Thursday, February 28, 2013

Indian security forces destroy 49 acres of opium fields

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Thursday, 28 February 2013 17:49 Nay Myo

A combined team of the Chandel district police and troops from the Assam rifles last week destroyed 49 acres of opium poppies estimated to be valued at around US $350,000 in India’s northeastern Manipur State, according to Indian media.

The poppy fields—which were situated at a site just 50 km from Tamu in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region—were owned by unknown persons, the reports said. The region was previously occupied by Manipuri rebels.

“In the past, poppy plants were grown along the Sajik Tampak Road, but now they are grown in valleys and on hills,” said a Naga source in Chandel. “They poppies are quite far from the roads, but have been growing there for about 10 years.”

In Chin State, it was reported that in December an opium poppy eradication group destroyed 45 acres of fields in Tonzang Township, which also lies adjacent to Manipur State in India.
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Naw Kham to be executed on Friday

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Thursday, 28 February 2013 17:40 Mizzima News

Myanmar drug lord Naw Kham and three of his accomplices convicted of murdering 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in 2011 will be put to death by lethal injection in Kunming on Friday, March 1, according to reports in the Chinese media.

The Kunming Intermediate People's Court announced that four men were to be put to death on Friday: Naw Kham from Myanmar, and his three accomplices identified as Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, stateless, and Zha Xika, a Laotian.

China’s state-run media reported that the men’s appeals were rejected by the court, whereupon their death sentences were submitted to the Supreme People's Court in Beijing for review. “The SPC president signed an execution order after the review procedures were completed,” one report said.

Another two members of Naw Kham's gang, identified as Zha Bo and Zha Tuobo, received a death sentence with reprieve and eight years in prison, respectively.
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For more background:

  1. Naw Kham sentenced to death in China
  2. China considered using drones on Myanmar
  3. Mekong patrol launched from Yunnan


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Myanmar’s budget process questioned

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Thursday, 28 February 2013 17:27 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

"We need to adopt a new style of budgeting," said an eminent economist and member of the council of economic advisors to the president, while speaking at a roundtable discussion on Myanmar's budget process on Thursday.

Academics, economists and officials discuss the development of democratic local budgets at a roundtable event organized by ActionAid at the Coriander Leaf Restaurant in Yangon on February 28. Credit: ActionAid

"We have committed so many mistakes. Please do not replicate these mistakes," said Dr. Aung Tun Thet.

With the right framework, Aung Tun Thet expressed hope that Myanmar could become a middle income nation within the decade. He said that the problem with the current regional governments is that "they have no money" and that the present "top-down" mind-set needed to change.

He called for devolution, openness and transparency in the entire budgeting process, and praised the event, saying that for the first time politics and economics could be discussed at an open forum.

Another speaker, Zaw Pe Win, a principal at the HRD Training Centre, said, “Local governments need to be empowered to collect more revenues and to be able to finance their own expenditures."

Previously, the Myanmar government used a consolidated fund system and all expenditures of the country were administered by the central government. Following the 2008 constitution, local governments were put in place and were authorized to manage their own budgets following approval by the central government.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, Myanmar's budget deficit was more than 2.3 trillion kyat (US $2.7 billion), the Public Accounts Committee told the Myanmar Upper House of Parliament.

The February 28 event was organized by the NGO ActionAid and was entitled “A Pathway for the Emergence of Democratic Local Budgets” and consisted of range of experts who addressed specialist issues from regional planning, to gender budgeting and education.
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FDI will benefit ASEAN, says Japanese economist

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Thursday, 28 February 2013 14:47 The Bangkok Post

ASEAN as a whole will benefit from foreign direct investment (FDI) as Myanmar starts to see improved cash flow in key sectors, says the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro).

Toshihiro Kudo, senior research fellow at Jetro's Institute of Developing Economies, said Myanmar has long been a missing link in the region despite having a strategic geographical position among ASEAN members.

PHOTO: Ye Min / Mizzima   

"The electrical/ electronics and apparel sectors in Myanmar are enjoying foreign direct investment that is supporting its export-oriented growth strategy," he said.

Myanmar's emergence and its increasing engagement with international communities are of great significance to the enhanced connectivity of the region.

Mr Kudo said service link costs need to be reduced for Myanmar to join the region's production networks and to attract multinational firms to relocate there.

Lower service link costs will enlarge its production network with Cambodia and Laos to export to other ASEAN countries, Japan and South Korea, he said.

Exports could be made through Thailand under the country's free trade agreements and regional agreements with partners such as India and China.

Mr Kudo said FDI will play a crucial role in Myanmar's electrical and electronics sector as well as other machinery production.

Foreign firms including joint ventures will increase their presence in the textile and apparel industry in Myanmar too, he said.

Providing information and statistics as well as consistent and clear-cut investment promotion policies such as those of Thailand are vital to attract FDI.

"The recent Myanmar boom has attracted many business missions. If Myanmar fails to meet their expectations, however, the boom may function as an amplified speaker of negative news to the international business community," Mr Kudo said.

Myanmar's new foreign investment law, which took effect late last year, does not have an English version, so foreign investors remain unclear about what they can do there and with what conditions, he said.

While Myanmar's developments could intensify FDI competition with neighbouring countries, the country should be viewed as a complementary base in ASEAN. Japanese and South Korean firms are keen to invest but will do so through Thailand, he said.

Koji Kubo, a research fellow at Jetro Bangkok, said some challenges remain in Myanmar's foreign exchange market, with gaps between rates in the public and private sectors as well as within the private sector itself.

Myanmar still relies on cash, and exporters are encouraged to sell their foreign exchange to banks, he said.

This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on February 28, 2013.
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Indian aid raises concerns in Chin State

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Thursday, 28 February 2013 13:21 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

Concerns have been raised over financial aid provided by the Indian government for development as it will be channeled through the Ministry for Border Affairs.

Passengers help a jeep struggling through axle-deep mud near Tedim Township. Chin State is the poorest region in Myanmar. (Photo: Mizzima)

"It is good that India is willing to help develop Chin State,” a Chin community leader and Christian pastor told Chinland Guardian. “What is more important is that their assistance does not end up in the hands that make no benefits to the people.”

Also speaking to Chinland Guardian, Rachel Fleming, the advocacy director of the Chin Human Rights Organization, said, “These Indian funds must not be used to construct ‘Na Ta La’ [Buddhist education] schools, as our research shows that the right to freedom of religion or belief is not upheld at those Ministry for Border Affairs schools, run by the military.”

The concerns are understandable: the people of Chin State are the poorest in the country. Unemployment now stands at 73 percent. A severe food crisis has rocked the region, and INGO workers are constantly alerting the international community to reports of human rights abuses by the Myanmar military, and a systemic process of religious persecution against the majority Christian Chins.

The UNICEF Representative in Myanmar, Bertrand Bainvel, visited Falam Township and state capital Hakha on February 20, which was Chin National Day. He said he observed that some progress had been made in the areas of children’s health, nutrition and education.

“The new inclusive and people-centered commitment to development by the government of Myanmar represents an unprecedented opportunity for children in Myanmar, especially the most vulnerable, through the 5-year State Development Plans,” he said.

Speaking with Chin State Chief Minister Hung Ngai, Bainvel agreed that the decentralization effort in Myanmar offers a unique opportunity to place people at the center of development and to help the most vulnerable.

However, Andrea Gittleman, the senior legislative counsel for Washington-based Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), told Mizzima that apart from the physical problems, one of the underlying issues that needed to be addressed in Chin State is the mental health of a populace reeling from decades of abuse under military occupation.

“PHR’s research in Chin State found that approximately 92 percent of households surveyed reported forced labor during the one-year survey period, and most of these crimes were committed by the Burma Army,” she said. “The study demonstrated that human rights violations can be high even in regions where there is no active armed conflict. To date there has been no effective accountability mechanism to properly address the abuses of the past, deter future crimes, nor provide victims with appropriate redress and reparation.”

Bill Davis, the former Burma Project Director for PHR agreed. “A vast majority of the people of Chin State—over 90 percent—have suffered human rights abuses at the hands of previous regimes of the Burmese government, and, I'm sorry to say, also at the hands of the current regime,” he said.

“In addition to widespread forced labor, religious persecution is a huge problem. Chin refugees that PHR interviewed in India last year said that they don’t trust the new government, and because of this they do not plan to return to Burma,” he said.

PHR called on the Thein Sein government to address abuses committed by previous regimes. “The worst thing the government could do is pretend that nothing bad happened to Chin people over the last 60 years,” said Davis. “Constantly treating Chin people like second-class citizens is not only a violation of their political rights, but is also detrimental to their mental health.”
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Related articles:

  1. Chin National Day offers ray of hope
  2. Rice shortages in Chin State due to bad weather, pests


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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

121 Rohingyas found adrift off Aceh coast

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013 16:09 Mizzima News

A boat carrying 121 people from Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority was found adrift off Indonesia's Aceh province on Wednesday, Thai media have reported, citing news agency DPA.

Part of a 121-strong group of Rohingya boatpeople, including six women and two children, arrive at a shelter in Punteuet in Aceh province on February 27, 2013, after being found adrift by fishermen around 25 km from the coast of Sumatra. (AFP PHOTO)

The refugees were reportedly rescued by local fishermen on Tuesday and then taken to an immigration office in North Aceh, an official is quoted saying.

"They were starving because their food supply has run out," he said. Two children and six women were reported as being among the group.
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Myanmar tourism industry ‘cannot do it alone’

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013 15:06 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

Htay Aung, the Minister for Hotels and Tourism, has said that Myanmar cannot grow its tourism industry alone and needs international investors. The announcement came at the opening ceremony of the Myanmar Hospitality and Tourism Conference 2013 at Yangon's Traders Hotel on February 27.

The opening ceremony of the Myanmar Hospitality and Tourism Conference 2013 in Yangon on February 27, 2013. (Photo Myanmar HTC)

The minister acknowledged that growth would be full of difficulties and said that transportation, creation of human resources, building of infrastructure, and the preservation and creation of destinations would all need to be addressed.

"We need the assistance of investors, organizers, business partners and practitioners to come and see the opportunities that we have, so that we can start working together for our mutual benefit," he said.

Ownership is currently not permitted for foreign investors, but they can hold long-term leases of up to 70 years or partner with a local company, according to Myanmar's new foreign investment law of December 2012.

A master plan for Myanmar's tourism industry is currently being compiled by the government with assistance from global experts. The strategy, which will attempt to align growth with responsible tourism, is expected to be released in mid-April.

The country's tourism industry is currently growing at a rapid 30 percent per annum. The tourism minister announced that he expected at least 1.3 million tourists to visit by the end of 2013, while Paul Rogers, the team leader of Myanmar's Tourism Master Plan Project, predicted up to 2 million tourists yearly by the end of the decade.

The development of several hotels zones around the country is presently underway, while a new airport in Yangon and expansion of the capacity of airports at destinations such as Mandalay and Bagan are being discussed.
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China, Singapore, Malaysia: largest importers of Myanmar rubber

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013 14:32 Khin Myo Thwe

China, Singapore and Malaysia are the largest importers of Myanmar’s rubber, according to rubber exporters in Myanmar.

Rubber plantation in Mawlamyine, Mon State (Photo: Wikipedia)

“Other countries that are importing Myanmar’s rubber include Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, India and Thailand,” said Khine Myint, the secretary of Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association.

Kyaw Lwin Oo, a rubber plantation owner, said that Mon State is the main producer of rubber in Myanmar, but rubber plantations are also found in Tanintharyi [Tenasserim] and Bago [Pegu] regions and Kayin [Karen] State.

Due to lack of advanced technology, rubber producers in Myanmar can export only raw rubber, he said.

Another Myanmar rubber exporter said, “Five hundred tons of rubber was exported to Singapore and Malaysia via sea routes between February 10 and 16. And we exported 1,141 tons of rubber to China and Thailand through border trade.”

On February 26, the price of RSS-1 rubber ranged from US $3,000 to $3,100 per ton, according to Myanmar Rubber Planters and Producers Association.
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Myanmar-Malaysia trade expected to top $ 1 billion

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013 14:03 Mizzima News

Bilateral trade between Malaysia and Myanmar is expected to reach around US $1 billion this year, according to a report on Tuesday by Malaysian news agency Bernama, which said the 10 percent increase is spurred by the substantial economic growth by both countries.

Deputy chief executive officer of the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation, Datuk Kamarudin Hassan, is reported saying that the economic liberalization of Myanmar’s markets has significantly spurred the export of Malaysian goods.

Last year, Malaysia's exports recorded a 27.3 percent jump to register at RM 2.17 billion ($700 million), while imports stood at RM 0.57 billion ($184 million), said the report.

On investments, Kamarudin is reported as saying that Malaysian companies should be more aggressive in taking advantage of the enormous level of opportunities being dished out in Myanmar.

“Myanmar needs a high amount of infrastructure development. This involves the construction of roads, highways, airports and other commercial buildings. This is where Malaysian companies can create a niche for themselves, as we have some of the best infrastructure developers in Malaysia,” he is reported saying.

Last year, Malaysian investment in Myanmar amounted to RM 3.18 billion ($1 billion), and mostly in the area of oil and gas, hotels, plastics and seafood.

Among the major Malaysian companies in Myanmar are Labuan Re, Lumber Mart Sdn Bhd, Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), Sapura Crest Petroleum Sdn Bhd, Scansia Sdn Bhd and UMW Holdings Bhd.

In a separate report the same day in Bernama, the United Nations Resident Coordinator's Office in Yangon Senior Advisor, Prof Aung Tun Thet, is reported saying that Myanmar's new Foreign Investment Law will offer vast opportunities for Malaysian businessmen to invest.

He said the new law pertaining to land, tax and investments would facilitate and provide comfort to new and existing investors who are interested to invest in the country.

“Malaysian companies are at the advantage rather than other countries because Myanmar has always been working with Malaysia. With the implementation of the new law, it's going to make investment inflows much more easy for Malaysia in Myanmar,” he told Bernama after a seminar entitled “Myanmar: Your New Frontier for Investment Opportunities."

“We've worked on this law to make it easier for investors not just from Malaysia but also for all other countries that are keen to invest in Myanmar,” Tun Thet is reported saying.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thein Sein arrives in Oslo

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013 16:34 AFP

Myanmar President Thein Sein arrived in Oslo on Tuesday, kicking off his first trip to Europe aimed at forging stronger ties between the former pariah state and the West.

Burmese President Thein Sein. Photo: president's office

The reformist leader landed at Oslo's international airport, Norwegian officials said, for a three-day stay in the Scandinavian country to be followed by visits to Finland, Austria, Belgium and Italy before he returns to Myanmar on March 8.

The former junta general has impressed the international community with a string of reforms since coming to power in early 2011, including welcoming long-detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi into parliament and freeing hundreds of political prisoners.

Thein Sein's trip to Norway follows Suu Kyi's own landmark visit to Oslo last year, where she made her long-awaited Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in person for the honour awarded her in 1991, as she spent the better part of two decades under house arrest.

While in Oslo, Thein Sein was due to discuss issues pertaining to future democratic reforms, development aid, the environment and economic cooperation, though no major agreements were expected to be signed, Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Kjetil Elsebutangen said.

"Many positive things have taken place in Myanmar in recent years but there is still more to be done," Elsebutangen said.

"On the Norwegian side, we think it's important to support these positive developments and to try to help those who are moving things in the right direction," he added.

Thein Sein, described as a discreet and loyal conservative, is due to hold talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, and meet with members of the Myanmar community in Norway.

A highly-symbolic interview with the opposition radio Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), long based in Oslo, was included as a possibility in his official programme but remained to be confirmed.

The trip to Belgium was meanwhile due to include both bilateral and "EU high level meetings", a European diplomat told AFP.

A second European diplomatic source said the topics to be discussed would include sanctions and development aid as well as economic reforms, the country's human rights record and efforts to negotiate peace in ongoing conflicts.

After the swift reforms Thein Sein undertook after coming to power, the European Union responded last April by suspending all sanctions apart from an arms embargo, while the United States has also dismantled many of its key trade and investment sanctions.

But concerns remain over an ongoing conflict in the northern state of Kachin and communal Buddhist-Muslim unrest in the western state of Rakhine.
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Suu Kyi flies back to Yangon to greet Tutu

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013 17:59 Mizzima News

“She is beautiful and it is wonderful to be here!” exclaimed Archbishop Desmond Tutu after meeting his fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi at her house in Yangon on Tuesday.

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi met each other at Suu Kyi's house in Yangon on February 26, 2013. Archbishop Tutu gave a speech, saying that reformation measures in Myanmar had to be taken step by step. (Photo: Hein Htet / Mizzima)

The jovial South African archbishop had long proclaimed himself a fan of The Lady. On Tuesday, he finally had a chance to tell her in person.

“We're looking forward to when the country is truly free,” he told reporters with Suu Kyi at his side. “And then you see just how much the world admires her—she is a total icon!

“The potential of this country is immense and we want to see that potential fully realized,” he continued. “No ethnic strife or all the problems with people of different faiths.

“I think that you should encourage movement, anything that moves towards freedom should be encouraged,” he said.

The Myanmar pro-democracy leader had traveled from Naypyitaw where she was attending Parliament to Yangon specifically to see Tutu, who won the Peace Prize in 1984 for his role in the fight against Apartheid.

Archbishop Tutu had arrived in the country on Monday, and met some political dissidents on Tuesday morning.

A Myanmar government official said that Tutu was scheduled to visit the ancient Buddhist temples of Bagan and Inle Lake in Shan State before departing on a ship heading to India on March 1.

A US embassy official said Tutu would give a speech at the American Center in Yangon on Wednesday.

Tutu, along with several other noted Nobel Peace Prize laureates, visited refugee camps in Thailand in February 1993 after being denied entry to Myanmar, then known as Burma, while Suu Kyi was under house arrest.
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KIO postpones talks with govt peace committee

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013 12:57 Phanida

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has said that it is not ready to attend the Myanmar government’s Union-level Peacemaking Committee's proposed meeting on February 28, according to Hla Maung Shwe, a peace broker.

Minister of the President's Office Aung Min (3rd L back, writing) is pictured on February 4 along with government officials holding talks with representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization in the Chinese border town of Ruili. PHOTO: AFP / Myanmar Peace Center

As part of a draft agreed in Ruili earlier this month, the government’s peacemaking committee leader Minister Aung Min offered to meet the KIO on February 28. But the KIO replied on Sunday that it will not be ready to meet then as the central KIO is still engaged in discussions about the issues.

“They [KIO] replied yesterday [Sunday]. They said that they need some time because the central KIO is still discussing it. Yesterday, they directly and officially informed Aung Min that they are likely to be ready in early March,” Hla Maung Shwe said on Monday.

A KIO central committee member told Mizzima that on February 22 and 23 at the KIO’s headquarters in Laiza it collected the opinions of more than 100 representatives of Kachin people in preparation for the meeting with the government’s peacemaking committee.

“We are not ready to meet the government. Recently, we have collected suggestions of Kachin people,” said a KIO central committee member. “After we [central KIO] have discussed the findings, we will meet the government delegation.

“We discussed what we should do for the future of the Kachin people,” he said. “Under the leadership of the KIO, we agreed to build a ‘Federal Union’ based on the rights of ethnic minorities.”

Several Kachin sources have suggested that foreign countries mediate the talks between the Myanmar government and the KIO.

On February 4, the KIO and the Myanmar government held talks in Ruili, China, where both sides agreed to reduce military tensions and hold political talks later in February.
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Indian army officer arrested smuggling drugs to Myanmar

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Tuesday, 26 February 2013 13:13 Mizzima News

Indian media have reported that a senior Indian army official has been arrested for attempting to smuggle illegal substances across the Myanmar border.

Lt-Col Ajay Chaudhary, who works as a press officer for India's Ministry of Defense, was intercepted by police at Pallel while leading a convoy of cars carrying a large amount of the banned drug pseudo-ephedrine toward the Myanmar border.

Myanmar drug cartels reportedly use pseudo-ephedrine to manufacture methamphetamine, which is then sent back to India and Thailand.

“The matter is under investigation and strict action will be taken as per the law of the land,” army spokesperson Col. Jagdeep Dahiya told DNA in Delhi.

“He [Chaudhary] initially said he thought the merchandise was the personal belongings of his friend, an assistant manager with a private airlines who was traveling with him,” the police said, adding that, “he kept quiet when he was questioned further.”

An NCB official said to the Times of India that, “Myanmar has become a global hub of methamphetamine production. Smuggling of pseudo-ephedrine to the country has gone up alarmingly in the past few months because of high demand and lucrative prices being offered.”
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Thailand stalls on Dawei highway

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Tuesday, 25 February 2013 12:14 The Bangkok Post

The planned expansion of a motorway linking Thailand to the proposed Dawei deep-sea port project in Myanmar has been postponed.

[Thailand’s] Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTTPP) said expanding the motorway from four lanes to eight on the Thai side of the border is unnecessary for the time being.

The 110-kilometre road would link Dawei in Myanmar to Kanchanaburi in Thailand.

Chula Sukmanop, director of the OTTPP, said the Dawei road link expansion project would pose high investment risks.

His findings were issued in a report on the Dawei joint development project submitted to Transport Minister Chadchat Sittipunt.

The report comes ahead of the third meeting of the joint steering committee for the Dawei project, set for March 6-8 in Chon Buri.

The OTTPP had analysed estimates of the cargo volume expected at the Dawei deep-sea port and found the figure was too high.

The transport volumes are not sufficient to justify expanding the motorway, the report said.

It said cargo containers would carry mainly industrial goods from the port and other goods from Kanchanaburi special economic zone and other western provinces.

His office recommended the deep-sea port be designed as an industrial port in the first phase.

A container port should be developed later as the volume of cargo containers increases in the second phase.

Mr Chula said Myanmar should change its laws to allow private operators to manage the port.

He also said in the report that his office has proposed that Myanmar review the size of its rail track for the Dawei project by using a one-metre track that could link to other rail networks in Thailand without the need to unload goods during transport.
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This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on February 26, 2013.
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US ‘dedicated’ to investing in Myanmar

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Monday, 25 February 2013 17:04 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

The United States-Myanmar Trade and Investment Conference took place on February 25 at the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), with the aim of encouraging bilateral trade between the two countries.

Jose Fernandez, US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic & Business Affairs, pictured speaking at the US-Myanmar Trade and Investment Relations forum at the UMFCCI office tower on Monday, February 25, 2013. (Photo: Hla Maung Shwe)

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the conference, Jose W. Fernandez, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, said that "The US government is dedicated to doing everything in its power to encourage and support social and corporate responsibility. We want US companies to invest here [Myanmar] in a social and responsible manner."

Fernandez gave an anecdote in his speech about a US internet provider that that had "misplaced sanctions" and said that he hoped to avoid any further confusion for US companies trying to invest in Myanmar.

Fernandez said that he hoped trade will soon be "normalized" with Myanmar as much as possible.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by both parties at the conference.

The conference was held as part of a visit by a delegation of 50 representatives from U.S. companies to Myanmar during which it was announced that four Myanmar banks had been taken off US sanctions lists.
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Myanmar allows license-free imports, exports

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Monday, 25 February 2013 16:27 Khin Myo Thwe

The Ministry of Commerce has eased laws for local businesspeople by passing a bill that will allow all imports and exports to proceed without licenses as from April 1.

Containers of cargo wait to be loaded for export abroad at Yangon port. (PHOTO: Bo Bo / Mizzima)

“As a first step, 166 import products and 152 export products will be allowed without license from March 1, 2013. By April 1, all import/export products will be allowed without license,” a high ranking official from the Ministry of Commerce told Mizzima.

“It’s good news for merchants," said Tun Aye, the secretary of the Myanmar Fishery Products Processors and Exporters Association.

“It means less time will be consumed waiting for the license process, plus the elimination of other unseen overhead costs will lead to a drop in the price of commodities,” he said.
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Yangon to get master plan with help of Japan

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Monday, 25 February 2013 15:41 Mizzima News

The Myanmar government is currently drafting a master plan to develop the city of Yangon to an international standard with the help of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported on February 25.

The electrical grid in Myanmar is plagued by weak infrastructure. (Photo: Mizzima)

"Yangon will be upgraded for emergence of an international level city. In doing so, efforts will be made for supply of electricity, potable water and better transport for the dwellers," said an official of Yangon City Development Committee to the newspaper.

The overall city plan is being scheduled as a 30-year project; however JICA has provided about US $200 million to implement development over the first five years.

As part of the plan, Japan will assist in building power stations, power lines and in the implementation and infrastructure of Thilawa Special Economic Zone, which will be opened in 2015.
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KNU calls for senior military officers at peace talks

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Monday, 25 February 2013 14:15 Mizzima News

The Karen National Union (KNU) has requested that Naypyitaw send high-ranking military officers to future talks as part of the peace process between the two sides, according to a report by Karen News.

Gen. Mutu Say Poe, the newly elected chairman of the Karen National Union (KNU), speaks to government officials and KNU delegates at a formal dinner in the Royal Kumudra Hotel in Naypyitaw on Saturday, January 5, 2013. (Photo: Mizzima)

An informal meeting was held on February 21 at the Thai-Myanmar border town of Myawaddy where KNU chairman Gen. Saw Mutu Say Poe met with Myanmar Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham.

According to Karen News reporter Saw Eh Na, the vice-presidential delegation inspected the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge and the Myawaddy border trading zone.

However, “KNU leaders repeated their position to the government delegation that the KNU would only carry out development projects … after reaching a concrete ceasefire agreement,” said the report.

“The KNU urged the government ministers to include more high-ranking Tatmadaw [Burma Army] leaders in any future talks,” Saw Eh Na said.

In a subsequent article in Karen News on February 23, reporter Saw Khar Su Nyar quoted KNU source Saw John as saying that only when there is an effective ceasefire in place can both sides “move forward to the development project stage [for Karen State].”

The KNU and the Myanmar government reached a preliminary ceasefire in January 2012.
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UNHCR calls for regional response to boatpeople

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Monday, 25 February 2013 12:41 Mizzima News

The UN’s refugee agency has expressed its concern over the growing number of boatpeople dying in the Bay of Bengal, including members of the Rohingya community fleeing Myanmar or from Bangladesh's refugee camps and makeshift sites.

“Most are men, but there are also increasing reports of women and children on these often rickety boats making the journey southwards. We estimate that of the 13,000 people who left on smugglers' boats in 2012, close to 500 died at sea when their boats broke down or capsized,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.

The spokesman noted that repeated tragedies at sea also demonstrated the need for a coordinated regional response to distress and rescue at sea. To help move this process forward, the UNHCR said it is facilitating discussions between interested governments and international organizations at a regional meeting on irregular movements by sea to be held in Jakarta in March.

Amid continuing news reports of boats being pushed back to sea by some countries, the UNHCR also urged states in the region to keep their borders open to people in need of international protection and to offer assistance and protection until solutions can be found.

UNHCR said it has been advocating with the Myanmar government to urgently address the root causes of the outflow.
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China UnionPay card launches in Yangon

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Monday, 25 February 2013 12:29 Mizzima News

A ceremony was held in Yangon on Saturday to officially launch China UnionPay (CUP) card services in Myanmar, news agency Xinhua reported.

CUP is the largest issued bank card in China and is widely accepted around the world. Its services in Myanmar are to be tied to all banks affiliated with Myanmar Payment Union (MPU), which has 17 members, among them: Myanmar Citizen Bank, Myawaddy Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, Kanbawza Bank, Cooperative Bank, Asian Green Development Bank, and Myanmar Apex Bank.

The governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar, Than Nyein, and the chief resident representative of CUP (Southeast Asia Region), Yang Wenhui, delivered speeches at the launching ceremony, saying that the introduction of CUP services in Myanmar has “opened a new page of cooperation between CUP and MPU,” Xinhua reported.

Users of the CUP can now withdraw Myanmar kyat from the ATMs of MPU member banks and make payments at its points-of-sale as well as at relevant hotels.

At present, there are 198 ATMs and 465 points-of-sale within the MPU member bank network.

The Chinese bank card scheme follows hot on the heels of other international electronic payment cards in Myanmar, including MasterCard in November and VISA in December. JCB of Japan has also entered the Myanmar market.
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US business delegation visits Myanmar

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Monday, 25 February 2013 11:05 Mizzima News

A major business delegation including 50 representatives of US companies is visiting Myanmar from February 24 to 28.

The US Chamber of Commerce announced on Friday that the delegation includes representatives from a wide range of industries, including agribusiness, automotive, electronics, energy, retailing and telecommunications.

Myanmar Vice President Sai Mauk Kham (center, right) poses for a photograph with a US business delegation from the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw on August 14, 2012. (Photo: President's office)

It is the first major US business delegation since President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the country in November.

“This delegation trip is an important milestone,” said Tami Overby, Vice-President, Asia, of the US Chamber of Commerce. “We have made tremendous progress in normalizing economic relations between our countries. It is now time to take the relationship to the next level.”

The Chamber’s delegation will participate in a US-Myanmar trade and investment symposium in Yangon, which will bring together senior business executives and government officials from both countries to identify Myanmar’s economic development priorities and objectives, and explore opportunities for expanding US-Myanmar trade and investment across a range of key industry sectors, said a statement by the US Chamber of Commerce.

Following the conference, the Chamber said, the delegation will hold meetings with Myanmar government ministers and senior officials, the US Embassy, development specialists, local NGOs, and others.

The US Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation and says it represents the interests of more than 3 million firms.
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Saturday, February 23, 2013

US lifts sanctions on 4 Myanmar banks

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Saturday, 23 February 2013 17:27 AFP

The United States authorized US entities to do business with four major Myanmar banks Friday, extending the easing of economic sanctions on the former pariah state.

Myanma Economic Bank Branch 3, Yangon. (Photo: Mizzima)

The Treasury Department said it had issued a general license to allow individuals, companies, and financial institutions to conduct most financial transactions—such as opening and maintaining an account and a range of other financial services—with the banks.

The banks named were Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank, and Ayeyarwady Bank.

"This action will give US companies and non-governmental organizations greater access to some of the largest Burmese banks and allow these financial entities to access the US financial system," the department said in a statement, referring to Myanmar as Burma, the country's former name.

The new banking permission supports the July 2012 easing of US economic sanctions on Myanmar that allows new investment and encourages additional US economic involvement.

David Cohen, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, expressed hope the action will aid the impoverished Southeast Asian country.

Increased financial access "will help to facilitate Burma's continued social and economic development, serve as a model for responsible investment, and help to provide a better future for the Burmese people," Cohen said.

Relations between the two countries have undergone a sea change since Myanmar's ruling military ceded power in 2011, ending decades of dictatorship.

President Thein Sein launched a series of reforms after taking office in 2011, including freeing political prisoners, loosening censorship and allowing pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi to enter parliament.

As part of the raft of reforms, Myanmar is seeking an overhaul of its battered and mistrusted banking system, a move that analysts say could pave the way for foreign lenders to open branches.
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Mon State gas pipeline nears completion

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Saturday, 23 February 2013 16:42 Hin Tha Ni

The construction of the Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay to Hlawgar gas pipeline is now more than 70 percent complete following delays due to the pipe being built too near the sea and land disputes.

30 inch pipeline piles waiting to be installed in Mon State (Photo: IMNA)

“[The project was delayed because] pipes passed across seashores and problems occurred when the tides rose,” said an official overseeing the project who wished to remain anonymous. “The old pipes were vulnerable to water pressure and their capacities were reduced so we have replaced those old pipes with high-quality pipes.”

The new Korean-made pipes are 40 feet in length, 30 inches in diameter, and one inch thick.

The path of the pipeline has been moved so that it now passes only through inland areas, according to the official who explained that although Myanmar has the required technical know-how for the large pipeline construction project, it does not have enough money and cannot provide international-level standard security around the pipeline.
     
Some farmlands and private gardens were taken over by authorities in order to clear the route for the pipeline, resulting in disputes and further delays.

An official said that authorities had compensated land owners whose lands were taken over by the project authorities. The Energy Ministry had given instructions to its officials in order to avoid disputes with the land owners.

He added that some land owners told the project officials to increase the amount of the compensation because the land prices increased this year. However, the project officials set the amount of compensation on last year’s land prices.

The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise began construction on the 180-mile pipeline in 2000.

Two years ago, the Energy Ministry re-started the construction of the pipeline saying it planned to complete the installation of new pipes no later than late December 2012.
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  • Pipes replaced along Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay gas pipeline

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Canada wants to help Myanmar in the ‘march toward democracy’

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Saturday, 23 February 2013 16:22 Rosie Gogan-Keogh

The head of a Canadian delegation to Myanmar has welcomed the country's reforms to date but has called for further moves forward, stating that “Canada is here to help Burma [Myanmar] in the march toward democracy.”

Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the Canadian minister of foreign affairs

“I see the reforms that have taken place and we are here to continue with that,” said Deepak Obhrai, parliamentary secretary to the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, speaking at the end of his visit on February 22.

The delegation met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and speakers of the upper and lower houses during their five-day tour.

Obhrai said that it was clear that the parliamentarians needed “all the assistance they can get” and that Canada hoped to help establish good practices in areas such as elections and taxes.

When Mizzima asked about Canada's continuing sanctions on Myanmar, Obhrai said, “The sanctions that are still in place are on individuals and companies who are violating the Canadian values of human rights and rule of law. In those areas we want to engage with the people and help provide capacity building.”

“We are encouraged by the reforms here and the moves towards democracy in this country but there are still issues of ethnic violence, issues of human rights, minority rights, the availability of free press—all those issues which are now moving forward,” he said.

A Canadian Embassy will open in Yangon in the coming months.

A reciprocal visit by Myanmar representatives to Canada is expected to take place later this year.
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Foreign investors queue up to milk Myanmar’s dairy market

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Saturday, 23 February 2013 15:53 Khin Myo Thwe

Thailand, Korea, Netherlands and New Zealand have expressed interest in investing in Myanmar’s dairy sector, according to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.

Photo: United States Department of Agriculture

“Many foreign representatives have come to Myanmar to discuss their plans to invest in the dairy sector. Thailand, Korea, Holland and New Zealand are the main contenders,” Dr. Aung Gyi, the deputy director general of the Ministry, told Mizzima.

Presently, Myanmar has 14 million cows and steers, and some three million buffaloes. “Among the 14 million cattle, about 500,000 are dairy cows,” said Dr. Aung Gyi.

Most of Myanmar’s dairy farms are located in Mandalay and Sagaing Regions.

“In comparison with neighboring countries, the number of dairy farms in Myanmar is very small,” said dairy farmer Myint Hlaing from Kyaukse. “The main reason is that grazing areas are expensive and the demand for milk is low.

“Moreover, Myanmar lacks the technology to produce condensed milk at a low cost,” he said.

According to Dr. Aung Gyi, businesspeople from New Zealand came to Myanmar last week to discuss offering support and technology to help kick-start the dairy sector.
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Myanmar-US agree anti-drugs pact

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Friday, 22 February 2013 17:13 Mizzima News

Myanmar and the United States have taken another step toward closer relations by agreeing to work together on counter-narcotics operations.

Myanmar authorities conduct opium poppy eradication efforts in southern Shan State in February 2012. (Photo: UNODC)

Speaking to reporters, US Ambassador Derek Mitchell said that the agreement “is another step forward in our overall relationship.”

According to state-run The New Light of Myanmar, Mitchell ratified the agreement with Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in Naypyitaw on Thursday.

Under the agreement, Myanmar and the US will resume a joint opium yield survey in early 2013 before re-establishing “channels of cooperation” on counter-narcotics issues, The New Light of Myanmar said, adding that the program would address opium production and trafficking.

Under Myanmar’s former military government, anti-drugs operations were suspended in 2004 with the junta frequently cited as complicit in the drugs trade.

Myanmar is the world's second-largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, accounting for about 25 percent of global poppy production, according to United Nations data.
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Thein Sein to hit European trail

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Friday, 22 February 2013 13:59 Mizzima News

Thein Sein has received official invitations to visit five European countries in the near future, according to an announcement in state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar on February 22.

Myanmar President Thein Sein met with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti in the Lao capital Vientiane in November 2012. (Photo: President's office)

The Myanmar president will travel to Norway, Finland, Austria, Italy and Belgium in what will be the first of his official overseas trips of 2013.

The latest invitations come following the relaxation of sanctions and improvement in bilateral relations with the European countries.

Norway opened an embassy in Yangon in November 2012; Finnish Minister of International Development visited Myanmar in January; and the President of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce met with Thein Sein in Naypyitaw earlier this month.

Italy recently stepped up cooperation with Myanmar under the supervision of UNESCO to aid cultural heritage in the country.
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Time to address SME policy

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Friday, 22 February 2013 12:51 Khin Myo Thwe

Several entrepreneurs and politicians in Myanmar are calling for a definitive policy on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) ahead of the commencement of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015.

Small and Medium Enterprise Development (Photo: Ministry of Industry No. 2, Myanmar)

Speaking at the Upper House of Parliament on February 20, MP Myint Kyi of Yangon Region Constituency No. 8 proposed that SMEs policies should be laid out in a timely manner ahead of 2015.

U Hnin of the Myanmar Fisheries Federation said, “Currently, there are 126,958 industries in the country, of which 126,237 are SMEs—that’s 99.4 percent of the country’s economy. Therefore, establishing a conclusive policy is very important.”

According to official data, there are 9,565 SMEs situated in Myanmar’s industrial zones.
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Yadana gas cuts raise temperatures in Bangkok

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Friday, 22 February 2013 16:04 | THE BANGKOK POST

The threat of possible blackouts in Bangkok and some southern areas remains even as Myanmar has agreed to help the government through its high-demand power woes in April.

Total, French operator of the Yadana block in Myanmar, has agreed to delay maintenance at the Yadana gas field by 36 hours from the morning of April 4 to midday on April 5, the [Thai] government said yesterday.

The gas field supplies a quarter of Thailand's gas, which in turn makes up 70% of the country's total energy needs.

Yadana (Photo: american.edu)

The maintenance work had threatened to disrupt supplies at a time when demand for gas in Thailand is high.

The government asked Myanmar to postpone the work so it would fall during the Songkran holidays, when demand for power is lower than usual.

The maintenance will now last until April 14 instead of April 12 as originally planned, Energy Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn said after meeting energy policymakers and officials yesterday.

The maintenance period would overlap with the Songkran festival on April 12-16 when power consumption normally declines, he said.

Still, Mr Pongsak said the supply shortfall remains a concern since electricity usage is expected to peak at 26,300 megawatts (MW) on April 5.

Mr Pongsak said electricity reserves are expected to fall to 600 MW or 2% of total generating capacity of 30,000 MW during the afternoon hours of April 5.

The southern region and areas in Greater Bangkok will be susceptible to electricity outages because three power plants that receive gas from Myanmar are the main power generators for those areas with a combined capacity of 6,000 MW.

"We still need cooperation from the private sector and state agencies to cut energy use to avoid electricity outages that day," the minister said.

Large private electricity users such as Siam City Cement Plc, TPI Polene and Thai-Asahi will be asked to cut their production during peak hours to lower power consumption.

Additional electricity supplies will be required from other plants including the Bang Pakong plant in Chon Buri, small and large privately owned plants and hydroelectric power plants in Laos.

The government yesterday told officials in state agencies to take off their jackets at work to help relieve the workload of air conditioners.

Government buildings nationwide will be asked to set air conditioning systems at 25 degrees.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) said the power plants could be switched to run on bunker oil and diesel instead of Myanmar's gas. Generation costs would rise by 0.0048 baht a kilowatt-hour during May to August as a result. The Energy Regulatory Commission will decide whether the cost will be passed on to consumers, Mr Pongsak said.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong yesterday alerted hospitals to prepare power generators and fuel for emergency electricity generating.

The Public Health Ministry would negotiate with power authorities to give priority to hospitals.

Meanwhile, consumer protection activists say the electricity crisis alert may serve as an excuse for a power fee hike and unpopular power plant projects.

Boonyuen Siritham, chairman of the Confederation of Consumer Organisations, told a forum on the prospect of an energy crisis that the government issued the warning even though the country's generating capacity is much higher than demand.

"The government should not put on an act by asking people to take off their jackets and avoid using elevators," she said. "It should emphasise self-reliance in energy policies."

Prasart Meetaem, a consumer activist, said the government based generation mainly on gas and ignored energy alternatives such as solar, wind and biomass power.

Jiraporn Limpananont, chairman of the Foundation for Consumers, urged the government to support alternative generation in addition to gas-fired generation because gas prices were likely to rise continuously.

Athabun Inwongsa, of the same foundation, said the government raised the emergency alert possibly to justify coal-fired or nuclear power plants that could have big impacts on the environment.

This article was originally published in The Bangkok Post on February 21, 2013.
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

40% more foreigners at Bagan in 2012

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Thursday, 21 February 2013 18:34 Khin Myo Thwe

The number of foreigners entering the Bagan hotel zone increased by 40 percent in 2012, according to hoteliers in the area.

The ancient ruins of Bagan make for a spectacular sunset. (PHOTO: Xiao Ting Shirley)

According to Zaw Waik, the secretary of the Bagan Zone of the Myanmar Hoteliers Association, the number of domestic visitors was also up. Among foreign tourists, the highest number of visitors came from Thailand, with China second. French and German visitors are the most common Western visitors to the ancient Buddhist temples.

“Most of the foreign tourists who come to Bagan not only visit the ancient temples, but take an interest in the frescoes,” tour guide Nyi Zaw said. “They also take time to visit artisans selling local handicrafts such as lacquerware and artwork.”

Located in Mandalay Region, Bagan was the capital of the country from the 9th to 13th centuries. But it was also a center of Buddhist learning and home to more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries. Today, the remains of just 2,200 temples survive.
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