Monday, April 30, 2012

NLD lawmakers to take oath of office

Monday, 30 April 2012 14:24 Phanida and Ko Pauk

(Mizzima) - Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday the oath dispute preventing her party from being sworn into office as members of the Burmese Parliament has been temporarily resolved – although the contested wording has not been changed.

NLD opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Photo: MIzzima

Lawmakers-elect in her opposition party will take the unchanged oath of office on Tuesday, but the party will not drop its oppositon to the oath’s wording, which requires them to swear to “protect” or “safeguard” the Constitution. Suu Kyi will be sworn into office on Wednesday.

Suu Kyi said she would not back down on the language issue, but for now has put it aside.

“Politics is an issue of give and take,” she told reporters in Rangoon on Monday. “We are not giving up, we are just yielding to the aspirations of the people.”

Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) objected to the wording that requires them to “safeguard the constitution” - a document they have told the people in their campaign they would seek to amend because it was drafted under military rule and ensures the army inordinate power, the Associated Press reported.

The party wants “safeguard" replaced with “respect,” a change the government has made in other Burmese laws including the electoral law that enabled Suu Kyi's party to officially enter politics and run in the by-election on April 1, which its candidates won by a landslide.

On Sunday, Rakhine Nationalities and Development Party chairman Dr. Aye Maung and 18 other MPs met with Suu Kyi at her home and requested the NLD drop its oath opposition for now.

Addressing the question as to why Suu Kyi did not try to amend the wording of the oath before the by-elections, she said, “I failed to do it. I bear the responsibility. I want the desire of the people and our alliances not to be spoiled just because of my carelessness.”

Suu Kyi added that the NLD has decided to give in because the NLD’s demand to amend the oath is just a legal or technical affair and it does not want the oath standoff to lead to a political problem.

“We need to practically show that problems can be solved by cooperating and by give and take,” said Suu Kyi. NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing told Mizzima that although the NLD gave up its demand to amend the oath, it will not give up its electoral pledges including an effort to amend the Constitution. “The NLD makes the decision to attend the Parliament [now] because we think that it will be better if political problems are solved calmly. The NLD political posture will not change. But, we will take the [unchanged] oath in accordance with their desire."

The oath issue raised controversy within opposition party politics and was questioned by some foreign-based Burmese groups, who wanted to see Suu Kyi and the NLD members-elect assume their role as members of Parliament.

“We are fulfilling the wishes of the people, because the people want the NLD to enter parliament,” Suu Kyi was quoted by the AP.

Ban praises Thein Sein in Burmese Parliament

Monday, 30 April 2012 15:17 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for foreign governments to “go even further” in removing all trade restrictions and sanctions against Burma, in an address to the Burmese Parliament in Naypyitaw.

Ban is the highest foreign official to address the Parliament since it was created about one year ago, signaling a new page in relations with foreign governments.

After his speech, Ban praised Aung San Suu Kyi for ending the dispute over National League for Democracy (NLD) members taking the oath of office as Burmese members of Parliament.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the Burmese Parliament. Photo: Mizzima

Suu Kyi’s announced on Monday that the NLD would drop its dispute for the time being, and its members would take the oath on Wednesday as members of Parliament.

Ban said the resolution was “in the interest of greater and fuller democracy.”

In his speech, Ban praised Burmese President Thein Sein for “his vision, leadership and courage to put Myanmar on the path to change.”

“I am here to say, and to say clearly: the road before you is exciting,” Ban told lawmakers. “But it will not always be easy. Eventual success will rest largely on this assembly.

“I have no doubt that Myanmar will quickly regain its place as a respected and responsible member of the international community,” Ban told lawmakers. He said the road forward would not be easy or quick, and “the perils and pitfalls are many.”

“There is no single formula for success,” he said.

He cited political leadership as an essential need in forging a prosperous future, and he saluted Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi and others for their role in the recent elections.

Elections and open government are keys to democracy, he said, but “they must be matched by a healthy and vibrant political climate.”

“President Thein Sein and Daw Aung Suu Kyi have demonstrated the confidence and statesmanship needed to look beyond politics to the larger interests of the nation,” he said. The “generational shift now taking place” requires understanding and cooperation. He said the people of Burma expect “genuine participatory democracy” to take place in Parliament and within all levels of the country, and for lawmakers to “accelerate the pace of change.”

Two important milestones ahead were Burma’s Asean chairmanship in 2014 and the 2015 national elections, he said.

For progress to be achieved, the Burmese people must see positive changes in areas such as health care, education, jobs creation, supporting manufacturing and service industries, and development of key infrastructure.

Finally, he said national reconciliation must be fully achieved, requiring resettlement of displaced people, security guarantees for ethnic and political groups and the release of political prisoners. He noted the situation in Kachin State and called for peace and development there, and access for humanitarian aid groups.

There must be safeguards for civil society and the rule of law, and respect for human rights, especially for free association and free speech.

He reminded lawmakers that Burma was a founding member of the U.N., and that he followed in the footsteps of U Thant, the former U.N. secretary-general who called on the world to overcome violence and stressed the need “to understand each other and to develop a spirit of One World.”

Ban will wrap up his three-day trip on Tuesday in a meeting Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon

On Monday, Ban also signed an agreement for the U.N. to help Burma conduct a census in 2014, the country’s first in 31 years.

Population estimates vary widely, with the World Bank putting the figure at 48 million, the Asian Development Bank at 60 million and the IMF at 64 million.

Ban will travel to Shan State, an isolated area where a large amount of the world’s opium is grown. Burma is the second-biggest producer of opium after Afghanistan and has a rising number of drug users that has led to the third-largest HIV epidemic in Asia, according to the U.N. program on HIV/AIDS.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said last month in a statement that government efforts to eradicate opium in the region have made significant progress, in part due to negotiations on peace deals with minority ethnic groups.

“These cease-fires present the opportunity for a new beginning, but what is really needed for the people of Shan is a permanent end to all conflict through the acquisition of a lasting peace,” Jason Eligh, Burma’s country manager for the U.N. drug office, said.

Newspaper refuses to reveal reporter’s name in gov’t suit

Monday, 30 April 2012 15:34 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – In response to a Ministry of Mines request to reveal the name of a reporter who wrote an article citing financial transgressions of the ministry by quoting information from the Union auditor-general's office, the newspaper said it would not do so.

The journal’s editor-in-chief, Kyaw Min Swe, said in a hearing that responsibility for a story should be borne by the editor and the publisher.

The Voice newspaper

“It’s obvious that there is no reason to reveal the reporter’s name…the one who should bear the responsibility is not the reporter. The editor-in-chief and the publisher have to shoulder the responsibility,” Kyaw Min Swe told Mizzima.

Win Shwe, a lawyer for the newspaper, in an April 9 hearing cited a precedent in a 1935 case in which a Burmese court upheld a request not to reveal a reporter’s name.

“There are old examples of such cases,” said Win Shwe.

The next hearing will be conduced on May 11. “If the court decides [we must] reveal the reporter’s name, we will appeal to the relevant higher court,” he said.

The Voice on March 12 reported that the Ministry of Mines sold 50 per cent of the shares in the Monywa copper mines, owned by the ministry, to the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL), but that a foreign company paid the money on behalf of UMEHL, citing information from the government auditor-general’s office.

Political prisoners still in Burmese jails

Monday, 30 April 2012 15:03 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) has urged the British government to do more to persuade the military-backed government in Burma to release all remaining political prisoners.

There have been a series of positive changes in Burma, including the release of high profile political prisoners, and Aung San Suu Kyi being elected as a member of parliament, BCUK said in a statement. However, hundreds of political prisoners remain behind bars in appalling conditions in jail, it said.

“The unconditional release of all political prisoners is an essential step towards genuine democracy and freedom in Burma regardless of the changes in Burma, all the repressive laws which enabled the jailing of political prisoners still remain in place,” it said.

Prisoners walk out of Insein Prison in Rangoon after a presidential amnesty. Photo: Mizzima

To remember those who still remain in jail, Burma Campaign UK said it will highlight the case of a different political prisoner every month. This month, April, is Thant Zaw (aka) Than Zaw.

Thant Zaw was sentenced to 30 years in 1989 and still remains in jail. He was accused without any evidence and charged with two different counts including High Treason within the Union of Burma Act, said BCUK.

He is a 43-year-old activist and he was an active member of the National League for Democracy Youth (NLD Youth). He was sentenced to death with 30 years in jail in September 1989, but the sentence was later reduced to 30 years in prison. Due to the brutal tortures he went through, Thant Zaw’s health has deteriorated in prison but he has not received any medical attention. His mother, Sein Sein, 70 years old, told Democratic Voice of Burma of her worries about not being able to see her son’s release before she dies.

Wai Hnin, campaigns officer at Burma Campaign UK said,  “No one should be left behind in this process of change in Burma. There cannot be peace and a democratic system in Burma as long as one political prisoner still remains in jail.”

Burma Campaign UK supporters are being asked to write a letter to Foreign Minister Jeremy Browne asking him to take action to secure the release of Thant Zaw and for the release of all of Burma’s remaining political prisoners. Solidarity letters can also be written and sent to Thayet prison where Thant Zaw is being held.

Garmany FM Guido Westerwelle and Aung San Suu Kyi hold a press conference at her home in Rangoon


Thein Sein to replace gov’t peacemaking team

Monday, 30 April 2012 14:39 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – With the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) peace talks at an impasse, Burmese President Thein Sein will name a new peace nogotiation team including a  vice president, politicians and military officials, according to sources close to the president.  The change in the negotiating group is designed to put new life into the talks, which have broken down.

“The new team will comprise many members including senior army officers, parliamentary lawmakers and state chief ministers and will be led by a vice president,” an anonymous source told Reuters news agency, requesting anonymity because the issue was highly sensitive.

Burma's President Thein Sein Photo: Mizzima

The Kachin rebels peace talks are proving to be a final stumbling block to signing cease-fires with all major ethnic armed groups.

Talks with the KIA broke down last week with the rebels saying they had lost confidence in the government’s efforts. Western nations have looked for a resolution to the fighting in ethnic areas as a minimal requirement for the removal of sanctions against Burma.

Thein Sein has made a quick end to fighting a priority of his newly formed government and he has ordered troops to standdown in ethnic areas. However, fighting has continued unabated in Kachin State.

One of the government negotiating teams has been led by Rail Transportation Minister Aung Min. Sources said two government negotiating teams would be consolidated into one, but gave no further details, Reuters reported.

The other top government negotiator, Aung Thaung, is a leader in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and a former Industry Minister. He is considered a hardliner.

On Saturday, KIO rebels attacked a government office and killed four state employees, and three others are missing. A bomb explosion last week also damaged a bridge near China, authorities said.

Asean civil society under stress

Monday, 30 April 2012 13:53 Kavi Chongkittavorn

(Commentary) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen displayed his finest brinkmanship in his handling of Asean-based civil society organisations at the recent Asean summit in Phnom Penh.

Kavi Chongkittavorn
Ahead of the leader’s meeting, his government organised a conference of hundreds of government-sponsored non-government groups including local entities and those from other Asean members.

With over 1,000 registered participants, it was the biggest-ever session since the interface between Asean leaders and civil society started in earnest in 2005.

On the same day, however, at a local hotel, several dozen Asean-based independent civil groups held a parallel conference focusing on more sensitive issues related to land evictions, migration workers and minority rights.

As the current chair of Asean, Hun Sen was able to set the format and agenda of the interface session, which  has been a bone of contention at every  summit for the past seven years. The Cambodian government hand-picked its representatives to take part in the “dialogue,” which was joined by groups from the rest of Asean with the exception of Indonesia and the Philippines.

The two countries wanted to pursue the existing practice of having the interface’s representatives selected by civil society groups themselves, and not by the leaders. As long as the groups lack unity, the host would be able to manipulate the agenda and dialogue, they said. It remains to be seen how the second meeting planned in November will proceed.

Cambodia represents is one of numerous governments around the world with an ambivalent attitude toward the role of civil society and how far it should be allowed to take part in decision-making. These governments have become skilful at restricting democratic space open to civil society’s activities through quasi-legal and other obstacles, but usually stop short of traditional forms of repression.

At the Phnom Penh summit, the host passionately preached the virtue of building a people-centred Asean Community (AC) — meaning engaging civil society and grass root groups at large by listening and considering their input. But in reality, it is an empty promise. For the time being the interactions have been carried out officially in a limited circle with the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) and selective civil society and youth leaders.

Strong political will needed

While the Asean leaders hailed the anticipated achievement of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), they remained less eager to discuss the outcomes of political-security and socio-cultural communities – the other two pivotal pillars.  Obviously, just to launch the AEC in 2015 will require stronger political will from the Asean leaders, who still face domestic constraints, especially on non-tariff barriers and trade in services.

Furthermore, senior Asean officials have had a hard time making quantitative measurements of non-economic cooperation to get a comprehensive picture of community-building. For instance, how does one measure the level of political or security cooperation or knowledge of Asean among member countries? With the AC deadlines approaching, it raises an important question of whether the people-oriented community can be achieved in time, without full participation of all stakeholders.

]Within Asean, Cambodia is not alone, as Vietnam used a similar approach during its 2010 chair, separating independent and government-sponsored non-government organisations but with greater emphasis on the latter.

When the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand hosted the interface sessions, their governments gave due respect to the civil society groups and listened as much as they could for views and took up a long list of inputs.

That helps explain why most active civil society groups are based in these three countries. Since the adoption of the Asean Charter in 2008 and the establishment of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights, there has been a new surge of civil society groups focusing on human rights issues, apart from the environment, migration, and women’s and children’s issues.

In addition, they have also quickly picked up new topics related to governance and transparency. While this a positive development, their contributions have not yet impacted on Asean’s top-down approach to decision making. In general, the Asean leaders have not taken their civil society groups seriously.

Recognition for NGSs

Last year, Asean came up with a guideline on how to recognize the non-governmental organisations after years of debate. Now they can apply to become either an Asean-affiliated organisation or a stakeholder. The latter would be able to have an interface with the Asean leaders through their representatives.

Currently, there are three organisations – the Working Group for an Asean Human Rights Mechanism, the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre and the Federation of Institution of Food Science and Technology in Asean – that are acknowledged as Asean stakeholders. It is hoped that this framework will provide proper recognition to existing civil society groups in all member countries that can lead to institutionalisation of the interface with the Asean leaders. At the moment, most of the Asean-affiliated organisations belonged to professional organisations such as the Asean Kite Council, the Asean Vegetable Oils Club and the Asean Thalassaemia Society, to name but a few.

To be fair, like Asean, civil society in other countries also face similar challenges because the governments in power continue to view them as threats or trouble makers with links with hostile foreign governments or organisations that providing funding. They try to deny their citizens’ rights to form and join civil groups, as well as limit their operations and activities. Recently, after months of negotiations between the government and civil groups, Cambodia decided to postpone for two years a controversial law that would restrict the operations of civil society groups.

Truth be told, even in the most mature democracies, there are measures to restrict civic space, and freedom of association and assembly. In a canton in Geneva, for instance, a local law punishes demonstrators with a hefty fine of 100,000 Swiss francs, if they did not listen to police orders.

In responding to the uneven and unfair treatments to civil society globally, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva passed a resolution in September 2010 on the “Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association” and appointing a special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and association. In other words, from now on, the UN is fully involved in setting the standards and norms including promotion and protection of civil society organisations world-wide against all repressive governments. Since then, other regional organisations have contemplated a similar move. Last June, the Organization of American States adopted the same resolution.

The UN rapporteur’s office has already sent official letters to the Asean governments for trips to their countries. So far, none of them have positively responded to the requests. In the long haul, this could tarnish the grouping’s overall reputation and undermine the slogan of a caring and sharing Asean community.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a long-time observer of Asean and Southeast Asian affairs.

Four government officials killed in attack on office

Monday, 30 April 2012 13:12 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – A sub-township administrator in Waingmaw Township in Kachin State and three other government employees were killed in an attack on a government office on Saturday by a small Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) armed group. Three other persons are missing.

our KIO rebels launched the attack, according to an article in the New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper.

The attack is the latest in a series of armed clashes in the region, as the effort to hold peace talks has broken down. Last week the KIO refused to meet with government peace negotiators, saying it had lost confidence in the process and it believed the government was preparing to launch an offensive.

A member of the Kachin Independence Organization engages in firing practice. Photo: Mizzima

State media also reported a separate incident involving heavy weapons fire in another area, where 200 KIO fighters were said to have captured vehicles belonging to a Burma construction company linked to a Chinese company working at one of the dam sites in the area.

The government has launched a peace offensive during the past year, conducting negotiations with a host of ethnic armed groups. The KIO is the last significant ethnic armed group not to have signed a cease-fire agreement. The two sides have met three times so far in Ruili, China, but no concrete progress has been achieved, and armed clashes have continued, with significant casualties on the both sides, according to reports which are hard to verify.

Some reports say up to 50,000 people have been displaced in the area by clashes between government troops and KIO forces, who use guerrilla-type tactics in confronting government forces. A 17-year cease-fire was broken in June 2011.

Among the issues separating the two sides was the construction of Myitsone Dam, a Chinese-backed hydropower project on the Irrawaddy River, which the government  has suspended by order of President Thein Sein.

The KIO has several thousand soldiers. The predominantly Baptist and Catholic Kachin ethnic group account for about seven per cent of Burma's population. They live in the remote far north area near the Chinese border.

Rights groups call on U.N. chief to press Burma on reforms

Monday, 30 April 2012 12:56 Ron Corben

Human rights groups are calling on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to further press Burma’s military-backed civilian government to stay the course with reforms.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said upon his arrival that Burma has entered a critical moment against the backdrop of a series of political and economic reforms undertaken over the past year.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the tomb of former U.N. Secretary-General U Thant in Rangoon to pay respect. He exchanges greetings with U Thant’s grandson on Sunday, April 29, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

Ban, who is to meet with Burma’s President Thein Sein on Monday in the administrative capital Naypyidaw, had earlier acknowledged reform in Burma - also known as Myanmar - remained fragile with challenges ahead.

“Myanmar (Burma) is only at the beginning of its transition. Many challenges lie ahead. Many concerns have yet to be addressed," Ban said. "Yet I am convinced that we have an unprecedented opportunity to help the country advance toward a better future.”

Ban is also to meet with opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Tuesday. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) Party won a landslide victory in recent by-elections but boycotted the first sitting of parliament last week over wording of the swearing-in oath. Ban says he is hopeful the problem will be quickly resolved.

Ban’s visit comes as European Union policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is also on an official visit to Burma.

Ashton says international business is still looking for further reform before making major investments in Burma.

The EU suspended economic sanctions in place over Burma’s past human rights record. Several countries have eased sanctions, including Canada, Australia and Japan. But the U.S. says key sanctions will remain as a leverage to press the government on reforms.

Debbie Stothard, spokesperson for rights group Alternative Asean Network, says substantive reforms are still required in areas such as legislation, as well as institutional and policy changes.

Stothard says Ban needs to press Burma’s government to move ahead with reform.

“It’s very important that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is not swept up in the euphoria and he should actually be looking at the situation with a lot of logic and stone-cold sober look at whether there is indeed reform in the country and what needs to be done; that Ban tells the Burmese authorities that this is a good start but much more needs to be done and much more quickly,” said Stothard.

Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPPB) joint secretary Bo Kyi says the U.N chief should call for the release of all political prisoners and an end to army operations in ethnic border areas.

“His visit is very important. Maybe the need to discuss with the solving the problem of Burma, especially to stop the war on the Kachin state and the release of political prisoners and other human rights situations; those three issues are really important in the solving those problems Burma will not get peace,” said Bo.

The government has so far released 659 political prisoners but as many as 900 remain detained.

Ban is also set to travel to northern Shan state, a key opium growing region where a U.N. poppy eradication program has been under way. Aid agencies also expect further international aid and donor funds to flow into the country following Ban’s visit.

Copyright  Used with permission.

Ban to address the Burmese Parliament

Monday, 30 April 2012 12:14 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address the Burmese Parliament on Monday and meet with Burmese President Thein. He will be the first major Western official to address the Parliament, which was formed in March 2010.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his bodyguards depart from U Thant's tomb in Rangoon after paying homage on Sunday, April 29, 2012. Ban will address the Burmese Parliament on Monday during a three-day visit to the country. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

He will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday, during his three-day trip to Burma, where he will look for ways for the United Nations to assist the long-isolated country in its democratic reforms.

Ban is also scheduled to pay his respects at the tomb of U Thant, a Burmese diplomat who was U.N. secretary-general in 1961-71.

He arrived in Rangoon on Sunday, a day ahead of European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton who is also in Burma, following the recent suspension of European Union sanctions against the long-isolated country.

Ban told the BBC he was “optimistic” but warned of “hard work ahead,” especially in the Burma’s peace process with ethnic minorities. Ban is also due to visit northern Shan State, one of the world's biggest opium-growing regions, where the U.N. has started a poppy eradication programme, according to the BBC.

Ashton, who has already met with the opposition leader, opened a new E.U. office in Rangoon on Saturday to oversee the management of aid programs and to handle political matters.

Ban last visited Burma in 2009, but was then denied access to Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi led her pro-democracy party to win 43 seats in by-elections on April 1. She was under house arrest during his last visit but was released 15 months later.
Sunday, April 29, 2012

E.U. foreign policy chief visits Burma

Sunday, 29 April 2012 15:17 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton urged the Burmese government to continue its progress toward democracy.

Ashton also opened a new E.U. office in Rangoon to oversee the management of aid programs and to handle political matters.

E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at a press conference at NLD headquarters in Rangoon on Saturday, April 28, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

Aung San Suu Kyi, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony in Rangoon.

On Monday, Ashton will meet with President Thein Sein, the speaker of the Lower House Thura Shwe Mann and Railways Minister Aung Min, who heads up the government’s peacemaking team, on Monday in Naypyitaw.

On Monday, the E.U. suspended sanctions for one year, with the exception of an arms embargo, which was left in place.

“This is a process of change,” Ashton said during a joint press conference with Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, according to Agence France Presse. “I hope we will see all the elements put in place so this will become an irreversible process that will only continue,” she added.

The E.U.'s role in the country will be to offer investment and expertise, particularly in remote rural areas, Ashton said. The new office in Rangoon will mostly oversee the management of aid programmes but will also have a political role.

An E.U. embargo on arms sales remains in place and the bloc has said that it still expects the unconditional release of remaining political prisoners and the removal of all restrictions placed on those already released.
Saturday, April 28, 2012

Opening of the Office of the European Union in Yangon


Photo News - April 2012


E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, left, Aung San Suu Kyi and Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe at the opening ceremony for the new E.U. office in Rangoon on Saturday, April 28, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

National League for Democracy (NLD) chairman Aung San Suu Kyi and E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at a press conference at NLD headquarters in Rangoon on Saturday, April 28, 2012. On Saturday, the E.U. opened a business office in Rangoon to facilitate aid projects in the country. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton at a press conference at NLD headquarters in Rangoon on Saturday, April 28, 2012.

National League for Democracy chairman Aung San Suu Kyi at a press conference at NLD headquarters in Rangoon on Saturday, April 28, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe after he attended a special meeting of the Rangoon Region Assembly on Thursday, April 26, 2012. Photo: Mizzima

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi and Aung San Suu Kyi at a press conference following their meeting at Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon onThursday, April 26, 2012. Suu Kyi said  she did not think that her party’s delay to attend the reconvened Parliament was a political problem, and she believed a compromise would be reached soon through negotiations with the government. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi with Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday, April 26, 2012, at her home in Rangoon following a private meeting. He said the Burmese government’s democratization process was encouraging, and that he supported the suspension of E.U sanctions earlier this week. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

A print media regulations workshop was held at the Chatrium Hotel on Kandawgyi Circular Road in Rangoon on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Ye Htut, the director general of the Ministry of Information, gives a talk at a media workshop in Rangoon on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Deputy Minister for Information Soe Win speaks at the workshop on Broadcast Media Regulation at the Amara Hotel in Naypyitaw on Monday, April 23, 2012. Burma is in the process of changing its press regulations laws, which are currently under review by the Parliament. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Ranga Kalansooriya of International Media Support speaks at a workshop on Broadcast Media Regulation in Naypyitaw on Monday, April 23, 2012. The conference explored media law and ethnics. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Toby Mendeu of International Media Support speaks at a workshop on Broadcast Media Regulation in Naypyitaw on Monday, April 23, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Audience members at a workshop on Broadcast Media Regulation at the Amara Hotel in Naypyitaw on Monday, April 23, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Burmese Defence Services representatives take the oath of office for new Members of Parliament at the third regular session of the Upper House in Naypyitaw on Monday, April 23, 2012. Fifty-five new military representatives were sworn in including 39 in the Lower House and 20 in the Upper House. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

Members of Parliament of the Burmese Upper House at the third regular parliamentary session on Monday,  April 23, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

A ceremony honouring senior National League for Democracy [NLD] members including chairwoman Aung San Suu Kyi, center, and NLD patrons was held at NLD headquarters in Bahan Township in Rangoon on Wednesday, April 18, 2012, to mark Burma's New Year Day. Photo: Mizzima

88-Generation group members and a Thingyan group perform humorous  lampoons during the traditional Water Festival on Saturday, April 14, 2012, at North Okkalapa Township in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

A Water Festival audience listens to lampoons recited by 88-Generation group members on Saturday, April 14, 2012, in front of the Mingalarmon Market in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

British PM David Cameron and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talk in a garden area of her home in Rangoon on Friday, April 13, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Aung San Suu Kyi at a press conference at her home in Rangoon on Friday, April 13, 2012. The PM and Suu Kyi said that all sanctions except the arms embargo should now be suspended. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lawmakers ask Shwe Mann to lead in solving oath standoff

Friday, 27 April 2012 15:42 Myo Thant

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Leaders of 16 Burmese political parties have asked ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) Vice Chairman Shwe Mann to take the lead in solving the NLD oath of office issue. Shwe Mann is also speaker of the Lower House of Parliament.

Dr. Aye Maung of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP) told Mizzima that party leaders want national reconciliation and if Shwe Mann supports a specific solution, it will be supported by the full Parliament.

USDP Vice Chairman Shwe Mann in the Burmese Upper House at the third regular parliamentary session on Monday, April 23, 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

For the past week, members-elect of the National League for Democracy (NLD) have boycotted the current Parliament session, calling for a revision to the oath’s wording.

MPs from 16 political parties including the National Unity Party [NUP] and two independent candidates signed the letter sent to Shwe Mann.

The petition was not signed by MPs from the military, the ruling USDP, or the Unity and Democracy Party of Kachin State (an alliance of the USDP).

The petition referred to the amendment made recently to the Political Party Registration Law, which was made in conformance to the request by the NLD regarding the oath of office issue. The letter also mentioned the NLD landslide in the 1990 election, and its work for democratic reforms over the past two decades.

“We requested [him] to do it for the sake of those facts,” Aye Maung. “The responsibility to amend the oath should be taken by the strongest party in the Parliament.”

If it is determined that the oath issue must be resolved by an amendment to the Constitution, then 20 percent of the MPs must support the motion calling for a vote. The clause in question states “lawmakers have to safeguard the Constitution.” The NLD has asked for the wording to state “lawmakers have to respect the Constitution.”

To pass an amendment to the Constitution requires the support of 75 per cent of the MPs in the Union Assembly [joint Parliament].

The third regular parliamentary session will end on April 30.

Meanwhile, MP Phone Myint Aung told Mizzima that the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would deliver a speech to Parliament. The date was not announced. Ban is expected to arrive in Burma this weekend.

Italy, Burma to cooperate on Bagan, Pyu preservation

Friday, 27 April 2012 13:51 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – The Burmese cultural heritage sites of Bagan and Pyu will be the focus of cultural preservation in a cooperative agreement between Burma and Italy, official media reported on Friday.

Oxen and wagons near the Bagan cultural heritage site in central Burma. Photo: Mizzima

The capacity building program will be funded with Italy's assistance under the supervision of UNESCO.

Burma Information and Culture Minister Kyaw Hsan and Italian Foreign Minister Giuliomaria Terzi this week discussed increased cooperation, training for human resources development in burmaand further cooperation in the cultural and information sectors, said the New Light of Myanmar, the state-run newspaper.

The capacity building programs will cover three sectors: on-job training to draw up management plans for safeguarding sites of cultural heritage in ancient Pyu and Bagan, cultural heritage data management with the application of geography information systems, and policy and technological assistance.

Burmese officials recently nominated three Pyu city-states – Beikthano, Hanlin and Sri Kestra – to the world heritage list. Evidence including Pondaung and Ponnya Primates have been found in Burma showing the country's rich cultural heritage and evolution through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

The Pyu culture is represented in archeological sites in three ancient Pyu city states, cultural officials said.

The Myazedi inscription c. 1112–1113 from the Pyu culture. Photo: Wikipedia

The Pyu city-states never unified into a Pyu kingdom, but the most powerful city by far was Sri Ksetra, which archaeological evidence indicates was the largest city that has ever been built in Burma. The exact date of its founding is not known, though likely to be prior to a dynastic change in A.D. 94 that Pyu chronicles speak of, according to the website.

The Pyu arrived in Burma in the 1st century BC and established city kingdoms. During this period, Burma was part of an overland trade route from China to India. In 97 and 121 AD, Roman embassies to China chose the overland route through Burma for their journey. The Pyu, however, provided an alternative route down the Irrawaddy to Shri Ksetra and then by sea westward to India and eastward to Southeast Asia.

Chinese historical sources state that the Pyu controlled 18 kingdoms and describe them as a humane and peaceful people, and note the elegance and grace of Pyu life. War was virtually unknown amongst the Pyu, and disputes were often solved through duels by champions or building competitions. They wore silk cotton instead of actual silk so they would not have to kill silk worms.

Bagan was founded in the mid-to-late 9th century. It was among several competing Pyu city-states until the late 10th century when the Burman settlement grew in authority and grandeur.

From 1044 to 1287, Bagan was the capital as well as the political, economic and cultural nerve center of the Pagan Empire.

Over the course of 250 years, Bagan's rulers and their wealthy subjects constructed over 10,000 religious monuments (approximately 1000 stupas, 10,000 small temples and 3000 monasteries) in an area of 104 square kilometres (40 sq mi) on the Bagan plains. The prosperous city grew in size and grandeur, and became a cosmopolitan center for religious and secular studies, specializing in Pali scholarship in grammar and philosophical-psychological (abhidhamma) studies. The city attracted monks and students from as far as India, Ceylon as well as the Khmer Empire.

Burma and the UNESCO held a meeting recently on capacity building to safeguard cultural heritage and to nominate the Pyu ancient cities.

Exploring Burmese society and culture

Friday, 27 April 2012 14:59 Mizzima News

(Interview) – Jak Bazino, a French citizen who lived and traveled extensively in Burma from 2001 to 2005, recently published a first novel, Zawgyi, l’alchimiste de Birmanie, which was inspired by his time spent in Burma. Bazino spoke with Mizzima about his novel and his observations and analysis of Burmese culture and the present political transition. He recounts the changes he witnessed in Burmese society, including an alarming growth between the rich and the poor, as well as highlighting the beauty and fragility of Burmese culture and the importance maintaining Burma’s unique character during a volatile period of transition. 

Question: What is your novel, Zawgyi, about? 

Answer: Zawgyi, l’alchimiste de Birmanie is an adventure novel taking place during the Saffron Revolution of 2007. The story actually begins in 1885, when Maung Aung, a royal palace guard and the last of the Ah Ye Gyi, a secret tantric society charged with protecting the philosopher stone, flees Mandalay before it falls into British hands in order to save the stone and find the Zawgyi, the immortal alchemist who will elicit the coming of a messianic king and the future Buddha Maitreya.

Then, in September 2007, a young French tourist arrives in Burma right at the beginning of the Saffron Revolution. He is unwillingly thrown into the political turmoil after witnessing a murder and goes out in search for the meaning of a tattoo he found on the victim. This quest will lead him to Maung Aung’s footsteps, while pursued by the Burmese military and foreign agents, all seeking to benefit from the philosopher stone and political unrest to assume power. His adventure will take him across Burma in the middle of a revolution, on the path to love, suffering, death and finally enlightenment.

Q: Were there specific persons, events or scenes that provided the inspiration for your novel?

A: French expatriates provided me with a lot of the material I used to describe the expatriate community in Rangoon. I won’t give names of course, since the portraits I drew of them are not always flattering, but those who know these people will certainly identify from whom I got my inspiration. Moreover, during the four years I spent in Burma, I regularly documented impressions, events and news. I wanted my book to be as realistic and plausible as possible, which is why I used material from my notebooks and spent years researching Burmese alchemy, esotericism and history.

I constructed an environment as close to reality as possible for two reasons: to introduce the country in detail to readers not familiar with Burma, and to make people who know the country relive this specific period of time as if they were again there. For that, I used articles from media like Mizzima to retrace and relate events as they happened, such as the demonstrations of 2007 and the repression that followed. Finally, I am also fond of photography. The pictures, impressions and memories I brought back accompany me everyday. I did my best to depict these unforgettable landscapes, faces and scenes in my novel, to share my love for Burma with my readers.

Q: You obviously hold deep respect for Burmese culture. What are some aspects of Burmese culture to which you are especially drawn and that may not be known to those who have not spent considerable time in Burma?

A: I think it would be its lack of rationality, which is sometimes confusing for Westerners, who feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Burmese culture has not been influenced by rationalism, positivism or scientism. As such, foreigners often lack references to understand what seems to us illogical, upside down or simply bewildering.

But, I really like the fact that legends and supernaturalism are still alive in Burmese beliefs, which makes everyday life somewhat fantastic, as in a fairytale. I enjoy the fact that Burmese people never tried to domesticate nature as we did in Europe: wilderness, animals and plants all have their place in Burmese society, even in a huge city like Rangoon, which feels like a village and not like a sanitized European city. In a way, this aspect of Burmese culture is very advanced compared to what is commonly called sustainable development. Finally, Burmese culture, as exemplified by hospitality and generosity, speaks directly to senses and behaviors and is therefore often from the heart and not calculated.

On a historical front, the country sits at a crossroad of influences from India, China and Southeast Asia. This really shows in Burma’s esoteric and supernatural beliefs, which are a mix of animism, tantrism, buddhism, taoism and so forth. This provides great variety and creativity in local spiritual movements. In my novel, I focus in particular on the origins and the expressions of Burmese alchemy and millenarism, as well as on the eschatology related to the waiting of the messianic king and the future Buddha. These underground esoteric beliefs cast a new light on Burmese history and assist in the comprehension of many events. This includes making sense of power struggles throughout Burmese history, as well as how the minds of Burmese kings, political leaders and dictators function.

Q: You lived in Burma from 2001-2005, how did you experience the impact of Depayin and the subsequent removal of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt?

A: Strangely enough, I don’t really have strong memories of these events. I became gradually aware of their impact and their intensity after reading articles days later. When the information reached me, my daily life in Rangoon went on as usual. At that time it was easier to get information about what happened in Burma if you lived abroad. Restrictions on the Internet and the media made it difficult to keep in touch. And foreign media made their headlines with these events one day and then went back to the war in Iraq. Yet, I remember a few things. There were mixed sentiments from the expatriate community. We understood that a door had once again been closed, since the hardliners were the ones staying in power. I felt similarly after Depayin, as if believing any change in Burma was impossible after being disappointed so many times. When you live in Burma, time has a different rhythm. It feels like it stands still and events such as Depayin or the removal of Khin Nyunt are small waves on the surface of a deep, still lake.

Q: During your time living in Rangoon, what changes did you perceive in the city and the lives of the people?

A: While living in Rangoon, I observed the gap between rich and poor widening. I saw the middle class disappear, especially the one represented by civil servants and small entrepreneurs. This was because of economic sanctions, nepotism and corruption. I witnessed a poor but educated population, where everyone could make a living, change into an unequal one, where only a few can maintain a proper way of life. Many shopping centers and supermarkets opened, making the lives of expatriates and rich people easier. International schools and new neoclassic houses popped out of nowhere like mushrooms. SUVs were everywhere, as well as shops for golf equipment, guarded compounds and expensive clothing shops.

Yet, at the same time inflation became a real issue for the great majority. I started to see children beg in the street instead of going to school, which had become too expensive partly because of corruption. After the sanctions of 2003, I heard stories of thousands of women becoming prostitutes after losing their jobs in garment factories, of young girls offering themselves to truck drivers on the side of roads. Beer stations, as locals call gogo bars, started to open. I visited halfway houses where street kids learned a craft. They had never been that crowded before.

Some families had to abandon their elders, lacking means to take care of them. Many people said the situation was worse than during socialism, at least for common people. When rich kids flew to Bangkok for the weekend and passed their SATs in international schools to study abroad, poor people could not get enough money to get a passport and had to buy their way through local high schools and universities to get bogus diplomas.

Q: Are you surprised at what is now transpiring in Burma? What’s your opinion on the future political and economic direction for the country?
A: I am more than surprised. Astonished would be the word. One year ago, as I was working on the last details of my novel, I would never have thought that these changes would be possible, or at least happen so soon and so fast. I thought I was writing a novel about today’s Burma and instead ended up with a historical novel.

Not everything is perfect, of course, and it would be a mistake to rejoice too soon. Strangely, my fear now is that the country opens too quickly, on an economic level especially, before the democratization process is mature enough to control and digest these changes. The Burmese population is still very fragile and the system is still corrupted. That makes Burma a new El Dorado for entrepreneurs and international groups with low moral standards. The government has to make sure that economic development does not proceed at the expense of social progress, protection of the environment, improvement of the education system and political maturation.

We have seen what happened in China, India or Indonesia, for example, where economic growth took priority on all of the above without any regard for sustainable development. Look at what sex and mass tourism did to Thailand. We have to preserve Burma’s nature, we have to make sure ethnic minorities can protect their cultures, we have to make sure that Burmese workers won’t be enslaved in sweatshops to provide Westerners with low cost products. The Burmese government has a responsibility in this matter, as do foreign governments, consumers, tourists and international groups.

Q: You have traveled extensively throughout Burma and also been involved in the production of travel guides for Burma. What are some of the little known destinations you have enjoyed most?

A: I would say I keep vivid memories of my trip to Kachin State. I was lucky enough to see Myitsone before the dam project. It was a magical place, just knowing it was the beginning of the Irrawaddy River. I went to Indawgyi Lake just after that, and the road makes the trip itself a wonderful adventure. There, I went into the jungle to visit an elephant camp and a village of gold diggers. It was like traveling into the past, an experience like the ones you can read in old explorers’ books. But, at the same time, it made me better appreciate the environmental, social and economic issues that Burma now faces. Watching poor workers going to the Hpa Kant mines, others leading elephants to cut teak trees or others searching for gold using chemicals in such an untouched and beautiful place, made me aware of the fragility of the resources, of the traditional cultures and of the natural landscapes which make Burma an amazing country.

I witnessed the same kind of contrast when I went to the Mergui islands on a small fishing boat and spent several days in a Moken village. There again, I was in a place of such beauty that it is hard to imagine, among people struggling to live and to maintain their culture against pressures from outside. If I had to recommend something to potential visitors, it would be just that: try to visit out-of-the-way destinations, but in such a manner that it helps local populations protect their cultures, livelihoods, environments and resources. Burma is a land of contrast and diversity, and the easy path of tourism only leads to homogeneity. Burma is such a place that you have to renounce a part of yourself if you want to get everything you look for.

Q: Do you have plans to more on Burma, or to eturn to Burma?

A: I have several projects in mind. One would be to publish a book of tales and legends of Burma illustrated by pictures I took all around the country. I have also started to work on a tale for adults taking place after Nargis, mixing supernaturalism and reality, like in some of Haruki Murakami’s novels. But my first wish is to be able to publish Zawgyi in English. Other than that, I usually travel to Burma every two years, but if the situation continues to improve I hope to settle there in the near future.

Jak Bazino can be reached at :

Ban Ki-moon praises India’s tolerance

Friday, 27 April 2012 18:17 Mizzima News

(MIzzima) – Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, accepted an honorary degree on Friday from Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, prior to his visit to Burma this weekend.

In his remarks, Ban recalled his first diplomatic posting 40 years ago in India.

“It was one of the best things that happened to me,” he said. “Ever since, I have drawn lessons from the proud history of India.”

Noting that his son was born in India and his daughter is married to an Indian, he said he feels like he is going home when he visits India.

Noting he would visit Burma, he said there are worries everywhere “about economic uncertainties … concerns about corruption … tensions over growing gaps within societies …and questions about whether institutions are up to the task.”

The old order is breaking down, he said, and we do not yet know the shape of the world to come.

“You are the world’s largest democracy,” he told his university audience. “You are an emerging economic leader.  You are a superpower on the information superhighway. You are a beacon for the world – proving that democracy and development are one and the same path.”

As the world’s third largest troop contributor to U.N. peacekeeping, he said India was the “backbone of our efforts to prevent further conflict and keep peace worldwide.”

Beyond that, he said India is a union of cultures, religions, and languages all coming together within the fabric of tolerance, understanding and collaboration.

Tolerance is being tested around the world, he said, and it is crucial for India to pass the tests, he said, “not only for the country but for our world in which your profile is so distinct and admired.”

Many along Mekong River concerned about hydropower expansion

Friday, 27 April 2012 15:21 Rick Valenzuela

A Thai company says it is going ahead with construction of the controversial $3.5 billion Xayaburi dam on the Mekong River in Laos. Some 12 planned hydropower dams on the Mekong are expected to bring in lucrative profits, but environmentalists warn the dams threaten the health of a river that sustains tens of millions of people.

Ek Than's family has lived in this remote Mekong village in northern Kratie, Cambodia, for more than three generations.

The Mekong River in Laos Photo: flickr / Ryan Hoffman

As dams have popped up in China, as well as on upstream tributaries, he has noticed the difference.

"In the past, there were plenty of fish. Now, even if we use 10 fish traps, it's hard to get fish," he said.

Than's family lives north of one proposed hydropower dam, in Sambor district.

It would be Cambodia's first on the mainstream Mekong - and one of 12 planned along the 3,000-kilometer river. Most remain suspended over environmental concerns, but governments are eager to develop hydropower to boost their economies.

Farther upstream, construction continues on Laos' first dam, in Xayaburi Province.

Laos electricity officer Viraponh Viravong says the project is crucial for the region, despite worries about its impact on the river.

"It's like nuclear," said Viravong.  "Some countries want to stop it, some want to go ahead with it. And this project, I guess is the same thing."

Environmental analysts have been vocal opponents of Xayaburi and some other proposed dams.

"All of the evidence [it has] produced so far has stated that this dam should not be built, that to do so would completely damage and destroy the Mekong River's fisheries," said Ame Trandem with the International Rivers group.

Back in Sambo Province, Ek Than's wife explains how the Mekong provides food for her family and her farm. River water nourishes their rice fields, sustaining the entire village.

The family also continues to live off the electrical grid, but they are less convinced about the benefits of harnessing the Mekong's power.

"I am worried. I don't where we would move if our village is flooded. It would be miserable," said Nuth Hem, a local villager. With the dams still a long way from completion, Ek Than's family faces years of uncertainty about their future.

Copyright Voanewscom. Used with permission.

Shan drug lord arrested in Laos

Friday, 27 April 2012 14:32 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – A Shan drug lord believed to be involved in the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River last year has been arrested in Laos and sent to China, according to Thai security forces.

Jai Norkham, a suspected drug dealer on the Thai authorities' most-wanted list, was arrested with six associates in Laos in Ban Mom in Tonpheung District in Bokeo Province early on Thursday, according to an article in The Bangkok Post on Friday. The area is opposite Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Jai Norkham was believed to be involved in the death of 13 Chinese boat crew members on October 5 last year, which prompted the creation of a joint patrol operation involving Burma, China, Laos and Thailand.

A former aide of the late drug lord Khun Sa, who led the defunct Mong Tai Army rebel group, Norkham for years has operated with impunity in an area including Burma, Thailand and Laos near the Golden Triangle.

The Lao government told Thai authorities that he was taken immediately to China following the arrest.

Thai Pol Col Surachet told the newspaper that Thailand could still seek his extradition, because of a number of arrest warrants for him issued here in connection with previous drug cases.

An unidentified source told reporters that a woman identified as Norkham’s mistress, who was not named, was arrested in Ban Luang Saenjai on April 13 in the same Laotian District. She allegedly was in possession of one million methamphetamine pills, 1kg of gold, and 74 million baht cash.

However, the source added that about 44 million baht was later reported to be missing when the money was handed over to Laos' Bokeo authorities by the team which made the arrest.

Norkham had become the Chinese authorities' most wanted criminal suspect, following the murders last year.

Norkham was also wanted by Burmese authorities for involvement in a drug gang that smuggled drugs between Burma and Thailand. Nine Thai soldiers have also been charged with murdering and concealing the Chinese corpses because police believed they were in some way linked with Norkham's gang, the article said.

WHO sees gains in malaria fight but concerns remain

Friday, 27 April 2012 14:11 Ron Corben

Health authorities, led by the World Health Organization, are making progress against drug-resistant strains of malaria in the border regions of Thailand.

WHO officials say efforts to curb the emergence of resistant strains in Burma, however, are critical to preventing the disease from spreading into South Asia.

A mosquito feeding on blood. Photo: Wikipedia

The World Health Organization (WHO) says malaria threatens 2.2 billion people in 20 countries across the Asia Pacific region. In 2010 there were 28 million cases reported and 38,000 lives lost – a death toll exceeded only in Sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 90 percent of the deaths were in India, Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Worldwide, the mosquito-borne disease affects some 260 million people and kills around 650,000 of them every year.

In recent years, health authorities have come to rely on a combination of therapies based on the artemisinin drug for treating malaria.

Dr. Pascal Ringwald, coordinator of WHO’s drug resistance and containment unit, said progress has been made in the Mekong Region, especially in treating cases involving the deadly parasite “falciparium.” But he said the gains remain fragile.

“Paradoxically - and this is the good news – the numbers of falciparium cases is going down, drastically down. This is not only due to the containment activities but it is also because we have better tools, we have combination therapy and the countries have better malaria control activities,” said Ringwald.

WHO says health authorities are moving to a stage of completely eliminating malaria in Bhutan, North Korea, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Deaths from the disease have declined markedly in Bangladesh and Thailand, and gains are being recorded in India, Indonesia, Burma and East Timor. But an emerging threat has come with the growing incidence of drug-resistant malaria strains, especially in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma.

Ringwald said the challenge is to maintain a political commitment to the fight against malaria.

“One of the problems is when countries are reducing the malaria burden, malaria it is seen as no longer a priority. So we need in areas where artemisinin resistance has emerged most often the transmission of the malaria is very low, and what we need to keep is the awareness and political commitment that malaria is not a neglected disease,” said Ringwald.

Drug-resistant forms of malaria have emerged in border regions of Thailand and Cambodia, and between Thailand and Burma. Scientists blame the use of single-use drugs and sales of fake drugs for the resistance. WHO says Cambodia is making efforts to crack down on the sales of fake drugs.

WHO says the main concern lies in Burma where 40 million people, or 69 percent of the population, live in malaria-endemic areas. In 2010 Burma officially reported 650,000 malaria cases and 788 fatalities, though drug combinations are effective in more than 95 percent of the country's cases.

WHO is watching closely for any sign of the drug-resistant strains spreading into South Asia, and Ringwald said the goal is to contain the strains in the areas where they now exist. Ringwald said Africa also needs to strengthen its malaria control to avoid the emergence of the same kinds of strains now evident in Southeast Asia.

Nobel laureates praise Aung San Suu Kyi at Chicago summit

Friday, 27 April 2012 13:31 Kane Farabaugh

Nobel Peace Prize laureates concluded their 12th World Summit, held this year in the Midwest city of Chicago, by appealing to youth to use non-violent means to achieve world peace. Laureates pointed to recent changes in Burma as an example of how non-violence can lead to dramatic changes.

Although she wasn’t physically present, newly elected member of Burma’s parliament Aung San Suu Kyi was very much on the minds of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.

“People have to have the courage to stand up and say this we will not tolerate,” she said.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was pleased with developments in Burma.

“We often expressed sadness Aung San Suu Kyi is not in our group,” said the Dalai Lama. “Now, Aung San Suu Kyi is released, and the situation in Burma is really improving.”

During a panel discussion called “World Peace and Nonviolence: Never Give Up,” the Dalai Lama joined fellow laureate Jody Williams in honoring Aung San Suu Kyi for speaking out against injustice in Burma.

“Through her courageous stance on democracy, through nonviolence look at what is being accomplished in her country,” said Williams.

The Dalai Lama says nonviolence has gained public support in China for his pursuit of what he calls “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet.

“So, our approach, is firstly, strictly, a nonviolent way, secondly, middle way, so that really I feel brought a lot of support from Chinese people, Chinese public sector, so that I think is a positive, significant result,” he said.

But more than 30 Buddhist monks and nuns have set themselves on fire in recent months to protest Beijing’s rule of the region.

When asked at a post-summit news conference how long Tibetans will remain peaceful, he said the way forward lies in the hands of Tibet’s newly elected leadership-in-exile, based in northern India.

“So now, we utilize a democratic practice fully," he said. "So last year, I handed over all of my political authority and responsibility to elected leadership.”

He says that elected leadership has vowed to continue a “middle approach” in securing Tibetan autonomy, which encourages continued dialogue with the Chinese government, something he admitted in his earlier panel discussion hasn’t always been successful.

“I describe totalitarian regimes… no ear, only mouth, only lecture us," said the Dalai Lama. "Never willing to listen to others view, others feeling.”

But others have plenty of opportunities to hear to the Dalai Lama speak. After concluding his current trip to North America this month, he will visit Europe in May for a series of public lectures.

Britain to open liaison office in Naypyitaw

Friday, 27 April 2012 13:12 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – Britain will open a “British interests office” in Naypyitaw to provide enhanced access to government officials, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday.

British-Foreign-Minister-William-Hague-Mizzima“A British interests office in the administrative capital would strengthen the work of our embassy in Rangoon [Yangon] and demonstrate our intention to step up engagement with the Burmese government and people,” he announced in Parliament.

The office is essential for UK-Burmese relations and for encouraging democratic reform in the country, he said.

Britain, like most European and western nations, maintains an embassy in Rangoon. Naypyitaw, the newly built capital, was officially opened in November 2005. It is located 320 kilometres north of Rangoon, the previous capital.

Prime Minister David Cameron, the first Western leader in decades to visit Burma, called for a one-year suspension of sanctions earlier this month.

Hague also said that Britain would reopen its embassy in Laos after 27 years.

“Reopening the embassy will strengthen our bilateral relations with the Laotian government as the country's role and influence in the region continues to grow,” Hague said.

“Trade between our countries has more than doubled in the last year. An embassy will play a vital role in helping more British businesses access this emerging market.”

Laos will chair the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) in 2016, which will meet in Vientiane, the capital.

World Bank to assess Burma debt; open local office

Friday, 27 April 2012 12:52 Mizzima News

(Mizzima) – In preparation for restarting aid programs, the World Bank said on Thursday it would open its first office in Burma in June.

World Bank LogoThe bank suspended programs in Burma in the late 1980s and has never had an office in-country.

In a news release, World Bank Vice President for East Asia Pamela Cox said she would visit Burma to meet government officials.

Among the bank’s first priorities are determining the country's unpaid debts and getting accurate economic data, a senior bank official told Reuters news agency.

Cox said the global bank was “heartened by the government's steps in Myanmar” and would respond step-by-step in line with member countries and other agencies.

“We've been working very closely with our board and our shareholders, the other bilateral partners, the IMF, and, of course, the government of Myanmar on plans for moving our relationship forward,” she told reporters in Washington.

Burma owes the World Bank $393 million from lending from the late 1980s, Cox said. Burma’s debt to the Asian Development Bank were approximately $500 million. Officials were still trying to determine debt levels to other countries.

The World Bank will work with the International Monetary Fund on debt-sustainability analysis to see “how much debt stress this country is going to be under once it normalizes relations and how much debt should be forgiven,” Cox told the news agency.

A basic analysis includes questions such as, “Does the government have a functioning financial system? Does it have a functioning budget system? Does it have a government that actually works?” she said.

Before restarting loan programs in Burma, the bank said it would make an economic assessment of Burma's arrears and the country’s economic condition and needs.

“We recognize that reforms are fragile, and we are well aware of the risks. The speed of our engagement in Myanmar will depend on whether reforms can be sustained,” Cox said.

During the past week, a host of western and European nations have announced that they were dropping sanctions and re-engaging with the former military regime.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron became the first Western head of state to visit the country since a military coup in 1962.
The U.K. announced Thursday it would cease discouraging trade with Burma. Japan has waived previous debt and Canada has eased sanctions.  

The U.S., however, has not yet taken the steps to begin easing sanctions.

“We continue to emphasize that much work remains to be done in Burma and that easing sanctions will remain a step-by-step process,” Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

“We have pursued a carefully calibrated posture, retaining as much flexibility as possible should reforms slow or reverse, while pressing the Burmese government for further progress in key areas,” he said.