Friday, October 31, 2014

Democratic Voice of Burma

Democratic Voice of Burma

Suu Kyi disappointed by quadripartite meeting

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 06:48 AM PDT

Representatives from the Burmese government, parliament, military and political parties held quadripartite talks today at President Thein Sein's residence in Naypyidaw. Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party have been urging the government to hold a quadripartite meeting for a long time now, but it wasn't until this week that Thein Sein announced his decision to host the four-party talks.

In a press conference following the meeting, Information Minister Ye Htut said the discussion was designed to address political issues—including democratic reforms; constitutional amendments; and the ongoing peace process between ethnic groups and the government.

Ye Htut also said that President Thein Sein prioritized three key issues at the meeting.

"The president prioritized three topics during the meeting: first, to ensure the continuation of democratic reforms…and develop an open and independent Burmese society; second, to ensure a lasting national reconciliation based on positive developments that have already been achieved in the peace process; and third, to maintain the country's current political stability and ensure a successful general election in 2015, which is an important step in Burma's democratic reforms."

With regard to constitutional amendments, however, Ye Htut simply reiterated the government's position that amendments must be passed in accordance with procedures set forth in the constitution and must be consistent with constitutional provisions, one of which bars Aung San Suu Kyi from running for president.

When asked by DVB whether a genuine dialogue took place today, Suu Kyi indicated that the meeting was organized in a way that merely allowed the parties to repeat their previously-stated positions and enabled the government to reaffirm certain issues upon which everyone has already agreed.

"The four parties at the meeting were each given 10 minutes to express their thoughts, and in the end the representatives were asked if there were any general issues they wanted to discuss. This was not the kind of quadripartite meeting we envisioned," she said.

Although the meeting did not yield any substantial breakthroughs, Ye Htut described today's meeting as an important "trust-building measure." He said the parties agreed to meet again and implored the participants to exercise patience, understanding and forgiveness.

Another point of agreement, according to the information minister, was that all parties said they were focused on improving the country's socio-economic level and ensuring that the 2015 elections are free and fair.

Regarding the peace process, Ye Htut said the Burmese government had stressed the importance of signing a nationwide ceasefire at an early date (i.e. by the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015) and drafting a framework for political dialogue to ensure that dialogue between the government and ethnic groups continues regardless of who wins the 2015 elections.

Bullet Points: 31 October 2014

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 04:32 AM PDT

On tonight's edition of Bullet Points:

  • Suu Kyi meets Thein Sein and Min Aung Hlaing at Naypyidaw reform summit.
  • Obama again throws support behind Burma reforms.
  • WFP to cut Burma IDP rations in November.
  • President assures there will be rights commission investigation into reporter’s death.

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

KNU, DKBA ‘support’ Kawthoolei Armed Forces

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 02:46 AM PDT

The Karen National Union and the Karen Klo Htoo Baw Organisation—often referred to as the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA)—wrapped up their meeting on Thursday by releasing a joint statement announcing support for the formation of a unified Karen army, the Kawthoolei Armed Forces (KAF).

The joint statement said the KNU has agreed—in principal—to establish the KAF, while the DKBA unconditionally agreed to form the KAF. According to the statement, the KAF will work with other ethnic groups in Burma and democracy activists (both at home and abroad) to realize the creation of a democratic federal political system in Burma.

Col. Saw Paw Doh, the KNU's spokesperson at the meeting, said: "Our aim is to unify all Karen armed groups under one banner, and the KNU—in accordance with its objective of providing political leadership [for the Karen population]—has decided to throw its weight behind the KAF."

KNU representatives attended the first day of the meeting (29 October) in person, but on the second and final day two key KNU-affiliated figures who strongly support the KAF decided to join the meeting via telephone:  Baw Kyaw Heh, the deputy commander-in-chief of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and c, the commander-in-chief of the Karen National Democratic Organisation (KNDO). The KNDO and the KNLA are both armed wings of the KNU.

Another major Karen armed group, the KNU/KNLA-Peace Council (or the Karen Peace Council (KPC)), did not attend the talks, but the group's former leading member Dr. Timothy was present.

In an interview with DVB, the KNLA's Baw Kyaw Heh said, "Just like the Karen people we also want to see a unified Karen army. To this end, our unification committee will work step-by-step to facilitate negotiations between Karen armed groups."

During the meeting KNDO chief Nadah Mya said, "Although we cannot meet face-to-face at this time, I would like to say that we are united. I also want to urge the Karen people to help facilitate this unification, as it is our people's objective.

"Since we are all children of Saw Ba U Gyi we still hold in our hearts Saw Ba U Gyi's four principals, and we want to tell everyone—don't feel disheartened."

The meeting was held at the DKBA's Sonseemyaing headquarters in Karen State, but over 300 people from various Karen-populated areas participated in the meeting either in person or via telephone, including political leaders, military officers and individuals from the Karen community.

Activist to serve fourteen years behind bars

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 12:55 AM PDT

Activist Tin Kyaw will serve fourteeen years and four months behind bars for a single protest.

On Thursday Kyuaktada Township court found him guilty of causing public alarm and sentenced him to two years in prison.

It was the twelfth court to sentence Htin Kyaw over a protest in May, when he called for the release of arrested reporters.

Thein Sein orders investigation into Par Gyi’s death

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 10:43 PM PDT

The Burmese government issued a press release on Thursday stating that President Thein Sein's office has ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to conduct an investigation into the death of Par Gyi, a journalist killed last month while covering armed conflict in Mon State.

Par Gyi is the pseudonym used by Aung Naing, who went into exile in Thailand shortly after his involvement in Burma's 1988 uprising. The press release indicated that the decision to order an investigation was based on reports in state-owned newspapers which quoted the Ministry of Defence on 25 October, describing the journalist as "Captain Aung Naing, communication in-charge of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization (KKO)."

However, Par Gyi's family and friends dispute the Burmese army's claim that he was ever a member of the KKO, the political wing of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Association (DKBA). They are demanding justice and want to know why he was detained and murdered by the Burmese army while working as a journalist.

Condemnation of the killing has also come from the international community, including the United States, which has called on Naypyidaw to conduct a transparent investigation into the journalist's death.

Burmese civic group 88 Generation Peace and Open Society (88GPOS) released a statement on 24 October strongly condemning the army for summarily executing a civilian, labelling it as a lawless act.

The 88GPOS's leader, Mya Aye, said the army is responsible for the murder of Aung Naing and the group will demand justice against the perpetrator.

"As soon as we heard news that Ko Par Gyi was missing, we reached out to government officials and stressed that he is entitled to legal rights, and that they can't just arbitrarily detain him and take him away to unknown places," said Mya Aye.

The 88GPOS leader then added, "We learned from Aung Naing's family that when they first went to look for him [in Kyeikmayaw], the army told them they would be allowed to see him and that he could be released if his family bails him out. But later they backtracked on their promise and began avoiding the family.

"According to the statement released [on 24 October], the army conjured up a far-fetched story about him, claiming that he was shot dead for trying to rob a gun while escaping from detention. But we do not accept that. From a legal point of view, the army has committed a crime and we demand to see effective legal action against the perpetrator(s). We will stage public protests if necessary," said Mya Aye.

Before he began working as a freelance journalist, Par Gyi was a political activist and a member of Aung San Suu Kyi's personal security team during the 1988 uprising. He was also one of the first National League for Democracy Youth members and acted as the group's Karen State coordinator.

Eventually, Par Gyi was forced into exile in Thailand, where he started working as a freelance reporter based in Mae Sot. Prior to his death, Par Gyi was working for at least three different publications, according to his wife Ma Thandar.

WFP cuts aid to Meikhtila IDPs

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 10:15 PM PDT

The World Food Programme (WFP) says it has cut its humanitarian aid assistance to displaced persons in Meikhtila, central Burma.

"From March 2013 to August 2014, WFP provided food assistance to over 10,000 displaced people in Meikhtila camps," the agency's Rangoon office told DVB by email on Thursday. "WFP monitoring and evaluation missions to the camps concluded that the assisted population had adequate access to livelihood and income generating opportunities. They possessed other coping mechanisms and were able to resume their normal pre-March 2013 activities.

"In the light of increasing needs for food assistance in Myanmar [Burma], WFP was urged to prioritise emergencies and support to the most vulnerable communities in the country. Meikhtila population no longer fell under these categories."

Displaced residents of Meikhtila, mostly Muslims who lost their homes in communal riots last year, say they have been facing food shortages since the WFP announced the cuts.

Tin Ko, an IDP at one of the three remaining displacement camps in Meikhtila, said some 3,500 inhabitants in the camps have not been receiving any food rations from the WFP for two months.

"The WFP was previously providing us with rice, cooking oil, salt and beans, but they stopped in August," he said, adding that many people in the camp are now taking up manual labour jobs to make ends meet, while others have resorted to begging in the streets.

Tin Ko said several private philanthropists used to bring donations to the IDPs in the past, but nowadays they receive little.

Abbot Batdanda Seintita of the Asia Light Foundation, a charity group that donated aid to the Meikhtila IDPs last year, said, "I have not been told about any food shortages. If I had been made aware, I would have sought donations for them."

Around 10,000 people were displaced in communal violence that broke out in the central Burmese town in late March 2013, sparked by a quarrel between a Muslim and a Buddhist in a gold shop.

Meanwhile, BBC Burmese reported on Thursday night that WFP plans to cut its entire ration across the country by 20 percent in November.

WFP spokesperson Emilia Casella is quoted saying that the WFP "plans to cut rice rations to IDP camps in Burma by up to 20 percent due to a budget shortage". The report said around 70,000 IDPs in Shan and Kachin states and tens of thousands in Arakan State will be affected.

Ms Casella reportedly said the WFP has a US$8 million shortfall in budget between now and February. It would therefore cut rice rations across the board. However, other essential supplies would not be affected, she said, pointing to cooking oil, beans and special food supplements for mothers and children.

Ms Casella said the WFP has requested assistance from donors to provide more food aid in Burma, and that if such funds become available then the 20 percent ration cut will only be temporary.

Slain reporter’s widow calls for inquiry

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 07:19 PM PDT

Par Gyi’s widow, Ma Thandar spoke to the press at the ’88 Generation offices on Wednesday.

She demanded Burma’s national human rights body properly investigate the case.

Her calls came one day after UN rights rapporteur Yanghee Lee raised the reporter’s death at the General Assembly.

The Irrawaddy Magazine

The Irrawaddy Magazine

KNU Agrees to Talk Unified Karen Army by 2015

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 07:15 AM PDT

Soldiers from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army at Sone Seen Myaing in Karen State. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Soldiers from the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army at Sone Seen Myaing in Karen State. (Photo: Lawi Weng / The Irrawaddy)

SONE SEEN MYAING, Karen State — The Karen National Union (KNU) has opened the door to the possibility that a much-debated unified fighting force of ethnic Karen rebels could come into being by 2015, with the group agreeing to discuss the proposal next month after previously indicating the issue would be tabled until 2016.

At a press conference on Thursday, the KNU appeared to give some ground to the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), which is eager to see the creation of an envisaged Kawthoolei Armed Forces (KAF) comprised of four ethnic Karen armed groups.

Popular sentiment may also have nudged the KNU along, with more than 200 representatives of Karen civil society groups agreeing to support the KAF's creation at a two-day meeting to discuss the issue in Sone Seen Myaing, Karen State, which wrapped up on Thursday.

Saw Moe Shay, the deputy army in chief of the DKBA, told media that the unified army would be formed "within a year," and that three Karen armed groups would meet on Nov. 19 to discuss the matter further.

"We will work to form it as soon as possible," he said on Thursday, adding that the DKBA aimed to form the force before Burma's general election, slated for late 2015.

The KAF proposal was first floated earlier this month, when leaders from the four groups issued a statement indicating an intention to unify their armies.

The KNU, whose militant wing is the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), has since distanced itself from the plan. On Wednesday, the KNLA's vice chief of staff, Lt-Gen Baw Kyaw Heh, said unification would be postponed until "sometime in 2016" at the earliest, pending discussions at the KNU's 16th congress that year.

But Gen. Paw Doh from Brigade 7 of the KNLA said at the press conference on Thursday that the scheduled November meeting could result in a final cooperation agreement. "We hope some result will come out of the military leaders' meeting on Nov. 19," he said, before adding that the KNU first needed to carry out internal discussions about the plan. "We [the KNU] need to talk among each other as a group and take a little more time," he said.

Contacted by The Irrawaddy on Thursday night, KNU central committee member Padoh Saw Thamein Htun said the KNU's official position—that it supports the formation of KAF in principle—had not changed. He did not indicate, however, that the group was committing to a unification by next year, as the DKBA's Saw Moe Shay had asserted at Thursday's press conference.

"The DKBA strongly supports formation of the KAF, and will stand as KAF troops in the future. The KNU agreed in principle to form the KAF," read a statement issued by the KAF "formation group" following the meeting. The statement said that the DKBA had agreed to let the KNU, which the DKBA broke away from in 1994, lead the unification process.

The proposed KAF would comprise four Karen rebel groups: the KNU, DKBA, KNLA-Peace Council and the Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO).

Thursday's meeting, hosted by the DKBA at their headquarters in Sone Seen Myaing, also saw some 200 representatives from Karen civil society groups throw their weight behind the KAF's formation.

Wah Ku Shee, a member of the Karen Women's Organization, said: "For our KWO, we support a reunification of all Karen armed groups and the formation of the KAF. We have wanted this to happen for a long time. A reunion of their armed forces will be good for our Karen people."

She said her group hoped the KAF force would adhere to strict respect for human rights and the rights of women.

The KAF proposal comes following recent clashes between the DKBA and the Burma Army in Karen and Mon states, despite the two sides having inked a bilateral ceasefire agreement in 2011. The KNU, which has its own bilateral ceasefire with the government, also saw its troops engage in a firefight with Burma Army troops last month.

Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein.

The post KNU Agrees to Talk Unified Karen Army by 2015 appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Activist Hit With Additional Sentence, Totaling Over 13 Years

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 07:07 AM PDT

Activist Htin Kyaw holds up a sign protesting Burma's government after his trial in early September 2014. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

Activist Htin Kyaw holds up a sign protesting Burma's government after his trial in early September 2014. (Photo: Sai Zaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Democracy activist Htin Kyaw, who was already sentenced to more than 11 years in jail, was handed an additional sentence of two years for "public mischief" by the Kyauktada Township Court on Thursday.

Htin Kyaw was found guilty of colluding with other leading members of the Movement for Democracy Current Force (MDCF) in the creation and distribution of materials falsely stating that Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition figures had formed an interim government.

He is already incarcerated in Insein Prison on previous charges related to land rights protests. The new sentence brought his total jail term to 13 years and four months.

The activist's lawyer, Robert San Aung, told The Irrawaddy that Htin Kyaw could not have been involved in the distribution of the contentious materials because he was in jail on July 7, when the MDCF held a demonstration at Rangoon's City Hall to circulate the false information.

Htin Kyaw's colleague Naung Naung led the demonstration and has been charged for inciting unrest and unlawful assembly.

"How can this verdict be true if Htin Kyaaw was in prison when Naung Naung held the demonstration? He was charged as Naung Naung's accomplice," said Robert San Aung, who referred to his client as "forever a political prisoner."

Htin Kyaw's most recent charge was under the controversial Penal Code Article 505(b), which broadly criminalizes all statements that could "alarm the public" or "whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the state."

Naung Naung faces the same charge and an additional count of violating Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Law, another law that has often been criticized for its disproportionate use against prominent activists.

Htin Kyaw received the maximum punishment, and his counsel said that he had not yet decided whether he would appeal the ruling, but he would be granted 30 days to decide.

Than Than Maw, Htin Kyaw's wife, told The Irrawaddy that, "it depends on his decision, but he hasn't appealed in any other case against him."

The well-known activist staged a series of protest earlier this year condemning the government's land policies and demanding settlement on farmers' claims to property.

He was arrested in May and has since faced charges in 11 different townships across Rangoon. His charges included inciting unrest and protesting without a permit.

Htin Kyaw is yet to face the final charge against him Hlaing Township.

"This case is totally unfair," his wife said on Friday, a day after the ruling. "This government is behaving just like the old one."

The post Activist Hit With Additional Sentence, Totaling Over 13 Years appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Meeting of Burma’s Big Political Players Yields Little

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 05:58 AM PDT

President Thein Sein greets opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of the high-level roundtable meeting in Naypyidaw on Friday. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

President Thein Sein greets opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi ahead of the high-level roundtable meeting in Naypyidaw on Friday. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

NAYPYIDAW — The first-ever high-level roundtable meeting among some of Burma's major political players failed to achieve a major breakthrough on Friday, as participants convened in Naypyidaw at a time when concerns mount that the country's reforms have stalled.

Fourteen representatives from government, political parties and the military—including President Thein Sein, military commander in chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, parliamentary speaker Shwe Mann and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi—met at the presidential residence in Burma's capital.

Participants discussed their personal views and the positions of their respective organizations, but no major breakthrough was publicly announced, except that amendments to the country's controversial Constitution would be considered by Parliament, a development that Suu Kyi and ethnic groups have long sought.

Ye Htut, Burma's information minister and the president's spokesman, told the press afterward that the meeting was arranged because Parliament's Constitution Review Joint Committee submitted its report the lawmakers on Oct. 22. "Fairly strong results" in the country's peace process were also cited as a reason for the gathering.

"This is the first-ever meeting and all participants agreed to hold further discussions to find better ways and means to address the problems of the country," Ye Htut said.

In addition to the most well-known faces in Burmese politics, the country's two vice presidents, Upper House parliamentary speaker Khin Aung Myint, Union Election Commission chairman Tin Aye, and the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Vice Chairman Htay Oo also attended the discussion. Deputy commander in chief Gen. Soe Win joined Min Aung Hlaing in speaking for the country's powerful military establishment.

Representing ethnic minorities' voices were Nationalities Brotherhood Federation leader Sai Aik Pao, Federal Democratic Alliance leader Khin Maung Swe and United Nationalities Alliance leader Khun Tun Oo. National Unity Party leader Than Tin was also invited but could not attend, with the party's central executive committee member Thein Tun filling in on his behalf.

The meeting was hastily arranged by the government ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to Burma to attend the Asean and East Asia summits next month.

Asked by The Irrawaddy if the unprecedented gathering was aimed at pleasing the American president, Ye Htut denied any such motivation, saying: "After President U Thein Sein took office and put in place the reforms, the government's focus has been constantly on democratization for the country and the people. There is no such thing as reforms having been carried out because of someone's visit or to gain recognition from someone or some party."

Thein Sein focused on three areas during the talks, calling for a frank discussion and cooperation among all national political actors to find solutions to the country's problems.

Burma's president talked about strengthening political processes with the aim of achieving a free and open society rooted in democratic principles; strengthening the peace process to foster national reconciliation, which he said was critically important for the country; and maintaining political stability in order to successfully hold national elections next year.

Participants shared their views on Thein Sein's agenda items and also talked about the standpoints of their respective organizations.

The meeting largely focused on the ongoing peace process between the government and ethnic rebel groups; past and future political reforms; trust building; and the Constitution, drafted by the military and targeted for an overhaul by ethnic minority groups and Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

The president stressed that it was important that a nationwide ceasefire be signed by the end of 2014 or early 2015. The adoption of a framework for political dialogue after that signing would allow ethnic organizations to continue negotiations with the government regardless of who is in power post-2015, he said.

Though the government has signed bilateral ceasefires with most of the country's ethnic armed groups, clashes have broken out intermittently between government troops and a handful of rebel armies, weighing down on the Thein Sein administration's peace push.

Most of those sat around the table on Friday were generals or former generals. Only Suu Kyi, Khun Tun Oo, Sai Aik Pao and Khin Maung Swe were civilian participants. Suu Kyi was the only woman at the 14-person discussion.

The post Meeting of Burma's Big Political Players Yields Little appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Lawyers to Sue Over Privatization of Historic Building

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 05:42 AM PDT

The former Police Commissioner's Office, which later served as the Rangoon Divisional Court, is pictured in 2012, before work began to convert it into a hotel. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

The former Police Commissioner's Office, which later served as the Rangoon Divisional Court, is pictured in 2012, before work began to convert it into a hotel. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A Rangoon-based legal network announced that it will sue the city's chief minister over the privatization of a landmark colonial-era building owned by the government.

The Lawyers Network, an independent legal advisory body, said that the Divisional Court building, which is commonly known as the Police Commissioner's Office after its original function, had been unlawfully leased to private companies to develop a luxury hotel.

Network representatives said that sometime in November they intended to sue Chief Minister Myint Swe—who also chairs the Myanmar Investment Commission—and "all related parties" for involvement in what they said was a shady property deal.

"We first opposed privatizing this building in 2012, and since then the development had been slow. On Oct. 7, however, I saw news on TV that Yangon [Rangoon] Chief Minister Myint Swe signed a MoU with the Premier Residence Company to repair the building and turn it into a hotel," said Kyee Myint, a member of the Lawyers Network.

"We don't know what the minister's relationship is with this company," he added.

The 90-year-old Police Commissioner's Office occupies an entire city block in the heart of downtown Rangoon's colonial district, and until a few years ago it still served a public function as chamber offices for Rangoon Division's court officials.

The office was shuttered in 2012 and a Burmese company, Flying Tiger, was reportedly granted a 60-year lease to develop the property into a hotel. All of the courts and offices housed in the building were relocated to their relevant townships, and Flying Tiger began some renovations.

In early 2013, the company told local media that they would invest US$50 million in the project, which would be called the State House Hotel. Annual rent had been set at 7 percent of total revenue plus a one-time $14.4 million land use fee, the company said.

The Lawyers Network had made several appeals to the government, asking them to renovate the building with public funds and maintain its public function instead of leasing it to private developers.

Kyee Myint also said that transferring all of the judicial offices to areas further afield caused administrative and logistical difficulties for court officials and a transportation nightmare for lawyers.

"When all of the offices were in the same building it was easy to access everything we needed," he said. Under the new arrangement, attorneys waste time and money trying to hit all of the offices relevant to their cases. "This building was intended for legal affairs. That's why we don't want it to become a hotel."

Kyee Myint and fellow Lawyers Network members Than Tin and Ohn Maung shared further concerns about the site's new developer, Premier Housing. They said that news of a different developer came as a shock to them, as the deal had already been granted to Flying Tiger two years ago.

"I'd like to know how the managing company's name suddenly changed from Flying Tiger to Premier Residence," Kyee Myint said. "It's dishonest. There have been no reports of this project changing ownership. Anyway, we're going to sue all related parties."

Attempts to contact the Myanmar Investment Commission were unsuccessful.

The post Lawyers to Sue Over Privatization of Historic Building appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

What Will It Be?

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 05:04 AM PDT

What Will It Be?

What Will It Be?

The post What Will It Be? appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

More Activists Face Charges for Protests Against Journalist’s Killing

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 04:33 AM PDT

Protestors in Mandalay on Monday night called for an investigation into a journalist's killing. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

Protestors in Mandalay on Monday night called for an investigation into a journalist's killing. (Photo: Teza Hlaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — An activist in Mandalay said he is facing criminal charges for organizing an unauthorized protest calling for an inquiry into the recent killing of a journalist, while two activists in Prome said they were likely to be charged for holding a similar protest.

Thein Aung Myint, a Mandalay-based activist with the Movement for Democracy Current Forces, said police summoned him on Wednesday to tell him that was being charged under Article 18 of the Peaceful Assembly, which bans holding an unauthorized protest and can result in a prison terms of up to six months.

"They told me that they will sue others protesters too. But they charged me first since they know me well. They even asked me to identify and name other protesters but I refused," he told The Irrawaddy.

Thein Aung Myint said he had sought police permission for the protest on Monday, but his request was turned down. The protest had been held regardless and some 200 people showed up to call for an investigation into the recent killing of freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing, also known as Par Gyi, by the military.

Protesters in Prome Township, Pegu division, said local police had said they would sue them for holding a similar, unauthorized protest.

Thant Sin Htet from Prome-based Nattalin Public Service Network said he and a lawyer named Myint Htay held a protest against the killing of journalist Par Gyi on Sunday without asking police permission.

"During our protest, a police officer came and said he would file a lawsuit under Article 18 against us," Thant Sin Htet said, adding that he believed that citizens should have the right to hold a protest freely.

"I don't think we, citizens, need to ask the permission to demonstrate," he said. "We just want the public to know about the case of journalist's killing, which shows that there is still oppression and that the country's democratic transition is going backwards."

On Wednesday, police did grant permission for a protest in Prome and some 100 people gathered to express their anger over the killing.

Rangoon Kyauktada Township police on Monday had filed a lawsuit against Moe Thway, an activist with Generation Wave, because he helped organize an unauthorized protest in front of City Hall on Sunday calling for an inquiry into the killing.

Police told the activist on Tuesday that more people could face charges over the protest, which was attended by some 100 people, including leaders of the 88 Generation Students Peace and Open Society.

Kyauktada Township police could not be reached for comment the case on Friday.

The post More Activists Face Charges for Protests Against Journalist's Killing appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Burma Army Conglomerate Says It Has Won Beer Spat With Singapore’s F&N

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 03:22 AM PDT

Myanmar Brewery, maker of the lager billed as the

Myanmar Brewery, maker of the lager billed as the "real taste of Myanmar." (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

SINGAPORE — A military-linked Burmese conglomerate said it has won an arbitration case against Singapore’s Fraser and Neave Ltd (F&N) that will give it the right to buy the latter’s stake in Burma’s biggest brewery.

Union of Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) said in a statement on Friday that a panel of two unnamed Singapore arbitrators heard the case in the city state from late June to early July. MEHL said the panel released a ruling earlier on Friday which says MEHL is entitled to buy F&N’s shares in Myanmar Brewery.

Analysts initially saw the case as an example of the lack of legal protection for foreign investors in Burma and the pitfalls of doing business with an institution closely linked to the country’s military.

However UMEHL argued that there had been a clear default by F&N on their joint venture agreement and that taking the matter to arbitration in Singapore showed they were dealing with the matter using proper legal channels.

"It is very important for Myanmar that foreign investors have confidence in the way we do business," said Myint Aung, UMEHL’s Deputy Managing Director, in the statement.

"The conduct of this arbitration shows our commitment to the rule of law and that we will always adhere to due process."

Myanmar Brewery manufactures brands such as Myanmar Beer, Myanmar Double Strong and Andaman Gold. It has an 83 percent share of the country’s beer market, according to an F&N presentation in May.

Myanmar Brewery was set up in 1995 by UMEHL with Heineken NV through the latter’s Asian arm, Asia Pacific Breweries Ltd (APB), which transferred its 55 percent stake to F&N in 1997.

Last year, F&N was taken over by two companies controlled by Thai billionaire Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, including Thai Beverage PCL.

UMEHL claimed the right under a joint venture agreement to buy F&N’s 55 percent stake in Myanmar Brewery after F&N defaulted on a term in the agreement.

It declined to comment on the term on which it said F&N had defaulted, but sources with knowledge of the case said it was related to the change of shareholding structure of F&N after the takeover.

F&N and its parent company, Thai Beverage PCL, on Friday submitted a request to the Singapore Exchange for a halt in trading of their shares. Officials at F&N were not immediately available to comment.

The post Burma Army Conglomerate Says It Has Won Beer Spat With Singapore’s F&N appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Activists Demand Justice for Kachin Woman’s Unsolved Disappearance

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 03:13 AM PDT

Dau Lum with his wife, Sumlut Roi Ja, a Kachin woman who was abducted on Oct. 28, 2011. (Photo: Dau Lum)

Dau Lum with his wife, Sumlut Roi Ja, a Kachin woman who was abducted on Oct. 28, 2011. (Photo: Dau Lum)

RANGOON — A media whirlwind surrounding the case of a journalist detained and killed by the Burma Army served as a stark reminder of another unsolved mystery: the disappearance of an ethnic Kachin woman named Sumlut Roi Ja at the hands of Burmese soldiers a full three years ago.

On Oct. 28, more than 120 civil society organizations from Burma and abroad jointly demanded that the government fully and openly investigate the case of her alleged abduction, rape and murder, and hold all perpetrators accountable. Tuesday marked the third anniversary of Roi Ja's disappearance.

Dau Lum, Roi Ja's husband, has had to retell this story many times since her disappearance. He has often recounted for the media that his wife was 28 years old when he, she and his father were abducted by soldiers while gathering corn on their family's farmland in the Kachin hills near Hkaibang village, Momauk Township.

The soldiers, who were members of the Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 321, allegedly claimed that the captives were associated with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is an officially unlawful political body governing rebel territories of northern Burma.

The two men managed to escape through gunfire, but his wife remained in custody and was taken to a nearby Burmese military base, where villagers could see her with binoculars. She has not been seen since about a week after her abduction, and her family has spent the past three years going from courthouse to courthouse, demanding that government produce her body and account for her disappearance.

Her story is well-known among Kachin people and she is widely believed to have been raped and killed. At the time of her abduction, she left behind a one-year-old daughter.

Both the military and civil authorities have ignored her family's relentless requests for an investigation. Dau Lum even attempted to acquire a writ of habeas corpus from Burma's Supreme Court, but his claim was rejected in March 2012. The court cited insufficient evidence.

What happened to Roi Ja is, sadly, not uncommon in many of Burma's ethnic regions, according to Maran Jaw Gun, coordinator of a civil society coalition called the Kachin Peace Network. He pointed out that the recent case of Aung Kyaw Naing, commonly known as Par Gyi, is symbolic of the military's behavior in other parts of the country.

"When the journalist Par Gyi disappeared, the military announced that he was dead because the case is well known. I want to point out that there are many cases like this in ethnic areas," Maran Jaw Gun told The Irrawaddy.

Aung Kyaw Naing was working as a reporter in southeastern Burma's Mon State when he was arrested by the army on Sept. 30 for his alleged involvement with an ethnic Karen armed group. Three weeks later, the military informed Burma's Interim Press Council that he had been killed on Oct. 4 as he attempted to escape. The military's statement said that he had been buried shortly after his death.

The case caused domestic and international outrage; crowds took to the streets of Burma's cities, while embassies of the United States and the United Kingdom urged the government to seek justice. The president's office announced on Friday that it had ordered the National Human Rights Commission to investigate.

The furore triggered by the reporter's death has given new energy to Roi Ja's supporters. Maran Jaw Gun said that he and other civil society representatives will continue to raise her case with international bodies, including the United Nations.

Mar Khar, the lawyer representing Roi Ja's family, told The Irrawaddy that he is happy to see so much support.

"I really appreciate that civil society is calling for justice in the case of Roi Ja. This is positive not only for her family, but for all who have been the victims of human rights abuse in war zones," he said, adding that, "it might make the military hesitate before they do something like this again."

Allegations of forced abduction and rape are common in Burma's conflict zones. Women's rights groups have documented more than 70 cases of sexual cases committed by Burma Army soldiers against women and young girls in northern Burma since June 2011. At least 20 of those cases are said to have resulted in the victim's death.

Three years after Roi Ja's disappearance, Mar Khar said that Roi Ja's family doubts that they will ever see her alive again, and they now hope only for justice. The Irrawaddy spoke with Dau Lum two years ago at his home in a remote village, and even then he had little hope of reuniting with his wife. While the story is well-known throughout Kachin State, he said that he will keep it from daughter for as long as he can.

"If I tell my daughter what really happened, that the Burma Army killed her mother, she will grow up and want to take revenge," he said. "I will tell my daughter that she died, that's all."

The post Activists Demand Justice for Kachin Woman's Unsolved Disappearance appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

High-Level Roundtable Meeting Held in Naypyidaw

Posted: 31 Oct 2014 12:28 AM PDT

From left to right: Sai Aik Pao, Khin Maung Swe, Htay Oo, Aung San Suu Kyi, Khin Aung Myint, Shwe Mann, Sai Mauk Kham, Thein Sein, Nyan Tun, Min Aung Hlaing, Tin Aye, Soe Win, Thei Tun, Khun Htun Oo. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

From left to right: Sai Aik Pao, Khin Maung Swe, Htay Oo, Aung San Suu Kyi, Khin Aung Myint, Shwe Mann, Sai Mauk Kham, Thein Sein, Nyan Tun, Min Aung Hlaing, Tin Aye, Soe Win, Thei Tun, Khun Htun Oo. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Participants arrived at the Presidential Palace in Naypyidaw on Friday morning for Burma's first ever high-level roundtable meeting with all key political players. The meeting was suddenly called by the government ahead of US President Obama's visit to Burma for the Asean and East Asia summits on Nov. 11-12.

Fourteen participants were in attendance: President Thein Sein, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, Deputy Commander-in-Chief Soe Win, Union Parliament Speaker Shwe Mann, Upper House Speaker Khin Aung Myint, Union Election Commission Chairman Tin Aye, vice presidents Nyan Tun and Sai Mauk Kham, USDP Vice Chairman Htay Oo, National Unity Party representative Thein Tun, NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Nationalities Brotherhood Federation leader Sai Aik Pao, Federal Democratic Alliance leader Khin Maung Swe and United Nationalities Alliance leader Khun Htun Oo.

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Burma Farmers at Risk of Losing Land Under Legal Shift: Think Tank

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 11:28 PM PDT

Farmers in Mingaladon Township, Rangoon Division, protest against land grabs in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Farmers in Mingaladon Township, Rangoon Division, protest against land grabs in 2012. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

BANGKOK — Millions of small-scale farmers in Burma risk losing land under proposals to regulate land use which focus too much on investment and not enough on people’s livelihoods, a Netherlands-based non-profit think tank warned on Thursday.

The government this month unveiled its draft of a land use policy which will help form the basis of a national land law.

Land ownership and use have emerged as key issues during Myanmar’s political and economic transition, with deep resentment and protests over land acquisitions, often dubbed "land grabs", for infrastructure, development or large-scale agricultural projects.

The draft policy, due to be completed by December and handed to parliament, was criticized in a report by Transnational Institute (TNI), an international think thank, for focusing on investment rather than on distribution or democratic control.

Jennifer Franco, co-coordinator of TNI’s Agrarian Justice team, raised concerns over the purpose of the policy.

"The policy seems to be more explicitly oriented towards investors and less oriented to small-scale food producers, farmers, fishermen and poor, vulnerable and marginalized people," Franco told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Burma after the release of the TNI report.

"There’s been a resurgence of protests and conflicts around land acquisitions. It’s a kind of social volcano."

She said the policy seemed to be driven by economic reasons and to attract foreign investment, shutting out discussions on food security, environmental sustainability and democratization that would be a part of land policy in other countries.

All land in Burma is owned by the government but farmers are given land use or tillage rights, making land use a particularly sensitive issue for small-scale farmers who make up the majority of the nation’s population of 53 million.

Up to 70 percent of Burma’s labor force is estimated to be directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture. The sector accounts for 44 percent of the GDP, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation was unable to contact relevant authorities from the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry for comment despite repeated attempts.

TNI said the draft policy would "create a legal environment that is greatly beneficial for a small group of large national and international companies, but which has the potential to be hugely disadvantageous for millions small-scale farmers".

It also criticized the short time frame of three weeks set aside for public consultations on the 90 page draft policy when about 17 public workshops will be held across the country.

"It’s a lot to read, study, think about and discuss. And many of the terms can be very technical, specialized and ambiguous," Franco said.

"I’m not sure whether in all parts of the country the political conditions good enough to let people freely and meaningfully participate in the consultation."

The post Burma Farmers at Risk of Losing Land Under Legal Shift: Think Tank appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

President Orders Rights Commission to Investigate Killing of Journalist

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 11:01 PM PDT

Demonstrators gather behind a banner in downtown Rangoon on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Demonstrators gather behind a banner in downtown Rangoon on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burmese state media on Friday announced that President Thein Sein has ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to investigate the killing of local journalist Aung Kyaw Naing while in custody of the Burma Army.

"The President's Office has ordered the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to submit a special investigation report to the president at the earliest after conducting investigation on the death case [sic]," a statement in The Global New Light of Myanmar said.

The announcement pointedly referred to Aung Kyaw Naing, who is better known as Par Gyi, as "Captain Aung Naing, communication-in-charge of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organization," the political wing of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).

Government officials had so far been silent on the high-profile killing, news of which first emerged on Oct. 24, when the Interim Myanmar Press Council announced it had received a letter of the Burma Army informing the council of the death.

The killing sparked a local and international outcry, with human rights groups, media freedom advocates and foreign embassies expressing concern over the incident and calling for a transparent and credible investigation.

The Burma Army letter said Aung Kyaw Naing had been apprehended on Sept. 30 by Light Infantry Battalion 208 in Mon State's Kyaikmayaw town. He was interrogated, shot dead and buried in a remote village on Oct. 4 by an unnamed roving battalion, supposedly because he tried to seize a weapon from a soldier in order to escape. The letter claimed he had been a Karen rebel officer.

The Karen rebel group and the reporter's wife, Thandar, have denied the claim and said he had been reporting on an outbreak of fighting between DKBA and the military. Aung Kyaw Naing was an activist and a body guard of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for many years before becoming a freelance reporter contributing to several Rangoon-based news publications.

The investigation by the Human Rights Commission will now be closely watched and poses a test for the independence and credibility of the commission.

Sitt Myaing, secretary of the commission, told The Irrawaddy that it plans to have a meeting with Thandar on Friday and that some committee members will travel to the Mon State capital Moulmein and Kyaikmayaw to investigate the killing on Saturday.

"We have asked the relevant army units, police forces, KKO [Klohtoobaw Karen Organization] and local administrative teams to collect evidence for the investigation. Their collaboration is quite crucial," he said.

Thandar said the commission did not have a reputation for being independent or thorough when it came to investigating rights abuses, but she was cautiously hopeful that the truth might come to light.

"As far as I'm concerned, I am aware of the fact that the commission has rarely successfully handled the cases they were assigned," she told The Irrawaddy. "[But] as long as there is accountability and responsibility from someone who committed the killing of my husband, everything will be alright."

A recent report by Burmese civil society groups delivered a damning review of the work of the Human Rights Commission since its establishment in 2011. It also criticized its ability to carry out future investigations independent of the government.

"To date, the [commission] has still not successfully investigated and taken effective action on any case submitted to it," the report said. "One of the biggest flaws is the lack of independence that the selection committee has. Too many of its members are either government or government-affiliated."

Kyaw Hsu Mon and Kyaw Phyo Tha contributed to this report.

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‘We Must Push for an Investigation, but I Can’t Do It Alone’

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 05:00 PM PDT

Thandar, the widow of slain journalist Par Gyi, holds a family photograph in Rangoon on Oct. 28, 2014, showing herself, her husband and daughter posing with Aung San Suu Kyi at their home. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

Thandar, the widow of slain journalist Par Gyi, holds a family photograph in Rangoon on Oct. 28, 2014, showing herself, her husband and daughter posing with Aung San Suu Kyi at their home. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

The news of freelance journalist Aung Kyaw Naing's killing in military custody this month has sent shockwaves through Burma's media industry and human rights circles. The deceased, also known as Par Gyi, disappeared while covering clashes between government troops and rebel fighters, and was announced shot dead by the military nearly one month later.

His widow, human rights activist Thandar, has been pressing law enforcement authorities to investigate the circumstances of his death, and bring the perpetrators of his killing to justice. She recently spoke to The Irrawaddy about that effort.

Question: What happened in Kyaikmayaw when you went there to search for your missing husband?

Answer: I was in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and only found out via Facebook on October 4 that my husband Par Gyi was missing. I arrived back home on October 15 and went to Kyaikmayaw on October 19. Local journals quoted the Mon State border affairs minister saying that my husband was arrested by Captain San Min Aung from Battalion 28. So, I went to the battalion.

I met Captain San Min Aung there. I told him that I was Par Gyi's wife and had come because the local journals said Par Gyi was arrested by the army's Light Infantry Battalion 208. I told him that my husband was not affiliated with the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army [DKBA] and that I had adequate evidence to prove that he was not a rebel. I told him that if they wanted me to go through the courts, I would do so. I asked him to let me see my husband. He replied that he was among those who had captured Par Gyi, but he did not know my husband's current whereabouts.

The captain said the Mon State border security affairs minister was present when Par Gyi was taken to the battalion. He said so in the presence of me, Daw Naw Ohn Hla and three central executives from the Mon National Party. Naing Soe Myint, one of the central executive members of the Mon National Party, called the border security affairs minister directly. We put the call on speaker phone and talked before Captain San Min Aung. Naing Soe Myint said we were with Captain San Min Aung and he said the minister was present when Ko Par Gyi was arrested. The minister replied that he knew nothing more than Captain San Min Aung did and that he was ill and could see no one. He told us to ask the Southeast Command if we wanted to know more. Captain San Min Aung also urged us to do so.

So, we left the battalion. Then we reported the case to the Kyaikmayaw Myoma Police Station. I reported the case as unlawful arrest of my husband. The police told me that I could not do so and that I could only open a missing persons case. They asked me to come back a week later if I wanted to open the case as an unlawful arrest. So, I opened a missing persons case. It was October 19.

The army issued the statement that Par Gyi was shot dead on October 23. At that time I was in Thailand with the Democracy and Peace Women's Network to receive a human rights award from the N-Peace Network in Bangkok. I came back to Burma after I heard the news. I arrived on October 25 and went straight to Kyaikmayaw. Police said they had now closed the case as my husband was dead. Then I said I would like to open other charges and the police told me that they could not do so because of instructions from above. Then I asked the head of the police station to tell me the name of that upper level authority and he replied that he could not. Then I told him that I would open a complaint at the district-level police station.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at the district police station. I was asked to wait until 4:15 pm as the district police head was on duty outside. I was told by phone at 4:15 that I was allowed to open the case. I was told to open the case back at the Kyaikmayaw Myoma Police Station. Then I went back to Kyaikmayaw from Moulmein and was allowed to open the case at 6:30 pm. The case was reported as a fatal incident. I will consult with [lawyer Robert] San Aung about filing other charges.

Q: Which charges would you like to file?

A: I would like to prosecute under the charges of unlawful arrest, torture, and killing and effacing the body.

Q: You said the police station mentioned 'instructions from above.' What do you think that means?

A: I told him [the head of the police station] that I had to explain [my husband's death] to my three children; that I came to the police station because I thought I would get legal assistance as a citizen. I can't file the complaint directly to Parliament and I can only file it to the police station. I cried and asked if they did not have sympathy toward me. He [the head of police station] said that he was facing lots of pressure; that he was deeply sympathetic toward me; that he would like to open the case, but he could not and asked me to understand him.

Q: How does it feel to be denied the fundamental rights of a citizen?

A: In that regard, Par Gyi was also denied his rights. If he was thought to be guilty, he should have been brought to trial and prosecuted according to the law. Instead, he was killed unlawfully, which is a grave violation of his fundamental rights.

I was denied the right to open a case by the Kyaikmayaw Police Station because I was the wife of Par Gyi. I faced many delays in filing the complaint. Intelligence agents were tailing me while I was running back and forth between police stations. This is a grave violation of my rights. Who will guarantee my security when I go to Kyaikmayaw to file other charges?

Q: What is your next step? For example, will you have the body exhumed?

A: Now I have reported the case to the police as a fatal incident and the police therefore have to exhume the body and perform forensics tests. I have asked the police to hand the body over to me so that I can bury the body back in his native place. We have to push the police to take quick steps. But I alone can't do it, and therefore I would like to ask student leaders, politicians, activists, the people and other organizations to give me a hand. Only then might justice for my late husband be done. I need the help of anyone who can to get back the body of my late husband, to have an independent investigation committee formed and to hold the perpetrators accountable.

Q: Given that the government in recent years has trumpeted its purported democratic values, what would you like to say to the president and the commander-in-chief?

A: The ruler has to act as parent to his/her citizens, which is the traditional, basic precept for rulers throughout successive periods in our society. Democratic norms of today also say so. In fact, the president is the most responsible person for his citizen being killed unlawfully. Responsibility also lies with the commander in chief of the Defense Services. The commander in chief and the president have repeatedly called for respecting, abiding by and safeguarding the 2008 Constitution. But now, a citizen was denied his fundamental rights, as enshrined in the Constitution. He was arrested without warrant; his arrest was not reported to the police; and he was killed unlawfully.

I would like to know how the president and the commander in chief will respond to this, and I would like to ask them to respond. I would like to let both the president and the commander in chief know that the case is now not the case of Pary Gyi's family alone. They have to give an answer to all politicians, activists and the people. They have to give a satisfactory answer to the people with accountability and responsibility, and hold the perpetrators accountable. Only then will the people and the international community believe ours is a democratic country.

The post 'We Must Push for an Investigation, but I Can't Do It Alone' appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Survey: Asia Finds Money Brings Happiness

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 10:23 PM PDT

A survey finds that in Asia's developing nations, money leads to happiness. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

A survey finds that in Asia's developing nations, money leads to happiness. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

SINGAPORE — Emerging Asian nations are finding out what developed ones did years ago: Money — and the stuff it buys — brings happiness, or at least satisfaction.

Levels of self-reported well-being in fast-growing nations like Indonesia, China and Malaysia now rival those in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, rich nations that have long topped the happiness charts, according to a Pew Research Center global survey released Friday.

It says it shows how rises in national income are closely linked to personal satisfaction.

The pollsters asked people in 43 countries to place themselves on a "ladder of life," with the top rung representing the best possible life and the bottom the worst. Pew carried out the same survey in 2002 and 2005 in most of those countries, enabling researchers to look at trends over time.

But the data also suggested that there is a limit to how much happiness money can buy. For example, 56 percent of Malaysians rated their life a "seven" or higher on the ladder, significantly more than the 36 percent in Bangladesh, a poor country. Yet the public in Germany, which has far higher gross domestic product per capita than Malaysia, expressed a life satisfaction level of 60 percent, just 4 percentage points more than Malaysia.

While wealth appears to contribute to happiness, other research has indicated it is far from the only factor. Women tend to be happier than men, for example, and unmarried and middle-aged people tend to report lower levels of well-being than married and younger people, respectively.

The Pew survey results, which were based on 47,643 interviews in 43 countries with adults 18 and older between March and June, also found that people in emerging and developing economies prioritize a few essentials in life, including their health, their children's education and safety from crime. Fewer people in those economies said Internet access, car ownership, free time or the ability to travel is very important in their lives.

The survey saw significant gains in personal satisfaction in Indonesia, where 58 percent of those polled placed themselves on the seventh-highest rung of the "ladder of life" or above, up from 23 percent in 2007, and Malaysia, where 56 percent put themselves in that same upper range, up from 36 percent seven years ago. In Vietnam, which wasn't included in the 2007 survey, 64 percent said they were on the seventh-highest rung or above.

The Associated Press asked people in those three nations what they thought of the findings.


"Money can't secure happiness," said Nguyen Thi Mai, a 66-year-old retired teacher, as she was relaxed on a bench overlooking scenic Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi. "There are people who don't have any money but they lead a happy life because family members love and respect each other. But there are rich families where husbands and wives often quarrel and children are addicted to drugs."

"I was not under much pressure to earn a living as many others [are] since my parents can pay for my living if I don't work," said Nguyen Phuong Linh, a fresh graduate who was distributing brochures to passers-by outside the Hanoi super market she works in. "But life would be better if I have a job with good pay."


"Money can buy lots of happiness for me because I am very materialistic," said businessman Tony Wong. "But that's not the only thing that makes me happy. Money is No. 1 on my top five list, followed by health, family, dogs and friends."

Rusmaini Jusoh, a Malaysian housewife with three children, said she used to quarrel with her truck driver husband over money, but things improved after she began a small online business selling second-hand children's clothing.

"With more money, we could take the kids for holiday and buy them whatever they want. That makes me happy," Rusmaini said. "But more importantly, we must be grateful for what we have. That will surely make us happy."


"Of course, without money you cannot fulfill your basic needs, but money is not everything," said Irwan Yahya, a 45-year-old mechanical engineer in Jakarta who runs his own company. "Otherwise, happiness only belongs to the rich."

Daisy Daryanti, a 50-year-old Indonesian housewife, said that money can buy happiness but only for a "moment."

"Happiness is relative, not merely about money, but tranquility, quietness," she said.

The post Survey: Asia Finds Money Brings Happiness appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

North Korea Cracking Down on a Distant Threat: Ebola

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 10:12 PM PDT

A monitor displays the body temperature of a passenger arriving at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Oct. 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon)

A monitor displays the body temperature of a passenger arriving at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Oct. 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon)

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea announced Thursday it will quarantine foreigners entering the country for 21 days over fears of the spread of the Ebola virus, even though no cases of the disease have been reported anywhere in Asia, and very few foreigners are allowed to enter.

North Korea is always on guard against outside influences, but now that it perceives the deadly disease to be a threat, its anxiety has reached a new level. It has banned tourists, put business groups on hold and is looking even more suspiciously than usual at every foreign face coming across its borders.

Case in point: when a high-level delegation from Japan arrived in Pyongyang this week, two of the first people they met were dressed in full hazmat gear.

The steps also send a message to the North Korean people to be very afraid of the outside world and of outside influences.

An announcement distributed Thursday to diplomatic missions in Pyongyang said that, regardless of country or region of origin, all foreigners will be quarantined under medical observation for 21 days.

Foreigners from affected areas will be quarantined at one set of locations, while those from unaffected areas will be sent to other locations, including hotels. The staff of diplomatic missions and international organizations will be allowed to stay in their residences.

Tourist visits to North Korea were halted last week, so few were likely to still be in the country.

Most tourists do not stay for 21 days. It was unclear if they or others already in North Korea on shorter stays, for example on business, would have to remain for the quarantine period.

North Korea's frantic response to the Ebola outbreak, including the broad but so far poorly defined ban on foreign tourism, is also surprising because it admits so few foreigners at all. Other than diplomatic and government missions, it has virtually no contact with any of the countries that have been most affected in West Africa, though Africa is one of the places it has tried to develop good relations.

Kim Yong-nam, the head of North Korea's parliament, is now touring the continent, though not Ebola-impacted areas.

The strict measures shed some light on how the bureaucracy in North Korea tends to work, and on the isolated country's often-fearful views of the outside world in general.

Last week, after rumors began to circulate among the small foreign community in Pyongyang that draconian measures were in the offing, North Korea's state media announced that travelers and cargo would be subject to stricter monitoring at airports, seaports and railway border crossings.

Daily reports are being broadcast on television news and during evening programming to increase public awareness of the disease and its symptoms. North Korea's Korean Central Television aired a news story on Sunday that showed quarantine officials strengthening inspections of people and boats moving in and out of the port city of Nampo.

"Our army, which protects our borders, has a high responsibility to block the disease," Han Yong-sik, director of the Nampo inspection center, told the network. "We are strengthening quarantine education and thoroughly inspecting boats and planes to ensure that not even a single person carrying the disease enters our country."

So far, there has been no official statement in North Korea's English-language media outlining the tourism ban or other restrictions on travel. There was, and remains, little information about what groups are affected, whether travel out of North Korea will be stopped and under what conditions the restrictions would be lifted.

That, of course, has left potential travelers scratching their heads—and businesses bleeding money.

"It was poorly communicated," said a post Monday on the website of the Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based organization that specializes in promoting business and educational exchange with North Korea. "This didn't allow stakeholders time to prepare for it. For Choson Exchange, we could be seeing potentially tens of thousands of dollars of losses as we delay training programs, and possibly even more as this drags on.

"For businesspeople, a shutdown will likely hurt their investment plans or transactions."

Uri Tours, a US-based travel agency that specializes in tours to North Korea, already had informed potential customers that tours have been halted, and that anyone coming to North Korea from certain areas may be quarantined.

The new quarantine announcement—though slim on details—suggests a much broader response. A copy of the document, dated Wednesday and issued by North Korea's Non-Standing National Emergency Prevention Committee, was obtained by The Associated Press.

More than 13,700 people have been sickened in the Ebola outbreak, and nearly 5,000 of them have died. Nearly all the cases are in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, though there were 20 in Nigeria, four in the United States and one each in Mali, Senegal and Spain.

Uri Tours says it believes the ban on tourists is just temporary—and is holding out hope that they may be able to return in December.

North Korea's reaction isn't unprecedented. It closed its borders for several months in 2003 during the scare over SARS.

But that was a much more obvious threat. SARS affected China, and Beijing is where most flights into Pyongyang originate. In the case of Ebola, North Korea's efforts to defend itself from what appears to be a tiny risk may end up alienating it from foreigners who have been willing to invest here.

"Overall, this episode seems to reflect two things. First, a callous attitude toward stakeholders in the country's development stemming from poor communications or the lack of will to communicate," said the Choson Exchange blog. "Second, that North Korea's 'fear of the foreign' outweighs their interest in whatever benefits foreign investment brings."

The post North Korea Cracking Down on a Distant Threat: Ebola appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Hong Kong Protests a ‘National Security Issue’ for China

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 09:32 PM PDT

A pro-democracy protester wears a mask as he monitors barricades set-up in Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong October 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

A pro-democracy protester wears a mask as he monitors barricades set-up in Mongkok shopping district in Hong Kong October 30, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests have escalated into a national security issue threatening Chinese sovereignty over the Asian financial center, a delegate to China’s rubber-stamp parliament said on Thursday.

Businessman and lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said support for Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was crucial to the city’s future stability and there was no longer any room to remain neutral.

The protesters have blocked key intersections for a month in their demand for fully-democratic elections for the city’s next chief executive in 2017. Beijing has said it will only allow a vote among pre-screened candidates.

While the protests have remained largely peaceful, flashes of violence and dramatic images of students dressed in raincoats and safety goggles using umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray have reared a new political consciousness in the city of seven million.

"Because China has declared there are foreign forces and political influence behind Occupy Central, it has been elevated to a national security issue," Tien said, referring to one of the protest groups.

"They are not fighting for democracy. They are fighting for independence. We are dealing with a sovereignty issue… Occupy Central is asking for complete democracy, something that only an independent state can provide."

Tien was speaking a day after his brother, James Tien Pei-chun, was expelled from China’s top parliamentary advisory body and resigned as leader of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Liberal Party after urging the Leung to step down. Beijing has said it fully supports Leung.

James Tien’s swift removal from the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is a sign of how concerned Beijing is about the protests which, at their peak, drew more than 100,000 people into the streets.

Hong Kong’s increasingly charged political climate is also putting Chinese government officials on tenterhooks.

China’s liaison office in Hong Kong called an urgent meeting with Liberal Party leaders on Tuesday, calling them in the morning and asking them to attend a dinner meeting that night, said Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung.

China’s most senior official in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, explained the CPPCC’s decision was specific to James Tien, Chung said. Zhang also said Beijing would continue to support the Liberal Party, according to Chung.

The party in Hong Kong is pro-establishment and comprised largely of businessmen.

Michael Tien said that the CPPCC was forced to act given the backdrop of the protests. CPPCC members are expected to fully support and promote its resolutions – or at least keep quiet once they are made, he said, adding that if the CPPCC had failed to respond to his brother’s comments, its bylaws and code of conduct risked becoming "a bunch of hot air".

"Membership comes with a certain price tag," Tien said. "I think my brother made the mistake of not recognizing that."

While CPPCC officials have said they still consider James Tien loyal, his brother says there is still debate over how to categorize him.

"One camp calls him the ‘conscience of Hong Kong’ because he is willing to sacrifice his own political career to speak his mind. The other camp says he is not loyal and has betrayed his status as a pro-establishment member," Michael Tien said.

"I think both camps are correct. That’s why it’s best for him not to be a CPPCC member. When you accept that appointment, it comes with certain obligations."

James Tien declined to comment.

The post Hong Kong Protests a ‘National Security Issue’ for China appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.

Obama Urges Progress in Burma Ahead of Rare Roundtable

Posted: 30 Oct 2014 09:25 PM PDT

US President Barack Obama talks to reporters during a news conference after meeting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon on Nov. 19, 2012. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

US President Barack Obama talks to reporters during a news conference after meeting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon on Nov. 19, 2012. (Photo: Reuters / Soe Zeya Tun)

RANGOON — US President Barack Obama urged Burma's government to make every effort to conclude a national ceasefire and protect the rights of minorities, just hours before the country's president and the military chief met opposition political parties and ethnic minority groups.

Some critics are calling Friday's hastily arranged get-together an attempt to burnish Burma's image ahead of a visit by Obama next month, his second to the country.

The roundtable meeting in the capital Naypyidaw, the first of its kind, comes as a peace process with ethnic rebels teeters on the brink of collapse and amid growing US concerns about human rights abuses, including the jailing of journalists and alleged oppression of stateless Rohingya Muslims and ethnic minorities.

Obama spoke to Burma's President Thein Sein on Thursday by telephone, urging that "every effort be made to conclude a national ceasefire in the short term," the White House said

The US president, who will visit Burma for a regional summit on Nov. 12-13, also stressed the importance of taking more steps to address the humanitarian situation in Arakan State as well as measures to support the civil and political rights of the Rohingya people, the White House said.

Violence erupted across Arakan State in 2012 between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, killing at least 200 people and displacing 140,000, most of them Rohingya.

Obama also spoke to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the White House said.

The official purpose of Friday's talks has not been disclosed. The meeting began at 0230 GMT, with a news conference scheduled to take place two hours later.

Suu Kyi, looking solemn and businesslike, was the last to arrive at the meeting room at the presidential residence.

The talks are being held as cracks widen in the fledgling democracy ahead of an election next year.

In particular, tensions linger over moves by Suu Kyi's party, backed by 5 million petitioners, to amend the Constitution and reduce the political clout of a military that ruled Burma brutally for 49 years. Suu Kyi is meeting for the first time with the powerful armed forces chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, at Friday's talks.

News of the meeting so close to Obama's arrival has been met with skepticism in Burma, with some calling it theater.

"The government seems to intend to use this meeting in creating a good impression before President Obama's visit," said political analyst Yan Myo Thein. "There's little chance of seeing tangible results."

The government should instead focus on bringing some unity and openness to a nascent political system that was facing headwinds, he said, adding details of what transpires at the meeting should be revealed "with complete transparency and accountability."

Only six of Burma's 70 political parties and a few ethnic groups were invited to the talks.

"The president will have to explain," said Aye Maung, leader of the Arakan National Party, the second biggest ethnic party in Parliament, which is based in Arakan State and was not invited.

Thein Sein, a former junta general, has been lauded for widespread reforms since taking power in 2011 and convincing the West to suspend most sanctions, but critics say those changes are now starting to unravel.

Obama has sought to present US backing of Burma's reforms as a foreign policy success, but Washington has viewed developments in the country with growing concern.

On Tuesday, the US State Department said it was "deeply concerned and saddened" by reports of the killing in army custody of Par Gyi, a journalist and former democracy activist who once worked as a bodyguard for Suu Kyi.

Despite winning massive popularity at home and abroad, since becoming a lawmaker Suu Kyi has been criticized for her reluctance to comment on contentious political issues, or speak out against the military.

Asked about the roundtable talks during an interview on Thursday with Radio Free Asia, Suu Kyi bluntly replied: "Where did you get this information? You should ask those who were invited."

Next year's parliamentary election will be the first since 2010, which ushered in a quasi-civilian system that dismantled the absolute control of a military that had ruled since a 1962 coup, 14 years after independence from Britain.

It will also be the first general election that Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has contested since it won a 1990 vote that the military ignored. The party boycotted the 2010 poll and Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time.

The military holds several cabinet posts and 25 percent of legislative seats, essentially a veto on any attempt to change a Constitution it drafted as any amendment needs more than 75 percent support. The NLD is leading the push to change that, but is facing strong resistance.

The post Obama Urges Progress in Burma Ahead of Rare Roundtable appeared first on The Irrawaddy Magazine.