Friday, November 23, 2012

Mutu Say Poe to continue as KNU military chief

Friday, 23 November 2012 17:16 Hintha Ni

The KNU’s central committee has announced that Gen. Mutu Say Poe will continue as commander-in-chief of the Karen National Union (KNU) until a permanent decision is made at the group’s 15th congress which is scheduled to begin on November 26 and last until mid-December.

The announcement was made following a meeting of 40 central committee members in the Lay Wah area in Karen State capital Pa-an from October 31 to November 20.

Much controversy and division has affected the rank-and-file KNU members, not to mention an air of disenchantment among the Karen general public about an internal rift among the KNU leadership which resulted in the October 3 dismissal of three Karen leaders: Mutu Say Poe; Social Welfare and Relief Department head Pado Roger Khin; and Judicial Department chief Pado David Taw.

“The central committee does not accept the decision made by the CEC [Central Executive Committee] to dismiss Mutu Say Poe and the others,” said KNU joint general secretary [1] Pado Saw Hla Ngwe. “So they are entitled to retain their positions until the next Congress.”

Pado David Taw passed away on October 14.

Speaking to Mizzima, Pado Saw Hla Ngwe said that, consequently, Brig-Gen Baw Kyaw Heh, who was appointed interim commander-in-chief of KNU after Mutu Say Poe was dismissed, “no longer needs to fulfill his work as commander-in-chief.”

The controversy began when Mutu Say Poe opened a government liaison office without the approval of the KNU leadership including David Takapaw and general-secretary Zipporah Sein.
“But they did it in a spirit of goodwill,” said Pado Saw Hla Ngwe. “They did not intend to violate the fundamental principles of the organization. They thought that they should act immediately, and they did it. Anyway, they themselves admitted that there were faults in what they had done.”

KNU General Secretary Naw Zipporah Sein, a member of KNU Central Executive Committee, who was involved in making the decision to dismiss the three, told Mizzima: “We have all agreed to look forward in unity and in accordance with KNU policy.”

Monywa copper mine protesters lack supplies

Friday, 23 November 2012 14:44 Nay Myo

The 200 protesters who continue to “sit-in”  at Ledi camp on Latpadaung Mountain in Sagaing Division are suffering from a lack of food, water and medicine, said one of the protest organizers.

“I am one of those living in the Ledi Sayadaw Buddhist temple,” said civic society group leader Aung Soe, speaking to Mizzima. “We badly need food, drinking water and medicines. Up here on the mountain, it is very cold at night. Many protesters have caught colds and coughs. The change in the weather may also bring on bouts of flu.”

Comprising local farmers, Buddhist monks, students, NGO activists and local residents, the protest group has launched a sit-in since June to protest plans to build a series of copper mine through the mountain and the local landscape by two mining companies, Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and China’s Wanbao Company.

Protestors pictured in front of China's Wanbao Company in Latpadaung area on November 20, 2012. (Photo: Open Society Monywa)

Villagers said the mining companies have illegally confiscated more than 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) of farmland from 26 villages in Sarlingyi since 2011.

Environmental groups say the copper mine and its residue waste poses grave hazards to the local residents and the ecosystem.

The protest organizers this week urged the authorities to let them carry food to the hilltop site by car and truck. Currently only motorbikes are permitted to ascend the mountain with supplies.

Aung Soe said that the authorities were trying to create such unpleasant conditions that the protesters will move their camp elsewhere and vacate Latpadaung Mountain.

“Several times, the local authorities have come and ordered us to move to the foot of the mountain,” said Aung Soe. “But we will never move. We will sacrifice our lives if necessary.

“From this camp on top of the mountain, we can travel quickly to any of the 33 projects sites if work begins. If we set up camp at the foot of the mountain, they will not care what we say. They will start work on the mountain by blasting.”

Aung Soe told Mizzima that they have been petitioning the company to suspend the project until late March 2013. He said the protesters are hoping that the matter will be discussed in Parliament.

However, recent reports indicate China is growing wary of the rising rural demonstrations over land confiscation.

The Chinese Ambassador to Burma said Beijing would stop backing the Monywa copper mine if the project did not benefit Burma, according to a Radio Free Asia report in October.

“If this project brings no benefit to the Myanmar [Burmese] people, the Chinese government will not support or endorse it,” Ambassador Li Junhua said at a press conference, according to a press release posted on the Facebook page of the Chinese Embassy in Burma. “Because it not only concerns the image of the Chinese company, but also the image of China and the Chinese government,” he said.

His comments came the same day, October 21, as an opinion piece in Chinese state media’s Global Times newspaper said Chinese companies need to “attach more importance to grassroots voices” in carrying out investment projects such as the Monywa mine.

The protesters’ Ledi camp is a historical site where a highly respected Buddhist monk, the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923), fasted and practiced meditation.

Related article:
Thursday, November 22, 2012

ITD’s relocation claim is false, says Dawei CBO

Thursday, 22 November 2012 18:02 Kun Chan

A community-based organization (CBO) in Tavoy [Dawei] says that claims made by the Italian-Thai Development Company (ITD) that it has relocated the majority of villagers from the area affected by the construction of the Dawei Project are false.

The local CBO, which calls itself “Tavoyan Voice,” was responding to an interview in the Thai daily Bangkok Post on November 12 when Premchai Karnasuta, the managing director of ITD, was quoted as saying: “The big job, which is the relocation of residents in the project area, has been almost done. The next task is the construction, which is not that easy to complete all within three years. It is a challenge.”

However, according to Tavoyan Voice: “Over 30,000 villagers from 16 villages in the US $50 billion project area are slated for relocation, but community leaders insist that no one has yet been relocated.”

A spokesperson for the CBO, which is based in Tenasserim Division close to the site where the multi-billion-dollar deep sea port and industrial complex is being built, said that Mr Premchai, 21 percent stakeholder in ITD, made the comments in an attempt to persuade foreign firms to invest in the project.

“They haven’t even discussed the issue of relocation at a grassroots level yet,” spokeswoman Lwin Lwin told Mizzima. “Their claim is false and we regard it only as pretext to lure foreign investors.

“Though ITD is indeed in the process of negotiating compensation with the local community, it has not yet got the nod from the majority of villagers,” she said.

Lay Lwin from the Dawei Development Association (DDA) said that over 30,000 local villagers from Yebyu and Launglon townships in Dawei District were scheduled to be relocated to three newly built villages.

Five villages in Yebyu (namely Mudu, Paradup, Leshaung, Singyi and Mayingyi) are to be relocated to a new town called “Bagawa”; while 10 villages in Launglon Township are also waiting to be uprooted and sent to a new town outside the Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Lay Lwin said that just over 340 new houses had already been built in the new Bagawa town, north of the SEZ, but that as far as he knows, only villagers from Mudu will be placed there before June 2013.

A local Buddhist abbot, U Awbatha, from Mayingyi village monastery, said that ITD negotiated relocation terms with only two villages, Mudu and Nyaungbinseik. He said that most of the villagers did not want to move.

“In Mudu, only a handful of people accepted the offer of relocation,” he said. “Most refused. And in Nyaungbinseik only three or four people said they would relocate voluntarily.”

The abbot said that most villagers are reluctant to relocate because they believe the land will be unsuitable for their livelihoods, namely farming and other agriculture-related vocations.
U Awbatha said that most villagers would prefer to turn down the offer of compensation and continue to live in their own ancestral homes.

Because of plans for constructing a hydroelectric dam alongside the Dawei SEZ, more than 180 households from Kalonehtar village in Yebyu Township have now also been told they must relocate. However, the villagers are refusing to move.

ITD signed an MoU with the Burmese government in 2008 to build the SEZ at Dawei, also known as Tavoy. ITD has a 75-year lease on the project, which will include a deep-sea port, large factories, office buildings, and trade and commercial zones.

The first phase of the project is estimated to cost some US $8.6 billion.

Burma’s President Thein Sein and Thai Premier Yingluck Shinawatra met on November 19 at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh where they reportedly agreed to complete all urgent and priority projects at Dawei by 2015.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Reporters, ILO rep charged in fish farm dispute

Thursday, 22 November 2012 13:02 Phanida

The owner of a fish farm in the Irrawaddy delta has filed charges against two reporters and a representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) for their involvement in a dispute between local farmers in Kyaunggon Township and himself.

Military crony U Hmone, the owner of the fish farm in question, on November 19 filed charges at Pantanaw Police Station against Burma VJ Media reporter Myo Kyaw (aka Nyi Htwe) and Kyi Nyein Thaw from New Day Media after they had met farmers, taken photographs and made video of the disputed lake on Monday.

Along with Thet Wai from the ILO, the Rangoon-based journalists were charged with trespassing, criminal mischief and conspiracy under Sections 447, 427 and 34 respectively of the Penal Code. The three were later released from police custody on personal bail, according to Kyi Nyein Thaw.

“We went to Kyaunggon on Monday to cover news and take footage of a dispute between farmers and the owner of a fish farm,” she told Mizzima. “On our way back home, we were called into the Pantanaw police station and told that the township administrator wanted to talk with us. They questioned us at 5:30 p.m. Then police officers from Kyaunggon arrived and told us that U Hmone was pressing charges against us.”

She said that, according to the local farmers, U Hmone’s staff at the fish farm had put rows of bamboo screens in the rivers which acted as dams to keep the fish from escaping.

Some 500 farmers depend on the flow of water from this lake for irrigating their paddy fields, she said. A group of farmers then removed these barriers on Monday to allow the rivers to flow into their fields.

Pantanaw police reportedly checked the reporters’ news footage and photographs, but did not confiscate them.

A date for the court hearing has not yet been set.

Kyi Nyein Thaw said that they—the two reporters at least—would countersue the authorities for obstructing the media.

It is learned that a case was also filed against Thet Wai from ILO. He said that he was shooting video footage to hand over to Rule of Law Committee Chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi for submission to the Lower House.

“Small-scale fishermen and farmers who have valid land tenures are deprived of the water they need because of this fish farm,” Thet Wai told Mizzima. “So they removed the fishing implements which were blocking the water flow to their paddy fields and surrendered them to the owner.”

He said that 50 farmers from Thekhone village were charged with trespassing at Kyaunggon police station on Tuesday, and that another 50 farmers from Seikphuni village were questioned on Wednesday over the same allegations.

Burma may agree to nuclear protocol

Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:33 Mizzima News

The Burmese government is ready to sign an international agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would require it to declare all nuclear facilities and materials, according to an Associated Press (AP) report on Wednesday.

“Little noticed in the warm glow of President Barack Obama's landmark visit to Myanmar was a significant concession that could shed light on whether that nation's powerful military pursued a clandestine nuclear weapons program, possibly with North Korea's help,” wrote AP’s Matthew Pennington.

Although it would be up to Naypyitaw to decide what to declare, it could provide some answers concerning its acquisition of dual-use machinery and military cooperation with Pyongyang that the U.S. and other nations regard as suspect, the report said.

President Thein Sein's agreement to allow more scrutiny by U.N. nuclear inspectors suggests a willingness to go beyond democratic reforms that have improved relations with Washington and culminated in Obama's visit this week, the first by a U.S. president to the country.

In 2008, photographs were leaked showing the Burmese military's joint chief of staff (now Lower House Speaker) Shwe Mann on a secret visit to North Korea. He is pictured alongside the manager of North Korea's chief operational officer behind Pyongyang’s two underground nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

Burma’s current agreement with the IAEA requires little in terms of disclosure, and the government was unresponsive when the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in late 2010 sought an inspection.

“But how quickly Myanmar moves to sign the protocol — it says it first needs parliament's approval — and then ratify it, remains to be seen, as does whether it discloses any useful information,” said Pennington.

Suu Kyi appointed UN ambassador for ‘Zero Discrimination’

Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:20 Mizzima News

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has appointed Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi as a “Global Advocate for Zero Discrimination.”

In this new role, the Nobel Peace Prize winner will call on her fellow citizens and people around the world to eliminate stigma and discrimination, the UN said on Tuesday.

Suu Kyi reportedly accepted the invitation during a recent meeting with UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé at her residence in Naypyitaw.

National League for Democracy [NLD] chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi was pictured during a World AIDS Day ceremony at the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon. Photo: Mizzima

“It is a great honor to be chosen as a champion for people who live on the fringes of society and struggle every day to maintain their dignity and basic human rights,” she said. “I would like to be the voice of the voiceless.”

According to a statement by the UN Regional Information Centre (UNRIC): “A strong supporter of the AIDS movement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has publically engaged with people living with HIV as part of her efforts to counter stigma and discrimination. Earlier this year at a major international AIDS conference in Washington DC, USA, she delivered a message via video link, supporting people living with HIV.”

But not everyone was enthused by the appointment. “Aunty! Please do not forget to promote ‘Zero Discrimination’ at home, especially in Arakan State,” wrote vocal critic Maung Zarni on Facebook.

OIC plan Burma visit

Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:18 Mizzima News

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is planning a visit to Burma for discussions on ways to resolve the Rohingya crisis, according to a report on Wednesday by Malaysian news agency Bernama.

The news comes despite the Burmese government’s refusal to allow the OIC to open a liaison office in Burma.

The Bernama report said that the visit will be led by Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu who will be accompanied by a number of foreign ministers from OIC member states. No dates were announced for the visit.

The ministers will assess the humanitarian needs of those affected by the violence in the Rakhine State, and also coordinate with the Myanmar authorities to develop a plan, the OIC said in a statement.

The planned visit was one of the resolutions adopted at the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) meeting in Djibouti on November 15-17.

The 39th CFM urged member states to intensify efforts in the restoration of the Rohingya Muslims' nationality and citizenship rights, and the return of refugees as soon as possible, Bernama reported.

In October, the OIC was denied permission to open a liaison office in Burma after the President's Office announced that “the opening of the OIC office will not be allowed as it is contradictory to the aspirations of the people.”

The Saudi-based OIC, an association of 56 Islamic states promoting Muslim solidarity in economic, social, and political affairs, requested an official explanation from the government, which announced its decision following widespread demonstrations against the proposed OIC office by Buddhist monks in Burma.

Burmese, Indonesian presidents discuss Rohingya Crisis

Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:16 Mizzima News

Burma’s President Thein Sein requested help from Indonesia in resolving the crisis in Rakhine State during a meeting on Tuesday between both countries’ presidents on the sidelines of the current ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, according to a report on Wednesday in the Jakarta Post.

“Myanmar invited us to help them [in resolving the Rohingya problem], with the President [Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] indicating his willingness to help in due time,” Indonesia’s presidential spokesman Teuku Faizasyah is quoted as saying.

Faizasyah is reported as saying that Yudhoyono acknowledged to the Burmese President that the issue was a communal conflict, not a religious clash as so often portrayed.

The social problems in Rakhine were indeed very complex, and included education, Thein Sein reportedly said, adding: “Therefore, Myanmar hopes that Indonesia can invest in the Rakhine State to create more jobs.”

The Burmese President’s Office made no mention of Thein Sein’s request for assistance on its website, but did say that Indonesia recognized the Burmese government’s handling of the crisis “by means of peace and stability, and the rule of law and relief and resettlement.

“He [Yudhoyono] expressed his support for Myanmar government’s cooperation policies with UN, NGOs and INGOs,” it said.

Predominantly Muslim Indonesia has long voiced concerns over the Rohingya issue. The country has for years sheltered Rohingya boatpeople who have fled Burma and Bangladesh.

November marks the start of “sailing season,” ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan noted at the Summit this weekend, the time of year when the seas are calm and less dangerous for refugees to attempt the hazardous journey to Malaysia, Indonesia and other third countries.

Earlier this month about 85 people, mostly Rohingyas, died when their vessel sank off the Bangladeshi coast. Several other incidents where boatpeople have been rescued at sea or drowned when their boat sank have been reported in recent weeks. Most survivors said they were trying to reach Malaysia where they would look for work.

Speaking to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the ASEAN conference, Thein Sein promised that his government would take action to resolve the crisis.

The Burmese president—who previously told the UN it should take responsibility for finding homes in third countries for the Rohingyas—on Friday condemned what he called the “senseless violence” between the Muslim Rohingya community and Rakhine Buddhists, and blamed the unrest on extremists.

On Wednesday, November 21, Burma’s Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay and UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam are scheduled to unveil a “Revised Rakhine Response Plan.”

President announces Four-point Plan for Rakhine State

Thursday, 22 November 2012 13:04 Myo Thant

Burma’s President Thein Sein told reporters on Wednesday that the government will pursue a four-point plan aimed at resolving the bitter divisions between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine State. He said the plan will involve changing people’s prejudices, promoting education, creating jobs—and introducing a program of birth control.

Burma's President Thein Sein speaks at the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Myo Thant/Mizzima)

“What must we do so that the two communities can coexist peacefully forever?” said the president, speaking to Burmese media at a press conference on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh. “The most basic thing we can do is to change the mindset of many people. We must make people empathize with each other.”

Addressing his second point, Thein Sein said that the education of people in the Rakhine region is poor and must be improved. “Only if we promote their educational standards will their moral standards improve. And only when their moral standards improve will they be able to live together in harmony.”

The Burmese President went on to say that there are limited job opportunities in the region, and more jobs need to be created.

“If a person is poor, they can easily become angry about their situation for no good reason,” Thein Sein said. “That’s why we need to create job opportunities.”

Addressing his fourth point—undoubtedly the most controversial—the Burmese President said that the birth rate in the region is very high, so authorities will introduce a program of birth control in accordance with international standards.

Thein Sein noted that some 110,000 people were displaced due to the recent violence in the Rakhine State. He said the government is spending about US $1 million per month providing food to refugees, and that it now requires about $65 million for rehabilitation.

Gold trading on the black market

Wednesday, 21 November 2012 15:15 Mizzima News

Gold dealers in Burma are complaining that gold is being traded illegally on the black market, according to a report on Tuesday by Rangoon-based Eleven News.

“They know about the black market, but authorities have yet to take any effective measures,” said Thudaw, the chairperson of Myanmar Gold Entrepreneurs Association. “There is no mechanism to monitor and control gold trading.”

The Association has reportedly said that curbing illegal gold trading would enhance the stability of the Burmese gold market.

Eleven News reported that gold dealers in Sagaing Region claimed that gold was being smuggled to China.

The current price for gold in Rangoon is 773,700 kyat per tical (0.576 oz).

In September, the price of gold peaked at 794,000 kyat (US $900), a new record in the country. In 2007, it had dipped to below 500,000 kyat per tical.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

UN, Govt to announce revised Rakhine plan

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 19:15 Mizzima News

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam and Burma’s Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen. Thein Htay have announced that they will unveil a “Revised Rakhine Response Plan” to the media on Wednesday, November 21.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, they said the plan was to be initiated to meet the urgent humanitarian needs in Rakhine State where up to 115,000 people are displaced and unable to return home.

The UN-Naypyitaw joint-statement said that a total of US $67.6 million is currently needed to continue implementing critical assistance for 115,000 people for one year (July 2012 through June 2013). “Considering the contribution to date, a further $47.8 million is urgently required to address the funding gap,” it said.

International groups such as the UNHCR and Médecins Sans Frontières have recently complained that they were being prevented from delivering humanitarian assistance in the region to victims of the sectarian violence between the Muslim Rohingya community and Rakhine Buddhists.

The announcement comes following an assurance this week from President Thein Sein to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh that his government will tackle the problems in Rakhine State.

The Burmese president—who previously told the UN it should take responsibility for finding homes in third countries for the Rohingyas—on Friday condemned the “senseless violence” between the Muslim Rohingya community and Rakhine Buddhists, and blamed the unrest on extremists.

“There were nationalist and religious extremists who incited and agitated improperly behind the scenes to spread the violence in the region," Thein Sein reportedly told religious leaders. “Besides, there were some foreign organizations and nations who tried to fuel the flames by circulating false and fabricated news,” he said, without identifying them.

NGOs and international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have, however, accused Burma’s security forces of involvement in a litany of human rights abuses in Rakhine State—primarily against Rohingyas and other Muslims—including killings, torture, sexual violence against women, and looting.

ASEAN Economic Zone delayed by a year

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 19:06 Mizzima News

Several media outlets have reported that heads of state at the ASEAN summit currently underway in Phnom Penh have agreed to delay the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) for 12 months from January 1 to December 31, 2015, in order to prepare policies and programs, including formalizing the necessary visa regulations among the Southeast Asian bloc.

heads of state are pictured at the ASEAN summit on Sunday morning, November 18. Photo: Myo Thant/Mizzima

The decision was reportedly made during the plenary session of the 21st ASEAN Summit on Sunday, though ASEAN has made no formal statement as yet.

The Bangkok Post quoted Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Thongloun Sisoulith as saying that ASEAN leaders have agreed that the AEC could be launched on December 31, 2015.

In his opening speech as the summit’s host, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen called for a timely implementation of programs and plans of action to build the AEC and promote connectivity.

“To achieve this objective, we need to encourage ASEAN ministers to formulate necessary policy measures to be implemented before 2015 in key areas,” he said.

These included tariff and non-tariff barriers, investment liberalization, connectivity and transport, small- and medium-sized enterprise development, initiatives for ASEAN integration, mutual recognition arrangements on professional services and labor mobility, institutional building and regulatory reforms and institutional issues for AEC building, he said.

The Jakarta Globe said that Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Yudhoyono highlighted the importance of strengthening domestic connectivity in Indonesia before embarking on region-wide connectivity programs.

According to the Philippines’ GMA News, the ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Dr. Lim Hong Hin told participants at a business forum in Makati City in Manila that “despite progress in a number of areas, 28 percent of AEC measures due to be implemented for 2008-2011 are still pending as of the end of August 2012.”

These measures cover trade—customs modernization standards and conformity and services liberalization—investments, agriculture, consumer protection, and ratification of transportation agreements, he said.

ASEAN members have failed to comply with decisions, treaties and protocols at national levels, Lim noted.

AEC is a single market and production base economy where goods, services, investments, capital, and skilled labor can flow freely within a community of nations—home to 600 million people and a combined gross domestic product of more than US $1.13 trillion.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, comprises 10 countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar [Burma], The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Thein Sein fosters Chinese, Japanese, Thai relations

Tuesday, 20 November 2012 15:59 Mizzima News

Speaking at the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh on Monday evening, Burmese President Thein Sein said that close relations with China would contribute to regional and global peace, stability and development.

With Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and other Asian heads of state in attendance, Thein Sein said that since joining the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997, Myanmar [Burma] has cooperated with other countries to further strengthen ASEAN-China relations and has constantly supported China.

“The establishment of the ASEAN Community will benefit future generations and the peoples of ASEAN and China,” he said. “And close relations with China will contribute to regional and global peace, stability and development.”

The Burmese President said that continued efforts must be made to increase economic cooperation, including cooperation in ASEAN-China trade and investment, and the development of southern and northern economic corridors among Mekong region countries. He said that such corridors reflect the vital role of China in the ASEAN economy.

Earlier in the day, Thein Sein led a Burmese government delegation in meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

The Burmese President was accompanied by Minister for Foreign Affairs Wunna Maung Lwin, Minister for National Planning and Economic Development Dr. Kan Zaw, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Zin Yaw and several departmental heads.

According to a statement on the President’s Office website on Tuesday, the Japanese premier said that Japan would provide Yen 50 billion (US $615 million) as a new loan for the development of ethnic nationalities in the border areas, the construction of Thilawa Port, the construction of deep sea ports, funds for poverty alleviation, and assistance in the communications sector ahead of Burma hosting the 2013 SEA Games and 2014 ASEAN Chairmanship.

And prior to talks with the Japanese, Thein Sein met with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in the Peace Palace.

According to the President’s website, the two leaders exchanged views about the development of the Dawei Special Economic Zone and reached an agreement on implementation of the project.

“Thailand will implement regional development tasks including roads, deep sea port, industrial zone, power plant, water supply, water treatment system, communications, [and a] high speed train in Dawei Special Economic Zone and in the related project area,” the statement said.
Monday, November 19, 2012

Obama pledges commitment to Burma’s reforms

Monday, 19 November 2012 17:37 Victoria Bruce

If Burma continues with its commitment to democratic reforms and ending ethnic conflict, the United States will offer its ongoing support in assisting to rebuild its crippled economy, US President Barack Obama said on Monday afternoon.

Addressing a crowd of some 1,300 people at Yangon University, and flanked by Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to mention an anxious security detail, the president was speaking during his six-hour trip to the former Burmese capital, and the first ever to the country by a US president.

Barack Obama during Yangon University address Monday 19 November. Photo: Victoria Bruce/Mizzima

“When I took office as President, I sent a message to those governments who ruled by fear: ‘We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,’” he said.

“And over the last year and a half, a dramatic transition has begun as a dictatorship of five decades has loosened its grip. Under President Thein Sein, the desire for change has been met by an agenda for reform.

“So today I’ve come to keep my promise and extend the hand of friendship,” he said.

It was perhaps no coincidence that Obama referred to Burma’s previous years of dictatorship while delivering a speech at Yangon University, formerly Rangoon University, which was the scene of student uprisings in 1962, 1974, 1988 and 1996, most of which were violently suppressed. The former military junta closed the campus in the 1990s fearing further unrest.

While praising President Thein Sein and noting the progress his government has made toward democratic reforms and improving freedom of speech for Burmese citizens, Obama noted that Burma still has to find a solution to its ethnic conflicts and to release all prisoners of conscience.

“On that journey, America will support you every step of the way: by using our assistance to empower civil society; by engaging your military to promote professionalism and human rights; and by partnership with you as you connect your progress towards democracy with economic development.”

Obama stressed Burma’s need to aim for economic prosperity, and noted the US had lifted sanctions, now allowing American firms to invest in the country.

“But that kind of growth must leave corruption behind,” he cautioned.

When the 51-year-old president stressed the need for Burma, torn by long-running civil war and ethnic conflict, to achieve national reconciliation, the room erupted in deafening applause.

The bloody conflict in Burma’s western Rakhine State also needs to be addressed, as does the debate over citizenship, said the Hawaiian-born president, explaining that the US is also a nation of immigrants.

Seated between Clinton and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, Suu Kyi visibly enjoyed a lengthy discussion with Claire Mitchell, the wife of the new US Ambassador Derek Mitchell before the US President began his speech.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate received her standard rock star welcome as, dressed in peach and dark green, she greeted dignitaries and posed for photos with a surging crowd armed with smiles, Smart Phones and cameras.

Obama concluded his remarks the same way he began, by addressing the audience in their own language, if only to say “thank you”; but it was enough for this Burmese audience, whose enthusiasm for the American almost matched that for Suu Kyi.

Obama left at 3:40 pm for Rangoon airport where he was due to fly immediately to Phnom Penh to participate in the current ASEAN summit.

45 political prisoners released across Burma

Monday, 19 November 2012 15:21 Mizzima News

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners- Burma (AAPP) has confirmed that 45 political dissidents were released from prisons across Burma on Monday as part of a presidential amnesty.

Unidentified political prisoners pose after they reached the National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon following their release from detention in an amnesty on Tuesday, September 17, 2012. A number of prisoners including political detainees were released, the latest in a string of inmate releases in the former junta-ruled nation. Photo: AFP

Eight members of the All Burma Students Democratic Front were pardoned, as well as three Kachin rebels and two members of the Karen National Union.

In addition, 10 other prisoners were released who were not on the AAPP list but who were considered by some to be prisoners of conscience, such as four naval officers who were jailed for leaking sensitive information.

The move comes the same day US President Barack Obama makes a landmark visit to the country.

On Sunday, the Burmese government announced that it will begin reviewing prisoner cases in line with international standards and open its jails to the Red Cross.

Nobel laureates call for end to Rakhine violence

Monday, 19 November 2012 14:44 Mizzima News

Five female Nobel Peace Prize laureates have released an open letter to US President Barack Obama and President Thein Sein of Burma urging them to make a firm commitment to end the sectarian violence in Rakhine State.”

“We are deeply saddened by reports of the recent deaths of 170 people, and the displacement up to 110,000 people from their homes,” the statement said. “We also encourage an end to the restrictions on humanitarian assistance [and] preventing survivors of the violence—including women and children—from getting much-needed medical help, food and shelter.”

The open letter was addressed November 18 and was signed by: Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate 1997; Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate 2011; Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate 1976; Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel Peace Laureate 1992; and Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate 2003.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he welcomes Thein Sein’s pledge to tackle the problems in Rakhine State.

The Burmese president—who previously told the UN it should take responsibility for finding homes in third countries for the Rohingyas—on Friday condemned the “senseless violence” between the Muslim Rohingya community and Rakhine Buddhists, and blamed the unrest on extremists.

“There were nationalist and religious extremists who incited and agitated improperly behind the scenes to spread the violence in the region," Thein Sein reportedly told religious leaders. “Besides, there were some foreign organizations and nations who tried to fuel the flames by circulating false and fabricated news,” he said, without identifying them.

NGOs and international rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have, however, accused Burma’s security forces of involvement in a litany of human rights abuses in the region—primarily against Rohingyas and other Muslims—including torture, sexual violence against women, and looting.

Burma’s state-run MRTV reported that action had been taken against 1,081 people in connection with the violence in Rakhine State, but gave no further details.

On Saturday, the world's top Islamic body, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called for the international community to protect Muslims in Rakhine State from what it called "genocide."

OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of Turkey also called for a stop to what he called "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya, considered among the most persecuted groups in the world by the United Nations.

However, ASEAN General Secretary Dr. Surin Pitsuwan rejected the notion that such a genocide was in progress.

Speaking at the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh on Friday, he said that ASEAN’s role was essentially one of humanitarian assistance and consistency. He said it could not dictate what citizenship laws a country lays down.

The ASEAN General Secretary noted that the months ahead were the time when the seas were calm and the season that Rohingya and other migrants would often take to the high seas.

‘We are moving forward’ Thein Sein tells Obama

Monday, 19 November 2012 12:33 Mizzima News

Barack Hussein Obama became the first US president to visit Burma when Air Force One touched down just after 10 am at Rangoon airport on Monday morning.

Accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the US president was greeted on arrival by Ambassador Derek Mitchell and Burma’s Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin.

Some 3,000 schoolchildren, many of whom wore traditional Burmese costumes and carried flowers, were on hand to welcome Obama. Some had been waiting at the airport since 7 am.

Obama was immediately driven to the Rangoon Regional Parliament Building to meet Burmese President Thein Sein who had dashed back from an ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh the night before to greet him.

Thein Sein reportedly told the US president: “We [Burma] are moving forward.”

Despite the fanfare surrounding the Obama visit, the White House has said that the trip should not be regarded as a "victory celebration" but as an opportunity to press for urgent action on issues such as the freeing of political prisoners and ending ethnic conflict in Burma.

In the afternoon, Obama is scheduled to meet with Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence on University Avenue overlooking Inya Lake.

The president will then be ushered a few hundred meters to the US Embassy, also on University Avenue, where he will meet Embassy officials over lunch.

Later in the afternoon, Obama is due to deliver a speech at Rangoon University before he departs for Phnom Penh to attend the ASEAN summit.

ASEAN leaders sign controversial human rights charter

Monday, 19 November 2012 12:05 Mizzima News

The heads of the 10-member Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Sunday night signed a human rights pact despite widespread criticism that the declaration falls short of international standards and offers governments a variety of loopholes.

The text of the declaration reaffirms the bloc’s support for political and civil rights, as well as economic and development rights for all of Southeast Asia’s 600 million citizens. It condemns torture, human trafficking, and arbitrary arrest and detention; and affirms each country’s support for the rights of women and condemnation of violence against women.

“It's a legacy for our children,” Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters after the signing the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) at a ceremony in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra referred to the pact as an “evolving process,” according to Thai daily The Bangkok Post.

However, alongside the ASEAN diplomats’ praise for what they call a “milestone” and a “benchmark” in regional affairs, rights experts have roundly criticized the AHRD.

Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch said the non-binding element of the agreement may, in fact, be exploited by ASEAN governments “to justify violating rights.”

Referring to the ASEAN bloc as “an unwieldy bloc of liberal democracies and authoritarian states, The Associated Press reported on Sunday night that: “ASEAN has taken feeble steps to address human rights concerns in the vast region of 600 million people, adopting a charter in 2007 where it committed to uphold international law and human rights but retained a bedrock principle of not interfering in each other's internal affairs—a loophole that critics say helps member states commit abuses without consequence.

“In 2009, the group unveiled a commission that was tasked to promote human rights but deprived of power to investigate violations or go after abusers,” it said.
Activists say they are hoping that the AHRD’s defects are highlighted later this week when US President Obama attends the summit.

US, Burma agree anti-human trafficking pact

Monday, 19 November 2012 12:04 Mizzima News

The United States and Burma have agreed to cooperate on anti-trafficking measures, according to a statement issued by the US Department of State on November 18, just hours ahead of the first visit to Burma by a US president.

“The governments affirm that this joint plan provides a framework for joint action against all forms of trafficking in persons, including both sex and labor trafficking, whether committed across international borders or wholly within a country’s borders,” the statement said.

The joint statement also made mention of efforts by the Burmese government to curb cases of forced labor and the illegal recruitment of child soldiers.

In terms of support, the US pledged to “provide technical assistance, training, and the regular sharing of best practices in the areas of law enforcement investigations, victim/witness interviewing, victim assistance, and trafficking prevention, through U.S. government-funded programs.”

President’s Office extends prisoner amnesty

Monday, 19 November 2012 10:39

Burmese President Thein Sein’s office announced on Monday morning that it was granting an additional 66 prisoners amnesty following its decision last week to release 452 prisoners under presidential decree.

However, no reports have suggested that any of the 66 is a political dissident.

President’s Office extends prisoner amnesty

Monday, 19 November 2012 10:39

Burmese President Thein Sein’s office announced on Monday morning that it was granting an additional 66 prisoners amnesty following its decision last week to release 452 prisoners under presidential decree.

However, no reports have suggested that any of the 66 is a political dissident.
Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thein Sein returns to Burma to meet US President

Sunday, 18 November 2012 23:15 Mizzima News

Burmese President Thein Sein speaks at the ASEAN summit on Sunday morning, November 18. Photo: Myo Thant/Mizzima

Burma’s President Thein Sein flew on Sunday evening from Phnom Penh to Rangoon where he will host visiting US President Barack Obama on Monday. Thein Sein will then return to the Cambodian capital to resume participation at the current ASEAN summit.

President Obama has been scheduled to meet Thein Sein and Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann as well as Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his six-hour stopover visit in Rangoon before he too flies to Phnom Penh to attend the summit.

Obama is due to deliver a speech at the Convocation Hall of Rangoon University, and will reportedly have lunch at the US Embassy in Rangoon.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported that Obama’s Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, spent time in Burma during World War II when he was a cook for a British Army captain. President Obama never met his grandfather.

Hussein Onyango Obama is believed to be born in 1895, and was a member of the Luo tribe. He worked for several years as a servant for white colonialists in Kenya. His son, the first Barack Hussein Obama, was the president’s father. About 75,000 Kenyans served in Burma during World War II.

Suu Kyi visits IT company in Bangalore

Sunday, 18 November 2012 14:20 Mizzima News 

Aung San Suu Kyi is pictured with S. Gopalakrishnan, the Executive Co-Chairman of Infosys, the largest IT Company in Bangalore, on Saturday afternoon. Photo: Mizzima

On Saturday afternoon, Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited the largest IT company in Bangalore, the city often referred to as “India’s Silicon Valley.”

Aung San Suu Kyi had a private meeting with S. Gopalakrishnan, the Executive Co-Chairman of Infosys, for more than 30 minutes before planting a sapling on the Infosys campus.

The trip to an IT company was the last scheduled visit on Suu Kyi’s six-day tour of India, which was based mainly in Delhi. Suu Kyi is due to return to Rangoon on Sunday and will meet US President Barack Obama on Monday.
Saturday, November 17, 2012

Majority should look through the minority’s eyes: Suu Kyi

Saturday, 17 November 2012 14:03 Mizzima News

Speaking to an audience of 8,000 Burmese, including many refugees, at Oxford Senior Secondary School in Delhi on Friday, Burmese pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi said that sometimes the majority has to look at things through a minority’s eyes “When I came to India, I felt that I was coming to a friendly country with a long tradition,’ she said. “All the [Burmese] people living in India are like our family members: brothers, nephews, nieces and children. So I want you to look on [them] as family members. I want to say solemnly that our country is a ‘union.’ ”

She said that the Burmese living in India nowadays are from various ethnic origins. “The majority [Bamar or Burman] became a minority in India,” she said, addressing the audience in Burmese language. “I think that is very good. Sometimes, a majority needs to look at things through a minority’s eyes.”

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses an audience of more than 800 members of the Burmese community and Indian supporters on Friday at the Oxford Senior Secondary School in Vikas Puri, New Delhi.

There are more than 10,000 refugees from Burma in New Delhi, but data shows that less than 100 of them are Bamar. Ethnic Chins make up the majority.

Some Burmese residing near the Indo-Burmese border travelled more than 2,000 miles to hear Suu Kyi speak.

“I want our country to be a secure union where all people can live peacefully,” she said. “But we all need to make an effort to build that kind of union. Different ethnic groups have different cultures, different hopes, different languages and different religions. Despite these differences, we need to bring about unity. To bring about unity we need to have mutual understanding and mutual respect. To achieve that, one has to listen to what another person says. A person should not highlight only the things he wants. One must listen to voices from both sides.

“We entered into the pro-democracy movement in attempt to achieve national reconciliation,” she continued. “To achieve reconciliation and to get mutual understanding, we should not have one-sided views. We need to consider the opinions of both sides and the situation of the entire Union.

“In our Union, we should not think that one region’s problem is not related to ours. In fact, it is related to the whole country. Wherever a problem takes place, we need to look at its effect on the entire country. Therefore, I want you to look at problems from the Union’s point of view.

 “That’s why we need talks along the lines of a ‘Second Panglong Conference’ that brings the various ethnic groups together in achieving unity— a unity that comes from our hearts.

“I mean a conference that will promote the ‘Spirit of ‘Panglong,’” she said. “At the 1947 Panglong Conference, not all the ethnic groups attended. We acknowledge that. But, that Panglong Conference made the ‘Union Spirit’ take root [in Burma].

“We still cannot guarantee that it will take root and grow,” she continued. “The roots were not given the rights to grow. So we cannot say that today our Union is like a great strong mature tree that produces fruit and flowers,” she said.

“To achieve our objective, we must have the ‘Union Spirit.’ We must encourage it. We must water the roots. We must prepare the soil. All this needs to be done by the citizens of our time.”
The Oxford Senior Secondary School where Suu Kyi spoke accepts Burmese children; many of whom are able to attend the school free of charge. The school is situated in the Vikas Puri Quarter where many Burmese people live.

Suu Kyi and her entourage flew from Delhi to Bangalore [Bengaluru] on Friday evening.

Obama urged to tackle human rights issues in Burma

Saturday, 17 November 2012 13:56 Mizzima News

Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday urged US President Barack Obama to publicly address the deadly sectarian violence that continues in Rakhine State between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya (and non-Rohingya) Muslims.

“Obama should press Thein Sein to end discrimination and violence against the Rohingya and grant them citizenship on par with other ethnic nationalities,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He should stress the urgent need to allow international aid to reach the Rohingya and for security conditions that would allow them to return to their homes.”

The statement comes a day after the US government lifted import restrictions on Burma, broadly authorizing Burmese-origin goods to enter the United States for the first time in almost a decade.

Obama should also raise concerns about continuing abuses and unmet humanitarian needs in Burma’s Kachin State, where conflict continues between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the statement said. “The Burmese military has attacked villages and committed extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, rape, and pillage. Both sides have used anti-personnel landmines.”

HRW said that an estimated 90,000 people had been displaced in Kachin State this year, and that Burmese authorities had largely denied them humanitarian aid.

“US President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma will be a success only if it generates concrete and lasting steps toward improving human rights in the country,” said the international watchdog.
HRW also called for the release of any remaining political prisoners, and legal and constitutional reform.

Thein Sein reportedly included no political prisoners among the 452 prisoners released in a November 15 amnesty prior to Obama’s visit, HRW said. In four amnesties in the past year, the government has released at least 300 political prisoners, leaving an undetermined number behind bars.

HRW called for independent international monitors to be given unfettered access to Burma’s prisons to provide an accounting of all remaining political prisoners.

The president’s visit on Monday is the most visible gesture of praise by the US government toward Burma since it lifted longstanding sanctions on the country in July, the statement said.

“While genuine progress in Burma should be encouraged, Obama should be careful not to overstate the changes that have occurred,” Adams said. “The still-suffering Burmese people will be better served by a US president who is committed to seeing long-term reform in their country than one who expresses overeager praise.”

Burma army reinforcement raises fears in Hpakant

Saturday, 17 November 2012 13:34 Phanida

Despite a recent lull in hostilities between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) around strategic Hpakant Township, the Burmese army has increased its presence in the jade mining area, spreading fear among locals that a resumption of the conflict is imminent.

“During this period while everyone is focused on peace talks, the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] has increased its troop strength,” said a minister from a Baptist church in Hpakant. “The KIO [Kachin Independence Organization, the KIA’s political wing] are worried that the Tatmadaw will advance and that the Kachins will have to respond.”

The government forces frequently fire mortars toward Kachin rebel positions, the minister said, adding that skirmishes continue in the area along the Mogaung-Hpakant Road. On Thursday night, a Burmese army motorcade arrived in Kamaing via the Mogaung-Hpakant Road, causing ripples of fear to spread across the local Kachin community, he said.

Similarly, a priest from the Hpakant Township Catholic Association told Mizzima that if the government increases its troop strength in the area, the villagers around the Hpakant–Kamaing Road were likely to take refuge in the urban area of Hpakant.

A resident in the town said that the ongoing tension has taken its toll on the local economy, with public transport at a standstill and many people afraid to go to work in outlying areas.

About 40 military trucks carrying foods, supplies, weapons and about 200 soldiers from the Tatmadaw Battalion No. 88 entered Kamaing via the Mogaung-Hpakant Road on the afternoon of November 15, according to Captain Hla Dwe of KIA Battalion No. 6.

“I believe they will launch a military offensive against us,” he told Mizzima.

As of November 13, volunteers from Kachin peace groups have visited the fleeing refugees at shelters in Hpakant, comforting them and offering donations, said relief worker Lamai Gum Ja. He said the refugees urgently need food.

“It’s difficult to get food and clothes for the refugees,” he said. “They have to shelter in churches and many are in poor health because of the cold weather.

He said there were at least 11 refugee “camps” or shelters with about 2,400 villagers now set up in the town.

More than one month ago, some 8,000 refugees were sheltering in Hpakant, but when hostilities ceased they returned to their villages.
Friday, November 16, 2012

Rohingya crisis is Bangladesh’s responsibility too, says Suu Kyi

Friday, 16 November 2012 15:06 Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday described the sectarian violence in Burma’s Rakhine State a “huge international tragedy” and said illegal migration from Bangladesh to Burma had to be stopped.

Conditions are rough in Teknaf camp in Bangladesh. Movement of refugees is restricted and housing is in need of repair or renewal. Photo: UNHCR

Speaking on NDTV news channel on her third day in India, Suu Kyi said that she had declined to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya community because she wanted to “promote reconciliation” after the recent bloodshed.

“Don't forget that violence has been committed by both sides,” she stated. “This is why I prefer not to take sides and also I want to work towards reconciliation.

“Bangladesh will say all these people have come from Burma, and the Burmese say all these people have come over from Bangladesh.

“We have got to put a stop to it [illegal immigration] otherwise there will never be an end to the problem,” she said.

“Most people seem to think there is only one country involved in this border issue,” she continued. “There are two countries. There is Bangladesh on one side and Burma on the other, and the security of the border surely is the responsibility of both countries.”

The Rohingya, who make up the vast majority of those displaced in the fighting, are described by the UN as among the world's most persecuted minorities, and are not officially recognized as citizens in Burma, due in part to the 1982 Citizenship Law which stipulates that the country has 135 ethnic groups—the Rohingya not being one of them—which can trace their roots in Burma to before 1823—the year of the First Anglo-Burmese war.

The UN has called on all countries in the region to open their borders to Rohingya boatpeople—many of whom are fleeing the violence by taking to the high seas—in the wake of recent fatal tragedies when boats carrying refugees from Burma have sunk or washed ashore in the Bay of Bengal.

Kachin farmers to Obama: Stop funding sham ‘tiger reserve’

Friday, 16 November 2012 18:15 Mizzima News

Kachin farmers plan to present US President Barack Obama with a petition on Monday demanding that the US government cease funding the Hugawng Tiger Reserve in Kachin State, which they say is just a front for deforestation and crop cultivation by a company representing several of Burma’s military cronies.

A tiger captured by remote camera in Myanmar's Hukaung Valley. Photo: Wildlife Conservation Society

Seng Mai, the head of the Chiang Mai office at environmental NGO Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG), told Mizzima on Friday that representatives of some 5,000 farmers—many of whom have had their land confiscated to make way for the projects—intend passing the petition to Obama in person on Monday when he becomes the first US president to visit Burma.

“200,000 acres of the world’s largest tiger reserve are being turned into mono-crop plantations by Yuzana Company, a leading Burmese conglomerate with close ties to military generals,” KDNG said. “The reserve was established by the American non-profit group Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) which receives funds from the US government.”

According to public records, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), a bureau of the US Department of the Interior, has consistently funded the WCS’s program in the Hugawng Reserve since its inception in 2001.

The US funding—nearly US $400,000—was intended to support studies and conservation of the tiger population in the park, which at 22,000 sq km is roughly the size of the US state of Vermont. FWS/ WCS funds also were also directed at gibbon and elephant conservation, and protecting the local ecosystem.

The real face of Hugawng Valley Tiger Reserve. Photo: KDNG

However, KDNG says the project is simply a “sham”  and that forest areas, animal corridors and traditional small-scale farms in the reserve have been razed to make way for sugar cane and cassava plantations under the operation of the Yuzana Company, which was listed on US and EU sanctions for its close association with the previous ruling military junta.

“The farmers demand that the US government suspend all further funding for the tiger reserve and reconsider the project,” said KDNG, which has been monitoring the situation in Hugawng since 2005.

“American donors should be supporting projects which empower local people instead of projects shielding military cronies under the guise of environmental protection,” said Seng Mai.

According to a 2010 report by the Wildlife Conservation Society, perhaps as few as 50 Asian tigers may remain the Hugawng Valley.

Rangoon to host ICT summit, Dec 3-4

Friday, 16 November 2012 14:51

The Inya Lake Hotel in Rangoon will provide the setting for the “INTO MYANMAR ICT Global Summit: Mobile Telecom | Internet Infrastructure | Cloud Computing” summit on Dec 3-4.

In view of the step-by-step privatization of Burma’s telecommunications sector, the summit should provide a networking opportunity for foreign and domestic investors to meet with key stakeholders in Burma’s burgeoning ICT market, according to sponsors Magenta Global.

“Myanmar is poised for significant investment in telecom and internet infrastructure,” said Maggie Tan, the CEO of Magenta Global. “A new telecom law is in the works and clearer policies and regulations are being defined. This summit is very timely with its comprehensive discussion of regulatory and policy issues, spectrum, deployment & migration challenges for Myanmar as well as broadband internet infrastructure needs. It is an opportune platform to explore areas for collaboration and cooperation between local and international players and spur developments in Myanmar.”

Myanmar Airways resume flights to Cambodia

Friday, 16 November 2012 14:48 THE BANGKOK POST
After a three-month suspension of services, on December 1 Myanmar Airways International (MAI) will resume regular flights between Yangon and Cambodia.

The airline started a twice-weekly flight to Siem Reap in late February but suspended the service due to low demand, according to Lav Heng, a sales agent for MAI in Cambodia and the Chairman of VLK Royal Tourism.

The Phnom Penh Post reported that MAI will have two return flights to Phnom Penh, every Wednesday and Saturday and two to Siem Reap, every Monday and Friday.

Lav Heng said the new services are in response to Cambodia’s increasing tourism numbers. Cambodia now has more direct flights from other countries, especially Europe, so people and tourists from the country can now easily fly to Myanmar.

The number of tourists from Myanmar to Cambodia rose by about 12 percent over the first eight months of 2012, compared with the same period last year.

However, its market share to Cambodia is very low at just 0.1 percent compared to other ASEAN countries.

This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post.

Suu Kyi plants a tree, discusses alternative energy sources

Friday, 16 November 2012 14:04 Nay Myo

On the third day of her visit to India, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi planted a tree—a shade sapling (Cedrela Febrifuga)—during a visit to The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), an environment research project located in Gurgaon special economic zone outside Delhi.

Accompanied by Dr. R K Pachauri, the director general of TERI and other institute officials, she took a tour of the project’s research facilities. Like Suu Kyi, Dr. Pachauri is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, accepting the honor in 2007 as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Suu Kyi met fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. R K Pachauri (right, with beard) during her visit to The Energy and Resources Institute near Delhi on Thursday, November 15. Here she is pictured planting a tree at the project.(Photo: Mizzima)

Suu Kyi said that utilizing energy and natural resources is related to politics and social affairs.

Although electricity has been generated by using wind power and solar power on a trial basis in Burma, to date only hydropower has been exploited as a resource to generate electricity in Burma. Suu Kyi said that Burma is looking for responsible investment that is not only sensitive to the environment, but also secures the future of the country.
Suu Kyi noted that Burma is rich in energy resources, but needs an effective energy policy.

Bamboo is abundant in Burma, she said, so it should be possible to produce quality products made from bamboo. Likewise, she said, orchid cultivation should be encouraged in Burma as it was in India.

Suu Kyi expressed interest in the generation of electricity through wood-fired power and witnessed the electricity being utilized to charge a mobile phone.

The Burmese opposition leader then toured the Nanobiotechnology Research Center, the Bioremediation Complex and other energy-efficient projects on the campus.

TERI employs many experts on energy and provides training for human resources development. It says it also aims to train the young people of India to be leaders in the energy and resources sector.
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thein Sein to attend ASEAN Summit in Cambodia

Thursday, 15 November 2012 17:39 Myo Thant

Burmese President Thein Sein will attend the current ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh from Saturday, November 17, and will stay in the country for four days, the summit organizers have said.

The summit began on Thursday, November 15, at the 10-storey Vimean Santepheap building in the Cambodian capital, and will conclude on November 20.

The Burmese president is due to arrive in Cambodia at 10:00 a.m. on November 17 on a special flight, and he will leave the country at 10:00 a.m. on November 21, according to the summit program.

The Vikmean Santepaep Building in Phnom Penh, which is hosting the ASEAN Summit from November 15-20, 2012.

Several Burmese government ministers—Foreign Affairs Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, President Office Ministers Tin Naing Thein and Soe Thein, National Planning and Economic Development Minister Dr. Kan Zaw, and Health Minister Dr. Pe Thet Khin—will arrive in Cambodia to attend the ASEAN summit on November 16 and stay until November 21.

Alongside the leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states, several other notable world leaders will attend the conference—Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak, New Zealand premier John Key, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama.

Obama is scheduled to visit Burma on November 19 when he is likely to meet Aung San Suu Kyi on her return from India.

According to sources close to the Burmese President’s Office, Thein Sein and his US counterpart will meet on November 19; however details of Thein Sein’s schedule are not yet available.

Sources in Burma speculate that Thein Sein will fly back to Burma specifically to meet with Obama on Monday, then return to Phnom Penh to conclude the ASEAN summit.

Burma govt forms Information Committee

Thursday, 15 November 2012 15:48 Khin Myo Thwe

The President’s Office in Naypyitaw announced on November 15 that it has formed an Information Committee, which will be responsible for the distribution of news about politics, economics, security matters, the military and disaster-related affairs.

The committee will hold press conferences and issue press releases when necessary and will do so in a timely manner, it said.

The President’s Office said that the committee must act as both “pre-active” and “reactive” sources of information. It will distribute timely news to domestic and foreign media, local organizations and the information departments of international organizations, it said.

The chairman of the Information Committee is to be President’s Office Deputy Minister Aung Thein.

Its members are: Ye Min, the Deputy Director General of the President’s Office; Ye Naing, the General Manager of News and Periodicals Enterprise under the Ministry of Information; Moe Kyaw Aung, a director in the President’s Office; and Aung Soe Thein, who is one of the directors in the Union Government Office.

Nyan Tun, a director within the President’s Office, has been appointed secretary of the Committee.

Burmese Embassy in Delhi receives Daw Suu

Thursday, 15 November 2012 15:10 Mizzima News    

Former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi made an unscheduled stop at the Burmese Embassy in Delhi for 40 minutes on Thursday morning.

She was received by the chargé d’affaires, Ba Hla Aye, along with other Embassy officials, councilors and Burma’s military attaché to India.

Chargé d’Affaires Ba Hla Aye (center, wearing glasses) and other Embassy officials receive Aung San Suu Kyi at the Burmese Embassy in Delhi on Thursday morning. (PHOTO: Mizzima)

“We are glad that Aung San Suu Kyi could come to India and receive the distinction that was awarded to her in 1995,” said Ba Hla Aye in response to a question from Mizzima. “She said at the Nehru Memorial Lecture yesterday that she has not been disappointed with India. She said that people-to-people relationships would be promoted, which is a good sign for relations between the two countries.”

Also in attendance was Dr. Amaya Maw-Naing, the daughter of Bo Yan Naing who was one of the “30 Comrades” that worked with Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, in the 1940s. Dr. Naing works at World Health Organization in New Delhi.

After the Embassy meeting, as Suu Kyi was getting back into her car, a Mizzima reporter asked her whether she was going to meet with US President Obama or his visit to Burma on Monday. “Yes, I will,” she replied.

The Burmese embassy is located in Chanakyapuri, the diplomatic area in New Delhi. Aung San Suu Kyi spent her teenage years in India when her mother was the first Burmese ambassador to the country.

UNHCR calls for SE Asian neighbors to accept Burma’s boatpeople

Thursday, 15 November 2012 14:35 Mizzima News

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement on Tuesday calling on Burma’s neighbors to open their borders to boatpeople fleeing violence in Rakhine State.

And in a separate development, a group of 38 Kachin refugees who were resettled in Romania have sought asylum in Denmark claiming they were forced to live in squalor in Romania.

With regard to Burma’s boatpeople, UNHCR “called on countries in South-East Asia to keep their borders open to people fleeing Myanmar by sea, following reports of boats sinking in the Bay of Bengal this month with scores of people on board.

“UNHCR also urged the Myanmar government to address this problem of displacement,” the statement said.

“In the last two weeks, there have been reports of two boats sinking off western Myanmar with an estimated 240 people on board, among them Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state,” the UNHCR statement said.

UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva that the UN was “seriously concerned” at the recent boat tragedies in the Bay of Bengal involving people fleeing insecurity and violence in Burma.

“UNHCR cannot confirm the figures as we have no presence near the wreck sites, but available information is that more than 40 people have been rescued from the two boats. There were reports of bodies seen floating in the water,” Fleming said.

She said these two incidents marked an "alarming" start to the traditional “sailing season” in the Bay of Bengal, when a mix of asylum-seekers and irregular migrants risk their lives on fishing boats in the hope of finding safety and a better life elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people set out into the Bay of Bengal from Burma during the previous sailing season from October 2011 to March 2012, the UN agency said, and there are fears many more could follow in the coming weeks, driven by desperation and hopelessness.

“UNHCR is urging the government of Myanmar to take urgent action to address some of the main push factors, especially issues connected with the problem of citizenship and statelessness in relation to the Rohingyas," Fleming said.

While calling on other states to keep their borders open, UNHCR said it was alarmed by reports of countries either pushing back boats from their shores or helping them on to another country. “We are appealing to these governments to uphold their long tradition of providing humanitarian aid to refugees instead of shifting the responsibility to another state,” Fleming stressed.

Meanwhile, also on November 13, a group of 38 Kachin refugees issued a statement saying that they had been resettled in Romania through the UNHCR in Malaysia, only to find themselves living in squalor and without any hope of progress.

When we arrived in Romania in June 2010, we were only allowed to stay in a small room at the asylum-seekers’ center which was like a prison, the 38 Kachins said. We were not given any food, clothes, support money or medication, and had to borrow cooking materials, blankets and other things like buckets, they said.

“We could not find any jobs in Romania. We lost not only our rights, but we also lost all hope of a future in Romania,” the statement said.

The resettled Kachins have now moved to Copenhagen and are calling on the Danish authorities to allow them to live in Denmark on humanitarian grounds.

Ethnic bloc calls for nationwide cease-fire

Thursday, 15 November 2012 14:31 Mizzima News

Burma’s main ethnic bloc, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), has echoed Naypyitaw’s proposal of a nationwide cease-fire, according to a report by the Independent Mon News Agency (IMNA).

Meeting on Friday in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, nine representatives of the UNFC met with an 8-member government delegation led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min.

According to IMNA, UNFC General-Secretary Nai Hong Sar said that the ethnic delegation had urged the government to: declare a nationwide ceasefire; settle political issues using only political channels; finalize cease-fire agreements with all Burma’s resistance groups; work together toward resolving the ongoing conflict in Kachin State.

The UNFC meets with a Burmese government delegation in Chiang Mai, November 9, 2012. (Facebook)

“U Aung Min has already raised the [issue of] declaring a nationwide ceasefire with President Thein Sein, so that should be handled by the President. [The government delegation] accepts the other points that we proposed,” Nai Hong Sar is quoted as saying.

He reportedly added that the UNFC also presented its “six-point ethnic peace roadmap” to Aung Min at the meeting, but said that the issue would be addressed during the next round of talks.

Mizzima reported on Friday that Aung Min’s delegation also met with members of the exiled All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) on November 9 and with the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) the following day.

The 11-member UNFC was formed in February 2011, and comprises the main ethnic armed groups, including the KNPP, the Chin National Front, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the Karen National Union, and the New Mon State Party.

While 10 UNFC members have signed cease-fires with the government, only one armed group, the KIO, is still holding negotiations on the matter. Conflict continues to rage in KIO-controlled areas.

452 Burmese prisoners to be released in amnesty

Thursday, 15 November 2012 14:28 Mizzima News

The Burmese government announced on Thursday morning that it would release 452 prisoners as a token of goodwill and a gesture of friendship toward neighboring countries.

It was not immediately apparent how many of the 452 would be political dissidents, but previous amnesties have included a number of political prisoners.

Speaking to Mizzima on Thursday morning, Tate Naing of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners- Burma (AAPP) said that he had not been informed of any political dissident who had been told he or she would be released in the amnesty.

Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, estimates that at least 330 political dissidents are still in prison in Burma.

The last major amnesty of political prisoners came in September when dozens of dissidents were among more than 500 inmates pardoned.

The presidential amnesty comes days ahead of a visit to Burma by US President Barack Obama, and will undoubtedly be seen by many observers as another attempt by Naypyitaw to woo the US and Western governments which have recently eased sanctions on the former military-run pariah state.

According to a statement by the President’s Office on November 15: “The President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar has granted amnesty for 452 prisoners including foreigners from various prisons in accord with Section 204 (a) of the constitution and Section 401 (i) of Code of Criminal Procedure as of 15 November, 2012, for establishing stability of the State and eternal peace, on humanitarian grounds, for turning them into citizens who do their bits in nation building tasks realizing sympathy and goodwill of the State and for prolonging friendship with neighboring countries.

“The government will extradite the foreign prisoners,” it added.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Suu Kyi calls on India to ‘Stand by Burma’

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 23:43 Mizzima News

Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the unease that has prevailed during her trip to India about the country’s support for the Burmese military junta during her period of house arrest, but reserved most of her 35-minute speech in Delhi for praising Indian leaders Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.

“The two words I have heard most often [since I arrived in India two days ago] have been ‘expectations’ and ‘disappointment,’” Suu Kyi said.

“I was saddened to feel that we had drawn away from India, or rather that India had drawn away from us during our very difficult days. But I always had faith in the lasting friendship between our two countries based on lasting friendship between our two peoples,” she said.

“This is what I would wish to emphasize again and again—that friendship between countries should be based on friendship between peoples, and not between governments. Governments come and go, and that’s what democracy is all about.”

Suu Kyi concluded by saying that her country has not yet achieved the goal of democracy, and that she hoped India would stand by Burma as it walks that path.

The Burmese pro-democracy leader made the remarks in Delhi on Wednesday night as she delivered this year’s Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture to an audience which included some 200 Burmese refugees living in India alongside Burmese embassy officials, as well as high-ranking Indian dignitaries, including Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, and his mother, Sonia Gandhi.

Introducing Suu Kyi to the podium, Sonia Gandhi said she could think of no one better qualified to deliver this year’s Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture, and praised Suu Kyi’s “fearlessness, integrity, moral and intellectual courage, perseverance, freedom from anger and bitterness, and unqualified devotion to the betterment of the life of her people.”

Suu Kyi had been awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru prize in 1995 while she was under house arrest, and this was her first trip back to the country where she spent four years as a teenager since she entered politics.

She spoke of her fondness for Nehru whom she knew as a child and who was a friend to her parents. She told how he procured a uniform for her father, Aung San, to wear on his historic trip to London in 1947 to negotiate for Burma’s independence.

The Lady spoke of Burma’s independence struggle, the death of her father, her life in Oxford, and the ultimate return to her homeland.

She frequently referred to Nehru, his life and his leadership skills, and drew upon events that juxtaposed her own family’s history with that of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

She also spoke of Gandhi’s influence and her respect for his campaign of non-violent civil disobedience. She alluded regularly to India’s struggle alongside Burma’s against colonial rule.

Speaking of the period after she had been released from house arrest, Suu Kyi said that the lesson she really learned “was not to deceive myself or others with the claim that we are making self-sacrifices when we follow our conscience. We are simply making a choice, and possibly an egoistic one at that,” she said.

“When we give up what is near to our hearts, is it not sometimes to make ourselves less vulnerable? The ones who made the real sacrifices are those who let us go free.”

Security concerns prevail ahead of Obama visit to Burma

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 20:12 Mizzima News

The US has voiced security concerns ahead of President Obama’s historic visit to Burma next week, a diplomatic source in Naypyitaw said, adding that the issue relates to North Korea.

The Burmese government has therefore allowed the US Secret Service to provide the president’s own security detail, which will be armed, the source said.

“To date, the US has not informed us where President Obama will stay,” the source said.

Obama will be the first US president to visit Burma. His trip comes after the US eased economic sanctions on Burma, and follows a flurry of official visits to the country by high-level US diplomats, including a landmark trip by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November last year.

The White House has announced that Obama will visit Rangoon, but has not indicated whether he will make a stop in the capital, Naypyitaw.

According to unconfirmed sources, the US president will meet his Burmese counterpart, Thein Sein, as well as separate meetings with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and civic organizations.

According to a statement by the US Embassy in Rangoon, Obama will arrive at Rangoon’s Mingalardon Airport on the morning of Monday, November 19.

According to the diplomatic source, if the security concerns are considered serious, the US president’s visit may be cancelled.

In 1983, North Korea made an assassination attempt on the life of South Korea’s President Chun Doo-hwan during an official visit to Burma. A bomb was detonated at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum in Rangoon, killing 21 people, including South Korean government officials, while 46 were injured. One of the culprits later confessed that he was a North Korean military officer and that the attack had been ordered by Pyongyang.

Suu Kyi lays wreath at tomb of Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, 14 November 2012 14:19 Mizzima News

Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday morning laid a wreath at the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi. She was accompanied by Lower House MP Phyo Zeya Thaw and her personal secretary, Dr. Tin Mar Aung.

An Indian government representative presented her with some books about the life of Gandhi and a sculpture of him.

Suu Kyi has often been quoted as saying that, with the exception of her father, India’s independence leader Gandhi and the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, were her greatest role models.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869—1948), commonly known by the honorific title Mahatma, was a London-trained lawyer from Gujarat who led India’s independence movement. He was famed for his modest lifestyle, characterized by vegetarianism and frequent fasting, and for employing the tactic of non-violent civil disobedience against British colonial rule. His legacy has inspired non-violent movements and human rights activists ever since.

Suu Kyi on Tuesday night dined with Indian Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi at her private residence. However, neither Sonia nor her husband, former premier Rajiv Gandhi, were related to Mohandas Gandhi.

Addressing reporters at the memorial site, Suu Kyi said that she does not have specific expectations from the trip to India, but was exploring ways for the two countries and peoples to cooperate.

Responding to a question from a Mizzima reporter, she said, “I always say that we have to work for it, and that ultimately we will get what we work for.”

Asked by Mizzima if she was excited to meet with so many members of the Burmese community in India, she replied that she was always glad to and wanted to meet Burmese wherever she went.

Later on Wednesday, Suu Kyi is scheduled to meet with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.