Friday, September 28, 2012

Thein Sein leaves door open for one more term, praises Suu Kyi

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Friday, 28 September 2012 12:11 Mizzima News    

Burma’s reforms are  “irreversible” and the country’s ethnic conflicts, including the Muslim Rohingya issue, will be resolved according to “international norms,” President Thein Sein told the 67th UN General Assembly in an address on Thursday.

President Thein Sein addresses the UN General Assembly. UN Photo

His speech was broadcast live on Burmese state television.

Burma, he said, was now “leaving behind a system of authoritarian government,” and working to end ethnic conflicts and community violence in western Burma.

Thein Sein listed a number of reforms his government had undertaken, including the granting of amnesties to prisoners, the convening of credible 2012 by-elections, the abolition of media censorship and the increased participation of the Burmese people in the country’s political process.

He noted the role of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently on a US visit during which she received the Congressional Gold Medal—the country’s top civilian award—and met with US President Barack Obama.

Thein Sein publicly praised Suu Kyi, referring to her as a “Nobel laureate.”

“As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy,” Thein Sein said.

Later, speaking at the Asia Society in New York, he said Suu Kyi had played a “crucial role in the reform process.”

“She's been a good colleague,” Thein Sein said, according to the interpretation of his comments, made in the Burmese language. “I believe she will continue to work with us to complete all the things we need to achieve in the country.”

Later, responding to a question, Thein Sein said, "If I have my way, I will only serve one term,” but he left the door open to seek a second term of office in the country’s 2015 election.

“But of course the future of the position depends on the needs of country and the wishes of the people,” he said, according to wire reports.

He told the UN that his government is trying to reconcile conflicts with the country’s many ethnic groups.

“We have so far achieved cease-fire agreements with 10 armed groups, while further strengthening confidence-building measures we will continue the peace talks,” Sein told his UN audience. “National-level peace negotiations will then continue toward a final peace agreement that would completely end the armed hostilities.”

Acknowledging the recent violence in western Rakhine State between Rakhine Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims that has claimed nearly a hundred lives, he said all people in Burma have a right to live in peace and security, and an investigation commission would submit their findings and recommendations to him.

Political pundits say the next election in 2015 offers the possibility of a sweeping victory to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, which swept by-elections in April and raises the question of whether the country’s powerful military would accept the outcome.

Three years away from the next elections, few expect the military or Thein Sein's military-dominated ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) to allow any dilution of the military's powers.

Thein Sein’s recognition of Aung San Suu Kyi’s work is believed to be the first time a Burmese leader had mentioned the democracy leader at a world body.
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Thein Sein: ‘We have to accept diversity’

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Friday, 28 September 2012 12:32 Mizzima News

President Thein Sein said that Burma has left behind its authoritarian government and must now revive a democratic culture, in a talk at the Asia Society headquarters in New York on Thursday.

“I don't think there will be any reversal in the political transition,” Thein Sein said through a translator, according to an article on the group’s website. “The entire population — 60 million of them — also want a democratic system, so as long as there is stability and rule of law and also economic growth, I don't think there will be any reversal.”

“In order for Myanmar to become a viable democracy, we will have to revive the democratic culture,” said Thein Sein, a former general who served as prime minister in the previous military government.

“We will have to try to meet the democratic standard that has been set internationally. We will have to accept diversity, and then we will also have to try to establish a harmonious society,” he said.

Thein Sein and representatives from his cabinet fielded questions on a range of issues. When asked about his government’s response to ethnic unrest in Burma, he said cease-fires have been attained in 10 of 11 clashes with ethnic minorities.

“We plan to achieve sustainable peace,” Thein Sein said. “As you all know, the situation in the north is not very stable, the fighting with the Kachin independence army is still going on.”

“The problem is that there are some differences that need to be sorted out. From the government side, we have ordered our troops to stop fighting against Kachin troops. But our Kachin colleagues have not reciprocated in a similar way, so we will have to find a way to reconcile our differences,” he said.
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Suu Kyi stresses importance of voting in Harvard, Yale speeches

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Friday, 28 September 2012 12:51 Mizzima News

Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi recalled the task of educating Burmese citizens to be responsible members of a free society during a speech at Harvard University on Thursday.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, took questions from students at the Harvard Kennedy School. Photo: Harvard

She said that following decades of military rule in which Burmese citizens had been treated as “immature children,” it was necessary to emphasize citizenship in the role of a democracy, and the importance of casting a vote.

“People need to understand they have the power to change their own community,” she said.

“On the day of the elections, you will be the equal of the president himself,” Suu Kyi recalled telling voters. "He will have one vote, you will have one vote. Use it.”

Suu Kyi said she's surprised when people say she's a democracy icon, but she lacks political experience.

“What do they think I've been doing for the last 24 years?” Suu Kyi said, adding that she was a founding member of her party, the National League for Democracy, and spent her time under house arrest preparing for her release and her role as leader of an opposition movement. Her party swept the country’s bi-election in April.

She emphasized the need to establish an independent Burmese judiciary to establish a genuine democracy, in talks at both Yale and Harvard universities.

“Once we can say that we have been able to re-establish rule of law, then we can say that the process of democratization has succeeded,” Suu Kyi said at Yale. “Until that point, I do not think that we can say that the process of democratization has succeeded.”

Burma’s judiciary is “practically non-existent,” she said, in her speech, which was broadcast live on video.

“And until we have a strong, independent, clean judiciary, we cannot say that Burma is truly on the road to democracy,” Suu Kyi said.

She said Burma would benefit from its late entrance onto the democratic stage.

“We can learn from the mistakes of the rest,” she said at Harvard.

At Harvard and Yale, students asked Suu Kyi what kept her going during her years of house arrest. She said “inner resources” and a focus on others are needed to face adversity.

“Whenever I heard people in distant places speaking out for our cause,” she said at Harvard, “I was encouraged.”
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Thailand, Burma agree to stronger coordination on Dawei project

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Friday, 28 September 2012 13:08 Mizzima News

Thailand and Burma agreed to put together a high-level coordinating committee to speed up the Dawei deep-sea port project, following a meeting between Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Burma’s President Thein Sein on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York on Thursday.

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Burma's President Thein Sein meet in New York City.  Photo: President's office

The plan puts together a “three-level” group of key government officials from each country to steer the financially troubled project forward.

The three-level mechanism comprises a joint committee chaired by the Burmese deputy president and Thai deputy prime minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong; a coordinating committee headed by the Office of National Economic and Social Development Board; and six sub-committees on infrastructure, industrial estates, energy, community development, rules and laws, and financial aspects, said a source, according to an article in The Bangkok Post.

The sub-committees will be headed by the relative ministers in each country.

“Thailand and Myanmar will announce the project plan during the Asean Summit in Cambodia this November and the Bangkok government will host the first meeting soon,” said a source.

Other issues to be discussed during the meetings include Thailand's interest in cooperating with Burma to develop a economic special zone at Thilawa port in Rangoon, he said.

The Dawei deep sea-port, industrial zone and road and rail link to Thailand includes construction of the Dawei deep sea-port, buildings for shipyard and maintenance work, establishment of zone for petrochemical industries, an oil refinery, steel plant, power stations and a Dawei-Bangkok highway and railroad, plus laying of an oil pipeline along the motorway and railroad, according to the framework agreement.

The project, tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2018, will feature steel mills, refineries, a petrochemical complex and power plants and the strategic Dawei deep-sea port, which is designed to bypass the Malacca Strait and shorten the transportation route to Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Burma and Thailand recently agreed to establish connectivity between the Dawei Special Economic Zone in the southernmost part of Burma and the Laem Chabang Industrial Estate of Chonburi south of Bangkok, in talks concluded in July.
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US Burmese group opposes lifting of sanctions

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Friday, 28 September 2012 13:28 Mizzima News    

The US Campaign for Burma (USCB) said it is disappointed in the US decision to lift import sanctions on Burma.

The situation in Burma does not justify the lifting of all sanctions, said the group. It said the government continues to be undermined by the Burmese military who continue to violate the terms of ethnic cease-fire agreements.

Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma Photo: USCB

It said the Burmese military has refused to obey an order to stop fighting in Kachin State, where fighting has resumed since June 2011.

The group cited three major areas of concern including the judiciary system, an economy still controlled by the military, crony capitalists, and families of the regime, and a military system still above the law and dominant in the country’s political affairs with unchecked powers.

It said there is no sign in sight that the Burmese military will stop committing human rights violations and come under civilian control.

“These changes are not secure and irreversible yet, and it is the major reason for the argument made by key stakeholders of Burma, ethnic nationalities, civil society organizations and democracy activists who all request the United States to maintain the remaining sanctions. However, their voices are simply ignored”, said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and executive director of US Campaign for Burma.

The lifting of sanctions on Burma delegitimizes ethnic nationalities’ demands for a cessation of hostilities in Kachin State, and prematurely rewards the Burmese regime while the military undertakes a clear escalation of violence, he said.

He said the removal of sanctions condones the violence, exacerbates the conflict, destabilizes the negotiations, and sets back the peace process.
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Increase in arbitrary arrests in Burma: report

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Friday, 28 September 2012 13:57 Mizzima News

Burma continues to use arbitrary arrest as a tool to hold members of the democracy and human rights movement behind bars often without formal charges, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma said in a statement on Thursday.

An “alarming increase” in the number of arbitrary arrests suggests that Burma has made no significant progress towards protecting and promoting the fundamental civil and political liberties of the people, the statement said.

Since January 2012, it said: “We have documented at least 200 politically motivated arrests without formal charges in this eight month time period. Of these arrests, less than 60 have resulted in formal court proceedings. Many leave detention unsure whether they will face trial or not. It is clear that politically motivated arrests remains a favored tactic for suppressing critical voices of democracy and human rights.”

“This is roughly half the number of political prisoners released in the same period and a major cause of concern,” it said.

The AAPP said many of those who speak out continue to be intimidated and treated in a degrading manner consistent with extreme tactics used when Burma was under direct military rule.

Common means of intimidation, which include sexual violence and beatings, are never investigated by the police or judiciary, it said.

The arrest rates correlated to the highs and lulls in Burma's popular resistance movement, it said. For example, arrest rates are highest in the months of May, July, and September, which coincided with the protests against power cuts, commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the military crackdown on student demonstrations and demonstrations at a copper mine and a clothing factory.

It said the government continues to be selective about what type of freedom of expression is allowed and what type is prohibited.

The most frequent reason for arbitrary arrest is protesting, it said. Throughout the year the authorities have conducted sweeping arrests of people demonstrating peacefully. Suspected leaders of a demonstration are often threatened and intimidated in an attempt to dissuade them from pursuing their dissident activities. In some cases, protestors are not released from detention until they sign a form stating they will never get involved in politics again, said the AAPP.

Also of concern is the new public demonstration bill, it said, which offers no protection to protestors and only increases vulnerability to arrest. Protestors risk one year imprisonment for demonstrating without a permit, which is difficult to obtain, or six months imprisonment for violating the strict regulations of the protest bill, which include giving speeches that contain false information or chanting slogans that were not pre-approved.

These restrictions make the protest bill incompatible with widely accepted human rights standards, particularly freedom of expression and assembly, it said.

It said any form of unacknowledged arrest or detention is outlawed under international law. In Burma, however, political detainees are often held without charge, without access to outside communication including family members, without access to legal counsel, and without notice of the length of detention.

To see the complete report, go to http://www.aappb.org/
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Thein Sein invited to visit Brussels

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Friday, 28 September 2012 14:41 Mizzima News

Catherine Ashton, vice president of the European Commission, met with Burma’s President Thein Sein on the sidelines of the 67th UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday and invited him to visit Brussels soon.

The EU has started the procedure to reinstate the General System of Trade Preferences that will help Burma to expand exports to the EU.

Ashton has announced €150 million of additional funds in support of Burma’s ongoing reforms as well as projects in health and education.
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Text of Thein Sein’s UN speech

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Friday, 28 September 2012 14:22 Mizzima News

The following is the translated text of President Thein Sein’s speech to the 67th UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday: 

President Thein Sein addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 Photo: President's office

Mr. President,

“First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you on your well-deserved election as the President of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Your country, Serbia, and Myanmar has traditionally enjoyed the close friendship and cooperation. Under your able leadership, the General Assembly will make deliberations on measures to address the challenges being faced by the world today. I am confident that your vast wisdom, rich experiences and high diplomatic skills would guide our deliberations to produce desired outcomes.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to your predecessor, H. E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz A1-Nasser, for his outstanding leadership at the 66th session.

Mr. President,

Myanmar consistently pursues an independent and active foreign policy. One of the basic tenets of our foreign policy is to actively contribute towards the maintenance of international peace and security. In so doing, we encourage efforts to settle differences among nations by peaceful and amicable means. This position of ours matches well with the essence of one of the high-level themes of the current session, namely, "Settlement of disputes by Peaceful Coordination or Means."

Mr. President,

There exist differing views and assessments on the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) held in Brazil in June this year. A number of important decisions were taken on various issues such as the renewing of commitments, the linkage of sustainable development to the Millennium Development Goals-MDGs, the renewable energy and the establishment of arrangements for a better coordination on the sustainable development. It is necessary for the member states to turn these decisions into actions in order to leave behind the legacy of a safe and sustainable environment to our future generations.

Mr. President,

Since becoming a member, Myanmar has always adhered to the founding principles of the United Nations. Our participation in the General Assembly here in New York amply demonstrates our commitment to an active participation in and cooperation with the work of the Organisation.

The world today is replete with new challenges and opportunities. Urbanization and industrialization are taking place in developing countries in an unprecedented scale. The rapid progress in information technology is giving an impression that our world is getting smaller. On the other hand, the natural environment and climate is encountering new threats and challenges. In short, the world is changing as never before.

In addition, it is also timely and appropriate to pay our attention to issues like the post- 2015 Development Agenda and Rule of Law during the current session.

Mr. President,

Myanmar is making progress on her democratic path. But this has not been an easy task.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to share our experiences in this regard.

In the ongoing reform process, we are facing challenges as well as opportunities. Within a short time, the people of Myanmar have been able to bring about amazing changes. I feel greatly privileged and honored to dutifully serve the people as their President at this crucial time in the history of our nation. I truly take my people as my own parents and elders.

After taking office about 18 months ago, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the Armed forces, the national races, political parties, civil societies and the people at large have been taking tangible irreversible steps in the democratic transition and reform process. Leaving behind a system of authoritarian government wherein the administrative, legislative and judicial powers were centralized, we have now been able to put in place a democratic government and a strong, viable parliament following a practice of check and balance.

Despite the challenges, we can now witness encouraging progress and significant developments in the country. They include granting of amnesties to prisoners; the coming back with dignity of the exiled political forces; the successful convening of 2012 by-elections in a free, fair and transparent manner; the abolition of censorship of media- the fourth estate; freedom of internet access; the establishment of workers' and employers' organizations and the increased participation of the people in the political process.

At the current stage of the political process, we can witness the emergence of democratic characteristics such as increasing of participation from different political forces and their mutual tolerance, the magnanimity, expansion of the scope of political participation of and representation and the accountability. Our government and other stakeholders have now been able to foster a new political culture of patience and dialogue.

Mr. President,

The then main opposition leader Noble laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is now participating in the Pyithu Hluttaw (Parliament) not only in her capacity as an MP (Member of Parliament) but also that of the Chairperson of the Rule of Law and Stability Committee of the Parliament. During this week she is also in New York. As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honours she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy.

The political progress in our country is enhancing its political legitimacy. This, in turn facilitates the creation of basic political stability thereby paving the way for economic and social  transformation necessary for better living standard of the people.

Mr. President,

The legislative body has also been progressing well and functioning more effectively at each session and the parliament has now been able to adopt landmark laws through the democratic practices.

Laws and bylaws are being promulgated bearing in mind that: the economic development must not lead to the widening of the rich-poor gap; citizens' rights are to be protected; the natural environment is to be preserved; our workers are to enjoy rights in line with international standards. We are giving a careful attention to the investments in the extractive sectors like the energy to ensure transparency and impartiality.

Mr. President,

We believe that cessation of all armed conflicts are a prerequisite for the building of genuine democracy. As such, we place high priority on achieving a lasting peace in the country.

In accordance with our motto "From War to Peace", we are working hard to bring an end the longstanding difficulties in the regions of our ethnic nationalities. We have so far achieved cease-fire agreements with 10 armed groups. While further strengthening confidence building measures, we will continue the peace talks. National level peace negotiations will then continue to reach a final peace agreement that would completely end the armed hostilities.

In order to redress the situation in northern part of Myanmar, the leaders of the Government Peace Work Committee and the Kachin armed group (KIA) are holding informal consultations and working to further strengthen the confidence building measures. We consider any loss of life and property from either side in the armed conflict as a loss for the country.

Mr. President,

While the Government is resolutely pursuing political, social and economic reforms, some unfortunate and unexpected issues have come up in our way. A case in point is the recent communal violence in Rakhine State. In this connection, I would like to mention in the first place that the people inhabiting in our country, regardless of race, religion and gender, have the rights to live in peace and security.

As you are aware, a national level independent investigation commission has been established to investigate the issue. To ensure impartiality, the composition of the Commission is made up of representatives from all strata of the society, including the widely respected personalities from the Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu faiths. Upon completion of its  task, the Commission will be submitting its findings and recommendations to me.

Demonstrating our determination to resolve the issue in a transparent manner, we have facilitated field visits to the Rakhine State by the representatives from the OIC, ASEAN, UN Agencies, the United States and resident foreign diplomats in Myanmar. When it comes to the relief assistance, access is being facilitated to those organizations who are willing to provide it to both the communities without discrimination.

The issue at hand cannot be solved overnight. It will be resolved by taking short-term and long-time measures through a multi-faceted approach taking into account political, economic and social aspects. I sincerely believe that as an independent and sovereign state, Myanmar has the right to secure our borders and also to safeguard and protect our sovereignty. We will do our utmost to solve this issue in line with international norms.

Mr. President,

I am well aware of the fact that Myanmar's democratic transformation process would be a complex and delicate one that requires patience. To complete this process, we certainly need the understanding and support from the United Nations and its member states, the international community as a whole and, last but not least, the people of Myanmar. At the same time, it is equally important that Myanmar should be viewed from a different and new perspective. It is also necessary for us to be able to work in a more conducive and favorable environment than never before.

Mr. President,

Myanmar is now ushering in a new era. As a member in the family of nations, Myanmar will be participating more actively in the activities of the United Nations in various fields.

Standing as a responsible and respectable nation on the world stage, we will take the challenges of the 21st century in a bold and resolute manner.

Mr. President,

Before concluding, allow me to mention briefly about an important figure. It is none other than U Thant, a brilliant son of Myanmar who had served as the third Secretary General of the United Nations. Even during his days, U Thant had had a vision of "One World". He envisioned a global society that is guided by a spirit of "One World"- a world safe for diversity and a place of peaceful co-existence where global citizens practice the virtues of tolerance, cooperation, understanding and compassion. We believe that if we materialize his vision, we will be speedily achieving a state of the world which is more peaceful and prosperous.

U Thant's tireless endeavours for peace and his achievements during his tenure as the Secretary General of the United Nations will never be forgotten. The people of Myanmar will always take pride of and remember him as a great son of Myanmar.

I thank you.
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Myanmar-US chamber of commerce formed

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Friday, 28 September 2012 16:07 Mizzima News

A Myanmar-US Chamber of Commerce has been formed to promote the business interests of both countries. William Su was elected president of an 11-member board during its first meeting in New York City.

Board members include Su, chairman of the board, Dr. Kyaw Tun, Frank Ng, Vincent Wong, Kyaw Myaing, Dr. Jonathan Chang, Patrick Wang, Edward Wong, Tin Ohn, Htin Myaing and Simon Wong, according to press release issued on Friday.

Su, a native of Burma and the current chairman of the board of the Myanmar Chinese Association, said, “The principal mission of our chamber is to foster and promote trade and commerce between Myanmar and the United States. Our chamber will be at the forefront to facilitate, promote and transact business and commerce in and with Myanmar.”

Kyaw Myaing, who is in charge of external relations, said, “We need international standards and a solid foundation from which Myanmar will trade and conduct business with the world.”

Board member Vincent Wong said, “Many of our board members, including Patrick Wang, Kyaw Myaing, Htin Myaing and Tin Ohn will be in Myanmar in the coming months and we will collectively and continuously establish and solidify our relationships in promoting business and commerce with Myanmar and its business and commerce leaders.”

Officials said a website at www.mmuscc.org will go online soon.
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Lenders preparing loans, grants for Burma

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Friday, 28 September 2012 16:16 Mizzima News

US$1 billion will be pledged in loans to Burma when the world’s major lenders meet in Tokyo next month, a report said on Thursday.

The Japanese business daily Nikkei said international bodies were readying large-scale resumption of aid loans ahead of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting on the sidelines in Tokyo in early October.

Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi Photo: Photo: kantei.go.jp

The World Bank, the IMF and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) are all considering loans worth up to US$900 million to support Burma's democratization and economic development, said the newspaper.

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation and other Japanese banks will likely offer bridging loans so that Burma can repay its past debts, it said.

The total amount of fresh loans will reach about US$1 billion, the paper reported.

Financial organizations such as the World Bank and the ADB were not able to offer aid to Burma as representatives from the United States opposed such plans in their board meetings, the Nikkei said. But Washington in July gave the green light to companies wanting to invest in Burma including in oil and gas.

On Wednesday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Burma’s leader Thein Sein that the US would lift an import ban on Burmese goods.

Japan, as the largest single creditor country, will sponsor the loan scheme and call for the World Bank, the ADB and other creditors to waive part of their past loans to Burma, the Mainichi Shimbun earlier reported.

Tokyo in April agreed to forgive 300 billion yen (US$ 3.9 billion) of the 500 billion yen it is owed by Burma. Resource-poor Japan is looking to foster growth in the resource-rich Mekong region, a part of the world that is also being courted by China.
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Thailand to finance road to Myawaddy

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Friday, 28 September 2012 15:29 Mizzima News    

Thailand will grant financial aid to build a 76-kilometre road from Mae Sot, Thailand, to Myawaddy-Kawkareik in Burma, to promote the area’s economy.

Myawaddy is across the Moei River from Mae Sot, Thailand. The Friendship Bridge, in the background, connects Thailand and Burma. Photo: AFP

The road would serve as a link from Thailand to India through Burma, Thai officials said.

Addressing the Asia Society in New York on Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck said Burma has Thailand’s support in its move toward democracy.

She said the Thai government would also work closely with Burma to tackle refugee problems.

The Mae Sot-Myawaddy border trade checkpoint on the Burma-Thailand border took in around US $277 million in the first quarter of 2012 because of improved economic and social conditions in Burma, officials said. The quarter marked the first trade figures since the checkpoint was reopened in December 2011 after being closed more than one year.

In March, Mizzima reported that Pongthep Buathap, the chief immigration officer at Thailand's Mae Sot cross-border checkpoint, said trade has shown steady growth in recent months. Continuous growth resumed this year due to improvements in Burmese domestic politics, he said. The two most important products were fuel and commodities, he said.

Mizzima reported last year that construction would also begin on a second bridge linking Mae Sot and Myawaddy.

 “Trucks will use this bridge, and they won’t have to go through Myawaddy to reach the trade zone,” a Thai official said.

Authorities said that the current Friendship Bridge is weak and only pedestrians will be allowed to cross on it.

The existing Friendship Bridge was built in 1997. In 2005, the bridge became weak due to water erosion. Many traders now use motorboats to transport goods between Mae Sot and Myawaddy.
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2nd Myanmar Investment Summit starts Oct. 17

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Friday, 28 September 2012 14:32 Mizzima News

Coinciding with Burma extensive reforms, the 2nd New Myanmar Investment Summit will spotlight strategies and networking on Oct. 17-18 in Rangoon.

Numerous global foreign corporate executives and regional businessmen, government officials and business expert will discuss sectors including mining, power and electricity, telecommunications, property, agriculture and plantations as well as trading sectors.

In addition, discussions will include mining, telecoms, automotive, port and inland shipping plus relevant legal and commercial issues.

Key government officials will present papers including Aung Naing Oo, the director general of the Directorate of Investment & Company Administration (DICA) on “Investment Opportunities and Private Sector Development,” and Maung Maung Win, the director general of the Ministry of Finance and Revenue’s Budget Department, on “Financial & Banking Reforms in Myanmar.”

Also addressing the conference will be senior representatives from the Ministry of Transport; Ministry of Mines; and the Customs Department from Ministry of Finance and Revenue.

Other speakers include leading authorities representing the private sector including All Myanmar Investment Partners; VDB Loi; Frost & Sullivan; General Electric Company; Economically Progressive Ecosystem Development (EcoDev) Group; P&A Asia; Colliers International Thailand; and TNS Asia Pacific Pte Ltd.

The summit’s theme “Towards Successful Joint Ventures and Financing” will focus in on new investment laws, joint ventures, structuring the right business models, implication of the Foreign Investment Law (FDI) for investors, environmental compliance of doing business in Myanmar, land sourcing for industrial, agricultural, hospitality and commercial use, and other issues.

The summit is preceded by a pre-conference program on “Myanmar Telecoms Reform Update” led by experienced telecom experts, and a post-conference workshop titled “Business Contracts in Myanmar” conducted by Alessio Polastri, a managing partner with P&A Asia.

Bundle deals to attend the telecom reform update, the main summit and the post-conference workshop are available.

To register or for more information, go to www.cmtevents.com or call Ms. Hafizah at 65 6346 9218.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

US formally announces lifting of Burmese import ban

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:09 Mizzima News

The US announced on Tuesday it would lift its ban on Burmese imports as a reward for the former military dictatorship’s embrace of political and economic reforms.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the move in a meeting with Burma’s President Thein Sein on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Thein Sein will address the grouping on Thursday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Burma's President Thein Sein meet in New York City. Photo: President's office

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who also called for the lifting of sanctions, also met with Thein Sein the New York on Tuesday after meeting US President Barack Obama last week at the White House.   

Thein Sein said the Burmese people were “very pleased” with the easing of economic sanctions and "very grateful" for the US action, according to an article on the Radio Free Asia website on Thursday.

“In recognition of the continued progress toward reform and in response to requests from both the government and the opposition, the United States is taking the next step in normalizing our commercial relationship,” Clinton told Thein Sein, according to media reports.

“We will begin the process of easing restrictions on imports of Burmese goods into the United States. We hope this will provide more opportunities for your people to sell their goods into our market,” she said.

The lifting of the import ban would provide a significant boon to Burma’s economy, which has suffered greatly under a military dictatorship for decades, which ended last year when Thein Sein's nominally civilian government took over.

The Burmese leader, in his UN address, is expected to highlight the reforms implemented by his government and ask the international community for support and encourage investment in Burma. 

Late Tuesday, Thein Sein and Suu Kyi, who is on a tour of the US, met informally in his suite at the Mark Hotel in New York City.

Thein Sein said that the two met in line with their cooperation to smooth the way for Burma’s transition to democratic rule.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi came to greet the president. We met and exchanged things about our trip and few things about the needs of the country,” a presidential assistant told RFA’s Burmese service on Wednesday.

“We are working together for the benefit of [Burma’s] nearly 60 million people. Sister Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is doing her job for the country, and the president is doing his job for the country as well. So it is a joint effort,” he said.

The spokesperson said Thein Sein would not meet with US President Barack Obama, adding that he was not concerned about being upstaged by Aung San Suu Kyi, who was welcomed to the Oval office for a private meeting with the US leader last week.

“Whether or not we met with Obama is not the issue. Some would say, ‘He’s meeting with this person but not with that one.’ We don't have that thought,” said the spokesperson.

He said the relationship between the president and the leader of his opposition has become closer.

“It is not like before, when [they] didn't meet each other. Now it has changed, and they are like brother and sister,” he said.

Analysts said the lifting of the USimport ban would be a big boost for the Burmese leadership.

“The timing of this announcement is a big win for Thein Sein,” Suzanne DiMaggio, New York-based Asia Society’s vice president of Global Policy Programs told RFA.

“He will return from his first visit to the US as Myanmar’s president with a major boost to his reform agenda. It’s a concrete deliverable that will go a long way towards muffling critics and hardliners at home," she said.

She said Aung San Suu Kyi’s endorsement of a further easing of sanctions to audiences in Washington last week helped to bring about the change.
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Kachin to hold US rally at UN headquarters

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:30 Mizzima News

Kachin in the US will hold a rally in New York City to urge President Thein Sein to address the humanitarian crisis faced by the Kachin ethnic group and to seek UN intervention and assistance.

The Kachin community in the US said it is deeply concerned that the civil war being waged in the Kachin region in northeast Burma along the Burma-Sino border has continued since the resumption of hostilities in June 2011, claiming thousands of lives and sending refugees throughout the area to seek safe shelter.

A view of the UN building in New York City. Photo: UN

Thein Sein is scheduled to address the 67th UN General Assembly on Thursday.

The fighting has “caused untold miseries to tens of thousands of our kinsmen,” said a statement released on Thursday. “Our friends and family members have been forced to flee homes and villages, and are in dire need of the most basic human needs.

“They are living in constant fear and uncertainty, driven back into conflict zones from camps along the China border, and experiencing the violation of their rights even in the sanctity of church-run camps in government-controlled territory,” it said, adding that ethnic residents of the area face harassment, interrogation and arbitrary detention

The rally is organized by the Kachin Alliance, a network of Kachin communities and organizations in the US.

A statement called for the free flow of humanitarian aid to Kachin refugees along the Burma-China border, and an end to the war by implementing a peaceful resolution through political dialogue.

It also asked the UN to send personnel to observe the current crisis, to facilitate a free flow of humanitarian aid along the Burma-China border, and to facilitate a process leading to a peaceful resolution.
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Burmese ethnic delegation leaders travel to US

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 12:51 Mizzima News

A joint delegation of the ethnic United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and the National Council of the Union of Burma (NCUB) has arrived in the US to talk about Burma's ethnic peace processes with US and UN officials.

The delegation will meet with Burma’s ethnic communities and UN and US officials, among others, to support sustainable peace for Burma’s ethnic nationalities, said the group's leaders.

David Thackarbaw, the delegation’s leader

David Thackarbaw, the delegation’s leader, said, “Until and unless the Burmese military actually ceases its attacks against the ethnics, ‘stability’ and ‘reconciliation’ in Burma will not be possible," in a statement released on Thursday.

“We are ready for more dialogue with all the stakeholders of Burma,” he said. “We believe that having international community involvement will help pave the way to national reconciliation.”

Khun Okker of the UNFC said that a unified political and democratic dialogue is a must following the signing of a series of individual cease-fire agreements between ethnic resistance groups and the Burmese government.

In the midst of Burmese military offensives and widespread human rights abuses in Kachin and Shan states, the joint-delegation is advocating an “ethnics’ benchmark.”

Recently, both the UNFC and the NCUB called for Burma’s political situation to be resolved before 2015 in a “Benchmarks for Renewed Engagement with Burma” statement.

Ethnic leaders said they seek a genuine dialogue for reconciliation and a political solution, but without the engagement and support of both the Burmese government and the National Defense Security Council, they do not believe that durable peace will be possible.

“We would of course like to resolve Burma’s political issues within a time frame because we have all suffered enough decades of civil war. However, we are also prepared and will continue to defend our people until peace, national reconciliation, and federalism are achieved in Burma,” the statement said.
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Kachin groups urge Suu Kyi to ‘speak out’

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:06 Mizzima News

Reflecting disappointment in Aung San Suu Kyi’s statements on fighting in Kachin State, a group of 23 Kachin organizations have issued a public letter calling for her “to speak out about the abuses being committed against our people.”

“If you were to speak out, the international community would listen, all the people of Burma regardless of ethnicity or religion will stand up for the wholesale principles of democracy and human rights,” said a letter released on Thursday.

Refugees in Kachin State in northeast Burma at a KIO camp, where displaced persons are in need of more aid including food, medicine and shelter material. Photo: Mizzima

“As a renowned champion for human rights, by not condemning the abuses in Kachin State you are not only condoning the state-sanctioned violence, but you exemplify to the masses in the country that the notion of conditional human rights is tolerated,” the letter said.

The letter cited Suu Kyi’s comments at the London School of Economics in Britain in June 2012, “when you stated that there was a need to establish the facts of the root cause of the Kachin conflict.”

“Further, in your meeting with the Burmese Community in the USA on 22nd September, you stated: ‘Basically, what is it that I have to strongly condemn? If it is a human rights violation as well as any acts of breaching the rule of law then I will strongly condemn.’”

The letter said, “You are yet to take a stance on the human rights abuses taking place in Kachin State; your statement, combined with the comments you made at the LSE gives the impression to the people of Burma and international community that you do not believe human rights abuses are taking place.

The letter continued: “Many international human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, and international media including the BBC have reported and verified that heinous abuses are committed against the Kachin population by the Burmese army."

In March 2012, the United Nations Special Rapporteur stated he had reports of: “…attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, internal displacement, the use of human shields and forced labour, and the confiscation and destruction of property. He has also received reports of gang rapes by army soldiers, although the numbers provided by different sources vary," said the statement. “In the report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence, it was noted that as many as 32 women and girls throughout Kachin State were allegedly raped by the military between June and August 2011.”

The letter invited Suu Ky to visit the Mai Ja Yang refugee area, where the majority of the displaced people are protected by the Kachin Independence Organization.

“You will be able to hear directly from the victims about the human rights abuses that have been committed against them. You will see for yourself the suffering caused by the Burmese government’s refusal to allow humanitarian aid into these areas. As you often refer to your father General Aung San in your political speeches, we do hope that you uphold his promise for the Union of Burma where all ethnic people including Burman will be equal,” said the letter.

It continued: “As an elected MP and daughter of General Aung San, talk of ‘unity’ while staying silent on the suffering of the ethnic masses will only polarize the country further.

"All of those who believe in the cause of human rights and democracy in our country must work together. We must all make efforts to restore trust, and therefore in the spirit of Panglong we extend this invitation to you. You are now able to travel all over the world and speak openly to large audiences… We have trust in you that you will recognize the urgency and importance of this request and not refuse the invitation.

“The government of Burma broke the 17 year-long cease-fire in June 2011 to annex Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) controlled areas. From this time, the Burmese army has not only launched full-scale war against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) but also committed genocide and other heinous human rights violations deliberately attacking innocent civilians. The direct military actions by the Burmese army in a clear violation of Geneva Conventions have resulted in the forced displacement of 100,000 Kachin civilians to date.

“Human rights abuses committed by the Burmese army against our people include rape and gang-rape against women and even children, the elderly and disabled; killing many victims of sexual violence; arbitrary executions; torture; mutilations; beatings; forced labour; mortar bombing and burning of villages; looting of villages and other thefts; and use of child soldiers many of which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. Given the climate of violence, fear and suffering our people are enduring everyday, it is disheartening not to hear you speaking out against injustice for those who have been forcibly silent, instead you declared you have a soft spot for Tatmadaw that your father founded, the very institution that is responsible for such miseries.

“As you and your fellow parliamentary members are well aware, the government of Burma is not providing emergency relief and is refusing to allow the free delivery of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of internally displaced people in direct and open violation of international law.

“In your position as chair of the Lower House of Parliament’s Rule of Law Committee you have the power to initiate and the responsibility to minimize the immense suffering of Kachin IDPs that includes women and young children who are suffering from malnutrition and other illnesses without sufficient medical or education facilities,” said the letter.

Signed by

1. All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU)
2. Kachin Canadian Association
3. Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT)
4. Kachin National Organization (KNO)
5. Kachin Association of Australia (KAA)
6. Kachin Centre-Thailand
7. Kachin Refugee Committee- Malaysia (KRC)
8. Kachin National Organization (KNO-Japan)
9. Kachin National Organization (KNO-Denmark)
10. Kachin Christian Fellowship (KCF-Denmark)
11. Kachin National Organization (KNO-USA)
12. Kachin National Organization (KNO-United Kingdom)
13. Kachin National Organization (KNO-India)
14. Kachin National Organization (KNO-Malaysia)
15. Kachin National Organization (KNO-Australia)
16. Kachin Community in United Kingdom
17. Kachin Community in Sweden (KCS)
18. Kachin Community in Netherlands (KCNL)
19. Kachin Association Norway
20. Kachin Alliance (USA)
21. Pan Kachin Development Society (PKDS)
22. Queensland Kachin Community
23. Singapore Kachin Community

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Rohingya group calls for world leaders’ help

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:16 Mizzima News

The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (Brouk) has appealed to world leaders at the 67th UN General Assembly meeting in New York to put pressure on President Thein Sein following his proposal to remove all Rohingya people from Burma and place them in refugee camps or third countries.

Rohingya refugee women stand by their homes in Cox's Bazaar District, Bangladesh, on June 7, 2011. Conditions in the makeshift refugee camp site are difficult. In addition to high rates of malnutrition, residents deal with crowding and poor sanitation. Photo: U.S.State Department

It called on world bodies to ensure the Burmese government provides human rights and security to Rohingyas living in Burma.

After President Thein Sein's proposal, Brouk said it has received reports that there have been mass arrests of Rohingya people who are now kept in detention camps without trial, adequate food or medical services.

More than 100,000 people were internally displaced in Rakhine State, and for a significant period the vast majority was not receiving assistance because they were ethnic Rohingya, Brouk said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

“Unacceptable restrictions still remain, and the government is also failing to provide sufficient security for aid workers assisting Rohingya who have been threatened,” it said. “Local authorities are refusing to allow many Rohingya people back to some villages, shops and homes in a policy that appears designed to ‘cleanse’ these areas of Rohingya people.

“There are some reports of mass graves in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships, Arakan State,” it said. “It is clear that what has taken place is very serious indeed. The United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, and many individual governments, have all called for an independent investigation into what has and continues to take place.”

It said the Burmese government has allowed some diplomats to visit the area, but these visits faced severe restrictions, and there have been reports that Rohingya community leaders have been detained before hand to prevent them from meeting diplomats.

“The government of Burma has established its own investigation, but there are no Rohingya members of the investigation, and some members have masterminded recent violence in Arakan and stated that they think all Rohingya should be expelled from Burma,” said the statement.

“Following restrictions placed upon the OIC and other investigators, and the failure of the government of Burma to establish a credible independent investigation, it has become clear that for an independent investigation to take place, it will have to be under the support of the United Nations, and with a strong mandate from the United Nations General Assembly,” said Brouk, which said it is “too early” to remove sanctions against Burma.

“There are serious human rights violations going on in ethnic areas which are worse than under the previous dictator Than Shwe,” it said. “The world leaders must not ignore ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic groups such as Kachin and Chin Christians. It is too early to remove sanctions as Thein Sein's government is practicing ethnic cleansing on ethnic areas.”

Brouk President Tun Khin said, “We appeal to world leaders to put pressure on President Thein Sein to provide safety and security and to restore Rohingya ethnic rights and citizenship rights.

“We also appeal to world leaders to ensure strong wording in the UN General Assembly Resolution on Burma, including reform of the 1982 Citizenship Law and the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry into what has taken place in Arakan State.”
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Suu Kyi set to speak at Harvard, Yale

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 14:03 Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi will speak at Harvard and Yale universities in the US on Thursday, following her private meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein earlier this week in New York City.

Harvard, located in Boston, was organized in 1636 and is one of the US’s most prestigious universities. Yale, organized in 1701, is considered one of its strongest competitors, and is located in New Haven, Connecticut.

Following her speeches, Suu Kyi will travel to San Francisco to speak to the Burmese community prior to traveling to Los Angeles.

Her US tour will end Oct. 3.
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Burma cabinet reshuffle: the reform agenda

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:27 Trevor Wilson

(Commentary) – President Thein Sein reshuffled his cabinet on August 27, 2012, for the first time since the installation of his government on March 30, 2011.

Trevor Wilson, a former Australian ambassador to Burma Photo: theconversation.edu.au

Speculation about an imminent cabinet reshuffle had been heard for some months; the fact that it took so long to accomplish might indicate some lingering vulnerability in Thein Sein’s position, although on the surface the outcome has strengthened his personal authority, reinforced the government’s reformist impulses, and sidelined the last conservative elements among his ministers.

Thein Sein has brought key ministers overseeing his reform initiatives into his own office, as ministers without portfolio: notably Investment Commission chair Soe Thein, who has become the leading advocate of micro-economic policy reform; former Railways Minister, Aung Min, who has assumed responsibility for negotiating peace agreements with several ethnic groups (including the Karen National Union); and the ministers formerly in charge of Finance and National Development.

Thein Sein’s new Cabinet also underlines the increasing important of economic reforms – as Western sanctions are lifted, international assistance increases, and foreign direct investment grows.

Reflecting this, an experienced economist, Dr. Kan Zaw, formerly rector of the Institute of Economics, was promoted from Deputy Minister to Minister for National Planning and Economic Development. He will be backed up by two experienced new deputy ministers: Thein Sein’s own former senior economic advisor, the development economist Dr. Set Aung; and Professor Daw Khin San Yi, who had been acting rector of the University of Economics.  

Importantly, Thein Sein has demoted long-serving Information Minister, Kyaw Hsan, to the ministry of cooperatives, after Kyaw Hsan – a hardline conservative retired general – had recently mishandled the creation of a Press Council.

Two other former generals were “allowed to retire.”  These changes come on the heels of the retirement in July 2012 of conservative Vice President Tin Aung Myint-Oo.  While they leave Thein Sein with strong support for his reform agenda within the cabinet, he will still need to take careful account of the views of the army leadership on major policy directions.

The new Information Minister is former Labour Minister, Aung Kyi, a former general who was Minister for Liaison with Aung San Suu Kyi during 2010, and who is expected to endorse reforms.

The Defence Minister was replaced, in what looks like a rotational arrangement. Significantly, the two other key security ministries reserved for military appointees, Home Affairs and Border Affairs, which are currently dealing with grave issues of sectarian violence, have not been changed.

The first woman cabinet minister in Myanmar history has been appointed. Dr. Myat Myat Ohn Khin was promoted from deputy minister of Health to be Social Welfare minister. Four women are among the new deputy ministers. Overall, many of the appointees have been moved around or promoted, with relatively few completely new faces. A small number of civilians were appointed

These cabinet changes – now also approved by the parliament – are the first real opportunity for Thein Sein to put his own stamp on the character of the government. At the very least, they should mean “more of the same” for Myanmar; but signs point strongly to an even greater thrust for reform, with little or no looking back.

Trevor Wilson is a former Australian ambassador to Burma and a visiting fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University. This commentary originally appeared on the New Mandala website.
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An appeal for peace in Rakhine State

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:52 Tun Khin

(Commentary) – One thing that kept the military regimes in place in Burma for more than 60 years is the ability of the Burmese military to divide and rule. They have used divide and rule tactics between Burmans and ethnics, between Burmans and Burmans and between ethnics and ethnics. They have also used divide and rule tactics between Rohingya and Rakhine.

Tun Khin of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK. photo: screenshot

My older relatives tell me of a time when there wasn’t the same level of mistrust or even hatred between Rohingya and Rakhine. There was no voice of opposition heard from any quarters, including Rakhine, over the recognition of Rohingyas as an ethnic group during U Nu’s era.

My relatives remember government radio broadcasting in the Rohingya language during U Nu’s time as prime minister. I remember as a child playing with Rakhine friends and visiting each other’s homes to eat.

The reasons for the current level of mistrust and violence between the communities are many, but by far the greatest reason, and at the root of why the situation has become so bad, are lies and propaganda that began to be spread about the Rohingya when Ne Win became dictator.

Ne Win rewrote history, invented Burmese propaganda and lies, and introduced discriminatory policies against the Rohingya. Some of these policies where enshrined in law, such as the 1982 Citizenship Law, while others were in practice, increasing harassment by security forces and discrimination.

Decades of lies and propaganda, underpinned by the 1982 Citizenship Law, which stripped us of citizenship and the rights that come with it, have institutionalized the hatred and discrimination. Of course there were always some tensions, as there often is when two communities of different ethnicities and religions live side by side. But Ne Wins lies and propaganda encouraged those differences, and encouraged hatred, rather than building community cohesion and understanding.

It breaks my heart to see the situation in Rakhine State today. There is so much suffering. In the recent violence and then the attacks by government forces, mainly Rohingya have suffered, but I know that some Rakhine people have suffered as well.

Aid being promised by Muslim countries and the international community could be used not just to assist in the current humanitarian crisis, but also for long-term projects to fight poverty and promote development in Rakhine State.

International donors should not just be talking to the government about aid and development. Instead they should talk to local community leaders, and let us work jointly together to promote development that not only helps both communities, but also in the process promotes communal understanding and brings us closer together. Let both sides experience first-hand the benefits of us working together, how it will benefit both communities. Because fighting poverty together, as well as politically struggling for democracy and human rights, united and working together, we are all stronger.

Rohingyas with a long history in Arakan are an integral part of Burma’s society. All Rohingya people want is to live peacefully in Burma, with our human rights respected.

Burma is our homeland. It is impossible to force all Rohingya people out of the country. The only solution is for us to work together to find a way to live peacefully together.

That means Rakhine trying to understand the situation from a Rohingya perspective, and Rohingya also trying to understand the concerns of Rakhine. They are living together with their Rakhine compatriots in the same place, drinking the same water and breathing the same air.

There is no point in being antagonistic to each other. It hurts all of us, our children and their children to come. Unless both Rohingya and Rakhine cultivate the political will to change this situation, we both suffer.

Divided we all suffer. The only winner is President Thein Sein and the military and ex-military, which have oppressed us all for so long. Let us revive our traditional relationship for the sake of our children. Let us work together on democratic principles with mutual respect, love and affection.

That is my appeal to all Rakhine.

Tun Khin is president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK. His grandfather was a parliamentary secretary during the democratic period in Burma.
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Burmese Parliament will meet again on Oct. 18

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 14:51 Mizzima News

The Burmese Parliament will convene its 5th session on Oct. 18 to take up the new Foreign Investment Law and media reform legislation, according to an announcement Wednesday on state-run media.

In the last session, Parliament approved the nomination of Nyan Tun as a new vice president, the appointment of 11 new ministerial posts and a new auditor-general.

The new Burmese Parliament building in Naypyitaw. Photo: Pyithu Hluttaw

Among the most pressing legislation to be considered is a new Foreign Investment Law, which after approval at the end of the last session has been returned to Parliament with suggested amendments by President Thein Sein.

Also, a new draft media law is expected to be taken up, after numerous delays and discussions with professional journalists’ groups. Recently, prior censorship rules have been rescinded and the state censorship department is being dismantled, according to media reports.

However, journalists say there are still many existing laws and regulations that serve to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which they hope will be addressed in the new media law.

In the last session of Parliament, the government undertook a major cabinet reshuffle from Aug. 27 to Sept. 7, when nine ministers were reassigned. Two ministers and the auditor-general resigned. Fifteen former ministers remained in posts without change, while one deputy minister was shifted and 19 new deputy ministers were appointed, in what was viewed as a consolidation of power by Burmese President Thein Sein, who moved hardliners out of his inner circle and replaced them with more reform-minded ministers.

The reshuffle of the cabinet included the addition of four ministries to the President's Office and the merger of Electric Power Ministry No. 1 and No. 2 to a single ministry and the abolishment of the Ministry of Industrial Development.
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South Korean, Burmese officials discuss Shwe gas project

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Thursday, 27 September 2012 15:02 Mizzima News

Burma and South Korean officials discussed the Shwe Natural Gas Project and other issues this week at the 6th Energy and Natural Resources Joint Implementation Committee meeting in Naypyitaw on Tuesday, official media said on Wednesday.

Work underway in the Shwe gas field.  Photo: Shwe Gas

Moon Jaedo, the deputy minister of the Ministry of Knowledge Economy of South Korea, and HtinAung, the deputy minister of the Ministry of Energy participated the meeting, said the New Light of Myanmar.

Topics focused on the Shwe Natural Gas Project, a support system for the exploration of natural resources, mines, energy refineries. the construction of a natural gas-fired hydropower plant, and cooperation on technical development in oil and gas projects.

The Shwe Gas Project is a large-scale natural gas project being developed by Daewoo International Ltd. of South Korea, which holds a 51 percent stake, Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS), ONGC Videsh Ltd. of India, and GAIL Ltd. of India, in a joint venture with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), according to the Earthrights website.

Daewoo has been exploring for gas in Burma since 2000 and it discovered the Shwe gas field in western Burma in the Bay of Bengal in 2004.

Shwe gas will be transported  through a 1,200 kilometre overland pipeline from Arakan State, Burma, to Yunnan Province, China, in partnership with a Daewoo-led consortium. The project is scheduled to become operational in 2013, according to reports.

South Korea is ranked 4th in Burma’s lists of foreign investors. From 1988 to July 2012, it has invested about US$ 2.959 billion. Burma’s oil and gas sector has reached US$ 14.181billion in foreign investment in 113 projects as of the end of July, 2012.

Burma is seeking to produce electricity using natural gas, diesel, coal-fire plants, solar power, wind power, biogas and waste fuel in addition to hydropower.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thein Sein’s China-US balancing act

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 12:30 Mizzima News    

Burma’s President Thein Sein’s mission in New York City this week is to present the new face of Burma to a worldwide audience when he addresses the UN General Assembly on Thursday, stressing his government’s commitment to democracy.

His goal is to open the door wide for development aid and the total lifting of all US sanctions against Burma, which have burdened the country for a decade.

During the past week, Thein Sein, at a trade fair in China, reassured leaders there that Burma’s No. 1 investor has nothing to fear from Burma’s new embrace of the US and the West.

A stream of top Chinese officials including Wu Bangguo, the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress standing committee, visited Thein Sein in Naypytaw recently to reaffirm those close ties.

Myanmar and China signed nine bilateral economic and trade co-operation pacts and two financial transactions agreements during the visits.

“Myanmar is of huge geostrategic concern to Beijing, which wants some reassurance that its longstanding position as the country’s closest partner isn’t going to vanish overnight,” Thant Myint-U, a historian and member of Thein Sein’s advisory panel, told the Financial Times in an article published this week.

“The China visit was about many things . . . but it’s important for the president to ensure that fast-improving relations with the west won’t unnecessarily antagonize China. Washington seems to understand that Myanmar needs to have a balanced set of relations," he said.

One of China’s goals is to restart the controversial US$ 3.7 billion Myitsone dam project in Kachin State, which Thein Sein postponed last year after strong domestic opposition. Backstage discussions have been underway.

Chinese officials have been engaged in a public relations campaign in Burma, centered around building village schools, medical clinics, drilling water wells and providing other community improvement projects designed to show goodwill.

However, recently, thousands of rural villagers have conducted a month-long protest over a Chinese-owned copper mine, which villagers say confiscated their land unfairly.

While visiting China, Thein Sein said in a statement that the Burmese people would “never forget” that “China for a long time provided a large amount of sincere support and help and stood at Myanmar’s side at the most difficult of times.”

“Myanmar is at present in a transitional phase, but it pays great attention to developing relations with China, and its policy of seeing China as a true friend has not changed,” he told the Chinese vice president, according to wire reports.

Among the accomplishments that Thein Sein can be expected to highlight in his UN speech are the release of hundreds of political prisoners, cease-fire agreements with most of the ethnic armed groups, an easing in media censorship, new labour laws and a law providing the right to demonstrate. He can also tout a new foreign investment law, which he has sent back to Parliament with suggestions on how to make it fairer to foreign investors.
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Yingluck, Thein Sein to discuss Dawei in New York City

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 12:41 Mizzima News

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Burma’s President Thein Sein will discuss the Dawei deep-sea port project in New York on the sidelines of the UN 67th General Assembly meeting on Thursday.

Burmese President Thein Sein and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra review an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at Government House in Bangkok on July 23, 2012. Photo: AFP

The project has been having trouble finding financing to go forward, although both countries pledged in August to back the proposed US$ 60-billion port and special economic zone.

Last week, Reuters news agency reported that Thai banks would keep the project afloat with short-term loans until an expected Japanese loan of up to US$ 3.2 billion can be secured.

Thailand's largest construction firm, Italian-Thai Development Pcl, signed a deal in 2010 to build a deep-sea port and Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in southern Burma’s coastal Dawei region.

But the project foundered, as the Thai builder failed to secure $8.5 billion to finance construction of its first phase – roads, utilities and a port.

“Italian-Thai has had difficulty in mobilizing the funding. So now the Thai government has effectively taken over the project,” Thaung Lwin, chairman of the Dawei SEZ told Reuters. “The next step is to invite Japan,” which he said is committed to seeing the project succeed.

Two trips by Yingluck to Burma have been postponed since she and Thein Sein met in Thailand in August to discuss the project.

Last week, Yingluck met with Thai Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul, Transport Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan and Deputy Transport Minister Chatchart Sithipan to prepare for her possible meeting with Thein Sein in New York, a Government House source said, according to the Bangkok Post. Officials have reportedly been seeking various governments and international lending groups to take a stake in the project.

The Thai construction firm Italian-Thai Development, which singed a MoU with Burma in 2008, initiated the Dawei project. The 10-year project includes deep-sea ports, heavy industries, office buildings and commercial areas.

The company was awarded a contract, the first phase of which was worth about $8.6 billion.

Italian-Thai's contract for developing the industrial estate in the Dawei Special Economic Zone was eventually scaled down from 250 to 200-square kilometers.
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Suu Kyi is midway through US tour

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:20 Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to about 5,000 Burmese natives in the heart of the US on Tuesday in Fort Wayne, Ind., midway through her 17-day US tour. She delivered her speech in Burmese, which was translated into English via video.

Her message was more personal, voicing hope for Burma’s national reconciliation after decades of brutal repression at the hands of successive military regimes.

“The important thing is to learn how to resolve problems. How to face them and how to find the right answers through discussion and debate,” she told the gathering, which represents one of the largest Burmese communities in the country.

“The differences and problems we have amongst ourselves, I think we can join hands and reconcile and move forward and solve any problems,” she said, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

“I would appreciate and be very grateful if you could look back to your home country, which is Burma,” she said.

Burma’s President Thein Sein, who is visiting New York this week, has introduced political and economic reforms in recent years, and the US is considering easing its remaining sanctions, a ban on imports.

Suu Kyi, who met with President Barack Obama last week and received Congress’ highest civilian honor, said the sanctions were effective in pushing the junta to reform but that “they should now be lifted” so Burma can rebuild its economy.

“We cannot only depend on external support and support of our friends from other nations. We should also depend on ourselves to reach this goal,” she said.

“I would like to ask everyone to be united,” she said, according to local newspapers reports. “I also want to say to you not to be jealous, not to have envy. We need to control our feelings of envy and jealousy, so that we can unite, join hands, and work towards our goals.”

She spoke often of ethnic issues. Allowing the traditional languages and cultures to flourish should be a part of Burma’s future, Suu Kyi said.

“I do believe that every ethnic language should be taught in all the different ethnic places or in all the different indigenous provinces and regions,” she said. “We should maintain our heritage and language.”
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Dismantling a dictatorship Burmese style

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:33 Myat Thu Pan

(Commentary) – To dismantle a dictatorship of half a century is a task far greater than resurrecting the Titanic.

Since the November 2010 Burmese elections, the government of Burmese President Thein Sein has embarked on an amazing feat of salvaging the sunken ship called Burma.

Burmese President Thein Sein. Photo: President's office

In less than a year, he confounded the world by stopping the controversial Myitsone Dam, reconciled with Aung San Suu Kyi, convinced President Obama to send Hillary Clinton to Burma, Min Ko Naing and other political prisoners were released, and press freedom became a possibility. Western nations rushed to follow the US engagement with Burma.

Following Suu Kyi’s election to Parliament, the US and western countries began lifting sanctions, and businesses started to talk about returning to Burma. The World Bank and a consortium of funding agencies pledged development aid, and the list goes on.

By July, the speaker of the Lower House met with ‘88 student leaders and on the ‘88 uprising anniversary Thein Sein sent two special ministers to participate in the commemoration ceremony.

Exiled journalists from the Irrawaddy, RFA, Mizzima, BBC and VOA were welcomed inside Burma. The powerful vice president hardliner Tin Aung Myint Oo resigned and a cabinet reshuffle took place with more moderate members put in place. Blacklisted exiles were pardoned.

The Rakhine conflict between Rhohingyas and Rakhine natives erupted, but despite missteps Thein Sein handled it with grace and a steady hand, and things are now settling down to a certain extent.

A challenge to the Constitution occurred in Parliament and the constitutional tribunal judges resigned, averting a a more serious crisis.

Through it all, President Thein Sein was his usual self, going about his business in a low-key, purposeful way.

If Suu Kyi is a democracy icon then Thein Sein is a quiet giant.  He has a Herculean task to undo half a century of repression and authoritarian rule. He seems truly to be a humble man without false pride.

The former general has picked up the broken pieces of a nation and led the way toward democracy.

The UN this week is giving him a chance to shine when he addresses the general assembly on Thursday. He is not a powerful world-class intellect like Suu Kyi or a young and charismatic politico like Min Ko Naing, but so far he has carried his responsibility with dignity and purpose.

He seems to be a self-empowered leader with his head on his shoulders, and he has surprising political acumen for a man who has been in the army all his adult life. He is in fact the kind of unflappable leader with practical wisdom that Burma needs at this point.

The Western world is waking up to the fact Burma has more heroes than just Suu Kyi.

Min Ko Naing and his 88-generation leaders are considering forming a political party, which would bring fresh vitality to the political scene, and most importantly to the transitional process before the 2015 elections.

The run up to the election is a critical time for Burma to show its mettle and to put in place the foundations of a true democratic nation.
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Does Aung Min pay for his peacemaking trips?

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 15:44 Mizzima News

A key adviser to Burma’s president who heads up the peace negotiating team is paying his own expenses while on peacemaking missions to ethnic armed groups, according to a report on the Shan Herald website on Friday.

Burmese peace envoy Minister Aung Min Photo: Mizzima

Presidential office Minister Aung Min reportedly told Karen sources that, “Until now there has been no state budget headings [for the peace process]…also the Parliament has yet to allocate us any cash.”

In funding his own efforts, he said, “I regard this as merit-making. So we are putting all our hearts and souls in the work.”

The lack of government funds hit hard with Shan State Army (SSA) leader Yawdserk, who had invited a dozen media people from Thailand to Kengtung, where the second round of Union level peace talks took place on May 19, said the report.

“Since they were his guests [Yawdserk's], the government refused to be responsible for their accommodations. In the end, Sao Yawdserk was obliged to pay,” said one of his aides at that time. “Cost us more than 80,000 baht (around US$ 2,700) just for the media.”

Aung Min reportedly told one of the Shan participants at that time, “Fortunately, my parents had left me a big parcel of land. I won’t get poor even if I spend 1 million kyat (US$ 1,000) a day.”

These revelations have cause ethnic groups to wonder about the central government’s sincerity in the whole peace process.

“It is as though the Thein Sein clique had told him: If you want to do it, do it from your own pocket,” Rimond Htoo, a Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) leader, was quoted as saying.
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Britain, Canada to share Rangoon embassy

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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 13:46 Mizzima News

Canada and Britain have agreed to share embassy space in Rangoon, officials announced in Ottawa on Monday. Currently, Canada has no embassy in Burma.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the space-sharing agreement would also apply to selected embassies and consulates around the world.

Located in the city center, the British Embassy in Rangoon is among a group of colonial buildings that line Strand Road. Photo: AC84 / flickr

“Each country will continue to have complete independence on policy," said Baird, who said the move allows Canada “to focus on smart diplomacy without spending large amounts of taxpayers' dollars on bricks and mortar.”

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the diplomatic partnership is “about speed, flexibility and practicality,” and is "not about diplomats working for two countries at the same time.”

“Canada will continue to pursue a strong, principled, value-based, independent Canadian foreign policy,” said Baird in response to a question from Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.

Britain is reportedly trimming US$ 162 million from its Foreign Office budget, while Canada is cutting $174 million from its Foreign Affairs departmental budget.
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