Jul 3rd, 2012
Associated Press – 14 mins ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar’s reformist government granted amnesties for at least 20 political prisoners on Tuesday, but opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for the release of hundreds more still behind bars.
Zaw Thet Htwe, who monitors prisoner releases for the opposition, said more than 20 of 46 detainees granted amnesties by President Thein Sein were prisoners of conscience, and he was able to confirm that 14 had actually been freed.
The office of 88 Generation Students, a group that spearheaded a failed uprising against the military in 1988, put the number slightly higher, saying 24 political prisoners were among those to be freed Tuesday.
Freedom for political prisoners is a benchmark used by Western nations critical of Myanmar’s former military regime to judge Thein Sein’s administration. Previous releases have been a major factor in decisions by those nations to ease economic and political embargoes they placed on the previous government for its poor human rights record and undemocratic rule.
Thein Sein had served with the old regime, but came to office last year after a general election. He began a series of democratic reforms and opened a dialogue with the country’s pro-democracy movement, winning Suu Kyi’s praise for his efforts. She agreed to have her party contest by-elections in April, and she and other colleagues are now members of the small opposition faction in the military-dominated legislature.
Human Rights Watch says at least 659 political prisoners have been released over the past year. Estimates by human rights groups of the number remaining in custody range from about 200 to about 600. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party says the number is 330.
“We will call for the release of all 330 political prisoners,” Suu Kyi, the country’s most famous former political detainee, told a news conference Tuesday. It was her first public appearance since returning from a high-profile two-week tour of Europe, her first trip abroad in 24 years.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported that 37 men and nine women were being freed.
It said the decision had been made on humanitarian grounds “with a view to ensuring the stability of the state and making eternal peace (and) national reconciliation.”
“We are very happy that our fellow political prisoners are being released,” Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent former political detainee, told The Associated Press. “However, we will continue to work for the release of all political prisoners.”
Suu Kyi received a hero’s welcome during her European journey, but was criticized by Myanmar authorities for calling her homeland Burma during the trip. The election commission, which oversees laws pertaining to political parties, said Suu Kyi should stop using the name and “respect the constitution.”
Opposition activists have long referred to the Southeast Asian nation as Burma to protest against the former army junta, which held absolute power and changed the country’s English name to Myanmar in 1989.
Suu Kyi retorted Tuesday that the junta had altered the name two decades ago “without consulting any public opinion.” Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time and said she heard the news over the radio.
“They shouldn’t have done it like that,” Suu Kyi said. “All these issues are concerned with the basic principles of democracy … and as I believe in democratic values, I think I can use whatever term I want.”
In the official state language, the country and its people are both pronounced Myanmar, and the distinction between the names exists in English but not the local language.
The former junta, which ceded power last year, justified the name change on the ground that the word Myanmar better reflects the country’s ethnic diversity. The term Burma connotes Burman, the dominant ethnic group in the country, to the exclusion of ethnic minorities. But regime opponents and exile groups from a range of ethnicities — as well as foreign governments including the United States — have persisted in calling the country Burma in protest against an undemocratic regime they long saw as illegitimate.
Associated Press – 10 hrs ago YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar state newspaper says President Thein Sein has granted amnesty to 46 prisoners.
It was not immediately clear whether it would apply to the hundreds of political prisoners who activists and rights groups say are incarcerated in Myanmar.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar reported Tuesday that 37 men and nine women would be released.
It said the decision had been made on humanitarian grounds “with a view to ensuring the stability of the state and making eternal peace (and) national reconciliation.”
Human Rights Watch counts at least 659 political prisoners as being freed over the past year. But rights groups say between 200 and 600 remain behind bars.
Associated Press – 9 hrs ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Back from her triumphant tour of Europe, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi stepped up calls Tuesday for the release of hundreds of political prisoners still behind bars.
Suu Kyi’s comments came in response to a state newspaper’s report that President Thein Sein has granted amnesty to 46 prisoners who were expected to be freed from prisons later Tuesday.
More than 20 of those receiving amnesty are prisoners of conscience, said Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent former political prisoner. Among them are former student activist Aye Aung, who was serving a 59-year sentence for distributing pamphlets and taking part in a protest during a 1998 pro-democracy uprising.
“We are very happy that our fellow political prisoners are being released,” Ko Ko Gyi told The Associated Press. “However, we will continue to work for the release of all political prisoners.”
Human Rights Watch says at least 659 political prisoners, many of them well known, have been released over the past year as part of Myanmar’s startling series of reforms.
Estimates by human rights groups of the number of political prisoners who remain in Myanmar government custody range from about 200 to about 600. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy opposition party says the number is 330.
“We will call for the release of all 330 political prisoners,” Suu Kyi, the country’s most famous former political prisoner, said at a news conference. It was her first public appearance since returning from her two-week tour of Europe, her first overseas journey in 24 years.
The state-run New Light of Myanmar reported Tuesday that 37 men and nine women were being freed.
It said the decision had been made on humanitarian grounds “with a view to ensuring the stability of the state and making eternal peace (and) national reconciliation.”
Associated Press – July 3, 2012
YANGON, Myanmar(AP) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi sees nothing wrong with calling her country Burma even though the government objects.
Opposition activists have used the name Burma as a form of protest against the now-defunct army junta that renamed the country two decades ago.
Myanmar’s election commission complained last week that Suu Kyi repeatedly called the nation Burma during her recent trips to Thailand and Europe. The commission that oversees laws pertaining to political parties said Suu Kyi should stop and should respect the constitution.
Speaking in Yangon on Tuesday, Suu Kyi retorted that the name was altered in 1989 “without consulting any public opinion.”
She says she will use whatever term she wants.
The distinction between the names exists in English but not the local language.
By MATTHEW PENNINGTON | Associated Press – 7 hrs ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — The rare Washington consensus behind Obama administration policy toward Myanmar is showing signs of cracks as American businesses grow impatient to invest there and human rights groups push back.
Those fissures are becoming evident as the U.S. rolls back its long diplomatic isolation of the military-dominated nation also known as Burma and looks to ease economic sanctions following democratic reforms there.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., last week criticized opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a figure revered by both U.S. political parties and key to bipartisan support for administration policy. During a recent trip to Europe she had cautioned against foreign companies entering business deals with Myanmar’s murky state oil and gas enterprise. A prominent Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, echoed her concerns.
Those differences of opinion underscore how the administration’s job of maintaining broad-based support for its Myanmar policy is getting trickier. Washington is trying to open up commercial opportunities for American companies in one of Asia’s last untapped markets without losing the high ground on human rights that has driven the U.S. agenda for the past two decades.
It’s a debate playing out while explosions of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Myanmar leave scores dead, and its military continues to clash with ethnic rebels in the remote north — reminders that human rights concerns still loom large.
Broadly, the rare political unity that has coalesced on the administration’s Myanmar policy endures. Democrats and Republicans alike back the easing of sanctions to encourage further reforms, and the Senate on Friday approved the appointment of Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. ambassador to be based in the country in 22 years. Mitchell has served as a special envoy since August.
But even within the administration itself there are differences of opinion over how to allow U.S. investment without feeding corruption and further entrenching Myanmar’s military-linked business elite.
For U.S. corporations, time is of the essence.
European companies already are free to operate in Myanmar, and within two or three months its government will open bidding on 18 onshore oil and gas blocks — an opportunity for Western companies to move in on a lucrative sector where China, India and Thailand currently dominate.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 3 million businesses and is a powerful lobbying force in Washington, is urging the administration to get moving. The chamber has voiced disappointment that seven weeks after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged American businesses to invest in Myanmar, the administration has yet to issue the necessary regulations.
Webb, a longtime advocate of engagement with Myanmar who has teamed up with a conservative Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, to press for a comprehensive lifting of economic sanctions, chided Suu Kyi last week. Webb questioned whether “an official from any foreign government should be telling us what sectors that we should invest in and not invest in” — a highly unusual note of criticism directed at a figure who spent 15 years under house arrest before she was elected to parliament in April.
On the other hand, McCain has endorsed Suu Kyi’s comments, saying her concerns over the lack of accountability and transparency in the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, known as MOGE, must be addressed before letting U.S. companies invest in that sector. “We must prioritize our democratic principles,” McCain said in a statement.
Rights groups charge that the administration is now prioritizing American commercial interests instead.
“Suddenly there are new objectives competing with the old ones that formed the heart of Burma policy for so many years,” said Tom Malinowski, director of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. “This is about helping U.S. companies not miss out on the natural gas blocks to be auctioned off in the next few months.”
And judging from U.S. officials’ public statements, there has been a marked shift in recent months, notwithstanding the administration’s continued statements of concern over ethnic violence, political prisoners and Myanmar’s military ties with North Korea.
In early April, when the U.S. announced a “targeted” easing of the investment ban, officials initially spoke of promoting investment in sectors like agriculture, telecommunications and tourism, rather than resource-based industries. But by the time Clinton gave the details six weeks later, she was inviting American businesses to invest across all sectors of the economy, including oil, gas and mining.
That angered activists like Moon Nay Li, coordinator of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, who says atrocities by the military are continuing in her native Kachin State in northern Myanmar. She launched a petition on the Internet that has gained 125,000 signatories in five weeks, demanding legally binding safeguards to ensure that American businesses don’t become complicit in rights abuses.
“Foreign business and extreme violations of human rights are virtually inseparable,” she said by email, charging that investment projects often result in land appropriations and forced relocation of villagers.
Patrick Cronin at the Center for a New American Security think tank said excluding U.S. businesses, which are subject to rigorous American anti-corruption legislation when they operate abroad, would not help but hurt the course of reform in Myanmar, particularly when companies from Europe, Russia, China, India and other Asian countries are free to invest there.
While companies will resist calls for additional reporting requirements — that might, for example, monitor what they pay to Myanmar’s government — Cronin says that could be the trade-off for investing in a country with major human rights problems.
By The Associated Press | Associated Press – 3 hrs ago YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan is going to Myanmar this week on a three-day mission to help combat child trafficking in the Southeast Asian nation.
UNICEF announced Tuesday that in his capacity as a good-will ambassador, Chan will visit the agency’s projects for supporting trafficked children under special care for trauma and distress. He also will meet with officials of the Social Welfare Ministry and members of the Myanmar Police Anti-Trafficking Task Force in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city.
The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking says thousands of children in Myanmar are forced to serve in the national army and ethnic military groups. However, Myanmar signed an agreement with the United Nations last week to ban the recruitment of child soldiers and demobilize those already serving.
By Aung Hla Tun | Reuters – 10 hrs ago
YANGON (Reuters) – A year and a half after it opened to skepticism from the West, Myanmar’s fledgling parliament reconvenes this week for its biggest task yet: debating an ambitious set of laws to reshape an economy that wilted during half a century of military rule.
The assembly was written off as a sham when it opened in January 2011, but the lawmakers are getting bolder and more vocal and the new session will be a test of their reformist mettle, even if opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is not taking her seat this week, citing exhaustion.
Although a pro-government party dominates parliament and can usually rely on the votes from soldiers who fill 25 percent of the seats, doubts remain over what laws will be pushed through, particularly in sensitive areas such as foreign investment.
Some business leaders privately express concern the proposed investment law could hand too much influence to multinational companies when local firms are still coping with the transition from far-reaching state controls under military rule.
Possible legislation on corruption will attract attention in a country ranked among the world’s most graft-ridden by watchdog Transparency International, joint 180th with Afghanistan out of 183 states.
Thein Nyunt, 66, chairman of the New National Democracy Party and member of the lower house, noted lawmakers were forbidden to speak about parliamentary proceedings.
“But I can say that the anti-corruption law I have drafted is based on similar laws from Malaysia and Singapore,” he said.
“Once enacted, this law will call for explanation of the source of wealth of those in power. I am sure this law will help resolve corruption, a major perennial problem in our society.”
Khin Shwe, a businessman and upper house lawmaker, said the final draft of the investment law differed in at least one important respect from earlier versions, on land regulations.
“Foreign investors can lease land not only from the government but also from private land owners for up to 50 years in the initial stage and extensions can be made for two 10-year terms consecutively,” he said.
The earlier draft would have allowed a lease of 30 years that could have been extended by two terms of 15 years each. Until now, the practice has been to allow 30-year leases on government land, renewable twice, for five years each time.
Businessmen who fear losing their best staff and being unable to compete with incoming foreign firms met influential lower house Speaker Thura Shwe Mann at the weekend and passed on their worries about the law, according to one industrialist who declined to be identified.
“We really get jittery at the thought of the new foreign investment law since we are not ready to play on a level playing field. So we hope the parliament reviews and amends it,” he said.
A separate law on Special Economic Zones was also expected to be debated in the new session. This may give companies additional incentives to invest.
A senior official from the Ministry of Finance and Revenue, who asked not to be named, said: “There are some other important laws among the long-awaited ones, like the capital market law, which is very
important for the emergence of the stock and securities market in our country.”
Daiwa Securities Group and the Tokyo Stock Exchange signed an agreement with the authorities on May 29 on the establishment of a securities exchange and the formation of capital markets.
Daiwa helped set up a stock exchange in 1996 but it has languished, with just two listed companies.
However, the opening-up of the country since the military government stepped aside in March 2011, with President Thein Sein pushing through political and economic reforms, is expected to lead to a rush of investment from outside and the development of local firms that will want to tap capital markets to expand.
Parliament may also get to debate a new media law during the session, which is expected to run until September.
Under the junta, newspapers and magazines were censored before they went to press. Restrictions have been loosened, but the authorities can still prevent the publication of material they disapprove of, as during recent sectarian violence in Rakhine state.
Consequently, some journalists are reserving judgment.
“It was drafted and drawn up by the Ministry of Information. Journalists should have been involved in drafting this law because it is supposed to define the responsibilities of journalists and give protection to their rights,” said Kyaw Min Swe, chief editor of the Voice, a popular private weekly.
Dreary state-run newspapers, formerly mouthpieces for the junta and still used to promote the achievements of the government, are currently the only dailies on sale.
“I also doubt if the media law will allow the private dailies that we all are excited about,” Kyaw Min Swe said.
Press Release: Research and Markets – 12 minutes ago
DUBLIN–(BUSINESS WIRE)– Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/7qq6mh/water_infrastructu) has announced the addition of the “Water Infrastructure Construction in Myanmar to 2016: Market Databook” report to their offering.
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- Overview of the water infrastructure construction industry in Myanmar
- Historic and forecast market value for the water infrastructure construction industry by construction output and value-add methods for the period 2007 through to 2016
- Historic and forecast market value by construction activity (new construction, repair and maintenance, refurbishment and demolition) across the water infrastructure construction industry for the period 2007 through to 2016
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- Allows you to plan future business decisions using the forecast figures given for the market
For more information, including full table of contents, please visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/7qq6mh/water_infrastructu
by Anthony Kuhn, July 3, 2012
There are few opposition leaders who are welcomed abroad with the same pomp and ceremony as heads of state. But that’s the sort of star treatment lavished on Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition leader of Myanmar, also known as Burma, on her three-week tour of Europe.
But pressure is increasing on her to address simmering political crises at home, and to move her country’s democratic changes forward.
In Geneva, Oslo, Dublin, London and Paris, Suu Kyi issued eloquent pleas for ethical foreign investment in Myanmar and foreign support for her country’s ongoing reforms.
“This is the most important time for Burma,” she told parliamentarians and dignitaries gathered in London’s Westminster Hall.
“This is the moment of our greatest need,” she continued. “And so I would ask that our friends both here in Britain and beyond participate in and support Burma’s efforts toward the establishment of a truly democratic and just society.”
‘Reform Program’ Still Fragile
Suu Kyi, the first foreign woman and Asian citizen to speak at Westminster in the palace’s 900-year history, said that beyond President Thein Sein, it’s hard to determine how much support the current efforts in Myanmar enjoy, especially within the country’s military. It’s an assessment shared by outside observers.
“The entire reform program in Myanmar now hangs by a very slender thread,” says Vikram Nehru, a Southeast Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He says Suu Kyi must quickly throw her considerable authority behind Thein Sein’s key reform policies.
Rohingya Muslims, trying to cross the Naf river into Bangladesh to escape sectarian violence in Myanmar, look on from an intercepted boat in Teknaf, June 13. The plight of the Rohingya minority is one of the tests Suu Kyi faces at home.
“Otherwise there’s a great danger that the enemies of reform, those that are currently benefiting from the current system, will exert a pushback,” he warns, “and that might be to the detriment of the long-term development of the country.”
Pressure is increasing for Suu Kyi to make good on her inspiring rhetoric about human rights. There’s no starker example than the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, next to Bangladesh.
Mob violence among Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims there has claimed at least 80 lives and created as many as 90,000 refugees in the past month.
Many Rohingya immigrated to largely Buddhist Myanmar from what is now Bangladesh generations ago. But neither Bangladesh’s nor Myanmar’s government recognizes them as citizens.
When asked in Oslo whether Rohingyas are citizens of Myanmar, Suu Kyi said she did not know.
“When you talk about the Rohingya, we are not quite sure whom you are talking about,” she said. “There’s some who say those people who claim to be Rohingyas are not the ones who are actually native to Burma but have just come over recently from Bangladesh.”
A Sensitive Issue
Suu Kyi echoes popular complaints in Myanmar that the problem is caused in part by corrupt immigration officials along the border, and ineffective law enforcement in Rakhine state. She says that establishing the rule of law is the key to resolving the issue, but she does not suggest what the law should say.
“She finds herself in a very difficult position, because her constituency is known to be extremely anti-Rohingya,” says Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Suu Kyi was elected to represent the remote rural township of Kawhmu, a three-hour drive from the main city of Yangon.
Maung Zarni points out that, when it comes to the subject of the Rohingya, the views of many Burmese pro-democracy activists are just as discriminatory and intolerant as those of the former junta they once fought.
“We must not be ashamed to admit that we have illiberal tendencies and elements within our culture and our practices, and they need to be rectified in accordance with the principles that we espouse or we are fighting for,” Maung Zarni says. “You can’t have it both ways. Are you for human rights, or are you against human rights?”
Maung Zarni suggests that Suu Kyi emphasize her principles while avoiding the specifics of the citizenship debate. He admits that he, too, opposes recognizing the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities.
Capitalizing On Recent Momentum
Fresh from her election to Parliament on April 1, and at the end of a triumphant tour of Europe, Suu Kyi now finds herself at an unprecedented level of popularity at home and abroad.
Some supporters point out that Suu Kyi is under considerable pressure not to upset the military into rolling back the changes and revoking her freedoms, and that she is working hard to build an organization that was focused on survival during decades of military suppression. They advise observers to be patient and not judge her too quickly.
But other supporters say Suu Kyi can afford to waste neither time nor opportunities to consolidate and push forward the country’s fledgling reforms.
Bangkok Post – Opinion: Myanmar: potential to prosper
Published: 3/07/2012 at 03:24 AM
Newspaper section: News
Myanmar’s prolonged isolation and economic stagnation left a mark on almost every sector the country needs to prosper _ from energy and transport to agriculture, education and health. So where to begin?
Assessments currently being carried out on the ground by the Asian Development Bank show there is much to be done _ but they also paint a promising picture.
Although only a quarter of Myanmar’s population currently have access to a regular supply of electricity _ and even Yangon is plagued by frequent outages that are blamed for hindering business growth and development _ the country has abundant energy resources, many of which go beyond oil and gas to renewable alternatives, such as hydro, biomass, wind and solar.
The country’s agricultural sector has waned under the weight of underinvestment, with atrophying irrigation systems in dire need of upgrades and improvements. But with five major rivers flowing through the country, the potential for irrigation is enormous. Endowed with substantial arable land and enviable climate and topography, Myanmar could transform into a virtual breadbasket if its land is properly managed.
Myanmar needs better connectivity between rural areas, markets and urban centres for more of its people to benefit from the country’s future growth. Roads can open up not only opportunities, but access to life-changing services like health care and education. At the moment, Myanmar’s transport sector is dramatically under-developed for a country of its size, population, and potential. While road density for Asean nations is about 11km per 1,000 people, in Myanmar it is just 2km per 1,000. In nearby Indonesia and in Thailand, there are about 250-370 vehicles for every 1,000 people; Myanmar averages just 18.
Yet Myanmar is a natural land bridge between South and Southeast Asia, sitting at the crossroads of trade between India, China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Transport connections, both within the country’s borders and beyond, are severely limited, but modest investments there can have major impact elsewhere.
For the longer term, Myanmar needs to tap into the potential that being strategically located between Asia’s biggest economies affords. This requires better interconnectivity with neighbouring countries, including better roads and border crossings, as well as well-aligned regulations and procedures for moving goods and people between nations.
These are precisely the types of initiatives that were being discussed at last week’s 4th Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Corridors Forum in Mandalay. Ministers and senior government officials from the six nations sharing the Mekong River explored ways to enhance trade, cooperation and commerce for the mutual benefit of the region’s people.
Myanmar’s potential is enormous. Home to valuable forest reserves, and considerable water and marine resources, it also has oil and gas reserves and a booming mining sector. If properly utilised, Myanmar’s natural resources could dramatically enhance the quality of life its people.
For this to happen, though, investment in connectivity is not enough _ and in isolation could even be counterproductive. Myanmar needs to dramatically boost investment in its most valuable natural resource, its people, to ensure the country develops its rich natural capital without sacrificing it. Myanmar not only needs a clear vision of how the country wants to develop, but also a strong foundation in place to support this vision _ one that is both broad and inclusive.
Myanmar’s road to development needs to be built on robust and committed institutions and officials, with clear and transparent lines of responsibility, and greater capacity to assess projects and priorities in line with the public’s best interests. These initiatives require human capacity and commitment.
They also require time, and there are few easy shortcuts.
As Myanmar embarks upon this exciting new chapter of its development, it is imperative that it begin measurably ratcheting up investment in the development of all its people’s skills. If the country’s skill base grows in concert with its economy, its people will be better able to fully reap the benefits of the country’s newfound openness.
At the end of the day, connectivity and capacity are only two pieces in Myanmar’s much larger development puzzle, but they are indispensable pieces. With these building blocks in place, Myanmar will be much better positioned to realise its development goals, and its people’s aspirations.
Stephen P. Groff is the Asian Development Bank’s Vice President for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
Aung San Suu Kyi Hopes Myanmar-China Relations Continue To Get Better YANGON, July 3 (Bernama) — Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi expresses hope on Tuesday that Myanmar-China relations will continue to get better and better, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.
Suu Kyi, the NLD chairwoman and a parliamentarian, made the remarks when meeting the press at the headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) here to brief them on her recent 17-day tour to five countries in Europe.
On evaluation of Sino-Myanmar relations over the past decades when asked by domestic and foreign journalists, Suu Kyi said the relations between Myanmar and China have been traditionally good since Myanmar regained independence under a parliament democracy system and Myanmar was also one of the earliest countries that recognised the government of the People’s Republic of China.
She said different systems of the two countries could not affect the two countries’ relations. She also maintained that her NLD party would always endeavor for the good relations with China, expecting that it would bear as much fruits as it endeavors.
With regard to foreign investment, she reiterated the need for transparency and accountability, saying that only then Myanmar people will benefit from it and contracts with foreign companies or states can be protected.
She held that she would travel to both the West and the East as far as she is invited and would always remain intimate in mind with those countries which she has not visited yet.
Suu Kyi returned to Yangon last Saturday from a historic tour to five European countries, namely Switzerland, Norway, Britain, Ireland and France, where she sought for political and economic support to back the democratic transition in her country.
Myanmar Grants Amnesty To 80 Prisoners YANGON, July 3 (Bernama) — The Myanmar government has granted a general amnesty to 80 more prisoners including 34 foreigners who will be freed starting Tuesday, according to an amnesty order of President U Thein Sein Tuesday.
The amnesty order covers 46 prisoners among the 80 including nine women is made out of consideration of ensuring stability, making eternal peace, national reconciliation of the country and enabling all to participate in political process as well as out of humanitarian ground, China’s Xinhua news agency reported citing the statement.
The amnesty will also deport 34 foreign prisoners on the same day with a view to maintaining mutual friendship and ties with related countries and on social ground, it said.
The amnesty is the fifth granted to prisoners in the country since the new government assumed office on March 30 last year.
Under the last amnesty order in January this year, 651 prisoners were released.
They included former prime minister and military intelligence chief U Khin Nyunt, noted student leader Min Ko Naing, Shan ethnic leader U Kun Tun Oo and other political figures.
Under the previous four amnesty orders since March 2011, the government had freed a total of 28,424 prisoners.
July 03, 2012
A United Nations report has concluded that North Korea continues to “actively defy” international sanctions by attempting to ship arms to Burma and Syria and by importing luxury goods.
The report by a panel of experts says U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea following nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 have slowed but failed to halt banned activities.
But the panel said it has received no new reports of violations involving the transfer of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons or ballistic missiles.
The 74-page report was submitted last month to the Security Council, but its release was delayed because of objections from China, which is thought to be a main transit hub for the illicit goods.
Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the Hawaii-based East-West Center, tells VOA that China is not trying very hard to enforce international sanctions, which are aimed at preventing Pyongyang from obtaining materials needed for its nuclear and weapons programs.
“I think that people who study the issue have concluded long ago that China’s interests for North Korea are different enough from the United States and South Korea that it is not a very promising prospect to expect that China will help enforce the sanctions,” said Roy.
But Nick Bisley, a Korean watcher at Australia’s Latrobe University, says in an interview with VOA it is a good sign that China eventually allowed the Security Council to publish the report.
“What’s interesting is that China has allowed the report to be published so that one conclusion you could draw from this is that China is perhaps a little more in tune with general U.N. thinking about North Korea than it has been in the past,” said Bisley.
The report also says that new KN-08 ballistic missiles seen at an April North Korean military parade may be fakes. The missiles were carried by a new, larger transporter that the panel of exports is also investigating.
Media reports and experts have said that North Korea is incapable of producing such a missile transporter, saying the 16-wheel vehicle may have been imported from China – an accusation that Beijing has denied.
The report also cites several cases of attempted shipments of arms-related material to Burma and Syria. It details a shipment of weapons-related material headed for Syria through China that was seized in 2007. And it also lists luxury goods, including used Mercedes-Benz cars, tobacco and alcohol, that have reached North Korea despite the sanctions.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| July 3, 2012
Local Kachin groups have told The Irrawaddy that the Burmese army is preventing UN aid agencies from transporting humanitarian supplies to 30 refugee camps sheltering thousands of Kachins who are now facing severe food shortages.
“The UN convoys were only permitted to transport aid to the five camps that are in the Mae Ja Yang area. There are 30 other sites still waiting for food and other supplies,” said Samang Kada Doi Pyi Sa, the chairman of the IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee, which is based in the town of Laiza along the Sino-Burmese border.
Laiza also hosts the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is engaged in an ongoing conflict with Burmese government forces in Burma’s restive northernmost region. In recent days, the Burmese army has reinforced its positions around the city where some 10,000 refugees or displaced persons are currently sheltering.
Deprived of UN aid, refugees depend on supplies from the KIO. However, local groups say that the Kachin army is only able to provide the most basic rations such as rice, fish paste and salt.
“There are 1,500 schoolchildren who need education, but we do not have enough teachers or space for schools or classrooms. We can only cope with part-time classes, “said La Rip, the coordinator of the Laiza-based Relief Action Network for Refugees.
He said that, typically, one teacher in Laiza managed about 100 students in one class. In other KIO-controlled areas, there are not enough schools to accommodate an estimated 21,000 children nor are there funds to build more schools.
“The UN has a duty to help these refugees,” said Samang Kada Doi Pyi Sa, echoing the view from other local Kachin groups that the UN must find other ways to deliver its aid to those in need.
“The UN cannot just wait until the Burmese government gives them permission to enter,” he said. “They must take the initiative now—before it is too late.”
Aid workers at camps have also voiced grave concerns over sanitary conditions, especially during this rainy season when tropical diseases can become endemic.
Fighting in Kachin State broke out last June, ending a 17-year-old ceasefire between the KIO and government forces. Since then, about 70,000 villagers have been forced to flee their homes. The KIO says the Burmese government is fighting to gain control of the natural sources in Kachin State. Repeated attempts at negotiations and orders by Burmese President Thein Sein to find a ceasefire have so far failed to end military operations.
By CHARLIE CAMPBELL / THE IRRAWADDY| July 3, 2012
PA-AN, Karen State — Snaking through the verdant limestone landscape, the Salween River finally reaches the Andaman Sea by Burma’s former teak port capital of Moulmein after running a course of 2,800 kilometers during which it supports an estimated 10 million people.
But times are changing for what was once the longest free-flowing river in Asia, as Chinese, Thai and Burmese-backed dam projects look set to transform the dynamic of this vital waterway in the wake of Naypyidaw’s peace deals with ethnic armed groups.
Pianporn Deetes, of the International Rivers environmental NGO, told The Irrawaddy that Karen State Chief Minister Zaw Min just confirmed to her group that the southernmost Hatgyi Dam—one of seven on the cards on Burma’s stretch of the river—has finally been approved by the government.
“We were informed that EGAT [Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand] and Sinohydro have tried to resume the construction preparation of the Hatgyi Dam since mid-April, when the peace process between the KNU [Karen National Union] and Burmese government was taking place,” she said.
“It is reported that equipment was brought to the dam site. More recently, in early June EGAT and Sinohydro told groups in Pa-an that they were about to resume the Hatgyi Dam.”
Along with the seven major dams planned for the Burmese stretch of the Salween, another 13 are either planned or under construction upstream in China. If completed the Burmese projects are in line to produce over 17,000 MW of electricity, the vast majority of which is due to be sold to Thailand and China despite dire domestic power shortages.
Yet the human impact is likely to be enormous, with almost 100,000 people displaced by the new dam basins in Burma.
“If the [Hatgyi] Dam is really successful, this place will be destroyed and the livelihood [of villagers] in these villages will become completely destroyed,” a fisherman from B’Yah Kyauk village in Htee Th’Daw Hta village tract, Bu Tho Township, Papun District, told the Karen Human Rights Group in a report released last month.
Burma’s Ministry of Electric Power signed a deal with the EGAT and China’s Sinohydro Corporation in 2006 to build Hatgyi but progress has stalled due to the ongoing ethnic conflict. Sinohydro is also the company due to build the Tasang Dam, in Shan State, as well as the currently suspended Myitsone hydropower project on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State.
And it appears work on the upstream Tasang Dam is also intensifying in the wake of a peace deal signed between the rebel Shan State Army-South and Burmese government in late May, with Chinese workers seen surveying nearby land soon after the agreement, according to rebel sources.
Tasang—purported to become the largest dam in Southeast Asia and the single largest investment project in Burma—is expected to displace at least 60,000 people, with Thailand expected to purchase at least 85 percent of the power produced.
Local people complain of a lack of consultation and inadequate environmental impact assessments compared with the scale of the projects being undertaken. “If they dam the river then we do not know what will happen to our lives here,” a fishmonger in Pa-an’s central market told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “No one has told us anything about this.”
The Salween River begins its journey high in the Himalayas at 4,000 meters above sea level on the Tibetan Plateau and remains an integral part of the livelihoods and cultures of many groups including the Shan, Wa, Karenni, Pa-O, Palaung, Mon, Lahu, Padaung, Akha and Lisu.
Fishing is a major source of food for Burma’s Shan and Karen communities while the Salween’s nutrient-rich waters also replenish vegetable gardens and farmlands. Yet the natural ebb and flow of the tides and seasonal flooding would be a thing of the past should the planned cascade of dams come to fruition.
And it is not just the Burmese that are concerned with the lack of consultation as Thailand, despite being a major backer of several projects, is also becoming increasingly worried.
“Interestingly, in 2010 the Thai Prime Minister’s Office issued a recommendation regarding the Hatgyi Dam,” explained Pianporn. “In the recommendation it said there should be a new transboundary impacts assessment covering Thai soil—the existing [Environmental Impact Assessment] by Chulalongkorn University didn’t cover impacts on Thailand.
“There were public hearings in local areas by the Prime Minister’s Office. But since then there has not been any study undertaken. Affected communities in Thailand are preparing to submit a letter to the Thai PM asking about this.”
Protests against construction of the dams have been isolated yet fierce—hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons at Ho Kay, Por Ka Der and E-tu Hta temporary camps on the banks of the Salween have been campaigning against the Hatgyi since 2004, the latest mass demonstration being this past March.
“If the dams are built, the downstream effects stand to alter the lives of over half a million people,” says a report by International Rivers released last month. “These effects could include altering river flows, increasing erosion, destroying islands, damaging downstream agriculture, reducing fish catches and potentially triggering disastrous earthquakes and dam breaks in this seismically active region.”
Protesters also worry that these dams will repeat the problems of previous mega construction projects—civilians being forcibly removed from their homes, losing their livelihoods, being the target of vicious assaults and random executions as well as destroying the fragile ecosystems of the area.
Despite the ongoing campaigns, however, many local people remain unaware of the danger the dams present. “Normal people around here don’t really know much about these dams,” confessed a social worker based in Moulmein. “They are too busy just trying to get on with their daily lives and making a little money.”
By MAY LAY / THE IRRAWADDY| July 3, 2012
Mom ‘n Pop corner shops and franchised convenience stores in Burma knew they should prepare for a battle to the death when they heard the news that the world’s largest retailers, 7-Eleven, will open outlets in cities around the country this year.
“We are preparing to face the competition and have a contingency plan in place,” said Andy Lee, a spokesperson for ABC, one of only two chains of convenience stores in Burma, the other being 108 Stores. “We believe competition will be intensified and we will have to change our strategy to compete with the influx of foreign companies,” he added.
Last month, 7-Eleven announced that it had agreed terms with the Zaykabar Company, owned by Khin Shwe, a parliamentarian who is one of Burma’s most prolific businessmen with a great many engineering and construction projects. Zaykabar was recently at the center of a storm over its alleged illegal seizures of farmers’ lands in Rangoon Division’s Mingaladon and Hlaing Tharyar townships.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Zaykabar chairman Khin Shwe said, “I have already discussed the details with 7-Eleven executives in Thailand. We will start the project sometime in 2012. Zaykabar will hold representation rights to open outlets all across Burma.”
ABC’s Andy Lee acknowledged that Zaykabar is a major company in Burma, “but they do not have the experience or knowledge of the convenience store business. We too have an option to work with a foreign partner if the situation demands us to do so,” he said on Monday.
ABC is a subsidiary of the Myanmar Indo Best Company, and is recognized as the pioneer of organized retailing in Burma since 2007 with more than 20 ABC stores in Rangoon alone. It is headed by Zaw Latt who also owns Rich Coffee industries.
In recent years, there has been a vast increase in the number of people turning their homes into convenience stores or retail shops in cities across Burma. However, many corner shop owners say they fear they will be put out of business once 7-Elevens start popping up all over town. They cite the case of neighboring Thailand where most other competitors have disappeared since the American chain exploded onto the scene. 7-Eleven now has nearly 7,000 outlets in the country with more than half located in the capital, Bangkok.
Although the name may vary from country to country, there are currently no less than 46,000 7-Eleven outlets around the world. Under the parent company, Seven and I Holdings, 7-Eleven has nearly 13,000 outlets in Japan while in Hong Kong the franchise is known as “Little 7.”
But in India, the government has regulated the entry of foreign companies into the convenience store sector to protect its local retailers. Subsequently Indian streets are free of the chain store which is regarded by many purists as the epitome of American consumerism and a leading promoter of the globalized approach to capitalism known as “Coca-Colonization.”
Globally, 7-Eleven had an estimated revenue of $17 billion in 2009, which is nearly 50 percent of Burma’s current GDP.
It originally adopted the name “7-Eleven” because its outlets operated from 7 am to 11 pm. In 1962, the stores first began staying open 24 hours across the US.
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 15:58 Mizzima News
Aung San Suu Kyi brushed off the Burmese government’s call for her not to use the word Myanmar for Burma on Tuesday, saying she can call her country whatever she likes.
Last week, election commission officials criticized Suu Kyi for repeatedly referring to Myanmar as Burma, the country’s former name, in her speeches during her five-country tour of Europe.
“I used that name freely in keeping with democratic principles,“ Suu Kyi said at her first press conference since her return to Rangoon on Saturday.
She noted that General Saw Maung failed to consult the Burmese people when he decided to change the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar in 1991.
The former military junta, which insisted on foreign governments referring to the country as Myanmar, made the name a political test.
In a commentary piece on THEWIP website on Monday, Cesar Chelala, writing about the flap, said Suu Kyi was within her rights and should continue to use the name, to express what has been worldwide condemnation of Burma’s former military regime. The military transferred some of its power to the newly elected Parliament, but still clearly controls what happens in the country.
“As the daughter of Aung San, considered the father of modern-day Burma who was a tireless fighter for democracy and human rights, nobody has greater moral authority than Aung San Suu Kyi to call the country by its former name,” he said.
“There is a strong emotional and moral connotation in the name Burma. It should continue to be called that way until effective democracy returns to the country and a national referendum is conducted on what to call it. If this enrages the military, it will still be a small price to pay for the brutality that for decades they have unleashed on the country.
Observers said this week that a linguistic controversy is distracting when people consider the serious problems facing the government, whose Parliament will reconvene on Wednesday.
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 13:13 Mizzima News
An editorial in Burma’s state-run newspaper on Tuesday on “Myanmar’s Women’s Day” urged the public to fight gender discrimination and it cited the problem of prostitution, which it said is growing and can be found in “massage parlors and beer pubs” and other venues.
The “Perspective” column on Page 2 in The New Light of Myanmar said the best way to fight prostitution and the abuse of women in Burma is to “offer decent jobs and incomes to girls working in the industry.”
“We need to create more job opportunities that offer decent salaries to the female work force,” it said.
Authorities in Burma regularly announce bans and restrictions on massage parlors and restrictions on restaurants, karaoke lounges and beauty parlors in Rangoon and the capital, Naypyitaw, in a bid to curb disguised prostitution.
Many massage parlors and hotels are fronts for brothels, while other venues also sometimes offer sexual services, according to police.
Prostitution is illegal in Burma and anyone caught running a brothel can be imprisoned. However, often it is the women workers who are arrested instead of the owners of such establishments.
The lure of incomes draws young, uneducated and desperate women from impoverished areas to larger cities.
Upper scale nightclubs in Rangoon are also frequented by prostitutes who work independently. Since Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, the number of prostitutes in Rangoon has increased significantly, according to reports in the media.
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 14:41 Mizzima News
Another sign of the changing times: international singer Engelbert Humperdinck will perform a one-night concert at the National Theatre in Rangoon on July 11. It is rare for Western international entertainers to appear in Burma.
A spokesperson for Forever Group told The Myanmar Times that representatives from BEC Tero, a Thai entertainment group, were in Rangoon recently for the launch of Channel 7.
“While they were here they looked at different venues to see whether it would be possible to invite world-famous singers to hold concerts here. They agreed it could be done, so we are organizing this concert,” he said.
Humperdinck, 67, is an Anglo-Indian pop star who grew up in Britain and who achieved worldwide popularity for his recordings of “Release Me,” “The Last Waltz,” “A Man Without Love” and “After the Lovin,” many of which have been covered by Burmese musicians.
In the past few years, he has joined performers such as crooner Tony Bennett, who have crossed over successfully to attract a younger generation in addition to their core audiences.
At part of the concert, MRTV-4, For Tunes, For Choice and Channel 7 will broadcast programs covering Humperdinck’s activities during his visit to Burma.
He recently appeared at the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Azerbaijan on May 26. He recently recorded a new song written by Adele’s songwriter Dan Wilson (Someone Like You) for his next album.
Humperdinck’s stage name comes from the Austrian composer who wrote “Hansel & Gretel.” He has sold more than 150 million records. His website noted that major forces in the world of rock n’ roll, including Jimi Hendrix and The Carpenters, started out as opening acts for Humperdinck. He has four Grammy nominations, a Golden Globe for “Entertainer of the Year” (1988), 63 gold and 24 platinum records and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
By DAVID STOUT
Published: 3 July 2012
More than 40 prisoners were released from prison today in Burma today during an anticipated amnesty granted by the government.
Thirty seven men and nine women were freed with a “a view to ensuring the stability of the State and making eternal peace, national reconciliation, enabling all to participate in [the] political process”, reported New Light of Myanmar.
“I’m neither grateful nor happy for being released,” said Than Zaw, who was freed after being locked up in July 1989. “I was imprisoned for so many years – more than two decades – for a crime I didn’t commit.”
The NLD youth member was arrested for his alleged role in the bombing of Thanlyin Oil Refinery on 7 July 1989. Than Zaw was originally given the death penalty, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
The mastermind behind the bombing was a major in the Karen National Union Ko Ko Naing, who later confessed to the crime and was released in 2005. However, Than Zaw remained incarcerated after the actual bomber was freed.
“I wasted my youth inside the prison so there’s nothing to be grateful or happy about,” said Than Zaw during a phone interview with DVB. “I was imprisoned because of the SLORC/SPDC’s NLD-phobia.”
According to the individuals who were freed today, prisoners of conscience are still behind bars.
“There are more than ten [political prisoners] still in my prison ward,” said Saw William who was released from Insein Prison after being incarcerated for five years. “We shared the same ward together. I feel bad for them because they weren’t released.”
Saw William was sentenced for his alleged connection to a bombing in Pegu in September 2010.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, Burmese authorities alleged that the migrant worker illegally crossed the border into Thailand to train in ‘political defiance’ and raised money online to finance the bombing.
The newly freed prisoner said he was informed yesterday that he had been granted amnesty.
Student leader Aye Aung, who has been jailed in Kale Prison since 1998, was among the more high profile prisoners of conscience pardoned on Tuesday.
“I think freedom can only be achieved when there is safety,” Aye Aung told DVB by phone. “If there is rule of law and if the law can really protect [an individual] with safety, then we can have real freedom.”
Aye Aung was a member of the Dagon University Student’s Union, which organised demonstrations in the mid to late 1990s in Rangoon.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), Aye Aung “organised students and led leaflet distributing activities concerning the reopening of the universities. In 1998, Aye Aung along with, student leader; Myo Min Zaw led the August and September 1998 student movements”.
The exact number of political prisoners that remain behind bars varies among the lists compiled by human right’s groups. The AAPP (Burma)’s most recent survey in June claims there were 465 verified incarcerated political dissidents in the country.
During a National League for Democracy press conference in Rangoon on Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi called for the release of the country’s remaining prisoners of conscience.
“Regarding the political prisoners, we’ve made calls for the release all of them,” said the country’s opposition leader who noted that the NLD believes there are 336 prisoners dissidents still imprisoned.
According to the New Light article, 34 foreigner prisoners were also deported on Tuesday.
The last large-scale amnesty occurred on 13 January when 651 prisoners were released, including high-profile dissidents such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi and Ashin Gambira.