Jun 1st, 2012
By Damir Sagolj | Reuters – 10 hrs ago YANGON (Reuters) – The mother and child who touch hands in an overcrowded Yangon hospice are not family, but their tragic history begins in the blood.
Jam, 42, a mother of six, and Kanama, aged 2, are both HIV positive. Abandoned by their families, they must now find comfort in each other, although Jam still yearns for her husband to return to the private HIV hospice in the suburbs of Myanmar’s biggest city.
“He promised to come back but I’m afraid he never will,” said the woman as she burst into tears. She is known in the hospice by her nickname, Jam.
The hospice is home to 182 HIV patients, whose plight demonstrates the painful limits of Myanmar’s new democracy. A reform-minded government has vowed to overhaul a decrepit health system, but little change is likely for HIV/AIDS sufferers, who thanks to social stigma and medical neglect, are shut off in hospices that bring to mind leper colonies.
In 2009, the United Nations estimated 240,000 of Myanmar’s 60 million people were infected with HIV and about 18,000 were dying a year. Neighboring Thailand, with a slightly bigger population, has more than twice the number of people with HIV but access to drugs and greater public acceptance mean that many can lead normal lives.
Jam once lived in Kadon, a fishing village in the impoverished Irrawaddy Delta, with her farmer husband and their six children. In 2008, feeling unwell, she was treated by a self-styled medic, who injected her with a drug.
The needle was dirty and had been used repeatedly. She was probably now HIV positive, although she didn’t suspect it, and her personal tragedy was soon subsumed by a national one: Cyclone Nargis.
The typhoon slammed into the delta in May that year, killing at least 138,000 people, including Jam’s sons, aged 17 and 18. She narrowly escaped, clutching her youngest child, who is six. Nargis wiped her village off the map.
Jam and thousands of other survivors struggled to rebuild their lives. Another four years passed before she fell ill again, this time more gravely, and a hospital referred her to the Yangon hospice. Tests confirmed she had AIDS.
That was two months ago. Jam is mostly alone now. Apart from her six-year-old, her children shun her. Her husband, who is not HIV positive, returned to the farm.
Five or six people from her village were also treated by the same medic and exhibit the same symptoms and weakness, says Jam, but they refuse to be tested for HIV.
Her neighbors would allow her to return to the village, she says. “But they will not talk to me, because they know my illness is dangerous.”
Not that Jam is going anywhere. Weak and skeletal, she can barely walk or talk. She doesn’t eat and is responding poorly to the drugs the hospice gives her.
Her only solace is Kanama, who was brought to the hospice by her father in 2011. He and Kanama’s mother have both since died of AIDS. While her siblings, who are not HIV positive, stay with their grandparents, Kanama is mostly looked after by Thein Htay, 73, who has been a volunteer at the shelter for three years.
The children get better care and more sympathy here, he says, although not always from the shelter’s neighbors.
“They were scared at the beginning and were avoiding people from the centre,” says Thein Htay. “But we explained them what is HIV and how it works. Now, most are much more relaxed – but not all.”
DRUGS AND EDUCATION
The hospice is basic, its bamboo walls decorated with pictures of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Doctors pays visits, but patients cook and clean for themselves, helped by volunteers.
Volunteer Thein Htay expects little help from the government, even that of a reforming President Thein Sein.
“It does not matter what I expect, they will do nothing. So, I don’t expect anything. Just to let us alone, not to disturb us. Things will change only when NLD becomes the government.”
The NLD, or National League for Democracy, won historic by-elections in April by a landslide, sweeping its leader, Suu Kyi, and 42 other members into parliament.
One of the new MPs is Phyu Phyu Thin, the HIV activist who founded the hospice in 2002.
The government threatened to close the centre in 2010 after Health Ministry officials warned of “the possible spread of infectious disease from the patients”, reported the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
But the centre, which Suu Kyi visited after her release from house arrest in 2010, remains open. A sister hospice nearby is home to another 82 HIV patients.
Phyu Phyu Thin called for the government to increase its health and education budgets to buy more HIV drugs and fight the stigma attached to the disease. “The two most important things are sufficient drugs and health education,” she told Reuters.
Jam’s story of rejection is shockingly common, she says, recalling an HIV sufferer who was left to starve by villagers, then possibly cremated while in a coma. “HIV patients are often left alone and abandoned by the family,” she says.
Doctors Without Borders, a medical aid group, says some 85,000 HIV-infected people in Myanmar are not getting treatment because of a lack of funding, despite an increase in international engagement with the government.
Health workers accused Myanmar’s former military rulers of largely ignoring the disease when it began to spread in the 1990s, particularly among sex workers and drug users.
Some groups predict the situation will only worsen despite more attention on AIDS and the country’s nascent democracy.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is cutting funding worldwide because of a lack of donations, jeopardizing a plan to provide HIV drugs to 46,500 people in Myanmar.
The new government has brought little hope, said Phyu Phyu Thin.
“Actually, nothing has changed. The situation has even declined,” she said, adding that the number of patients in the hospice doubled between 2010 and 2011.
Reuters – 14 hrs ago TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese spice maker Ajinomoto Co <2802.T> aims to restart operations at its Myanmar plant as early as 2013, its top executive said on Wednesday, as firms across the globe rush to do business in one of the world’s last frontier markets.
President and CEO Masatoshi Ito told Reuters the company appointed a head for its Myanmar operations in May who was sent to work with staff in Thailand to prepare to restart the seasonings factory in Myanmar.
“I expect the schedule could call for the restart as early as during this business year (which ends in March 2013) or maybe as late as the following business year,” Ito said, adding that he would like to make a decision by the end of 2012.
Many firms are interested in investing in Myanmar after its decades of military rule ended in the past year and a civilian government introduced broad reforms.
Ajinomoto, the creator of monosodium glutamate, is also eyeing overseas alliances and acquisitions as it works to lift its overseas profit ratio to 56 percent in its business year that begins in April 2013, up from a projected 51 percent this financial year.
Last month, Ajinomoto offloaded its profitable milky soft drink brand Calpis to Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings <2502.T> for about 120 billion yen ($1.51 billion) and plans to use the funds to concentrate on areas with more earnings growth potential such as seasonings and biotech.
Ito said that would add to a fund that already stands at 300 billion yen available for mergers and acquisitions expected to be available during the firm’s current three-year midterm plan that ends in March 2014.
By Anasuya Sanyal | Posted: 31 May 2012 2136 hrs
Bangkok, THAILAND: Myanmar opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, continued her first trip abroad in nearly 25 years, attending the World Economic Forum in Bangkok and meeting with Thai officials.
Myanmar opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi attended the first main session of the World Economic Forum on East Asia.
Her presence highlights Myanmar’s rapid changes and signals many more to come for the ASEAN regional community ahead of economic integration in 2015.
Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, said: “I would expect, given what’s happening (in) other parts of the world economy, for this region to be more affected in two, three years to come that it has been so far.”
Suu Kyi’s star power has shone on normally ignored issues like the plight of the nearly two million Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand.
She met with Labour Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Charlerm Yoobamrung to discuss what both sides can do to improve the situation.
She even joked that if migrants labourers weren’t treated better, she’d call them back to Myanmar, knowing they are crucial to several important Thai industries.
In fact, Suu Kyi later returned to the Mahachai district of Samut Sakorn Province to visit the migrant community, one more time.
Then it was on to meet Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at a gala dinner.
Much is anticipated of Suu Kyi on Friday as she addresses the World Economic Forum. She’s likely to lay out her ideas for the political and economic future of Myanmar. And give her reception in Bangkok so far, the audience is likely to be hanging on her every word.
By Linette Lim | Posted: 31 May 2012 2200 hrs
SINGAPORE: Hoteliers are eyeing a slice of Myanmar’s hospitality sector.
With many economic sanctions being lifted, more investors are beginning to make their first trips to the newly opened country.
Experts said they expect demand for hotel rooms to grow at levels that the country has never seen before.
Myanmar’s reforms are coming in thick and fast.
This has caught the attention of hospitality players who are zooming in on the fact that the country only has 8,000 hotel rooms, compared to neighbouring Thailand, with more than 230,000 rooms.
Speaking at the Myanmar Summit organised by Blue Track Centre and Business Monitor International, Eric Levy of hospitality investment firm Tourism Solutions International said that Myanmar only has 187 hotels with 8000 rooms.
Thai-based hotel management company Onyx is one player that’s keen to get into Myanmar.
Simon Allison, chief development officer and executive vice president, Onyx Hospitality Group, said: “We see enormous potential across the whole country. We’d love to have two or three properties in Yangon at different levels – five, four and three stars. We’d like to be in the key tourist locations – Bagan, Mandalay. I think the only place we wouldn’t be too keen on is the capital Naypyidaw because I think there is too much supply.”
Myanmar has seen unprecedented political reform since last March, when its first civilian President, ex-military man Thein Sein assumed office.
Since then, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has won a seat in parliament, and as recent as last month, the West European Union and the US suspended economic sanctions on the country.
Thura Soe-Paing, managing director, All Myanmar Investment Partners, said: “Politically we’ve seen huge changes – we didn’t expect this to happen so fast, so soon. On the economics side, because most of the reform in Myanmar has been led by the political reform, the economic laws have slightly lagged behind. So some of the laws such as the new (foreign direct investment) FDI law have been delayed from March and now we expect it in July.”
Mr Soe-Paing started investment and advisory firm All Myanmar Investment Partners early this year. The firm looks at foreign direct investment opportunities as well as private equity with its partner Dragon Capital through an Indo-China Opportunities fund.
Analysts said investment returns for hospitality investors look high, but that may not include risks such as unclear ownership laws, and regulations on profit repatriation.
Robert McIntosh, executive director, CBRE Hotels Asia Pacific, said: “Foreign investors will be looking for return on equity certainly in excess of 20 per cent. But there’s quite a bit of risk attached to that. And there’ll be some projects that’ll make quite a bit more, some that make substantially less. But certainly we need to achieve quite high rates of return.”
Simon Allison said: “In terms of rule of law, investment and so on, clearly the rules are changing week by week. There’s still a lot to do. Until investors really know that they can secure a tenor, and – I know the government is saying it won’t nationalise anything under the new foreign investment law – but until there’s a slightly clearer picture of where the trend is going, and how easy it is to set up foreign business – that’ll all be obstacles.”
Analysts said some US$40 billion of foreign direct investments have poured into Myanmar since the start of the year.
This has mainly gone into the oil and gas sectors.
By Todd Pitman and Yadana Htun
Associated Press / May 31, 2012 MAHACHAI, Thailand—Long a fighter against oppression inside Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi has used her first foreign trip in 24 years to fight for her countrymen suffering abroad — millions of economic migrants unable to work at home but vulnerable to exploitation elsewhere.
On Thursday, she pressed her concerns about the millions of Myanmar migrants living in Thailand in a meeting with the country’s deputy prime minister. And for a second straight day, she addressed throngs of migrants in Mahachai, a town southwest of Bangkok that hosts more migrants from Myanmar than any other place in Thailand.
“She can’t force the Thai government to do anything, but she can speak on our behalf better than anybody else,” said Win Aung, who lost his hand in an accident at a Thai-run shoe factory and is still fighting to obtain employer compensation for it a year and a half later.
“She’s the best hope we have for things to change,” the 31-year-old said.
Myanmar’s sputtering economy, in ruins after half a century of military rule and years of harsh Western sanctions, has forced millions of people to seek jobs abroad. Many crossed the borders illegally to work low-skilled jobs for long hours at pay below their Thai counterparts. They typically lack health and social security benefits, too, and complain of not being paid on public holidays.
Still, many make more than they would back home, and despite the hardships are keen to be employed. Jobs are severely lacking in Myanmar, which lags far behind the rest of bustling Asia.
Thailand alone hosts around 2.5 million migrant workers from Myanmar, and they are believed to make up between 5 and 10 percent of the Thai work force. Most of whom work in industries like fisheries or construction, or in garment factories or as domestic servants. Up to a million of them lack work permits.
Win Aung said he came to Thailand illegally, hoping he’d earn enough money to send proceeds to his family. But after six years, part of it spent at a shrimp processing plant, he has sent barely any.
And now, after his hand got crushed in a machine that molds rubber shoes, his prospects are exceptionally bleak.
“Nobody will hire you if you are disabled,” he said, adding that he had no idea what he’d do next. “It isn’t much better back home.”
A local migrant workers rights group is now helping Win Aung win financial compensation from his Thai employer — $3,300 dollars. The employer has paid half and promised the rest in six months.
On Thursday, Suu Kyi called on Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung to ensure that Thai businessmen do not exploit her countrymen. She recounted familiar stories of abuse, saying employers confiscate passports and other documents illegally to prevent workers from quitting for better-paid jobs. She also complained of the inadequate treatment they receive when injured at work.
Chalerm acknowledged those problems exist, but said “those who are registered to work legally will receive good welfare, like the universal health care scheme, and taken care of.”
Andy Hall, a staunch migrant advocate and researcher at the Institute for Population and Social Research at Thailand’s Mahidol University, said far more needed to be done to stop exploitation.
“Policy is one thing, but reality is different,” he said. “The reality is that migrants are discriminated against and exploited. They’re treated as second-class citizens with no status. It needs to change.”
In theory, every child has the right to go to school in Thailand — even the children of migrants, Hall said. But there is little or no budget for them, the schools are full, and “the law is not enforced.”
Those without proper Thai papers faced shakedowns from Thai authorities, and even the legal process of obtaining a Myanmar passport in Thailand is clouded by mass corruption.
Thailand used to have an almost ad hoc system of registration which allowed abuses but also a certain amount of flexibility. But two years ago, it implemented a new policy to formalize the legal status of migrant workers, forcing them to have their identities verified by their home countries and be issued temporary passports under a so-called Nationality Verification process.
Migrant advocates contend the elaborate registration system does not give Myanmar workers promised benefits but instead forces them to turn to labor middlemen to complete the complicated process, at highly inflated prices.
Speaking in Mahachai on Thursday, Suu Kyi told thousands of cheering migrants she officially came to attend the World Economic Forum for East Asia.
“But the truth is, the most important thing I am doing here is studying the situation of migrants and refugees, to find out how I can help,” Suu Kyi said, to resounding applause.
“I want to tell everyone who wants to go back home that I am trying as soon as possible to make our home a place worth living in that nobody should have to leave.”
Updated: 21:34, Thursday May 31, 2012 Aung San Suu Kyi’s celebrity status has made her the centre of attraction at the opening of the World Economic Forum, where the Burma opposition leader has signed autographs and smiled politely for pictures with delegates from around the world.
Diplomats and businessmen in dark suits jostled to get in close on Thursday, holding their iPhones and BlackBerry’s aloft to get a picture of Suu Kyi, who is on her first trip outside of Burma in 24 years.
Poised and elegant in purple silk, Suu Kyi’s presence in the front row prompted speakers to pay tribute.
“It’s a full house,” said Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “I don’t know – can we panelists can claim credit for that? Or is it because of The Lady?”
Many in Burma refer to Suu Kyi as “The Lady” in a gesture of respect but also because for years it was considered dangerous to utter her name aloud.
The country’s former military rulers were so afraid of Suu Kyi’s popularity that they locked her under house arrest for 15 out of 22 years, during which time she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Suu Kyi was granted freedom after Burma held elections in 2010. Since then, President Thein Sein has surprised much of the world by engineering sweeping reforms, including holding a by-election in April in which Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament.
For her first outing on foreign soil, Suu Kyi on Wednesday visited downtrodden Burmese migrant workers living outside Bangkok. She told them she would do all she could to reverse decades of economic ruin and make it possible for them to go home.
She planned a second trip to the area Thursday afternoon, after leaving the conference, where she spent the morning listening intently at sessions on the global economy, Asian geopolitics and China’s role in the region.
Escorted through hallways by a ring of security guards, she did not speak to the media. Nor did she raise her hand when panelists asked for questions – even when the topic turned to Burma.
By Andrew Stevens, CNN
updated 8:28 PM EDT, Wed May 30, 2012
Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) — When Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in Thailand, she had only her doctor and security man with her. The rest of her entourage had gone on ahead to establish operations around the country for what is proving to be a whirlwind and exceptionally busy trip.
It began this morning in the blistering heat of Mahachai, the center of Thailand’s fishing and seafood industry, a nondescript town of canneries and fish markets.
By the time we arrived, a couple of hours before Suu Kyi was due, the two stopping-off points of her trip were already thick with thousands of Burmese waiting to catch a glimpse of the Myanmar opposition leader, who is making her first trip outside the country in more than 20 years.
At the fish market, with not a breath of wind and a powerful smell of shrimp in the air, they waited patiently, clutching flags and pictures of Suu Kyi and her father, former prime minister Aung San, the man who liberated what was then known as Burma from British rule.
When she arrived it was chaos. Suu Kyi was not expected to get out of the car — her people had been told it may be too dangerous because of the crowds — but she did anyway, to the delight of her compatriots.
At the community center nearby the crowds were much bigger, thousands strong, and chanting her name and singing the national anthem. Young men, women and families mingled, laughed and sweat under the searing sun.
When she arrived she initially could not get out of the car because of the crowds and was taken down a side alley where she could get into the community center. Moments later, to an ecstatic crowd, she appeared on a third-floor balcony to tell her supporters that she would not forget them and that she would fight for their rights.
The effect was electric as her words hit home. Many smiles turned to tears of joy — such is the hope these Burmese migrants have of returning to their homeland and a job.
Inside, Suu Kyi spoke to community leaders and workers. Each told a story of the trials they faced. After 40 minutes it was time to move on, to return to the capital and a busy schedule of meetings.
She spoke to the media only briefly, saying she would not take questions but instead outlining what she had heard from her people. Her commanding presence in an outdoor public arena is only amplified inside a room.
In all, her visit lasted just about three hours. Not long, but long enough to send a very clear message that her new-found travel freedom will be used to push democracy and human rights for Myanmar harder than ever.
Suu Kyi will be back in Yangon by the end of the week. Next stop, Europe.
Published: 31/05/2012 at 06:44 PM
Online news: Asia
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday raised concerns over the complications of nationality verification that has doubled and even tripled the real cost of working in Thailand, and questioned the plight of another million Myanmar workers who are waiting to be processed.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader met Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung and discussed the problems of the NV process, welfare for Myanmar workers and collaboration on drug suppression.
Mrs Suu Kyi later travelled to Samut Sakhon to visit the provincial nationality verification centre for over an hour. As with her first day in the province – a heartland of migrant workers – she was greeted by thousands of Myanmar workers who queued up for hours before her arrival.
She shook hands with some of them, arousing more cheers and joy among the crowds.
Mrs Suu Kyi and a five-member delegation then went into a room for a 20-minute discussion before touring the three upstairs to talk with Myanmar authorities stationed there to issue the purple temporary passports for the migrants.
The Nobel laureate then went on to the front balcony to address the crowds.
In her 20-minute address, she referred to her discussion with Mr Chalerm as well as local authorities including MP Anussorn Kraiwatnussorn, the vice labour minister.
She also mentioned that the exiled students’ organisation in Thailand had asked for her assistance to help foster democracy in Myanmar so that the people living outside it could return home.
The visiting democracy icon told the crowd she would do her best to realise the demands and dreams of the Myanmar people.
She also said she had raised the problems of unregistered workers who number more than a million.
By Luke Hunt
May 31, 2012
Thailand hit the headlines twice this week. Bangkok won warm praise as host for Burma’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and her first visit outside of her country in 24 years. Thousands cheered as
“The Lady” toured, visiting Burmese migrant workers, listening to their stories and focusing on issues like health.
She told workers she would raise their issues with Thai authorities as well as at the upcoming International Labor Conference in Geneva.
Thailand was in part driven by self interest. With Burma opening its doors with promises of democracy, the rest of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is working overtime to integrate Burma with the ASEAN Economic Community that will emerge in 2015.
Thailand is also worried that Burmese migrant workers, for years a source of cheap labor, will return home. Nevertheless Suu Kyi was feted.
This was a far cry from the treatment meted out by Thailand to one of their own.The Bangkok Criminal Court found Chiranuch Premchaiporn guilty of computer crimes and sentenced her to one year in prison, reduced to eight months and suspended. Chiranuch is the website manager of the online news portal Prachatai.
Her crime was that she didn’t move fast enough to delete online comments deemed by some as insulting to the country’s royalty. In other words, this was another case of lèse-majesté and a legal action seen widely as a test of freedom of expression in Thailand.
It could have been worse. Chiranuch had faced up to 20 years in prison for failing to quickly remove 10 comments others had posted on her Prachatai news website. The verdict has come shortly after the death in prison of Ampon Tangnoppakul, 61, a polite working class man who lived with his mother and suffered from mouth cancer that impaired his speech.
He was jailed for 20 years for a crime he apparently knew nothing about: four SMS messages sent to the personal secretary of former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, deemed offensive to the monarch.
Lèse-majesté laws strictly forbid any action that could defame or insult the Thai monarchy, but critics argue they are simply used by politicians and their backers to silence their opposition. King Bhumibol Adulyadej has said he wasn’t opposed to criticism of the monarchy. No member of the royal family has ever filed a charge of lèse-majesté.
Chiranuch was arrested during a crackdown on online media initiated by Abhisit with a focus on content the government considered offensive to the monarchy. But she had thought she would be acquitted in a case that drew international attention over censorship of the Internet and the liability of a website operator for comments posted by a third party.
Thailand has endured massive political convulsions over the past six years, with Red and Yellow Shirts at times fanatical in their attempts to draw support from the broader public.
Suu Kyi’s historic visit, her first international trip since 1988, was an example of Thailand at its best and offered a breath of fresh air. But the verdict against Chiranuch will hardly rate among this country’s finer moments.
Global Unions – Switzerland: ILO Conference 2012 focuses on youth, social protection, fundamental rights at work and Myanmar This year the 101st International Labour Conference (ILC) focuses on the youth unemployment crisis, social protection floors, Myanmar, the situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories, the Eurozone crisis and basic labour rights.
For BWI general secretary, Ambet Yuson, “We are concerned about the unemployment of youth in the building and wood sectors and welcome ILO’s decision to place the topic on the Conference agenda for a general discussion even though it was already discussed in 2005, at which time the Conference adopted a resolution. Yuson adds: “Indeed, high levels of youth unemployment, increasing difficulties faced by young persons in transition from school to work and the deteriorating quality of employment available to them are of deep concern to ILO constituents in all regions. The global economic and financial crisis has exacerbated this situation.“
On the social protection floor, the ILC will also consider the possible adoption of an international labour Recommendation under the single discussion procedure. The conclusions of the recurrent discussion on social protection (social security), adopted in 2011 emphasized the need for a Recommendation complementing the existing standards.
There will also be a review of measures previously adopted by the Conference to secure compliance by Myanmar with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry.
The objective of the discussion on the Fundamental principles and rights at work is to understand better member States’ diverse realities and needs as well as ILO action to address these needs and to adopt a plan of action determining the priorities for the period 2012–16.
Chinapost.com.tw – Joyous Myanmar migrants greet Suu Kyi on icon’s first trip abroad in over 2 decades
By Hla Hla Htay ,AFP
MAHACHAI, Thailand — Democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday began her first trip abroad in 24 years by telling an ecstatic crowd of Myanmar migrants in Thailand she would do all she could to help them.
“I can give you one promise — I will try my best for you,” Suu Kyi told a crowd of thousands who packed a narrow street in Samut Sakhon province south of Bangkok to see the opposition leader, who had not left her homeland since 1988.
“May you be able to return to the country soon,” she said to the cheering migrants, many of whom held up banners with Suu Kyi’s picture and signs in Burmese and English that read “Free Burma” and “We want to go home.”
The opposition leader was given a rapturous welcome in Mahachai, a seafood processing area that is home to one of the highest concentrations of Myanmar migrants in Thailand.
“I am very happy and I want to cry. I feel that we will get democracy in Myanmar,” said one migrant worker in the crowd, who only gave her name as Phyu.
Suu Kyi praised the strong “spirit” of workers from Myanmar, also known as Burma, “in spite of the many troubles they have been through” in comments to journalists after the speech.
“All of them say one thing — we want to go back to Burma as soon as possible. That of course is part of our responsibility,” she said.
Her foray beyond Myanmar’s borders is a significant show of confidence in dramatic changes that have swept her homeland since a near 50-year military dictatorship was replaced with a quasi-civilian regime last year.
The former political prisoner, who won a parliamentary seat in historic April by-elections, is expected to meet Thailand’s prime minister and attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia during several days in the country.
Her decision to begin the trip by meeting some of the hundreds of thousands of Myanmar migrants who work in low-paid jobs in Thai homes, factories and fishing boats shines a spotlight on a group that has long been marginalized and prone to exploitation.
Thailand’s workforce is heavily reliant on low-cost foreign workers, both legal and illegal, with Myanmar nationals accounting for around 80 percent of the two million registered migrants in the kingdom.
There are thought to be a further one million undocumented foreign workers.
“Most of the workers here want to go back home but we can’t afford that. There are no jobs back there and it’s difficult to eat, difficult to live,” said Aung Htun, 28, a rice mill worker.
Suu Kyi met several Myanmar migrants as part of her visit, hearing stories that conveyed a range of experiences — from trafficking to workplace accidents — and promised to discuss the issues raised with the Thai authorities.
Myanmar, which activists estimate has about 10 percent of its population living overseas, is in the process of trying to rebuild an economy left in tatters by military dictatorship, while encouraging increased remittances from the diaspora.
Aung Thu Nyein, of the Bangkok-based Vahu Development Institute think-tank, said Suu Kyi’s visit to the area known by some as “little Burma” is likely to help her better understand the issues facing migrants abroad.
And he said the trip was “important for her to reconnect with the international community, not only the Burmese.”
Suu Kyi’s ventures overseas, which also include a European tour in June, are seen as the completion of her transformation from prisoner to global politician. The 66-year-old, who spent 15 of the past 22 years under house arrest, refused to travel abroad in the past — even to see her dying husband — because of fears she would never be allowed to return.
Published May 31, 2012
Dow Jones Newswires BANGKOK – Australian investors are eager to invest in Thailand’s energy businesses and are seeking opportunities to form partnerships with Thai firms to invest in energy business in Myanmar, Thailand’s Industry Minister Pongsavas Svasti said Thursday.
Australian investors have expressed interest in gas, petrochemicals, oil and alternative energy in Thailand and Myanmar, Pongsavas told reporters after meeting with Australia’s Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism Martin Ferguson.
Ferguson, who is attending the World Economic Forum for East Asia in Bangkok, plans to discuss investment opportunities with PTT PCL (PTT.TH), Thailand’s state-owned energy conglomerate, Pongsavas said.
Thursday 31st May, 2012 (IANS) Barely two days after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned from a three-day visit to Myanmar, India Thursday said its territory should not be allowed to be used as sanctuary for insurgents of the north-eastern region.
“Our concern is that any part of Myanmar territory should not be used as a sanctuary for insurgents of the north-eastern region… if the Myanmar government apprehends anybody, it should hand over the person to us,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters here.
During the visit of Manmohan Singh — the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Myanmar in 25 years — the two countries agreed to expand trade, improve connectivity and bring peace in border areas and emphasised on closer ties to boost energy security. They also inked a dozen agreements, including a $500 million credit line, on areas like border area development and air services.
The prime minister held wide-ranging talks with Myanmar President Thein Sein as well as opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Chidambaram said the talks between the two countries were fruitful and the response from the Myanmar government was good. “Let us wait for some action on the ground,” he said.
The central government is trying to engage several insurgent groups of the north-eastern states in order to establish peace in the region.
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times
Yangon, May 31, 2012
New Delhi will need more than one prime ministerial visit to restore its image among pro-democracy activists in Myanmar. It is no secret that many in the National League for Democracy, the political movement headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, see India’s past policy as opportunistic if not amoral.
Suu Kyi has been diplomatic in her public statements, but her expressions of “disappointment” with India are almost inevitable, given the inspiration she has drawn from India’s intellectual tradition.
The obvious influences are Mahatma Gandhi for nonviolence and Jawaharlal Nehru for his closeness to her father, Aung San. But Suu Kyi, who lived in New Delhi for many years and studied at Lady Shri Ram College in New Delhi, also found inspiration in Indian thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore and Rammohun Roy.
She once said that Tagore’s poem Ekla Chalo Rey (Walk Alone) “taught me my most precious lesson” during her long years of house arrest. This helped hold up her commitment to a cause that often seemed hopeless and which was scarred by the loss of many friends and colleagues.
The impact was not just cerebral. Her most recent biographer, Peter Popham, says Suu Kyi also learnt the Indian way of “passionate, long-winded and often ferocious discussion.” This “became part of her character — one that was to cause her endless trouble … back in the far more protocol-heavy atmosphere of Burma”.
Ex-Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to Myanmar, Shyam Saran, described her relations with India as “strongly sentimental — almost familial”.
Lacking this counterweight of sentiment, the ranks of the NLD have views on India ranging from neutral to negative. India’s unwillingness to criticise the Myanmar military is only part of the story, says Aung Aung Thin, an activist who fled to India after a military crackdown. “At international fora, Indian delegations always opposed resolutions critical of Burma.”
NLD functionary Tint Swe is among those who accuse India of handing back Myanmar soldiers and student activists who had sought asylum in India from the military regime.
India is today seen by Myanmar youth as a potential economic partner and benign neighbour, but not a source of political inspiration.
“There is surprisingly little mention of India among democracy circles,” says David Mathieson of Human Rights Watch. During her interactions with the NLD, says Yangon-based journalist Shwe Yinn Mar Oo, “no one was against India but not one was for India either”. They just didn’t see India as a force for democratic change.
Singh’s state visit marked a beginning on the democracy front. New Delhi is offering training for parliamentarians and Myanmar is sending local journalists to India to see how a multi-ethnic, Asian democracy can function. Said one who had made the trip, “Seeing your Election Commission and Press Council was an eye-opener — very different from our great neighbour to the north.”
IANS May 31, 2012 It’s a mix of the old and the new, of wide expanses and quaint tree-lined avenues, of lofty buildings and ancient gold pagodas glinting in the sun. Myanmar’s new capital Nay Pyi Taw and its old one Yangon, which Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited this week, are an enchanting study in
Money, money, money
If you are headed to Myanmar, be prepared to be weighed down by wads of Kyat currency notes. The dollar is a welcome currency in the country, but it has to be crisp, unfolded, untorn and new.
The new exchange rate, introduced recently, makes a dollar equivalent to around 820 kyats. This is in sharp contrast to the previous official exchange rate which was just around 6.4 kyat for a dollar.
Nay Pyi Taw and roads
The unusually wide roads are a striking feature of the new capital that came up about seven years back. Traffic is sparse, something that visitors from congested Indian cites can only dream of. While one correspondent, travelling with the prime minister, counted 16 lanes, another saw a 20 lane road.
White elephants – the real ones
Right across the grand Uppatasanti pagoda in Nay Pyi Taw is an enclosure that houses white elephants. There are at least five of them.
Children squealed in delight when they spotted the little white elephant while caretakers hosed down the big ones with streams of water to keep them cool as the mercury climbed during the day.
Travelling to the old capital Yangon, located some 300 km from Nay Pyi Taw, is like being transported back in time. Some of the buildings in the city that was earlier known as Rangoon take one back to the Kolkata of yore. One nearly expected to hear the soulful strains of Rabindra Sangeet, but that did not happen!
Take a narrow road lined with vendors, go up an overbridge with wooden stairs and come down at Yangon’s Scott Market, which is a good place to buy knick-knacks and gifts for people back home.
The market is crowded. And energetic buyers can be seen haggling with enthusiastic shopkeepers to reduce prices.
There are a load of options…from jade jewellery and clothes to wall hangings and Buddha statues. In fact, pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is said to get material from Scott Market.
You can’t miss the majestic pagoda either at Nay Pyi Taw or at Yangon. The one at Yangon, the 321.5-foot- high Shwedagon Pagoda, with its diamonds glittering in the sun, is a sight to behold. The golden stupa is gilded using some 28,000 packets of gold leaf, with the upper section being sheathed by 13,153 pure gold plates.
Don’t count the tyrants out. They’ve still got plenty of tricks up their sleeves.
BY CHRISTIAN CARYL | MAY 30, 2012
Dictators are supposed to be dumb, or at least crazy. Muammar al-Qaddafi was a ranting lunatic with a goofy fashion sense. Kim Jong Il had a weird hairstyle and a penchant for surreal sloganeering. Those generals in Burma were brutes given to consulting soothsayers on major decisions and shooting people at the drop of a hat.
But these caricatures — for that is what they are — actually tend to obscure some unpleasant facts about modern life. Qaddafi reigned for 41 years in a country where fractiousness and rivalry were the order of the day in the era that preceded him. Kim Jong Il died in his bed after ruling North Korea for 17 years — despite policies that condemned his country to humiliating poverty even while its neighbors rose to
new heights of prosperity. And those generals in Burma? They came to power in 1962, and though they’ve started loosening their grip a bit lately, they still clearly call the shots.
All of these dictators managed to cling to power far longer than they or their people had any right to expect. They were evil, all right. But you can’t call them dumb. Measured by their own criteria, they were actually pretty successful.
This is something that we’d be advised to keep in mind if we’re going to help the forces of freedom to prevail in the world. And this, indeed, is one of the lessons of Will Dobson’s fascinating new book, The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy. Dobson, a former FP editor who now works for Slate, got the idea a few years back when he was invited to a strategy game with some pro-democracy activists who were trying to undermine an authoritarian regime in their home country. When Dobson asked if he could play the role of the dictator, he was met with blank stares. “We’re not in the business of teaching people to repress other people,” he was told.
The problem, of course, is that you probably won’t have much luck beating despots unless you understand what they’re up to. In his book, Dobson sets out to rectify that error by exploring five current authoritarian regimes and their strategies for maintaining control. He interviews Chinese Communist Party members and Russian dissidents. He follows Malaysian leader Anwar Ibrahim on a frenetic day of campaigning that dramatizes the challenges of organizing a unified opposition in a country riven by ethnic divides. In Venezuela, he records a memorable encounter with a once high-ranking ally of Hugo Chávez now doing time in jail — a striking testimony to the capriciousness (or, perhaps, ruthless flexibility) of the regime. And even though much of his reporting from Egypt predates the fall of the Mubarak regime, his sharp analysis of the disposition of forces there is as illuminating as many of the accounts that have come out since the revolution.
The key message that emerges from Dobson’s investigations is that today’s autocrats are not idiots. They have learned from the mistakes of their predecessors. Putin is not Stalin, and Hu Jintao is not Mao Zedong. In many cases, Dobson writes, modern dictators understand that it’s in their interest to observe the appearance of democratic norms even while they’re subverting them.
Chávez, for example, loves holding elections, and on election day you can pretty much vote for whom you want. That most Venezuelans end up voting for the president reflects the enormous effort he has put into manipulating the media, the courts, and the bureaucracy every other day of the year. “Election day is not a problem,” a former Venezuelan election official tells Dobson. “All the damage — the use of money, goods, excess power, communications — happens beforehand.”
As Dobson notes, Chávez has implanted these black arts into Venezuela’s political culture so effectively that it’s hard to imagine how even the admirably revitalized opposition can compete. The president’s control of the airwaves is so deft that he appears to have suffered little political damage from soaring inflation and a skyrocketing murder rate. It could well be that only nature, in the form of the cancer now ravaging the leader’s body, is capable of putting an end to chavismo.
Some of Dobson’s most astute observations come from his reporting about China. The Chinese communists, he concludes, are the least complacent of today’s modern authoritarians. They’ve devoted intense study to the collapse of previous dictatorial regimes, from Ceausescu to Suharto, and they’ve worked hard to draw corresponding lessons — so far with remarkable success. As Dobson points out, most observers in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square in 1989 would have been shocked to learn that the Communist Party is not only still in power today, but thriving. “The Chinese Communist Party understands what its vulnerabilities are,” Dobson told me recently. “No one needs to lecture that government on what they need to worry about at night.” (Hint: Corruption and inequality lead the list.)
As for Putin, Dobson grudgingly credits him with figuring out how to maintain control without resorting to Soviet-style extremes. Twenty-first-century Russians can travel abroad or avail themselves of the Internet largely to their heart’s content, since Putin understands that completely isolating his citizens from the world at large is a game with rapidly diminishing returns. Instead, like Chávez, he’s focused on controlling the media that matter (like national TV) and carefully manipulating laws to tilt the political playing field in favor of the state. And so far, at least, he’s managed to pull the whole thing off without putting large numbers of opponents into concentration camps.
Putin, says Dobson, also appreciates that one of the biggest dangers to any autocracy comes at the moment when it loses touch with popular sentiment. So what do you do when you’ve tamed parliament so thoroughly that you can no longer use it to generate useful feedback about the needs and fears of the citizenry? In Putin’s case, you create a new body called the “Public Chamber,” a sort of large-scale advisory panel — including representatives from authentic non-government organizations — that offers “the advice, counsel, and criticism that a toothless Duma cannot.” It just doesn’t have any power.
And this, of course, is precisely where modern autocrats run into trouble. The fact that authoritarian regimes feel compelled to act like they’re really listening to voters reflects the extent to which democratic norms have become part of the woodwork. It’s no coincidence that Russia’s new culture of civic protest has been galvanized precisely by government vote-rigging. Nowadays Russians actually expect their votes to count, so going through the motions of an election no longer suffices. Malaysians, meanwhile, have been voting in more or less real elections for years — but the evidence is mounting that people there want their votes to be more than a legitimizing rubber stamp for a benignly despotic state. The political landscape is shifting accordingly.
Even for the most savvy of autocrats, then, these are testing times. Despite his cold-eyed assessment of the relative maneuverability of today’s undemocratic regimes, Dobson firmly believes that the forces of democracy are in the ascendance. “The Arab Spring is just a blink,” he says. “The tide has clearly been in the direction of freedom and pluralistic societies.” The rapid spread of information is making it harder for governments to concentrate power, thus chipping away at the very essence of authoritarianism. A rumor of government misbehavior in one part of China can immediately trigger riots in another place thousands of miles away. “This is not something the Ming Dynasty had to worry about,” Dobson observes. “So you can’t tell me that the tasks these regimes have to worry about haven’t become more complicated.”
Dobson might well be right. But even if he is, that’s certainly no reason for democrats to rest on their laurels. For the moment, at least, there are plenty of dictators to go around. And they’re still learning.
Deutsche Welle – Burmese comedian makes film about migrant workers in Thailand
Author: Ron Corben (dpa, AP), Editor: Anne Thomas
Tens of thousands of migrant workers from Myanmar work in Thailand’s building, fishing and rubber industries, with very few rights. Zarganar, a famous comedian fresh out of jail, puts the spotlight on their plight.
In the migrant village of Tong Kha Men deep in the forest of Phang Gna Province in southern Thailand – an area renowned for its rubber plantations – local families have gathered to watch a film crew at work.
There are chickens running around and small dogs scavenging; there is an open stream nearby. Children, teenagers and adults look on as the actors re-enact scenes from their everyday lives.
An average family here earns less than $20 a day. The homes are simple with dirt floors covered by matting and corrugated iron roofs.
Some 100,000 Burmese workers live in the province. Often they do not have documents. They have a tough time ensuring employment security as well as education and healthcare for their families.
Campaigning for basic rights
Moreover, many migrant workers from Myanmar were killed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and dozens of children were orphaned. The Foundation for Education and Development was set up shortly afterwards to assist them.
“Every day, the Burmese worker faces violence,” says Htoo Chit, the president of the foundation, which campaigns for labor rights and better health care. He initiated the film project to raise awareness about migrant workers.
“In our Burma, the Burmese people didn’t know about the migrant workers and their children’s real life in Phangna or Mae Sot and everywhere else,” he tells DW. “In Yangon or in Mandalay they don’t know the people, people don’t know.”
Htoo Chit sent a series of short stories to the famous Burmese comedian Zarganar, who was recently released from a fourth term in prison for political dissent after being sentenced to a 35-year jail term for criticizing the poor assistance to victims of Cyclone Nargis that claimed almost 140,000 lives in 2008.
Zarganar called on Burmese film director, Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, to oversee the film’s production, and brought in leading Burmese actors Ye Deight and Chit Thu Wai.
In “Father’s House, a place of security,” Ye Deight’s character travels to Thailand in search of work and is confronted with the harsh realities of a migrant worker’s life. Chit Thu Wai, who plays a teacher at the Foundation for Education and Development’s school, comes to his aid and a romance blossoms.
Ye Deight and Chit Thu Wai volunteered their services for the film. They are saddened as they see how poorly their compatriots live.
A mother proudly shows the actress a headlight that enables her to work in the pre-dawn hours to tap rubber.
“How can I solve these problems?” Chit Thu Wai asks. “I don’t want to see them this way. Our people living and working here in Thailand have no rights.”
“That’s the main problem. There is nobody to protect them. I would like to give them health and education. I’m worried about them.”
Producer Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi says the project has opened his eyes – he did not know about the “real situation” before reading the screenplay. He says he wants to make a genuine impact on people’s lives.
“I hope that people – Burmese people from around the world – will know the real situation of the Burmese people in southern Thailand.”
“The film format is easier to understand because people can see the faces of the people,” explains Mallika Ketthaison from the Foundation for Education and Development. “People in Burma will understand more why people move to Thailand.”
Aung San Suu Kyi meets migrants
On Wednesday, pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi met her compatriots at the Migrant Worker Rights Network in Samut Sakhon province, where many migrants work in the fisheries industry, as part of her first trip abroad in over 24 years.
“Her main recommendation was to ask permission from Thailand to open learning centers for migrants,” said Andy Hall from Thailand’s Mahidol University.
“Don’t feel down, or weak. History is always changing,” she told a crowd of thousands, promising to do her best for them.
According to official figures, of the two million migrant workers in Thailand, some 80 percent are thought to be from Myanmar. Unofficially, there could be up to a million unregistered migrant workers.
Author: Tony Lewis | 31 May 2012 Isuzu Motors could be set for a return to Myanmar (Burma) with plans to take a 60% stake in a local truck maker as early as the current financial year, the Nikkei reported.
Myanmar, which has a population of around 62m, about the same as Thailand, started to take steps towards democracy earlier this year and is seen as having the potential to be another key south-east Asian market with demand for new vehicles estimated at around 800,000 units a year. As spending increases on infrastructure projects, small trucks and pickups are expected to be in considerable demand.
According to the Nikkei, Isuzu will start assembling pickups and small trucks at a state-affiliated factory in Yangon, shipping parts from Thailand where Isuzu has its largest Asian production site outside Japan. The initial annual output target is 1,000 units.
The Nikkei noted that Japanese convenience store chains were already beginning to establish themselves in Myanmar where Isuzu and Suzuki both had assembly operations in the late 1990s.
Sanctions against the country’s military rulers led to a suspension of operations but Suzuki is now considering a resumption of motorcycle and car production while other truck makers, including Hino and
Mitsubishi, are also reported to be considering a move into Myanmar. Assembling locally avoids Myanmar’s restrictions on imports.
Tata Motors has already started local production.
Assembly line workers in Yangon are paid about US$68 a month, or a quarter of their counterparts in China and Thailand, according to the Japan External Trade Organisation quoted by the Nikkei.
Martin Petty | May 31, 2012 Bangkok. US conglomerate General Electric sees strong growth potential in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and Vietnam, and will boost its presence in fast-changing Myanmar to meet urgent electricity and health care needs there, its regional head said on Thursday.
The world’s biggest jet engine and electric turbine maker would benefit from the high percentage of the region’s population living in rural areas, where demand was high for electricity and health care, said Stuart Dean, chief executive of GE operations in the Association of South East Asian Nations.
GE expects double-digit growth across the 10 ASEAN countries for the next three years, fueled by demand in power, oil and gas, aircraft engines, land transportation, heavy duty freight locomotives and health care.
“Countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, they continue to invest heavily in infrastructure to meet demands of people and investors, so we’re growing at double-digit rates there,” Dean told Reuters in an interview. “And if you look at what governments spend on health care, they’re significantly underspending and populations are demanding more, so a big initiative for us is rural health care.”
GE is also keen to capitalize on Myanmar’s emergence from decades of isolation and the suspension of many United States sanctions on the country following economic and political reforms under the new civilian government that took office just over a year ago after 49 years of military rule.
Myanmar has a vastly undeveloped health care system and a dire shortage of electricity. Constant power cuts triggered rare street protests in several towns and cities last week, including the biggest city, Yangon.
Dean said GE would open an office in Myanmar as soon as the US government was ready to issue the licenses required to do so, which he expected before the end of this year, but it was “years away” from having a big manufacturing operation there.
Myanmar’s government had expressed a preference for buying equipment, rather than leasing, he said, and GE was keen to take advantage of some $120 million that Myanmar had made available for medical devices. A probable surge in air traffic would also open up opportunities.
“We want to help. It’s a great way to get started in a country by helping with a major public policy issue, like providing health care and electricity,” he said. “They want to get electricity generation stabilized as soon as possible. We’re ready to supply those needs and we think we can do it quite quickly.”
In the face of mounting protests over the power outages, Myanmar’s government promised last week to quickly buy two 25-megawatt gas turbines from GE, a deal Dean said was still being negotiated and “has yet to be determined.”
“Politicians are quick to say they’ll solve the problem easily, but it’s not that easy. But there are things that can be done in the short term,” he said.
If the deal for the two turbines went ahead, they could be easily moved to other locations once permanent facilities were built, he said, adding that Myanmar had at least four GE gas turbines that had not been used in years, which the company could get working again this year.
GE, which posted revenue of $3 billion from ASEAN last year, anticipated demand for power would drive growth in Indonesia, Dean said, noting 30 percent of the population was still without electricity. He also saw “enormous opportunities” in offshore oil and gas there.
GE’s $60 million investment in Vietnam, which centers on the manufacture of wind turbine generators, had gone well and it was likely the company would develop more products, increasing its workforce there from 600 to about 1,000, he said.
“It’s a very, very successful start-up. The workforce is outstanding — great vocational schools, very productive, with great skills. We want to do more there,” he said, without elaborating.
Dean likened Myanmar’s opening-up to that of Vietnam two decades ago, when GE was one of the first US companies to operate there.
“That paid big dividends to us. It showed we were committed to making things happen,” he said. “I see similar things in Myanmar, but in this case, they have emergency needs.”
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| May 31, 2012
Some 2,000 workers on strike at the Hi Mo wig factory in Rangoon’s Hlaing Tharyar Industrial Zone are in need of food and water as the Korean owner of the factory on Thursday cut all food supplies and electricity inside the workers barracks that they have been occupying at the plant.
“The workers were fed boiled rice this morning, and Myanmar Youth Union members are preparing dinner for them, but we also need drinking water,” said 88 Generation group leader Mar Mar Oo, who is one of the volunteers helping the strikers.
Myanmar Youth Union has been collecting donations, however, it is not enough for the thousands of striking workers in several factories in Hlaing Tharyar.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy, former army captain Nay Myo Zin, who was a political prisoner and nowadays heads the Myanmar Social Development Network, said, “There is still nobody mediating in the dispute between the employees and the employers.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Lin Latt Khin, a female worker at the factory, said, “The factory management has reneged on its initial agreement of 30,000 kyat [US $35] monthly salaries.
[Director General of the Worker Supervisory Office] U Win Shein even convinced us to accept just 15,000 kyat because [former factory manager] Nan Thao Yin has disappeared.”
The Hi Mo wig factory workers began their strike on May 9, but reached an agreement the following day with the management that wages be increased to 30,000 kyat. However, upon his return, the Korean factory owner refused to honour the agreement, and the workers resumed strike action on May 17.
The workers said they will continue their strike until the factory manager agrees the deal that was made three weeks ago.
“The Labor Ministry behaves more favorably to the factory owner than to the workers,” said Lin Latt Khin. “This dispute is definitely not settled yet.”
Nay Myo Zin called on MPs to intervene and solve the matter.
“It is not just one factory, but a whole series of factory disputes,” he said. “The factory owners simply refuse to negotiate because they believe the workers are powerless to resist them. They think that, eventually, the strikers will simply have to come back to work.
“It is a form of torture,” he said. “Today I watched as striking workers collected rainwater to drink as they had nothing else.”
By WAI MOE / THE IRRAWADDY| May 31, 2012 Naypyidaw’s leading peace negotiator is scheduled to hold informal talks with a senior member of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on Friday amid ongoing fighting between Kachin and government troops in northern Burma.
Railways Minister Aung Min, who is a vice chairman of the government’s newly formed Union Peacemaking Working Committee, will travel to Maijayang, Kachin State, for tomorrow’s talks with a delegation led by Maj-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the KIA’s vice chief of staff, according to sources from both sides of the negotiations.
Aung Min is expected to be accompanied by executive members of Myanmar Egress, an NGO close to the Burmese government, while on the Kachin side, Col Ji Nong and Col Zaw Tong of the KIA’s War Office will also be present at the talks.
The meeting will be the second between Aung Min and Gun Maw in less than two weeks, and is seen as a significant step toward ending almost a full year of fighting following the breakdown of a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement last June. The two last met in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province on May 21.
Although government and KIA officials say they are hopeful they can reach an agreement, there have been reports in recent days that the conflict has spread to the well-known jade mining center of Hpakant.
According to the Kachin Development Network Group, fresh skirmishes broke out on Monday and Tuesday around Hpakant, from which mining companies have been ordered by the Ministry of Mines to withdraw by Thursday. The latest clashes have also displaced more than 100 people, the group said.
Sources in Hpakant said that the government army has also started to mobilize troops from Light Infantry Division 11 in the area, which has been key source of revenue for the KIA since the collapse of the ceasefire last year.
Hpakant and the surrounding area is under the control of KIA Brigade 6. Last year, the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, decided to resume collecting taxes from mining companies in the area as a way of financing its military operations.
The escalation of the conflict comes less than a month after the formation on May 3 of a new government peace-negotiating team led by President Thein Sein. The new lineup consists of a working committee and a central committee that includes Thein Sein and Burma’s military chief, Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
The new peacemaking committees were formed shortly after a visit to Norway and Switzerland by Aung Min in April. Norway is a key foreign player in Burma’s peace process, as Olso has reportedly provided millions of dollars to fund efforts to end the country’s internal conflicts.
Aung Min is tipped by political observers in Rangoon to become the minister of the president’s office in a coming government reshuffle, giving him more authority and responsibility to handle matters such as meetings with ethnic armed groups on behalf of the president.
However, ethnic sources say they have been put off by Aung Min’s attempts to reach “snap” peace agreements during meetings. Karen and Karenni leaders said they were surprised when the minister urged them to sign ceasefire agreements without giving them enough time for further discussions.
Another difficulty facing the ceasefire talks is the fundamental difference in thinking between government negotiators and ethnic leaders. The former have repeatedly insisted that economic development is the key to lasting peace, while latter continue to call for autonomy and a real federal union.
By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| May 31, 2012
MAE SOT, Thailand—Burmese war refugees who have been living by the Thai-Burmese border for decades are now taking part in resettlement workshops to prepare for returning home.
The move comes amid negotiations between the Burmese government and leaders of the ethnic rebel Karen National Union (KNU) regarding a sustainable peace settlement.
In an interview with The Irrawaddy in the Thai border town of Mae Sot on Thursday, Saw Robert Htwe, the chairman of Karen Refugees Committee, said that he is organizing workshops to train representatives from community-based organizations (CBOs) to be ready for the repatriation process.
Even though no timeframe is in place for the return of refugees, Saw Robert Htwe said that the training is simply to prepare in case repatriation takes place in the near future.
Several dozen CBO representatives have been invited to join workshops next week in Mae La refugee camp—the largest such camp in Thailand that houses an estimated 40,000 people.
Saw Robert Htwe also said that he will invite nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian agencies to cooperate with the training as they have prior experience with repatriation programs.
“We will return to our homeland one day,” said Saw Robert Htwe. “It will not happen immediately. It could take five years or ten years … we do not know. But, if we are not prepared, we will not be adapted with the situation.”
“These [repatriation workshops] are just to prepare in advance,” he added.
There are more than 150,000 mostly ethnic Karen refugees who have been living in temporary camps by the Thai-Burmese border for around 25 years. They abandoned their homeland and fled to Thailand due to decades of civil war between central government troops and the KNU.
Speaking with The Irrawaddy on Thursday, Saw Tun Tun, the chairman of Mae La, said that representatives from seven different refugee camps will participate in the repatriation workshop and discussions on how the process should be conducted and what is necessary for returnees.
Saw Robert Htwe also said that he will ask various NGOs, including the TBBC and UNHCR, to provide assistance such as food, household materials, educational support and healthcare programs to the former refugees for at least three years before they can survive unaided.
However, he added that the resettlement of IDPs must come first and only then be followed by the repatriation of refugees.
Apart from refugees on the border, there are 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have lived in temporary jungle shelters in KNU-controlled areas for decades due to the fighting.
On May 28, the Burmese government issued national identity cards to more than 30 ethnic Karen IDPs in Kyaukgyi town, Pegu Division. Until now they have been denied the opportunity to obtain such documentation.
The move marks the first time that Naypyidaw has granted ID cards to the thousands of Karen war refugees who for years have been subjected to violent attacks, murder, torture, rape and forced labor at the hands of government troops.
Despite the lack of an official timeframe for the repatriation of Burmese refugees, there are plans by the Thai government to accelerate the return process and close down all nine refugee camps on its border.
According to a report by The Bangkok Post on Tuesday, the Thai military will ask the government to hold talks with its Burmese counterparts about the return of Burmese refugees living in frontier zones.
On Monday, Thai Defense Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat met his Burmese opposite number Lt-Gen Hla Min for talks on bilateral issues during the 6th Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, according to The Bangkok Post report.
Last week, Sukumpol also talked to Thai Army chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha about preparations to send refugees back to Burma. Meanwhile, the KNU urged visiting Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi—who is due to visit Mae La on Saturday—to campaign for refugee safety and a voluntarily return in accordance with the universal principals of human rights.
Thursday, 31 May 2012 12:33 Mizzima News
When Aung San Suu Kyi visits India sometime this year, she will return to a country with which she has deep family and personal ties.
She has accepted an invitation to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Lecture in India, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presented her a letter earlier this week from Sonia Gandhi asking her to deliver the prestigious address. No date was announced for the visit.
“We in India are very proud of our longstanding association with her [Suu Kyi] and members of her family including her parents,” Singh said in a media statement.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life, her struggle, and her determination have inspired millions of people all over the world,” he said. “Our sincere belief is that in the process of national reconciliation which has been launched by President Thein Sein, Madam Suu Kyi will play a defining role.”
In a statement, Suu Kyi said, “The struggle for India’s independence took place at the same time as the struggle for Burma’s independence. My parents were great admirers of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders, but we were particularly close to Panditji as I was taught to call him from a very young age.”
“I am very happy at the prospect of closer ties with India because I think we have much to learn from one another and we have much to contribute to peace and stability in this region, because our goals, our democratic goals, work on the basis of peace and stability, and these are what we shall aim towards,” she said.
“I hope that there will be greater exchanges between our two peoples,” she said. “As I said to the prime minister, true friendship between the countries can be based only on friendship between our peoples, and this is what I hope we will be able to achieve.”
Suu Kyi has traditional links with India – her mother was ambassador to India and she studied at the Jesus and Mary Convent School and Lady Shri Ram College.
Thursday, 31 May 2012 14:04 ND-Burma
The Burmese government continues to commit human rights abuses including torture and inhumane treatment with impunity, according to a new report by ND-Burma, a network for human rights documentation.
From January to December 2011, ND-Burma said its member organizations documented 371 cases of human rights violation across the country of which 83 cases, or 22 per cent, constituted torture and ill treatment.
Torture and ill treatment in Burma take place in two distinct places: (1) in detention centers where political prisoners are interrogated and held, and (2) in ethnic nationality areas where the Burmese military is present, said the report “Extreme Measures,” which was issued this week.
The study found that torture of political prisoners generally takes place shortly after an individual is arrested during interrogations.
“It can, along with ill treatment, continue for years – even decades – while political prisoners serve inordinately long sentences,” it said.
In ethnic nationality areas, it said torture seldom takes place in formal detention centers but is meted out in military bases or remote rural villages.
“Shan State and Kachin states are particularly hard hit. Evidence gathered by ND-Burma shows that torture and ill-treatment in ethnic areas often takes place within the context of other human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, forced labor, forced portering, confiscation of property, restriction of movement, and sexual violence.”
The report makes a number of recommendations to the Burmese government and the international community.
It called for the adoption of legislation guaranteeing basic rights for the people of Burma, particularly the internationally recognized right to be free from torture and ill treatment, and laws that ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes face justice.
There are also calls for more education, training and public awareness about torture in order to prevent future violations as well as calls to institute safeguards and programs that guarantee that victims have available, credible, accessible remedies to deal with torture should it take place, it said.
The report also raises concerns regarding the new National Human Rights Commission, including its lack of full independence, its inability to investigate crimes committed by the military, and its failure to comply fully with best practices for national human rights commissions as described in the Paris Principles.
Torture and ill treatment have a ripple effect, said ND-Burma, with potentially long lasting negative consequences for individuals, families and society as a whole.
It said the report should serve as a reminder to Burmese government and the international community that significant hurdles remain for Burma to emerge as a functioning democracy that respects the rule of law and the rights of the people of Burma, particularly ethnic nationalities.
Thursday, 31 May 2012 13:19 Mizzima News
In a recent update, the number of political prisoners is Burma has been put at 471 confirmed prisoners, with 465 more prisoners in a verification process as of May, according to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners – Burma.
The confirmed figure will continue to fluctuate and is expected to increase as the verification process continues, said the AAPP.
The lifting of some sanctions against Burma “should not blur the fact that hundreds of political prisoners are still imprisoned and that the treatment they are given fails to comply with international standards,” said the AAPP.
For example, the AAPP said Phyo Wai Aung, a detainee who has been awaiting his trial verdict for more than two years in Insein Prison, is in urgent need of medical treatment as he suffers, among other things, from an enlarged liver. Prison authorities, however, have refused to hospitalize him in an outside hospital where he can see a specialist, it said.
It said military personnel who have expressed their political views in public continue to suffer “from confidential arrests and ruthless verdicts.”
The AAPP said that according to confidential information that has not yet been confirmed, three Air Force officers faced trial at a military court recently and were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment after one of them published a critical article about the Tatmawdaw (Burmese army) on a website. The whereabouts of the three officers remain unknown and their families are not allowed to contact them.
It said arrests, interrogations and imprisonments of people who resist and challenge land confiscations and forced evictions continued in April. In Lewe Township, three villagers who resisted eviction were jailed for six months, said AAPP.
A number of Buddhist monks released from prison during the recent amnesty continue to be harassed by the police and have been forced out of their monasteries, it said.
“As before, it seems that President Thein Sein’s regime remains deeply distrustful of the monks in Burma.
As the world commends Burma’s nominally civilian government’s first steps towards democracy, there is a growing concern that the international community may be moving too quickly in relaxing sanctions against it,” said the AAPP.
As one exiled Burmese activist, Soe Aung, from the Forum for Democracy in Burma, said, “The EU has suspended sanctions knowing that its own benchmarks on Burma have not been met: the unconditional release of all political prisoners and a cessation of attacks against ethnic minorities”.
For the latest list of Burmese political prisoners, go to http://www.aappb.org
By HANNA HINDSTROM
Published: 31 May 2012
Deputy Foreign Secretary Torgeir Larsen speaks to Burmese civil society groups and journalists in Chiang Mai, Thailand on 30 May 2012. (DVB)
The Norwegian government has defended a controversial peace initiative that will channel aid into conflict-affected regions in Burma despite mounting criticism that it risks coercing ethnic and civil society groups into joining the government.
Deputy Foreign Secretary Torgeir Larsen addressed a crowd of activists and NGOs in Chiang Mai yesterday in an effort to downplay concerns that the multi-million dollar scheme could upset the fragile peace process in eastern Burma.
“Moving from ceasefire to real peace is what we are aiming at,” said Larsen. “It’s a delicate and long-term process and this is the first phase. It’s about testing out the way.”
The Norwegian delegation returned this week from a mission to Kyaukgyi in Karen state, where they met with the commanders of the Burmese army, representatives from the Karen National Union (KNU) and community leaders for internally displaced persons (IDPs) to discuss plans for the $66 million dollar project.
But the scheme, which aims to rebuild the border regions and facilitate the resettlement of IDPs and refugees in Karen and Shan states, has been criticised as premature and insensitive to political challenges.
“It must not be used to replace political dialogue, it must not be used to coerce armed groups into ceasefires,” insisted Charles Petrie, who is heading the initiative. “Progress needs to be well advanced in order for groups to ask for us to help them test the validity of the [ceasefire] agreement.”
However, critics worry that the initiative is being presented as “bait” for ethnic groups to join the government under the 2008 constitution. The Burmese government has insisted that the project should commence before June 2012 ostensibly ahead of the rainy season. But this also coincides with the United Nationalities Federal Council’s (UNFC) 10 June deadline for the Burmese military to resolve the Kachin conflict.
“It is now clear to me that the intention of the plan is to back the Burma government to bring the ethnic groups under the 2008 constitution and not support the UNFC or KIO requests to have dialogue outside of parliament,” a source from a local humanitarian group, told DVB on the condition of anonymity.
The new initiative follows the Norwegian government’s announcement to suspend humanitarian aid to cross border groups. This decision has left humanitarian groups, including Norwegian Church Aid, which funds the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, dismayed and in financial dire straits. DVB has previously reported on an escalating malnutrition crisis along the border as funding dries out.
“We have signalled that for quite some time that we will be phasing down [cross border aid] while scaling up our activities inside,” said Petrie. “It’s connected to the opportunities to do more on the inside.”
Despite the cuts, Larsen insisted that it would be “irresponsible” to encourage refugees or IDPs to return home at this early stage.
The peace initiative has been further censured for channelling all aid money through government-sanctioned NGOs operating out of Rangoon, which campaigners say risks marginalising key voices.
Petrie insisted there were new opportunities to operate openly inside Burma rather than “in the dark”. However, many human rights groups insist it is far too early to move back into Burma as legal entities.
This policy, they say, could have the effect of coercing exiled groups into registering as official NGOs in Burma to access funding.
This week’s mission officially confirmed the KNU-led Committee of Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDPK) would be the primary vehicle through which funds would be channelled. The CIDPK is being led by Padoh Htoo Htoo Lay, who accompanied the Norwegian delegation to Burma this week.
When pressed, Petrie admitted that KNU General-Secretary Zipporah Sein had not been informed about the exact nature of their mission. Zipporah Sein has previously told DVB that while the group accepted the pilot stage of the initiative (carried out in Karen state), it did not want it to be expanded before a political settlement was reached.
The general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, Tin Tin Nyo, further slated the lack of women involved in the process. “[Gender] inclusiveness is not really mentioned in the paper. If they are not considered, then how can you really support peace in our country?”
By NAW NOREEN
Published: 31 May 2012
About 600 tenants who work in Rangoon’s North Okkalapa township on land they rented from the Burmese Army’s 435th, 436th and 391st Light Infantry Battalions have been told to move off the property by the end of May after receiving a 10-day notice.
The tenants, who were raising livestock and managing shops, said they have rented the land from the army for 15 years. They received notice from the army on 22 May that they had to be off the land by 31 May.
“We rented the land for about 15 years and [the army] is now kicking out tenants from most of the land that belongs to its battalions in Rangoon division. They provided no reason for the eviction apart from stating in the notification that it was due to a ‘decision made in a meeting,” said a tenant who runs a shop on the land.
“It would be extremely difficult to relocate all these animals within a short period of time. They should have warned us like six months to a year in advance so that we can find a new location.”
According to the shop owner, the tenants were told their property would be demolished if they haven’t moved out by the 31st.
“Also, school’s open [on June 1] and we’ve already enlisted our children in schools nearby. Now what are we supposed to do? Withdraw them?” said the shop owner.
“We are going to lose everything we owned here and will be forced to start over from square one.”
Burmese authorities have a history of heavy-handedness towards complainants of land confiscation and forced labour.
By CS DAL
Published: 31 May 2012
Recently, the Burmese government’s Union Election Commission rejected the Zomi National Congress (ZNC)’s registration request over a naming row, which effectively prevents the national party for entering the country’s political landscape.
The UEC’s deputy director Hla Maung Cho was quoted saying the ZNC was unable to register because the term ‘Zomi’ is not recognised by the Burmese government. The party was told to change its name and to reapply for registration before the end of May.
The ZNC was registered as a party in 1988 and represents all the ethnic people living in Chin state. The party won two seats in the infamous 1990 general elections, but the results were later annulled by the then ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1992.
Subsequently, the party was deemed illegitimate and has been banned from all political activities in Burma ever since. However, in an attempt to restore democracy and peace, the ZNC operates as an opposition party along with other political groups such as the National League for Democracy and United Nationalities Alliances.
With the recent democratic reforms in Burma, the ZNC reapplied for registration on 8 March 2012. However, the application was denied on the basis that the name “Zomi” does not represent any ethnic nationality in Burma.
“Given the rapid change in Burma, it is a tragedy to see that the government still refuses to recognise all the country’s ethnic nationalities”
So who are the Zomi?
The Zomi or Zo people (‘mi’ means people) have long inhabited the mountainous areas between India and Burma for centuries. In Burma, the Zo people occupy the whole of Chin State and Kalay, Tamu and Khampat townships in Sagaing division. There are an estimated 3 million members of Zomi population living in Burma currently.
However, due to the lack of contact with the outside world, the group was often referred to as the “Chin” instead of their own name “Zomi.”
The British first imposed the name “Chin” on the group when the colonists first made contact with the Zo people in the 19th century. According to Dr. Vum Son, the author of Zo History, the British adopted the name from the Burmans.
When the Burmans first came in contact with the group in the eleventh or twelfth century, they began calling the Zo people “Chin” for the simple reason that the basket carrying people occupied the western part of the Chindwin River – “Chindwin” meaning “the valley of the baskets”. The word “chin” means basket in Burmese.
The Zo people have their own traditions, culture and language that are completely different from the ethnic Burmans. After Burma gained independence from the British, many Zo people refused to accept the name Chin – a term that they have never used themselves and was only officially used only after British annexation.
Dr. Hau Go, a Zomi scholar and lecturer at Mandalay University, wrote: “Whatever Chin meant or means, however it originated and why, the obvious fact is that the designation ‘Chin’ is altogether foreign to us, it has been externally imposed [on] us. We respond to it out of necessity but we never appropriate it and never accept it and never use it to refer to ourselves. It is not only foreign but also derogatory, for it has become more or less synonymous with being uncivilised, uncultured, backward, even foolish and silly.”
One of the ZNC’s objectives is to officially recognise the Zomi identity as defined by the ethnic group. The party claims that the demand for their own identity complies with the UN declaration of indigenous rights which states, in article 2, that indigenous people and individuals are free and equal to all other people and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular those based on their indigenous origin or identity.
The UEC’s rejection of the ZNC’s application to register as a party on the grounds of not recognising the term ‘Zomi’ seems to have a bigger implication than just denying a party.
ZNC chairman Pu Cin Sian Thang was quoted saying the government’s denial of the party’s right to mention their own ethnicity saddened him most and could lead to the disintegration of ethnic solidarity. He said, “it is not important whether we get to participate or not, but we are disappointed in having our rights got violated and being told that our ethnicity doesn’t exist in the country.”
The rejection of the ZNC’s registration request shows that the government is not only violating their rights altogether but is also choosing not to recognise the existence of the Zo people, which might suggest that Burma is willing to cleanse the Zomi ethnic group from the country. This is not the first time the Zomi ethnic group have been denied their rights. They have been the subject to the systematic practice of ethnic cleansing under preceding governments.
Given the rapid change in Burma, it is a tragedy to see that the government still refuses to recognise all the country’s ethnic nationalities and exclude them from participating in the political reforms. Ben Rogers from Christian Solidarity Worldwide rightly says that Burma is still a long way from genuine change, until it recognises and includes its ethnic nationalities, who make up 40% of the population and inhabit 60% of the land, so that they can live in peace, with equal rights, autonomy and respect for their ethnic, religious and cultural identity. Today in Burma, many ethnic nationalities still face oppressions and discrimination on a daily basis.
- CS Dal is a member of the Global Zomi Alliance based in Kalay, Burma