Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Burmese gov’t rejects accusations of excessive force in Rakhine State

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 11:31 Mizzima News

The Burmese foreign ministry “strongly rejects the accusations made by some quarters that abuses and excessive use of force were made by the authorities” in dealing with the unrest in Rakhine State, it said in a statement issued on Monday.

“The unfortunate incidents are confined to a few townships in Rakhine State [and] it constitutes inter-communal violence relating only to some portion of the population in the State,” said the statement.

Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin addresses the 66th general assembly of the United Nations in New York in this file photo. Photo: AFP

“The government has exercised maximum restraint in order to restore law and order in those particular places in Rakhine State,” it said.

“Peace and stability is indispensable for the on-going democratization and reform process in Myanmar. National solidarity and racial harmony among different nationalities is vital for the perpetuation of the Union,” it said. “Myanmar is a multi-religious country where Buddhists, Christian, Muslims and Hindus have been living together in peace and harmony for centuries. Hence, those recent incidents occurred in the Rakhine State are neither because of religious oppression nor discrimination.”

Widespread violence was touched off following the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three young men on May 28.

It said the assault set off “the subsequent killing of 10 persons in a passenger bus in Taungup Township on June 3. In the two cases, the first victim was a Rakhine Buddhist female and the latter case, victims were Muslim males.”

“Following the two incidents, riots broke out in Sittway, Maungtaw and Buthidaung townships where rioters torched and destroyed houses, shops and guest houses and committed killings. Because of the riots, 77 people from both communities lost their lives and 109 people were injured. A total of 4,822 houses, 17 mosques, 15 monasteries, 3 schools were burnt down,” said the statement.

Recounting the steps taken by officials, the statement said the government has taken necessary measures to stop the spread of violence and to restore peace, and “the people have been informed of the situation with full transparency.”

An investigation vommittee chaired by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs was formed on June 6.

On June 11, President Thein Sein delivered a statement to the nation concerning the incidents in Rakhine State, in which he “appealed to the people of Myanmar to cooperate and work together with the government and requested all to realize every aspect of the situation with magnanimity and promised that the government would attach great importance to the rule of law.”

The president declared a State of Emergency in Rakhine State to stop the violence and restore law and order on June 12.

“In reviewing the incidents in Rakhine State, it is found that lawlessness was spread due to mistrust and religious differences that had created hatred and vengeance against one another,” said the statement. “As the victims of violence are both from Buddhist and Muslim communities, it is very clear that the riots are not linked to religious persecution. Myanmar is a multi-racial and multi- religious country where people of different faiths have lived together in peace and harmony.”

Cabinet members and officials of the Union and state governments and representatives of various civil societies have visited the riot affected areas and engaged in resettlement, rehabilitation and distribution of aid to people in the relief camps, it said.

“The government took legal actions against the perpetrators of the criminal acts. At the same time the government is taking measures under existing laws and rules to make sure such phenomena and incident do not happen again,” it said.

The government has built 89 relief camps for a total of 14,328 Rakhines and 30,740 Muslims who were affected by the violence.

“People sheltered in those relief camps are gradually returning to their places,” said the statement.

It said that as part of the reconstruction of houses which were burned down in Maungtaw and villages in Maungtaw Township, the Ministry of Border Affairs will build 202 houses, the UNHCR will build 222 and the CARE Myanmar, an INGO, will build 128 houses.

UNHCR has sent 400 tents so far for the refugees in Maungtaw Township. In order to provide shelters in Sittway and villages in Sittway Township, the Rakhine State government has pledged to donate 170 temporary tents while UN agencies and INGOs led by UNHCR will donate 600, it said.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has spent around US$ 600,000 on providing dry provisions to refugee camps and so far a total of 1,515 tons of provisions have been sent to the camps. Over 2,100 tons of provisions have already been stored at the warehouses of WFP.

UNHCR and INGOs have already provided 6,818 sets of different kinds of household utensils and 2,412 sheets of tarpaulin to the refugees in Rakhine State, it said.  Cash and material worth more than 3 billion kyat for relief and rehabilitation for the victims of both sides have been received from donors within the country and abroad.

“The authorities have taken necessary measures with great care and with magnanimity. The government is cooperating with religious and community leaders, political parties and social organizations to resolve the issue. The overall situation is now returning to normalcy,” said the statement.

Quintana on his way to Rakhine State

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 13:25 Mizzima News

UN human rights expert on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, left for Rakhine State on Tuesday to look into reports of abuses against Rakhine Muslims.

Tomas Ojea QuintanaBurma’s foreign minister told the media on Monday that “maximum restraint” was used in Rakhine State to quell the sectarian violence.

Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin made his remarks in a press conference with UN rights envoy Quintana, saying security forces did not abuse Rakhine Muslims.

Quintana travels to Rakhine State, following international calls for a credible investigation into the unrest by a neutral body. The UN said this week that Quintana will have only a brief time in the state, but he will talk with government officials, aid groups and others.

Quintana has made clear that investigating the conflict is a priority of his weeklong trip, which started Sunday. The violence in Rakhine State is one of the "challenges" facing Myanmar despite recent political reforms, he siad. On Tuesday, Quintana planned to tour the Muslim-majority townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung near Bangladesh's border and on Wednesday visit refugee camps in the state capital, Sittwe.

The U.N. has a direct interest in the Rakhine issue because five workers for the world body's refugee agency are among 858 people still detained by authorities in connection with the unrest. Five other workers for international aid agencies are also in detention. The aid workers have been accused of taking part in the violence and "setting fire to villages," Border Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Htay told reporters, according to a report by The Associated Press.

The United Nations and Muslim groups had raised fears of a crackdown on Muslims following violent clashes involving the minority Muslim Rohingya community  in early June, and reports of widespread roundups of Rakhine Muslims.

Wunna Maung Lwin said Burma "totally rejects the attempts by some quarters to politicize and internationalize this situation as a religious issue.”

Quintana will visit Rakhine State where up to 80,000 people still remain displaced follwoing fighting that erupted between Buddhist and Muslim communities in early June.

According to official figures, at least 77 people were killed in the unrest, including eight killed by security forces.

Of the displaced, Burmese officials say the vast majority, around 53,000, are Muslims.

Burma considers an estimated 800,000 Rohingya in the country to be foreigners and many citizens see them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and view them with hostility.

Fears about their plight have spread across the Islamic world, with threats of violent reprisals against Burma from extremists.

Quintana will be in the country for seven days. On Friday, he will visit Kachin State, the scene of ongoing fighting between the government and ethnic rebels.

The UN has urged Burma to cooperate with a “prompt, independent” investigation into the unrest in Rakhine State.

Last week saw a chorus of protests from international groups calling for a credible investigation into the sectarian violence that has wracked western Burma during the past two months, claiming up to 78 lives and the burning of thousands of homes and businesses in violence pitting Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist in attacks and clashes, although the attacks are not exclusively centered on religion, say reports.

Proportional representation for Burma?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 12:33 Mizzima News

Burma’s Election Commission chairman and a small group of political party leaders met last week to discuss a proportional electoral system, a representative from the group told Radio Free Asia last week.

A European delegation meets with the chairman of the Election Commission Tin Aye, right, in this file photo. Photo: European Commission

On the same day, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, said in a new report that proportional representation could help the country avoid conflict with ethnic minorities.

Ten leaders of the Democratic and Ethnic Alliance met with EC chairman to Tin Aye to discuss Burma’s current system that favors dominant parties, Thu Wai, the chairman of the Democratic Party, told RFA. On July 18, the group met with President Thein Sein to discuss changes in the electoral system.

The group has proposed that a proportional voting system, which would allow independent and minority parties to win seats in Parliament more easily, replace the current “first-past-the-post” system, under which candidates need only a simple majority to win a constituency, said Thu Wai.

The meeting was called by the Election Commission chairman, who said he would submit the group’s proposal to Parliament to be discussed, said the RFA article.

The Democratic and Ethnic Alliance is composed of the National Democratic Force, the Democracy and Peace Party, the Democratic Party, the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, the Chin National Party, Phalon-Sawal Democratic Party, the All Mon Regions Democracy Party, the Union Democracy Party, and the Union and Peace Party.

The meeting came on the same day that a new report on Burma’s political reforms by the International Crisis Group (ICG) was released, saying proportional representation could help Burma remain stable during its political transition toward democracy, particularly by allowing more representation to ethnic minorities.

“Countries in transition often reform their electoral system,” the group said, in the report. “Consideration should be given to the possibility that Myanmar [Burma] would be better served during the transition by a system with greater proportional representation.”

The ICG warned that in the next election in 2015 an overwhelming win by Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party could push ethnic minority parties aside, jeopardizing the cease-fires currently being negotiated with ethnic groups in the country’s border regions.

It noted that in Burma’s post-independence era, there had been considerable dislike among ethnic minorities who said that the plurality voting system favored large Burman parties.

Burmese top gov’t officials to declare assets

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 14:37 Mizzima News

Burma’s top leaders will be required to report their financial and property assets, according to the Burmese president's office.

The office has notified top Union and state government officials to give reports of their economic assets to the president’s office, the Venus News reported on Tuesday, according to a report by the Xinhua news agency.

Burmese President Thein Sein Photo: President's office

Government members who are required to file the reports include ministers, chief justice and judges, constitutional tribunal chairman and members, attorney-general, auditor-general, region or state chief ministers and ministers, and region or state chief justice and judges, the newspaper said.

The deadine to deliver the asset statement is Aug. 1, the office said.

The move came in response to a proposal in the Lower House by MP Win Myint on Thursday to declare movable and immovable assets of officials in the union government and region or state government in order to establish transparency and good government.

Until the presidential order, no such requirement had existed since 1962, the newspaper said.

Admiral Nyan Tun to be nominated vice president: source

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 15:48 Mizzima News

Rangoon (Mizzima) – The latest guess as to who will be nominated for vice president of Burma is Admiral Nyan Tun, the commander-in-chief of the navy.

A source in Naypyitaw has said that the National Defence and Security Council has agreed to nominate Admiral Nyan Tun, who is a graduate of the 16th Intake of Defense Services Academy. The information cannot be confirmed by separate sources.

Former Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo resigned for health reasons. Burma has two vice presidents.

Earlier, word had gotten around that military representatives had nominated Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe, a retired general, as vice president, but the Union Assembly never acted on that news and the reason is still unclear.

The approval of the National Defence and Security Council is required for a candidate to be nominated as vice president. The Parliament is dominated by military representatives, who are nominated to serve in Parliament by the commander-in-chief of the Defence Services.

The Constitution says the president and two vice presidents must not “he himself, one of the parents, the spouse, one of the legitimate children or their spouses not owe allegiance to a foreign power, not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country. They shall not be persons entitled to enjoy the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign government or citizen of a foreign country.”

Burmese gov’t maintains restrictions on religious freedom: US

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 14:24 Mizzima News

The Burmese government has made political reforms, but it did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect to the right to religious freedom, according to a 2012 US report on religious freedom in Burma.

The government maintained restrictions on certain religious activities and limited freedom of religion, although it generally permitted adherents of government-registered religious groups to worship as they chose, the report said.

Emmanuel Baptist Church located near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon. Photo: flickr / lynnqlder

The Christian community reported a notable easing of restrictions on church building and a positive relationship with the Ministry of Religion, including the ministry’s organization of interfaith dialogues. The government also passed a new law to protect freedom of assembly and procession and provided greater access to ethnic minority areas for U.S. officials and organizations, it said.

However, it said religious activities and organizations were subject to restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

“The government continued to monitor the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations, and required religious groups to seek permission from authorities before holding any large public event,” it said.

The government continued to restrict the efforts of some Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political freedom. While some of the Buddhist monks arrested in the violent crackdown that followed prodemocracy demonstrations in September 2007 were released during the year, many remained in prison serving long sentences, it said.

“The government also actively promoted Theravada Buddhism over other religions, particularly among ethnic minorities.

The government eased restrictions on the building of churches following the November 2010 elections,” it said.

“The government continued to monitor Muslim activities closely,” said the report. “Restrictions on worship for other non-Buddhist minority groups also continued. Although there were no new reports of forced conversions of non-Buddhists, authorities in some cases influenced the placement of orphans and homeless youth, preferring Buddhist monasteries to Christian orphanages

“Adherence or conversion to Buddhism was an unwritten prerequisite for promotion to most senior government and military ranks.”

It said widespread prejudice existed against citizens of South Asian origin, many of whom are Muslims. The government continued to refuse to recognize the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority as citizens and imposed restrictions on their movement and marriage.

According to official statistics, approximately 90 percent of the population practices Buddhism, 4 per cent practices Christianity, and 4 percent practices Islam. These statistics almost certainly underestimated the non-Buddhist proportion of the population. Independent researchers place the Muslim population as being between 6 and 10 per cent. A very small Jewish community in Rangoon has a synagogue but no resident rabbi.

Religious organizations are not required to register with the government, but if a religious organization wants to engage in certain activities (religious education, charitable work, etc.), it needs to obtain government permission, said the report.

“The government discouraged proselytizing by non-Buddhist clergy, often through the use of censorship. These restrictions mostly affected some Christian denominations and Islam. The government generally has not allowed permanent foreign religious groups to operate in the country since the mid-1960s, when it expelled nearly all foreign missionaries and nationalized almost all private schools and hospitals. The government was not known to have paid any compensation in connection with these extensive confiscations,” the report said.

According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma, at the end of the year an estimated 130 monks remained in prison, many of them arrested after the September 2007 peaceful prodemocracy demonstrations.

The report said it remained extremely difficult for Muslims to acquire permission to build new or repair existing mosques, although internal maintenance was allowed in some cases. In Arakan State, government officials reportedly denied permits for the renovation of mosques with one exception: a large mosque in Maung Daw Township near the border with Bangladesh. Historic mosques in Mawlamyine, Mon State and Sittwe, Rakhine State, as well as other areas, continued to deteriorate because authorities did not allow routine maintenance.

The government openly supported Buddhist seminaries and permitted them to construct large campuses, said the report. Buddhist groups generally did not experience difficulty in obtaining permission to build new pagodas, monasteries, or community religious halls.

Government authorities continued to prohibit Christian clergy from proselytizing in some areas.

Authorities often denied Rohingya and other Muslims living in Rakhine State permission to travel for any purpose; however, permission was sometimes obtained through bribery.

"Muslims in other regions were granted more freedom to travel, but still faced restrictions. For example, Rohingyas living in Rangoon needed permission from immigration authorities to travel into and out of Rakhine State," the report said.

Muslims in Rakhine State, particularly those of the Rohingya minority group, continued to experience the severest forms of legal, economic, educational, and social discrimination. There were reports that Buddhist physicians would not provide Muslims the endorsement required by the Ministry of Health that permits Muslims to travel outside Rakhine State to seek advanced medical treatment, said the report.

Petition drive calls for sacking Lower House MP Aung Thein Lin

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 13:08 Theingi Tun

Rangoon (Mizzima) – An interview in a Chinese newspaper has led to a petition drive in South Okkalapa Township to remove Lower House MP Aung Thein Lin from Parliament. Organizers said the petition will be submited to the Union Election Commission (UEC).

Rangoon Region Union Solidarity and Development Party chief Aung Thein Lin at a press conference during the by-election in April  2012. Photo: Mizzima

Min Aung and other organizers who live in South Okkalapa Township said the petition was started in response to the MP’s remarks criticizing  Burmese voters,  the National League for Democracy [NLD] and President Thein Sein in an interview published in the China-based Southern Weekend journal.

About 200 people had signed the petition as of Sunday. About 2,000 signatures will be gathered, said organizers.

The constituency had 80,000 eligible voters in the 2010 general election. According to the Constitution, a minimum of 1 percent of the voters in a constituency is required to submit a complaint to the Union Election Commission involving the dismissal of an MP.

The Constitution says MP may be dismissed for misbehavior, inefficient discharge of duties or any breach cited in the Constitution.

The Southern Weekend journal quoted Aung Thein Lin in an article published in the Chinese language which was translated into English and published on the Burmanet website. According to the English translation on Burmanet, the former Rangoon mayor said that he did not approve of the halt to the Myitsone Dam project in Kachin State, and the decision to halt the project was made only by President Thein Sein. According to the translation, Aung Thein Lin also blamed the voters who supported the NLD in the by-elections, saying “They are crazy.”

Petition organizer Min Aung said, “We elected him as our representative. Representatives must speak out and work on behalf of us. If a representative speaks out against the voters, [he or she] should not be a representative. Our petition is not based on personal hatred.”

Naing Ko Lin, who said he voted for Aung Thein Lin in the 2010 general elections, said, “He failed to protect his people and talked like that. We think he’s a bad leader, and we don’t have the heart to accept it.”

After being widely criticized, Aung Thein Lin told domestic journals that the translated quotations were not accurate.

Dr. Saw Naing, who lives in Okkalapa, told Mizzima, “The word, ‘cat’ could not be translated as ‘dog.” But, the cat may be a wild cat or pet cat.”

Meanwhile, the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] is scrutinizing Aung Thein Lin’s remarks. The USDP said in a statement released on July 28 that if Aung Thein Lin really said the controversial remarks, it would take action against him based on its rules.

The statement said, “If Aung Thein Lin really said [the words quoted in the journal], it is just Aung Thein Lin’s personal views and his words are not related with the Union Solidarity and Development Party’s attitude.”

Rakhine State medical aid ‘a work in progress’: Red Cross

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 14:12 Mizzima News

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been providing basic aid and assistance to the injured, ill and displaced in Rakhine State, Anne Ryniker, the ICRC deputy head of operations for Asia and the Pacific, said in an interview released on Monday.

“Beyond the damage to lives and property, mutual suspicion and fear continue to hinder the movement of civilians, including civil servants and aid workers, often making it difficult for people to access basic services – such as health care – and for humanitarian organizations to deliver aid,” she said.

The ICRC is working closely in cooperation with the Myanmar Red Cross Society (MRCS) organization.

“Communities must understand that we provide aid on the basis of need alone to all persons affected by violence without distinction as to race, religion or ethnic origin,” Ryniker said.

She said the ICRC’s priority is to gain access to the area so that it can perform its humanitarian work.

“In such a tense climate, acceptance by the communities concerned is not easy to maintain. Communities must understand that we provide aid on the basis of need alone to all persons affected by violence without distinction as to race, religion or ethnic origin," said Ryniker. “The only way we can operate is on the basis of trust. This is why the ICRC cannot use military or other armed escorts.”

She said MRCS volunteers stepped in very soon after the outbreak of violence, providing assistance for displaced people at 17 main sites, and distributed basic items to the displaced, such as cooking sets, tarpaulins and soap. They also help people separated from their families to reconnect with relatives by giving them access to phones and enabling them to write short messages.

Since June 16, an emergency ICRC team has been stationed in Sittwe composed of both national and international staff and it has been providing the MRCS with technical, logistical and financial support.

“Working jointly, the ICRC and the MRCS have so far been able to move about unimpeded and without armed escorts,” she said.

She said the immediate objective is to concentrate on vital needs in two key areas: health care, and water supply and sanitation, said Ryniker. The MRCS and the ICRC have  provided first aid staff to assist the medical staff of mobile clinics operated by government medical authorities and others, such as the Myanmar Medical Association,.

“All this is still a work in progress,” Ryniker said. “Advances have been made because both the MRCS and the ICRC have so far been able to operate ‘across the lines’ and independently. We are committed to staying the course and increasing our assistance.”

Defamation, libel cases filed against Snap Shot journal

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 11:41 Phanida

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Journalist Herjule, who goes by one name, was granted bail on Monday in a defamation case filed against the Snap Shot journal by the owner of a karaoke shop in Katha Township. Bail was set at US$ 3,371.

The Snap Shot Journal

The owner of the Valentine Karaoke shop in Katha Township, Sagaing Region, filed a defamation complaint on July 16 against the writer and editor of the Snap Shot journal.

He also filed a second libel suit claiming US$ 561,798 in damages. A court hearing in the libel suit is scheduled for August 9.

Snap Shot editor-in-chief Myat Khaing said he had not yet received a summons in the defamation case. A second hearing is scheduled in that case for August 20.

The defamation and libel cases stemmed from two articles that appeared in Snap Shot. After the first article was published, the karaoke shop owner, Myint Maung, asked for a clarification about the karaoke shop’s activities.

The editor assigned a writer to do a second article and it was published in April quoting three people in the neighborhood where the karaoke shop is located. Myint Maung then filed the defamation and libel suits.

The karaoke shop has since closed its business.

The Snap Shot journal has asked lawyer Thein Than Oo of the Lawyers’ Network to represent it in the suit.

Editor-in-chief Myat Khaing said he hoped that the case would be determined by the rule of law.

UN drug agency expands work to more townships

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 12:52 Mizzima News

Upwards of 90 percent of the opium poppies in Burma’s northern region are grown in Shan State, even though farmers are aware that if they grow an illicit crop, it may be eradicated and they could lose everything, says the UN drug agency.

After recent cease-fire agreements, the government has allowed the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to work in  25 additional townships in Shan State.

A poppy field in Burma   Photo: UN

“We are encouraged by the recent cease-fire agreements and the fact that the national authorities have expanded the areas in Shan State in which UNODC is allowed to work,” Gary Lewis, the Bangkok representative of UNODC, told the IRIN news agency.

 “Solve the challenges of chronic poverty, decreasing rural food security, and armed conflict – and you can begin to draw farmers away from poppy,” Lewis said.

Alternative livelihood support is needed if growers are to be weaned off this double-edged source of income, he said.

 “To be effective we need to give farming communities alternatives which can provide a sustainable basis for them to earn a livelihood,” said Lewis. “Farmers grow opium poppy to buy food, pay off debt and have a cash income to pay school fees and health expenses.”

UNODC and NGOs have been working with Burmese farmers for the past decade, trying to lure them away from poppy cultivation by providing alternative livelihood solutions, along with improved access to roads, waterways, irrigation, and community health services.

"Until recently, UNODC alternative development assistance, funded by the European Union and the governments of Germany and Japan, was limited to small development projects in just three south Shan townships – wholly inadequate to Shan State and Myanmar's needs for improved infrastructure, markets, schools and sustainable livelihoods,” said Lewis.

More than half a century of internal conflict between government forces and various ethnic and political rebel groups tore the country apart, causing instability and poverty, said UNODC. Cease-fire treaties signed in early 2012 with groups in northern Myanmar, including the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), have allowed access to areas that were previously unreachable.

An opium survey by UNODC in 2011 pointed out that there has been a marked increase in the area under opium cultivation in Myanmar – from 38,100 hectares in 2010 to 43,600 hectares in 2011 – mostly in Shan State. Yet the government has significantly increased its eradication efforts and a total of 6,124 hectares of opium poppy were destroyed there in 2011, compared to 5,316 hectares eradicated in 2010, the survey noted.

“What happens in Myanmar’s Shan State affects the whole region’s security,” Lewis warned. “Now is the time for the international community to engage in alternative development in the poppy-growing regions… as a natural counterbalance to the increased enforcement being conducted.”

But political instability and poverty remain high in the area and there is a strong chance that farmers could return to poppy cultivation if there is no alternative. According to the annual opium survey, poppies can bring in nine to 15 times more money per hectare than rice. Crops like maize, tea and rice are more labour intensive than poppies, and require expensive inputs, such as fertilizers, to cultivate and transport to markets.

“Food shortages still exist and most households rely on purchasing food than on their own production,” said Ohnmar Khaing, coordinator of the Food Security Working group (FSWG) in Burma, an umbrella group of national and international NGOs.

“Today, poorest of the poor ex-poppy farmers need help to turn to other crops… The reality is that the internal push to reduce opium poppy is proceeding too quickly, and without adequate resources or examination of the implications for the forgotten, impoverished poppy farmers,” Khaing said.

“The essential challenge is to create development initiatives and economic incentives that provide attractive and viable legal alternatives for farmers,” he said.

Court sets fifth hearing in Snap Shot ‘photo’ case

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 12:03 Thit Nyein

A fifth hearing has been set for August 3 in the government’s lawsuit against Snap Shot weekly journal editor-in-chief Myat Khaing, in a case involving the publication of a photograph of the woman who was raped and murdered in Rakhine State on May 28.

The suit was filed by the Pazundaung Township administrative chief representing the Rangoon Region government.

Editor Myat Khaing is charged for allegedly inciting racial hatred.

The case involves the May 28 murder of a Rakhine woman, which set off a series of incidents leading to widespread sectarian violence in Rakhine State. The photograph of the woman had been widely circulated on the Internet prior to the publication by Snap Shot.

In early June, the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD) suspended publication of the Snap Shot journal.

Meanwhile, the Myanmar Journalist Association Organizing Committee has urged the Rangoon Region government to drop the lawsuit, contending that the PSRD has already taken action against the journal.
Monday, July 30, 2012

UN human rights expert arrives in Burma

Monday, 30 July 2012 13:39 Mizzima News

The UN expert on human rights in Burma arrived in the country on Sunday, as dozens of Muslim governments and organizations have called on Burma to stop human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.

The UN special reporter on Burma, Tomas Quintana, will meet with government officials this week and travel to Rakhine and Kachine states, said UN officials.

The UN has urged Burma to cooperate in a “prompt, independent” investigation into the unrest in Rakhine State.

UN Human Rights Special Envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, center, arrives at a hotel in Rangoon at the start of a seven day visit on Sunday, July 29, 2012. Quintana will visit the conflict-ridden Rakhine state and will meet with Burmese President Thein Sein. Photo: AFP

Last week saw a chorus of protests from international groups calling for a credible investigation into the sectarian violence that has wracked western Burma during the past two months, claiming up to 78 lives and the burning of thousands of homes and businesses in violence pitting Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist in attacks and clashes, although the unrest is not exclusively centered on religion.

Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group told Radio Free Asia that the attention of Muslim governments and groups could help pressure Burma's government to give more rights to Rohingyas, but it could also make the situation worse.

"This is an issue around which Burmese or ethnically Burman nationals rally around, and that is part of the problem," says Della-Giacoma. “So any sort of threats from outside groups would only enforce or harden that nationalism and definitely not help the problem.”

On Thursday, an umbrella group of the Pakistani Taliban threaten Burma over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims. Attacks to avenge crimes against the Rohingya will begin, the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) said in a statement, unless Pakistan halts all relations with the Burmese government and shuts the country's embassy in Islamabad.

A Taliban spokesman demanded that the Pakistani government halt intra-national relations and close Burma's embassy.

“Otherwise we will not only attack Burmese interests anywhere but will also attack the Pakistani fellows of Burma one by one,” said the statement.

The Taliban threat was widely rejected by Rohingya groups inside and outside Burma.

Maung Kyaw Nu, a former political prisoner turned activist who works with Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand, told RFA that he doubted the threat of an attack should be taken seriously, and violence  is rejected by most Rohingyas.

“Even we don't like it,” he said. “You know my political attitude toward Burma is to restore the peace and the rule of law... . We condemn them [Taliban], you know, not only regarding Burma, regarding any particular area in the world.”

Observers said the Taliban threat might have caused a backlash against Rohingyas inside Burma. Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, an NGO that monitors Rohingya issues, said the Burmese military reportedly arrested 38 Muslim religious leaders in northern Rakhine State on Thursday following the terror threat by the Taliban. However, it's unclear if the threat was a direct response to the Taliban threat.

“It appears that [the Burmese military] has responded in arresting a number of imams and mullahs from Maungdaw and Buthidaung along the border with Bangladesh,” said Lewa, who said other religious leaders have been arrested prior to the religiously important month of Ramadan.

The violence and discrimination against Rohingyas is not genocide or ethnic cleansing, Lewa said, addding that such exaggerations are partly the result of a recent statement from Burmese President Thein Sein, who said earlier this month that deportation or refugee camps were the “only solution” for the Rohingyas, who are denied citizenship in both Burma and neighboring Bangladesh.

Benjamin Zawacki, a Burma researcher at Amnesty International, told RFA that it would be a mistake to view the conflict through only a religious perspective, saying it should be viewed in the wider context of Burma's struggles with ethnic minority groups.

“I think that religion is clearly a part, but my assessment is that it is more secondary than it is primary in terms of why these violations and this discrimination takes place,” said Zawacki.

He said the widespread prejudice and discrimination against Rohingyas in Burmese society is partly the offspring of government policies that limit the rights of the minority group.

Zawacki said such policies have the effect of making many Burmese citizens feel they are justified in treating Rohingyas differently from other groups.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International said to solve the crisis Burma must amend its 1982 citizenship law that says Rohingyas are not citizens.

Many observers were encouraged that democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke out last week in Parliament  calling for laws to protect the rights of ethnic minorities.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh's prime minister has told Al Jazeera that her country cannot afford to accommodate more Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Burma. It has closed its borders to Rohingyas attempting to flee Burma.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina defended the policy, saying Bangladesh is already overpopulated. There are already about 30,000 Rohingyas living in a UN refugee camp, and an estimated 300,000 Rohingya living in the country. She said that it is not her country's responsibility to help all of the refugees.

Five int’l airlines prepare to start Burma routes

Monday, 30 July 2012 15:13 Mizzima News

More international airlines are set to extend flights to Burma in October, according to domestic media reports.

The airlines include Taiwan’s EVA Air, South Korea's KAL, Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA), Hong Kong-based Dragonair and Qatar Airways, said the Yangon Times.

EVA Air Cargo Boeing 747-400F  Photo: Wikipedia

EVA will operate flights three times a week.

ANA will offer a Narita-Rangoon-Narita route three times a week and a charter flight between Tokyo and Rangoon. A Naypyitaw-Yangon- Hanoi-Tokyo route will also be launched using a Boeing 767.

Qatar Airways, which had suspended flight since 2008, will resume flights between Doha and Rangoon.

Meanwhile, airlines from Germany and Bangladesh have approached Burma's civil aviation authority about launching direct flights to Rangoon, officials said.

Flights between Rangoon and Manila are expected to be launched before the end of this year.

Currently, there are 13 foreign airlines flying to Rangoon: Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Thai Airways International, Indian Airlines, Air Asia, Taiwan region's China Airlines, Singapore's Silk Air, Malaysian Airlines, Bangkok Airways, Jetstar Asia and Vietnam Airlines.

UN says 80,000 people displaced in Rakhine State

Monday, 30 July 2012 15:38 Mizzima News

The UNHCR has started building shelters in several internally displaced persons camps in Rakhine State, a spokesman said on Friday.

Unhcr logoSome 80,000 people are estimated to be displaced as a result of clashes in communities in Rakhine State in western Burma, said the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

In Geneva, UN spokesperson Andrej Mahecic Mahecic also expressed concerns over three UNHCR staff members who have been detained in Rakhine State by the authorities.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday also expressed serious concerns over the ongoing human rights violations in Myanmar and called for a “prompt, independent” investigation by a credible body.

Violence sparked between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas on May 28, following the rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman. According to official figures, violence in the region has claimed at least 78 lives.

Last week, Mizzima reported that the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to help end the violence against the Muslim Rohingya community in Burma.

OIC head Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu asked the newly elected lawmaker to work to convince the government to accept “an international inquiry into the recent violence, granting free access to humanitarian aid groups and international media” in Arakan (Rahkine) State, which saw deadly clashes last month between Muslims and Buddhists, althought the violence is not solely due to religious differences.

The head of the 57-member pan-Muslim body called for the quick return of the victims to their respective areas, expressing his “deep concern about the unabated and continuous violation of Rohingya rights in Myanmar.”

A state of emergency is still in place after the outbreak of violence, which prompted reformist President Thein Sein to warn it sectarian unrest could damage the speed of the country's emergence from decades of military rule.

About 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma, according to the United Nations, which views them as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Suu Kyi to visit Japan

Monday, 30 July 2012 13:59 Mizzima News

Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she would like to visit Japan when the cherry blossoms bloom, which means around March next year.

Suu Kyi made the remark during a visit with Japan's goodwill ambassador to Burma, Yohei Sasakawa, when they met in the capital of Naypyitaw during the weekend.

Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba invited Suu Kyi to visit Japan during his visit in December.

International banking cards in Burma by 2013

Monday, 30 July 2012 14:15 Mizzima News

Three international banking cards will be introduced in Burma by the start of 2013, domestic media reported on Monday.

The three international bank cards are VISA, CUP (China Union Pay) and Japan Credit Bureau (JCB), said 7-Day News.

An international banking care Photo: Photo: Flickr / MoneyBlogNewz

ATMs of private banks operating under the Myanmar Payment Union (MPU) system will accept the three international banking cards, allowing the withdrawal of cash from an automatic teller machine (ATM) of any MPU member bank under the system, it said.

Meanwhile, on July 9, 11 private banks including 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 started offering foreign currency accounts in US dollars, Euros and Singapore dollars as well as FECs (Burmese foreign exchange certificate).

The banks also were permitted in November 2011 to trade three foreign hard currencies – US dollar, Euro and Singapore dollar.

There are a total of 19 private banks and three state-owned banks in Myanmar.

The state-owned banks are Myanmar Economic Bank (MEB), Myanma Foreign Trade Bank (MFTB) and Myanma Investment Commercial Bank ( MICB).

Vietnam eyes big hotels in Burma

Monday, 30 July 2012 12:44 Mizzima News

Vietnam and France are set to become major hotel investors in Rangoon, as investors eye the burgeoning Burmese tourist industry, domestic media reported last week. Indian companies are also looking at hotel investments, officials said.

Htay Aung, deputy minister of hotels and tourism Photo: Screenshot

The demand for hotel rooms has risen as the number of tourists and busines arrivals has increased rapidly.

Among them, HAG & Land from Vietnam is expected to invest US$300 million in the hotel sector, Weekly Eleven reported. Oberoi Hotels & Resorts from India has also expressed interest.

Htay Aung, the deputy minister of hotels and tourism, told the Sasin Bangkok Forum that Accor Group, the market leader in Europe, is also interested in making investments in the hotel industry. Accor is a French hotel group founded in 1967. It  operates in 92 countries.

The Bangkok Post this week quoted Htay Aung as saying that the Shangri-La Group will build a 240-room hotel.

Ministry figures say that Burma had 731 licensed hotels with 25,002 rooms at the end of 2011.

Currently, Burma has about 20 foreign-invested hotels in Rangoon out of 35 in the country, which are mainly operated by companies in Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

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 Eleven News.

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 have recently expressed strong interest in the sector.

Currently, high-end rooms in Rangoon are normally filled. Burma has a total of nine government-owned hotels and 678 private hotels, and 11 hotel zones in regions where tourists visit frequently. Prices have risen sharply from around US$ 50 to up to $300 for luxury rooms. Recently, there were reports the government had ordered hotels to charge less for top room rates.

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 in January 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.

In June, Mizzima reported that four historical state-owned buildings in Rangoon were on the real estate market to be used as possible hotels to help boost Rangoon’s room shortage.

The former office of the Immigration and Manpower Department (next to Rangoon City Hall) has undergone major renovation. Private construction companies are renovating many old government office buildings in Rangoon, mostly built during the British colonial era.

The politics of Burma’s economic reform: report

Monday, 30 July 2012 13:23 International Crisis Group

Burma’s political transition and economic reconstruction are deeply entwined, and the government, the country’s elites and the international community must embrace both for the dramatic reforms underway to succeed, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

InternationalcrisisgroupThe report, Myanmar: The Politics of Economic Reform, released last week examines the benefits and challenges of the ambitious program of economic change set in motion by President Thein Sein and his administration.

In an effort to create a rapidly growing economy and catch up to its neighbours, the government wants to do away with the restrictions and privileges of the old economic order, which benefited the military, party elite and crony businessmen, said a summary of the report’s findings.

“If the reforms are done well, many across the country stand to benefit, but those who profited most from the old regime’s restrictions and privileges will lose access to windfall profits and guaranteed monopolies,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, the group’s South East Asia project director. “The crony businessmen, military and party machine will still do well but will need to play by new rules, meet domestic and foreign competition and even pay taxes.”

Although economic reform will bring significant changes, especially for key pillars of the old regime, there have been few efforts to disrupt the project. Previously privileged businesses understand the advantage of joining a growing and competitive global economy. Instead of pushing back, elites – still hugely advantaged – are attempting to distance themselves from a history of official privilege and participate fully in the new economy. In addition, the recent resignation of Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo, often regarded as an obstacle to economic restructuring, may aid the reform project, the report said.

President Thein Sein still faces many challenges, however. The government’s limited experience and technical capacity hinder the speed and effectiveness with which sweeping new policies can be implemented. This deficit may be particularly telling when policies require swift adjustment, according to the ICG.

It said conomic reform cannot be achieved without the promise of political stability. Similarly, governance transition cannot be successful without the guarantee of economic growth and equity, including quick-impact measures that produce a tangible effect on the lives of the bulk of the citizenry, such as improved access to electricity, land law reform, better public transport, cheaper telecommunications and lower informal fees of the kind that block access to health and education services.

With the success of political and economic reforms inextricably linked and the potential benefits in the country’s transformation great, Burma’s government, military, business elites and ordinary people alike should welcome and work to adopt them, it said.

But, it said international community support remains vital as well, including continuation of the process of removing sanctions imposed against the old regime. It would be highly counterproductive, for example, were the US to retain its ban on imports, as a Senate committee recommended this month, said ICG.

“In order for the economic reform process to be successful, the political transition must go smoothly as well,” said Paul Quinn-Judge, the group’s acting Asia program director. “But there also needs to be the assurance of economic stability to help the government successfully move on from its authoritarian past. Both are crucial for Myanmar’s advancement.”

Burmese president to meet with political parties

Monday, 30 July 2012 13:10 Mizzima News

Many of Burma’s political parties – including ethnic group parties – will meet with Burmese President Thein Sein in the next two weeks to discuss the government’s plans for countrywide reforms, the Kayin People’s Party (KPP) said on Monday.

Dr. Simon Tha, the KPP vice chairman, said the government will schedule a series of meetings with all the country’s political parties, according to an article on the Karen News website on Monday.

Members of the Kayin People's Party. Photo: Mizzima

“We want to work together with civilians to build a countrywide peace, to unite and to rehabilitate the whole country–not only for the Karen,”he said.

On July 22, government officials held preliminary discussions with the various political organizations to schedule their participation in the country’s peace building process, he said.

Aung Min, one of the vice chairman of the Union Peacemaking Work Committee, attended the discussion,
said Simon Tha.

“We must co-operate with each other for peace without highlighting our ethnicity, religion or skin color if we are to build the country up,” he said.

The KPP won five seats in the parliament during the 2010 national elections.

South China Sea: Asean’s exit strategies

Monday, 30 July 2012 12:52 Kavi Chongkittavorn

(Commentary) - Asean must find a way to put the genie back in the bottle. Otherwise, the tension in the rich South China Sea maritime region will increase further, leading to confrontation – a lose-lose situation the region cannot afford.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

For the past three weeks, Asean's soft underbelly has been badly exposed. To manage the crisis, all concerned parties must demonstrate the strongest political will.

Some necessary steps:

First, the Asean chair must continue its effort to issue the abortive joint communique as soon as possible, because many important decisions are being held up. For instance, the name of next Asean secretary-general, Le Luong Minh, must be submitted for the Asean leaders' formal approval in mid-November.

It if it fails to do so, Asean could face a new leadership crisis. The problematic paragraph on the South China Sea obviously needs to be refined further in language that is acceptable to all Asean members. In this case, the Asean chair, Vietnam and the Philippines, must meet face to face and refresh their wordings to ensure a consensus text. The statement on six principles on the South China Sea worked out by Indonesia is useful as well. It could be collaborated or added as an appendix to the main document.

The Asean foreign ministers must return to their notes again so that the important deliberations can be reflected in black and white. Asean's interest must come first. This is not the first time that Asean has become stuck in a word game.

In the past, it has successfully overcome problems of wording regarding conflicts between the Palestinians and Israel in the Middle East; India and Pakistan over the Kashmir problem; North Korea and South Korea; and finally last year's conflict between Thailand and Cambodia over an ancient Hindu Temple. Whatever Asean decides on the final statement, major powers will accept it and make necessary adjustments in their positions accordingly.

Second, non-claimant Asean members must be more pro-active. At this moment, Indonesia stands out as the only member capable of mediating intra-Asean quarrels, thanks to Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa's initiative and shuttle diplomacy. Under the Suharto government, it would have been difficult for Indonesia to perform such a task. His predecessors, such as Prof. Mochtar Kusumaadja, and later on, Ali Alatas and Hassan Wirayuda – notwithstanding their seniority and diplomatic skills – would be unable to take advantage of conditions as competitive and stressful as exist today.

As the grouping's most populous member, inevitably, Indonesia's increased Asean profile and intellectual leadership will influence the organization's politics.

Thailand and Singapore used to be in similar positions, taking active roles. However, they are coping with pressing domestic issues. Thailand, as the coordinating country for Asean-China relations, needs to show to its Asean colleagues that Bangkok can use diplomacy to forge Asean consensus, especially at this critical juncture.

At the moment, the function of Thai foreign policy has been shaped and twisted to protect Thaksin Shinawatra's interests, rather than those of the country's as a whole.

Singapore has the brains, but not the size or the political asset that Indonesia has accumulated since 1998.

Third, all claimants need to agree on an ideal model for cooperation, knowing full well that the overlapping claims of sovereignty over disputed islands will not be resolved in the foreseeable future. It is imperative that the Asean claimants agree to follow the successful model of Thailand and Malaysia's joint development of disputed areas in the Gulf of Thailand since 1979. The 50-50 split of benefits has already worked in this context.

In 2008, based on paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's mantra of advocating joint development first and putting aside the sovereignty issue, China and the Philippines agreed to allow their state-owned oil companies to conduct a joint seismic survey of their disputed territorial waters.

Vietnam decided to join the bilateral agreement a few months later with support from the Philippines and China. However, the tripartite arrangement did not produce a result that could provide a template. If the earlier Philippines-China collaboration had proceeded as planned, the overall landscape of the present conflict would have been more conducive to a peaceful settlement.

Now, without a proper model to emulate, nearly all the conflicting parties are asserting their claims, establishing local governments to exercise their sovereignty rights, pushing their longstanding historical claims with ancient documents such as maps and through selective applications of the UN Law of the Sea.

To compound the issue, in Vietnam the disputed area is called the East Sea and in the Philippines, the Western Philippine Sea. Deep down, they realize that eventually they must soften their positions to end the current stalemate. But it must be done in a graceful way that does not force anyone to lose too much face. In Phnom Penh, sad to say though, the chair and key claimants have placed themselves in a corner by virtue of their arguments and nationalistic stands.

Fourth, Asean should continue to discuss the South China Sea, as members have done in the past among themselves and with China, under the Asean-plus-one formula. Other Asean-led forums such as the Asean Regional Forum, East Asia Summit and Asean Defense Ministerial Meeting Plus are complementary to the ministerial one. If Asean decides to duck the issue, fearing China's wrath, it would dent the grouping's credibility further. At the upcoming East Asia Summit, leaders can raise any issue, with or without the consent of Asean.

China and Asean need to look back at how they broke through the impasse in April 1995 when their relations were at an all time low over the dispute at Mischief Reef.

Since all claimants and dialogue partners have expressed strong support for the ongoing process of competing regional codes of conduct (COCs) on the South China Sea, they should allow the Asean-China senior officials to work on the COC without hindrance. Beijing's early willingness to negotiate the COC with Asean must be restored. To show goodwill, China also must make clear the guidelines for Asean to use the US$ 500-million maritime cooperation fund set up last year, especially regarding joint development and research projects.

Finally, if it wants to play in the major leagues, Asean must be prepared. One of the strategies is to increase the capacity of the Asean Secretariat. At the moment, it is relatively under-funded and weak, especially its political/security and social/cultural pillars. Asean performs well only on economic cooperation and integration.

Truth be told, while its leaders expressed support for the current effort by Asean Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan to strengthen the Asean Secretariat and other organs, they have never agreed exactly on how a stronger secretariat would be able to carry out its mandates. Senior officials and the Jakarta-based envoys from Asean speak and act on behalf of their countries. Surin and his staff do not. His tenure ends in December and Le Luong Minh will take over from January 2013.

Without any clear direction, Asean's much vaulted centrality and neutrality could be challenged and subsequently eroded, as – beyond diplomatic pleasantries – the dialogue partners are demanding "equal partnership" in all forums. The last-minute decision of France, the US and the UK to postpone signing the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty was indicative of the growing interconnectedness between Asean and major powers and the latter's ability to influence Asean process.

Only China and Russia stand ready to sign. Article 11, item 9 of the Asean Charter succinctly states that each Asean member "undertakes to respect the exclusive Asean character of the responsibilities of the secretary-general and the staff, and not to seek to influence them in the discharge of the responsibilities."

Surin's predecessor, Ong Keng Yong, introduced this clause based on his deep understanding of Asean's psyche and backbone. So far, none of the Asean leaders who signed the charter has done that.

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a widely respected political analyst with broad experience in Southeast Asia’s cultural and political affairs.

200 foreign businesspersons attend agriculture conference

Monday, 30 July 2012 15:52 Theingi Tun

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Foreign businesspersons outnumbered Burmese businesspersons at the recently completed  “Into Myanmar: Agri Trade, Investment & Infrastructure Global Summit 2012” at the Sedona Hotel in Rangoon.

The conference was hosted by Burma on June 26-27 and nearly 200 businesspersons attended from nine countries: Burma, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Australia, Vietnam, Italy, Japan and Hong Kong.

A farmer sprinkles fertilizer on his rice field in Bago District, northeast of Rangoon. Photo: AFP

Ninety-six Burmese businesspersons attended from groups including Myanmar Rice Industry Association, Myanmar Rice and Paddy Traders Association, Myanmar Edible Oil Dealers Association, Myanmar Fruit and Vegetable and Flower Producer Association.

“The international community wants to know what happening in Burma now that it’s opening. I want officials to hold a summit like this twice per year,” said Myo Aung Kyaw of Myanmar Rice Industry Association, who attended the summit, adding that it’s an easy way to get detailed knowledge of the agricultural sector.

The summit discussed amendments to the foreign investment law, the agricultural sector, the currency policy and the electricity sector.

Myo Aung Kyaw said that to run rice factories, it is important to get regular electricity but in Burma now the electricity supply is not sufficient. Transportation costs are also high and the transportation system must be upgraded.

“To get electricity is important. Otherwise, it will be difficult for foreign investors to invest in Burma. It is very important to improve basic infrastructure,” said Myo Aung Kyaw.

The conference was organized by Magenta Global, which is based in Singapore.

Moderate earthquake hits western Burma

Monday, 30 July 2012 13:57 Mizzima News    

An earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale struck northwestern Chin state on Sunday morning, according to the Naypyitaw Hydrology and Meteorology Department.

The department said the epicenter was about 22.4 kilometers southeast of Hakha and about 216 km northwest of Mandalay.

The quake struck at 08:51 local time and was felt in Mandalay and Sagaing regions,.

There have been no reports of casualties or damage so far.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter, with a depth of 68.40 km, was initially determined to be at 23.0102 degrees north latitude and 94.3284 degrees east longitude.

Burmese athletes to compete in 7th Asean Para Game

Monday, 30 July 2012 12:09 Lynn Ko

Rangoon (Mizzima) – Two hundred Burmese handicapped athletes will contest in 12 sports in the Seventh Asean Para Games (APSF) in Burma in December 2013, Major General Nay Lin, the president of the Myanmar Parasports Federation, said in a meeting in Naypyitaw.

Asean-Para-Games-logoBurma will host the 27th SEA Games, followed by the Seventh Asean Para Games held in Naypyitaw, Rangoon and Mandalay because Asean Para Games are usually hosted by the same country that host the SEA Games.

APSF officials said they were satisfied with Burma’s special preparations to serve the physically impaired athletes special needs. He said Burma’s venues would meet world class standards and Burma could be one of the sports leaders in Asean by 2013.
“Our athletes will compete in track and field, swimming, table tennis, sitting volley ball, chess for the blind, gun shooting, soccer for the blind, weight lifting, bowling, golf, archery and basket ball,” said Major General Nay Lin. 

Thirty-six Burmese athletes competed in the Sixth Asean Para Games held in Indonesia and won a total of 34 medals.

“Training the athletes in camp as preparation for competing in the Para Games, we need to spend an estimated 442 million kyat,” he said.

He added that to host the games, Burma will provide vehicles for handicapped athletes, hostels, sports villages and volunteers.

Burma competed with Singapore to host the 27th SEA Games. Singapore withdrew its hosting rights due to expected delays in the completion of its new national stadium.
Friday, July 27, 2012

Burma to privatize declining oil refineries

Friday, 27 July 2012 12:18 Mizzima News    

Burma’s aging three oil refineries, which produce only a meager number of barrels per daily, will be privatized, say government authorities.

The government will privatize all state-owned oil refineries in a bid to have them modernized and turned into effective operations, Biweekly Eleven News reported on Thursday.

The oil refinery in Thanlyin Township in Rangoon Region will be the first to be privatized, perhaps by late this year, said the report.

Burma’s three existing oil refineries are Thanlyin oil refinery, Mann Thanpayarkan oil refinery and Chauk oil refinery, which combined produce only around 7,500 barrels of oil a day. Of them, the Thanlyin oil refinery can produce 11,000 barrels of light oil per day.

In fiscal year 2012-13, the government has targeted to extract 7. 156 million barrels of crude oil. About 3.435 million is from inland blocks and 3.721 million from offshore blocks. Most of the oil is shipped abroad.

The government says more crude oil is projected to be extracted from the offshore block of Tanintharyi and more oil blocks will be developed in Magway, Bago and Ayeyawady regions this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Energy is cooperating with the Asean Council on Petroleum (ASCOPE) to share technologies and equipment for oil and gas exploration, production, refining and commercial sectors, the article said.

Burma is now preparing to accept tender offers on a number of new onshore and offshore blocks for exploration, and many foreign oil and gas firms are expected to offer bids. The country is recognized as having one of the region’s most extensive oil and gas reserves.

According to the Total oil company website, Burma is one of the world's oldest oil producers, exporting its first barrel in 1853. Rangoon Oil Company, the first foreign oil company to drill in the country, was created in 1871. Between 1886 and 1963, the country's oil industry was dominated by Burmah Oil Company which discovered the Yenangyaung field in 1887 and the Chauk field in 1902. Both are still in production.

The oil and gas industry was nationalized after a socialist-leaning military regime seized power in 1962. As in many other countries, the State assumed ownership of the resources, either operating them itself or delegating this task to private operators, who were paid for their outlay and work in oil or gas under production sharing contracts.

The linchpin of oil and gas industry in Burma is the Ministry of Energy, which has oversight for three state-owned enterprises:
Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), created in 1963, is responsible for oil and gas exploration and production, as well as domestic gas transmission through a 1,200-mile onshore pipeline network.
Myanma Petrochemical Enterprise (MPE) operates three small refineries, three fertilizer plants and a number of other processing plants.
Myanma Petroleum Products Enterprise (MPPE) is responsible for retail and wholesale distribution of petroleum products.

Pakistani Taliban threatens Burma over Rohingya issue

Friday, 27 July 2012 13:53 Mizzima News

Burma has been threated with attacks by an umbrella group of the Pakistani Taliban over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims in the western area of Burma.

Attacks to avenge crimes against the Rohingya will begin, the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) said in a statement on Thursday, unless Pakistan halts all relations with the Burmese government and shuts the country's embassy in Islamabad.

Indonesian lawmaker Eva Kusuma Sundari. Photo: Facebook

The TTP told Muslims in Burma, “We will take revenge of your blood.”

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, demanded that the Pakistani government halt intra-national relations and close Burma's embassy.

“Otherwise we will not only attack Burmese interests anywhere but will also attack the Pakistani fellows of Burma one by one,” he said in a statement.

US officials said earlier that there is evidence the Taliban group was behind a failed 2010 attempt to bomb Times Square in New York, for which Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad was jailed for life.

TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud has been charged in the United States over the killings of seven CIA agents who died when a Jordanian Al-Qaeda double agent blew himself up at a US base in Afghanistan in December 2009.

Recent clashes in western Burma between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya have left up to 78 people dead and tens of thousands living in refugee camps.

Meanwhile, an Indonesian politician has come forward to condemn violence against the Rohingya, according to wire reports.

Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus chairman Eva Kusuma Sundari, who represents Indonesia's PDI-P party, said Asean and the rest of the international community need to put political pressure on Burma to resolve the plight of the Rohingyas Asean called for an "explantion" from Burma this week, explaining the violence and clashes in the state.

Last week, Amnesty International (AI) said hundreds of people, mostly men and boys, have been detained in sweeps of areas heavily populated by the Rohingya, with almost all held incommunicado and some ill-treated.

AI said there were “credible reports” of abuses - including rape, destruction of property and unlawful killings - by both Rakhine Buddhists and the security forces.

The European Commission also issued a report on Friday calling for international access to the western area in order to provide more aid to the people affected by the clashes between Muslim and Buddhists.

Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya stateless. There are thought to be 800,000 in Burma. The United Nations calls them one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

According to Wikipedia, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, sometimes referred to as the Pakistani Taliban, is an umbrella organization of various Islamist militant groups based in the northwestern area of Pakistan along the Afghan border.

The TTP is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar, with both groups differing greatly in their histories, strategic goals and interests.

The Afghan Taliban, with the alleged support of Pakistan, operate against international coalition and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan but are strictly opposed to targeting the Pakistani state. In contrast, the TTP has almost exclusively targeted elements of the Pakistani government although it took credit for the 2009 Camp Chapman attack and the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt.

Japan to open Rangoon office to assist businesses

Friday, 27 July 2012 12:45 Mizzima News

The Japan External Trade Organization (Jetro) said it would open a business support center in Rangoon on Sept. 3 to assist Japanese firms planning to do business in Burma.

The center will provide short-term office rentals, local information and business consulting services with Japanese advisers, Jetro said in a statement.

Three 10-sq.-meter rooms will be available for use as rental offices. Small and medium-size firms will be charged US$ 400 to use an office for 70 days, the maximum for any one company. The fee for larger firms will be $977.

UN human rights leader calls for ‘independent’ Rakhine State investigation

Friday, 27 July 2012 17:00 Mizzima News

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday called for a “prompt, independent” investigation into ongoing human rights violations in Burma’s Arakan (Rakhine) State after ongoing violence between the Buddhist and Muslim communities.

“We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes,” said Commissioner Navi Pillay said.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay Photo: unspecial.org

“Reports indicate that the initial swift response of the authorities to the communal violence may have turned into a crackdown targeting Muslims, in particular members of the Rohingya community.”

Meanwhile, Tomas Quintana, the UN expert on human rights in Burma, will visit the country for four days starting on Tuesday, at the invitation of the government.

Quintana will visit Arakan State for one day said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a statement on Friday. Quintana will report his findings to the UN Human Rights Council, OHCHR said.

The violence in Arakan State in western Burma has claimed up to 78 lives and thousands of homes and businesses were burned during June.

High Commissioner Pillay said, “The government has a responsibility to prevent and punish violent acts, irrespective of which ethnic or religious group is responsible, without discrimination and in accordance with the rule of law.”

Pillay expressed dismay at the derogatory language used against the Rohingya by state-run media, some independent media, and social networking websites.

She noted earlier commitments by the government that said it would conduct an investigation and a recent fact-finding mission by the Myanmar Human Rights Commission.

“I also welcome the government's decision to allow the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar access to Rakhine State during his planned mission to Myanmar next week. It is important that those affected from all communities in Rakhine are able to speak freely to the Special Rapporteur,” the High Commissioner said.

“But while he will be able to make an initial assessment during his one-day visit, this is no substitute for a fully-fledged independent investigation,” she said.

She also called on Burmese national leaders to speak out against discrimination, the exclusion of minorities and racist attitudes, and in support of equal rights for all, and stressed that the United Nations was making an effort to protect and assist all communities in Rakhine State.

“Prejudice and violence against members of ethnic and religious minorities run the risk of dividing the country in its commendable national reconciliation efforts, undermine national solidarity, and upset prospects of peace-building,” she said.

This week, the European Commission, the US, Asean, Islamic organizations and Quintana, the UN special human rights reporter, have called for access to western Burma by humanitarian groups and for a credible investigation.

Earlier this week, 58 civil society groups condemned what it said is a “wave of abuse launched by state authorities in Myanmar against the Rohingya community,” in a statement released on Tuesday.

It also charged Bangladesh with flouting international law in its attempts to prevent fleeing Rohingya from entering the country.

The coalition group – led by Refugees International, the Arakan Project, and the Equal Rights Trust – issued a series of recommendations that were delivered to the governments of Burma and Bangladesh on Tuesday.

“In Myanmar, what began as inter-communal violence has evolved into large scale state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya,” said the statement.

“Many Rohingya continue to be victims of violence and cannot leave their homes for fear of persecution, and are thus deprived of their livelihood and most basic needs,” said the advocacy groups. “The urgent humanitarian needs of those displaced (IDPs) – including those not in IDP camps – are not being adequately met and there is concern that those displaced will not be allowed to return to their homes as soon as it is safe to do so, thus creating a situation of protracted displacement.”

Suu Kyi speaks to international HIV/AIDS conference

Friday, 27 July 2012 14:13 Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi, speaking via video to the International HIV/AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. on Thursday, said the stigma against HIV/AIDS patients found in many countries must end.

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a World AIDS Day ceremony at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon in December 2010. Photo: Mizzima

People need to understand HIV and know that this “is not something that we need to be afraid of, that people who have contracted HIV need not be discriminated against, that they’re not a danger to society at large.”

“Once this message has gotten through, we will be able to base activities on the natural compassion of human beings and of course as the great majority of people in Burma are Buddhist, there’s a special emphasis on the value of compassion,” she said.

Based on this, she said she hoped that Burma will be able “to become one of those innovative societies where we approach a problem as human beings –  as intelligent, caring human beings.

“In this way, we will be able to handle not just the issue of AIDS and new ideas, but issues related to those who are subjected to particular suffering and particular discrimination," she said.

This year's conference featured speakers such as Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Laura Bush and others.

Also on Thursday, former US first lady Laura Bush stressed that women continue to play a crucial role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

“When you look around the world, you see that women are in the forefront of life changing progress,” she said in her speech. “Women have been central in the fight against AIDS.”

The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said that he is confident that an end to the HIV epidemic is near.

“Ending the epidemic really means reducing the numbers of new infections which are occurring as well as protecting the lives of those who are infected,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

“The cure discussion is very exciting. I think we’re moving along and understanding what the elements of a cure are likely to be, but it will take some time to reach there. Ending the epidemic I think is within our grasp, and we must continue to push for a cure as well,” he said.

The last time the International AIDS Conference was held in the United States was in San Francisco in 1990. In 1987, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation banning the entrance of all HIV-infected persons into the country over the age of 14 years. The U.S. issued a waiver allowing HIV-positive delegates to attend the 1990 conference in San Francisco but refused to raise the ban outright.

As a result, every IAS meeting since has been held outside of the United States, until now. In 2010, President Barrack Obama overturned the 22-year-old travel and immigration ban, opening the doors for this week's gathering.

A lot has changed since the 1980s, when the United States was a country with one of the greatest numbers of people infected with HIV.

In 2010, HIV claimed the lives of 1.8 million people in the world, yet that still leaves an estimated 34 million more to continue living with the disease; 17 million of those infected are women.

Photo News - July 2012


Burma prepares for SEA Games

Zabuthiri Football Stadium in which the opening and the closing ceremonies of SEA Games will be held in December 2013. Sports Minister Tint San said that more than 80 per cent of the construction work for the stadium has been completed and it will be finished by December 2012. He said Burmese athletes could win up to 100 medals. Photo: Myo Thant/Mizzima

A javalin athlete trains at Lewe Field in Naypyitaw on July 23. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Vice President Sai Mauk Kham and members of the Committee for Preparation of the 27th SEA Games speak to athletes at Lewe Field in Naypyitaw on July 23. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Dr. Sai Mauk Kham and Sports Ministe Tint San observe athletes at Lewe Field in Naypyitaw on July 23. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Zabuthiri Football Stadium in Naypyitaw. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Archers at the archer training field in Naypyitaw prepare for the 27th SEA Games.

A cycling practice field in Naypyitaw awaits athletes. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Vice President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham, patron of the Committee for Preparation of the 27th SEA Games, and the government coordination committee in Naypyitaw on July 23, 2012. He said Burmese athletes have a chance to write history. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Vice President Sai Mauk Kham speaks at a meeting of the government’s coordination committee, in Naypyitaw on July 23. Photo: Lin Ko Ko Htet / Mizzima

Sports Ministe Tint San speaks at a meeting of the government’s coordination committee in Naypyitaw on July 23. Photo: Lin Ko Ko Htet / Mizzima

A female weight lifter trains at Lewe Field in Naypyitaw on July 23, 2012, to prepare for the 27th SEA Games. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

A female Tai Chi Chuan [Chinese marital arts] athlete trains at Lewe Field in Naypyitaw on July 23 to prepare for 27th SEA Games. Photo: Mizzima / Myo Thant

Derek Mitchell, the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years, speaks to local and foreign media at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon on Friday, July 20, 2012. He said that the U.S. has donated US$ 3 million to the Food and Agriculture Organization to buy 3,400 tons of food, which is enough for six months for 55,000 refugees in Kachin and northern Shan states. Photo: Mizzima

People turn out for NLD Martyrs Day ceremony

A child holds a picture of Gen. Aung San at the commemoration of Martyrs Day at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Rangoon on Thursday, July 19, 2012. For the first time in recent years, top government officials held a ceremony at the Martyrs Mausoleum in Rangoon. The government denied gatherings at a number of cities across the country. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

People hold a moment of silence in front of the NLD headquarters on Friday, July 19, 2012, to commemorate Martyrs Day. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi attends the commemoration of Martyrs Day at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon on Thursday, July 19, 2012. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at NLD headquarters on Thursday, July 19. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the commemoration of Martyrs Day at the National League for Democracy headquarters on Thursday, July 19, 2012. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi prays in honour of her late father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, during a ceremony to mark the country's 65th anniversary of Martyrs Day at the Martyrs Mausoleum in Rangoon on Friday, July 19, 2012. The memorial is a tribute to Aung San and several other independence leaders who were killed on July 19, 1947. Photo: AFP

Vice president Sai Mauk Kham at a ceremony to mark the country's 65th anniversary of Martyrs Day at the Martyrs Mausoleum in Rangoon on Friday, July 19, 2012. Photo: President's office

Burmese Ambassador to Thailand Tin Win at Wat Sai Moon Buddhist Monastery in Chiang Mai on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. The Burmese Buddhist Abbot Arthaba, 91, died on December 19, 2011. Thailand’s Department of Religion and Thai monks are preparing to replace U Arthaba with a Thai Buddhist monk, but the Burmese community objects to the plan. For many years, succession of Burmese abbots took place at the monastery. Tin Win said he would work to have a Burmese abbot appointed. Photo: Mizzima

Wat Sai Moon Buddhist Monastery in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Photo: Mizzima

Commerce Minister Win Myint and Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe at the opening of the Myanmar Rice Industry Association conference at the Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon on Saturday July 14, 2012. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe at the conference of Myanmar Rice Industry Association (MRIA) at the Myanmar Convention Center in Rangoon on Saturday, July 14, 2012. Myint Swe will be nominated as the new vice president. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

Commerce Minister Win Myint and Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe at the Myanmar Rice Industry Association conference at the Myanmar Convention Center on Saturday, July 14, 2012. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

Commerce Minister Win Myint speaks at the Myanmar Rice Industry Association’s conference  in Rangoon on Saturday, July 14, 2012. He told the confeence the ministry would allow people to import agricultural machinery and farm equipment freely. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

Rangoon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe  at the Myanmar Rice Industry Association conference in Rangoon on Saturday, July 14, 2012. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

Myanmar Rice Industry Association chairman Chit Khaing at the conference in Rangoon on Saturday, July 14, 2012. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Burmese President Thein Sein before a meeting in Siem Reap on Friday, July 13, 2012. Clinton met Thein Sein for talks days after Washington eased its sanctions against Burma on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, the U.N.  High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks at a press conference in Rangoon on Thursday, July 12, 2012. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, the U.N.  High Commissioner for Refugees, speaks at a press conference in Rangoon on Thursday, July 12, 2012. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

The newly accredited U.S. Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell presents his letter of credence to Burmese President Thein Sein at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Mitchell is the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in 22 years, a sign of normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries. Photo: President Office

Antonio Manuel de Oliveira Guterres,  left, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, greets Thura Shwe Mann, the speaker of Burma's Lower House of Parliament in Naypyidaw on Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Photo: AFP

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) foreign ministers and Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsawan join hands for a group photo during the 45th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers' Meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Photo: Asean

Celebrated actor and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan speaks at a press conference held at the Sedona Hotel in Rangoon on Saturday, July 7. Chan was in Burma to campaign against child trafficking. He met Burmese officials and also traveled to Mandalay to speak with children and officials. Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan speaks to the press in Rangoon on Saturday, July 7, 2012. The action movie star said, “Trafficking and exploiting children are horrific crimes. They leave lifelong scars and rob children of their childhoods.” Photo: Ye Min / Mizzima

Prominent 88-Generation Student Group leaders on Saturday mark the 50th anniversary of the destruction of Rangoon Student Union building, which was attacked and dynamited by General Ne Win’s government on July 7, 1962. 88-generation student leaders Zaw Zaw Min, Htay Kywe, Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Ko Ko Gyi and members of All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) attended the ceremony. ABFSU leaders D Nyein Lin, Sithu Maung, Phyo Phyo Aung and Ye Myint Hein were arrested on July 6, but they were released the next day after protests by human rights groups. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

88-Generation leader Min Ko Naing speaks at the commemoration to mark the anniversary of the destruction of the Rangoon University Student Union building in 1962, in which many students were killed. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

88-Generation Student leader Ko Ko Gyi speaks to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of students at Rangoon University during demonstrations that saw the dynamiting of the Student Union building in 1962. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

88-Geneation leader Htay Kywe speaks on Saturday, July 7, 2012, at the commemoration to mark the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the Rangoon University Student Union building. Photo: Myo Thant / Mizzima

UNICEF Burma Representative Ramesh Shrestha welcomes movie star Jackie Chan at the Mandalay International Airport on Thursday, July 5, 2012, before he meets with officials and children on a three-day tour to combat child trafficking. Photo: UNICEF

Jackie Chan is in Burma as a UNICEF ambassador for a 3-day mission to help raise awareness on child trafficking. He  will also visit with government officials in Naypyitaw, the capital. Photo: UNICEF

Jackie Chan, standing center, with UNICEF staff members in Mandalay on Thursday, July 5, 2012.  Burma has made important changes during the past year, in association with the International Labour Organization, to combat human trafficking. Photo: UNICEF

Members of the Burmese Parliament attend the opening of the Lower House session in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, July 4, 2012. The issue of sectarian unrest in Rakhine State is expected to be raised and discussed. Photo: AFP

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the media during a press conference at the National League for Democracy Party headquarters in Rangoon on Tuesday, July 3, 2012, following the decision to postpone her debut in the country's Parliament this week to give herself time to recover from a gruelling European tour. Photo: AFP

Hundreds of supporters crowd around Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, center, upon her arrival at Yangon International Airport on Saturday, June 30, 2012, after her five-nation European tour. Photo: AFP