Jul 22nd, 2012
By AYE AYE WIN | Associated Press – 23 hrs ago
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar state television broadcast a memorial ceremony for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s revered independence hero father for the first time in decades Thursday, the latest sign of change in the former pariah nation.
The day marks the 65th anniversary of the 1947 assassination of opposition leader Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San.
Myanmar’s former military junta played down the event for more than 20 years as part of efforts to stem the popularity of Suu Kyi, who has led a pro-democracy movement since 1988 and was kept under house arrest for 15 years. The junta ceded power last year to a civilian government dominated by retired army officers, which has since embarked on a program of major political and financial reforms that have been lauded by the international community.
On Thursday, Martyr’s Day ceremonies were broadcast live on state television, and the government dispatched one of the nation’s two vice presidents to attend. Last year, the government’s top representative was the mayor of the largest city, Yangon.
With flags flying at half staff, Vice President Sai Mauk Hkam joined Suu Kyi as she laid three baskets of flowers in front of her father’s tomb in Yangon, near the foot of towering golden Shwedagon pagoda. Sai Mauk Hkam laid a wreath of white orchids and saluted the slain leader as a solemn two-minute silence was observed.
Aung San was 32 years old when he was gunned down on July 19, 1947, along with six Cabinet ministers and two other officials. He is considered the architect of Myanmar’s independence from Britain, which it achieved several months after his death.
Sao Kai Hpa, the son of Shan leader Mongpon Sawbwa Sao San Tun — who was gunned down in the same attack — welcomed the fact the government had decided to send a high-level official to pay its respects.
“It is a change in the right direction and it is a way of showing gratitude to those who gave up their lives for the country’s independence,” he said.
AFP – 3 hrs ago
The new US ambassador to Myanmar said Friday that it was too soon to abolish all sanctions against the former pariah, as Congress considers extending a ban on imports from the impoverished country.
“We have said in the past, and I have said, that we endorse continuing to keep in place many of the authorities — the sanctions authorities — in Congress,” said Derek Mitchell, who took up his new post earlier this month.
Keeping some measures in place was “an insurance policy for the future in case things reverse,” he told reporters, noting the fast pace of reforms since the end of decades of military rule last year.
“We’re talking about a rapid process. It’s only really been a little over a year and there are still some questions about the future,” he said, adding that the import ban could be revisited later if the reform process continues.
A US Senate finance committee on Wednesday backed prolonging the ban on goods made in Myanmar for three years, while preserving the government’s right to waive or scrap the measures. The extension still needs full Congressional approval.
It came a week after the United States gave the green light to US companies to invest in Myanmar including in oil and gas, in its broadest and most controversial easing yet of sanctions on the country formerly known as Burma.
US companies have been pressing the Obama administration to end restrictions on investment, fearing they will lose out to European and Asian competitors that already enjoy access to the potentially lucrative economy.
Mitchell said that investment, “done according to traditional US corporate principles and values,” could serve the long-term interests of the Myanmar people.
The veteran policymaker is the first US ambassador to Myanmar since Washington withdrew its envoy after a crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 and elections won by the opposition in 1990 that were never recognised by the junta.
July 20, 2012 20:31 IST
Bangladesh has asked Myanmar to immediately repatriate thousands of Rohingyas refugees, who sought refugee in this country following violence in the Buddhist dominated Rakhine state of the neighbouring nation.
Reaffirming its stance on the Muslim Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni yesterday told Myanmar’s new envoy to Dhaka to take the refugees back.
“Rohingya (refugees) are your citizens and it is your concern to take them back in Myanmar from Bangladesh,” a foreign ministry spokesman quoted her as telling Myanmar Ambassador Myo Myint Than.
Boatloads of Rohingyas are coming to Bangladesh shoreline everyday since the sectarian violence erupted in Myanmar two months ago. They land in Bangladesh only to be pushed back to home by Bangladeshi border guards.
Considered to be some of the world’s most persecuted minorities, the fate of Rohingyas in Myanmar appeared uncertain further amid reports that they were being systematically evicted from their homes to set up ‘model villages’ for Buddhists population.
Myanmar authorities earlier agreed to take back its nationals under a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees brokered agreement in mid-1992. But the repatriation process remained stalled for years reportedly for reluctance on the part of Myanmar.
The UN estimates that 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar on Friday. Thousands attempt to flee every year to Bangladesh, Malaysia and elsewhere in the region to escape a life of abuse that rights groups say includes forced labor, violence against women and restrictions on movement, marriage and reproduction.
July 20, 2012 3:42 pm
Yangon – The United States has set “unprecendented”transparency requirements on its companies in Myanmar, a diplomat said Friday, days after a ban on investing in the country was lifted.
US companies would be required to report on their activities “in line with the highest standards of international corporate governance,” said US Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell.
“In fact, this reporting requirement is unprecedented for anywhere else in the world our companies do business,” Mitchell said.
On July 11, Washington dropped its sanctions against US companies doing business in Myanmar, which have been in place for almost two decades.
Observers have expressed concern about the risk of potential investors swarming to the country in recent months and fuelling corruption.
July 21, 2012 1:00 am
A senior Army commander yesterday was trying to confirm reports that five Thais were apprehended by Myanmar authorities after they crossed the border to retrieve farming equipment and vehicles that had been confiscated on Koh Song, off Ranong Province.
Colonel Phornsak Phoolsawas said he could not confirm that the five had been detained. They may have already returned to Thailand without notifying authorities, he said.
Meanwhile, questioning of the 92 Thai detainees captured by Myanmar authorities on Koh Song on July 4 was almost complete, Phornsak said. Police in Myanmar would charge those found involved in criminal activities. They face such charges as illegal entry, land encroachment, growing cannabis, weapons possession and obstruction of justice.
By next Friday, those faced with nonfelony charges as well as women and children would undergo court procedures and possibly be freed from custody, after convictions and fines, said the colonel.
By Anasuya Sanyal | Posted: 20 July 2012 1545 hrs
BANGKOK: There has been a big spike in interest in learning the Burmese language in Thailand, as political reforms in Myanmar lead to more investment and tourism opportunities.
Daw Than Than Myint, who has been teaching Burmese at Chulalongkorn University for over two decades, is elated at all the enthusiasm.
She said that in the past, it was hard to get even enough students for a level one class.
“Very recently, there has been a quite number of people who are waiting for me to open a new course but still I am still with this project. So I still can not open it yet but most probably I will doing so within this month, maybe,” Daw Than Than Myint said.
The 30-hour course was split into sections for children and adults.
The students say they know it will be useful when doing business in either Thailand or Myanmar.
Mr Preecha Lertpreechapakdi, a used cars and auto parts seller, said: “As a businessman, I heard that Thailand is the first destination where rich Burmese are going to visit.
“They plan to bring at least US$20,000 or about 600,000 Thai baht to spend here. What they are looking for are kitchenware like stainless pans and pots in the Sampeng area. Those are really rare in Myanmar.”
The students are also hoping that more classes are offered to further their studies.
Ms Juthathip Lertpreechapakdi, a businessperson in Yaowarat, said: “The teacher taught me simple communication in Burmese and I was given this textbook. I need to find a more advanced course should I want to study the language further.”
Based on the success of the course so far, the director of the programme is hoping to launch it nationwide.
Posted: 20 July 2012 1236 hrs TAIPEI: Taiwan’s EVA Airways said Friday it will launch three weekly flights to Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon from October in expectation of growing demand as the country embarks a reform drive.
The airline said it decided to start the new route as it expects the former capital to attract more Taiwanese businessmen and tourists as the country emerges from decades of military rule.
China Airlines, Taiwan’s largest international airline, also announced recently that it will expand services to Yangon to operate a total of five weekly flights from mid-September, up from the current four.
Myanmar’s main airport is expected to exceed passenger capacity this year, officials said, as an influx of visitors to the once-isolated nation prompts plans for a new international flight hub.
Cruise from Bagan to Mandalay from $253 a day
BOSTON, July 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — To meet high demand for travel to Burma, Alan E. Lewis, Chairman and CEO of Grand Circle Corporation, today announced that the company’s cruise division, Grand Circle Cruise Line, will offer a small ship cruise tour in Burma for 2013: Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay. Grand Circle Cruise Line joins sister company Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which sold out its small group adventures to Burma this year with 850 American travelers vs. initial projections of 456 travelers.
“The release of Aung San Suu Kyi from two decades of house arrest and her election to parliament has helped this once isolated country begin opening its doors to the West,” said Lewis. “From calling for a boycott of travel to Burma, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is now encouraging responsible travelers to visit her country, and as result, Burma has become the ‘hottest’ travel destination of the year. With our new cruise tour, we’ll be able to offer more Americans the chance to experience this intriguing country.”
Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay itinerary follows the Irrawaddy River through the heart of central Burma. The journey begins with a 4-night stay at the Montien Bangkok Hotel (or similar) in Bangkok, Thailand, and a 3-night stay at the Sedona Hotel Yangon (or similar) in Rangoon, Burma’s most populous city and former capital. Travelers then fly to Bagan, renowned for the 2,000 ancient temples that dot its 26-square-mile plain. There, they board the cruise line’s privately chartered, new, 34-passenger river cruise ship RV Paukan for a 7-night cruise, calling on remote villages, untouristed trading centers, and important Buddhist sites en route to Mandalay, one of the country’s major cultural centers. The cruise tour will be led by a resident Program Director. Grand Circle Cruise Line is the only cruise line to provide the services and perspective of a local resident.
Departures are available for March-May and September-December 2013. Prices begin at $3795, or just $253 per day, for the small ship cruise only ($253 per day) or 16 days from $4895, including international air, airport transfers, government taxes, fees and airline fuel surcharges. In addition to Superior First-Class accommodations in Bangkok and Rangoon, and the services of a resident Program Director, the 15-day cruise tour includes: 7 nights aboard the privately chartered, 34-passenger RV Paukan; 34 meals (14B, 10L, 10D), including a home-hosted dinner; 11 exclusive, included sightseeing tours with audio headset during the cruise portion of the trip; a Burmese language lesson; and more. Travelers who make their own air arrangements may request one-way or round-trip airport transfers for an additional fee.
To extend the value of one’s vacation and to add more choices, travelers may choose optional 6-night extensions to Vientiane & Luang Prabang, Laos, and The Hill Station of Maymyo & Inle Lake, Burma, both priced at $1395, or $233 per day. Solo travelers benefit further from a FREE single supplement on both the base cruise tour as well as any pre-or-post trip extension.
A reverse itinerary, which sails from Mandalay to Bagan following the Bangkok and Rangoon land tours, is also available.
For more information about Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Burma & the Irrawaddy River: Bagan to Mandalay or for a free catalog, please call Grand Circle Cruise Line’s Catalog & Information Line at 1-800-248-3737.
ABOUT GRAND CIRCLE CRUISE LINE
Grand Circle Cruise Line is part of Grand Circle Corporation, the leader in international travel, adventure and discovery for Americans aged 50 and older. The award-winning fleet has been cited for excellence by readers of both Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. The cruise line joins sister brands Overseas Adventure Travel and Grand Circle Travel to provide more than 80 river and small ship cruises, small group adventures by land, escorted tours, and extended stay vacations to more than 100,000 travelers each year. Grand Circle’s charitable arm, Grand Circle Foundation, has donated or pledged $91 million to humanitarian, educational, and cultural organizations worldwide since 1992. Grand Circle has been in business since 1958 and is based in Boston with more than 30 offices worldwide.
Written by The Edge
Friday, 20 July 2012 20:04
Catalist-listed AsiaMedic announced it has entered into a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with Myanmar’s Ni Ni Diagnostics And Healthcare to explore the possible establishment of a joint venture in Myanmar.
Under the non-binding MOU, AsiaMedic and Ni Ni Group will assess the feasibility of setting up and operating an advanced imaging centre within Ni Ni Group’s current premises in Ahlone Township, Yangon.
AsiaMedic is a healthcare provider that focuses on the management of clinical services in the fields of disease prevention, early illness detection and advanced diagnostics. Its team of highly qualified and reputable professionals provides clinical and management services both in Singapore and overseas.
Established in 1993, the Ni Ni Group operates medical centres providing diagnostic imaging and laboratory services in Yangon. Headed by its Managing Director, Dr Nyi Nyi Han, the Ni Ni Group is currently staffed with 35 specialists from various medical fields such as cardiology, pathology, oncology, internal medicine, general surgery, obstetrics & gynaecology and dermatology.
July 20, 2012 3:04 am by beyondbrics
By Udayan Chattopadhyay of Ergo
The US’s decision to suspend some key sanctions against Myanmar is the latest and perhaps most prominent endorsement received by that country’s new quasi-civilian regime.
Global interest has surged, due to Myanmar’s vast untapped natural resources, underexploited agricultural sector and huge underemployed labor force. While there is justifiable excitement – the IMF expects 6 per cent economic growth this year – those new to Myanmar will find that it is hardly virgin territory.
After maintaining Myanmar’s isolation for decades, all major economies that had imposed sanctions have now relaxed or suspended them. Visits to Yangon by political and business leaders such as Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, British prime minister David Cameron and investment firm TPG’s David Bonderman have signalled growing confidence in Myanmar’s potential.
But, in fact, foreign investors are already present in Myanmar in force. Projected growth is driven significantly by existing foreign investment (estimated at $20bn last fiscal year, when most sanctions were in effect), primarily from Myanmar’s neighbours – China, India and ASEAN members such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Facilitated by an isolated pariah regime desperate for hard currency, companies and investors from these countries have established themselves with little competition throughout the economy.
Their activities have been in part driven by their governments’ strategic goals: for decades, Myanmar has presented a vast source of commodities for feeding its neighbours’ domestic demand, as well a means of meeting major geopolitical aims.
China, for instance, has sought access to the Bay of Bengal through Myanmar to bypass the Straits of Malacca, which would slash shipping costs and times; India has similarly pursued access to the sea in an attempt to neutralize its insurgent-ridden and isolated northeast.
Sectors considered the most promising for new investment in Myanmar, such as energy, timber and construction, are all caught up in similar strategic equations. It is unlikely that incumbents will concede space to newcomers easily, having already invested significant capital in associated projects such as deep sea ports, pipelines, mines and highways.
Another obstacle for new investors is that a small number of powerful family-run conglomerates control much of the domestic economy. Entities such as KBZ (primarily airlines and retail), the Max Group (construction), and Asia World (construction and infrastructure) emerged during the years of Myanmar’s isolation with little competition and have come to dominate some of the country’s most important sectors.
Most of the conglomerates have actively engaged with the new political class, and given that gradual change seems to be the model negotiated for Myanmar’s transition to democracy, it is unlikely that radical reform would disrupt their influence in the immediate term. As a result, the direction set by these companies will strongly determine opportunities for new investors. In light of their relationships with incumbent foreign companies and governments, the conglomerates may prove difficult gatekeepers.
There is already a strong push to dilute the economic influence of China, which currently accounts for over 70 per cent of investment and 30 per cent of imports. Many people in Myanmar are angry over Chinese labour practices and over environmental damage allegedly caused by some Chinese projects. Meanwhile the ruling elites are nervous about over-dependence on an unpredictable and omnipresent neighbour.
Public resentment erupted into a rare mass protest in September 2011, prompting the new government to abruptly suspend China’s $3.6bn Myitstone dam project, sending a signal to Beijing that it was no longer business as usual.
Indeed, concerns over China’s dominance in Myanmar have driven much of the recent global engagement with Myanmar, both by neighbours such as India and Thailand, and by the United States.
All of this points to a less-than-ideal playing field for new investors, who may actually find their best short-term opportunities lie in partnering with or investing in companies already active in Myanmar, rather than trying to enter the market independently.
This approach would allow time to become acquainted with the country’s evolving regulatory and institutional frameworks (many of which are being established for the first time) and pass some of the risk to entities already familiar with Myanmar.
Longer term, it is likely that the economy will be far friendlier to all foreign investors. Until then, new investment may be facilitated primarily by local and foreign government interests, and driven by goals that are as much strategic as economic.
Udayan Chattopadhyay works for Ergo, a global intelligence and advisory firm specialising in emerging and frontier markets.
Posted By Chan Myae Khine On 20 July 2012 @ 0:12 am
Whenever a Myanmar national reveals that he or she does not have a surname, foreigners usually wonder why. Myanmar might be one of the very few countries in the world where at least 90 percent of its population do not have a surname or family name. The members of the same family can have completely different names and the number of words in each name can vary greatly.
WhatIsMyanmar writes about the unique naming practice in Myanmar:
But for us, Myanmar, last name is just a word in stories written in English. Believe it or not! We don’t have family name at all. And it’s apparently no space for another box beside the column of Name in any form to fill up IN MYANMAR.
A sugarcane juice seller from Myanmar. Photo from Flickr page of Michael Foley used under CC License
And explains how people from Myanmar usually fill out forms which ask for both first name and last name:
But whenever we try to fill up the online forms, we have no choice except filling the family name space as they make it mandatory. And, what do we fill? For me, I put first two words of my name as first name and last word as last name. So random? Well, at that point, you may wanna know how many words are there in each name? My wise answer is “it depends”. Yes, it totally depends of how creative the parents or whoever give the names are.
Twobmad mentioned how it is difficult to deal with Myanmar names in foreign communities:
I always got confused when it comes to filling the name such as first, middle and last name. The same thing happens, after living in a foreign country, friends who would like to know how they would call me. They are confused as well. Because when they will me by name first name, it is not either the way I have been called in my family as well as in my previous community. They would use my first name to call me but I would feel strange if I have been called by the name which I never heard before.
Ba Kaung blogged about the naming practice in Myanmar which includes astrological beliefs as well:
A few years later, after witnessing different cultural practices around the world, I realized that the Burmese custom of naming is fairly unique. It symbolizes the combination of the particular virtue for a person and astrological calculation of the day of the week that the person was born based on Burmese lunar calendar year.
He also covered the designation in Myanmar language which is important to its people but sometimes confuses foreigners such as “U” (pronounced as Oo) in “U Thant“. In addition, people with one-word names usually face difficulties defining the family name as the first word such as “U”, “Ma”, “Daw” and so on, which are not their names technically:
Expression of respect is also a matter of utmost importance to address the name of Myanmar people. One can be addressed with an appropriate honorific salutation before the given name depends on the
level of age, degree of relationship, and gender. It will be considered impolite way of calling someone’s name in a direct manner of speaking.
To address younger ones and peers before their names,
“Ko” is used as a masculine form.
“Ma” is used as a feminine and formal form.
“Maung” is used as a masculine formal form.
To address elder ones before their names,
“U” or “Oo” is used as a masculine and formal form.
“Daw” is used as a feminine and formal form.
Since there is no family name for Myanmar nationals, women do not need to change any part of their name even after they get married, Dharana writes:
My third project has been to learn how to correctly pronounce my colleagues’ names. Burmese names depend on which day of the week a person was born and they don’t have a family name component.
This means women get to keep their entire given name even after marriage– something my female colleagues seem to take quite some pride in!
On the other hand, some ethnicities in Myanmar , descendants of India and Christians follow the pratice of having a family name. Lionslayer writes that few people in Myanmar have surnames:
Some people likes to take their father’s name using British naming system. Aung San Suu Kyi is daughter of Aung San and Hayma Nay Win is daughter of Nay Win. Yet you may rarely see those kinds.
Burmese people tends to name their new born babies according to astrology rather than naming after someone. Some of ethnics in Myanmar do have family names. And some Muslims and Christians also name after their fathers or grandfathers
He concluded that the Myanmar government should set up a family record registration as it is difficult to trace one’s family tree:
There is a downside of not having a family name. It’s very difficult to trace someone’s ancestors for more than 5 generations. It’s not a big problem if Myanmar has a family registry office. I hope the government set up such a record and inquiry service. Anyway, We are not alone on Earth without family names. I just learned that there are some more Asian ethnics without family names too.
Published: 20/07/2012 at 01:51 AM
Newspaper section: News
Myanmar President Thein Sein has finally fixed the dates of his first official visit to Thailand. The country will welcome the leader of our western neighbour for three days beginning on Sunday.
The lead-up to Thein Sein’s trip was confusing, to say the least. Twice, he was supposedly coming, and twice he did not arrive.
The delays to the trip were curious, made even more so because of the unconvincing effort by both nations to claim that nothing was wrong. Clearly, the delays in Thein Sein’s trip had a reason. Because of the official secrecy, there has been intense speculation that the warm welcome given to the unofficial and popular opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was the reason.
Whatever the recent past, Thein Sein comes to Thailand as the head of a government which has made impressive reforms in the past eight months. The world’s biggest companies now are lining up to look over investment opportunities. Last week, the giant General Electric re-opened US business in Myanmar with the sale of X-ray machines.
But the country and its leader still have a long way to travel to catch up on its 48 years as a cruel, violent military dictatorship. The recent ethnic clashes in western Myanmar have thrown off the facade of a united country. President Thein Sein uttered some of the most distressing statements heard from a reform government in recent memory.
He told the United Nations last week that the million Rohingya people in Rakhine (formerly known as Arakhan) state are simply not welcome in Myanmar. They would be placed in camps or, preferably, deported. They are ethnically different from the Burman majority, and they are religiously Muslim, he said. The “only solution” is to hand them over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or resettle them in third countries that are willing to take them.
“Burma will take responsibility for its ethnic nationalities but it is not at all possible to recognise the illegal border-crossing Rohingyas who are not an ethnic [group] in Burma,” said Thein Sein according to his office’s website.
These are not tough words, but unacceptable ones. The Rohingya _ the word itself was invented and introduced during the military regimes _ have rights, too. They may have migrated into Myanmar at one time, but most were born in the western provinces of the country. Thein Sein may consider them as a nuisance, but the solution is for Myanmar to adapt to its circumstances.
The existence and problem of Rohingya should be raised during Thein Sein’s visit. Thailand and other neighbours are all too aware of the plight of these people. Many have fled their homeland in Myanmar, and used Thailand as a stepping stone to travel further abroad. They have found no welcome in Thailand _ to the occasional shame of our officials _ but the root of the problem lies in Myanmar.
The shocking language of the Myanmar president may be excused briefly after his country’s long isolation from the real world, enforced at the army’s gunpoint. But Thein Sein must be disabused of the notion that he will find sympathy, let alone help as he seeks a solution to his problem with Myanmar people. If his words are disagreeable, he must know that any action to back them up will be unacceptable.
Myanmar is emerging from a long, dark history of violence. It is entering a new world, with norms that are quite different from 50 years ago. Thein Sein’s statements about the Rohingya appear racist, malicious and threatening. They must not stand unchallenged.
Business Desk, The Nation
Publication Date : 20-07-2012 Representatives from four Asean nations – Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos and Indonesia – vowed that rules and regulations are being improved to embrace an investment flow in light of the activation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.
At the Krungthep Turakij seminar on “AEC Plus: Your Busines sto the New Frontier” yesterday, the representatives said that they welcome investment from neighbouring countries should these benefit local workers and be friendly to the environment.
Ros Sao, Commercial Counsellor, Royal Embassy of Cambodia, said at the seminar that his country is ready for the AEC, through a series of training courses to prepare its people for the integration. He said that the legal framework and infrastructure has been improved, and Cambodia stands ready to answer all questions from its neighbours.
Ade Veronica Christie, Third Secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Bangkok, noted that her country is not 100 per cent ready for the integration, but Indonesia has done its best to ensure that investors and Indonesian people would gain equal benefits from greater investment.
Indonesia has amended the tax code, lowering levy on some types of investment to zero per cent. An online one-stop service centre is prepared to facilitate applications and reduce complication and fees.
The government has also identified areas for particular investment, like the Sumatras for energy resources and Java for industrial manufacturing.
Indonesia has abundant natural resources, but labour wage is lower than that of some countries in Asean. With the economic growth rate of 6 per cent per annum, Indonesia is in the position to draw more investment and that encourages the country to prepare for the integration, she added.
By LAWI WENG / THE IRRAWADDY| July 20, 2012
The burning issue of the future of the Dawei (Tavoy) deep-sea port and industrial zone in southern Burma is due to be the main subject of discussion when Burmese President Thein Sein visits Thailand at the weekend.
Thein Sein will arrive in the Kingdom for three days on Sunday for a twice-postponed trip to Burma’s second biggest trading partner—bilateral trade with Thailand amounted to US 6.1 billion in 2011 and was only beaten by China.
“The development of the Dawei deep-sea port and industrial zone in Myanmar will be a major topic of discussion during the official visit of the Myanmar President,” said a statement issued by the Thai government.
In May, the Thai government approved a 33.1 billion baht ($1 billion) budget allocation for infrastructure to link with the Dawei megaproject. However, its future remains in doubt following the rejection by Naypyidaw of a coal-fired power plant in the area and one of the biggest investors, Max Myanmar Company, pulling out earlier this month.
The Dawei port complex, across the border from Thailand’s Kanchanaburi Province, is being developed by Thailand’s largest construction company Italian-Thai Development PLC. The $8.6 billion project was agreed with the former Burmese junta in 2008.
In order to aid bilateral economic development between the two countries, Thailand also will propose opening another border checkpoint in Kanchanaburi with an access road towards Dawei.
However, humanitarian groups have long voiced human rights concerns regarding the megaproject with particular reference to land seizures by the construction zone.
Other subject to be discussed include the 92 Thai citizens who were detained in Kawthaung Township, southern Burma, early last week for alleged illegal logging and illegally crossing the border. The Thai government will no doubt bring up the fate of those arrested with Thein Sein during his visit.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Thai government in a letter on Thursday to use Thein Sein’s visit to press for immediate and concrete steps towards addressing serious human rights violations in Burma.
Prime Minister Yingluck should use Thailand’s leverage as one of Burma’s major political and economic partners and a core member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to help improve respect for human rights and promote political reform in the country, said the advocacy group.
“The Burmese government’s record on human rights remains poor, despite recent signs of change,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW. “As a neighbor long affected by Burma’s abysmal rights record, the Thai government should not miss this opportunity to press Thein Sein to end army abuses against ethnic minorities and protect the basic rights of all people in Burma.”
Thein Sein was due to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok from May 30 to June 1, but canceled his trip apparently after hearing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was booked to address the event.
The former general also postponed a subsequent visit on June 4-5 ostensibly to tackle domestic crises including power shortage protests and sectarian violence in Arakan State, but rumors abounded that he was irked by the Nobel Laureate’s performance in the Kingdom.
By KYAW ZWA MOE / THE IRRAWADDY| July 20, 2012 It must be the widest, smoothest road in Burma. Yet there is no traffic and not a single potholes to dodge, just a smattering of SUVs and sedans arriving at a huge gate each morning. From a distance, the vehicles look like ants scurrying across a big white board. Welcome to Burma’s Parliament!
Only vehicles belonging to MPs are allowed to drive right up to the Parliament buildings, despite one reporter remarking, “a plane could even land here!”
All cars must be scrutinized by under-vehicle search mirrors at the gate. Peering through tinted windows you can make out parliamentarians wearing khaung paung—the tradition Burmese pink or yellow turbans—cocooned in air conditioned opulence. Of course, not all MPs have their own transport and some instead arrive in communal vans.
Inside the compound, everything is huge with Parliament buildings sprawling in all directions. They are appropriately built in the royal architectural style to compliment the name of the capital—Naypyidaw, the abode of kings.
Yet it is hard to find the spirit of this “royal” city. What is its history and where is its culture?
There are no such things because it was suddenly created in the middle of nowhere in 2005 by the military junta, away from all major cities and 320 kilometers from the former capital Rangoon. Homely is not a word to associate with Naypyidaw. The Parliament building is likewise—enormous and fresh but devoid of a soul.
“This is a royal prison,” Win Htein, an MP and senior member of main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), jokes on the top step of the Lower House building. We were waiting with his fellow parliamentarians and assorted journalists for Aung San Suu Kyi to make her first entrance to the legislature.
Win Htein, a former political prisoner, said MPs had nowhere to go in Naypyidaw. They were supposed to stay in the capital for several months until the current parliamentary session ends.
But despite its obvious flaws, the fact remains that Burma’s Parliament is a historic entity. The countries first true legislature for more than half-a-century has proven itself to also be one of the nation’s most inclusive, vibrant and relatively democratic institutions.
During Ne Win’s rule from 1962 to 1988, the country had a bogus Parliament. From 1988 to early 2011, the country was ruled by the military dictatorship without even the façade of a phoney legislature.
July 9 was a historic day as pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the nation’s most famous prisoner-turned-MP, joined the parliamentary session. This significantly changed the country’s political landscape by bestowing an element of legitimacy upon the military-dominated administration.
MPs currently hail from Suu Kyi’s NLD and many other opposition and ethnic groups, apart from the majority military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the appointed 25 percent of armed forces appointees.
The existence of the military stooges clearly undermines the democratic credentials of the Parliament. Even so, it remains an institution of many colors—contrasting attire here represents different parties.
Most MPs from the NLD and its allies wear traditional Burmese jackets in beige, while USDP representatives instead wear white. Members from ethnic Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, known as White Tiger Party, wear their traditional Shan outfit also in beige, while other ethnic groups wear contrasting costumes.
Of course, and ominously, the most significant color is green—the army uniform. There are four columns of seats for MPs in Parliament with the far right occupied by military personnel. Only by amending the widely-condemned 2008 Constitution will this emerald stripe disappear.
Out of their eight rows, seven contain army officials from brigadier-generals and colonel to captain. The last row is shared by officers of the air force and navy who wear different uniforms.
The MPs themselves seem content to avoid tackling the military’s presence at the moment. Before joining Parliament, Suu Kyi repeatedly said one of her aims was to amend undemocratic clauses in the Constitution such as the guaranteed legislative quota for the military.
But she might not feel that the time is right to approach this yet. “We came here to collaborate, not to oppose,” Suu Kyi reportedly told party colleagues after her first day.
Htay Oo, general secretary of USDP, told me in a hallway in the People’s Parliament, “I don’t regard other political parties here as opposition. It’s difficult to define the meaning of the opposition. I think we all are here to work together for the sake of our people and country.”
Without doubt, all MPs, especially ex-military officers within the USDP, could do with more diplomatic and consensual language when they meet press—even if their words sometimes might not be wholly truthful.
When asked how the institution’s dynamic had changed due to the presence of Suu Kyi and her party, Htay Oo said, “Well, more people are here. There are no empty seats.”
Pressed on how formal the Parliament appears with the strict dress code, he paused for a moment before answering with a smile, “Oh, I’ve got used to it,” pointing to his traditional turban. “It’s our pride. We could even hold this Parliament on a lawn. But holding it here is a matter of pride.”
Undoubtedly discussions within parliamentary sessions appear to be essentially free. The MPs can bring up practically any issue from repairing potholes and the release of political prisoners to ethnic conflict and land confiscations.
“This Parliament has more freedom though its formality and style is similar to under the BSPP [Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party],” NLD MP Ohn Kyaing told me during an interval. In his former role as a journalist, Ohn Kyaing witnessed the dictator’s legislature where there was no opposition at all.
This new Parliament is certainly different. A scoop of reporters is allowed to do their job as the “fourth estate” watchdog on proceedings. Through the glass of media booths above the chamber, they keep dozens of beady eyes on the MPs.
Lots of pictures are snapped of prominent members such as Suu Kyi, the house speaker and certain billionaire tycoons. And during breaks, members mingle with the media as quotes and soundbites are traded and newsworthy material filtered out of the day’s bureaucracy.
When we run into Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, a former high-ranking general, after the lunch, he greets the press pack in a friendly manner. “I am very pleased that you media people come to support our Parliament,” he says before warning, “but don’t ask questions now.” At least journalists were allowed to take photos.
It appears one of the greatest powers the media possesses in Parliament is to prevent MPs nodding off. “I don’t dare doze as TV cameras are shooting all the time,” joked Win Htein. “If the voters in my constituency catch me, I will be kicked out!”
Yet the way that MPs make proposals and debate issues suggests that most largely ignore the presence of the media. Nevertheless, pictures of parliamentarians sleeping and using iPads have already spread on Facebook and other social media.
After sitting through the whole day, it seems obvious that many MPs, like their children in school, are desperately longing for the end of the day.
On the steps of the Parliament building before boarding the van, reporters surrounded Col Hla Myint Soe, a military-appointed MP, and ask what proposals will be coming from his green-clad section. Hla Myint Soe reportedly played a key role in the brutal crackdown on the 2007 pro-democracy Saffron Revolution.
The colonel was friendly and the reporters kept throwing questions. But another military official interrupted, grabbed his arm and took him away saying abruptly, “We have things to do.” A fitting end to a day of Burma’s Parliament.
By NYEIN NYEIN / THE IRRAWADDY| July 20, 2012
Some 300 farmers from nine villages in Rangoon’s Dagon Seik Kam Township protested on Friday in front of the Pinle Koe Thwe company building—owned by Rangoon Division parliamentarian Aung Than Oo—demanding the return of their confiscated farmlands.
Pho Phyu, a lawyer representing many of the farmers, said that more than 10,000 acres of farmland were arbitrarily seized by 16 individual companies in 2008.
He said that MPs should focus on working to develop the laws relating to farming, such as the farmland redistribution act, and ensuring farmers’ rights.
Maung Nyo, a farmer from Thaepinchaung village, who alleges that 7.33 acres of his farmland were confiscated four years ago by the Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company, told The Irrawaddy that the firms were now growing paddy and employing the landowners’ laborers who had become unemployed when the land was seized.
“Many of us have become laborers on our own land,” he said. “It belonged to us before. But now we have lost everything. We cannot bear it any longer. We demand our lands back. It is a matter of survival!”
The 16 firms include Pinle Koe Thwe, Myanmar National Prosperity Public Company and the Shwe Nagar Min company.
Pho Phyu and representatives of the protesting farmers said that the companies seized their lands citing verbal orders. They then compensated the farmers with less amount than the actual value of the land. They told The Irrawaddy they were paid between 30,000 and 50,000 kyat [US $34 to $57) per acre while the actual price should have been around 500,000 kyat [$570] per acre.
The protest in Dagon marks the second public display of discontent by farmers in Rangoon Division since the “right to protest” and “right to gather” laws were passed by Parliament two weeks ago. The first was in Mingaladon Township.
The local authorities, including the police and local township administrator, on Tuesday gave permission to the organizers to exercise their right to gather in front of the Pinle Koe Thwe company. However, Phoe Phyu said they were restricted in numbers.
“We applied to conduct a protest with 900 people, but the authorities only gave permission for 300 farmers to participate,” he said.
In October last year, many of the Dagon farmers were charged after conducting a demonstration in front of the housing department in Rangoon. Their trials, being held in Botataung Township Court, are ongoing, said the lawyer.
Friday, 20 July 2012 12:51 Mizzima News
An editorial labeled “Encouraging Further Change In Burma” appeared on the US government’s Voice of America website on Friday, noting that while direct investment sanctions were removed on July 11 to allow US businesses to invest in the country and to take part in Burma’s economic development, other underlying sanction authorities remain in place, including direct trade with the country.
“The president has also signed a new executive order expanding the ability of the U.S. government to target sanctions against those individuals who violate human rights or threaten the peace, security and stability of Burma,” said the editorial.
“Further, U.S. business interests won’t be allowed to invest in entities owned by Burma’s Ministry of Defense or other state or non-state armed groups. Investors also will be required annually to file detailed, public reports on their activities as a way to promote greater transparency and encourage civil society there to partner with our companies toward responsible investment,” it said.
It said the US would call for further progress in democratization, a halt to hostilities in ethnic minority areas, the unconditional release of political prisoners and a cessation of Burma’s military trade with North Korea
“Burma has made progress since the formation of its new government in the spring of 2011. The beginning of a transition to civilian rule from a military-dominated system, holding of a more inclusive and credible Parliamentary by-election this April, the easing of some media restrictions and the freeing of more than 500 imprisoned political activists were important steps in the nation’s democratic transformation, and a sign that Burmese leaders have embarked on a path of greater openness, transparency and reform,” said the editorial.
It said, “The participation of American businesses in the Burmese economy has the potential to set a model for responsible investment and business operations, as well as encourage further change, promote economic development and contribute to the welfare of the Burmese people.”
The US Senate next week is expected to approve a three-year renewal of trade restrictions with Burma. US officials said President Obama could rescind the restrictions at any time.
Friday, 20 July 2012 13:53 Mizzima News
Upon the approval of a first draft of a state-level bill covering gem production and trade in Kachin State, officials with the Myitkyina Gem Trade Association (MGTA) said they were happy with the results.
“We have had a lot of success because we were able to meet in person to discuss and debate it,” said an official. “The first draft is perfect because we all worked hard together.”
He said the chairman of the Kachin State Parliament, Dr. Daw Yi Yi Win; a professor of law from Myitkyina University; legal department representatives; officials with the state-level mining ministry and MGTA representatives met in June and July to work out the details of the bill.
The draft stipulates all gem work in Kachin State must be recorded in detail, that all gem work is subject to taxes, and any work not reported is against the law and individuals may be prosecuted for violations.
The new draft, which is based on the gem chapter in the 2008 Constitution, was designed to be flexible, said officials.
The draft will first be submitted to the state-level government, and then be sent to the Union government for approval before it can become law.
In March, Mizzima reported that a bill that allowed local processing, cutting and polishing of jade had been passed by the Kachin State Assembly. When enacted, lawmakers said many new jobs would be created in the state.
In the 2008 Constitution, states were given powers to pass legislation in defined areas of energy, electricity, mining and forestry.
Before the new law, when jade stones were mined in Kachin State they had to be sent to Naypyitaw for cutting and polishing work, which increased the final cost of the products.
The bill’s passage benefited both jade merchants and local people in Kachin State, said La Awng, vice chairman of the Jade and Gemstones Merchants Association in Myitkyina.
“The livelihood of local people will be better. The jade market will provide opportunities for more local people,” he told Mizzima.
Late last year, Mizzima reported that because of greater demand from China and higher prices, the amber market in Kachin State had risen sharply. However, despite higher prices, it’s still cheaper than jade.
Kachin State produces many gems including jade, quartz and amber.
“Most of the buyers are Chinese,” an amber trader in Myitkyina told Mizzima. However, other buyers come from Thailand and Tibet.
Tanai is the main amber production area in Kachin State. Amber is used in both jewelry and sculptures. Many people wear amber in the form of an amulet. Colours are transparent orange, transparent yellow, dark red, clear and golden. Golden amber is the most expensive.
Many Chinese believe that amber amulets can help to improve blood circulation and protect against misfortune, according to a Chinese woman who spoke with Mizzima.
Most of the amber miners in Kachin State are Lisu. Besides Tanai and Sumprabum in Kachin State, Hkamti Township in Sagaing Region and some townships in Shan State also produced amber.
Friday, 20 July 2012 11:52 Mizzima News
Burmese President Thein Sein will begin a three-day visit to Thailand on Sunday, following two postponed trips in June. The trip was greeted on Friday by an editorial in The Bangkok Post strongly challenging Thein Sein’s recent comments about the Rohingya population in western Burma.
Thein Sein’s trip to Thailand was originally scheduled for June 4 when he was also scheduled to address the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok. However, after an enthusiastic welcome for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who also spoke at the conference, the trip was cancelled, leading to speculation that Thein Sein did not want to walk in Suu Kyi’s shadow while in Thailand.
The Burmese government said duties at home caused the cancellation. Later, a second trip was also cancelled.
Thein Sein will hold talks with Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the two leaders will witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation for development in Burma covering human resource development and preparations for Burma to take the chairmanship of Asean in 2014, Thai officials said earlier.
The Bangkok Post editorial on Friday strongly challenged Thein Sein’s recent comments to a UN official suggesting the UN accept hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in Burma, following the outbreak of sectarian unrest in western Burma in June, claiming dozens of lives and causing widespread loss of property.
The editorial said: “…the country and its leader still have a long way to travel to catch up on its 48 years as a cruel, violent military dictatorship. The recent ethnic clashes in western Myanmar have thrown off the facade of a united country.
“President Thein Sein uttered some of the most distressing statements heard from a reform government in recent memory,” said the editorial.
“He told the United Nations last week that the million Rohingya people in Rakhine (formerly known as Arakhan) state are simply not welcome in Myanmar. They would be placed in camps or, preferably, deported. They are ethnically different from the Burman majority, and they are religiously Muslim, he said. The only solution is to hand them over to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or resettle them in third countries that are willing to take them.”
The newspaper called for the Thai government not to let Thein Sein’s views go unchallenged.
“The existence and problem of Rohingya should be raised during Thein Sein’s visit. Thailand and other neighbours are all too aware of the plight of these people,” it said. “The shocking language of the Myanmar president may be excused briefly after his country’s long isolation from the real world, enforced at the army’s gunpoint.”
The editorial said any action by Thein Sein to back up his words is unacceptable.
“Myanmar is emerging from a long, dark history of violence. It is entering a new world, with norms that are quite different from 50 years ago. Thein Sein’s statements about the Rohingya appear racist, malicious and threatening. They must not stand unchallenged.”
By KATE KELLY
Published: 20 July 2012
Local companies could be set to receive similar tax breaks and incentives as foreign firms under the Burmese government’s new foreign investment law, as the government seeks ways to even up the playing field, said the leading industry body on Wednesday.
“The locals who are currently doing wholesale/retail do not have the privilege of having these tax holidays,” said Dr Maung Maung Lay, vice president of the Union of Myanmar Federated Chambers of Commerce and Industry, an organisation representing Burma’s private sector.
“But the government have said they are thinking about granting them such tax holidays in order that the playing field will be equal,” he said.
One of the private sector’s central concerns include allowing international firms to open shop with 100 percent foreign ownership, and other tax incentives such as five year tax holidays, said Maung Maung Lay.
Previously, local businesses have spoken out against these sections of the government’s proposed foreign direct investment law, said UMFCCI’s vice president, explaining these terms would put local enterprises, which lack the capital and technology to compete effectively, at a competitive disadvantage against foreign firms.
“The private sector feels that currently the playing field is not level and the government is too generous to the foreigners,” said Maung Maung Lay.
“In that sense, our mom and pop shops will all suffer and become overwhelmed by these potential investors.”
The proposal to extend the current three-year holiday to a five-year tax holiday for foreign businesses was a sticking point for domestic companies, said Jared Bissinger, a PhD candidate at Macquarie University studying Burma’s economy.
“This part of the new FDI law is certainly creating the biggest bones of contention so far and domestic business doesn’t like it,” said Bissinger.“You want to create a level playing field for all business so there’s no need to prejudice one over the other.”
According to Myat Thu Winn, managing director of Shwe Minn Tha Enterprises Co Ltd, Burma’s small to medium enterprises (SMEs) still struggle to access sufficient credit from the country’s weak banking sector to grow their business and will suffer if forced to compete against sophisticated and well-financed foreign companies.
“There are many challenges for the local businessman,” he said. “Our country is very poor and we need foreign investment, not only to provide capital, but to provide new infrastructure and techniques.
“So as a normal Burmese citizen, I welcome foreign investment, but as a businessman I think all companies need to have an equal chance at profitability.”
Local firms wanted to access the same benefits as foreign companies, without having to sacrifice their firm’s independence, explained Maung Maung Lay, saying he’d encountered mutual reluctance from the private sector and foreign investors on the topic of joint ventures.
“Local businesses are concerned they will have to sell their companies, or joint venture, or be overwhelmed,” said Maung Maung Lay.
One local battery manufacturing company said it needed additional capital to expand and compete more effectively against an influx of cheap Asian brands, but due to current banking sector constraints, the only way it could access fresh capital was through a joint venture partnership.
“We are ready to play on the fair ground with foreign investors … but we need better access to finance,” said Ohn Lwin, the managing director of Toyo Battery.
“So if we can get an industrial long-term loan with a low interest rate from the government then we’d be very happy. Then we wouldn’t need to look for a joint venture to provide capital.”
Better access to credit and receiving tax incentives on par with what foreigners are entitled to would help boost local firms, says Ohn Lwin.
“If they give the incentives to the foreigners, say a five year tax break, then we should also be granted five years, that would be fair,” said Ohn Lwin.
The government has not officially announced new tax incentive plans to even up the playing field for local firms, but according to UMFCCI’s vice president the issue has been discussed at government meetings and within his organisation, which acts as a bridge between the private sector and the state.
-Kate Kelly is a pseudonym for a journalist working inside Burma.