Thursday, January 31, 2013

White phosphorous used on Latpadaung protesters, say lawyers

Thursday, 31 January 2013 12:57 Mizzima News

Burmese riot police used white phosphorous to disrupt a sit-in protest by monks and activists at the Latpadaung copper mine site on November 29, says a group of human rights lawyers.

A Buddhist monk is treated for severe burns by a medic in Monywa. (PHOTO: Hein Htet/Mizzima)

According to a report on Wednesday by Thomas Fuller in The New York Times, the Upper Burma Lawyers Network claims that a canister taken from the scene after the crackdown was analyzed at a laboratory in Bangkok where experts confirmed that phosphorus residue was found in the canister.

Images of Buddhist monks being treated for severe burns after the Latpadaung incident shocked the world.

The New York Times quoted 64-year-old Ashin Tikhanyana, who remains in intensive care in a Bangkok hospital, as saying on Wednesday: “I saw a fireball beside me and I started to burn. I was rolling on the ground to try to put it out.”

The senior monk was transferred to Thailand because over 40 percent of his body was burned and no hospital in Burma had the facilities to care for him, the report said.

The Burmese government initially claimed that tear gas and smoke bombs were launched by security forces at the protesters at the copper mine in Sagaing region. However, Dr. Chatchai Pruksapong, a burn specialist caring for Tikhanyana, is reported as saying that his injuries were not caused by tear gas, but that the monk was seared by something “severely flammable.”

White phosphorus is frequently employed in warfare—either as a smoke screen or as an incendiary weapon. However, it is rarely if ever used by police in crowd control situations.

Used in both world wars, the Vietnam-American War, and by US-led forces in Iraq, the devastating effects of white phosphorous were most recently witnessed by global TV audiences during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-09.

Burma’s state media made no mention on Thursday of these latest accusations.

On Wednesday, The Irrawaddy reported that more than 2,000 activists and local residents had gathered near the Latpadaung copper mine the day before to demand that Burma’s authorities take action against those responsible for the violent crackdown on protesters in November.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed chairperson of an investigation commission to determine if excessive force had been used in the Monywa incident, and to report on whether the project should proceed. The committee’s report was scheduled to be released on January 31; however, Suu Kyi is currently on tour in South Korea and no statement has been released by the inquiry commission.
The New York Times report in full:
For more background:


The New Light of Myanmar Times?

Thursday, 31 January 2013 11:55 AFP

The New Light of Myanmar, the fiery mouthpiece of the former junta, is seeking a private partner as the country's reformist government loosens its grip on state media, an official said Wednesday.

While details remain vague, the move raises the possibility that the government could cede at least some editorial control over the English-language daily, which for years railed against hostile opposition and foreign forces.

"We have agreed with the [information] ministry to invite interested persons for the tender of running the New Light of Myanmar English version," a member of the Public Service Media Governing Body told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"It will not be possible for the ministry to run a daily paper efficiently in terms of human resources. We could expect it to become a quality paper," said the member of the body, set up in October when Myanmar's three state newspapers announced a plan to transform into "public service media".

The New Light has already toned down its rhetoric considerably since decades of military rule ended in early 2011.
Gone are the old slogans lambasting foreign media such as the BBC for "killer broadcasts" and "sowing hatred", along with phrases such as "Anarchy begets anarchy, not democracy".

Instead the publication now includes copious amounts of Hollywood gossip.

The Myanmar Times weekly, which has voiced hopes of going daily, is interested in teaming up with the New Light, according to its co-founder, Australian Ross Dunkley.

"It's a great opportunity at this moment to help reshape the state press in this country," he said.

Since taking office last year, President Thein Sein has overseen a number of dramatic moves in Myanmar such as the release of hundreds of political prisoners and the election of democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

In August the regime announced the end of pre-publication censorship, previously applied to everything from newspapers to song lyrics and even fairy tales. Private journals will also be allowed to publish daily from April 1.

Thanks to the "dramatic changes", Myanmar rose to 151st out of 179 in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, an improvement of 18 places, the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday.
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Burmese authorities arrest French peace marcher

Thursday, 31 January 2013 12:03 Mizzima News

Burmese authorities apprehended a French citizen on Wednesday morning as he walked alongside peace marchers from Kywebwe to Taungoo in Pegu Region. Reports to Mizzima indicate that the man was to be sent to Rangoon to be deported immediately.

The man’s identity was not confirmed, and the French Embassy could not be contacted for comment.

However, one of the peace marchers—who set off from Rangoon on January 21 on a 1,300-km march to Kachin State capital Laiza to protest against the ongoing conflict between government forces and Kachin rebels—told Mizzima that the Frenchman had introduced himself as “a supporter of peace”, and said he wanted to march with the Burmese activists on Tuesday evening.

When the marchers arrived in Taungoo on Wednesday morning, the township’s administrative chief asked the foreigner for his passport at which point the man identified himself as a tourist from France, said peace activist Htet Paing.

The Westerner remained in Taungoo after the marchers continued north, and at about 10 am police and authorities went to his guest house to apprehend him, Htet Paing said.
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Burma’s parboiled rice trumps ordinary white rice

Thursday, 31 January 2013 11:49 Khin Myo Thwe

Parboiled rice (Photo: Luigi Chiesa / Wikipedia)

Parboiled rice—that is, rice that is partially boiled in its husk—is more lucrative to export than ordinary white rice, the Myanmar Rice Millers' Association said on Wednesday.

“A ton of white rice and 1.3 tons of parboiled rice can be produced from milling 100 baskets of raw rice. Compared with ordinary white rice, an extra 30 percent of parboiled rice can be produced,” said a Myo Thura Aye, a member of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF).

Two thousand tons of parboiled rice are currently exported to Russia every month.

"Myanmar parboiled rice has a high quality to compete in the international market," said Dr Soe Tun from the MRF.

There are 10 parboiled rice mills across Burma.
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rangoon’s first power summit concludes

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 17:51 Mizzima News

The 1st Official Myanmar Power Summit (MPS) concluded on Wednesday following three days of discussions about the future of Burma's power industry at the Sedona Hotel.

Baluchaung (2) Hydropower Station located in Loikaw, Kayah State. Photo: Ministry of Electric Power No.(1)

The conference was attended by more than 50 officials from the Ministry of Electric Power, and was co-sponsored by Siemens, Parami Energy, Rolls Royce, Voith, Wartsilla and Sarawak.

The abounding consensus at the event organized by the Singapore-based Centre for Management Technology was that there would be "no quick fixes" for Burma's power shortage.

Private investment will continue to be difficult from large companies looking for solid guarantees, said one speaker who advised that the government should carefully think through how it wants the private sector to be involved.

One audience member suggested that smaller, locally-based village schemes could be the long-term solution.

Few of Burma's 60 million people have access to electricity, with power outages common in the country's largest city of Rangoon.
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Race heats up for Burma telecoms licenses

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 00:00 Mizzima News

Indian telecoms giant Bharti Airtel has joined the competition to obtain one of two telecommunications licenses being granted to international companies by the Burmese government.

(Photo: Bo Bo / Mizzima)

Bharti is the world's fourth largest mobile phone operator in terms of number of subscribers, but to date has no operations in Southeast Asia.

Also in the bidding war are: Irish company Digicel who have been exploring the market in Burma since 2009; Singapore Telecommunications Ltd; Malaysia’s Axiata Group; Singapore's ST Telemedia Pte; and Norway's Telenor ASA.

The deadline for applications was January 25, although it was reported in Myanmar Times on Tuesday, January 29, that the deadline was being extended to February 8.

In a statement issued to Bloomberg News last week, Axiata said: “It is a logical and interesting market to consider investing in. It represents a strategic market given its high growth potential.”

The licenses will be issued by June and could last for up to 20 years. Two other licenses are being offered to Burmese companies in an aim to increase Burma's low mobile phone penetration to 80 percent by 2015.

Usage is extremely low in Burma—official data says 9 percent—compared with 64 percent in Laos, 57 percent in Cambodia, and more than 100 percent in Thailand and Malaysia where individual ownership of multiple phones pushes usage above population levels, according to the Asian Development Bank.
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Thai navy pushes 140 Rohingyas back to sea

Wednesday, 30 January 2013  THE BANGKOK POST

Nearly 350 illegal Rohingya migrants were found crammed inside two vessels entering Thai waters in southern Ranong and Phuket provinces on Tuesday.

A group of Rohingya women and children at Khao Lak shelter in southern Thailand (Photo: Steve Sandford/IRIN)

In Ranong, a boat carrying about 140 Rohingya migrants was spotted floating about 5.5 kilometres off Phayam island in Muang district about 8.30am by a naval patrol boat.

Naval officers provided the illegal migrants with food and water, a source said. Humanitarian assistance was also provided to help them on the way to their destination.

The Rohingya had to be sent back out to sea as authorities were already struggling with an influx of illegal Muslim Rohingya migrants, the source said.

Several boats carrying Rohingya have illegally entered Thailand via this southern province on a daily basis. In some cases, the Rohingya sunk their own boats to prevent authorities from sending them back out to sea, the source said.

In Phuket, about 200 illegal Rohingya migrants were found crammed inside a vessel searched by marine police and naval officers off Racha Noi island in Muang district Tuesday.

The boat was initially spotted floating between Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands by fishermen on Monday. They provided the migrants with food and water and told the authorities.

They suggested the boat people land on Racha Noi, Phuket's southernmost island, because it was uninhabited. Some of the migrants camped on the island overnight, but most remained on the boat.

A combined marine police and navy team descended on the boat late Tuesday. It was not known where they were planning to take the refugees.

The 200 Rohingya are the latest to reach southern Thailand, following a series of arrests in Songkhla and at sea in Phangnga province this month.

This lifts the total number of illegal Rohingya migrants now in custody to about 1,700.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul will lead a delegation of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members to meet Islamic leaders and security agencies in the three southernmost border provinces tomorrow. He said the delegation would get first-hand information about the southern violence.

He will also use this opportunity to seek a solution to the Rohingya migrant problem from the OIC and ask the delegation which countries wanted to take in the migrants who had fled from Myanmar's Rakhine state to Thailand.

As those migrants had entered Thailand, the kingdom had to provide them with temporary assistance on a humanitarian basis, he said. Authorities had to work with several international agencies such as Unicef and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find a solution.
This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on January 30, 2013.
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Burma lifts 24-year ban on public gatherings

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:50 Mizzima News

The Burmese government has lifted a ban on public gatherings of more than five people, according to Burma’s state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper on Tuesday.

About 50 people, led by members of Generation Wave, stage a protest to mark International Human Rights Day on the morning of Monday, December 10, by marching from City Hall in Rangoon and circumambulating Sule Pagoda. The demonstrators said they were protesting against the crackdown on November 29 on Buddhist monks and activists at the Monywa copper mine site in Sagaing. (Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima)

The report said that Order No 2/88 was abolished as it was not in line with a section of the Constitution that guarantees basic rights such as freedom of expression.

Order 2/88 was laid down in September 1988 on the day a military junta took power after crushing nationwide pro-democracy protests.

The order had declared: "Gathering or marching in processions and delivering speeches on the streets by a group of 5 or more people are banned."

A Peaceful Assembly Law was implemented in December 2011 to allow public protests. However, it was decreed that official permission to gather or march must be obtained in advance. Several cases have already arisen where protesters have been detained for not having permits, and several activists face lengthy prison terms if convicted.

Related articles:

    5 Rangoon - Laiza peace marchers charged
    Mandalay monks vow to protest every day
    Copper mine protesters arrested and charged

Thai 7-Elevens look to corner market

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 00:00 Mizzima News

CP All, Thailand's largest chain of convenience stores, said on Wednesday it intended opening 7-Eleven stores in Burma, Laos and Cambodia, according to a report by Reuters.

7-Eleven in Thailand. (Photo: if8 / Flickr)

CP All, controlled by Thailand's wealthiest man, Dhanin Chearavanont of the Charoen Pokphand Group, aims to have 7,370 stores by the end of 2013, and reach 10,000 by 2018, its president Piyawat Titasattavorakul is reported to have said.

7-11 is a global franchise, but its main operator is a Japanese firm, Seven & I Holdings Co, which announced in June it was planning to partner with the Burmese Zaygabar Company to open a chain of 7-Eleven convenience stores throughout Burma within a year.


Press freedom ‘blossoming’ in Burma, says media watchdog

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 12:30 AFP

Myanmar's [Burma’s] "paper revolution" has brought a sharp improvement in freedom of information in the former pariah state, bucking a general deterioration across much of Asia, a report said on Wednesday.

Thanks to "dramatic changes", Myanmar rose to 151st out of 179 in the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, an improvement of 18 places, according to Reporters Without Borders.

"There are no longer any journalists or cyber dissidents in the jails of the old military dictatorship," RSF (Reporters Sans Frontieres) said.

In August, Myanmar announced the end of pre-publication censorship that was a hallmark of decades of military rule which finished in 2011.

"Legislative reform has only just begun but the steps already taken by the government in favour of the media, such as an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organisations from exile, are significant steps towards genuine freedom of information," RSF said.

The blossoming of media freedom stands in stark contrast to worsening repression elsewhere in Asia, according to the Paris-based media watchdog.

Japan suffered an "alarming fall" from 22nd to 53rd place because of censorship of news related to the nuclear accident at a tsunami-stricken power plant in Fukushima, the report said.

North Korea (178th), China (173rd), Vietnam (172nd) and Laos (168th) also languish near the bottom of the table as they "refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed", RSF said.

"Kim Jong-Un's arrival at the head of the Hermit Kingdom has not in any way changed the regime's absolute control of news and information," it noted, referring to state control by Pyongyang.

Malaysia fell 23 places to 145th, its lowest-ever, "because access to information is becoming more and more limited".

The Indian subcontinent also saw a sharp deterioration, with journalists around the region facing the threat of violence.

In India (140th), "the authorities insist on censoring the Web and imposing more and more taboos, while violence against journalists goes unpunished and the regions of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh become increasingly isolated".

After the "Arab springs" and other protest movements that brought many changes in the index in 2012, this year "marks a return to a more usual configuration", according to the report.

Turkmenistan (177th) and Eritrea (179th) joined North Korea again at the bottom of the table, along with Syria (176th), Somalia (175th) and Iran (174th), while Finland, the Netherlands and Norway retained the top three ranks.
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UWSA says it will host Kachin peace talks

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 12:36 Phanida

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) on Tuesday accepted an offer by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) to host peace talks with the Burmese government’s Union-level Peacemaking Committee, UWSA spokesman Aung Myint said, adding that the Wa group would mediate the negotiations and had suggested holding a meeting in Panghsang in northern Shan State.

He said that in response to the Wa army’s offer on January 24, the KIO had sent a letter saying that it accepts the UWSA proposal to meet with the government delegation and accepts the proposed site of Panghsang, the UWSA headquarters, as a venue.

The KIO, however, could not be contacted for comment.

“The KIO accepted our offer at noon today,” Aung Myint told Mizzima on Tuesday. “They agreed to come to Panghsang to meet [with the government’s delegation]. Similarly, the government has already informed us that they too accept our offer to hold negotiations at our base. We are informing each party of the other’s decision.”

Earlier, the government’s Union-level Peacemaking Committee had informed the UWSA that if KIO accepts the offer, then they too will accept it, Aung Myint said.

Speaking to Mizzima on Tuesday, peace broker Hla Maung Shwe of Myanmar Peace Council confirmed that the government’s representatives would go to Panghsang if the Kachins were willing to negotiate. He said that the government’s chief negotiator Aung Min would attend.

Wa spokesman Aung Myint and peace broker Hla Maung Shwe both confirmed that no date had yet been set for a meeting.

“Neither side trusts the other,” said Aung Myint. “But there are now tens of thousands of war refugees. The situation is critical.”

The UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 1989.
For more background:


Burma army clashes with Rohingyas, 1 person killed

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:17 Mizzima News

One person was shot dead by Burmese troops in a confrontation with Muslim villagers in the violence-hit western state of Rakhine, a government official said Tuesday.

Security forces approach rioters as they burn remnants of a demolished house during 2012 Rohingya riots in Burma (Photo: Hmuu Zaw / Wikipedia)

The incident happened on Monday in an area home to a large population of Rohingya Muslims, who are considered by Burmese officials as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and often referred to as Bengalis.

“About 20 Bengalis tried to attack soldiers. A person was wounded when soldiers fired warning shots,” said the official, who did not want to be named, adding that the person died on the way to hospital.

The circumstances of the incident were unclear, but local government spokesman Win Myaing said a confrontation occurred when forest department officials tried to visit the area for an inspection.

Buddhist-Muslim clashes have left at least 180 people dead in Rakhine since June. More than 110,000 people, mostly Rohingya, have been displaced and thousands have fled by boat overseas, mostly heading for Malaysia.

In August New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Burma’s security forces of opening fire on Rohingya with live ammunition.

Burma denies citizenship to its roughly 800,000 Rohingya, who are described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world.
For more background:


Still Life in Water—Burmese photographers snap up prizes

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:15 Mizzima News

Burmese photographers have taken the top four prizes in a Southeast Asian photography competition based on the theme, “Water is Life: Too Much or Too Little, Every Drop Counts.”

Sponsored by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) in the Philippines, the winning entries were among 954 photographs submitted by 245 photographers from seven countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

SEARCA Director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. said the entries best captured the usefulness of water, the challenges related to water, and the opportunities and threats that water brings.

The winning photograph was by Kyaw Zaw Lay of Mandalay, showing two fishermen casting large nets in a river in Maketilar, Mandalay.

Second was Tun Aung of Rangoon for his composition of a woman holding an earthen jar on her head, a man carrying dried grass lashed on the ends of a pole on his shoulder, and a small child, all walking barefoot on dry, cracked earth.

Kyaw Kyaw Winn, also from Rangoon, was awarded third prize for his depiction of a farmer using a basket to fish in a rice field.

Than Htike Soe of Mandalay won the People’s Choice Award for his picture of fishermen in the Irrawaddy River.

All the winning photographs and finalists are showcased in a photo gallery on the SEARCA website


5 Rangoon - Laiza peace marchers charged

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:06 Mizzima News

Burmese police have charged but not detained five members of a group of peace marchers who are currently walking from Rangoon to Kachin capital Laiza, according to a report in Myanmar Times.

Peace activists set off from Rangoon on January 21 on a 1,300-km march to Laiza in Kachin State. (Photo: Bo Bo/ Mizzima)

The five have reportedly been charged with breaching Section 18 of the Peaceful Protest Law because they did not obtain official permission to stage the march.

According to Myanmar Times, the protesters were charged in 12 Rangoon townships plus Daik U and Pegu as they passed through en route to Kachin State.

However, the police have made no arrests and the marchers have vowed to press on to Laiza—“leaving open the possibility that some of the marchers could face dozens of charges, which each carry a maximum prison term of one year,” said the report.

Mizzima reported last week that on January 21 some 30 activists had embarked on a 1,300-km journey by foot to the besieged town of Laiza, calling for an end to the ongoing conflict in Kachin State.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Norwegian oil firm looks to Burmese waters

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:00 Mizzima News

Norwegian firm Statoil is looking into the possibility of exploring for oil and gas in Burma, and several company delegations have already been there to consider the situation including one earlier this month, the Norway Post reported on January 29.

A Statoil photo release

Statoil is 67 percent owned by the Norwegian government, and has petroleum operations in 36 countries. It was ranked by Fortune Magazine in 2010 as the 13th largest oil and gas company in the world, and the largest in Scandinavia.

Statoil representatives have had talks with Burmese exploration and production company MRPL E&P, the Norway Post reported.

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Imports of Chinese gold raise Burma’s gold prices

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:00 Khin Myo Thwe

A Rangoon gold merchant entices customers with her wares. (Photo: Bo Bo / Mizzima)

The price of gold in Burma was higher than the international price last week, said a Rangoon gold merchant on Sunday.

“Last week, the local price of gold was a lot higher than the global price due to pure gold from China coming into the country,” he said.

“The global gold price fell by US $30 this week. So [in keeping with the usual trend], the local price should fall by 10,000 kyat ($12), but it only fell 5,000 kyat ($6), because of the import of Chinese gold to the country”, said another gold merchant, who own a gold shop on Mahabandula Road.
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Combating Cronyism

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 12:50 Mizzima News

(Editorial) — The expressions "military crony” and “cronyism” have long been associated with Burma, much in the same way as the word “nepotism” might denote the extended family links of monarchies such as in Saudi Arabia, or the way “oligarchy” conjures images of modern Russia.

Cronies, by definition, are close friends or those given partiality over others for reasons that do not relate to their qualifications or skills. In Burma, we might politely refer to such gentlemen as “persons of influence”.

Tay Za pictured in his office in Rangoon. Photo: Raimondo Bultrini

During the era of the military junta under Ne Win, Khin Nyunt and Than Shwe, the unofficial government policy of cronyism extended to award positions of privilege—or business contracts—to those who were close to the military hierarchy regardless of their qualifications, education or experience.

Of course, such forms of favoritism are endemic around the world—even the most democratic and developed nations share favors with those close at hand. Major donations by firms to both or all political parties are made to ensure favorable tax benefits or the award of government contracts in the near future.

The difference in pre-Thein Sein Myanmar is that the award of business contracts to cronies was the rule—it was as close to 100 percent as it could be.

That’s why, in this new arena of economic reform and renewed interest in the Burmese business arena, almost everybody agrees that cronyism should be abolished—everyone but the cronies themselves, of course.

But some challenging questions need to be considered: how to prevent cronyism? Or, more to the point, how to reverse an ingrained economic system? And, how should the former cronies be treated?

In this country which long suffered from grinding poverty, the few rich businesspeople were cronies, friends of the military elite, often married into the generals’ families for additional security. Their motives were mostly selfish; natural resources were exploited ruthlessly, and profits from these national treasures were stuffed directly into the pockets of the cronies and their benefactors. They deserve to be punished.

On the other hand, from the viewpoint of management and administration, these existing businessmen may be essential in restoring Burma’s economy. They are the ones with international connections, the (only) ones with money to invest. Without their immediate involvement, factories will close, unemployment will rise.

Recently, National League for Democracy (NLD) chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi said, “If those people who are labeled ‘cronies’ decide to support the NLD’s charity work or any other charity work, then let them. It is good that their money is spent on issues that need financial support rather than wasting money on other matters.”

Suu Kyi was speaking after it was reported that the NLD had received a large donation from a company owned by tycoon Tay Za, perhaps the most notorious (or successful) of Burma’s military cronies.

Years earlier, as a pro-democracy and human rights activist, Suu Kyi was the very nemesis of the cronies. Today she is, at the very least, pragmatic and has a vested interest in the country’s immediate progress. How exactly she would deal with the problem of cronyism if she were president we do not know. However, she has set herself up for much criticism by her apparent about-face on the issue.

It is reasonable that many people in Burma have bitter feelings against the “persons of influence” who took advantage of their townships, who reaped the harvest from their natural resources, who evicted them from their homes.

But for Suu Kyi and the Parliament at large, the only way to look is forward. Rather than punish, they will reward—much in the same way as the US and the West did with their bankers and financiers after the recent financial collapse. That’s the ugly truth.

But is there an alternative?

To put an end to the time-tested policy of cronyism in Burma, the current government needs to give up its centrally-controlled economic system and create conditions that will encourage a market economy.

Moreover, the country needs to introduce a functioning and fair taxation system. The rule of law must be emphasized and shown to prevail, especially by penalizing those who evade taxes. And those hardworking citizens with ingenuity and skills must be given a level playing field to play on.

The elimination of cronyism should not and will not happen overnight. But it must be a long-term goal for the country.
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Suu Kyi arrives in Seoul to accept honorary doctorate

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 11:41 AFP

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in South Korea Monday for a four-day visit including meetings with politicians and a soap-opera star and the collection of a human rights award.

Burmese pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi arrives on January 28 in Seoul where she will attend the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics and meet the first female President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye. (Photo: Joint Committee For Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Trip in Korea / Facebook)

The democracy leader and Nobel peace laureate will also be guest of honour at the opening on Tuesday of the Special Winter Olympics in the northeastern mountain resort of Pyeongchang—site of the full 2018 Winter Games.

Before leaving for Pyeongchang, she will hold talks with outgoing President Lee Myung-Bak and his successor Park Geun-Hye, who takes office next month as the country's first female president.

On Wednesday she will give the keynote speech at a Global Development Summit taking place on the sidelines of the Pyeongchang event.

The following day she will visit the southwestern city of Gwangju to receive a human rights award that commemorates a pro-democracy uprising against military dictatorship in the city in 1980.

Suu Kyi was actually awarded the prize back in 2004 but was unable to receive it as she was under house arrest at the time.

After a total of nearly two decades in home detention, she was freed in 2010 and elected to the Myanmar parliament last year.

On her return to Seoul late Thursday, she is scheduled to have dinner with TV actor Ahn Jae-Wook at a hotel, Yonhap news agency said.

Ahn, 43, starred in the 1997 TV drama "Star in My Heart" which was a big hit in Myanmar.

On Friday Suu Kyi will deliver a speech at Seoul National University and accept an honorary doctorate.
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Austrade to open Burma office

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 11:30 Mizzima News

The Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) announced on Tuesday that it would open an office in Rangoon shortly.

“Recognizing and responding quickly to new opportunities in Asia's growth and emerging markets is central to putting the Asian Century White Paper into practice,” said Craig Emerson, the Trade and Competitiveness Minister.

Australia says it hopes to make use of Burma's strategic position to expand education and training, financial services, telecommunications, infrastructure, mining and tourism interests in the area.

Last year, Australia lifted economic sanctions on Burma in response to the ongoing political reforms in the country.
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Burmese govt to sell cars to taxi drivers

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 11:25 Khin Myo Thwe

The Ministry of Commerce has announced that it will launch a scheme to assist taxi drivers buying their own cars

The Burmese government plans to sell taxi drivers their own cars at cheaper rates. (PHOTO: Hein Htet / Mizzima)

“Taxis owned by the Ministry of Commerce will be sold at 60 percent of the market price through a hire-purchase system,” said a ministry official. He said that the aim is to allow drivers to eventually own their own vehicles.

Previously, the ministry and buyer representatives had negotiated to settle 60 percent of the total price.

The official said, “Now, they have devised a more convenient payment system for the drivers.”
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No more Rohingya boatpeople, says Thailand

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 00:00 AFP

Thailand will turn away any more Rohingya boat people from neighbouring Myanmar [Burma] who try to land on its shores, a top official said Monday after an influx of refugees fleeing sectarian unrest.

Rohingya boatpeople are denied entry to neighboring countries; in this case a boatload of Rohingya refugees are forced back to sea by Bangladesh border officials in June 2012. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

"The Thai navy from now on will be stricter with them and will no longer allow them to land," National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanathabutr told AFP.

"If we find them, we will provide them with food, water and necessities so they can go to their destinations," he added.

An explosion of tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine since June 2012 has triggered a huge exodus of Muslim Rohingya, mostly heading for Malaysia.

More than 1,000 have been detained by Thailand after landing on its shores.

Paradorn said the existing detainees would be allowed to stay in Thailand for six months at immigration centres or local police stations while the government works with the UN refugee agency to find third countries willing to accept them.

The tougher stance comes a week after Thai authorities said they were investigating allegations that army officials were involved in the trafficking of Rohingya boat people.

Described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world, Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighbouring Bangladesh and, increasingly, to Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

The UN estimates that about 13,000 boat people fled Myanmar and Bangladesh in 2012, with some dying during the perilous sea voyage. Thailand has been criticised in the past for pushing Rohingya back out to sea.
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Monday, January 28, 2013

8 Burmese charged with trafficking in Malaysia

Monday, 28 January 2013 15:59 Mizzima News

Eight Burmese nationals have been charged at a court in Kuala Lumpur with trafficking 474 people from Burma to Malaysia, said a report in the News Straits Times on Sunday.

The 474, all of whom are thought to be Rohingyas, had no valid travel documents and were brought into the country at the island of Langkawi in the Andaman Sea on December 30.

The victims are believed to have been shipped in to work as laborers in Malaysia, said the report.

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Naypyitaw rejects US criticism, use of word ‘Burma’

Monday, 28 January 2013 12:30 Mizzima News

Burma’s Foreign Ministry released a statement over the weekend via the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper criticizing the US reaction to the conflict in Kachin State.

Last Thursday, the US Embassy in Rangoon issued a statement saying that they were “deeply concerned” about the continued fighting following the Burmese government's call for a ceasefire on January 19.

According to a report by the AP, the Foreign Ministry said it rejected the US assertions because they “could cause misunderstanding in the international community” and because they failed to mention anything about “terrorist actions and atrocities committed by the KIA” and mentioned only army actions.

The Foreign Ministry also “strongly rejected” Washington's continued use of the name “Burma”, as opposed to the country's official name of Myanmar.
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Wan Bao says it will take legal action if Latpadaung copper mine project suspended

Monday, 28 January 2013 12:50 Saw Zin Nyi

The Wan Bao Company will have to resort to legal action if the Latpadaung copper mine project is suspended, the firm’s Rangoon-based administrative manager Myint Thein said.

A decision is pending on whether work should continue on the Latpadaung copper mine in Monywa, Sagaing Division. (Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima)

The company would examine the agreement in detail to determine the exact amount of compensation to be claimed if the project was either stopped or suspended, he told Mizzima.

“We will resort to legal action in accordance with the agreement if the project is halted,” he said, adding: “Burma stands to lose a lot of investments if projects are suspended.”

However, he said that Burma and China are allied as partners, and that “we will negotiate with the Burmese government first.”

The Wan Bao Company has invested US $1 billion in the copper mine project, which is based in Monywa in Sagaing Division, near the Chindwin River. In 2010, it signed a contract with Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (UMEHL) to extract copper ore from the site for a period of 30 years. UMEHL is backed by the Burmese military through the Ministry of Defense.

The leading beneficiaries from the Monywa mining project are firstly the Burmese government with a 16.8 percent share in profits, followed by UMEHL with 13.8 percent. Just 13.3 percent of profits would go to Wan Bao, despite the fact it appears to be the only financial backer of the scheme.

The project has been laced with controversy. Environmentalists, Buddhist monks and activists have opposed the copper mine and staged a sit-in rally which was violently broken up by riot police on November 29 last year.

Following the crackdown, a Latpadaung Inquiry Commission was established, chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The commission is due to submit a report on the incident and an analysis of the project by the end of this month.
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China denies equipping Wa army

Monday, 28 January 2013 00:00 Mizzima News

The Chinese Embassy in Rangoon has rejected recent media reports that it was involved in supplying weapons, including armored vehicles, to the Wa guerrillas in northern Burma.

Citing a December report in Jane's Intelligence Review, several international news outlets, including Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) and Voice of America (VOA), reported last week that despite calling for as ceasefire in the conflict between Burma’s government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Burma, Beijing was equipping another ethnic militia, the United Wa State Army (UWSA).   

“While Burma's military steps up battles against Kachin rebels along the border with China, security analysts say Beijing has been quietly selling advanced weapons to another insurgent group on its border, the United Wa State Army,” wrote Daniel Schearf in a January 25 report for VOA.

Citing Jane’s, he said that last year China provided the Wa with advanced weapons to build up their defenses. The transfers reportedly included surface-to-air missiles and, for the first time, at least 12 armored vehicles thought to be PTL02 Wheeled Tank Destroyers.

Writing for DVB on January 21, Thailand-based journalist Francis Wade suggested Beijing may be using the 30,000-strong UWSA as a source of leverage while the Burmese government develops stronger ties with the US.

However, according to Gao Mingbo, the spokesman for China’s Embassy in Burma, the allegations are “ill-founded and misguided.”

In a statement on January 27, he said, “The Chinese Government holds a clear and consistent policy of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar.

“ … China has persistently played a constructive role in promoting peace and facilitating dialogue towards the resolution of the conflict. We will continue to do so,” he said.
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World Bank to clear Burma’s debt

Monday, 28 January 2013 12:35 Mizzima News

The World Bank announced on Sunday that it would partner with the Asian Development Bank to clear Burma's old debts. In the deal signed with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, a loan will be provided to cover Burma's outstanding debt of US $900 million.

World Bank headquarters, Washington DC. (Photo: World Bank)

“Myanmar has come a long way in its economic transformation, undertaking unprecedented reforms to improve people’s lives, especially the poor and vulnerable,” said Annette Dixon, the World Bank's Burma Country Director.

“Much work remains to be done. We are committed to helping the government accelerate poverty reduction and build shared prosperity. The Bank’s engagement, together with the ADB, the Government of Japan and other partners, will help attract investment, spur growth and create jobs.”

On January 22, the World Bank approved a $44 million “Re-engagement and Reform Support Credit” to Burma. The Bank has also provided an $80 million grant for the National Community Driven Project to develop rural infrastructure.

The New York Times reported that this latest deal was likely to draw international criticism as Burma's military continues its campaign against Kachin rebels.
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Thailand will shelter Rohingyas for 6 months

Monday, 28 January 2013 12:23 THE BANGKOK POST

Thailand will shelter the Rohingya for six months and seek talks with Myanmar and other countries to settle the fate of the illegal migrants, Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said on Friday.

The decision was reached in talks between the Foreign Ministry and other security agencies amid growing calls for Thailand not to turn the migrants away after they have entered the kingdom.

The final say still rests with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has to endorse the plan after it is forwarded to her soon.

According to latest counts by officials, 1,390 Rohingya are in the country, more than 200 of them women and children. Most of them are staying in the southern border provinces, mainly in Songkhla.

The government will set aside a budget of 12 million baht (US $400,000) or 75 baht ($2.50) a day for each of them for a daily allowance.

Bangkok will hold talks with international agencies including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Organisation for Migration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross for support on Thailand's plan.

Thailand would also approach third countries willing to give the migrants a new home, the minister said.

Mr Surapong did not rule out sending the Rohingya back to Myanmar because most of them came from the neighbouring country. The issue will be the subject of talks between the two governments, he added.

Illegal migrants are subject to be deported in six months, according to Thai law.

Thailand will bring up the issue with officials of the Organisation of Islamic Conference when they visit the southern region. Talks are also planned with the British ambassador to Thailand in an attempt to find a solution, as Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, was once a colony of Britain.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Myanmar. Most of them live in Rakhine state in the west and face brutal treatment from Myanmar authorities, including the reluctance of Naypyitaw to grant them citizenship.

The current crisis came to light after authorities rounded up more than 900 Rohingya in separate operations in Songkhla as they were waiting to be sent to work in Malaysia.

A police investigation found some Thai army soldiers were linked to trafficking them from Myanmar to Malaysia through Thailand. Two of them based in the southernmost region are being probed in connection with the issue.

In Prachuap Khiri Khan province, meanwhile, Rohingya refugees have gone on a hunger strike to demand an improvement in the meals provided by authorities.

About 120 Rohingya men have been transferred from Phang Nga province to a detention facility run by immigration police in Muang district, awaiting their deportation.

Disease-control officials also gave the men physical check-ups with help from Burmese interpreters.

The Muslim refugees will remain at the facility until otherwise ordered. Two large rooms have been set aside for prayers.

An interpreter said that the refugees were demanding the Thai government coordinate with the UN in helping them seek asylum in another country. They refuse to return to Myanmar because they fear for their safety.

Many of them complained that the 75 baht allocated per day per person for food is not enough. They want better quality food in larger portions. They went on a hunger strike, but some were later talked out of it.

Yusuf Towang, the president of a Muslim organisation in the province, said he had been working with immigration authorities to help the Rohingya.

The Muslim community would collect donations to buy them food, clothing and other essentials to alleviate their problems before they are to be moved to another location, he said.

This article first appeared in The Bangkok Post on January 25, 2013.
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Burmese bank to go public in 2015

Monday, 28 January 2013 12:16 Khin Myo Thwe

A representative from the Asia Development Green Bank (AGD Bank) has confirmed that it will go public in 2015.

“The Central Bank has allowed AGD Bank to form a public company. It has applied to the companies’ registration department and once the company gets permission to form a public company, foreign experts will be assigned to evaluate the company’s assets to set the share value,” said U Thet Lwin Shwe, deputy managing director of AGD Bank.

He continued, “We had meetings with foreign investors—most of them are from foreign public companies. We are preparing to issue shares when the stock share exchange market begins in 2015.”

As the first step of becoming a public company, the shares will be issued to bank staff member free of charge, the remainder will be sold to the public.

Other banks such as: First Private Bank Ltd., Yoma Bank Ltd., Myanmar Citizen Bank Ltd., Myanmar Livestock and Fisheries Development Bank Ltd., Small and Medium Enterprises Development Bank will become public banks, as well.

At the moment Burma only has a little known 17-year-old stock market offering over-the-counter deals in a handful of stocks.

Burma's reformist regime is eyeing a modernization of the country's antiquated banking sector, which was left in tatters by decades of military rule and economic mismanagement.
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Suu Kyi remains ‘fond’ of Burmese army

Monday, 28 January 2013 12:01 AFP

Burma's opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains "fond" of her country's army despite claims that it has recruited child soldiers and used rape as a weapon, she said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who was herself held under house arrest by the military for most of the last two decades, told the BBC radio show "Desert Island Discs" she hoped the army could redeem itself for "terrible" things it has done.

Suu Kyi's father, Bogyoke Aung San, is considered the "Father of the Burmese Army." Here, he is pictured as a member of the Burma National Army in April 1942. (Photo:

She confirmed that she wants to become Myanmar's president after elections in 2015—but she will not be eligible for the post without constitutional reforms that need military backing.

"It's genuine, I'm fond of the army," the 67-year-old told the show, which was recorded last month at her home in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw.

"People don't like me for saying that. There are many who have criticised me for being what they call a poster girl for the army ... But I think the truth is I am very fond of the army, because I always thought of it as my father's army."
Suu Kyi's father Aung San, considered the father of modern Myanmar, created the army and led the struggle against British colonial rule.

"I was taught that my father was the father of the army, and that all soldiers were his sons—and therefore they were part of my family," Suu Kyi told the BBC.

"It's terrible what they've done and I don't like what they've done at all. But if you love somebody, I think you love her or him in spite of and not because of, and you always look forward to a time when they will be able to redeem themselves."

Rights groups have accused Myanmar's army of serious rights violations including rape, torture and the recruitment of child soldiers.

The military remains locked in an escalating conflict with rebels in the northern Kachin state—where tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011—despite the announcement of unilateral ceasefire this month.

Suu Kyi said she was happy to admit that she wants to become Myanmar's president, and dismissed politicians who pretend they are not hungry for power.

"I would like to be president," she said.

"If you're a politician and you're the leader of a party then you should want to get government power in your hands, that you may be able to work out all these ideas and visions that you've harboured so long for your country."

Like all guests on "Desert Island Discs", the longest-running show on British radio which celebrated its 70th birthday last year, Suu Kyi was asked to choose eight songs she would like to bring to a mythical island as a castaway.

She asked friends and family to choose many of the songs, which included "Imagine" by John Lennon and "Green Green Grass of Home" by Tom Jones.

She confessed that she does not have "a talent for music" but that her younger son Kim has tried to educate her musically, introducing her to reggae legend Bob Marley and the US rock band Grateful Dead.
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Suu Kyi hopeful Burma’s military will support constitutional changes

Monday, 28 January 2013 10:03 AFP

Burmese opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi has voiced confidence that the country's powerful military will support changes to the constitution that would allow her to become president.

Burma's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at a luncheon at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Saturday, January 26, 2013. (Photo:Pillars of Peace Hawaii)

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent most of two decades under house arrest until recent reforms, said she was hopeful that parliament will approve constitutional revisions even though the army controls a vital number of seats.

"I am not unduly worried by it. I think that the members of our military, like the rest of our nation, would like to see Burma a happier, stronger, more harmonious country," she said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

"Because of that, I do not rule out the possibility of amendment through negotiated compromise," Suu Kyi said Friday at the East-West Center on a visit to the US Pacific state of Hawaii.

President Thein Sein, a former general, surprised even critics by launching a slew of reforms after taking office in 2011 -- including freeing political prisoners, easing censorship and permitting Suu Kyi to enter parliament.

Thein Sein has said he would accept Suu Kyi as president if her National League for Democracy wins the next elections in 2015, but some activists question whether hardliners would be willing to let the army leave power.

Under the 2008 constitution, the presidency cannot be held by anyone whose spouse or children hold foreign nationality. Suu Kyi was married to the late British academic Michael Aris, with whom she has two children.

"I do not think it is right for any constitution to be written with anybody in mind—whether it is written to keep anybody in office for life, or whether it is written with the intention of keeping anybody out of office for life," said Suu Kyi, who has previously voiced willingness to be president.

"It's just not acceptable, it's not democratic, and it's not what a constitution is all about," she said.

Suu Kyi enjoys respect among some officers, as her father Aung San created the army and led the struggle against British colonial rule.

Suu Kyi also hoped to amend the constitution to recognize the "aspirations" of minorities. Fighting has persisted between the Burman-dominated army and ethnic rebels despite calls by Thein Sein for reconciliation.

"Unless we can meet those aspirations, we can never hope to build a true and lasting union based on peace and harmony," she said.

Suu Kyi was visiting Hawaii as part of an initiative by the US state to share its values. In a scene that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Suu Kyi spoke fondly about dining with friends on Honolulu's sun-kissed Waikiki beach.

Suu Kyi has toured Europe and North America since her release from house arrest. US President Barack Obama paid a landmark visit to Myanmar in November, hoping to encouraging reforms.

Myanmar's foreign ministry on Saturday criticized the United States for raising concerns over unabated fighting in northern Kachin state, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011.

The statement also said Myanmar "strongly objects" to the use of the name Burma by the United States, urging the two nations to avoid actions that could go against "mutual respect."

But Suu Kyi vigorously defended calling her country Burma in English, saying that the name Myanmar was imposed by the military leadership.

"The assertion that we have to get rid of the name because it was a colonial legacy I find narrow, and I think it reflects lack of self-confidence rather than anything else," she said.

Suu Kyi noted that Japan, China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines also used names that were legacies from foreigners.

"It's not the name that makes the country; it's the country that makes the name," she said.
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‘Embrace ASEAN’ says Thai Ambassador

Monday, 28 January 2013 09:53 The Bangkok Post

Changes which beckon under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 should be embraced rather than feared, Thailand's ambassador to Myanmar [Burma] says.

Pisanu Suvanajata said Thais have to reset their minds, especially toward Myanmar, which is conducting a wave of reforms and could become a strong partner under freer trade.

ASEAN leaders join hands for a photo-op at a summit in Phnom Penh in November 2012. (Photo: The ASEAN Secretariat)

He made his remarks while addressing a seminar on ASEAN at the Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre on Thursday.

Thais should not panic about the changes that are coming, he said, responding to public disquiet over issues such as freer labour migration and a professional brain drain.

The ambassador called on the private sector to think broadly about the possibilities of the AEC. For instance, investors should participate in the Dawei industrial development projects, Mr Pisanu said.

Myanmar has been making many changes, he said.

The country will host the SEA Games later this year and will take over the ASEAN chairmanship next year, he said.

"Whoever wants to reverse the process of democratisation and reforms in Myanmar will face a great deal of opposition," he said.

Mr Pisanu called 2013 a golden year for Thailand to improve relations with Myanmar, and highlighted energy as a sector that requires more cooperation between the two countries.

Ninnart Chaiteerapinyo, vice-president of Toyota and the Federation of Thai Industries, said the AEC would bring opportunities and challenges.

Under the AEC, the Northeast would become a regional hub for investment and transport, he said. "We need new sign boards and car licence plates using the English language," he said.

"We should be prepared for more competition in the automotive industry and other products."

Thailand is in a good position due to its decent infrastructure, he noted. The private sector should be able to cope with changes in costs and product quality requirements brought on by the AEC.

Kitti Prasertsuk, an assistant professor of international relations at Thammasat University, said Thailand was no stranger to free trade.

Decades ago, Thailand opened its market to join the Asean Free Trade Area, and then signed a free trade agreement with China.

More competition should spark businesses to become more productive, Mr Kitti said.

This article first appeared in The Bangkok Post on January 25, 2013.

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Mining Ministry invites foreign, domestic investors

Monday, 28 January 2013 09:30 Khin Myo Thwe

Burma’s Ministry of Mines invited foreign and domestic investments to enter Burma’s mining sector during discussions with businesspersons from the US, Australia, Malaysia and India at the current Mining Summit in Rangoon.

A gold mining site in Kachin State. (Photo: Mizzima)

“Domestic and foreign investors can communicate with us for cooperation and trading. In accordance with Burma’s new era and system and market economy, we would like to invite investors from various countries to effectively invest in Burma at the highest level of accountability, transparency and reliability,” Mining Minister Dr. Myint Aung said at the 2nd Myanmar Mining Summit held at the Sedona Hotel in Rangoon on January 22.

Ministry officials met on the sidelines of the summit with businessmen and mining experts from: US-based Free Posts Company; two Australian firms, White Energy and Evolution Mines; Malaysian company Smeting Corporation; and India’s M.N. Dastur & Co and Tanintharyi International Company.

“Domestic and foreign investments in the mining sector can create jobs,” a senior official from the Mining Ministry said. “On the other hand, we need to ensure that mines do not damage the natural environment. We need to systematically manage our natural resources including water resources, forests and mineral resources.”

According to the figures presented by the Mining Ministry, the total value of mining export from April 1 to August 24, 2012, was over US $316 million—$268 million from the state-owned sector and $48 million from the private sector.
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