Tuesday, February 14, 2012

First priority is to create jobs: Suu Kyi


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 13:20 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Campaigning in Kawhmu Township in a caravan that trailed more than 200 cars and thousands of motorcycles, National League for Democracy (NLD) chairman Aung San Suu Kyi said her first priority is to create jobs for all people, young and old.

Her motorcade, nearly two miles long, took six hours to arrive at Warthinkha village on Saturday, about 40 miles from Rangoon, because of the enthusiastic crowds that lined the roadside.

In her speech at Warthinkha village, she asked people to support NLD candidates. 

“The most important problem in Kawhmu Township is that people don’t have jobs,” she said. “Most degree graduates in Kawhmu Township don’t have jobs. We understand that our first responsibility is to create enough jobs for people.”

Suu Kyi said that she would need everyone’s support on a “difficult and long political journey.”

The crowds lining the streets included people from Dala, Twante, Kunchangon, and Dedaye townships. People played musical instruments to welcome her and groups presented traditional Karen dances. Suu Kyi said that she chose the poor district of Kawhmu because its population includes many Karen.

Estimates said up to 20,000 people gathered in Warthinkha village to listen to Suu Kyi’s speech. She also visited Maselseik, Nghat Aw San and other nearby villages.

On March 31, the day before the coming April 1 by-election, Suu Kyi will cast her vote in the village.

In the Kawhmu Township constituency, Suu Kyi’s main competitor is ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] candidate Dr. Soe Min, who works in the USDP charity clinic, Phyo Saydanar. During the 2010 general election, he ran a charity mobile health clinic while campaigning.         

Gambira’s rapid release a sign of greater scrutiny?


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 19:13 Mizzima News

(Analysis) – It had the look of a classic right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. 

The arrest of Ashin Gambira on Friday by security police and his release only a few hours later had the earmarks of a problem cited by Burmese activists over and over.  While the government’s leaders are encouraging participation of civil society in Burmese affairs, lower-level officials are exercising the same old heavy-handed tactics of repression, harassment and arrests on flimsy grounds.

Ashin Gambira, 33, was one of the leaders of the so-called Saffron Revolution, a 2007 anti-government uprising led by Buddhist monks against the then-ruling junta. He was detained shortly after a military crackdown on protesters and released Jan. 13 as part of a mass prisoner release that has been hailed as a sign of Burma new government's willingness to make reforms.

Friday's detention of Gambira had the dark echoes of the previous military government, which was known for whisking away opposition members in middle of the night raids on their homes or monasteries.

Gambira’s detention had immediate repercussions; signally the eyes of the world’s governments are evaluating every government action for signs of backsliding. It came at a time when many Burmese exiles are thinking of returning, but still have some doubts about the sincerity of the government, especially lower-level government workers who are often afraid of making personal decisions that differ from their past actions.

In Washington, hours after the detention and before word of Gambira's release, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed deep U.S. concern over the detention of the monk, who remains a skeptic of the true colors of President Thein Sein’s government.

The U.S. said it wanted to see Burma live up to its words on greater freedom and tolerance: "Given the Burmese government's stated commitment to reform and democratization, we call on Burmese authorities to protect the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens, including all of those recently released from detention," Nuland told a news briefing.

An official from the Home Ministry said that Gambira had been “taken away” from the Yangon monastery where he was staying and brought for “questioning in relation to incidents that happened after his release.” The official, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said that Gambira and other monks had illegally entered monasteries that had been shut after the 2007 uprising.

Authorities detained Gambira after he ignored a summons to report for questioning, the official said. He said Gambira was sent back to Maggin Monastery in the evening. It had been sealed by the authorities after the 2007 protests, but was reopened that evening, he said.

Observes note that the current government still seems to be especially sensitive to two areas of Burmese society: the sangha and the media.

The state sangha authority this week issued another one-year ban on preaching by a popular abbot known for his support of opposition groups. The ban on Ashin Pyinnyar Thiha of Thadu Pariyatti Monastery in Kyimyindaing Township in Rangoon follows a one-year preaching ban in 2011. The order followed his eviction from his teaching monastery by authorities.         

Antimony companies suspend operations


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 21:28 Kun Chan

(Mizzima) – Extracting antimony in Kyainseikkyi Township in Karen State is not financially worthwhile, say three companies that have suspended operations, according to sources close to the companies.

A fall in antimony prices and high taxes have forced several companies including Mya Pan, Htoo Aung Myat and Thuzana Pwint to suspend mining; the Nawarat and Aung Myay companies are still operating antimony mines.

“Antimony prices fell sharply and companies need to pay more money to obtain permits, so extracting antimony is not financially worthwhile. Only big companies can continue to run mines,” a manager of a company that suspended operation told Mizzima.

For a permit covering a 50-acre antimony block, a company must pay 250,000 baht (US$ 8,098) per year to the Karen National Union (KNU). Moreover, they must pay taxes to the Burmese government.

Kyainseikkyi Township is in the Dupalaya District controlled by the KNU.

Captain Htet Nay of KNU Brigade No. 6 said, “This year, there is only one big company, the Nawarat Company. The remaining are medium and small companies.”

In early 2011, the price of 40-percent quality raw antimony was 60,000 baht (US$ 1,943) per ton. Since June 2011, the price has gradually fallen; the current price is 36,000 baht (US$1,166) per ton.

Thabyu mine has been well known since the British colonial era. It is located 30 miles northeast of Three Pagoda Pass. To run a mine, companies need to buy blocks from the KNU Mining Department, register the business with the Burmese government and purchase the blocks (again) from the Burmese government.

In 2003-2004, the Nawarat Company, in the name of the Thabyu Mining Company Limited, started extracting antimony in the KNU area and since then other companies began moving into the area.

The KNU forbade timber production in the area controlled by Brigade No.6 since mid-2010, but it continues to give permits to companies to extract antimony.

“The KNU has allowed companies to run antimony mines with the agreement of the residents. The KNU allows companies to operate narrow blocks in which four or five people can work,” Captain Htet Nay told Mizzima.  

The antimony produced from the Thabyu mine has been bought by China, Germany, Korea, Japan and Thailand. Antimony is exported via the Muse route to the Sino-Burmese border and via Three Pagoda Pass to the Thai-Burmese border.

Because of lower prices, many companies are storing antimony for sale later. It’s likely that they will sell antimony in March when prices are likely to increase, according to an owner of a company that extracts antimony.         

Thai adviser pitches Salween water plan


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 13:07 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – An adviser to Thailand’s prime minister has dusted off a plan to build a dam on the Salween River to solve floods and droughts in Thailand as well as to produce electricity for Thailand.

Uthen Chatphinyo, a Pheu Thai member and former chief of the committee overseeing water drainage to the south, said he would propose the plan to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin, proposed the plan, according to an article in The Bangkok Post on Monday.

According to a Thai study, water from Salween River bordering Thailand and Burma, could be diverted to the Mae Taeng River in Chiang Mai Province and channeled south.

Uthen said  proposed 7,000-megawatt hydropower plant would be located about 200km down from the controversial Hut Gyi dam on the Salween River.

An 88-km water tunnel would be built from the dam reservoir to divert water to Thailand, the article said.

Thailand is a joint developer of the Hut Gyi dam, which has been suspended following conflicts between the dam developers, minority groups and environmental groups.

The Salween dam plan would allow major dams in Thailand to discharge water ahead of the rainy season without having to worry about possible water shortages in the dry season, Uthen said, noting also the improved political situation in Burma.         

Health crisis in eastern Burma: NGO survey


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 12:35 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – A widespread public health emergency exists in the decades-old conflict zones in eastern Burma, says a health report released by the Ibis Reproductive Health group.

Its consequences include maternal death rates that far surpass the rates in Thailand and Burma as a whole, leaving women in eastern Burma with the worst pregnancy outcomes anywhere in Asia. The group’s findings were released last week.

According to Dr. Angel Foster of Ibis and the University of Ottawa, “Our report finds that millions of Burmese and ethnic minorities both inside Burma and along the Thai border have limited or no access to family planning, safe abortion, and general reproductive health care. The toll on women has been particularly severe.”

Negative effects include high numbers of unplanned pregnancies, she said, and high rates of maternal mortality and unsafe abortions.

“In fact, post-partum hemorrhage and unsafe abortion are the leading causes of maternal death and injury,”

she said. “The absence of health care infrastructure inside eastern Burma, as well as for those Burmese living illegally as migrants in Thailand, has produced a kind of reproductive health ‘perfect storm.’”

She said denial of health care has been an official policy of the Burmese military in ethnic areas, where women and men, especially adolescents, know little about family planning practices and voluntary sterilization.

Populations that are on the run or outside their home countries are often unable to gain access to reproductive healthcare, say health workers.

Without skilled birth attendants or contraception, complications from unsafe abortions and post-partum hemorrhage are common along the Thai-Burmese border, where there are more than 150,000 Burmese refugees, according to the report.

Nationwide, only 37 percent of women gave birth with a trained birth attendant in 2007, according to the most recent government data reported to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Despite the fact that rape and sexual violence are extensive problems within both the conflict zones of eastern Burma and in migrant communities in Thailand, she said the study found that the few health workers that do exist generally lack the knowledge and supplies to dispense critical medicines like emergency contraceptive pills, which can prevent pregnancy after sexual assault.

“Even within refugee camps inside Thailand, leaders and organizations working there often adopt policies that prevent unmarried people from accessing family planning information or supplies,” she said. “ Finally, abortion is illegal in Burma unless a woman’s life is at risk and restricted in Thailand.

A consultant with Ibis, Cari Siestra, said, “Our hope is that the new Burmese government will someday make it possible for more organizations to provide aid and resources to the people in eastern Burma where outside groups are currently banned. The time has come to rebuild the health and human rights of the millions of men, women, and children affected by this conflict.”

For more information on the report, go to http://www.ibisreproductivehealth.org/work/other/thaiburmaborder.cfm

Tai Yai labour strike deadlocked


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 12:14 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Striking workers at the Tai Yai footware factory in Rangoon, the owner and government officials could not reach a settlement on Monday, as the strike went into its nineth day. Workers are asking for more pay and improved working conditions.

On February 9, workers at two nearby factories, the New Way footwear factory and the Thonehtutgyi garment factory, also staged strikes, which were quickly settled after a negotiated settlement.

However, a delegation of 38 workers from the Tai Yai factory, the factory’s Chinese owner and Director General Chit Shein of the  Labour department could not reach a negotiated settlement.

The strikers asked for an increase in basic pay to 216 kyat (US$ 0.27 cents) per hour from 75 kyat (10 cents) per hour. They reduced their demand to 150 kyat (19 cents) after the first negotiations failed. The factory owner offered 100 kyat (13 cents) per hour, which the workers rejected. The working hours at the factory are from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“Their stand is no more wage increase, take it or leave it,” Moe Wei, a strike leader told Mizzima.

The strikers demands include higher basic pay, removal of an absentee penalty fine, no deduction of wages from the cost of accidental damage of footwear on the production line, adequate drinking water and toilet facilities, and leave during family emergencies.

Under the current wage, many workers can’t make ends meet, they said.

“The rent for accommodation for each worker will cost them at least 8,000 Kyat (US$ 100),” said Moe Wei. “The cost for meals for each worker is about 25,000 kyat (US$ 31). So the total cost for their living expenses will reach more than 40,000 kyat (US$ 50). The highest wages they get is not more than 70,000 kyat (US$ 87) and they have no benefits and perks other than their wages.”

Most of the workers hail from central Burma, Rakhine, Shan and Irrawaddy regions and states. They come to Rangoon for jobs because there is little work in their home areas.

Mizzima contacted the Hlaing Tharyar Township Labour department and the Tai Yi footwear factory, but officials declined to answer questions.

A labour lawyer, Pho Phyu, who is advising the workers, said that he would represent them regarding legal matters until a settlement is reached.

The Tai Yi factory is owned by a Chinese national and since 2010, it has faced labour strikes for three years in row.

The strike this year is the longest so far.         

EU gives $200 million aid package


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 12:03 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs announced on Monday the release of a significant aid package to Burma, earmarked to benefit the health, education and infrastructure. 

He announced an aid package of nearly $200 million after a meeting with President Thein Sein on Monday.

Piebalgs said Thein Sein had spoken positively about Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now seeking a seat in Parliament.

He said the president noted that in spite of major reforms in Burma, the EU sanctions were still in place.

Piebalgs said that if the April 1 by-elections are free and fair, “then everyone would expect the easing of sanctions to continue.”

“The president mentioned a lot about Aung San Suu Kyi and it was all positive. That was unexpected,” Piebalgs said. “He said she was extremely important in the country and her participation in the political process was crucial. That's a very positive sign.”

Piebalgs will meet  Suu Kyi at her home in the former capital, Rangoon, on Tuesday.

Economic sanctions the EU and the U.S. are definitely affecting Burmese growth and hindering potential for foreign investment, he said.

An end to EU sanctions would require the consensus of 27 EU countries, something that is “not such an easy thing to achieve,” he said. It is expected that after the by-elections some Western sanctions will be withdrawn.

It iwasthe first trip to Myanmar by a top EU official after the new government took office in March 2011 and started reforms.

Reports from Brussels said that on April 23, EU foreign ministers will explore the possibility of a new substantial reduction of sanctions on Burma.         

World Bank can encourage human rights: HRW


Tuesday, 14 February 2012 13:33

(Mizzima) – The World Bank has a chance to promote human rights development in Burma by ensuring participation of civil society in the bank’s work in Burma, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

HRW has sent the board of directors a letter prior to its scheduled meeting on Thursday to discuss future programs in Burma.

“The World Bank has an opportunity to ensure that the Burmese people are at the center of the development agenda,” said Arvind Ganesan of HRW. “For more than 20 years, Burma has been closed to the world. Now the bank and the Burmese government can make sure engagement is open and inclusive.”

HRW noted that the World Bank has not provided financial aid to Burma since 1987 because the country has not met its loan repayments or instituted economic and other reforms. Burma is ranked 149 out of 187 – below the regional average - in the United Nations Human Development Index.

In its letter to World Bank President Robert Zoellick, HRW urged the Burmese government to carry out systemic reforms such as allowing open public debate, eliminating forced labor, and providing land tenure for the Burmese people, particularly farmers.

“The Bank can have a significant impact on human rights in Burma by promoting public participation in the country's development,” HRW said.
Monday, February 13, 2012

Dunkley talks about his arrest, changes in Burma

Monday, 13 February 2012 13:20 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The Australian publisher of The Myanmar Times, Ross Dunkley, was interviewed last week about the political changes in Burma and his role now on the English-language newspaper.

In this file photo, Ross Dunkley, the Australian journalist, stands outside a courtroom in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

“I’m back to normal” as editor of the newspaper, Dunkley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in a wide-ranging interview.

Dunkley, who has worked in Burma for 10 years, said he was appealing one minor conviction and an immigration violation.

Rumours circulated widely that the publisher was “set up” by someone in government regarding incidents between him and a Burmese woman.

“Oh, look, there's many different rumours that float around about that,” he said, “but there can be no doubt that someone was trying to interfere in the process. I think it's too much of a coincidence to assume otherwise.”

Dunkley told the broadcasting service that he was not a saint and because of his position, he lived his life in a semi-public way “out in the open. So I guess you get warts and all.” Dunkley is the subject of an ABC documentary “Dancing with Dictators.”

“I mean, I knew from a long time ago, well before I was arrested, that there were people out to get me,” he said. “There was no doubt about that. I saw that coming.” He said earlier he had received a letter from a government minister that said he was no longer trustworthy.

He said 47 days in Insein Prison wasn’t too harsh, and because he was well known many people looked after him, but the prison was overcrowded.

“In my cell block there's - there were nine rooms, each room about 110 people, so that's more than 1,000 people per block. I think that you've probably got no more than, you know, a couple of square metres, enough to lie down with your bedding at night time and otherwise you're pretty crowded up together in what is fairly hot circumstances.”

A founder of the Myanmar Times, Dunkley was accused of violating the Immigration Act and assaulting a woman. He was arrested on February 10, 2011.

His high-profile case attracted worldwide interest in the media community. Dunkley is also the publisher of the The Phnom Penh Post, and prior to working in Burma worked in journalism in Hanoi.

Originally from Perth, Australia, Dunkley was the first foreigner to enter the Burmese domestic newspaper market in 2000 when he joined forces with Sonny Shwe, the son of a close ally of then military intelligence chief and junta prime minister, Khin Nyunt. Less than a year after Khin Nyunt’s purging from the military junta, Sonny Shwe was arrested and new Burmese co-owners took over his stake in the paper. The publisher of the Myanmar Times is Dr Tin Tun Oo.

Dunkley told ABC that coming to Burma and working under the military junta was “a lot more smoother than I anticipated it to be.” He began working in Burma, he said, without kowtowing to the government, but he had to follow their rules “to get in the playing field.”

“I think you have to be there at the very minimum to be able to institute change,” he told the ABC interviewer.

He strongly defended his newspaper staff, rebutting people who said he had no chance working under Burma’s tight censorship rules prior to publication. They said, "’Oh, you had no chance with them because they had the red pen out at all times.’ Well, maybe sometimes the red pen was put away on occasions when perhaps it should have been out, and I think that that was the ability of our staff to push the envelope forward and to train people about the role of media.

“We've always attempted to tell the truth and we've always told the story as we see it and the censors cut it. We don't alter our copy or alter our articles because of the censor. We only write as we see it and then if the red pen comes out, it has to run like that,” he told the interviewer.

Progress may be “only incremental and it's only a little bit, but every time you do it, you - it's a small victory for you. That's not to say that it doesn't hurt every time someone cuts the red - puts the red pen and crosses out the story. It's like a knife in your guts. That feeling doesn't go away.”

He said he never had close ties with government officials.

“I mean, I had no friendships inside the government at all. So, I operated almost completely independently,” he said.

Regarding people who believe that the recent democratic changes in Burma are a well-crafted tactic that will lead to continued control by former generals, Dunkley said the current changes are continued steps in a process that has been underway for a long time.

“The fact is that this is their country, they've made a decision to move in this direction, and it wasn't an instant decision,” he said. “It was - these motions were put in place a long, long time ago. There was a seven-step road to democracy going back six or seven years. This is no surprise.

“It always was going to move that way. It's just that the suddenness of the change, the rapidity of the change and the breadth of the change is what has surprised a lot of people.”
Friday, February 10, 2012

Activist monk Gambira is detained


Friday, 10 February 2012 14:31 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Ashin Gambira, one of the leaders of the “Saffron Revolution” in 2007, was removed from his monastery by authorities in Rangoon on Friday.

A fellow monk told CNN that around 10 men in plain clothes took Gambira away in a car. He said the men told him that Gambira was not under arrest, but he was wanted for questioning.

A leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance who was serving 68 years in prison before his release in January in an amnesty, Gambira may have been arrested because he tried to enter monasteries that were closed and locked by the military regime following the monk-led street protests in 2007, said a fellow monk.

According to Agence France Presse, Gambira was being questioned for “breaching regulations.”

The officials were from the government religious authority department and Rangoon division government, said AFP.

After he was freed last month, Gambira had reportedly been trying to reopen monasteries that were closed and locked up by the authorities.

“He was taken this morning from his monastery for questioning because he broke the locks of three monasteries since his release,” an anonymous source told AFP.

In many interviews after his release, Gambira said he did not trust the democratic reforms that have taken place during the past year.

The 31-year-old monk was arrested in November 2007 after the street protests. Three weeks later, he was jailed for 68 years.

He was one of about 600 people freed in January in an amnesty directed toward national reconciliation and encouraging the lifting of sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States.

Since his release, Gambira had moved in to Meggin Monastery in Rangoon with hopes of rebuilding the monastery that was destroyed by the military regime following the 2007 demonstrations. The monastery’s monks were beaten and many were imprisoned. It is one of more than 60 monasteries that were raided, closed, and destroyed during the crackdown following the protests.

Gambira said in a recent interview that the government still must apologize to the Buddhist sangha for its actions against monks.

“The government has transformed its external appearance into a civilian one, but their efforts to implement democracy are still rather weak, while many cases of human rights violations continue,” he was quoted as saying.         

The election will offer ‘intense rivalries’: NUP


Friday, 10 February 2012 21:37 Nyi Thit

(Mizzima) – The National Unity Party (NUP says its main competitors in the by-election will be the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the National League for Democracy (NLD). It expects a hard fought election.

Joint General-Secretary Khin Maung Gyi said, “This by-election will be different than the 2010 general elections. Besides our party, a big party like the NLD will also contest. Also, the smaller parties that contested in the 2010 election are stronger. There will be intense rivalry.”

The NUP contested for 995 parliamentary seats in the 2010 elections. It is the second largest party after the ruling USDP. The NUP won 61 seats.

The party now has about 700,000 members; it will contest in 23 constituencies in the April 1 by-election.

This election will reflect the real desires of people, he said, and there cannot be any electoral fraud like in the 2010 elections, he said.

“The electoral commission has been reformed,” he said. “And the parties will manage to watch carefully to avoid electoral fraud.” He all the parties need to educate people to understand the voting system in order to avoid invalid votes.

“People need to avoid spoilt votes. Parties should prepare the voters,” Khin Maung Gyi said.

He welcomed Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to stand for the by-election and said this is the era of women. A female NUP candidate will run in the Mingalar Taung Nyunt constituency in Rangoon.

If Aung San Suu Kyi can enter the Parliament, the situation can change depending on her leadership and motions, he said.

He would not comment on the NUP ideas about amending the 2008 Constitution.

The NUP, formed in 1988, has many retired top military officers in leadership posts. It is a reincarnation of the Burma Socialist Programme Party.         

Water bills to rise in Rangoon


Friday, 10 February 2012 18:58 Min Thet

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Water in Rangoon, already in short supply in some areas, is going to cost more starting April 1. The Rangoon City Development Committee announced on Thursday that water bills would increase from 25 to 40 pya per gallon for non-commercial use. 

Soe Myaing, the head of the committee’s Engineering Department, explain the increase: “The cost of one gallon of water is 47 pya [a unit of Burmese money worth 0.01 kyat]. But we collect just 25 pya per one gallon for non-commercial use and 35 pya per one gallon for commercial use, so we’ve suffered financial losses.”

Until July 2005, the development committee collected 3 pya per gallon and from August 2005 to March 2012; 25 pya per one gallon for non-commercial use and government offices; and 35 pya for commercial use.

Starting from April 1, it will collect 40 pya per a gallon for non-commercial use and 50 pya for commercial use.

For government offices, the existing rate, 25 pya, will remain the same, Soe Myiang said.

“In Rangoon, if the amount is calculated according to water units, we [presently] collect 55 kyat (US$ 0.14) per unit [220 gallons] for non-commercial use and 77 kyat per unit for commercial use.

The water rate of neighbouring countries are : US$ 0.26 [208 kyat] per  unit in Thailand; US$ 0.96 [768 kyat] in Singapore; US$ 0.36 [288 kyat] in Philippines; US$ 0.45 [360 kyat] in Malaysia; US$ 0.14 [112 kyat] in Cambodia; US$ 0.09 [72 kyat] in Laos; US$ 0.7 [560 kyat] in Indonesia; US$ 0.1 [80 kyat] in China; US$ 0.1 [80 kyat] in India; US$ 0.8 [640 kyat] in Bingladesh; and US$ 0.069 [55 kyat] in Burma.

Soe Myiang also said all customers must install a water meter.

“Some people have installed water meters in Rangoon but for some customers who have not installed water meters, we have to collect the charges with a fix rate. In that case, we assume that a person will use 30 gallon of water a day and a house has five family members and then we calculate the amount of money using that formula. So, there is waste of water. We cannot get money in line with the usage of water,” he said.

From a total of about 230,000 water users, more than 70,000 customers have not installed water meters in the Rangoon municipal area, according officials.

According to government date, Rangoon distributes 160 million gallons of water daily from Gyophyu Reservoir, Hlawgar Reservoir, Phoogyi Reservoir and Ngamoeyeik Reservoir.

On November 2, 2011, the Rangoon Region Assembly rejected a motion, put forward by U Kyaw of the Thingangyun Township constituency, to distribute more water to the city.
In the discussion, Kyaw said that the drinking water distributed by the Rangoon City Development Committee to the outskirts of Rangoon was insufficient, and he urged the City Development Committee to distribute more water.

“Most of the people in our township are poor. To get water, they have to wait until late at night, so they cannot sleep. Because of insufficient water there are health problems,” Kyaw told the Rangoon Region assembly.

In response to Kyaw’s motion, the Rangoon mayor said there were plans to distribute more water.         

Rohingya issues discussed in Norway

Friday, 10 February 2012 15:59 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Maung Tun Khin (aka) Ziaul Gaffar, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, visited with Norwegian officials in Oslo recently, where he met with the former prime minister.   

Maung Tun Khin met the former prime minister, Kjell Magne Bondevik, who is the director of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights.

“I had an extremely valuable discussion with the former prime minister. I express our gratitude for his long-time efforts for human rights and democracy for Burma. I urged him to continue to put pressure on the Thein Sein regime to stop human rights violations in ethnic areas, particularly in Arakan State where Rohingyas are facing serious persecution,” he said in a statement.

The Norwegian government is now engaging with the Thein Sein government and recently cancelled its earlier calls for Norwegian companies not to do business or invest in Burma.

In meetings with officials, Maung Tun Khin said, “We called on them to urge the regime to restore Rohingya citizenship rights, ethnic rights, to lift restrictions on marriage, movement, education, and to find a permanent solution for Rohingya refugees who are living in Bangladesh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Malaysia.”

He said he also met with various officials, parliamentary members and NGO groups, where he raised awareness about the suffering of the people of Burma, and particularly the plight of the Rohingyas.

“I delivered the message that if the Thein Sein regime wants to do genuine reform they have to stop human rights violations against ethnic areas. The regime is not showing even little signs of change on the Rohingya, instead tagging Rohingyas as foreigners. Recent changes might be just to ease sanctions from Western governments.” He said it was too early to lift the sanctions on Burma.         

Rangoon factory workers’ protest spreads


Friday, 10 February 2012 12:32 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A four-day workers’ strike at the Tai Yi footwear factory in an industrial zone in Rangoon Region on Thursday spread to a nearby factory. 

More than 1,000 workers at the New Way footwear factory, located nearby, went on strike on Thursday, in the same Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone.  In both strikes, workers are seeking higher wages and other rights.

More than 1,800 workers from the Tai Yi factory began their strike on Monday.

“The New Way factory started their protest today [Thursday],” said lawyer Pho Phyu, who works on labour related issues. “The factory officials came and negotiated with the workers but have not yet resolve the problem. Tai Yi is continuing its protest, and they will stage a strike tomorrow too. A lot of workers joined the protest.”

The workers at the New Way factory have also submitted a range of issues, including more pay, overtime pay, a bonus for no absences, and the granting of sick leave. Currently, workers are penalized 4,000 kyat (US$ 5) per day for sick leave.

Officials at the Tai Yi factory have issued a notice increasing basic pay by 10 kyat per hour and overtime pay by 21 kyat per hour. Those who accept the offer can report for work on Saturday. Those who do not accept the offer will lose their jobs, the notice said.

The previous pay rate at the Tai Yi factory was 75 kyat per hour for basic pay, 162 kyat per hour for overtime pay, and an absentee penalty deduction of 4,000 kyat per day.

A Tai Yi factory official said, “We have increased the pay as much as we can. Those who cannot accept our offer can withdraw their wages due. If we have to accept their demand, the net pay increase will be about 40,000 (US$ 50) per head. We cannot give in to their demand to pay these rates for over 2,000 workers.”

The workers have asked for a basic pay of 50,000 kyat (US$ 62) a month, no absentee penalty, no deduction for accidental damage of footwear products, adequate drinking water, freedom to go to the toilet facilities, and work leave when they have family issues.

Worker Win Mar at the Tai Yi factory said, “Our wages cannot meet our ends even though I have free accommodation at my auntie’s house. We have to spend for conveyance too. Most of the workers come from rural areas, and they live in rented rooms. For these workers, they are in debt because their wages don’t cover their minimum expenses.”

The Tai Yi factory is owned by Chinese nationals and has faced labour strikes for three years in a row since 2010, Hlaing Tharyar industrial zone committee chairman Myat Thin Aung told Mizzima.

A labour worker, Suu Suu New, and lawyer Pho Phyu will meet and negotiate with factory officials and officials from the labour department on Friday. The workers said they would take the issue to court if an agreement cannot be reached with factory officials.         

Writers’ talks banned in Magway region


Friday, 10 February 2012 12:05 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – During the past month, township chiefs in Magway Region have not allowed seven planned literary events to be held, according to writers who tried to speak in the area.

One banned writer told Mizzima that the writers had planned to talk about rebuilding the country, changing the mindset of the public, national hero General Aung San and other topics.

Writer Maung Tha Cho said that he had planned to deliver literary talks in Aunglan Township and Myitchay Township in Magway Region in January and February, but local authorities refused his request.

“When we went there, the organizers had already built pavilions. When the literary talks drew closer, authorities informed them they would not allow the talks,” Maung Tha Cho told Mizzima.

Similarly, the well–known Burmese meteorologist Tun Lwin told Mizzima that authorities did not allow his planned talk to be held in Thayat Township on January 9.

Tun Lwin said he always talked about meteorology, changing weather conditions and environmental conservation on the talk shows and banning his talk prevents him him from educating people about meteorological issues.

“I was rather upset,” he said. “In my opinion, this cannot benefit the people. Something is wrong, I think. It’s sure that it should not happen. I felt sorry for the villagers, and I’m upset,” Tun Lwin said.

The cartoonist Aw P Kyel was also affected by the ban. From January 9 until February 8, he was prevented from giving talks in Thayat, Chauk, Seikphyu, Pakokku, Yaysakyo and Myitchay townships in Magway Region.

Talking about Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann’s speech on Tuesday to bring about genuine reforms, cartoonist Aw P Kyel told Mizzima, “If they take steps forward [for democracy], we will accept it, otherwise we won’t.”

According to several of the writers, they have been able to give literary talks freely across the country except in Magway Region. Meteorologist Tun Lwin told Mizzima, “We did not face the ban in any other region or state. It happened only in Magway Region. Other writers’ planning literary talks were also refused.”

On Tuesday, Mann, in a reform-oriented speech, told MPs in the Union Assembly, “[You] just need to learn lessons from the mistakes in the past and to boldly make changes. You need to make actual reforms.”

Talking about Shwe Mann’s speech, writer Than Myint Aung said, “The president and the government members said good things, but the lower-level officials do not obey the instructions given from their superior officials.”

Her planned talk to be held in Magway in December 2011 was banned. Similarly, the organizers informed her on Friday that her talk planned for Saturday in Mankaleik village in Kunchankone Township in Rangoon would not be allowed, Than Myint Aung told Mizzima.
Banned talks in Magway Region
No Date Township Speakers
1 January 9 Thayat Tun Lwin, Aung Kyi Nyunt, Aw P Kyel
2 January 20 Aung Lan Pe Myint, Kyaw Win, Maung Tha Cho
3 February 3 Chauk Aw P Kyel and two other writers
4 February 4 Seikphyu Aw P Kyel and two other writers
5 February 6 Pakokku San San New (Tharyarwaddy), Nu Nu Yi (Innwa), Aw P Kyel
6 February 7 Yaysakyo Nu Nu Yi (Innwa), Maung Tha Cho, Aw P Kyel
7 February 8 Myit Chay Than Myint Aung, Maung Tha Cho, Aw P Kyel

Education and health focus of U.N. conference


Friday, 10 February 2012 19:07 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – A three-day U.N. conference “Development Policy Options with special reference to Education and Health in Myanmar” will be held in Naypyitaw on Monday.

The keynote addresses will be delivered by Prof. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Laureate in economics, and Prof. Ronald Findlay, both of Columbia University.

High-level government officials, the chef de cabinet and special advisor to the U.N. Secretary-General, Vijay Nambiar; the European Union Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs; and the U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and chair of U.N. Development Group for Asia-Pacific, Dr. Ajay Chhibber, will speak.

More than 40 national and international experts will participate in panel debates, sharing national, regional and the experiences of other countries.

The aim of the conference is to bring to the table discussions on policy options, priorities and institutional reforms for accelerating human development in Burma.

For more information, contact
Esben Q. Harboe at esben.harboe@one.un.org . or go to http://yangon.unic.org
Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shwe Mann delivers reformist-style speech


Thursday, 09 February 2012 11:58 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – In a startling admission of the Burmese government’s past failings –including systemic corruption – the speaker of the Lower House has called on Parliament members to pass laws that modernize the government and serve the people.

Sounding like a democratic opposition reformist, former general Shwe Mann presented a blistering critique of the failures of the Burmese government on Tuesday. He told lawmakers not to dwell on the past, but to bring about reforms and “modern” concepts by listening to the people’s voices at all levels.

The speech could be seen as one of the most significant signs yet that the reforms underway by the newly elected government are real and reordering government policies and actions is a work in progress. It was also a notice of responsibility sent to lawmakers that far-reaching reforms must come through policies and laws passed in Parliament.

Shwe Mann said government employees across the country in almost all departments routinely take bribes and “grease money” and charge for normal services and documents “because of low salaries.” Salaries and bonuses for government employees are too low and encourage corruption, he said.

He told lawmakers to put forward a bill to increase the salaries of government workers. He went on to cite deficiencies in the agricultural area in which he said farmers and others have taken financial losses because of confusing governmental policies and orders.

“Financial losses are not a good sign for the country. It seems as if the authorities do not respect the Constitution and are not working to improve the situation,” he said.

As an example, he singled out some dam projects that he said neglected proper environmental impact studies and conservation techniques leading to flooding, which damaged farmers’ livelihood.

Citing government deficiencies in the industrial sector, he said: “Although factories were built, they did not have enough workers, including skilled workers, and the factories could not get enough electricity or fuel, including gas, and raw materials.”

Shwe Mann told lawmakers to learn from government mistakes in planning and management and to take bold steps to make changes.

“There are no benefits from blaming the events of the past,” he said. “ [You] just need to learn lessons from the mistakes in the past and to boldly make changes. You need to make actual reforms.

“Concepts and ‘mind sets’ need to be modern. Let’s make changes to get benefits. If you really love your country and the citizens, let’s work for people without political bias, regional bias and religious bias. Let’s work for the sake of the sixty million people in the population,” Shwe Mann told MPs.  

Lawmakers need to listen to what people are saying, he said: “People’s voices, government employees’ voices, people’s desires and people’s hopes. I’d like to ask the most powerful Parliament, the Union Assembly of the Republic of Union of Myanmar, to approve [work for] people’s hopes.”

In similar remarks, on January 21, Shwe Mann who is also the vice chairman of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), told party members at a press conference in Naypyitaw: “Don’t involve [yourself] in a dog-eat-dog world. If [the party] finds you guilty, you’ll be dismissed.”

In 2010, Shwe Mann resigned from the army as a general. In September 2010, at a ceremony in Naypyitaw to mark the International Day of Democracy, he called himself a “democrat.”

Shwe Mann, 65, graduated in 1969 from the Defence Services Academy, Intake 11. He was promoted to general in 2005. As a USDP candidate he won the parliamentary seat in the Zeyar Thiri Township constituency. He is also a member of the government’s National Security and Defence Council, the highest authority in the Union.         

EU official to talk about aid package


Thursday, 09 February 2012 16:24 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The European Union development commissioner said on Thursday he would discuss an increased humanitarian aid package with Burmese officials in Naypyitaw next week.

“There is a lot of opening and a very promising dynamic in Myanmar, even if it is still fragile,” Andris Piebalgs told the media prior to his departure to Burma on Saturday.

Earlier, noting the recent democratic reforms underway in Burma, EU officials said the alliance would provide 150 million euros (almost US$ 200 million) in additional aid to Burma during the next two years.

“The new situation allows us to beef up the support,” Piebalgs was quoted as saying by Agence France Press, adding that the aid is channeled through nongovernment organizations and the United Nations.

Piebalgs said the April 1 by-elections will be crucial for the credibility of the democratic reforms. In response to the January release of a large number of political prisoners, the EU lifted some travel bans against Burmese leaders, and the alliance will consider lifting various economic sanctions after the by-election.

“We have removed part of the restrictive measures, but the country is still in transition, the political situation is still delicate,” he told AFP.

Piebalgs said he would discuss with Burmese officials how best to use the EU monetary aid, saying that some of the money could be used for microcredits while larger sums might go to health and education

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is expected to visit Burma in the near future.

Piebalgs will be the first EU Commissioner to meet the country's President Thein Sein and will also hold talks with senior government ministers and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the European Commission said on Thursday. The commissioner will travel to Naypyitaw and Rangoon to hold a series of meetings, as well as visiting an EU-funded health clinic.         

Banks increase interest rate by 2 per cent


Thursday, 09 February 2012 14:44 Mizzima News

(Mizzzima) – A number of Burmese banks have raised the interest rate to 10 per cent from 8 per cent in a move to increase the rate of savings, The Myanmar Times reported on Wednesday. 

The move follows the lowering of bank loan interest rates in January by some private banks from 12 per cent to 10 per cent, which was aimed to encourage entrepreneurs.

Burma’s Ministry of Finance and Revenue said there have been 19 private banks established in the country since 1992, with 305 branches.

The Central Bank had recently granted private banks the option of setting interest rates in the 10-12 per cent range, said an article published on Monday.

A senior official from Innwa Bank said: “We chose to raise the interest rate for current saving accounts 10pc starting from February 1.”

The Central Bank also lowered interest charged on loans to 13 per cent from 15 per cent on January 1.

A report in late January by the International Monetary Fund cited the need to expand the number of banks and the accessibility of credit, particularly to farmers.

The report said: “Modernization of the financial system should be expedited to facilitate broad-based growth. Improvements to financial intermediation should begin by phasing out the deposit-to-capital ratio and expanding the list of collateral, including to all crops. Expansion of bank networks, especially in rural areas, is essential to increase access to finance. Nurturing a stronger commercial banking culture requires price competition. Interest rate liberalization started with some freedom in setting deposit rates, and should be extended to loan products. A level playing field between state and private banks, including in the areas of regulation and supervision, is critical to promote competition.”

Allowing joint ventures with foreign banks would expedite the transfer of technology and prepare the sector for Asean financial integration in 2015, the report said.         

Healthy jump in Burma’s foreign trade


Thursday, 09 February 2012 14:03 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Driven by increased natural gas exports, Burma’s foreign trade is expected to grow more than 30 percent, reaching US$ 16.1 billion in fiscal year 2011-12, the Ministry of Commerce reported. 

The trade figure for the previous year was $12 billion thanks in part to trade policy changes, according to local media on Wednesday.

The trade volume attained $14 billion in the first 10 months (April-January) of 2011-12, The Myanmar Times reported.

Of the total during the period, export trade accounted for $7.1 billion and import trade $7.3 billion. Besides natural gas, marine products, rice, minerals and beans and pulses accounted for the bulk of trade.

In a reshaping of its economic system, the government meanwhile has exempted commercial tax on a number of export items such as rice, beans and pulses, corn, sesame, rubber, freshwater and saltwater products and animal products as well as value-added products made of timber, bamboo and rattan.

Burma mainly exports agricultural, animal, marine, mineral, forestry products and finished goods, while it imports cement, agricultural machinery and its spare parts, computer and electronic devices, motor cars, motorcycles, mobile phones and their accessories.

In a report released in late Janaury, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) team said Burma has the potential to become “the next economic frontier in Asia.” The country is seen by the West as not only as a source of oil and gas energy and minerals, but one of cheap labour.

Meral Karasulu, the deputy division chief of the Asia and Pacific Department at the International Monetary Fund, who led the IMF assessment team, said in a statement released on Wednesday: “Burma has a high growth potential and could become the next economic frontier in Asia, if it can turn its rich natural resources, young labor force, and proximity to some of the most dynamic economies in the world, into its advantage.”

She said the process of upgrading Burma's antiquated financial system has already begun with recent changes in the exchange rate and restrictions on current international payments and transfers. The IMF team studied current processes and analyzed factors that could streamline and enhance Burma’s financial system, including aspects of its budget expenditures.

“As this essential process continues, channeling the reform momentum to improving monetary and fiscal management and to structural reforms would allow taking full advantage of the positive effects of exchange rate unification,” she said.

Karasulu said modernizing Burma’s economy would require changes to enhance the business and investment climate, modernizing the financial sector, and further liberalizing trade and foreign direct investment.

Burma’s real GDP growth is expected to increase to 5½ per cent in FY2011/12 and 6 percent in FY2012/13, driven by commodity exports and higher investment supported by robust credit growth and improved business confidence.

“Inflation, projected at 4.2 percent for FY2011/12, is expected to pick up to 5.8 per cent in FY2012/13 as the recent decline in food prices phases out,” she said.         

Suu Kyi to campaign in Kawmhu


Thursday, 09 February 2012 12:34 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Aung San Suu Kyi says she will campaign for the first time in the Kawmhu constituency on the outskirts of Rangoon on Saturday, before launching campaign trips to all state and regional capitals before the April 1 by-election.

Burma’s opposition leader told reporters last week that she chose Kwamhu because of its large Kayin population.

 “I might visit [Kawmhu] more than three times if I don’t have to go elsewhere to campaign,” she said, speaking to the press at her home after meeting U.N. human rights envoy Tomas Quintana last week.

“I can’t go and campaign in every constituency that the NLD will contest in the by-election, but I plan to visit the capital of each region and state … including Kachin State,” she said.

The National League for Democracy party will try to win “100 percent of seats in this by election,” she said.

Meanwhile, party spokesperson U Nyan Win said a planned trip to Mandalay on February 4-5, which was cancelled, would be rescheduled when a large enough venue is available.

Agence France Presse news agency, quoting another NLD official, said Suu Kyi was concerned everyone couldn’t be admitted to her rally in Mandalay.

“She worries people might be injured because of the size of the crowd. That’s why she postponed the trip. She will go there later for sure,” the spokesperson said.

In recent weeks, Suu Kyi has campaigned in the area of the Dawei industrial zone and the rural Tanintharyi Region in southern Burma, and to the Pathein area in Irrawaddy Region.

Nyan Win said the NLD new membership campaign was successful, but was taking time to make sure all applicants were eligible.

“For example, some people quit from other parties to join the NLD. We will check all applications,” he said.

There are 48 vacant seats at three government levels open to contest in the by-elections. Of the 48 seats in constituencies in 10 regions or states, 40 are for the Lower House, six for Upper House and two for region or state parliaments.

The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, will contest in all 48 vacant constituencies.         

Largest crowds yet welcome Suu Kyi


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 12:06 Kyaw Kha

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – On her second major campaign tour, Aung San Suu Kyi drew an estimated 30,000 supporters to a rousing political rally in Myaungmya Township in Irrawaddy Region on Tuesday.

In her speech, she emphasized the practical needs of the people such as employment, education and healthcare.

“I want to nurture the youth, and I want to make them more educated,” she said. “Getting proper healthcare for all adults and youth is the objective of the NLD. It’s very simple. We must work for better education for the people. We must work for better healthcare for the people. We must try hard to get decent employment and proper salaries,” Aung San Suu Kyi told the crowd.

She said the National League for Democracy (NLD) had a plan on how to amend selected articles in the 2008 Constitution, imposed by the former military government, and would work for peaceful co-existence with all ethnic people in the Union and for the rule of law to correct a police and justice system that is seen as unfair.

“The rule of law means rule by laws which will protect the people,” she said. “The laws must protect the people. They are not for harassing people.”

Supporters applauded her remarks and repeatedly shouted, “May you have good health, Mommy Suu,” a common crowd response to visits by Suu Kyi.

Observers noted that government employees wearing normal street clothes welcomed her during her tour of Myaungmya. A local resident said he had never seen such a large crowd and such an emotional welcome in the town.

Suu Kyi toured Pathein and Myaungmya. Local people lined the highways and streets. Karen demonstrated folk dances. She was offered hundreds of garlands and bouquets and flags with the NLD logo, a fighting peacock, waved in the wind.

The road leading to Pathein was packed with a huge crowd sprinkled with students from Pathein Technical University wearing T-shirts and hats bearing the fighting peacock symbol. Local people claimed that, counting people along the roads, several tens of thousands  were gathered around the Koe Thane playground to welcome her.

In her speech there, she urged people to learn the correct voting procedures and to monitor the voting and counting to ensure fairness and accuracy.

“Don’t make a mistake in casting your vote,” she said. “Please don’t let your votes become invalid. We will distribute leaflets on voters education, how to vote, how not to make a vote invalid.”

Suu Kyi joked that if the NLD didn’t win in Pathein after such a large turnout, then something was wrong.

Suu Kyi tried to visit Irrawaddy Region in 1989 and 1990, but the authorities blocked her tour. The army barred her way in Danuphyu when she visited Irrawaddy Region on April 5, 1989. Violence was averted when a military officer withdrew an order to fire at the last moment.

On January 29, tens of thousands of supporters in Dawei in southern Burma turned out for her first one-day campaign tour. Suu Kyi plans to visit Mandalay in central Burma soon.         
Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rangoon airport on high alert


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 21:19 Myo Thein

(Mizzima) – On Friday, Burmese authorities placed the Rangoon Mingaladon Airport under a high security alert, following a bomb threat against Myanmar Airways.

The alert was implemented after a letter threatening a bombing was received by the Burmese embassy in Bangkok. Sources said the bombing might involve a Muslim male.

The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) under the Directorate of Air Transport determined the threat level.

“The DCA upgraded the alert level to grade 1 after receiving the threat on Friday,” said a senior official at the airport.

Sources said that warning notices were posted in warehouses of Myanmar Cargo Services (MCS) at Rangoon airport saying a Muslim male bomber might make an attack on planes.

Despite the high security alert, ordinary air travel continued and observers said they did not notice any special security measures at the airport.

Meanwhile, in what appeared to be an unrelated move, it was announced this week that security forces deployed at the airport by the air force and Military Affairs Security (MAS) would be withdrawn not later than March 1 and be replaced by DCA personnel and security forces under the Home Ministry.

Home Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko visited the Rangoon Mingaladon Airport at the end of January to coordinated the security shift, sources said.         

Seventeen political parties to contest by-election


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 14:30 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burma’s Union Election Commission abolished two newly registered political parties for their failure to run for at least three vacant seats in the coming April 1 by-elections, according to Xinhua news agency. 

A total of 17 political parties including 11 old and six newly registered parties will run in by-elections, according to local media.

An election commission announcement on Wednesday said the two political parties are the Democratic Alliance Party and 88-Forces of People's Party.

There are 48 vacant seats in Parliament at three levels available for contest in the by-elections.

Of the 48 seats in constituencies in 10 regions or states, 40 are for the Lower House, six for Upper House and two for region or state parliaments.

Both the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and the ruling party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), will contest in all 48 vacant constituencies.

In the lead-up to the election, numerous government officials have publicly stated that the by-election will be free and fair, an assurance also given to a host of international political figures who have visited top Burmese leaders in the past several months. A free and fair election is an essential demand before the lifting of economic sanctions, said Western leaders.

The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) will contest in all vacant constituencies, while the National Democratic Force (NDF) and National Unity Party (NUP) plan to contest in about 20 constituencies respectively. A newly formed party, the New National Democracy Party (NNDP), will contest for three seats.

Included among the National League for Democracy candidates are the well-known Burmese rapper Ratha, who will contest for a seat in Parliament from the Mayangone constituency, and Phyu Phyu Thin, an NLD social care leader, who has managed an HIV/AIDS centre in Rangoon. Members of the 88-Generation students group announced that it would not run candidates under the 88-Generation banner. Many of its leaders were only recently released in the latest amnesty round granted by the government in January. The group leader’s said they supported NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi and would work with her in the by-election.

The Rakhine National Democratic Party, mainly based in Arakan State, and the Chin National Party (CNP), mainly based in Chin State, said they would not contest in the by-elections.

In the 2010 general election, the ruling USDP won a majority of seats in 882 out of a total 1,154 constituencies, or 76.5 per cent.

The NUP won 63 seats and the SNDP, RNDP, NDF and AMDP won 57, 35, 16 and 16 seats respectively.

The NLD did not contest in the 2010 election. However, it is contesting in 48 vacant seats in the by-election and is expected to win the majority, if not all, of the empty seats, which are unfiled because of resignations, illness or other factors.         

Mekong River patrols to increase


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 18:50 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The Thai navy, in response to increased lawlessness and drug activity on the Mekong River, will expand its number of boats and naval personnel now patrolling the river, according to a Thai admiral.

The Mekong Riverine Operation Unit (MROU) will be beefed up to better contribute to the joint patrols with China, Laos and Burma, navy chief Admiral Surasak Roomruangwong said in an article published by the Bangkok Post on Wednesday.

The Thai navy now has 200 navy personnel, three river patrol boats and eight assault boats conducting joint river patrols with the other participating countries.

Surasak said the MROU is responsible for protecting the country's sovereignty along the river in addition to suppressing smuggling and that clashes and losses could be inevitable, the newspaper quoted him saying.

Since December 10, the four-nation river patrols have involved three boats from China, one from Laos, one from Burma and one from the Thai marine police.

The patrols begin at Kuan Lei port in China and end after entering Thai territorial waters. The MROU takes over the patrol from the Thai point of entry.

In the fall of 2011, three crewmen of a Chinese boat were killed on the Mekong River. Nine Thai soldiers of the Pha Muang force have been charged in connection with the murders.

Rear Admiral Sorracha Sornprathum, the MROU commander, said boats along a stretch of more than 150km of the Mekong River also have been attacked and robbed by groups of 20 to 100 bandits under No Kham, a Burmese bandit who formerly worked for Khun Sa, the well-known drug lord.

Sorracha told the newspaper that more personnel are needed to stem the flow of drugs, mostly methamphetamine, crystal meth (ice), and contraband smuggled along the Thai-Lao border.

The Thai navy patrols the Mekong River along more than 900 km of the river using four main bases – at Chiang Rai, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Ubon Ratchathani with a total of 14 boat stations.         

Norway announces major scholarship program


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 15:12 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will offer scholarships to qualified Burmese nationals to pursue a master's degree program at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. 

Up to 40 master's students per year for three years will be recruited starting in August 2012. Any Burmese national who meets the AIT admissions requirements is eligible to apply.

The scholarship package will cover all tuition and registration fees, a research grant, bursary and accommodation, study-associated costs for a pre-bridging program (up to four weeks in Burma), a bridging program at AIT (up to eight weeks), and the master's degree program. A return air ticket between Rangoon and Bangkok will also be provided.

In addition to the AIT admissions application forms, applicants need to submit a three-page essay (in Burmese) explaining the reason for applying to AIT and how they can contribute towards the future development of Burma in the short, medium and long term.

AIT will conduct a national level pre-screening step, and a pre-selection interview panel in Burma will be followed by a final selection by the AIT schools.

AIT is closely coordinating with the Norwegian embassy in Bangkok, as well as with collaborative partners in Burma to set up a local application center in Rangoon. A detailed announcement of the scholarship program will be available this week.

The Asian Institute of Technology was established in Bangkok in 1959. AIT is a leading regional postgraduate institution and is actively working with public and private sector partners throughout the region and with some of the top universities in the world.

The Institute operates as a self-contained international community at its campus located 40 km (25 miles) north of Bangkok.

For more information, go to http://www.ait.ac.th/about

PTT ready to expand its Burma oil business


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 14:44 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Thailand’s state-owned PTT Exploration and Production Plc (PTTEP) says it will sign an agreement with Burma to explore for oil and gas in two onshore petroleum blocks this month. 

The company said Burma “is our core market for exploration and production in Southeast Asia,” in an article in The Bangkok Post on Wednesday.

In mid-January, PTT Plc, Thailand’s largest energy company, said it was  studying whether to invest in a power plant in the Dawei industrial zone in southern Burma.

A unit of PTT Plc, the oil exploration/production wing was last month awarded licences for the PSC-G and EP2 onshore petroleum blocks which cover a combined area of 13,000-square kilometres.

PTTEP is already developing the huge M9 gas block in the Gulf of Martaban, with production of 300 million cubic feet per day expected by the end of next year. Of that amount, 80 per cent will be exported to Thailand and the rest consumed domestically, the newspaper said.

The company is also proceeding with a US$ 2-billion plan to develop a gas-production facility and a 300-kilometre gas pipeline in the Gulf of Martaban. PTTEP is funding 80 per cent of that venture and the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise the rest, according to earlier statements.

Chief executive Anon Sirisaengtaksin said PTTEP continues to evaluate the gulf's M3 gas block offshore from Rangoon to determine if it is commercially viable. PTTEP already has interests in the the Yadana, Yetakun and Zawtika blocks.

Meanwhile, Thai companies are leading the huge energy production project in Dawei to build a port and an economic zone, including pipelines to transport energy to Thailand.

There are 47 oil and natural gas production blocks in inland Burma. China, which is extracting oil and gas in 23 of the 47 inland blocks, is the largest investor; Malaysia is the second largest.

There is only one Burmese oil company, Myanmar Petroleum Resources Limited, which is owned by Michael Moe Myint. The Htoo Company owned by businessmen Tay Za and Nay Aung, who is the son of former Industry No. 1 Minister Aung Thaung, are shareholders in foreign oil and gas companies, according to sources close to the Ministry of Energy.

Currently, Burma’s inland blocks are producing more than 9,300 crude oil barrels a day and more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. The Yadana and Yetagun offshore natural gas blocks are producing more than 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.

According statements by the Ministry of Energy, there are a total of 0.46 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the inland area in Burma and 17 trillion cubic feet in offshore blocks.         

CIA director to visit top Burmese leaders


Wednesday, 08 February 2012 11:39 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is planning to visit with Burmese leaders sometime later this year, according to a report in The New York Times.

After talking with CIA director David Petraeus in Thailand on Tuesday, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters that Petraeus said he would “definitely go Burma this year,” the NYT quoted Surapong as saying.

The visit is the latest signal that relations between the U.S. and Burma, which is emerging from years of isolation from the West, have reached a newer, productive stage, reflecting the decision of the Obama administration to engage the newly elected government.

Analysts said the U.S. is rapidly sending signals on multiple levels that serve to support the reformist in the Burmese government and the military.

In December, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with leaders of Burma, saying that the U.S. would reciprocate any concrete moves toward democracy with proportionate responses. The U.S. has said that it will now appoint an ambassador to Burma, in recognition of the positive steps taken in recent months.

Analysts say that Burma’s location between India and China is seen as a strategic location to check the rising influence of China, and as a lucrative economic frontier poised for increased investment from the West.

An American official in Bangkok, who requested anonymity, told the NYT that Petraeus’s visit to Burma originated because “Secretary Clinton asked him to travel to Burma later this year.”

Three teams of top-level American officials have visited Burma in recent months. Local analysts said the visit by the CIA director signifies a more involved military-political relationship, which is desired by Burma as a way to balance off relations between China and the U.S. Prior to the 1980s, Burma and the U.S. had established military and intelligence cooperation, until the former junta launched a crackdown on demonstrations for democracy and killed and jailed thousands of Burmese.