Jun 25th, 2012
Associated Press – 1 hr 47 mins ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi will appeal a court ruling in favor of her estranged American brother’s claim to half-ownership of the two-story lakeside villa she has lived in for almost a quarter century, her lawyer said Monday.
The two-acre property, perched on a prime spot on Yangon’s Inya Lake, has been at the center of a bitter legal dispute between the two siblings since 2000.
A district court in the city issued its verdict Friday, confirming that Aung San Oo had inheritance rights to the property, Suu Kyi’s lawyer Nyan Win said.
It was not clear, however, whether the verdict would have any impact on the estate’s fate or whether Aung San Oo would be able to benefit from it. Foreigners in Myanmar are legally forbidden from owning or selling property in the Southeast Asian nation, and Suu Kyi’s brother is a U.S. citizen currently residing in California.
The two-acre (0.8 hectare) strip of land was given by the government to Suu Kyi’s mother Khin Kyi after her husband, independence hero Gen. Aung San, was assassinated in 1947. Khin Kyi died in 1988.
The roots of the dispute between Suu Kyi and her brother are the subject of widespread speculation, though some say Aung San Oo has disagreed with Suu Kyi’s political views and many believe he may have been influenced by the brutal former military junta, which ceded power last year.
Suu Kyi spent 15 of the last two decades confined to the disputed Yangon property, but Aung San Oo never visited her there during those years despite taking almost annual trips home.
The family’s quarrel became public in 2000 when Aung San Oo sued for partial ownership of the estate. A Yangon court threw out the case in 2001 citing procedural errors. But Suu Kyi’s brother filed a new suit again claiming joint-ownership.
Civil cases can take years to work their way through Myanmar’s court system.
By DAVID STRINGER | Associated Press – Thu, Jun 21, 2012
LONDON (AP) — Myanmar’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, warned Thursday that her country’s people need Britain and other allies to act as watchdogs, and not cheerleaders, to ensure its rulers deliver on their promises of reform.
Making an historic address in London to a joint session of both Houses of Parliament, Suu Kyi said Myanmar — which she referred to by its British colonial name of Burma — would need sometimes critical support to fully embrace democracy after 49 years of military rule that ended only last year.
“I am here in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal, in support of the reforms which can bring better lives, greater opportunities, to the people of Burma, who have been for so long deprived of their rights and their place in the world,” Suu Kyi said in Parliament’s 11th Century Westminster Hall.
“My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached,” said Suu Kyi, who was cheered and given a standing ovation by British legislators. “Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further.”
Suu Kyi is the only woman other than Queen Elizabeth II to deliver a speech to a joint session of Parliament at Westminster Hall, and follows dignitaries such as South African President Nelson Mandela, Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President Barack Obama. The honor is usually reserved only for heads of state.
The, who spent 15 years under house arrest or imprisoned in Myanmar, is making her first overseas trip in 24 years. She has visited Switzerland, Norway and Ireland and is spending a week in Britain, where she previously studied and lived.
As she was greeted by British Prime Minister David Cameron at his official 10 Downing Street residence, Suu Kyi said she remembered that her father, Myanmar independence leader Aung San, had been photographed outside the famous house, wrapped in a large British military-issue coat to protect against the cold.
“I must say, not having left my tropical country for 24 years, there have been odd moments this week when I have thought of that coat myself,” Suu Kyi told lawmakers. “I was photographed in the same place where my father was photographed and it was raining — very British.”
Britain is among Western nations which have suspended sanctions against Myanmar following President Thein Sein’s moves toward political liberalization since he took office in 2011. Cameron said Thursday he had invited Thein Sein for talks in London, which follows a meeting between the two in Yangon in April.
“There is a process of reform in Burma,” Cameron said, as he held a news conference with Suu Kyi. “In order for that to succeed we have to work with the regime.”
Suu Kyi said she supported Cameron’s decision to host Thein Sein in London, and urged the U.K. and others to act as a watchdog on Myanmar’s reforms.
“More than ever we need our friends to be watchdogs. You have to watch what is going on in Burma,” she told Cameron.
Suu Kyi, who also held talks with Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, said she hoped Myanmar’s parliament would one day enjoy the same circus-like atmosphere as the raucous weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time session in Britain — when Cameron and his opponents trade noisy verbal blows.
She was sworn in as a member of Myanmar’s parliament in May, but said that so far she had found the tone “rather formal.”
“There is certainly no heckling. I would wish that over time perhaps we will reflect the liveliness and relative informality of Westminster,” Suu Kyi said in her address.
By Katy Lee | AFP – Thu, Jun 21, 2012
Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday urged the world to help Myanmar complete its journey towards democracy as she became the first foreign woman to address both houses of Britain’s parliament.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said her Southeast Asian homeland had yearned for democracy for decades, and could not afford to waste its chance to build a “truly democratic and just society” after 47 years of military rule.
“I am here, in part, to ask for practical help: help as a friend and an equal,” Suu Kyi told around 2,000 lawmakers and guests, who gave her a standing ovation that echoed around parliament’s cavernous Westminster Hall.
The Myanmar opposition leader, who was wearing a purple longyi skirt and a white shawl, said it was an “extraordinary honour” to address the 11th-century building, an invitation previously only offered to heads of state.
Since World War II, US President Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, South African president Nelson Mandela and French president Charles de Gaulle are the only other foreigners to have addressed both houses in Westminster Hall.
“We have an opportunity to re-establish true democracy in Burma,” said Suu Kyi, using the former official name of Myanmar.
“If we do not use this opportunity — if we do not get things right this time around — it may be several decades more before a similar opportunity arises,” she warned.
The 67-year-old added: “Our own determination can get us so far; the support of the people of Britain and the peoples around the world can get us so much further.”
She urged Britain, Myanmar’s former colonial power, to help her country develop its institutions, warning that the parliament she recently joined would “take time to find its feet”.
She also encouraged “democracy-friendly investment” in her impoverished homeland, two days after Myanmar President Thein Sein pledged to follow dramatic political changes with economic reforms.
Investment that prioritises “transparency, accountability, workers’ rights and environmental stability” would be welcome in resource-rich Myanmar, she said.
But she warned that Myanmar’s development was continuing to suffer at the hands of the violence that has gripped parts of the country since independence in 1948, and urged aid for the tens of thousands displaced in recent months.
“In the immediate term we also need humanitarian support for the many people in the north and west — largely women and children — who have been forced to flee their homes,” she said.
Suu Kyi was freed from nearly two decades of house arrest in November 2010 and became a lawmaker earlier this year as part of a gradual transition towards democracy in Myanmar.
The speech was the climax of Suu Kyi’s visit to Britain, where she studied and lived for several years until she answered the call of duty in Myanmar, leaving her children and her English husband behind.
She earlier held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron at his 10 Downing Street office, and with heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla at their Clarence House residence, where she planted a tree in the garden.
Cameron defended his decision to invite Thein Sein to Britain for talks, given that he was, until last year, a member of the junta that held Myanmar in its thrall for more than two decades.
“There is a process of reform in Burma. In order for that to succeed we have to work with the regime,” he told a press conference with Suu Kyi.
Cameron in April became the first Western leader in decades to visit Myanmar, during which he met both Suu Kyi and Thein Sein.
Suu Kyi backed the decision to invite the president, saying: “We don’t want to be shackled by the past. We want to use the past to build up the future.”
On Tuesday, she made an emotional return to Oxford, the southern English city where she studied, met her late husband Michael Aris and brought up their two sons.
She said she was deeply moved on Wednesday as she received an honorary doctorate in civil law. The award was conferred in 1993 but she was unable to collect it at the time, fearing that if she left Myanmar the junta would not have allowed her to return.
Suu Kyi heads to France on June 26 for the last leg of her European tour, following warm welcomes in Switzerland, Ireland and Norway — where she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award.
AFP – Thu, Jun 21, 2012
Prime Minister David Cameron has invited Myanmar President Thein Sein to visit Britain to discuss the need for further reform after decades of military rule, Downing Street said Thursday.
News of the invitation emerged just hours before Myanmar opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi was due to meet Cameron as part of her own trip to Britain, her first in 24 years.
“He is due to visit the UK in the coming months to continue the discussions that began when the Prime Minister was in Burma in April,” Cameron’s spokeswoman told reporters, using the Southeast Asian nation’s unofficial name.
“Those discussions will centre on the need for further reform.”
Another spokeswoman told AFP that Thein Sein “has welcomed the invitation” but it was “not for us to confirm” if or when he would be coming.
Asked whether Suu Kyi had been asked if Thein Sein should be invited to Britain — Myanmar’s former colonial power — the spokeswoman said: “She was made aware of the invitation.”
Cameron in April became the first Western leader in decades to visit Myanmar, which languished for years under a repressive junta until military rule ended last year.
Cameron held talks with both Suu Kyi and Thein Sein during that visit.
The European Union has since dropped some sanctions on Myanmar.
Thein Sein was the former prime minister in the junta. He has given up his army role and took office as president, marking the end of nearly half a century of outright military rule.
AFP – Thu, Jun 21, 2012
More than 80 people have been killed in a wave of communal violence in western Myanmar this month, a government official said Thursday, as local people said they still feared for their lives.
About 71 people have died in more than a week of clashes, the official said, in addition to 10 Muslims killed on June 3 by a Buddhist mob seeking revenge for the rape and murder of a local woman — the apparent spark for the unrest.
Both sides have accused each other of violent attacks.
Two men were on Monday sentenced to death for the rape-murder, although no death row prisoner in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is known to have been executed since 1988.
Rakhine state has been rocked by rioting, arson and a cycle of revenge attacks involving Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya, prompting growing international concern.
Myanmar officials and many Burmese, including the mostly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine, consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, and refer to them as “Bengalis”.
The dead bodies of eight more ethnic Rakhine were found in the village of Yathedaung, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) from the state capital Sittwe, the official said.
“These people were killed during clashes with Bengalis,” he told AFP by telephone from Sittwe.
Rohingya leaders say the real number of dead in their own communities could be much higher than the figures given by authorities.
About 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, according to the United Nations, which describes them as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
They face discrimination including restrictions on their movements, and lack land rights, education and public services, the UN says.
Bangladesh, where an estimated 300,000 Rohingya live, has been turning back Rohingya boats arriving on its shores since the outbreak of the unrest.
Officials had said Wednesday that the situation was under control in most parts of Rakhine, where emergency rule has been in place for more than a week.
But a resident in Sittwe said the mood was still tense and at least one house was set on fire overnight.
“We need more security,” he said by telephone. “People cannot sleep at night because they are afraid. Residents have asked for permission to guard their areas in groups at night but the authorities haven’t responded yet.”
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has warned the violence could threaten the nation’s democratic reforms as it emerges from decades of army rule.
The US embassy in Yangon on Wednesday praised the former general for responding “in a timely and public manner” to tackle the violence and help victims.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and many homes have been set on fire.
Soldiers and police have been patrolling unrest-hit areas and a curfew has been imposed in Sittwe and several other towns.
“The security forces are very tired. We are very concerned for both sides,” a security official told AFP.
The World Food Programme said Tuesday it had provided food to more than 65,000 people, estimating a further 25,000 were in need of help.
By Daniel Rook | AFP – Fri, Jun 22, 2012
Efforts to stop Myanmar’s tigers being hunted to extinction are under threat from a civil war raging in a region home to the world’s biggest sanctuary for the endangered cats, experts warn.
The former junta in 2010 expanded the tiger reserve to about 8,450 square miles (22,000 square kilometres) — an area roughly the size of Israel — in the remote Hukaung Valley, where about 50-70 tigers are estimated to remain.
But fighting over the past year between the military and ethnic minority rebels has hindered efforts to prevent the animals from being wiped out in one of Southeast Asia’s last frontiers for wildlife conservation.
While most of the clashes are further east near the border with China, the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controls part of the Hukaung Valley, one of the world’s richest biodiversity areas but for now off limits to foreigners.
Although the KIA supported the creation of the reserve, it is considered too risky for guards to venture deep into the forest because of the conflict, which has displaced tens of thousands of people in Kachin state.
“It’s very difficult to patrol actively right now,” said Robert Tizard, an expert in Yangon with the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which works with the Myanmar government to train rangers in the reserve.
“Our guys wear camouflage fatigues and have a lot of equipment like the army or the KIA, so if one of our teams came across one of the armed groups and nobody knew what was going on the chance for an accident is pretty high.”
Conservationists say the valley has the potential to hold several hundred tigers, but rebuilding the population requires tackling illegal hunting of both the animals — whose body parts are prized for Chinese medicines — and their prey.
“The tigers are in terrible shape,” said Alan Rabinowitz, chief executive of wild cat protection group Panthera who helped to create the reserve but now fears the tiger population there is in rapid decline.
“The tiger is still valuable and the indigenous people there such as the Lisu and the Kachin are very much tied into the Chinese trade, and they’ve been killing off tigers,” he told AFP by telephone from the United States.
“I’m not convinced frankly that we’re going to be able to save the tigers there. We’re going to try because it’s a big enough area and we know there are still tigers in some of the more remote regions in the far north,” he added.
A lack of funds has been another problem, although a recent easing of Western sanctions has raised hopes that more money will become available to pay for the patrols needed for such a big area, the expert said.
“You need law enforcement, protection and guards — that’s the number one thing,” added Rabinowitz, who led the first ever biological expedition in the area in 1999.
As many as 100,000 tigers prowled Asia’s forests and grasslands a century ago, but numbers have slumped mainly because of poaching and loss of habitat. Worldwide the wild tiger population is thought to have fallen as low as 3,000.
The Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris corbetti), the type found in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and southwest China, is close to critically endangered status, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The Hukaung Valley is said to be one of the region’s last closed forests — an area with dense tree cover — and there are hopes the reserve could also protect other large mammals such as clouded leopards and Asian elephants.
Myanmar’s government says it is committed to trying to save the tigers and is recruiting staff to protect the reserve. It says surprise checks on local markets are also deterring the sale of wild animal meat.
“Sanctuary staff, the Tiger Conservation Police Force and Wildlife Conservation Society are working together in restricting and taking action on hunting and penetrating into the area,” the Nature and Wildlife Conservation Division said in a statement to AFP.
By hiring indigenous peoples as guards, it is hoped that local communities will grow to learn about the importance of saving the big cats.
But their value means locals are not the only ones hunting the animals — poachers are also believed to come from elsewhere in the region.
“You’re talking tens of thousands of dollars at this point for a tiger and it’s very specialised work because there are so few of them and they’re so hard to track down,” said Tizard.
Despite the huge challenges, conservationists remain hopeful that if and when fighting ends in northern Myanmar, the tigers in the Hukaung Valley will be left in peace.
“They’re big pussy cats. They breed — if you give them enough to eat, and if you stop people coming in trying to target them,” said Colin Poole, director for the WCS in Asia.
“It’s a big chunk of habitat perfect for tigers. They need to just be allowed space. But that’s not going to happen until there’s some level of peace there and security.”
AFP – Thu, Jun 21, 2012
Myanmar’s government and Kachin minority rebels have held three rounds of talks over the past month in an attempt to resolve a civil war raging in the far north, the two sides said Thursday.
A team led by Railways Minister Aung Min met representatives of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and its armed wing — the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) — again on Wednesday, said KIO deputy foreign affairs chief Colonel James Lum Dau (whose rank was bestowed on him by the KIA).
The talks — held in rebel-controlled Maijayang — aimed to “strengthen the relationship” between the negotiating teams, he told AFP by telephone. The rebels’ aim is to secure greater autonomy for their state.
A government official confirmed the meeting, which was the third since President Thein Sein re-shuffled his team of negotiators in May, promoting Aung Min at the expense of hardliners viewed suspiciously by the Kachin.
The move is showing tentative signs of bearing fruit, after three previous rounds of talks since November failed to show any signs of progress.
“Aung Min understands that before we can agree on anything, the relationship should be strengthened,” Lum Dau said.
Contacts between the sides come amid ongoing reports of fierce fighting between Kachin guerillas and Myanmar’s army, in a conflict which has displaced tens of thousands of people since a 17-year-ceasefire collapsed in June last year.
Civil war has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence in 1948.
But Myanmar’s reformist government has agreed ceasefires with several ethnic rebel groups as part of reforms since coming to power last year. An end to the violence is a key demand of the international community.
Experts say the continued clashes in Kachin, which come despite a presidential order to the army to stop fighting, raise questions about whether the leader exerts full control over local military units.
Reuters – Fri, Jun 22, 2012
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan group of senior U.S. lawmakers on Thursday proposed to continue the ban on imports from Myanmar, which is in the midst of uncertain political change, while extending another trade law that has boosted clothing imports from Africa.
The unusual combination is driven by the fast-approaching expiration of existing laws and the desire to continue programs generally regarded as successful by lawmakers.
The bill was introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and supporters hope for quick passage despite partisan fighting on most other issues in Congress.
“This must-do legislation has strong bipartisan and broad industry support. It will benefit U.S. global competitiveness, aid U.S. employment and global development, and strengthen our ties with fifty-five U.S. trading partners in Africa and the Western Hemisphere,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, said in statement.
OBAMA CAN LIFT SANCTIONS
The Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act was first passed in 2003 and expires in July.
It required the White House to ban imports from Myanmar, block U.S. support for international loans to the country and impose a visa ban and asset freezes on certain Myanmar government officials.
The Obama administration has already eased some sanctions on Myanmar, which the U.S. government refers to as Burma, in recognition of political reforms that led to the election of Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.
Suu Kyi, who is now the opposition party leader in Myanmar, spent 15 years under house arrest because of her fight against the country’s military leaders.
The new bill reauthorizes import sanctions for three years, while preserving the White House’s right to waive or terminate those sanctions.
“Burma has made real progress advancing democracy, but we need to maintain pressure to guarantee it continues,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, said.
Another part of the legislation renews a provision that waives U.S. import duties on clothing made in sub-Saharan African countries, even if the fabric or yarn to make the garment comes from a third country such as China.
That provision is set to expire in September, putting U.S. clothing orders from sub-Saharan Africa at risk.
The legislation renews the measure until September 2015, when the entire African Growth and Opportunity Act will be up for renewal. That law was originally passed in 2000.
The bill introduced on Thursday also makes technical corrections and modifications to the rules of origin for duty-free treatment of textile and clothing products from Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.
“This is win-win legislation that builds upon our nation’s goal of strengthening economic relations with Africa, while ensuring that our regional trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic continues to succeed,” Senator Orrin Hatch, an Utah Republican, said.
By Mairi Mackay, CNN
updated 6:34 AM EDT, Mon June 25, 2012
Political scientist Gene Sharp has been called the father of nonviolent struggle
Sharp wrote a manual on how to overthrow dictatorships, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”
Sharp says no regime can survive without the support of its people
Arab Spring put a new spotlight on Sharp’s work
London (CNN) — It’s a dark January evening, and in an anonymous townhouse near Paddington station, a man is talking about how to stage a revolution.
A young Iranian asks a question: “The youth in Iran are very disillusioned by the brutality of the violence used against them … It has stopped all the street protest,” she says. “What would you say to them?
How can they get themselves organized again?”
The man thinks for a moment. He’s an unlikely looking radical — slightly stooped with white hair, his bent frame engulfed by the low chair he’s sitting in.
When he opens his mouth to speak, all eyes in the room are fastened on him.
“You don’t march down the street towards soldiers with machine guns. … That’s not a wise thing to do.
“But there are other things that are much more extreme. … You could have everybody stay at home.
“Total silence of the city,” he says lowering his voice to a whisper, punctuating the words with his bent hands, as if he’s wiping out the noise himself.
“Everybody at home.” The man’s eyes scan the room. “Silence,” he whispers again.
“You think the regime will notice?”
He looks around the room, nodding almost imperceptibly. On the wall behind his head hangs a huge print of the Hiroshima atomic bomb mushrooming into the sky.
This is political scientist Gene Sharp, and explosive ideas are his specialty.
Ruaridh ArrowHe’s been called the father of nonviolent struggle. He could be also described as a revolutionary’s best friend. Or perhaps, more accurately, as a dictatorship’s worst nightmare.
Now 84, the American academic has dedicated most of his life to the study of the bold, some might say reckless, idea that nonviolence — rather than violence — is the most effective way of overthrowing corrupt, repressive regimes.
On this winter night, he’s talking at The Frontline Club, London’s journalism hub, and it’s standing room only.
Those without seats have crowded in at the back of the room under a huge photograph of a girl offering a flower to a line of riot police. She could have been inspired by Sharp’s writings.
His practical manual on how to overthrow dictatorships, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” has spread like a virus since he wrote it 20 years ago and has been translated by activists into more than 30 languages.
He has also listed “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action” — powerful, sometimes surprising, ways to tear power from the hands of regimes. Examples of their use by demonstrators and revolutionaries pop up over and over again.
In Ukraine, during the 2004 Orange Revolution that propelled opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko to electoral triumph, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators turned Kiev’s Independence Square into a sea of orange flags — the color of Yuschenko’s campaign.
No. 18 on Sharp’s list: Displays of flags and symbolic colors.
In Serbia, activists fighting then-President Slobodan Milosevic in the 2000 presidential elections printed “Gotov Je!” “He’s Finished!” on stickers, T-shirts and posters to help the population understand he was not invincible.
No. 7 on Sharp’s list: Slogans, caricatures and symbols.
In Cairo during last year’s Egyptian revolution, protesters lived in a tent city in Tahrir Square, where they produced art, made music and sung anti-Hosni Mubarak songs. Many Egyptians would gather there for Friday prayers followed by mass political rallies.
Nos. 20, 37 and 47 on Sharp’s list: Prayer and worship. Singing. Assembling to protest.
His ideas of revolution are based on an elegantly simple premise: No regime, not even the most brutally authoritarian, can survive without the support of its people. So, Sharp proposes, take it away.
Nonviolent action, he says, can eat away at a regime’s pillars of power like termites in a tree. Eventually, the whole thing collapses.
For a half century, Sharp has refined the theory of nonviolent conflict and crafted the tools of his trade. His methods have liberated millions from tyranny — and that makes regimes from Myanmar to Iran quake in their boots.
In 2009, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. During the Arab Spring uprisings, his methods were cited repeatedly.
The applause comes after “decades of hardships,” he says. His methods have been dismissed and misinterpreted — he’s even been accused of working for the CIA.
But he’s kept on with “the work,” sometimes near penniless. He runs his organization, the Albert Einstein Institution, out of his home in East Boston because he cannot afford office space.
He’ll give almost anyone a half hour of his time, even a high school kid doing a project. And the pilgrims come.
They come from all over the world because they want to change their situation. They come to hear the extraordinary ideas that Sharp has stubbornly built over a lifetime: ideas that have started revolutions.
The first rebellion
When Sharp graduated college in 1951, he moved to New York and worked odd jobs to put food on the table. He spent his spare time holed up in the New York City Library working on a book about the Indian political leader Mahatma Gandhi, who he still loosely describes as his hero.
He was also dodging the draft.
The U.S. was fighting the Korean War, and Sharp was refusing to cooperate with the military draft board. He wouldn’t report for physical examinations or carry a draft card.
“I had chosen a particular kind of conscientious objection, I guess the most obnoxious kind that existed — civil disobedience.”
It amounted to draft evasion, a criminal offense punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
His father, a Protestant minister, and mother were distraught. He was an outstanding student. Why was he throwing away his future?
“They put all kinds of strong, strong pressures on me,” he remembers. But he continued. “It was just something I had to do and be done with it.”
At first, Sharp applied for conscientious objector status but was refused. Then he changed his mind: “I realized I shouldn’t have done it in the first place, I shouldn’t have applied for it.”
And when the board finally did give it to him, he wouldn’t accept it.
By 1953, things weren’t looking good for Sharp. He had been arrested by the FBI and locked up in a federal detention center, awaiting trial. But during this tough time, he had an unlikely and important ally: Albert Einstein.
Sharp was just 25, but already he displayed the intellectual chutzpah that would come to characterize his later work. He wrote to the physicist, asking him to pen the foreword to his book and telling him about his court case.
A notable pacifist in later life, Einstein shared Sharp’s admiration for Gandhi. He agreed to write the foreword.
“I earnestly admire you for your moral strength and can only hope, although I really do not know, that I would have acted as you did, had I found myself in your situation,” Einstein wrote in a letter dated April 2, 1953.
Einstein also wrote the foreword to Sharp’s book, describing it as “the art of a born historian” and adding: “How is it possible that a young man was able to create such mature piece of work?”
Sharp used Einstein’s name in a speech he made at his trial. In the end, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
His mother, Eve, who had traveled from Ohio for his sentencing also wrote to Einstein. And he wrote her back. Her son, he told her, was “irresistible in his noble sincerity.” The letter was, Sharp says, “a big help” to his parents.
In the end, Sharp served nine months and 10 days.
“You count the days in those places,” he says now, adding that if he hadn’t followed his conscience, it would have been tragic for him.
“I would not have had the self-respect and internal integrity to go on and do in the future what might lie ahead.”
After his release from prison, Sharp concentrated on his work once again.
After a short spell in London as an editor at the pacifist journal Peace News, he moved to Norway where he joined the Institute for Social Research in Oslo.
“It was the first time I had financial support to do my own research and my own thinking and my own writing,” says Sharp.
He had been invited by philosopher Arne Næss, who shared Sharp’s interest in Gandhi and who, much later, would gain prominence as the father of environmentalism.
For a while, things looked promising. Næss persuaded the institute to fund a major research program into nonviolent conflict.
That’s a great advantage — to know what you don’t know. You have a chance of learning — if you want to and you’re not arrogant.
But almost before it got off the ground, it was bypassed in favor of a new and more fashionable area of study: peace research.
To this day, Sharp has refused to allow his work to be absorbed into the grander narrative of Peace Studies, losing out on immeasurable funding.
“I still think a lot of the peace researchers are quite naïve and romantic under the guise of science,” he says.
Amazingly, Sharp was kept on at the institute to do his own research for a couple of years. It was there that he laid the foundations of his work, tapping out page after page on his little portable typewriter.
But in Norway, Sharp also began to see the flaw in his work: He didn’t understand political power.
“That’s a great advantage — to know what you don’t know,” he says now. “‘You have a chance of learning — if you want to and you’re not arrogant.”
So he returned to England to pursue a degree in political science at The University of Oxford. He studied under Alan Bullock, the first biographer of Adolf Hitler, reading everything from Machiavelli to Auguste Comte and David Hume; analyses of totalitarianism; histories of dictatorships.
And as he put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, Sharp started revising his work and asking critical questions.
What gives a government — even a repressive regime — the power to rule? The answer, he realized, was people’s belief in its power. Even dictatorships require the cooperation and obedience of the people they rule to stay in charge.
So, he reasoned, if you can identify the sources of a government’s power — people working in civil service, police and judges, even the army — then you know what a dictatorship depends on for its existence.
Once he’d worked that out, Sharp went back to his theories of nonviolent struggle: “What is the nature of this technique?” he asked himself. “What are its methods … different kinds of strikes, protests, boycotts, hunger strikes … How does it work? It may fail. If it fails, why? If it succeeds, why?”
Suddenly, he got it. If a dictatorship depends on the cooperation of people and institutions, then all you have to do is shrink that support.
That’s when the light went on in Sharp’s head. That is exactly what nonviolent struggle does. By its very nature, nonviolent struggle destroys governments, even brutal dictatorships, politically.
It is a weapon as potent as a bomb or a gun — maybe more so.
“That was the eureka moment,” says Sharp. He remembers sitting in his little room in Oxford, shocked and, he says, relieved.
“This was not just a theory. This was actually something that had been applied in many different historical cases.”
That moment would evolve into Sharp’s first big text, “The Politics of Non-Violence,” which was published in 1973. It was immediately hailed a classic and is still considered the definitive study of nonviolent struggle.
The viral pamphlet
Sharp’s best-known work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” is a how-to manual for overthrowing dictatorships.
It started life in Myanmar as incendiary advice printed on a few sheets of paper and surreptitiously exchanged by activists living under a military dictatorship. Those found in possession of the booklet were sentenced to seven years in prison.
From Myanmar, it was taken to Indonesia, then to Serbia. After that, Sharp says, he lost track of the book. But it took on a life of its own, spreading from activist to activist and eventually, some say, inspiring the uprisings known as the Arab Spring.
Ahmed Maher, a leading organizer of the April 6 Youth Movement that played a key role in last year’s Egyptian revolution, told The New York Times that the group read about nonviolent conflict.
He said some members of the group traveled to Serbia to exchange ideas with members of The Centre for Applied Non Violent Actions and Strategies . The Belgrade-based institution was formed in 2004 by former members of Otpor!, the youth group that helped overthrow Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 using Sharp’s methods.
Ruaridh ArrowJournalist and filmmaker Ruaridh Arrow, who made a documentary about Sharp’s work called “How to Start a Revolution,” was in Egypt during last year’s revolution. He says a young activist told him Sharp’s work had been widely distributed in Arabic, but he refused to talk about it on camera for fear that knowledge of the U.S. influence would destabilize the movement.
Sharp has written about 30 books and has a 900-page guide to self-liberation available for free download on his website. He says military people often have taken his work more seriously than pacifists.
“They could understand the clashing of forces and the use of strategy and tactics.”
One such convert was Robert Helvey, a retired U.S. Army colonel who met Sharp at Harvard University in 1987.
Sharp was director of the Program for Nonviolent Sanctions at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard, and Helvey, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was a senior fellow there.
Helvey’s experiences in the Vietnam War had convinced him that there had to be an alternative to killing people. After hearing Sharp speak, he was hooked. Myanmar, Helvey decided, was the perfect place to bring Sharp’s theories.
Helvey had been a U.S. military attache in Rangoon (the former capital of Myanmar, now called Yangon) and had become sympathetic to groups opposing the regime. After leaving the army, he started doing consultancy work for the Karen National Union, conducting a series of courses on nonviolent struggle for the leadership of the democratic opposition.
The Burmese were amazed by Sharp’s theories. They couldn’t believe they had been fighting and killing for 20 years when there was an alternative.
The late U Tin Maung Win, a prominent exiled Burmese democrat, asked Sharp to write something for them.
“I couldn’t write about Burma honestly because I didn’t know Burma well,” Sharp says, “and you should at least have the humility not to write about something you don’t know anything about.
“So I had to write generically — if there was a movement that wanted to bring a dictatorship to an end, how could they do it.”
Clearly, the news is getting around that nonviolent struggle exists. And clearly it comes almost as a revelation to people that they are not helpless.
And so, “From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation” was born.
Today, the book has been translated into Amharic, Farsi, French, German, Serbian, Tibetan, Ukrainian, Uzbek, Arabic and dozens of other languages.
“Clearly the news is getting around that nonviolent struggle exists,” says Sharp. “And clearly it comes almost as a revelation to people that they are not helpless.”
Despite the Arab Spring pushing his work into the spotlight in 2011 like never before, Sharp remains skeptical about his actual, measurable influence.
“Even today, I’m credited with some major influence in Egypt, for example,” he says. “I haven’t seen hard data that would prove that.”
Today, Sharp spends much of his time running the Albert Einstein Institution — the organization he founded in 1983 to spread his ideas and secure some much-needed funding, something he’s struggled with his whole career.
“(Nonviolent struggle) was not credited with being realistic or with being powerful,” he says.
It’s a shoestring operation with outsize influence that he runs alongside Executive Director Jamila Raqib. She’s his right hand; a subtle organizing influence, watchdog and second brain when Sharp’s memory occasionally fails him.
She also supervises the people who come from all over the world to visit Sharp, allowing her to see his influence on those struggling against tyranny or living under a dictatorship.
They come from India, Syria, Russia, Sri Lanka — from all over. They leave, says Raqib, “with stars in their eyes.”
“There’s something happening,” she adds. “Oftentimes people would say, you know, ‘This can’t work for us, my situation is unique, my situation is worse, the repression is particularly harsh.’
“And what he does during those conversations … they leave with the understanding that, you know … a seed has been planted; a new possibility is there.”
Sharp sees himself as a kind of mentor.
“I always refuse to tell them what to do. I’m trying to get them to realize that they understand maybe more than they thought they did.
“There’s one phrase that’s been quoted — ‘Dictatorships are never as strong as they think they are, and people are never as weak as they think they are.’ ”
Earlier this year, he released “Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Language of Civil Resistance in Conflicts.” He says the major unsolved problems of our time — genocide, dictatorship, war — require us to rethink the very language we use to define them.
His dictionary contains some 900 terms. It reconceives many words we take for granted — such as power or defense. “The defense force — sometimes they attack,” Sharp says.
The institute also supervises translations of Sharp’s work into other languages — a task made more complicated by the precisely defined concepts.
They rely on activists for translating, rather than professional translators, because they understand the nature of the work the words describe.
For Sharp, the language is crucial: “If our language doesn’t have clear meanings and accurate meanings, you can’t think clearly.
“If you can’t think clearly, you have no ability to evaluate or influence what happens. So the distortions of our language help make us helpless.”
Sharp has no plans to settle into a comfortable retirement, not now, when things are finally taking off.
He admits that he “gets tired sometimes.” But there’s so much to do.
“The last few weeks I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and finding some ideas … or a solution to a problem I’ve been trying to solve for a week or two or three.”
At the Frontline Club, the questions from the audience keep coming. Sharp’s answers, more than anything, underscore his modesty and lack of pretention.
What about government defectors who want to join freedom groups, asks another Iranian. When should you allow them in and when should you reject them?
“An outsider like me can’t tell you what to do,” he says, “and if I did, you shouldn’t believe me. Trust yourselves.
“You’ve got to be smart. This takes time and energy … know your situation in depth.”
For those who are serious, Sharp has a condensed version of what he says are the required readings of his work, a guide to self-liberation, available free on the Albert Einstein Institution website.
“It’s only 900 pages in English,” he deadpans, raising a chuckle.
“And if you’re not interested in reading 900 pages, you’re not interested in getting rid of the dictator,” he retorts, whip smart. “Quite seriously.”
At the end, people crowd forward to speak to him, kneeling at his chair as if he were royalty, asking him to sign copies of his books.
Later, as he’s helped into his flecked black coat and handed his walking stick, he grins and says how much he enjoyed the evening: “The questions were good and hard.”
SITTWE, 25 June 2012 (IRIN) – An uneasy calm prevails in Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, following weeks of communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.
“We’re still shocked. We worry whether such unrest could happen again,” Myat Hla, 46, told IRIN, sitting on the concrete floor of Sutaung Pyae monastery outside the city, where close to 2,000 displaced Rakhine residents are living.
She and other Buddhist residents in her village allege they were attacked by Muslim Rohingyas, who destroyed their homes. Now they wonder when or if they will be able to go back again. “How can we feel safe and secure? Should we [Buddhists] and they [Muslims] be forced to live together like before?” asked 64-year-old Tun Thein.
The recent bloody unrest is viewed as a major test for the reform-minded government of Burmese President Thein Sein, who declared a state of emergency in the area on 10 June. A wave of violence erupted on 8 June following the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman in late May, allegedly by three Muslim Rohingya men.
On 3 June an attack on a bus left 10 Muslims dead, and in the ensuing revenge attacks thousands of homes were burned and dozens killed.
According to government figures, more than 52,000 people have been displaced and are now living at 66 temporary relief sites in six townships, while unofficial estimates put the real number of those who have been affected at closer to 90,000.
Many people could remain displaced for three months or longer, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on 22 June. The government says more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed, and most of the displaced people are now being housed in schools and religious buildings.
The plight of the Rohingya – an ethnic and linguistic Muslim minority numbering about 800,000 in Rakhine – is again in the international spotlight. They have long faced persecution in Myanmar, and in they eyes of Burmese law the Rohingyas are stateless.
Human rights groups note that they regularly experience discrimination. Permits are required for everything from renovating their homes to marriage and travel. Even within Rakhine, Rohingya must apply for permission when travelling from one city to another, while access to health and education is limited. Reports of forced labour are common.
Hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they live in squalor and are viewed as illegal migrants, or elsewhere in the region, including Malaysia and Thailand.
“We don’t know when peace will come and our lives will return to normal,” a Rohingya chemist in his thirties, who asked not to be identified, told IRIN by phone. “My mother is sick and my sister is pregnant. I’m so worried for them,” said the man, who claims they were forced to flee Sittwe to escape angry Buddhist residents.
Since the violence erupted, most Rohingya villages in Rakhine State have been cordoned off and monitored by riot police to prevent further clashes.
“The authorities have forced us to move out of Sittwe to those villages in the countryside where our people [Rohingya] live,” said one Rohingya woman from Sittwe. “We actually don’t want to, but how can we refuse?”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said government offices, banks, and most shops and markets in the Sittwe area had reopened, and the public ferry service between Sittwe and Maungdaw, on the Naf River, resumed on 18 June. However, many residents say the situation remains tense, particularly in those areas with larger Rohingya populations.
There have long been tensions between the two communities, but local politicians say this latest upsurge in violence could make things worse. “Now, both sides hate each other more than before. They don’t feel safe to live together as before,” said Hla Saw of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP).
Although many of the displaced are being assisted, there is growing concern about their health. “Four out of 10 suffer diarrhoea due to unclean sanitation,” said a doctor at a makeshift clinic, who noted that she is treating many patients for colds, coughs, and flu because it is the rainy season and the displaced people are sleeping on a concrete floor. “Proper shelter should be arranged for all of them urgently,” she said. “If they keep living in such conditions, their health will worsen.”
The Myanmar government, which has been providing assistance including food, shelter, non-food items and medical supplies to displaced people, has requested the United Nations and its humanitarian partners to support their efforts.
In response, the World Food Programme (WFP), which estimates that some 90,000 people are in need of assistance, is finalizing plans for a three-month food distribution operation that will require additional support from donors.
Asia Times Online – US-Myanmar eye military links
By Kim Jolliffe
CHIANG MAI – When United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta signaled at a recent regional defense confab in Singapore that political reforms underway in Myanmar could pave the way for bilateral military-to-military engagement, it represented a possible strategic turning point for the long-isolated, historically military-run nation.
While the prospect of Washington engaging a rights-abusing military is not unprecedented, any such move will be highly scrutinized and closely watched given that until 2011, hard-line soldiers had governed the country with an iron-fist for nearly five consecutive decades. Many of the previous ruling junta’s top soldiers are in positions of power in reformist President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration.
Military-to-military ties between the US and Myanmar were first downgraded in 1988, in response to soldiers killing thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators. Relations were completely severed by the mid-1990s and further obstructed by sanctions imposed by both the Bill Clinton and George W Bush administrations in punitive response to the regime’s persistently poor rights record.
The script has flipped since Thein Sein began to implement an ambitious political reform program, highlighted by the release of hundreds of political prisoners, an easing of press censorship, and allowances for pro-democracy icon and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party to take seats in the country’s partially elected new parliament.
The US has responded by rolling back restrictions, including a long-held ban against American companies from investing in the country. While various other economic and financial sanctions remain in place, including an embargo on arms sales, Panetta said on June 2 that the US would consider opening the way to strategic engagement if Myanmar stays its current reform course.
Panetta’s broad overture comes at a time of transition for both militaries. While the US has announced a new global defense strategy, the so-called “pivot”, emphasizing closer strategic ties with allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region, Myanmar’s military has signaled it is striving to develop a more professional role after being stripped of many of its past political functions.
Myanmar Defense Minister Lieutenant General Hla Min said at the same defense conference where Panetta spoke that the military would gradually “surrender” its allocated seats in parliament, which currently consists of 25% of both legislatures. He said that the army, also known as the Tatmadaw, is “100% in support” of Thein Sein’s reform agenda.
That would necessarily entail a complicated constitutional reform process, which the military has the power to block through its parliamentary numbers. However, Soe Win, the military’s second-highest ranking officer, suggested the military may be amenable to amending certain clauses of the charter after signing a ceasefire with the rebel Shan State Army-South on May 19.
Observers say there are other tentative signs that soldiers, especially among the lower ranks, are already shifting away from governance roles and towards more straightforward security and defense functions.
“Hla Min’s support for reforms and his suggestion that the military could reduce its political role over time may have opened the door a crack to begin contacts with the US military,” wrote Murray Hiebert, senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Myanmar’s armed forces, which have long depended on China for most of their training and weaponry, are reportedly looking to the United States and other Western powers as well as Asian powers to help promote their evolution toward a more professional force under civilian control. Washington should carefully test that hypothesis.”
According to Nyo Ohn Myint, a representative of the National League for Democracy Liberated Area who has recently worked closely with Thein Sein’s government to aid negotiations with armed rebel groups, the US could play a key role in this evolution.
“The US government should look at how to improve [Myanmar] army leaders’ mentality. Greater engagement and opening of its military institutions will bring benefits to all,” he told Asia Times Online.
Influential US lobbyists, including those who have steadily campaigned against economic sanctions, have recently echoed those calls. Stanley Weiss, founder of the Washington-based Business Executives for National Security, a business lobby group, believes recently ramped up engagement between the US and Myanmar should include security matters.
“We should improve our defense relationship with Myanmar in every way possible,” he said, claiming that decades of diplomatic isolation has distanced the US from a whole generation of military officers. He believes that re-engagement would give them “a taste of what civilized society looks like”.
Until now, Myanmar’s benighted military rulers have had little incentive to cooperate in Western-led multilateral initiatives, including on matters related to human rights.
“The Tatmadaw has always had its own concepts, and has stood on its own two feet,” explained Nyo Ohn Myint. “The more it has been isolated, the more difficult it has become to deal with… Tatmadaw leaders have had no alternative but to deal with China, India, and Pakistan. Distrust with Western countries has created more problems domestically.”
While the causes cannot be blamed simply on isolation from the West, there is little doubt that the Tatmadaw’s archaic approaches, not just to governance but also to counter-insurgency (COIN) warfare, have been the most damaging “domestic problems” in Myanmar’s recent history.
Certain ethnic rebel groups have fought against the government for decades, alternately for independence and greater degrees of autonomy. The ongoing conflict with Kachin rebels in the country’s northern region has been attended by new accounts of Tatmadaw rights abuses targeting civilian populations, according to reports by Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights lobby.
Significantly, there have been instances during the ongoing hostilities where commanding officers have ignored Thein Sein’s commands to stop offensive operations. As COIN strategies against a variety of insurgent groups have focused on the devastation of entire communities thought to be secretly supporting rebels, millions of civilians have been displaced both along the country’s borders, entrenching divisions along geographical and ethnic lines.
Meanwhile, a system where senior generals reward loyal commanding officers with economic concessions in those areas has meant that resource extraction and development has persistently suited the interests of the Tatmadaw and neglected civilians of basic necessities such as electricity and running water.
Dysfunction pervades Myanmar’s armed forces from top to bottom, and given its rigid obedience to hierarchies based on seniority, change will likely only come from the top-down. Whether the US would be able to influence such change through training and other joint exercises is an open question.
CSIS suggests engagement could begin through joint cooperation to search for several hundred US pilots shot down during World War II over northern Myanmar. The influential Washington think tank also suggested that Myanmar could be invited as an observer at the annual US-led Cobra Gold multilateral exercises, the largest in Asia, held every year in neighboring Thailand, as well as the US Navy’s Pacific Partnership program or the Air Force’s Pacific Angels operations, annual assistance exercises aimed at building ties with host countries.
“The United States could also send a military attache to Myanmar with the task of regularly engaging the country’s military, mapping opportunities to target training efforts to key leaders, and in general figuring out who is who,” wrote CSIS’s Hiebert. “Among other things, the officer could put together an alumni group of Myanmar officers who have studied in the United States. That group would include some interesting and influential leaders such as the minister of social welfare, the agriculture minister, and the chairman of the investment board.”
According to a former US Marine Corps Infantry Captain with bilateral training and advisory experience in Thailand, Iraq and Afghanistan who spoke to ATol on the condition of anonymity, the US would need to launch a comprehensive engagement program to have a meaningful impact. Anything less, he argues, would struggle to overcome entrenched inertia among the leadership and the myriad of political and cultural factors associated with the abusive status quo.
“[Military cooperation] would only play a small part in a much larger picture and so relationships like this must be sustained over years,” said the US military trainer. “Much of the [military's mentality] has to do with the upper leadership, who often are not engaged in the day-to-day exercises. Their attitudes will be trickier to change.”
He suggests that while joint training can slowly foster modern military concepts, including the notion that a soldier should serve the nation and its people, systemic change would involve decades of persistent engagement and would ultimately be more reliant on initiatives in sectors outside of the military.
So how likely is the initiation of a US-Myanmar military-to-military exchange program? As outlined by Panetta, the US’s new defense strategy focuses on developing stronger ties with Asia Pacific militaries in order to establish new shared “rules” and “modernize and strengthen alliances in the region”.
While the US is being forced by economic reasons to cut military spending, military planners have also learned from the recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan that modern day global security threats cannot be tackled through only conventional warfare means.
Panetta’s outlined “rules” include the “principle of open and free commerce, a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of all nations and a fidelity to the rule of law; open access by all to their shared domains of sea, air, space, and cyberspace; and resolving disputes without coercion or the use of force.”
Thomas Barnett, a renowned US contemporary military strategist who among other posts currently serves as Vice President of the Center for America- China Partnership, has long advocated that the US military should work first and foremost to build alliances with other states towards the aim of establishing “new rule sets” for mutual security and prosperity.
His strategy’s premise is that states that have prospered from economic globalization in recent decades are a lesser threat to the US than those which remain “excluded from globalization’s functioning core”. The theory argues that the spread of neo-liberal economics, alongside the strengthening of partnered militaries, is the best way to expand this “core” and pre-empt future security threats.
Isolated by decades of punitive Western sanctions, Myanmar has until now been excluded from this core. The George W Bush administration took hard aim at the Tatmadaw’s abusive record, once referring to Myanmar as an “outpost of tyranny”. The isolation and presumed threats of a possible US invasion forced the previous military regime led by Senior General Than Shwe into some hard choices, including military engagement and arms deals with North Korea’s rogue regime.
With Thein Sein’s election and Western engagement, Myanmar’s current military leaders have signaled a course shift, including a shelving of its previous North Korea-assisted nuclear program. Speaking at the July 2 conference, Defense Minister Hla Min made clear his understanding of the connection between economic prosperity and security.
Moral military dilemma
Whether that understanding translates into meaningful military reform is an open question. Premature outside assistance to the Tatmadaw’s operational capacities, including potential US-facilitated arms deals channeled through its ally South Korea, would risk destabilization of the country’s already fragile security environment further and potentially put civilian populations at greater risk.
According to Timothy Heinemann, a retired US Special Forces Colonel and founder of Worldwide Impact Now, a non-governmental organization that works with war-affected ethnic minority communities in Myanmar, argues such a move would be “wrong” both “morally and practically”.
“Discussing the prospect of defense engagement as the [Myanmar] Army is attacking Kachin villagers is particularly bad style,” Heinemann said. “It casts a blind eye to the established fact that the primary function of the [Myanmar] Army has been repression and exploitation.”
With around 25% of Myanmar’s land mass under the control, or heavy influence, of armed non-state ethnic minority groups, any US efforts to empower the Tatmadaw alone will likely perpetuate the conflict and marginalize even larger civilian populations, he argues. “Seeing the [Myanmar] Army empowered [by the US] can drive them toward radicalism that we have not seen to date,” he said.
“As we have experienced in both feudal Iraqi and Afghan societies, attempts to empower a central government and single standing army have proven to be folly,” said Heinemann. “Any discussion of empowering Burmans without parallel discussion of empowering ethnics in the security sector is a bankrupt approach from the start.”
Although Thein Sein’s government has initiated an unprecedented number of ceasefires with rebel groups in recent months, many have proven fragile and Myanmar remains a deeply fractured state. While the government’s current approach aims to bridge gaps through economic development and centralization, its refusal to make armed opposition groups legitimate political stakeholders has perpetuated conflict in some areas and distrust of the government’s motivations in others.
Ethnic groups have essentially been told to give up their arms, cooperate with government-led economic development initiatives and set up political parties to run for parliament if they wish to have political influence. The 2008 constitution, however, provides little space for local autonomy, which remains at the core of most opposition groups’ demands.
For decades, these groups have served as the primary providers of relief, healthcare and education to millions of marginalized and disenfranchised citizens and maintain significant popular support. The fact that over 90,000 people displaced by fighting in Kachin State have fled into Kachin Independence Army-controlled areas rather than territory held by the government, as have millions of others in similar situations in ethnic Shan, Karen, Karenni and Mon areas, displays clearly these grassroots preferences.
Heinemann argues that while the US should steer clear of directly empowering the Tatmadaw with weapons, it should leverage its newfound influence on Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government to get “control of the [Myanmar] Army and reform the defense-security sector in a manner that is inclusive of ethnic [leaders], and that properly empowers states for local governance”.
“The conversation [of US military engagement] must be about balanced professionalization and empowerment of all ethnic groups within a federal union. This needs to be done at national and state levels or the place will be a mess,” said Heinemann.
In an era where Myanmar’s future is influenced by external factors more than any time since independence from colonial rule, the US is expected to play an increasingly significant role. Washington’s influence over Myanmar will grow as long as Thein Sein continues to open the economy and the US incrementally lifts its remaining economic and financial sanctions.
Reformation of the Tatmadaw into a more responsible army will take time, and will depend more on domestic factors than external ones. While the US pushes to have more influence over Myanmar’s military, any engagement will likely be a process of evolution rather than revolution.
“Development of the military is just one small point of really developing a nation,” said the former US Captain and military trainer. “It’s got to be tied in with a good plan on developing governance systems, security systems such as the police force, and economic systems to really get a country on the right path.”
Kim Jolliffe is a research and analysis consultant focusing on politics, security and humanitarian issues in Myanmar.
Rezaul Karim, The Daily Star
Publication Date : 25-06-2012
Myanmar President Thein Sein will pay a three-day official visit to Bangladesh beginning on July 15 with officials saying that repatriation of Rohingya refugees, energy cooperation, trade and connectivity will be high on the agenda.
Besides, cooperation in the agriculture sector will also come up for discussion while Dhaka and Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital of Myanmar, may launch a joint collaboration in the tourism sector.
This will be the first high-level visit from Myanmar in recent years.
Myanmar’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint will pay a two-day visit to Bangladesh on July 1-2 for preparing the ground for Thein Sein’s tour as well as finalise issues to be tabled for discussion.
He will also hold foreign office consultation with Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes during his visit.
The last foreign secretary-level consultation was held on August 24, 2011 in Nay Pyi Taw.
“We are expecting a breakthrough in halting the repeated influx of ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar as well as repatriation of 28,000 registered refugees,” said a government official.
The Myanmar government is also eager to permanently settle the issue of Rohingya refugees as it is creating image crisis of the country abroad and affecting bilateral relations with Bangladesh, the official added.
Foreign ministry sources said President Thein Sein is coming at the invitation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who extended an invitation during her visit to Nay Pyi Taw on December 5-7, 2011.
A ground has already been prepared regarding the settlement of Rohingya issue as Myanmar has already agreed to take back Rohingya refugees after verification by its authorities, the sources added.
Besides, the issue of around 5 lakh unregistered Rohingyas living in Bangladesh will also come up for discussion.
An official of the foreign ministry said they hope to work out a solution to the problem of illegal Rohingyas during the visit of the Myanmar president.
The visit of Thein Sein takes place at a time when the Myanmar government has been undertaking reforms towards democracy.
On air connectivity, the foreign ministry officials said Dhaka and Nay Pyi Taw have already initiated a new air service agreement to operate seven passenger flights and four cargo flights a week between the two countries.
The services are expected to begin after the visit of the Myanmar president, they added.
Earlier, the national flag carrier Biman suspended its Dhaka-Yangon flight in 2007 due to losses.
On Dhaka’s proposal for import of electricity from Myanmar, the foreign ministry officials said they are yet to receive any positive response from Nay Pyi Taw, but the issue will be discussed again during the official talks between the two sides.
Although there are about 10 agreements between the two countries including those in areas of land boundary management, trade, transport, and prevention of narcotics, many of them are only on paper, except for the border agreement.
Despite having immense potential for bilateral trade, Bangladesh’s exports stood at US$9.65 million and imports from Myanmar at $175.7 million in 2010-11.
Myanmar Urges For More Foreign Investment
YANGON, June 25 (Bernama) — Myanmar official media Monday called on foreign entrepreneurs to help Myanmar and come to invest more in the country, saying that foreign investment could help Myanmar rise above the poverty, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
“Facilitated by sweeping reform being initiated by the reformist government in office, it has held wide chances of becoming the Asia’s latest economic frontier,” said the editorial of the New Light of Myanmar.
“Following the lifting of most economic sanctions against Myanmar, foreign investors are packing their suitcases to visit the Southeast Asian country in pursuit of business prospects,” the editorial also said.
An amendment bill to decades-old foreign investment law, drafted by legal professionals and economists, is poised to be discussed and passed in the next parliament session due to start on July 4.
Once the legislation is approved, the international businessmen will flood into the country and set foothold in the country, it predicts.
Parliament members, who will discuss the law, have prioritised the profit of the people, ensuring that the law to be prescribed could stimulate the interest of the multi-national corporations to invest in Myanmar and create a favourable investment climate, it said.
The editorial cited the recent holding of the New Myanmar Investment Summit in Yangon as saying that it has attracted hundreds of global investors, signaling a surge of excitement to set up their businesses in Myanmar.
The foreign direct investment could generate a large number of employment opportunities to the country’s young workforce whose previous option for decent jobs is other Asian countries, it pointed out.
Noting that Myanmar also has the experienced workforce who are employed in the neighboring economies. The editorial said for the corporation, they could profit from the young and experienced labor and rich resources.
“The country will get necessary infrastructures from the investment as well. It is a win-win situation,” the editorial added.
Observers here said both President U Thein Sein’s domestic reform measures and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s play of role in the international would prompt the unprecedented inflow of foreign investment in the country in the near future in the interest of the people and help boost the national economy.
25-Jun-12, 7:31 PM | Agence France-Presse
InterAksyon.com, The online news portal of TV5
YANGON – The leaders of Myanmar and Bangladesh will discuss the issue of Rohingya refugees and related unrest near their shared border next month, Bangladesh’s ambassador in Yangon said Monday.
The topic will be on the agenda when Myanmar President Thein Sein travels to Bangladesh from July 15-17 to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Major General Anup Kumar Chakma told AFP.
“Bangladesh supports all actions (and) measures that are being taken by Myanmar to restore normalcy in Rakhine State as early as possible.”
Myanmar government officials said they were unable to confirm the planned trip.
Myanmar’s Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh, has been rocked by rioting, arson and a cycle of revenge attacks involving Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya this month, prompting growing international concern.
More than 80 people have been killed in the violence, with sporadic outbreaks of violence still occurring, according to the Myanmar government, which has placed the whole of Rakhine state under emergency rule.
“The overall situation in Sittwe district is under control although the curfew is still in force,” he said by telephone.
About 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, according to the UN, which views them as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
In recent weeks Bangladesh has turned away hundreds of Rohingya Muslims fleeing the violence in Myanmar despite pressure from the United States and rights groups to grant them refuge.
The impoverished South Asian country is already home to a Rohingya refugee population estimated at 300,000.
Speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in southeast Bangladesh, the Rohingya are seen as illegal immigrants by the Myanmar government and many Burmese, prompting many to attempt to flee to third countries in rickety boats.
An electricity famine may strangle Myanmar’s economic revolution.
Patrick Winn June 23, 2012 07:00
YANGON AND KAREN STATE, MYANMAR — Forget the abusive generals and the freedom fighters. Myanmar’s new power struggle pits the frustrated masses against their nation’s lousy electrical grid. Myanmar’s government is attempting a light-speed transition from paranoid dictatorship to free-market democracy.
But as it zooms ahead, the Southeast Asian nation is also struggling to keep the lights on. By the World Bank’s estimation, a scant 13 percent of the population has access to the national power grid. Even North Korea and East Timor boast higher rates.
Those fortunate enough to have electricity contend with exasperating, near-daily blackouts. In the poor and unplugged hinterlands, flashlights convey status. The power shortage is a blight on progress that grinds factories to a midday halt and forces rural kids to study by candlelight.
Myanmar’s president, a reformist ex-junta general named Thein Sein, has just announced a wildly ambitious goal: tripling per capita GDP to $3,600 by the year 2016. American and European investors, recently cleared to return after a 15-year spell of sanctions, are hoped to help revitalize the long-suffering nation. But without an expanded and modernized power grid, Myanmar’s economic revolution may fail.
This truth appears well understood in the nation’s new halls of power. “Investment is very important but we have a weak point: electricity,” Kyaw Zaw Maung told Global Post. He is the head of Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, an agency responsible for approving foreign projects. “We need high-tech technology, we need investors and America is very advanced,” Kyaw Zaw Maung said. “Come to Myanmar.
We welcome you to improve our power supply.” There is a painful irony surrounding Myanmar’s electricity famine: the country, formerly titled Burma, is replete with oil, gas, hydro-power dams and coal.
But much of the power generated by its 30-odd power plants is zapped abroad to fridges and TV sets in neighboring China and Thailand. Both nations have financed and constructed power stations inside Myanmar and they are set to build more.
On government balance sheets, energy-related projects account for a whopping 83 percent of foreign investment pledges and total $26.2 billion. Though China is the frontrunner, firms with claims on varied Myanmar gas fields include Russia, India and Switzerland.
Even throughout the era of sanctions, France’s Total and American’s Chevron built and ran a pipeline off Myanmar’s coast. Both ducked sanctions through grandfather-clause loopholes.
That foreigners are piping out much of Myanmar’s power is not lost on its citizens. In a country notorious for daring protests and ensuing bloody crackdowns, locals have used their newly restored assembly rights to agitate for more electricity.
Frustration over May blackouts sparked a demonstration in Yangon, the commercial capital, that ended in light scuffles with police. But farther afield, Myanmar’s energy policy is caught up in outright armed conflict. In northern Kachin State, a simmering civil war between state forces and the indigenous Kachin Independence Army has threatened billion-dollar Chinese dam and gas pipeline projects.
In eastern Karen State, the claimed turf of the guerilla Karen National Liberation Army, commandos encamp by a river the Myanmar and Thai governments have attempted to dam. “They started running surveys here and I told them, look, you must negotiate with us first,” said Brigadier Gen. Baw Kyaw Heh, commander of the liberation army’s fifth brigade.
“The villagers didn’t want the dam to flood their land,” the commander said. “So I moved in my troops to claim the area.” The project remains in limbo. Myanmar’s Solar Craze Downtown Yangon hosts an old-world throng of vendors, all noisily beckoning passersby towards goods arranged on dirty pavement. Rambutan, a spiny, magenta-colored fruit, competes with sliced pineapples.
Used watches compete with English-language technical manuals from the 1970s. Men chew the city’s favored stimulant, betel nut, and spit crimson saliva into the drain. But just up the block, the “Power Light” shop showcases more contemporary wares: Chinese-made solar panels.
For a few hundred bucks, a small fortune in Myanmar, buyers can install their own personal energy supply outside their homes. The cheapest model, a $60 hand-held unit, contains a jack to charge an increasingly common gadget in Myanmar: mobile phones.
“We’re selling more and more solar panels. But not much to city people,” said Kyaw Phyoe Khin Aung, a 30-year-old shopkeeper at Power Light. “Mostly people buying it and taking it back out to the villages.” Slick panels have become a jarring new sight in off-grid villages. In Karen State hamlets, where buffalo munch grass and children toddle half-naked by the rice fields, the panels feed droopy wires into bamboo huts. By day, solar power is captured inside car batteries. By night, the batteries power radios and lightbulbs.
Light remains a highly sought luxury in much of Myanmar, said Debbie Aung Din, co-founder of a Yangon-based non-profit called Proximity Designs. The operation harnesses Western designers to develop high-end tools, sold at cost, that boost Myanmar farmers’ productivity.
The top seller is a line of irrigation pumps, powered by Stairmaster-style pedals, that save farmers countless hours hauling buckets from a stream. But last month, Proximity rolled out a new product: the D-Light. Designed in part by Stanford University graduates, the solar-powered lantern has the smooth, minimalist aesthetics of an Apple gadget.
It sells for about $11 and, like its $60 Chinese-made counterpart, includes an outlet for charging mobile phones. Nearly 2,000 units have sold in the first four weeks. “Families really value education.
They spend a lot of money on candles so their kids can study at night,” Debbie Aung Din said. But even candles, which sell for 25 cents, can eat up one quarter of a family’s daily income. “It’s not ideal.
Thatch huts are drafty … and you can’t study by candlelight inside a mosquito net.”
“After an hour, when the candle goes out, they just sit in the dark,” Debbie Aung Din said. “Just imagine how much that hurts their productivity.” Foreigners First? As power shortages strangle the economy and breed dissent, Myanmar’s leadership is beginning to see stronger links between energy policy and social unrest.
“Yes, I get these questions. Why do we export energy to neighboring countries when we have a shortage?” said Aung Kyaw Htoo, assistant director of Myanmar’s Ministry of Energy. Previous natural gas projects, he said, were inked with foreigners before Myanmar’s energy needs spiked.
“At those times, we had no domestic concerns and the operators and buyers already had agreements,” Aung Kyaw Htoo said. “Therefore, we exported the gas.” “But today, in reforming not only politics but our economics … the local demand is abruptly higher,” he said. Though natural gas remains Myanmar’s top source of foreign income, it quenches only 30 to 40 percent of domestic demand, according to government figures.
According to Aung Kyaw Htoo, the energy ministry has agreed that all newly discovered gas fields should be reserved for Myanmar’s domestic needs. Still, frustration over the longstanding foreign-centric energy policy is intensifying.
To tame May’s protests against blackout protests in Yangon, the government hastily ordered generators and gas turbines from two US firms, Caterpillar and General Electric.
Just months before, the purchase would have been forbidden under sanctions. In Myanmar’s reform era, Western firms are suddenly presented with an opportunity to modernize Myanmar’s ailing energy grid with their reputations intact.
This is a sharp turnaround: paying the former junta to operate a pipeline off Myanmar’s coast has long stained the esteem of Total and, to a lesser extent, Chevron.
But Total, which has poured more than $20 million toward charitable projects in Myanmar, was vindicated when revered opposition figure Aung San Suu Kyi deemed the firm to be a “responsible investor” in May. Her rhetoric matches that of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has urged American operations to “invest in Burma and do it responsibly.”
Responsible or otherwise, multi-national energy firms with world-class expertise likely prove crucial in rehabilitating Myanmar’s energy grid. Under the junta, the nation saw its technical colleges deteriorate and its best and brightest flee abroad. As the government courts foreign investors, it is also urging far-flung engineers to return home for the rebuilding effort. “If foreigners want to come to Myanmar,” Kyaw Zaw Maung said, “then, please, tell them to bring all their technicians and experts.”
THE NATION June 25, 2012 1:00 am
Thailand will not lose its leadership among regional destinations from the opening of the tourism industry in Myanmar because of its quality facilities and professionalism, an expert said last week.
In contrast, Thailand stands to benefit because the young and fresh scenario of Myanmar will help boost regional travel by offering new products to increase tourist arrivals, said Steven Schipani, a social sector specialist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) based in Bangkok.
Thailand will still play a key role as the gateway to the region. The bank’s research found that 30 foreign travellers out of every 100 visiting the Asean bloc have seen two countries.
In his talk to The Nation, his message was clear that Myanmar would help create a “choice” for foreigners during their regional travel, and was not a threat to Thailand.
Myanmar is still far behind Thailand in development. Its infrastructure, such as road network, electricity and sanitation, is still poor. Hotel standards are not good. People working in the industry from chef to tour guide lack professionalism. Also, the hospitality of the local people leaves much to be desired, especially concerning unfair service.
The ADB is working with Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism (MOHT) to craft a tourism master plan. Tourism is considered as an important industry to build the country’s prosperity. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader, has said tourism was one of her first priorities to help drive economic activities.
The tourism master plan, with US$225,000 in support from the government of Norway, will draw on advice from specialists around the world on aspects such as tourism, the environment, cultural heritage and marketing.
The process has started. Six professionals are expected to be selected by August to work with the bank. The master plan will be completed next year and submitted to the MOHT to start taking action.
One of its ambitions is job creation to get rid of poverty and narrow the gender gap. Women will be allowed to work to augment their household income and play a more prominent role in the economy.
Exploiting children for labour and women for the sex trade will not be allowed.
Neighbouring nations, especially Thailand, can offer tourism lessons from an environmental and social standpoint. The plan will also be in line with the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) cooperation, which is an effort to promote the subregion as a single tourism destination. The GMS countries are Cambodia, China, including Yunnan province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The cooperation is expected to bring progress to all nations in the fast-growing region. However, tourism in the six GMS nations is still out of balance. Last year, 38 million visited the GMS, but half of the trips were to Thailand, he added.
Last Update 25 June 2012
As Madame Aung San Suu Kyi concludes a historic tour in Europe with a three-day visit to Paris, French as well as international human rights activists warmly welcome her and wish to echo her call for sustained reforms and progress in the rule of law in Burma. Today, many signs indicate that the transition process in the country remains fragile and uncertain. The international community needs to maintain strong support to the Burmese population, including refugees and internally displaced people, as well as human rights defenders inside Burma and on its borders.
Madame Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Europe is politically significant in the context of Burma’s nascent reform process and diplomatic openings. The release of prominent political prisoners in January and the National League for Democracy’s participation in by-elections on 1 April were followed by the easing of sanctions by the US, EU, Canada, Australia and Norway. Japan canceled 60% of Burma’s outstanding debt and resumed financial aid. However, more than 400 political prisoners remain in jail while those who were released have not regained all their civil and political rights; the international community should heed Madame Suu Kyi’s appeal in her Nobel lecture and press for their immediate and unconditional release. Legal reforms have been extremely limited, and public protests over economic and social rights have been severely repressed by authorities.
“Last weeks’ outbreak of communal violence in Arakan State as well as the escalating war in Kachin and Northern Shan States add urgency to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for genuine and systematic reform, to ensure that Burma’s diverse population enjoys justice and protection from violations”, said Debbie Stothard, FIDH Deputy Secretary-General and coordinator of Altsean-Burma.
“The FIDH has called for extreme caution over the easing of economic sanctions against Burma and the anticipated increase in foreign investment. The absence of an independent judiciary and the lack of accountability of State agencies involved in oil and gas contracts as well as mega-development projects combine to create a highly risky environment in which foreign investments in these sectors could lead to serious human rights abuses”, said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.
“The suspension of sanctions should be benchmarked to further steps, in particular the release of all remaining political prisoners and an end to breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law in ethnic areas”, said Pierre Tartakowsky, president of the Ligue des droits de l’Homme.
“During her European tour, Aung San Suu Kyi has emphasized that national reconciliation and reconstruction in Burma will require a global effort by all parties. It should not rely solely on two individuals – Madame Suu Kyi herself and President Thein Sein – but be broad-based and inclusive of the entire Burmese population, including exiles and the displaced”, said Mathieu Flammarion, president of Info Birmanie.
By DANIA SAADI
Published: June 20, 2012
DUBAI — Ziad Attar, general manager for the marine and ports business of the Al Marwan Group, an industrial conglomerate based in the United Arab Emirates, first went to Myanmar on business in 2005. Since then he has returned frequently, trying to clinch port projects in the country, which the International Monetary Fund says “could become the next economic frontier in Asia.”
“When I first visited Myanmar in 2005, there wasn’t really any encouragement for foreign direct investment. In 2009, I felt change was imminent,” Mr. Attar said in the emirate of Sharjah last month. “We used to negotiate a month in advance to try and make an appointment with high-ranking officials. Now we get appointments in three or four days.”
As Myanmar emerges from five decades of economic isolation and its military junta loosens its hold on political and economic power, outside investors are scurrying to get a foot in the door of one of the world’s least-open economies.
The I.M.F. expects the economy of Myanmar, which has a population exceeding 50 million and is close to the emerging nations of India and China, to be worth about $52 billion in the 2011-2012 financial year. The country offers an enticing investment story for petrodollar-rich Gulf investors. Nearly the size of Texas, Myanmar has natural gas reserves, produces minerals like zinc and has mines full of rubies and jade.
Once known as the world’s biggest rice exporter, it is also home to half of the world’s natural teak forests, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, a United Nations agency based in Rome.
“We see great potential in Myanmar: it has old infrastructure and has active trade with China and other countries that require port and marine services,” Mr. Attar said.
According to the Myanmar Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, the U.A.E. ranked 20th in terms of countries with approved investment in the country, accounting for $41 million out of a total investment pool of $40.7 billion.
Although Myanmar has close economic ties with China — its largest foreign investor, with about $14 billion in approved foreign investment — it is trying to exit its neighbor’s orbit, analysts say. Last year, the president of Myanmar halted work on the $3.6 billion Myitsone hydropower dam being built by Chinese companies after domestic criticism.
Gulf investors are particularly attracted by the opportunities offered by Myanmar’s underdeveloped infrastructure, swathes of arable land that could provide food security for the arid Gulf states, and the country’s proximity to China, the world’s No.2 oil consumer.
Saudi oil is already expected to flow via the Myanmar-China Oil and Gas Pipeline network being built by the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp., which will feed into a planned joint venture refinery between the state-owned Saudi Aramco and C.N.P.C. in China’s landlocked Yunnan Province. Oil tankers from the Middle East docking in Myanmar would help cut costs and ease congestion for ships traversing the Malacca strait between Indonesia and Malaysia, the main route between the Middle East and Asia.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways could explore the possibility of investing in a hotel in Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon, the airline’s chief executive, Akbar al-Baker, said at a travel show in Dubai in May. The airline, which is expanding into the hospitality industry, plans to restart flights to Yangon in October after a four-year hiatus, buoyed by the prospects of a rise in business travel and tourism to Buddhist temples and ancient cities.
“With the new economic and political reality, Myanmar has a huge potential both economically and from the tourism side,” Mr. Baker said.
Gulf investors are encouraged by the fast pace of political change in Myanmar, where the political party of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi , the pro-democracy activist and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, won in elections in April, a result that prompted Western governments to lift economic sanctions in place since the 1990s.
Political change has also led to economic changes, including a loosening of currency controls on the local currency in April.
Ko Ko Latt, the Burmese chairman of the Gulf Group of Cos., which has interests in shipping, trading, construction and travel, said he had seen an increase in visits over the past year from Gulf investors eager to invest in energy, construction, real estate, tourism and shipping.
“Because everything is changing and the government is welcoming foreign investors in Myanmar, they want a piece of the cake,” Mr. Latt said last month.
His group exports commodities to the Gulf, while its shipping division has worked for years with companies in the region. Thousands of Burmese migrant laborers are employed in various Gulf industries.
But Gulf countries do not yet have a strong diplomatic presence in Myanmar. Kuwait’s first resident ambassador, for example, took office in Myanmar this year. Saudi Arabia’s relations with the government in Naypyidaw are complicated by a political issue regarding the status of thousands of stateless Muslim Burmese refugees from the Rohingya ethnic group, who have fled to the Gulf state in recent decades.
The predominantly Buddhist country continues to face ethnic tension, which led the president in June to declare a state of emergency in the Western region of Rakhine after deadly clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.
Even the economic climate in Myanmar remains hazardous. In 2011, Transparency International ranked Myanmar third on its list of the most corrupt countries, after Somalia and North Korea.
Myanmar is burdened with antiquated laws. It suffers from chronic power cuts. Nearly a third of its people were classified in a U.N report in 2007 as living in poverty.
“Myanmar still has many problems and pitfalls for investors. It is without reliable property rights, the rule of law, et cetera,” Sean Turnell, an associate professor in economics at Macquarie University in Sydney, wrote in an e-mail last month. “The macroeconomy is still rather volatile, and the reforms are still in their very early stage. It is still, if you like, a ‘frontier economy.”’
Investors cautioned despite recent reforms
Published: 25/06/2012 at 10:14 AM
Newspaper section: Business
Thais and foreign investors should prepare for uncertainty in Myanmar over the next couple of years, although some positive outcomes can be expected from the ongoing reforms, say Myanmar and international analysts.
Legislation in the works includes a new banking bill that will allow full branches of foreign banks in the next year or two, plus a new labour law.
A new foreign investment law coming next month will extend the period for tax holidays.
“We have lots to do within a few years,” said Soe Win, managing director of the Yangon-based consultancy Myanmar Vigour Co.
The ongoing reforms, which are aimed at upgrading procedures and cutting the time for business procedures in Myanmar, will benefit foreign investors.
Soe Win spoke to members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand on Friday. The half-day programme discussed strategies for investing in Myanmar.
Michael McGee, the commercial counsellor at the US embassy in Bangkok, said rules will change constantly there over the next four or five years.
“It is important to know whom you do business with and how,” he said, adding that inadequate infrastructure in Myanmar is a problem for doing business there.
“Make sure you’ve got a good lawyer and get good advice,” said Mr McGee, encouraging US companies to start “cautiously” by exploring business opportunities and building contacts.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in mid-May the suspension of bans on US financial transactions and investment in Myanmar. As of last year, US trade with Myanmar amounted to US$48 million, said Mr McGee.
James Finch, a partner in the law firm DFDL, said having the right partner is important to deal with the risks of doing business in Myanmar.
Foreign direct investment in Myanmar totalled $40 million last year, 85% of which involves power, oil and gas.
The US-based Chevron has operated in Myanmar, partly under Unocal, for 20 years as a partner in the Yadana offshore gas field, with France’s Total the operator.
The new foreign investment law will extend the tax holiday period to five years from three, said Mr Finch.
By reforming its sanctions against Myanmar, Washington took a significant step to normalising relations with Myanmar. The US Treasury Department will license certain types of investment in financial services for US businesses in Myanmar.
Written by The Edge
Monday, 25 June 2012 20:28
Interra Resources said jointly controlled entity, Goldpetrol Joint Operating Company Inc., has commenced drilling of Chauk deep well CDT 12 at the Chauk field in Myanmar for gas discovery.
Interra has a 60% interest in the Improved Petroleum Recovery Contract of the Chauk field and also owns 60% of Goldpetrol which is the operator of the field.
The latest initiative marks the completion of several years of rigorous investigations to identify the best way to tap into these targeted reserves. Interra’s share of the cost of drilling is funded from existing funds on hand.
The Japan Times – Banks step up support for moves into Myanmar
Japan’s three major banks are bolstering support for Japanese companies looking to enter Myanmar.
In April, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ stationed a full-time chief in Yangon. Previously, the head of its representative office in Dhaka concurrently headed its office in Myanmar’s biggest city.
Since then, the megabank’s Yangon office has advised some 150 client firms hoping to enter the democratizing Southeast Asian country, which has become increasingly attractive to businesses chiefly as a low-cost manufacturing base.
In the year to next March, the office is expected to give advice and offer support services to 600 companies, up threefold from the previous year, an official of the bank said.
Its peers are also getting ready to boost client services in the country.
Mizuho Corporate Bank set up a representative office in Yangon in April and Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. has inked a deal with Kanbawza Bank to provide Myanmar’s largest lender with human resource development and technical assistance.
Sumitomo Mitsui is mulling an alliance with Kanbawza, sources said.
With a population nearing 62 million, Myanmar shines as not only a potential production base for Japanese companies but a new consumer market.
“Demand for daily goods, food and construction machinery are believed to be increasing in Myanmar,” said Ritsuo Fukadai, head of the Yangon office of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, adding that his office is providing information to clients in the manufacturing and logistics industries.
But Fukadai said Japanese firms may have to wait another three to five years before fully investing in the country until infrastructure, including payment clearing systems and power networks, improves.
Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network
Sunday, Jun 24, 2012
She cooks, fixes leaks and can live without a cell phone or the Internet. And she’s proud of her country’s lotus shawls.
Aung San Suu Kyi, known as an international symbol of democracy, is a simple woman who finds pleasure in the simple joys of life. And revels in the kindness of her two sons.
It was a close friend, a Nobel Peace laureate like her, who arranged my meeting with Suu Kyi at her home one day after Christmas of 2010. Finally going to that old mansion by the lake on University Avenue in Burma’s (Myanmar) capital, Rangoon, was the realization of a longtime aspiration to meet Burma’s icon of democracy.
How did Daw Suu (daw is an honorific for a revered woman, literally meaning “aunt”) maintain her sanity during those 20 years of house arrest?
In her marked calm manner, she said nonchalantly that she literally had to plug the leaks of her ancestral home. She confessed to receiving all her news from a transistor radio during those dark years as she had no cell phone or computer that had access to the Internet. In fact, at the time of our visit, her application for Internet connection was still pending.
She expressed her interest in cooking while serving me and my sons tea and cookies. In fact, she even welcomed the idea of having a Filipino cookbook (which I eventually sent).
Proud of the rural livelihoods in her country, Daw Suu advised me to go to Inle Lake and buy the traditional lotus shawl culled from the lotus flower so abundant in Burma. I did as told and did not regret her suggestion.
On more serious matters, Daw Suu expressed appreciation for the Philippines’ consistent and steadfast support of her quest for democratic reforms in Burma. She, in fact, wrote a handwritten letter to President Aquino, which I personally handed to him.
However, she expressed disappointment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), noting that it is not cohesive enough and does not stand up for her cause, so unlike the African nations who rallied behind the opposition leader of Ivory Coast at that time.
But she said it was understandable due to the economic interests of some Asean nations.
When asked if she would eventually submit herself to another election, she said she would only consider such in an inclusive political process. At that time, it did not seem imminent.
She said she would visit Thailand and Norway once she is allowed to travel again, which was what she exactly did.
She is once again calling attention to Burma.
There was never any trace of bitterness or anger in her words or demeanor during our conversation. She was always calm and serene, firm yet gentle, beautiful in her simplicity.
She did not seem bothered at all that we were intruding on an afternoon after Christmas. She spoke lengthily to my sons and said they were the first non-Burmese youth she had seen and met in 20 years.
That was touching.
She spoke of kindness, as she did on her long-delayed acceptance speech for her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. But this time, she spoke of her sons’ kindness, saying they never blamed her for their situation, considering that she had not seen them for a very long time. At this point, I could not help but shed a tear, as a mother, as a woman.
Daw Suu spoke much of the sufferings of her people and the need for basic health care, employment, nutrition and of justice for the many who are maimed, abused and killed. She stressed the need for ethnic conciliation and for harmony of the various ethnicities.
Suu Kyi stands for the ideal social consciousness, of the need for compassion, of the belief in democracy, freedom and the fair and just treatment of every human being and the capacity of every human being to act with compassion, strength, courage and determination.
During our visit to the country, we noticed a framed, faded portrait of a young Suu Kyi in the backroom of a lacquerware shop in Bagan, an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Burma. It was placed on the top shelf in place of an image of the Buddha or a long-lost parent. This was in December 2010, just over a month after the release of the Burmese prodemocracy leader from house arrest.
Even then, conspicuous acknowledgment of the Lady, as she is often called, was simply not done.
Gesturing toward the photograph, I mentioned Daw Suu’s nascent freedom. The shop owner beamed, and was quick to declare that the portrait had stayed there all throughout Daw Suu’s imprisonment. This felt like a silent yet staunch act of protest.
Yes, the portrait may have been left in the very rear of the shop, only a flickering fluorescent lamp illuminating it, but it was wreathed in silk garlands, and was an obvious source of pride and inspiration. The shop owner, a warm, excitable woman, began to speak of Daw Suu in a hushed, considered tone: “We love her. We have hope. We believe she can help Burma.”
It seemed as if she was speaking for the entire country. As my sons and I discreetly spoke with more Burmese people, it soon became clear that she may as well have been.
Viet Nam News/Asia News Network
Monday, Jun 25, 2012
HA NOI – National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung yesterday proposed that Viet Nam and Myanmar strengthen links in economics, trade, investment, socio-cultural affairs and legislative activities.
Hung held talks with the visiting Speaker of Myanmar’s Upper House, and the President of Myanmar’s Parliament, Khin Aung Myint, in Ha Noi.
Hung highlighted the achievements recorded by the Myanmar people in socio-political stability and economic development, as well as the country’s role in the region and international arena.
Myanmar’s top legislator said his visit also aimed to further relations between Myanmar’s Upper House and Viet Nam’s National Assembly.
Myint said he hoped both NAs would work closely together on external relations.
The two sides agreed to increase exchanges at all levels, especially senior-level delegations. They will also set up a parliamentary friendship group and increase co-operation between the offices of both legislative bodies.
They also agreed to continue supporting each other at multilateral forums to lay a firm foundation for other links.
Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and President Truong Tan Sang also welcomed the top Myanmar lawmaker yesterday.
Trong said he hoped Myanmar would gain more achievements in its democratisation, open-door policy and reforms.
President Sang also spoke highly of the achievements the Myanmar people had made, especially in organising the parliamentary by-elections in April.
He also suggested that both states step up co-operation at regional and international forums.
Sang said he believed that Myanmar would successfully carry out its duties when it takes over the ASEAN Chair in 2014.
Khin Aung Myint praised the positive changes in Viet Nam in recent years, saying he was sure Viet Nam would maintain a healthy macro economy and social welfare.
Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2012 8:16 pm | Updated: 8:20 pm, Sun Jun 24, 2012.
By SHELLEY RIDENOUR/Daily Inter Lake
Whitefish Community Library employees have agreed to donate about 75 books to a statewide effort to send books to Myanmar, where residents continue to rebuild after a devastating cyclone hit in 2008.
The Whitefish commitment puts it at the top of the list of Montana libraries donating books to the effort, Whitefish Community Library Board Secretary Allison Pomerantz said.
Other libraries that have agreed to donate books include 22 from the Parmly Billings Library, 35 from the Montana State University-Billings library, 20 from the Butte-Silverbow Library and six from the Rocky Mountain Laboratories Library in Hamilton. Libraries in Missoula, Helena and Great Falls have agreed to donate as well.
The book donation effort is spearheaded by the Nargis Library Recovery and the NLR Interest Group of the Montana Library Association. The organizations have a goal of distributing 600,000 books to 250 libraries in Myanmar by the end of the year, with a goal of 1 million books by the end of 2013.
People may donate new or clean, used books to the Myanmar effort, Whitefish Library Director Joey Kositzky said. Donated books can include recent encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks and news magazines, she said.
Donations must be dropped off at the Whitefish library by July 9.
“It’s really worth the effort when you stop to consider the difference that the right book, or access to even a small library collection, can make in anyone’s life at a key time,” Whitefish library board Vice Chairwoman Anne Shaw Moran said of the Myanmar project. “This just goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, the word ‘library’ always spells ‘community’ and we are thrilled to help them rebuild and restock.”
The May 2, 2008, cyclone killed 140,000 people.
Posted by Martin Wainwright, Monday 25 June 2012 12.30 EDT
A piano was one of the symbols of her lonely fight against political oppression. Now her name has been given to a new gold medal by Fanny Waterman, another great woman of our times
The inspirational Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has accepted the position of honorary ambassador for the Leeds International Piano Competition which take place in August and September.
The top prize in the event, a gold medal to celebrate the 50 years since the competition was founded, is also to be named after the charismatic 67-year-old whose 15 lonely years of house arrest were relieved, to a small extent, by her love of amateur piano playing.
Supporters outside her compound used to listen out for the music as a reassurance that she was still alive and keeping up her spirits. She also, famously, took her frustrations out on the simple Yamaha upright she owned, telling the journalist John Pilger (and a succession of piano repairers) how she had played so angrily on occasion that she broke strings.
Her link with Leeds acknowledges not just this but a second remarkable woman who is now 92, the founder of the piano competition Dame Fanny Waterman. Unstoppable, lively, imaginative and modest, the former music teacher has not faced prison or the military, but countless tedious obstacles, bureaucratic hurdles and – in the early days of event – pessimistic sceptics whose doubts have been long since swept aside.
Still the competition’s chair and artistic director the Dame unhesitatingly took second place to the Daw (the Burmese honorific title of ‘Mother’ used for Aung San Suu Kyi), saying:
In this, our special golden anniversary year, this is the greatest honour our piano competition has ever received.
The Prime Minister David Cameron joined in, saying:
The Leeds International Piano Competition is one of the great classical music competitions in the world. It’s a tremendous advert for Leeds and for Britain as a whole. Aung San Suu Kyi’s appreciation of piano playing is well known. So it is fantastic that the competition has made this tribute to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. And it is a fitting way to end her brilliant and historic visit to Britain.
Leeds is glowing with international virtue just now, after the recent successful visit of the Dalai Lama, in the face of disapproval from some Chinese Olympic officials whose sportsmen and women are using the city as a base for London 2012.
This year’s competition runs from 29th August to 16th September 2012 with 80 entrants from over 20 countries short-listed from an initial 270 applications. Six finalists will perform with the Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Sir Mark Elder, at Leeds Town Hall on Friday 14 and Saturday 15 September, before the winner is chosen.
The top prize, which includes £18,000 in cash and a string of bookings with UK and international orchestras, has grown in prestige as previous winners have progressed to great careers. They include Murray Perahia, Radu Lupu, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida, Lars Vogt, Louis Lortie and Artur Pizarro.Tickets are available online from the Leeds International Concert Season website at or tel +44 (0)113 224 3801. They cost: £5.00 per session for Stages 1 & 2; £6.00 for the Semi-Finals and from £14.00 to £48.00 for the Finals.
By SAW YAN NAING / THE IRRAWADDY| June 25, 2012
A court in Naypyidaw is set to decide on Tuesday whether an opposition spokesperson should go to prison for six months for spreading rumors of alleged voter fraud during by-elections held in April.
Nyan Win, the chief spokesperson for the National League for Democracy (NLD), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that he and his lawyers will travel to the Burmese capital tomorrow to attend the hearing, which will be held in Zabuthiri Township.
The lawsuit, filed by Burma’s Union Election Commission (UEC), accuses him of making false allegations of vote rigging in Pubbathiri Township in Naypyidaw, an area regarded as a stronghold of Burma’s former military junta.
He has consistently denied the charges, saying that he merely stated that there had been reports of irregularities.
The charges stem from rumors that spread during the by-elections of ballot sheets in some polling stations being covered with wax to prevent voters from selecting NLD candidates.
The UEC later investigated the claim and found the reports to be inaccurate. Nyan Win was ordered on May 9 to publicly retract statements that were deemed to lend credence to the claims, but he refused to do so, saying that he was not the source of the rumors.
“The UEC asked me to release a statement, but I said it was unnecessary to do so because we merely reported what we heard. If it is not true, we are happy with that, but we are not guilty according to the law,” said Nyan Win, who is also a lawyer.
The claims that some ballots had been tampered with were reported not only by the NLD, but also by leading dissidents, including members of 88 Generation Students group, and local media.
Under Section 182 Burma’s Penal Code, a public official who provides false information faces a six-month prison term and a fine of 1,000 kyat (US $1.20) if found guilty as charged.
Nyan Win said that if the court doesn’t make a decision on Tuesday, it might set another date for trial. However, if he found guilty, he said he expects to face such punishment.
In parliamentary by-elections on April 1, the NLD won 43 of 44 contested seats. The ruling military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won just one seat, in a constituency the NLD did not contest.
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN / THE IRRAWADDY| June 25, 2012
SITTWE, Arakan State — A visitor would be forgiven for thinking not much happens in Sittwe, the regional capital with a small-town vibe in Arakan State on Burma’s northwest coast.
Tourists usually come between October and May, before the rains start, and typically spend no more than a night or two in the town before taking a boat trip to the old Arakanese kingdom’s capital of Mrauk U. There sits a spectacular panoply of temples and palaces, barely visible through the rain, mist-shrouded reminders of a long-lost, barely remembered glory ended by a 1784 Burmese invasion.
There are few cars on the water-logged, potholed streets, and aside from trishaws ferrying women from the market—clasping umbrellas in a futile attempt to block the rain sheeting in off the Bay of Bengal—the most noticeable presence are the platoons of Burmese police and soldiers.
From time to time, however, things do happen in this seaside town where the Kaladan River meets the Bay of Bengal and where India is funding a US $214 million port and dredging transport project, part of New Delhi’s attempts to boost its regional trade presence. In 2007, saffron-clad monks first took to the streets in Sittwe, in what spiraled into nationwide protests against military rule. Sittwe-born U Ottama was the first monk to rail against British rule, and the first Burmese political prisoner to die while under British arrest
Much less noble things have happened in Sittwe and nearby towns recently, however. After several days of communal murder, arson and property destruction in early June, Burmese President Thein Sein imposed a state of emergency in Burma’s western Arakan State on June 10, sending soldiers in to quell the violence which to date has left over 60 dead, according to the government.
Two weeks later the troops remain, there, the government says, to stop any recurrence of fighting between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims. The latter include some of the around 800,000 Rohingya Muslims who are mostly—and controversially—denied citizenship by the Burmese government and are not classed as one of the country’s 135 listed ethnic groups.
Most Arakanese, along with the Burmese government and likely a majority of Burma’s citizens, see the Rohingya—deemed one of the world’s most oppressed minorities by human rights groups—as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Maybe it’s the weather, but despite the freshness of the violence and the grim significance of their duty, there’s a languid, nonchalant look to the troops and the cops. Along Sittwe’s main road, police stretch out under tarpaulins, their frames wedged into an ungainly arc across two garden chairs, chins tottering on hands and returning greetings with forced-looking half-smiles.
Further down the road, soldiers doze—legs and arms dangling over the edge of their green army truck—as the rain beats a soporific rattle on the canvas roof.
It doesn’t look much like martial law, but it is, and it seems to work—for now at least. Curfew runs from 6 pm to 6 am, and Aung Thein, an Arakanese who makes a living doing 1,000-2,000 kyat ($1.20-$2.40) trishaw runs around town, warns that “army come out, people cannot go around, or army boom-boom,” laughing and jack-knifing his frame into something meant to look like a gun-toting soldier.
“It is quiet here last few days, the army keeps both sides apart,” says Than Than, an Arakanese shop owner on Sittwe’s main road, who asked that his real name and workplace not be mentioned.
The riots had a gruesome trigger—the May 28 rape and killing of a young Buddhist Arakanese woman. Stomach-churning photos of the murdered woman were subsequently posted online, prompting an upsurge of venomous anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya online comments from Arakanese and other Burmese ethnic groups.
Three Rohingya men—one of whom apparently committed suicide while in custody—were arrested on May 29 in connection with the murder of the young woman the day before. Despite the arrests, 10 Muslims—who were not Rohingya and were returning to central Burma from a pilgrimage to the western Burmese region—were lynched by a group of around 300 Arakanese on June 3.
The other two Rohingya men have since been charged with the rape and murder and now face the death penalty, though it seems nobody has yet been charged with killing of the 10 Muslims.
After these two atrocities, machete-wielding gangs of Arakanese and Rohingya set upon each other in a series of tit-for-tat attacks in Sittwe and other towns in northern Arakan state. In Sittwe, the evidence of violence is clearly visible, and activists and analysts say that long-standing enmity between the Rohingya and Arakanese mean that Arakan State remains on edge.
The charred remains of a market near the waterfront sit just 20 meters from the main road, and a 5 minute walk from the now-gated Jama mosque. Elsewhere in the city, burned and dismantled remains of houses can be seen, both Arakanese and Muslim, and it seems that most of the city’s Muslims have fled, for now at least.
A local Muslim, who says he is half-Rohingya, half-Arakanese, and—for security reasons—gives his name only as Bilal, which he says is a pseudonym, says that his parents are staying at a temporary shelter in a mosque outside the town. “It is not safe for them to come back to town,” he says. “It’s not safe for my real name to be published either,” he implores.
Most people in the town say that the situation is quiet, but others demur. UN agencies say that around 90,000 people have been affected by the violence and may need sustained humanitarian assistance. “Still fighting, still problems,” chimes a group of Arakanese sheltering at the Shwe Zayde monastery in Sittwe.
In the meantime, aid agencies such as the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) are scrambling to meet immediate needs. WFP spokesperson Marcus Prior told The Irrawaddy that it “continues to expand its emergency response to people affected by recent violence in [Arakan State], reaching over 87,000 affected people with food assistance by the end of last week.”
Making matters more complicated is the poor state of roads in the area, which has slowed down efforts to take full stock of the needs of people displaced by the violence. “Several locations can only be reached using light trucks. We will have a clearer picture of the full needs on the completion of an assessment, which is currently being prepared,” said Prior.
Even here at the Shwe Zayde monastery, where around 500 of the displaced have taken shelter, the situation looks grim enough. A night’s downpour left Sittwe a half-flooded mess, and several dozen drenched, homeless Arakanese sat in wringing-wet clothes on the monastery floor.
It was from this same monastery that the monks who started the Saffron Revolution marched in August 2007, and it was from this monastery—which was visited by Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in between periods of house arrest from 1989-2010—that Ottama launched his campaign against colonial rule.
Suu Kyi might not receive much of a welcome if she returns to Sittwe anytime soon, however. “Most Arakanese people are quite angry at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Shwe Maung, a teacher in Sittwe and central committee member of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, which has 16 representatives in Burma’s national-level parliament houses.
He was referring to the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader’s comments on June 6, when she spoke with Muslim leaders in Rangoon and called on Buddhists to “have sympathy for minorities.”
“This was a mistake of hers,” says Shwe Maung, who nonetheless uses the honorific ‘Daw’ when referring to Suu Kyi.
At the same time, however, Suu Kyi has been criticized by ethnic minority activists and human rights groups for not speaking out strongly enough on behalf of the Rohingya. Asked last week in Ireland whether the Rohingya were entitled to Burmese citizenship, Suu Kyi answered, “I don’t know.”
Most Arakanese are bluntly decisive about this question, however. During a 30 minute run-through of Arakanese history, listing aggression by invading Burmese and alleging historical atrocities carried out by
“Bengali Muslims” on Arakanese, Shwe Maung let rip at Burmese authorities, saying that “because of bribes and corruption by immigration officials, Muslim Bengalis have been allowed to settle here.”
Pointing to what Arakanese regard as a double standard, he says “the Burmese government does not allow them [Rohingya] into other parts of Burma.”
Asked his views on what will happen now in Arakan State, and on possible ways to solve communal tensions, Shwe Maung says “there will be riots again and again,” adding “I don’t know the solution to this, but it would be better if they go to a third country.”
Some Muslims fear the worst, amid calls in Arakan State and elsewhere in Burma for Rohingya to be driven from the region. Bilal says “they like to remove Muslims, it is not just Rohingya they attack, the Kaman Muslims, too, they kill them,” the latter referring to one of the Muslim groups living in Sittwe.
Back in Burma’s main city Rangoon, work continues at NLD party headquarters, while leader Aung San Suu Kyi continues her European tour.
Nine Nine, an NLD central committee member and former political prisoner, says his party’s view is that the Arakan violence “might not be on the religion,” but is “a problem of immigration.”
“There are many infiltrators,” he adds, without elaborating.
Asked about his party’s assessment of the violence in the region and allegations of discrimination against Rohingya, he says, “We don’t stand on any side,” but states that “all applicants to citizenship have the right to present their documents.”
By CHARLIE CAMPBELL / THE IRRAWADDY| June 25, 2012
RANGOON — The Burmese government is taking steps to ensure foreign investment in Burma results in jobs and training for local people, says the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The suspension of the majority of Western sanctions on Burma over the past few months has seen Rangoon fill up with business executives looking to take advantage of the nation’s enviable geographical location, abundant natural resources and low-paid workforce.
And Naypidaw has not been coy in courting foreign business interests—drafting a new investment law which is believed to include a five-year tax break for firms opening in Burma. Yet Steve Marshall, the ILO’s liaison officer for Burma, says that reformist President Thein Sein’s administration is also putting measures in place to ensure the benefits trick down to the general population.
“The government is concerned about [skills development] and last week gave us a draft piece of legislation and was seeking input,” said Marshall. “They are very aware that the human resources and skills that exist are going to be one of the key issues for the success of this initiative.
“[The ILO office] has been like a railway station. We’ve had all sorts of people coming in looking to do business in Myanmar. Companies have been right across the board—logistics, transport, business services, marketing as well as manufacturing.”
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently highlighted the concern of youth unemployment and the need for investment linked to job creation during her address at the International Labour Conference in Geneva on June 14.
“It is not so much joblessness as hopelessness that threatens our future,” said the democracy icon. “Unemployed youth lose faith in the society. Restless, directionless youth agonize over the fruitlessness of their lives.”
And Marshall said that his report to Naypyidaw would include information regarding the impact of foreign investment in other countries so that Burma can hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls experienced elsewhere. Key factors include educational reform and vocational training while a minimum wage bill is also being drafted.
“My understanding is that legislation is being discussed which will permit skills coming into the country which can then be used for passing on information and knowledge, so that the knowledge transfers [to the native population],” he said.
“International investors would not be encouraged, or possibly not be permitted, to bring in their own non-skilled workforces. So the emphasis would be using the investment for the development of the human resources within the country. We understand that this is included, although we haven’t seen it yet.”
A spokesman for the Rangoon branch of the Grand Waku business consultancy firm confirmed that they have been helping lots of European Union firms invest in Burma, but said that the move is not for everyone yet.
“Some investors investing will need to wait for sufficient revenues a few years—not all companies have such conditions,” he told The Irrawaddy. “So partially Myanmar is the best solution for investors, but partially it is just a virtual investment location. No one wants to hear it now—but it is truth.”
“Lack of specialists, lack of internationally thinking people … and the labor organization problem is a big question.”
This view was echoed by Marshall. “Some [companies] are keen to invest while others are biding their time but that is not surprising as you’ll find different sectors would be in a position to move in different times,” he said. “For example, some of the companies may be holding off until the business services sector has been developed.
“A lot of companies have come and spoken to us among others and it is all part of an assessment for due diligence and establishing an investment environment—the labor market and stability issues as well as basic business services.”
Burma’s ILO membership was formally restored on June 14 after substantive progress in tackling forced labor. The suspension of the restrictive measures imposed in 2000 was seen as key towards inclusion
in the European Union and World Trade Organization generalized system of preferences, which reduces tariffs for developing nations.
Yet humanitarian groups have been critical of this assessment and claim that forced labor is still a regular part of daily life for many ethnic minorities. Marshall, however, says there has been concrete progress including the key forming of a new working group made up of government, military and ILO representatives.
“We have authoritative reports from all over Myanmar—including Shan and Kachin states—that forced labor has been decreasing, both by the government and military,” he said. “The commander-in-chief has given an order that forced labor is not to be condoned and offenders will be dealt with in a criminal court rather than by the military.
“There are new attitudes and a new approach. In the past the government has been partially in denial and in ‘response mode’ to allegations. But now they have changed to be proactive to agree to a new strategy for the elimination of forced labor and we have put together an action plan.
“The previous regime was so insular and paranoid toward foreigners that it made it very difficult to build constructive relationships—this has now clearly changed. When I first arrived here in 2007 people were getting arrested just for carrying my business card but now we are working in partnership with the government. There has been a marked change.”
Thein Sein gave a speech last week which called for Burma’s Gross Domestic Product to increase threefold by 2015. And following on from the New Myanmar Investment Summit 2012 in Rangoon on June 20-21, the French embassy is also preparing for an investment event due for July.
“People are looking at the country and seeing the change and progress being made and I think there is optimism,” said Marshall. “I think that managed properly things are looking quite positive but there’s still a long way to go.”
Monday, 25 June 2012 10:44 Mizzima News
Authorities in Burma and Bangladesh have denied accounts by Rohingya refugees that a helicopter from their country attacked boats carrying refugees seeking to enter Bangladesh by sea on June 8.
A second story published on Saturday by Radio Free Asia, based on refugee accounts, said a Burmese helicopter took off from near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, and set fire to three boats carrying nearly 50 Muslim Rohingyas fleeing sectarian violence in western Burma in an attack that is believed to have killed everyone on board, according to refugee accounts.
Three ethnic Rohingyas, whose names were withheld because they are currently in hiding in Bangladesh, said six boats tried to reach Teknaf in the southernmost part of Bangladesh on June 8 at around 4 p.m.
Rakhine State Attorney General Hla Thein denied the reports of the attack in an interview published by the RFA on Saturday.
“It is absolutely untrue,” Hla Thein was quoted as saying, responding to the refugees’ claims.
RFA reported that Col. Htein Linn, the minister for border area and security affairs in Rakhine State, also said he knew nothing about such an attack.
The RFA said Aye Maung, a member of parliament for the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), said that Burmese authorities have only one helicopter stationed at Sittwe airport and that it is unarmed. The helicopter is used only as transportation for the regional prime minister, he said.
Calls to the Burmese foreign ministry and to the Burmese Embassy in Washington went unanswered on Saturday, RFA said.
The Bangladeshi newspaper The New Nation reported on Friday that the Bangladesh Border Guard denied any attack by one of its helicopters had taken place, said RFA.
The refugees told RFA that many of their family members and close friends were among the occupants of the destroyed boats, which they said caught on fire.
It was unclear from the published accounts what caused the boats to catch fire. Afterwards, they said, a helicopter flew off in the direction of Sittwe.
“They burned three of our six boats,” a young father said.
“Only one of the boats we boarded managed to reach the shore in Bangladesh, as far as I know of.”
In a previous story, the RFA had reported that it was unclear from the refugee’s story whether the helicopter was of Burmese or Bangladeshi origin.
Bangladesh has closed its border to Rohingya refugees fleeing Rakhine State, saying it had no obligation to accept them and its budget resources are inadequate.
Monday, 25 June 2012 12:23 Mizzima News
South Korean businessmen from eight companies will discuss opportunities in the clothing and textile sectors with their Burmese counterparts in Rangoon on Wednesday. The garment sector has been badly hit by sanctions and the downturn in the world economy.
The business delegation is interested in exploring opportunities in sectors including textile, garment, dying, printing and raw materials.
The meeting will be held in the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, said the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.
Korean is in the process of boosting its trade ties with Burma. In April, a South Korea delegation of 120 South Korean businessmen from 86 private companies met with 260 Burmese businessmen in Naypyitaw to expore joint ventures and other opportunities.
Bilateral trade between Myanmar and South Korea reached US$ 970 million in 2011, according to South Korean statistics.
Of the total, South Korea’s exports to Burma totaled $660 million, while its imports totaled $300 million.
South Korea said it mainly imports garment, textile, forestry products, and agriculture and marine products while exporting construction materials, machines, iron and steel.
South Korea’s investment in Burma totaled $2.9 billion as of January 2012 in 48 projects since Burma opened to foreign investment in late 1988, according to Burmese government statistics.
On June 14, Mizzima reported that the world economic decline has caused the value of Burma’s clothing exports 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. However, news reports said last week that a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress to extend the current ban on importing Burmese clothing and textiles. Critics of the ban say it hurts the average worker in Burma, while supporters say the U.S. wants to keep pressure on the Burmese government to continue reforms.
Another factor that pressures productivity is electricity supply, said Myint Soe. “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.
He said most contracts come from Japan, Korea, Europe and South America. Raw materials are bought mainly from China and some Asian countries.
Monday, 25 June 2012 16:24 Mizzima News
Another four historical state-owned buildings in Rangoon are on the real estate market to be used as possible hotels to help boost Rangoon’s room shortage.
The Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC) said local and foreign companies have been invited to bid on the properties and convert them into hotels on long-term leases, according to an article in the Myanmar Times on Monday. The tender offer expires on July 7.
The properties include the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism office at the corner of Sule Pagoda Road and Mahabandoola Street, the three-story Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise building on Merchant Street, the four-story Trade Corporation building on Bo Sun Pat Street and a four-story building at the corner of Merchant Street and Mahabandoola Street that was formerly the office of Export and Import Department.
A vacant 17.17-acre block in Hmantan quarter, Amarapura Township, in Mandalay Region, is also on the bid block, a ministry spokesperson told the newspaper.
The deal comes with a 30-year lease with the possibility of two 15-year extensions. The terms and conditions do not allow the original structure and architectural features of the buildings to be changed.
According to MIC, Manawhar Artist Group won the tender for the former Secretariat building, and Thein Tun of the Htoo Foundation acquired the old High Court building.
The Yangon Region Government Office and Myanmar Railways buildings have been acquired by two unidentified local engineering firms, while Youth Force Company acquired the former Foreign Minister’s Office on Pyay Road for use as serviced apartments.
By AYE NAI
Published: 25 June 2012
Residents in Arakan state’s capital Sittwe said security forces have begun resettling Rohingyas after weeks of rioting.
The Rohingya were taking refuge in Aung Mingalar ward in the state’s capital after fleeing violence that erupted earlier this month. The displaced group was being sent back to Rohingya villages located on the city’s outskirts last Friday.
They said although tensions between Arakanese and Rohingya communities have calmed down significantly as of late, distrust among the groups is still in the air in Mingan ward where riots kicked off in early July.
Arakanese and Rohingya residents were both said to have unofficial guards watching over their respective areas at night in the city to prevent further arson attacks because the area did not have enough assistance from the government to sustain order.
According to a report published on 20 June by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, officials acknowledge that about 52,000 people had been displaced by the violence, however, unofficial reports estimate between 80,000 and 90,000 people were seeking shelter in temporary camps.
While the situation in Arakan state mellowed over the week, the area’s weak infrastructure continues to impede the delivery of essential aid to displaced people who fled the fighting.
UN officials, NGO workers and more than 100 members of the Myanmar Red Cross have begun to return to the area now that the fighting has been largely quelled.
According to officials, about 80 people have been killed and more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed since sectarian riots erupted in western Burma in early June.
By JOSEPH ALLCHIN
Published: 22 June 2012
Ethnic strife is a defining facet of Burmese political life.
However, few examples appear so eerily orchestrated as the hounding of the Rohingya whom the UNHCR term “virtually friendless.” Much hot air has been expelled to debate the origins of the minority group since communal tensions erupted in late May and early June, but perhaps more telling is the now common refrain that they are “terrorists”.
On the 10th of October 2002 the U.S. embassy in Rangoon sent a rare cable home to Washington D.C. — rare because it contained intelligence direct from the Burmese military.
It asserted that members of the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) had met with Osama Bin Laden. Further that members of the organisation had sought weapons training in Afghanistan and Libya. The group was then attempting to get bases on the Thai border and join forces with the ethnic armed groups.
“Five members (names still under inquiry by the GOB[Government of Burma]) of ARNO attended a high-ranking officers’ course with Al Qaeda representatives on 15 May, 2000.”
On the same day that the cable was sent, across town the US senate approved President George W Bush’s war against Iraq. Both stories were based on a myth — one that was crystallised the previous year in a New York courtroom.
To try Bin Laden in absentia for association with the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998, the prosecutor in the trial needed evidence of an organised network under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO).
The FBI and the prosecution had one witness who had worked with Bin Laden in the early 90?s called Jamal Al Fadl. He “was more than happy” to provide what Jason Burke, author of the seminal work Al Qaeda, told the BBC was the basis of the “first Bin Laden myth” — that there was an organised hierarchical structure in a group called Al Qaeda with Bin Laden at its head.
This was not the case.
Al Fadl had fallen out with Bin Laden after embezzling some $110,000 from him and in return for the key evidence needed to prosecute him under laws used against drug and mafia gangs, the Sudanese militant placed under witness protection and given money from the FBI.
Prior to September the 11th, the term Al Qaeda was not used by Bin Laden. Sam Schmidt a defence lawyer in the trial of the embassy bombings said that Al Fadl “lied in a number of specific testimonies” in order to make them, “identifiable as a group and therefore prosecute any person associated with Al Qaeda for any acts or statements made.”
Named in the 2002 cable is Salim Ullah of the ARNO. Now a resident in Chittagong, he admits that the group did once maintain arms but renounced armed struggle about a decade ago.
He denies the accusation of Al Qaeda links, calling it propaganda and asks, “Karen, Kachin and other people are fighting with the government, they are defending their people, they are fighting for equal rights, so they are freedom fighters, but when we struggle, we are terrorists, is this logical?”
Indeed the U.S. embassy felt they were given the report for a reason, concluding in the 2002 cable that:
“The Burmese view all these [ethnic armed] groups as terrorists. Their purpose in giving us this report is to make sure we are aware of the alleged contacts between ARNO and the Burmese insurgent groups on the Thai border. Presumably, they hope to bolster relations with the United States by getting credit for cooperation on the [Counter-Terrorism] front”…. “Its purpose is probably to draw a connection between Al Qaeda, which has supported ARNO, and Burmese insurgent groups active on the Thai border.”
Just like in Bush’s ill-fated war in Iraq, where the weapons of mass destruction and links between Sadam Hussein and Al Qaeda have yet to be unearthed after almost a decade, no such connections have been made with the Rohingya.
“Have you heard a shot from the Rohingya in the last two decades?” asks Ullah.
“However, there is no evidence of camps or jihadi terrorists in Burma”
But now as the violence rages in Arakan state, with riots and burnings by mobs on both sides, the director of President Thein Sein’s office and a graduate of the elite Defence Services Academy, Zaw Htay (aka Hmu Zaw) took to posting his take on the violence in Arakan state on Facebook.
“It is heard that Rohingya Terrorists of the so-called Rohingya Solidarity Organization [formerly a part of the ARNO] are crossing the border and getting into the country with the weapons. That is Rohingyas from other countries are coming into the country. Since our Military has got the news in advance, we will eradicate them until the end! I believe we are already doing it.”
He continues, “we don’t want to hear any humanitarian issues or human rights from others. Besides, we neither want to hear any talk of justice nor want anyone to teach us like a saint.”
Much like the decision to go to war against Iraq, a sovereign nation with no relation to the attacks on the World Trade Center, the vile act of rape and murder by three individuals was used as an excuse to attack Muslims or those who fit the stereotype with absolutely no connection to the initial crime, which resulted in the June 3rd massacre of ten non-Rohingya Muslims on a bus returning to Rangoon.
Any claims that it was a direct reprisal is illogical by way of the fact that the rapists had already been detained by that date. Discrimination was thus not an issue of being ‘Rohingya’ per se, or indeed according to another US Embassy cable even a matter of religion:
“Hindu residents of the state, most of who are ethnically Indian, suffer the same lack of citizenship rights and restrictions on travel as their Muslims neighbours.”
The common denominator being what the state-run Myanmar Alin newspaper would designate as being ‘Kalar’ — a pejorative racial slur derived from the Sanskrit word for black or dark.
Zaw Htay’s eradication mission aimed at the Rohingya was reported by Radio Free Asia. Burmese military helicopters refugees claimed had been firing on boats of civilians on the Naf River, which divides Burma and Bangladesh as Rohingyas attempted to cross into the safety of the neighbouring country.
Salim Ullah and others note that Rohingya victims of the rioting have been turning up in hospitals on both sides of the border with bullet wounds, even though the mobs of ethnic vigilantes on both sides have only possessed crude weapons. He asserts that no Arakanese have suffered similar injuries.
Activists have noted that the military has acted in concert with Arakanese vigilantes, although this is hard to confirm but the argument has strong historical precedent. In both 1978 and 1991 the military committed serious pogroms against the Rohingya, which resulted in hundred of thousands fleeing their homes.
The U.S. embassy struggled to find evidence of organised violent actions that other ethnic armies have undertaken. In 2003 they noted:
“There has been no serious insurgent activity in northern Rakhine State for several years,” only finding that, “a French NGO worker related an incident from 2001 in which four members of the security forces were murdered at night in their camp. He believed it had something to do with forced prostitution or trafficking in women and was probably not insurgent related. After the murders, she continued, the security forces rounded up the inhabitants of a nearby village and penned them in a field for two days with no food or water. Two toddlers, who were left at the village, reportedly died.”
The murder of the security forces they note was probably “the result of local resentments and outraged husbands or fathers.” A similar crime, it must be noted, as the awful murder and rape of Ma Thidar Htwe.
Like most myths there is a grain of truth that germinates into a political tool. Bin Laden of course was himself a financer of jihad, but he was not the leader of an international, organised hierarchy and especially did not have support from Iraq during the Sadam era.
“The spinning of the myth in both cases serves grander strategic aims”
Similarly, Bangladesh has violent Islamist groups, some of whom have links with groups in other Muslim countries. They have probably utilised the desperation of individual Rohingya, either domestically in Bangladesh or in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
However, there is no evidence of camps or jihadi terrorists in Burma, least of all running around burning down houses.
The ARNO likewise may have received funding and assistance from Islamist groups but the very notion that they were part of a large organised criminal conspiracy is made highly questionable by the lack of terrorist activity. The Karen National Union receives support from churches, despite having had a more active war over their lifetime.
The spinning of the myth in both cases serves grander strategic aims. For the Burmese military the idea of sovereignty and the institution’s raison d’etre are intwined.
On Armed Forces Day this year, state TV reported that in 1988 the armed forces prevented the country from falling into “foreign servitude.”
The idea that the protests in 1988 were caused by a foreign enemy is of course a fantasy but the notion is to split patriotic sentiment from dissent. Suu Kyi and the 88 protesters by the rationale were ‘foreign stooges’.
Now some of those that the military would have labelled ‘foreign stooges’ have in turn joined in rounding on an imagined army of ‘foreign servitude’– the Rohingya.
The 88 student group’s Ko Ko Gyi stated that the problems in Arakan state were because of “illegal immigration,” and that “they were offending the sovereignty” of the country.
There is nothing to suggest however that the murderous libido of the rapists was influenced by their legal status in the country.
“If the powerful countries forced us to take responsibility for this issue we will not accept it,” Ko Ko Gyi said in an interview. “If we are forced to yield we, the army and the democratic [forces] will deal with the issue as a national issue.”
The sense of being threatened by an outside enemy is palpable in his words. This addresses two quarters — the imagined jihadi army and the same concerned international community who supported him and his comrades through decades of military rule (much to the anger of the military government).
It is reminiscent of the decision to move Naypyidaw to the precise middle of the country where, as the President’s chief political adviser Ko Ko Hlaing said, it was as far away as possible from all the imagined threats on the borders.
Ko Ko Gyi’s prominent colleague Min Ko Naing, a nom de guerre which translates to ‘Conqueror of Kings’, was more measured but with no sense of irony when he said, “it is most important to prevent incitement that would cause riots.”
Min Ko Naing was incarcerated precisely for inciting riots in 1988 and 2007.
If 800,000 of the poorest people in a country infringed upon its sovereignty, then the Burmese migrants in Thailand have surely conquered that Kingdom several times over.
In the end there are no winners from this strife apart from the military. By creating a phantom enemy and exploiting long present communal tensions the military has gained vital cross-section support and thereby power.