, which will advocate on their behalf.
"There is an International Trademark Association that was organized by famous brands like KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken], Toshiba and Mitsubishi to protect their brands. But Myanmar forgot about this. We also need to protect Myanmar brands with this association," he said on Saturday.
Since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 and becoming an Asean member in 1997, Burma has signed on to agreements under both organizations, but lacking a domestic law on the issue, IP rights in the country are virtually nonexistent.
Hnin Nwe Aye, assistant director of the Ministry of Science and Technology, expressed optimism that the ninth iteration of an IP draft law, currently taking comments from the Attorney General's Office, would soon be before Parliament.
A strong IP law would be important for improving Burma's business climate, said Hnin Nwe Aye, whose ministry is playing a major role in the law's drafting.
"Today's age is an age of knowledge, and intangible things like technology and trademarks are more valuable than tangible things. Investors want to make sure they are protected, so an IP law is urgently needed," she said.
There will be four components to the law, with provisions relating to trademarks, patents, intellectual design and copyright. The law will be in line with Asean and WTO standards, Hnin Nwe Aye said.
According to an agreement with the WTO, Burma was obligated to enact an IP law by 2006. Its failure to do so was forgiven by the world trade body when it granted all "least-developed countries"—Burma among them—an extension, postponing the requirement to 2013.
Naoto Mukai, an advisor for industrial development and public policy with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said Burmese people should become acquainted with IP concepts before the country's law is enacted.
"If someone invents a new product, it is necessary to protect the intellectual property so that the value of the product can be increased. More investment will come if IP [rights] are practiced in Myanmar. If businesses can apply it well, they can improve," he said.
However, Htain Linn Oo, a lawyer from the Attorney General's Office, said that in the absence of an effective public awareness campaign, more court cases involving IP infringement could be expected with passage of a new law.
"The cases of IP in business since 1997 did not even reach 100 cases," he said, adding that he expected the number of cases to jump sevenfold with a proper IP law in place.
In Burma, the most common IP violations concern trademark infringement, Htain Linn Oo said.
Toshiya Furusho, Attorney at Law of Japan and New York State, said Burma would be left behind other Asean nations if it failed to implement and practice IP protections.
"Myanmar has thanaka businesses that can grow in the future, so it should have patent [law]" to protect their products, he said.
Under Japanese IP laws, violators can face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to 10 million Japanese yen (US$97,000). Sentences vary based on the nature and degree of the violation.
The post Intellectual Property Group to Be Formed Ahead of Expected Law appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 04:15 AM PST
RANGOON — Aik Htun, chairman of Shwe Taung Group of companies, said his firm has yet to break ground on a planned US $150-million real estate project located at former military offices near Shwedagon Pagoda in central Rangoon, despite earlier announcements that construction would begin this year.
In 2011, Shwe Taung Group was awarded a 70-year-lease of the coveted 12-acre premises, located south of the landmark temple between Shwedagon Pagoda Road and Ahlan Pya Pagoda Road.
Aik Htun announced he would work with a Singaporean project developer to construct a luxury hotel, an Asia Royal Private Hospital, serviced apartments and a small shopping center. In April, he told local media that construction would start this year and that the first building would be completed by 2015.
The well-connected tycoon told The Irrawaddy, however, that so far construction had not yet begun.
"Though I aimed to start this year, it has still not yet begun until now," Aik Htun said in a brief comment during a break at the Women's Forum in Rangoon on Friday.
Located in leafy environs and surrounded by a crumbling red-brick wall, the area served as the War Office of the British Army after it reconquered Rangoon from Japanese troops in 1942. Later, it was used by the Burma Army.
The premises was sold off as part of a massive privatization drive in 2010-2011 that saw businessmen snap up numerous government buildings, state-owned companies and 250 gas stations, often at bargain prices that raised suspicions of government corruption.
According to zoning rules of the Yangon City Development Committee, buildings constructed in the vicinity of Shwedagon Pagoda will be restricted to 78 feet, while in nearby areas towards downtown buildings must be lower than 190 feet.
Shwe Taung conglomerate has interests in real estate, construction and engineering, and owns a cement factory. The firm was known as Olympic Construction Company until 2004 when it changed its name following a banking scandal at Asia Wealth Bank. The US Treasury accused the bank of money laundering and having connections to the Shan State drug trade.
Aik Htun was director of Asia Wealth Bank, Burma's biggest private bank until its shutdown. He built up his conglomerate through cutting deals with the former military regime. A US Embassy cable from 2007, said, "Aik Htun enjoys the regime’s confidence, and benefits handsomely from its business."
His construction firms have built numerous housing complexes, shopping malls, schools and medical facilities in Rangoon and Naypyidaw. Currently, his firm is building an annex to Shangri-La's Traders Hotel on Sule Pagoda Road in downtown Rangoon.
In September, Aik Htun told The Bangkok Post that he plans to invest $500 million property development in Burma in the next five years, and he called for Thai firms to partner with him.
Following the economic reforms introduced by President Thein Sein, Rangoon has experienced a property market boom and numerous buildings have been planned around Burma's biggest city.
The post Shwe Taung Company's $150-Mln Real Estate Project Yet to Start appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 03:03 AM PST
RANGOON — An easing of restrictions will likely allow foreign banks to enter into joint ventures with local lenders and open branch offices in Burma, according to Khin Saw Oo, deputy governor of the Central Bank.
Responding to a report from Reuters that Burma would allow some foreign banks to start offering limited financial services next year, Khin Saw Oo confirmed the plan by the country's banking authority.
"We're going to allow new products for foreign banks next year, but we're now still considering" the exact nature of the new financial services to be allowed, she told The Irrawaddy. Foreign banks will likely also be allowed to participate in equity transactions on a Rangoon stock exchange tipped to open in 2015.
According to the Central Bank's website, there are 24 foreign banks' representative offices in Burma, including lenders from China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, India, Thailand and Singapore. These firms are not yet allowed to open branches or offer services other than advising clients. Khin Saw Oo said any firm with a representative office in Burma would be granted equal opportunity to involve itself in Burma's financial system, within the constraints laid out by the Central Bank.
Tiffany, deputy general manager of the local Kanbawza (KBZ) Bank, said that if the Central Bank allows joint ventures between local and foreign banks next year, she expected that local banks would gain technical expertise, while foreign banks would get a better grasp of the domestic market.
"I've heard some local banks are speaking with some foreign banks regarding joint ventures, but for KBZ Bank, nothing has been discussed with foreign banks yet," Tiffany said.
Some local banks have expressed concern that foreign joint ventures could swallow up local lenders that opt to remain independent, but Tiffany suggested that reserving the retail banking sector to local lenders—at least for a time—would help. Retail banking refers to financial offerings to individual customers, such as personal loans and accounts, mortgages and other services provided directly to consumers, as opposed to those provided to companies or other banks.
"As the deputy governor said before, if they don't allow for retail banking, we won't be harmed, but we need to improve banks' efficiency beginning now," Tiffany said.
Amid local lenders' concerns, International Momentary Fund chief Christine Lagarde warned the Burma government against rushing as it opens up its banking sector to international competition.
"It's most suitable for Myanmar to use the 'no haste, no waste' way for opening up its banking sector," Lagarde said over the weekend on a two-day visit to Burma, with the IMF chief pledging technical assistance from the IMF.
"Myanmar must stabilize its banking system with strong monetary policy, directed by an independent Central Bank and a bank monitoring system with the help of IMF," Lagarde said.
A bill on financial institutions drafted by the Central Bank is expected to codify a more liberal financial sector than currently exists under a law that was passed in 1990.
According to the Central Bank, there are 19 private banks in Burma.
The post Joint Ventures, Branch Offices First on Offer to Foreign Lenders: CB Official appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 02:36 AM PST
Thet Thet Khine is the vice president of Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association and managing director of Forever Gems, a gold and jewelry firm. She spoke at Burma's first Women's Forum in Rangoon on Friday. In an interview with The Irrawaddy Thet Thet Khine, 46, talks about her experience as a woman entrepreneur in Burma, her background and her plans to enter politics. Born in the ruby mining town of Moe Gok in Mandalay Division, she holds a medical degree from the Institute of Medicine 1 at Rangoon University and an MBA degree from Singapore’s Nanyang University.
Question: When did you decide to become a businesswoman?
Q: Why did you choose to become a business woman and not a medical doctor, as you've been trained to?
For instance, we had only two staffers when we started our gold shops, now we have more than 450 employees. We created a lot of job opportunities within 20 years. The [employees'] lives can improve, while we are also paying taxes regularly to the government. It means we can serve for our country and our community.
I also wanted to improve people's health, though I am busy with my business. So, I began working together with my old university friends and we founded the Ananda Myitta Foundation. It provides public health care through a mobile clinic. We've treated about 850 people around the nation. This is part of my social activities.
Q: What are the challenges for Burmese women who want to have a career, but who don't have the support of their husband and family?
A: I agree that they might have many challenges, as for me I get a lot support from my husband and both our families, so my business life is easier. There might be lots of women who didn’t get this kind of support, so associations are quite important to support such women. That’s why my association is helping such women to share experience and provide them with networking opportunities.
As we discussed in the forum, men and women are equal by Burmese law, but men and women are not experiencing equality. It means that we, women, need recognition of our exclusive requirements. We need special rules to support us. For example in India, women have received micro credit from the government. We need such kind of planning here.
Q: What is your Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association doing to support Burmese women?
A: Members of my association mostly have their own business and work for other businesses, so we are sending them to foreign countries for further study. We also provide micro credit to our model village in Kayin Seik in Thanlyin Township [Rangoon Division]. There we have schools, clinics, and we are helping girls from this village too.
Q: Do you have any plan to become a woman parliamentarian? A: Actually, I realized that this is the time to get involved in the political field as I have strong finances and good education, among other factors. This is my personal goal as I am now 46 years old.
I was under my family's obligations in my childhood, and then I was struggling to build my business while growing up. After becoming a successful business woman, I tried to keep this status. So now, I want to serve my country by using my experience and leadership skills. That’s why I realized that this is a good time to become politically active.
Q: What experiences have made you interested in politics?
A: I am a native from Moe Gok town in Mandalay region. My family owned many gems mines in past, but under the Burma Socialist Program Party [in the 1960s], all were nationalized. Since then, I realized that a country's government is quite important for us, and that politics is quite important too.
I can say that this is the best time [to enter politics] as Burma's society is opening up quickly [due to political reforms]. I thought that I should get involved for some time in the political field, and now is the right time.
Q: Were you involved in political activity before?
A: Yes, I was in the 1988 uprising. I was a medical student and the school was shut at that time. We were senior students. I went back to my town and participated in student activities there. People in my town had serious feelings about the government as they had to struggle a lot under the past government. I was there too. It was a general strike, I will never forget it.
Q: What would you change in the current economic policy if you were a MP?
A: Our country is full of natural resources, so the government shouldn’t sell out raw gems to foreign countries while they need money. We should produce value-added goods. It’s important to produce value-added goods, because then we can earn more money and we can have much more related business. Many people can be employed, more income generated. Many people can have opportunities by changing that gems policy.
Q: If you enter politics, which party would you join?
A: It's too early to say because I have a lot of employees in my business. If I say something, I don’t want to hurt their feelings. But, I have already an idea to get involved with one political party.
The post 'We Can Also Serve our Community as Entrepreneurs' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 09 Dec 2013 01:44 AM PST
RANGOON — Crowds of Burmese dressed in their team's red shirts poured into the former capital's Thuwanna Stadium on Saturday to watch the men's football team's opening game in this year's Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), the first to be held in Burma.
Young men and women, many with Burmese flags on their cheeks, cheered as their team beat Cambodia 3-0 to make a winning start to the group stage of the football competition.
At one end of the stadium, a group of highly coordinated supporters waved Burma flags and football scarves, or beat together inflatable batons, all in perfect synchronization. As the match kicked off at about 6:45, loud chants of "Myanmar, Hey! Myanmar, Hey!" started among the hardcore fans and spread around the stadium.
No support was visible in the stadium for Cambodia, which produced few chances in the first half. The home side made it look easy, drawing huge cheers as the team came close to scoring in the seventh minute. In just the 18th minute, Burma broke the deadlock with Zaw Min Tun's neat headed goal from a corner.
Shortly after the first goal, Burma's Kyaw Ko Ko scored with another header after a well-played cross was delivered from the right.
After half time, Cambodia played a little better and created chances. But the Burmese team responded and Kyaw Ko Ko finished off a neat passing move at the far post to score his second goal of the game after 60 minutes. Jubilant celebrations by the players got the crowd going, and the confident-looking Burma team never looked like letting their lead slip.
Earlier Saturday, Thailand beat East Timor by 3-1. On Sunday, Vietnam thrashed Brunei 7-0 and Singapore drew 1-1 with Laos.
The Burma men's team's next game in SEA Games is against East Timor on Monday night, also at the Thuwanna Stadium.
Security was tight at the stadium Saturday night, with a spate of bombings around the country in October raising fears about safety at the SEA Games. Burma is hosting the games for the first time, and it is seen as a key test of the country's ability to organize major events ahead of its Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) chairmanship next year.
The football match passed without problems, but the crowd was patted down and their bags put through airport scanners on entry to the stadium. The Burmese fans have a reputation for reacting badly when their team concedes goals, so alcohol and even plastic water bottles, which could be thrown onto the pitch, were confiscated.
Tickets were sold for 2,000 kyat, or about $2, and sold out well before the game. However, the stadium was not completely full and black-market tickets were on sale outside the gates for about 4,000 kyat.
Although a number of SEA Games events have already taken place, an official opening ceremony will be held on Wednesday. Events are taking place predominantly in the capital, Naypyidaw, but also in Rangoon and Mandalay, and Ngwe Saung Beach, where the sailing will take place.
The post Burma's Footballers Defeat Cambodia in SEA Games Opener appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 08 Dec 2013 10:02 PM PST
BANGKOK — Thailand will help the United Nations and the United States with any investigation into the findings of a Reuters report that Thai immigration officials moved Burma refugees into human-trafficking rings, the prime minister said on Saturday.
The United Nations and the United States called on Friday for an investigation into the report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries, that revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thai immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who chairs a government committee on human trafficking, declined to comment on the findings when asked about her reaction.
"I cannot comment on the Rohingya issue and reaction as this is the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry to handle," she said in a comment to Reuters, delivered through an aide.
"The ministry will liaise with the United States and the U.N. to help with any investigation they need."
The Rohingya are stateless Muslims from Burma. Clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists exploded in Burma last year, making 140,000 people homeless, most of them Rohingya.
Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Burma by boat and many arrive off southwest Thailand.
After being delivered to human traffickers at sea, the Rohingya are transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them, according to the Reuters report. Some are beaten and some are killed.
"These allegations need to be investigated urgently," U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan said in a statement.
The United States issued a similar call hours later.
"We are aware of reports alleging that Thai officials have been involved in selling Rohingya migrants to human traffickers," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "We urge the Thai government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter."
Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police was quoted in the Reuters report as saying that there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Burma.
He called this "a natural way or option two". But he said the Rohingya signed statements in which they agree they want to return to Burma.
These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya-language translator, Reuters found.
New York-based watchdog group Human Rights Watch criticized Thailand for moving detainees into established smuggling and trafficking rings, and warned Thailand could face a possible downgrade in a U.S. list of the world’s worst enforcers of human-trafficking laws.
Such a downgrade would place Thailand, a close U.S. ally and Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, at risk of U.S. sanctions and put it on par with North Korea and Iran among the worst performers in fighting human trafficking.
The U.S. State Department is gathering information for its next Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, due in June. Thailand faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest rank, unless it makes "significant efforts" to improve its record in combating trafficking, the State Department says. The Tier 3 designation could leave Thailand subject to U.S. sanctions.
Sek Wannamethee, a spokesman for Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, said earlier that the Rohingya issue was one of several the United States would take into consideration before deciding on Thailand’s grade.
Nine people have been arrested in Thailand in relation to Rohingya smuggling in 2013, including two government officials, according to police data. None of the arrests has led to convictions.
Thailand prosecuted 27 people for trafficking in 2012, down from 67 the previous year, according to the 2013 TIP Report by the U.S. State Department.
The post Thailand Will Help With Any Rohingya Investigation – PM appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 08 Dec 2013 10:12 PM PST
LONDON — Arsenal's Premier League momentum was halted when the Gunners allowed a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Everton on Sunday, while Fulham ended its losing streak by beating Aston Villa to give new manager Rene Meulensteen his first victory.
Arsenal failed to take full advantage of its main rivals' stumbles on Saturday as substitute Gerard Deulofeu leveled with a hard shot from a tight angle in the 84th minute to give Everton a deserved point.
Ahead of a crucial fortnight that will see them play against Napoli in the Champions League, Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal leads by five points ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea.
"Not bad to take, ideally wanted seven but at least we've got five," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said about his team's margin. "It gives a little bit of a cushion to play in a serene way against other teams."
After Chelsea lost 3-2 at Stoke and Manchester City was held 1-1 at Southampton on Saturday, Arsenal will certainly rue striker Olivier Giroud's shot that hit the crossbar in stoppage time.
Seeking their first title since 2004, the Gunners got off to a strong start this season but some critics continue to cast doubts over their title credentials, despite their impressive combination of speed and flair.
"As long as we are five points ahead you cannot rule ourselves out even with the best desire," Wenger said. "So let's keep that cushion. It shows you that it will be a tough Premier League and the consistency in the end will be rewarded. The consistency for us is down to us to keep this attitude until the end of the season."
Everton followed up their victory at Old Trafford midweek with another impressive performance, playing with determination and a high tempo during the first half to monopolize possession.
With Ross Barkley bossing the midfield, Everton was a constant threat on the flanks during the first half but lacked the finishing touch.
Failing to produce its usual sharp passing game, Arsenal started playing better in the closing stages of the first half and should have scored with two minutes remaining when referee Howard Webb decided to play the advantage following Gareth Barry's rough tackle on Ozil.
But Howard was quick off his line to deny Giroud's effort from close range. The United States goalkeeper was again decisive in the 45th minute to block Aaron Ramsey's attempt from Giroud's assist.
Arsenal played with the same intensity after the interval and went ahead after Everton wasted two good chances, as Theo Walcott headed a ball across the goal and Giroud failed to hit it before Ozil fired it into the roof of the net.
Everton fought back to equalize after Romelu Lukaku failed to connect with an overhead kick and Deulofeu slotted home from 10 meters, before Giroud almost grabbed the three points with his powerful strike that hit the woodwork.
"The performance, I couldn't be happier," said Everton manager after the club remained fifth in the standings, seven points behind Arsenal. "The only bit of criticism is you need to take your chances, in the final third we were not ruthless enough. But I am really, really pleased. The character is really strong."
Earlier, Steve Sidwell and Dimitar Berbatov scored first-half goals to give Fulham a 2-0 win over Villa to end a six-game losing streak in the league.
The result marked Meulensteen's first win as Fulham manager as his players ended Aston Villa's five-match unbeaten run.
The visitors were kept at bay from the start and were never a real threat on a sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage.
After a minute's applause for former South African President Nelson Mandela who died Thursday, Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan pushed Berbatov's header onto the bar but was powerless when Sidwell flicked the ball from a tight angle to open the scoring in the 21st minute.
Berbatov then calmly scored from the penalty spot for his second league goal this season after Alexander Kacaniklic was fouled by Leandro Bacuna in the box.
"I couldn't be more delighted and the players should be delighted with themselves," Meulensteen said. "We were quality going forward in an attacking sense. It's a massive boost. Although we lost, we got the feel good factor back against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday and it was about backing that up with three points today. The fans can see we're back on track."
Posted: 08 Dec 2013 09:54 PM PST
SEOUL — North Korea announced on Monday the dismissal of Jang Song-thaek, the once powerful uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, for what it described as a string of criminal acts including mismanaging the economy, corruption, womanizing and drug-taking.
The sacking of the man regarded as the second most powerful in the secretive state comes after reports in South Korean media that one of his aides had sought asylum in South Korea.
The unidentified aide, who managed funds for Jang, was being protected by South Korean officials in a secret location in China, cable news network YTN and the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper said on Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Jang was removed from all his posts and expelled from the ruling Workers' Party during a meeting of its politburo on Sunday, the North's official KCNA news agency said. Kim Jong-un attended and "guided" the meeting, it said.
"Jang and his followers committed criminal acts baffling imagination and they did tremendous harm to our party and revolution," KCNA said, without saying if Jang had been detained or charged with any crime.
The report also did not refer to Jang's aide, whose defection, if confirmed, would be the most serious for North Korea in 15 years.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service last week said it believed Jang had been relieved of his posts in November. It also said two of Jang's close associates were executed recently for corruption.
The sacking means Pyongyang is undergoing its biggest leadership upheaval since the death in 2011 of former leader Kim Jong-il, the younger Kim's father.
Among Jang's senior party and military posts, he was vice chairman of the country's top military body, the National Defense Commission.
KCNA listed a series of reasons why Jang was dismissed, including mismanagement of the country's financial system, corruption, womanizing and abusing alcohol and drugs.
"Jang pretended to uphold the party and leader but was engrossed in such factional acts [such] as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene," KCNA said.
"Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life."
Jang is married to Kim's aunt, the daughter of the North's founding leader Kim Il-sung, and was widely considered to be working to ensure his nephew firmly established his grip on power in the past two years.
Last week a South Korean official said Jang was likely alive and in no immediate physical danger, as was his wife, Kim Kyong-hui.
Experts say Jang's removal will help the younger Kim consolidate his power base with a group of younger aides.
Jang had been a prominent fixture in many of the reports and photographs of Kim Jong-un's public activities, but his appearances have tapered off sharply this year and he has not been seen in official media since early November.
He has survived previous purges and official displeasure, thanks largely to his sometimes tempestuous marriage to Kim Kyong-hui, but this time was different, said Jeung Young-tae, an expert at South Korea's Institute for National Unification.
"Jang is gone and purged. In North Korea, there can be no two suns," Jeung said.
YTN said Jang's aide fled to China in late September or early October and that Jang could have been sacked because of this. It said the aide had knowledge of funds belonging to the younger Kim and Kim Jong-il.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service had no knowledge of the defection, lawmakers said on Friday after they were briefed by the head of the spy agency.
China's Foreign Ministry said it had noted the reports, but did "not understand the situation." US national security officials said the United States was aware of the reports but cannot substantiate them.
About 25,000 North Koreans have defected to the South but few of them were highly placed in Pyongyang.
The highest-profile defection was Hwang Jang-yop, a Worker's Party ideologue who was the architect of the Juche (self-reliance) ideology of North Korea. He sought asylum in the South in 1997.
The post North Korea Says Kim's Uncle Dismissed For 'Criminal Acts' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 08 Dec 2013 09:51 PM PST
SINGAPORE — A crowd of around 400 people set fire to vehicles and clashed with police in the Indian district of Singapore late on Sunday after a man was hit and killed by a bus, the first major riot in the city-state for more than 40 years.
Police said they had arrested 27 suspects after the riot, which started after a private bus hit and killed a 33-year-old Indian national in the Little India area.
The riot is likely to fuel concerns about discontent among low-paid foreign workers. Last year, Singapore saw its biggest outbreak of labor unrest in years when around 170 bus drivers from mainland China went on strike illegally.
Several videos posted online showed a crowd of people smashing the windscreen of the bus while the victim remained trapped under the vehicle.
Police said the 27 arrested were of South Asian origin and that they expected to make more arrests in coming days. About 300 officers were sent on to the streets to quell the riot.
A statement by the Civil Defense Force (CDF), which oversees ambulances and fire fighting, said rescuers trying to remove the body had "projectiles" thrown at them when they arrived on the scene.
Footage showed police cars being flipped over and several vehicles on fire. The CDF said an ambulance, three police cars and a motorbike were burnt.
The Singapore Police Force said the violence started following the bus accident.
"Shortly after, a riot broke out involving a crowd of about 400 subjects," it said in a statement, adding that around 10 police officers were injured.
Singapore Police Force Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said: "As far as we know now, there was no Singaporean involved in the riot."
"The unwanted violence, rioting, destruction of property, fighting the police, is not the Singapore way," Ng said.
Little India is usually packed with people on Sundays, with many construction workers from Bangladesh and India gathering there to spend their day off.
Singapore has not seen a riot of this scale since 1969, when Chinese and Malay residents clashed violently. The country has tough laws on rioting that carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison and possible caning.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in a Facebook post, called the riot a "very grave incident."
"Whatever events may have sparked the rioting, there is no excuse for such violent, destructive, and criminal behavior. We will spare no effort to identify the culprits and deal with them with the full force of the law," he wrote.
The riots came on the same day that Singapore's ruling political party adopted a new resolution, the first since 1988, about its social aims.
The eight-point mission statement from the People's Action Party included a resolve to strengthen the Singaporean identity where people of different races, religions and backgrounds "live harmoniously together, embrace one another as fellow citizens and work together for a better Singapore."
Footage on Channel NewsAsia showed several vehicles in flames and debris strewn across Racecourse Road, one of the main thoroughfares in Little India. Many other private cars were reported to have been damaged as well.
Police said they had the incident under control within an hour of receiving their first call.
The post Singapore Hit by Rare Outbreak of Rioting, 27 Arrested appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.
Posted: 08 Dec 2013 09:12 PM PST
BANGKOK — Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved Parliament on Monday and called a snap election, but anti-government protest leaders pressed ahead with mass demonstrations seeking to install an unelected body to run Thailand.
Protesters have been on the streets of the capital for weeks, clashing with police and vowing to oust Yingluck and eradicate the influence of her self-exiled brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The clashes petered out last week as the nation celebrated the revered king's birthday, but political hostilities are set to resume in earnest.
The demonstrations are the latest eruption in nearly a decade of rivalry between forces aligned with the Bangkok-based establishment and those who support Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who won huge support in the countryside with pro-poor policies.
"At this stage, when there are many people opposed to the government from many groups, the best way is to give back the power to the Thai people and hold an election. So the Thai people will decide," Yingluck said in a televised address as thousands of protesters resumed demonstrations across Bangkok.
The leader of the anti-government movement, Suthep Thaugsuban, said he would not end his demonstrations and would continue a march to Yingluck's offices at Government House.
"Today, we will continue our march to Government House. We have not yet reached our goal. The dissolving of Parliament is not our aim," Suthep, a former deputy prime minister under the previous military-backed government, told Reuters.
Police estimated as many as 50,000 people joined protests at different sites in Bangkok.
Yingluck's Puea Thai Party won the last election in 2011 by a landslide, enjoying widespread support in the north and northeast, Thailand's poorest regions. The Democrats have not won an election in more than two decades.
Suthep, aware that Yingluck would likely win an election if one were called, has been urging the setting-up of a "people's council" of appointed "good people" to replace the government. Yingluck has dismissed the idea as unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Underscoring the divide, the pro-establishment opposition Democrat Party said on Sunday all of its members of the House of Representatives would give up their seats because they were unable to work with Yingluck's ruling party.
Without the Democrats, the 500-member Lower House will have 347 members.
Calling an election will not end Thailand's political deadlock if the Democrats boycott it, says Pavin Chachavalpongpun of Kyoto University's Centre for Southeast Asian Studies.
In 2006, amid mass protests, the Democrats refused to contest a snap election called by Thaksin, who was deposed by the military five months later.
"This is only a short-term solution because there is no guarantee that the Democrats will come back and play by the rules," says Pavin. "We don't know whether they will boycott the elections or not."
"It seems like Thailand is going nowhere," he said.
Suthep has told his supporters they have to take back power from what he calls the illegitimate "Thaksin regime" and that they cannot rely on the army to help.
The army, which ousted Thaksin in 2006, has said it does not want to get involved though it has tried to mediate.
Thaksin fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid a graft conviction but has remained closely involved with his sister's government. The protests were sparked last month by a government bid to introduce an amnesty that would have expunged his conviction.
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