Thursday, April 4, 2013

International media go live from Myanmar

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:14 Khin Myo Thwe

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information has announced that Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK, and US-based wire service Associated Press have been granted permits to open bureaus in the country.

“We are now examining the application of another Japan-based media group, Kyodo News, which also wishes to open a branch in Myanmar,” said a spokesperson from the Ministry.

Other major foreign media, including Voice of America (VOA), the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Radio Free Asia (RFA), opened bureaus in Yangon in mid-2012.

Kyaw Kyaw, an official from RFA’s Myanmar branch, said that his department has 40 staff. “In the past, we had to ask permission from [headquarters in] Washington to travel to the Thai or Chinese borders to get information on Myanmar. Now we can be closely in contact with our sources.

“The benefit of working together with international media organizations is that we will be able to ascertain truthful information. The government will also benefit if they learn how to use the media correctly,” he said.
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5.5 earthquake recorded in Magway

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 12:34 Mizzima News



A moderate earthquake, measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale, was recorded in Magway (Magwe) in central Myanmar at 11 pm on Wednesday night, according to both the Naypyitaw Hydrology and Meteorology Department and the US Geological Survey (USGS).

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage to property, Chinese state media reported.

The epicenter of the quake was estimated at a location about 304 km southwest of Mandalay, 78 km southwest of Naypyitaw, and 80 km from Taungdwingyi in central Magway region.

USGS recorded the tremor at a magnitude of 5.4, and said it struck at a depth of 7.8 km.
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Suu Kyi heading to Japan

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 11:01 AFP

Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Japan from April 13 through 19, according to a Japanese statement released late Wednesday.

It will be her first visit to Japan in nearly three decades since her previous stay as a visiting researcher at the prestigious Kyoto University from 1985 to 1986, the foreign ministry said in the statement.

She is expected to visit Kyoto, to give speeches at universities, to meet Myanmar nationals living in Japan and to hold talks with Japanese political leaders, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Her visit will come as Japan continues to court newly-liberalised Myanmar as a trading partner.

Unlike many industrialised countries, Japan maintained trade ties and generous aid for Myanmar while it was ruled by a military junta, warning that taking a hard line could push it closer to China.

Tokyo has also gently pressed the country's leaders to listen to voices of those in opposition and the international community.

Since the end of military rule in 2011, Myanmar has made visible efforts to open up to the rest of the world and has lured international firms to start operations in the potentially lucrative market.

Japanese businesses in particular have been active in the country with strong backing from Tokyo, including the cancelation of 350 billion yen ($3.7 billion) of debt and numerous aid grants.
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Thein Sein to visit China

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:44 Mizzima News

Visiting Myanmar President Thein Sein (R) and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao (L) inspect a military honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 27, 2011. (AFP)

Myanmar’s President Thein Sein will pay a visit to China on April 6-8 at the invitation of newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to the Chinese Embassy in Yangon, which said that both leaders are scheduled to attend the annual conference of the Boao Forum For Asia in Hainan Province.

The theme of this year’s forum is “Asia Seeking Development for All: Restructuring, Responsibility and Cooperation”, and a number of state leaders from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas are expected to attend.

Myanmar’s MRTV and state-run New Light of Myanmar confirmed the trip, noting that this will be President Thein Sein’s third visit to China since he assumed the presidency in March 2011.
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Ambassador expects amnesty for Myanmar prisoners

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Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:15 Hintharni

Myanmar’s Ambassador to Thailand has said he expects some of the Myanmar prisoners in Thai jails will be granted amnesty or penalty reductions on HM Bhumibol’s 86th birthday this coming December.

Thailand's King Bhumibol may grant amnesties to many Myanmar prisoners later this year. PHOTO: Government of Thailand

Speaking to Mizzima earlier this week, Ambassador Myo Tint said, “I have submitted this request twice to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs which has responded positively.”

Myo Tint said that officially there are some 3,000 Myanmar prisoners in Thai jails on a range of different charges. However, unofficial estimates say there could be more than 10,000 in total.

U Myo Tint said that many of the said prisoners had been charged with drugs offenses, and that he would not seek release for those particular criminals.

He said the government of Thailand is considering lessening some sentences and granting amnesty to others, an occasion usually announced on December 5, the king’s birthday.
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meiktila: Waiting to return home

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Wednesday, 03 April 2013 14:18 Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint

In the week after shocking satellite images were released that showed the extent of the devastation in Meiktila following the riots, in which an estimated 41 people were killed and 12,000 displaced, some of the victims who lost their homes have spoken of how immediate aid is being provided, but say that what they really need is the opportunity to go back home.

Soldiers take part in clean-up operations on March 24, 2013, after an outbreak of communal violence claimed at least 32 lives and displaced about 9,000 people in Meiktila, central Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

Hnin Mya's home was gutted by a fire and he is currently taking refuge in a monastery: “Here, we have food and we can use kitchen equipment. People have made donations every day. We can use toilets and we have the required medicines. But now, we have heard that we have to move, so we need to a safe place to stay.”

Khin Thein, whose home was also destroyed by fire, said, “Plenty of groups have made donations, so we have enough food. But, there is concern about our lands and houses; we want to get our houses and lands back."

Relief organizations and residents living in Meiktila have been providing food and basic supplies to the victims.

An official from one IDP camp said, “When the fire started in the town, we carried all the necessary things we could. Some victims fled by foot, others on horse-drawn carts or cars”

Win Shein, an administrative chief in Meiktila, said, “They have unlimited access to drinking water at any time, according to their needs. And the municipality gave them bathwater. The victims also have access to food every day.”

Governmental organizations, social groups, political organizations and religious organizations have all made donations to the victims, said Win Shein.
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Investigation team formed to probe Yangon mosque fire

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Wednesday, 03 April 2013 11:58 Mizzima News

An investigation team has been formed by the Yangon Region Government to find out the exact cause of the fire that resulted in the deaths of 13 boys at the 48th Street Mosque on Tuesday.

Yangon security forces pictured outside the 48th Street Mosque on Tuesday. (Photo: Mizzima)

Fire services and government authorities initially responded with an explanation: “The fire—caused by the overheating of a transformer placed under the staircase—spread, trapping the boys sleeping in the attic. As a result, 13 twelve-year-old boys died of suffocation after inhaling smoke," a fire service officer said, reading from a statement, according to a report by Reuters.

The committee is comprised of seven members from various government bodies, including Kyi Win, the head of the Yangon Region Fire Services Department, Police Lt-Col Thet Lwin, deputy commander of the Yangon Region Police Force, and Aung Kyi, the head of Yangon Region Religious Affairs Department.

The results of their fact-finding report are due to be submitted to the regional government by April 5.
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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Suspicions flare about Yangon mosque fire

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 19:21 Mizzima News

The charred, barred windows of the upper storey of the bright blue mosque and school on Yangon's 48th Street tell a horrific tale—here, in the early hours of Tuesday, 13 young boys died in a fire that blazed through their dormitory.

The fire services and government authorities have responded quickly: “The fire—caused by the overheating of a transformer placed under the staircase—spread, trapping the boys sleeping in the attic. As a result, 13 twelve-year-old boys died of suffocation after inhaling smoke," a fire service officer said, reading from a statement, according to a report by Reuters.

Deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut echoed the line that the school fire had occurred because of a faulty transformer inside the school.

However, following the recent communal violence in central Myanmar, in which at least 43 people have died and 12,000 displaced, many observers harbor suspicions as to what may have caused this fire.

On the afternoon of April 2, as dozens of heavily armed police officers guarded 48th Street where authorities were still investigating the scene of the blaze, the funerals of the boys took place and emotions ran high among members of the surrounding Muslim community.

"We believe it was a deliberate attack," said Ruhl Amin, a translator assisting the Imam of M.M. Raunaq, a mosque on 101st Street, where surviving children and adults from the 48th Street mosque were taken on Tuesday morning.

"We asked the people who came to the mosque, senior people and children—they said they smelled gasoline. They [the suspected attackers] threw something in from outside," he said.

Their suspicions are not isolated. Eva Kusuma Sundari, ASEAN Inter-parliamentary Myanmar Caucus President and Indonesian Member of Parliament, has made a public call for justice to be sought if, in fact, it was arson.

However, if it was not, she said in her statement, "then this must be clearly proven to prevent a continued decline in inter-communal relations that threaten the security of all Burmese [Myanmar] and the fragile reform process in the country.”
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Daily newspapers finally hit newsstands

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 19:43 Khaing Khaing

Four private daily newspapers were published on Monday in Myanmar—the Voice Daily, Golden Fresh Land, the Union Daily, and San Daw Chein—for the first time since the 1960s.

Phoe Thauk Kyar, the editor of Golden Fresh Land, told Mizzima that the launch of private newspapers would help to protect citizens’ rights.

“These days, it has become so hard to find quality editors and reporters,” he said. “To be honest, we still do not have enough resources and assets to publish the newspaper as best we can.”

Phoe Thauk Kyar said that Golden Fresh Land now has 36 staffers but needs double that number to work on a long-term basis.

Kyaw Min Swe of the Voice Daily said that the newcomers are going to cover all the major issues, including news from around the world.

The Myanmar government has issued 16 licenses—one of which was awarded to Mizzima—while other applicants are pending.

Maung Hla, a private citizen who says he likes to buy a newspaper every morning, told Mizzima on Monday that readers were now spoilt for choice.

“Before we had only the Myanmar Ahlin [Light of Myanmar] and The Mirror,” he said. “Now we will have a choice of private newspapers. Not only that, but they look nice and are good quality.”

The first editions of Myanmar’s private newspapers were selling at newsstands on Monday and Tuesday for just 200 to 300 kyat per copy (US $0.23 – 0.35).
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OIC calls for end to anti-Muslim campaign

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 14:42 Mizzima News

The Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, has called on the Myanmar government to put an end to the campaigns of hatred being waged against Muslims in the country.

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (Photo: OIC)

Speaking at OIC headquarters in the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah on Saturday, March 30, Prof. Ihsanoglu also addressed a message to Muslims in Myanmar, telling them the OIC “would champion their cause”, and stressing that the Organisation and its member states will follow up the issue and stand ready to take all necessary measures to address it.  

A meeting of the OIC’s Contact group was called in response to the communal violence that erupted in central Myanmar following an otherwise innocuous incident at a gold shop in Meiktila on March 20.

“These acts of violence have killed scores of Muslims, burned their homes, and left hundreds of them homeless, in addition to the burning of mosques and schools,” the IOC Secretary-General said.

A Times of India report said that the IOC will reconvene to discuss the issue of Myanmar on April 14.

With 57 member states, the IOC is the second largest inter-governmental organization in the world after the United Nations.

In October, the Myanmar government rejected plans by the OIC to open an office in Myanmar after Buddhist monks led protests against the bloc’s involvement.
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13 boys killed in fire at Islamic school

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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 10:35 Mizzima News

Thirteen boys died in Botahtaung Islamic School in central Yangon when a fire broke out in the early hours of Tuesday at the adjoining Yay-Gyaw Mosque.

A group of Muslim people pray for the victims of a fire at an Islamic school in Yangon on April 2, 2013. (AFP)

Myanmar state media announced on Tuesday morning that the 13 were among some 70 students who were sleeping in the school on 48th Street in Botahtaung Township when the fire broke out at approximately 3 am. The students died of burns and smoke inhalation, the report said. Four students who were originally reported as missing have now been accounted for and are alive and uninjured.

Deputy Minister of Information Ye Htut wrote on his Facebook that the school fire occurred because of a faulty transformer inside the school.

Islamic religious leaders and local Muslims gathered at the school early on Tuesday morning to pray for the souls of the deceased.

The fire—assuming it was accidental—comes at an inopportune time for local authorities and the Muslim community in general, following on the heels of anti-Muslim riots in central Myanmar and a period of inter-communal tension in the former capital.
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Monday, April 1, 2013

Security expert warns of pipeline explosion

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Monday, 01 April 2013 17:01 Mizzima News

Running a pipeline of natural gas through an active conflict zone is highly dangerous, according to a respected security consultant in the UK.

KIA front lines

Speaking to reporter James Byrne of Russian newswire Interfax’s Natural Gas Daily, Michael Oxlade, senior security consultant at Westminster International, which provides security for oil and gas infrastructure, said that running an over-ground gas pipeline in a location where an armed conflict is taking place is “absolutely unadvisable”.

Oxlade was interviewed for an Interfax report about the trans-Myanmar Shwe Gas pipeline which is currently in its final phase of construction. Chinese investors CNPC recently announced that they hoped to have the pipeline actively transferring gas from the Bay of Bengal to southern China by June.

However, the final phase of the 2,806-km pipeline—which is intended to transport 12 billion cubic meters of gas per year—runs through northern Shan State where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is engaged in heavy fighting against Myanmar government forces.

Much of the conflict zone is peppered with landmines, and both sides use both small arms and heavy assault weapons, including artillery. In recent months, the Myanmar army has intensified its assaults on KIA front lines, bases and its headquarters in Laiza, and has deployed jet fighters and helicopter gunships to attack Kachin positions.

“Running an over-ground gas pipeline in a location where an armed conflict is taking place is absolutely unadvisable; an explosion could easily be caused by a stray bullet. If the pipeline is penetrated, it will explode, causing it—and the surrounding area—significant damage,” Oxlade is quoted as saying in the March 28 report.
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AP to open Yangon bureau

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Monday, 01 April 2013 12:57 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

It has been a landmark few days in Myanmar's rapidly developing media scene. On April 1, four of the 16 permitted newspapers launched the first editions of their new daily papers—they are the first privately-owned dailies to be published in the country in more than 50 years.

And, on Saturday, the Ministry of Information informed the Associated Press (AP) that it would be the first international news agency allowed to open a bureau in Yangon. The newswire has operated in the country for many years, with correspondents like Aye Aye Win producing award-winning journalism for the agency since 1989, and her father, Sein Win, before her.

“AP has a proud history of reportage from Myanmar, and the new multimedia bureau marks the beginning of an even more robust commitment,” said the non-profit company's President and CEO Gary Pruitt in an AP report. “We hope to build on our efforts and cover the important changes there for many years to come.”

Japanese broadcaster NHK was also granted a license to open an office in Yangon. Under the previous regime, only Chinese news agencies Xinhua and Guanming were permitted to have staff on the ground in Myanmar.

State-run daily newspapers reported on March 26 that the authorizing committee for daily publications had yet to decide on three more pending applications. If permitted it would bring the total of daily newspapers in Myanmar to 19.

Last month, the government announced that it has suspended its draft media law until parliamentary sessions resume after Myanmar's traditional Water Festival ends on April 17.

London-based rights group Article 19 previously said that the draft of the Myanmar’s new media bill falls short of international standards.

The organization said at the end of February in a statement that the new press bill to be presented in Parliament “retains a vagueness that will leave the print media open to abuse from the government and other powerful actors.”

It said that the draft Press Law Bill (2013), if passed, would undermine the role of journalists and overly restrict their work.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Thai police continue to dispute cause of refugee camp fire

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Saturaday, 30 March 2013 20:53 The Bangkok Post

Several clues indicate that the cause of the fire that killed 37 people at Mae Surin refugee camp was arson, the district police chief insists.

Mae Surin refugee camp after the fire on Friday, March 22, 2013. (PHOTO: TBC)

Khun Yuam district police chief Pol Col Nitinart Wittayawuthikul says he stands by his remarks despite the fact that authorities have unofficially concluded the fire was an accident.

Mae Hong Son police chief Sompong Chingduang, meanwhile, reiterated that Pol Col Nitinart was transferred to an inactive post because he had failed to carry out his duties properly.

Pol Maj Gen Sompong said Pol Col Nitinart was negligent in the way he handled operations to put out the fire.

Pol Col Nitinart was temporarily transferred to an inactive post at Mae Hong Son provincial police office following the disaster.

However, he claimed his transfer was because he refused to conclude the Mae Surin fire on March 22 was an accident.
He insisted his team was among the first to arrive at the camp that evening.

In an interview with the Bangkok Post, he said there were several clues which indicated the fire might have been started intentionally.

He said more than 10 Karen refugees gave statements to his team that they had seen a burning object fall from an aircraft flying over the camp a few minutes before the fire was discovered.

How the fire spread was unusual, he said. It began in a house in Zone 1 of the camp and spread to Zone 4, rather than Zone 2.

Joa Pa Hu, 26, the owner of the house where it is thought the fire started, told police he was not at home when the blaze began.

Eyewitnesses told police they had seen fires flaring up from different points at the same time, and that there was no wind at the time, Pol Col Nitinart said.

He said the fire seemed to have been set to "encircle" the camp.

The colour of the smoke was also suspicious, he said.

"The smoke appeared dark, such as what you see with the burning of chemical substances or rubber tyres," the officer said.

"Smoke from a burning house mostly made from natural materials such as bamboo and leaves should be more white."
Liquid phosphorus might have been used to spark the fire, he said.

A source from the police forensics team said traces of phosphorus had been found in the grounds of the house where the blaze was believed to have started.

The motive, if the fire was deliberate, could have been the high cost of maintaining the camp, Pol Col Nitinart said.

"Some people have told me to shut my mouth," he claimed. "But I can't. Those refugees have spilt blood and lost lives. So I have to tell the truth."

A military source in Mae Hong Son told the Bangkok Post that the cause of the fire was unlikely to have been a cooking mishap, as authorities claim. However, he could not rule it out.

A police source said the investigation is mainly being conducted by officers from outside Khun Yuam district.
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This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on March 30, 2013.
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For more background:

  1. Mae Surin fire was accident, says Thai security chief
  2. Refugee camp fire not an accident, says police chief
  3. Refugee camp death toll rises to 42


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