Aug 6th, 2012
AFP – Myanmar journalists protest against censorship
AFP – Myanmar energy tycoon lobbies for smart sanctions
AP – UN: Myanmar Still Has Serious Rights Challenges
IANS – Myanmar president meets leaders of 14 political parties
New Straits Times – 42 Myanmar immigrants detained in Chuping
Sydney Morning Herald – Accused child abuser, 93, caught fleeing into Burma
Myanmar journalists protest against censorship
AFP – 23 hrs ago
Dozens of journalists marched in Myanmar’s main city Saturday to protest the suspension of two journals amid fears officials are rowing back on pledges to ease strict junta-era censorship laws, an AFP reporter said.
The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended last week for failing to submit stories for pre-publication scrutiny, the chief censor told AFP Saturday, adding the “temporary suspension” may last for a fortnight.
The reporters, many wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Stop Killing (the) Press” in Burmese and English marched to several sites across Yangon, including the two publishing houses behind the suspended weeklies.
Stifling censorship was one of the key symbols of junta-led Myanmar, where even seemingly innocuous details were scrubbed from public discussion and publications were frequently pulled for comments deemed damaging to the authoritarian rulers.
The government had recently taken a lighter touch on some of the less controversial publications as part of reforms sweeping the former army-ruled nation, prompting some editors to test the boundaries of the new found freedoms.
In June Tint Swe, head of the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department (PSRD), told AFP there “will be no press scrutiny job” from the end of that month, also insisting there will “be no monitoring” of local journals and magazines.
A petition by the newly-formed press freedom committee called for an end to all “oppressive” media laws.
“We have seven demands which we are sending in a letter to the president to remove the oppressive laws covering the media,” Zaw Thet Htwe, a spokesman for the independent committee told AFP on phone.
The demands include an immediate lifting of suspensions of the publications, scrapping censorship and a promise to consult journalists on the crafting of a new media law, he added.
The editor of the Voice Weekly, Kyaw Min Swe, last week said the ban on his publication related to the front page story on a cabinet reshuffle and cartoons criticising the current media freedoms in the country.
A more open climate has seen private weekly news publications publish an increasingly bold range of stories, including those about opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose very name was taboo in the past.
On Saturday Tint Swe refuted accusations the suspensions were a backwards step.
“We temporarily suspended the publishing of two journals as they didn’t submit some of their stories to the scrutiny board according to the rules,” he told AFP.
“We have cooperated with the local journals lately as we didn’t want to take any actions against them. It is completely untrue that we are turning back.”
Myanmar energy tycoon lobbies for smart sanctions
By Anand Chandra | AFP – 10 hrs ago
An energy magnate lauded as a rare “legitimate” tycoon in crony-dominated Myanmar has quietly lobbied for an end to Western sanctions — except those targeting cronies who flourished under military rule.
Michael Moe Myint is part of Myanmar’s “One Percent” — a jet-setting moneyed class comprising fewer than two dozen families who have long monopolised the business landscape of the poor but resource-rich nation.
Many of them are accused of harvesting wealth by currying favour with the military junta that ruled Myanmar with an iron grip until last year when a quasi-civilian government took charge under President Thein Sein.
Some of them are under individual sanctions for propping up the military, even as Western powers in recent weeks have eased restrictions on trade and investment to reward the new regime for a raft of sweeping reforms.
But Moe Myint, who enjoyed a meteoric rise from a pizza delivery boy in West Virginia — where he pursued a degree in Physics — to the head of a multi-million dollar oil and gas empire, has “repeatedly declined ‘offers’ to enter into a typical crony relationship”, according to a 2009 US embassy cable.
Although known to be former dictator Ne Win’s personal pilot while working for Myanmar Airways before launching his company, “he is a legitimate businessman… who earned his success through hard work and ingenuity rather than ties to the regime,” said the diplomatic note released by whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
That is no small praise in one of Asia’s most corrupt nations where success for a large enterprise was considered impossible without the patronage of former military rulers endowed with arbitrary powers to issue business permits and licenses.
The kleptocratic system of governance enriched a small clique notorious for its entrenched vested interests and sometimes nefarious business practices — while a third of the population subsists below the poverty line.
The US diplomatic cable, which praises Moe Myint for being the country’s “largest single taxpayer”, notes that “regime crony Tay Za, who allegedly earns more annually, pays far less in taxes, as his companies have a tax holiday”.
Tay Za, of the Htoo Group, has a reputation as Myanmar’s wealthiest and flashiest tycoon, with a penchant for Italian sports cars and travel by private jets.
He is accused by the United States of being an “arms dealer and financial henchman” of the military junta — a charge he denies.
Zaw Zaw of the Max Myanmar conglomerate meanwhile is “one of several mid-level cronies that actively do the regime’s bidding” to expand his commercial enterprises, which include a jade mine and a professional soccer team, according to another US diplomatic cable from 2007.
“The biggest problem” with such cronies is that they “made their money — not by coming up with new products or finding new markets — but simply by securing concessions against the otherwise tight restrictions on private sector activity by the previous military regime,” said Sean Turnell, a Myanmar expert at Macquarie University in Sydney.
“They’re ‘rent seekers’ rather than the entrepreneurs Myanmar needs. They were, and are, a force of resistance to reform.”
And yet pressure to reform is more palpable than ever amid the threat of regulatory changes and the emergence of new competitors as the long-isolated nation opens up to foreign investment as sanctions ease.
The European Union suspended most of its sanctions on Myanmar in April and Washington recently gave the green light for US firms to invest in the country, as investors rush to tap what is widely seen as Asia’s next frontier economy.
“Myanmar sits on top of vast unexploited reserves of oil and gas. To those unwilling to lift sanctions, I ask ‘Do you want to be left out of the equation?’” Moe Myint told AFP in an interview in late May at his neoclassical lakeside villa in Yangon, replete with chic teakwood furniture, avant-garde artworks, and uniformed maids in attendance.
Earlier this year, in a letter to a high-level US official, Moe Myint asserted that Myanmar’s institutionalised cronyism was “a direct result of sanctions”.
“Sanctions did not hurt the powerful and the rich; it actually provided them with the means to further exploit the human and natural resources” of Myanmar, wrote the tycoon who heads Myint and Associates, Myanmar’s largest contract oil and gas services provider, as well as another energy exploration company.
A better alternative is to “target certain individuals and institutions that have directly benefited through their close relationship to some members of the regime”, he suggested, a politically-sensitive view seldom expressed within Myanmar.
Moe Myint acknowledged the letter accessed by AFP, but declined to say more about it. The US embassy in Yangon did not respond to requests for comment.
In 2008, the US slapped a visa ban on him and his family because of his link to the oil and gas sector, believed to be riddled with cronyism.
Some years ago, one of his two sons — a petroleum engineer at Chevron in California — was stranded in Canada and forced to shift base to Australia because his H1B visa was not renewed.
The ban was lifted just a few months ago, apparently after the embassy cable that exonerated Moe Myint of being a crony, but his son chose to return to Myanmar at the request of a high-profile neighbour: Aung San Suu Kyi.
Moe Myint’s living room is festooned with photographs of his family at a private banquet with the Nobel laureate, who he says became a family friend after she was freed in 2010, alongside pictures of the family hobnobbing with Thai royalty.
Last Christmas, when the family dined with Suu Kyi, “she used her charm” and convinced his son to return home because “the country needs young men like him”. Suu Kyi was elected to parliament for the first time earlier this year.
“She told me: ‘I’m 66, you’re 60, we’re not young any more. Here’s a great opportunity to do something for our country. Let’s forgive and forget the past and look towards the future’,” the tycoon said, referring to the reforms.
“I am willing” to forgive and forget, says Moe Myint, who has “paid a price” for resisting pressure to become a crony, according to the leaked cable.
The former regime in turn “made it difficult for the company to invest in both the onshore and offshore sectors”, awarded lucrative contracts to relatives of ministers, and exerted financial pressure by delaying payments for oil purchased from his company, the memo said.
On his coffee table sat a dog-eared copy of “Why Nations Fail”, a book by two US economists that stresses the importance of inclusive rather than extractive institutions that grab wealth and resources away from one part of society to benefit another.
He plans to send Thein Sein a copy.
UN: Myanmar Still Has Serious Rights Challenges
YANGON, Myanmar August 4, 2012 (AP)
A United Nations human rights expert called Saturday for an urgent independent investigation into recent bloody sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which he said was one of many human rights challenges facing the country.
Tomas Ojea Quintana ended a weeklong visit to Myanmar saying that the country’s much-touted democratic reforms will not take hold unless the government places human rights at the center of its agenda for change.
During a two-day tour of Rakhine state, Quintana said he witnessed “widespread suffering” from the June violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left at least 78 dead and tens of thousands homeless. He said he recorded allegations of “serious human rights violations” by police and security forces including killings, torture, arbitrary arrest and excessive use of force.
“The human rights situation in Rakhine state is serious,” he told reporters. He did not discuss the target of the alleged abuses.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has accused government forces of opening fire on crowds of ethnic Rohingya and committing other “atrocities” during attempts to restore order.
“It is of fundamental importance to clearly establish what has happened in Rakhine state and to ensure accountability,” Quintana told reporters before leaving from Yangon’s airport. “Reconciliation will not be possible without this. Exaggerations and distortion will fill the vacuum to further fuel distrust and tensions between communities.”
He said it was a “matter of urgency” to set up an independent and credible investigation into the allegations of rights abuses.
Much remains unknown about what transpired in Rakhine state during nearly two weeks of sectarian fighting, rioting and arson attacks between the two groups because the area was virtually sealed off to the outside world.
Tensions between the Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya are longstanding, in part because many in Myanmar consider the Rohingya to be illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations says there are about 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar and considers them to be among the most persecuted people in the world.
Quintana also expressed “serious concern” about the treatment of six U.N. workers who were detained in Rakhine state. They were accused by Myanmar authorities of taking part in the violence and setting fire to villages — accusations Quintana said he believes are unfounded.
Quintana’s visit to Myanmar also focused on making an overall assessment of the human rights situation as the country moves down a reformist path under President Thein Sein after decades of repressive military rule. He met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, government officials, lawmakers and others.
He is to present his findings to the upcoming U.N. General Assembly.
Quintana said there was reason to be encouraged by some recent changes but pointed out the issue of political prisoners as an enduring obstacle to true democratization.
“I must, therefore, once again call for the release of all prisoners of conscience without conditions or delay,” he said. “National reconciliation and democratic transition cannot move forward without these necessary steps.”
Myanmar president meets leaders of 14 political parties
By Indo Asian News Service | IANS India Private Limited – Sat 4 Aug, 2012
Yangon, Aug 4 (IANS) Myanmar President U Thein Sein had a rare meeting Saturday with leaders of the country’s 14 political parties in the capital Nay Pyi Taw, Xinhua reported.
According to the ministry of information, Thein Sein had discussions with the leaders on politics, economy and domestic peace as well as regional development.
Union Election Commission chairman U Tin Aye, Minister of Industry U Soe Thein and Minister of Rail Transportation U Aung Min briefed the leaders on the government’s work.
The Shan National League for Democracy, National Unity Party, New National Democracy Party, Myanmar New Society Democratic Party, National Congress Party, Rakhine League for Democracy, Mon Democracy Party, Chin Progressive Party and Kayin People’s Party were among the parties invited for the meeting.
The report, however, did not mention whether the National League for Democracy, the party of Nobel laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, was invited for the discussions.
Ever since U Thein Sein’s civilian government assumed office in March 2011, the government has been carrying out major reforms both politically and economically.
05 August 2012 | last updated at 05:45PM
New Straits Times – 42 Myanmar immigrants detained in Chuping
Kangar: A total of 42 illegal Myanmar immigrants, including three children, were caught hiding in a bush area in a sugarcane plantation in Chuping near here by the Anti-Smuggling Unit (UPP) since yesterday.
Chuping UPP commander ASP Md Fawzie Aris said the first group of 38 people were detained about 8pm yesterday, while the remaining four people at 5.30am today.
They comprised 28 men and 14 women, aged between four and 50 years old, he told reporters at the Chuping UPP Complex here today.
He believed the illegal immigrants had entered the country together with the help of a “tekong darat” or agent, who fled after realising the presence of the UPP in the area.
All of them were taken to the Chuping UPP Complex to be handed over to the Immigration authority for further action, he added.
Sydney Morning Herald – Accused child abuser, 93, caught fleeing into Burma
Date August 5, 2012
A 93-year-old Australian man attempted to escape charges that he raped four young Thai sisters by fleeing illegally into Burma, Thai police say.
But instead of being taken to Burma’s largest city, Rangoon, and deported to Australia, Karl Joseph Kraus, a former railway worker, was escorted by Burmese police and officials back across the border into the hands of Thai police.
Looking frail and dishevelled, Mr Kraus pleaded to be returned to Burma where he had been staying illegally for about a month after skipping bail on Thai charges of rape and sexual abuse.
”Where am I? Take me back to Burma. I want to go. You are illegal. My embassy should be here,” he pleaded with Thai officials late on Friday at the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge near the northern Thai city of Chiangmai.
When asked what he had been doing in Burma, Mr Kraus replied: ”Mostly in jail.”
Sitting in a border office surrounded by Thai and Burmese officials, Mr Kraus said: ”I am 93 years old and you treat me like this … it is so illegal.
”The embassy man should be here. Why do you like this?”
A Burmese official, who declined to give his name, said Mr Kraus entered Burma by illegally crossing a river and travelled to the Karen state capital of Pa-an where he rented a room for several weeks until his arrest on July 24.
Burmese authorities discovered he had entered Burma illegally when they checked his travel documents.
The charges against Mr Kraus are among the most serious Thai police have investigated in recent years.
Police allege one of four under-age sisters he lured to his house with promises of imported chocolates and English lessons was aged five when alleged abuses began.
Police allege they seized more than 100 photographs of naked children, including some with him posing with them.
Police say Mr Kraus gave the children money.
They allege he emailed some pictures overseas, suggesting he was part of an international paedophilia network, which police are investigating.
The girls’ parents told police they learnt of the alleged abuse when they asked the girls what was wrong because they had lost interest in playing outside.
Police say Mr Kraus approached the girls’ family in 2008 with an offer to teach the sisters English.
He has been a frequent long-stay visitor in Thailand for more than a decade.
Mr Kraus claims he was the victim of an extortion attempt by Thai authorities, who levelled bogus charges against him. His family in Australia say he has been denied access to medicine and proper care while facing the charges, which were laid in June 2010.
They say that, while Mr Kraus was in custody, it was made clear to him the charges would be dropped if he paid the equivalent of $14,175 to several parties, including Thai officials.
Berlin-born Mr Kraus has been an Australian citizen for decades.
A new judge was recently appointed to hear the charges against Mr Kraus, meaning his trial will probably not be heard for months.
Neighbours say that, until recently, Mr Kraus drove a car and appeared spritely, but he has appeared in a wheelchair at his most recent court appearances.
Thai police colonel Apichart Hathsin, who has investigated Mr Kraus since 2010, warned that the opening of Burma to outsiders was attracting foreign criminals.
He also called for an increase in bail for Thai suspects. ”In most cases of foreign paedophiles escaping conviction, they usually post bail and then make a run for it, out of the country,” Colonel Hathsin said.
” I think it would be a good idea to increase the amount of bail to correspond with the suspect’s original country. Otherwise, they will be able to afford the bail and then escape.”