Jun 13th, 2012
By Aung Hla Tun | Reuters – 6 hrs ago YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar prisoner-turned-parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi set off on Wednesday on a tour of Europe almost certain to attract the kind of fanfare that will test the patience of the reformist generals now in power after decades of army rule.
The hugely popular Nobel Peace laureate will take in five countries – Switzerland, Norway, Britain, Ireland and France – on a 17-day tour almost certain to wrest the international spotlight away from the astonishing reforms vaunted by Myanmar’s once-vilified leaders.
Suu Kyi’s European sojourn, her second trip outside Myanmar in almost a quarter of a century, would have been unimaginable 19 months ago, when an authoritarian junta ruled Myanmar and confined her to her home.
“I’m excited about each country in a different way,” the 66-year-old said on Wednesday before her departure from Yangon airport. “I’ll get to know this only when I get there.”
The cameras and elaborate flower bouquets that greeted Suu Kyi at the airport are a taste of the attention that will shower upon her in Europe, a welcome more fit for a head of state than an opposition parliamentarian – a fact that could strain fragile but cordial ties with President Thein Sein and anger conservatives among the old military guard.
“There’s always the risk that tensions may arise, whether from Thein Sein or people in the military,” said Christopher Roberts, an expert on Southeast Asian politics at the Australian National University.
“Once you open the gates and things change, you can’t close them or stop them at a certain point. There might be some out there who are worried about this.”
Under the junta whose rule Suu Kyi fought against for two decades, she passed up opportunities to leave Myanmar in fear the generals threatened by her influence would block her return.
But after months of cautious rapprochement with Thein Sein, a former general who convinced her to run for parliament in April by-elections, Suu Kyi accepted an offer to go to Thailand to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia in one of the clearest signs yet of her confidence in Myanmar’s reforms.
She received a messianic reception during her five days in Thailand. Photographs and video footage of jubilant scenes and a rock-star welcome played out across the world as thousands of Myanmar migrant workers and refugees swarmed for a glimpse of a woman they affectionately call “Mother Suu”.
Thein Sein cancelled his trip to the same forum soon after Suu Kyi confirmed her attendance, igniting speculation the president feared being upstaged. The belated response from his office was that he had pressing matters at home.
He rescheduled his Thailand visit to the day after Suu Kyi left, but abruptly postponed again, just hours after she addressed the forum and warned against “reckless optimism” over the reforms, which the president has spearheaded.
While praising Thein Sein, she also said she was still unsure of the rest of his government and whether the military was fully committed to democracy.
Four days later, in a state newspaper long seen as a government mouthpiece, an opinion piece said Suu Kyi and Thein Sein had a “mutual agreement to set aside differences” for the good of the country, the future of which “depends completely on their cooperation”.
The author said he feared a “golden opportunity” could be lost.
The soft-spoken and reclusive Thein Sein has made no official comment on Suu Kyi’s trips. In Europe, Suu Kyi, whose father led Myanmar’s campaign for independence from British rule, will address the International Labor Organisation’s conference in Geneva and the British parliament in London. She will also give an acceptance speech in Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991.
A birthday party will be held for her in London and she will return to Oxford University, which she attended in the 1970s, to receive an honorary doctorate. In Dublin, she will receive an award from Amnesty International, which has arranged a concert for her which will include Bono.
If the Thailand trip was anything to go by, Thein Sein and the retired soldiers in his cabinet should be braced for similar fanfare and more of Suu Kyi’s robust rhetoric when she touches down later on Wednesday.
“She realizes she needs to work with the government, but she’ll still stand up and speak out about the important issues,” added Roberts. “Those comments are sure to rattle some people.”
Reuters – 3 hrs ago
SITTWE, Myanmar (Reuters) – Soldiers patrolled the streets of Sittwe in western Myanmar on Wednesday to enforce a state of emergency after days of sectarian violence displaced thousands, with scores feared dead.
Those who remained in the Rakhine state capital slowly started to venture on to the streets after tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas appeared to have eased after five days of rioting, arson and knife attacks.
The worst communal violence in Myanmar since a reformist government replaced an oppressive junta last year had left 21 people dead as of Monday, state media said, but activists fear the death toll could be much higher. Another 21 had been wounded and 1,662 houses burnt down.
The violence follows a year of dramatic political change, including the freeing of hundreds of political prisoners, the signing of peace deals with ethnic minority rebel groups and the holding of by-elections dominated by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party.
All this had persuaded the United States and Europe to suspend economic sanctions, and both have urged the authorities to restore order.
Shwe Maung, a Muslim member of parliament for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, told Reuters in Yangon that the authorities were providing help to Muslims who had lost their homes or were too frightened to go back to them.
“With help from the army, 10 trucks of Muslims were sent to Thae Chaung village … They were sent from downtown Sittwe to the remote areas because their houses were burned,” he said.
“Some women and children are receiving food, rations and clothes from the Ministry of Resettlement,” he added.
Khaing Kaung San, head of a Sittwe-based development group, Wan Latt Foundation, said 25,000 people had taken refuge in what he called camps in Sittwe, mostly monasteries and schools.
Vijay Nambiar, the United Nations’ special envoy to Myanmar, flew to the area on Wednesday and visited the town of Maungdaw, where the unrest started on Friday.
It is unclear what sparked the rioting. Relations between the two communities have been uneasy for generations but tension flared last month after the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist woman that was blamed on Muslims.
That led to the killing of 10 Muslims on June 3, when a Buddhist mob stopped a bus they were travelling on. The passengers had no connection to the murdered woman. State media said three Muslims are on trial for the woman’s death.
No fires were visible in Sittwe, the state capital, on Wednesday, when heavy rain fell all day. Reuters reporters said many shops remained closed but more people ventured outside their homes.
Soldiers and police with loudspeakers patrolled the streets, warning they would not tolerate people carrying weapons and that anyone attempting to set fire to buildings would be dealt with.
RISK OF VIOLENCE SPREADING
The crisis is likely to force Thein Sein, a former general, to confront an issue that human rights groups have criticized for years: the plight of up to 800,000 Rohingyas who live along Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh in abject conditions.
“Unless the government takes steps not just to end the violence but also lay the groundwork for protection of minority communities, there is a risk of the violence spreading,” the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental research organization, said in a report published late on Tuesday.
“How the government handles this case will be a major test of the police and courts in a country that has just begun to emerge from an authoritarian past. It will also test the government’s will and capacity to reverse a longstanding policy of discrimination toward the Muslim Rohingyas.”
Rohingyas say their lineage in Rakhine dates back centuries but the government regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship.
Bangladesh has refused to grant them refugee status since 1992, when tens of thousands of them flooded into the country, complaining of persecution by the Myanmar military.
In recent days, hundreds of Rohingyas have tried to flee in rickety boats to Bangladesh but its foreign minister, Dipu Moni, told reporters Bangladesh would not take them in despite a request from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
“We are already overburdened with Myanmar Muslims who fled into this country over many years and we can take no more, under any circumstances,” she said.
Major Shafiqur Rahman of the Bangladesh Border Guard told Reuters by phone that 110 Rohingyas in three boats had landed in Teknaf on the southern tip of the Bangladesh mainland in the early hours of Wednesday.
“They landed on our beach defying objections by the coastguard. We have detained them all, mostly women and children, and will push back later today,” he said.
The two countries are separated in the area by a river that flows into the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladeshi officials said about 30 Rohingyas had managed to enter Bangladesh. Ten had been injured in the violence and one of them, a man aged about 70, had died of gunshot wounds in hospital. Three were in critical condition.
AFP – 2 hrs 27 mins ago
A top UN envoy arrived in strife-torn western Myanmar on Wednesday as security forces grappled with sectarian violence that has left dozens dead and hundreds of homes burned down.
A state of emergency has been declared in Rakhine state, which has been rocked by a wave of rioting and arson, posing a major test for the reformist government which took power last year.
A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been imposed in many areas.
Vijay Nambiar, UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on Myanmar, flew into the capital of Rakhine to visit Maungdaw, a town near the border with Bangladesh where the violence flared on Friday.
He was accompanied by Myanmar’s Border Affairs Minister General Thein Htay and 15 Muslim religious leaders from Yangon.
“We’re here to observe and assess how we can continue to provide support to Rakhine,” Ashok Nigam, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator who was also in the group, told AFP.
An uneasy calm pervaded Sittwe, which has been rattled by gunfire in recent days and was drenched by heavy rains on Wednesday.
Local residents have been seen roaming the streets wielding knives, swords and sticks, while people from both the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities have been forced to flee their homes.
The Buddhists and Rohingya have both accused each other of violent attacks.
The UN has evacuated most of its foreign staff from Maungdaw, which is its main base in the state and has a large population of stateless Rohingya Muslims.
Around 25 people have been killed and a further 41 people were wounded in five days of unrest, an official told AFP on Tuesday. He did not give details of how they died or whether they were Buddhists or Muslims.
Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead is much higher but AFP could not verify the allegation and has been unable to visit many of the affected areas for security reasons.
The toll does not include 10 Muslims who were killed on June 3 by a Buddhist mob in apparent revenge for the rape and murder of a woman, sparking the violence in Rakhine.
Rakhine, a predominantly Buddhist state bordering Bangladesh, is home to a large number of Muslims including the Rohingya, described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be foreigners, while many citizens see them as illegal immigrants and view them with hostility, describing them as “Bengalis”.
Hundreds of Rohingya, many of them women and children, have attempted to flee to Bangladesh in rickety boats in recent days, but have been turned away.
Border guards on Wednesday said they had refused entry to another three vessels, although a single six-week-old baby girl found floating alone in a boat was rescued and placed with a local family.
The Dhaka government has rebuffed international calls, including by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, to let in the fleeing Rohingya.
The United States has urged an immediate halt to the sectarian unrest.
A leader of Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh camps appealed for help from Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday, accusing the democracy icon of ignoring the plight of the minority group, who the UN says has suffered decades of discrimination in Myanmar.
“Aung San Suu Kyi hasn’t done or said anything for us, yet the Rohingyas including my parents campaigned for her in the 1990 elections,” Mohammad Islam, of Nayapara camp in the border town of Teknaf, told AFP.
A spokesman for the opposition leader’s National League for Democracy party said the former political prisoner had instructed him to work “to help both sides equally” before she left Wednesday on a historic trip to Europe.
The veteran activist, who will formally accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Saturday, has remained largely silent on the unrest apart from calling for “sympathy for minorities”, while key figures in the democratic movement have said the Rohingya are not one of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities.
By Shwe Yinn Mar Oo | AFP – 9 hrs ago
Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi left Myanmar Wednesday on her first trip to Europe since 1988 to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize that thrust her into the global limelight two decades ago.
Her visit marks a new milestone in the political changes that have swept the country formerly known as Burma since decades of military rule ended last year, bringing to power a new quasi-civilian government.
“I would like to do my best for the interests of the people,” Suu Kyi told reporters before her plane left Yangon airport.
She will visit Switzerland, Norway, Britain, France and Ireland on her more than two week tour, which will include a speech in Oslo for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
She leaves as western Myanmar is rocked by sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that has left dozens dead and prompted President Thein Sein to warn of disruption to the fragile reform process.
Suu Kyi could face calls in Europe to address the underlying sectarian issues, although analysts say she may instead choose to focus on the wider topic of human rights.
“It’s a very explosive situation and whoever touches the issue will have to walk a very, very fine line,” said Aung Naing Oo, a Myanmar expert with the Vahu Development Institute in Thailand.
The Myanmar government and many Burmese consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants and view them with hostility.
Even key figures in the democratic movement have come out to say the Rohingya are not one of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities.
A spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said the former political prisoner had instructed him to work “to help both sides equally” before she left for Europe.
Suu Kyi is due to speak at an International Labour Organization conference, address Britain’s parliament and receive an Amnesty International human rights award in Dublin from rock star Bono.
The veteran activist will also join a “family reunion” in Britain, according to her party and celebrate her 67th birthday on June 19 in the country.
For years, since returning to her homeland to care for her sick mother, Suu Kyi did not dare leave — even to see her sons or British husband before his death from cancer in 1999 — fearing the ruling generals would not let her return.
She made her first overseas foray for 24 years earlier this month to visit Thailand.
President Thein Sein is credited for a series of reforms including releasing hundreds of political prisoners, signing peace pacts with armed rebel groups and welcoming Suu Kyi’s party back into mainstream politics.
Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero General Aung San, in April won her first ever seat in parliament, prompting Western nations to start rolling back sanctions.
Her lecture on June 16 in Oslo to accept the Nobel Prize, which propelled her onto the global stage and spurred decades of support for her party’s democratic struggle against authoritarian rule, will be hugely symbolic.
But she may also inject a note of caution — on her first overseas trip in more than two decades, Suu Kyi this month warned world business leaders at a meeting in Bangkok against “reckless optimism” over the democratic reforms.
“She will re-iterate the message that there’s still a long way to go in Burma,” said Gareth Price, an Asia expert at Chatham House in London.
“She will also call for responsible trade and investment and support for the rule of law in Burma, as the reforms are reversible.”
The veteran activist is travelling with her personal assistant, her security chief, the dissident rapper-turned-politician Zayar Thaw and a youth member from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Nay Chin Win.
There is also a strong personal dimension to the tour, although her party has declined to say whether she will see both her sons, Kim and Alexander Aris, as well as her grandchildren.
While Kim has visited his mother in Myanmar since her release, Alexander has not and he now lives in the United States.
By The Associated Press | Associated Press – 11 hrs ago YANGON, Myanmar – When Aung San Suu Kyi last saw Europe, it was still divided into the democratic West and communist East. Her homeland of Myanmar was still under oppressive military rule.
The long-time democracy activist set out Wednesday on her first European trip since 1988 to make a long-awaited acceptance speech for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and at a time when Myanmar is making tenuous democratic progress.
Her scheduled return to Myanmar by the end of the month gets her back in time to attend the July 4 reconvening of Parliament, which was announced Tuesday night on state television. The parliamentary session will be considering crucial legislation, including media regulation and foreign investment.
Cheerful and energetic at Yangon’s airport, Suu Kyi waved to journalists and passengers as she headed to the departure lounge. Asked about her trip, Suu Kyi told reporters she expects it to be eye-opening.
“Each country will be different. I will know how backward (Myanmar) is when I reach the other countries,” Suu Kyi said.
For 24 years, the opposition leader was either under house arrest or too fearful that if she left Myanmar, the former military regime would not let her return. She stayed put even as her British husband was dying of cancer in England in 1999.
This will be Suu Kyi’s second overseas trip after a recent, five-day tour in Thailand and will be filled with high-profile events bound to burnish Suu Kyi’s image as an international political celebrity.
At her first stop in Geneva, Suu Kyi will address Thursday’s annual conference of the U.N.’s International Labor Organization. Her next stop is Norway for what is expected to be an emotional acceptance speech of her Nobel prize, 21 years late.
She will briefly stop in Dublin to personally thank U2 frontman Bono for his support over the years. They will share the stage at a Monday concert in her honour organized by Amnesty International.
In England, Suu Kyi will receive the rare honour of addressing both houses of Britain’s parliament and will accept an honorary doctorate at Oxford, where she studied and later lived with her husband and sons, Alexander and Kim.
In April 1988, Suu Kyi left her family in England to nurse her dying mother back home.
The daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero Gen. Aung San, Suu Kyi got swept into the forefront of an uprising against the military regime. The junta viewed her popularity as such a threat that they locked her under house arrest for 15 of the next 22 years.
In November 2010, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and in April she won a seat in Parliament, paving the way for Western nations to ease economic sanctions that had been imposed on the former military government.
One of Suu Kyi’s biggest challenges as she travels Europe will be to avoid upsetting the government, which has been praise for sweeping reforms but is still backed by the military.
Her visit comes as President Thein Sein struggles to contain deadly sectarian violence in western Myanmar that has pitted ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims. The violence has left at least 21 people dead since Friday and shed light on an enduring ethnic conflict.
Suu Kyi’s trip to Thailand reportedly irked President Thein Sein, due partly to the massive attention she received and also to the message she carried. At a speech to international investors and diplomats she warned against “reckless optimism” in Myanmar, saying the country still lacked the basic principles of a democracy.
Associated Press – 18 mins ago
SITTWE, Myanmar (AP) — Heavy rain brought an uneasy calm in western Myanmar on Wednesday after five days of sectarian strife, though residents were too fearful to sleep and faced food shortages.
The conflict pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state has caused at least 21 deaths and more than 1,600 homes have been torched in some of the worst sectarian unrest recorded in Myanmar in years.
An Associated Press journalist in the state capital, Sittwe, confirmed it was calm, with no signs of the scattered fires seen in recent days. Some of the fires had been extinguished only by the rain.
State television news Wednesday night reported no new violence but focused on how the military was restoring order and providing relief.
In Sittwe, soldiers and police patrolled and warned people by loudspeaker to abide the existing state of emergency, which gives the military full authority over administrative and security functions in Rakhine.
Other measures include a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and a ban on public meetings of more than five persons.
Fears of renewed violence halted bus and ferry deliveries of food and other cargo from Yangon to Sittwe, limiting supplies and sending prices skyrocketing. Shops, banks, schools and markets were closed.
President Thein Sein has warned that the spiraling violence could threaten the democratic reforms tentatively transforming the country after half a century of military rule.
The U.N. special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, visited Sittwe on Wednesday, accompanied by government officials, and then flew to another city that has seen violence, Maungdaw, in northern Rakhine state near Bangladesh.
Ferry cargo companies that deliver to the area will resume once security is restored, said a manager at the Shwe Pyi Thit ferry service. He spoke on condition of anonymity due to sensitivities surrounding the sectarian violence.
Road transport in and out of the cities stopped a few days ago.
“Food is very scarce and prices are high,” said Sittwe resident Khin Thazin. She said the main market was closed and a handful of roadside vendors were out briefly in the morning but didn’t have stocks to meet the demand. “Everything sold out in an hour.”
Another resident, San Shwe, contacted by telephone, said he did not trust the quiet brought by Wednesday’s rains.
“It is quiet here this morning but life has not returned to normal. We live in fear every day and night,” said San Shwe, recounting unconfirmed rumors that authorities had seized weapons caches from Muslim villagers.
Sectarian tensions in the area are long-standing, but the violence that erupted Friday was triggered by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslims, and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation.
While the violence may have been contained to Rakhine, nervousness has spread to other areas of Myanmar. Roadside sellers of betel nut leaves, a calling associated with Muslims, complain that business has been bad since the violence started, as do other vendors of the same faith. In Yangon, the nation’s largest city, most Muslims avoid venturing out after 9 p.m.
The violence has prompted thousands of Muslim villagers to flee. About 1,500 Rohingyas were turned away from entering Bangladesh by boats since the weekend.
Human Rights Watch urged Bangladesh to open its border to Rohingyas seeking refuge, saying it was putting lives at grave risk. Bangladesh earlier defended its actions, saying the impoverished country’s resources already are strained.
Myanmar considers Rohingyas to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for centuries and should be recognized there as citizens.
The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates 800,000 Rohingyas live in Rakhine state. Human rights groups say the face severe discrimination and abuse, and thousands attempt to flee every year.
Bangladeshi officials have taken in at least one Rohingya: a one-and-a-half-month-old boy found in an abandoned boat in the River Naf, near Shah Pori Island in Teknaf.
Border guard official Maj. Saiful Wadud said the other passengers, sensing the presence of border guards and coast guards, had jumped into the river late Tuesday as the boat neared the shore, but the baby was left behind. The infant was handed over to a village family.
Associated Press – Tue, Jun 12, 2012
SITTWE, Myanmar (AP) — Gunshots rang out and residents fled blazing homes in western Myanmar on Tuesday as security forces struggled to contain deadly ethnic and religious violence that has killed at least a dozen people and forced thousands to flee.
The conflict pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state marks some of the worst sectarian unrest recorded in Myanmar in years. President Thein Sein has declared an emergency and warned that the spiraling violence could threaten the democratic reforms tentatively taking shape in Myanmar after half a century of military rule.
On Tuesday in the regional capital, Sittwe, police fired live rounds into the air to disperse Rohingyas who could be seen burning homes in one neighborhood. Hordes of people ran to escape the chaos.
“Smoke is billowing from many directions and we are scared,” said Ma Thein, an ethnic Rakhine resident in Sittwe, where dark smoke from numerous fires covered the skyline into the late afternoon. “The government should send in more security forces to protect both communities.”
Truckloads of security forces have been deployed in Sittwe for days, and much of the port city was reported calm, including its main road. But homes were burning in three or four districts that have yet to be pacified.
In one, police fired skyward to separate hundreds-strong mobs wielding sticks and stones; in another, soldiers helped move 1,000 Muslims by trucks to safer areas.
Ma Thein said that some people were running short of food and water, with banks, schools and markets closed. Some small shops opened early Tuesday to sell fish and vegetables early in the morning to residents who braved the tense streets.
Bangladesh has turned back about 500 Rohingyas trying to escape by boat. Mohammad Jainul Bari, a Bangladeshi government administrator in a district bordering Myanmar, said the Rohingyas had crammed into 11 wooden vessels over the past three days. Bari gave no reason for turning them back, but said authorities had orders not to allow them into the country.
The unrest, which began Friday, was triggered by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslims, and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation. There are long-standing tensions between the two groups.
Myanmar’s government regards the Rohingyas as illegal migrants from Bangladesh and has rendered them stateless by denying them citizenship. Although some are recent settlers, many have lived in Myanmar for generations and rights groups say they suffer severe discrimination.
The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar’s mountainous Rakhine state. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere, trying to escape a life of abuse.
The conflict poses one the biggest tests yet for Myanmar’s new government and how it handles the unrest will draw close scrutiny from Western powers, which have praised Thein Sein’s administration and rewarded it by easing years of harsh economic sanctions.
Human Rights Watch called on the government to “take all necessary steps” to protect at-risk communities and questioned the descision to call a state of emergency, which allows the military to take over administrative functions in the area.
“Given the Burmese army’s brutal record of abuses … putting the military in charge of law enforcement could make matters worse,” said Elaine Pearson, the New York-based group’s deputy Asia director. Myanmar’s former name of Burma is preferred by many activists.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged a halt to the violence and a transparent investigation.
State run newspapers reported that 4,100 people who lost homes had taken refuge in Buddhist monasteries, schools and in a police headquarters the towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung, both in Rakhine state.
Thousands more were reportedly displaced in Sittwe itself, according to a Rakhine political party. The Rakhine Nationalities Development Party is one of the major parties associated with the country’s ethnic minorities, and holds several dozen seats in the the 664-member parliament.
State media has reported eight dead in Maungdaw, and an AP journalist saw the corpses of four people killed in Sittwe.
13 June 2012 – A United Nations independent human rights expert today warned that escalating violence among communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state represents a serious threat to the country’s future.
“The underlying tensions that stem from discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities pose a threat to Myanmar’s democratic transition and stability. I urge all sides to exercise restraint, respect the law and refrain from violence,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said in a news release.
“The Government should also address these concerns alongside its efforts to make progress on other human rights issues,” he added.
The violence in Rakhine state – between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims – has left at least a dozen civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed since last Friday, according to media
reports. The violence led to the Government declaring a state of emergency in the state this past weekend.
“It is critical that the Government intensify its efforts to defuse tension and restore security to prevent the violence from spreading further,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said, adding that the authorities should lift the state of emergency as soon as order is restored.
Having consistently stressed the need for the authorities to take significant steps to address long standing issues of deprivation of citizenship, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights, the Special Rapporteur noted that discrimination against the Muslim community, particularly the Rohingyas in northern Rakhine state, is the root cause of these communal conflicts.
“Policing action should be carried out impartially, in line with human rights standards, and with respect for the principles of legality, proportionality and non-discrimination,” the Special Rapporteur said, in regard to Myanmar President Thein Sein’s message calling on various segments of society to jointly maintain peace and stability.
He added that, in his view, this obligation also extends to all state security forces on the ground who are charged with the restoration of order; and responsible media reporting is also needed to prevent violence from escalating.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is in the South-East Asian country at the moment.
Yesterday, he met with President Thein and they discussed the state of emergency and the need for the Government “to continue to handle the situation transparently and with respect for human rights and the rule of law, consistent with President Thein Sein’s recent statement in order that the cycle of violence is broken and the broader reform process not adversely affected,” according to a UN spokesperson.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on Bangladesh to keep its borders open in light of the violence in Rakhine state, following media reports quoting a statement of the Bangladeshi Border Guard force that it had turned away a number of boats carrying people from Myanmar.
12 June 2012 – The United Nations envoy for Myanmar met today with the country’s president and discussed the state of emergency that has been declared in northern Rakhine state following the recent outbreak of violence.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is currently in the South-east Asian nation to participate in a meeting with government leaders, including President Thein Sein, in the capital, Naypyitaw.
He and the President discussed the state of emergency and the need for the Government “to continue to handle the situation transparently and with respect for human rights and the rule of law, consistent with President Thein Sein’s recent statement in order that the cycle of violence is broken and the broader reform process not adversely affected,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.
Mr. Nambiar’s visit follows the one made by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in late April, during which he pledged the UN’s continued support for Myanmar as it continues with the process of national reconciliation and democratic transition begun last year by Mr. Sein.
The violence in Rakhine state, reported to be between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, has left at least a dozen civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed since last Friday, according to media reports.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today called on Bangladesh to keep its borders open in light of the rapid escalation of violence in Rakhine state, following media reports quoting a statement of the Bangladeshi Border Guard force that it had turned away a number of boats carrying people from Myanmar.
“UNHCR is advocating with the Bangladeshi authorities to allow safe haven on its territory for those who need immediate safety and medical assistance,” spokesperson Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva.
“Previously people have been allowed in to Bangladesh for medical treatment. We hope that such good practices will be maintained,” he added.
The refugee agency is trying to monitor key crossing points along the border between the two countries following the temporary relocation of its staff in the area.
There are presently more than 30,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in two camps in the district of Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. There are an additional 200,000 “unregistered persons of concern” from Myanmar in Bangladesh, for whom UNHCR also advocates.
Published: June 13, 2012 at 9:54 AM NEW YORK, June 13 (UPI) — Sectarian violence in Myanmar is reaching a crisis point despite a national declaration of emergency, Human Rights Watch said.
Fighting in western Myanmar erupted last week when 10 Muslims were killed following an attack by a mob. A version of the events provided by Human Rights Watch claimed the mob was reacting to the alleged rape and killing of a young girl by Muslims in May.
Elaine Pearson, deputy director of the Asia program at Human Rights Watch, said violence was continuing under the government’s watch.
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein issued a state of emergency in the area, handing authority over the situation to the country’s military.
Pearson, however, said the military has a “brutal record of abuses” and their authority in western Myanmar could make matters worse.
“The government needs to be protecting threatened communities but, without any international presence there, there’s a real fear that won’t happen,” she said in a statement.
Myanmar was praised by members of the international community for political reforms enacted since 2010. Concerns about ethnic violence in parts of the country and the human rights situation remain, however.
Myanmar’s president warned of a threat to stability and democratization as Buddhist and Muslim minorities clash over longstanding grievances.
By Peter Ford | Christian Science Monitor – Tue, Jun 12, 2012 The deadly race riots now cleaving northwestern Myanmar are an alarming reminder of a key threat to the country’s fragile and embryonic democracy: conflict among Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups.
Violence continued Tuesday in Arakan state, three days after President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency there and sent troops to quell the looting, arson, and mob clashes that have pitted the Buddhist Rakhine minority against Muslim Rohingya. At least seven people were reported killed.
The president warned in a televised speech that “if we put racial and religious issues at the forefront … if we continue to retaliate and terrorize and kill each other … the country’s stability and peace, democratization process and development … could be severely affected and much would be lost.”
Many ethnic minorities have waged guerrilla insurgencies against the government since Myanmar’s (Burma’s) independence in 1948, seeking wider economic and political autonomy from the central authorities, which are dominated by the majority Bamar. The current clashes, however, are different, setting two minorities against each other, and posing an awkward security challenge for the government as it seeks to present a softer and more democratic image, steering the country away from military rule.
Hostility between the Rakhine and the Rohingya dates back many decades; as British troops fell back before the advancing Japanese in 1942, Rakhine mobs took advantage of the power vacuum to launch a pogrom against their neighbors.
The Rakhine regard the Rohingya – descended from laborers imported from what is now Bangladesh by the British colonial government more than a century ago – as foreign intruders. (See map here.)
DEEPLY OPPRESSED, DEEPLY RESENTFUL
The estimated 750,000 Rohingya, one of the most miserable and oppressed minorities in the world, are deeply resentful of their almost complete absence of civil rights in Myanmar.
In 1982, the military junta stripped the Rohingya of their Myanmar citizenship, classing them as illegal immigrants and rendering them stateless. They are not allowed to leave their villages, nor may they marry, without permission. They are forbidden to have more than two children and for many years the authorities have subjected them to slave labor.
“They have been treated in some of the worst ways possible by a government,” says Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia division.
Rohingya make up around 90 percent of the population of north Arakan, but their Rakhine neighbors dismiss them as “Bengali Muslims” and refuse to acknowledge the Rohingya communal identity that local Muslim leaders have forged over the past half century.
“The Rohingya claims to be an ethnic people is a concern to Rakhines because it might lead them to claim territorial rights,” worries Wong Aung, an ethnic Rakhine exile in Thailand who runs an environmental NGO.
For decades, says Mr. Robertson, Myanmar’s military rulers fanned the flames of communal rivalries to divide and rule while tapping into a strain of Bamar racism that has infected many otherwise openminded and liberal intellectuals. “Too many right-thinking people in Burma seem to have been sucked in by the more extreme sort of propaganda,” he says.
CAUGHT BETWEEN MYANMAR AND BANGLADESH
The Rohingya have suffered a turbulent recent history: Fearing for their safety in the face of military operations in 1978, some 200,000 fled to Bangladesh. Another 250,000 fled in similar circumstances in 1991. Bangladesh, however, has refused to shelter them. This past weekend Bangladeshi coast guard vessels turned away Rohingya boat people as they sought to flee the violence in their homeland.
The Rohingya were allowed to vote in 2010 parliamentary elections that ushered in the new nominally civilian government that has been introducing democratic reforms. But promises of better treatment from candidates of the official Union Solidarity and Development Party have proved hollow.
The new government “has made it very clear in parliamentary statements that [the Rohingya] are a national security problem and that they are not from Burma so they cannot be given rights,” says Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, an advocacy group based in Bangkok.
But the mere fact that a new government has taken office and is introducing political change is bringing old problems to the surface, says Martin Smith, an expert on Myanmar who has studied the country’s ethnic mosaic.
“As the government changes, the lid is opening on old problems that have to be dealt with after so many years of neglect,” Mr. Smith says. “Old problems are going to attract new attention.”
So far, worries Robertson, the government’s refusal to address Rohingya grievances “raises fundamental questions about the government’s ability to forge a peaceful and multiethnic Burma. If they are really reformists,” he argues, “they have to recognize that Burma belongs to all its ethnic groups and races.”
June 13, 2012 1:59 pm
Washington DC – Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said Tuesday that he would help Myanmar to convince US to lift all sanction against the country when he met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton here.
The regime in Nay Pyi Taw has proved that it fully committed reform toward democracy and national reconciliation, said Surapong who visited Myanmar on June 8, before his trip to the 4th Thai-US Strategic Dialogue this week.
His Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin has asked him to help convey message of political development in Myanmar to Washington, he said.
“Thailand, as a friend of Myanmar, needs to do what we can to have the US sanction lifted,” Surapong told reporters.
“The US might feel we are too optimistic on the development in Myanmar but I think everything is clear that the country is moving toward democracy.”
The US has relaxed some sanctions on Myanmar recently but remained a lot of tough measures which blocked economic activities including trade and investment from the US and its allies to the country.
Surapong was scheduled to meet on Wednesday US State Secretary Clinton and key senators who were keen on Myanmar and Asian affairs including Jim Webb from the Democrat and James Inhofe from the Republican.
He would also discuss with them on the issue of refugees whom Thailand has sheltered at the border for long time and Bangkok has a clear policy to repatriate them to the place of origin whenever they can return home safely.
He would ask investors in the US-Asean Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce to consider investment in Dawei project which would materialize the connectivity between Myanmar and other South Asian Nations.
International community should help support Myanmar’s effort to reform the country, he said.
Thailand has invited reformer President Thein Sein to visit Bangkok in the third week of July to discuss wide rank of bilateral relations including the cooperation on Dawei project.
“We will show him our Eastern Sea Board that would link with the western sea board in the future when the Dawei project was completed,” he said.
Thein Sein delayed his previous plan to visit Thailand during the World Economic Forum May 30- June 1 when pro-democracy leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was also in the forum.
Surapong said the delay was due to some internal affairs, not because of high profile visit of Aung San Suu Kyi.
A part from Myanmar issue, Surapong said he would discuss with US officials on various issue of cooperation including counter terrorist, anti-narcotic cooperation, refugee and humanitarian assistance but he would not raise the issue of Utapao to the discussion.
There are a lot of mixed up stories on Utapao and local politicians at home too much politicize it, he said. The NASA project to use Utapoa airbase for weather monitoring operation was not related with the idea of the US Navy to use the facilities at airbase for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, he said.
The NASA just simply asked permission to use the airport for its weather monitoring aircraft for short period in August and September. The project would be jointly conducted with Thai Science, Technology and Environment Ministry. The action was similar to what NASA did in Hong Kong recently, he said.
Surapong said he has submitted the NASA request to the cabinet for approval and remained no idea when the cabinet would consider it.
Meanwhile the US Navy idea to use Utapao for humanitarian purpose is still far from conclusion, he said. “We are still exploring possibility and we might ask many countries including China to join the project,” he said.
June 13, 2012 6:46 pm
A team of Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officials rescued 11 Myanmar workers who were forced to work on a fishing boat 20 hours per day for a mere Bt30 a day, DSI chief Tarit Pengdith said Wednesday.
Following complaints from the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation, the DSI team, along with Area 2 Provincial Police and the coastguard, raided two boats in Tambon Saem San in Chon Buri’s Sattahip district.
They also arrested three Myanmarese suspects, aged 15, 21 and 35, on a charge of forcing the victims to work with threats and assault.
By Daniel Ten Kate and Arun Devnath – Jun 13, 2012 5:29 AM PT
Bangladesh dismissed calls from the United Nations refugee agency to accept people fleeing violence that has claimed dozens of lives in neighboring Myanmar.
“It is certainly not in the best of our interests to allow in a further influx of refugees,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told reporters in Dhaka yesterday, responding to reports that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged the country to provide a safe haven. “We want to make sure that refugees don’t enter Bangladesh in large numbers again.”
Myanmar declared a state of emergency on June 10 in western Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh, in a bid to end clashes between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas that erupted a week earlier.
Bangladesh authorities have turned back boats carrying hundreds of Rohingyas, including women and children who traveled for as long as nine hours without food and water.
Bangladesh is seeking to avoid a repeat of influxes in previous decades that have left more than 200,000 Rohingyas living in or around makeshift camps. The UNHCR said in December that its ability to address the issue of Rohingyas in Bangladesh has been “particularly challenging” and the country is “not well placed to cope with this protracted refugee situation.”
The UNHCR yesterday said it was “very concerned” about reports Bangladesh had turned away people fleeing violence and sought a clarification from authorities. The UN agency asked Bangladesh to allow people in need of safety and immediate medical assistance to enter the country.
“Previously people have been allowed in to Bangladesh for medical treatment,” the UNHCR said in a statement. “We hope that such good practices will be maintained.”
The unrest began after an alleged rape prompted a mob of about 300 Rakhine Buddhists to murder 10 Muslims on June 3, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. Myanmar imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in four towns in Rakhine and prohibited more than five people from gathering in public areas at a time, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
“Bangladesh is putting lives at grave risk,” Bill Frelick, refugee program director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement yesterday. “Bangladesh has an obligation under international law to keep its border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection.”
The clashes killed 21 people and left 1,662 houses burned down from June 8 to June 11, the Associated Press reported, citing state media. Myanmar President Thein Sein said in a national address on June 10 that uncontrolled violence may hamper the government’s ability to proceed with democratic reforms that prompted the U.S. and European Union to suspend sanctions this year.
Moves toward greater political freedom after about five decades of military rule have attracted investors to Myanmar, one of Asia’s poorest nations. The outbreak of violence in Rakhine underscores the challenge of unifying the country of 64 million people, which has 135 officially recognized ethnic groups — a list that excludes the Rohingyas.
Bangladesh border guards and the nation’s coastguard prevented 500 Rohingya Muslims from entering the country in 11 boats two days ago, Major Shafiqur Rahman said. Most were women and children who lacked food and water, he said by phone on June 11.
‘Best of Relations’
Bangladesh and Myanmar “enjoy the best of relations” and “are maintaining close consultations to ensure that developments in the Rakhine state do not have any trans-boundary spillover,” Bangladesh Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Monirul Islam Kabir said in a statement yesterday.
Rohingyas, Sunni Muslims who are descended from Arab traders, are prevented from obtaining citizenship and traveling freely throughout Myanmar, according to Human Rights Watch. About 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar and 200,000 are in Bangladesh, the group estimates.
Bangladesh saw influxes of about 250,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in 1978 and in the early 1990s, followed by repatriation efforts “that were not wholly voluntary,” the UNHCR’s policy development and evaluation service said in a December report.
Posted June 12, 2012, at 4:14 p.m.
You might not care about Myanmar. It’s far from Maine and may seem untied to the state’s people and economy.
But the story there — of fighting for a freely elected government — has a universal nature. Political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi has pushed for democracy despite being detained in some form for the last two decades.
The head of the National League for Democracy, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, prompting the committee chairman to call her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.”
She was released from house arrest in 2010 after being detained by Myanmar’s ruling generals for 15 years. And in April she and other NLD candidates won seats in parliament in a landslide victory.
It’s an encouraging, albeit continuing, story of perseverance, made more complicated by recent ethnic and religious violence in western Myanmar. The struggle came closer to Maine recently when U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ met with Suu Kyi when both traveled to Thailand for the World Economic Forum. It was Suu Kyi’s first trip outside Myanmar, formerly Burma, in 24 years.
On that trip, Suu Kyi reminded Mainers and people around the world about what they often take for granted: The ability to freely elect and criticize their government — particularly apt during this election time.
Suu Kyi spoke her mind, cautioning against investors being recklessly optimistic. There was speculation her comments upset President Thein Sein, though an aide said it was simple disagreement.
When she returned to the U.S., Collins offered a view of a brave, intelligent woman who’s gotten the world watching Myanmar. Connecting Suu Kyi and Maine increases the chance for future collaboration.
We hope one day to meet her here.
Collins: “[Suu Kyi] warned against being overly optimistic and that the gains that had been made, while impressive were still, in her words, reversible and that it remained to be seen whether or not they could be sustained .
“We talked about the fact that the administration has eased some of the sanctions, which will allow for foreign investment in Burma. She supported the easing of sanctions, but she told me she does not support lifting all the sanctions completely because she believes this needs to be dependent … on additional steps toward a fuller democracy.
“For 15 years she could not leave her house, and she has talked about that. She just listened to her radio six hours a day. So now here she is, going to a prestigious international forum and very freely speaking her mind without fear and going to visit refugee camps on the Thai border with Burma.
“She’s extremely bright, very thoughtful and very courageous. I worry about her physical health. When you meet her, she seems very frail, and I worry about whether she has the physical strength to match her extraordinarily strong intellect.”
By Saifulbahri Ismail | Posted: 14 June 2012 0028 hrs YANGON: Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong says Myanmar has the opportunity to become the new regional economic powerhouse if the country can succeed in its political and economic reforms.
Mr Goh said both Singapore and Myanmar can complement each other for mutual benefits.
He gave this assessment at the end of his two-day visit in Myanmar.
Mr Goh noted that Myanmar and Singapore are at different stages of development.
Myanmar is just beginning to move from an egalitarian economy on the path of industrialisation.
He said both countries can work together, but hopes Myanmar will benefit more than Singapore.
A strong Myanmar will also be good for the region.
Mr Goh said: “So if Myanmar reforms on the right track, opening up, growing by 8 to 10 per cent per year for 10 years, can you imagine what that will do to ASEAN? ASEAN will be more integrated, ASEAN will be a more powerful regional economy and we are there in a prosperous region.”
Mr Goh also believes that Myanmar’s political reforms will stay on track and that the pace of reforms has been satisfactory.
He added that political parties in Myanmar have to compete in a way that will be beneficial to the country.
Mr Goh said one of the outcomes of his visit is to better understand what Myanmar needs in terms of technical assistance from Singapore. In this regard, Singapore will make the enhanced Technical Cooperation Programme it offers to Myanmar more substantive and more focussed on areas which are relevant to Myanmar.
During Myanmar’s President Thein Sein visit to SIngapore last January, the foreign ministries from both countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Technical Cooperation Programme. Under the MOU, Singapore will be providing help in economic development, human resource development and public administration.
Many Singapore companies have expressed their interests in doing business in Myanmar.
Singapore Business Federation has already organised two business missions this year alone.
In view of this, Singapore’s investment agency IE Singapore has plans to open an office in Myanmar in the near future.
Mr Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said: “In fact we have to do that quickly, to help facilitate or be the bridge for our business sector and also what the market needs here, and to provide those information and facilitate the whole process.
“But we can’t decide for them which are the areas which is commercially viable for them. They have to make the decision themselves. I think for our part, we have to make sure that we get our resources on the ground, understand the marker better, and provide the information for the business sector to decide.”
Singapore is also keen to tap on Myanmar’s resources.
Singapore’s Ministry of National Development will be sending a team from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to Myanmar to explore possibilities on importing fishery products.
Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for National Development, said: “But they themselves are also keen to develop downstream industries and process because they are not just selling raw food or raw fishes. So, if you can process it, there will be better value-add for the villages, and so that they will also reduce the need for the villages to come all the way to the city to get jobs.”
Singapore is Myanmar’s fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to some S$1.6 billion last year. Myanmar is strategically located between China and India. In addition, its own domestic market of about 55 million people provides business access to more than two billion customers.
By Saifulbahri Ismail | Posted: 12 June 2012 2038 hrs
Naypyidaw, Myanmar: Singapore’s Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Tuesday said the government of Myanmar needs to show that the country is pro-foreign investment, with clear investment laws and policies.
Mr Goh, who is leading a delegation to Myanmar to strengthen cooperation, made these points to the media after he met Myanmar’s President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw.
ESM Goh told reporters that there were many opportunities in Myanmar.
“Our (Singapore’s) business people must come over here, assess for themselves the political risks … the economic risks of investing over here … (and) the state of (Myanmar) labour,” he said.
Mr Goh said he is positive that Myanmar is on the right track politically and economically.
During their 45-minute discussion, Mr Thein Sein expressed concern about poverty in his country. He said that to eradicate poverty, Myanmar needs to create employment and attract investment.
He also said Myanmar is keen to draw investments to labour-intensive industries, such as garments and electronics.
Mr Goh said Singapore can help Myanmar in human resource development and capacity building.
He later met Myanmar’s Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, also in Naypyidaw.
Mr Shwe Mann acknowledged the excellent bilateral relations between Singapore and Myanmar, and expressed appreciation for Singapore’s consistent support for Myanmar.
He briefed ESM Goh on the role of the Union Parliament in Myanmar’s democratic reforms and expressed support for initiatives that will enhance bilateral relations between the two countries.
Mr Goh also met Myanmar’s Investment Commission Chairman and Minister for Industry Soe Thane and Presidential Economic Advisor Myint.
They had wide-ranging discussions on developments in Myanmar and potential areas for economic cooperation.
They agreed that both countries should enhance cooperation in financial sector development, which would support the government’s economic reforms.
Mr Goh will travel to Yangon on Wednesday to meet Yangon Region Chief Minister Myint Swe and Yangon City Mayor Hla Myint.
ESM Goh last visited Myanmar in June 2009. Since then, a lot has changed in the country.
In 2010, the Myanmar government took major steps towards political reforms, such as releasing political prisoners who include opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
As major economies U.S. and Australia follow suit, Singapore’s move to convene with Myanmar’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the second time in 4 months is testament to its commitment to its development and interest to reap first-mover benefits, says Rikvin. http://www.rikvin.com/
We anticipate that this business delegation will be fruitful and open up business opportunities for both Myanmar and Singapore firms. On another note, we hope that other countries will take cue and respond to Myanmar’s request for all sanctions imposed on
(PRWEB) June 13, 2012
In yet another move to participate in the development of a “New Myanmar,” the Singapore Business Federation has this week led a business delegation consisting of 118 representatives from 76 companies to Yangon City.
The delegation, which includes entrepreneurs from the information technology (IT), manufacturing, construction, hospitality, trade and real estate industries, will convene at a business matching conference with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI).
Analysis by Singapore company registration specialist Rikvin shows that the business delegation comes on the back of another delegation four months prior. Between 12 and 18 February 2012, the
Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and International Enterprise (IE) Singapore have led 115 representatives from 74 Singapore-based firms for a business mission to Yangon City and Nay Pyi Daw.
The February mission focused on how Singapore’s strengths could catalyze Myanmar’s progress as it emerges from decades of economic and political isolation. Myanmar also looked to tap Singapore’s expertise in contributing to its infrastructural, urban and industrial master planning as well as education and vocational development, ahead of the 2013 SEA Games and 2014 ASEAN meeting.
Singapore’s business delegation, on the other hand, sought to identify potential business opportunities across a variety of industries ranging from tourism, information technology, commodities trading and industrial and infrastructural planning.
Just as Singapore-registered companies are eager to enter Myanmar, so are European and US firms. In between Singapore’s business delegations to Myanmar this year, the United States and Australian governments have reached out to the country to facilitate its economic progress. Just last week, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced that Australia will lift sanctions against Myanmar and increase aid to the country by two-fold to A$100 million annually by 2015. A month ago, U.S. President Barack Obama has eased investment curbs on Myanmar, following calls from business and political figures in the United States, Europe and Asia to lift sanctions.
“As major economies U.S. and Australia follow suit, Singapore’s move to convene with Myanmar’s key decision makers and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (UMFCCI) for the second time in 4 months is testament to not only its commitment to contribute to the nation’s growth but also its interest to reap first-mover benefits,” said Mr. Satish Bakhda, Rikvin’s Head of Operations.
According to data from IE Singapore and UMFCCI, the Republic is Myanmar’s fourth largest trading partner and 6th largest investor. Between 2010 and 2011, Myanmar-Singapore bilateral trade registered over US$2 billion. As of March 2012, Singapore has invested over US$1.8 billion in Myanmar. In view of cautious growth this year, the International Monetary Fund’s projection of Myanmar’s 5.5% and 6% GDP growth in fiscal year in (FY) 2011-12 and FY 2012-13 respectively has a positive role in influencing business sentiments amongst entrepreneurs.
“We anticipate that this business delegation will be fruitful and open up business opportunities for both Myanmar and Singapore firms. On another note, we hope that other countries will take cue and respond to Myanmar’s request for all sanctions imposed on it to be lifted so that it can attract longer-term investments which will in turn sustain and catalyze its economic and national development.
Furthermore, as Myanmar’s development plays an important role in Asia’s growth story, entrepreneurs and economies are in good stead to contribute to and participate in it,” added Mr. Bakhda
Source: The Sangai Express
Imphal, June 12 2012: To look into all issues related with Indo-Myanmar border trade and its growth, an 11-member strong high level committee has been constituted at the initiative of the Government of India.
An official source informed that the committee was constituted in accordance with the proceedings of the meeting held between State Government officials and Advisor to the Prime Minister TKA Nair last month.
The Director General of Foreign Trade has issued an order to this effect on June 1 .
The committee which is headed by Principal Secretary (Commerce and Industries) O Nabakishore about the issues, problems and prospects of the Indo-Myanmar border trade before submitting a report to the Government of India within 60 days.
Members of the committee are drawn from different departments like police, forest, foreign trade, customs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Assam Rifles and trade unions.
The State Government has been seeking assistance from the Centre to develop Moreh as a township of international standard and also to develop a timber park at the border town.
At present, formal trade between the two countries is restricted to 40 items.
English.news.cn 2012-06-12 21:47:48
YANGON, June 12 (Xinhua) — Myanmar’s two-house parliament will restart its fourth session in Nay Pyi Taw on July 4, according to a brief announcement of the parliament aired by state radio and television Tuesday night.
The announcement came amid a state of emergency declared in the country’s Rakhine state since Sunday night where deadly unrest and violence have been widespread since Friday.
The upcoming parliament session, which is expected to deal with the crisis, will also discuss dozens of bills left by the last session.
In the third session of the parliament, which lasted from Jan. 26 to May 2, a total of 11 bills were approved by the parliament to become laws which include a number of economy-related laws.
2012-06-13 16:06:22 Xinhua
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Wednesday urged Myanmar to ensure the smooth implementation of some major cooperation projects between the two countries.
Yang told visiting Myanmar Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin that China is ready to work with Myanmar to strengthen communication and coordination based on the principle of mutual respect and reciprocity.
China and Myanmar are each other’s important neighbors, Yang said, stressing that China has always attached importance to developing their good-neighborly and friendly cooperative relations.
The Chinese side is willing to work with the Myanmar side to jointly promote the healthy and stable development of the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, so to better benefit the two peoples, he said.
Myanmar cherishes “paukphaw” (fraternal) friendship between the two sides, U Wunna Maung Lwin said, thanking China for its long-term support and assistance to Myanmar’s economic and social development, according to a press release provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The visiting minister told his Chinese counterpart that Myanmar will continue to put developing relations with China in a very important position, said the press release.
Myanmar is willing to work with China to improve bilateral friendly exchanges and cooperation in various fields, the minister said, to continuously deepen the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership.
The two sides also made an in-depth exchange of views on international and regional issues of common concern.
U Wunna Maung Lwin is paying an official visit to China from June 9-14, as guest of Yang.
The Financial Times – Myanmar’s star
It has taken 21 years, but Aung San Suu Kyi will on Friday finally receive her Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. When it was awarded in 1991, Myanmar’s opposition leader was under house arrest at the start of what would turn into 15 years of incarceration. It is worth pinching oneself. That Ms Suu Kyi, now a member of parliament, can travel freely shows how much has changed in the past year.
The world should not get carried away, however. Just how intractable Myanmar’s problems remain was brought home by the latest flare-up in ethnic violence. In the remote far west of the country, clashes between Muslims and Buddhists have left at least 17 people dead. Ms Suu Kyi has joined Thein Sein’s government, which has imposed a state of emergency, in calling for calm. But neither the new administration nor, if truth be told, Ms Suu Kyi herself have come up with a credible plan for resolving multiple ethnic tensions.
During decades of junta rule, the chosen method of dealing with the ethnic question was brutal suppression of minorities. Thankfully, that option is becoming less tenable amid sharper media scrutiny.
Naypyidaw is also keen to improve its international image. Still, in the absence of force – or a comprehensive political settlement – the danger is that long-simmering tensions could boil over into open violence. The nightmare scenario is that Myanmar degenerates into an Asian Yugoslavia.
The ethnic question highlights a fundamental issue. How is Myanmar’s improved political situation to be translated into what really counts – a better life for its mostly impoverished people? Myanmar, with output per capita of about $850, has sub-Saharan levels of poverty. There are high expectations for investment. But Ms Suu Kyi has been ambivalent about just how quickly sanctions should be dismantled.
Even if investment flows freely, money is likely to go to Yangon rather than to the regions where ethnic tensions are most acute. International aid and technocratic assistance will be just as crucial as investment for many years to come.
Ms Suu Kyi’s new role is harder than when she was opposing the junta. She must weigh her criticism of Thein Sein’s government with the need to back a leader who has proved himself an agent of change.
It is a horribly difficult balancing act. Ms Suu Kyi won the Nobel Prize for her brave opposition. Her conduct as a parliamentarian in helping to steer the country through some tricky times will be every bit as important.
Published on Wednesday 13 June 2012.
Reporters Without Borders today finally had the pleasure of presenting Burmese blogger, comedian and actor Zarganar with the press freedom prize in the “Cyber-dissident” category that it awarded to him in December 2008, when he was in prison.
Arrested on 4 June 2008 after talking to the BBC World Service and other foreign news media about the then military government’s mismanagement of relief operations after Cyclone Nargis and its guilty silence on the subject, Zarganar ended up being sentenced to 35 years in prison under the Electronics Act.
He was awarded the Reporters Without Borders prize in December 2008 jointly with fellow blogger Nay Phone Latt, who was also in prison at the time. Zarganar was finally released on 12 October 2011 under an amnesty for political prisoners. Nay Phone Latt was freed under a second amnesty in January.
Zarganar arrived Monday on a three-day visit to Paris to meet the organizations that supported him during his prison years. He met yesterday with several organizations including Reporters Without Borders at the “Maison des Associations” in Paris’s 3rd arrondissement.
This morning, he came to Reporters Without Borders headquarters, where he received the prize and thanked Reporters Without Borders, on behalf of himself and Nay Phone Latt, for its support for freedom of information in Burma. Zarganar also gave interviews to several news media including RFI, Paris Match, Le Monde and La Chronique.
November 2008: Zarganar gets additional sentence
January 2010: Zarganar’s sister-in-law interviewed as he turns 49 in jail
October 2011: Zarganar freed
October 2011: Zarganar interviewed after his release
Associated Press Jun 14, 2012
SITTWE, Myanmar // Heavy rain brought an uneasy calm to western Myanmar yesterday after five days of deadly sectarian strife. Yet residents said they were too afraid to sleep at night and faced food shortages.
At least 21 people have died and more than 1,600 homes have been torched in the conflict pitting ethnic Rakhine Buddhists against stateless Rohingya Muslims in coastal Rakhine state. It is some of the worst sectarian unrest in Myanmar in years. Some of the fires were put out only by the rain.
Fears of renewed violence halted bus and ferry deliveries of food and other cargo from Yangon to Sittwe, Rakhine’s capital, limiting supplies and sending prices rocketing. Shops, banks, schools and markets were closed.
President Thein Sein has declared an emergency in Rakhine and warned the spiralling violence could threaten democratic reforms tentatively transforming the country after 50 years of military rule.
The UN special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, visited Sittwe yesterday with government officials, then flew to another city that has seen violence, Maungdaw in northern Rakhine state near Bangladesh.
Bangladesh shares a 200-kilometre border with Myanmar and is home to an estimated 300,000 Rohingya refugees. They want Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi to steal up for them.
Mohammad Islam, leader of the refugees living in Nayapara camp in the Bangladesh border town of Teknaf, said: “Our appeal is to the UN, foreign nations, the Myanmar government and especially to Suu Kyi. She hasn’t done or said anything for us, yet the Rohingyas including my parents campaigned for her in the 1990 elections. Like most other Burmese people, she is silent about the rights of Rohingya.”
Ferry cargo companies that deliver to the conflict area stopped service on Tuesday and will resume once security is restored, said a manager at the Shwe Pyi Thit ferry service.
Road transport in and out of the cities stopped a few days ago.
“Food is very scarce and prices are high,” said Sittwe resident Khin Thazin. She said the main market was closed and a handful of roadside vendors sold out in an hour.
Another resident, San Shwe, said he did not trust the quiet brought by yesterday’s rains. She said: “Life has not returned to normal. We live in fear every day and night.”
The sectarian tensions in the area are long-standing, but the violence that erupted Friday was triggered by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslims, and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation.
Security forces have struggled to quell the violence that has prompted thousands of Muslim villagers to flee. About 1,500 Rohingyas were turned away from entering Bangladesh by boats since the weekend.
Human Rights Watch has urged Bangladesh to open its border to more Rohingyas seeking refuge.
Bangladesh’s foreign minister, Dipu Moni, said on Tuesday the impoverished country’s resources already are strained.
Myanmar regards Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh says Rohingyas have been living in Myanmar for centuries.
The United Nations’ refugee agency estimates 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar’s mountainous Rakhine state. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere.
Bangladeshi officials have taken in at least one Rohingya: a one-and-a-half-month old baby boy found in an abandoned boat in the River Naf, near Shah Pori Island in Teknaf.
The border guard official Major Saiful Wadud said the other passengers, sensing the presence of the guards, had jumped into the river late on Tuesday as the boat neared the shore, but the baby was left behind. The officials handed the baby over to villager Kabir Ahmed. He said the baby was doing well as he was being breast-fed by his wife, who has four boys of her own.
AFP 13 ?????, 2012 03:43:40 ? Oman Time
Myanmar: Myanmar’s pledge to end forced labour will see it regain full membership of the International Labour Organization, the agency said Wednesday, ahead of a historic address by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Full membership rights for Myanmar will be re-established at a vote today at about 6 p.m.” said Kari Tapiola, special advisor to ILO Director General Juan Somavia.
The 1600 GMT vote at the ILO conference in Geneva ends 13 years of restrictions on Myanmar and follows the signing in March of an action plan agreement to eliminate forced labour by 2015.
The restrictions — including the withdrawal of technical assistance for infrastructure projects — were imposed in 1999 because of the military junta’s failure to comply with an ILO convention on ending forced labour and allowing workers to form trade unions.
To illustrate the extent of the progress being made in Myanmar, Tapiola said that the ruling State Peace and Development Council had agreed to put an end to forced labour by 2015 “and said it could even do it earlier”.
Tapiola also said about 40 trade unions had been created in Myanmar since the start of the year.
“Until 2012 there have been virtually no workers’ associations in Myanmar, not even government-controlled ones,” he told reporters.
Aung San Suu Kyi is to address the ILO on Thursday during her first trip to Europe since 1988 following years of restrictions under the ruling military junta.
Now able to travel since a quasi-civilian government came to power last year, she will also formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize that thrust her into the global limelight two decades ago, address Britain’s parliament and receive an Amnesty International human rights award in Dublin from rock star Bono.
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| June 13, 2012
More than 1,500 protesting gold miners may be spending a third night at a Buddhist monastery in Mandalay surrounded by security forces while negotiations with the mine managers continue.
Miners’ representatives on Wednesday met with company chairman Soe Htun Shein and his team for a second round of talks after the first round ended without agreement.
The meeting is ongoing inside the Shwe Myay Tin Pagoda compound, said Ko Latt, one of many activists supporting the protesters. He said that the miners’ list of five demands have not been met by the mining company.
The gold miners are demanding: to be allowed to continue mining; compensation for loss of earnings and investment; compensation for mining teams who were forced to stop working; to have access to mining machinery as before; and to be allowed to continue working on a profit-sharing basis as before.
Tens of thousands of gold miners began protesting in the first week of June after the recipient of a five-year contract, Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company (MNPPC), told them to halt mining in the 6,000-acre Moehti Moemi area in Mandalay Division.
MNPPC reached a verbal agreement with around a thousand small mining companies and individual miners in December 2011 which allowed them to excavate gold from the area for the duration of its five-year government contract.
About 1,500 protesting miners set off by foot on Monday from mines in Moehit Moemi Taung to Yamaethin Township, a distance of some 40 miles (64 km), where they stopped to rest at a monastery en route to the Burmese capital, Naypyidaw. Among the protesters were women with infants.
But as they rested at the Shwe Myay Tin Pagoda on Monday evening, hundreds of security police surrounded the compound, and refused to allow any protesters to leave while also denying them access to food and water.
One of the protesting miners, Shin Phone, spoke to The Irrawaddy by telephone. “We are under detention. We want to go out, but the police will not let us,” he said.
On Tuesday, local authorities in Mandalay promised to help resolve the crisis.
Miner Ko Ye said that more protesters would come and join them from Moehit Moemi Taung, “but we told them to wait because we are in the middle of negotiations.”
Ko Ye said that many of them have put their life savings into investing in the gold mines, and they demanded the right to be able to keep mining.
“If they agree to our demands, we will turn back. If not, we will keep marching. Many of these miners have nothing else to lose,” he said.
A National League for Democracy leader in Yamaethin, Myo Thein, confirmed that a heavy police presence was surrounding the pagoda on Wednesday. He said that he and many others had provided food to the protesters, but were now waiting outside the compound with a request to send drinking water inside for the protesters.
“By refusing to allow even food and water into the monastery, the authorities are jeopardizing Burma’s cultural image,” said miner Shin Phone.
Late reports also indicated that a further 500 police were being deployed from the Yamaethin Police Training Camp and that hundreds more from Naypyidaw have been brought in to tighten security in nearby villages.
By KYAW KHA/ THE IRRAWADDY| June 13, 2012
The Arakan State capital Sittwe remains gripped by sectarian conflict despite a state of emergency being declared as insufficient security forces have been deployed to contain potential violence, according to local sources.
Khaing Pyi Soe, a spokesperson for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), told The Irrawaddy that many houses belonging to both Arakenese and Rohingya have been burned down all over the city.
More than 700 soldiers and police have been deployed yet dark smoke can be seen coming from numerous fires, he added. Locals are calling for even more security forces to be in place to protect the safety of residents.
“Security forces are only in major locations so Arakanese living in Sittwe’s suburbs want them to be in their areas as well in order to protect them from danger,” said Khaing Pyi Soe.
Information obtained from Sittwe General Hospital indicates that 21 Arakanese and six Rohingyas have died while many others have been injured since the president declared a state of emergency on Sunday night. There have also been seven reported deaths in Maungdaw, while official figures released in state media on Tuesday put the total death toll at 21.
Journalists currently covering the latest situation in Sittwe claim that security forces rushed to Kyaung Gyi, Narzi and Danyawaddy townships and some other urban areas on Tuesday as Rohingyas set fire to houses.
“I saw Rohingyas having their children, who are about 10 years old, set fire to houses. They burned Arakanese houses. They also burned their houses,” a reporter told The Irrawaddy. “There were about 2,000 people in their crowd. The Arakanese have moved to monasteries. I have taken video recordings of these incidents.”
A resident of Kyaung Gyi Township told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that people in his community were in trouble.
“We had to be on alert when they started burning their houses so the fire wouldn’t spread to ours,” said the Kyaung Gyi resident. “We are not safe. We have to keep eyes on them all the time as they may come and harm us anytime. Whenever something like this happens we, the Arakanese, have to run away.”
According to Khaing Pyi Soe, more than 8,500 Arakanese and other ethnic people who became homeless following the recent fires have been given aid by well-wishers and governmental agencies while sheltering in 34 rescue centers in Sittwe.
The Muslim-supported National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD), which has been monitoring the current situation in the mountainous state and collecting data, said that many Rohingyas are victims of the violence—some have been killed, others lost their houses and many have been forced to go into hiding.
Kyaw Khin, a member of the NDPD central committee, told The Irrawaddy that his party has found it difficult to estimate the exact number of homeless Rohingya and still cannot make a list of Muslim victims. The NDPD will continue to collect data, he said.
“Since violence has spread to urban areas in Sittwe, we have moved [Rohingya] women to a safer place,” said Kyaw Khin. “The worst thing is that they don’t have food. They need food but we can’t go out and buy it for them anymore. These people may die of hunger. They are all in the jungle now.”
He added that in some cases government security forces intervened on Monday and Tuesday by firing at Rohingyas.
The Bangladeshi government said on Tuesday that it sent back more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees who were trying to flee the ongoing violence. They were given food and sent back to Burma. Meanwhile, UN Special Advisor on Burma Vijay Nambiar arrived in Sittwe before noon on Wednesday to assess the situation.
A number of Sittwe residents reported to The Irrawaddy that a Muslim group opened fire at government troops, hitting a soldier in the thigh, and later took cover at a mosque in the city’s Aungmingalar quarter. They added that the wounded soldier is currently receiving treatment in Sittwe General Hospital and the Burmese troops did not return fire.
According to the NDPD, Rohingyas live in 14 out of 17 townships in Arakan State apart from Taunggup, Gwa and Ann. Over 90 percent of the population of Buthidaung and Maungdaw are Rohingyas, according to the group.
By CHARLIE CAMPBELL / THE IRRAWADDY| June 13, 2012
Aung San Suu Kyi must have wished for a less tumultuous atmosphere during her first return to Europe for 24 years. The opposition leader is due to celebrate her 67th birthday with her two sons in England as well as belatedly accept the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, but she leaves a homeland gripped by sectarian strife.
While few would begrudge Suu Kyi her long-overdue sojourn abroad the timing is undoubtedly poor. Tensions in Burma’s northwestern Arakan State have claimed at least 20 lives so far as Buddhists and Muslims engage in clashes sparked by the gang-rape and murder of an Arakanese Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslim men, in late May, and the retaliatory slaying of 10 Muslim pilgrims on a bus last week.
These clashes have degenerated into a more general conflict between the ethnic Arakanese and the much maligned Rohingya group—a stateless people numbering around 800,000 in the west of the country that are unwanted by both Burma and Bangladesh.
While the de facto standpoint for domestic strife in Burma has long been to blame the military government, this situation has been received somewhat differently. Protests have actually called on reformist President Thein Sein’s administration to step in and do more to quell the fighting—calling for the “rule of law” to be imposed.
Would these be the same vaguely-drafted statutes that have been used to lock up political dissenters for years with no justifiable reason? For some the Burmese state has suddenly become too liberal overnight.
But not all memories are so short-term. Burma expert and journalist Bertil Lintner told UK-based The Week magazine on Tuesday that Naypyidaw was likely instigating the conflict to wedge its old adversary Suu Kyi into a hard place.
“The violence is clearly well orchestrated and not as spontaneous as we are being led to believe,” he said “The answer is plain to see—the government is very worried about the support commanded by Suu Kyi.
“It wants to force her into a position where she has to make a pro-Rohingya public statement that could damage her popularity among Burma’s Buddhists, where anti-Muslim sentiment runs high. On the other hand, if she remains silent she will disappoint those who support her firm stand on human rights.”
While rumors abound of military personal disguising themselves as Arakanese and burning Rohingya homes, as well as disguising themselves as Rohingya and torching Arakanese homes—and seemingly every possible permutation between the protagonists—very little can be substantiated.
One possible corollary is that the Burmese security forces—so long a subject of intense fear and mistrust—have been validated as “peacekeepers” in some eyes domestically. Certainly, the way Thein Sein has reacted by calling for calm in an address to the nation has drawn international plaudits—for once eclipsing even Suu Kyi—and drawing praise from the EU.
“We believe that the security forces are handling this difficult inter-communal violence in an appropriate way,” Maja Kocijanic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. “We welcome the priority which the Myanmar government is giving to dealing with all ethnic conflicts.”
Suu Kyi clearly appears acutely aware of the sticky situation. “The majority need to have mercy on the minority. The majority have to be more compassionate and have more understanding. Don’t lose your temper,” she told Islamic leaders in Rangoon on June 6, before admitting that “some people won’t agree with me saying so.”
Undoubtedly tensions even in Rangoon remain high. Regular Arakanese protests have taken place around the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda while Islamic groups have also been holding demonstrations.
Some residents have even started stockpiling supplies and acquiring weapons to protect their home in case riots erupt, and residents are nervously awaiting Friday prayers in case they spark disorder.
Talk of Al-Qaeda involvement has even taken hold—perhaps an unfortunate byproduct of conservative Western press coverage of unrelated Islamic issues—while even prominent Muslims have moved to distance themselves from the Rohingya predicament.
Mya Aye, a leading member of the 88 Generation Students group, recently said that the Arakan conflict was “from the other country”—deemed a reference to Bangladesh, where around 200,000 Rohingya live as refugees—to apparently make the distinction with Burmese Muslims like himself.
All this puts Suu Kyi in a difficult position during her quest to the West. Arakan will undoubtedly be brought up many times, and it would be extraordinary to detach herself from the Rohingya—deemed “one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups” by the UN—while collecting the Nobel Peace Prize.
Conversely, to come out in defense of the Rohingya will cause domestic uproar. Even in her National League for Democracy (NLD) party “the Rohingya question has not been settled,” as one leading member recently told the BBC.
Indeed, polling stations in Muslim-population townships of Rangoon were buzzing with hijab-clad NLD voters during the April 1 by-elections. The expedient course politically would be to quell the violence while placating both the Islamic and Arakanese supporters for her party.
Yet this would most likely come at the expense of the Rohingya, and in turn international credibility after so many years harping on about “human rights”—especially just as Bangladesh refuses to accept more than 1,500 Rohingya Muslims who claim to be fleeing violence in Burma.
Suu Kyi transformation from prisoner to parliamentarian has come about swiftly. However, without the old foe of the military junta to vilify, treading the political tightrope shall not be a painless transition.
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 12:28 Phanida
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – The world economic decline has caused the value of Burma’s clothing export sector to drop around 30 per cent since 2008, according to the Myanmar Clothing Manufacturers Association (MCMA).
Compounding the fall is Europe’s tariff on clothing imports from Burma when Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam receive exemptions, said Myint Soe, the MCMA chairman.
Also, “the dollar is weak and the kyat is strong,” he said. “Our business are not good in both 2011 and 2012. Sometimes we suffered financial losses and sometimes we broke even, and sometimes we got a little profit. That’s the way we operate. Our businesses cannot grow,” Myint Soe told Mizzima.
Myint Soe said that Burma’s clothing industry needed to attract more market share, increase productivity and hope for a stronger dollar. “We should get a tariff exemption also,” he said.
Another factor that pressures productivity is electricity supply. “Sometimes we get [government] electricity and sometimes we get electricity from diesels [own generator],” he said. He said a worker in Vietnam can produce 20 shirts per day while a Burmese worker produces 10 shirts.
The currency exchange rate was 1,200 kyat per US$ 1, he said. Now, the exchange rate is stable around 850 kyat per $1.
He said contracts come from Japan, Korea, Europe and South America. Raw materials are bought mainly from China and some Asian countries.
Recently, he noted that there were successive workers’ strikes for higher salaries. He said with the downturn it is difficult for some companies to meet workers’ demands.
“We hope that the U.S. and Europe will reduce tariffs in the next three months. If our hope comes true, we can run our businesses. I told the workers that if the situations became worse and the dollar weakens against the kyat, we would not be able to meet the workers’ demands,” he said.
On June 5, government ministers, 88-generation student group leaders, workers rights activists and members of the MCMA met to discuss recent wage demands with the Rangoon Industrial Zone Management Committee.
Myint Soe said businesses offered an eight-hour working day and higher salaries, which the workers’ accepted in principle. Most workers in the clothing industry are female. Their salary rate ranges from 45,000 to 60,000 kyat (US$ 75) a month.
Regarding the recent workers’ strikes, Myint Soe said settlements were negotiated in five factories. Some negotiations are still underway.
Most of the clothing factories are located in Rangoon Region and Pegu (Bago) Region. Burma has 120 clothing factories, he said.
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 13:54 Basil Fernanda
The following article appeared on the Asian Human Rights Commission website. It analyses the difficulties of moving human rights issues forward when working with a diverse group such as Asean-member countries.
(Commentary) – Like every other activity, the impact of human rights work is bound in space and time. As in every other social activity, human rights is bound to historical circumstances. From these factors, there is no escape. To ignore these factors in impact assessment is to lose the very core of meaning in such an assessment.
Basil Fernando is a longtime advocate for human rights in Asia. Photo: basilfernando.netMentioning the less developed countries is an essential element of space and time and historical context. The way to explain this is by way of making a contrast. A less developed country when compared to a developed country has the following contrastz from the point of view of elements that matter in human rights matters:
A developed country is today described by perhaps the greatest political philosopher of our time, John Rawls, as a place of moderate scarcity. A less developed country is still in the stage of extreme scarcity. Thus the problem of poverty and limitation of resources are essential aspects of the condition known as being less developed.
From the point of view of rule of law, a developed country has an adequately developed rule of law system, where the basic elements such as the legislation, the constitutional framework and the institutional set up – particularly in relation to the police, the prosecution system, judicial system and the prison system – have developed to an adequately acceptable standard. By contrast, a less developed country has serious defects in legislation, in their constitutional framework, and also in terms of the institutional frameworks of the institutions mentioned above.
From the point of view of democracy, a developed country has acquired an adequate level of freedom. By contrast, a less developed country still remains within the framework of repression. The contrast between freedom and repression is a very essential element in discussions about developed countries and less developed countries.
All the factors mentioned above, including that of resource availability, the rule of law system and the contrast between freedom as against repression, are important components to take into consideration when dealing with the impact of human rights work in a less developed countries.
For example, what may appear to be a small act or event in a developed country may have very different significance in a situation of repression.
As Vaclav Havel mentioned, in the context of totalitarian regimes an act of an activist distributing a small number of copies of a small pamphlet may be of great significance. Such an act may also take great courage, as the risks are very high. In a country where there is freedom of expression and publication such an act may be seen as a mere triviality.
In countries where torture is endemic and widely practiced, developing a protest movement against that is not the same as condemnation of torture in a developed country where the norms against torture are well established and freedom of expression protect the person who makes the protest. Therefore, assessing human rights work relating to torture in a developed country and a less developed country are two very different things.
The meaning of such work to people who live within a context where torture is so commonly used is of historic significance. Even such small activities can provide the victims as well as the general population that lives under fear an opening that they may not have seen before. It may show some light at the end of the tunnel. For those who have been suppressing their anger against such use of torture and abuse of power, they may find in such efforts to fight against torture that they have an opportunity to express their own frustrations and to work out of the cocoon.
Thus a small act of protest may be the beginning of a movement and a movement once begun may find expressions a hundred fold or thousand fold depending on the circumstances. Also the beginners of such movements require considerable courage and a willingness to face risks. Someone from a developed country may not be able to see the manifold significance of such activities. However to miss this element is to lose capacity to measure the impact within a given historical context.
A further important principal in assessment of impact is that there are layers and layers of impact. An act which may seem small may have an echo that gives rise to several more small actions and these small actions little by little will expand and create new layers of impact and these very layers of impact after some time will extend to other layers and keep on going like this for a long period of time. Such ripple effects are particularly important in dealing with the human rights works in less developed, meaning more repressive, societies.
What is implied by this concept of layers and layers of impact is that to look for ultimate or final impact is to miss the whole dynamic that takes place in the struggle against repression. What may be called the ultimate impact may be some decades and decades away. If someone waited for that ultimate outcome such waiting will delay the outcome. Essential work against repression is the work of those impatient people, people who want to do whatever that is within their power, howsoever small that may be under the given circumstances.
There are people who do not want to sit and wait. There is a social dynamism in such impatience. All great social movements are the product of those who are willing to do the small things, whatever little things that are possible under difficult circumstances.
A sensitive person looking into impact of human rights work must have penetrating insight into to the unhappy lives of people who live under bad and repressive circumstances. Under such unhappy circumstances, and the dark psychological impact due to the repetition of bad events, there are those who make special efforts even without expecting great miracles to happen by way of big changes. Hope and hopelessness exist within the same person often at the same time. It is the impulse of hope pushing against the impulses of hopelessness that gives the impulse for all kinds of initiatives.
A sensitive inquiry will look for the human genius that works under hopeless circumstances and desperate situations which against all odds try to do whatever they can to expand the area of freedom inch by inch. However when something jumps from inch and inch to a foot, or to a yard, or to a mile, this is not something that the active agent could predict as he moves in the midst of hopelessness and darkness.
Human rights works in the midst of repression is some sort of miracle making. However those small people who push inch by inch do not often know that they are miracle workers. They almost daily blame themselves for not being able to do more, they weep seeing the suffering of others, they are preoccupied with their own helplessness and their limitations. It is not for them to see the role they play for their society and for the future. Such is the human condition and it is under those circumstances that small people work trying to contribute their little bit often thinking that what they do may not matter at all.
To measure the layers and layers of the impact of human rights works requires a deep appreciation and understanding of what repression really means and what efforts people do make in those circumstances to move their people for better.
Documentation: within a repressive situation many violations of human rights happen all the time but they are soon forgotten. That is a part of the way people are silent. When someone decides to record a violation, it is a significant event in that context. The act of documentation involves victim/victims and others who come to support him or her.
It takes a considerable courage on the part of a victim to decide to participate in speaking out what he or she suffered and to allow it to be documented. Such a victim has to struggle against his or her own fears as well as reprimand from those around him or her who may remind him or her that it is better to be silent, or that at least it is wiser to be silent. Thus an agreement to participate in documenting involves many personal decisions on the part of the victim. The worst part of this is to live through the trauma of recalling.
When the victims, after consideration of the risk, takes a decision to allow his or her story to be recorded, that is a bold step. It will have its impact on his or her own future behavior. Once a victim speaks out for the first time for a public purpose, and documentation is a public purpose, new kind of habituation begins. After making revelations for the first time doing so again for the second time may be less difficult and then he or she may even get to the habit of beginning to tell her story. It is also beginning a process of making a new friends and also new enemies. Many who hear his or her story may not have earlier thought that this same person has undergone such an ordeal. A new process of identification and linking begins.
On the other hand, when the victim speaks out he or she has begun the process of confronting his or her tormentors, and they too may and often do retaliate. Thus new kinds of contacts begin between the victims and the tormentors. At the time of suffering the violations the victim may have had to face it alone and passively. Now in the process of confrontation it is done with the solidarity of others and the person is now active and no longer passive. Thus there is an impact in the behavioral process of the victim as well as of the associates. A beginning of a contesting process in repressive societies is a very significant movement. When a single individual begins his or her contest it also has an impact on the general situation of repression itself. Not only the victims but a few others and gradually more and more persons begin to participate in such a context.
This is the most important element in fighting for human rights. Changing passivity into active protest is indeed a very fundamental kind of an impact. And now the process of transcribing the story that is transforming the oral story into a written story begins. In the cultural scene the transformation of the oral into writing is an impact. While the oral story can be shared only within a hearing distance, the transcribed story can now be shared with more persons. It may be shared with one more person, ten more persons, hundreds more persons or even a million or more persons. A process of sharing a story of a violation of rights is itself impact. Now the story is available outside the victim. The story can travel without the victim having to travel.
The story as it travels comes to the notice of many others and this makes it possible for more persons to respond. Improving the capacity of responses of more persons is also impact. When more people respond there may develop some reactions. Some persons may take up this issue in many forums. Now some persons may begin to correlate other stories to this new story of the victim and thereby begin a process of analyzing. When human rights problems are being analyzed, that too is impact. Now with a story, reactions of some or many, and analysis of some or many, the matters relating to the violations begin to be discussed.
Discussions mean social discourse. Thus violations that the victims complain of have now given rise to a social discourse. The generation of a social discourse on human rights violations is also an impact. As a result of this discourse the violation may be taken up at a legal forum. The matters relating to the violation may be dealt with within that legal forum. Thus a legal discourse on the violation of rights has now begun.
A beginning of a legal discourse on human rights violations is also an impact. As a result of a legal discourse, perpetrators will be brought before legal forums and they may be subjected to a process of accountability. A process of accountability has now begun. As a result of the process of accountability perpetrators may or may not be punished and the victim may or may not be compensated.
That will depend on the strength of the legal machinery. If the legal machinery proves incapable of dealing with the issues of accountability, then the inadequacies and the problems of the legal process will be subjected to scrutiny and analysis and criticism. In repressive systems beginning a process of criticism of the legal mechanism is an impact of a very significant nature.
As a result of many such discussions on one story leading to another, and when the critique develops extensively, public opinion begins to form on the defects of the system and the needs of the system. Such a discourse on reforms is again a very significant level of an impact. As this discourse widens media channels may begin to show a greater interest and thus through the media little by little gradually a discourse on reform begins to get an ever wider hearing.
This is the level at which social debate at various forums is generated on human rights violations. Thus wider publicity generated for a social debate on human rights violations is also an impact of a very significant nature. Then, depending on the political situations, possibilities arise for not only legal reforms but related political and social reforms. The time the story was documented to the time such a discourse for reforms happens will be determined by circumstances beyond the control of the victim or the activist who initially took the initiative to begin to talk. Often such situations will depend on many factors. However once a process has begun it is kept up by an ever-increasing number of documentations of the stories, and a process of repetition and replications takes place. Such replications are an essential aspect of improvement of reflection, knowledge, reactions and generating of impulses for reforms. All such matters are matters of impact.
Thus the victims and the activists who are engaged in the process of documentation, publishing, pursuing legal redress, generating analysis, generating the discourse of the reforms, are all the time engaged in influencing impact at many layers. As said before, impact takes place at many layers over a long period of time depending on favorable and unfavorable situations, and generates different kinds of discourse.
At each level there is impact. And each action’s reaction and response leads to further response and publicity, further discourse and collective actions, which are all a series of single change. And it is to build this change that the human rights activists work and their impact must be measured through consultation relating to all these dimensions.
Basil Fernando has been the executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resource Centre since 1994. He has written numerous works on human rights and legal reform issues. For more information, go to http://www.humanrights.asia/
By AYE NAI
Published: 13 June 2012
Influential Buddhist and Muslim leaders in Burma have called for an end to the on-going violence in western Burma’s Arakan state.
“If we really want peace, then everyone in the country should hold peaceful discussions and behave peacefully towards one another – please stop killing one another,” said renown Theravada Buddhist monk Pinnyasiha.
“Also, it is not enough for religious leaders to be just expressing their condolences and denouncing the riots, but I would like to request them to visit the areas and assist personally to bring peace.”
Wunna Shwe, an official from the All-Myanmar Islam Association said: “We have been contacting concerned government and religious organisations and are trying our best to bring tranquility to the situation.
We will try our best to bring a solution based upon love for this to solve this problem.”
An official from Myanmar Baptist Convention said: “We are praying for [peace] at our religious events – we are praying for peace for all.”
On Wednesday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser to Burma Vijay Nambiar arrived in Arakan state to visit Maungdaw, where the riots kicked off last week.
“We’re here to observe and assess how we can continue to provide support to [Arakan],” Ashok Nigam, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator who was travelling with the group, told the AFP.
According to the Ministry of Information, 21 people have killed and more than 1,600 houses have been destroyed during the rioting; however, observers on the ground suggest that the government’s figures are still modest.
By KO HTWE
Published: 13 June 2012
After a government order closed down a gold mine in Mandalay divison, disgruntled employees are holding talks with representatives from the company that secured the mine’s tender at a pagoda in Yamethin district, where they’ve been confined since Monday.
The employees from Moehti Moemi gold mine planned to march to Naypyidaw where they would protest in front of the president’s office.
The protestors convened at Shwemyintin Pagoda in eastern Yamethin on Monday before setting off to the capital, but the group was surrounded by police and prevented from leaving the temple’s grounds.
A DVB reporter at the scene said the protesters were about to leave the pagoda around 10pm, but were unable to do so after police blocked the temple’s gates.
The miners are now meeting with Soe Phoe Shein from the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company Limited, which secured the government tender for the mine.
The NCCPL’s general manager Htun Aung Soe held talks with protest leaders last week but failed to iron out a deal.
In early May, the Ministry of Mining announced that they would be halting all mining operations on 5 May in an effort to attract larger investments from international mining companies.
Residents from Yamethin and miners began holding mass demonstrations on 1 June in response to the MoM’s move.
Local National League for Democracy members and monks have been providing protestors with food and water since they’ve been holed up at the temple.