Friday, June 29, 2012

Minister calls for ‘Panglong’ type conference

Friday, 29 June 2012 18:12 Hinthani

Sangkhlaburi (Mizzima) – Aung Min, the vicechairman of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee, said the Burmese government would convene a conference similar to the “Panglong Conference” sometime before 2014. The minister mentioned the plan in a meeting with Burmese exiled groups in Mae Sot earlier this week.

“He said the government would try to start it before December 2012. The latest deadline would be 2014,” said Dr. Naing Aung of the Forum for Democracy in Burma (FDB). “In the conference, [the parties concerned] would discuss the issues where no agreement has not been reached in the second-level peace talks.”

Burmese peacemaking team leader Minister Aung Min Photo: Mizzima

He said Aung Min said the government would decide on issues where it exercised authority, and on other issues, the Parliament would decide.

The Panglong Conference, held in February 1947, was an historic meeting that took place at Panglong in the Shan States in Burma between the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minority leaders and Aung San, head of the interim Burmese government. The leaders unanimously decided to join the Union of Burma.

The legacy of the conference represents issues of ethnic autonomy in self-government, respect for their cultures and other issues.

On Tuesday, Burmese pro-democracy groups including the FDB met with the government peace delegation.

The Minister said that the organizations representing Burma’s 135 indigenous ethnic people, political parties, NGOs and representatives of all stratum of the society might be invited to attend the conference. He provide no details, and the concept of who would be represented was sketchy, according to people who attended the meeting.

In the first stage, Aung Min said the conference would focus on cease-fire and peace issues, and after that take up other issues.

“They have not clearly answered our questions regarding the process. It needs to be all-inclusive in the political sense. To rebuild the country, all [parties] need to actively participate. In that way, a ‘genuine country’ can be built,”  Naing Aung told Mizzima.

A peace mediator, Nyo Ohn Myint, told Mizzima that that if both sides had mutual trust, the objective of such a conference could be achieved.

“Now, it’s still in a state in which both sides are discussing their basic viewpoints and attitudes… establishing mutual trust is very important. The procedures can be set by negotiating before the talks. But, if they don’t have mutual trust, negotiations will not be fruitful,” he said.

Both sides acknowledged that preliminary discussions could present formidable obstacles even before calling such a conference.

During their four-day visit to Thailand, the Burmese government’s seven-member peace delegation met with 18 groups including pro-democracy groups, social organizations and women’s organizations. On Thursday, the delegation returned to Burma.

WLB calls for nationwide women’s convention

Friday, 29 June 2012 17:42 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) told a Burmese government peacemaking delegation on Thursday in Bangkok that it wanted to hold a nationwide women’s convention to discuss peace and reforms and the role of women in development.

The government peace team led by Minister Aung Min and Women's League of Burma members met for the first time in Bangkok on Thursday, June 28, 2012. Photo: Mizzima

WLB General-Secretary Tin Tin Nyo said a convention was needed to explore ways to bring more Burmese women into the peacemaking and reconciliation efforts of the country.

The WLB delegation met with the government’s peacemaking group led by Union Minister Aung Min.

The WLB said a national women’s convention could include women in Burma, in exile, and also women Members of Parliament in discussions of capacity building, leadership roles for women, peace-building activities and the general development of women.

Tin Tin Nyo said that Aung Min recognized the role of women in state building and the equality of men and women.

“Aung Min told us that he would like to see our women organizations as catalyst in the peace-building process and to expedite this process. This is what our current activity is. What he said at the meeting encouraged us,” she said.

Tin Tin Nyo said they discussed the voluntary repatriation of refugees to Burma, and ways the WLB could aid in this process.

On the issue of providing assistance to Kachin war refugees, Aung Min said that aid groups were providing assistance to the war refugees, but peacemaking meetings with the Kachin Independence Organization had yet to bear fruit.

Aung Min also met with Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) members in Bangkok to discuss issues that came up at the Rakhine State-level talks in April. Immigration Minister Khin Yee said they saw positive signs in meetings this week with many Burmese organizations based on the Thai-Burma border.

“Our president wants to see peace restored in the entire country,” he told Mizzima. “These meetings are constructive and positive.”

Western nations donate health funds for women, children

Friday, 29 June 2012 15:19 Mizzima News

Ministry of Health Burma logoA new US$ 300 million, five-year programme to benefit pregnant women and children in Burma has been assembled under the Three Millennium Development Goals Fund, to be administered by the government and the U.N.

Seven donors who earlier provided $138 million to fight HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria under the Three Diseases Fund from 2006-12 have now pledged $300 million to improve the health of pregnant women and young children.

Following a meeting this week with the Ministry of Health, the fund will develop a programme to offer health services to people with the greatest need. The donors consist of the governments of Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom in association with the European Union, according to a press statement.

Veronique Lorenzo, the head of operations of the European Union Delegation, will be the first chairperson for the fund.

“Over the next five years the fund aims to assist the government in building a strong health network in Myanmar,” he said. “We are happy to be working closely with the Ministry of Health, and we will be helping them strengthen their systems and capacity to deliver quality basic health to the people of Myanmar.”

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) will manage the distribution of the grant funds.

Niels Guenther of UNOPS is in charge of the planning process for the new programme.

“UNOPS is very pleased to be selected as fund manager for this new programme following on from the successes of 3DF with our partners. It comes at a very good time as Myanmar is showing a great willingness to develop. We have an excellent opportunity to help create a sustainable health system in the country,” he said.

Some resources will continue to be directed towards HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria after 3DF closes operations this year. This will help supplement the programme in other areas, which it is currently unable to support, such as the fight against the spread of malaria resistant to the critical drug artimisinin.

UNOPS is an operational arm of the United Nations that helps its partners implement more than $1 billion worth of aid and development projects each year, often in challenging environments.

In Burma, it currently administers funds for the Three Diseases Fund, the Global Fund fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (LIFT) and the Joint Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Floods hit western Rakhine State

Friday, 29 June 2012 14:21 Mizzima News

Areas of three townships in Burma’s western Rakhine state, the site of dozens of camps for displaced persons, were flooded due to heavy rainfall over the last two days, local media reported on Friday.

The flooding hit Buthidaung, Maungtaw and Kyauktaw townships and destroyed dozens of houses of local residents.

The flood has forced local residents to evacuate to temporary shelters set up on high land. A landslide on May Yu mountain range road in Buthidaung and Maungtaw brought about a halt to transportation, the report said.

Meanwhile, a small tornado swept over a village in Ponagyun Township, destroying 15 houses and leaving 89 people homeless.


Suu Kyi not thinking about leading Burma – but she’s prepared

Friday, 29 June 2012 12:29 Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi said she is prepared to lead Burma’s government in 2015 if her party wins the nationwide election, but working for the present is most important now, as she wrapped up events in Paris prior to returning home on Friday from a triumphant European tour which has firmly placed Burma’s needs on the international agenda.

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to an audience at Sorbonne University in France on Thursday, June 28, 2012. Photo: La Sorbonne

Throughout her five-country tour, Suu Kyi stressed Burma’s need for more foreign aid, responsible foreign investment in industrial sectors, the need to renew the education system, and for continued democratic reforms.

“I think all party leaders have to prepare themselves for the possibility [of heading a government], if they truly believe in the democratic process,” Suu Kyi told Agence France Presse. “I think we can't wait until 2015 to see how things will emerge. It is now that is most important... the next three years will decide what shape 2015 will take.”

On Thursday, Suu Kyi, 67, had breakfast with former President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, she visited France’s Parliament and then participated in a talk with students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Her visit to Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain, and, finally, France, has been overshadowed in Burma by a convulsive sectarian uprising pitting Buddhist and Muslims in western Burma, which has claimed nearly 80 lives and seen thousands of homes burned.

Suu Kyi said the key for a long-term peace in the region is to strengthen the rule of law, have more clear citizenship laws and enforce immigration policy. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, have gone back and forth between Bangladesh and Burma for decades, if not centuries. Burma says they are “Bengali,” and Bangladesh says they are Burmese, while Burma denies them citizenship.

“Some of them, I'm sure, are in accordance with the citizenship laws, entitled to the rights of citizens, but who these are we have to be able to find out,” Suu Kyi said. “Communal strife, lack of communal harmony, is usually rooted in cultural and religious differences which take time to sort out. But with rule of law, immediate problems could be minimized.”

“The problem in the west is... that the border is very porous. And the immigration authorities are not always the least corrupt,” she said. “Another problem is the matter of citizenship. We need fair and strong citizenship laws which will stand up to international scrutiny.”

Suu Kyi said she has been amazed by the response in Europe she has received to Burma’s needs and problems.

“So many people from different parts of the world seem to be aware of what we have been struggling for in Burma,” she said. “I felt such a tremendous sense of solidarity with us. That has been a surprise.”

When she returns to Burma, she will almost immediately be plunged into local political issues to be taken up on July 15, when the Burmese Parliament reconvenes. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, while symbolically important, has only a small fraction of seats in the Parliament that is dominated by a state-backed party that is heavily influenced by the military.

Suu Kyi has forged an understanding with the Burmese President Thein Sein to work together to continue the country’s democratic reforms, which have transformed it in less than two years, since the newly elected government received power from the former military regime.

Burma tightens control on press freedom: report

Friday, 29 June 2012 13:38 Mizzima News

In light of recent Burmese government statements and actions following media coverage of the unrest in Rakhine State, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), a freedom of the press watchdog, warned on Friday Burma is tightening restrictions on the press in spite of recent promises to end censorship.

“Until now, the government has been relaxing its abusive control of the media but, as it does not know how to assist the media in the new, rapidly emerging political and economic environment, it has reacted in an instinctive manner to what it regards as the excessive liberties the media are taking and has initiated at least three prosecutions since the start of the year,” it said on its website on Friday.

Minister Tint Swe's statements about the removal of censorship laws have been put into question, following tighter government scrutiny after the civil unrest in Rakhine State. Photo: Mizzima

It said, “modernization and liberalization of the media and adoption of adequate media legislation are not going to be the result of the country’s democratization but are inescapable preconditions for its democratization, ones that must be tackled right away.”

A RWB report issued on Friday analyses the key role of Internet and media coverage as the violence in Arakan (Rakhine) State unfolded, the difficulties of access to information, the attacks on the foreign and exile media, the role played by the government and the dangers resulting from news manipulation and its impact on the tension in the region.

The group said that domestic and international media have been subjected to pressure by the government and by domestic Burmese groups for its coverage of the sectarian unrest, including personal attacks on reporters and media organization websites.

The excesses of the social media reporting and commentary on the Internet and in certain domestic media enflamed tensions during the crisis, and “have highlighted the enormous challenges that the Burmese media are facing as they emerge from 50 years of censorship,” said the report.

However, “Rather than repressive measures, what the media really require is self-regulation. Liberalization of the media needs to be accompanied by the development of an appropriate code of conduct, which only journalists can do, not the government.”

The Burmese media saw several repressive censorship rules relaxed during 2011. Much of the media were progressively exempted from prior censorship and, as a result, critical articles and controversial interviews were published during the campaign for the parliamentary by-elections, it said.

Reporters Without Borders said the reinstitution of censorship and government control of the media would be a serious mistake, especially in light of a new more liberal media law that the government said would be approved in the coming Parliament, which meets in July.

Maintaining or backing away from ending censorship would constitute a disturbing step backwards, in light of government pledges to move toward democracy, it said.

“We point out that the head of the PSRD [government censors], Tint Swe, had announced that it would be disbanded at the end of June,” said RWB. However, since the unrest, Tint Swe has threatened the press with more control and censorship.

It said that the government’s legal proceedings against the weekly Snapshot journal should be dropped and the suspension of its publishing license should be rescinded. The journal published a photo of a woman who was raped and murdered in Arakan State in May, an act that served to ignite a wave of violence over the following weeks.

The Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), Burma’s censorship board imposed an indefinite suspension on Snapshot following a warning it issued to all publications to avoid coverage that could add to tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in the state.

The publication’s editor said the journal downloaded the photograph from the Internet, and printed it because it was already widely circulated.

RWB said Burmese and foreign media should be granted access to Arakan (Rakhine) State and other areas of the country when they request it.

It called for the formation of a Press Council in order to draft rules of professional conduct and ethics, without government officials involved in the formation or drafting process.

Regarding professional conduct, it said news organizations must urgently remind journalists of the requirements of professional ethics and must organize special training on how to handle sensitive issues that touch on race, religion and other areas.

Burma is ranked 169th out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

For a copy of the report, go to,42913.html

Rakhine State now stable, more aid needed: OCHA

Friday, 29 June 2012 13:09 Mizzima News

The overall security situation in Rakhine State is reported to be stable, although emergency rule and a curfew remain in place in six townships, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Estimates say the relief effort will continue for the next three months.

Refugees from Burma Photo: UNHCR

In a situation report, the U.N. office in Rangoon said 78 people are dead, 87 injured and 3,000 residential buildings are damaged as of June 24, according to government figures. More than 52,200 people remained newly displaced across Rakhine State.

Humanitarian groups estimated that around 90,000 people are affected, including the newly displaced people.

A summary of the situation report’s finding include:

So far, the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided 725 metric tons of food commodities (rice, pulses, oil and salt) to over 92,000 affected people in five townships, Sittwe, Pauktaw, Maungdaw, Rahtedaung and Buthidaung.

A total of 14 representatives from six UN agencies, six international nongovernmental organizaitons (INGOs) and two donor agencies left for Sittwe, the capital, on June 27 to take part in a mission organized by the government to observe the situation in Rakhine State and to strengthen coordination
It said that despite no major disturbances since June 24, small-scale incidents have been reported in some remote areas. Security measures continue to be in place as tension between the two communities reportedly remains high in many areas including in Sittwe, Maungdaw and Rathedaung.

The latest official figures released by the Ministry of Information indicated that, as of June 24, about 100 communal attacks occurred in Rakhine State, resulting in 78 deaths. A total of 87 people, including two security personnel, were injured and over 3,000 residential buildings damaged. According to the Rakhine State Government, over 52,200 people remain newly displaced across Rakhine State.

Preliminary information indicates that Sittwe, Maungdaw and Rathedaung are the priority areas for aid. Urgent needs include shelter, food, medical supplies and education materials.

A total of 168 Red Cross volunteers are assisting refugees with basic health care and restoring family connections.

Mobile medical teams from the government continue to provide primary health care services to the camps in Rathedaung, Sittwe and Buthidaung, supported by U.N. programmes.

Six Emergency Reproductive Health kits have been delivered to cover the needs of 400 pregnant women.

As of June 23, the government has established 82 camps in five townships. Additional shelter units are urgently needed as the existing camps are already overcrowded.

Thai employers fear exodus of Burmese migrants

Friday, 29 June 2012 12:57 Mizzima News

The idea of Burmese migrant workers eventually returning to their home country as its economy improve  is setting off alarms in Thailand, which depends on Burmese migrant labour in many industrial sectors.

Migrant workers repair a fishing net on a boat in Sattahip, in Thailand's Rayong Province. Thousands of Burmese work on Thai fishing boats and in industrial factories throughout the country. Photo: AFP

In Trang Province in far south Thailand, leaders are predicting a looming labour shortage in the next few years, according to Trang's Industry Council chairman Withee Supitak.

He told The Bangkok Post on Thursday: "Industry operators in Trang are worried that there will be a labour shortage crisis because they rely heavily on these migrant workers, especially in manufacturing."

The industrial sector in the south formerly employed workers from northeastern Thailand, he said, but with more jobs there at the same income rate, fewer Thais are looking for jobs in the south.

"If the migrant workers also return to their homeland, southern industry operators must quickly adapt to the change and find ways to deal with the situation by using less labour and turning to machinery instead," said Withee.

The economy in Trang includes labour intensive farm products such as para rubber and palm oil, and orders from foreign countries have fallen, placing more pressure employers, he said.

Concerns about an exodus of Burmese migrant workers were heightened in May when Aung San Suu Kyi visited Thailand and focused on the rights and status of Burmese workers.

She told Burmese migrants she would work to improve their lot in Thailand, but one day they would also be able to return home to find work.

“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 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 said.

There are up to 1 million undocumented Burmese migrants working in Thailand, according to some estimates.

A migrant worker in Thailand can earn a daily minimum wage of 300 baht (US$ 9.5) compared to around $1 a day in Burma in low-income jobs.

Burma’s time bomb

Friday, 29 June 2012 12:46 Myat Thu Pan

(Opinion) – Industrialization has only barely begun yet an epidemic of land grabbing has already left thousands of farmers and landowners by the wayside in Burma. The lack of an effective judicial system is fanning the epidemic, and it is one of a host of serious issues that must be addressed before long-term progress can be made.

It will not abate unless some urgent measures are taken by the government to curb unlawful confiscation by entrepreneurs and government departments.

As Thein Sein’s government grapples with a multitude of issues such as preventing widespread religious conflict, the peace process, the problem of land confiscation is brewing and has a potential to boil over if not tackled effectively, as do many other issues affecting daily life.

The judicial system is just one of the many institutions in the country that the military dictatorship dismantled when it ran the country like a boot camp. The government wants to democratize, but the country is so broken it cannot move forward effectively at a rapid pace. How to reshape the mind-set within the judicial system is one of the most serious problems.

Burma's civil society is also in shambles. Law, education, transportation, education, health and communication have been decimated for half a century. It's like the country is a time bomb and time is of the essence now. With new freedoms come new expectations.

The potential for chaos is enormous if the government is not successful in reshaping governmental attitudes put in place over decades. It should delay the industrialization process until the country is more stable and it has established an effective legal structure.

It is welcome news that a massive funding by international donors is in the works. But the government must ensure that the funds also serve the poor in rural and urban areas. Job creation in agriculture, cottage industries, small businesses, vocational training, and micro financing are urgently needed and should be in the forefront of economic development.

President Thein Sein should take a very strong stand on these issues.

It’s time for him to once again show his vision as a strong leader when he opened up the country, and most recently when he suspended the Myitsone Dam project. There will be a lot of resistance from different quarters, but he needs to take things into his own hands.

Burma is now like a Pandora’s box with many issues waiting to pop out. President Thein Sein must show the leadership necessary to move the country forward in a quick and efficient manner.

12 aid workers detained in Rakhine State

Friday, 29 June 2012 12:38 Mizzima News

Twelve aid workers representing the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders (DWB) have been detained in Rakhine State during the past few weeks, the U.N. said in Geneva on Thursday. U.N. officials met with Burma’s foreign minister on Tuesday in Naypyitaw, the capital, to discuss the detentions.

On June 16, Reuters news agency reported that police in Buthidaung Township for unknown reasons detained three U.N. staff, two from the U.N. refugee agency and one from the World Food Programme. All are Burmese nationals.

On June 12, Doctors Without Borders announced it had suspended its operations in parts of Rakhine State, saying that its staff members where unsafe in the area.

Official Burmese government figures say 79 people were killed in the sectarian violence that racked the region starting in June, driving tens of thousands of refugees to seek safe shelter. International and domestic aid agencies rushed into the area to offer food, shelter and medicine as the violence continued.

Unconfirmed reports said that one United Nations employee had been released. The U.N. said it is not clear why the workers had been detained.

Mizzima reported last week that the World Food Programme (WFP) had expanded distributions of emergency food supplies to thousands of people displaced by the inter-communal violence.

WFP estimated that there were to 90,000 displaced people in need of assistance and said it is preparing plans for a three-month food assistance operation that will require additional support from donors. In recent days, reports say some refugees have begun returning home, but they have expressed fears for their safety.

On June 18, Doctors Without Borders announced it had been forced to suspend its operations in the area.

In Rakhine (Arakan) State, DWB has provided medical services for 20 years focusing on maternal health and infectious diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. In addition to meeting the immediate needs of the  emergency, the return to a safe environment is needed to get MSF programmes back on track for longer-term health and well-being of people from all communities throughout the state, said the non-profit health service.
Thursday, June 28, 2012

France embraces Aung San Suu Kyi

Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:33 Mizzima News

French government officials and citizens have embraced Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is within days of returning home from her two-week European tour of five countries. In Paris on Wednesday, she was again feted and praised at elegant lunches and award ceremonies.

“You are a woman of peace and love, and this is why Paris also loves you,” Parisian Mayor Bertrand Delanoehe told her on Wednesday, citing her “unshakeable faith” in the fight for democracy in Burma, as he gave her an honorary citizen of Paris certificate.

Aung San Suu Kyi and French President Francois Hollande inside Elysee Palace on Tuesday. Photo: Presidency of the Republic

Replying in French, Suu Kyi cited  “the deep attachment of Paris to justice and freedom."

“I was surprised and happy that Paris supported my cause with such vigour,” she said, according to wire reports.

She also met Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top officials and was honoured with a lunch at the foreign ministry.

On Thursday and Friday, Suu Kyi will go to the University of Sorbonne to talk with students, and she will hold a series of meetings with Burmese support groups in France, who very early responded to the call of the democracy movement in Burma. On Friday, she departs on her return trip to Burma, where the country is experiencing an ugly sectarian conflict between Buddhist and Muslims that has claimed nearly 80 lives.

On Tuesday, after her meeting with President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace, the role of the French energy company, Total, came up, leading the president to tell Suu Kyi “to call him” if she has any concerns about the company’s actions in Burma. Human rights advocates have criticized the company for enriching the former military junta.

But opposition leader Suu Kyi, who is a newly elected member of parliament, has called the company a “responsible investor,” and she said Tuesday she welcomed Total's recent efforts to compensate people displaced by the pipeline that connects the Yadana field to power plants in Thailand.

“With regard to Total I know that there have been many accusations, but I do not want to be shackled by the past. We must go forward to the future,” she said. “Total has made efforts to give sufficient compensation to those who have been displaced by the gas line and to try to do what they can for the employees.”

“So we would like to give everybody an opportunity to engage in business," she said. “We need democracy as well as economic development.”

Suu Kyi said “financial transparency in the extractive industries and in fact business in general” were essential to investment.

Hollande said Tuesday at a press conference, “If it ever happens that they don't respect [regulations], Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to call me anytime so we can put things in order.”

During her European tour, Suu Kyi has called for greater foreign investment that is transparent and responsible, and which will also benefit the Burmese people.

Total has defended its actions by saying the cause of human rights and democracy would not have been advanced by its pulling out of Burma.

Total Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie traveled to Burma in June and met with Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon.

Total began operations in 1992. Production started in 2000, at a rate of about 15,000 barrels per day of oil per day.

U.S. investments in Burmese oil, gas discussed at hearings

Thursday, 28 June 2012 13:32 Mizzima News

Allowing U.S. oil companies to invest in Burma’s rich off-shore oil and gas fields came up at the nomination hearing for Derek Mitchell to become the first U.S. ambassador to Burma since the early 1990s.

Mitchell told senators at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday that no U.S. business sectors have been ruled out of participating in investing in Burma, but at this time no decision has been made regarding energy companies.

Derek Mitchell, who has been nominated to become the new U.S. ambassador to Burma. Photo: U.S. gov

Speaking on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jim Webb said Mitchell’s nomination could be approved by the committee this week and then sent for a vote in the Senate.

In his statement to the committee, Mitchell said: "Perhaps the most important development of the past year, however, has been the partnership forged between Daw Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein. President Thein Sein has proven to be a remarkable figure. We should never forget to recognize his extraordinary vision and leadership, and for the many reformist steps he and his partners in government have taken over the past year. These actions have clearly reflected the aspirations, indeed sacrifices, of millions of brave Burmese."

In testimony, Mitchell said, “Each action we have taken in recent months has had as its purpose to benefit the Burmese people and strengthen reform and reformers within the system. This engagement should continue and expand,” according to wire reports.

He said the State Department has a “sector by sector” plan to renew private sector relations, and the White House has not decided if it will lift sanctions on Burma's energy industry, which is controlled by a non-transparent state oil company.

“There's nothing I can say here definitively on this, because it is an ongoing internal, interagency discussion,” Mitchell told the committee. “But ... we are not looking to exclude any sectors from this.”

Committee member Senator James Inhofe said there are “rumors” that the administration plans to “exclude oil firms from new rules allowing U.S. investment in the country,” and he argued that such a policy would be detrimental to U.S. companies as foreign firms continue to sign oil and gas exploration agreements with Burma.

“This or any other ‘carve-out strategy' would be a strategic mistake,” he said. “I believe that U.S. companies including the oil and gas companies can play a positive role in the effort by demonstrating high standards or responsibility, responsible business conduct, and transparency -- including respect for human rights in Burma.”

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expressed caution on foreign firms partnering with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise earlier this month in a speech in Geneva to the International Labour Organization. However, recent remarks in France regarding Total oil company’s role in one of Burma’s vast oil fields indicated she was open minded about the future of foreign investments so long as they were transparent and not detrimental to the people.

The Burmese government has said its natural gas reserves stand at 22.5 trillion cubic feet, and an international bidding process for 25 offshore oil and gas blocks is scheduled to take place within two to three months.

Webb, an early supporter of the U.S. engagement policy, called for the U.S. to offer more encouragement and acknowledgment for the reform process.

“This is a country whose political system remains a challenge, but where positive conduct calls for reciprocal gestures,” he said. “We should never take our concerns about political freedoms or individual rights off the table. We should make these concerns central to our engagement with all countries, including Burma. But we should also be promoting economic progress to sustain the political reforms that have taken place.”

Mitchell said he and the State Department have “no illusions” about the challenges that lie ahead in Burma. In his statement to the committee, he said: "Human rights abuses, including military impunity, continue, particularly in ethnic minority areas. Although there may be some hope for an end to the violence and establishment of serious dialogue on fundamental political issues, mutual mistrust between the government and ethnic minority groups runs deep and a long road lies ahead. Recent sectarian violence in Rakhine State demonstrates the divisiveness in Burma cultivated over many decades, if not centuries, that will need to be overcome to realize lasting peace and national reconciliation in the country."

“As Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton has observed, reform is not irreversible," Mitchell warned. "And continued democratic change is not inevitable. We remain deeply concerned about the continued detention of hundreds of political prisoners and the conditions placed on those previously released, lack of the rule of law, and the constitutional role of the military in the nation’s affairs. Human-rights abuses, including military impunity, continue, particularly in ethnic minority areas.”

Mitchell currently serves as the State Department’s special coordinator for Burma policy.

Burmese gov't minister visits Mae Sot clinic

Thursday, 28 June 2012 13:27 Mizzima News

Burmese minister Aung Min visited the Mae Tao Clinic in the border town of Mae Sot, Thailand, on Wednesday, during a tour to meet with 14 border groups and to discuss peace and reconciliation.

Clinic director Dr. Cynthia Maung told the Karen News it was the first visit by a Burmese government official to the clinic, and she hoped it could lead to improvement of health services on the border. The clinic treats up to 140,000 people a year.

“There are many issues that we need to work on together for the long term benefit of the people,” she told the news agency. “Health, education, children right issues... But first, we need to see how the cease-fire and peace building process works. We cannot just look at the health care factor in isolation.”

Minister of Railroads Aung Min said he came to encourage ethnic refugees who live along the border to return and work in Burma. He is a major negotiator in the cease-fire process underway in Burma’s eastern ethnic border states.

Aung Min and his nine-member group also met with the Karen National Union and the All- Burma Student Democratic Front during the visit to Mae Sot.

Burma suspends taxes on some agricultural items

Thursday, 28 June 2012 15:59 Mizzima News

Burma’s commercial tax on import of some agriculture-related items and domestic sales has been suspended for a period of nine months, state-run media said on Thursday.

A farmer and his ox plough a field in the Bagan temple ruins in central Burma. Photo: Mizzima

Agricultural items exempted include fertilizer, pesticide, farm equipment and machinery, said the New Light of Myanmar.

The exemptions begin July 1 and extend to March 31, 2013.

The article said the move is in line with focusing on stimulating the agro-industry as a fundamental building block in the country’s development.

Burma has also extended a commercial tax exemption period for six months on some export items including rice, beans and pulses, corn, sesame, rubber, freshwater and saltwater products and certain animal products from Feb. 15 to July 14 this year. It is not known if the exemption will be extended again.

The extension was introduced when the U.S. dollar depreciated at the end of last year and through the start of this year, causing exporters losses.

The problems of agricultural sector reforms are a central topic of Thein Sein’s new government and of comments by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who made it an issue in her by-election campaign in February.

She said that if a genuine democratic system can be put in place, then many organizations and foreign countries are ready to provide assistance to help modernize the agricultural sector and make it internationally competitive. At one time, Burma was the No. 1 exporter or rice.

At a joint session of Parliament on February 10, Minister for Agriculture and Irrigation Myint Hlaing said that farmers would be allowed to grow the crops they want, and the government would help them to get more income by providing assistance in entering the international market for their farm products.

He also admitted in Parliament that some village administrators have forced farmers to grow summer paddy that is incompatible with the local climate and some farmers have been hurt by such decisions.

Lower House Speaker Shwe Mahn said, “Nowadays farmers, livestock producers and producers of primary products are all facing incurring losses due to falling prices for their crops and products along with fishery producers.”

The minister and Shwe Mann are both members of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, the government-backed party that controls the Parliament.

In May 2011, Mizzima reported that a leading Burmese economist and presidential adviser, Dr. Myint, in a paper on how to reduce poverty, told high government officials that agricultural reforms play a fundamental role in rural development and in initiating economic progress in many Asian economies, such as in Taiwan and South Korea.

“In Myanmar farmers do not have land ownership rights, but only land user’s rights. Thus, in considering land reform in Myanmar under present circumstances, the aim is to come up with measures to protect the farmers from losing their land use rights,” he said.

Owning their land, he said, could allow farmers to use the land as collateral for loans.

Burma’s banking landscape changing fast

Thursday, 28 June 2012 14:47 Mizzima News

The total number of foreign bank offices in Burma now stands at 20, following the country’s rapid move to integrate with the international community. Krungthai Bank of Thailand is the most recent bank to make the move, and Siam Commercial Bank is planning to open a local office, say reports.

The Irrawaddy Bank on Bayintnaung Road in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

In the past six months, rapid changes have reshaped the banking and financial landscape as the government rushes to establish a functioning financial system that can offer investors the type of transactions that are routine in other nations.

Foreign banks with offices in Burma now include Singapore, Bangladesh, China, France, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei, Vietnam, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom, said an article by Xinhua news agency on Thursday.

As part of its financial restructuring, the Central Bank of Myanmar has opened links with banks in the United States and European Union countries.

Japan, with six banks, represents the largest number, and Japan will also resume direct flights to Rangoon by All Nippon Airways in September.  Japan recently announced plans to build a mega-shopping center in Rangoon by Lawson Inc. of Japan.

The World Bank will also open an office as it re-engages with the country. The Asian Development Bank is now in preliminary talks with the government to re-engage in Burma and to offer development loans and other economy-building projects in the future.

In moves to upgrade the financial transaction system within the country, the Central Bank of Myanmar has granted 11 Burmese private banks the right to trade in three foreign hard currencies – the U.S. dollar, Euro and Singapore dollar since last year. The banks are Kanbawza Bank, Cooperative Bank, Myanmar Industrial Development Bank, Myawaddy Bank, Inwa Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, Asian Green Development Bank, Ayeyawaddy Bank, Myanmar Pioneer Bank, United Amara Bank and Tun Foundation Bank.

Many banks have now set up exchange counters at banks, airports, hotels, shopping centers and major tourists destinations.

More automatic teller machines can now be found in Rangoon and other locations.

Four banks, including Cooperatives Bank, Kanbawza Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyawaddy Bank, began offering remittance services to Burmese migrant workers working in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia in February.

Burma now has 19 private banks and three state-owned banks.

Burma pledges to end use of child soldiers

Thursday, 28 June 2012 13:21 Mizzima News

Burma will enforce a law against child soldiers and allow the U.N. access to military units to check for underage recruits, the U.N. said on Wednesday, following the signing of an agreement in Naypyitaw, the capital.

A child soldier wears the Burmese Army shoulder patch of the 707th Artillery Operations Command based in Kyaukpadaung, Mandalay Division, in central Burma. Photo: Mizzima

The Joint Action Plan said Burma would halt child soldier recruitment and discharge existing recruits under age 18. The government will also help negotiate with non-government armed groups in the country to release child soldiers from their ranks.

“We will be able to work closely with the Ministry of Defence and visit various military units to identify under-age children if any, have them registered and released and provide assistance for their reintegration with their families,” Ramesh Shrestha, the country representative for the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told Agence France Presse.

The U.N. said the plan was signed in the capital by Major General Ngwe Thein (director of the Directorate of Military Strength, Ministry of Defence) and Major General Tin Maung Win (Vice Adjutant General, Myanmar armed forces) on behalf of the government.

“The most important work begins now to ensure that children are released from the Tatmadaw as soon as possible and are returned to their families and communities and receive support to promote their well-being, learning and livelihoods,” said a U.N. official.

The UN secretary-general in an annual report to the Security Council listed eight parties implicated in the recruitment and use of children: the Tatmadaw [government armed forces], the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army-South and the United Wa State Army.

The issue of child soldiers in Burma has been a long-standing contention with the International Labour Organization and other groups.

The signing of the document comes as the United States has issued a list of countries that use child soldiers, triggering a law that prevents military aid money from being given to governments that use child soldiers.

A recent U.N. report accused the Burmese military as well as six armed ethnic rebel groups of being “persistent perpetrators” of the recruitment and use of children.

The agreement is part of efforts by the new government to merge with the international community. It recently signed an agreement with the International Labour Organisation to end forced labour by 2015.

Meanwhile, the U.S State Department this week issued a list of seven countries that use child soldiers, including Burma. A U.S. act says military aid should not go to governments that conscript children younger than 18 or use them in hostilities.

The president has approximately three months to determine whether the act’s prohibitions on military aid will automatically go into effect or he will give some governments a pass by granting waivers.

Webb calls for U.S. to drop ban on Burmese imports

Thursday, 28 June 2012 13:12 Mizzima News

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb said the U.S should “implement the decisions that have been announced and continue to ease additional sanctions, such as the ban on imports” from Burma, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination Ambassador Derek Mitchell to be ambassador to Burma on Wednesday.

Webb said he expected Mitchell to be confirmed by the Senate later this week.

U.S.Senator Jim Webb, an early supporter of engagement with Burma. Photo: Mizzima

 “If we do not act, proactively and soon, we will lose a critical window of opportunity to influence development of financial governance inside Burma,” Webb said.

Webb noted that different standards in U.S. trade policy have been applied to China and Vietnam than to Burma. 

“China’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiabo, remains incarcerated– as opposed to Aung San Suu Kyi. China has no free elections. Yet, no one is advocating at this time that we impose economic sanctions on China…. Concerns about censorship of the media, restrictions on the freedom of religion, or detention of political prisoners have not prompted the United States to restrict our trade with Vietnam,” he said, according to wire reports.

“This is not to single out China or Vietnam for opprobrium; it is simply to point out the need for consistency in the logic of those who argue for overly punitive restrictions as we develop our relations with Burma,” Webb said. “We should never take our concerns about political freedoms or individual rights off the table. But we should also be promoting economic progress to sustain the political reforms that have taken place.”

Citing recent public statements by Suu Kyi that countries should not invest in Burma’s state-owned oil company until it adheres to voluntary international standards, Webb asked whether “an official from any foreign government should be telling us what sectors that we should invest in and not invest in.”

He said that the United States does not require other countries to endorse such international standards as a prerequisite for investment and affirmed “the United States sets the standards of transparency of our own business environment.”

In 2009, Webb was the first American high official to visit Burma in more than 10 years. Following that trip, he called for increased confidence-building gestures in order to pursue better relations between the two governments, and he was credited by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with being an important figure in shaping the U.S. policy of engagement with Burma.

British lawmakers hear testimony on Rakhine State unrest

Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:59 Mizzima News

Rohingya in Burma are being systematically persecuted by the government and denied basic human rights, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) told the British All Party Parliamentary Group for Democracy in Burma on Wednesday.

BROUK President Tun Khin, along with Benedict Rogers, the East Asia Team Leader of Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, described the situation of Rohingyas in Rakhine State at a meeting of British lawmakers chaired by Baroness Kinnock.

Tun Khin said the current sectarian unrest has been influenced by hardliners in the government who do not want to see reforms in Burma, and the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP), which reject Rohingya as members of Burma's ethnic groups. In recent months, there have been an increasing number of anti-Rohingya activities, including seminars in Rangoon and in Arakan State organized by the RNDP, Tun Khin said.

According to Tun Khin, at least 650 Rohingyas have been killed in the sectarian violence, and at least 1,200 are missing. Official government figures this week said up to 80 people died in the clashes including Buddhist and Muslims.

He said 22 villages have been burned down and 14 mosques destroyed. He noted that Bangladesh has refused entry to Rohingyas at its borders, and has pushed back at least 16 boats seeking access to Bangladesh. The curfew imposed by President Thein Sein has only been applied to Rohingyas and not Rakhine, he said.

Tun Khin said: “We really need U.N. observers in Arakan (Rakhine) State. Even though the riots were stopped some Rohingya houses are still being burned down by Rakhines… We urge the British government to put effective pressure on the Burmese regime to stop the killings and violence against the Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan and to restore peace and security in the region, to allow the international community and NGOs to provide immediate humanitarian assistance to all the victims regardless of race or religion.”

He asked Britain to pressure the Burmese government to provide security to ensure Rohingya can safely return to their homes, for Bangladesh to open its borders to refugees fleeing persecution, for the government to offer citizenship to Rohingya who qualify and to fight against anti-Muslim activities and racism in the country.

“There is a solution if the regime is willing to negotiate between the two communities,” he said.

Ethnic alliance rejects Rohingya as non-Burmese

Thursday, 28 June 2012 12:49 Mizzima News

A group of eight ethnic parties allied with Burma’s opposition movement said in a statement it does not consider Rohingya as a fellow ethnic minority. The statement supported a position the group adopted in 2005, according to a report on the Radio Free Asia website on Wednesday.

“‘Rohingya’ is not to be recognized as a nationality,” said a statement by the National Democratic Front (NDF), saying it wanted its views to be known to “the people at home and in foreign lands” because of the sectarian violence that has erupted in Rakhine State, claiming nearly 80 lives since May 28.

Rohingya refugees in a United Nations camp in Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR

Some 800,000 Rohingyas live in Burma, where the government considers them illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship. Most Burmese call Rohingya “Bengali.”

NDF Secretary Khun Oh told RFA, “Even before the current conflict, there has been frequent conflict between Rakhine and Bengalis,” referring to the Rohingyas as people from Bangladesh.

The NDF statement said the violence, which saw up to 3,000 homes and businesses burned, was a result of poor immigration regulations and enforcement.

However, Khun Oh told the news agency that some Rohingyas could be granted Burmese citizenship if they met appropriate qualifications, such as knowledge of the national language.

“Those who are already there, whether they came by the right [legal] means or not, and who meet qualifications for citizenship, should be granted it,” he was quoted as saying.

On July 15, Burmese President Thein Sein will travel to Bangladesh, which is home to up to 200,000 Rohingya refugees who have sought shelter there during the past decade, to discuss the Rohingya issue. Bangladesh has closed its borders in response to the unrest.

Burma’s banking landscape changing fast

Thursday, 28 June 2012 14:47 Mizzima News

The total number of foreign bank offices in Burma now stands at 20, following the country’s rapid move to integrate with the international community. Krungthai Bank of Thailand is the most recent bank to make the move, and Siam Commercial Bank is planning to open a local office, say reports.

In the past six months, rapid changes have reshaped the banking and financial landscape as the government rushes to establish a functioning financial system that can offer investors the type of transactions that are routine in other nations.

The Irrawaddy Bank on Bayintnaung Road in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

Foreign banks with offices in Burma now include Singapore, Bangladesh, China, France, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Thailand, Cambodia, Brunei, Vietnam, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom, said an article by Xinhua news agency on Thursday.

As part of its financial restructuring, the Central Bank of Myanmar has opened links with banks in the United States and European Union countries.

Japan, with six banks, represents the largest number, and Japan will also resume direct flights to Rangoon by All Nippon Airways in September.  Japan recently announced plans to build a mega-shopping center in Rangoon by Lawson Inc. of Japan.

The World Bank will also open an office as it re-engages with the country. The Asian Development Bank is now in preliminary talks with the government to re-engage in Burma and to offer development loans and other economy-building projects in the future.

In moves to upgrade the financial transaction system within the country, the Central Bank of Myanmar has granted 11 Burmese private banks the right to trade in three foreign hard currencies – the U.S. dollar, Euro and Singapore dollar since last year. The banks are Kanbawza Bank, Cooperative Bank, Myanmar Industrial Development Bank, Myawaddy Bank, Inwa Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, Asian Green Development Bank, Ayeyawaddy Bank, Myanmar Pioneer Bank, United Amara Bank and Tun Foundation Bank.

Many banks have now set up exchange counters at banks, airports, hotels, shopping centers and major tourists destinations.

More automatic teller machines can now be found in Rangoon and other locations.

Four banks, including Cooperatives Bank, Kanbawza Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyawaddy Bank, began offering remittance services to Burmese migrant workers working in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia in February.

Burma now has 19 private banks and three state-owned banks.

Suu Kyi calls for more democracy and development

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 11:44 Mizzima News

French President Francois Hollande told Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi upon here arrival on Tuesday that France supported “all actors” in Burma’s rapid democratic reforms, and Suu Kyi repeated her European tour themes that development cannot be substituted for democracy.

At a joint press conference, she said, “We need democracy as well as economic development. Development cannot be a substitute for democracy, it must be used to strengthen the foundations of democracy.” She said “financial transparency in the extractive industries and in fact business in general” were essential to investment in Burma, a country that has lived for decades under military rule with little focus on transparency and development.

Aung San Suu Kyi and President Francois Hollande at a press conference on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Suu Kyi said the recent sectarian violence in western Burma called for clarification in Burma's citizenship laws and more religious tolerance in the country. Photo: Presidency of the Republic - L.Blevennec / C.Alix / P.Segrette

She said more efforts are needed to convince officials in the newly elected ruling government of the need for democratic reforms. She said Burmese President Thein Sein seemed sincere in his rapid moves to institute reforms in the financial system, land ownership, banking, foreign investment, workers’ rights, health and to bring peace and national reconciliation to the Burmese people.

“I believe that the president is sincere, and I believe that he is honest, but I cannot speak for everybody in the government,” she said. “I don't think we can say it [reform] is irreversible until such time as the army is committed to that.” Hollande said Thein Sein is welcome to visit France if he wishes.

Asked about the recent sectarian violence in Burma that has claimed at least 60 lives, Suu kyi said the rule of law was needed in Burma. “We will need time to bring true harmony between the Muslims and the Buddhists,” she said, adding that citizenship laws must be “in line with international standards.”

 The minority Rohingya population, who are Muslim, are denied citizenship rights in Burma. Up to 90,000 refugees have been displaced in the unrest, according to some unofficial sources in the area.

Suu Kyi, who is susceptible to air sickness, arrived in Paris on Tuesday by train from Britain.

“It's a very great joy... Seeing her here, free, it's historic,” Pierre Martial, the head of a French Aung San Suu Kyi association, told Agence France Presse at the Paris train station. “She made horror and dictatorship retreat through non-violence; it is very rare,” he said.

During her four-day visit, Suu Kyi will also meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top political leaders, as well as members of the local Myanmar community, supporters in human rights groups and speak to students at The University of Sorbonne.

Suu Kyi launched her European tour on June 13 in Switzerland, where she spoke to the International Labour Organization before flying to Oslo, where she received the Nobel Peace Prize award, which had been given to her 21 years ago while she was under house arrest in Burma. She then flew to Dublin to receive an award from Amnesty International and from there to Britain, her home for years, where she received an honorary degree at Oxford University and later addressed a joint session of Parliament. Her reception across Europe has been compared with that given to a head of state.

The leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma, Suu Kyi won a parliament seat this year in April. She will attend her first parliamentary session in July.
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Indonesia cement company plans Burma plant

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 16:45 Mizzima News

An Indonesian company will build a US$ 159 million cement plant in Burma with up to 1 million tonnes capacity a year, officials announced on Tuesday.

PT Semen Gresik, Indonesia's biggest cement maker, will build the plant next year, chief executive Dwi Soetjipto said, according to domestic Indonesia media.

A facility of the PT Semen Gresik Indonesia company of Indonesia. Photo:

“We will set up a joint-venture with a local partner to build a factory with a capacity of 600,000-1 million tonnes a year.” he said, based on anticipated demands for infrastructure as foreign companies move into Burma in the coming years.

On Februrary 2, Mizzima reported that Siam City Cement Plc (SCCC) of Thailand was looking at building a cement plant in Burma.

Managing director Philippe Arto said the company already had contacts and is studying potential investment locations throughout the country.

“For SCCC, we see the real potential and are positive about Burma. We have to act fast to grow our business there,” he local media.

SCCC was chosen as one of the prospective cement companies to be involved in the Dawei deep-sea port industrial project, according to an article published late last year. SCCC Executive Vice President Chantana Sukumanont confirmed that SCCC had already carried out a feasibility study to determine if a cement plant in Burma would yield favorable results.

Arto was quoted as saying he was concerned, however, about “regulations and exchange rates.” Burma floated the exchange rate of the kyat last month, in a move designed to make foreign investment easier, and it is in the process of modernizing its financial system after years of neglect.

Chantana said SCCC is also looking at acquiring other assets in Burma.

Creating wealth in 21st century Burma

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 15:36 Joseph Ball

(Book Review) – In 1925, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge quipped, “The business of America is business.” And while he went on in the same speech to qualify the social parameters of the statement, it is the simple mantra of ‘business, business, business’ that is memorialized.

Initial policies by Burma’s government following the unrest of the late 1980s similarly elected to focus on business and development in – what would have dire consequences – callous disregard of related social costs. And today, the Burmese government continues to prioritize business and development, but with the caveat that social costs will be addressed as required and acceptable so as to avoid derailing economic goals. It is a delicate balancing act, with no guarantee of success.

The Marketing of Nations: A Strategic Approach to Building National Wealth, a jointly authored text originally published in 1997, makes clear there is no magical elixir for countries seeking development and economic growth, with the ultimate criteria in determining success or failure being time and place. Rapid growth, the authors say, does not always reduce widespread poverty. However, the volume does attempt to identify relevant social and economic indicators that in the authors’ opinion should weigh in the minds of policymakers who promote rapid economic development.

A culture of wealth?

According to The Marketing of Nations, “Cultural factors explain more than 50 per cent of differences in economic growth rates.” It is a massive figure, which, for example, the authors deem critical in explaining the disparate dimensions found in North Korea and South Korean. Succinctly put, it boils down to the fact that a country’s economy cannot be highly politicized if it is to reach its development potential.

What does this imply for Burma? Beyond the immediate and obvious need to resolve ethnic tensions and civil war, two other lessons are also paramount. First, all groups must participate and remain committed to the chosen economic plan. Second, the political axis needs to be strengthened by a common understanding of realistic development goals by a specified date.

For example, in Burma’s case, the idea here might be a timeline of 2020 by which time designated economic developmental benchmarks are to have been met. This date could then also serve as a point of scaling back armed forces personnel in the Burmese Parliament, as the position of the country and armed forces should in turn be strengthened, lessening any perceived need for a legislative safety net.

But, it is not a straightforward conclusion that, in the case of Burma, politics and economics can be so easily pared. Decades of overt interference in business by successive Burmese governments have calcified the relationship. As such, what may transpire, following historical models and criteria tracked by the authors, is a more socially responsible and inclusive partnership of Burmese elites.

Cultivating a Burmese chaebol?

Given much of East Asia’s recent and rapid economic development, it is unsurprising that Burmese elites should look to the region for inspiration. And though there are critical disparities, such as the relatively ethnically homogenous populations of some countries, there are also significant commonalties, such as the government – as opposed to private sector – being forced to play a dominant role in the early development of the state in the wake of a heavily fractured economy lacking in both infrastructure and institutional frameworks.

South Korea’s chaebol system is by no means an economic idyll, but it may hold a clue as to the direction of the Burmese state. The chaebol are large conglomerates characterized by strong ties with the government, inaugurated under the country’s authoritarian regimes. And while this model contributed much to the rapid development and poverty alleviation of the South Korean state, citizens are increasingly questioning whether the benefits of the chaebol model still outweigh the drawbacks, such as the influence of the chaebol over politics and the daily livelihood of the populace.

In Burma also, for decades, to succeed in business has meant cozying up to the country’s leaders, with the recent privatization drive serving to largely further strengthen the political-economic axis. Burmese entities such as Asia World and the Htoo Group enjoy established, privileged positions across a diverse range of industrial fields. In short, the rudimentary foundations of a chaebol system are already in place in Burma; especially as the country seems destined over the near future to experience some sort of hybrid democracy, providing the potential for bureaucracy to achieve the significant scope needed to manage a chaebol-type system.

So, would a Burmese chaebol be good? As with many issues, it depends very much on the quality of leadership and elite working arrangements, a theme continually referred to by the authors. Having undergone a painful transition to more democratic governance during the latter 1980s, Seoul has since sought to a degree to reign in the influence of chaebols, via legislation requiring specialization and other efforts.

For Burma, the large-scale government intervention required of a chaebol system could well exacerbate existing ill effects of government intervention, as identified in The Marketing of Nations: corruption, military overspending, resource misallocation and political instability. Moreover, there would, at the very least, be a distinct threat of ‘losing’ human rights in the push to secure economic Leviathans across the elite spectrum.

On the opposite end, a best case chaebol scenario for Burma may emphasize social responsibility, an idea partially encapsulated in what opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defined as “practical help…in support of the reforms which can bring better lives [and] greater opportunities.” This would include, on the part of the political-business axis, assistance in building from the bottom up and supporting the growth of the small business community, as well as strengthening the position of civil and social elites.

Forecasts and prescriptions for the 21st century

But the future Burmese state need not take fully to heart South Korea’s contentious development model. Moreover, it may better suit the interests of the country’s political and economic leadership to spurn the temptation of a more oligarchical political-business relationship. Whether or not there develops a more broad-based elite accommodation in support of an institutionalized chaebol-type arrangement in Burma, the country must still adapt to changing global trends while meeting the conditions of today’s Burmese state. The following four points of analysis and assessments of a socially responsible Burmese state are developed from arguments put forth in The Marketing of Nations:

    •    A global services economy would shift comparative advantage to human over natural resources. Though much has been made of the resource riches of the country, simply ensuring a more equitable distribution of the spoils will not be enough for Burma’s advancement. Rather, Burma must realign itself in relation to changing global trends of the 21st century.
    •    Wages will no longer be the critical factor in deciding investment location. Rather, factors such as infrastructure and quality of labor will be of most significance. Though some East and Southeast Asian countries have benefited from a low-cost labor pool in spearheading development and poverty alleviation, Burma will likely need to invest in its labor pool – enhancing the quality of labor – in order to draw desired levels of foreign investment.
    •    SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis points to social cohesion and government leadership being the primary concerns to Burma’s development. This raises critical questions, such as, can Burma’s diverse ethnic communities, along with civil and social leaders, be included in a centralized program of accommodation?
    •    Given Burma’s large rural population, an agricultural development led industrialization approach should at least be considered, generating a surplus in rural savings to finance industrial development. While Naypyitaw has already specified poverty alleviation as a primary goal, it remains to be seen whether rural communities will prosper, or whether younger generations will increasingly be forced to flock to the urban centers in the hope higher wages, providing fertile ground for political turmoil through urban unrest.

The Marketing of Nations: A Strategic Approach to Building National Wealth by Philip Kotler, Somkid Jatusripitak and Suvit Maesincee. For more information, go to;ie=UTF8&qid=1340704046&sr=1-1&keywords=marketing+of+nations

Chinese companies back poppy-alternative crops in Burma

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 15:18 Mizzima News
The number of Chinese companies investing to develop alternative crops to poppy growing in the Golden Triangle has risen from 42 to 180 since 2005, with total financial investment up to 1 billion yuan ($157 million) during that time, according to a Chinese official.

Yang Jun, the deputy director of overseas poppy substitution development for Yunnan Province's commerce department, said many Chinese companies have become involved in efforts to give farmers in the Golden Triangle alternatives to growing opium poppies, bringing profits to communities in Southeast Asia and China.

A women plants rice in Burma. Crop substitution plans to reduce the number of hectares devoted to poppy production is a ongoing process undertaken by Burma, Chinese businessmen and the U.N. Photo: Alex Treadway / flickr

The enterprises have conducted more than 200 poppy-alternative planting programs and developed their projects mainly in the northern part of Burma and Laos, he said, in an article published in China Daily on Monday.

The Golden Triangle, which includes parts of Burma, Thailand and Laos, is about 200,000 square kilometers and has been the major source of drugs in China since the 1990s, making it the main focus of the poppy substitution work, Yang said.

In the past five years, more than 200,000 hectares in that area have been planted in substitutiokn crops, such as sugar cane, corn, tea and tropical fruit, he told the newspaper.

“These programs attracted many farmers who used to live on poppy planting in that region and workers of the companies also taught them how to plant rubber in line with local geographical conditions,” Yang said, adding that poppy growing has almost become extinct in the crop substitution areas. Previously, poppies were the main crop in those area, he said.

However, law enforcement officers and experts said it is too early to say the crop substitution program has succeeded and such programs are are still needed.

“The alternative planting is still hard work for our country's drug enforcement efforts, because the opium planting in the northern part of Burma has been increasing again since 2007,” said Rao Jie, a senior officer at Baoshan city's frontier defense corps, a special police unit directly under the Ministry of Public Security.

An expert specializing in the criminal investigation department at the Chinese People's Public Security University agreed, according to the China Daily article.

“The political situation has been unstable recently, which is also a big difficulty for our country to develop crop substitution in that area," he said. "Meanwhile, various types of precursor chemicals, used as raw materials to make synthetic drugs, have also presented a new challenge to the anti-drug campaign.”

In Burma, crop substitution programs are be implemented by the Burmese government, the United Nations and by groups such as the Chinese businessmen.

Photo News - June 2012


French President Francois Hollande welcomes Aung San Suu Kyi to Elysee Palace on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Suu Kyi called for more democratic reforms and international aid designed to improve the lot of Burmese citizens. Photo: Presidency of the Republic - L.Blevennec / C.Alix / P.Segrette

Aung San Suu Kyi and French President Francois Hollande inside Elysee Palace. The president said France with work with all parties in bringing more democracy and development to Burma. Photo: Presidency of the Republic - L.Blevennec / C.Alix / P.Segrette

President Francois Hollande and Aung San Suu Kyi walk on the grounds of the Elysee Palace in Paris on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Photo: Presidency of the Republic - L.Blevennec / C.Alix / P.Segrette

Aung San Suu Kyi and President Francois Hollande at a press conference on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Suu Kyi said the recent sectarian violence in western Burma called for clarification in Burma's citizenship laws and more religious tolerance in the country. Photo: Presidency of the Republic - L.Blevennec / C.Alix / P.Segrette

French citizens welcome Aung San Suu Kyi to Paris on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Phto: jeanfrancois beausejour / flickr

Aung San Suu Kyi is greeted by a French official upon her arrival in Paris by train from London on Tuesday, June 26, 2012. Phto: jeanfrancois beausejour / flickr

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met with Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi at the Cabinet Office before she departed for France on Tuesday. Photo: Crown Office

Dr. Robin Niblett, left, Aung San Suu Kyi and Dr. Vincent Cable, a British Member of Parliament, at Chatham House in London on Friday, June 22, 2012. Photo: Chatham House London / flickr

Aung San Suu Kyi at the Royal Festival Hall in London, speaking to the Burmese Community, on Friday, June 22, 2012. Photo: Burma Campaign UK

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the Burmese community at the Royal Festival Hall in London on Friday, June 22, 2012. Photo: Burma Campaign UK

Guests including peers, members of Parliament and diplomatic guests gather in Westminster Hall ahead of Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival and address. Photo: UK Parliament / Roger Harris


Opium, heroin and “ice” flowing out of Burma

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 12:44 Mizzima News

The fight against narcotics faces increasing challenges amid a bumper poppy harvest in Burma this year, Chinese officials said on Tuesday, which marked International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

An early map shows the area of the Golden Triangle bordering Burma, China, Laos and Thailand. Photo :
Burma’s poppy growing area increased to 44,867 hectares this year, up 41 percent year-on-year, based on figures from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, said an article in China Daily, the official Chinese newspaper.

Apart from being the world’s No. 2 producer of opium, behind Afganistan, northern Burma is also a major producer of methamphetamine, commonly referred to as “ice,” coming into China and Southeast Asia countries.

China seized 7.9 metric tons of “ice” coming from northern Burma last year, up 62 per cent on the previous year. It accounted for 55 percent of all methamphetamine seized in China, said police officials.

Smuggled drugs in the area mainly come the Golden Triangle, one of the world's major drug producing regions that overlaps the mountains of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, and the Golden Crescent region, which includes mountain valleys of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In response, China has established a case-by-case cooperation mechanism with Burma, officials said. Four police liaison offices have also been set up in border areas to facilitate investigations.

China and Burma have arrested and repatriated about 60 fugitives since 2009, including drug lords, according to figures by the ministry.

On Tuesday, authorities in southwest China's Yunnan Province reported detaining 167 suspects in drug-related crimes and seized 528 tonnes of precursor chemicals used to make illegal drugs in the province last year.

A Yunnan provincial anti-narcotics office said border towns have become a key channel for smuggling drugs into and out of the province, and there are many underground narcotic manufacturing workshops just outside the border.

In related news, Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong released a document on Tuesday outlining his vision of combating drug abuse and cultivation, local media reported.

Thammavong focused on seven steps to tackle the drug problem in Laos, the Vientiane Times reported, such as raising awareness, providing opium growers with alternative cash crops, rehabilitating addicts, fostering grass- roots political and rural anti-drug campaigns, setting up provincial funds financing anti-drug programs, improving drug inspection and control organizations, and increased cooperation with international organizations.

In 2006, the article said, Laos had almost totally eradicated opium poppy cultivation, reducing the cultivation area by 94 percent from 27,000 hectares to just 1,500 hectares. Addiction rates dropped 80 percent from 63,000 people to 12,000, the article said.

However, from 2007 to 2011 there was a 173 percent increase from 1, 500 hectares to 4,100 hectares, the article said, while other illegal substances are increasingly being produced and trafficked in Laos, such as amphetamine type substances (ATS), pseudoephedrine, heroin and marijuana. Pseudoephedrine is an important precursor in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

In 2010 24.5 million ATS tablets were seized, and a further six million tablets were seized in the first half of this year in Laos, officials said. High levels of seizure give little indication of the amount on average being trafficked, however.