Jan 28th, 2010
YANGON, 28 January 2010 (IRIN) – Poor funding support for recovery efforts after Cyclone Nargis has left hundreds of thousands in Myanmar vulnerable, many without durable shelters to withstand further disasters, the UN says.
The category four storm struck Myanmar’s Yangon and Ayeyarwady divisions in May 2008, killing at least 140,000 and affecting 2.4 million people.
It prompted an appeal for US$691 million for the Post Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP) from 2009 to 2011.
Bishow Parajuli, the UN Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, said funding for initial relief efforts from donors had been generous, but painted a different picture for recovery activities.
“The international support for the recovery has been low, or lower than expected,” Parajuli told IRIN in an interview.
“I wish there was much more of a response. The flow has not been as we had been hoping for,” he added.
In November last year, donors pledged more than $88 million after an appeal for $103 million to cover critical recovery needs. To date, more than $90.4 million has been committed and some additional commitments by donors are expected.
The appeal was part of the original $691 million amount for the PONREPP released in December 2008.
Parajuli praised donors for their commitment to recovery efforts, but noted that some of the pledges in November were reconfirmations of previous support, rather than new pledges.
“Some of it has already been delivered and used, some [funds] are coming now and others are due to come. So it is really difficult, frankly, to pin down, to say how much has actually been delivered. But in any case, the amount only covers the most critical needs.”
In total, $215 million has been committed since the appeal was released, which is now trickling down to the population in the Nargis-affected areas.
Adding to the challenge is Myanmar’s domestic political situation, which makes it among the lowest recipients in the world of overseas development assistance.
“The number of donors supporting Myanmar is limited,” said Parajuli.
Shelter least funded
Nearly 800,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by Cyclone Nargis, leaving only 16,000 houses or 2 percent intact, according to the PONREPP.
UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) data shows that as of mid-January 2010, nearly 160,000 households had yet to receive shelter assistance of any sort, and were living in makeshift shelter such as tents.
Parajuli said good progress had been made in funding for health and education, but shelter was the least supported, making it the area “of largest concern for the humanitarian community”.
Out of $88 million pledged, only $500,000 is allocated for shelter.
Many Nargis survivors rebuilt their homes after the devastation with temporary material, so they are not sturdy enough even to survive smaller storms, he said.
“People are vulnerable. And as much as there are various preventative measures done by building cyclone shelters, or cyclone shelters cum schools and all these things, at the end of the day every human being needs shelter,” said Parajuli.
According to Srinivasa Popuri, head of UN-HABITAT in Myanmar, between $4,000 and $5,000 had been spent on each home rebuilt in the 2004 Asian tsunami-affected countries such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka, using bricks and concrete.
By contrast, in Myanmar, donors provided an average $400 to rebuild a house.
To date, only 30,938 houses have been rebuilt by the UN and NGOs, and another 30,000 have been built by the government at a cost of $1,200-$1,500, according to UN-HABITAT.
“Obviously the level invested in shelter has been much lower, so obviously, you expect a similar level of outcome and results,” said Popuri.
Parajuli said more funding was also needed for livelihood assistance as Nargis damaged or destroyed paddy crops, fishing gear and commercial enterprises.
“[People] need income opportunities. They need jobs, they need employment, they need boats and fishing nets,” he said.
“The agricultural sector is extremely short of cash [and] credit and the farmers don’t have money to employ people as they used to. In the absence of that, they can’t give jobs to those who used to look for employment.”
1 hr 13 mins ago
YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday described as “unfair” a minister’s comment that she would be released in November as it pre-empted a court decision, her lawyer said.
Home Affairs Minister Maung Oo reportedly told a meeting of local officials in central Myanmar last week that the release of the 64-year-old, who has been in detention for 14 of the past 20 years, would come in November.
Suu Kyi “said the home affairs minister’s comment was totally unfair,” her lawyer, Nyan Win, told AFP after meeting her on Thursday.
A decision is expected from Myanmar’s top court within three weeks on an appeal against her conviction last August. The conviction related to an incident in which a US man swam to her house and she was sentenced to another 18 months under house arrest.
“She said the case has not reached the end yet. She said the court has the right to make its own decision. Saying this is hurting the court decision,” Nyan Win said. “She also said this comment is legally not correct.”
The extension of Suu Kyi’s detention sparked an international furore as it keeps her out of elections promised by the regime some time this year.
After learning of the minister’s comments, her National League for Democracy (NLD) party initially said a November release would be “no strange thing” as that is when her sentence will be completed.
But the signal that she would remain locked up for elections sparked the United States on Tuesday to call again for her immediate freedom.
“The idea that her release will conveniently come after the election is unfortunate,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
The NLD won a landslide victory in the last democratic elections in 1990, but the junta, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, never allowed the party to take office.
The opposition has been deeply suspicious of the election promised by the junta, seeing the poll as a plot to legitimise the generals’ iron-fisted rule.
In recent months the United States, followed by the European Union, has shifted towards greater engagement with Myanmar, as sanctions have proved unproductive.
2 hrs 3 mins ago
GENEVA (AFP) – Earthquakes triggered the deadliest disasters of the past decade and remain a major threat for millions of people worldwide who live in some of the world’s megacities, the United Nations said Thursday.
A UN-backed study said nearly 60 percent of about 780,000 people killed by disasters in 2000 to 2009 died during earthquakes.
But climate events affected far more people — nearly three quarters of the two billion hit by catastrophes.
Storms accounted for 22 percent of the overall death toll while extreme temperatures claimed 11 percent of lives lost in 3,852 disasters over the period.
Officials and researchers also maintained their alarm over climate or weather-related disasters as the overall number of catastrophes more than doubled compared to the previous decade.
The global bill for disasters reached 960 billion dollars according to the study by the Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) at Belgium’s Catholic University of Louvain.
“Earthquakes are the deadliest natural hazard of the past 10 years and remain a serious threat for millions of people worldwide as eight out of the 10 most populous cities in the world are on earthquake fault-lines,” said Margareta Wahlstroem, UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
But just four percent of those hit by catastrophes over the decade suffered in earthquakes, while 44 percent of them were affected by floods and 30 percent by droughts, the study found.
The deadliest disasters in the first decade of the 21st century were the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004, which killed 226,408 people in several countries, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, which claimed 136,366 lives in 2008 and the Sichuan earthquake in China that year, with 87,476 deaths.
Some 73,338 people were also killed in an earthquake in Pakistan (2005) and 72,210 in heat waves in Europe (2003).
The current decade has got off to an equally deadly start, with about 170,000 feared dead in the powerful and unprecedented earthquake that struck Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area on January 12.
Wed Jan 27, 4:58 pm ET
LYON, France (AFP) – Police have seized 20 million counterfeit or illegal medical products in cross-border operations in South East Asia, arrested 30 people and closed down more than 100 pharmacies and illicit drug outlets, Interpol said Wednesday.
The operation, dubbed Operation Storm II, was carried out in eight countries — Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — between July and November last year under the framework of the World Health Organization?s International Medical Products Anti-counterfeiting Task Force.
The seized products included antibiotics, anti-malarial and birth control medicines, anti-tetanus serums, aspirin and erectile dysfunction drugs.
Twelve million of them were fake and the best before date of eight million had either lapsed or the medical drugs had been otherwise altered.
Interpol’s Secretary General Ronald Noble said a Storm network would be set up in South East Asia to organise and improve crackdowns on counterfeit products.
“This collaborative response is all the more important when globalization and modern technology mean that the methods of producing and distributing counterfeit medicines cut across borders and are developing and increasing, thereby posing an increased threat to people’s health and lives.”
Myanmar Expands International Rice Market
YANGON, Jan 28 (Bernama) — Myanmar has been expanding its rice market to more countries by exporting its agricultual crop to Russia, Ukraine, Australia and South Korea in the first nine months of the 2009-2010 fiscal year, reports China’s Xinhua news agency on Thursday.
According to official figures, Myanmar’s rice export in the first nine months (April-December) of the 2009-10 fiscal year reached over 1.2 million tonnes against the export target of 1.5 million tonnes.
Citing sources, Xinhua reported that under its market expansion plan, Myanmar is making efforts to export high-grade rice to Kuwait, Middle East, African and European Union countries.
The nine-month export registered the highest over the past decade against the one million tonnes recorded in the year 2000.
Myanmar’s rice export amounted to 700,000 tonnes in 2008-09.
Myanmar’s major rice exporting countries went to East Asian countries to where over 50,000 tonnes were exported in 2009, while over 850 tonnes to Middle East countries.
There are so far 35 private companies in the country undertaking the export of rice to South Africa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirate, South Korea and Egypt.
As more companies have come and invested in the rice production sector, the country is expected to export better quality rice during this year, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry said.
According to official statistics, the country generated about 30 million tonnes of rice out of 8.26 million hectares of paddy cultivated in the last fiscal year 2008-09.
Myanmar enjoyed rice surplus of 5 million tonnes yearly.
Published: January 27, 2010, 7:07 p.m. ET
RUILI, China (Reuters) – Ask residents of the dusty Chinese border town of Ruili what they think of their neighbour and supposed friend Myanmar and one word features prominently — “luan,” or chaotic.
Ask the Myanmar traders, in their sarong-like longyis and cheap plastic sandals, what they think of China and their answer is completely the opposite — stable, giving them a chance to escape the poverty and mismanagement of their ruling generals.
Yet there is little love lost between the Myanmar businessmen, farmers and massage girls who flock to booming China and their host nation. Many harbour a burning resentment not necessarily of their own government, but of the Chinese.
“There are so many Chinese in Mandalay, at least half the population now,” said Myanmar jade trader Ye Kaw, speaking in the flawless Mandarin he has picked up after many years living in Ruili, China’s main trading post with its southern neighbour.
“We hate them,” he added, when asked how residents of his home town look upon the Chinese migrants, looking fearfully around to see if any of his customers had heard him.
“But we have to come here. There is no future for me at home.”
Ruili — its name comes from a word in the local Dai language meaning “a jade green place enshrouded in mist” — is home to a large population from Myanmar, some legal, and others sneaking across a porous border to sell vegetables, trinkets, or sex.
Sitting on the far southwestern tip of Yunnan province, Ruili was once notorious in China for its gambling, prostitution, smuggling, drugs and general lawlessness during the 1990s when border trade really began taking off.
While those heady days may be behind the city, there is little doubt at the sway Myanmar continues to hold over Ruili.
The circular Burmese script adorns many shop signs, people squat by the side of the road eating spicy papaya salad laced with pungent fish sauce, and the Myanmar kyat freely changes hands, though China’s yuan currency is far more popular.
Ruili’s residents have become rich on trade with Myanmar, mainly in raw materials such as timber and jade, which once sculpted and polished into intricate and immaculate designs of Buddha or traditional Chinese gods can go for thousands of dollars.
This has not, however, engendered much goodwill towards the government of Myanmar. Though nor does it appear to generate Chinese disdain of the often obviously poorer Myanmar citizens in their midst.
“We all know how bad the government there is,” said Chinese businessman Li Hai. “It’s poor and horribly corrupt. If I were from Myanmar, I’d want to come to China too.”
In Myanmar, there has been growing alarm among some people at illegal mass entry of Chinese into their country through the border controlled by major ethnic armed groups such as the ethnic Chinese United Wa State Army, denounced as a narcotics cartel by the United States.
Anti-Chinese feeling in the former Burma is not new. The Burmese kings, who ruled before the British came, had long been wary of their powerful neighbour.
More recently, in 1967, anti-Chinese riots in then capital Rangoon — today called Yangon — lead to the sacking of China’s embassy and dozens of deaths, if not more.
Myanmar, believed at independence in 1948 to have a bright future ahead of it due to its rich natural resources, has seen its economy lag far behind China’s thanks to almost five decades of inept military rule and international isolation.
The United Nations ranked Myanmar 138 out of 166 countries in its 2009 Human Development Report. China, by contrast, is now on track to surpass Japan as the world’s second-largest economy.
The flow of people goes both ways.
Zaw Mein, an ethnic Rohingya and Muslim from the southeastern Myanmar coastal state of Arakan, has little time for the politics of his sometimes chaotic homeland. He just wants to earn enough for his family back in Myanmar.
“What choice do we have but to come to China to work?” he said, standing in Ruili’s sprawling jade market. “China gives us visas easily. Not many other countries will.”
Ask him about Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained Myanmar democracy leader and Nobel laureate, and his face lights up, as do those of his friends clustering around.
“Everyone wants to vote for her,” he said, referring to an election slated for sometime this year, one condemned by rights groups, the United States and the European Union, as a sham.
“We know people won’t be allowed to vote for her, so what’s the point? The military will still stay in charge no matter what, and I’ll stay in China.”
Many Rohingyas, not recognised as an ethnic minority by Myanmar, allege human rights abuse by its authorities, saying they are deprived of free movement, education and rightful employment.
Rohingyas have been leaving Myanmar and heading mainly into impoverished Bangladesh since the late 1970s. The biggest influx occurred in 1992.
It’s not only the Rohingya who come to Ruili, though.
Yunnan is home to many ethnic minorities whose populations are on both sides of the border. China’s Jingpo are the same as Myanmar’s Kachin, many of whom have for decades been involved in armed rebellion in the mountains of northeastern Myanmar.
The frontier means little to them, and in any case the two sides are separated by no more than a ditch and scanty bamboo groves in some villages.
“We’re lucky to live in China,” said Jingme, who like many ethnic Dai uses only one name, and whose village is half in China and half in Myanmar. Her aunt crosses every day to look after her nephews.
“But we are one people. How can we not feel bad for our friends and relatives on the other side?”
LABOUR: Migrant Domestic Workers’ Rights Next on ILO’s Agenda
By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Jan 28, 2010 (IPS) – Po Po has been enduring long hours of hard work, poor pay and abuse within the confines of her employer’s home for the past seven years. Poverty forced her to leave her family in eastern Burma and abandon a university education to work as a domestic helper in Thailand.
“There is constant uncertainty about a domestic work,” said the 25-year-old in an interview with IPS. “In my last job, I worked for 11 hours a day, but I had to be available for 24 hours if my employer needed me.”
Po Po is one of scores of domestic helpers in Thailand who stand to gain from the combined efforts of migrant rights advocates and the International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations tripartite body, to raise the profile of domestic workers this year.
In June, the ILO’s International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva will break new ground by placing domestic work on its agenda.
“The discussion at the ILC will be the first time an international instrument to provide social protection to domestic workers will have been formally considered,” said Thetis Mangahas, regional migration specialist at the ILO’s Asia-Pacific office, at the launch on Thursday of a book about their rights.
“If enough member states agree to the idea, a convention and/or recommendation could be ready for adoption by the following year.”
“Here in Thailand there are half a million workers in households, and this is a conservative estimate,” added Mangahas during the launch of ‘Domestic Work – Decent Work’. “Most of them are women.”
“Migrant domestic workers are the most vulnerable,” she said. “They are a hidden workforce and that is no excuse for abuse.”
“Many men are also domestic workers,” she added. “These people work as maids, nannies, drivers, security guards and gardeners. They look after our children, they often care for our elderly family members; they are often the first to rise in the morning and often the last to go to bed.”
Thai trade unions are echoing such views in the national push to secure rights for the frequently abused domestic workers. “Currently, the protection domestic workers face is that they don’t have protection,” said Surat Chanwanpen, vice president of the Labour Congress of Thailand. “We need to get domestic workers to enjoy the same rights as those working in industry.”
The challenge to help these female domestic workers is complex because of the nature and arrangement of their work, Ananthachai Uthaipattanacheep, a labour ministry official, conceded during the launch of the ILO guide. “Protecting domestic workers is different from protecting general workers or industrial workers, because most of them live with their employers.”
The Thai government took a significant step to help this vulnerable labour force late last year by endorsing the views of rights groups that domestic workers should be covered by the same social protection net as other workers in this South-east Asian nation.
“Many domestic workers do not know their rights, so they don’t know when they are being abused and what they should do,” said Po Po.
Among these rights are fair pay, safe work, rest time and privacy, the ILO’s guidebook notes. “In return for your labour, you have a right to expect – and receive – fair pay and decent working conditions. You also have a right to keep in touch with your family and friends and that includes the right to leave the house and visit other people and places during your off time.”
Elsewhere in Thailand are similar efforts to improve the conditions of migrant domestic workers.
A soon-to-be-launched community radio station in Mae Sot, a town on the Thai-Burma border, aims to fill an information black hole faced by migrant workers from military-ruled Burma, many of whom have no legal papers and are victims of abuse.
The new station, FM 102.5, has a line-up of awareness-raising and entertainment progammes in Burmese and Karen, two of the languages used by the tens of thousands of migrant workers who have fled their homes for a job in Thailand.
This station, according to the non-governmental Migrant Action Programme (MAP), will continue the same MAP-supported community radio station that has been broadcasting in Chiang Mai, a northern Thai city, for over a year and a half.
“The community radio stations are particularly useful for the domestic workers among the migrant workers in Thailand,” said Kanchana Di-ut, a programme officer at the Chiang Mai-based MAP. “Because they, more than other migrant workers, are often cut away from the outside community by the nature of their work, inside people’s homes.”
“They can listen to the station and learn about news regarding migrant workers’ rights that they are not getting,” Kanchana added. “Domestic workers are the unseen and forgotten workers.”
Chiang Mai’s FM 99 community radio station tries to engage the predominantly female domestic workers through a two-hour weekly programme on late Friday mornings, said Kanchana. “It is a mix of a call-in show, where the migrant workers can say if they need information, listen to the latest news about the situation domestic workers face and some songs and entertainment.”
MAP’s community radio stations are but one way groups committed to helping Thailand’s estimated 1.5 million migrant workers have risen to the challenge. Most of these workers are from Burma, or Myanmar, a junta-ruled country they fled due to conflict or a crumbling economy.
Domestic workers from South-east Asia account for a substantial slice of the estimated three million migrant workers from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam and Burma who have crossed borders into more affluent places like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Published: January 28 2010 08:36
The World Bank is considering providing Burma with assistance more than two decades after relations were frozen following the bloody suppression of the 1988 democracy movement.
James Adams, a senior World Bank official, told the Financial Times that officials from the bank and the Asian Development Bank had recently travelled to Burma to look at “possible future analytical work that could have a positive development impact for the people”.
But Mr Adams stressed that any co-operation with Burma would be limited. The plan would be for World Bank specialists to head to Burma to provide technical assistance on projects.
“The World Bank has not provided financing to the government of Myanmar since 1987 and we have made clear to government, shareholders and development partners that we have no intention of doing so under current circumstances,” said Mr Adams, the bank’s vice-president for east Asia and the Pacific.
While the scope of the co-operation is limited, however, the renewed engagement marks a significant step forward. The World Bank suspended loans in 1988 after soldiers killed thousands of demonstrators who were pushing for greater democracy.
“In and of itself, it won’t lead to a resumption of normal relations, but it is better than having them totally isolated,” said another World Bank official.
The move comes amid a general, albeit slight, improvement in relations between Burma and the US. Over the past year, there has been increased engagement between US officials and the generals who run Burma.
After concluding that the previous US policy of isolation had not produced democratic reform in Burma, the Obama administraiton decided to re-establish high level contacts, and offered incentives if the junta takes steps towards reform.
The European Union followed suit, pledging substantial funds for humanitarian assistance and a geographical extension of the assistance programme originally set up for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which killed about 140,000 people in 2008.
However, so far there has been little sign of a softening of the line from the generals in their bunkers in the newly built capital of Naypyidaw.
The junta have extended the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate. Also, journalists, democracy activists and regime opponents continue to be imprisoned, and few analysts believe that the elections due to be held this year will yield a democratic outcome.
One of the projects being discussed with the World Bank involves updating the country’s antiquated system of preparing its national accounts, which currently still conforms to the 1968 standard.
While the World Bank does not intend to provide any finance while the political repression continues in the country, the Burmese regime would need to solve another problem before they could receive financial assistance from the bank. The regime still owes $300m in payments to the international financial institution.
“They understand clearly that, under our formal rules, we will not lend to a country until their arrears are cleared up,” the official said.
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By Imelda Saad, Channel NewsAsia | Posted: 29 January 2010 0107 hrs
SINGAPORE: Singapore’s housing authority said Permanent Residents may soon be subjected to a similar ethnic integration policy already imposed on citizens who buy public flats.
Observers say the move is reflective of Singapore’s changing demographics, where about a third of the population are foreigners.
But there’s already a racial quota for PRs in the purchase of public housing.
A shopping centre in Boon Lay in western Singapore gives an idea of the community it serves. It is filled with facilities for its foreign clientele including remittance units, money changers and provision shops catering to Thai and Myanmar nationals.
Tending one of the shops is a 52-year-old from Myanmar who has been living in Singapore for 15 years.
Like many PRs, Madam Yin Yin Winn, who peppers her sentences with the colloquial term “la” considers Singapore home.
In fact, she made several Singaporean friends while volunteering at her daughters’ school.
Madam Winn says her daughters, aged 19 and 16, go to neighbourhood schools.
“When I go to my daughter’s school, I talk with them, sometimes I bring our traditional food, they enjoy my food,” she said.
Like most Singaporeans, Madam Winn lives in a subsidised public flat, which is also subjected to an Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP).
Prior to the 1960s, various immigrant ethnic groups were concentrated in different parts of Singapore creating enclaves. So the Government introduced the Ethnic Integration Policy. This is where public housing is used as a tool to integrate Singapore’s multi-ethnic population.
The EIP is applicable to the purchase of new flats, resale flats, SERS (Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme) replacement flats and DBSS (Design, Build & Sell Scheme) flats, as well as the allocation of rental flats in all HDB estates.
Under the policy, maximum proportions are set for all ethnic groups – Chinese, Malays, Indians and others, in each HDB block and neighbourhood.
There is no restriction on the sale and purchase of an HDB flat if the proportion of the buyer’s ethnic group is within the prescribed block and neighbourhood limits.
Once the block/neighbourhood limit for a particular ethnic group has been reached, no further sale of HDB flats to that ethnic group will be allowed, if it will lead to an increase of the proportion beyond the limit.
There is no restriction if the buyer and seller are of the same ethnic group.
Currently, PRs are already subjected to the policy according to their race.
For example a China national may fall under the ‘Chinese’ category and an Indian national under ‘Indian’.
What could change is expanding it to account for the immigrant’s nationality.
Mr Eugene Tan, Assistant Professor at the School of Law at the Singapore Management University, said: “The fear is that Permanent Residents are forming enclaves of Permanent Residents. What it would mean is that Permanent Residents could be subjected to two types of quotas. One is the original ethnic integration quota, and the other one could be a citizen/Permanent Resident quota.”
Mr Azhar Ghani, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, questions how an ethnic integration policy will affect Malaysian PRs.
“Malaysian PRs, whom I would say are quite acculturalised to our ways, who will face a new restriction to where they can buy HDB flats. This proposed change will just add another additional layer to the EIP categorisation, and current technology would mean that it would not be too big a challenge administratively to ensure adherence,” he said.
“So will PRs who have been here for many years but have not taken up citizenship for whatever reasons, be subjected to the new PR-related rule, in addition to the race quota, when they buy a HDB flat? Should there be a time-bar? For example, will the rule apply only to PRs who have been here for less than, say, five years?,” he asked.
The first indication that the Government is looking into the integration of foreigners within Singapore’s housing estates was revealed by National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in Parliament in November 2009.
He said the Government “will keep a close watch on the distribution of PRs living in HDB estates and where necessary, consider measures to prevent the congregation of PRs and foreigner.”
Currently, PRs form only 5 percent of HDB households.
And housing analysts say that’s unlikely to create any surge in home prices.
Mr Eugene Lim, Associate Director of ERA Asia Pacific, said: “No issue, it’s just like the current ethnic integration policy, doesn’t affect re-sale prices because the number of PRs who would be buying flats are still there. It’s just “Oh, if I cannot buy this block, I buy another block.”"
“I think some people are under the impression that PRs are driving up the prices. It is not, it’s the whole market, that there’s a lot of people buying flats that’s together driving up the price.” Mr Lim said.
“Actually if you look by and large, the PRs, if they do congregate – actually they are all over the place – they are very practical group of people. They buy where they can afford. They buy where they need to stay near to, for example, a place of work or school.
“But because to them, if they feel a fellow countryman is staying nearby, they do build a community. So there’s this issue of – what if there are too many of them staying at a certain place? So it’s really looking forward, if we have more and more PRs coming, how do we then have a ratio to ensure they are spread out in Singapore?” Mr Lim asked.
Still, observers say even with an ethnic integration policy in place, the true test is in the community bonds forged between citizens and immigrants.
Published: 28/01/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Human rights activists are calling on Thailand to shelve a plan to send Karen refugees back to Burma because of concerns over their safety.
The activists made their call after learning the army was preparing to move the refugees at Nong Bua and Usutan temporary shelters in Tak’s Tha Song Yang district back to Burma.
The army cited the end of fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and Karen National Union near the border with Thailand for their decision to send the Karen home. They also said the refugees were willing to return.
More than 3,000 ethnic Karen fled the fighting between the two groups into Thailand in June last year and the number has dwindled to about 1,800. But Surapong
Khongchantuek, of the senate subcommittee on law enforcement on stateless people and displaced persons, raised safety issues due to landmines along the Burmese border.
“The fact is those border areas are littered with landmines and there is clear evidence that both the refugees and their cattle have already been hurt by the mines,” Mr Surapong said.
“While we care very much for the Haitian victims by sending them all necessary assistance, we should not forget or neglect the fact that a great number of forlorn refugees are living without hope inside our territory.”
The refugees at Nong Bua camp have appealed to Thailand not to deport them to Burma as many live landmines are scattered around their home towns, a source in the camp said yesterday.
The source said the refugees wanted to prolong their stay and wanted the landmines to be cleared.
Published: 28/01/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Sports
RANGOON : The inaugural Asian Development Tour (ADT) will tee off with the US$75,000 Air Bagan Myanmar Masters presented by IBTC today and it promises to unearth future stars ready to compete for honours on the established Asian Tour.
Designed in the same structure as the Nationwide Tour in America and European Challenge Tour, the ADT, which is sanctioned by the Asian Tour, was hailed by players this week as a wonderful platform to launch their professional golf career in Asia.
Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat is among the international players gathered at the Pun Hlaing Golf Club and he believes the passage to glory for many Tour hopefuls will begin in Rangoon.
While the 16-year-old is still relatively unknown, he knows that good performances on the ADT will potentially help him break into the more lucrative Asian Tour and bask in the spotlight like his illustrious compatriot Thongchai Jaidee, a three-time Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.
“Thongchai is an idol to many Thai players and we always try to follow in his footsteps. I will try to play my best and hopefully one day I will achieve the same kind of success that he has on the Asian Tour,” said Panuphol.
The Thai teenager harbours high hopes of achieving success on the ADT. “This is a good platform for players like myself who want to develop our games and progress to the next level which is the Asian Tour,” he said.
“I hope to get my big break through the Tour,” added Panuphol who has two runner-up finishes on the local Thai circuit since turning professional at a tender age of 14.
By LALIT K JHA – Thursday, January 28, 2010
WASHINGTON — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday he is still searching for a replacement for Ibrahim Gambari as the new special UN envoy for Burma.
“I would like to make it quite clear that there is no hiatus in my efforts to have this Myanmar [Burma] issue resolved as soon as possible,” Ban told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
Ban said he has not received any communication from the Burmese military junta about the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, in response to a reporter’s question.
A Burmese official said this week that Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest, would be released in November.
“I can assure you that my chef de cabinet, Mr [Vijay] Nambiar has been continuously engaging himself with the Myanmar authorities, and as soon as we have a clearer picture about what is going on and what their intentions are, then we will have more consultations with them,” Ban said.
Nambiar was appointed to coordinate Burmese affairs for the secretary-general at the beginning of this year when Gambari, who was special envoy for the past few years, was transferred to a new assignment in Darfur.
Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P J Crowley said the United States would continue to its dialogue with the junta, though no new dates have been fixed for the next round of talks.
“We have had multiple conversations with Burma. I assume we’ll continue the conversation, but I just don’t know in what form at this point,” Crowley said at a State Department briefing.
Early this week, Crowley said: “It’s important for the Government of Burma to reach out not only to those who wish to be politically active, but also to the various ethnic communities within Burma.”
By ARKAR MOE – Thursday, January 28, 2010
Two prominent anti-regime groups from Burma have rejected the accusations that appeared in a state-run newspaper on Thursday that accuses them of planning a bombing campaign in the former capital, Rangoon.
The Karen rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU), and an exiled NGO based in Thailand, the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC), said the accusations are baseless and untrue.
Citing a news report by the Ministry of Home Affairs, pro-junta daily The New Light of Myanmar reported on Thursday that Burmese security forces had arrested 11 men who they believe are terrorists and accused most of them of having contacts with anti-regime groups.
According to the report, “Terrorist insurgents are hatching evil plots to hinder and jeopardize peace, stability and development of the nation and democratization process.” It went on to say that “terrorist insurgents” had infiltrated villages and wards “in various disguises to commit terrorist acts” and said the accused wanted to derail this year’s election and the democratic process.
The report said that the 11 “bombers,” led by Kyaw Zay Lin (aka Ko Hsai), were captured following his arrest on Jan. 22 at his book shop in Kontalapaung village in Mingaladon Township in Rangoon. It said security forces discovered and seized some homemade mines, 43 detonators, a .32 pistol, one magazine, 33 rounds of ammunition, one satellite phone, a remote-control system and various other material condusive to explosives work.
In addition to a bombing last year in Rangoon, the report said those arrested had been planning further explosions in industrial zones and were also targeting security personnel.
It said that prime suspect Kyaw Zay Lin had joined and served the BLC in Mae Sot in Thailand and attended a “political defiant course [sic]” and an “explosives course.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, the chairman of the BLC, Thein Oo, said, “This accusation is groundless. It is intended to defame the BLC.” He said that Kyaw Zay Lin had not worked for the BLC and that they did not know him.
He said that the Burmese regime wanted to misinform the international community and neighboring countries because the lawyers’ group has attempted to indict junta leaders at the International Criminal Court.
“The BLC does not use such violent ways,” Thein Oo said. “We will fight Burma’s military dictators with laws.”
The Burma Lawyers’ Council, formed in 1994, is an independent organization based on the Thai-Burmese border. The military junta has denounced the BLC as an unlawful association and accused it of violating the rule of Burmese law. An arrest warrant was issued for BLC General Secretary Aung Htoo in May 2009.
Representatives of the BLC attended the Nov 18-26 meeting of the Assembly of State Parties to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to discuss the Burmese military government’s alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and other human rights abuses.
The New Light of Myanmar report also accused the KNU of being responsible for a bomb blast during Karen New Year celebrations in Papun in Karen State on Dec. 16, killing 7 persons and injuring 12.
Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the report is “totally untrue” and that the Burmese military junta is “the real terrorist.”
“In fact, the the military junta is the real terrorist in Burma––they burn down villages, destroy houses, kill people and rape women,” she said.
Human rights groups and Burma observers have long held that such abuses by Burmese government forces were rife, especially in ethnic villages in eastern Burma.
The KNU, founded in 1947, has been fighting for more than six decades for autonomy from the central Burmese government. It did not sign a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese regime unlike 17 other armed ethnic groups.
“As the Burmese government is moving toward its general election in 2010, they are trying to divide and abolish the KNU and other ethnic groups,” said Zipporah Sein. “By any means they can, the Burmese authorities are trying to get international organizations to stop supporting the KNU and and other ethnic groups.”
The Burmese Ministry of Home Affairs report also accused the Karenni rebel group, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP). No spokesperson from the KNPP was available on Thursday for comment when The Irrawaddy enquired.
Thursday, 28 January 2010 23:26 Sai Zom Hseng
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – According to company officials, OK Myanmar Co. Ltd. will commence employing solar energy in the near future.
The plan is mainly intended to provide service to microwave communication towers and remote areas in Burma with no electricity, said a company official.
“This solar energy plan is mainly for microwave communication towers, river water pumping stations and street lamps,” added a company engineer.
The service is to utilize Japanese manufactured Sanyo equipment and employ Japanese technical experts.
The project is intended to generate from 10 to 20 megawatts of electricity annually and comes with a 20 year guarantee. However, the cost of the service has yet to be fixed, stipulated a company employee.
OK Myanmar Co. was established in 1992 and conducts an export-import business supplying electrical equipment to government projects. They operate Daewoo and Sanyo showrooms in Rangoon, Nyapyitaw and Mandalay.
The company will showcase Sanyo solar energy products at the second annual ‘547 Trade Fair’ to be held in Rangoon from the 10th to 14th of next month.
However, despite being eco-friendly, analysts say the solar energy project carries a negative factor in that it comes with a high investment cost.
Neighboring Thailand has been using solar energy since 2003 and solar energy is consistently gaining traction throughout the industrialized world.
The world’s largest solar energy plant is in the U.S. state of California and generates 354 megawatts of electricity annually.
Thursday, 28 January 2010 18:33 Kyaw Kha
Mizzima News – A mother of a 14-year old boy persuaded to join the Burmese army speaks of her family’s ordeal with Mizzima. Sandar Win, the mother, says her son, Maung Kyaw Min Tun (alias Kyar Min) was recruited on the 19th of this month and is being kept at the army’s Light Infantry Battalion 83 based in Michaungye in Taungdwingyi township of Magwe Division.
According to her, she journeyed to the barracks to try and bring her son home, but officials at the gate denied her request. The incident happened soon after Burma’s military government renewed a one-year agreement with the International Labor Organization to stop the conscription of underage youth into the army.
Here is Kyaw Kha’s interview with the Sandar Win.
Can you tell me your son’s biography and briefly of your family life?
My son’s name is Kyaw Min Tun. His date of birth is December 20th, 1995. Now he is 14 years old. He is a student of first standard at Myo-U primary school. Though he’s still enrolled, he was not attending school at the time, as I could not afford to send him. We live in Aung-zay-yar quarter in Taundwingyi township.
My name is Sandar Win. My husband passed away when my son was five. I have to earn money by selling watermelons. I have suffered from cancer. When we could not get by with this job alone, my son had to stop going to school and start selling boiled quail eggs. He suffers from vomiting blood and his hand was once broken.
When and how did he go missing? How did you know that he was missing?
He went missing around 4 p.m. on the 19th of this month. When I returned home from my business, neighbors told me about it. At the time, he was visiting a friend at the back of our home.
Sergeant Naing Win, who is used to visiting our home, sent a boy to call my son to see him in a teashop. Naing Win and his wife, Ma Thida Tun, live in our same quarter. Some people from our quarter found that Naing Win took my son on his motorcycle after offering my son alcohol and dressing him in an army uniform. When they asked my son where he was going, he said Naing Win was taking him for a moment. From that day on, he has been missing.
Which military division is the boy in now? Did you complain about this incident to the authorities?
Naing Win, who deceived my son, is a lieutenant sergeant from LIB 83 based in Michaungye between Magwe and Taundwingyi. His ID is Ta/231478. It is known that after deceiving my son he transferred him to Captain Zaw Lin Tun of the same battalion. I have not complained to anyone yet. Supposing my son was at the place (LIB 83), I went straight to see him there.
How did you know if your son was there or not?
A boy who escaped from being recruited into the army told me. His name is Ko Phyo and he is about 19 and a student of 9th standard. We live in the same quarter. Like my son, he was asked to drink alcohol and taken for recruitment. When I asked him, he said he had escaped after showing his hospital record and the signature of our quarter chairman. It cost him 40,000 kyat (US$ 40).
Did you go to that Division? And did you see your son?
When I arrived at the gate, officials told me they could allow me to see him only after training. They said they could not permit me to see him then no matter what I would do. I was so heartbroken that I begged them with tears to let me see my son. But it was in vain. At that time, Naing Win was also inside and I requested to see him, too. My request was again rejected.
Regarding your son, what else did Ko Phyo tell you?
Ko Phyo, who was just released from recruitment, told me what to urgently do if I wanted my son released. This month, newly recruited boys will be sent for medical check-ups in Magwe’s 88th Division. They [the army] are threatening the recruits with guns during meals and even in the toilet. I came to know from him that my son was crying hard and could not take his meals or do anything.
What do you plan to do next?
I am feeling very bad. I have only this son. A mother and a son is our solitary life, we have to struggle for our living. Please help us. If my son can return home now, it will be enough. He is too young, just over 14.
Jan 28, 2010 (DVB)–Several Burmese armed groups, including the Karen National Union, could soon merge with Burma’s government-in-exile to form a parallel government prior to elections this year.
According to a minister with the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), Khun Myint Htun, a new constitution is currently being drafted which will outline steps to integrate ethnic resistance leaders into a broader coalition.
“We have discussed the plan with [ethnic] groups who met the six qualifications: they must be a group that has a political party, their own territory, and their own public support,” he said. “They also must have education and medical programmes for the public, and an [armed] resistance wing.”
He said that part of the agreement was to “seek a federal union” in Burma, which is currently ruled by a rigid central military government. The country’s multiple ethnic groups have long called for political autonomy in the volatile border regions.
At least four armed groups have reportedly pledged to join the coalition, although only the Karen National Union (KNU), one of Burma’s largest armed opposition groups, has confirmed interest.
“We have always planned to form a parallel government even prior to the election members of parliament in 1990 [Burma’s last elections]…so this is just shaping an old idea,” said Saw Hla Ngwe, joint-secretary of the KNU.
“If the negotiations [with the NCGUB] turn out well, then we will form a parallel government to compete with the [ruling junta],” he added.
“This way, there will be more understanding between armed groups and the democratic movement.”
The majority of Burma’s opposition parties have not yet announced whether they will participate in the elections, rumoured to be in October this year. Critics of the junta claim that the 2008 constitution will entrench military rule in Burma, thus delegitimising any claims by the generals that elections will be democratic.
Conflict is also expected to intensify in the run-up to polling, particularly as the junta attempts to convert ethnic ceasefire groups into border guard forces and bring them under the direct control of Naypyidaw.
The KNU is among only a handful of Burma’s 18 armed ethnic groups not to have signed a ceasefire deal with the government, although the pressure of the border guard issue has weakened already tenuous truces.
Reporting by Htet Aung Kyaw