Thursday, May 31, 2012

Suu Kyi vows to protect migrant workers

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 13:49 RFA

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday pledged to better protect the rights of impoverished migrant workers from Burma as she spoke to a crowd of thousands of supporters in central Thailand on her first official trip outside of her homeland in more than 20 years.

The Nobel laureate spoke in Maha Chai, home to Thailand’s largest population of Burmese immigrants, who fled their country for opportunities abroad after years of economic misrule under the former military junta.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks up at supporters as she leaves a Burmese migrant workers' community centre where she met with community representatives and addressed a crowd of migrants in Samut Sakhon on the outskirts of Bangkok on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. It is Suu Kyi's first trip abroad in over two decades, and she told cheering migrants from her country that she would work to improve their lot in Thailand. Photo: AFP

But many of Burma’s migrant workers have been exploited, paid low wages, and even trafficked in Thailand, and Suu Kyi, a longtime advocate of migrant rights, offered words of encouragement to the crowd, which responded with exuberant cheers for the recently elected Member of Parliament.

“Our ultimate goal is to create a situation so that our citizens can come back to our country whenever they want to and without any trouble. We have to work together to get to that goal, not separately or in different ways,” she told her supporters.

She called on the workers to train well and to carry out their work “responsibly” in order to gain the respect of their host country.

But she also said that the migrant community needs to be better educated about its rights as workers and to cooperate in protecting those rights “systematically and peacefully.”

“We don't need to feel sorry for ourselves and to be disheartened. History is something that is changing constantly,” she said.

“Although our countrymen must come and work here at this time, please believe that the condition and status of our countrymen will rise along with the changes in our country.”

She vowed to use her time in Thailand to determine the best way to protect the rights of Burmese workers, but reminded those in attendance that they had a duty to both their homeland and their host country to conduct themselves respectably.

“I want you to know that you are not forgotten,” she told the crowd.

Later, after meeting with worker representatives, Suu Kyi again addressed the crowd, saying that many of the problems facing Burmese migrants in Thailand stem from a combination of mismanagement by employers, a lack of clear policy by the government, and a worker population ignorant of their rights.

“I want to suggest forming a small community—a place to gather where there is a large amount of migrants working—so that you can find a way to go through the right channels whenever you are mistreated,” she said.

“We will try our best to get things done in accordance with the law, but you have to do your job too. You have to know what your rights are and where to file complaints if your rights are violated.”

Migrants targeted

Maha Chai is home to the largest Burmese population per capita in Thailand, which relies heavily on low-cost labor—both legal and trafficked—from its two million foreign workers, of which some 80 percent are from Burma.

Workers who spoke with RFA, most of whom did not have work permits, said that they had been repeatedly targeted by corrupt authorities in the area who solicit payoffs by threatening them with jail or deportation.

"The Thais bully the Burmese and the Thai police are the worst. Since we don't have work permits, they arrest us, and extract money from us for release,” one female migrant worker told RFA, on condition of anonymity.

“If we can't pay after we’re arrested, we are forced to borrow money at high interest rates from someone else,” she said.

Another worker named Khin Swe Oo, who is originally from Moulmein in central Burma, said police would do anything to arrest migrants because they are afforded little protection under Thai laws—even those in possession of the documents required to stay in the country.

“They use [planted] drugs to make a case for arresting us as well, just to get money from us. They often ask for 20,000-30,000 baht (U.S. $625-940),” Khin Swe Oo said.

“Some criminals take our passports … and extort money from us to get our papers back. These criminals are also police officers. They are the same and act as it suits them,” she said.

“We do the necessary paperwork to obtain a legal residence permit, but the police and the Thais know they can bully us and extort money from us … We are not safe here, even though we have our proper papers and passports.”

And a third female migrant, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that she and many of her compatriots simply wanted to return to Burma.

“I just want to go home. Can I get a good job there? We are so repressed at our workplaces, the way they treat us.”

Landmark trip

Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Thailand on Tuesday for a six-day official visit—her first abroad since being released in November 2010 from nearly 15 years of house arrest over the past two decades.

On Saturday, the parliamentarian is expected to travel north near the Thai-Burma border to visit the Mae La refugee camp for those displaced by ethnic fighting in Burma’s borderlands.

Some 150,000 refugees from Burma, mostly ethnic Karen, currently live in camps near the border in Thailand, pushed out by decades of fighting with the Burmese government.

Aung San Suu Kyi has said that ending ethnic conflict would be one of her top priorities in office and has called for a “second Panglong Conference” like the one her father, Burmese independence leader General Aung San, negotiated with ethnic minority groups in 1947.

In nearby Mae Sot, she will meet with leaders from six ethnic groups before returning to Burma on Sunday.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes. Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. Used with permission.
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471 confirmed political prisoners in Burma’s jails: AAPP

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 13:19 Mizzima News

In a recent update, the number of political prisoners is Burma has been put at 471 confirmed prisoners, with 465 more prisoners in a verification process as of May, according to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma.

An aerial view of Insein Prison. Photo: Mizzima

The confirmed figure will continue to fluctuate and is expected to increase as the verification process continues, said the AAPP.

The lifting of some sanctions against Burma “should not blur the fact that hundreds of political prisoners are still imprisoned and that the treatment they are given fails to comply with international standards,” said the AAPP.

For example, the AAPP said Phyo Wai Aung, a detainee who has been awaiting his trial verdict for more than two years in Insein Prison, is in urgent need of medical treatment as he suffers, among other things, from an enlarged liver. Prison authorities, however, have refused to hospitalize him in an outside hospital where he can see a specialist, it said.

It said military personnel who have expressed their political views in public continue to suffer “from confidential arrests and ruthless verdicts.”

The AAPP said that according to confidential information that has not yet been confirmed, three Air Force officers faced trial at a military court recently and were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after one of them published a critical article about the Tatmawdaw (Burmese army) on a website. The whereabouts of the three officers remain unknown and their families are not allowed to contact them.

It said arrests, interrogations and imprisonments of people who resist and challenge land confiscations and forced evictions continued in April. In Lewe Township, three villagers who resisted eviction were jailed for six months, said AAPP.

A number of Buddhist monks released from prison during the recent amnesty continue to be harassed by the police and have been forced out of their monasteries, it said.

“As before, it seems that President Thein Sein’s regime remains deeply distrustful of the monks in Burma.
As the world commends Burma’s nominally civilian government’s first steps towards democracy, there is a growing concern that the international community may be moving too quickly in relaxing sanctions against it,” said the AAPP.

As one exiled Burmese activist, Soe Aung, from the Forum for Democracy in Burma, said, “The EU has suspended sanctions knowing that its own benchmarks on Burma have not been met: the unconditional release of all political prisoners and a cessation of attacks against ethnic minorities”.

For the latest list of Burmese political prisoners, go to http://www.aappb.org/Updated_To_Confirm_PP_list_1.html
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Major universities to get ‘special education centres’

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 13:06 Mizzima News

Universities in Rangoon and Mandalay in the future will have special education centres with a mission to upgrade the overall education standards in Burma, said presidential adviser Ko Ko Hlaing, who was quoted in an article in Weekly Eleven on Tuesday.

“Some foreign organizations have offered to promote the Myanmar education system. We hope to upgrade the universities including the former Yangon University,” he said, adding that teachers who lack qualifications will be trained at centers of excellence.

Yangon University's Convocation Hall Photo: Wikipedia / Wagaung

Ko Ko Hlaing’s remarks come one week later after a flap over an “Open Letter” by presidential economic adviser Dr. Myint, citing the deteriorating education system in Burma, particularly at its major universities. The letter, written on May 19, was published on the Internet.

Meanwhile, Ko Ko Hlaing told the privately operated newspaper that the government is cooperating with Johns Hopkins University of the United States in ways to strengthen the education sector.

Also, India has agreed to help Burma open an Information Technology University in 2013, he said.

The Asia Foundation, a non-profit nongovernmental organization, has also offered to provide books and documents and support an online library system in Burma.

Official statistics show that the number of state-operated basic education schools in the country has increased to 41,000 with a total of more than 8.1 million students who are pursuing education under the guidance of more than 270,000 teachers.

In the higher education sector, Burma has 161 universities and colleges.

Earlier, Mizzima reported that Ko Ko Hlaing and other presidential advisers held a press conference on May 25, saying Myint’s letter, which called for the restoration of Rangoon University to its former level of excellence, did not represent the views of the president’s office.

By western standards, there appeared to be very little that was controversial in Myint’s letter. Some observers said the flap might have arisen simply because the letter was released from outside official channels and could be interpreted as a call for action.

Reading between the lines, the letter made a plea for the improvement of Rangoon University as a means to further the economic development and prestige of the country.

One section compared Rangoon University to the Irrawaddy River:

“Like the Irrawaddy River, RU [Rangoon University] has lost much of its former glory and splendor. Nevertheless, our recent experience with the Irrawaddy offers a valuable lesson. Last September, the people of Myanmar came out with a united, clear and strong stand on the need to protect the Irrawaddy and to restore it to its former glory.

“This united and strong expression of public sentiment, and decisive action by the Government in support of this people’s will yielded good results. Similar public expression of support, at this time, to restore RU to its former glory would be highly desirable.”

The advisers said Myint wrote the letter on his own volition, and the presidential advisers’ office did not know about the letter in advance. They said that because of Myint’s position as a presidential adviser, the letter could cause a misunderstanding among various groups of people, because the issue is sensitive and important.

“We do not want the public to misunderstand,” said an adviser.

A copy of the letter can be found at http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/open-letter-restoring-u-yangon-its-former-glory
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‘Bottom-up initiative’ needed: gov’t editorial

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:53 Mizzima News

Officials alone can’t transform Burma and the country  needs a “bottom up initiative” to become a democratic nation, an editorial in the state-run newspaper said on Thursday.


However, there will be no turning back in the process of democratic reforms throughout the country, the editorial in The New Light of Myanmar said: “The reform strategy the new government initiates is irreversible and there will be no backsliding or derailment in the road to democracy.”

The editorial, titled “Make Ongoing Reforms More Transparent and Visionary,” said, “Our transition to [move to] democracy is indeed not without challenges. We are prepared and resolute to overcome all these challenges and continue our endeavors until we achieve our stated goal,” said the government newspaper.

It noted that President Thein Sein has urged the country’s population, particularly government employees, to exercise bottom-up initiatives rather than a top-down approach to make ongoing reforms more transparent and effective.

“As reform is a long, arduous haul, the country uses the best international, practice distilled from other global nations' experiences for its nascent reform to be more profound and meaningful,” the editorial said.

It said “a just and fair view” was needed rather than a “one-sided approach.” It added that people often place twice as much significance on a perceived loss than a gain.

The article called on the international community to continue to lend support, to increase aid and to offer investments beneficial to the people at this moment of transformation.
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Japan to develop Burmese stock exchange by 2015

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:43 Mizzima News
An agreement on technical aid has been signed between the Central Bank of Myanmar and the Daiwa Research Institute and Tokyo Stock Exchange of Japan, the New Light of Myanmar said on Thursday.

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Finance and Revenue Minister Hla Tun at a financial workshop in Rangoon in November 2011. Photo: Mizzima

Minister of Finance and Revenue Hla Tun, who is also chairman of the Capital Market Development Committee, said Burma would establish a stock exchange by 2015 under a blue print set out by the committee.

To provide for listed companies on the stock exchange, Burma has allowed the set-up of public companies in a bid to develop the market economy. The Directorate of Investment and Companies will encourage the public to invest their savings and capitals in appropriate business sectors.

According to the directorate, the seed capital for public companies is set to be at least 500 million kyat (about US$ 625,000).

Entities seeking to become public companies must have at least seven initial holders, sell unlimited shares to the public, be an economically sustainable business and employ skilled labor.

Many Japanese and foreign investors believe that the envisaged stock market will open up numerous business opportunities in the future, although many obstacles remain.

Experts have pointed out that after five decades of isolation from the global community, the move to an up-to-date economy will be fraught with problems. The IMF is currently working with the government in an effort to bring its financial system up to basic international standards.

The plan to set up a stock market by 2015 comes at the same year as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plans to integrate the region’s economies to create the Asean Economic Community, in which trade barriers will be dropped.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo bourse is expecting future benefits by helping Burma to open its stock exchange, the Japan Times said in early May.

“We hope our support will lead to more active trade on our exchange,” spokesman Naoya Takahashi was quoted as saying. For example, he said the TSE hopes to build a broader tie-up with Burma’s stock exchange by listing financial products on each other's markets or exchanging stock price information.

“For TSE, it is a long-term story, rather than a short-term business chance,” Takahashi told the newspaper.

Daiwa will be in charge of helping the country nurture a capital market through various measures, including the training of the stock exchange's workforce and giving advice to set up the IT systems necessary in the securities business, the article said. TSE will also help establish rules and standards to operate a stock exchange.

Daiwa said the company's approach to the country dates back to the early 1990s, which led to Daiwa's official contract with the country to help set up the Myanmar Securities Exchange Center Co., an over-the-counter stock market, in 1996.

Daiwa said it would use its experiences at the MSEC to create the new stock exchange. Currently, at the MSEC only the shares of two companies – Forest Products Joint Venture Co. and Myanmar Citizens Bank – are traded.

Renowned U.S. investor Jim Rogers told Forbes in a 2011 interview that if Burma opens a stock exchange, he would buy shares there “in a minute.”

But the fledgling democracy faces many serious hurdles in the short term, including the lack of an overall modern financial system and crucial Internet technology for transactions, money transfers and settlements.

Currently, only cash and checks are available for settlements at the MSEC, the tiny over-the-counter market. ATMs have only just been introduced at the country's banks, and credit cards can barely be used in Rangoon or the capital of Naypyitaw.

In total, there are about 50,000 firms in Burma, and nearly 80 per cent of them are small businesses.
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Suu Kyi to visit India

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:33 Mizzima News

When Aung San Suu Kyi visits India sometime this year, she will return to a country with which she has deep family and personal ties.

She has accepted an invitation to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in India, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presented her a letter earlier this week from Sonia Gandhi asking her to deliver the prestigious address. No date was announced for the visit.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Aung San Suu Kyi at the Sedona Hotel in Rangoon on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Singh gave Suu Kyi an invitation to visit India from Sonia Gandhi of the Indian National Congress Party. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

“We in India are very proud of our longstanding association with her [Suu Kyi] and members of her family including her parents,” Singh said in a media statement.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life, her struggle, and her determination have inspired millions of people all over the world,” he said. “Our sincere belief is that in the process of national reconciliation which has been launched by President Thein Sein, Madam Suu Kyi will play a defining role."

In a statement, Suu Kyi said, “The struggle for India’s independence took place at the same time as the struggle for Burma’s independence. My parents were great admirers of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders, but we were particularly close to Panditji as I was taught to call him from a very young age.”

“I am very happy at the prospect of closer ties with India because I think we have much to learn from one another and we have much to contribute to peace and stability in this region, because our goals, our democratic goals, work on the basis of peace and stability, and these are what we shall aim towards,” she said.

“I hope that there will be greater exchanges between our two peoples,” she said. “As I said to the prime minister, true friendship between the countries can be based only on friendship between our peoples, and this is what I hope we will be able to achieve.”

Suu Kyi has traditional links with India – her mother was ambassador to India and she studied at the Jesus and Mary Convent School and Lady Shri Ram College.
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Burmese gov’t allows torture with impunity: report

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Thursday, 31 May 2012 14:04 ND-Burma

The Burmese government continues to commit human rights abuses including torture and inhumane treatment with impunity, according to a new report by ND-Burma, a network for human rights documentation.

From January to December 2011, ND-Burma said its member organizations documented 371 cases of human rights violation across the country of which 83 cases, or 22 per cent, constituted torture and ill treatment.

Torture and ill treatment in Burma take place in two distinct places: (1) in detention centers where political prisoners are interrogated and held, and (2) in ethnic nationality areas where the Burmese military is present, said the report “Extreme Measures,” which was issued this week.

The study found that torture of political prisoners generally takes place shortly after an individual is arrested during interrogations.

“It can, along with ill treatment, continue for years – even decades – while political prisoners serve inordinately long sentences,” it said.

In ethnic nationality areas, it said torture seldom takes place in formal detention centers but is meted out in military bases or remote rural villages.

“Shan State and Kachin states are particularly hard hit. Evidence gathered by ND-Burma shows that torture and ill-treatment in ethnic areas often takes place within the context of other human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, forced labor, forced portering, confiscation of property, restriction of movement, and sexual violence.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to the Burmese government and the international community.

It called for the adoption of legislation guaranteeing basic rights for the people of Burma, particularly the internationally recognized right to be free from torture and ill treatment, and laws that ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes face justice.

There are also calls for more education, training and public awareness about torture in order to prevent future violations as well as calls to institute safeguards and programs that guarantee that victims have available, credible, accessible remedies to deal with torture should it take place, it said.

The report also raises concerns regarding the new National Human Rights Commission, including its lack of full independence, its inability to investigate crimes committed by the military, and its failure to comply fully with best practices for national human rights commissions as described in the Paris Principles.

Torture and ill treatment have a ripple effect, said ND-Burma, with potentially long lasting negative consequences for individuals, families and society as a whole.

It said the report should serve as a reminder to Burmese government and the international community that significant hurdles remain for Burma to emerge as a functioning democracy that respects the rule of law and the rights of the people of Burma, particularly ethnic nationalities.

– For more information or a copy of the report, go to http://www.nd-burma.org/reports/item/94-extreme-measures-torture-and-ill-treatment-in-burma-since-the-2010-elections.html
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Suu Kyi tells migrant workers: ‘I will never forget you’

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 16:48 Mizzima News

Jubilant Burmese migrant workers greeted Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday morning, who told them she is working to make it possible for them to return home.

Thousands of local people and migrant workers packed a narrow street in Samut Sakhon near Bangkok to hear her speak during her first foreign trip in 24 years.

Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi who arrived in Thailand late Tuesday delivers a speech to Burmese migrant workers at the Workers Rights Network office at Mahachai on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Photo: Mizzima

Standing on the balcony of the Library and Office of the Migrant Worker Rights Network building, she told the migrant workers that she came to Thailand to learn about their conditions first hand.

Suu Kyi invited the representatives of 30 migrant workers to a discussion on worker’s challenges in Thailand. Migrant workers discussed problems of access to accident compensation and the workmen’s compensation fund, exploitation by job brokers in the Nationality Verification (NV) process, human trafficking problems and access to education for migrant workers’s children in Thailand.

They also said many workers underwent the NV process, but they were not eligible to take part in the social security system. Migrant workers also told Suu Kyi about the plight of crime victims who endure rape and robbery.

Suu Kyi acknowledged the issues and urged migrant workers in Thailand to seek their rights and to shoulder that responsibility. She said migrants should unite and give mutual support, and that she would talk to the governments of the two countries to seek solutions to such problems.

“I will never forget you, and I will discuss your troubles with the Thai government to help improve your well-being,” the National League for Democracy Party leader said. “I ask you to be patient and please work to your full potential as assigned by your employers. I'll try to develop our country so you can come back home and apply your skills and knowledge and make our country prosper."

Suu Kyi, who will speak to the World Economic Forum on Friday in Bangkok, will meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the former prime minister.

She told a crowd of thousands, “Don't feel down, or weak. History is always changing.”

“Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you,” she said.

After speaking to the crowd, the Nobel Peace Prize winner met with migrant workers who told her they faced mistreatment from employers but lack knowledge of their rights and have no legal means to settle disputes.

Thailand hosts around 2.5 million Burmese who have fled here to work low-skilled jobs as domestic servants or in manual labor industries like fisheries and the garment sector.

Andy Hall, a researcher at the Institute for Population and Social Research at Thailand's Mahidol University, said up to a million of them are undocumented, and they make up between 5 and 10 percent of the Thai work force, contributing as much as 7 percent of the nation's GDP.

Many are exploited and paid reduced wages, he said. Some have been trafficked; some have had their passports confiscated by employers. Hall said they were nevertheless “the lifeblood of a lot of the Myanmar economy, sending home money to support families who don't have enough money to eat.”

“They have no voice, they can never speak up or stand up,” Hall said. “So for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit is like a dream come true, someone who finally may be able to bring attention to their suffering.”

About 30 km southwest of Bangkok, Samut Sakhon is home to tens of thousands of Burmese migrants, documented and undocumented, who are the primary labor force in Thailand's fisheries industry.

Since becoming a Member of Parliament, this is Suu Kyi first trip abroad after spending 15 of the last 24 years under house arrest.

Following her trip to Bangkok, she is scheduled to visit Norway, Britain, Ireland and France, according to a NLD spokespersons. First, she will return to Burma before heading to Oslo, Norway, where she will receive her long-delayed Nobel Peace Prize.
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Thein Sein to visit Thailand in June

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:54 Mizzima News


Burmese President Thein Sein will officially visit Thailand from June 4-5 to strengthen bilateral relations and sign agreements on various development projects, the Thai News Agency said on Tuesday.

The president, who cancelled a planned visit to the Asian World Economic Forum that started on Wednesday, is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Burmese President Thein Sein Photo: president's website

The two leaders will witness the signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation for human resource development in Burma, for cooperation in helping Burma prepare to assume the chairmanship of Asean in 2014 and for various development projects involving roads, bridges and human trafficking.

The establishment of a knowledge center for sustainable development along the Thai-Burma border, a “drop-in centre” for human trafficking victims, and Thai-Burma cooperation in dealing with drug trafficking are also on the agenda.

A spokesperson said the two leaders would discuss the possibility of building the long-planned Thailand-Myanmar-India road project, a road development link from Singkhon checkpoint in Prachuap Khiri Kan to Myeik in Burma and the construction of a second bridge over the Moei River.
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Opposition advice sought over electricity protests

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:45 RFA

Burma’s Election Commission held roundtable talks on Tuesday with representatives from the country’s six major political parties to address a recent string of protests over electricity shortages and workers’ rights, according to an opposition lawmaker in attendance.


Ohn Kyaing, a member of Parliament for Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said the head of the commission called on the opposition parties to assist in finding an acceptable solution to the demands of thousands of demonstrators protesting in some of the country’s biggest cities, including Rangoon and Mandalay.

"The Election Commission chairman explained in the meeting that the government is trying to resolve the candlelight protests in Mandalay over electricity shortages and the factory workers' strikes in the Rangoon Industrial Zone where workers are calling for pay raises,” Ohn Kyaing told RFA’s Burmese service on Tuesday.

“He requested that the other political parties help solve the problem of power shortages.”

Burma’s deputy labor minister and deputy minister of energy were also in attendance, Ohn Kyaing said, and discussed the work that they had done to mitigate the energy shortages.

"The labor minister said that he had facilitated mediations [between workers and factory owners],” Ohn Kyaing said.

More than 5,000 workers from five different factories in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone have been striking for two weeks, demanding a wage hike from 15,000 kyat (U.S. $18) per month to 30,000 kyat (U.S. $36) per month, which their employers have so far refused to pay.

And in Mandalay, Rangoon, and several other cities, demonstrators have been demanding a larger allocation of the national budget to end chronic power cuts. Continuing protests since May 20 have effectively forced the government to announce emergency measures aimed at restoring electricity to full capacity within weeks.

“The energy deputy minister talked about the state’s current energy output and how much is energy is being consumed,” Ohn Kyaing said.

“He explained that, due to a late monsoon season, the hydropower plants do not have enough power to run at full capacity.”

Ohn Kyaing said that the energy deputy minister also discussed the status of electricity towers that had been damaged in fighting between the Burmese army and Kachin ethnic rebels in the country’s border area with China, which officials say has seriously limited the capacity of the national power grid.

“He explained that though the government is doing its best to subsidize the lost energy with gas and coal, these efforts remain insufficient.”

Ohn Kyaing did not provide details on what suggestions, if any, had been raised by the opposition party members in attendance.

Youth questioned

Meanwhile, as energy shortage protests continued around the country, authorities in Pathein held 11 youth who had been leading nightly demonstrations since Friday and questioned them for three hours at a local ministry office, a relative of one of those detained told RFA.

"They were asked why they were protesting, what they wanted the authorities to do, if they were following the lead of demonstrators in other towns or protesting of their own volition, who had instructed them to protest, and so on,” the relative said.

“They were questioned one by one. The district police chief and officers from the Department of Electricity were among the officials who questioned them.”

Among the youth detained were members of the 88 Generation Students Group, a movement formed by activists that were part of student-led protests against Burma’s former military regime in 1988, and members of the NLD.

“One of the youth from the 88 Generation Students Group replied that they are not protesting, but peacefully requesting that the government provide them with adequate electricity,” the relative said.

“The youth explained that they were not instructed to join the demonstration by others—that it was their own idea.”

After the questioning, the detainees were released and officials pledged to fully restore electricity to the region within two weeks.

Protests are extremely rare in Burma and represent a test for the nominally civilian government of reformist President Thein Sein, which took power in March last year after five decades of military rule.

Thein Sein approved a bill last year which allows for peaceful protests and so far authorities have allowed the demonstrations to continue with little resistance.


Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. Used with permission.
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Aung San Suu Kyi starts landmark Bangkok visit

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:32 VOA

Burma's long-time democracy icon and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Thailand's capital, marking her first international trip in 24 years and ending an era of isolation in her home country.

The plane carrying the Nobel laureate touched down in Bangkok late Tuesday evening following a brief flight from Rangoon.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks up at supporters as she leaves a Burmese migrant workers' community centre where she met with community representatives and addressed a crowd of migrants in Samut Sakhon on the outskirts of Bangkok on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. It is Suu Kyi's first trip abroad in over two decades, and she told cheering migrants from her country that she would work to improve their lot in Thailand. Photo: AFP

Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to spend several days in Thailand. The Burmese opposition leader is expected to meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok and will also address the World Economic Forum on East Asia later this week.

Bangkok's skyscrapers and congested urban life sit in stark contrast to the underdeveloped city of Rangoon, where the newly elected parliament member spent 15 of the past 22 years in detention for challenging the oppressive military leadership that ruled Burma for decades.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010, having previously refused to leave Burma out of fear authorities would not let her return.

The Nobel laureate's first international trip is seen by many as a landmark moment in Burma's political reform process, which began last year when the country's military rulers transferred power to a nominally civilian government.

Aung San Suu Kyi's trip to neighboring Thailand will also include a visit with some of the tens of thousands of Burmese refugees and migrant workers who fled ethnic conflict in Burma's border regions.

Singh's Burma visit wraps up

Before leaving for Thailand, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is wrapping up a landmark three-day visit to Burma to strengthen trade and investment links between the two Asian neighbors. Speaking at a news conference, Aung San Suu Kyi said she was looking forward to the prospect of closer ties with India.

Singh is the first Indian prime minister to visit Burma since 1987. His meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi is seen as an indication India is open to reaffirming ties with Burma's opposition movement.

New Delhi has long been criticized for its ties with Burma's oppressive former military leadership.

Aung San Suu Kyi's trip to Thailand comes just weeks before she is scheduled to tour several European countries.

She will give a speech to the International Labor Organization conference in Geneva on June 14. She will also visit Norway on June 16 to formally receive the Nobel Peace Prize that she won nearly 21 years ago but was unable to accept in person because of her detention.

She later plans to address both houses of parliament in Britain, where she lived for years with her husband, who is now deceased.


Copyright Voanews.com. Used with permission.

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Mizzima launches print version of new business weekly, M-ZINE+

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 17:01

Mizzima Media is pleased to announce the official launch of its new weekly magazine, M-ZINE+, in Yangon.

M-ZINE+ (M-ZINE Plus) is a weekly business-oriented magazine, deciphering developments concerning business, the economy, development, social issues and politics in Myanmar.

Mizzima Media will hold a Launch Party on Saturday at the Sedona Hotel Yangon.

M-ZINE+ is designed as a niche publication to fill a gap in the modern world of 24/7 news and sound bites. The “M” stands for a multiplicity of meanings, from Mizzima, marketing to money and on to Myanmar. The magazine aims to offer insight into the often opaque financial and economic milieu in Myanmar for a largely foreign audience interested in Myanmar.

Close to two dozen issues of M-ZINE+ have already been published as a convenient online premium publication available by subscription. Our official launch in Yangon marks the launch of our print edition.

The magazine will appeal to a range of Myanmar watchers – business people, investors, diplomats, academics, journalists, NGO personnel and anybody interested in in-depth coverage of Myanmar.

M-ZINE+ will be available for sale through Innwa Bookstore and direct from Mizzima, and has been selling since May 17 in bookstores, City Marts and hotels.

A 12-month subscription fee – Kyat 96,000 (including one month’s subscription free).

6 months subscription fee – Kyat 48,000 (including one issue free).

Single copies for sale in Myanmar – Kyat 3,000.

For online subscriptions, please go to:
www.mzineplus.com

In Rangoon, Mizzima Media Co. Ltd. Is located in Room No. 407, 4th Floor, Pearl Condominium Block C, Kabaraye Pagoda Road, Bahan Township, Yangon-11201, MYANMAR. Phone: (95-1) 558675.

For more information, go to

www.mizzima.com or www.mizzimaburmese.com or www.mzineplus.com
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Official editorial praises India-Burma ties

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:23 Mizzima News

“India needs Myanmar, and Myanmar also needs India, and that is the common ground,” an editorial in The New Light of Myanmar, the state-run newspaper, said on Tuesday.

“As for Myanmar, India is a giant neighbor whose long experience in democracy will be valuable for the democratization process that needs international cooperation to achieve further acceleration,” said the state-run newspaper, while praising Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's three-day state visit which ended on Tuesday.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, prior to the end of his three-day visit to Burma. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

“Besides, India is one of the global emerging markets with its consumption power in multiple sectors growing bigger and bigger every year,” the editorial said, describing India as an “energy-hungry giant.”

“This giant can help us create more job opportunities, acquire technology and set up light and medium industries through investment in multiple sectors,” the editorial said.

The editorial reviewed Indian assistance on infrastructure projects connecting the border areas of the two countries.

It said Singh’s visit, and President Thein Sein earlier visit to India, usher in a new era of greater cooperation. India’s relations with Burma were frosty during the period of repression by the former military junta, but began to thaw in the late 90s in response to India’s “Look East” policy, which was seen as a way to blunt China’s dominance in Burma’s affairs.

During the state visit, Singh and Thein Sein signed a dozen agreements covering transportation, border development, high tech development and increased trade, which the two countries agreed could double to US$ 3.5 billion by 2015.

India awarded Burma a $500-million credit line to invest in border area development, air services, setting up of a Myanmar Institute of Information and Technology, implementation of cultural exchange programs (2012-2015), and the establishment of an advanced center for agricultural research and a joint trade and investment forum.

Singh also met Burma's opposition leader and parliament member Aung San Suu Kyi during the visit. She accepted an invitation to visit India to deliver a Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture lecture.

Singh was the first Indian prime minister to have visited Burma in 25 years since Rajiv Gandhi.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Surin says Asia needs media ‘to keep us on track’

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 12:13 Mizzima News

Asean Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan on Tuesday said Asia has become the fastest growing region of social media users in the world.

Asean-member states such as the Philippines and Malaysia have already achieved penetration rates of as much as 85 per cent for popular social media sites, he said.

Dr. Surin Pitsuwan Photo: Facebook

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Asia Media Summit 2012 in Bangkok, Surin noted that the rise of the middle class in Asean countries and their increased purchasing power point to its growing importance and role in the global economy, as well as the decision-making process.

"The media is the communicator for Asean – bringing the truth to the world and rolling out the news. Seen from a larger perspective, the media has contributed to Asean's growth politically, economically, socially, and culturally," he said.

The world is watching Asia, he said, and it needs “the media's watchful eyes, your critical minds – to keep us on track.”

The conference also received a letter from U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, who stressed the importance of scrutiny by a responsible media in global affairs.

The media conference preceded the opening of the Asian World Economic Forum on Wednesday.

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Burmese gov’t websites have little information – some don’t exist

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 16:55 Phone Thaw Zin
 
Rangoon (Mizzima) – Looking for information about the Burmese government?

Don’t go to the official governmental websites because most provide little information and often they do not update what information they have for months or years.

In short, they are nearly worthless compared to neighboring countries, which recognize the importance of the Internet and public communication and incude some information in English.

A screenshot of the official website of Burmese President Thein Sein, which is fairly up-to-date. Those of other government ministries rarely offer useful, regular information. Some ministry websites do not exist or cannot be accessed. English language information is rarely offered.

Thirty-one out of the 34 ministries of the new government have official websites.

Key ministries without a website include the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Border Affairs and the Ministry of Electric Power (2).

Moreover,  the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Mines, the Ministry of Sports, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education have their respective website addresses, they often cannot be accessed.

To see a list of ministry websites and addresses, go to http://www.myanmar.com/ministries/index.html

One journalist said, “If we want to get some facts about our country, we have to look for information from such places as the CIA’s World Factbook,” or other outside sources, some of which appear to have more information about the government than the government itself.

“The websites of the ministries in Burma are almost useless,” he said, and some are more than useless, because they do not even exist. Needless to say, there is almost no information on the ministry websites in English.

Both the former junta and the new government claim they have tried to implement E-government system by using the Internet, but there is no evidence that any ministry has come anywhere near to accomplishing that lofty goal.
 
Perhaps the most up-to-date ministry website is the Ministry of Communication, Posts and Telegraph. A quick survey showed that it publishes, on average, about one time a week.

Aung Zaw Myint, an executive committee member of Myanmar Computer Professionals Association, said the ministries should make a priority of effectively implementing the E-government system because it can benefit not only citizens but also the government itself.
 
Although all of the official governmental websites have weaknesses, the official website of the president’s office, which was launched in early May, is said to be more up-to-date. More people visit the president’s office website to try to get a sense of what’s going on, according to regular Internet users. However, it offers little information in English.
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Suu Kyi to meet Burmese migrants in Thailand

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 14:42 Mizzima News

During her visit to Thailand to attend the World Economic Forum starting on Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi will visit Burmese migrants to see working and living conditions and visit a local National Verification Center, according to migrant worker advocates.

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi wears France's highest civilian medal, the Legion d'Honneur, which was presented to her by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe at a reception in Rangoon in March. With her is senior leader Tin Oo of the National League for Democracy. Photo: Mizzima

She is scheduled to visit the National Verification Center in the Aur Arthon Housing Project in Thajin, Samut Sakhon Province, tour a shrimp market and meet Burmese migrant workers and their families at a migrant learning center.

Suu Kyi is expected to garner vast media attention at the World Economic Forum, which may have been a factor in causing Burmese President Thein Sein to cancel his attendance at the three-day event. He said he would come in Thailand soon at a later date.

The Burmese Minister of Energy U Than Htay will officially represent the government at the gathering.

An aide to Suu Kyi told The Bangkok Post that she would visit Samut Sakhon's Mahachai District, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese migrant workers.

The Nobel laureate may also visit a refugee camp in Tha Song Yang District in Tak province, opposite Myawaddy, Burma, and she may visit the Mae Tao clinic, and meet a group of exiled activists based in the province, said the newspaper. That visit has been tentatively arranged for Saturday.

Suu Kyi's talks with exiled dissidents who have worked closely with democracy forces inside Burma play a large role in determining whether the country’s reconciliation efforts have the support of the exiled population.

On Tuesday, the exiled Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) released an open letter to Suu Kyi, saying the Burmese refugee community in Thailand is “currently living with a great deal of uncertainty and worry due to the changing position of international communities regarding continuing support here and possible repatriation during these fragile peace negotiations.”

Part of KWO's focus is to conduct consultation with communities on the issue of return to Burma.

“Like you, we believe women have an important role in moving these issues forward as we have always had a vital role in maintaining and sustaining our community,” said the statement.

The KWO works in all seven Karen refugee camps and in Karen State.

“We have more than 49,000 Karen women who are members of our organization,” the statement said. “We provide services to our community like special education, safe houses for women who are victims of gender based violence, nursery schools, along with leadership development and women’s direct involvement in the peace talks.”
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Vietnam, Burma deepen ties

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 14:19 Mizzima News

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe this week that Vietnam and Burma should increase investment, trade and tourism ties.

Myint Swe was in Vietnam to implement 12 agreements signed by both countries during Burmese President Thein Sein’s recent visit to Vietnam.

Dung said Vietnam will hold an investment conference in Rangoon next month, particularly to promote business in tourism, mining, agriculture and energy.

In 2011, the bilateral trade between Vietnam and Burma reached more than US$ 167 million, an increase of 9.8 percent over 2010.
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Singapore ready to invest more in Burma’s hotel sector: reports

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 13:33 Mizzima News

Singaporean businessmen are expected to make larger investments in Burma’s booming hotel and tourism sector, according to a local media report.

A delegation of International Enterprise Singapore Business Department, led by the director of the Southeast Asia Group, Tan Soon Kin, held discussions with officials at the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism early this month, said the Eleven News.

A hotel at a scenic location in Burma. Photo: Mizzima / Min Min Oo

Singapore is now the biggest foreign investor in Burma’s hotel and tourism industry, with the Sedona Hotel and Park Royal Hotel in Rangoon and the Sedona Hotel in Mandalay.

Other major foreign investors in the country's hotel and tourism industry come from Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Britain. The United States and other countries are also showing strong interest in the sector.

Currently, high-end rooms in Rangoon are filled. Burma has 22 foreign-invested hotels, nine government-owned hotels and 678 private hotels, in addition to 11 hotel zones in regions where tourists visit frequently. Prices have skyrocked from around US$ 50 to up to $300 for luxury rooms.

The government is expected to launch more than 50 hotels across the country over the next two years, the newspaper reported.

Last, year, the largest number of tourists came from Thailand, followed by China. French, German and British accounted for the highest number of Western tourists in Burma.

Mizzima reported in January that Europeans accounted for 65,367 travellers, led by France with 13,102 visitors, Germany with 10,932, and Britain 7,195.

“Arrival numbers are increasing 20 per cent to 30 per cent every year”, said Lynn Zaw Wai Mang, general manager of Unique Asia Travel in Rangoon. “It means we need to build more hotels, expand airlines and develop our infrastructure so we can offer a better level of service to visitors.”

While the numbers are good, tourism industry spokesmen are citing potential problems down the road and calling for the newly elected government to undertake rapid infrastructure changes.

An article in the Myanmar Times on January 2 cited concerns about the country’s lack of hotels and transport capacity, poor infrastructure, high prices and inefficient booking systems.

“The Myanmar tourism industry is now at a point where we need to become more professional…,” said Edwin Briels, general manager of Exploration Travel and Tour.
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Sales of SIM cards strong in Rangoon, Mandalay

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 12:55 Phone Thaw Zin

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Burmese SIM card sales brought in about US$ 112 million during the past month, according to ministry figures. The sale of SIM cards is controlled and allocated periodically by the government.

The sales came from GSM SIM cards that sold for 200,000 kyat each (about US$ 250), and WCDMA SIM cards that sold for 250,000 kyat each, according to Myanmar Posts and Telecommunication (MPT). The price of SIM cards in Burma is artificially high because of government control and market factors.

A crowd waits to buy SIM cards outside an Elite Tech mobile shop in Rangoon in April 2012. Photo: Mizzima / Ye Min

Consumer advocates have called on the government to sell SIM cards for about 5,000 kyat.
 
Sales of the GSM SIM cards started on April 9, and WCDMA SIM cards on April 23. More than 400,000 GSM SIM cards and 40,000 WCDMA SIM cards have been sold up to May 2, according to MPT  figures.

More than 150,000 GSM SIM cards and 24,000 WCDMA SIM cards were sold in Rangoon Region, in sales totaling 37 billion kyat. 
 
The sales amount in Rangoon Region, 37 billion kyat, is more than 8.5 times larger than the budget allocation for Karenni State for the fiscal year.

More than 58,000 GSM SIM cards and 4,200 WCDMA SIM cards were sold in Mandalay Region.

More than 440,000 GSM and WCDMA SIM cards have been sold. If every phone owner made only a one-minute call per a day, MPT would earn phone charges of 22 million kyat per day.

Meanwhile, a local journal, News Watch, reported that some users said their GSM SIM cards did not work well in Mandalay, and they resold the cards at a price of around 150,000 kyat.

Earlier, a rumour was going round that SIM cards would be introduced in late May that sell for about 100,000 kyat, but MPT denied the rumour.
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Burma’s business visa-on-arrival starts Friday

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 12:42 Mizzima News

A limited visa-on-arrival program aimed at easing business travelers entry into Burma will kick off on Friday, said Burmese officials.

Originally, it was believed to include tourists, but Immigration Department Director-General Maung Maung Than told the Associated Press on Monday that tourists will not be included in the on-arrival program.

The International Terminal at Rangoon International Airport Photo: Wikipedia

The visas will cost $50 and not be available for tourists. He said the visas will be available to nationals of 27 countries including the U.K. and the U.S.

Maung Maung Than said the government has also updated a "blacklist" to bar people who violated visa agreements, criminals and people banned by government ministries.

Critics of military rule often were banned from entering the country. Observers who noted the new blacklist questioned why such a list would exist now that the government has said it is moving toward a democratic system.

Myanmar introduced visas-on-arrival in 2010 but suspended the service before that year's general election.

The service will first be available at the country's main entry point, Rangoon International Airport, and later in Mandalay and the capital, Naypyitaw.

The visas will be granted to travelers from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Australia, Britain, China, Japan and the United Statesl and other countries.

Business visas will be issued for 70 days, officials said.

This week Mizzima reported that about 1,500 tourists are arriving each day in Burma’s four international airports, an increase of about one-third over the past year. Tourists mainly passed through Rangoon, Naypyitaw, Mandalay and Nyaung Oo international airports.

Burma’s tourism industry is in an emerging growth stage. According to official statistics, the number of tourist arrivals at Rangoon International Airport reached 359,359 in 2011, but is expected to reach 1.5 million in 2012.

The hotel and guesthouse industry is straining to prepare for the influx of tourists and businessmen following the opening up of the country during 2011.

Figures for the first two months of 2012 showed 98,486 people arrived from North America, West Europe, East Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, according to the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board.

There are a total of 739 hotels in Burma including 22 foreign-invested hotels, four joint-venture hotels, six government hotels and 707 private-owned hotels.

Burma earned US$ 319 million in 2011 from the hotel and tourism sector, up 26 per cent from US$ 254 million in 2010.
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World Economic Forum to focus on ‘connectivity’

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 12:23 Mizzima News

The upcoming 21st World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok will concentrate on building up regional connectivity, organizers told the media on Monday.

“This year's meeting is an exceptional opportunity not only for leaders from East Asia, but also from outside the region, as the Asean countries are a major evolving geopolitical and geo-economic pillar of the global economy,” Sushant Palakurthi Rao, a senior director and head of Asia for the World Economic Forum, told a press conference in Bangkok.

Aung San Suu Kyi among her supporters outside the NLD headquarters in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

Rao confirmed that Burma’s President Thein Sein has canceled plans to attend the forum, which opens on Wednesday, but he said that Thein Sein said he would visit Thailand several days later.

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is scheduled to attend the forum, where she will take part in a one-on-one conversation and attend a forum on women’s roles and issues.

Rao warned against the risks that would disrupt the long-term economic growth of the region and underlined the need of working together to minimize negative impacts.

“Our meeting is taking place at a time of tremendous economic and political transformation. Therefore, enhancing connectivity in the region will be critical to the region's future growth,” he said.

More than 630 participants, some 200 more than expected, from 50 countries will gather in Bangkok from Wednesday to Friday to exchange views on regional cooperation under the theme “Shaping the Region's Future through Connectivity.”

Four heads of state or government from Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam will attend, and more than 450 business leaders together with other members of civil society and academia.

Kittiratt Na-Ranong, Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, said his government was prepared in terms of organizing and security for the meeting.

“The World Economic Forum on East Asia will not only be a great opportunity to showcase Thailand's progress in the economic and political sphere, but will also be a good chance for government and business leaders from around the world to discuss how to increase bilateral and regional cooperation,” he said.

Rao hailed Thailand as an ideal place to host this year' s forum.

“Thailand is Asean's second largest economy and one of the driving forces of regional economy. It is also surrounded by emerging economies and connects two giants, China and India,” he said.
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‘Urgent need’ for power plants around Rangoon, Mandalay: minister

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012 12:05 Mizzima News

Burma is looking to build a large industrial park complex in the Bassein region west of Rangoon for domestic industries, in addition to more electricity power plants around Rangoon and Mandalay, according to the industry minister.

Burma's Industry Minister Soe Thane delivers a speech during the 18th International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo on May 25, 2012. Photo: AFP

Industry Minister Soe Thane discussed Burma’s energy needs and investment options on the sidelines of the "Future of Asia" conference last week in Tokyo. No date for the construction of the park complex was given.

Soe Thane currently heads an unofficial body that grants concessions and tax holidays to investors, he told The Bangok Post. He said that setting up a formal investment promotion body would help attract more foreign direct investment into the country.

“There is an urgent need to build at least two plants around Yangon, and maybe one around Mandalay,” he told the Post. “All need to be near a river to make it easier to transport the heavy coal.”

“These projects need to be undertaken as soon as possible because only about 25 per cent of the country is currently connected to the grid,” he said. "We had not anticipated many things and the speed of change has been so fast.”

Over the past week, demonstrators in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities have protested the lack of electricity.

“We are lagging behind most economies in this region, and you can say we're late in this game,” he told the newspaper.

He said “Parliament will vote on new regulations for foreign direct investment, after having voted recently to allow foreign investors in SEZs [special economic zones] to repatriate 100 per cent of profits.”

“The Bassein industrial park would not be an SEZ like Dawei on the coast,” he said. “Dawei is an SEZ and the new area would not in any way be a competitor, although the new zone will also have a deep sea port, but with more than 1,200 kilometres of coastal shoreline, we can have many deep sea ports.”

Also under study, he said, is an SEZ at Thilawa with Japanese investors, with a decision to be made likely by year-end.

Soe Thane said that Dawei was making slow progress. The Thai government had the responsibility to look for investors, he said, and the lead contractor Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) seemed to be taking a lot of time.

ITD appears to be struggling to raise financing, say observers, who said some investors believed the new Burmese government is not as committed to the megaproject as the former military junta, which granted the concession.

Soe Thane said the government still believed in Dawei.

“This project is beneficial not only to Thailand and Myanmar but is also a corridor for all of Southeast Asia so it has to go ahead, but how is a different issue,” he was quoted as saying. “If Italian-Thai can do it, they should. If they cannot, then we will have to review it.”

The Burmese government's decision to reject plans for a 4,000-megawatt coal-fired power plant to serve the Dawei complex, in which ITD would own 75 per cent, has also thrown a cloud over the project. The government bowed to pressure from environmental groups and local residents, who said the plant was not environmentally safe.

Soe Thane indicated that authorities may soften their stand, and any new power plant that is approved would have to be more efficient and smaller. He said he was impressed by the clean-burning coal-fired plants he'd seen in Japan.
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Monday, May 28, 2012

Thein Sein to skip World Economic Forum in Thailand

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Monday, 28 May 2012 18:22 Wai Sandar

Rangoon (Mizzima) – According to sources close to Burma’s leader, President Thein Sein will not attend the Asian World Economic Forum in Bangkok from Wednesday through Friday.

A source close to the president said that Thein Sein might go to Thailand on a state visit later.

“The president is uncertain to attend the World Economic Forum in Thailand as he has to entertain many foreign dignitaries here,” a source told Mizzima.

Burmese President Thein Sein Photo: President's office

President Thein Sein on Monday received visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife at the presidential palace in Naypyitaw.

National League for Democracy party leader Aung San Suu Kyi will arrive in Thailand on Tuesday evening to attend the forum, party spokesman Nyan Win confirmed. She put off her arrival one day to meet with Singh on Tuesday morning.

It will be Suu Kyi’s first trip outside the country in more than two decades, and she is expected to be swamped by the international media that will attend the forum.

The World Economic Forum is held annually and is attended by top government officials and business leaders from around the world.
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India, Burma sign wide-ranging economic deals

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Monday, 28 May 2012 16:44 Mizzima News

Burma and India tightened trade and connectivity ties in wide-ranging commitments signed on Monday in Naypyitaw.

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and President Thein Sein emphasized the importance of trade agreements, cultural exchanges and enhancing connectivity between the two countries.

Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh and Burmese President Thein Sein in Naypyitaw on Monday, May 28, 2012. Photo: President's office

They noted that Indian development projects in Burma under grants and concession loans amount to US$ 1.2 billion, and they agreed to identify more projects to benefit the people of Burma in future, according to a joint statement.

The leaders signed a MoU on a US$ 500 million Line of Credit extended by India. The Line of Credit will used in infrastructure development projects in areas including agriculture and irrigation, rail transportation and electric power.

Singh announced that India would undertake the task of repair and upgrade on 71 bridges on the Tamu- Kalewa friendship Road. The project will help in establishing trilateral connectivity from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Burma. The two leaders also welcomed the revival of the Joint Task Force on the Trilateral Highway between India - Burma - Thailand. It was agreed that efforts would be made to establish seamless trilateral connectivity by 2016.

Taking into account the importance of enabling people-to-people contacts, the two sides agreed to launch a trans-border bus service from Imphal, India, to Mandalay, Burma.

They also welcomed the signing of a new Air Service agreement that would expand direct air connectivity and facilitate easy business interaction, tourism and people-to people exchanges.

They also discussed the possibility of Indian participation in the development of key infrastructure projects, like Dawei port.

 In the border area, India agreed to upgrade roads and construction of schools, health centres, bridges, agriculture and related training activities in the area. 

In science and technology, a Joint Working Group has identified some priority areas for future cooperation in the fields of agricultural biotechnology, post-harvest technology, medical biotechnology, medical research and renewable energy. 

A Myanmar Institute of Information Technology with financial and technical assistance from India will be established, and the prime minister announced continued technical and financial support for the India-Myanmar Centre for Enhancement of IT Skills in Rangoon for another five-year period. Fellowships will be awarded in the areas of atmospheric and earth sciences, chemical sciences, engineering sciences, life sciences, medical sciences, mathematical and computational sciences and physical sciences.

The existing number of training slots for Burma, including under the Indian Economic and Technical Cooperation (ITEC) Programme, would be doubled from the current 250 to 500.

The two sides expressed their commitment to enhance cooperation in the area of agriculture. Under a MoU, the two leaders pledged to establish the Advanced Centre for Agricultural Research and Education as a Centre for Excellence using cutting edge technology along with traditional knowledge and ecological conservation with financial and technical assistance from India. They also agreed to set up a Rice Bio Park within the Department of Agricultural Research. 

Trade and Investment

The two sides confirmed the mutually agreed target of doubling bilateral trade by 2015, and both leaders emphasized that there is considerable untapped potential for greater trade and urged the business community to capitalize on this potential. Investments by Indian companies in areas like ports, highways, oil and gas, plantations, manufacturing, and hospitality would be specifically encouraged.

They promised they would work to identify and remove various impediments to bilateral trade. In this context, they welcomed the establishment of a representative office of the United Bank of India in Rangoon as a first step in facilitating business-friendly banking transactions between the two countries.

Burmese officials will receive training in Indian banks and in the agricultural bank sector. Considering the vast potential for promoting trade between the two countries, both sides agreed that the Reserve Bank of India would sign an MoU with the Central Bank of Myanmar on currency arrangements between India and Myanmar in the near future.
   
Power and Energy

The two leaders emphasized the need for closer cooperation to further energy security. They said they will encouraged investment by Indian companies in Burma’s oil and gas sector, including in available blocks that are being offered for investment. They also agreed to encourage investment by Indian companies in downstream projects in the petroleum industry.

Thein Sein expressed his appreciation to India for undertaking the preparation of a Detailed Project Report on the Tamanthi and Shwezaye hydropower projects.
  
Burma expressed satisfaction at the ongoing pace of work on the project for conservation and restoration of the Ananda Temple in Bagan by the Archaeological Survey of India, which is expected to be completed over the next two years.
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Private jade mining halted in north Kachin State

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Monday, 28 May 2012 15:22 Mizzima News

Burma’s mining authorities will suspend all jade mining work by private companies in northern Kachin State starting the end of this month, Rangoon media reported on Sunday.

Quoting statement by the Ministry of Mines, The Voice newspaper said armed conflicts in the Pha Kant area make it unsafe there.

Because traffic was stopped in the area by the Kachin Independence Army and government forces, thousands of workers have fled the area, it said.

In times of fighting, hundreds of jade mining companies must pay a large sum of tax money to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to the article.

In recent months, the KIA has launched a series of attacks on electricity pylons, passenger trains and rails and bridges on the Myikyina-Mandalay railroad, the government says.

In the latest development, the KIA blew up four towers of the 230-KV Shweli-Mansan national power grid in Namkham in Shan State in upper Burma last weekend, exacerbating the country’s electricity shortage during the dry season.

The government and the KIA have failed to hold more peace talks and the fighting has intensified, forcing more than 70,000 people to flee the clashes, which began in June 2011, according to some estimates.
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Japan to provid emergency turbines for Burma blackout

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Monday, 28 May 2012 13:12 Mizzima News

Burma will acquire three large gas turbines from Japan in addition to buying a dozen heavy-duty generators from the United States and Singapore in an emergency effort to meet citizens’ pleas for more electricity in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities.

Protestors walk past Sule Pagoda, Rangoon, on Thursday, May 24, 2012, holding candles in a symbolic gesture against electricity cuts in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities. Photo: Mizzima / Lynn Bo Bo

The agreement to hire three 120-megawatt gas turbines from Japan was signed on the sidelines of an international conference on the future of Asia held in Tokyo when Myanmar Minister of Industry Soe Thein explained to Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano and Minister of Foreign Affairs Koichiro Gemba about Burma's electricity shortage, said the New Light of Myanmar, a state-run newspaper, on Monday.

Candle-light demonstrations against the country's power cuts have taken place since May 20 in Thongkua, Mandalay, Monywa, Bago, Pyay, Rangoon and Pathein. Demonstrators say the government sells electricity to China while its own citizens go without power.

In the wake of the week-long peaceful demonstrations, the authorities have taken urgent measures to ease the power crisis by ordering 12 heavy-duty generators of 300 to 500 KVA and two gas turbinesfrom the United States' Caterpillar Co. and General Electric Co, as well as from Singapore.

Some of the generators have reportedly arrived in Burma and are being distributed to Rangoon, Mandalay, Pyay to be put into use to ease the power crisis.

On the other hand, efforts to repair the bombed Ruili-Mansan power grid towers are underway but are not expected to be completed until the end of May or the beginning of June. The government said the towers were bombed by the Kachin Independence Army.

Since late April, due to a insufficient supply of electricity in the country, the electric power authority has rationed industrial zones, factories and workshops from using electricity except during a six hour period at night to enable an alternative supply of power for public use when such use is at a peak between 5 to 11 p.m.

According to the Ministry of Electric Power-2 , due to an increase in the number of electric power users and state-owned and private factories and workshops, the nationwide demand has hit 1,890 megawatts against an actual supply of 1,500 mw.
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Indian PM arrives in Burma

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Monday, 28 May 2012 13:02 Mizzima News

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will arrive in Naypyitaw on Monday to have talks with Burmese President Thein Sein, as the two countries further cement bilateral relations.

Singh, the first Indian prime minister visiting Burma in 25 years, will be ceremonially welcomed by President U Thein Sein.

Singh is likely to announce a fresh line of credit for development projects and sign a package of accords after the talks which could include a revised aviation agreement, landmark bus link between Imphal and Mandalay and new initiatives in expanding trade and energy cooperation, according to Indian media.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, center, and his wife Gursharan Kaur, next to Singh, walk on a red carpet upon their arrival at Naypyitaw airport late on May 27, 2012. India's prime minister began a visit to Burma, stepping up efforts to woo the resource-rich nation and seizing the chance to counter the influence of regional rival China. Photo: AFP

Singh will fly to Rangoon on Tuesday and meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who postponed her address to the Asian World Economic Forum to meet with Singh.

Singh will also speak to Burmese businessmen in a speech titled “India and Myanmar: A Partnership for Progress and Regional Development.” An Indian business delegation is traveling with Singh.

Indian officials said they have placed Burma at the level of the highest importance and described it as a “close friend and neighbor.”

In October last year, President U Thein Sein visited India, during which he had talks with Singh on bilateral relations and pledged to double the trade value between the two countries in the coming years.

India and Burma also signed a memorandum of understanding on the upgrade of the Yangon Children's Hospital and Sittway General Hospital and on a program of cooperation in science and technology for the period of 2012-15.

India is actively involved in over a dozen projects in Burma, both in infrastructural and non-infrastructural areas, according to Indian media.

These include upgrading and resurfacing of the 160-kilometer long Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo road, construction and upgrading of the Rhi-Tiddim Road in Burma and the Kaladan Multimodal Transport Project.
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First Foreign Trip for Suu Kyi

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Monday, 28 May 2012 12:41 RFA

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to make her first visit to a foreign country in more than 20 years when she travels to Thailand on Tuesday to meet with the country’s prime minister and attend a regional conference, according to officials from her political party.

Suu Kyi spent the majority of the past two decades under house arrest during the rule of Burma’s former military junta and while free had refused to travel abroad for fear that she would be refused reentry to her homeland by the generals who considered her a threat to their grip on power.

Aung San Suu Kyi with other leaders of the National League for Democracy. Photo: Mizzima

The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) parliamentarian had originally been scheduled to visit Bangkok on Monday, but moved her trip back to accommodate the arrival to Burma of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said Han Thar Myint, member of the NLD Central Executive Committee.

“Aung San Suu Kyi was to travel to Thailand ahead of the World Economic Forum on Monday, but she will be meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 29 in Rangoon,” he said.

“She will attend the forum in Thailand after meeting with the prime minister,” he added, saying that she would leave for Thailand either that evening or the next day.

The World Economic Forum, which will hold its annual East Asian regional meeting in Bangkok from May 30 to June 1, aims to promote stronger ties between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) ahead of that organization’s goal of forming a single market and production base by 2015.

Suu Kyi will address the World Economic Forum next week, but the NLD was unable to provide further details on what type of role the parliamentarian will play in the summit. Reformist Burmese President Thein Sein will be in attendance at the forum.

Meeting with PM

Suu Kyi also plans to meet with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, during her visit, the NLD confirmed, although details of the meeting were not immediately available. Yingluck became the first ever head of state to meet with Suu Kyi during a visit to Burma in December last year.

The Noble laureate had hoped to travel to the Mae La refugee camp, which is home to thousands of mostly Karen ethnic minorities who had fled fighting with the Burmese military, in Thailand’s Tak province, but NLD spokesman Nyan Win was unable to confirm the visit.

“We don’t know if Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to visit the refugee camp because we haven’t received approval from the Thai government,” Nyan Win told RFA Friday.

The Burmese government, which negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) in April, has called for the repatriation of the refugees before the rainy season this year, presumably in June, and reports indicate that Thai and Burmese officials have been engaging international organizations to assist in the process.

But nongovernmental organizations caution that no repatriation should take place before the peace process between the Burmese government and the KNU is guaranteed.

Some 150,000 refugees currently live in Thai camps along the border with Burma.

European tour

 Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand comes ahead of a longer planned tour of Europe next month.

During the trip, Suu Kyi will make a series of key addresses, including a June 14 talk at a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, organized by the International Labor Organization.

On June 16, the opposition leader will travel to Oslo, Norway to give an acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she was awarded in absentia while under house arrest in 1991.

Afterwards, she will travel to Britain where she received her degree at Oxford University in the 1960s. She will be awarded an honorary doctorate in civil law at her alma mater on June 20, a day before addressing both houses of the British parliament—an honor bestowed on only a handful of world leaders.

She is also expected to travel to Dublin, Ireland sometime between her visits to Norway and the UK where she will meet with longtime supporter and musician Bono—front man for the rock group U2. A benefit concert is planned in her honor.

Suu Kyi, who spent most of the last 22 years under house arrest before being freed in November 2010, has not traveled outside of Burma since 1988.

She had returned to Burma from living in Britain that year at first to tend to her ailing mother, but later to lead the country’s pro-democracy movement against the then-ruling military junta. She was jailed in her lakeside residence in Rangoon soon after.

In 1997, while temporarily free from house arrest, Aung San Suu Kyi refused to travel to the UK to visit her British husband Michael Aris who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, because she feared that the Burmese government would not let her return to the country. He later succumbed to his illness.

A new era


But all travel restrictions have now been lifted on Aung San Suu Kyi, who took office in early May after winning a parliamentary seat in by-elections in April.

The by-elections saw a resounding victory for her NLD party, which won 43 of the 45 parliamentary seats up for grabs, and could pave the way for Aung San Suu Kyi to run for the Burmese presidency in 2015, when the next general elections are scheduled to be held.

Allowing the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi to participate in the April 1 polls was the latest in a series of economic and political reforms by the government of President Thein Sein, who has also released a number of political prisoners and improved dialogue with ethnic minority groups since taking power a year ago.

Those reforms have prompted Western nations to relax longstanding sanctions against the economically impoverished country, which had been in place to punish the former junta for its history of human rights abuses.

Reported by RFA’s Burmese service with additional reporting by Joshua Lipes. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. Used with permission.
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