Friday, December 28, 2012

Four Thais sentenced over Burmese migrant deaths in 2008

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Friday, 28 December 2012 14:50 Mizzima News

Four people smugglers were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison by a Thai court on Thursday over a 2008 incident when 54 migrant workers from Burma suffocated to death inside a seafood container, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported.

The four Thais were convicted of gross negligence resulting in death and of breaking immigration laws, an official from a court in the country's southern Ranong province told AFP.

The 54 victims were among 121 people crammed into the 6 x 2 m container which reportedly had a broken ventilation system. The migrants were being transported to Phuket in southern Thailand to work as day laborers.

The owner of the container truck was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a second defendant received nine years and a third—who owned a jetty in southern Thailand where the migrants arrived by boat—was jailed for six years, the report said.

A woman defendant had her sentence halved to three years after confessing, the official said.

The truck driver, who fled the scene after discovering the tragedy, was jailed for six years in August 2008 having admitted to his role in the crime, the official added.

Survivors have recounted desperately trying to raise the alarm as they fought for breath in the storage box.

"No matter how many times we hit the container the driver did not pay any attention," one female migrant who was on board told Thai television.
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For more background:


http://www.mizzima.com/edop/interview/1738-thai-co-pays-compensation-to-families-of-burmese-migrants.html
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TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 4

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Friday, 28 December 2012 13:28 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-ZINE+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at www.mizzima.com, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

4. Organized labor shows its teeth

Hi Mo High Art wig factory workers, pictured on strike in May. (Photo: Mizzima)

Unions in poor developing countries do not exactly resemble their large, structured, well-off and very politically focused counterparts in First World economies. Whereas the latter might aim to maintain and expand a middle-class lifestyle for their members, the former, when permitted, will often expand its energies on getting at least a survival wage for its members and something done about the often-deleterious working hours and conditions.

Burma, where for years union activity was suppressed and strikes were unheard of, now sees repeated bouts of labor activism. The country’s new labor law, signed by the president in March, expressly allows for collective bargaining and even strike activity under certain conditions. This has breathed new life into what should be part of a functioning civil society.

As one would expect, given Burma’s demographics and stage of economic development, the labor unions and strike activity are largely an urban phenomenon and limited somewhat to companies employing a large workforce. While these represent the initial stirring of a revivified labor activism, there are good reasons for wanting things to not get out of hand.

Potential investors, say in textiles, who are thinking of setting up shop in the country might think again and look for locations where unions are weak or non-existent.

But that should not be an excuse for weakening labor rights, far from it. What is needed, as is needed worldwide, is a proper balance between governments that set regulatory frameworks, entrepreneurs who seek out economic opportunities and build their businesses, and workers who provide the muscle for those enterprises.

Workers should not be made to feel they are simply beasts of burden, without leverage and alienated from a system that pays them as little as possible in terms of wages. For their part, unions need to help foster their firms’ overall health. After all, the firms are the geese that should lay golden eggs.

Some day in the near future, economists hope, Myanmar will have a much larger class of salaried individuals fueling economic growth with their purchases. For that to happen, those salaries will have to keep tandem with growth. Good wages and good working conditions are not simply “there for the taking” in Burma—hence the need for effective unions that can think ahead.
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Related articles:
http://www.mizzima.com/edop/features/7104-anatomy-of-a-burmese-workers-strike-in-thailand.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/6568-rangoon-factory-workers-protest-spreads.html
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M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.Mzineplus.com.
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Burma’s Central Bank has its head in the cloud

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Friday, 28 December 2012 12:51 Mizzima News

Daiwa Institute of Research Ltd., Fujitsu Ltd. and KDDI Corp. have announced that they have built an online computer system for the Central Bank of Myanmar and that, in doing so, they have created the country's first cloud data-storage environment, according to a report by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun.
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

One Kachin civilian killed, three injured in mortar attack

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 18:37 Phanida

One Kachin villager was killed and three were injured by mortar fire in the town of Mankwi when the village, which acts as a military base for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), came under fire on Thursday morning from Burmese government forces based on the nearby Hkan Gai Bum Mountain.

A Kachin refugee, injured in a mortar attack by Burmese government forces, receives treatment in Laiza Hospital on Thursday. (PHOTO: courtesy of Eedy News)

The two men and two women were identified as local villagers who had been sheltering at a refugee camp in Laiza, but who had returned to Mankwi to attend to their house and watermelon garden. They were reportedly working in their garden when hit by the artillery fire. One of the men was instantly killed.

“They had returned from Je Yang refugee camp [in Laiza] to their home to attend to their garden,” said a KIA health official, speaking to Mizzima on Thursday. “The man was hit directly by a shell.”

The other three Kachin refugees were hit by shrapnel on their abdomens and legs, and were taken to Laiza Hospital for treatment.

The KIA and the Burmese forces exchanged fire all morning until about 2 pm, said Min Htay, the information officer of the All Burma Students Democratic Front (Northern Branch) on Thursday afternoon.

“This morning, the government troops marched to the village of Na Lung where they encountered landmines, so they withdrew,” he said. “Then, a skirmish broke out at Daw Pone Yan. Our ABSDF troops were not involved in the fighting. The government forces and the KIA continued fighting at the eastern bank of Moonlwel Stream.”

Meanwhile, sources said that nine military helicopters from the government’s Northern Command in Myitkyina were approaching the KIO headquarters in Laiza on Thursday afternoon. War refugees in Laiza were reported to be digging trenches while others were packing to flee to the China border.
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Related articles:


http://www.mizzima.com/special/kachin-battle-report/8590-kia-raids-police-station-3-killed.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8362-kia-claims-upper-hand-in-shan-state-clashes-.html
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Burmese President meets China’s copper mine backer

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 16:21 Xiao Ting Shirley

Burma’s President Thein Sein received a Chinese delegation of the defense industry giant China North Industries Corporation (NORINCO) at the Presidential Palace on Wednesday afternoon, his office announced on its website.

China's Wanbao Company are a major stakeholder at the Monywa copper mine project in Sagaing Division. (PHOTO: Hein Htet / Mizzima)

The high-level Chinese delegation was headed by the firms’ president Zhang Guoqing.

NORINCO is the parent company of Wanbao Company which has recently been embroiled in controversy over its investment in the Monywa copper mine where dozens of Buddhist monks and activists were injured last month when riot police stepped in to disperse anti-mine protests.

Established in 1979, China North Industries Corporation, or NORINCO, is one of China’s 500 biggest state-owned enterprises and the main import-export handler for China’s largest arms manufacturer.

“It mainly deals with defense products, petroleum & mineral resources exploitation, [and] international engineering contracting,” says NORINCO on its official website.

The US government announced sanctions against NORINCO for the sale of missile components to sanctioned states in 2003, with media reports indicating the state in question was Iraq.

At Wednesday’s high-level meeting, Thein Sein was joined by Ministers Lt- Gen Ko Ko and Hla Tun, Deputy Minister Thant Kyaw and departmental heads, as well as Chinese Ambassador to Burma Li Junhua.

“Matters related to [the] promotion of Sino-Burma relations and bilateral cooperation [were] discussed during the meeting, longing for long-term cooperation and making investments,” the Burmese President’s office said.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/7981-more-protestors-arrested-at-cooper-mine-demonstration.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/5729-ivanhoe-mines-receives-103-million-from-monywa-mine-sale.html
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Japanese foundation delivers aid to Mon refugees

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:20 Peng Qinqin

The Nippon Foundation said that it had completed the shipment of relief goods including rice and medicines to Mon State on December 25, the first of an expected US $3 million donation to ethnic refugees.

The Nippon Foundation president Mr.Yohei SASAKAWA, Chairman Nai Htaw Mon of the New Mon State Party (NMSP), peace negotiator Aung Min and State Minister Ohn Myint at the State office in Mawlamyine, Mon State in December 22. (Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima)

The Japanese NGO said the activity was designed to promote peace between Burma’s central government and the country’s ethnic minorities.

It said that the supplies will reach the internally displaced people of the area by the end of the year. More than 4,000 ethnic Mon refugees have been displaced by armed conflict between Burmese government forces and ethnic rebels.

Relief goods will be delivered to other areas for displaced minorities as soon as transportation routes are secured, the Nippon Foundation said in a statement.

The Japanese foundation, a nonprofit grant-making organization, is the first private group to deliver humanitarian aid into the region under an MoU between the Burmese government and an ethnic bloc of minority groups: the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC).

The UNFC is an alliance of 11 armed ethnic groups, all of which have signed ceasefire agreements—some tentatively— with the Burmese government.

"I would like to make the present relief efforts a catalyst for realizing peace," said Yohei Sasakawa, the Chairman of the Nippon Foundation who is also Japan’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Welfare of National Races in Burma.

Chairman Nai Htaw Mon of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) said he welcomed the aid, adding that it would constitute the first step toward promoting political dialogue with the government.

“Now, due to the transportation and geographic situation, the aid will preliminarily be provided to Mon and Karen areas. Meanwhile, negotiations regarding the provision of aid to other ethnic areas are underway, and will lead to delivery when finished,” said Nai Hong Sar Bon Khine, an NMSP Foreign Affairs official, speaking on a trip to Japan organized by the Nippon Foundation last month.

“It is unprecedented that such a large aid package is to be given to the armed forces of a minority group, and an extraordinary move for the [Myanmar] government,” said a previous statement released by the Nippon Foundation.

Decades of conflicts between the Burmese army and minority groups have caused more than one million refugees, mostly ethnic minorities, to be displaced among Burma’s mountain regions and in neighboring countries such as India, China and Thailand.

Aung Min, a Chief Minister in the President’s Office and the government’s principal peace negotiator, said at a ceremony held with Mon residents on December 22 that the Nippon Foundation was a representative of those increasing international NGOs who have begun to support the building of peace in Burma.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/regional/8302-nippon-foundation-to-give-3-million-in-aid-to-ethnic-areas.html
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Air Bagan takes ‘full responsibility’ for fatal crash

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 15:23 Yadanar Oo

Air Bagan held a press conference at the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Rangoon on Wednesday afternoon to address the crash-landing of Flight XY-AGC at Heho Airport in southern Shan State the day before when two people were killed and 11 hospitalized.

Air Bagan’s Managing Director Htoo Thet Htwe speaks at a press conference in Rangoon on Wednesday to address the passenger plane crash at Heho Airport in Shan State which killed two persons on December 25. Air Bagan said it will give each of the foreign passengers US $2,000 and each of the Burmese passengers 300,000 kyat ($350) to spend (not as compensation). Air Bagan did not address the matter of compensation for the two killed in the crash-landing. (PHOTO: Bo Bo / Mizzima)

The airline said that it would give each of the 48 foreign passengers US $2,000 and each of the surviving 16 Burmese passengers 300,000 kyat ($350)—but stressed that this was not an offer of compensation.

There were 65 passengers on the 22-year-old Fokker F-100 when it attempted an emergency landing some distance short of the Heho Airport runway on Christmas morning. A Burmese tour guide named as Nwe Lin Shein was killed inside the plane while a passing motorcyclist was killed on the ground when the aircraft landed.

Air Bagan said that it would take full responsibility for the funerals of those who died, but did not address the matter of compensation for the diseased. It is learnt that the Myanma Insurance Company is still investigating and calculating compensation payments.

Representatives from international insurance companies have also arrived at the site to investigate.

The plane’s black box has been retrieved and sent to Singapore for examination.

Air Bagan’s Managing Director Htoo Thet Htwe, Technical Director Hlaing Bwar, Assistant Managing Director Aung San, Director Captain Soe Win and air hostess Khine Su Hlaing spoke at the press conference.
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8635-burmese-authorities-promise-investigation-into-fatal-plane-crash.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8626-two-confirmed-dead-in-shan-state-plane-crash.html
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Vietnam on board for Burmese fisheries tasks

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 14:31 Khin Myo Thwe

The Myanmar Fisheries Federation has announced that local entrepreneurs will cooperate with Vietnamese investors in the livestock and fisheries sectors.

Fishermen working on board a ship in Sittwe, Rakhine State. (PHOTO: dany13 DANIEL JULIE / Flickr)

Burma’s Deputy Minister for Livestock and Fisheries held talks with a 10-member delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Ms. Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu on December 24.

Than Win, a participant at the talks, said, “We had discussions about the breeding conditions for salmon, sea cucumbers, shell fish, lobsters, saltwater prawns, and river catfish.”

An MoU was duly signed pledging cooperation in the livestock and fisheries sectors between the two countries.

The two delegations also spoke about the formation of technical task forces for follow-up tasks and investment in Burma’s livestock and fisheries sectors and the promotion of trade in fisheries products between the two countries.

“Two years ago Vietnam began working with the Pearl Nadi Company in breeding temperate habitats—for lobsters, sea cucumbers and molluscs—on Myeik island,” said Kyaw Myint, a catfish breeder from Nyaungdone in Irrawaddy Division.

Vietnam is regarded as a leader in the global fisheries market, and has extensive experience in breeding river fish.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8497-burma-vietnam-presidents-vow-to-increase-bilateral-trade.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/3925-fisheries-fail-to-hit-export-targets-despite-gains-.html

http://www.mizzima.com/edop/analysis/2673-burmas-fishery-export-downward-trend-continue.html
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Burmese drug lord’s final appeal rejected

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 12:35 Xiao Ting Shirley

A Chinese court on Wednesday rejected appeals by Shan drug lord Naw Kham and three of his subordinates, upholding the death penalties imposed on them for the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in October last year.

Naw Kham pictured entering the High Court in Kunming on December 26, 2012. (Photo: China News Agency)

The final ruling on the morning of December 26 by the High Court in Kunming, capital of China’s southwestern Yunnan Province, upheld the death penalties awarded to the case’s four principal defendants, including Naw Kham. Two other accomplices, identified by their Chinese names Zha Bo and Zha Tuobo, were sentenced to death with reprieve and eight years in prison respectively, according to China’s official news agencies.

Naw Kham, the reported leader of the Hawngleuk Militia, a 100-strong force based in the Shan State border town of Tachilek, together with five co-defendants, was accused of a brutal murder on the Mekong River where two cargo ships were hijacked and the 13 crew members killed and dumped in the water, their bodies recovered by Thai authorities on October 5, 2011.

Referred to by the Chinese media as the “Mekong Tragedy”, the Shan militia was accused of taking revenge on the Chinese cargo ships because they had failed to pay protection money for safe passage on the river.

Naw Kham denied plotting the attack at his first appearance in court on September 20 while the five other defendants all testified that Naw Kham was the gang’s ringleader who had ordered the hijacking. All six suspects were charged with intentional homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and ship hijacking by the Chinese Procuratorate.

The People's Court of Yunnan handed down a death sentence on Naw Kham last month although the drug lord had changed his plea to guilty, expressing remorse and pleading for a lighter penalty.

The two Chinese cargo ships involved in the case, the Hua Ping and Yu Xing 8, were seized on the Mekong River, an important trading waterway in Southeast Asia.

This was allegedly not the first crime committed by the Hawngleuk Militia along the Mekong River. Public data reported by Chinese media shows that the drug gang was suspected of robberies and armed attacks aimed at Chinese vessels and Chinese citizens more than 28 times, incidents which caused 16 deaths and three injuries.

China, Laos, Burma and Thailand launched a new joint patrol on the Mekong River last Sunday in an attempt to normalize trade and transportation, reported China’s Xinhua News Agency. The initial four-country joint patrol was initiated in October 2011 to tackle safety concerns raised after the fatal hijacking incident.
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/regional/8358-naw-kham-sentenced-to-death-in-china.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/regional/7444-warrants-issued-for-thai-solders-in-mekong-murders.html
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TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 5

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Thursday, 27 December 2012 12:41 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-ZINE+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at www.mizzima.com, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

5. The expansion of ethnic ceasefires

Burmese government peace delegation leader Minister Aung Min shakes hands with KNU Commander-in- Chief Gen. Mutu Say Poe after signing a ceasefire agreement in Pa-an, Karen State, on January 12, 2012. (Photo: Mizzima)

All too often, the struggle for democracy in Burma has been depicted in Western media as a morality play, pitting a strong-willed, intelligent yet kindly woman facing off against a stubborn, officer corps with a dully obscurantist and medieval mindset.

The political turmoil in Burma, or Myanmar, during the military-run era was never that simplistic, but perhaps the most egregious error with that picture was that it ignored the multiplicity of ethnic conflicts that have bedeviled the country since its independence and struck at a core question—what is to be the nature of the state?

Succeeding governments have determined there must be a centrally controlled unitary state, dismissing a key ethnic demand for federalism as a threat or worse.

Over the years, government tactics to realize and reinforce this goal have ranged from co-optation, divide and rule, setting up proxy militias, to engaging in devastating military campaigns.

Many previous ceasefires, such as those between 1988 and 1993, seemed to be not quite attempts at national reconciliation, even though they mitigated armed conflict, but more tactical maneuvers. Any autonomy granted the minorities would in the future, and from a position of strength, be revoked.

This year the government, without conceding for now how it defines the state, did reach out to the minorities with much more sincerity—with the peripatetic ex-Railways Minister Aung Min taking the lead in holding serious discussions and making preliminary agreements with organizations such as the Karen National Union.

Many of the ethnic armed or political groups, racked by factionalism, an inability to make real common cause across ethnic boundaries despite a multiplicity of umbrella organizations set up for the purpose, and many other woes, reciprocated—if warily in some cases. Though tough issues—notably whether federalism is to be on the table—lie ahead, for the first time in decades there is a real possibility of peace.

Just how fragile this process currently is, cannot be stressed enough. In northern Burma, a re-ignited and bloody conflict still rages between the Kachin Independence Army and government forces. Thus in 2012, concerned observers had a chance to witness both the road forward and the one running away in the opposite direction.
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/regional/8403-ethnic-bloc-calls-for-nationwide-cease-fire.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8369-shan-leader-warns-of-cease-fire-violations-reiterates-call-for-federalism.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/6402-knu-govt-sign-cease-fire-agreement.html

M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.Mzineplus.com.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Burmese authorities promise investigation into fatal plane crash

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 14:42 Mizzima News

The Burmese government said on Wednesday that it has formed a commission to investigate Tuesday's crash-landing of an Air Bagan airplane in southern Shan State which left two people dead and 11 others injured, official media reported.

The incident has immediately raised questions about the safety standards of Burma’s outdated but overstretched aviation industry at a time when foreign tourist arrivals appear set to increase markedly in the wake of democratic reforms in the country and the lifting of Western sanctions.

Business as usual—Air Bagan's flight W9-011 took off as scheduled from Heho airport at 9:35 am on Wednesday, a day after the crash, carrying tourists and other passengers to Rangoon. (PHOTO: Xiao Ting Shirley / Mizzima)

The 22-year-old Fokker 100 crash-landed in thick fog on Tuesday morning in a rice field some distance short of the runway at Heho Airport, the gateway to popular tourist destination Inle Lake.

According to official reports, Air Bagan flight no. XY-AGC was carrying six crew members, 48 foreign passengers and 17 local passengers. It departed from Mandalay International Airport for Heho at about 8.28 am, and was forced to attempt an emergency landing on a road at about 8.51 am.

According to state-run The New Light of Myanmar: “The plane hit [the] Kalaw-Aungthabye 66 KVA power grid that links from east to west about one mile from Heho airport runway and trees on Taunggyi-Meiktila roadside and then hit the ground as mist covered the runway.”

Burmese officials said that the plane’s tail broke—presumably on impact with the power line or the trees—and caught fire. As it crash-landed, a motorcyclist on the ground was killed.

An air hostess reacted quickly, reports say, in opening an emergency door which allowed the passengers to flee the burning aircraft.

The body of the aircraft was almost entirely burned while part of a wing was seen lying next to a nearby road, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

One Burmese tour guide on board was killed, and at least 11 passengers were hospitalized. Air Bagan said that two injured Americans were flown to Bangkok for treatment. Two Britons, one South Korean and the two pilots were among the injured hospitalized in nearby Taunggyi.

“We are still working to find out the cause,” Civil Aviation Department Deputy Director General Win Swe Tun, who is heading the investigation into the crash, told AFP at Heho Airport.

“Air Bagan deeply regret the deaths of two persons and tender its condolences to the bereaved families,” the airline said in an English-language statement posted on its Facebook page.

“Air Bagan in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport is investigating into the cause of the accident. We will take full responsibility for all passengers and will release further information as we [receive] it.”

The airline is owned by Burmese tycoon Tay Za, who was blacklisted under US and EU sanctions and was previously described by the US Treasury as a “notorious regime henchman and arms dealer.”

The ill-fated aircraft was XY-AGC Fokker 100, which staged its inaugural flight in February 1991. The aircraft was purchased by Air Bagan in 2005.

Meanwhile, the incident does not appear to have affected Air Bagan flights to and from Heho Airport. A Mizzima reporter confirmed that Air Bagan flight W9-011 took off as scheduled from Heho at 9:35 am on Wednesday, the day after the crash, carrying tourists and other passengers to Rangoon.
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Related article:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8626-two-confirmed-dead-in-shan-state-plane-crash.html
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Burma confirms diplomatic ties with Iceland

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 12:48 Mizzima News

The Burmese and Icelandic governments have agreed to establish diplomatic relations, according to Burma’s state media on Wednesday.

A 2011 view of Reykjavik showing the spire of Hallgrímskirkja,(PHOTO: Wikipedia)

“The Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Republic of Iceland, guided by the willingness to promote the friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation on the basis of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of International Law, agreed to establish diplomatic relations at Ambassadorial level with effect from 19 December 2012,” said The New Light of Myanmar.

The report said that a joint communiqué was signed between the two nations at the United Nations in New York on December 19.

Burma now has diplomatic relations with 110 countries around the world. In 2012 alone, Naypyitaw established official relations with five other nations: Malawi, Bhutan, Luxembourg, Latvia and Estonia.  

Burma now has embassies in 30 countries and two permanent missions in New York and Geneva, while 28 countries have embassies in Burma.
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Australia pledges $1 million to Burmese emergency fund

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 12:45 Mizzima News

The Australian government has pledged AUS $1 million (US $1.04 million) to the Humanitarian Multi Stakeholder Fund (HMSF), an emergency response scheme established in Burma [Myanmar] and managed by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A guide to Australian aid, as issued by AusAID.

The funds will join a pool of international donations reserved for providing emergency assistance in situations affecting water, sanitation and hygiene, health care, food, education, protection, livelihoods and agriculture.

The Australian funds are coordinated through the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

“The Australian Government is a strong supporter of effective and flexible humanitarian funding mechanisms, such as the HMSF,” said Mr. Michael Hassett, the Head of Development Assistance for AusAID in Myanmar, in a OCHA statement on December 24. “Such mechanisms are particularly important in Myanmar given the ongoing needs in border regions and its susceptibility to natural disasters. Australia is pleased to support the HMSF as it is an efficient way to ensure our support reaches those in need.”

Since its inception in 2007, the HMSF has disbursed funds to 16 humanitarian projects in 180 villages, reaching some 200,000 people, OCHA said. “These projects have provided life-saving activities in south-east Myanmar, Kachin and Northern Shan States. In November of this year, its coverage was expanded to include Rakhine State in view of the acute humanitarian needs resulting from inter-communal conflict.”

The HMSF is a pooled fund and its main donors in Burma are the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and now the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

Since its launch in Burma, contributions from donors amount to US $7 million, the statement said.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/7291-australia-to-provide-80-million-for-burma-schools.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/world/7077-australia-increases-aid-package-to-burma.html
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Shan party ‘open’ to merger

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 12:50 Mizzima News

Leaders of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) have said they are open to a merger with their main rival Shan party before the 2015 election to better compete against the National League for Democracy and Union Solidarity and Development Party, according to a report in the Myanmar Times on December 24.

Shan Nationalities League for Democracy party chairman Khun Tun Oo. Photo: Facebook

The news comes a week ahead of the SNDP’s national convention in Tachilek on January 2-4 when some 600 representatives from 56 Shan State townships are expected to attend.

Party Vice-chairman Sai Hsaung Hsi said a merger with the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) was in the interests of the Shan people.

“There are likely to be two Shan parties in Shan State for the 2015 election and if these two merge into one, they will be stronger. They can have enough strength to compete against the two giant parties,” he told The Myanmar Times.

The SNLD, which won 23 seats in the 1990 election, was deregistered in 2010 but re-registered earlier this year after its leader, Khun Htun Oo, was released from prison in January.

The SNDP was formed by former SNLD members to compete in the 2010 election, in which it won 57 seats in both houses of Parliament and in state and division legislatures.
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/political-pro/new-parties/sndp.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/7099-new-shan-party-approved-to-register.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/7777-snld-party-leader-calls-for-more-govt-decentralization.html
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Japan’s NEC opens branch office in Rangoon

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 12:30 Mizzima News

Japan’s NEC Corporation announced on December 25 that it had established a branch office in Rangoon.

NEC's HSMX-3000 Multi-Format Routing Switcher which can distribute various format/bit-rate of digital signals. (PHOTO: NEC)

In a press release, NEC said it was “aiming to develop the country's information and communications technology (ICT) and social infrastructure. The new office is scheduled to begin operations in January 2013.”

The Tokyo-based IT firm, which specializes in telecommunications, servers and electronics, said that it also plans to open a branch office in the capital, Naypyitaw.

NEC, originally the Nippon Electric company, was founded in 1899. In recent years it has emerged as a leader in providing IT and network services to both private businesses and government agencies.

In its statement on Monday, it said, “Recently, Myanmar's unique geography, abundance of natural resources and movement towards democracy are attracting the attention of businesses throughout the world. In order to support the rapid economic growth that is expected in the future, the country is deeply in need of infrastructure improvement, where reports indicate that just 3% of the nation's roughly 62 million people subscribe to fixed or mobile telephone lines. By 2015, the government aims to increase this figure to as high as 50%, which is also expected to drive improvements in the banking and IT systems.”

According to Shin Sakamoto, the General Manager of the firm’s Greater China and Asia Pacific Sales Division: “NEC has been contributing to Myanmar's communications infrastructure for 35 years through the provision of telephone switchboards, wireless equipment, satellite ground stations and broadcasting systems. In the future, NEC aims to continue responding to local needs and strengthening regional business through the provision of international communication networks such as submarine cable systems, ICT infrastructure for industrial parks, disaster prevention systems, security systems, e-government systems and mass-market products such as servers.”
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8526-japan-it-firm-gives-green-light-to-traffic-control-in-burma.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/7850-burma-to-enhance-communication-technology-links.html
Readmore...

TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 6

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 12:35 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-ZINE+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at www.mizzima.com, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

6. Currency exchange reform for the kyat

This picture in September 2011 shows Burmese bank workers counting kyat notes in Rangoon. Photo: AFP

For years, there was “no size fits all” in Burma when it came to exchange rates. Calculate the big wad of kyat in your bag at the official rate and you could start thinking about that new boat you had your eye on. Do the sums at the black market rate and it was simply enough for a few meals at the nearby eatery. Something was wrong.

During the socialist period with its inefficient command economy structures and autarkic predilections, the government saw the national currency as a child needing excessive protection from all and sundry. Even after 1988 with the moves towards a market economy, it was very difficult for the authorities to consider letting go.

To be sure there was still the black market and official intermediary measures, such as those foreign exchange certificates (FECs), which are due to be abolished in 2013.

There was also a barter system (in the 1970s tourists could exchange cigarettes and Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch for a good rate in kyat). And of course for certain individuals, organizations and companies with clout and deemed ever so helpful, the rates of exchange were “negotiable”.

But something had to be done about the kyat exchange rates to set the stage for more aid and investment possibilities, of that the World Bank and IMF were insistent.

In April, Myanmar’s Central Bank finally took the plunge and allowed the kyat to float. Potential investors most definitely took notice.
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/business/6750-burma-to-float-currency-starting-april-1.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/7284-burma-to-issue-10000-kyat-banknote.html
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M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.Mzineplus.com.
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Travel & Trade Expo to be held in January

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012 12:11 Khin Myo Thwe

Rangoon will host the First Myanmar Travel & Trade Expo 2013 at the Myanmar Convention Center on Mindhamma Road from January 11 – 14, 2013.

About 60 percent of the visitors to Ngapali beach are foreigners. Most arrive in the area by plane. Tourists usually visit spots including Pearl, Kyaukkalak, and Theaphyu islands. Pearl Island is a favorite dive destination because of its clear water. Photo: Mizzima

“Tour companies, airlines, hotels, rent-a-car companies, bus companies—in all, some 250 companies will be represented at the exposition”, said spokesperson Kyaw Min Oo.

The travel fair is being organized by Myanmar Travel & Tour Association and will be open from 9 am to 5 pm each day.

“There’ll be a raffle for a trip to Bangkok for five lucky winners, said Kyaw Min Oo. “And a lucky draw for air tickets.”

A spokesperson from the Myanmar Tourist Guide Association said, “At this expo, the procedures of the association will be put on view. The tourist guides who come to the expo can submit their membership forms and enquire about details.”
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8527-burma-tourism-hits-the-1-million-mark.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8166-burma-developing-master-tourism-plan.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8196-tourism-hotel-conference-planned-for-february.html
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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Major Thai bank looks for local partner in Burma

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 12:25 THE BANGKOK POST

Thailand’s state-owned Krung Thai Bank is looking to form a joint venture in Myanmar [Burma] following the successful launch of its representative office in the neighbouring country.

Foreign financial institutions doing business in Myanmar are required to expand in four stages: a representative office, a joint venture with a local financial institution, a subsidiary and a branch, KTB president Vorapak Tanyawong said after the representative office was opened in Yangon [Rangoon] last week.

''The second step, however, takes more time. It depends on Myanmar's approval and the state of our operation there. But we should be able to see progress within the next five years,'' Mr Vorapak said.

He said the bank has provided financial support to large Thai companies investing in Myanmar as well as small and medium-sized enterprises, mostly in border trade and supply chain businesses.

These businesses have high potential to grow in line with Myanmar's economy.

The neighbouring country's gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow in double digits each year over the next few year compared with a stable growth rate of 4-5% of the Thai economy.

KTB forecasts Thailand's GDP growth in a range of 4.4% to 5.5% next year, while loan growth at large local banks will be 1.5 times the GDP growth rate.

Mr Vorapak said the bank will also focus on Myanmar companies, which are small and largely dominated by conglomerate businesses of some big families, such as the KPZ Group.

Agriculture is another key focus, as it is the largest contributor to Myanmar's GDP.

''Our advantage as a state-owned bank, financial expertise and familiarity with Asean culture will afford KTB smooth access to the business segment,'' said Mr Vorapak.

KTB, Thailand's second-largest bank, is 59.01% owned by government agencies. With a 55.07% stake, the central bank's Financial Institutions Development Fund is its major shareholder.

Mr Vorapak said KTB is also interested in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam ahead of formation of the Asean Economic Community in 2016. It plans to open a branch in Ho Chi Minh City next year, completing its Indochinese network.

This article was originally published in The Bangkok Post on December 25, 2012.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/business/7413-burmas-banking-landscape-changing-fast.html
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Thai company to open biofuel plant in southern Burma

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 12:15 THE BANGKOK POST

Thailand’s MAI-listed Universal Adsorbents & Chemicals Plc (UAC) plans to invest in a new 800-million-baht (US $27 million) alternative biofuel energy project in Myanmar expected to start operating in 2014.

Chief executive Kitti Jivacate said the company will enter the project with a Myanmar partner that will own a 20 percent stake.

The biofuel plant will be located on Myanmar's Song island near Thailand's Ranong province. The project will use palm oil as its raw material.

The proposed local partner is one of the biggest business groups in Myanmar, and a contract will be signed next year.

The project will start by 2014, with the electricity output sold in both Myanmar and Thailand.

UAC previously announced its investment in two water-treatment projects in Myanmar through its UAC Hydro Tech Co subsidiary.

One is valued at 300 million baht ($10 million) and planned for Mandalay, while a 600-million-baht facility will be in Yangon. Both will be built next year and start receiving revenue in 2014, with 300-400 million baht annually expected.

UAC will also open a representative office in Myanmar to supply chemical and power plant equipment.

The company expects revenue growth of 20 percent next year thanks partly to revenue realised from its compressed biomethane gas project.

After 2013, annual revenue should double, half of it generated from alternative energy.

Mr Kitti said the operating net profit will also improve, as the company will receive tax privileges from two new power plants located in industrial zones in Sukhothai and Chiang Mai provinces.

UAC plans to double its paid-up capital to 500 million baht in the next three years to serve its major investment plan.

For the first nine months of this year, UAC achieved sales of 625 million baht, down by 5.34 percent year-on-year, for a net profit of 103 million, up by 31.6 percent.

UAC shares on Friday closed on the MAI at 7.65 baht, down 15 satang, in trade worth 14.6 million baht ($0.5 million).
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The truth behind the Chinese tourism boom

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 12:20 Peng Qinqin  

In 2011, Chinese tourists overtook Thais as the leading nationality visiting Burma with, officially, 65,838 visitors. But if you walk around the famous attractions in Rangoon such as Shwedagon Pagoda, you will hardly find any tour groups from China or even an individual Chinese traveler. So where are they?

“I’m too busy to travel around Yangon,” said Mr. Zeng from Guangzhou, sitting in the lobby of his hotel. He said this is his first trip to Burma and he will stay here for around a week. Although he entered the country with a tourist visa, he does not intend to do any sightseeing. “Burma is open for business, and I came to see if there are any opportunities,” he said, before turning back to his Burmese interpreter to discuss the next day’s schedule. He said he asked a local agency to arrange interviews with other translators early the next morning. “I have many things to do. One interpreter is not enough,” he said.

Burma, known officially as Myanmar, has long been one of the most mysterious and undiscovered destinations in the world. Foreign tourists are now coming in to explore the country’s culture, nature and lifestyles.

But few Chinese tourists appear to have any interest in seeing the ancient ruins of Pagan or the Golden Rock Pagoda at Kyaiktiyo.

Their main interest appears to be to explore the economic potential of a neighboring country in transition.

Mya Than Zaw is the managing director of the Truly Myanmar travel agency. Most of his clients are from mainland China, Taiwan and Malaysia.

“Almost all of the groups from mainland China are investors,” he said. “They come to Burma on tourist visas to look for business opportunities. We take care of their transportation, accommodation and meals.”

According to data from Burma’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, in 2011 China was the largest source of visitors to Burma with 15.85 percent of the market, followed by Thailand at 15.77 percent.

But this figure is disputed. “The ranking does not tell the whole story, because most genuine tourists from China come across the border,” said an employee from a Burma-based Chinese media group.

“Those who enter Burma on scheduled flights are invariably here to investigate business markets,” she said. “So if it comes to the real number of tourists who visit Burma to travel and sightsee, China would fall far behind Thailand.”

However, of course, even these Chinese business-seekers have leisure time. Do they take advantage of days off to visit resorts?

Businesswoman Michelle from Zhejiang, who works in the automobile industry, has been to Burma three times. She said that the only attraction she has seen is Shwedagon Pagoda.

“I have only heard about the pagoda,” she shrugs. “The people here are very simple and friendly, but the traffic is a nightmare. I really don’t know where else to visit except for the temples.”

Buying gold in Chinatown. (PHOTO: Xiao Ting Shirley)

“Most Chinese have no idea about traveling in Burma,” said Mya Than Zaw, shaking his head. “If they do want to travel around, they will come to me first for advice. Some want fresh air and to meet friendly people.

“One guy said to me: ‘Hey, look! Burma is very rich. No one steals the gold from Shwedagon Pagoda.’ That’s typical Chinese merchant humor,” he said.

Thida Nally, the director of sales and marketing at Asia Global travel agency, said that Chinese tourists are quite changeable: “European tourists are likely to book half a year in advance and they will always reconfirm their schedules. Chinese tourists make last-minute bookings. They also change their arrangements all the time because of business meetings.”

“European tourists are more interested in the Buddhist culture, but Chinese are more likely to go shopping,” said a staffer from the Columbia travel agency.

“Most of my customers are regular clients,” said Mya Than Zaw, himself a Chinese-Burmese. “But they do not make purchases in our recommended shops. They like to go shopping by themselves. They are mostly interested in Burmese jade and gems. I often advise them not to buy here in Rangoon because the prices are much cheaper in Guangzhou. I treat them as friends.”

Mya Than Zaw said his company received 72 Chinese tour groups in 2011, but only 58 in 2012. “The boom last year was because of the dispute over the Myitsone project. Lots of Chinese companies sent representatives over here for negotiations.”

However, a new generation of young backpacking Chinese might change the stereotypical image. Zuo Lu, a traveler from Jiangsu, said, “Burma is one of the last virgin lands for travelers. I am taking advantage of its reforms and plan to explore the country.”

He said that he planned his route a couple of months ahead, and that he will spend the full 28 days—the duration of a single-entry tourist visa—traveling around the country.

But for many other Chinese, Burma has a long way to go.

“No way!” exclaimed Zhou Xingchun, a businessman on his fourth visit to Burma. “I will never travel around this country until it has better roads and communications, and acceptable hotels.”
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8527-burma-tourism-hits-the-1-million-mark.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/7123-burma-to-rejoin-un-tourism-group.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8196-tourism-hotel-conference-planned-for-february.html
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Two confirmed dead in Shan State plane crash

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 12:29 Mizzima News

Shan State Prime Minister Aung Myat has confirmed that at least two people were killed in an airplane crash on Tuesday morning as it attempted to reach Heho Airport in heavy snow, according to Burmese weekly journal Popular News.

The wreckage of Air Bagan's 22-year-old Fokker-100 which crashed en route to Heho in Shan State carrying many foreign tourists. One passenger is reported dead while a motorist on the ground was also killed by the impact. ( PHOTO: Htoo Eain)

One of the 65 passengers on Air-Bagan flight W9-011 Yangon- Mandalay- Heho reportedly died before the crash landing, while a motorist was killed on the ground by the impact of the aircraft.

“There were 47 foreign tourists on the plane,” Aung Myat was quoted as saying. “We are contacting their respective tour agencies. We are still trying to establish the identity of the person who was killed inside the plane.”

Eleven people with injuries have been taken to nearby Saosanhtun Hospital in Taunggyi, Popular News said.

An eyewitness said that flames were coming from the plane as it went down in the field.

Meanwhile, Vice-Minister of Information Ye Htut has said that the fire broke out as the plane crash landed in a paddy field near the airport runway, and said the reason for the crash was poor visibility caused by heavy snow.

He said that the dead passenger was an 11-year-old, and that four foreigners were among the 11 people hospitalized.

The Deputy Information Minister said that there were 51 foreigners among 63 passengers, with an additional six crew and two security officers on board the 22-year-old Fokker 100.

Heho is a town in the Taunggyi District of Burma's southern Shan State. It is the main airport serving Inle Lake, one of the top tourist attractions in the country.
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TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 7

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 12:06 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-Zine+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at www.mizzima.com, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

7. Police react with force at the Latpadaung mining site

A fire burns in a protest camp after riot police had moved in to disperse a group of protesters at the Monywa copper mine site in Sagaing Division early on the morning of November 29. (PHOTO: AFP)

The coming decades—if perspectives that range from those of serious think tanks to academic and media alarmists is correct—will be punctuated by resource wars as countries scour the globe to lock up enough supplies to fuel expanding economies or to keep them humming at acceptable rates in the face of declining production outputs hemmed in by finite reserves.

Wars have their skirmishes, and if in fact this is what is happening now at Latpadaung near Monywa—site of a copper mine run by Chinese state-run firm Wanbao in partnership with a Myanmar military-owned entity—they recently achieved a violent expression. One dramatically visible consequence of the skirmish saw badly burned monks ending up in hospital.

Other important issues form part of the backdrop to this large-scale display of local disaffection. There’s the scale of the military’s involvement in the economy. One elephant in the room, and not just near the mine, is the land tenure issue, something that caused population dislocations in the colonial era when land was alienated and has the potential to do the same in the coming months and years.

In addition, observers will no doubt point out the irony of a China whose Maoist forebears were all too quick to assign charges of “imperialism” and “hegemonism” to others, now having to deal with a more critical finger pointed in their direction for many of the same reasons.

Mining is not a gentle activity and copper mining produces its fair share of toxic residues. Some local people also feed off the mining tailings to survive—something not conducive to long-term health.

Here, as at other resource extractive or hydropower sites and not just in Myanmar, there are conflicting views of costs and benefits. What may be seen as benefiting the country as a whole—sometimes referred to as “the greater common good—through increased revenues or accelerated economic development, may not look so rosy to those living next door or on top of these projects as the smoke belches through the windows or water floods the land.

Power politics matters and the local people at Latpadaung may have less support than they might have thought, if stopping the project remains a serious goal for many.

Burma’s opposition leader has used the term “national honor” in saying the project may well have to continue. It doesn’t look as though there will be another Myitsone-like backdown.

Nonetheless, how this issue and others like it are resolved will say something important about the level of national consensus as Burma braces for more changes.
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8577-govt-apologizes-to-buddhist-monks-for-monywa-incident.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8471-80-injured-in-monywa-crackdown.html
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M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.Mzineplus.com.
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Air Bagan plane makes emergency landing in Shan jungle

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 10:49 Mizzima News

Air-Bagan flight W9-011 Yangon- Mandalay- Heho made an emergency landing in heavy snow some two miles from Heho Airport on Tuesday morning. A fire reportedly broke out as the plane came down in the jungle, an eyewitness told Mizzima. The airline said that 65 passengers were on the flight, and that one is currently unaccounted for. The pilot received a slight head injury, Air Bagan said, though no other details are as yet known.

Heho is a town in the Taunggyi District of Burma's southern Shan State. It is the main airport serving Inle Lake, one of the top tourist attractions in the country.
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Big bucks for little condos in Rangoon

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 11:53 Khin Myo Thwe

Finding a studio apartment or condominium in Rangoon is no easy task these days as demand outstrips supply and causes rent prices to soar, according to real estate agents in the former capital.

“Foreign entrepreneurs and businessmen looking at investing in Burma mostly prefer to rent condominiums or modern apartments that have elevators,” the deputy chairperson of one of Rangoon’s real estate associations told Mizzima.

Downtown Rangoon with Sule Pagoda in the foreground (bottom, right) and Shwedagon Pagoda in the far distance (back, left). Many condominiums and hotels are located in between. (PHOTO: Flickr)

So, while the real estate market in Rangoon is relatively stable, the demand for renting condominiums has increased markedly, he said.

“After the Thadingyut Festival in late October, most of the apartment leases expired, and both tenants and landlords are looking at renewed leases,” said Than Oo from Mandai Real Estate Agency. “The availability of condominiums is now limited so the owners are putting up their prices.”

Until this year, the rental fee for an average apartment in the Pale Condominium on Kaba Aye Road, Bahan Township, was between 500,000 to 600,000 kyat (US $588 - $700) per month. Today, clients can find nothing less than 800,000 kyat ($950) per month.

One of the managers at a real estate agency in Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township in Rangoon, said that the rental fees for condominiums in Bahan Township currently range from 800,000 kyat to 1,250,000 kyat per month, while rent for an average apartment-cum-shop in South Okkalapa Township was from 650,000 kyat to 700,000 kyat per month.

He said anyone looking at renting a small flat in a condominium on a main road in Thingangyun Township, east of the city center, was looking at 1 million to 1.2 million kyat ($1,175 - $1,410) per month.

Khin Hla, a freelance real estate broker, compared the prices to a warehouse on Insein Road, Hlaing Township, which he said could be leased for 600,000 kyat to 1,000,000 kyat per month.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8484-naypyitaw-real-estate-market-comes-alive.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8226-real-estate-tax-tries-to-stem-rising-land-prices.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/breaking-and-news-brief/6542-real-estate-value-increasing-in-rangoon.html
Readmore...

UN expresses ‘serious concern’ about Rakhine violence

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 10:44 Mizzima News    

The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution late on Monday welcoming positive changes in Burma but expressing serious concern at an upsurge of sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists in strife-torn Rakhine State, according to The Associated Press.

The resolution adopted by the 193-member world body urges government action to improve the situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority “and to protect all their human rights, including their right to a nationality,” the report said.
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Burma looks to export rice to Japan

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012 11:24 Khin Myo Thwe

Burma is readying to offer Japan an invitation to tender for two of its rice exports: Sin Thwe Latt rice and Hmawbi rice.

Burmese farmers in Irrawaddy Division collect paddy seedlings from flooded fields to replant. Photo: AFP

The Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF) said that it held discussions on December 13 with Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, as well as with representatives of Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corp. (MAPCO) and the Myanmar Farmers Association.

MRF Central Executive Committee member Dr. Soe Tun said, “Japan wants to buy white rice from Myanmar under a tender system. When we showed them the rice fields, they decided to buy two types of rice: Sin Thwe Latt and Hmawbi. They said that they will put it up for global tender.”

He said that if the Japanese bid is accepted, several tons of rice will start getting shipped to Japan.

“At this moment, we must plan to open an office in Japan because there must be a company to represent our country,” he said.

Previously, Japan used to buy rice through a tender system from both Thailand and the USA.

“According to delegates from Japan, Myanmar rice will substitute for Thai rice due to the rise in prices from Thailand,” said the MRF representative. “The rice bought from Myanmar will be used in high-standard food products.”

The MRF official added that it was imperative that Burma’s exported rice not be saturated with chemicals and fertilizers. “It needs to be fungus-free, and in good quality,” he said.

Therefore, respective farmers will have to keep records of what kind of fertilizers and in what amounts they use, he said.

Until December 20 of the fiscal year 2012-13, no less than 843,500 tons of rice had been exported from Burma to foreign countries.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8511-burma-will-export-100000-tons-of-rice-in-2013-says-mrf.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8316-burma-ready-to-push-rice-production-higher.html
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Monday, December 24, 2012

Burma’s president invites Indian industrialists to invest in SEZs

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Monday, 24 December 2012 14:49 Ko Pauk

Burmese President Thein Sein has invited India’s leading businessmen and industrialists to invest in Burma’s special economic zones (SEZs).

Pictured in Mumbai on Friday, (L-R) Mr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General CII; Mr Adi Godrej, President CII & Chairman Godrej Group; and Thein Sein, President, Republic of Union of Myanmar. (Photo: CII)

At a closed-door dinner hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in Mumbai on Friday, Thein Sein informally invited CII executive members to invest in Burma.

Burma’s ad interim Consul-General in New Delhi, Ba Hla Aye, told Mizzima that the President was responding to Indian industrialists, including representatives of TATA and Mahindra & Mahindra, after they expressed keen interest in investing in Burma.

TATA is India’s largest multinational firm with interests as diverse as IT and electrical services, engineering, cars and chemicals, while Mahindra & Mahindra is one of the country’s largest automobile manufacturers.

“Mahindra & Mahindra said that they would like to invest in and develop the SEZs,” said Ba Hla Aye. “TATA would like to invest and operate coal-fired thermal power plants.

“However, they complained about [Burma’s] double taxation on their motor industry, first in importing automobile parts and again in assembling the finished product,” he said. “Our President assured them he would do what he could to resolve this.”

Thein Sein reportedly pointed to the SEZs at Dawei, Kyaukphyu and Thilawa, and urged members of the CII to invest in those mega-projects.

The Burmese President said that Burma was rich in minerals, oil, gas and energy resources, and had an abundance of cultivable lands. He told the businessmen that these presented great investment opportunities for them.

“The President invited Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) from India to come to Burma as they have a lot of experience in these businesses and can offer great job opportunities for the people of Burma,” said the Consul-General. “He said that India has many SMEs in its own country and should look at opportunities of building similar businesses in Burma.”

The New Indian Express reported that Thein Sein said, “An Indian-Myanmar-Thai trilateral highway will certainly promote and uplift regional connectivity and trade.”

India is Burma’s fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade reaching US $1.35 billion during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Burma exported agricultural and timber products worth $1.046 billion. India exported iron and iron products, pharmaceuticals, transport equipment, machinery and tools worth $324.5 million during that same year, a 66.5 percent increase over the previous financial year, according to CII data.

Leading Indian industrialists who attended the Mumbai dinner hosted in honor of the Burmese President were: CII Chairman Adi Godrej, Vice-Chairman of Tata Consultancy Services S. Ramadorai, Vice-Chairman of Tata Steel B. Muthuraman, Vice-Chairman of Tata Motors Ravi Kant, Director of Mahindra & Mahindra Arun Nanda, and CEO of Zensar Technologies Ganesh Natarajan.

President Thein Sein was attending an India-ASEAN summit held in New Delhi on December 20-21. He also visited the palace of deposed King Thibaw on Saturday morning before flying back to Burma that same day.
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Related articles:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/regional/8608-indian-business-elite-host-dinner-for-thein-sein-.html

http://www.mizzima.com/business/8283-burma-india-stepping-up-trade-contacts.html
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UNICEF calls for action on water, sanitation in Rakhine State

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Monday, 24 December 2012 13:44 Peng Qinqin

People living in and near the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) sites in Rakhine State are facing health risks due to restricted access to safe potable water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene, according to a statement by UNICEF on December 21.

UNICEF, the UN’s Children’s Fund, said that only half of the 115,000 IDPs in the strife-torn region have access to what is considered safe water. It added that drainage and solid waste disposal remain major challenges ahead of the rainy seasons in a few months. Vulnerable groups, including children, are at greatest risk of diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.

IDPs at Taung Paw Camp in Rakhine State (PHOTO: UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office / flickr)

“In spite of the progress made so far in humanitarian response in Rakhine, clearly much more needs to be done especially in the rural sites to protect children and their families from getting ill from the effects of unsafe water and lack of sanitation,” said Bertrand Bainvel, the UNICEF representative in Burma [Myanmar].

Only 5 percent of IDPs live in urban sites equipped with better accessibility and coverage, the report said. The rest inhabited less accessible locations which have worse sanitation conditions because of a shortage of latrines and poor hygiene posed by congested living areas. About 70 percent have access to some sanitation and 60 percent have access to basic sanitary supplies, UNICEF said. However, nearly 70 percent have no access to adequate water storage capacities or suitable containers.

The majority of IPDs do not boil water due to a shortage of firewood and a lack of hygiene awareness, according to previous UN surveys.

Some locations—including those with the latest arrivals of IDPs since further sectarian violence in October—do not have ground water. Those using stored rainwater throughout this dry season are projected to run out by late January 2013, the UN agency said.

Without drainage and proper waste disposal options, once the rain starts—usually before May—any overflow from latrine pits combined with flooding will risk creating “unbearable environmental pollution” and the spread of water and sanitation-related diseases, the report said.

UNICEF said that the agency and its partners have focused on: the distribution of basic hygiene items; the provision of latrines and bathing areas; the operation of safe solid waste disposal and drainage systems; and construction of safe water supply projects; and the promotion of hygiene awareness. About 60 percent of IDPs have received hygiene kits containing essential items, it said.

However, the UNICEF representative said, “without a process to establish just and lasting peace in Rakhine, the relevance of education and other basic services, and children’s ability to protect themselves against violence, abuse and exploitation and preventable illnesses will be undermined.”
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For more background:

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8541-uns-nigam-calls-for-rakhine-access-urges-reconciliation.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8521-people-living-in-fear-in-rakhine-state-un-humanitarian-chief.html

http://www.mizzima.com/news/inside-burma/8325-calls-for-intl-observers-in-rakhine-state-increase.html
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TOP 10 Events of 2012—No 8

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Monday, 24 December 2012 11:22 Mizzima News

Mizzima’s sister publication, M-Zine+, has selected what its editors have decided are the 10 biggest events or issues in Burma over the past 12 months.

We began the countdown on December 22 at No. 10, and will recall one issue each day until we finish on December 31 with the most momentous event of the year.

No rest for the little elves at www.mizzima.com, we will be working all the way through Xmas and New Year, bringing you the latest and most accurate news from Burma.

8. Sanctions on Burma wither away

US Burma envoy (now Ambassador) Derek Mitchell, third from right, is pictured with Aung San Suu Kyi at a Rangoon press conference at her residence earlier this year. (Photo: Mizzima)

Economic and other types of sanctions have a long history dating back at least to the Age of Pericles in ancient Greece. Policy makers, and often public opinion, see them as a tactic that, at least in the past, accompanied or was a curtain raiser for war. Today, in many situations they are looked upon as an alternative that stops short of actual fighting.

As a tactic or strategy it is less hammer than Leatherman—a multi-purpose tool. Sanctions have been used to weaken opponents, to demonstrate resolve, for domestic political reasons (to be seen to be doing something in the face of a more militant public), as a deterrent, and to force compliance or compel a change of behavior.

It was very much with the latter in mind that many Western nations imposed sanctions upon Myanmar’s military government and its supporting economic structure over the years.

To argue that sanctions never work is misguided, since they have and do under certain circumstances. But whether they should have been imposed on Burma is another question, with adherents of different points of view on this vehement in their assertions.

Inevitably, not all arguers have proceeded from the purest of motives. Many of those for “constructive engagement” had fairly obvious pecuniary motives, while many favoring robust sanctions had staked out rigid policy stances from which they believed everything else must proceed.

Fortunately, many of the arguments are becoming moot as 2012 saw a general lifting of almost all sanctions (weaponry, cronies, and, in the case of the US, rubies being some of the exceptions).

Whether the pro-sanctions lobby wants to view the sanctions lifting as a reward for good behavior, or the anti-sanctions forces wants to see their lifting as a belated recognition of futility, all the while with a eye cocked towards China, matters less to most Burmese citizens than the fact those sanctions are gone—offering possibilities for better economic growth and development.
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M-ZINE+ is a business weekly available in print in Yangon through Innwa Bookstore and through online subscription at www.Mzineplus.com.
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